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Camping in Ibaraki


Spring break is a good time to travel. This year we had a longer break. School ended two weeks early because of COVID-19. That created a longer spring break, but it also limited what activities are reasonable. I decided to do a bit of car camping in Ibaraki, rented a car, packed my bags, and drove north.

The first destination was Mt. Tsukuba (筑波山). It's an easy hike, but it's also beautiful, and the spring ascent in the snow with only a handful of other hikers to be found was marvelous.

The second destination was the Hananuki Gorge (花貫渓谷). I chose it because there's a wonderful free campground (小滝沢キャンプ場) right by a stream. Many campgrounds in Japan are expensive, and many of them have sites right next to each other, and that's frustrating if you want to get out to nature but the people next door are boozing until midnight. This campground did not have that problem. There are maybe ten sites, they're shielded from each other by the hillside and river bank, and the noise of running water sounds nice in the background. Once I got there, I looked up some hiking trails. There's a 2km route to the summit of Tsuchigatake (土岳), and since that's really short, I hiked down the other side and on back roads for a few hours to make a big loop out of the thing.

Three nights, two full days, two half days, pretty fun. Some snow, some sun, some nature. Cold enough where most people wouldn't go camping, but warm enough for the few of us that did to feel good about it. I don't own a car, which is great, but from time to time it's also great to crank up the music and sing along with it while trucking along the roads for a few hours.

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Favorite Books


The other day, Robby Feldman came to my school and held a workshop for my tenth graders. One of the slides in his presentation was a montage of books that impacted him in his life, and it was cool to look at and think about, so here's mine.

Books/Desert Solitaire.jpg Books/Neuromancer.jpg Books/Fear and Loathing 72.jpg Books/Better Than Sex.jpg Books/1984.jpg Books/Politics and the English Language.jpg Books/Parkinson's Law.jpg Books/Letter from Birmingham Jail.jpg Books/How to Solve It.jpg Books/Gaijin Smash.jpg Books/Sand and Foam.png Books/The Culture Map.jpg Books/The Diversity of Life.jpg Books/A Wizard of Earthsea.jpg Books/The Lord of the Rings.jpg Books/The Short Stories.jpg Books/Old Man at the Bridge.jpg Books/The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.jpg Books/Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.jpg Books/The Great Gatsby.png Books/The Dharma Bums.jpg Books/My Losing Season.jpg Books/Mineralogy.jpg Books/Where the Red Fern Grows.jpg Books/The Anatomy of Stretching.jpg Books/A Guide to Japanese Grammar.jpg

My main criteria for these books is whether I feel they impacted my life. Great books are usually ones you re-read, because you keep learning more from them. There are several short stories and philosophy papers that could be included but aren't shown above partly because I couldn't find a cover image, and also because they aren't exactly books.

One interesting thing is that although I'm an English teacher, few of the above books are specifically about teaching or education. A lot of my knowledge about teaching is from websites, other teachers, and my dad.

Yaeyama Islands


For winter vacation, I'm headed to the Yaeyama Islands, which are in the far SW of Okinawa, Japan.

12/25✈ Haneda → Ishigaki.🏨 Blue Cabin Ishigakijima
12/26⛴ Ishigaki → Ohara, Iriomote.🏠 Minshuku Yamaneko
12/27Iriomoate is island with one main road that goes along the eastern and northern coast. There's scuba diving in the north, but my minshuku is in the south, and without a rental car, there's no good way to get up there, and the rental cars are booked. Well, there's still plenty to do. I've been itching to run longer distances, and the roads and weather are great for this. There's a beach about six kilometers down one road, and one day I went on a long hike into the jungle. The elusive Iriomote wild cat was nowhere to be found, but I got a good view of a turtle crossing the road and a hawk soaring above the sugar cane fields.
12/30⛴ Iriomote → Ishigaki.🏨 Cabin Hotel Mr. Kinjo in Ishigaki
12/31It was rainy the first two days on Ishigaki, but between window shopping near the port, going to a nearby limestone cave, and reading a book, things worked out faily well. On New Year's Eve, the rain finally stopped, and the next day I went for a hike to the highest point on the mountain, or so was the plan, but when I got to the trail head the weather had turned gray and misty, certainly not the conditions I'd prefer for jungle hikes, and I continued along the road south, through a nature preserve where a peacock awkwardly took flight when it caught sight of me, and eventually back to the center of town.🏨 Hotel Mr. Kinjo Suns in Ishigaki
1/2I took the ferry to Taketomi Island for the morning. It's a small scenic island with nice beaches and traditional houses and streets lined with fences built from volcanic rocks.
1/3Ishigaki is famous for scuba diving. How many dives have I done in my life? I don't have my old log book, but thinking back, my parents and I took dive trips to Belize, Bonaire, Dominica, and maybe somewhere else, and my dad and I went to the Bahamas (a Miami-based live aboard) and Honduras (Roatan). Let's assume each trip involved at least ten dives. That plus the five dives I got in Bali in 2017 puts my total going into today at around sixty dives. That brings us to today, and today we did three dives. The first two were near Sand Point, Kuroshima. There were several lion fish, which I had never seen before, plus an assortment of sea cucumber, sea slugs, small colorful tetras and similar tropical fish. The third one, where two manta rays circled two meters above our heads for ten minutes, was off the coast of Aragusuku Island, a small island SE of Iriomote.
1/4Today was my second and final day of diving for this trip. We had the same crew and some of the same divers as yesterday. The first two dives, 大崎ドロップ and はんごえリーフ, were along the NW coast of Ishigaki. We went in search of sea turtles but didn't find any. I found a large shrimp that crawled out of its cave, and a few barracudas swam by in the distance. The guide showed me a little fish that swims along a thin ropey piece of coral. Our third dive was at a site called Black Pearl. It's a sandy bottom at around thirty feet, which the dive shop chose because they had some beginners doing a trial course. Thirty feet is fairly shallow, and you just don't use much air at that depth, so we took our time searching for strange and small sea life. We didn't find anything particularly rare, but the overall light and location was relaxing.
1/5On the last day I rented a scooter and rode around the island. It's a nice two-hour ride along the coast, or longer if you take stops.
1/6✈ Ishigaki → Haneda.

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World Capital Flashcards


This is a deck of world capitals and countries. For each pair, there are two cards. One is capital → country, and the other is country → capital. Before trying to memorize all of the capitals, it's a good idea to learn the countries and maps first. This gives you an idea where in the world these cities are located.

Here's the 388-card package for Anki.

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Vanilla Walnut Bars


This is an easy recipe for vanilla walnut bars. It's a modification of one by Diana Rattray.

Melt the butter and allow it to cool. Crush the walnuts into fine pieces. In one bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking powder. In another bowl, beat the egg for 2 minutes until foamy. Mix the brown sugar, butter, and vanilla extract in with the egg. Mix the two bowls together. Fold in the walnuts and mix well. Using a fork or stiff spatula, spread this evenly into a buttered square pan. Bake in a square pan at 180°C for 20 minutes, or until the top is brown. Let cool in the pan before cutting into squares for eating.




Julie and Max got married recently, and they had a wedding reception in Taipei, Taiwan. James and Yuko and I flew over there for the party and some sightseeing. It's a three hour flight from Tokyo to Taiwan, and Julie and Max are pretty awesome people, so we thought it would be a swell way to spend a weekend. It was.

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