Happy New Year

Well, there were good things and bad things in 2004. Unfortunately, the end of the year was filled with overwhelmingly sad news. A Foreign Wife friend who used to live in our neighborhood was in Phuket with her Japanese husband, two sons and baby daughter for the Christmas holidays. A very large earthquake resulted in a disasterous tsunami killing thousands of people and my friend and her family were swept away. On December 31, I learned that her sister had been flown in from the Philippines to identify her body and that the rest of her family still hadn't been found. She had carefully documented her family's recent life on her website and there was an eloquently written passage about how the travel bug hits them every so often as well as hundreds of photos of various trips and events.

Now my face is all puffy and I look like Aunt Vi without the pink hair.

I cheered up considerably when, upon opening Mom's and Dad's Christmas card which arrived in yesterday's mail, I discovered that Finn is going to have a younger sibling sometime in late January. This wonderful news is a perfect way to begin the New Year.

We all stayed up watching a traditional TV show with 2004's most popular musicians and guest Olympic gold medalists and eating buckwheat noodles for longevity (another tradition). After midnight, we went for a short walk to the shrine at the corner to toss a few coins in the alter, ring a bell and pray or wish for a healthy and prosperous 2005. I distinctively heard L making a specific request for a magic flying carpet as he bowed his head and clasped his hands. We were given cups of hot AMAZAKE, a sweet creamy drink made by culturing cooked whole rice grains, using traditional methods, so that their starches turn into natural sugars. It isn't alcoholic, despite the literal translation "sweet SAKE" and S and I also got small paper cups of real SAKE as we exited the shrine.

Returning home, S handed each child a decorated envelop with a little money and an age appropriate book as a New Year's treat. He never had Christmas presents as a child and New Year's was the holiday he most eagerly anticipated. Our children get a little of each holiday, in moderation.

When everybody wakes up, we'll have grilled MOCHI rice cakes served dumpling style with pressed fish cakes, taro potatoes, carrots, a spinach-like vegetable called KOMATSUNA, soaked and simmered dried SHIITAKE mushrooms and a few bits of chicken in a bonito broth. The soup is ready as is the box of other New Year's foods. I couldn't fit all the items in the three tiered box, so we'll use a few platters as well. I sure hope that the family will accept the same menu for lunch and dinner, as it took all day yesterday to cook it all.

Happy New Year to all.