Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Two years on

It's only been a little over two years since the earthquake and fallout in Fukushima.

Strangely, it feels like it's both been a much longer time since then, as well as much shorter.

I've forgotten most of the Japanese that I'd learnt and picked up, vocabulary and grammar being pushed out by learning German. It feels so long since I last spoke and wrote with relative ease in Japanese.

Yet some words remain solidly in Japanese, and come out when I try to speak German, thanks to watching Japanese anime in the evenings, and occasionally using Japanese vocab apps.

I only occasionally hear from (or write to) my friends and colleagues in Japan - life everywhere is always so hectic and overloaded. But I'm still waiting on my tax refund, due well over a year ago.

My body remembers the shaking, vividly, thanks to my current building shaking every time a truck or tram passes. With the skyrocketing prices in the rental market and poor customer relations from the real estate agents thwarting our attempts, we are still looking for a new apartment that doesn't shake and is quiet - 8 months and counting.

Every time the building shakes, and my body holds a bit more tension, I think of the evacuated Japanese from the coast and towns around Daiichi. They still can't go home, some probably never will. I think of my friend who was waiting for over a year - when I last contacted her, her roof had still not been fixed due to a shortage of roof tiles.

I feel for the school kids in Fukushima, and hope that the school yards have been successfully contaminated. Being stuck inside is not fun, or healthy, and is dreadfully uncomfortable in summer. I wonder if produce from the region is still being tested, sold and eaten. And if it's being included in school lunches without notifying the students.

I rarely eat Japanese cuisine, and I miss it! Ingredients are nigh impossible to buy here, and Japanese restaurants are prohibitively expensive. I do get treats and tea sent to me (thank you Kaori!), and try to make these last as long as I can. However, this is one area I am starting to correct, as it is healthier than my current diet (as long as there aren't the unhealthy school lunches to gobble!) I'm following along with Makiko's free Japanese Cooking 101 on Just Hungry, albeit at a slower pace, as I have to find and then order ingredients!

Red Cross Japan has extended their aid project until March 2014, helping the tens of thousands who are still displaced, as well as those rebuilding their coastal communities. 
Please support if you can!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Searching for the best bread books

Now that I'm looking for a good bread cookbook to replace the one I sold, I'm considering two books by Peter Reinhart, a baking instructor at Johnson and Wales University.

Moving overseas, I sold many of my books or left them behind - I couldn't afford to ship over 800 books!

This is one book I wish I had never sold.

At the time, there was no way I'd even consider kneading bread dough by hand, due to inflammation and compression in my wrists and hands. However, with a bread machine, it makes the process much simpler.

With about 150 recipes from countries around the world, the Cook's Encyclopedia of Bread, by Christine Ingram and Jenny Shapter, is the perfect home baker's reference, especially when you can grab a used copy of the book for under $1!

Half of the book  covers the history and variety of breads in various countries in great detail, sprinkled liberally with colour photos. Bread recipes fill the remaining 120 pages. The one negative point, is that the recipes are with volume measurements (cups), and are not precise.

Both of Reinhart's top-selling books, Artisan Breads Every Day, and The Bread Baker's Apprentice look stunning.

Even though some of the recipes are more involved than in other bread cookbooks (made over the course of a couple of days), the breads look amazing!

It's too hard to decide between these two, so both are on my wishlist.

What's your favourite bread book? Or your favourite bread type, if you're not a bread baker?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Upgrading photography gear

I've spent the last month or so, wrapping my head around DSLR technology, and trying to balance my budget with the quality of lenses, cameras, accessories and functionality.

It's been at times frustrating, partly because there are so many choices to make, and also because the reviews of cameras and lenses are not necessarily similar between different photographers.

I knew I wanted to go Canon - they have excellent image stabilisation, and that's one thing I do need, especially with a heavier camera and lenses.

Camera body

I chose the DSLR camera body based on how it fit in my hand. Originally, I'd toyed with the idea of upgrading to a new Powershot with IS and a large zoom. But I mashed the buttons with the base of my thumb, plus it couldn't easily shoot raw.

The 7D and larger, older models were too heavy, and a little too expensive - I wanted to spend the most on quality lenses. The new-ish 650D fit my hand beautifully, and wasn't too heavy, at least with the lighter lenses on it.


Luckily, I know my photography style, which helped in choosing the right lenses for me. I also wanted to only get EF lenses, in case I upgrade to a full-frame body in a few years or so.

Macro was a no-brainer - I love my macro flower photography. The 100mm IS L lens is the only Canon macro lens with image stabilisation. This wasn't a difficult decision.

I also love shooting wildlife, pushing my zoom on my point and shoot to its limits. The 70-300mm IS L won over the 70-200mm IS L, purely because of the extra 100mm of zoom.

I'd love to get a wide angle lens, but the 650D is a crop sensor. Most of the 'wide angle' lenses, become standard lenses if they aren't used on full frame camera. Plus, I have a gap in my range for portraits -- the 70mm/100mm can be used, but I'd have to be on the other side of the room.

Canon has just announced (at the beginning of November) a new 24-70mm F/4 IS lens, which fills my 'standard zoom' gap almost perfectly! I'm impatient for it to be released and tested by pro photographers.

Then the accessories, which have proven to be the most headache-causing and nightmare-causing choices.


I knew I wanted a polarizer, but wasn't sure about UV or clear filters, purely for protection purposes, until I thought I had a scratch on my new 100mm lens. I chose the B+W nano filters because of their super coating, plus they are available here.


this one has me stumped. I like the messenger style, if it isn't too heavy. Backpacks are great for hiking. But I want to be able to carry my camera every day, along with my purse, glasses and other little things.

Other accessories that I'm not yet sold on
  • I bought a hand-strap, and while it certainly helps prevent hand fatigue, I'm not happy with its quality.
  • I haven't yet decided on a tripod/monopod. I want carbon for its lightness, and a ball-head mount for its flexibility. But the prices have put me off for the moment.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

On writing

When people ask me what I do, I usually mumble in a rambling fashion, something about education, writing, translating, editing, training, teaching or some combination of these. Often the writing part is pushed aside as an interest, a hobby.

I have never stated clearly that I am a writer.  Even when I worked as a technical writer, I never really considered myself a 'writer'.

Yet writing is a huge component of my work. Training material, assessments, procedure and policy documents, research papers, websites, online help, handouts, booklets, software test reports, and so much more in many fields, from highly technical, medical, business, and educational from children to adults.

From today onwards, I'm not going to mumble or ramble. I'm not going to blather or push it aside as a hobby.

I am a writer and I am a teacher, plus I'm very flexible with the topics I write about or teach.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Slow progress

Celtic seasons

I feel I've managed to move a little on many fronts. I've been stagnant for a long time, just trying to keep my head above water as I adjust to new circumstances.
  • I've framed the first of several finished cross stitch projects - Celtic Seasons looks great (albeit strange) on the hall wall.
  • My first kimono is now displayed, although it still needs clips to keep the panels open properly. It's amazingly long, almost floor to ceiling in this apartment!
  • I'm writing like crazy, however a little too slowly. I received a comment recently that I used backspace far too much - I let my fingers type before my brain has decided exactly how to phrase. It's certainly not a time-effective way to work.
  • I've caught up (mostly) with packages and letters, but email is lagging far behind. I'm not even looking into my newsreader.
  • I've won a few more competitions (mostly for shampoo/body wash and the like, or e-books), even though I enter these things sporadically.
  • Learned Words is up, but is only a fledgling at the moment, until I can decide on how to run with it in the long term. I think I'd like to shift the education/training/language articles and blog posts there, but my time is largely spoken for at the moment.
  • My English courses are popular (with waiting lists), even though other English courses had to be closed due to lack of interest. I'd like to move these to an afternoon time slot, but most of the students work/study during the day. Evening classes are tough to teach, and even harder to sleep soundly afterwards. The students have complained that my English has become more difficult after I started writing, so I must watch my language more carefully in class.
  • I passed the language exam with flying colours, but am forgetting what I learned all too quickly. I'd love to attend the next level, but the non-intensive course clashes with my evening classes. I can understand a lot now (hearing and reading), but don't speak enough. Apparently I write mostly like an English speaker, understandable, but with mangled or awkward grammar.
Focus: daily stretching
Drunk: Irish breakfast tea

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fighting the overwhelm

For as long as I can remember, I've had the feeling that the only state I know well is being overwhelmed. Perhaps it's related to not being in control of events. Like the abuse that filled my childhood, the pain and multiple operations for endometriosis/adenomyosis (next one will likely be next year), and the unexpected and uncontrollable natural disasters that have personally affected me in the last few years.

Of course, there are many more 'controllable' aspects that increase the overwhelm. Especially the seemingly unavoidable feedback loop of earning to pay for medical treatment, and the work (or work situation) negatively affecting health. But also the drive to keep studying, taking on too large a work/study/life load, being strongly affected by other people's problems (especially family), having so many interests and hobbies, and wanting to help everyone with everything, even when unhappy and unwell. I seem to have always aimed at being an over-achiever, but almost never achieving what I set out to do.

More than one professional has suggested that many people may take on too much because of their fear of failure, even though this seems counter-intuitive. By overloading, problems will inevitably arise, which the person can then blame for not achieving the goal. Some suggest it's because of a fear of uncertainty (or risk). By overloading, it is almost certain that at least one thing will fail.

I've put myself in such a situation again. I have started the third of a three-course intensive language program, am trying to keep up with the Stanford database course (my computer science knowledge is extremely rusty), running my first ever English conversation course (lesson planning and formal grammar learning devours so much time), started to write on HubPages, enrolled in a couple of writing courses, agreed to review some books, and have agreed to take on more English classes soon. I'm often chafing that I can't pursue my other hobbies - they are the first things that get put aside for work, then study and then writing commitments. Of course, this is in a place unfamiliar to me, without my normal support network, after a series of events in the last few years that were truly overwhelming for me.

So my current focus is finding strategies to fight the overwhelm, pruning back to things that are important, and working towards somewhat better health, before the next operation knocks me over again.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Ways to help Japan

Two weeks after the quake and tsunami, the death toll has topped 10,000. Hundreds of thousands are displaced, living in evacuation shelters around the country.

Much damage has been done to fundraising efforts by the misinformation being spread by international news services (and many foreign embassies), specifically about the Fukushima power plant. The 10,000 dead and even more still missing, the towns that have been wiped out, all along the north-eastern coast of Japan have absolutely nothing to do with the plant. Trivialising the earthquake and tsunami by focusing on the Fukushima plants shows a staggering lack of intelligent, rational, factual, scientific and correct reporting. The media seems to want only to spread fear and panic.

This earthquake and tsunami was the biggest combined disaster to ever hit Japan -- I hope the foreign media focus will return to this, encouraging more people to help, instead of (wrongly) fearing for their lives.


News services from Japan in English

Often the English versions of Japanese news services run behind the Japanese news, sometimes by several days.
Note: the NHK World uStream will be stopped tonight (25th), but you can still watch on the NHK World site, and on Livestation.

Also, the portal from Japan Meteorological Agency is good for weather forecasts for affected regions, and updates about aftershocks.