In Japan, when you enter a store or a restaurant or a home, the hosts will call out "いらつしゃいませ!"(Ira'shaimase), which means something like "Welcome!" "Come on in!" Which is what I say to you, new and old friends, as I share random thoughts and creations to whomever is interested.

Sunday, November 13, 2016


etegami taiguruma
Taiguruma etegami

When I got a last minute call from my friend Lynn Cooper inviting me to her house for dinner to meet a Japanese artist who was in town, I didn't really care what his art form was.  I was excited! Especially when she told me that the artist was from Niigata where my husband grew up.  What fun this was going to be.
 Then, when I looked up 鯛車 (sea bream on wheels), I discovered a wonderful obon (an annual Buddhist event for commemorating one's ancestors.) tradition that I'd never heard of and was really curious.  Traditionally, at the end of the Bon period it’s time for the ancestors to return to where they came from. If the location is near water, lanterns may be set out on the river or sea in a ceremony called toronagashi.

In Niigata, they have an old tradition I'd never heard of- that children pull these paper lantern sea bream around with a candle (now LED light) inside inviting the God of disease to follow it out to sea (and then drown, of course) keeping the children safe and healthy.

Two young men from Niigata decided to keep this tradition alive and presented workshops in Galveston to teach how to make them as a part of the
Galveston and Niigata sister city initiative.

I loved the taiguruma so much, I decided to paint an etegami to give to them.
Amazingly, it turned out better than I thought it would!
But in the spirit of etegami, it doesn't matter if it's perfect or not
It's all about giving.  He was surprised and delighted to receive.

Lynn and Justin now have a taiguruma of their own and it looked quite
beautiful in front of a mirror.  We are hoping they will return for the Japan Festival of Houston and do a workshop here in Houston.

Houston taiguruma

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

To RV or not to RV

To RV or not to RV: That is your question!

After having taking our first RV rental trip, many of you have asked about our experience and what would we recommend and so forth. So, instead of answering each question separately, I promised a post all about RV life as we found it. Our situation was somewhat unique since we flew to Las Vegas and rented the RV there. Renting an RV from your home town would be different since you could equip it with everything you wanted. We were limited to what we could fit in 4 suitcases and a carry on (Southwest Airlines does not charge for these). But that was sufficient for us. (ours in on the right)

Torrey, Utah RV park
So here goes: (remember, this is just our experience)

Advantages ( to an RV over renting a car and staying at motels/lodges)
  • Meals: We made one stop at Wal Mart and bought pretty much everything we needed for 10 days. We did plan to eat out every now and then but never ended up doing so. It was just so convenient to eat in or beside the RV. So we spent very little money on food. You have a refrigerator (which runs all day kicking into propane mode when you are parked without electric), microwave and stove-top (and oven-never used) with you at all times. We also discovered that even simple sandwiches taste so much better after you've been out in the fresh air hiking. Everything tasted better!
  • You can pull over and take a nap whenever you want to. After some of the early morning hikes, this was wonderful
  • You are out in the beauty of nature.
  • You are probably more apt to meet people this way. We went to a wine and cheese event at one RV park. There were other such events available.
  • So close to the outdoors yet way cheaper than the national park lodging (if you can even get a reservation). I only went with RV Parks this time since I didn't know much about Utah state parks and most national parks were already booked full. We averaged $40 a night for RV parks. I just checked Zion Lodge out of curiosity. Half of April, 2017 is already sold out (as is November, 2017). The rates are $209 a night.  $256 for Bryce Canyon lodge in April 2017, $400 for a room in Moab during peak season. I booked all of my RV parks about 2 weeks ahead and no problem getting a spot. You can get Motel 6 and others for cheaper, of course. Somehow that brings the experience down a notch, I think.
  • Not having to pack and unpack every day is wonderful. We could wake up, throw on some clothes and off we went
  • I have to use a CPAP every night due to sleep apnea (and due to Dave can't get any sleep either if I'm snoring and gasping for air). It was so convenient to set up the apparatus once and not have to set up and take down every day.
  • RVs are gas guzzlers, no way around it. Especially when you are going up and down steep slopes in the Utah & Arizona mountains. We had a Class C with a truck frame. We estimate we got around 9 miles per gallon. We put in around 170 gallons (for approx. 1500 miles) so just the gas cost us $425. (Gas price was running average of $2.50)
  • In many of the national parks, 25 feet is the limit for what size RV can toodle around the park. Any larger, you cannot drive in. BUT.. the same national parks have shuttle services (free) which are better anyway since parking is limited. With a 22 ft RV, we were able to go pretty much anywhere we needed to.
  • Costs we did not anticipate:
  1. We were hoping our car owner insurance covered RV rental as it does for auto rental. The agent at the rental place said “Oh, yes. Many insurance policies cover RVs.” She called our insurance who had to call the underwriters. 30 minutes later we found out we were not covered. Daily rates were around $13 for part of it and $16 for part of it (liability, body damage, I don't know what...) so we were required to get the one and added the next because damage to an RV can be VERY EXPENSIVE. That was another $330 or so. Out of curiosity, I wondered what annual RV insurance cost if you own an RV and this is what I found: depends on the state, Michigan being by far the most expensive
                                 Michigan median annual cost: $4,490
                                  District of Columbia median annual cost: $2,570
                             Oregon median annual cost: $1,108
    1. They give you 50 miles mileage a day. I thought “give you” meant free but it meant that was your basic package (included in what you paid). Anything over that is charged at around 32 ¢ a mile. We went 1500 miles so you do the math.... Kachin. Kachin.

Costs we avoided-
  • You could rent your sheets, pillows, towels and such for a fee. We brought our own
  • you could rent pots, pans, dishes and such for a fee. We brought our own
  • You need toilet paper (single ply-they emphasize!). Other campers left behind rolls so we got that for free!

RV park facing Monument Valley

State parks vs RV parks vs National Parks

I booked almost all RV parks because I was a little unclear whether the state parks offered everything we thought we needed. But I did book one state park and discovered we probably should've done more state parks. (Except there often are no state parks near the national parks). I didn't even consider national parks because I had heard you have to reserve way ahead of time. Also, now I am reading the following “no full-hookup”..”no electrical” and so forth. (I just checked for future plans) Just for your interest...

National Parks sample:
Yosemete National
Electrical, water, and sewer hookups are not available in Yosemite, although dump stations (with fresh water) are available at Upper Pines Campground (all year), near Wawona Campground (summer only), and near Tuolumne Meadows Campground (summer only). Generator use is allowed, but only between 7 am and 9 am, noon and 2 pm, and 5 pm to 7 pm. Generator use is not allowed at other times.
  • Maximum RV/trailer lengths: In Yosemite Valley, the maximum RV length is 40 feet and maximum trailer length is 35 feet, however, only a total of 12 sites of this size are available (six sites each in Lower Pines and North Pines, which are open spring through fall). Many more sites exist in Yosemite Valley and elsewhere in Yosemite that can take RVs up to 35 feet or trailers up to 24 feet.
Zion National
  • Generators are not permitted, but 95 campsites have electrical hookups. Reserve an electric campsite if you need power. There are no full-hookup campsites; a dump station is available for campers.
Sand Hollows state park Near St. George Utah

State Parks Vs RV Parks
  1. We only stayed in two state parks but found that your campsite is much bigger and prettier. In RV parks, you are lined up side by side with only a picnic table in between. Not a problem, but also doesn't give you that “camping” feeling. Our 22 ft camper was usually nestled between 2 monster bus sized contraptions
  2. State parks are slightly cheaper but not by much. (RV parks are around $40-$50 a night- state parks were $35 or less. Both usually offer full hook up. Cheaper sites are available if you don't have full hook-up and if you don't mind dumping your black water after the stay. Easier and probably smells better to hook up the sewer line each night)
  3. You have to pay to use the showers ($2) in Utah state parks. (Not in Texas!). Your RV has a shower but ours had a limit of 6 gallons of hot water at a time. OK if you have short hair but not quite enough for my long hair wash! Very tight quarters.. But very nice not to have to go outside late at night or early morning in the cold weather to get your business done!!!!
  4. The locations of State parks are always more wonderful than RV parks but RV parks are everywhere! (there are usually no state parks near the national parks.) I made advance reservations for all of our nights but you can get spots pretty late in the game at RV parks.
  5. You would need to get a state park pass if you planned on camping several nights. Each state has different prices.
  6. RV parks have laundry, free coffee in the morning, showers, toilets, often swimming pools, one night we sat in a hot tub, social events, stores to buy necessary items, full hook-ups, cable TV hook-ups (but didn't work well most of the time) and most of all Free Wi-Fi!! (No Wi-fi at state parks). I would love to say we went unplugged on vacation but I still needed to call my mom and send her pics and keep up with my emails (I am not retired yet and I run my own business). We watched a few Netflix shows when we were too tired to even sit outside but not ready to sleep. Also used the Wi-Fi to check up on the next day's activity possibilities or to learn more about what we had just seen that day.

Driving the monster:
Dave drove the RV. I did not. It was pickup based, but bulkier. A lot of the roads are on steep edged cliffs, lots of curves, in other words, terrifying to drive for someone afraid of heights (me). Would I have driven it on a flat monotonous road? (Texas for example?) Probably not. I am not good at judging widths and lengths. Sometimes even with my minivan! I am not a good candidate to be a driver of an RV. Dave had no problems driving it. They come equipped with a back-up camera. Would've been a lot harder without that.

Interesting to know:

Our RV rental place told us 85% of their RV rentals in the summer were to Europeans. Of that, 80% are German! The Europeans apparently love RV-ing in America. They buy and rent all of their supplies when they get here, so at the RV place, there were 3 baby car seats left behind for anyone to use. Also, camping chairs and other things. Not guaranteed but interesting to note. In the national parks, we heard more foreign languages than we did English.

Any other questions?

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Japanese themed etegami

 One of my new friends (via FacebooK) from high school in Japan owns a Ramen Shop in New York City: Rasha Ramen ( http://yasharamen.com/).  She has offered to exhibit and maybe sell (if anyone is interested) my etegami in her restaurant. I decided to take her up on her offer and started painting Japanese themed etegami. 
Japanese demon etegami

After I painted this rasha demon, finding the right words for it was quite a challenge. What I ultimately found was perfect "Turn your demons into art"

hannya mask etegami

This one is just for fun :)
speaks with her eyes
This is one of my mother's kokeshi (wooden) dolls.
I used a sharpened chopstick to draw the eyes and ended up 
with a big blob on her eyebrows. 
 But there are no mistakes so I imagine this just gives her character!!

etegami girl

I actually painted this for my first babysitter who babysat me in 1957 in Phoenix, AZ.
She was a Japanese war bride and a member of my parent's congregation.
We recently visited her in Phoenix and she gave us a most beautiful fabric sculptured doll for "our future grandchild" .  If and when.
 I did an etegami of the girl thinking how I was a little girl when she babysat me
and still feel like a little girl when I am with my aging babysitter!

Red head

This red-headed kabuki actor was painted for my red-headed childhood friend.
She loved it!

Get well

I have a friend who struggles with the idea of prayer.  Who do we pray to? Does it make a difference? I struggle, too.  So, now that he is facing cancer yet again, I thought I could send him all forms of healing using the Japanese good luck talisman, the Maneki Neko.
This painting has all kinds of "mistakes" on it, but in the true spirit of etegami, it lives on.

Let her sleep

Another one of my mother's kokeshi. I will be giving a lot of these away some day (My house is already filled to the brim with Japanese things) so painting these will allow me to keep them and give them away.
she will be beautiful

This kokeshi doll has a very plain face, plain haircut, but is beautiful.
I absolutely loved Eleanor Roosevelt's word to go with it!

Ramen comfort food

Thought I'd better paint a bowl of ramen for a Ramen restaurant.
Used the sharpened chopstick technique which is why you see blobs here an there.
The ink is not controlled but that adds the character