Friday, February 26, 2010

Milo's Birthday Bash

In case you were wondering, Milo turns 3 this Sunday.

We let this fact slip to Milo's daycare today while dropping him off this morning and were sent the pictures below about an hour ago:

Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's steak on that platter.

Knowing we were in trouble, Andy and I had the following conversation via Gchat:

ME: He's never coming home.

ANDY: ever

ME: we can't beat that

ANDY: nope
we lost him
bye bye milo

ME: We definitely have to get a birthday banner now...
and a party hat

ANDY: and a collar that looks like something out of a shakespearean play.
dinner from paulina meat market for milo tonight

ME: agreed!
we have to make him remember why he loves us.

ME: hire some puppy prostitutes, maybe?

Happy Birthday a couple days early, buddy. Sorry we forgot about your first birthday and almost your second. This one's totally making up for lost time. We're talkin' pony rides.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Tokyo? I'll have seconds!

On a quick visit to my blog, I found this guy sitting in my editing box, ready to be published, but not edited. Because I probably spent a few hours putting this post together, I thought it should be out there, free to play in the interwebs. Enjoy, though it's definitely a couple months late.

Despite the hard futon and traditional bean bag pillows (oh, didn't I mention how fun those were?), I was able to sleep pretty soundly until 6:00am thanks to our outdoorsy, long day in Hakone.

We were still awake too early to go downstairs for our complimentary breakfast, so after practicing lying quietly for 30 minutes, I finally woke up Jen and we started to develop a plan for the day. Really, Jen just made suggestions from her Lonely Planet guide while I nodded and smiled.

It was finally after 7:30, so we went down for breakfast in our provided yukatas (pajama robes). Frosted flakes, half a banana and two thick pieces of toast with orange marmalade were a welcome sight after the breakfast disaster the day before. After two cups of green tea served in a china cup and saucer (because I'm white and therefore British, maybe?), we took our time getting ready since we'd be hanging out in the city all day.

Our first stop was right around the corner from our ryokan, exploring the shops of Asakusa.

We saw a few old women with purple hair (quite the normality there, apparently) and masses of uniformed school children who appeared to be in the city on a school trip.

I bought an adorable sushi magnet for our fridge, thought about getting a geisha costume for Milo and was lead by my nose and the crowd to some cookies filled with a sweet bean paste being made right in the front of the stall.

Before you get all "GE-ROSS!" on me, they was actually really good.

They were still warm and smelled a little like maple syrup.

Plus, they were adorable!

Even after I bit the head off to show the gooey, sweet bean paste center.

We decided to explore the Sensō-ji shrine in the light of day before leaving Asakusa.

In front of the great hall, there is a large incense burner where people would place incense they'd purchased, then wave the smoke toward themselves and rub it all over their body to complete a ritual of purification.

Then they go over to wash their hands at the fountain. Taking the water from the dragon spout, not dipping into the pool, you wash your left hand, right hand and then your mouth.

I saw this many times at every temple we visited over the next 5 days, though I only pretended to wash out my mouth. For a country so obsessed with the swine flu and disease in general, they definitely practiced some questionable hygeine. (Public Restrooms: Why have a sink if you don't provide soap?!?!)

One inside the temple, we saw and heard a service being performed.

The giant drums and monks were chanting and beating in time while another monk drew delicate calligraphy on a scroll. Visitors came and went, offering yen, ringing bells and clapping to get the attention of the gods, and saying their prayers before heading back out again.

We walked around the park outside for a bit and saw a few things we hadn't been able to see when exploring in the dark the first night of our arrival.

On our way out to the train, Jen snapped this picture of us in front of the THUNDER GATE.

We hopped on the train to Tokyo station where we could explore the gardens of the Imperial Palace.

The maple, sweet bean cookies weren't very filling, so we decided to stop for a snack at a chocolate shop Jen had heard a fellow blogger mention in a post. Meiji 100% Chocolate Cafe had a different type of chocolate for every day of the year.

We had difficulty narrowing it down, but we each chose two different pieces of chocolate and I had a banana, lime, chocolate squash drink.

It was surprisingly good, but there really wasn't a lot of chocolate taste. I thought there'd be squash in it, but apparently, that's basically how they say "soda", so it was the type of drink, rather than an ingredient.

We moved on to the chocolate and Jen started with the cinnamon she chose while I went with this:

I thought it had potential to be one of those things that sounds weird, but tastes pretty good.

I was wrong. It was weird in the grossest possible way. Rather than chocolate with a mild, cream cheese or farm cheese, they went with a cheddar/american mix. I actually only ate the one bite and wrapped up the rest to share with Andy back in America. The cinnamon was better, but not much. The gritty texture was like eating sand and the cinnamon flavor reached out and punched you in the face like 1,000 tiny red hot candies, drowning out the poor chocolate.

Silly Japanese. They make beautiful desserts that all taste like crap.

We wandered over to the Imperial Palace to check out the gardens I'd read about.

This was one of the entrances to the palace. Stuck right there in the center of Tokyo.

Though I've never been to the one in NYC, it reminded me of what I'd imagine Central Park is like. Lots of giant, green, open spaces with smaller, nore intricate gardens here and there.

The East Gardens were my favorite, just like the guidebook said they'd be.

This area had more water features, more manicured trees and grounds as well as koi fish!

Don't they look more Japanese than our American koi? Koi turned out to be pretty popular and almost everywhere we went, so I didn't get as excited later in our trip for sightings as this first one.

We walked the grounds and hiked up the small hills to get better views.

After getting our fill of green space and trees trimmed to look like they belong in a Dr. Seuss book, we headed over to Harajuku for lunch and shopping.

THIS was where all the fashion had been hiding. I'd been so disappointed with the completely drab and lifeless clothing choices of Tokyo men and women. Color was nowhere to be found and the most interesting accessories I saw were always very painful-looking shoes. Here I saw girls dressed up like anime characters with more dedication to appearance than I could ever hope to muster.

Harajuku was without a doubt the trendy part of town. Jen and I selected a restaurant on the 5th floor of a building overlooking the main intersection in Harajuku.

The place served yakiniku which basically reminded me of Korean BBQ where you grill the meat at your table.

This grill was super high tech, though, sucking the smoke out of the air before it got an inch off the table, so we didn't smell like food for the rest of the day. I'd been missing the vegetables I usually incorporate into my diet, so I went with an udon noodle salad that had an amazing ginger sesame dressing and a fried egg on top!
From Tokyo

After lunch we headed around the corner to explore the Meiji Shrine. The wooden torii gates are the largest in Japan according to Jen.
From Tokyo

I loved this shrine because you had to walk down a LONG gravel path through about a mile of thickly wooded area before you arrived at the main temple area.

Eventually the trees opened up and we were there.

Since it was late in the day, we spent a lot of time reading the prayer cards left by visitors. With our combined French, Spanish, Japanese and English, we were able to get through quite a few of them.

But my favorites are always the ones with the pictures.

On our way back out, we noticed the wine barrels (a gift from France) and the painted sake barrels lining the path.

A drink sounded nice, so we hopped on the train to Shibuya to see the famous crossing while waiting to meet up with my friend from college, Hiroo.

After making our own way across the insane street, we found a window seat in the second floor Starbucks to watch the show.

Untitled from Kristin Sutter on Vimeo.

After a few changes of the light, we noticed a couple of guys in the crowd.

Untitled from Kristin Sutter on Vimeo.

We decided they were doing a photo shoot for an album cover, but they could have just been getting a photo for an extremely complex scavenger hunt. I guess we'll never really know.

When it was time to meet Hiroo, we headed over to the Hachiko statue to meet, which happens to be one of the most popular meeting places in Tokyo. Yikes!

Hachiko was an Akita dog who would go and meet his owner every day at the Shibuya train station when he got home from work. When the owner died while at work one day, Hachiko continued to wait at the station every day, becoming a sort of national hero in Japan for his loyalty. They also made a film starring Richard Gere about it. I dare you to watch that trailer and not cry.

Japanese people are awesome because they love a good dog story, just like me. Hachiko was all over the station.

After some hugs and introductions, we were off to enjoy my first taste of Japanese bar food at a place run by one of Hiroo's friends. We enjoyed some cucumbers and pickled plum sauce, fish roe pasta and more traditional items like fried fish and pizza (though it did have mayonnaise on it which is apparently very common there). We also tried some shochu which is a Japanese liquor which tastes pretty much like whiskey. I controlled my gag reflex to get it down, but didn't order seconds.

After dinner, we headed to an arcade to have my first (but definitely not my last, experience with purikura.

Think photo booth mixed with an arcade game and some scrapbooking and you've just about got it. The booths are extremely popular, so we had to wait a little bit, even though there were about 15 booths in the arcade.

After seeing how much fun it could be, we decided to go again.

After all, there's NOTHING like this in the states, so I had to take advantage while I could.

Sleepy and full, we finally headed back to Asakusa and waved to Hiroo from the train until we pulled out of sight (something I can finally cross off my list of things to do).

Friday, October 30, 2009

Naughty or Nice?

Don't freak out on me over this post's title. Unlike most major retailers, I'm not ready to say hello to the holiday season just yet.

It came about as I was wondering why people choose to do bad things.

When I was younger, probably 7 or 8 years old, I remember reading Ramona Forever by Beverly Cleary.

*Side bar: I also "dressed up" as Ramona in elementary school on the day we were told to dress as our favorite character from a book. Most people dressed up as Raggedy Ann or some nursery rhyme while I had my mom cut my hair short, dressed in the same outfit Ramona wore on the cover and carried the book around with me since no one could tell who I was.

I remember reading a scene where Ramona, highly rebellious in nature, took a tube of toothpaste and slowly squeezed the tube until the entire contents coiled into the sink. I wanted to do that. I wanted to create my own swirled mountain of minty freshness.

That night, not thinking that repercussions were eminent, I started from the bottom of our new tube of off-brand toothpaste and squirted the entire contents into the bathroom sink I shared with my entire family.

My mom walked in as I was putting the finishing touches on my sculpture, and her face immediately tightened. She roared and I stuttered something about how I'd read about Ramona doing it.

Reading about it? Apparently NOT an adequate excuse for endangering my family's dental hygiene for the evening. Luckily, all I had to do was scrape up what toothpaste was left, put it in a sandwich baggie and use it myself for the next month or so.

The real purpose of this story is to actually tell you that someone tried to set my car on fire today.

I know.

I needed a minute to let that sink in, so I guess you can have one too.

Apparently someone was strolling by my office, saw my car parked on the street and thought, "Why don't I shove a rag in this gas tank, light it on fire and walk away?"

Luckily, our security was alerted when someone saw MY CAR ON FIRE on the street. A guard took the jacket off his back, threw it in the gutter filled with water from the rain, then smothered the flames.

My hero.

Chicago's bomb and arson squad, after asking me 20 times if I have an angry ex-boyfriend or ex-husband, thinks it was probably some "kid" who saw something like that on t.v. and wanted to see a car explode himself.

About 30 minutes before our security guard came into the office to give me the news, I was on the phone with my sister, who just bought her first house.

When she asked me what was new, I answered, "Eh, nothing really. Same old."

That'll teach me.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


We took Milo to Earth Pups for their Halloween party this past weekend. After refusing to spend money on a costume, we went for a sporty theme.

His entire costume didn't last long.

The football was gone after 5 minutes.

And the shoes never really made it on his paws once we got in the door and he smelled fresh meat.

Milo at Earth Pups from Kristin Sutter on Vimeo.

I think the Bengals win on Sunday might've been because of our dedication.

Though I liked our group effort, this pimp costume is my benchmark for next year's costume.

Ideas are appreciated.

Friday, September 25, 2009

"Fish" Adventures and Hakone

I woke up fully rested and ready to start the day around 3am.

Preferring to keep Jen as a friend for the next 9 days, I waited until 5:45am to poke her and hiss, "Hey Jen. It's a quarter to 6. Can we wake up now?"

Because she is a morning person and also wonderful, Jen popped right up and attempted an energetic, "Sure!" before I turned on the fluorescent light and blinded our sleep-sticky eyes.

We'd wanted to get up early since we were headed to the Tsukiji fish market for a sushi breakfast; something Jen had wanted to try now that she was traveling with an adventurous eater. I was happy to not be the one planning everything and readily agreed, despite an uneasy, jet lagged stomach. We threw on some clothes and headed out the door. On our way to the train station, I caught sight of the golden poo atop the Asahi brewery building and snapped a photo for Andy (who is as mystified by the Japanese obsession with golden poo as I).

We were early enough (and conveniently at the end of a subway line) that we missed quite a bit of the commuter rush. We did get to see the strange and extremely orderly lines of people waiting for the trains.

That's the Japanese rail system for you. Not only are the trains ALWAYS, and I mean ALWAYS on time, they also stop in the exact same place so the lines are directly in front of the doors. I'd seen the videos of the people pushing onto the train like cattle, but didn't witness any of that firsthand. Everyone was very polite and orderly in their little lines and would even wait for the next train if one was too crowded! I've seen much worse after Cubs games and Lollapalooza in Chicago, so this was positively peaceful for me.

We walked around outside the fish market, my stomach a little queasy from the jet lag and weird eating schedule, but I powered through the fishy odors and we settled on a semi-popular and clean-looking sushi stall.

We reviewed the pictures and Jen went with a safe looking tuna and salmon sashimi combo. Feeling adventurous, I went with what looked like pieces of tuna with jalapeno and a fried egg on top. I think the egg and jalapenos are what sold me. Damn my love of Mexican breakfast foods!

If you're in my network of friends on a well known social networking site, you already know how this ends. For everyone else, The food came and I was a little confused by what was put in front of me. I'd had plenty of tuna before, and it never looked quite like this. It was lighter pink and had a weird, filmy coating on it. I mixed up the egg and took a bite.

This was not fish.

At least no fish I'd ever tasted before. I questioned Jen, and as she examined my bowl, she got a strange look on her face.

"I think it's chicken," she said.

"Um, excuse me? I thought this was a sushi restaurant!"

"Well, it is raw," she said.

Apparently, raw chicken with an egg on top (the whole family together again) is a semi-popular dish in Japan. The good friend that she is, Jenn tried it as well, thinking she might be able to eat it and trade her safe tuna and salmon sashimi for my bowl of salmonella. Alas, one bite is all she got down before pushing it away in disgust.

I went in one more time and needed a big gulp of miso soup to keep the second swallow from going in reverse.

Defeated, I ordered a bowl of tuna and salmon for myself since I knew my chopsticks weren't going anywhere near that chicken again.

Much better.

After our raw breakfast, we wandered around the stalls. I saw the "dried fish parts" Jen's always telling me about.

Apparently they're like bacon bits or croutons over there. Need a little something added to your meal? Dried fish parts!

If you look closely, you can see these are actually tiny dried fish. You can see their little eyes. I had some of these buggers cooked into some rice in Tahara.

It was not my favorite.

With the morning commute almost over and full of fish, we headed back to the trains to start our day trip out to Hakone. We enjoyed a variety of transportation including this train that crept up the mountain at about 10mph with a crazy amount of switchbacks, the view getting better the more we climbed.

Before getting on, though, we took a break and went to the Hakone Begonia garden to experience their onsen. While buying our pass inside, the woman wanted to MAKE SURE we knew that we knew we'd have to be naked to experience the hot springs. Apparently not all gaijin are so gung-ho about stripping down for a communal bath as I was.

No photos, of course, but wading in the steamy pools set in the mountainside with jungle-like trees all around us was definitely an amazing experience. I felt relaxed and refreshed after an hour of leisurely moving from pool to pool.

After all that hot water, I was a little dehydrated, so I had to perk up with some awesome ice cream back at the train station. It was the creamiest vanilla I've ever had--made with the cream from Hokkaidō cows.


Up the mountain we went!

We stopped for lunch at Gora before heading on up the funicular.

Yes, you read that correctly, Gyoza Center. With more types of gyoza than I could count and the home of the best and only crab gyoza I've ever tasted.

I could've eaten 4 plates of those suckers. Such a nice change from the raw chicken and sushi I'd fed my stomach that morning.

From there we were headed up the funicular. "Fun" is right there in the name, so how can it not be?

I'll tell you how. When you're sitting knee to knee with a teenage couple who can't keep their hands off each other and apparently forgot to use deodorant that morning. Then the window-locked funicular isn't so much fun as it is a suffocating box of humanity and body odor.

The views from the top were worth the short, uncomfortable ride.

After wandering about, we headed on to our next mildly-claustrophobic mode of transportation, the gondola! Hooray!

We rode up and over the mountains, swaying with the wind and entering into an area full of sulfur springs. The familiar smell of rotten eggs made me smile and Jenny's nose scrunch in disgust.

Not as pretty as the ones I'd just seen in Yellowstone--these springs were more "apocalyptic" than "prismatic".

You can buy magic eggs that are hardboiled in the springs, too. They're supposed to give you longer life and turn black during cooking from some sort of reaction with the sulfur. My stomach was still doing some flip-flops from the time traveling flight and raw food from the morning, so we passed. Even though Hello Kitty seriously wanted us to buy them.

It was pretty hazy and cloudy at this point in the day which meant bad news for our chances of seeing Mt. Fuji. Jen's still never seen it and has been dubbed "Cloudwoman" by her Japanese friends for all her bad luck. I didn't mind since we still got some pretty spectacular views from the cable car.

She cheered up a bit when she saw that our next mode of transportation around Hakone was going to be by pirate ship.

Try to ignore the guy behind us totally photobombing the shot.

There was a Japanese pirate, too, but you had to pay to have your photo taken with him and his beard was so sad, it looked like an old afro wig he taped to his face. Not very authentic.

The clouds were plentiful, so we didn't see Fuji, but they did make for some pretty cool photos.

After the boat, it was starting to get dark, and we were facing a 2-hour trip by bus and train back, so we hit the road.

We stopped off in Shinjuku to grab some dinner and see what we could see before heading back. Luckily, I got to see Tommy Lee Jones stumping for a local coffee drink.

Oh crazy celebrity Japanese advertisements, I don't understand you at all, but love you all the same.

Japanese people really respond to neon apparently. This is what I figured Tokyo would look like.

We eventually found a place with Japanese curry which was on my list of foods to try. (Yes, there was a list. And it may have had over 10 different items on it. And I may have hit almost all of them. Hold your applause, please.)

Jenny also added some tempura to my plate since she was a little hungry after eating a crazy bastardization of a bagel earlier in the day.

Everything was DEE-licious, though I was pretty hungry, so that might've skewed my experience slightly.

The jet lag was hitting me pretty hard at that point, so we decided to go home and rest up for a full day in Tokyo the next day.

If you guessed that I slept through the night finally? You'd be wrong.