Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Paint it Black

As some of you may know, Matt is currently back in the States on temporary duty in California. As usual, he's not going to be gone for too long, but when he is, I generally end up finding unusual projects to fill my time with. Beside adding to our photography wall and reading a lot, I also decided to do another little art project!

Story: I'm in the back seat of my in-law's SUV about a month ago. We're driving in downtown Chicago at night - I think we're on North Avenue. We just came from the theater. And then I see it - the giant Z Gallerie store - one of my favorite design stores ever - and in the storefront window: an enormous piece of artwork displaying famous and historic streets in Chicago... in black & white... I fell in love!

Come to find out later, the piece really IS very large... a little too large for my tiny Japanese apartment walls. It also retails for $400. Bummer. But wait, I'm pretty sure I can replicate this piece of artwork and do so in a smaller format that works better for our place - I mean, it can't be that hard, right? To be honest, I've had some difficulties with painting in the past - I may have gone to an art school, but Matt will tell you that I'm no Van Gogh. I'm more technical than organic. My last piece of art was produced using a protractor. But, I decided to give it a try. I went to a local art store I know of out in town called "Green Note Stationary", which is more of an art supply store than a stationary store, but that's the Japanese for you. I purchased a canvas that I thought would fit perfectly in the spot I had allocated, along with a bunch of paints from the 100yen store. I used the Z Gallerie piece as my inspiration, and went to work making stencils of the street names. I was incredibly surprised at how well it turned out on my first try - and all for about $20!

The original Z Gallerie edition... except imagine it huge!

Step 1: Paint it black
Step 2: Make it look worn

Step 3: Sponge gray paint over homemade stencils

Step 4: Hang!

Mine is smaller and has more of a contrast (darker blacks, whiter whites) but, it looks great in our place, and you can't beat $20! It's a little bit of "Home Away From Home":)


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Christmas Vacation Stateside

Matt and I were fortunate enough to be able to spend Christmas in Chicago with our families this year. Not only were we getting to meet our nephew, Chase, for the first time, but it was also our first time back in the States since moving to Japan 15 months ago. Most difficult things to deal with: the extreme cold, switching back to driving on the RIGHT side of the road, & how quickly time flew by. Is it just me, or does the phrase "vacation to the States" just sound weird?? I feel British. Here are some highlights of our trip - Enjoy!

My husband playing with Chase's toys shortly after meeting him for the first time

Is it wrong that THE FOOD is one of my top "pros" for moving back to Chicago?

I love this city

Best Pizza in the city - no, the world - Deep Dish Lou Malnatti's

My sister's apartment in MN... she got a little snow.

Sister road-trip with one of our favorite kitties

Such a good girl:)

Great pic with Aunt Cortnie & Uncle Matt

Wow, Uncle Matt is actually letting someone touch his hair!

Upside-down children after eating =

= Throwing up on Aunt Cortnie:) LOL

College girlfriends + baby

I'm obsessed with my friend Patricia's amazingly gorgeous nursery!

It's so "Patricia" - I love it!

From baby nursery to shooting range...

I got reprimanded for taking this photo

Color-coordinated friends... can you tell we were there until they kicked us out?

Some of my favorite girls on Christmas Eve

Chuck the cat

My cute parents

Christmas morning with Chase & Matt's parents

Yet another crazy cat - this is Phoenix enjoying her catnip Christmas ball

We really know how to pick gifts for kids - he loved it!

Not easy to get a good one, but we did it!
Incredibly surprised to be holding a Tiffany's box!
Matt's new toy

Downtown Chicago for the evening @ Lawry's Prime Rib


Million Dollar Quartet @ The Apollo Theater

Last day home - saying goodbye to our nephew, unsure of the next time we will get to see him:(

Goodbye USA - see you in 2012!

Family - we love & miss you all soooo much! Thank you for an amazing Christmas!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Cambodia Trip - Part 3

I'm sure you're wondering what else there could possibly be to see in Cambodia that I haven't already blogged about. Well... did you know that the largest freshwater lake in Asia is located in Cambodia? It's called the Tonle Sap Lake, and it is an incredibly important part of Cambodia's economy, as it is the main source for the Cambodian fishing industry. So, it's a big lake - it has a lot of fish... what's so interesting about that? Well, the most interesting thing about this particular lake is the incredible change in water level that occurs throughout the year. Matt and I were visiting during the beginning of their "dry season" (November - May), where the lake gets as shallow as 1 meter deep (about 3 feet). However, during the "wet season", the Tonle Sap Lake floods with waters rising to as much as 9 meters (about 27 feet)!
The lake is also home to many small floating villages, and this dramatic change in water depth forces the Cambodian villagers to either have floating homes or houses built up high on stilts (called "stilted villages"). This particular day happened to be Thanksgiving, and we decided to go on a day tour of one of the Tonle Sap's floating/stilted villages named Kampong Phluk.
Before taking us to the boat, our tour guide took us on a side excursion so that we could experience a local Cambodian market. I'm really glad we did, too - it was so interesting to see the way these people made their living! There was so much to see and hear - I couldn't stop taking photos!
Everywhere we went people were selling these - at first, I kept thinking, "Gross! Who would want to drink that??". It took me a few days to realize that this is how they sold gasoline - they (according to our tour guide) would smuggle it across the border from Thailand, because it is cheaper there, and sell it in old whiskey bottles on the side of the road!

Baskets of fruits and veggies at the market

The locals use these flowers to make some kind of soup

Dozens of eggs

This woman made us some waffles out of rice - they were actually very good!

TONS of different fish for sale - still alive and flopping around in the baskets!

Baby sitting on a moped at the market - not unusual at all

After our time at the market was up, we drove down to the lake, where we boarded our tour boat that would take us to the stilted village of Kampong Phluk. There were a TON of these large, brightly painted, wooden boats - all trying to get through the same narrow passageway out to the lake - it was a crazy traffic jam, and I thought for sure we were going to collide with someone or something!

One of the floating houses - also, there were no cars or bikes. Everyone uses boats to get around the village - pretty cool.

Some of the stilted houses in the background, and in the foreground - a floating cage filled with pigs!

The villagers must build their houses up on high stilts in order to survive the "wet season" on the Tonle Sap Lake, when the water will raise up about 24 feet. Our tour guide told us that even though they are built up high, some still get the first floor of their homes flooded!

Check out this video clip of us arriving at the village:

It was really incredible!

We stopped the boat and got off for lunch in a dryer area of the village that wasn't under water at the time - you can see the unused boats just laying in the "road". I was concerned about where the kids play when the village floods for most of the year (as there were many kids outside playing while we were there), but our tour guide told me that instead of running around outside, they swim outside! What a different way of life!

We ate lunch in one of the stilted houses that was a Homestay - a family's home that rented out rooms to travelers (or in this case, it was less of a "room" and more of a "bed"). They had a hatch in the floor that led down to the kitchen.

Leaving Kampong Phluk

Instead of getting back on our brightly colored boat, we left the stilted village via canoe.

One of my favorite places I visited in Cambodia - The Flooded Forest. Because it was the "dry season", much of the trees were exposed, however, during the "wet season" when the water level rises, you can only see the very tops of the trees poking out of the water as you paddle by!

It was incredibly peaceful - I can still remember the sunlight coming through the gorgeous trees, and the calm sound of the water being paddled - I could have fallen asleep! And the trees we paddled through were SO dense - I can't believe we even made it through!

Check out this video clip of us floating through the Flooded Forest:

Finally made it out to the main part of the lake - it was so big that it felt like we were out in the ocean.

More fresh coconuts to drink - I can't remember how many of these I ended up having!

Although we didn't have a traditional Thanksgiving meal that night, we did go to a dinner show that featured traditional Cambodian dancers called Apsara Dancers. These dancers would dance for the king throughout history and are a very important part of Cambodian culture - there are carvings of them ALL OVER the temples of Angkor Wat.

Night Market of Siem Reap

Our last night ride in a tuk-tuk:(

Before heading back to Okinawa, we took advantage one last time to get some super cheap massages at one of the nicer spas called Frangipani.

It was a nice surprise to get to sit on the top floor of this cute Picachu Plane on our way home!

On a humorous side note: I have to mention that one of the funniest parts about our trip to Cambodia was everyone who kept making comments about how big of a guy Matt is, and that he apparently looks exactly like some American wrestler named John Cena??!? Apparently John Cena is doing a movie about Cambodia in the near future alongside their favorite actress - Angelina Jolie (otherwise, I'm sure they would have never heard of him before - just like me!). Anyway, we must have gotten a half-dozen comments during our five days in Siem Reap about it - even the airport employee who ushered us out as we were boarding our plane to leave turns to him and says (and no, I'm not making this up): "Smackdown! John Cena!".

In my opinion, this was the perfect trip to take over the Thanksgiving holiday. Although we gave up our traditional Thanksgiving meal, I feel like we gained so much perspective on the world, knowledge of and respect for other cultures, and most importantly - an incredible sense of thankfulness for what we have been blessed with as Americans. Even the poorest person in America is rich to these children we met in Cambodia, and that is something to really think about. This was not just a vacation - it was an amazing life experience for both Matt and I.

Thanks for following along on our adventures:)