Hey! What’ve you been up to?!

The dishes from Christmas dinner need to be put away.

I keep staring out of the curtained window, like I’m waiting for something to happen.

What is it artists use to record their videos?

Do I even want to push my art into the world and jump on that bandwagon?

A composition I threw together from some scribbles that were already on the page. Who knows if it’ll ever make it onto a canvas. (Dec. 2020)

Groan. I still have those Christmas wreaths to get started and finished.

Ah, and I need to start working on something for the company newsletter, too…

Can’t you tell that I’m super distracted? I’ve told my counselor a couple of times that being at home, unfocused, is a dangerous thing. It’s easy for me to slip into that dark corner and think little of myself. Last week was so busy and now I’ve got another two days to slog through. Where’s that teenager at? I need a right proper scoff and eyeroll!

Let’s get to back-pedaling.

No joke, I thought I was in trouble there for the last couple of months. I wanted to disappear, angry with everyone around me for not noticing how much of a mess I was becoming. Work was becoming increasingly busier, I felt incompetent, I held grudges against colleagues… I needed my screen to flash GAME OVER. Why am I here? What is my purpose? Why am I not as good as everyone else? Why am I not more liked? If I were just a bit more like everyone else, I’d have more attention.

HURK BLARGH. How petty are those thoughts?! Seriously, I feel disgusted with myself. Combine those insecurities with the fact that my family seemed to be suffering blow after blow, I hit the end of my rope faster than I would’ve liked. I couldn’t, wouldn’t accept that all roads were starting to point me in other directions.

Change is scary. Acceptance is every scarier. I’m learning, though.

I’m learning to accept that I won’t ever be as popular as other artists, that my skills will stay where they’re at until I hunker down and practice. I’m learning to appreciate what I’m capable of doing already and now. I’m learning to love my determination and single-mindedness regarding my work as an ALT.* I’m learning to stop thinking “I’m always alone” and ask for help. I’m learning to be grateful for what Japanese I know.

Be kind and love yourself. Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

I’m worthy.

I’m valuable.

I’m not insignificant.

My work and my accomplishments in life will speak for themselves.

Just this month, in fact, I was notified by my branch that I was awarded Top Motivational Instructor. It’s the highest honor an ALT can receive in my company for superb work ethic. I’m still trying to process it! I certainly wasn’t expecting it — I even went to one of my bosses and urged him to remove my name from any kind of running. I felt I didn’t do anything this year to deserve recognition in… well… anything.

I hadn’t done any work with my English boards.

I completely scrapped my English newspaper.

I did absolutely nothing for my schools this year, but somehow… my supervisors and bosses recognized and acknowledged something I don’t see within myself.

Some time during this winter vacation I’ve got to make a small speech for the occasion. Who would I even thank?

I’ve thought about dedicating this win to my late Aunt Judy. She was taken from us rather suddenly this year and not from COVID. I feel I’d be more at peace with the whole thing if it had been that — I mean, it’s kinda become the taste in everyone’s mouths. Other than that, I have no clue on what to say. Have you ever written a speech before?

I’ve also seen some success in the wreaths that I make in my spare time. The praise I receive from one of my schools certainly helps keep the motivation going. They’re not hard to make if you’ve got some wire cutters, scissors and a lot of hot glue sticks. Perhaps it’s a good thing that Japan doesn’t have Hobby Lobbies. I’ve included a video from my Facebook page for your viewing pleasure!

2020’s Halloween wreath as featured on my Facebook page, Artleycoul.

Other ways I’ve been attempting to handle my stress and keep my mental health healthy is through baking; specifically brownies. My friend Carla, over at The Geordie Gaijin, seems to really enjoy them. I’m happy my sweets can reach her “cold, bitter English heart” as she more or less puts it.

I’m in a love-hate relationship with breads, too. It’s so incredibly easy to kill the yeast! I never seem to know when to knead the dough enough, so I’ve just kinda given up reading the instructions. I work it all until it comes to a consistency I’m comfortable with and give it all shove into my tiny oven. Which do you enjoy baking, quick breads or yeasty breads? I think my specialty will always be an improved version of my grandma’s banana bread recipe.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A third method has been to write an extended letter to my dad. I made it to 11 pages (they’re small — maybe like B5 size) and stopped writing after December 2nd. I suppose it can be considered to be a really long conversation.

The lovely thing about the whole deal is that it got him in the mood to write me a letter, too. It arrived with my Christmas package! It’s always a pleasure to receive something as special as that from loved ones.

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Thank you for taking the time to read my blog! It’s been a long time since I’ve felt comfortable with airing out my thoughts. I’d like to invite you to join my artful progress by following my Instagram and Facebook page. Both hold a spot on my homepage. Let me know what you think and if there’s anything you’d like to see me try!

You snooze, you lose, Slow News.

Inspired by one of the fellows I follow here on WordPress, I thought I would type out a quick update on my life.

Slow, indeed! My days seem to pass as thickly as molasses. There is no pressure to complete work and projects. I didn’t mention in my last post, but school is to be closed until May 6th. Classes are to resume May 7th; however, the Hamamatsu mayor said that, should PM Abe extend the duration of his state of emergency, the city will do the same.

So, what have I been doing besides being a lazy blob? Well, I’ll show you.

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I thought I would give cinnamon rolls a shot on… the 19th? Something like that. They didn’t turn out well at all. The yeast seemed to be the culprit, as it had expired a long time ago. Having gone out and replenished my stash, I tried again.

And look at how nice they turned out!

I honestly was so surprised and ecstatic. It had been so long since I had had a good cinnamon roll. Obviously, these were no Cinnabon, but there was something so pleasing about enjoying these.

I disobeyed the whole social distancing thing, hopped on a bus, and went downtown to share these with my friends. Bless their hearts. Carla said,

“Thank you so much Ashley!! They were amazing. … My friend Marie didn’t realise you’d baked them – she thought they were from a bakery!” (she has her own site, too! You should give it a go)

and Mr. M (his ID done been snatched) said,

“They certainly were the genuine article. I’d pay money for those, true fact.”

I gave the tray in the picture to my neighbor down the street to enjoy with her children. She commented too that they were very good. Couple with my various other hobbies, I’m on the sure path to filling, at least part-way, my grandmother’s shoes. That woman is amazing, I love her so much!

Anyway. Yeah.

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Then I tried my hand at chocolate donuts since donut shops are not a dime a dozen around here.

If you want it done, best to do it yourself, right? Isn’t that way it goes…?

At first, I tried frying them, but after I made the oil way too hotI thought it would be best to hang on to the remainder of the dough and try again some other time (it got baked).

It was a rather sticky and expensive experience. One cup of cocoa powder cost me about $4 USD at my local supermarket. As hindsight is 20/20, I’ll have to see what Amazon Pantry has baking ingredients going for.

Leaving the bit about adding chicken-fried oil to the fresh oil aside, I found my donuts tasted better the day after. I suppose the sugar glaze had ample time to soak in and make it taste that much more delicious!

Have you ever tried making cinnamon rolls or donuts? If yes, how did it go? If not, what are your reasons for not trying?

Next up is, after seeing one of my friends enjoy her home-grown garden, I wanted to do the same. I’m no stranger to growing vegetables, as I’ve been successful with cucumbers back home in hot AF Las Vegas. It’s hard to believe that, once upon a time, Las Vegas was a flourishing tropical oasis. NOT NO MORE.

Anyway. After digging up… ha.. see what I did there?… No? That’s OK. After digging up some garden starter ideas on the internet, I decided to make a trip to the hardware/gardening center a ways away. They didn’t have much in the way of herbs, so I ended up going with these guys:

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Photo was taken April 27, 2020

I planted radishes, basil, Japanese basil (shiso), and two kinds of lettuces. A long time ago, my breakfast diet was typically eggs and toast and/or hash browns drowned in ketchup. Nutritious, I know. Now, I enjoy a green salad with my eggs (sometimes I’ll throw in yogurt, natto, toast, soup, or some kind of meat too!). This free lettuce buffet will help me cut down on the grocery bill just a smidge.

Have you tried growing a garden before? Let me hear about it!

Lastly, did I mention before that I’ve started uploading videos to my YouTube channel? I can guarantee 100% that it’s the most boring material you’ll ever watch and listen to. But as a challenge to myself, I’ve been reading Harry Potter.

Unfortunately, the videos’ve come to a standstill as I’ve run into a snag with receiving strong enough internet. Thanks but no thanks, corona, you’ve gone and closed McDonald’s. It was my closest provider of speeds capable of uploading a video file. I won’t lose heart though. Some real internet will be in the works once I’m able to secure an installation date, but… who knows how long that’s going to take? UGH.

At least I’ve got some dinky pocket WiFi to tide me over. I’m not a big user, you see.

In the meantime, I hope everyone is staying sane and healthy!

In the Haunted Hallows of the Hyaku-yen Shops (PART 2!)

Welcome to Part Two of my Haunted Hallows of the Hyaku-yen Shops! This will be designed to give you some insight into how quickly your money leaves your wallet.

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Winter clothes! You can easily purchase gloves (some with touchscreen capability), scarves, and neck warmers. One night was especially cold and, if you’re like me in that your nose starts carving Snot River down your face and you suddenly can’t remember where you left your ears, you’ll be on the lookout for something warm.

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There’s nothing like knowing your grasp of the Japanese language can easily be beaten by a grade schooler. If you want to get a jump start on your kanji (漢字) practice, please use these books. They offer stroke order, Japanese and Chinese readings, and common words the characters are used in. Also, if you like Sudoku, they have loads of these. I’ve even been tempted to look on Amazon for more kanji textbooks/workbooks like what my students use. When all else fails, learn how to speak and ask someone where something is. There’s no better tool than to learn through association.

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Some weeks ago, I purchased a Christmas tree from Amazon sans star. Now I have one plus smaller ornaments. I also bought a tinsel boa to brighten it up. This year, since I can’t be with my family, I did my best to capture what we couldn’t do for the last couple of Christmases (damn dogs). I can’t tell you what I’m going to do with the embroidery hoop and hot glue other than I’m working to make a present for my grandmother. Shh! Don’t tell!

The hyaku yen shops sure are wonderful sometimes. I wasn’t kidding when you find things you didn’t know you needed. It seems like every time I walk through the aisles, I see stuff that I didn’t know was there.

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The first thing to address is the plunger. You will thank me when I tell you again how important this puppy will be in your life. It should go down as one of the Top 10 Essential Tools for Adulthood. Second is the plastic doo-dad next to the plunger. This allows you more space when you’re hanging things in your bathroom to dry. I figured I could use this for pants… or something. Anyway, you slap it into your showerhead holder and you’re done. Next, you can never go wrong with humidity absorbers. This time around, I was on the hunt for smaller units I could stick into my dressers. These are mandatory if you don’t want your shit to mold.

Also, glass cleaner. You’ll be surprised at how much of your bodily fluid ends up on your mirror when you’re consumed with nervous anxiety and are suddenly determined to rid your face of its blackheads and pimples. Oh, and make-up. I’ll never figure out how I got mascara smeared in two places.

The last item is a pack of hand warmers. You know those beans that get warm when you crack the package? I haven’t seen how long these last but I know you can buy some that work for up to 10-12 hours at the drugstore. When the weather turns chilly, you’ll thank your past self for buying them.

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In this picture, we have drain cleaner/odor absorber. When you come to live in Japan, you will see garbage disposals are non-existent. Instead, there are food catchers that sit under the rubber lip in your sink. You will either have a kind of steel net or a plastic cup. I have the plastic option and it gets scummy (especially when I choose to live off of cereal and ignore my pile of dirty dishes). Next is the sponge. This allows me to clean my thermoses since my hand is sponge-‘tarded. Thirdly, there’s the spoon rest. I was simply fed up with wasting my paper towels and dirtying up my limited counter space (pfft, who am I kidding? I don’t have a counter).

The measuring spoons are closing in for the finish line! I recently purchased cookbooks so I can save more money by using ingredients that are in season and well… I quickly learned the difference between a teaspoon and tablespoon. Just so I could save myself from the guesswork, I bought these. Next to them are soup spoons. You’ll notice these are often used with Asian dishes. I don’t know why I didn’t use them sooner. Finally, there’s the spice shaker. I got this for my sugar so I wouldn’t make a mess trying to get it out of the bag I keep in the freezer.

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In this final picture, the contents are self-explanatory. Since I’d rather use purified water for my drinking water for some stupid reason, I waste my money purchasing a bottle. I also happened to find some popcorn. That was exciting since I was craving it but don’t expect to find butter for it. You’ll have to go old school and pop it in cold stuff or use flavored oils. Be careful, though! Flash fires are serious. And because I tend to graze at work, I bought the noodle soups to hide in my desk just in case I couldn’t survive until lunch.

And there you have it! If you have any questions, feel free to holler.