You may be sorry for the long email but I'm not! It was a great week and a crap-ton happened: including interviews with President Ishii, my birthday, the Christmas Party, and of course Christmas Day! This is basically my Christmas letter that everyone is so fond of sending to family and friends around this time of year.
I noticed something of grand importance: if I wake up and it's warmer under the sheets than it is in the surrounding room, I feel sluggish and don't want to get out of bed. BUT, if the room is as warm as my bed, then I can sit up quickly and feel refreshed--just ready to go. SO, lately I've been leaving the heater on at night so that when I wake up, I'm energized and happy to get out of bed. It's a mental thing; try this with the kids.
P-Day: we went on an adventure to Karuizawa
Karuizawa: where John Lennon and Bill Gates supposedly had summer homes. The city that the Shinkansen only goes to because everyone goes to Karuizawa--it's not because many people live there, because they don't. Only the richest of the rich and poshest of the posh can afford to live there. Actually, I'm pretty sure there's a stop for the Shinkansen at Ueda only because it was in the way of the route to Karuizawa. There's a ginormous outlet mall right next to the station at Karuizawa; it took us three hours just to walk around and see all the shops. The shops are all big brands and rare finds in Japan. Like, huge famous American, French, English brands. Really cool.
Shoutout to my buddy Elder Nielson who recommended Ice Melon Pan so hardcore at the MTC; as expected, it was totally beyond this world!! Worth every penny, every single penny. Oh I'm so glad I got a taste of that bliss.
Other things: samples of jams, sauces, and honeys for days!, fish that you eat entirely--"as they caught it", and also random German restaurants in the middle of nowhere.
I thought it would be nice to take a break from cooking for once, as my birthday was this week and all, so I let Elder Miyaki make dinner Tuesday night. He chose curry, in the end--probably the easiest thing we have in the apartment right now, but I'm not complaining. As he served the dish he warned me, "Be careful. The flavor might be a little strong." Upon having a bite my mouth was bursting into flames! That stuff was potent! I learned that he had unfortunately used the entire remainder of curry cubes--6 in total. 8 come in a box. 2 is for a normal meal. He had tripled the required amount of curry flavoring, haha. And then I was reminded of why I do the cooking.
Eikaiwa on Wednesday was Table Manners/Christmas feast of a 5 course meal! Took all day to prepare but it was so worth it. I played waiter and explained all the fanciest rules for proper etiquette as I walked them through each course. I prepared a French soup, salad, rolls, and then everybody brought something in potluck fashion for the main course, then I had pudding prepared for dessert. Main course ended up including roast beef slices, pumpkin bites, apple slices, breads of all kinds and fancies (crescent, regular roll, curry pan, even churros!), and more pumpkin! Apparently eating pumpkin on Winter Solstice prevents you from catching cold in the coming year; good to know. Good thing is, we got to take all the leftovers home ..including the churros. Score!
Interviews with Pres. Ishii in Matsumoto on Thursday. No details here, but say it went fine and I learned a lot. Also, I'm much more confident in what we'll be doing from here on out. I shared my testimony with Sister Ishii in Japanese and she fixed my grammar (it was good advice!). We received the ever rare mandarin Oranges, chestnuts, and unsalted almonds/cashews for lunch! Then a Great, quickened Special Training from the Zone Leaders as we had to leave for a service activity back in Ueda. Brother Ezaki drove us so we somehow managed to make it to the service event at the old folks' home. Wakabayashi played guitar along with two of his friends and I encouraged everyone by smiling, clapping along, singing and dancing for them; Elder Miyaki recorded the event.
Ueda is so peaceful at 6:00 in the morning; I forgot how awesome it is to wander empty streets with only a couple morning sounds going off every now and then. It's that whole experience that's cool, you know? The feel of it.
Birthday on Friday! Started with a fabulous breakfast! I had a sudden vision pop into my head the other day and just thought, "Well let's go for it!" and made probably one of the most wonderful things I've eaten since coming here. The recipe is going down in my collection as "Birthday Bomb!" haha. Then we went to an early DTM in Nagano.
DTM was fabulous! Christmas message, played 'signs', White Elephant, refreshments, and a short testimony session. My White Elephant/birthday present ended up being 500 sheets of Copy and Laser Paper. Whoot. but it's all cool; God must see it fit that I put off the natural man of the present that was taken from me which ended up being like $1,000 cash and complimentary bubble bath. Ha.
I bought a small cheesecake as we dashed to the station to catch a train (right after DTM), and then learned something while eating it on said train:
The Japanese have perfected an art that most Americans have never heard of: patience. How slowly can you eat a cupcake? Why do you eat the cupcake? Because it's delicious, of course. Wouldn't you want to taste more of the cupcake for a longer time? Yeah, it's delicious! In the American mindset, to fix this dilemma we just stuff another cupcake in our mouth--problem solved. In the Japanese mindset, we eat the cupcake slowly, savoring each little bite on the tip of the tongue and having the tastes wash over us. I made that little cheesecake I bought (no bigger than a racquetball) last 45 min. It was almost like eating an entire cheesecake to myself. Yum :)
We made it to the other service activity which was just a repeat of the previous one, just at a different place. After, Ezaki came again and drove us (along with Takizawa Kyodai) to go out to eat with a less active named Goe (American). Options were limited so we wound up eating at an all-you-can-eat yakiniku restaurant. We had a blast making fun of each other's sad girlfriend lives (Goe Kyodai is single and 38) and hounding on the feast of meat in front of us. I have to tell you, I started with a bowl of plain white rice just like every other man and ended with a bowl rich and brown, flavored with meat juices, because it's custom in Japan to place your meat over your rice after you take it from the grill and before eating it, apparently.
We met with Goe to wish him merry Christmas and find out why he doesn't come to church; despite time and time again of asking, implying, pleading, reasoning and such, we still don't know why he won't come to church! But he agreed to meet again next month so we'll get it next time.
Christmas Party on Saturday! That was super fun, too. We started by watching a video about the true meaning of Christmas (on YouTube), then jumped right into making cakes! (Making cakes for Christmas is a HUGE thing in Japan. It's as much tradition as stuffers are for stockings). Everyone was complaining that the cakes were too sweet and they couldn't eat more than one. They were strawberry shortcakes and we just decorated them with the strawberries, whipped cream, kiwis, and the bits of chocolate necessary. Definitely not a bad cake. I was offered clean up duty ;)
And then actual Christmas Day! Started it off right with some whopping Hawaiian Haystacks! Opened my birthday presents on Christmas morning (because the schedules got all shifted around) and was blown with surprise at what was inside! I had guessed earlier, and my guesses were wrong. For half of them, anyway. I was expecting Reese's Pieces and Costco Mangoes or M&Ms and got something much better. Thanks, Mom! I'll be sure to eat them wisely.
We go to church expecting 30 people and only 20 showed up, but that's OK because we just need to pump up the members more for the next year and it'll work out. I got to sit next to Sister Carter and her baby throughout the service and it was a fantastic relief to sing some hymns in English and play with a baby.
Right afterwards we feasted again! Single Men in the Branch Party! Hahaha but really. We honestly organized this thing because we don't want anyone to be lonely on Christmas Day. The participation was low again, for some reason, but that just meant all the more for the rest of us! Somebody even brought in a Baskin Robins Ice Cream cake! It was a good time, my friends.
Honey on pizza! What an idea! It wasn't that bad, either.
The rest of Christmas was helping take-down at a nearby event then returning to the church to conduct some business. We had all the leftover snacks and things from the Single Men Party, so we were A-OK.
And there's my week! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you!
With much love,
At the Branch Single Men Party
Hawaiian Haystacks toppings
BR ice cream cake
B-Day presents opened on Christmas