Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A White Christmas

A very Merry Christmas was had indeed. For Christmas Eve the lovely Elizabeth made it to our house from deepest darkest Aurora, and we were also joined by a few family friends. With great company, excellent roast beef and delicious wine, the evening was wonderful.

We awoke early this morning to a flurry of snow, and a gorgeous blanket of white was draped over the neighborhood. While it did keep us homebound for much of the day, it is hard to argue with the beauty of a White Christmas...

Monday, December 24, 2007

Japan in Sepia

I recently obtained a copy of Adobe Lightroom (thanks sis!), and I've been having lots of fun with it. Lightroom is like a stripped down, more intuitive version of Photoshop produced especially for digital photographers. One of the many interesting tools at my disposal is a quick and easy sepia filter that really looks great, in my opinion. Changing photos, especially photos of castles and temples, to sepia never gets old!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Hard Work

It's hard to believe that I have now been employed for over two weeks. Now that I'm not sitting at home all day, time seems to be flying by, which is both good and bad. Monday was my first full day manning the phones, but we had computer problems so much of the day was spent doing nothing. The call volume has been dropping the closer we get to Christmas, I can't imagine many people will call their tour company on Christmas Eve!

So far, I really enjoy the job. I've taken some pretty cool calls, helped a lot of people, and even made money while doing it! Of course it's not as active or as hands on as teaching was, but the company seems better in a lot of ways, and my co-workers all seem pretty cool. I'd have to say that I think I probably lucked out, but only time will tell.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


The other day we were treated to a truly glorious sunset. I just wish that I had a better angle for my photographs, it was very hard to do the view justice.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Rock and Roll Weekend!

Yesterday I walked into Best Buy and lo and behold saw a single X-Box version of Rock Band.

For those who don't know, Rock Band is a new game where people can form their own virtual band, and using simulation instruments, rock out to over 60 famous songs. Its an offshoot of the famous Guitar Hero franchise, only instead of just guitars you can play lead, bass or drums, and even sing!

After a few ours of faux rock, I met up with Matt, Liz, Brian, and Daria, and we went to see Flogging Molly!

Flogging Molly has long been one of my favorite bands, with their mixing of traditional Irish instruments with the L.A. Punk scene an eclectic yet winning formula. I've seen them once before, and was blown away by the energy of their live show, so I was very eager to see a repeat performance.

Despite the horrific weather and snow, I wasn't dissapointed at all. The band about blew the roof off of The Filmore with the raw rock and roll energy. Everybody had a great time, and I hope they swing back through Denver again soon.

They finished their set with this song, Seven Deadly Sins,

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Well, I'm starting work today!

My re-entry into the world of employment commences in one hour. Wish me luck!

How Many Shopping Days 'Till Christmas?

A great way to get in the Christmas spirit is to drive into the mountains, wander the snowy forest until you find the perfect tree, then chop it down and drag it home. And so, that is exactly what Elizabeth, My Father, and Myself did this past Sunday. That we got to stop at the delicious Tommyknockers brewery on the way home didn't hurt. My muscles sure did though, dragging 9 foot pine trees is harder work than you would think!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

An idea.

While I was getting some photos developed the other day, I noticed that you can now have a personalized 12 month calendar made using your own photographs. It got me thinking about making up a Japan calendar, as I do have about 10,000 pictures covering my 24 month stay. I dare say I could find 12 interesting images to make a calendar. The question is, would anybody else be interested in owning one of these? Let me know, either through e-mail or comments if you, my loyal readers, think this would be a good idea.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Happy Birthday Elizabeth!

For her birthday I took Elizabeth the girlfriend (not Elizabeth the sister, whose birthday is soon but not now) to Idaho Springs for a dose of mountain air and smelly hot water. We had a great time meandering around the foothills, and lucked out with a bit of impromptu elk viewing.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Happy Turkey Day

Happy Thanksgiving, especially to those still in Japan, the land that turkey forgot.

The view from Lou's

A bit up the road from my Grandparent's ranch sits the glorious abode of their neighbor, Lou Rovano. While he lives in the greater bay area most of the time, he often spends weekends up in the wine country, growing grapes and making his own vintage. We took some time away from sawing and splitting to take a quick tour of his house, and try some of his delicious home made port.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Starry Night

One thing that has been denied to me for too long was a glimpse of the night sky unblocked by light pollution. While it can be fun to hang out in the brighter than the noonday sun lighting of Shinjuku and Shibuya, the omnipresent neon glare doesn't do astronomers any favors.

Luckily for me, my grand parents ranch is two miles from the nearest town, and tiny Hopland isn't exactly a metroplex on the Tokyo scale. Combine distance with a new moon, and for the first time in ages I had a night sky that was perfect for star gazing.

My total count of "interesting objects" for my time in California came up with a single satellite and a grand five shooting stars! One of those was a pretty large fireball that left a trail across the night sky. I was one thrilled little sky junky that night.

Of course I also had the opportunity to dust off my little used tripod and try some night shots. Unfortunately I don't have a remote, so I was limited to 30 second exposures, which isn't really enough time to get good detail. Luckily, photoshop came to the rescue, and with some enhancement and modification I got some interesting detail out of a couple of my sky shots.

I also tried some interesting lighting schemes with my grandfathers giant flashlight. I was shocked that my attempt to write "Hi!" with light was actually legible, but the standout it my "close encounters" aliens swooping down to abduct a deer on the hillside. Even though I was merely holding the light over my head, it looks a lot like a beam shooting down from the heavens!

Friday, November 09, 2007


I am (or at least will shortly be) gainfully employed once more. I was offered a customer service position with EF Educational Tours. I'll be fielding calls from concerned parents dealing with the company's study abroad trips. The position is certainly entry level in pay, but there are some pretty nice perks, including discounted airline tickets and three weeks paid vacation. I'm pretty excited about the job, and looking forward to earning money once again!

By the way, a big thank you to Alexis for forwarding me the job posting, without her I'd still be scanning Craigslist!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Westward Bound

This past weekend I ventured out to the wilds of Northern California to visit with most of the members of my fathers side of the family. Being that I've been gone for two years, it had been a long time since I had seen any of the California Contingent. I was looking forward to visiting with a lot of good people, and sampling the glorious views and weather of fall in the Wine Country.

Plenty of time was set aside to help my grandfather around the house, and the ranch. With all four of his sons visiting for the weekend, you can imagine that plenty got accomplished, and plenty of beer got consumed!

A very high priority for the boys was this pile of wood the was in need of splitting. A major source of heat for the living room of the ranch is a wood burning stove, and my grandparents will need plenty of wood by the time the winter is over! Luckily, they now have LOTS of wood ready to go. I should know, as I stacked most of it, though certainly that was far from the most difficult job on offer. That would be felling the actual trees...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Love Letter

Kanazawa City
Ishikawa Prefecture

Dear Kanazawa,

I miss you.

I'll admit, when I first met you, I didn't like you very much. You were cold, and covered in wet, slushy snow. I didn't really know you though, and as the seasons changed and I grew to know your back ways and small bars and restaurants, I grew to love you more and more. Over the twenty months that I lived with you, you really got under my skin. Even now, sometimes I just wander your streets with google earth. Its not that Denver isn't a great city, but she lacks your intimacy and exoticism. I just wanted to write, and let you know that I'll never forget you, and that I'll be back for a visit as soon as I can.




拝啓 金沢、

さみし です。

きみ は さむい いつ ぼく は 来ました。でも 雪 の あとで きみ は きれい でした。きみ の 居酒屋 や お好み焼き屋 や バー や こんびに すごい おいしおいしかった です。 ぼく は すぐ 帰ります。ことばじち。



Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Privacy: Part of the Past?

The other day I read an article in the Rocky Mountain News that discussed a new program for frequent travelers. Rather than get in the same two hour + security line that everybody else has to slog through, you have the option to pay $100 a year and submit your biometric data as part of a government background check. In this case, biometric data includes your fingerprints AND retinal prints.

Retinal prints? Did I just walk into a bad James Bond rip-off? I'm sorry, but we shouldn't have to pay extra money and submit to intrusive government checks just so flying is convenient. The horrors that have been visited upon travelers by the TSA should be fixed, rather than have yet another layer of cost and intrusion forced upon us.

Also in the news is Japan's move to fingerprint and photograph EVERY foreign traveler and worker as they enter the country. When my friends in Ishikawa leave and re-enter the country over the New Years holidays, they get printed and photographed, their only crime is being foreigners. Of course, the United States already does the same thing, so I suppose I should keep plenty of my ire reserved for my own government.

When did protecting travelers begin to be about treating everybody like a criminal, and making us subject to very intrustive, expensive, and time wasting procedures? It's a wonder anybody goes on vacation anymore.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Criminal Me

In my search for gainful employment, one of the many companies I have applied to is an in home tutoring provider. The pay is great but the hours are almost non-existent. The position is a way to make a bit of extra cash, but certainly isn't a good way to earn a living. But I do enjoy teaching kids, especially one and one and in small groups as I did in Kanazawa, so I figured I'd fill out all the paperwork anyway.

Wow. I have never seen a more imposing stack of paperwork and procedures. I can understand the impetus, after all, who wants there child being tutored by some freak of nature, let alone allow said freak into their home. On the other hand, making me feel like a criminal before I've even had a job interview is ridiculous!

The first thing I had to do was get fingerprinted, which was a rather intimidating process. The second thing I had to do was fill out a stack of background check papers, each requiring my full name and social in multiple places. I'm sorry, but these days I'm feeling a bit weird about giving out my social to too many people, all those identity theft horror stories have finally hit home. To add insult to insult, I have to fill out a Dept. of Homeland Security form to verify that I am eligible to work in the US. I have to show my passport to my employer, who then has to fill out their half of the form and send it in!

All of this for a job that might make me an extra 100 bucks a week. MIGHT I am honestly wondering if it is all worth it. When it was easier to work in a country where every official document is covered in oodles of Kanji than it is in the land of my birth, something is wrong.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Roxborough State Park

If there was one 'thing' besides enchiladas that I missed while living in Kanazawa, it was the Rocky Mountains. While the views of the Southern Japan Alps were very pretty, they just weren't quite as impressive as the glorious peaks that form the backbone of North America. While I haven't had a chance to take off and enjoy the really high peaks yet, since snow has already dusted them, Matt and I did have an opportunity to go to one of my favorite nearby areas.

Roxborough State Park is a beautiful collection of trails winding around and through fantastic examples of the red sandstone rocks of the Fountain Formation. This group of rocks was formed by the erosion of an ancient mountain range called "The Ancestral Rocky Mountains." The uplift of the current peaks broke and tilted the rocks into the fantastic shapes that form Roxbourough, as well as the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs and Red Rocks Amphitheater in nearby Morrison Colorado.

I myself have a pretty long history with the park. One of my grade school birthday parties was held there. We froze our water bottles to keep them cool in the hot July sun, but while it was VERY hot and sunny, it wasn't hot and sunny enough to melt the several quarts of ice we brought along. Luckily we didn't hike very far, but man were we a thirsty group when we got back to the visitors center. I also did my Eagle Scout project at Roxborough, cleaning up a field that had been used as a convenient garbage dump for the locals.

While it may lack that rugged and epic vistas of a high peak along the continental divide, Roxborough will always be one of my favorite areas in Colorado, and I suppose it is pretty fitting that it was one of the first things I did when I got back in the States.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Reverse Culture Shock Lives

After living in Japan for a while, you get used to answering the same few questions every time you meet somebody new. "How long have you been in Japan?" "Why did you come to Japan?" "Can you use chopsticks?"...

The list goes on and on, but today we are discussing a new question, "What is it like, being home?"


There, I said it. I find America to be a strange and unusual place. Given that I just returned from a country that considers raw octopus to be delicious bar food, one might wonder where I get the guts to call the "land of the free" weird. I think it's less that America is weird, though at times it certainly is, its that I did change in unanticipated ways. Besides, America and Japan are about as different as can be, so again I have to adjust to everything being different. For one thing, the size differential between Japanese and American portions keeps causing me pain, as their large (L Saizu) is about the same size as an American medium (M Saizu). I suppose that might help explain the size difference between people too. I went from being taller (and a bit wider) than average to being distinctly smallish.

It didn't help that I caught a horrific cold on the flight home. Cold + Jet lag + Reverse Culture Shock = one really tough first week back. After that though, things have been getting better and better. Getting reconnected with all my Denver friends has be a real treat, and of course seeing the family. I've even been dating a nice girl! After three weeks home, despite dismal job prospects, I have to say that things are looking up, bit by bit. It's been a rough couple of months, don't get me wrong, but life is looking a lot brighter than it has in a while. Now if I could just find the perfect job...

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Goodbye Kanzawa...

My last two weeks in Kanazawa were a blur. I busily packed all the two years of accumulated junk, tried hard to plan for the future, and still tried to make time to see all my friends before I skedaddled out of the country. Added to my list of duties was the orientation of my incoming replacement, one Fiona from Canada. (Interestingly enough, that makes the third Fiona to move to Kanazawa in three years. I don't think I ever knew anybody named Fiona before I moved to Japan.)

Speaking of my replacement, it was lucky that she was really cool, because it felt really weird handing her my job, apartment, bike, and friends. "Hi, nice to meet you, here is my life. I've enjoyed it, so I hope you do too!" Add in that to all my other issues at the time, leaving, relationship pain etc, and you can imagine it was a pretty weird week for me. Though, I'll admit that going out EVERY NIGHT for two weeks was kinda cool too. I got to see a lot of people.

Indeed, my good friend Marie swooped down from Wajima (two hours away, up at the tip of the Noto Peninsula) exclusively for my farewell party that weekend. She was pretty broke, but made the trip anyway, which meant a lot to me. All in all, we had 16 people at my party, which included all the closest friends that were still in Ishikawa. I would say I was touched, but honestly after two hours of all you can drink Asahi, I don't think the finer emotions in life were forefront in my mind. ;-)

The very last night I spent in Kanazawa we went out to one of my favorite restaurants, the best Yakitori in town. 1 Liter draft Asahi + Chicken on a stick = A good time. It was nice to spend my last night with some of my favorite students, and at the same time introduce Fiona to the glory of food on a stick.

And then, just like that... it was over. I remember, back when I worked at the library, I mentioned to my boss, who had done two years as a JET up in Niigata prefecture, that someday there would be a time when living in Japan was the past, but in the flush of anticipation of my great adventure I couldn't even imagine what that would be like. Well, here it is, and now Japan is the past. A glorious past, but the past nonetheless, and it is time to look to the future, though who really knows what that holds? Never fear though, as I will keep updating my blog, though under a new title. Perhaps I'll just change it to Denver Tales!... Stay tuned...