gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)
Photos from our first full day are here:


We are walking distance from some beautiful old shrines and temples as well as the Gion "pleasure quarters". The rain was warm, so it was rather pleasant. We had lunch at a cafe in our neighborhood - I had a bowl of green-tea noodle soup in a warm, almost buttery broth, with mackerel, fish-cake and seaweed. Really yummy.

Ellen had booked us into a tea ceremony here:

The tea master was a delightful gentleman who demonstrated tea ceremony for us in English and then taught us the proper way to whisk our own matcha. With the rain coming down at the back of the house, it was really lovely.

Gion has a rather touristy show which compresses tea ceremony, flower arrangement, geisha dancing, court music and bunraku puppet theater into about an hour - sort of "Reduced Shakespeare" approach to Japanese culture. We did that, then found a terrific little izakaya (think tapas bar, only with Japanese goodies, grilled beef, grilled fish, scallops with bacon, weird but yummy Japanese "pizza") on our way back towards the house. Sated, we all rolled into our respective beds not long after.

Our home away from home is a machiya or "town house" that has to be at least pre-WWII, and maybe a good bit older. The wiring in the front hall is definitely from a different era. Actually, it's two side-by-side houses with a door that passes through between them.
When you enter the house, you find yourself in a stone floored alcove where you doff your shoes and stow your umbrella. You have to step up from there into the house proper. I am sleeping in what was probably a sitting room at the front of "Heian" (Peaceful Cottage). Shoji paper-windows are above my comfy bed, the walls, ceilings and screen doors between rooms are all wood or woven bamboo. Josh and Ellen are in the bigger bedroom directly behind me and there's a narrow kitchen (I can smell Josh making toast) parallel with it. Tiny dining room behind their bedroom, and a "wet zone" with stone floors comprising toilet, shower and washer/dryer at the back of the house. The floorplan of "Koke-an" (Moss Garden Cottage) is identical, and Andy and Cory have the big bedroom on that side. The front sitting room next to me has a loveseat and a wall mounted television and DVD library, as well as tatami mats on the floor.

The toilet is a big contrast to the traditional surroundings. Equipped with a heated seat, bidet, warm air dryer for after you use the bidet, the part that really impresses me - coming from a drought zone - is the "big flush/little flush" option. Turn the handle one way to get rid of Number One, or the other for Number Two. Very high tech and efficient.

The rest of the house is starting to stir. We're going to try to hit the flea market at To-ji temple.
gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)

This is one cup of uncooked rice.*

I am not going to dump it over my head or dare you to. That would be wasteful and stupid.
I'm also not going to employ upon you peer pressure tactics I thought we'd all left behind in sixth grade. I respect
you too much.

A masu was the amount of rice needed to feed one person for a day in feudal Japan. That's approximately 2 1/4 cups - enough to fill this measuring cup not quite to the brim.  If you've ever cooked rice, you know that this would cook up to more than seven cups. Supplement with greens or other vegetables and a bit of fish or some beans and suddenly the humble masu seems like a realistic measure after all.

In modern currency, a pound of rice costs about a dollar, maybe more if it's a fancy variety. $20 is the going rate for a 20 pound bag of Botan Calrose rice at Walmart.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is a nasty thing and if you choose to donate, that's great. The thing is, your donation won't cure ALS tomorrow. Some day, maybe.

But you could feed someone right away. A lot more people are relying on food banks now than have ALS, and food banks can stretch your donation dollar to as much as three times its size. That's pretty impressive. has a state by state listing to help find your local food banks. serves 11 Northern California counties.

If you've read this far, thank you.

*(And me in my dorky reading glasses.)
gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)


Prompted by a chat on Facebook with [ profile] trystbat and co.  I may pretty it up, but I banged that out in five minutes on Powerpoint.

Looks like I may spend tonight doing some website updates.

Yeah, it's a small gesture, but it feels like I'm doing something.

gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)

My body decided to wake me up stupid early this morning, so at least I got my hardware store run completed: batteries for the wall clock, a can of tool dip to finish the ends of my kite spars, and Pagano's even had a roll of kite line! (OK, well, maybe it wasn't just my body. My brain was trying to relocate my grommet thingy as I woke up. It's nice to be excited about a project again.)

I decided that taking sketches from a paused DVD would be easier than screwing around with printouts and reading glasses. So right now I am going to give full credit to Dreamworks' many, MANY talented people who created the "How To Train Your Dragon" films. (If you haven't gone to see the new one, make time. It's delightful.)

Drawing on top of tatami is a little weird - but less awful than trying to do it on the carpet!

Wingspan is dictated by the maximum length of my pre-cut bamboo kite spars, which are just under 42" in length (it's probably in centimeters if I bother to check.) I originally thought I might start in small scale and see if it was going to be flightworthy, but after a week of thinking about this, there's no reason it shouldn't be with a 40-something wingspan and a nice long, well centered tail.


I think the wing needs to be a little more sharply drawn along the flank, but I'm close to what I want. Time for some tea and a think...
050That's a bit better. I've got two thicknesses of bamboo spars for the body and wings. I think the secondary wings and the tail may do with bamboo skewers.

UPDATE: Nylon has been cut out. Two sets of wings, two sets of bodies (one slightly larger than the other to function as a wind sock), two pairs of front and rear legs, two tail pieces, one in which which will have to be painted red, because I had some in the house and I don't need enough for Toothless' prosthetic tail fin to go out and buy it.

Cutting the nylon

As much of what comes next involves black thread on black nylon, it's definitely time to take a break.

gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)

Nice relaxing weekend. Saturday I ran a few necessary errands in the morning, one of which involved a detour into the Alameda Goodwill as they had a big sale sign in the window. After fruitless searching for a few weeks for a nice shoulder bag just the right size, I found a very nice Liz Claiborne one in black leather for $5.50. It dates from when cell phones were tall and skinny as it as a little exterior pouch of that shape on one end, but other than that, it's a smart looking bag that may make the trip to Japan instead of an ugly nylon day pack. And hey, even if it doesn't, $5.50.

Also scored a copy of "Japanese Poetic Diaries" (ed. Earl Miner) and a paperback "Smiley's People" at Moe's, as I've gotten back into LeCarre ever since the "Tinker Tailor" remake with Gary Oldman came out. They weren't period pieces when he wrote them, but they're still absorbing.
James was supposed to call me about going to see "Godzilla," and never did, so I met up with Fiore, Jeremy, Staffan and Staffan's Mom for pizza and "How To Train Your Dragon 2," which was every bit as charming as the first one. I will not post spoilers other than to predict there will be a lot of cosplay of a new major character as a result.

As I posted earlier on FB, one of the themes of both HTTYD movies is "Once you've earned his trust, there's nothing he won't do for you." I didn't see the first one in the theaters and only stumbled upon it when it hit cable - only to be completely enchanted by it. There's a moment in the first film, well, it's at about the 2:20 mark of the embedded video. It gets me every single time, because I was that kid once.

As some of you know, from my early teens into my late 30's, I had the privilege of working with horses. Obviously I got to start with worth-their-weight-in-platinum school horses to begin with, but by the time I was about the age of the young people of Berk in the first movie, my trainer was putting me on a fair few "racetrack rejects" who came to our barn with some human-induced traumas trapped inside their horsey little heads.

Someone posted 'Oh, yeah, that happened with my dog' over on FB. It's not the same, though, (particularly not with that doormat of a dog). I bet she never thought "OK, I could die right now if this doesn't work." Bonding with a horse, even a reasonably well schooled one, has a potential for danger. They're a lot bigger and a lot stronger than we are. Even the well trained ones are capable of being startled. The ones who have been roughed up by humans have to learn to trust from scratch all over again when they have good reasons not to. Breakthroughs are measured in moments like this, and they can be hard won indeed.

The film-makers commentary on HTTYD 1 mentions modeling some of Toothless on one of the animator's cats, but the horse analogy holds up to the flying scenes too. Even one's first terrifying canter on a bombproof school horse feels like flight. And jumping one over big wood, well, that IS flight. There's a physicality to it that's hard to explain to someone whose only experience of speed is hanging out the window of an automobile, or even riding a bicycle. Dragon-flight is animated as particularly physical. You see Toothless rowing furiously to climb, or the snap of the wind into his wings as he dives, or the sickening crashes as he struggles to fly with his damaged tail.

Then there's the derpy ears thing. The animators gave Toothless certain attributes of cuteness to make him more expressive. Horses express a great deal with their ears. Forward signals alertness, pasted to their heads means fear or hostility. Tobe here had the derpiest ears ever. They would even flap when he moved.


So yeah. Dragons. Dreamworks got the dragons right.

I came out of HTTYD2 with an idea in my head. I need to scrounge some big plan paper tomorrow at work so I can start roughing it out, but I think I need to build an alpha Night Fury kite.

gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)
"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul." - John Muir

Thursday I felt fine all day. Then I went to practice - where I had both Brogan and Staffan all to myself because nobody else showed up. Two White Scarves ready to tire me out and overload my brain with notes for the mental filing cabinet, and I came apart. I picked up that sword and struggled the entire time with pain distracting me while two of them were trying to tell me to do things. By the time I said "I'm done," it felt like my elbow was burning inside. It hadn't felt this bad in months.

To add insult to injury, Thursday's dinner gave me the trots and I was up most of the night dealing with that as well as elbow pain despite icing it and taking ibuprofen.

There I was, Friday, trying to conceal from co-workers what a foul temper I was in, knowing I didn't dare pick up a sword the way things stood and dithering about whether I should waste a tank of gas on an event to lend moral support to people who probably didn't need it anyway, because I sure as hell wasn't in any shape to try to fight in the tourney. I was hating on the world and everything in it. I desperately needed not to be thinking about work, about rapier, about hurting every time I picked up a rapier, about the SCA and pasting a peerlike demeanor on my face when I damn well didn't feel like it, about Staffan's belief that I had the potential to be a good fighter when I could barely think because it hurt so bad.

....when I got a notion into my head.  I consulted the internet kami of the NOAA weather, the National Park Service and Yosemite Lodgings. $60 later I had a tent cabin in Curry Village booked for Saturday night and I was feeling significantly better.

I was out of the house by 6 AM Saturday morning. I took a LOT of pictures. But I didn't think about work. Or the SCA. And the only pain I was thinking about was how much my feet hurt after a day of mini-hikes all around the valley. (Though I do need to ice my elbow after I write this.)

Some of my friends simply MUST go back to Disneyland over and over and over again. Well, that's Yosemite for me.

The approach was simultaneously heartbreaking and inspiring: I drove through a portion of the 400 square miles stricken by last summer's Rim Fire. The "Rim of the World" vista point on Highway 120 in the Stanislaus National Forest now overlooks bald, brown mountains instead of forests.
Yosemite 031514 005As you head east on Highway 120 you think you've gone color blind because the stands of evergreens have turned a weird, autumnal orange. Some are half-and-half where only part of the tree was scorched. Eventually, if the Forest Service doesn't clear them out (which they've already done in some sections), they will drop their needles. Then the branches will dry out and fall. The Rim Fire areas will start to look like the fired out stretch below Highway 41 inside the park - a few spiky dead trees still standing here and there, while low-to-the-ground plants grow in the open space.

Everywhere a stupid human could possible pull over is posted with signs forbidding entry and announcing fire danger, because what's there could still go up like torches.
Yosemite 031514 013

As you drive, you see places where the fire hopscotched the road. The posted burn zone continues past the Hwy. 120 park entrance, but is nowhere near as bad as it is down the hill.Yosemite 031514 166

It was the birdsong that kept me from tears as I stood by the roadside at Stupid Early O'Clock in the morning. The birds are in there,even among the burned out trees. Presumably other wildlife is as well. Seedlings will sprout. Eventually. It will come back, but it won't be like it was in my lifetime. More photos of the Rim Fire aftermath at

gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)

It was Pennsic 29 (I think). Well, it was in 2000, because it was the year I started dating Gaius and he'd squired James and James had recently decided he wanted to do a Japanese persona.

I'd just arrived on site that day, gotten through a whirlwind set-up, and was headed down to the merchant area by the barn to use a pay phone to check in with Gaius and let him know I'd made it. If you know the area, there's a building across from Cooper's Store which had a pay phone or two against a side wall on its lower level.

I heard my name called and looked up to see James in his brand new Japanese garb waving over the railing up above me. Next to him was a balding, bearded, prosperous looking guy with glasses in a black surcoat with red and gold something on the front. My initial thought was "You rat, you said you couldn't come!"

As I bolted for the stairs, my brain started going "Click: hair's too dark. Click: glasses are the wrong shape. Click: the heraldry on the surcoat is all wrong." So at least I didn't leap on Master Edward of Effingham like some random nutjob when I was introduced to him, even though he and Gaius fit the Generic SCA Male Type# 14A. (James maintains he didn't see a resemblance.)

That's how I met Tony, AKA A.J. Bryant, AKA Baron Edward of Effingham, AKA Hiraizumi Tadanobu. Author, mentor, pain in the ass, inspiration. That week is also when I decided the polite thing to do as James' knight's lady was to act interested and try to hold up my end of the conversation. It resulted in my introduction to pre-Edo Japanese culture. I got dragged to a class about court rank, titles and honorifics that completely baffled me. James loved it. I was lost.

In the intervening years I became interested enough to pursue the literature and clothing - and eventually whatever else I thought Saionji no Hana "needed."  I discovered early on that Tony was THE Go To Guy on doing Japanese in the SCA, particularly for the armor and militaria end of it. Somewhere along the way I started publishing informational how-tos on the things I was working on, clothing to start, then other bits of Japanese material culture.

I was never formally his apprentice or anything. And honestly, for the kind of things I was doing, he didn't really do much other than surface, make a comment on the sca-jml Yahoo Group or Tousando forum, and vanish again for weeks or months at a time. "The fan's wrong," he commented when I posted photos of myself in one of my first Japanese outfits. I asked what was wrong. I asked for the Japanese word for "fan" so I could do a search. He never answered. Screw him, I'll find it myself. And eventually did, and did some research on fans used in period.

When I jokingly complained about his lack of response causing an incurable brain itch until I found a satisfactory answer, he claimed he'd done it on purpose. I didn't believe him. He had more in common with Gaius than a physical resemblance.

He didn't suffer fools lightly. When you're the Go To Guy, you get a lot of correspondence and some of it is from people who want to be spoon fed, or validated for making stuff up or being sloppy just because that's what they wanted to do. I think that's why he would go to ground for long periods of time.

He could be impatient, particularly if someone didn't get it - I remember an escalating situation on the Tousando involving a novice armorer with poor geometry skills. Tony and all the armor nerds kept saying, "That's wrong, go back, look at it again!" with increasing stridency as the New Guy kept going back and getting it wrong. I had to PM him and ask him to shut up for 24 hours - then I taught New Guy how to use a grid to blow things up and explained that if there was a curvy line in the grid, he had to cut a curvy line even if his brain was saying "This Is A Rectangle." New Guy eventually got a helper with a better eye to assist with his armor patterning.

That said, he never had a bad thing to say about what I trotted out for critique or approval. When he did come down off his virtual mountaintop to see what I was working on, he approved.

I was never his apprentice or anything, but he was someone the Japanese SCA community has always looked up to. I learned from him. If he said I was on track I could trust it. If he praised it, I basked in the glow for days afterward.

Yet in a funny way, I learned the most from the hard-to-reach curmudgeon. He taught me, "Screw it, I'll do it myself." I looked at Hiraizumi Tadanobu Sensei AKA Edward of Effingham's curmudgeonly example and became the mediator. I chose to be the patient one, to go back and do it again if it wasn't right, to answer my emails promptly and remember that it's still new to someone whether I've answered the question fifty times before or not, to say "I don't know," if I didn't and go back and try to find out more.

2013 is fired. For the second time this year, I have lost a long-distance friend and member of the SCA-Japanese community.

His obituary is at

gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)
It's getting to be that time!
Here's the concept:
Write one tanka (waka)* a day for the month of November.
*Resources on tanka:
The spirit of this poetic form being the impermanence of this dewdrop life, no other make-ups are permitted. If you miss a day, you miss a day and as in real life, you never get it back. (You're on the honor system here....)
No limits on subject matter other than any you chose to impose upon yourself. Hopefully, some moment in your day will inspire you to write about it.
If you write more than one tanka a day, fine. However, you may not carry over tanka to other days. You have to write a poem on each day.
(If you are inspired to "answer" someone else's poem, great. Personally, if I do so, I am not going to
count it toward my daily assignment. The idea is to come up with something myself each day. What you do is up to you.)
Adherence to the 5-7-5-7-7 line/syllable count is required, otherwise it's not a tanka.
It's poetry, not stereo instructions. It should say something and it should make sense.
No rewrites. (I know, I'm evil, but it's part of the process of practicing this form. At least for me.)
Post to your Livejournal or share your work at
This challenge originally premiered in 2008.
Good luck everyone!
gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)

As mentioned last week, Date Rokurou Yoshimitsu informed me of the passing of Date Saburou Yukiie, sometimes referred to in this journal as The Bushi From Mutsu. I had promised to keep silent about it until Rokurou-dono made it public. I was out of town at An Tir West War when he did so. (My phone lit up like a slot machine when i came offsite and reached an area with signal - two Tousando friends wanted to inform me before I saw it on the internet.)

This was what he posted to FB: On 28 June 2013, my closest, dearest, and bestest friend, Christopher Wright, lost his battle with PTSD and took his own life. He was someone that meant a lot to me and he is already missed. He and I met back in 1991 at a Society for Creative Anachronism event and became instant friends. He took me under his wing and taught me more about Japanese history, armor, clothing, archery, culture, and much more, than I would have been able to learn on my own. He also saw me as an equal, and sometimes his teacher, especially when it came to sewing Japanese outfits (even though he won an award for his, he remained very humble and insisted that my outfits were of a higher caliber). He was a Marine, who worked EOD, and would always say, "and I still have all my fingers". He would always do for others while sacrificing his own needs, and even saved a couple strangers, in the past few years (one was a woman that collapsed on the bus, and the other a kid that rode his bike off a cliff). I miss my friend! May Buddha see him as being worthy of a second chance and give him a chance to live again.

In 2004, Date-dono sparked a completely spontaneous eruption of poetry on the sca-jml Yahoo Group. It inspired me not only to participate but to write an article for Tournaments Illuminated on Heian poetry exchanges. Thus began a regular exchange of poetic conversations between us. It didn't take long for it to become flirtatious. At that point, honor required me to ask if there was anyone in his life who might feel threatened, offended or otherwise unhappy about the turn the correspondence was taking. He gleefully informed me that his wife Kay read everything we wrote, often over his shoulder as we were pinging waka back and forth. In short, game on.

As I shared our collected output on my website, I was often asked, "How can you do that?" It's complicated, but it worked. Had Kay not been happy about it I would have ended it immediately - I don't poach, ever. I almost always signed off with a comment to thank his lady for letting him come out and play and I often said I owed her some expensive chocolates and a dozen roses. He let on that our exchanges were good for their relationship, to which I recall chortling, "As long as SOMEONE's getting dragged off to the futon!"

It was a writing challenge: how to respond, how to up the bar and increase the challenge, even turn the tables on one another. He inspired me to write things I am immensely proud of. In turn he wrote things that made me laugh, that turned me to teary eyed mush (that in itself is an accomplishment!), that took my breath away, because part of this mad, amazing exercise was to allow ourselves to react on a deeply subjective level to the poems we received so that we could respond to them honestly, even though we knew the reality was that it was a fiction.

Were Yukiie and Hana in love? Yes, of course, though the back story I had in my mind (which I never told him about) was that we had glimpsed one another from afar, exchanged messages and kept trying to meet only to be thwarted at every turn. Keeping the chase going was definitely part of the fun for me.

Were Christopher and I? Certainly there was much to admire. He was a bright, funny, incredibly talented man who impressed the hell out of me at every turn. Go look at his artwork at

I remember when he first posted these. He made all of it. ALL OF IT. The armor, the clothing. The quiver, the arrows. All of it. What's not to make a lady's heart go pitter pat?

He served in the Marine Corps during the first Gulf War. He was ever proud of his service, explosive ordnance disposal and security for a general - his FB wall never let you forget it, though he never let me see the bad side of it. Pictures of him and Kay traveling and looking happy, humorous dispatches about a campaign against the aphids in his garden, everything seemed to be good. He posted this two weeks ago with the caption: "A Marine, in a SuperHero T-Shirt, Drinking Lifer Juice out of a Marine Corps Cup. Fine morning indeed!"

Having had the word from Rokurou-dono privately, I think a part of my brain didn't quite believe it right away, and besides, I couldn't talk about it to anyone. I somehow managed to push it away during the preparation for An Tir West War and the ensuing activities. Then my cell phone went bonkers on Highway 101 and I had eight plus hours in the car alone to think about it. I found myself thinking about Kay a lot.

As I took the Broadway Alameda exit off 980 into Oakland I shut off my radio and drove in silence. I came out of the tube and turned right instead of left and headed out to the seaplane lagoon on Alameda Point. We'd once written of pouring cups for one another and I owed the man a drink.


Across the great land
a cup of sake offered
in gentle friendship
from one we have never met...
so sweet as to move to tears. **(Date to Saionji)

Across the great land
A bottle of cheer is sent
Where I could not go.
Dreaming yet of unmet friends,
We will one day share a cup. (Saionji)
- August 26, 2005.

I don't have a poem for this. I haven't the heart for it.  Yet I know what I feel is a mere ripple compared to what his family is going through.
gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)

From left to right:

(Left) Leftover "metallic" card stock from my Laurel "wish tree" project. Curled up when wet, but took a decent print off the ink and mostly flattened out as it dried. Potential for things like bookmarks might be improved by using a plain grade of card stock.

(Center) Cheap sketch pad paper. It didn't want to fall apart when wet, but the ink ran and smudged when I pulled it back out of the vat.

(Right) Yasutomo's "rice paper"* for calligraphy. Requires careful handling once wet to avoid tearing as you remove it from the vat, but was significantly less fragile than the Daiso Japan practice calligraphy paper used on Saturday. Best print of the three too.  Not cheap, however. at $10 or so for a roll of 8" x 20' paper.  (English label says "rice paper," but it's probably kozo.)
gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)
Another sunset
Gilds the water as sea birds
Wheel and cry above.
I turn homeward, thinking of
What tomorrow holds in store.

Thank you all for playing.
gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)
She waits in a web
Strung across the window frame
For a fly or moth.
A door slams downstairs, making
Her scuttle into a crack.
gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)
Tiny white flowers
In the grass beneath my feet
Spring up like small stars.
A breath of sea breeze floats in
Off the beach beyond the trees.
gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)
Measured in gray hairs
Or a clock's tick, time never
Stops playing its tricks.
Like water cupped in the hand
The day dripped through my fingers.
gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)
Tonight the moon plays
Hide and Seek among billows
Of concealing clouds.
Now hidden, now peeping through
At its face deep in the bay.
gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)
So bright a spring moon
Makes one yearn for poetry
And dreams of what was.
Alas, I must watch alone
As the rooftops gleam silver.
gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)
On a quiet night
A distant train horn echoes
Across the channel.
Footsteps on pavement outside
Hurry past, then a door slams.
gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)
A field of green silk
Awaits my inspiration
"Paint me!" it whispers.
I dip my brush in pure gold
Steady handed by purpose.
gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)
Windows thrown open,
One hopes for a cool bay breeze
Though it nears midnight.
Soon enough the birds will wake
Me with their noisy chatter.
gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)
A darting motion
In the corner of my eye
Alerts me to him.
He hovers, snatching insects
Wings blur with speed, then he's off.


gurdymonkey: (Default)

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