Saturday, April 30, 2011

But Mom, He's So Cuuute!

As if the tadpoles....

...and the crawdads weren't enough to be keeping in the house,  Wednesday night Koshi came bombing in the house shouting, "Mama!...

"...Mama!  There's a kitty in the middle of the road and his eyes are hurt! Can I go back and look for him?!?!"

I should have said no.  We live in company housing--no pets allowed.

I should have said no.  But looking at Koshi's stubborn expression, I figured, "Well, by the time he gets back to where ever he saw that kitty, it'll probably be gone.  What can it hurt?"

He and his sister came bursting back in the door some fifteen minutes later-- "Mama!  Look!" 

I looked at Koshi's face--saw him wipe a tear away.  Then I looked at the tiny orange bit of fluff wrapped in the old towel I had given him.

Well?  What would you have done?

I shouldn't have looked.
"See, mama?  His eyes are hurt!"  Not hurt--just crusted nearly shut with conjunctivitis.  But otherwise unhurt, I thought.  Hungry, surely--who knew how many days this little thing had been out wandering.  And I knew it was supposed to pour rain that night.

I looked at Koshi again.  I looked at the weak, rapidly breathing kitten... and I knew I couldn't tell Koshi to put it down and walk away.

I just couldn't.

"Alright--I can take him to the vet tomorrow to get medicine for his eyes if you promise to tell everyone at school that there's a kitty who needs a home."

"Yattaaa---!" (Yes!)

And thus has this wee bit of marmalade fluff wobbled his way into everybody's hearts...

One of these toys moves without batteries...
Within a day, he (found out at the vet) was much genki-er, eating well, and able to climb and jump.  Tora (Koshi's been calling him the Japanese word for Tiger), being toy-sized,  put himself into the toybox...

...except when it's sleepy.  Then toy doesn't move...
...and promptly went to sleep.

I took him the next morning, as promised, to the vet, who cleaned up his eyes and his ears and gave him heartworm medicine and his vaccination. Yup--definitely a boy.  450 grams.  One pound exactly.  Except for the conjunctivitis (which has cleared up in the meantime), basically a healthy kitty.

This was actually Koshi's idea...
The kids got Cici's old doll stroller out and wrapped Tora in old baby blankies and took him for walks up and down the hall...

...he went to sleep during that, too.  He seems to be a pretty laid-back kitty.  He hasn't hidden in a corner yet.  As soon as we brought him in, he cried in the box and stopped as soon as I held him.  Calmed right down on my lap.

Actually, my eyes are gray.  And all better:-))
We had a houseful of kids today--all the friends wanted to come see the kitty.  S-chan could hardly put him down--he rode around on her shoulder for quite a while with no complaint.

That little kitty wobbled from lap to lap, was held by eight different children, rode around in the stroller...

...then went right to sleep on Koshi's tummy after dinner.

Contented and unafraid
...Naturally Koshi was just enchanted.  So was I, for that matter.  This morning he used his little toilet all by himself, then climbed out of his box and into my lap... and promptly went to sleep.

I am in So. Much. Trouble.

Here's hoping that O-baasan falls for him, too...

 (p.s.-- brief blog break over the weekend, since we'll be at O-baasan's house 'til Monday.  The Azaleas will be out--I'll take pictures:-))

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

SpyShopper-- Vegetables for Spring

Fuki no Tou (Petasites japonicus, left)  and  Kogomi (Matteuccia struthiopteris, right)

Oooh!  It's springtime and all the interesting, "what-on-earth-is-that?" vegetables are appearing in amongst the usual broccoli and green peppers. 

The one on the left I may just go ahead and buy, since Cici will be thrilled.  Or at least interested.  The very first story in the second grade language textbook is a sweet little tale called "Fuki no Tou"...the vegetable (flower head, really) on the left in the photo above. 

I just realized that this photo I took of "something" growing in a neighbor's backyard... is in fact Fuki, also called Giant Butterbur or Bog Rhubarb (seriously, who thinks of these names?).  Both the unopened flower buds (in the top photo) and the stalks are edible. 

The Fuki stalks (which aren't too expensive, and can be purchased peeled and parboiled) I have cooked with before.  They taste nice simmered with sliced bamboo shoot in a cup or so of water with a tablespoon each of light soy sauce and sugar.  Sprinkle katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) on top for a rather elegant-looking spring dish which is also filling (lots of fiber).

The other vegetable, Kogomi, looked to me rather like the fiddlehead of a fern.   Come to find out... it *is* the fiddlehead of a fern!  Well!  Who knew?   The fiddlehead of the ostrich fern, in fact, which my mother had planted in abundance on the shady north side of our house.  I had no idea you could eat those!

Y498?  Yikes...

I'd like to cook something with the Butterbur flower heads (just like in the second grade story-- I *think* all three kids would try it, since they've all read that story...).

Bit on the pricey side, though (Y498!! Holy Butterburs, Batman!)...


Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday Field Notes-- Distracted by Spiders...

Nephila jurassica...  (found in the Daohugou beds in northeastern China)

...And this is exactly why I can't get *anything* done.  That up there is the biggest spider fossil ever found (thanks, Alice!!).  Not just any old spider, either.  I took one look at the name and said, "Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! Nephila!!"

That's right-- that amazing, 165-million-year-old Mid-Jurassic fossil is in the same genus as my beloved Jorougumo (Nephila clavata).  This one, remember?

Nephila clavata (Jorougumo...the Binding Lady)  Compare the legs!  The Betty Grable of spiders...;-))

And with this fossil, genus Nephila is now 130 million years older than previously suspected (the oldest known fossil prior having been a mere 34 million years old).  But just look at those legs!  There's no doubt that the Jurrasic had orb-web spiders.  It's spiders that spin huge, sticky webs that sport those beautiful, curving, fine-tipped legs that can dance across an intricate web evolved to trap insects without getting stuck themselves.  According to the Smithsonian article, those fossil legs stretched 6 inches! (Go read the article--they think it may even have been able to catch and eat small bird-like dinosaurs!)

Carefully...carefully...or she will eat you...;-))

Unlike modern members of the Nephila genus, however, some researchers think the Jurassic species was not sexually dimorphic--that the male was possibly roughly the same size as the female.  A 130-mya male spider fossil of the Cretaraneus genus found in Spain was the same size as the female, leading researchers to postulate that Nephila at that time may also not have been dimorphic.

Wheee! I am so addicted to spiders:-))

Araneus diadematus... Niwaonigumo (European Garden Spider)
Click to know you want to;-)

The other day I was walking home from school and saw this *darling* little spider, who was so itty-wee my camera wouldn't focus on her.  Had to put my hand behind her so she'd be in focus instead of the background foliage.  But I don't know who she is!  Spider Experts of teh Interwebs-- HELP!  Who is this spider?  Found
April 17 in Yokohama, Japan in a bush next to the street at eye level... should I put her on milk cartons?

Update:  I do now-- should have done more homework before posting.  But I thought I'd be days searching for "small brown spider" on Google image search...   So, after smacking my head into the table when I realized that she was sitting on an orb-web...well, duh.  I could have put "small brown orb-web spider" into Google and gotten there much sooner.  So she's "just" a garden spider--also called the Diadem Spider or Cross Spider because of the markings on her back (interesting side note:  "The white dots result from cells that are filled with guanine, which is a byproduct of protein metabolism.").  In Japanese, she's "Niwaonigumo"--the Garden Ogre Spider.

Here's where things get interesting, though.  Turns out, Nephila clavata above, Araneus diadematus here, and Argiope bruennichi below used to all be classified in the same genus-- Epeira, a sort of catch-all taxa for a wide range of spiders in the 19th century.  Curvy legs and round web?  Into Epeira you go!  Until, that is, somebody noticed that Epeira was getting *awfully* full, and started splitting.  The Golden Orb Web spiders (Jorougumo above, and also apparently the new Chinese fossil as well) were given an entirely distinct family to themselves (the Nephilidae) and four separate genera (Clitaetra, Herennia, Nephila, and Nephilengys).  More than enough space for everyone to get his own bedroom.  Epeira was dumped in favor of Araneidae (the former now being considered a junior synonym of the latter), into which family both the above Araneus genus (my pretty Diadem Spider) and the Argiope genus below (the gorgeous silver-faced Wasp Spider) were placed.

There!  A nice, neat family, dusted and cleared of clutter.  Sort of.  Looking up Araneidae to see which genera were put there, I find... 30 genera starting with the letter "A".  170 genera all together in the Araneidae family.  I'd say there's a bit more spring cleaning to be done..;-)

Oxytate striatipes... Wakabagumo

I also found (and nearly stepped on--gomen!) this lovely one whose name in Japanese is "Wakabagumo".  A name which means, appropriately, "Young Leaf Spider"--and he's exactly the color of a glowing new leaf.  Yes, that's right, He in this case.  This species is sexually dimorphic (the male being about 8-10mm, the female 12-13mm), but not so much as Jorougumo.  The male is more easily  distinguished by his narrower abdomen than by his size.  Not an orb Web spider, though-- this one is a Green Crab Spider (family Thomisidae), so called because of the way they hold their front legs and the fact that they can scuttle in a manner similar to crustaceans.

Tiny new Ginkgo leaves illuminated by the morning sun...

See?  Same color...

"Hey! Giant person! Look out!"

 ...the only reason, in fact, delicate little Wakabagumo was saved from being squashed was a young grasshopper who jumped in front of me.  I stopped to look at him, then thought I saw another.  But, no!  Almost the same size and color, but a new (to me) spider!  Squee!

 And I almost stepped on him!  I tried to tiptoe after that, big hulking giant that I am...

...and in other spider news...

Nagakoganegumo... Argiope bruennichi (Family: Araneidae)
...striking silver-faced Argiope, the Wasp Spider (a writing spider), whom I posted about last fall, I'm hoping to see again soon.  At the end of that post, I put up a photo of her egg sac, which was precariously pasted into a chain-link fence.  I kept an eye on it all winter.  And in January...

they made it!
Now I have to think of baby spider names...

Mata asobou, ne!

p.s.-- I promise I will post the rest about Tsukushi.  That's a whole 'nother rabbit hole, though... nodes and spores and strobili and...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tsukushi-- Miso Soup for Spring

Tsukushi means Spring! (Field Horsetail)

If you happen to have any of this growing in the backyard or a nearby field... did you know you can eat it?  I'd never seen it before we moved down here to Yokohama, and at first I only saw the children playing with it, in mud pies, peeling off the little skirts and such.  It wasn't until a year or two later that I noticed H-kun's mama (Koshi's friend) picking it with her son.  I asked her what she was going to do with it, and she told me how to make Miso soup with it.


...oooh!  Cooking with weird stalks picked out back--exotic!

I immediately set about picking some myself, and enlisted the kids' help.  The first time we made this, we picked *way* more than we needed...


...which made the cleaning part rather tedious.  Breaking off the tip (which my friend told me she did) is easy enough, but the hakama ("skirt"--the dark-tipped leaves at each node, called such because of their resemblance to traditional Japanese formal wear)...those take rather more time to get off.

into the pot...
I made mine with tofu and aburage (fried bean curd, made--like tofu--from soybeans), but you could just as well put in naga-negi (long onion, like a leek) or wakame (edible seaweed).
Use your ladle to scoop out a tablespoon or so of miso paste (I'm not sure exactly how much I put in since I always just eyeball it.  My ladle had markings for 1T and 2T, and I scoop out what I imagine to be about 1T...)

*A note on adding the Miso paste...
I searched for some time on YouTube for something I'd seen on TV about how it can be dangerous to just dump a bunch of Miso into a pot and put the lid on.  The show I remember watching, in fact, experimented with why that was supposed to be the case... and showed the pot exploding.  Apparently heat and/or pressure or steam can become trapped below the miso, which then explodes outward all over the kitchen.  And since I forgot to have Koshi video me dissolving the miso into the hot water, I found a video of somebody else doing that.  Watch how she uses her ladle and o-hashi (at the 2:00 mark)to dissolve the miso--that's just how my mother-in-law showed me how to do it:-))

Itadakimaaa---su!-- Oishikatta! (It was delicious--a nice, light taste:-)
More on Tsukushi tomorrow--it's fascinating stuff...;-))

Mata asobou, ne!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Shhh... Listen--the Nightingale is Singing...

There's nothing much to see in this video because the Japanese Bush Warbler is notoriously difficult to spot since he's tiny (about 15cm long) and drab (he's nearly the same color as the leaves and branches).  You're far more likely to hear than to see him.  This is his springtime breeding song--doesn't he sing beautifully?  He's sure to have the ladies swooning...;-))

Uguisu... Cettia diphone
Not my photo, as I've never been so lucky:-((  But in the Wiki photo you can see why he'd be so hard to spot.  He tends to sing from deep within the bush or tree, so once the leaves are out... well, good luck trying to spot him!  The reason the video above is panning around those bushes (at the temple where I go to pick up keys) is because I *did* see him!  I saw him fly right into those bushes!! I did!  And he hid right inside those bushes, singing his heart out.


He sits right over in the cherry trees across the street...

This is why hanging up laundry to dry is my favorite (if there can be such) chore.. at least, this time of year it is:-))  On a warm day, with cherry blossoms across the street, serenaded by the Japanese Nightingale... that's a household chore I don't mind at all!  This, in fact, is why he's also sometimes called the "Hanamidori"--the Spring Flower Viewing Bird... 

*Note: I think there's a new Uguisu across the street!  He's not singing the full song, and sounds tentative.  I think we have a youngun' over there practicing (gambare!)... I'll try to get him recorded, too, so's to compare.  There's a definite difference--I knew it was a different bird from past years as soon as he started singing, and wondered whether he wasn't maybe a young one just learning.  A trip to Wiki confirmed that notion:   "Young Japanese Bush Warblers do not initially perform the "hoohokekyo" song skillfully, but gradually learn to sing by imitating others in the vicinity."

Enjoy!   Hooooo-ko-ke-ko!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Monday Manglish--For Good Tasty

To adult readers--from time to time, I buy snacks not because I want to eat them, but simply because the packaging just slays me.

This was one of those snacks-- nice little vanilla wafers. 

"You can enjoy this wafers, for good tasty and healthy life."

I just love Manglish that can actually be turned to good purpose and used to comic effect in conversation or writing.  Laughter is good for you, after all--and isn't that the necessity for the healthy life? ;-)

For good tasty-- I am *so* stealing that!


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Friday Field Notes--Peach, Plum, and Cherry

Momo no hana... Prunus persica, peach blossoms
The peach blossoms bloomed this year (and last year, too, if I recall correctly) nearly at the same time as the cherry blossoms, which seems a bit late since they are associated with the Hinamatusri (Doll Festival) in the beginning of March.  This is a problematic state of affairs for my husband, who has a hard time telling cherry blossoms from plum blossoms (in spite of the fact that they bloom at different times), let alone cherry blossoms from peach... I pointed out to him that peach trees often have both pink and  white blossoms on the same tree and that the flowers are much bigger and doubled compared to cherry blossoms.

In fact (occasionally) individual flowers can be bi-color, whereas cherry blossoms tend to be just pink...

Prunus jamasakura
...unless you are in the mountains-- Mountain Cherries tend to be white (Yamazakura).  But you can still tell the difference by looking at the shape of the flowers-- cherry blossoms have five petals and that characteristic notch in the edge of each petal.  Peach blossoms don't have that notch--their edges are smoothly rounded.

a hybrid Weeping Sakura cultivar

But even when the flowers are hybrid doubles, as they are on the weeping cherry in the photo at left...

Weeping Cherry

...the petals still have that characteristic v-notch centered on the edge.  (That's a neighbor's tree--I love poking my nose into other people's gardens to see what's coming up...)

A digression...

I will never walk out of my house without my camera again.  I won't.  We took Cici to the pool today, and as we were standing at the bus stop (next to the river where I took several photos of cherry blossoms in the rain), I saw a bird in one of the cherry trees out of the corner of my eye.  I knew it was something I hadn't seen before and walked behind the bus stop shelter to have a look.  And what to my wandering eye should appear:
 Isohiyodori  (Monticola solitarius)
A Blue Rock-Thrush!! Gah! D'oh!  I stamp my feet in frustration!  Obviously, that photo up there is not mine.  It's a Wiki photo.  Because I didn't have my camera. (...much wailing and smiting and rending of garments ensues...)  Tick in book is not satisfying because I almost grabbed the camera on the way out... and then thought, "Nah..."  Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.  Thwack!

*sigh* End of digression...
gratuitous photo of peach blossom... because I took a zillion photos
The above digression was followed by a very long pause as I wriggled my way down the rabbit hole of the genus Prunus...

Prunus mume (subgenus Prunus)
Heavens to betsy!  No wonder my poor husband can't keep straight the plums (Prunus mume), which are actually an apricot, which are themselves another member of the Prunus genus...

pink and white... on the same tree
...the peaches (Prunus persica), which are originally from China and not (as the botanical name suggests) from Persia (Dr. Batsch was mislead by the common European notion that peaches were native to Persia)...

Prunus persica (subgenus Amygdala)
...which are themselves classified together with almonds (the seeds-- not nuts!-- of the fruit of the almond tree.  I did not know!) in the subgenus Amygdala (which just means "almond-shaped" in Greek.  That's why that bit in the middle of your medial temporal lobes is called that, because they're roughly almond-shaped. )

What was I talking about?

Prunus x yedoensis, the Yoshino cherry
Oh, yes.  Plums, and peaches, and cherries--the last of which are a hybrid in the subgenus Cerasus that occurs naturally all over Japan.  My poor husband looks at peach blossoms and says "Look at that sakura with pink and white flowers!".  No, sweetie, that's a peach.  The flowers are different, and they bloom differently along the branch.  And the plums look different still...

Plums bloom on small twigs branching off the main branch, often offset.

Since each blossom (or pair of blossoms) has its own twig, this gives the effect of each flower having been carefully placed all along the branch in a sort of orderly disorder.  And, as I've mentioned before, plum blossoms smell good...

 ...and the petals are *rounded*.  No notch.

 Peach blossoms bloom similarly along the branch, but are much larger than plum blossoms...

...which gives peach trees that "fluffy", more filled in, look...

...and petals are, like plums, *rounded*.

Cherry blossoms, on the other hand, bloom in sprays of three or four (even five or six sometimes) from every node.  Think of the fruit--the way cherries with the stems still attached can be connected in pairs (isn't that how you would draw cherries if I asked you to?).

When the sakura aren't quite all the way out, the effect is of pale pink floating clusters...

...and the petals are *notched*.

If you're trying to draw cherry blossoms, draw five pairs of parenthesis and attach each pair with a small v at the top:-))

Compare--peach blossoms in the foreground, cherry blossoms on the mountain behind.  See?  Different:-)  Looking at plums, you notice the individual flowers.  On the peach trees, though, it's the individual branches sticking up like fluffy bottle washers that the eye distinguishes.  And the masses of pale pink sakura--are they mist or are they cloud? 

The cherry blossoms, though, are nearly done... the petals are falling, coming down like snow when the wind is strong, leaving the red-violet sepals among the newly unfurling leaves.

Of course, there's a word for cherry trees in that state-- Hazakura, "Leaf Cherry".  My husband thinks they look messy like that;-))

Gambarimasho, Nihon!