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What’s it take to prepare a move? Homes for kittens and plants, giving away some small pieces, a small dresser, a rug, finding storage for three pieces of furniture we want to keep, clothes we won’t wear/have room for in two suitcases, pictures, books, music, tapestries, kitchen stuff. It’s surprisingly easy. And having left for six months of last year, it hardly seems daunting. I think the more you get used to going, the easier it is to let go.

The most difficult? Family. Who will munch on my niece’s cheeks? I’ll look forward to a couple weeks of play time before Japan. And as always, I’m playing as much as possible now. As for keeping in touch, Skype is a godsend. I am buying a web cam, hooking up my parents’ and probably cb’s, and will look forward to ‘seeing’ friends and family. Email. Blogs. Of course, visits are preferable. Too pricey? You have a free place to stay. Sales are everywhere. Keep up with Travelzoo, Kayak. Tickets are usually cheapest during the weekday, more so in the mornings than after work hours. Asia is cheapest in October and November. I’ll meet you anywhere. Save up, have a yard sale. Purge! The secret to life. The Story of Stuff. (What’s in your closet?)

Save up, pack up, let go, come play.

We bought Rosetta Stone Japanese.  While Sue has a command of English, Cantonese and Spanish, I struggle to remember my limited French.  I was convinced for years that I wasn’t good with languages.  I no longer believe that, but do understand learning as an individualized process.  I like to believe that if we moved to France, I’d be proficient/fluent within half a year.  So Japanese is a new priority.  While we have no confirmation that the JET Program will hire us, I think Japan is a relative certainty.  So far, Rosetta Stone is working on my visual instincts and challenging me to comprehend language as if I were a child being spoken to without the ability to have things defined for me.  I rather enjoy the process and don’t think of it as a chore.  As with anything, there are times of frustration and complete lack of understanding but I’m comfortable with the RS methodology.  They say the mind is a muscle and it needs to be exercised.  I’l let you know how my workout progresses!

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oyster & marley exchanging kitty kisses

What is a pet?  Sounds like a funny name to me.  Animal companion seems a little more appropriate.  We say we own our cats, but I feel it’s the other way around.  Catering service twice a day, janitorial services for the bathroom, weekly manicures, 20 hours of rest daily and to top it off, never ending free massages.  Who owns who?  I grew up with cats.  Always wanted a dog.  It seemed like forever, those 14 years where I waited to be settled enough to get an animal to share my home.  Sue is a trooper for putting up with it, being allergic to cats and all.  I know she loves these two poop-heads with all her snot.  Despite those full moon nights where the two kitties rumble at all hours and the unexpected hair balls on the floor and the piles of fur lining every corner of our apartment, these cats have vastly improved my life.  First, to have a creature depend on you (best to not start with a child), is an adjustment.  We depend greatly on the kindness of our cousin to come over for weeks on end while we travel.  Second, to learn the intricacies of a creature that is an exact replica of a huge wild cat is like being a self glorified Steve Irwin.  Being the wild Brooklyn stray kittens that they are/were, I can only say they are one generation away from truly being domesticated.  Plus, Marley is a miniature panther and Oyster is an albino/grey tiger.  How cool!  Third, I know dogs are pretty loyal and loving, but my cats can’t convince us that they know what love is.  Doesn’t stop me from trying.  I guess every day they show me some level of interest or compassion is one step further to happiness for me.  They are what they are, but I couldn’t imagine my life without them.  The reality is, we need to find a home for these two while we’re away.  Our policy has always been that the cats can stay for as long as they want, wherever they want as long as they are loved.  My sister is going to take Marley and if they bond, Marley may never miss us.  Oyster still hasn’t found a home yet.  We’d love to take him to Japan with us but it’s not practical.  We’re looking at being gone for over a year or two.  If you know of anyone interested, let us know!!!  If you feel like something’s missing in your life, get an animal companion and I promise you the rewards will follow!

oyster marley

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The inspiration for this meal came from the farmer’s market in Santa Barbara where I would get my fresh groceries every Tuesday and Saturday.  I was determined to create something with cauliflower and this is what transpired.  I am by no means a cook and have limited experience in every way, but for some reason this became a favorite of my roommate Damien and later my wife Sue Fan.  It’s gone through many different “tests” but the soul of the dish has always remained the same.  Just a little trial and error.  I recommend doing everything ‘to taste’ as I have no real measurements and it really takes on the flavor of the olive oil and the copious amounts of salt I use.  The end result is this cauliflower stir fry on a bed of couscous as pictured.  I took all these pictures as I was cooking this so you can see the amounts I used.  Dinner for two plus leftovers!

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I am blessed. I have lived on a ship, a sailboat, in a flat in London, with a family in Spain, in one of the world’s greatest cities. I’ve had amazing roommates, have wonderful friends, an incredible family. I have seen the wonders of Angkor Wat, the Great Wall of China, Stonehenge. I’ve camped in the Galapagos, Antarctica, Acadia. I’ve found peace in the villages of Totsukawa and Koyasan, Japan, at a Farm in the Poconos, Conquest Road in Delaware. I have played in the ocean with sea lions, minke whales, reef sharks, sea turtles. I’ve para-sailed in the Bahamas, flown on puddle jumpers in Belize, and zipped through canopies in Costa Rica. I’ve surfed in Puerto Rico, kayaked in Panama, rowed in the Mekong Delta, taken boat taxis in Honduras, a ferry to Uruguay. I’ve experienced the trains in India. I’ve seen tea plantations, coffee farming, cranberry harvesting. I’ve jumped off cliffs in Hawaii, swam in caves in Mexico, hiked through the jungles of Malaysia. I’ve gotten lost in Morocco. I listened to Castro speak in Cuba. I’ve met Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have followed the Dalai Lama, have been hugged by Amma. I helped build a house in South Africa. I’ve spent time with those less fortunate throughout the world. I get to shoot for amazing nonprofits.

My life is full of goodness, and I am so grateful.

I don’t think you have to change your whole life to lead a full one. I think you have to let go of the idea that things bring you happiness. I’m human. I have a weak spot for earrings and tapestries. I like things. I just don’t have a lot of them. I save my money for charities, for trips, for things I get to take with me. I dream of having a round home, a hut, a tree house. In the meantime, I get to see the world, share it, live it, and be absolutely in love with it.

Spend a weekend staying home with a bottle of wine, some board games, a movie. Make your own breakfast, lunch, dinner. Borrow books from the library, from friends. Take a walk in the woods, swim in the creek, play in the park. There are so many ways to save your money for undertakings more worthwhile than the local pub on Friday nights. Than expensive dinner dates. Than chai lattes. I think it’s okay to pay true value. I think my food should be local, should be grown with love, should be free to roam, and I pay for that. I think every living being should have basic animal and human rights. I always try to be aware of what effect I am having on Mother Earth. I don’t know when exactly humans decided food should be cheap and year round. I don’t know exactly how we were convinced that big business works for the people. I don’t know why humans are inherently selfish. I just know that each person can do their part in leading better lives for the world and themselves, filled with more joy, more art, more music, more appreciation. More quality. Less fast food, less waste, less stuff.

Spend a week in Central America, a long weekend on an island, a night camping in the woods. Volunteer at your local school. Get involved in life. It doesn’t cost as much as you think. You’ll see there’s so more out there that you can take advantage of. And you will join the 1% with that privilege.

It went very smoothly. The three interviewers asked thoughtful (and relatively funny) questions, they were kind and personable, I answered their questions honestly and happily, and I can’t believe they make you wait until April.

sue fan & me in Angkor Thom, Cambodi

sue fan & me in Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Travel. What compels some people to do it, some people to fear it and some people to wish for it? We had brunch here in NYC with some friends from Delaware. Eventually our plans to go to Japan became the topic of conversation and then the inevitable discussions of prior travels. It’s funny to me that no matter how many places I’ve seen, the wish list doesn’t diminish. One of our friends traveled in Europe for 10 weeks, lived in Alaska for three years on top of countless other experiences. She thinks we’ve done some cool things? The talk winded down the same road that so many other conversations have for us. “How do you do it?” and “I wish I could do it?!?” And our response is always the same.

While I admit our fortunes are entwined with our freelance work status — it’s easy to pick up and go when you’re not working a 9-5’er with 2 weeks vacation — two weeks can really add up to some quality travel time if you use it wisely. When I had a real job, we still managed to get to Puerto Rico on a Friday night and return to NYC for work by Monday morning. Roatan for a week of diving. Yucatan for a week of exploring. Acadia, Maine for camping. It helps to have a partner with common goals – the motivation and inspiration to do more. This is how we attempt to inspire everyone.

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I’ve always wanted to teach English. A struggle between Peru, Japan, and India. I want to dedicate my time to something more meaningful. And let my selfish itchy feet get more play time.

I thought of applying for the JET Programme a while ago. In this global economic downturn, there really is no time like the present. I thought the deadline had passed for 2009, but as John serendipitously found otherwise and as my life is dictated by procrastination anyway, we absolutely knew we had to make it work and couldn’t afford not to. As for John teaching, two applications provide better chances than one and what would he possibly do if he didn’t have something to occupy all his days? The kids of Japan surely have enough energy for him.

Japan is one of my favorite countries. Filled with art, detail, natural wonders, delicious food. It has its own problems for sure but what better place to share them. I can only hope for our success as this point considering we’ve already given up our apartment (anyone need a cute 400 sq ft 1br 5th floor walk up in Chelsea’s Heights?), bought Rosetta Stone, and told everyone.

As for placement requests, we did not just employ Google Images. Maybe John did. Nagano has always been on the top of my list for a place to shack up. I’ve never been able to resist monkeys in hot springs and am dying to snowboard. Aomori is where my friend, adviser, and recommendation-writer Eddie lived out his four or five years in Japan. It’s a place he highly recommends and promises still holds tightly to tradition. It’s possible I googled Yamagata and thought it offered a photographic experience. It does so happen they’re all freezing cold places and there’s no real heat in Japan. Something I will have learn to deal with if we get placed there. Convenient I have someone to keep me warm. And I like hats.

Now I just have to get through the interview.

November 2008, two weeks before Thanksgiving.  Sue Fan and I had been discussing the JET Program (Japan Exchange & Teaching) for a few months.  It is as described, an English teaching program run through the Japanese Government.  It’s one of those programs that you may not have heard about, but once you start throwing it out there into the friend and family cosmos, everyone knows someone who has done it (if they themselves didn’t do it).  Maybe it just happens that we run in a certain crowd or entertain a vagabond energy.  Who knows?  The overwhelming consensus is, despite inherent expat challenges, it’s incredibly rewarding and an experience that we would not regret. With that in mind we put it on our 2010 wish list.  Then the economy happened.  I found myself working almost every day in September and October.  I imagined November and December would be more of the same as they had been the previous year.  I can remember being in Jack Studios in the 401 W. 26th building.  Working with Ted Hartshorn (International Fashion Photographer extraordinaire!) and a regular client, we watched the DOW Jones Industrial Average go from 13,000 points to, I dunno, 8,000 points in the one week we were working that job.  This was the second week in October.   I was glued to the online stock reports.  Ted and I would announce to each other any time a dramatic change happened (this was occuring hourly).  While we had a full month of work ahead, we knew what this meant.  As promised, work all but evaporated for November.  I could usually plan out my work schedule three months in advance.  All of a sudden I had 5 days of work in November and nothing on the horizon after that.  The JET program was soon becoming a 2009 priority.  What better way to force your hand.  Make decisions fast and hard!  Here we were, thinking it was too late for applying, and I went on the JET website just to check.  Wow, we have two weeks before the deadline for 2009.  Could it be done?  Should we go for it?  Can we determine on this very day that Japan is a possibility 8 months from now?  Packing up NYC, moving to a new country?  While this seemed natural for us to consider this in 2010 with over a year to plan, all of a sudden we were hedging (ironic word for the crash-inducing, plan-changing economic downturning-ness ) our future in two weeks time.  I guess that’s how we roll!?!  The next day I was at the Japanese Embassy picking up application materials.

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