Friday, October 25, 2013

Oyako Eigo (Mommy-Baby English)

Timing is a funny thing. Often when something doesn't work out, it's as much to do with the timing as the idea itself. When I tried to start an English class for moms and babies at our church two years ago it fell flat on its face. I was beyond bummed. I put so much effort into planning and advertising, yet no one came. I didn't have the connections into the mom-community to get it off the ground. In fact, that's why I wanted to start it: to make mom-friends. At the time I was pregnant and trying to find other moms in my neighborhood. (I didn't yet know about the importance of routine in making friends in Japan.)

This year, however, after months and months of slowly building relationships in a variety of contexts, I felt it was time to dust off my curriculum and get back in to the teaching game.

The moms I met through swim class and the neighborhood park were eager to join. I was blown away when at out first class, two weeks ago, 4 mom's showed up with their children: two park moms; two swim moms. Woot Woot!

The lesson for the day was colors. We sang songs, played games, made a craft all using our new English words for the colors of the rainbow.
Practicing our new color words while we draw together

Today was the second Oyako Eigo class. 6 Moms came: 3 park moms; 3 swim moms. The new "park-mom" hadn't yet met the other "park-moms," so I had the pleasure of introducing them. They live less than a block away from each other and they met for the first time at church while singing silly songs. The moms are slowly gelling. You can definitely see the two group from how they sit on different side of the circle. But, as with all relationships in Japan, slowly but surely, they'll get to know each other and soon this new group will be a common connection point. Not only that, but these 6 moms have now been inside of a Christian church. Twice! That's huge!

Today's lesson was body parts. We sang the ubiquitous "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" and played Simon Says. The craft for today was making Funny Felt Faces.

For fun, I thought I'd write out instructions for today's craft, incase any of you want to play along at home. :)
For the record: it's not too clear from the picture, but
I used tan felt for the faces, not white,since the kids are Japanese. 
Felt Funny Faces
Felt (various colors)

Cut out large-ish circles for heads out of felt.
Draw and cut out a set of
in different colors. (I made a variety of shapes as well. Ears were a bit of a pain. Mine all looked like kidney beans.)
Seperate parts by kind.

Pass out faces
Let kids/ parents choose one of each for their face. They can mix and match colors or go monochomatic.
The beauty of felt is the kids can reposition and change out the parts as they wish. After a bit it all starts looking like a Picasso, but that's fine. ;)

*** Pro-Tip: to get the felt to stick to itself, scratch it up with your nails. The rougher the felt is, the better.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Operation Old-Faithful

I've had to reevaluate my methods for starting and building relationships since moving to Japan. In the States, as with everything, we use a more direct method to starting friendships. "Hey, we have something in common, let's hang out some time." It's not always quite THAT simple, but at its root, befriending people in the States can be done relatively simply. Not so in Japan. Here it's all about taking it slow, building trust, establishing routine. It's taken me a while to get this new model through my head. It's still hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that meeting someone once at the mall then asking them to come to English class just doesn't work. My American gut tells me if you want to make friends, just get out there. Go. Do. Win. But like I've said, that just doesn't work here. In fact, trying to make friends that way is more likely to alienate people that endear them to me.

This past summer, during a training session on cross-cultural communication, it clicked for me: consistency and routine. I could meet a lot of people by doing different activities each week, but in order to turn those relationships into friendships, I was going to need to see them on a regular basis.
Enter, Operation Old-Faithful:

Stage one:
Join a mommy-baby swim class at the gym near the mall. See the same moms and babies two to three times, every week.
--Success! Not only have we had a really fun time swimming (splashing and playing with rubber duckies, more like) but I would now consider us officially in the group (Being in the group is HUGE in Japan. Once you're in, you are in! It's when people begin to open up and trust you). Moms from the class have started coming to Oyako Eigo (Parent-Child English) at our church and wanting to spend time with us outside of swimming as well.

Stage two:
Follow up swim class with lunch and grocery shopping Aeon (the mall).  Go to the same shops. Make sure to go the the same Onigiri shop every time.
--Success! We are a fixture at Aeon now. Shop ladies poke their heads out when they hear Jill's squeaky shoes coming down the road. The Onigiri (rice ball) ladies know our order by heart and all come to the register to hand us our lunch.
Bonus: We've befriended a gaggle of Obaachans (Old Grannies) who congregate outside the food court. After we eat, and walk out to do our grocery shopping, they call and wave to "Chiyo-chan" (Jillian) and she shows off the new words she has learned or gives them all high-fives.
Photo: Jill made friends with this group of Obaachans (old grannies) at the mall. Each week she comes to say hi when we walk past. Happy to spread joy while we do our grocery shopping. :)

Stage three:
Same old park, every single day(-ish). The park across the street from our apartment isn't the most exciting park I've every been to. Just a patch of grass with swings and monkey bars. But, it's where the moms gather, so it's where we go.
--Success! We've had a few really interesting conversations with the neighborhood moms. A few have joined the swim class moms at Oyako Eigo.
Bonus: Jillian LOVES  the swings.

The part of me that wants to explore the other shopping centers and parks around town has been slowly quieted by the response we're receiving.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Hope for Hokkaido

Tonight I went with our church to the kick-off event for the 2014 Hokkaido Hope Festival

The event tonight was for participating churches to come together to worship God and pray for the upcoming festival, which takes place on May, 9-11. 

Our church, along with many others on the island of Hokkaido, are working together with Franklin Graham Festival, to put on the first ever "Hope Festival" on Hokkaido. Our pastor is one of the leaders among the participating pastors. I'm so proud to be partnering with a church that understands the importance of cooperating within the larger body of Christ, rather than hunkering down within our 4 church walls. 

Pastor Kaji introducing the other Hokkaido pastors and the roles they will be playing.
We were blessed to be lead in worship by two women with voices as beautiful as their hearts; Lena Maria, and Alfie Silas. The later of whom touched my heart, and I'm sure those of the Japanese as well, when she sang a medley of traditional Japanese songs. The whole auditorium sang along with the songs of their childhood directed towards Jesus. 

I was encouraged that the main purpose of the festival is to build a bridge between the local church and people who don't know Jesus. If you've followed this blog or our newsletters, you'll remember that that is my heart as well. They used the image of an iceberg to drive home the point to the church leaders sitting in the crowd. The 3 day festival itself is only 10% of the focus. The other 90% is the work that is done within local churches before and after May 9-11th. 

Even though the event itself is taking place after our terms ends, I feel like the timing is really good. I'm glad we can take part in the preparation before hand and help this event through our church's partnership. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

World Travelers: Wrap-up

I just want to start off by thanking all the families who participated in the homestay trip for my English class. It's something we always talk about over tea time these days and I cherish the memories that we got to build during this experience.

The English trip was an amazing combination of English practice, learning about culture, and experiencing Christian family.

The trip was definitely a whirlwind experience as we only had about 7 days. All were jammed packed with field trips and conversation practice, and fun! I wanted to be sure that they not only experienced the popular sights and sounds of California but that they also experience the more subtle things of American culture.

We were ale to visit the hot spots like Yosemite, Pismo beach, and Pier 39 in San francisco, but we also did some little American things like mini golfing, shopping at target, and dinner at home with the host families.

The host families did a phenomenal job of letting my students get a taste of American culture. Some of my students were able to go to a baseball game, ride in a fire truck, and enjoy the simple pleasure of root beer floats. The host families also coordinated a trip to a wild life preserve on their free day.

I think however, the most important thing that the students took back with them was not necessarily the English practice they recieved, or the fun places they went to, but the personal time with their families.

Each family member was a member of SOMA Christian Church and they really outdid themselves in serving their students. My students talked nonstop on the plane ride home about how loving the families were, and how surprised they were a about how gentle the husbands were especially. One student in particular, "Michi" as her host family nicknamed her, was in tears over how nice her family was.

To be honest my first expectations of the trip was really low. I felt overwhelmed by the responsibility and was very stressed that maybe the students wouldn't like it, or that something would go wrong. But God totally blew my expectations away, He totally amazed me. I have to give Him the credit.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

World Travelers

With an increasingly active one year-old, time to blog has a way of slipping away from you. When you offer to organize your church's US home-stay/ English language program, any and all time to blog goes flying out the window. All that to say, I've been a bit busy over the last months to get much of any writing done. Sorry.

I've been so focused on this program because I am genuinely excited to be assisting in it's creation. Our church, Sapporo EV Free, has done short term US trips in the past, but this will be the first, to my limited knowledge, that will be home-stay and language based. Tourism will definitely play it's part. But if I've learned anything from teaching, it's the power of integration. I want our students to get first hand language experiences in America and to have a great time while doing it. The home-stay component as well excites me. I'm so excited to hear stories of new relationships that develop!

The trip is coming up faster than I realize. The group, lead by my dear hubs and the Pastor's wife, Y, will leave Japan on the 29th and stay until August 5th. While they're in California they'll be staying with members of Soma Christian Church and taking daily trips to see not only touristy places like Yosemite or the beach, but also daily life things like the grocery store and mall.

I'm almost done with the daily lesson plans, but I have a few questions for you before I press "print."

If you were traveling to a foreign country, what would you like to see? What questions would you like to ask? 

If you have traveled to a foreign country, or hosted an international student, what are some tips you'd like to share with our Japanese English-students? Any blunders?

Leave a comment below.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

K-chan and the Japan-able Lasagna

"Suddenly, I'm a vegetarian," our friend K-chan announced in English class one night. We were planning having her and our other student S-kun over for dinner and a movie and when I heard her proclamation, I knew at once I should make the Japan-able cheese lasagna a fellow missionary taught me to make. Why "Japan-able"? Well, because there is one kind of cheese available in every grocery store and it isn't ricotta so westerners craving Italian food need to get creative. I"ll leave the recipe below for anyone who wants it. I promise it's fabulous! I think I might continue to make it with the clever substitution even once I'm back in the States.

That evening was months ago, but the meal must have left an impression on K-chan because Friday I got a request to teach her how to make it.

I was delighted to have her over and cook with her. The recipe was simple enough, so instructing her in Japanese didn't stretch me too far. She even got to do most of the work while I fed Jillian her dinner.

After dinner K-chan got to play with Jilly and even read her a few of her Japanese bed-time books. I'm sure it was nice for Jillian to have the Japanese books read to her by a native speaker for a change.

I really hope K-chan enjoys making the lasagna herself and that we have more chances to cook and hang out together.

Sue's Japan-able Lasagna
(Sue, if there is a real name for this dish, please let me know and I'll edit as needed :) )
*Lasagna noodles (cooked)
      -2 eggs
      -1 brick of tofu (This is the magic substitution. It is creamy like cheese, has a lot of protein, but is available in Japan!)
      -2 cups(?) shredded generic white cheese ( I use most of the bag and reserve a bit to use as a topping. If you have access to better cheese than "generic white" use it!)
       -Various seasonings to taste (Salt, pepper, thyme, rosemary, basil, parsley, etc...)
*Pasta sauce

1- Layer sauce, noodles, and fillings until you've filled your pan.
2- Top with extra cheese 
3- Bake 30 Minutes at 180C (350F) or until cheese is bubbly.

Ta-da! The easiest Japan-able Lasagna Ev-ah

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Just for Funsies: Toilet Paper Origami

I begrudgingly signed up for a Pinterest account last year. I, the perpetual late adopter, thought it was stupid. Like I thought Myspace was stupid. Like I thought Facebook was stupid.

Wouldn't you know it, I was wrong again. On the online pin-board I've been able to find lots of recipes to try out on family and friends (usually with pretty good results). I've also been able to get some great ideas for things to do with Jillian. I, of course, also have pinned a ridiculous number of things that made me chuckle or go "wow that's amazing" but know full well I will never actually do. So, when I saw a challenge from the Pintester to attempt one of your pins that was just gathering dust then blog about it, I knew it was up my ally. I mean, best case scenario I succeed at the pin and have a new skill. Worse case scenario I fail miserably and I still have something to post about.

I decided to try my hand at toilet paper origami. When I originally pinned it, I thought it would be a laugh to do at people's homes or in public restrooms, just for fun. I figured it's something I would never actually try to figure out unless prompted by a random internet stranger, and it's kind of Japanese... right? Well, origami is Japanese anyhow. So I'm counting it.

Here's the original post.

I thought the flower in the pot looked cool enough, yet easy enough. Yeah, not so much. Turns out there's a reason origami paper is not tissue thin. TP does NOT stay put where you fold it my friends.
Here's the photo diary of my attempt.

start with a fresh-ish roll of TP
Rip off a square to use later then fold up a square's length or so.
Fold down the end a few times to hide the scraggily edges. 

Fold the sides under to make a basket shape. 
mine ended up being pointier than I anticipated.
I also had a really hard time getting the flap to stay in place. 
Use the square you ripped off earlier to make a fan shape.
(Yes, I know. My PJ's are awesome.)
Shove the fan into the flower pot.
Try desperately to keep the edges tucked in.
Feel defeated when your "flowers" hang sadly out of the "flower pot"

Give up any hope of prettiness and mash the whole thing in your fist to make it stay folded at the creases. 

Over all, this was way to much work for so little pay off. I may try again if the mood strikes. Maybe I just need less soft TP, although that's a theory I'm not too keen to test. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

You Were Born to Be Loved

We were blessed to get connected with a women's clinic run by a Christian doctor and his Midwife wife for my pregnancy and Jillian's birth. From the start, and even now, over a year since Jill's birth, the way they care for women, both physically and spiritually has really impressed me.

 I've written a little about it before. I mentioned it here, but I never got around to writing all that I wanted about it. This week, though, I was reminded of the wonderful ministry the head doctor and his wife have cultivated over the years when I attended the final play group for the babies born in April and May of 2012.

The group flowed as usual: time for songs, a lesson on child development, time for tea, time to chat with the other moms. This time, however, when it began time to wrap up, the 2 teachers were joined by the head doctor and his wife to sing to our children. They sang a song that is very familiar to me; one I love to sing and hear. It goes "Kimi wa aisareru tame umareta..." "You were born to be loved." As they sang, Jillian, a lover of all things musical, crawled up front and danced. The scene was so precious to me: the doctor who delivered my baby, the midwife who cared for me while I was panic stricken that I would break this new life, were singing to my baby. I couldn't hold back the tears forming in my eyes as I snapped a few pictures to hold the memory always.

This same doctor sat with the women who were in recovery the week I was, a few of whom where at the play group, and read us Psalm 139. He told us that it was God who put our children in our lives; that He knit them together in our wombs. Then presented us each with a Bible bearing our name and baby's birthdate carefully written inside the cover.

I don't know how many lives this man and his wife have touched. Countless, I'm sure. I pray God encourages him and the women he cares for; that they would know, "They were born to be loved"; that they were "knit together in their mother's womb."

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Silly-Jilly: Lost in Translation

Anyone who has ever typed something into Google Translate can tell you, the word you want to use doesn't always convey the meaning you hope it does. Some rare words translate perfectly; conveying the precise meaning from first language to second. Others... well, not so much. "Silly" is one such word.

Sunday at church as a friend, Y, and I bowed to pray Jillian took the opportunity to pet Y's hair and stick her, Jillian's, foot into Y's praying hands. When we said our "Amen"s I told my friend. "Jillian is such a silly girl" in English and gave Jilly a kiss on the head. I asked Y, who speaks fluent English, if there is a  word that translated well for silly. The closest I've been able to think of don't really convey the right shade of meaning. "Tannoshii" is more like fun or enjoyable. "Omoshiroii" is like interesting or enjoyable. "Kawaii" is cute. But silly is more like a combo of the three with a little bit of "Henna" (weird) thrown in.
The word she gave me I didn't even commit to memory because when I asked her if it was a good or bad image, she said bad. Her word translated to something like foolish.

I was mortified. This woman, and how many other English-speaking Japanese people, think I've been calling my daughter foolish! I quickly explained that silly has a positive image. Perhaps in the past it was negative, but now it's "Wee Sing in Sillyville"; it's "Silly Songs with Larry"; it's our own Silly-Jilly. Definitely not negative.

Someone needs to warn Larry that he might not translate well into Japanese.
Image credit 
The whole encounter got me thinking about how many other words, or actions I've been using that are COMPLETELY misinterpreted. Probably a lot. I recently found out that when Jillian waved "hello" to people, even in response to "Konnichiwa" people think she's waving "bye-bye". Poor baby has been inviting people to come play and they've been thinking she wants them to leave. We should probably practice bowing rather than waving, but I hesitate because the waving is so darn cute!

I know I'm bound to make, or discover, more mistakes in my word choice. I just hope none of them give the impression I'm speaking ill of my daughter, or other people for that matter.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Unexpected Blessings

This past weekend was the annual A2 Spring Retreat. Each year our time as a mission family is much anticipated. There is nothing like joining with friends I only see once or twice a year for fellowship and renewal. This year, especially, I felt God's tender care for me and my family as we gathered with our mission.

From the get-go our plans got thrown out the window. Stephen came down with a major virus that had spread quickly into his lung the day before the retreat. Jillian and I went on ahead and prayed Stephen would recover fully by the weekend, so he could join the retreat. Traveling on my own with a squirmy one-year-old went better than I could have expected, even if Stephen had been with me. Once at the retreat, everyone was so helpful with Jillian I didn't feel like I had to miss out on everything because I didn't have my partner in crime to pass her off to from time to time.

A picnic lunch with some of our mission family before Stephen arrived.

By Friday, Stephen had been given the ok to travel and make his way to the retreat site. I don't think I've ever been so happy to see him! Absence truly does make the heart grow fonder.

While I was waiting for Stephen to arrive, though, Jillian decided it was her turn to be sick. Poor little baby spiked a fever and wanted nothing more than to sleep. By God's grace our friends had some baby fever medicine for us to use. Go figure, the time I decided to pack light, something major would happen.  Because I was still solo at this point, the child care team took great care of me by helping watch Jillian in a separate corner of the kids' room. Because she was such a cuddly lump while sick, it worked well.
Thank you King's Harbor Church for your excellent service! You saved my behind!
(I should also add that I received a couple other unexpected blessings from the team from King's Harbor: a hair cut and neck massage. If anyone wants to bless a missionary-wife here are three simple ways: make them feel beautiful, let them relax, and love their kids!)

By the time Stephen arrived, Jillian was on her third day of fever and had begun throwing up. With the help of two other moms I took Jillian to the urgent care at the hospital near by. Thank you so much Yuko and Rhonda for translating, driving, and just being with me. Without them and the prayers from the A2 family back at the retreat site, the doctor would have just given Jillian an not yet needed IV and sent us on our way. He changed his mind suddenly and gave us some fever reducer and decongestant to help her ride out the virus.
By the next day Jill was feeling much better.

The retreat itself was fantastic. I was blessed by the message on prayer and the team from Evergreen Church who prayed with us over the course of the retreat. I walked away from the retreat feeling refreshed and so loved. It's tough some times to be a little speck of light in a dark land. Times like spring retreat are so necessary for my spirit.
I feel like this particular retreat could have gone a lot differently with all the challenges that were thrown at us, but even in the midst of chaos, God's tender care showed through.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Only in Japan: Baby Supplies

Moving to Japan has opened my eyes to a whole new world of strange things to buy, becoming a parent has opened them even wider. I didn't know that were possible. As I've been out shopping for Jill, I've been keeping a mental list of "Huh, You'd never see that in America." I finally took my camera with me on a shopping trip, just for you! 

Here's 4 items you won't find in the States.

Barley Tea:
I got a box of this tea free with Jillian's formula. Do you see the number 1 in the upper right hand corner of the box? That stands for one month, as you can drink this tea from one month old on. I was shocked to see this since every American produced bit of information about baby care said "BREAST-MILK OR FORMULA ONLY FOR 6 MONTHS!" I believe there was an "or else" implied. Or else what, I'm not sure. 
We didn't introduce mugi cha (barley tea) at one month, but that had more to do with not being to excited about mugi cha myself. ;)
At 11 months, Jill tried mugi cha for the first time. She wasn't impressed. Guess we should have let her try it at one month like the box suggests. ;)

Furikake (Rice seasoning) for toddlers:
Furikake is a dried rice seasoning, usually some sort of fish, although the package in green below is various vegetables. I forgot to look for the age recommendation for this one, but I believe its about one year or one and a half. I don't know about you, but I can't imagine many 1-2 year olds being excited about dried fish flakes on their rice. Personally, I love furikake, but I wonder about little non-Japanese kids. Readers with children, what do you think? Anyone think your little one would eat this on rice? Let me know below. Maybe I'll have to mail some out and conduct a study. :)

Outlet covers:
Yes, I know these aren't only in Japan. I'm including them, not because the idea is special, but because the form is. I worry about something that is supposed to deter your child from playing with outlets that is brightly colored and shaped like Mickey Mouse. Somehow that just screams, "come play with me!" But maybe that's just me. 

Training Chop-sticks:
I think these are brilliant! We actually own a pair, even though Jillian's too young for them. We bought them for a visitor who wasn't comfortable using the utensil of choice in Japan. Only, Stephen didn't pay attention to the kanji in the corner that said left or right hand. He grabbed the ONLY pair of left handed training chop-sticks in the store. :) Maybe Jill will be left-handed and we won't have to buy a new pair.

What's the weirdest thing you've seen for sale for little kids and babies (in The States or Japan)?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Easter 2013

Time for a photo post!

Easter was fantastic this year. Not only did we get to celebrate at church with lots of food, a skit, and a packed sanctuary; it was also Jill's very first Easter which meant lots of chocolate a ruffles. :)

this year's skit was an adaptation of the folktale, "The Three Trees." In the story, three trees in the forest hope for greatness, and end up telling the story of Jesus' life as they become a manger, a boat on a stormy sea, and a Roman cross. 
The craft used eggs and paint, but not in the usual way. Everyone teamed up to glue colored fragments of egg shells on to a picture that Stephen drew. I was happy to see the finished products displayed out front for people to see as they walk by. 

As for the baby....
She had a fun day too!

We hope you had a blessed Easter with friends and family! Let's continue to celebrate the risen King everyday!

Love, The Borbas

Friday, March 22, 2013

How to Serve in Japan?

A few weeks ago my small group at church was talking about serving others. As we went around the circle and talked about how we could serve people in Japan, something I kind of knew in a fuzzy way suddenly solidified in my mind: I don't know how to serve people in Japan.

The statement sounds strange. And it is.

I know how to serve people, I really do. It's just how to serve people in a way that is not burdensome.

For example, the other day I was walking down the snow-piled sidewalk. It had been a few days since people could get out to shovel so the snow corridor was even more narrow than usual. There wasn't even enough room for two people to walk side-by-side without scrapping against the snow walls. I saw an elderly woman walking towards me with a cane. I stopped to let her though before entering the corridor myself. This little old lady saw me stop and started hustling to get out of my way. Making a little old lady, with a cane, jog in the icy snow was not my intent. In fact, I achieved the exact opposite from my intent. I wanted to make this woman's day a bit easier, but ended up making it more difficult. It left me wondering it I should have run up and cut her off so she could take her time.

Other things, like bringing food to new mothers or sick people, creates a whole level of obligation. Dishes will be filled with treats for your family to say thank you. To me, it feels like it defeats the whole purpose of taking the food in the first place: lightening the load of someone in need.

I asked my small group about this and they were unanimous that these acts of service are appreciated. In fact hurrying down the road to get out of my way, or filling the casserole dish up with food is their way of showing appreciation. They were surprised when I said a "Thank you" would suffice in the States.

At the end of the conversation, I left with the same question I came with: how can I serve in a way that doesn't put extra burden on the one whose load I'm trying to lighten?

I'm not sure I have an answer. What do you think?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Catch 22

Being a young (under thirty is young, right?) doesn't seem to help me stop being such a techo-peasant. I had planned to write a post today, but my computer had other ideas.

This evening I discovered that while trying to clean up my over-stuffed hard-drive, I accidentally deleted my internet browser. No big deal, I though, I'll just get on-line and download it again...  Ummmm.... Yeah...No. Turns out not having a browser means you cant search the internet. Not even if your awesome husband sends you a link to the page you need.

After some quick thinking on his part, and hijacking our staff "Dropbox", I was able to install my browser again. Woohoo!

Of course, sorting out the internet situation sucked up all my blogging time for tonight. Drat, and I was finally going to sit down and write.

Tomorrow? Hmmm... We'll see how the baby treats me. ;)

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Beginner's Guide to Winter

I thought I had experienced winter before moving to Japan. Turns out my 26 years of life in California did nothing to prepare me for real, honest to goodness winter.

Snow has always been something I loved. Taking trips up to the mountains to play in the powder were the best part of winter. When I was about 8, I even asked Santa to make it snow for Christmas. I always thought living in the snow would be the best thing ever! My childhood self would squeal with delight if she knew I was living in the snowiest city in the world with a million or more people.

I'm prefacing today's post with that because I don't want to give the impression I'm anti-snow. Far from it. It's just, my adult self now has some perspective 8-year-old Kathryn couldn't even begin to imagine. Living in the snow is a pain in the behind!

So, this is for all my California friends complaining about the "cold" winter. I feel like we're only scratching the tip of the ice-berg in our new appreciation for the winter-wonderland. If you have anything to add, leave a comment.

-The love/hate relationship with the snow plow:
       Snow plow: clearer of roads, I do love you. But yesterday, when you dumped your pile of snow in front of my driveway... yeah, that wasn't cool.
See those piles on either side of the plow? Those are driveways. Good luck residents.

       Also, do you have to drive so slow when you're not plowing. You block the whole road. Both lanes. :/ I just want to get home before the baby gets tired of sitting in her carseat, either pull over or go faster!

-Where'd the _____ go:
       The thing with snow is it accumulates. Rain washes away; it absorbs. Snow just keeps on piling higher. For the first full winter in Sapporo, I didn't know there was a park across the street. Then one spring day (mid-May, I think) I spotted the top of a jungle gym.
There's a jungle gym and swing set under that snow pile, but you'd never even suspect it. 
       Landmarks too, are obscured. I have to relearn how to navigate the city in the winter and then again after the thaw. 
       Stephen's had to learn to be careful about where he leaves the snow shovel. We lost one to a snowdrift that piled up over night. Which brings me to my next lesson...

      I am so thankful to have a dear husband who shovels the driveway. Both times I had to do it ( both times because the snowplow buried my exit) I thought I was having a heart attack later in the day because my left arm hurt so bad. Turns out, my shoveling muscles in my left arm are much less toned, if not non-existent.

-Wear the right shoes:
       I have a pair of warm boots. They're cute and fuzzy and I love them. The problem is there have virtually no tread on the bottom. I bought a pair of galoshes with a flip out cleat that I've dubbed my "safety boots." Not as cute nor as warm, but I've stopped falling on my butt when I walk around, which is a plus.

Plan wisely when you leave the house:
       Hat: check. Scarf: check. Coat: check. Gloves: check. Are you socks warm enough, because cold toes get old fast. Did you grab every single thing you might possibly need for yourself (and your baby if you've got one of those), because walking back into the house after managing to get into the snow covered car is NOT  an option.
       Plus, if your primary mode of transport is walking (like mine), you're going to look like a lost sherpa as you run your errands because heaven forbid you forget an essential item when it starts dumping snow on your walk home from the grocery store.

My baby sherpa, modeling proper snow attire. 
And another pic of the bundled up baby for good measure. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Bringing Laughter to the Tutoring Center

Some time last year it hit me that living in Japan as a limited language foreigner is a lot like being a small child. I can't read. I can't write. I don't have a high vocabulary. I may even be worse off than a small child; even they know the cultural expectations and processes like lining up their shoes, something I ALWAYS forget to do.

I guess it's fitting that I just started attending an after school tutoring program geared towards young Japanese children to improve my Japanese.

Kumon is pretty much standard around here. I'm willing to bet there are more Kumons in Japan than there are Starbucks in California.

Like I said, it's an after-school tutoring program. Kids go there to practice reading, writing, math, and English. Often, foreigners, like me, will go to learn kokugo (the country's language) Japanese, rather than Japanese geared towards foreigners. The benefit is you can learn Japanese how Japanese do. You have the vocab; the idioms and sayings; the common children's stories; and other things that make language what it is.

My first day was last Thursday. What a humbling experience, let me tell you! There is nothing like reading a kindergarten reading passage out loud while a room full of 7 and 8 year olds watch you in amusement as you, a grown adult, stumble through.

People, so you understand, although I've never been the best student, I'm grade-level at the very least. Being semi-illiterate is a bit of a blow to my self-esteem. Having that fact highlighted by 1st and 2nd graders turns the whole thing into a comedy show. I'm choosing to be glad I can bring laughter to the otherwise quiet classroom. ;)

Then, I had to fill in some worksheets to have the teacher grade. When she took her red pen to my work and started circling EVERYTHING I nearly died.

Until I remembered circles mean correct. It's "X"s that mean wrong. Blargh, even how they grade is different!

Turns out I did well on my first worksheet, and only had one error in my handwriting (Yes, handwriting is graded, too).

I go back today with a stack of homework for them to grade. This time, I'm hoping for lots of red pen circles!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Peanuts, Crying Children, and Ogres' Underwear

When we moved here 2 years ago, every one was gearing up for the weirdest holiday I've ever heard of. Let's let that sink in, this is a weirder celebration that pranking friends all day; dressing up and begging strangers for candy; OR even waiting for a rodent to tell us if spring is on the way. Yep, it's THAT crazy, friends!


The day where children all over Japan are scared witless by big monsters called Oni and throw peanuts at them to make them go away. While the kids do this they chant, "Oni wa soto; fuku wa uchi" (monsters/evil out; happiness in).


Our first week here our host family showed us a home video of the father dressing up as oni and trying to get in the house as the daughters chucked peanuts at him. Well, the oldest threw peanuts; the younger daughter cried and hid behind her mom's legs.

Crying is pretty much a mainstay of Setsubun. Moms I've talked to about it share how the schools have people dressed as oni come so the kids can throw their peanuts. Then they take a class picture, which is mostly a group of red-faced crying children.

Maybe it's like how I think it's hilarious seeing pictures of kids freaking out on Santa's lap.
heartbreaking, yet hilarious
Although, to be fair, people don't expect the kids to freak on jolly old St Nick's lap.

At play group last week, we sang a setsubun song about oni's underwear. It was pretty funny. I told an American friend and she said it was a common song that her daughters learned at preschool, too.

I've found the words for you so you can sing it, too!

To the tune of "Funiculi, Funiculi" (The traditional Italian song)

Oni no pantsu wa ii pantsu
Tsuyoi zo, tsuyoi zo
Tora no kegawa de dekiteiru
Tsuyoi zo, tsuyoi zo
Go-nen haite mo yaburenai
Tsuyoi zo, tsuyoi zo
Ju-nen haitemo yaburenai
Tsuyoi zo, tsuyoi zo
Hakou, hakou, oni no pantsu
Hakou, hakou, oni no pantsu
Anata mo, watashi mo, anata mo, watashi mo
Minna de hakou oni no pantsu!

and the translation:

Ogres' trunks are good underwear
They are strong, they are strong
They are made of tiger skin
They are strong, they are strong
Wear them for 5 years, they won't tear
They are strong, they are strong
Wear them even for 10 years, they won't tear
They are strong, they are strong
Let's wear them, wear them, ogres' underwear
Let's wear them, wear them, ogres' underwear
You, and me, and you, and me,
Everyone let's wear them ogres' underwear!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Only in Japan: Onsen

I can't believe we've lived in Japan for almost 2 year (the time has flown) and we haven't written even once about onsens!

Onsens are the places to be in Japan. Whole vacations are planned around the best ones. No place inspires as much terror for a first-timer, yet once you've been, it is one of the greatest parts about living here.

The onsen is a public bath, divided men and women (usually, I've heard scary stories from missionaries who've been here longer than I). Think large naked spa, more than high school locker room.

I don't have any pictures of the actual onsen we go to (for obvious reasons) . It's pretty much like this, but with ya know... people)

Once you get over the whole "I'm naked and people can see me!" thing, it's a nice time of relaxation.

Here's a better picture. I think we're getting closer. 

Since Japan was formed by lots of volcanic activity, there are a lot of natural hot springs. You can take trips to towns that have sprung up around the springs (bu-da dum). There are also basic onsen in each little community.
Here we go! Nicer than the one we went to, but a good image of onsens in Japan.
( click the image link to read the wiki article, if you're interested)

Stephen and I took Jillian to our neighborhood onsen this weekend. We didn't stay long since wrangling a slippery baby kind of cuts into the relaxation element for me. I think Stephen had a nice time on his side of the wall though.

Outside the baths, we were able to snap a pic of our little bathing beauty, squeaky clean and warm in her jammies. 
Jillian loved the baths, even if her rubber duckies had to stay home. Though, I do think I have to work on keeping her from trying to swim in the tubs. I feel like it will be frowned upon when she's older. And incase you were worried (cuz it's always on the forefront of my mind when I take Jill to the public bath), there were no accidents to be had. All potential debris was left safely in her diaper before we got there. :P

Would you ever go or have you ever gone to an onsen? Any funny stories to share? Leave me a comment.

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