Monday: Relationships: Mornings

There are few things that disrupt the peace more in our household than a sleepless night. As I write this, Jamie and I have just spent the last evening lying awake staring at the ceiling. I anticipate falling asleep at my keyboard today, and will consider myself lucky if I make it all the way through this post with no grievous typing errors.

On less aggravating sleepless nights, normally we’d get up and make breakfast together. It’s a hobby I recommend immensely–nothing starts the day off better than sharing breakfast, even if it is in a hurry.

One of the evolutions of our relationship has come from my gradual realization that Jamie usually needs more sleep than I. This can be a serious point of contention when we need to be somewhere and she isn’t waking up. Having the baby has certainly improved things, but she can still often sleep 12 hour stretches if Aubri will let her get away with it. Since we’ve gotten back from Japan, her sleep schedule has been a little crazy.

Fact: Jamie and I usually only fight when we’re both tired/hungry. So, it’s in our best interests to make sure neither of us gets hungry enough to get crabby, or goes beyond the point of needing sleep. We typically go to bed early (by 9pm), and that helps.

It is interesting to me, when I am talking to people about their relationships, that they usually know their significant other’s triggers. IE: “He always gets cranky when he hasn’t eaten,” or “She’s crazy if she doesn’t get her coffee in the mornings.” In the interest of maintaining peace, an outsider might expect that each partner would seek to fulfill that need. Human nature kicks in, however, and we tend to rebel against being an “enabler” of the bad habits that keep our partners happy.

At least, that’s what we tell ourselves. We’re not “enabling” their bad habits–or indulging them to remain peaceful. As an example, I feel the need to rouse Jamie from bed when I get up in the mornings on the weekend. She hates this. She would much prefer to wake up naturally. I desire her company, but forget that her company is more pleasant when I did not first wake her up by pulling the covers off the bed…

There was a point to this morning’s sleepy ramblings. There is a fine balance between helping your partner to improve, and forcing them to conform to your habit structure. In the interest of individuality, allowing some “bad” habits to foster to continue a happy coexistence is probably worth avoiding the tragic misunderstanding and petty fighting that often undermine a relationship.
But I still don’t want her to leave her lunch on my computer desk.

Friday: Steampunk World: News and New Toys

Greetings, anachronauts! Today we explore a variety of news in the Steampunk World. Since it’s still hotter than hot in the real world, I give you a rather creepy collection of photos on pinterest. I wish I could claim them, but the collector has a fascination with morbid photos, I believe.

Bruce Boxleitner (Tron and Babylon 5) was at the Denver and San Diego Comic Cons, and he revealed a new project he’s working on–Lantern City. It’s a mainstream purely Steampunk (according to sources) fan-made TV series. He’s hoping to bring participation and more spotlight attention to Steampunk, which is pretty cool. Incidentally, Babylon 5 was my favorite SciFi series ever, so I am really looking forward to this project. Watch his interview, he really compliments our community!

Also, Steampunk Holmes, a new interactive game for iPad, is looking for beta testers. Go check it out!

Another group, Steampunkstore.net, is putting together a “Steampunk Business Directory” that is worth checking out if you’re building up your business. It’s a way for creators to have their name in the white pages, so to speak. It’s free, so that’s a plus.

If you’re interested in mainstream Russian-inspired Steampunk, check out this new fall collection by Banana Republic. It’s inspired by the Keira Knightly movie coming out, Anna Karenina. Banana Republic occasionally has awesome Steampunk-inspired accessories (IE men’s vests), so I am excited to see some women’s wear fall into that category.

The Steampunk Haunted House is developing a new story this year, and I hope it will inspire someone in Colorado to do a similar project. Denver does love its themed haunted houses, and this seems tantalizing.

Finally, if I haven’t mentioned it before, the Da Vinci Machines Exhibit is open at the Denver Pavilions. It’s $14 for adults, but what I saw from the windows looks like an exceptional display. Many of the displays are reported to be interactive, so this is a good time to get an idea for your next working device.

Until next week, my friends, stay steamy!

Wednesday: Travel and Adventure: The Story

So, those of you who have been following my blog so far (or are looking for advice on travel and randomly came across it) know that I have been promising details. This post is more a culmination of knowledge acquired, but hopefully it will fulfill both purposes. I’ll include pertinent links to places where I got a deal as well. Any prices in USD mentioned are based on 80jpy/dollar exchange rate, which is what it was on the first day of our trip when we changed our money.

We visited Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Koyasan, Nara, Iga Ueno, and Yudanaka before returning back to Kyoto.

We traveled using Japan Rail Passes, flew into Tokyo using Delta, and generally avoided taxis, but still had to catch one twice. There were some places we went because of the hype about them where tourism was concerned, that I can hopefully dissuade you from ever wasting time/effort.

Getting There and Back Again:

I recommend using jtbusa.com to price out your plane tickets, even if you don’t buy from them. I found them to be about $200/person cheaper than other ticket websites, and they also have vacation packages that I wish I’d known about before I booked all my own hotels. What we also found out is that traveling close to summer vacation (July 20-August 20ish?), Christmas vacation and any time near the Sakura festival (early to mid May) are all very expensive, so flights and hotels around those times will have higher fees. Keep an eye on prices. I can confirm that it really is cheaper to price out tickets to Japan for flight on Tue, and flying on Wed seems to be the cheapest day. It’s also cheaper to fly into Haneda than Narita, and easier to get into Tokyo from there, but the flights might be bad hours.
I recommend against Delta if you can help it. We flew Delta and their service was terrible on three of the four flights–only the one from Detroit to Tokyo was decent.

Getting Around:

Visitors to Japan have the option of using the Japan Rail Pass. Now, if you travel like I do, it’s completely worth it. You’ll save lots of money because you’ll be train hopping constantly and visiting multiple cities in a single day (like we did). However, if you’re a more leisurely traveler, it probably won’t save you any money. Right now it’s about $351 for a 7-day pass. We paid $555 each for our 14-day passes. Unless you train hop a¬†lot in a single day, it’s definitely not worth it in Tokyo. You’ll be spending roughly $50/day/person for the pass, whereas it’s usually about $2 ea each way to get almost anywhere in Tokyo. It does make up for itself if you are using the shinkansen (bullet trains) a lot, but you can’t use it on the fastest Nozomi train. Also, the public transit system can be a little intimidating. But everything is color coded, which makes it really easy to figure out where you want to go. In major cities like Tokyo and Kyoto, the big transit lists all stops in English too. Local buses might or might not, depending on the bus. Try to stick to major transit. Most taxi drivers don’t speak much English, and they are very expensive. However, they have set rates, so you won’t get swindled–beyond the fees starting at almost $10.

Getting Money:

OK, this is important. If you’re going to Japan from the US, the best way to get the best exchange rate is to withdraw cash in large lump sums at 7-11. They are all over the place in Tokyo, and don’t tack on a bunch of hidden fees. Try to find out if your bank has international ATM fees before you go. Mine has no extra fees and refunds the ATM fees of other banks (Schwab), so I basically got to withdraw my money for free. Plus, they gave me an exchange rate of 79.5jpy/$ when the max published rate was 80jpy/$. At the time I would’ve gotten 76 from the exchange bank. It’s convenient, too, because 7-11s are literally everywhere. Very few establishments in Japan take credit cards, and even fewer take international cards. Make sure you keep enough cash on you for transportation emergencies.

Hotels:

We stayed in a homestay in Tokyo, and loved it. It was an amazing experience. Finding a homestay that could support 3 adults and one baby was tricky, but we used HomestayWeb.com to post our needs, and they found us. It’s a great service! I also found websites like Agoda to be very useful, but beware of hidden fees. In Koyasan we stayed at a Buddhist temple, and the best way to arrange that is through the official website of Koyasan. In Japan basically all hotels charge by the person, and only major western-style hotels will charge per room. It’s a good idea to look into hotels that offer breakfast, but don’t pay through the nose for a hotel with a continental breakfast (although it will probably be Japanese style). Check out choicehotels.com for hotels in Kyoto/Tokyo if you are looking for Western style. The Comfort Inn in Tokyo was very comfortable and we saved 6000jpy off their advertised price per night by booking through Choice Hotels. We stayed at Guesthouse Narakomachi in Nara, and Hotel Avanshell in Kyoto. Both were very nice, especially for the price (Avanshell was only $60/night for two beds, but it’s not within walking distance of sightseeing items, you must use the bus). If you go to the onsen villages, definitely make sure you are staying directly in Shibu. If you’re in any of the surrounding villages you won’t be able to go to the bath walk.

Food:

This is going to sound weird, but if you’re looking for food on a budget, you want to check gas stations. 7-11 isn’t like it is in the US. It’s magic. You can find all kinds of amazing snack boxes, onigiri (rice balls), yakitori (seasoned meat on sticks), and buns and breads filled with everything imaginable, including beef curry–all for reasonable prices (usually around 110-130jpy pp). An individual can eat their fill for under 500jpy (roughly $6.25) or pick up food to keep along for snacks. This was a major lifesaver with the baby. I also recommend trying a conveyor belt sushi restaurant–our favorite was right around the corner from the Minami-senju JR station. Even though it’s cheap by Japanese standards (100jpy or about $1.25 per 2-piece plate), the rice and such are still better quality than a lot of mid-range restaurants in the US, and you can order fresh from the screens at the one we visited. Another really good choice is the standup restaurant Uogashi Nihon-ichi (use Google Translator to find locations). The easiest location to get to is in Ikebukuro, right down the street from the station if you walk directly toward the crowded store areas. We spent 2000jpy to eat our fill (three adults) of very tasty sushi. You have to stand up, but that’s traditional.
I also recommend having tempura at least once, and curry. Japanese curry is nothing like Indian curry.

Jamie and I like to share food, which was a foreign concept in Japan. They gave us lots of funny looks when we would order a large order and split it. We did it anyway… it made more sense than two small plates. Aubri became addicted to the convenience of their food buns. She comes running for food any time she hears plastic crinkling now.

Things you Must Do:

I don’t want to go into too much detail (or this post will get too long), but here are some of my recommendations to definitely do:
Visit an Onsen or twelve. If you’re visiting in summer, I wouldn’t travel to Yudanaka/Shibu et all, it’s just too hot to soak for long. But the waters are definitely worth checking out, and Ryokan food is incredible (if incrediby expensive).
Climb Fuji. I climbed Fuji with Aubri on my back. It took 9 hours up (with some breaks) and 6 hours down. Without the baby it probably would have been 6 and 3 or 4. The climb is hard, but the view is worth it, and the experience is incredible.
Visit Meiji Shrine. It’s free to get into, easily accessible from Harajuku station in Tokyo, and huge and beautiful.
Stay at a Buddhist Temple: Make sure you attend the morning chants. It’s a beautiful experience.
Pet the Deer in Nara. It’s easy to get to Nara from Kyoto, only 40 minutes by train, and the deer are awesomely sneaky. The shrines and such nearby are beautiful as well.
Wander the Back Streets of Oldtown Kyoto: Kyoto is full of shrines and temples. If you get lucky, you’ll run into some Maiko like we did, and they might even let you take a picture.
People Watch in Harajuku or Shinjuku: I can’t recommend this enough, but make sure you find a safe vantage point.
Eat Weird Flavors of Icecream: Our favorites were Sakura Blossom and, of course, Matcha. Black Sesame was decent and White Peach was yummy.

Things You Should Skip:
Sony Tower:
Unless you are really into big screen TVs and point-and-shoot cameras and have never been inside a major electronics store.
The Ninja Museum: It took three hours to get there, five hours to get from there to Tokyo, and we spent one hour and 1650jpy (rail and ticket) each there. The choreographed show was only 20 minutes long, and everything in the museum can be found on the internet. It might be worth the trip if you go everywhere in Ninja Park, but that would get expensive too, at 500jpy per building entry…
Tsukiji Fish Market: This experience is way overhyped. Unless you understand Japanese well enough to really enjoy the auction, it’s basically just a cold and smelly warehouse that you get walked through. Dodging the trucks is fun, if you like a thrill. But the fish here is way overpriced and caters to tourists. You are better off eating at Uogashi, and saving the expensive taxi to get to Tsukiji early enough to catch the auction. They only let about 120 people in each, at 5 and 5:30, so you have to stand in line for a while.

Next week we’ll talk about specific regions more thoroughly, particularly the Fuji trip–there aren’t enough Gaijin (foreigner) guides out there.

Monday: Relationships and Love: Coming Home Tearfully

Normally I try to avoid bringing news and big media into my posts, because you folks can get that stuff elsewhere and I usually can’t provide a unique insight on the stuff that has been chewed up by mainstream news.
But today it’s different. Today I am yawning at my desk because I was up late at the candlelight vigil in Aurora, Colorado last night. I was there with a wall of people organized by a friend of a friend to provide comfort, support and protection from abuse for the families of the victims of the theater tragedy of 7/20/2012.

Jamie was by my side. We wore our batman logo tshirts and carried a sign:

Aubrianna wasn’t with us at the vigil, but we took this picture to share the sign with everyone. Because of the sign, we were interviewed by lots of media.

The message we want to send to the world, to our community, to the families and friends of the victims, is this:
Batman didn’t cause this tragedy. Video games, television, did not cause this tragedy. One man’s depravity, whatever the cause, ended or changed the lives of at least 70 people in a single night, but they were all there to see the message offered in TDKR: Anyone can be Batman. From the ashes of great tragedy, from the bitter dregs of terrible loss, heroes arise and will stand up against any darkness that falls. Aurora is a strong community and will become stronger because of this. Colorado has been through tragedy before, and we will rise up.

How do we react to the terrible, senseless loss of life? Some people say that God took their lives, but I don’t like to believe that everything has a reason. Senseless, bad things happen all the time. But I encourage you–get to know your neighbors. Show respect for your fellow human beings. This kind of violence occurs when a person either does not feel respected, or does not respect others. Say hello. Give a nod as you pass people on the street. Wave hello (with your whole hand). Maybe my perspective is skewed, but in Japan–where I was returning from on that tragic day–people consider the group most important. They have a close knit family group, but they know their neighbors. And it is one of the safest places in the world, where crime is concerned. I don’t think we should merge cultures, by any stretch. But we certainly should be reaching out to those around us. Building a stronger safety net for the people in our community.

Most importantly, to my friends around the world, some of whom knew about this terrible event before I did, who were calling and emailing us from across the ocean to verify that we were OK, know this:
There’s a little bit of Colorado in all of us. Whether we live in the plains, on islands, or in the mountains, we all have the same blood flowing through our veins. We are all a community, and we are all Colorado.We will rise again, stronger.

 

Friday: Steampunk World

We’re back! Hopefully tonight we’re going to go see the final Batman movie–there’s a true Steampunk hero (sortof), if you want to talk about action and gadgets and advanced technology. The older Batman movies were more accurate in that respect, but he’s certainly always been pulp fiction at its finest.

Now that we’re most of the way through July, thoughts of August and the Denver County Fair ring in our ears. Luminous Thread’s season is getting into full swing, and we will be putting on a bit of a music performance at DCF on Friday afternoon at the Geek Pavilion. On Saturday evening at the Geek pavilion the Colorado Steampunks will be putting on an amazing show, and look for our actors at the Unsinkable Molly Brown dunk tank all weekend!

In other news, as the weather cools down (I know, I laughed when I wrote that too), the free events heat up, and expect an awesome fundraising tea with guest star Rubiee from Pandora Celtica coming soon!

Today, hopefully, will mark the first real post update from Japan–if it doesn’t get updated (we are talking about some serious jet lag here), get excited about this:

Wednesday: Travel and Adventure: Planning the Next Adventure!

Well, if you’ve read much of my blog, you already know that I tend to plan things. A lot. And plan ahead. A lot.

So we’re already plotting our next big adventure. I’m thinking perhaps Disneyworld in January or early February. I haven’t been since I was younger than Aubri, and we owe the last of my teenage sisters a spectacular trip. She’s really into Disney, so it would work out.

I’ve also been eyeing a trip to Ireland, Scotland, England and France in Fall of 2013 possibly. So Jamie and I are talking about what we want to see, where we want to go. My dad will be jealous–he wants to go to Ireland. The trip would probably be cheaper than Japan–frankly, everything in Japan is pretty expensive. I’m hoping to update this post before we go with frugal tips we’ve discovered while in Japan, so this filler is a short post.

In the meantime, though, I recommend that you all go to your nearest bookstore and look through the travel books. Then decide what kind of things you want to see–castles, beaches, whatever. Do some research on the “best” and on the “most private” and so on and so forth. Craft your ultimate journey. And then find ways to get there.

Monday: Relationships and Love: Dreambuilding

Today’s post is more theoretical than some of my others, although it definitely has some basis in practice.
Once again, this is another filler post while I am in Japan, so it may or may not get updated with news (IE about how the necklace went over). We’ll be back on the 19th, so the 20th may be a fresh post.

Today I want to talk about dreambuilding. Many of us in our single lives and throughout the course of growing up reach a point at which we stop dreaming. The world gets us down, or we’re disappointed often enough that we start to buy in to the idea that we’re never going to get the things that we envisioned for ourselves as small children. This causes a couple of problems later in life. The first is that we start to fear failure. And the second is that we pass that fear on to our children.

Jamie and I have made a promise to keep an eye on each other and not let negative world views crush our daughter’s dreams before she has a chance to discover the world for herself. That promise would not have been possible, except that in 2007 we met a wonderful group of people who have helped us dream big ourselves.

It’s easy to wish for things. “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” is a nice thing to say when you know you’re never really going to try for it. Or worse, you might charge up all the credit cards to go after it and find yourself living in the insanity of trying to make ends meet.

But dreams are bigger than wishes. I disagree with the Disney song “A dream is a wish your heart makes.” In my mind, a dream is a goal, written down, with passion and action applied to the steps required to make it happen. That process is the reason we have a beautiful daughter today, the reason we’re buying a house together, and the reason we are currently in Japan having the time of our lives.

Dreams are the backbone of human accomplishment. Media and peer pressure kill our dreams when we give in to the negative-skew that the average person can never accomplish more than the government wants them to accomplish. But dreams are about being bigger than our circumstances.

How is this a relationship post? Because dreaming together, and creating a plan of action together, are some of the most important moments of time you will ever spend with a lifetime partner. And you need to create more than travel goals. Create dreams of your relationship, dreams of your home, your family, what your travel looks like. After you craft this picture of who you want to be together, write it down and read it often. Goals and dreams are 1000% more powerful when you write them down. You make those things a contract for your subconscious mind. There’s an amazing chapter of the Compound Effect that talks about collaborating with your spouse to grade your performance weekly. It’s a tough action, but one worth taking.

Just to be clear, for dreams to work properly, you can’t use them as an all-or-nothing approach. “If we don’t accomplish this, I’m leaving you.” However, it’s important to know what your driving dreams and goals are, so that if you are considering a new long term relationship, you know where you are coming from. If your lifelong dream is to be a parent, and your partner would rather die than have kids–maybe that’s not the most compatible situation¬† for you. Think about your dreams. Put them on paper. Then make them happen. When the “why” is big enough, the how will fall into place.