The Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Scholarship

I am tickled pink to announce that I have won this year’s Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Scholarship.  I would like to give a world of thanks to The Horror Writers Association for providing female horror writers with such a wonderful opportunity to invest in and hone their craft.  And thanks and appreciation also to the HWA Scholarship Committee: Ellen Datlow, Vince Liaguno, and Marge Simon.

I plan to study hard and make them proud!

My Anti-New Year’s Noodles

On New Year’s Eve in Japan everyone (and I mean everyone) eats something called toshikoshi soba, year-crossing soba noodles. It’s a thing.  And it’s delicious.

If you ask around you’ll hear loads of reasons why you’re supposed to eat these specific noodles on New Year’s Eve. The main one, though, is that the soba represents the way you wish to live: hosoku nagaku. In other words,  you’re hoping to live a thin and long life. The thin translates as not too extravagant. You know,  living modest and within your means. Sounds reasonable.

We have participated in this tradition every December 31st since I’ve been married, usually buying soba from the store and fixing it ourselves or going out to eat in a noodle shop. But this past New Year’s Eve I decided to level up. I’d make my own.

First, I bought some soba-ko, soba flour.

Soba-ko

Second, I watched about three dozen Youtube videos to get the technique down.

Next, the fun began. Actually, everything went rather smoothly. Although a true soba enthusiast might say my noodles were a little thick. But, hey, I always thought the living modestly to be a bit boring.

Cutting Soba

I got them all cut and nicely jostled.

Soba Noodles

And that’s when a problem arose. I made the noodles at noon, but I wasn’t planning on cooking them until supper, six-ish. I figured it would be okay to air dry the puppies. What could go wrong, I thought. But as the day progressed and I checked on them they began to get sticky. So I did the thing anyone would do. I sprinkled them with flour and re-jostled them. I did that like four or five times before dinner.

Come six o’clock I make a bunch of tempura and put the water on to boil. I drop the soba oh-so-carefully into the pot, making sure to time them precisely. I’m really getting excited now.

That’s when it happened. My timer beeps and I go to dump the noodles into the colander and ended up with this:

Too Short Soba

All the noodles broke into tiny pieces. Delicious, but we had to eat them with a spoon. And not only that but kinda a really sucky omen. Instead of living a thin and long life…how about a short and kinda chunky life. Oh dear.

I then announced to my sulky family that the thousands of tiny pieces of soba meant we’d have thousands of good lucks the coming year. They still looked a little glum but decided it best to agree with me.

A problem remained, however, what to do with the left over soba chunks? There was still quite a bit left after our meal.

It took me a day of pondering, but in the end I figured it out. I heated up some olive oil and tossed those little guys in there, fried them up nice and crispy, and then sprinkled them with salt.

Soba chips!

Fried Soba Chips

Now THEY were delicious!

The moral of the story: When you’re going to screw up a long-honored Japanese tradition, reinvent it, deep fry it, and eat it with salt.

The Mini Museum of Masks

Japan is narrow and mountainous and hugely populated.

When asked what I miss most about the States (while I have several answers depending on my mood) “space” invariably gets mentioned. No sprawling parks with giant old trees and hide away benches where you can read undisturbed for hours. No lush lawns with dogs and children romping around. No house that is  so large that if you happen to sneeze all of your neighbors won’t hear.

Everything is built tight and close.

Which makes going for walks interesting. I can go on the same daily stroll in my neighborhood for years and still spot some odd WTH that makes me stop and shake my head. Or laugh. Or take a photo. And then if I get really wild and adventurous and trek off my beaten track, well…

This happened the other day when at first I saw this:

Masks 1

On closer inspection I found  a small sign written in a shaky hand announcing with an equally shaky arrow that there was a museum just behind the house, on the other side of a hedge.

Never one to obey those “How to Survive a Horror Movie” rules, I went right on in.  And met this fellow:

Masks 2

 

You can’t see him all, but, YES that is Santa Claus right there beside a Cyclops-in-the-mouth-of-a-screaming-wooden-thing.  I continue on.

And then there was a little shack and this:

Masks 3Lots of wooden ojizo, some crane origami, and a Zero fighter hung from the ceiling.

Moving right along I stumble across this guy. I’m assuming he’s daruma, no eyelids and all. Hey, what’s he looking at anyway?

Masks 4

 

What? Behind me?

I reach the very back of the house, the point of no (easy) escape, still waiting for some old man with a hatchet to leap out at me. But instead I find this.

A soul-stealing, devil mask with red glowing eyes.

 

Masks 5

 

That’s when I high tailed it out of there.

All in all, though, I came away with a nice warm feeling, thinking to myself, what a lovely hobby for some nice elderly man to have. He makes masks and statues and shares them with the neighborhood. He lures unsuspecting people into his tiny garden to entertain them. Lovely!

After further thought, I’m assuming that’s what that warm, tingly feeling was. What does haven’t your soul ripped out feel like anyway?