Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

So hey, have I mentioned yet?  I made it home to Seattle.

My flight actually wasn't very bad - the first was a two hours flight to Korea, which went super fast.  I had a four hour layover in Seoul, which was not the most fun I've ever had, but I had an epiphany about my Japanese skills that was pretty cool.  When the Korean airlines would make announcements, they would have them in Korean, then Japanese, then English.  Strangely enough, I understood more of the Japanese than I did the English.  It's also funny that I've started to be able to recognize when Japanese is accented: a vowel here, an intonation there.  I feel sometimes like my English skills have deteriorated - I find myself struggling for words or almost saying something in Japanese.  At the same time, it feels like a novelty to be in a place where I can speak my native language, almost like it's cheating to be able to understand every word in a sentence.

The 10-hour flight was similarly not too bad.  I slept for about five hours of it, and watched some really bad movies for the other five hours.  Since then, it's been a whirlwind of yarn stores, hanging with old friends, and lots of last-minute Christmas shopping.

My favorite present this year was one that I already knew about: my mom bought me a pair of Fluevogs!  They are the most comfortable heel I've ever worn, and I'm a sucker for the bright yellow.  They've got some great touches - there's white floral embroidery on the toe, and a cute little button that connects the strap to the body of the foot.  The design sort of reminds me of vintage dishware.  I have a feeling that they're going to get a ton of wear, and I may be converted to a full-blown Fluevog addict if I'm not careful.

Also, remember this belt?

My mom is super stealthy and got one for me, shipped all the way from the UK!  I love it, and would definitely buy from the seller again!  Please note the super hippie hair.  I do my college proud, man.

Tonight it's off to see Tron with some friends and prance around in my new shoes.  So far this Christmas has been a good one, and I hope it's a good one for you too!  For those who don't celebrate Christmas, hope that you're having a lovely Saturday!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Leaving home

In my last days in Japan, I'm finding that I'm so exhausted that it's hard to focus on all of the good things.  So much of what I've seen remains unknowable, from kanji and vocabulary to the meanings of gestures.  I still feel so much frustration at missing the nuances of things, and I doubt that that will every really go away.

Yet, there is comfort in the everyday.  The hiss of the electricity on the tracks as the trains go by.  The ducks in the culvert at midnight.  The road home, that has taken me from summer dresses and handcloths in my bookbag to cold hands and white clouds skittering across a winter sky the color of a bruise.  My host family joking at the dinner table: my otosan kissing a leg of crab and offering it to my okasan.  I will miss all of this.

A few days ago I met with a professor of mine from Oberlin.  Over coffee, we talked about Japan and Oberlin and my impending graduation.  I talked about stainless steel and silk yarn; going to fashion school; not being ready to leave in so many senses of the word.  She told me that last week, a biochemistry professor was in a terrible car accident in the snow.  It's strange to be familiar with the utter whiteness of that road, to know the way by heart, and to also know that someone was hurt doing something that I have done before.  I don't know the professor personally, but I've been keeping her in my thoughts and hoping for her safe recovery.

And then there's graduating.  When I think of it, I think of the night my friend Emily and I sat in Tappan Square in late May, clothed in bare feet and pajamas, and talked about how scary it is to leave home.  Home: Oberlin, the place of unsettled dreams and unrelenting cold and living in every nerve-wringing moment before exams, of freshly plowed snow and bad coffee and staying up too late drinking wine with people you love.  Even though when you remember those times, that stress and fragility has become soft behind the sharp outlines of the dances you went to, the shoes you wore, and which boy you liked and never told.  You remember grades, but only in that you remember the physical imprint of studying six hours a day while it snowed outside and that one score of 76.5% gnawed on your thoughts all the while.

I've recently found out that although I got close to being accepted into one of my fellowship programs, I was not offered the position.  It's been an exercise in reevaluating: who am I?  Where do I want to live?  What do I want to do?

I've been in the bubble of Oberlin for so long, with expectations of grades and graduation and thinking about what will get me a good job, that it's hard to take a step back and think about what I want to do, instead of what I think other people want me to do.  Because as far as I've been able to figure out, very rarely are people's expectations of you as strict as your expectations of yourself.  I have a lot of thoughts about where I'll actually be going and what I'll be doing.  And although it's scary as hell to suddenly lack plans right after graduating, it's also strangely freeing.

So in the last few weeks I'm here, I'm hoping to take a breath.  There's always more things to do, but there's also always more time, and right now I just have to get through ten days.

Monday, December 6, 2010

FO post: Home Socks

Whew!  It's been a while.  I've been pretty busy with school: a few weeks ago I went to Kenninji in Kyoto to see a dragon painting, the next weekend I went to Namba for karaoke and clubbing with a bunch of friends from school (surprisingly fun, since I am not a clubbing kind of girl), and this last weekend was spent writing a cinema paper and going out for okonomiyaki and sake with my jazz piano teacher.  In between all of that, I managed to knit a pair of socks in a week.  This is the previously mentioned Madtosh sock in colorway Home, and I'm in love with the stitch definition and colors.  I can't wait to work with the semi-solid colorways that I have, in Robin's Egg and Coral.

We have also hit peak season for the wearing of woolies.  The weather is just cold enough to need a sweater and a jacket and a scarf.  Heaven, I say!  Also, I have found out that wool skirts really do pack a major draft-banishing punch.  Which makes a whole lot of sense, considering.  But still, you sort of forget sometimes, because so many clothes are designed to be pretty rather than functional, and a Pendleton skirt manages to do both without sacrificing an iota of either.  I have to say, too, that Japanese houses are cold.  Even when I'm sitting in bed doing homework or procrastinating doing homework, I generally have long underwear, regular pants or skirt, a thermal or long-sleeved t-shirt, and a sweater on, along with house socks.  

It's sort of nuts that I'm going to be back in Seattle in less than two weeks.  I have some major Christmas shopping to do, and some major errands to run once I get back, but first I gotta get through finals.  And I think the best way to describe my feelings on that are summed up with this picture.

Good kitty.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Today I knit for the first time in almost a week.  It was strange.  Forgetting is a funny creature - no matter how many times you say a word or make a nupp or tie your shoes, there is a distinct possibility that one day, you will have a moment where you look at the thing in front of you and go, "Huh.  I totally knew how to do this at some time in my life."  Today I picked up my most recent project and started knitting, and it felt foreign and awkward and clammy in my hands.  I think I'll blame it on the cold.

As far as projects go, it's a pretty one.  Madli's Shawl, from both Knitted Lace of Estonia and a back issue of Interweave.  This was the kind of thing that I used to look at pictures of and sigh, because I didn't think I could do it.  And aside from my distracted hands, I've certainly proved myself wrong on that front.  It is, however, a long project - I have two 500-yard balls of laceweight, and I just finished the first ball.  The repeats are pretty short, so it makes for easily memorized knitting.

The yarn in particular is gorgeous - it's Artyarns Cashmere 1, an unbelievably soft single-ply that feels like cashmere and shines like silk.  It's the same yarn as the turquoise scarf below it, which has gotten a lot of wear so far this trip.  The lavender yarn in particular also smells amazing.  Every time I pull the scarf out of its bag, I catch a distinct whiff of a strange but intoxicating mixture of hard candy and some sort of aromatic hydrocarbon.

So, if you happen to see me walking around mumbling happily with a blob of lavender shoved in my face, that would be why.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Post 201! A few things I love right now.

Miike Snow - a fantastic electropop group from Sweden that produces tracks that manage to evoke big city lights and big city alienation, frozen lakes and stretches of snow, and smoky little bars, simultaneously.  Probably my favorite tracks on their eponymous first album: Sylvia, for starting out with a simple piano and heading off into an orbit of synthesized otherworldly gorgeousness; and Animal, for maintaining a perfect balance between its shouty exuberance and laid-back tempo.  Plus, c'mon, who doesn't love a jackalope?

These little flowers I've been seeing everywhere.  When I leave for school in the morning they're folded up and look a little like ballet slippers.  They also happen to be just about my favorite color ever.

This is the first time that I've ever noticed them open.  Anyone know what they are?

Feeling better.  I also really like feeling better.  Still wearing the mask, though, which has produced a surprising number of kind words and "feel betters" in the last two days.

This dress, from goulash on Etsy.  Serious classy cute happening here.

Antique rose petal wrap bow belt.  I've been crushing on this and her obi belts in pretty much every color for about two years now.  From elizabethkelly on Etsy.

I haven't knit in about four days, between being sick and being busy with schoolwork.  Must make effort to remedy!  Must not blog instead of getting important things done!  Must not read style blogs in procrastination of homework!  Must be a good student!  Oh world, why don't you have more hours in the day?

Images copyright Miike Snow, goulash and Elizabeth Kelly Accessories

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sick weekend

Ooh, look, shiny!  Pay no attention to the fact that I couldn't possibly have taken this picture this weekend!  Tower outside the Daibutsuden at Todaiji, Nara, in celebration of the 1300th anniversary of its founding.

I'll be trying out some new things on the blog soon - switched up the editor to the new version, and having a tech-savvy friend help me out with layout and such.  Figured it would be a fun thing to do while cooped up in bed on a weekend.  Stay tuned!

Today I was supposed to have lunch with my Oberlin advisor this morning, then go to a practice session at a local jazz house and out for okonomiyaki and sake with my jazz piano teacher afterward.  However, after a feverish day spent mostly asleep yesterday and still feeling like a small troupe of guinea pigs was running laps in my skull this morning, I decided to go to the practice session and call it a day.  I've finally mastered the fine art of wearing a mask whilst also wearing glasses today: I think the trick is to tighten the flexible part of the mask around the bridge of your nose as much as possible, then slide the glasses pretty far down your nose - it lets the warm air bypass the glasses where they would usually get caught between your eyes and the lens.  Oh, the things you must think about because you're an idiot and forgot to bring a single pair of contacts to Japan.

It's funny, some of the things that are unique to Japan and yet make a lot of sense for living in the States as well.  Here are my top three so far*: 

- Wear a mask while sick.  At the very least, it keeps you from coughing/snorgling your ooze onto everything quite as much, even if it doesn't stop your germy exhalations from coming into the world completely.  Also, there's an added bonus of keeping the air you breathe in warmer and more humid than the air outside, which seems to help clear the cold sooner.

-  Wash your clothes in a washing machine, and use a nifty little hanging rack with clips to air-dry your clothes.  It requires a little more forethought - for example, if you needed a pair of pants to wear the same day, it's probably not the best option - but saves on electricity and heat damage/shrinkage to your more delicate clothes!

-  Shower before jumping into the tub.  That way your bath is nice and clean, and if you're like me, you won't have to try to dunk 20something inches of soapy hair underwater while simultaneously attempting to not drown.

And last but not least, a small gripe:  I have a pair of Rodier slacks given to me quite generously earlier this year.  The hand and their tendency to wrinkle if you look at them sideways tell me it's linen, the tag tells me it's 100% wool.  Fine.  I washed them last week, and as I expected, every wrinkle washed out, felting was non-existing, and the hand still felt exactly like freaking linen.  Maybe it was a mistake in tagging or translation, but it still makes me a little frustrated.  And, ok, a little smug.

*disclaimer - it's entirely possible that some European countries do these things as well, but I have never been there so I'm going to have to claim ignorance!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Thrifted Marc Jacobs

This week at Kansai Gaidai, the Japanese students are having a culture festival, complete with supercheap tako yaki, yakisoba, hot dog stands and a mini flea-market. It was at said flea market where I found this Marc Jacobs printed thermal, for an awesome ¥500. It's really cozy and a little (read: way) more punk rock than I usually wear. I guess this is my week for going a little outside of my style comfort zone, and so far I've had a ton of fun with it. Today I loaded on the black eyeliner and realized as I was reaching for pants to wear with it was that it really begged for skinny jeans - the first time in my life I have ever thought such a thing, and correspondingly I don't own a pair! I think I did all right, though. My host mother asked while I was eating breakfast if I had a party or something to go to, to which I laughed awkwardly and said, nope, just going to school.

And, in fact, tonight is a night for staying in. A Kansai Gaidai Death Plague is going around, and I seem to have caught it. I felt bouncy enough this morning, but by the time I got home this afternoon my brain felt pickled. My host mother gave me some unknown orange tablets - which prompted a hilarious moment where I had just downed all three, suddenly realized that she may have meant for me to pocket two to take later, and asked her, panicked, I am supposed to take three, right??!? Yes, indeed I was. Crisis averted.

Now it's time for me to drink my weight in fluids and head to bed for what I'm sure will be the most pleasant night of sleep ever. At least this means I can stay in and knit while watching Mad Men all day tomorrow and not even feel bad about it!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It's Cold in Kyoto

Trip to Kyoto today! I've been wearing my Pendleton wool skirt a lot lately, because holy crap has it gotten cold in Hirakata. My host mom has given me an extra blanket and a super fluffy cover for my futon, and right now I'm huddled up under the covers with my jammies on, and still cold. Since it was so cold this morning, I decided to layer up to go to Kyoto with my friend Stephanie. I was nice and toasty all day - my genius plan, it worked!

But it did not stop some high school girls from talking excitedly about my hair flower while Stephanie and I were ordering frozen yogurt. Aw.

I've also been tossing around the idea of cutting my bangs super short when I get back. Between past Project Runway contestants, awesome Ravelry members, and some old-school sirens like Audrey Hepburn and Bettie Page, the idea has sneaked into my mind that I, too, might be able to pull off the short-bangs look. It's a lot of upkeep, but my current hair is low maintenance and right now sort of looks that way too. Once I get back to the states I'd be able to put in the time to cut bangs regularly, although I'll probably ask for a second or third opinion before any chopping goes on!

What do you guys think?

So, a big part of the reason we went out today was to go shopping! The first time I trekked out to Sanjo, I spotted a little shop that carries the brand Pagong, which uses traditional kimono textile designs in modern designs. The prints they carry are stunning, and ever since I've been dreaming of a kicky little dress that I could rock with tights and boots. And today I found it. It's a little different than what I usually wear, and I think it needs either a nipped-waisted sweater or a belt to accessorize. But holy crap, is it comfortable, and the fabric is to die for. When I came out of the dressing room, five Japanese women and Stephanie squealed "cute".

I tried on several things in the shop, including a maroon skirt with orange chrysanthemums and a super sweet black and pink cherry-blossom dress that fit perfectly in the waist but not through the chest. The whole concept is very cool - updating a very traditional look and using it on swingy dresses, skirts, henley tees, and men's Aloha shirts. I paid a little more than I usually would for a garment, because I haven't made any big purchases since I've been here save for necessities like my cell phone. I have great respect for a brand that has continued to be handmade even after success - there are three other stores in Kyoto. With the amount of time and work that got put into it, and a certain amount of comradery I feel towards others who make things from scratch (and manage to eke out a living from it, which I really hope to do one day too) I have made it my One Big Purchase of my time here. I'll be skipping the daily lattes from here in, but oh, it's so worth it.

And, lastly, Stephanie and I managed to find a vintage store before I got my dress, and I found this gorgeous high-collared, beaded sweater for a very reasonable price - about ¥2800. I like the way it echoes Nordic sweater designs - prints of which are all the rage here right now, on gauzy shirts, in true sweater form, on leggings, etc. etc. etc. - with a sly nod to Chinese influences with the collar and the classic American sweatergirl look. Plus it's super warm. A few beads are on their last threads, but after a couple minutes with a sewing needle this one will be ready to go.

Monday, October 25, 2010

You can't go Home (but you can knit socks out of it)

Fall is coming to Kansai. Today it was chilly enough for a sweater, for the first time since I've been here. A few days ago it flooded in northern Japan, and we got enough rain that the river outside my house started rising. Appropriate, since last week I was flooded with midterms! So far I think I did pretty well. Some friends and I went out to an izakaya on Friday for beer and munchies to celebrate, and even though we were going to go to karaoke afterward, we ended up getting some cake from Starbucks and calling it a night.

In the last week, I've knit an entire Swallowtail shawl out of Handmaiden Sea Silk, which was a quick and gratifying project. I had less than 5 grams left over after going up a needle size and freaking out and knitting like crazy for 2 days to see if I had enough yarn to finish. I also started a second sock on Saturday, but found out after knitting 4 inches of it that I am an idiot and I had knitted it on US size 1s instead of 1.5s. Argh. So, that got ripped. Then another sock got cast on, only to be abandoned because the yarn and pattern (super cute Vilai, super cute but super splitty Panda Wool, which has since been discontinued) did not play nicely together. In fact, I think I saw Panda Wool gnawing on Vilai's ankle. Poor thing.

I haven't cast on with this gorgeous Madelinetosh Sock yet, but it's calling to me. It's ok, right, since the other socks didn't work?

The colorway is called Home, which is also weirdly fitting. I've hit the halfway point in my Japan adventures, and although I still love it here, I also miss a lot of things. My stash is one of them - I chose pretty well when selecting what yarn to bring with me, but sometimes I lust for things that are packed away in boxes in Ohio. Ah well. I've probably already waxed poetic about missing my friends enough, but I think it bears repeating. I will thoroughly enjoy the rest of my time here, but I will also be very happy to arrive in the glorious Northwest on a jet plane. Preferably with shiny new socks.

There's this bank of juniper trees on my way to school. When it rains, the water clings to their branches and makes the whole street smell like Seattle. Every morning I drink coffee and watch tv with my host mother and I hope that for just a second, my morning walk will smell just a little like home.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Three days in Japan, outfit edition


-Bow skirt from Mew, a shop full of adorableness in Namba, Osaka
-Catherine Malandrino alpaca lace top from Ratsy's, post-epic repair. I can't even find the holes anymore, probably because I kick so much ass.
-vintage flower pin
-grey tights, maybe We Love Colors?
-yellow kimono flower earrings (not pictured)

I had some extra time in the morning, so I went out to my porch to get a couple pictures of this great little skirt. I bought it last week on a trip with a friend to Namba for an MP3 player, when we stumbled upon a little underground shopping mall. The largest size at Mew actually fit me, which is pretty exciting, since I'm on the larger side of average people sizes here in Japan. Anyhow, Friday was full of class, then a yarn store field trip to a place in Makino, then down to Hirakata for dinner at an izakaya with some friends from school, then pleasantly intoxicated karaoke. We had stopped off at a convenience store for some desserts and fruitily flavored beverages, so there was tiramisu and friendly banter along with our karaoke. Where we all Rick-rolled each other. I caught the 3rd-to-last train home and proceeded to conk out early.


-Vintage Derek Lam silk skirt. I have no words for how much I love this skirt - it flutters like wings when I walk, and when the wind kicks up I feel like an old-school movie star.
-Kersh button-backed boatneck sweater.
-Thrifted navy and cream polka-dotted square scarf.
-Miz Mooz button boots. My friend Chuck calls them my shit-kicker boots, which amuses me to no end.

Saturday was a little harder. I'm a senior at Oberlin this year, which has been difficult for a couple of reasons. First, Oberlin has been my home for almost four years, and it sorta kills me to know how much I'm missing while I'm here - the adorable new freshpeople, the descending of fall upon the Midwest, the amazing new changes at Smith's, and my incredible friends. Second, I'm trying to figure out what I'm doing with my life. Which means lots and lots of applications. Which adds another hoop to the whole hoop-jumping experience, and not just any hoop - the fact that I also happen to be in another country makes this particular hoop covered in rabies-infected weasels. Some of which are also on fire.

Anyhow. One of the applications I filled out was for the Watson fellowship, a jaw-droppingly awesome fellowship that sends accepted students out of the United States with a stipend for a full year to do whatever fully-researched project they have dreamed about doing their whole lives. My proposal was for an in-depth study of traditional weaving and surface design communities in Okinawa Prefecture and Indonesia. And, as you can tell from the singed weasel currently gnawing on my (extremely emo) face in this picture, I was notified on Saturday that I was not chosen to move onto the interview process for this fellowship.

Which makes me bummed. In the end, it's probably good - the Watson seems geared towards people who are extremely self-motivated and willing to put themselves out there in a foreign country. And, though I would call myself type A (minus), I am pretty shy, especially when I don't fully understand the language. From that fact alone, it's likely that the Watson would not be an ideal fit for my learning style.

Luckily, Saturday went on to be pretty good - my classmates and I went to a demonstration of tea ceremony, saw some gorgeous Raku ware, and then I came home and caught up on some stupid American television.


-Super comfy grey waffle-knit sweater from the Gap
-Cut Loose tunic top, which is basic but has a great shape.
-The only pair of jeans I currently own. Silvers, I think? This pair has an acid hole in the mid-thigh region and is shameful, yet still unretired. Sigh.
-Enormous hair flower from H&M

Aww Cory, don't look so freaking depressed in pictures all the time. Go eat a chocolate bar.

Much better!

Sunday I went to Byodoin and Toji temples in Kyoto with my Buddhist art history class. Saw some beautiful Buddhist sculptures, felt very cultural, etc. We ate lunch on the banks of a huge river (tuna and mayonnaise onigiri = my favorite food ever) and then wandered back down to the train station, picking up some tasty matcha soft cream on the way. Being in a class with field trips has been seriously cool - I've gotten to see a lot of art and a lot of temples I wouldn't have seen otherwise.

On a final note, today in class we watched a Japanese romance (Twixt Calm and Passion, for those who are interested) in which the main male character works as a paintings restorer in Florence. The scenes in the restoration lab made my baby-conservator heart cry out in agony: they take perfectly good old paintings, mysteriously rip all of the cracked old paint off of them, and repaint them all brand-new-and-shiny looking. The entire time I was watching it, I was like, "WAIT THAT IS NOT, NOOO, I, NOOO, WHY IS THE NOOOOO", and when I got home I knew there had to be someone, somewhere, on the internets who could articulate the difference between conserving and restoring. There were a few brief articles, and to the best of what I could ascertain, the difference between the two is this:

Conservation is the ethics-bound documentation, cleaning, and low-level restoration of areas of loss in art objects in order to maintain a pleasing aesthetic without compromising or fundamentally changing the original material.

Restoration is a full-blown restoration of an art object to reflect its original appearance, which may change the structure or identity of the materials.

One of the problems with restoration is that it relies on the subjective opinion of the person who is restoring the object as to the artist's original intent. In conservation, one would never ever ever ever in a billion years strip off the original paint to slather on its modern equivalent. The lab that I saw in that movie, to my eyes, was destroying art - it would be better served to create slick oil-painted copies of the paintings. And while the profession does exist, and its use on art objects ultimately depends on the judgment of the owner, my own opinion falls pretty squarely on the side of not messing with art more than you are strictly required to.

Annnnd I'm out.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I'm alive, awake, alert, enthusiastic!

Long time no see! It's been a busy couple of weeks. I've taken the shinkansen to Nagoya, gone to Kyoto a few times, gone shopping in Osaka, and survived three exams in a week. The weather is finally cooled down a bit, so I've been able to wear more of my normal clothes. Today is a fun adventure in layers: a basic greenish black tunic under my awesome red gingham thrifted dress (which I'm fairly sure was also handsewn), teal tights, hair flower, yellow kimono fabric earrings, knee-high black boots. I really like some of the fashion here - not all of it, some of it is cray-cray - and I've noticed that it's started influencing the way I think about clothes. It's nice to have a little time in the morning to play with layers and incorporate some of my new Japanese purchases into my overall style.

Last night I went a little crazier than usual after seeing a Youtube tutorial on how to make your hair into a Lady Gaga/Japanese fashionista hair bow. After several attempts, mine was still a little too far back on my head, partially because I have about three bobby pins to my name. I might go get some more and try again this weekend, because this is a mega-cute way to utilize my long hair.

How about you? Any fun styles that you use on days that you don't want to just throw your hair in a ponytail?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I had a three day weekend this week, so yesterday my host mother, sister and I headed out to Kyoto to check out a shibori exhibition that I had found through a handbill in my Zen Buddhist arts class. While we were on the train, my Okasan offhandedly mentioned that the yarn store that I had mentioned before was close to the exhibition.

What does this mean?


It means 1300 yards of eggplant-colored cashmere laceweight for ¥3600. Score. And the pattern for one of the ruffly scarves above - a little expensive, but I already have yarn that I could use for it and the resulting scarf is gorgeous. The Avril store itself is really cool - I haven't seen a lot of the yarns that they had - there's a lot more ribbony, novelty type yarn at Avril than I've seen at stores with a large selection of Habu. But the objects that are made with the yarn are delicate and Victorian in sensibility - necklaces, hair scrunchies, scarves. (Also, scrunchies here are so cute! Although when I think the word "scrunchie", I think of Carrie Bradshaw's squeaky exclamation.)

We also went to an amazing flea market and the shibori exhibition. The owner of the exhibition space also sells shibori kimonos, so he took us into the back of the store and showed us some of them. One in particular was absolutely gorgeous - clouds of red dots with pale pink and yellow chrysanthemums in between. When he named the price, I thought nothing of it - 千万円 just sounded like a lot of zeros. But I was sitting in class this morning and suddenly realized that that number is 1000 times 10,000. Slip two decimal places to the left and you've got the rough price in American dollars: $100,000. I almost thought that I had had a sudden lapse of understanding and it couldn't possibly be that much. But no. There are kimono in this world that cost as much as two years of my college education, a Steinway grand piano, or a house in Ohio. I can't even conceptualize that amount of money.

But then I think about it, and realize that with the amount of work that goes into each inch of cloth - hundreds of hours spend tying tiny bites of cloth with impossibly fine thread. Pounding small nails through the fabric so that some of it rests in a water-tight barrel and the rest is immersed in dye, which has to be done for each individual color. Removing all of those hours of work in one motion of the hand to reveal gloriously crinkly, intricately patterned silk. It's priceless, but if it had to have one, $100,000 would be about right.

I think sometimes about the value of handwork. When I made my coat last January, I had a friend tell me that it was amazing and that I could totally sell it for at least $300, and although it was a sweet thing for her to say, I was a little taken aback. When I think of my coat, I think about the salt melting snow on the sidewalk, slipping in high-heeled boots down Main Street, the squirrels in the snow, lying in bed sick with the flu. I think of the afternoon drinks with friends and the hat I was knitting and the cookie bars that I ate to take a break from weaving. I think of the sad love I felt for a friend who didn't feel it back for me, and the feel of the cold floor under my feet while I passed the shuttle from left to right, right to left. Money can't quantify it. It's not just a coat. It's made of snow and wool and love and I couldn't name its worth if I tried.

Which is why when I see something amazing and handmade, I am willing to pay whatever price is offered, within reason. I can't cough up $100,000 for the most beautiful kimono in the world, but I can afford ¥4500 for a necklace that has a strange pull of significance for me. I couldn't figure out why I saw this piece and fell in love, but as I walked around thinking about it yesterday, I realized a little bit of the why.

Life is kind of like a ladder. Everybody starts at the bottom when they're born, and as you grow up, the climb gets steeper. Sometimes it's hard to see past the rough old wood and the blisters on your hands and when you look up it seems impossibly far to go yet. But when you take a moment to turn around, the view is spectacular. And that part is always, always worth it, no matter how hard the climb.