Thursday, February 2, 2023

The Mundane in Winter

By the middle of January, like most people, I was done with the New Year's partying, except we had another week to go because of Lunar New Year! Fortunately, that's a quiet celebration, and this year features very cute bunnies! I understand in Vietnam this is the year of the Cat, but I only know that because an old friend is touring much of southeast Asia and posting many wonderful pictures on Facebook. I am very glad to go along without leaving the house!

It's been bitterly cold here, and utility bills seem poised to skyrocket. Other things, especially food, are supposed to go up, too. I don't have much of a handle on specific prices, even after several years. I have noticed my weekly grocery total has gone up maybe 7-10%. I guess meat has gone up, but that isn't something I buy. 

So far, the only thing I have noticed being more expensive are pretzels, the flavored pieces kind, since we do not have normal pretzels here. You can order them, but the cost -- well, a truly good bottle of whisky all the way from Scotland is cheaper. I'm bundling up in a fleece wrap with a wool shawl over my legs and my fingers are stiff with cold. I did manage to find a kind of mint liquor from France (not Creme de Menthe -- sorry for no accents) but it's allowing me to make Peppermint Pattys, one of my ski season staples. I usually get one or two a year, but I have this whole bottle that the liquor store owner dug up from somewhere, so those will go on, lubricating my joints, until the bottle is gone.

I've been dealing with a bank merger (lots of paperwork nonsense) and starting my visa renewal, and beginning the delights of compiling tax information for two countries and multiple entities. I would be entirely mad -- or downing a constant stream of Peppermint Pattys -- if I didn't have highly competent professionals doing most of the hard parts. Still, just being in Japan complicates things, usually annoyingly and often unbearably so.

At least temporarily it's warmed up a little but we had a ferocious wind storm that lasted a full 24 hours and a bit, and knocked over my makrut lime tree.  It's in a pot the size of a hot tub and I spent a couple of hours trying to located somebody to help me right it. I seriously didn't want to mess my back up doing it myself. But I went out to just see how heavy it was, and how many people I might need, and found to my shocked surprise that I could right it myself.

That's because it's been so dry that the soil was powdery and far too many of the leaves just kind of blew or fell or were knocked off. It's quite amazingly tall. I watered the heck out of it, to add weight to the pot, and for now it seems happier and heavier in much more moderate winds. I also watered everything else. But it's still so cold I could not bring myself to rake and I think I'll wait on that. I did see the first signs of bulbs coming up. 

It's Setsubon, which, like Imbloc and Candlemas, is halfway between the Solstice and the Equinox, and for many cultures the actual start of spring. We celebrate by tossing roasted soybeans around and sweeping them out, chanting "Evil out, fortune in." Shrines and Temples do this, as well as households. The evil beings presumably like the soybeans and chase them. What demons don't get, birds and squirrels do, though modernly the soybeans come neatly packaged so humans can recapture them! You eat the same number of beans as your age, plus one. There are, I think, a couple of other traditional foods, but I haven't tracked those down yet. At least one Temple uses small bags of candy, so children, rather than demons, will chase down what's thrown.

Finally, next week I am taking a train to an interesting place, and I hope to see snow on the way. Planning and booking a Japan trip with my editor for later in the year, and this little trip for me, has also been a mundane, yet time-consuming, process. I think it's all done.

I do like trains. You'll have to be able to read Japanese to figure out where I am going. Otherwise, you'll have to wait until I get there, and now I have to go someplace else first. 

Evil out, fortune in! Happy Setsubon!

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