Wednesday, August 21

The First Day of (Home) School

The other day, when we were picking up fourteen boxes from the post office, the post master asked Sebastian, who was assisting us, if he was playing hooky or if he was home schooled. When we confirmed the latter, the post master said, oh, well home schooling is the best kind of schooling.
While we may not be permanent home schoolers, I must say there are some definite perks.
Like having a movable classroom. 




We are using their Japanese schoolbooks primarily right now but have signed up for the Florida Virtual School as well. Florida requires that homeschoolers both present a portfolio of their work and take a standardized exam once during the year. We require that they keep up with their kanji and will hopefully start meeting with a tutor once a week starting in September. Bilingual homeschooling. The adventures never cease.

xoxo

Tuesday, July 16

At the seashore

Seaside Explorations

I need the sea because it teaches me.
I don’t know if I learn music or awareness,
if it’s a single wave or its vast existence,
or only its harsh voice or its shining one,
a suggestion of fishes and ships
The fact is that until I fall asleep,
in some magnetic way I move in
the university of the waves.
-Pablo Neruda-


Seaside Explorations
This I can say, we do need the sea.
Seaside Explorations
Seaside Explorations
Seaside Explorations

As our fate unravels only to get tangled into tiresome knots, as all the petty facts of life clamber and claw over us, we need the sea to remind us of the truth. The waves do not knock down our fears or draw away our problems with the tide. We gain something greater, the reminder that we are but tiny phytoplankton with the life expectancy of just a few days.
That truth is incredibly liberating. With our perspective straightened, we are free to work on those knots and stand up under the weight of our nagging concerns.

Seaside Explorations

Sunday, July 14

Observing the start

The sun does not rise in these parts of the planet until 6:30. Since I am used to the summer sun streaming through my window at 4:30, I am usually up to meet the day. I have taken it upon myself to catalog the other life that rises to the occasion. Thus my new ritual of morning observations.

Morning Observations 7/14

Morning Observations 7/14

Morning Observations 7/14

Morning Observations 7/14

There is a lot of inventory for me to chronicle. This task, I am happy to say, is of no short duration.

Morning Observations 7/14



Saturday, July 13

ただいま (We're back)

A little language lesson here: In Japan, when returning to a space/place that you are a part of, you announce your return with tadaima, which essentially means "I'm back". The response is okaeri nasai, which translates as 'welcome home/back'. Whereas our 'welcome home' is exclusive to our actual home, these phrases are more fluid, allowing home and belonging to include to wherever you are now. In fact, tadaima really just means 'now'.

I also considered starting this first post back with a Pink Floyd reference. (Hello? Is there anybody in here?) Instead you got semantics. 

So, now.

first florida days

first florida days

Now we are here. I feel somewhat adrift. We have no true anchors yet, just hopes. I am working on the back of those hopes though. The studio here is coming along. On one wall I have my jewelry work then I swivel around in my borrowed chair and I have my typewriter placed strategically in front of two windows that look out onto the front yard. The sight out there is distracting as my parents are fond of birds so several birdfeeders hang from the branches of a full-figured dogwood tree, attracting cardinal couples, mourning doves, painted buntings, and ruby red throated hummingbirds. Beneath these winged beauties gallop the eager grey squirrels, an animal that still grabs the kids' attention when spotted, though Colette insists they are rats (which always gets my attention since I once lived in a place where rats did rule the treetops). 



All in all, now is going fine and for that, I am grateful. 

Sunday, June 2

Deconstruction

IMG_3912

We are down to two weeks left. The chaos is quiet and currently tame with minor disasters erupting in neat intervals. The pictures are off the walls, the cardboard boxes are filled and labeled for shipping and giving away. It is not easy, deconstructing our life. We pull everything out of hidey-holes and examine them for memories and relevance. In Japan, instead of reusing or demolishing a building outright, there are special de-construction crews who swoop in and take apart old places. This is because of the tight quarters (houses are literally squeezed next to each other so that when one is destroyed you can still see its outline on the neighboring house, like a shadow on the wall) but it is also quite respectful to the life of the building. Last week they pulled apart a really old traditional inn down the street from us. It was so big that it seemed to come down in chapters. We neighbors tracked the process, oohing and aahing as each new layer was revealed. So much history, so much work went into that place and now the huge lot is completely bare. Just like that.

This year marks my 16th year as an official adult and in that time I have managed to move 14 times. It is something I can do but I find that I have more layers to peel away now.  I have a million scraps of paper that the kids have drawn on or practiced writing on. I have cardboard inventions and rubbish sculptures. I have kindergarten backpacks, four years worth of report cards, and a folder of unfinished homework. I sort through it, judging it, trying for an objectivity that is impossible with a mother's sentimental heart. Moving so much has taught me that what is most important does not fit into any box. Every painting and baby tooth saved is not valuable in itself but in its service as a memory prompt. How can I predict what I will remember or forget? I would rather be safe than sorry.

I look around Japan in the same way, trying to burn scenes and feelings into my mind so that I can have an accurate perception, readily retrieved. I know that as soon as we step on the plane the distortion begins. Until then I owe it to myself and my family to capture as much as I can in the ratty net of my mind. I can sort through my catch later.

IMG_3895
IMG_3784
IMG_3891

Thursday, May 16

Home

journey to fukue

Home is such a strange term for expats and travelers. Is it where you are from or where you are going? In this house we have multiple definitions for the term, multiple places that qualify. For the kids, Japan is home. Where they were born, learned to walk and talk, learned how to handle chopsticks. Even the oldest two with Florida printed on their birth certificates only really know Japan.

Japan is my adulthood, where I have given birth to two kids and raised the whole lot of them in a tiny apartment. Where I have overcome personal reservations for the good of the whole. Where I came to value precision as much as innovation. Japan suits me in many ways, the wabi sabi aesthetics, the quiet, the appreciation for nature.

Our time in Japan, five years this time, has come to a close. After losing one lackluster job and refusing a few others, I came to the realization that we have outgrown Japan. For now at least. For the way we have been here. Jason and I have figured out the work we need to do in this life and are no longer to delay or sacrifice for a petty security. I cannot justify it any longer. The distractions of being an immigrant are too severe. We need a true stability, a place where we can work on our projects and provide a healthy, loving environment for our kids.

Next month, a few days before Sebastian turns ten, we will fly home. It is to a home that I associate with childhood, a home my children will now include in their memories. We go home to family and friends, to a space large enough to contain us. We go back knowing there is a recession and determined to work and support ourselves by our own wits and hands. Frankly, as much as we love Japan, it is a relief. Jason and I are creatives with four children. Having to worry about visas and language barriers when we just want to get our work done has become frustrating. And the kids are a bit relieved too. They are relieved because we will be homeschooling them so their time will be less regimented. They are sad to lose their friends, sad to leave what they know. They are also excited about the adventure that they consider America to be. They look forward to the strange wilds of Florida, the diversity of people, the chance to play soccer and learn how to surf.

It is a huge change but it feels really right. We are ready to get on with our next chapter. Home is, after all, where the heart is. Home is my family, my work, my friends. These things are not anchored to place. Japan is home, Florida is home, this whole beautiful messed up planet is home. As we progress, humanity will eventually cease to insist on so many boundaries of perceived space. Already many of us consider ourselves to be global citizens, sharing an internationality. For our kids, I have no doubt that they will benefit from a freer world but in the end, I bet they will realize that it is not where you are but what you do while you are there that matters.

Saturday, April 27

Mr. 1

IMG_3073

And like that, the earth went around the sun in a flying flash and we have ourselves a giant one year-old Luca.

IMG_3057

A sweetheart through and through, Luca was made to be the youngest of four. He is patient and curious and definitely big enough to hold his own. He beat every single milestone record of his siblings, kids who were no slouches themselves. Always busy and usually quiet, Luca fits right into our family.

IMG_3043
He really lives up to his name: Luca- light, Haru- Spring. The kid just glows. Happy birthday, my baby boy.

Tuesday, April 23

Where It's At

Spring at Meijo Koen

So despite my best intentions, I ducked away for what I thought would be a second and turned out to be three weeks. Sorry.

I have been lost in the confusion of job-hunting. The weekend before Nico started school, I lost my job. Or more accurately, I was squeezed out. It is for the best but it has left us scrambling to figure out lots of boring but important things. Like how to stay in Japan or how to pay the electricity bill. We are still working on it and I think I have it almost figured out. It is tricky though because I am sorta getting what I want. I want to work for myself, as a writer and craftsperson. I just didn't plan on it happening so soon. Puts a lot of pressure on my fledgling talents/business. I actually want a day job for a bit longer but I can't seem to find one that wants me.

You see, when a population shrinks that means there are less students and less students means less teachers are needed. Things were different a few years ago when I started my MATESOL, having the degree plus experience was the ticket to a somewhat plush university job. Now those jobs are few and far between and demand publications and Ph. D.s, for a salary that is just a bit above what I made on the JET Program. I've always considered teaching my day job so putting so much into something that would leave me too exhausted to do much more than lay on the tatami when I come home is not ideal. So I already started looking for a new path but I am also in a country where my skills are limited to the classroom. Like many other underemployed/unemployed people, I am overqualified for most jobs and under-qualified for jobs that would have been mine a few years ago. I am obsessively looking for a position and open to moving, though that is not really ideal for us right now. I have actually been job-hunting since August, to be honest. I was more discriminating then but now even the corporate chatty-chat boxes could have me.

It is frustrating but also liberating. I have figured out a way to extend my visa, get unemployment, and insurance to cover us. That is the good thing about living in a country with a social safety net (aka nanny state for my more cynical readers). I'll have three months to push harder than I have ever done before. Haru Aki will be busy, with new designs and pieces added daily. And I also have a list of articles to be written alongside my weekly short story. Now it may seem crazy but really, if anyone is going to pull this off, it is going to be me. You know why? Because this is the challenge I have been given and I don't like the alternatives. So, yeah, that's where it's at.

Wish me luck.
xo

Monday, April 8

And, like that, Nicolai entered elementary school.

Nicolai's elementary school entrance ceremony

We not only made it to the highly anticipated entrance ceremony, somehow it is already over. I'm pretty sure we just did this ordeal with Sebastian yesterday and yet he tells me that tomorrow he starts as a fourth grader. Though sometimes a little sneaky, he is fairly honest so I guess I have to believe him.

  Nicolai's elementary school entrance ceremony

For the first time in years there will be two first grade classes at the neighborhood elementary school. Both of them have 30 plus students. In America, I am sure this would not be something to be celebrated but in a country suffering from a rapidly declining population, it is a good sign.

  Nicolai's elementary school entrance ceremony

Nicolai's new teacher's name is Ruriko-sensei and she is new to the school. Luckily, Sebastian's old teacher who speaks excellent English, will be around to help Nicolai transition to elementary school life. Though his Japanese is good, it is still developing so knowing he will have a little extra support is comforting for everyone (including his new sensei, I suspect).

  Nicolai's elementary school entrance ceremony

At the entrance ceremony, the sixth grade students led the first graders in which is just so utterly symbolic that you can't miss it. This year, we know quite a few of the sixth graders because when Sebastian started they were just third graders. The benefit of staying in one place for a while has been the honor of watching the neighborhood kids unfold. It all happens so quick, too quick. You can watch it but in one blink they go from babes in arms to thriving, independent adolescents, showing the new class the way.

Monday, April 1

Recipe:: Coconut Doughnut Balls

IMG_2749

As you may remember, we are in the process of transitioning to macrobiotics. I like the challenge of taking junky food and shifting it to something healthier. Familiar and yet better. I do not always win this challenge but I persist. Changing your diet brings with it psychological obstacles. Food is not just a means of nourishment, it connects us with our culture and our sense of self. Macrobiotics helps tremendously to curb unhealthy cravings but only once everything is out of our system. Macrobiotics is not a radical diet but it is radically different from the conventional Western diet. This means that the first steps are often the most difficult. Hearing so many horror stories of bad health has made me want to try and create transitional recipes that will help to with those first steps. Every Monday, I will post a new recipe that reflects this ambition.

Donuts seem like a perfect place to start because, quite simply, I love donuts. With these I have found a sweet in-between spot that makes doughnuts almost healthy. They don't qualify for macrobiotic status but they are vegan, gluten-free, and low sugar. 


1.5 cups of favorite gluten-free flour (we used Bob's Red Mill GF Biscuit Mix)
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup vegan "butter"milk (pour 1 tsp of vinegar into measuring cup then fill to 1/4 line)
2 Tbsp oil
grated coconut- to taste (about 1/4 cup)
oil for frying- about 2 cups

Coating:
1/4 cup maple syrup
1-2 Tbsp lemon juice
grated coconut, cinnamon, nutmeg

Mix dry ingredients with whisk. Add wet materials. You should be able to form neat balls so adjust dry/wet accordingly. Heat oil on medium and wait until little bubbles rise. Test with a little bit of dough. Fry balls until golden brown. Remove from oil and place on oil draining tray or absorbent paper towels.

Mix maple syrup and lemon juice until it looks almost clear. Dip donut balls into the syrup quickly then remove and place on plate. Sprinkle coconut and spices on top.

Enjoy!

Hello April

IMG_2746

Happy Easter 2013!

Happy Easter 2013!

Happy Easter 2013!

Happy Easter 2013!

Happy Easter 2013!

Saturday, March 23

Early Hanami

Encouraged by the sunshine and clear skies, we set out on the first official day of Spring break to have a little early hanami (flower gazing) picnic. Under the partially pink sakura trees, we spread our plastic sheets and feasted on inari sushi and norimaki sushi. It was still a little chilly and the cherry blossoms were only about 30% open, but it was a good start to the vacation. And afterward why, we played of course.


First hanami picnic 2013

Happy Spring, ya'll.

First hanami picnic 2013

Thursday, March 21

Kakuozan Nittaiji Kobasan (Temple Market)

visit to kakuozan nittaiji temple market

Today we ventured out in the surprisingly brisk March cold to the monthly temple market at Kakuozan here in Nagoya.

visit to kakuozan nittaiji temple market
visit to kakuozan nittaiji temple market

We were hoping it was more like a junky flea market but instead we found lots of fresh food and flowers and gardening plants and tools. Lovely to look at but not the weird cheap stuff Jason was after.
The story behind the temple is really interesting (read about it here) and the neighborhood is rather hip and full of enviable shops (wholegrain bread shop next to a Buddhist alter shop next to a chocolatier! next to a grave stone cutter next to a breakfast diner). One of the shops we visited was this fantastic European and natural toy shop called Yuubo. Such a sweet place where the kids (minus Sebastian who was still at school) played happily for about 30 minutes.

And despite the freezing temperatures and gale winds, Spring is coming. The cherry trees guarantee it...

visit to kakuozan nittaiji temple market

Tuesday, March 19

The Graduate

Nicolai's Graduation from Youchien

With much ado and fanfare, this boy graduated from kindergarten last week. Two years vanished in a poof and now here we are with a genki, semi-literate, functionally bilingual Nicolai. Japanese kindergarten is not for the faint of heart. In which I mean lazy. It is a full-time job keeping up with all the events and activities that go on in a regular school year and before you know it, your kid is bowing to his sensei and singing sayonara to kindergarten. Literally...



We were lucky to be able to send both of the boys to private kindergartens, both valuing that critical stage of childhood by creating an environment that encouraged creativity, cooperation, and social awareness. Academic prowess is not central in the Japanese kindergarten; it is more about cultivating experiences that the child can carry with them through life. Sebastian's kindergarten followed a Piaget approach, granting the children lots of freedom and space for discovery. Nico's kindergarten was a Buddhist school so regular lessons in manners, sensitivity, and compassion were taught in the week.

Nicolai's Graduation from Youchien
Nicolai's Graduation from Youchien

All in all, it has been a very wonderful experience for our family and I know Nicolai is ready to start school in April. We'll have a year off from kindergarten until Colette starts (we like them to have 4 years at home in English) which will be a good chance to catch up on other aspects of our life.
Then we'll be ready to start round three.

It will be hard at first to get used to this guy being a first grader.

Nicolai's Graduation from Youchien