Saturday, December 31

When I think of 2011...

I cannot list many positives for this departing year. The ones I find are the light side of the darkness.

(-) In January, I didn't get a job that I really wanted. It was a huge blow. Bigger than I let on.
(+) The plus was that I still had a job here. The kids didn't have to be uprooted.

(-) In February, we had a scare regarding my father's health.
(+) The positive thing there is that he recovered and is going stronger than ever now.
(-) In March, the world stop turning for a while.

There really aren't many positive to counter the tsunami. It was a terrible thing. For a Buddhist, I suppose it was just confirmation of the fact that existence is suffering. I could have gone without that dharmic lesson though. There is a crack in my heart made by the March 11th earthquake that will never heal.
(+) The silver lining is that it wasn't us, this time. For that I am grateful, if selfish.
(-) In April, our future in Japan was put in jeopardy by a paperwork oversight made by me.
(+) The good thing? We are still here.

After that, nothing traumatic happened in our tiny corner. But those grand slam first four months took their toll on the rest of 2011. I am sitting here feeling exhausted and not wanting to do anything to draw attention to our little tribe until midnight arrives. My sleeves are wet from wiping away the tears as I looked for footage of the tsunami for this post. I know we are not the only family glad to say sayonara to 2011. Last year I had thought that a year of rabbit-ness would be a good thing. Anyone who has read Watership Down should know better than to underestimate the viciousness of a rabbit.
I don't want to even discuss my hopes for 2012 until 2011 is safely sealed in the vaults. I will say that I am grateful that there were no direct hits this year. I will give 2011 some props for making me ever so thankful for the most essential blessing, that of being alive. We are safe and together, healthy and happy. I hope the stark clarity that 2011 provided will carry over for many years to come. This year has taught me that no minute should be taken for granted. I will forever tell my family that I love them before we part for the day and feel grateful that I have the chance to do so.
For you, my dear readers, I hope that you too have come to terms with 2011. I am glad that you survived the harrowing months and look forward to rejoicing our collective good fortune as we leave the dark days for the light. And since I have the chance before we part for the year, let me send you my love and warm wishes. I know better than to take such an opportunity for granted.


Friday, December 30

Shopping as we do...

We went for some supply shopping (running out of cleaning supplies) and arcade game playing. The mall is not too far from us so as much as I am not a fan of triple decker shopping complexes, in the winter an enclosed area that meets all of our random needs is quite nice.
to the mall and back
The mall wasn't so crowded, as most people were probably at home cleaning and preparing for the New Year. The only place that was booming, really, was the supermarket. Traditionally Japanese people like to make special bentos called osechi filled with all sorts of auspicious delights that will make them healthy, wealthy, and wise for the coming year. Everything is made ahead of time to allow for the cooks of the household to have a reprieve from their duties.
We have discovered that in the city people are more likely just to order their osechis instead of slaving over the stove for days before the holidays. Some people just make a few of the dishes that they like, particularly the black soybeans and mochi. We don't really make anything besides for the ozoni, a soup that everyone eats on the first morning of the New Year. It is supposed to warm you up when you return from the midnight visits to the shrines and temples.
to the mall and back
There was another side to the crowded supermarket, less festive but practical. The shops will be closed for the holiday, the only days when they close for the whole year. This is something that we have learned the hard way requires attention. In super convenient Japan, you become really soft as a shopper since if you forget something then you can always go to one of the hundreds of convenient 24 supermarkets and convenience stores in your neighborhood. Thinking ahead for your next three days' meals and other necessities can strain your creativity if you are such a soft shopper, as we are.
to the mall and back
This brings us to another resolution. We are going to give up our soft, city ways and adopt a more traditional method of planning our (healthier) meals. Recently I discovered a Saturday morning organic market on my way to work and last week I took Jason and the gang to see it. He was, as I expected, impressed. All sorts of lovely vegetables and foodstuffs that you cannot find in the stores, right there being sold by regional farmers for the benefit of us urban-dwellers. We had tried to order a veggie box from a local organic supplier for a bit but since it is a bit of a gamble we often wasted a lot of the contents (particularly if it was a good week for something like onions). I also like the idea of taking the kids down to see the loveliness in person and run around with the farmers' kids and other young customers. And since it is only two train stops away, I think it will blend into our weekly routine quite nicely.

2012 is all about living the life we want and I think including this reformed habit will make the coming year and all those that follow full of health, a little more wealth, and hopefully a bit more wisdom.

Thursday, December 29

The Artful Blogger

With only 2 days left of 2011, I suppose it is time to reveal some of my resolutions for the coming year. One of them includes this blog and another, Hakanasa. I know I have been a neglectful and often absentminded blogger. I have had second thoughts about maintaining a blog, about spending so much time online. But now with the other shorter forms of social media, I have become quite fond of the blog. It gives me room to breathe and share. This blog in particular serves the practical purpose of connecting our daily family life with our distant friends and family. So one of my resolutions for 2012 is to post here daily, even if it is just a photograph and a caption. I want to become more disciplined and I want to have a better record of our time. I have an offline project such record-keeping corresponds to but I will save the details for another day. So starting on the first, each post will be numbered by the day of the year and if I am faithful, by this time next year the title of the post will be 364. More than my current total of posts in my entire five year history of blogging.

As for my other blog, Hakanasa is a space for me to share things that are of a more Tiffany-centric nature. Things about Buddhism, education, ecology, literature, and art + craft. It will resemble my journal more than this blog does but not in an intimate teenage way. In my offline journal (aka a spiral bound drawing pad), I keep newspaper clippings, sketches of things that catch my eyes, laundry lists, and ideas that need to be saved for later. It is a cumbersome thing with scraps of paper and dried leaves slipping out if opened too quickly. The online version will hopefully be less messy though I make no promises. I started it because I feel that my online identity is a little stunted and I wanted a room of my own to define myself better. With four(!) kids, such a place is inconceivable offline so I am looking forward to moving into the new blog and making it my own space. You are welcome to visit if you wish. Beware though, I will not be as guarded as I am here since when I write on this blog I am supremely conscious of the fact that my family is reading and I tend to be inhibited. Over on Hakanasa, I will post blind to the idea of my potential audience.

As for the name, Hakanasa, it is a Japanese term that I became enamored with last year as the cherry blossoms floated on the warm breeze despite the collective mourning period we were suffering through after March. This post has a little more on the term and my blog will favor the third definition.

I'll drop by tomorrow with some more resolutions. Until then my friends, take care.

Hello from the Osoji Trenches

Welcome to Day Three of Osoji.
Day One went like this: washed curtains, took the thousands of books (okay, maybe about a hundred or so) off the bookshelf, dusted bookshelves and moved them to mop under bookshelves. Rearranged bookshelves and replaced books in more orderly system. Beat living room rug, washed many loads of laundry and folded them, washed living room windows. Hand washed living room floor. Put everything Christmasy away. Cleaned sofa and depilled it with little depiller device. Ate some oden. Had a yuzu bath. Finished my first Christmas gift.
Day Two: Washed more curtains and laundry. Went to bank to withdraw fund before they close for New Year's (about four days). Went to Osu branch of bank. Ate mediocre Mexican food. Wandered through a flea market outside the temple. Bought ichigo daifuku mochi (my favorite). Returned home. Pulled all my fabric from the closet. Felt exhausted just looking at the pile of fabric. Finished my second Christmas gift.
osu kannon, nagoya
Day Three (so far): Last gomi day before the holiday so I had to stuff the dead kiddie pools and the nasty rug into a trash bag along with some gross forgotten pizza boxes and long deceased ajisai and geraniums. All of these vile things had been put out of sight on the balcony for too long. Quickly cleaned out the fridge. Took everything downstairs before the gomishushusha rolled around the neighborhood at 8:30. Took a shower. Ate last omochi. Sat down with some tea to procrastinate by writing a blog post.

[Sigh] Okay, now my list:
-organize fabric
-finish cleaning out closet
-clean out desk drawers
-wash bedding
-beat and hang futons outside
-beat and hang bedroom rugs
-wash floors
-scrub bathroom
-clean toilet room
-scrub drains, especially washing machine drain
-use magic eraser to get all pencil and marker creations off the doors and walls and floors
-take a short break to buy supplies
-avoid looking at third Christmas gift

Monday, December 26

Christmas Part 2

Woke up to white rooftops and it is still snowing...
white christmas
And look what we found, more presents. The poor postal worker delivered two of the three missing boxes around 8 o'clock last night (keep in mind that the post office is closed on the weekends in Japan). The kids were very excited to have an extension of present opening, particularly Colette who has perfected her wrapping tearing technique to include both her hands and teeth.

All in all, it is still very Christmasy here. Snowy outside and snuggly inside. Pajamas and hot chocolate complete the effect quite nicely.


Sunday, December 25

メリクリスマス! Happy Christmas!

Here's wishing you a very merry Christmas!

Happy X-Mas!
Happy X-Mas!

Colette's big Santa present:: A wooden kitchen set

Happy X-Mas!

And the boys found their new Nintendo 3DS plus two Mario games::
Happy X-Mas!

Three boxes have not yet arrived from the loving Stateside relatives so Christmas will be a drawn-out affair this year. Which is probably better so that each present will get the attention it deserves. We just had steaming bowls of brown rice and scrambled tofu to balance out the stocking treasures of chocolate and sugars. The little one resisted the attempt at healthiness and is quickly spiraling down into a nap. An angry two-year old and a room full of new Lego sets being assembled is an ugly mix, I can tell you.

Happy X-Mas!

We also got our snow, though it was short-lived. We should have more tomorrow. We'll travel towards Gifu (the neighboring mountainous prefecture) tomorrow to take pictures of the snow covered mountains. I really like these cold Christmases, though hearing a Florida based friend's plans to go snorkeling this weekend did make me a little envious.
Happy X-Mas!
Happy X-Mas!
Happy X-Mas!

So now it is time to return to the fray. Christmas dinner needs to be made and the wrapping paper needs to be put away. After today, we start osoji, a tradition I actually have grown to love. Then to gather supplies for oshogatsu, the biggest holiday in Japan. But today, today is still Christmas and we will do it American style with lots of noshing and loafing around.

Time to pop open the Pokemon fake champagne! Wishing you the merriest of winter holidays. May you be warm and well, wherever you may be.


Saturday, December 24

Christmas Eve::Cookies

by nico
nico at work
gingerbread time

Made three different types this year. Sebastian had Christmas parties to attend so he brought some of them with him. Chocolate chunk walnut, gingerbread, and fudge crinkles. The house is warm and smells so sweet. And it might snow tonight. I have it on good authority that Santa loves fresh cookies on snowy nights. Maybe with a hot cup of amasake to wash them down.

Happy Christmas Eve. Wishing you sugarplum dreams.

Wednesday, December 21

The Counting Game


Surprised? We were too. But now that I am 24 weeks we have gotten used to the idea. It wasn't meant to be a secret. Time just got away from me. And now that we know it's a _____ we can start The Naming Game, one of my favorites.

Monday, December 19

Creating a Life

The last posts of 2011 will be mostly reflective, which maybe is okay since due to laziness I omitted writing about a lot of our happenings this year. Gomen.
(picture of Buddha drawn by a creative student at Nico's school for the annual school festival)

This year I was determined to be actively creative. I was successful in creating more crafts, drawings, and stories than I was in 2010 but I still didn't meet my own targets most of the time.

There was the Etsy shop that morphed into a fabric shop (we're on vacation from supplying the world with lovely fabrics for the time being).

There was the postcard exchange that started with a huge number of participants, dwindled to half and now I, the organizer, am busy trying to catch up for months of missed postcards.

There was a novel that turned into, well, a novel. I wrote it in one month, including edits and a nasty bout of the flu. I'm not saying it is great (really, it is not) but it is complete. My first book, well ebook. It was more about getting it finished than making a masterpiece. I think that it has cleared the way for better writing. Given me hands-on experience of the practice of writing and overcoming my tendencies towards being overcritical and subsequently giving up on my work. I know I should be embarrassed about it but I have made a mission of reading all of my favorite authors' first works this year and I can tell you with certainty that the first work usually is, in a word, crap. The most meaningful lesson I gleaned from writing the book and working on the other projects has been that diligence and determination are really huge factors in generating success. Being talented is nothing compared to steady, unflinching hard work.

And lucky for me, I have a whole year ahead of me to hone my work habits. I am really excited about the days that are before me, just waiting to be created.

Sunday, December 18


In one of my discussion classes at the college where I teach, we were talking about the kanji of the year for 2011. One of the students asked the question, what is your personal kanji of the year and this was met with the silence of contemplation (a special Japanese silence that gets some getting used to). Following this hushed lull in the discussion, most of the students said that they agree with the selected kanji, which means bonds. One student offered that she would choose the kanji for 'tear' as she can't remember a year when she cried so much. Naturally this made the rest of us rather sad so we came to the consensus that 'bonds' was the best way to sum up 2011.

After a few days of passive consideration, I have decided that my kanji would be something like this: 手後れ [ておくれ]. It isn't so great since there are two kanji and the hiragana 're' there but it is the rough translation of my word for the year: belated.
2011 has been nothing but a race against the clock. And not just one single race, but multiple races sometimes held simultaneously. We have a poor record this year, I'm afraid. We lost the first one back in January when we forgot to renew Colette's visa on time. Since then, it has really been a struggle.
Take the back-to-back birthdays last month. We are simply lucky that Nico is super understanding and that Colette is too young to complain. We did eventually make it up to them but it was not within the week of their official birthdays.
This is Nico at his school birthday party with the beloved Doraemon birthday crown.
And this is Nico with his girlfriend Miyu-chan. Though don't tell him I called her that. He considers himself simply tolerant of Miyu-chan's exuberant affections.
So, as much as belated is perhaps a less positive way to describe a year, I consider it to be an honest and rather malleable term. It doesn't equate failure but signifies the effort to catch up, despite the odds of winning. We leave this year tired of always being behind but feeling stronger for the effort it took to continue. I hope that next year I will get to choose a better word like 'amazing' or 'crazy successful' but knowing that 76 percent of Americans (according to a recent NBC/WSJ poll) consider 2011 to be either below average or one of the worst years of their lives, I think belated isn't such a bad term to own.

Monday, December 5



This is the story of two brothers. Two brothers, both born in a country far, far away. Two brothers who now identify themselves as both, not one nationality or the other. Not half. Both. Two brothers who spend their days in Japanese and now have brought it home to play. Left alone, these two brothers now play in Japanese. The older one reprimands the younger one in Japanese, and you know what, the younger one listens. Some of the time. There are jokes between them that we will never laugh at but they find hysterical. There are their demands for orderliness that are lost on us, despite our years of living here.

When we first started this bilingual adventure, we were not fully aware of what was lying in store. Our third-culture kids insist that we expand our expectations to include who they really are. They are a unique sub-culture with a small but feisty membership. I feel very lucky to watch their evolution and know now that they are the true pioneers, going places we have never even considered.
I am also happy that they have each other. Their understanding of each other goes far beyond what we are capable of. Especially when it comes to booty jokes.