Author Archives: tara

Hachiko Bus

A Typical Day Living in Tokyo

In the morning we walk or bike through our neighborhood west of Yoyogi Park in Shibuya, Tokyo, to our son’s bus stop. Along the way we pass more people walking and biking than cars. School children dressed in uniforms are walking by themselves or with friends to school, their backpacks covered in bright safety stickers.

If I’m thirsty I’ll grab a drink out of a vending machine or one of the konbinis (convenient stores). Colorful buses covered with cute characters are heading to international schools.

Small corner vegetable stands are just opening up with brightly colored oranges and other seasonal fruits and veggies.

A lot of people are wearing face masks, hay fever is bothering a lot of people. You can hear the sniffing behind their masks; blowing your nose in public is not polite.

The bicycle parking garages are just starting to fill up. It costs 100 yen to park your bike for 24 hours.

It’s a good day when I don’t have to quickly get out of the way of a mamachari (electric bike).

We hangout on the street with the other parents and school kids to wait for the bus.

Like everyday, we spot the driver that uses giant dusters to clean his parked car.

After Ripley is safely on the bus and enroute to his school, we head back to our house. Sean makes me coffee.

I head to school on the community bus. Just 100 yen gets me to Shibuya station. It would take me about 25 minutes to walk, but I use the time to study new vocabulary words. I also like the vibe on the bus, everyone is very polite and cheerful…a much nicer feel than the trains. On the bus, if an elderly person comes on, they immediately get up from their seat to offer it. On the train, that doesn’t tend to happen, there’s a lot of head down mentality so as not to give up a seat. Sean made a good point about that, if you have a long commute, you don’t want to give your seat up for someone that’s only hopping on for a few spots. That doesn’t change the fact that the seats are reserved for those that really need them.

That leads me to sniffling. OMG. From what I’ve been told, it’s really not polite to blow your nose in public. That’s why everyone is constantly sniffing. It’s accepted. Yesterday I was on the train and someone took their mask off and blew their nose. I was in shock. Also grossed out as we were in very close quarters. So I guess I’ll put up with the sniffing.

But I’m never going to get used to the slurping. We were at a vegan ramen shop at next to us a guy was slurping so he could be heard above the noisy restaurant. I have misophonia and chewing and crunching and slurping noises literally make me insane. I had to put on earphones. Slurping I guess means you like the food. I think saying “oishii desu” does a much better job. But hey, who am I to judge.

Back to the bus ride. I get off at Shibuya Station which is where the famous Shibuya crossing or scramble is. It’s always busy no matter what time I’m there. Undoubtedly there are always people filming people crossing the street. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s one of the most photographed and video’s places on the planet. When I was a tourist I thought it was so fun, now I can’t wait to cross the damn street and get to where I’m going. 7 months in and look at me, a cynic.

I like my school. It has been a difficult adjustment going back to school, and Japanese is pretty darn difficult, but it’s a pretty awesome feeling when all of a sudden you can understand a little bit of what people next to you are talking about, or what the announcements are over the train loudspeakers.

I’ve never grocery shopped so many times in a week as I do here. One, we don’t have a car. Two, we don’t have Whole Foods. There are a few grocery stores within walking distance, but everything is in small packages, so a bag of frozen peas that we bought in the US might last us a couple meals, here, we’re lucky if one bag can be split between the three of us. I haven’t worked out if groceries are more expensive here or not, probably about the same. There are little vegetable and tofu stands which I love. We are pretty shy about buying veggies and fruits from the tiny stores because usually the owners are watching TV and we don’t want to disturb them. LOL. The other thing about grocery stores here is that the aisles tend to be narrow and short. And there are usually more people. So it leads to a very frustrating experience trying to get around people. Now that I think of it, I don’t think I’ve seen a proper cart, you get a basket and there are mini carts for your basket if you need it. It seems to be part of the culture to buy groceries for dinner every day or every other day.

I wouldn’t call it a normal thing, but something that we did frequently in LA was go to the movies. We’ve cut back significantly because the western movie release schedule here is terrible. Sometimes movies that have been on DVD for months start playing here. And they aren’t usually very good movies. I think I need to start watching Japanese movies. It will help me understand the culture better for sure.

Sometimes we go out for dinner as there are more vegan restaurants here. I’m trying to cook more — we either eat Japanese cuisine or western. The other night we had taco night and reminisced about the tasty Mexican food in LA.

That’s about it!

I’m Learning How To Grow An Edible Garden (On A Tiny Balcony In Tokyo!) – Part 1

I love plants. I love looking at them, I love smelling them, I love touching them, I love watching bugs crawl and land on their leaves. Proof: see my Instagram #yourdailytree.

I’ve never actually grown an edible garden. I have lots of succulents (because my cat won’t eat them), I’ve grown a herb or two, a tomato bush magically appeared in our yard one day (my husband said it was from cat poop?), but I’ve never purposefully grown a veggie garden.

Now that I live in the biggest metropolitan area in the world and have very little outdoor space to call my own, I want a garden more than ever. And because food labeling here is both difficult for me to read and truthfully, a bit sketchy, I want to grow my own veggies and make my own food with it. I should also mention that I’m vegan so growing edible plants seems like something I should know how to do.

As you can see, my balcony is taken up by a little table because I really wanted somewhere to sit in the morning and the evenings. If you have a little imagination and few hours to spare to scroll through Instagram or Pinterest, then you can see that it has potential as a plant growing happy place.

It seems simple enough to grow veggies and fruit. Buy some seeds, stick em the dirt, give them some water and sunlight, and boom, instant-carrot. Not so much. The type of soil you are using is important – ingredients, PH, not too mention whether or not it has any chemicals in it. Then there’s the zone you are living in that’s appropriate for certain plants to grow. And the direction in which your garden lays in relation to the sun matters because some plants need full sun, partial, sun, lots of shade etc. Oh, and some plants don’t do well living together. Not to mention having a really small space makes everything that much more complicated…cucumbers, beans, tomatoes can be grown vertically but take up lots of space. Oh, and you need to fertilize and you can do that with your own homegrown compost, but there are lots of ways to compost (I’m thinking Banana Peel Tea because we eat a million bananas per day) and there is something called humus not to be confused with hummus…

Phew!

After reading about permaculture and watching lots of videos on balcony gardens I decided to take a step back and ask myself the first most important question: what do I want to grow that I will actually eat! I thought about what fruits and veggies we buy at the grocery store and farmers market and made a list:

Avocados
Apples
Bananas
Basil
Broccoli
Carrots
Cauliflower
Chives
Cucumber
Edamame
Ginger
Green Onion
Mushrooms
Onion
Oranges
Peppers
Tomato

And here’s the list of things that would be cool to grow because I’m in Japan:
Rice
Tea

Now that I have my list, I need to research the following:
1. Will they grow in containers
2. How many hours of full sun does my balcony get each day
3. Which of these plants will grow in zone 10a
4. What type of soil do they need
5. When do the seeds need to be planted
6. What do I do about bugs

You may think, gosh, I’m sure there’s an app for that! I have tried many many apps and they all suck. I think I’m going to stick with a simple spreadsheet to go along with my simple list of veggies. If you can recommend an easy to use app then by all means, please share!

PLANT
ZONE 10A
CONTAINER
VARIETY
SUN
SOIL
NOTES
Avocado
Mexican-Guatemalan hybrids that can handle hot summer and cold winter.
May not fruit in a container. 🙁
Fuerte, Ettinger
Full or near-full sun.
Don’t like waterlogged soil (which can cause root rot) and have shallow feeder roots so do best with a thick layer of coarse, weed-free mulch underneath
Avocado farm in Shikoka

The other thing I’m thinking about is whether I want to grow from seeds I buy in a nice little package or grow from scraps! This sounds ripe for an A/B experiment!

My son and I started growing avocados. Unfortunately, all of the literature I read said it’s very unlikely we will ever see an actual fruit. 🙁 That’s OK because I think tomatoes will be a snap.

Grow Avocado Pit

Last but not least, I bought some adorable kits here in Tokyo but they are pretty expensive so it doesn’t seem like the best way to grow a garden. I do love my little kitty strawberry grower though!

Grow Mini Carrot Kit

Japanese Wild Strawberry Kit

Stay tuned for part 2 where I’ll cover all the stuff I’ve learned and my progress.

I Love Me

Ohayu (Oh, Hai, You!)

It’s February 28th, 2018 and I made a promise to myself that I would publish something today. Anything. Just write and post it. Why? Because I have a lot of ideas and questions swirling around in my head and Barbara She claims, “isolation is the dream killer, not your lousy attitude.” It’s pretty easy to isolate yourself when you live in a country far away from friends and family, can’t speak the language, and are feeling completely out of sorts (social media’s idiotic timelines are partly to blame). See, lousy attitude.

Perhaps you’ve been asked this question, “if you could do it all over again, would you do it differently?” I despise it because I’m only half-way through this life and no way am I starting over. I’m good with what I’ve done with my time and where I am now (Ohayu, I live in Tokyo!).

And yet, something is missing. It’s like there’s this muffled voice inside of me and I can’t understand what it’s saying, but I know it’s important.

I’ve been a passenger parasite in this vessel that gets me around without having a real heart-to-heart with the Captain steering it. I’ve shouted, “land!” a few times and she diligently heads there, until I realize it’s not the port I was looking for. Her Captain’s log would probably read, “No matter how many times I tell our solo passenger that we need to head toward our true destination, she finds an excuse to head towards a popular port that’s quite out of our way. I oblige, but this ship’s getting on in years and it’s time we trimmed our sails a bit and got on with it.”

In order to clear up the communication between me and the Captain, I’ve been working through a set of exercises in a book called “Designing Your Life. How To Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life” and there’s a section about building your compass and finding your True North*.

Dysfunctional Belief: I should know where I’m going!

Reframing:  (With my compass) I won’t always know where I’m going but I can always know whether I’m going in the right direction.

I know my direction is heading straight into the wild. I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do when I get there, but I have lots of ideas and it’s time to roll up my sleeves and see where the dirt falls.

Something I want to explore with others: If a person with (mild) depression performs a daily practice of mindful meditation and yoga under a 1000-year-old sacred pine tree that grows on the slope of a mountain, then that person’s depression will be cured. OK, my working hypothesis needs a little work.

Just like I have been tracking my sleep patterns using my Apple Watch and iPhone, I want to track depression against time in nature. If a person hears a songbird sing and pauses to listen, does that actually make them happier? If they breather in air free of fine particulates, while performing ujjayi breathing, will their body perform better? Will they feel emotionally better? I’ve been taking a course from UC Berkeley called “The Science of Happiness” to get a better sense of the psychology behind happiness and I’m anxious to apply that learning to time spent in nature.

I’ve been tracking my moods, meditating every day, getting exercise, completing all of my daily challenges. Anecdotally I can say I feel a bit better emotionally. My husband thinks that I’m more even-keeled. And yet, I want actual scientific proof. I want to know what is systemically helping me and how to get more of it. Hence this exploratory journey.

More on all of this in upcoming coherent posts. I’ll also post about life in Tokyo after living here for 6+ months.

Step 1. De-isolate myself.

*True North is your orienting point – your fixed point in a spinning world – that helps you stay on track as a leader. It is derived from your most deeply held beliefs, values, and the principles you lead by. It is your internal compass, unique to you, representing who you are at your deepest level.

Luz Rivas and Tara Tiger Brown at White House

KitHub Turns Two

Today is the day after Trump was elected as President. Not the easiest day to celebrate a birthday.

Two years ago today, Luz Rivas and I launched KitHub. We attribute our collaboration to President Obama, because it was at an Town Hall with Obama in October, 2014 that we ran into each other and the idea was sparked.

I thought about delaying the celebration because of the results of the election, but then I thought about what I can do to fight, and my fight is to bring STEM education to kids, awareness about the environment and climate change and support of women in tech.

Obama has done a lot in his past 8 years as President to support STEM education and climate change efforts:

– Under the Obama administration, we established Computer Science for All, Educate to Innovate, the Nation of Makers and more.

– Obama’s climate change efforts include the Paris Agreement on climate, the Clean Power Plan, expanded the Clean Energy economy, established national limits for mercury, arsenic, and other toxic air pollutants emitted by power plants, the Better Buildings Challenge, permanently protected more than 260 million acres of America’s public lands and waters.

So today I will celebrate the past two years of KitHub, the past 8 years of President Obama, and continue my work over the next four years to do everything I can to ensure that our next President doesn’t ruin everything Obama has done during his Presidency.

“One of the things that I’ve been focused on as President is how we create an all-hands-on-deck approach to science, technology, engineering, and math… We need to make this a priority to train an army of new teachers in these subject areas, and to make sure that all of us as a country are lifting up these subjects for the respect that they deserve.”

President Barack Obama
Third Annual White House Science Fair, April 2013

“The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way. But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”

— U.S. President Barack Obama, State of the Union, January 28, 2014

Tara Brown at White House Cities of Learning

It Takes A Nation Of Makers To Make A Nation

Back in 2012 when the seeds were planted for LA Makerspace, it was still a fairly novel idea. We were the first family friendly makerspace in Los Angeles and we launched one of the first makerspace crowdfunding campaigns on Kickstarter. People came to our space in downtown LA from all over Southern California because it was the only place like it.

Fast forward three plus years and a lot has changed. There are not only multiple makerspaces in Los Angeles but across the nation.

Last year, President Obama convened Mayors from around the country, and hosted the first-ever White House Maker Faire and issued a call to action that “every company, every college, every community, every citizen joins us as we lift up makers and builders and doers across the country.” By democratizing the tools and skills necessary to design and make just about anything, Maker-related events and activities can inspire more people to pursue careers in design, advanced manufacturing, and the related fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and possibly take their creations to the next level and become entrepreneurs.

In early May of this year, I had the chance to join a conversation at the White House to discuss next steps as part of a Maker Cities Roundtable. I joined twenty communities from around the country in an exciting half-day conversation, where we talked about each other’s successes and challenges, and came away with lots of ideas we should bring back to our communities. We’ve kept the momentum since, and I’m excited by everything going in our community and around the country.

June 12–18th is the Week of Making, and I’m excited to highlight a few things we have already accomplished at LA Makerspace, and what we hope to do in the next year.

  • Facilitated more than 100 workshops at LA Public Library branches including robotics, programming, filmmaking, Minecraft and more.
  • Brought on a new board of directors with experience in education, nonprofits, tech startups and civic engagement.
  • Hired our fabulous director, Mya Stark.
  • Kicked off the Scratch Squad thanks in part to Google Rise. Kids teaching kids how to program.
  • Partnered with Connected Camps to teach LA Public Librarians how to play Minecraft so they can run Minecraft workshops and clubs in their library branches. Their “Minecraft-in-a-box” allows us to host workshops when the internet bandwidth doesn’t meet requirements.
  • Completed our second successful Kickstarter campaign.

What’s next:

  • Planning our next series of workshops at LA Public library branches. We’re expanding to teach younger tinkerers and adults.
  • Partnering with UCLA Remap to host workshops in their space across from the LA State Historic Park in Downtown LA.
  • Writing curriculum for our most popular workshops which we’ll be sharing freely.
  • Hosting an event on Sat., June 13th, 1pm at the Standard to meet and brainstorm with other SoCal nonprofit STEAM organizations to discuss how we can create a network to better share resources and events. RSVP on Meetup.com.

I’m proud of the Los Angeles maker community and the mentorship and resources it provides to Angelenos. I’m excited that work being done here in LA and cities across the US is being recognized nationally as vital to the economy and job creation.