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Hello Japan! is a monthly mini-challenge focusing on Japanese literature and culture. Each month there is a new task relating to some aspect of life in Japan. This month’s mission is ‘Back to School‘: to learn something, anything, about Japan.

I’ve been getting reacquainted with origami. In my early teens it was one of my biggest hobbies that started when I discovered how to fold a butterfly on an Asian open air market. It was probably the first Japanese thing I really got into — not counting my father’s enthralling stories about his childhood in a World War 2 Japanese prison camp… :\

Somewhere along the line I lost interest in the art of paper folding, but I never stopped using my golden paper fir trees as Christmas decoration! Unfortunately I can’t show you ’cause they’re stowed away in the basement. You’ll have to wait till X-mas time! ;) Or ask Mr Gnoe whether it’s true.

Now that I’m having some kind of burnout, I’ve been looking for activities that are less intense than computer stuff, reading or watching movies. Enter: cooking, ‘gardening’ (on our small balcony), hiking & my old pastime origami. My brain is SO hazy I can’t remember a thing, not even how to fold the butterfly that I must have made a thousand times. So I started from scratch again by buying second hand copies of the instruction books I owned back in the days. Of course I had hung on to my multiple cute papers! :)

I’ve been learning how to do some of the old fav figures, but I had to learn something new for this month’s Hello Japan! challenge. Since I’ve also been looking into origata, the (related) art of gift wrapping, I here present the combined result: a spring birthday present with origami flowers I’ve never made before.

Spring birthday gift with origami flowers

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Edited to add: there’s a post up on Graasland explaining how to make these fancy origami flowers!
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As the gift is a book (Crossroads, by Niccolò Ammaniti), I also taught myself how to fold a crane bookmark. In Japan cranes are a symbol of longevity.

The mark is made of gold & blue paper: both colours symbolizing wealth. The feminine blue also represents self-cultivation, calmness and purity and pale blue is specific for April. The warm gold & cold blue tint are in harmony (yin & yang).

A present: novel & origami bookmark

But that’s not the only thing I’ve been learning this month… I also set my mind to learning how to count to ten in Japanese. I already knew how to get to eight, but now I’m trying to recognize the characters, know the digits out of order and to sum up to ten. And yes, I’ve got some proof! Listen to this. :)


1 t/m 4 in Japanese

I hope you’ve also contributed to April’s Hello Japan!? For each and every participant our host Tanabata is donating $6 (¥500) to either the Japanese Red Cross or — even more up my alley — Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue Support (JEARS)! No need to have your own blog, commenting on the challenge post is fine too.

I’ve already donated to JEARS but their work is so important that I hereby pledge to follow Nat’s example with the equivalent of €4,- per person. So please join us if you’ve got a chance!

Here’s why.

If you’re from my generation, this song will probably bring up some memories.

It’ll be my birthday next week so when Leeswammes announced she was hosting a literary giveaway blog hop, I figured that would be a nice opportunity to share a book of my all-time favourite author: David Mitchell. And which novel would be more appropriate for a forty-something birthday than Black Swan Green? You’re only turning 41 once. ;)

Do not set foot in my office. That’s dad’s rule. But the phone’d rung twenty-five times. Normal people give up after ten or eleven, unless it’s a matter of life and death. Don’t they? Dad’s got an answering machine like James Garner’s in The Rockford Files with big reels of tape. But he’s stopped leaving it switched on recently. Thirty rings, the phone got to. Julia couldn’t hear it up in her converted attic ’cause ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ by Human League was thumping out dead loud. Forty rings. Mum couldn’t hear ’cause the washing machine was on berserk cycle and she was hoovering the living room. Fifty rings. That’s just not normal. S’pose Dad’d been mangled by a juggernaut on the M5 and the police only had this office number ’cause all his other ID’d got incinerated? We could lose our final chance to see our charred father in the terminal ward.
[Black Swan Green, p.1]

Cover Black Swan Green (David Mitchell)Black Swan Green is Mitchell’s fourth novel and can be considered a semi-autobiographical ‘coming of age story’. The book’s thirteen chapters each represent one month—from January 1982 through January 1983—in the life of 13-year-old Worcestershire boy Jason Taylor.* The story is written from his perspective and contains teen speech and popular-culture references from early-1980s England.

Although the novel was published in 2006, the first chapter, January Man, appeared as a short story in Granta 2003 Best of Young British Writers. At a reading I attended Mitchell confessed he had not felt ready to write (t)his story, that is so close to home, before.

Needless to say that Black Swan Green is a nostalgic trip. Not everything is familiar to me as a Dutch person (like the Rockford Files from the first paragraph), but it’s a feast of recognition anyway. All the 1982 hits passing by are a party treat in itself! Mr Gnoe has been busying himself with tracking down the songs in this novel (as ‘children’ of the eighties we just love lists ;) Through this he found out that what seems like random stage setting at first actually gives the story depth. Jason assumes for example that his elder sister Julia is having ‘a ball’ now that she’s old enough to leave home. But from the songs Jason says she’s playing — we, who have been there and know the lyrics by heart ;) — understand Julia is having her own troubles.

I definitely need to reread this book! Now how about you? Would you like to get to know Jason Tyler? Don’t you want to discover which characters from Mitchell’s universe reappear in this story?? Here’s your chance! I have a brand new copy of Black Swan Green to give away. Just leave a comment and tell me what is your favourite 80′s song. But you can only participate if you’re 35+.
LOL Just kidding!!! Open to all ages of course — and worldwide. Make sure I know how to contact you! If I have no way of contacting you, you can’t win.

[* For those of you too lazy to do the maths, in 1982 I was just a year younger: 12.]

* Stay tuned for your very own Black Swan Green Disco Party! *

THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED. A WINNER WILL BE SELECTED SHORTLY.
This giveaway ends on February 23rd, 23:59 GMT+1 (=Amsterdam/Berlin time zone). A winner will be randomly selected at the end of the week.

Literary Giveaway Blog Hop Button

Now go and have a look at all the other fabulous books that you can win!
(Note: the Literary Blog Hop has ended.)

Sunday Salon logoThe Sunday Salon is a virtual gathering of booklovers on the web, blogging about bookish things of the past week, visiting each others weblogs, and oh — reading books of course ;)

Me & my rabbit Bumpie in the eighties

2011 is the year of the rabbit according to Chinese Zodiac. I love rabbits — had one myself once and it is roughly the equivalent of my western Zodiac sign Pisces, so it can’t be anything but G.O.O.D. :)

It’ll also give me a great excuse to buy lots of kawaii bento goodies with usagi. ;)

Wishing all my virtual and real life friends a warm, happy hopping 2011 with lots of love. Couldn’t do without you!

2011

Cow postcard sent to Germany NL-112622 (copyright unknown)

Okay, now it’s official: sometimes I’m just a stupid Dutch cow. *
(Cows are cute though! ;)

I thought that the Friday Book Blogger Hop only happened on… Fridays. I even laughed at Novroz for doing it on the wrong day! Silly me ;) Jennifer’s Book Blogger Hop at Crazy for Books is a party that goes on for the whole weekend.

This week I was triggered by Lori enquiring:

Do you listen to music when you read? If so, what are your favorite reading tunes?

Book Blogger Hop logoMy answer to this question is that it really depends on the book I’m reading, the music I’m listening to, loudness & language. If I’m reading a book in English the lyrics of a dito song can be distracting if it is being played too loud. On the other hand I love to create a cosy atmosphere with some candles and soft classical music, or melancholic Turkish songs by Sezen Aksu. So there’s no definite yes or no to this question!

Album cover Hot Day In Waco (Dogbowl & Kramer)Without a doubt books and music can become an integrated experience. Right after I had finished my studies in Museology I lay in bed for three whole days and read. Noooo, I wasn’t ill! Just tired and very happy with my time off. Mr Gnoe (who was still only Gnoe’s BF at the time ;) had recently bought a cd by Dogbowl & Kramer, called A Hot Day in Waco. He played it all the time, while I was immersed in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings Trilogy… It is more than 10 years ago but whenever I hear a song from that album, Frodo, Gollum & Gandalf appear before my mind’s eye and I’m back in Middle-Earth!

The Lord of the Rings / In de Ban van de ring

Mr Gnoe’s taste in music has evolved and Kramer can only very rarely be heard at our place these days. But today I’ll share When te Sun Goes Down with you (4:19 mins)!


I would like to add that this was the first and only time I have read books in the Fantasy genre. I loved wandering about in that magic world, but once was quite enough. And up until today I have refused to watch the movie adaptation: I do not want a director to replace my personal images of The Lord of the Rings. I really don’t care what people think of that — I already admitted that I’m sometimes plain stupid ;)

* Mr Gnoe is Not Amused that I’m calling myself a cow in this post. Don’t you love that? :))

Other bookish things

I’m currently reading The Accidental by Ali Smith. Haven’t gotten really far yet so I can’t tell you anything about it. I finished Sarah Waters’ Affinity the previous weekend when I was staying with family in the Hautes Fagnes (Belgium). It was a fun read and I hope to share my thoughts with you in a few days.

In between my previous Sunday Salon and Waters I also read Shusaku Endo’s Silence for the Japanese Book Group and The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch for my personal 2008-2010 challenge and this year’s What’s in a name challenge, category ‘body of water’. Aw, lots of reviews to write up!

Cover The Accidental, by Ali SmithCover Silence, by Shusaku EndoCover The Sea, The Sea (Iris Murdoch)

The Pillow Book

Reading along with the ‘Pillow Book Friday‘ on In Spring It Is The Dawn
Arrived at entry: 111/180
Entries read since last time: 26
Edition: 1986 Dutch translation of Ivan Morris’ Penguin edition: Het hoofdkussenboek van Sei Shōnagon (transl. from English by Paul Heijman)

Last month I went out to dinner with two of my friends and they were really strict with me, telling me to quit (!) reading The Pillow Book. Why? Because I hardly took up a book at all and reading the plotless musings of Sei Shōnagon had become a huge chore. Honest, it was a BIG relief to hear them say that! So I stopped, but never got round to pulling the cover off my blog page. Today I wanted to do so, but not without telling you about it! Maybe I shouldn’t have… While checking the page number where I had ended my Pillow Book project, I noticed I have only about 75 entries more entries to go — less than a hundred pages! What to do???

Cover Geketende Democratie (Japan), Hans van der LugtOther Japan-related nonfiction I’m reading is a book by Hans van der Lugt, a Dutch reporter having stayed on the Japanese islands for over 10 years: Geketende democratie, Japan achter de schermen. It hasn’t been published in English but if I’d have a go at translating the title it would be something like: Democracy in Chains; Behind the Scenes in Japan. The author’s revealing accounts are quite interesting, but the book doesn’t really call out to me to come read. And that is what I need these days! I guess I could ‘do’ a chapter every once in a while — maybe after I have finished reading The Pillow Book? ;)

The Sunday Salon is a virtual gathering of booklovers on the web, where they blog about bookish things of the past week, visit each others weblogs, oh — and read ;)

3 kinds of radish

This week’s vegetable packet contains 3 kinds of radish and a request for feedback on which we like best. The bundle shown in the picture was actually a little bigger but we gave one piece each to wlfr who loves a test like that.

Yes, that is the same wlfr who made me do the Pepsi test when we were kids, and had me taste Nibbit Cocktail Chips blindfolded to see whether I really liked the red ones best. Anyway, it seemed only fair since I had devoured half his stash of radishes on our hike.

I’ll present our verdict on the radishes later this week!

CSA vegetable packet week 22, 2010

  • pak choi (Chinese cabbage)
  • spinach
  • red lettuce
  • 3 kinds of radish
  • spring onion
  • red bell pepper

ETA — the spinach turned into an Indonesian meal: toemis bajem & djagoeng (spinach & corn) with telor boemboe Bali and nasi goreng which contained some of last week’s bundle garlic. The bok choi, bell pepper and scallions were stir-fried (added the chili pepper from week 23) in sesame oil, soy sauce and ginger syrup and served with bami goreng, using part of the celery. The radishes became sandwich toppings, healthy snacks and they were indeed submitted to a veggie test. Lettuce & spring onion in salad.


Bento #101 was another ‘ordinary’ workday lunch. Or was it?

Top tier

  • Deviled (curry) eggs
  • Salad of tomato, gherkin, celery stalk, red bell pepper and fresh Italian herbs on a bed of Romaine lettuce and corn salad
  • Freshly made lemony houmous

Tier on the right

  • Thin wasa crackers
  • Cashews with garlic and rosemary
  • Puff pastry with goat’s cheese, spinach, chopped pine nuts, honey, chives and thyme on Romaine leaf
  • Dried cranberries

Below

  • Fruit mix of apple, pear and kiwi in lemon juice
  • Plumtomatino on a skewer with a balsamic pickled onion
    (I’m so lucky to have received these food picks as a present!)

Re-Bento 101, 4 mei 2010
Does the contents of my bento in any way look or sound familiar to you? Probably not, but there is something special going on…

Bento #101 is a make-over of my very first: Première Bento! Here’s what it looked like.

Première Bento #1, 16-06-2007

Much more bland-looking than today’s lunch, isn’t it?

Bento #1 came along on a hike on June 16th, 2007. Yesh, you heard that right: I will be celebrating my 3-year bento anniversary next month! In the years and exactly 100 bentos that have passed, I have obviously learnt to pay more attention to colour. And although my composition may still be somewhat cluttery — that salad doesn’t allow your eyes a rest, does it? — it is not messy. Look at the way I presented my houmous the first time… Different, right?

My arrangement is neater and I’ve put in more veggies. I just think more about packing a balanced meal.

Now I hope you haven’t forgotten that I’m not just comparing bento #101 to #1. I actually took the same box and ingredients I used at the time! Cool idea, isn’t it? Yeah well, it’s not mine…

Bento goddesses Gamene, Sheri, Debra and Susan have been re-inventing their initial bentos in the previous week, to see how their skills have improved. I couldn’t resist doing the same for bento #101; such an appropriate number! I hope I’ll have a similar brilliant brainwave for my upcoming bento-anniversary ;)

Check out the posts that inspired me!

I did not feel like making the same puff pastry dish and egg-filled tomato of bento #1, but really: all original ingredients are there. I just translated cherries (which are not in season at the moment) into ‘fruit’, La vache qui rit into cheese and reshuffled a bit ;) Boy, did I have fun! Although I’m a tiny bit frustrated that I forgot to include my usagi bento box lid in the picture to prove it’s the same box :(

I’ll end today’s post with a little secret. Look at another picture of bento #101 to see how I prevented my houmous from spilling..!

Organic: bell pepper, pickled onions, apple, chickpeas, tahin, honey, plumtomato

This week I could no longer keep myself from joining the Graphic Novel Challenge as an Intermediate, which means I need to read 3-10 comic books before January 1st. It was a logical step because I had just finished Mutts earlier in the week (short review to be added later on) and I was also really interested in Read All Over’s mini challenge about reading the graphic version of a classic.

So I picked up Dick Matena’s illustrated version of Gerard Reve’s De avonden (The Evenings) at the library; 4 volumes in total. So far I’ve only read part 1 — and I think that might be enough…

De Avonden (The Evenings) graphic novel part 1-4

De avonden: een winterverhaal (The Evenings: a Winter Story) is a Dutch 1947 classic by Gerard Reve (1923-2006), one of The Grand Threesome of Dutch postwar authors. It’s his most famous work, that is known by all generations that lived during and since the forties. The novel describes the last 10 days of 1946 from the perspective of Frits Egters, an office clerq (not a job he’s proud of). It’s a gloomy depiction of a bourgeois existence — and it shocked many people at the time because of its bleakness. And it still does. Then again, the final paragraph of the The Evenings is considered the best prose of Dutch 20th century literature:

Hij zoog de borst vol adem en stapte in bed. ‘Het is gezien,’ mompelde hij, ‘het is niet onopgemerkt gebleven.’ Hij strekte zich uit en viel in een diepe slaap.

I’m afraid I don’t have any translational skills but I’ll give it a try:

He took a deep breath and got into bed. “It was seen,” he muttered, “it hasn’t gone unnoticed.” He stretched out and fell into a deep sleep.

Page 9 from De avonden, part 1In 2001 Dick Matena converted The Evenings into an unabridged illustrated story for a Dutch newspaper, Het Parool. The graphic novel which was published in 2003-2004. As you can see it’s done in (indian?) ink; in different tones of grey instead of black and white pictures full of contrast. Almost sepia, giving it an ancient feeling ;) But I have no idea if the style fits 1940′s comics; anyone can comment on that?

Anyway, it looks quite sombre, matching the story. The characters’ features aren’t very sharp either. As far as I’m concerned the artwork doesn’t add anything to the narrative; actually I think I’d rather read the original book. One thing I did like though was that Frits Egters is about the same age as my father was at the time; so clothes, haircut, etc. are quite familiar from photo’s ;) But I didn’t feel any connection with the story, nor the personae. Of course maybe I’m not supposed to ;) But it should be fun to read, not a chore.

Graphic Novels mini-challenge button

Which brings me to the reason I picked up this classic… My 2007 personal reading challenge consisted of reading all books on the shortlist for the election of the Best Dutch Book (ever). I skipped The Evenings because I thought I had already read it many years ago. Now I’m not too sure anymore… It might be that I just saw the movie? reading the ‘picture book’ seemed a good alternative. But now that I’ve finished part 1, I don’t feel like spending any more precious reading time on the following 3 volumes. Sorry!

Even worse: Dick Matena is a well-known ilustrator and I considered reading his version of Willem Elsschot’s 1933 classic Kaas (Cheese). But now that I’ve concluded I don’t particularly like Matena’s style I think I’ll pass. But you never know… Last year I wouldn’t have believed that I would be reading so many (ahem) graphic novels by now!

Other Bookish things

But graphic novels weren’t the only bookish thing grabbing my attention this week. I’ve also written a wrap-up post for the 2009 Classics challenge — finally. The one for last year’s What’s in a Name Challenge is still on my to-do list and in only a few days I will need to add another because the 3rd Japanese Literature Challenge ends next Saturday!

Now I need to leave it at this because I really should begin writing my review for The Housekeeper and the Professor. Discussion at the Japanese Literature Book Group starts tomorrow! But you might want to know what book I’m currently reading: The Rapture by Liz Jensen. It is GREAT!

The Sunday Salon is a virtual gathering of booklovers on the web, where they blog about bookish things of the past week, visit each others weblogs, oh — and read ;)

I always enjoy reading Sandy’s Monday Movie Memes on You’ve GOTTA read this! Last week I came close to joining in the fun (on a Sports topic, no less :-o) and today I really couldn’t resist. We’re talking MONSTER MOVIES! Or is it movie monsters? ;)

Well, meet some of my memorable favourites. Monsters, I mean.

The Plant in The Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Cute sapling turns into a man-eating monster demanding to be fed. Hold on to your critters and loved ones!

Louis de Pointe du Lac & vampire Lestat in Interview with the Vampire (1994)
One evil spirit to feel sorry for and another to avoid no matter what. The first time I noticed Brad Pitt is actually good at acting ;) And Tom Cruise only needed to dye his hair to look crrrrrreepy ;)

King Kong in King Kong (1933, 1976, 2005)
Gotta love ‘m, don’t you? Just one big scared animal. Not scary. Okay, he made a bit of a mess, but don’t we all sometimes?

Edward Scissorhands in Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Could Johnny Depp ever look frightening? Noooooooooo. Beware of those claws though!

Gollum in The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
Okay, he doesn’t really count — I only saw a short piece of one of the movies of The Fellowship of the Ring. But I saw HIM and I loved Gollum in Tolkien’s book trilogy — he is uncanny and oh so sad.

De Plaaggeest (The Bully) in Bassie & Adriaan (1978)
As a child I was really scared of a prankster looking like a joker in a well-known television series about a clown and an acrobat, Bassie & Adriaan. And I mean HORRIFIED. It was just an obviously dressed up guy but hey, I couldn’t sleep!

The Monday Movie Meme is hosted by The Bumbles.

In de groententas van deze week:

  • veldsla
  • knolselderij
  • Elstar appels
  • andijvie
  • butternut pompoen
  • sjalotjes!!!

De sjalotjes van de Aardvlo behoren echt tot mijn persoonlijke favorieten. Gek dat zoiets onbeduidends zo’n topper blijkt te zijn :) Sommige dingen veranderen nooit: “klein maar fijn” was mijn motto vroeger toen ik wat onder de maat bleef ;) De appels smaken trouwens ook naar vroeger — hoewel ik moet uitkijken met zulke uitspraken want voor ik het weet komt mijn broer weer met een smaaktest ;)

Todays song might not become a classic, but in light of the events of last week(s) it seems appropriate to present you with this Mighty Mike Patrick Swayze vs. Michael Jackson mash-up: Beat the Wind.

I wish I was geeky enough to make my own mash-up, so I could add China in Your Hand by T’pau — because I keep hearing that song in my head while listening to the Swayze – Jackson duet. Of course she isn’t dead yet ;)

Anyone out there who would like to give it a try? Then RIP-it maestro!

Gnoe goes ExtraVeganza!

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