Monday, September 28

Athletics Day (運動会)

Yesterday was Undoukai, or Athletics Day, for the kindergarten. They practiced for weeks in preparation and every family prepared obentos for picnic lunches. The rain held off and it was a really fun day. I had a flash of realization when I began to sigh from the relief that I had finished getting everything ready for the day, that this was not the last Undoukai that I would have to prepare for. No, rather I saw them lined up for years to come, taking into account that we have three children all three years apart. So I better learn to make the most of it.
If you want to see the race frame by frame (I didn't have the video camera yesterday), look:


Don't worry, the kids that fell weren't hurt. They both got up and finished the race as everyone shouted "Ganbatte!" ("Do your best!").

Sunday, September 27

Rumors about My Dad

According to my brother, my father can play the guitar
According to his brother, my father was the best
billiards player in the county
According to his mother, my father was a certified genius

My father played baseball all throughout his youth,
He was a pitcher, a hitter, a third baseman
My father was a vegetarian before he knew the word for it,
He ate cold tins of baked beans while his mother made bacon and
sausage for the rest of her sons

My father is legendary
My father will deny everything

Here are some things that I know to be true:
He has a chocolate birthmark under his right elbow and
looked for a similar mark on each one of my sons

If he was supposed to pick me up after school, seventy-five
percent of the time he would drive home then remember and go back
to get me

He used to get up at four o’clock every morning to paint in the quiet hours

When my mom isn’t around, he’ll call her cute

He read Jane Austen with such devotion that I felt compelled to do the same

He loved his own father very much and once told me how my grandfather lifted a car so that my uncle wouldn’t be crushed under it with such admiration in his voice that even though I never knew my grandfather, I loved him for his strength and bravery

He also told me how my grandfather loved Christmas, something that my dad does as well, putting on Christmas albums long before December

And the most uncontested fact about my father,
sixty six years ago today, he made his way into our world
And it has been a better place because of it

Happy Birthday Dad.

Saturday, September 26

and like that...

i'm thirty.
i woke up and went to the docks to see the sunrise, something i haven't done since i arrived here. the docks were buzzing with people, fishermen and buyers, readying for the auction. in white boxes, the fish flipped and the lobsters attempted escape, scrambling over the sides and onto the wet concrete, the fishermen in fast pursuit.
and later, my birthday books arrived, leaves of grass from sebastian, emerson from nico, and the giant collection of neruda from jason.
we've been to the park, the good one with the roller slide, where one of my (or should i say our) students was there and brought nico into the inner circle of baseball players warming up for saturday games.
there is a chocolate cake waiting and the collection of shells, rocks, flowers, all in sets of thirty, to come.
it is a little bittersweet to say good-bye to my twenties but i am straightening my shoulders and raising my chin, ready for this new segment of my life.
as for a list, i don't think it is necessary. i have things to do, and i will do them. i will have a baby, and move to a big city, i will work on my degree, and also work on my own personal passions: drawing, writing, living with mindfulness, acting compassionately, intentionally.

Friday, September 25

A Decade in Retrospect

(With birthdays as markers...)
**********10 years ago: I bought a blue and white ski jacket as part of a scheme to travel to Alaska in the coming winter.
*********9 years ago: Returning from a trip to North Carolina with Jason, who I had only known since August.
********8 years ago: We moved back to Jacksonville and painted the walls of our Fenimore apartment white while listening to Bjork's Vespertine
*******7 years ago: Came back from New York and a Belle and Sebastian concert, discovered that Sebastian was growing within me
******6 years ago: Was going to school full-time. Saw Lost in Translation and decided to apply to the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program
*****5 years ago: Living and teaching in Nara, saw a boat slowly circle the torch-lit pond, ate a candied apple
****4 years ago: Struggling with my place in the world, went to Kyoto for the day
***3 years ago: Found ourselves back in Jacksonville, living at the Fenimore again and also pregnant, again
**2 years ago: Working at the university language program, feeling overwhelmed and homesick for Japan, took a late night trip to Georgia to play the big ticket lottery
*1 year ago: Living here in Gotou, ate chocolate cake from the patisserie, did some homework

I am a little sad to see this chapter end but eager to turn the page. It is funny to read this list because I managed some really monumental feats of life at a very young age, without expectation and not too much anxiety. I hope I have the same courage in my thirties, but perhaps tempered with a little rationality. Just a tad though.

Thursday, September 24

Those 29 Things To Do....

This is my list from my birthday last year.
I did quite a few of them. And I did a lot that wasn't on the list.
I think I will recycle a few of these for my 30th birthday list.
I was really ambitious last year. I think this year I will focus on my daily habits. Things I can do, want to do everyday. Like writing and drawing. Like sitting meditation. Shaping my day to day life into a time spent well, spent intentionally.

1. Go to Kyoto check
2. Sew 5 dresses for myself check
3. Become pera-pera in Japanese
4. Read one book entirely in Japanese check
5. Get perfect scores in all my classes
6. Go to the dentist check
7. Vote for Obama check
8. Knit a scarf to completion by winter
9. Make a print block postcard once a month
10. Teach Sebastian how to write
11. Toilet train Nico
12. Do yoga at least twice a week check
13. Join the Japan Association of Language Teachers and attend Nagasaki chapter meetings check
14. Publish at least two pieces of writing
15. Draw more check
16. Go camping at least once check
17. Swim at Takahama Beach check
18. Donate money to Karma Kagyu check
19. Do a litter pick up every other month check
20. Donate to NPR check
21. Up my intake of locally produced food to 75 percent check
22. Keep daily journal of bilingual progress and post online
23. Buy a new Montessori material every month
24. Grow plants indoors and out check
25. Get some furniture check
26. Save 20 percent of income check
27. Go to Fukuoka check
28. Meditate daily
29. Remember to take pictures every day

nico days

there are less than two months until the baby is due to make her appearance. i am busy with school (and procrastinating with my school work) most days and trying to find a balance of kindergarten activities and housekeeping.

and then, of course, there is nico. ferociously sweet nico. i went back to work five months after his birth so these last weeks have been a period of really getting to know my second son. everything is a little slower with nico. his pace and attention to the details along the way make a simple trip to the grocery into an expedition. he's more independent than sebastian and enjoys his space.
he's also more likely to experiment and to make epic disasters in his wake. he cannot be left alone with any sort of writing or drawing material, or a glass of liquid. or rice. or unlocked windows. i know it is part of his process of blooming into his own so i try to give him the space he needs in an environment that is both safe for him and safe for our house.
and blossoming he is. he's already starting to outgrow many of sebastian's hand-me-downs, from last year. (aka, he's wearing size 5 clothes now). he's learning to read along with sebastian.
he enjoys counting cars that pass us and can count all the way into the forties now (on this island, it takes a long time for that many cars to pass us).
he loves his little black kitty (with the missing eyes) and also likes to carry colored pencils with him, as toys. they have very elaborate conversations together.

he's a funny and creative kid, always growing, always trying to catch up with sebastian.
i am grateful for this time to see him by himself.

Friday, September 11

8 years ago

we had that tuesday off. we slept in, ate a late breakfast, then packed our laundry in the car to head to his parents' house. and of course, npr came on as soon as we started the engine. and this is what we heard.

before we understood what was happening, i remember the shadows of the giant oaks in our neighborhood, i remember laughing about some joke quickly forgotten. i don't remember how we navigated to his parents' house after we grasped what was going on.
even now, i am listening to it (for the first time since it happened) and shaking a little. the disbelief, utter and complete, was enormous. even after we arrived and saw the images over and over on the television, i just couldn't comprehend it. i still can't.

Thursday, September 10

the name game and other things

i hope you don't mind my constant gloating of the glorious sea. pretty soon it will be too cool to dip our toes in the water and we are leaving the island before it will be warm again. which is fantastic. i mean, i love visiting the beach and swimming in the dreamy clear waters but the day to day life on the island is not so fantastic. we have a few more visits before autumn truly sets in and we plan to enjoy them to the fullest.

i just returned from a visit to the doctor. she is certain that it is a girl now, for all of you skeptical nellies out there. so, in the spirit of community sharing, i thought i would open up a little poll of possible names in the sidebar over there. i have a pretty good idea of what i want to name her but jason is on the fence. let's see what you think.

also, speaking of visiting the doctor, i really don't know what is going on in america in terms of this health reform deal. seriously, national health care rocks. maternity care isn't even covered by national health insurance in japan but the city gave me a little packet of certificates that i redeem anytime i need an exam or test and the other visits only cost about twenty bucks. there is no waiting, the care is professional and they are super nice to the kids, and everything is clean and top-notch. i was on medicaid in florida with the boys and besides for my fantastic midwife, all the other care i received was terrible. long, long waits and substandard care and the kids' doctor wouldn't allow siblings to accompany me, which was ridiculous. seriously flawed system. this first-person point of view article is really worth reading. i would say that national health care is a fraction of the reason why we live in japan. i pay about 200 bucks a month for all four of us. and it makes me feel like i live in a civilized society that understands that a healthy populace makes for a healthy nation.
anyway, i'll get off my soapbox. go cast your vote for the baby's name.
hope you are all well. take care.

Monday, September 7


warning: i am unabashedly telling you what we want for the kids for their upcoming birthdays/winter holidays so if you are not a grandparent, you might want to skip this post ;)

with a new baby, a new city, a few birthdays and holidays approaching, we've been getting some questions from kind people (hi mom) about what we would like or need. i've been window-shopping on etsy for a while and thought i would share a few of the additions to our wishlist not just because they are what we would like but because they might be something you would like as well (especially if you have littles in your life).

i've started to open up to the waldorf philosophy a bit since sebastian seems more akin to that method than the montessori way. when looking recently, i came across little sapling toys. they have gorgeous wooden toys for babies that are also reasonably priced. i really like their stacking toy and the honey dipper rattle.

i did find some really nice infant montessori materials that i have added to my favorites at goosedesigns and pinkhouse, particularly the gift set (this is a definite hint, hint).

the majority of our wishlist is made up of books. i included a few books that are for jason and myself but the contents will be used for the kids (i have to get out of the habit of saying "the boys"). i used the american amazon wishlist just for general use but (watch out, here is another selfish hint) you could easily buy it through which would save on shipping costs. here is our bulging book wishlist. maybe you'll find something there you'd like to read.
and of course, art supplies are always great. simple things like markers and paint are constantly well received. also, itunes gift cards. dvds are nice but bound to get scratched. the boys really like watching episodes of pbs kids and this is a good way of making that happen.

thanks for reading through this post and considering us. i feel a little awkward putting it out there but since we have kind of a unique situation with unique needs, i thought it might be helpful to be specific this time.
hope you are all well. take care.

away from it all

i started classes last week and am feeling overwhelmed and stubborn. i still balk at having to spend so much time doing something that i am so underwhelmed about and especially spending so much of that time in front of a screen. sometimes the cons stack up so high you cannot see the pros, even in silhouette.
instead of hunkering down and accepting what i must do, this weekend was spent in a little cove of paradise and then tending our tender skin indoors, drawing and baking chocolate cakes.
in fact, the wind is so perfect through this little window this monday morning that i must retreat again and whisk nico away to the park. please see more of our recent beach visit over on flickr.
take care.

Wednesday, September 2

hello september

yesterday was the first day of september, the day sebastian returned to kindergarten. it was also the day that we went swimming at the beach for the first time since we moved here. jason isn't a big beach goer and though i was home for the most part of august, i don't like the terrible heat, even to do things like swimming. we are pedestrians, you see, so going anywhere in summer with two kids and a pregnant belly is not exactly what i enjoy doing. but yesterday was good. the sky was blue blue and the temperture was about 85 degrees (F) without too much humidity. perfect.
i decided after lunch to try out our closest beach, five minutes by bus with another five on foot to the beach itself. we had visited before but after a storm and the place was really not nice. lots of trash from china, australia, korea, and (though they would like to just blame the neighbors) from japan itself. the water was rough and not very inviting. so we crossed it off our list.
but yesterday... oh yesterday was a different story, as you can see.

Tuesday, September 1

the post you've all been waiting for...

I know, we've been holding out on you. Not just you, but all of you (or ya'll if I may). So let me lay it out here:

-I knew I was pregnant before our spring trip to Fukuoka. I didn't tell anyone (including Jason) for a little while because finding out you are pregnant when your working place is not so terrific but the recession is kicking full blast makes one feel the need to step back and reflect before taking action.

-Eventually, I came up with a plan. I would tell my boss and either he would say sayonara or he would agree with my option. He agreed with the alternative plan which was to have Jason substitute for me during my pregnancy leave. I think he has a sweet spot for Jason. I thought I would begin my maternity leave a few weeks prior to my due date (November 15th, by the way) but he decided to make the change earlier than anticipated. So, at the beginning of August Jason became Jason-sensei and I became a full-time stay-at-home mom. I still help Jason with lesson planning and such but for the most part this house is my main domain right now. Which is good. Very good.

-I had taken a leave of absence from grad school because of technical issues and because I wasn't sure it was what I wanted. I took the writing workshop and found out two things: (1)I am a decent writer, (2) I don't enjoy writing fiction right now. It was a bit of a revelation. I do enjoy teaching and I have come to terms with my relationship with Japan and found that I am still as smitten with the place as ever. Returning to my grad work seemed the right thing to do. I am actually really good at it and with three kids, it is good to have a little extra step up in the world. (Thanks again to my loving folks for helping me achieve this).

-A day after I got everything straightened out to return to grad school, I came across a listing in an ESOL classified for a teaching position at a junior college. They were looking for someone who could work with all ages, such as myself. I applied and after a long and pleasant correspondence with the supervisor, I am happy to say that I got the job. I actually visited the school during our vacation, leaving the others behind for three days to journey solo to Nagoya, where the college is located. I taught in a summer intensive program for high school teachers and really got a good feel for the place. It is so rare to have the opportunity to check out a potential work place that I felt very fortunate to be able to go. So next Spring, we are headed to the big city. My kind supervisor even has a part-time position lined up for Jason working at a high school. She is really, really amazing and I am very grateful that she chose me as the school's new teacher.

That's it for now, news wise, I suppose. Unless you didn't notice the posting a bit back about the baby being a girl. Because we are truly having a girl this time. A daughter, a whole new world.

Hope you are all well. Take care.

summer vacation part 6 of 6

here we are, at the end of the vacation.

on their last day together, the kids were treated with a trip to a restaurant designed for train fanatics. oh my. to eat and control the little zipping trains as they course through the miniature cities, well, for the preschool set nothing gets much cooler. since we returned we have heard from shara-chan's parents that she and her sister cannot wait for our return so we can all go to the train restaurant again. which is funny because sebastian has the same plan in mind.

our last day was bittersweet. so much beauty, you can't be too melancholy but knowing we had to leave it was a little heartbreaking.

we had to travel back through osaka to get to the bus station. it was a saturday night and umeda is really, really busy on saturday nights. but we pushed our way through the crowds and found a little quiet oasis where by our extreme good luck there just happened to be, gasp, a pokemon center. (it is like a disney store but full of pokemon stuff) i think sebastian's little pleasure meter just burst out the top at this point. luckily for my wallet, it was closing when we discovered it so we were able to just get a little bit of paraphernalia before heading back to the bus station.
the rest of the trip was easy. we arrived in nagasaki early in the morning, stashed our stuff at the ferry terminal, and did a little exploring but spent most of our time lounging at a park where there was plenty of shade and a limited express train line running next to it (if you have kids who like trains, you will know this is a positive aspect). back to the island and regular life but full of a week's worth of happy memories.