Saturday, August 15, 2009


i've been in this space since nico's birth but i think you'll soon agree that we have outgrown it. so, please come visit us in our new space. take care.

Friday, July 31, 2009


so, if you haven't figured it out by now, we are hording secrets here. yes, secrets with a nice curvy s on the end.
i have never been really one for secrets but since we are so far away, it is kind of fun to be able to have a secret or two for a while.
believe me, they are good. so good that they consume a lot of our focus these days. so if my posts are sporadic, it is because i am trying to keep my lips sealed for a bit longer. just a bit. because i am discovering the joy of keeping a secret before i share with everyone.

in the meantime, i should be back soon with some summery pictures. mainly of the boys on the hunt for insects. or blowing bubbles. we just returned from an evening trip to the park where jason and i played badminton and nico and sebastian ran around chasing dragonflies. the weather has been very nice these last few days with no rain and the temperatures peaking at a mere 80 degrees F. it is hard to believe tomorrow is august. but it is. and with it exciting things await. like jason's 32nd birthday. 32. he is definitely not what i thought 32 looked like when i was young. he boasts of no grey hairs or wrinkles or stiff joints yet. even from the far distance of my twenties, he looks rather spry and youthful for such an advanced age. and august will also mark the ninth year that i've been hanging out with the old man. nine years, both long and short. full to bursting.

anyway, i will eventually have to let you in on our secrets but in the meantime, you can anticipate and guess your heart out. there is some fun in that as well.

Monday, July 20, 2009


(translation of title: Let's start summer holidays!)

So some of you probably started summer a long time ago. Back in May, right? Well, this weekend is the official kick off of summer in Japan. The beaches are now officially open here on Gotou and will continue to be so for about a month. Not that you can't go when they are not officially open, just don't expect any of the nice amenities like showers, somen noodle stands, or a direct bus stop. The showers and somen we can live without but we like the summer bus routes. Otherwise, you might see us treking many kilometers. Like when we went to Takahama over Golden Week. 45 minutes on a bus then one hour of walking to the beach. But it is a gorgeous beach.

There is a beach within relative walking distance from our house but last year we were a little disappointed with it. As in we don't like to find medical waste and random trash from Australia littering the beach where we want to play. To give poor Mukada beach the benefit of the doubt, we had been having a lot of gale force winds so it was probably not the best day to go to any beach. Also, with the declining population, many of the beaches are ignored for the more popular ones so there is no one there to groom the smaller beaches.

So my mission this summer, since it will be our last on this island, is to find a good beach near us. We scouted out one beach on Saturday but the sea was a little choppy that day so it was hard to judge. We are using this Gotou Tourism website to do a little exploring from home and comparing it with our trusty bus route and schedule website. The top two contenders are currently Ohama Beach
and Hamada Beach, seen here:

Today we were supposed to go to Ohama Beach to celebrate 海の日 (usually translated as Marine Day but since in America we think of another type of Marine, I like to translate it to Sea Day) but the forecast calls for rain so I guess it will have to wait until Saturday. And Sunday. And all the weekends after that.

Monday, July 13, 2009

like walking through a warm bath

it is too hot today. not florida scorching hot but heavily humid. i feel like i am underwater when i step outside. not that inside is much better. unless it is nap time and we indulge our sweaty nicolai in a cool room to doze in.

sorry to be so silent here. everything is good, just busy.
we aren't on the internet that much these days. will be again as school starts up and i go back to my proofreading gig. i should be on more with the writing workshop but i am kinda burned out with it. i think it is just not my thing. but i will stick it out and see it to the end. almost ready to see the start of classes again though with my leave of absence i now have a lot to make up. but it is doable. i am also in the throes of studying for the japanese test that will be in december.

sebastian is an inspiration there as he diligently does his japanese characters (hiragana and now kanji!) every morning and is beginning to read japanese books solo. we help him with english and numbers in the evenings. it is very step by step, maybe only fifteen minutes with each subject, but the daily sessions have made a definite improvement. he'll be reading japanese and english by the fall, i'll wager.

oy vey, as one grandmother we know would put it.
nico is insane. he's a little powerhouse of determination and willfulness and maybe that sounds redundant but if you knew him, you would know that he deserves the overemphasis. he's too smart. like in the, hey, i am smart enough to know all my abcs and be able to count to 30 so i guess i can go outside by myself and see where sebastian and mama went to. in a diaper. and a gross sweaty tee shirt. and rain boots. (we have double locks and he undid both of them, with the help of a chair) jason found him with a helpful local girl on the other side of the bridge. gasp. the river. the road. the cars (read: the taxis). heart attack city. then later that day we go for a family stroll and all the shopkeepers along the main street come out and tell how they saw him walk by their shops. walk by. alone. main street. intersections. driveways. did i mention the taxis? my hair is absolutely white now. mr. independence. he was following me and sebastian to school though that is not where we were (it being a saturday). jason was frantically searching the neighborhood, looking down steep concrete steps. it was when he ran to the river to face one of the dreaded places to search that he saw nico sitting with the girl. and was he upset? no. he explained that he was looking for me and sebastian and that we were going to go get ice cream.
you may wonder, how did jason not know he was gone all that time? nico had been happily building airplanes with his legos and jason stepped away from him for two minutes. one, two. and hearing the kids outside playing, jason assumed that nico went to join them (which he often puts on his boots to try and do). but in the meantime, nico was trotting along in the opposite direction. he knows how to walk on the side of the street, how to look both ways, how to wait for the green signal. but nico. is. too. smart. for. his. own. good.
yikes. anyway, the little devil is waking and it is time to retrieve sebastian from yochien. i'm home after another dentist appointment and jason is subbing for me. so i thought i would share a little snippet of our life with you. now it is your turn. yes, you. how are you?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Little Bit of Watching=A Lot of Inspiration

Measuring Happiness: A snippet about the glorious kingdom of Bhutan's Gross National Happiness
The Dalai Lama's Shifting Direction + Monks in Exile: A bit about Tibetans in exile. So admirable.
An Inspiring American: Truly awesome man.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


I want to say how did this happen. How did I end up with this funny, intelligent guy whose head is almost at the towering heights of my shoulders (okay, towering may be an exaggeration)? But I know. I've had a few years of him shifting. Last year, there was only a shadow of the baby left in his cheeks. Now he is pure kid.
Yesterday, Sebastian stood on the school stage for the monthly birthday party and said introduced himself and stated his wishes for the following year. In Japanese. He stumbled a bit (out of stage fright) and his classmates all rushed to assist him, loudly whispering his cues.
We had to read a message to him as his parents but being the teacher as well, I sat it out. Gladly since I would have been a little emotional. Because truly, we are so, so proud of him. He inspires us to hope for lost or forgotten dreams. He teaches us to be patient and compassionate.
So as usual on his birthday, I give thanks.
Happy 6th Birthday, Sebastian Olivier.

(and don't you worry, Nico's in on the love too)

Saturday, June 06, 2009

june (a)

good morning. i am sorry the posts here have been so spotty these last few months. we've been busy with work and school and life and haven't had much opportunity for reporting what's happening. that's natural, i think.

this last week we've been sick, nico and i especially. i took a few days off and had for the first time a substitute teacher who i could beg to go in for me: jason. i armed him with lesson plans and taught him the gestures to songs then went back to bed. usually with the lap top so i could work on a season of law and order.

nico was pretty sick and we went to the doctor which was actually the first time since he was an infant so i guess we are lucky. for a grand total of about 13 bucks we saw a lovely, English speaking doctor and got plenty of medication to knock the virus out of his system. he's on the mend now and it is good since we have to go into the city again. for those new visa stickers.

so, we are staying for a bit longer despite the drawbacks. it mainly has to do with the economy. we cannot in good conscious leave a decent position during a recession/depression. it would be foolish. many strange things have been coming out in the news and we have heard the concern of some caring grandparents, but really, compared to the news in america, everything is peaches and cream here.

i'm in a writing workshop. this last week i've been out of the saddle and owe quite a bit of writing and i am not sure when i can make it up. i can say that i don't like writing on short deadlines, that it stunts my creativity. i don't need acres of time but a week doesn't give me enough opportunity to think and write.
anyway, i am sure we'll be back soon with pictures from nagasaki and probably many hydrangea pictures since i'm sweet on them. sorry to be so infrequent but we're trying to get our act together and you will be seeing more of us soon.

take care.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

may (c)

So, a lot of news coming from this part of the world so just to reassure you, I thought I would show you where we are. You see the word "FUKUOKA" on the map. Okay, so if you go a little bit under the first "U" in Fukuoka then you'll see a group of small green dots. Our island is the largest of those dots. We are really close to South Korea but luckily South Korea does a good job at blocking the temperamental North. No one here is too worried right now. They are mainly still fretting about the swine flu and if the Ironman Japan Triathlon will take place, and thus bring hundreds of worldly and possibly infected athletes to our sleepy island. Masks are sold out here as people stockpile them or send them to loved ones in cities where the masks can't stay on the shelves longer than a minute. I think it is like living next to any crazy neighbor, you get used to their antics and threats after a while. So, if you were wondering, we're okay for now.

Friday, May 22, 2009

may (b)

the light is grey and changing, stretching into a new day. for nico, as soon as it is not pitch black outside we must get up. luckily it is only me who he insists on joining him, allowing sebastian and jason to sleep until a normal waking hour. nico has a cold and between sneezes sips milk (i know, not the best thing for a cold but that is what he wanted and i don't argue with two year olds at four in the morning) and laughs at grover on sesame street.

it is friday and i am happy as it has been a long teaching week. nothing exactly terrible but just an overall dissatisfaction with the job. that is the way teaching goes; it is very cyclical and i am sure something more inspirational will occur next week to make up for the mundane of this past week. i love my students but feel trapped by the limits of the position, of how much i can accomplish as a foreign language teacher meeting with them between 20 to 60 minutes once a week. the weekend will pass in a flash but it is my time and i savor it. i enjoy racing dinosaurs and doing intensive cleaning, preparing for another five days.

last night we had the first corn of the season. corn here on the island is really popular. it grows all over the place and is a ubiquitous summer food. the boys had already eaten when i came in so when i popped down to the neighborhood store to gather some food for jason's and my dinner, i only picked up two ears. a definite mistake. as soon as they saw what i had, they were jumping up and down in excitement. so a half a piece for each of us. they laughed while they ate it, so thoroughly enjoying such a simple food as blanched corn on the cob. no salt, no butter. just plump yellow and white kernels, freshly shucked. afterwards, they begged for some of the plain yogurt i picked up for breakfast. to have for dessert. simple pleasures.

time is passing so quickly it's a wonder i bother to complain about the long work week. today, being the 22nd of May, brings nico up to two and a half. which means in six more months he'll be three. and of course in less than a month, a certain someone will turn six. six. i'm trying to wrap my head around it. some days he seems up for the job but others makes me wish we could have an extension.
other may happenings include my parents' 47th anniversary, which i missed congratulating them on. so, happy belated congratulations to both of you. (aside to Dad, "I know it isn't easy to put up with Mom but you do it so well". an aside to Mom, "I know it isn't easy to put up with Dad but you do it so well" :) ).
(there is also a sister's birthday coming up but i can only mention it here if i also pass on birthday salutations to my other sister and my brother, both of whom i forgot to wish happy, happy birthday. i think it has something to do with my brain not working so well during the winter. )

it really doesn't feel like may here. the days are mild and the nights are cool. the rainy season is fast approaching and for pedestrians, we have to hope it won't be too bad this year. the good thing is that the rainy season brings on the hydrangeas, my favorite flower. there is one shade of the blossoms that can only be described as perfect dusk.

time to make coffee and breakfast for the sleepers. hope you are all well. take care.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

may (a)

Mail Order:

Today we received the goods from a recent shopping trip to Muji. Living disconnected from most everything, we have become regular mail order customers. We figured out early on that for a small fee, it was a lot better to have the store deliver our usually cumbersome order a week later. It absolutely beats trying to haul it on the ferry and back to our abode. Today, in fact we received some much needed bedding (sheets, pillows, pillow cases!), storage units for clothes (which will hopefully solve the difficulty of cramming and uncramming clothes everyday), as well as a new oscillating fan with a nice "mote patroller" as Sebastian calls it (translation: remote control). We are doing what we can to prepare for the upcoming summer. After a harrowing winter, we know better than to face another extreme season unarmed.

I have factored a small monthly allowance into our monthly budget for ordering books from the Japanese Amazon. We have tried to resist this indulgence but we need books. Our other regular place to order from is Tengu, a natural health store that provides us with beans beyond edamame and azuki, as well as tamari for Jason and nutritional yeast for the boys (they call it cheese).

One place I try to avoid shopping at is the Foreign Buyers' Club, as the goods are too tempting (for sentimental, homesick reasons) for the prices they charge. I understand why the prices are so inflated but still, it is hard to justify it. We do our best to make do with what we have and for the most part, we are far from suffering. I was just looking through their online catalog and for fun adding anything that I liked to the cart. The grand total was a stunning amount of yen. Yikes. No, I don't really need Honey Nut Cheerios for roughly 14 bucks. Or that bag of Cape Cod Salt and Vinegar chips (up there with cheese on foods I miss) for 6 dollars.

So the point of this post. Enjoy what you have where you are. And if you are in a place where Salt and Vinegar chips aren't the same price as a movie ticket, pop a bag open and enjoy them for me. And I, in turn, will enjoy something that is here for you. Like Kyushu Shoyu chips (soy sauce) from Calbee. Believe me, it is a fair trade.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

So, we are headed again to Nagasaki this weekend to take care of some immigration related business. This means I won't be here to wish all you lovely mothers a happy, happy Mother's Day. Instead of carnations or a card done up in pastels, I have made a donation to Women for Women International with all of you mothers near and far in mind.

Lately, I have been reading the news in the morning and this means I start every day with more awareness of the dire and tragic circumstances that other women wake up to. Such as the recent attempt of Sri Lankan refugees to flee from warfare to India. I was particularly struck by the part about the mother who managed to save her eight month old son from death by breastfeeding him until her own final hours, a day before the rescue.

Or this disturbing piece on the status of women in Afghanistan.

I am not sharing these with you simply to depress you, though be careful as they aren't exactly going to add a skip to your walk. I share these with you because both of them illustrate how amazing mothers are, how incredibly strong even when all power is stripped away. When I came across Women for Women International, I knew that I had to give what I could because really, as a mother, I am incredibly lucky. My children are safe and healthy and within reach and I am so, so grateful for that.

Happy Mother's Day.
With Much Love,

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Call Me Okaasan: A Review

Over my extended spring break last month, I had the opportunity to read the soon to be released Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering, edited by Suzanne Kamata. This book is a collection of personal essays written mainly by expat mothers living around the globe as well as a few by multiculturally-minded mothers. As an expat mother, I have often searched for such a book as the predicament of raising children outside of your home culture and known resources is often isolating and frankly, difficult. As these eloquently written essays illustrate, it is definitely a challenge but within that challenge there is ground for growth as both parents and as humans.

All of the essays share a poignant perspective that captures the triumphs and defeats involved with raising children abroad and at home. The unique situations faced by the different writers such as Saffia Farr’s experience with the antiquated health care in Kyrgyzstan during her first pregnancy (“Dr. Bucket in Bishkek”, page 30) or Devorah Lifshutz’s trials in attempting to raise her children bilingually in Israel (“Promises to Myself”, page 169) allows readers insight into worlds that aren’t described in travel guides. These mothers are on the ground, struggling with controlling in-laws, uncooperative schools, prying neighbors. They witness their children growing into people unimagined at conception, accepting host languages as the dominant form of communication within the home, and allowing themselves to surrender to what it means to be truly bicultural.

Out of all of these excellent essays, the one that hit closest to home for me was Holly Thompson’s “Two Versions of Immersion” (page 113). In it, Thompson described her experience moving, much like we did, with her husband and small children to Japan without too much consideration of what it really means to live here as an expat family. I honestly was very disturbed by this essay because it made me realize the extreme amount of effort and energy involved with bringing children up through the Japanese school system. It’s not that I am lazy: it is just I don’t know how I can manage to learn enough Japanese in order to support my kids in their education. And then the education system that Thompson described fanned my own sparks of concern about the topic. It was interesting that the older child, who had gone to school in the States before moving to Japan, was the one who felt bullied and bored in school. His younger sister, on the other hand, who had started preschool in Japan did not share his problems and thrived in Japanese schools. This made me wonder if it was just a matter of not having a basis for comparison that made life easier for the daughter. In the end, it seemed that the family had found a healthy balance of culture and language, which is encouraging and inspiring.

I was particularly drawn to this essay besides for the shared host country because both of the parents were American. Most bicultural families that we encounter typically have one expat parent and one native parent, thus a rather different situation than what we are facing right now. The book is very satisfying in this regard as it includes such a wide variety of situations that there is bound to be some essay that the reader can relate to. This book may be written by multicultural mothers but the audience will be much broader than that small sliver of the population. Families considering moving abroad, as many are in these dire economic times, as well as readers just curious about a more grounded experience of life in foreign countries will benefit from this book. Beyond the journey-bound, other readers will profit from truths that have no borders, shared candidly and poetically in the pages of Call Me Okaasan.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

april (g)

i love humans.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

april (f)

Hello there.

I'm going to take a break from the blog for a bit. And hopefully from the internet. If you want to get in touch you can reach us on skype (technically the internet, i know) at iheartkansai or drop us an old fashioned postcard: 1070-1 Fukue-cho Gotou-shi, Nagasaki-ken 853-0007. We'd love to hear from you.

Hope you are all well and we'll be in touch soon. Take care.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

april (e)

Hello Weekend. How glad I am to see you.

Sebastian is doing well in his new class. He has a new teacher this year as his old teacher quit due to conflict with my infamous boss. The boss' sister is Sebastian's new teacher. She's been teaching at the school for about 35 years so she has experience. She's known for being strict but I've seen that since she's been back in the capacity of a regular teacher (she was an assistant for a few years), she's become quite affectionate and warm towards her students. Sebastian likes her so far. She came down to the office where I was one morning to express her surprise at how much Japanese Sebastian knows now. He can do more than just function now, he is actually in the mix. I am constantly surprised when I hear him speaking Japanese because he knows more than I do. He doesn't hesitate to question which particle he should use. He just uses it. And, he is starting to write in hiragana at school and loves it. So, our nomadic ways have been tamed for a bit since we at least want him to finish kindergarten here.

This weekend we are going to explore different parts of the island then return here for some sewing and preparation for next week. It is almost time to switch to the summer uniforms (next month) and we have to make sure it still fits. Sebastian is the tallest kid at school now, if you can believe it. It is really strange to see him at school assemblies, his auburn head bobbing a bit above the black heads of his friends. And then to hear him turn to his friends and speak so easily... my heart swells with pride but more with admiration. He inspires me.

Hope you are all well. Take care.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

april (d)

on the way to his first day of kindergarten:: opening ceremony:: he played the drums in in ode to joy

waiting/playing while sebastian became an official kindergartener

easter check list:

-dye eggs: check
-make deviled eggs: check
-make chocolate eggs: in progress
-make potato salad:
-make carrot cake with "grass" and "easter eggs" on top:
-make bbq sauce:
-help prepare the way for a certain bunny to visit: check

in our house, we celebrate easter in a very secular but fun way. i honestly tried to figure out how to make baked beans but all we have here are azuki beans and soy beans. i did order this pattern but it hasn't arrived yet so the easter bunny had to modify her plans. i am making their easter candy by melting good chocolate and pouring it into egg shaped molds. i have little colored foils for wrapping them up. tomorrow morning if the weather is as gorgeous as today, we will trek up to the central park and bring the colored eggs with us. i know we will look a little odd, but so what? when have we ever not looked odd?
i hope you are all enjoying the weekend. take care.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Saturday, April 04, 2009

april (b)

from the lobby of a multi-storied abandoned hotel here on the island

so, just so you know, i am still interested in your input about the last post. i have always had questions about this but things have been stirred up in my mind by reading a collection of essays about parenting abroad.

last two days of spring break. hair cuts and baker's clay. rain and sandwiches.


listening to this this american life episode about the recession.
looking at these pictures of different recession related images from around the world.
looking forward to this movie that jason introduced me to with the description that it seems a bit like us.
trying to figure out where we fit into this puzzle. as usual.
hoping you are all well.

take care.

Friday, April 03, 2009

april (a)

warning: this is a really long post.

i don't know. i just don't know.
i've been thinking too much lately. thinking about what we are doing here, on this island, in this country. i know the immediate reasons but the long term? i am uncertain.
i've been considering racism and bullying in japan. wondering if things will ever change. wondering if it is better to give up or stand up.
every generation always says the next generation will have it better. that things are better than they once were. but on this island, we live as in amber. there is no change.
the argument that rises when people question racism, discrimination, condoned school violence is that it is their country. they get to choose.
is it just my happy-go-lucky white american view of multiculturalism and globalization?
does this explain why i feel that everyone around the world needs to let go of prejudice and accept that we are all in this human mess together?
is it better in america?
i don't know. my america is the american south, a region riddled with racial tension and tremendous prejudice. a place where even in my last part-time job, i saw a girl get fired because of "cultural differences" that didn't mix well with the team. aka she was black. i defended her but i didn't quit over it. i needed the paycheck. which made me feel part of it.
which brings me back to japan. we are the token whites. our children are fair and nico looks like a kewpie doll (he gets called kewpie-chan all the time). people give them money, presents, and snacks just for being cute. nico gets it more than sebastian this time. sebastian no longer has red hair but nico's blond is still shining bright, fitting into the stereotype of ideal foreign-ess. he gets a ridiculous amount of attention for his looks. luckily he's not very aware of it, for being two he naturally expects everyone to treat him like the sun. in general, toddlers in japan do get a lot of attention but nothing compares to this.
and yet, is it acceptance? no, it is just the blond hair. so again, i feel in our own way we are supporting racism since it works in our favor right now.
do i have the right to make my children the discriminated against minority? should i gamble that sebastian and nico will be the lucky ones? that they will have good friends and supportive teachers, unlike many others? it's not the minority status i fear, but the institutionalized racism that allows bullying to flourish. the fact that so little is done to amend it makes me wonder, what am i doing here?
at times like these, i try to put on my objective lens that i crafted during my undergraduate studies. but the mama lens refuses to be removed.
raising the kids bilingually and biculturally has to be worth it, right? we have to hope so. but maybe we are wrong. are the benefits of bilingualism enough to overcome what could potentially be a traumatic childhood? i am just being neurotic i suppose but i have to get this out here and ask you, what do you think? seriously, i really need some perspective. thank you.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

march (l)

so this last week of my spring break is chilly and a bit grey but we are still having fun.

today we made pizza with some of sebastian's school chums and while they played with mountains of plastic go onger toys, the mothers broke out their dictionaries, confessed their ages, and were wowed by jason's typical weekly menus, based on washoku.
tomorrow is another day of hanami, this time with his class. it is a weird thing being involved in these school-related functions. i am actually hoping just to send jason so i can have some time with nico at home but most likely i will be roped in as well. i don't want to sound anti-social, i just think it is a different world for those moms. they made plans for making okonomiyaki after school next week, but of course, i can't go. because i have to teach. it is strange being a working mother in a land where staying at home to mother is the norm.
but unless something changes, jason will continue to be the stay at home parent and so he gets to make okonomiyaki and negotiate play dates and talk about the wonders of the daikon. i am not really jealous as it has always been this way for us. jason lives in a different part of japan. i get the insight into education and he gets the insight into vegetables and family matters. to each his own.
for those curious, we use this fantastic book for most of our meals.

Monday, March 30, 2009

march (k)

The pictures from our trip are on flickr, so pop over there. What follows is a (fairly) brief account of the journey.

DAY 1: So, as I mentioned, we had to wait for the noon ferry due to the weather. Unfortunately, though it was no longer storming, the ferry ride was really rough. If you dared to look out the window, you would see the white caps of the waves for a moment then it would shift to the cloudy sky for a moment. Up and down, up and down. I am actually getting a bit seasick thinking of it so let's move on, shall we?
It took five hours to get to Nagasaki this time instead of the typical three and a half hours. So when we arrived, we immediately found our streetcar and went to the hostel. Leaving our stuff, we went out seeking dinner then came back and went to sleep. Bedtime while traveling was essentially the same, if not better, than usual. Bathtime then pajamas and storytime. The room was so snug that it made it really easy to take care of everything, making me wish we lived in an apartment again.

DAY 2: Woke up and headed to Nagasaki station where we caught a bus bound for the Biopark. The bus ride is a little over an hour but the scenery was captivating enough to keep Sebastian happy while Nico took a nap. Nico's automatic response to public transportation seems to be "it's time to sleep" as every time he would board a subway, bus, or eventually a plane, he would take off his shoes and infamous hat and settle down for a little doze.
The Biopark is a terrific place and the weather that day was beautiful. We like the Biopark because it is not like typical Japanese zoos. And because you get to touch capybaras and monkeys. It gives the animals more space and thus gives the kids a better understanding of their lives. Most Japanese zoos are throwbacks to the 1970s with one example of an animal trapped in a tiny concrete floored cage. But we'll come back to that on Day 5. Anyway, after much exploration, touching, and handwashing, we caught the bus back to the city.
There we went to the giant CocoWalk mall where we played at the Dick Bruna and Borne stores and ate a mochi that had been pressed into a waffle. Afterwards, dinner and bedtime.

DAY 3: Another bus ride but this time we went to the Nagasaki Penguin Aquarium. We were really surprised by how nice this place was. Not only penguins, it also showcased the marine life around Nagasaki. We went to a near-by park for a nice hanami (flower viewing) picnic under the cherry blossoms. The kids played for a while there then eventually we headed back to Nagasaki proper.

DAY 4: Woke up and headed to the train station to catch a limited express train to Hakata/Fukuoka. I love riding on limited express trains. The land between Nagasaki and Hakata was coastal and dotted with thatched roofs and mountains wrapped in pink from all the cherry trees. Left our stuff in a locker once we arrived and went exploring. Fukuoka is a big (huge by our standards) city, very clean and populated. So many people everywhere. Walking, driving, riding bikes and buses, eating in restaurants and drinking in cafes. Very different from Gotou. Eventually we headed to our guesthouse, which was behind a udon restaurant as in you have to go through the restaurant to get to the guesthouse. Nice little room that met our needs for the two nights we slept there. We went out for a walk and found Canal City, a mall complete with a Pokemon Center and helpful robots.

DAY 5: Headed to the American Consulate for Sebastian's passport renewal (both parents have to be present for minors to get their passports). Heavily secured building and lots of little annoying details but eventually we escaped and fled to the huge park across the way. A gorgeous place that made me envy those who got to use it on a regular basis. Leaving there, we headed to the zoo. It took a while to get there because my navigation skills were marred by riding on the subways (yeah, that means I got us lost, quite a bit). So the zoo. The zoo. Very crowded due to spring break. Many happy families climbing the steep slopes to check out tigers and tapirs. The animals? Well, not so happy. I think every single one of them was mentally ill due to being isolated and trapped in such poor conditions. Supposedly they are working to renovate the place, which I hope is true. Afterwards, the mall again. Sebastian scored a pokemon onigiri bento (riceball lunch box) and a pokemon picnic sheet for school trips. I had more coffee from my old green aproned employers and Sebastian was entertained by a very genki Australian juggler and the fountain show, performed with the music from Mamma Mia.

DAY 6: We woke early and took all of our (by this time) heavy junk out to the airport and stashed it away in a locker. Then back to the mall for some Muji shopping and some omiyage for school. We tried for another hanami picnic but the park I had spied before was now taken over by elderly people playing croquet and on the other side, some people who were using benches as beds and newspapers as blankets. So on we went until we found a vacant bench along the river that they happened to be dredging so we could eat while the boys watched. Eventually, we headed to the airport and waited for our little plane back to our little island. Then a taxi ride home and sleep.

Friday, March 27, 2009

march (j)

and we're back.

i'll pop in tomorrow with a full day-by-day detailed story of our adventures but now we are exhausted. sebastian is zoning out playing and nico has been asleep since the plane. jason went out looking for some food, which is obviously proving difficult as he's been gone over an hour and it's only a little after 8. ah, small town life...
anyway, i hope you had a wonderful week as well. take care.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

march (i)

off we go.
we are actually delayed by the weather right now. according to the agenda, we should be on a ferry at this moment. there was a terrible storm (again) akin to what we call tropical storms last night. crazy wind, rain, and lightning. this morning it is still grey and soggy but not too terrible. we missed our ferry mainly because it is hard to convince two sleepy boys that ferries don't wait for latecomers. instead of getting frustrated, we simply said, let's wait for the next one. it is our vacation after all. we know from experience that patience and acceptance of our limits are necessary.
anyway, so farewell for now. we'll check back in here next week. hope your first week of spring is glorious and warm. take care.

Friday, March 20, 2009

march (h)

Well, Sebastian is now a kindergartener. His new class is Matsu (Pine). He was a Chrysanthemum (kiku) before. If we were in the States, he would be finishing up his year of kindergarten now yet I think this works out well. His birthday is in late June so this means here he is not too old and not too young. He's just right.
So now on to Spring vacation. And Spring.
You know it is Spring when you find yourself walking around after dark, eating ice cream sandwiches, and checking out the cherry blossom buds. Yesterday when I visited the second school which is at the foot of the mountains (where all those country-side pictures come from), I noticed little clouds of pink dotting the mountain-side. Today, we'll attempt our first hanami (flower viewing) picnic in our usual mountain spot near our house. It is expected to be crowded since there are so many cherry blossoms there and today is a holiday. But on this island, it is always interesting to see crowds.
Sunday we will board the ferry and go to Nagasaki. Three nights there and then on to Fukuoka for two more nights. The main purpose in going there is to visit the consulate which I am oddly looking forward to since I think there might be Americans there. Also, I've been reading this Fukuoka magazine and am intrigued by the city. Especially by all the different restaurants. I hope we can find Mana Burgers, at least. We suspect we are going to like Fukuoka as it seems like a really bustling but progressive city. There is also an added attraction for Sebastian and Nico, another zoo. So that will make three animal parks in six days. Of course, to be perfect, Sebastian would prefer it was six parks in six days.
It will be our first time traveling further than Nagasaki since we've been here. It involves a long train ride and perhaps a plane back to the island. A very different change of pace but isn't that what vacations are about? After we return, we'll get another week off full of possibilities. I will be looking for this book and this book. You know it must be spring when dresses are again a possibility.
Like Jason said as we took our evening stroll, "Who can be discontent during Spring in Japan?". Not us.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

march (g)

The plum blossoms
never lie about the
approaching Spring

I am giving you this photo despite the lack of plum blossoms on the branches these days. They are giving way to the mighty sakura (cherry blossoms), which should be in full force in time for Spring break next week.
Ah, Spring break. This week I have my break from my graduate classes so tonight is my first homework free night in months. Thankfully. I am exhausted from them and very much need this time. I want to be productive, to study Japanese and sew and write but I think tonight I will celebrate by going to bed at a regular time. Like before 2 a.m..
Friday starts Sebastian's spring holidays and mine as well. I don't have to go back to work until April 5th. Lucky, lucky. On the agenda: the biopark, the penguin aquarium, and probably a trip to the u.s. consulate. Jason and Sebastian have to get their passports renewed and it has to be in person with both parents. Fun. I am trying to convince Jason that we should live large and go to the consulate in Osaka instead of Fukuoka but the jury is still out. If we could go to Osaka, then I think we would have to see a whale shark but we'd probably pass on the local zoos there as they smack of the 1970s with their tiny cages lined completely in concrete.
Sebastian brought home his school supplies and all the work he has done. I feature in many of his drawings as you can see from this example (it is of my English lesson with his class):

That's me: the brown one with curly hair. I am sometimes in pictures where I don't make sense but his explanation "oh, that is because I love you so much". My sweet one.

Anyway, I must run, Nico is making a ruckus in the next room. Hope you are all well. Take care.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

march (f)

pretty, ne?
too bad this week hasn't been as nice.
we all caught the 24 hour bug (except for sebastian it was more like the 12 minute bug, lucky him) and i missed my first day of work. it was graduation week so i made it in for the past two days but jason succumbed to the bug and was down for the count while i was gone. this means the boys have had lots of snacks, ramen, and pbs kids to fill their time.
and today, much healthier but the weather? not so good. more wind, more rain, and it is cold again. urg, march. i used to like you. it doesn't help that i have been going through iphoto on my computer trying to lighten the load so i have to look at all these nice florida pictures.
on the agenda for this weekend: homework (as usual), movie watching, finishing a novel, train track construction and deconstruction, dinosaur battles, and other things that help us to get through these grey days so that we'll be ready for the sunny ones ahead.

Monday, March 09, 2009

march (e)

"when i was little..." such a common utterance from sebastian's mouth these days.
"when i was little, i always picked up my toys."
"when i was little, i saw a turkey at the zoo and i said it scared me."
"when i was little, i never ate strawberries."
funny how he is sentimental while he creates myths about himself.

(if you notice, jason, sebastian, and i are all in the picture so that must mean the photographer was...)

Sunday, March 08, 2009

march (d)

good morning. here i am with my first cup of green tea for the day and the boys behind me watching their favorite program of recently, Super Why.

i've been having some interesting flashes of perspective lately. the first occurred last week when i went for a lunch-break walk and found a temple in the neighborhood. on the grounds there was a city of the deceased, the dead tucked gently away under towers of mossy stone and shiny marble. it was so quiet there you could almost hear the magnolia trees blooming. i felt very alive at that moment, as if i could feel all of my cells pulsate with life.
the second came yesterday when i read about a young woman battling a chronic infection that causes her to be in severe pain daily. her doctors weren't able to figure out what exactly was wrong or how to fix it. the solution that she was facing was surgery, major surgery to fix a pain mysterious in origin and uncertain of cure. after i read that, i laid down to sleep with my family and felt how extremely lucky i was. all this panic over choices takes away from seeing my life as it really is. so last night, laying in bed sandwiched between two boys whose breathing overlapped like waves, i came to a decision about all this future business.

i have decided that i will finish this semester and that i will take the summer semester off. during the summer, i will participate in a writing workshop. if i am ready, then i will return to the program in the fall and try to still graduate by next spring. as much as i don't like the degree, i think eventually it will be what i do with it not how it is currently constructed.
i also take the pressure off of myself to get professionally developed. i don't need to attend every teacher's conference and write research papers. i don't have to become this perfect stereotype of a teacher, a persona that would be false for me.

that being decided for the short-time, i also figured out that teaching will always be a part of my life as i really enjoy humans, simple as that sounds. yet it should be based on what i am passionate about. teaching grammar is not my passion as the only use i have for grammar is understanding how i can apply the rules to my writing. which made me realize that i am passionate about writing so... that is what i want to teach. i am not sure my current degree program is appropriate for this ambition so that is what i will be figuring out over the summer.

it may seem that writing is not a viable alternative for someone who has a family to support and is already in a field that has a certain amount of job security. yet, writing is similar to any other job in that you must invest a lot of time and energy into it. if i am willing to take such great measures for a career that started off as my "day job" out of university, then i should be willing to undergo even more for a dream that has lived in my heart since i was a small child.

so, that is settled. i just thought i would share that with you since you have had to read about my uncertainty and discontent.

now, time to go and have another cup of tea and get ready for sunday. a paper on noun phrases plus some pants' knees to patch and some origami creatures are all on today's agenda.

hope you are all well. take care and thanks for reading as i processed my hopes and fears here.

Friday, March 06, 2009

march (c)

well, the good thing is it stopped raining but the wild winds have returned.

i was talking to one of my adult students (who has a four year-old son who loves beetles) and she told me that the eggs that they had collected at the end of last summer had become grubs. so i guess it is time to take to the mountains this weekend and dig for some fat, white beetle larva. i'm also scouting about for tadpoles to bring home for a while. i almost forgot spring was coming. time to sprout some seeds and help them grow.

i think we might brave the winds today for the joy of sunshine and blue skies. and maybe some roller slide action...

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

march (b)

i am very inspired by my dear friend rhett's recent accomplishment and have decided that i should take more active measures to create and write. part of my frustration lies within the fact that i don't have any time and that we are always having to move (or think about moving). yet, who else is going to grant me the opportunity to write besides for myself? so i have a few ideas up my sleeve that don't involve dropping out of grad school. (though there are a few up the other sleeve that include that idea. luckily it is my left sleeve so it has less sway.) actually, part of the reason i decided to pursue my matesol was because i thought that i could eventually teach creative writing in kyoto. i really like the work of 826 National and want to somehow merge that with english as a foreign language. so, i have to remember that original goal and not be swept up in how much i despise my grammar class. part of keeping my writer self alive within my teacher self has been my induction into the role of a proofreader. it is really interesting to learn how publications work and to be involved with the only monthly academic tesol journal in the world. i actually really enjoy reading it regardless of my occasional negative feeling about the field.
another idea i am thinking of is making tuesdays poetry tuesdays here. i used to participate in the now disbanded poetry thursdays and produced more poems than i have since it was cancelled. tuesday is a better day for me though since jason teaches a class on these nights and because it is the first day of the school week for my grad classes. tuesday is also daini day, which just means that i go to the second preschool every tuesday. i am afforded a longer lunch period there than i usually have (which is not saying much since i have no lunch break as i have to eat with the students) and use this time to walk around the rice fields and hear my own thoughts.
another writing opportunity that is coming up is my spring holiday. i get fifteen days off before the next school year starts so maybe i should try to set some sort of deadline for myself. not 50,000 words but perhaps complete a short story every other day. that would be a rather neck-breaking speed for anyone but particularly me as i never finish my stories so i am now at the rate of one story in two years.
jason is setting up his own flickr account and there is talk of a possible blog as well. don't expect it to be anything like this one, which is meant to be a compliment. he is more careful about what he writes and shares so it will be well-curated.
anyway, that is all for now. hope you are all well. take care.

Monday, March 02, 2009

march (a)

so here i am, up late to finish two papers on the exciting topics of the lexical approach and listening skills. i am pressing on despite a bit of anxiety and discouragement that you witnessed in my last post. i am continuing on because despite language education being one of my many secondary interests, i must see it through. patience and will power are key now.
i do think we need to change something around here though. until i figure out how to do that, we will just go on enjoying family life and the natural beauty that surrounds us.
thanks for listening to my usual malcontent. take care.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

february (m)

it is a case of "it's not you, it's me".
it's not the island, it's me.
it's not my grad program or the degree, it's me.
i am the root. i am the irritation and the discomfort.
so, i am trying to figure out what to do? i have been reading over my journals and looking at my photos and posts on this blog and i see all these red flags, bright red and apparent.
i just am not sure if it is giving up or shifting directions.
i don't like my graduate program. i like teaching but i am not passionate about teaching english as a second/foreign language. i definitely don't want to teach at the university level anymore. so, that being said i also have to think about the fact that i am funding what isn't covered by scholarships with loans. if i quit now, then i owe money that went towards nothing. if i continue, i will triple my debt and be in a career that i don't want. it's sticky, isn't it?
usually i side with the continue and get the degree and pay off the debt. but now i am starting to wonder if it isn't worth the amount of debt accumulated for the knowledge that this isn't my path. i haven't decided yet.
i do know that i feel like i am missing out on my kids' youth because i have to spend these two years locking myself away and working on papers when i am not at work. i feel like if i could invest so much into what i don't want to do, then i should be able to do more with what i do want to do. yet such a move would be bold and courageous and i am typically timid when it comes to myself.
i wonder what my decision would be if there wasn't a recession to factor in.
these things i will continue to ponder but i will say that the idea of giving it up to be true to myself is exhilarating. it makes me feel as light as the sunshine.

february (l)

today sebastian was in a short production of the japanese folk tale "rabbit in the moon". he was a mouse. he didn't get to sacrifice himself and go live on the moon like the nobler rabbits. but he had a good time. we think. he gets a bit stage stunned when he see us in the audience (i was there by default because i work there but still...). he kept this funny face on the entire time, as you can see in the flickr pictures i just uploaded. there is video to go along with it and probably for the benefit of the grandparents, we will manage to throw that up here as well sometime this weekend. in the meantime, ooh and ahh over the photos. i was very proud of sebastian for trying to follow along as well as he did. i bought him a little assortment of presents to sneak into his bag when he left school today and included some shinkansen bandaids. when i came home from work this evening, i got a big hug and a happy "thank you for the bandaids, mama!". easy to please, that kid.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

february (k)

there is this liz phair line that runs through my head when living on this rock of paradise gets to me: "Yes, I was stuck on an island, wondering where my mind went".
so, yeah, this place gets to me. i think it is partly because it is a small town and because of my working conditions. it also has something to do with being a self-declared city person and living 3.5 hours via ferry away from a city. sometimes my students ask if i am doing okay living on such a small island. i reply cheerfully that i grew up on a small island (well, right off of a small island) and they take that to be a positive remark. of course, my hometown has a bridge. two actually. it takes maybe a minute to cross that bridge. ironically part of the reason we love japan is because everything is so close. well, close if you don't live on a tiny island in the sea. i used to love going to kyoto station and looking at the timetables for destinations all across japan. the possibilities that awaited.
we like gotou. we do. but i am not sure if we like it as in "let's live here for two years of our precious life" like it. it would be great for a couple of outdoorsy folk that i know... but then they would have to work where i work and i wouldn't wish that on anyone that i know...strangers on the other hand, beware. i kid. it's not terrible, it's just not great. sometimes that is what you have to live through.
if you haven't guessed though, i am in the process of searching for a better teaching job in my dream city. i applied to what appears to be a job designed for me and i am waiting to hear back from them. i was holding my breath but my lung capacity isn't what it used to be... what has come from this idea of a possibility is that i was reminded that we can eventually leave this outpost and be where we want to be. i think it is called hope. yes, hope has been blossoming like the plum trees around here. if it wasn't for that pesky recession we could probably be carried away in our hope but the world economy tempers our gypsy spirit and so we know that we should be grateful for what is here and now. (we are, though, ready to pack up and leave within two days. it helps we have no furniture.)
and what is here now? work, the end of sebastian's tenure as a preschooler, lots of papers on things like listening skills and modality and futurity. i am also volunteering as a proofreader for the academic journal of the teaching association that i am now a member of so that is an interesting new past-time. unfortunately for you, i rarely use my editing skills here.
anyway, back to the books. don't worry (mom and dad), i am discontent but equally content. i think it is part of being an adult.
hope you are all well. take care.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

february (j)

stillness and motion...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Saturday, February 21, 2009

february (h)

I am listening to this show this morning. (I particularly like the bit about the whipped cream.)
In my adult intermediate class, our typical conversation either consists of comparing the funny things about our husbands or talking about American politics. We followed the election together and now we are reading President Obama's inaugural address (very slowly, it is full of new vocabulary words for my students and new contexts). It is such a rich piece of work, of history. There are places where I unwillingly get misty-eyed such as:
Less measurable, but no less profound, is a sapping of confidence across our land; a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights
So many of my generation, so many of my good friends are having to face this possibility, of compromising their future from something shining and hopeful to something basic like survival. Is that life though? We must not lower our "sights", especially not now.
To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

Such compassion, an element that has been missing in the halls of the White House these last eight years. This gives me hope, this willingness to move past misdeeds and into a realm of positivity for the greater good.

february (g)

how quickly the weeks pass now. school and work and family and etc. spinning together in a tornado of activity, sweeping away time. we do our best to be here for the boys on the weekends, to walk away from the computer, my homework, our house. to sit and read and draw notes to each other. sebastian's request for today: go on a picnic, go to the park, eat food, take a bath, and go to bed. i think we can fulfill his wishes today.
here are two portraits of the boys in what i think of as their natural state. nico, the brother who is a tad quieter and always inquisitive. look what is in his hand though, the secreted rock, as always.

sebastian, the energetic, the ham or daikon as it is in kansai-ben (dialect from the osaka/kyoto area). he is really into movie making now and begs me for a video camera. i have to get a flip camera for class but he wants a big chunky one that goes on his shoulder. he's really into setting up shots and acting out his scenes. this morning he reminded me to charge the battery on the camera so that he could record our picnic and park adventures later.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

february (f)

i want to respond to cyndi's thoughtful comments regarding education while expanding on what i am just beginning to discuss here but will continue to be a reoccurring topic: education. first, cyndi, don't worry, i wasn't offended. i welcome such discourse and am glad that you shared. i am sorry that you and j had such a difficult time with the school in nara. i know the school you are referring to but i don't think that they qualify as a montessori school. they, like many schools here in japan, use terms like montessori and international to attract students (or more aptly put, their parents). in a certified montessori school, the curriculum would be based upon creating peace. that is actually one of the foundations of the montessori method. if we can help children find their true selves by helping them on the path towards becoming functional adults, then a balance and peacefulness will be achieved that the child can carry with them throughout their existence. if each child was at peace with themselves, loved and respected themselves enough so that they could love others selflessly, then consider what society would be like.
maria montessori was deeply concerned with peace as a foundation of education. she said "Averting war is the work of politicians; establishing peace is the work of education." this directive was influenced in part by her experiences living in italy under the reign of mussolini, during which she was forced to flee to spain since mussolini considered her philosophy a threat to fascism. on the other hand, montessori and gandhi had an established communication and admiration for each other.

perhaps it seems overly idealistic for me to believe that a certified montessori school would be true to the founding principles. yet, again, montessori's genius is apparent. she established a system that required strict training of the classroom assistants and directress so that the principles could be adhered in the manner of a lineage. when a montessori teacher is certified especially from the association montessori internationale, montessori's original organization, then there is a sense of trust that the teacher respects and applies the true montessori method with each child. so i sincerely believe that if i could send my sons to a true montessori school, peace would play a more prominent role. i simply cannot believe that children are "just being kids" when they express such violence. a child enters this world innocent and it is the violence of adults that corrupts that state. the argument for children to play-fight is that it is just the way of the world. that is a argument i would hate to see win. violence and hatred do not have to be our reality. we are in charge. we should determine our peace.

and to revisit the idea of socialization, i wanted to clarify that i did not mean it in the traditional sense. i know that homeschooled/unschooled children are perfectly socialized. they can't help it since they are humans (i am writing this as a former homeschooled child). we are social creatures. even children raised by wolves learn to be social even if they never learn how to speak so the arguments that critics have against homeschooling/unschooling regarding social aptitude is unfounded. what i was writing about is about dealing with differences in a compassionate way that includes loving-kindness. yes, there is a lot of bullying in japanese schools and american schools (i can't speak for education systems i am not familiar with). if the child is in harm's way either physically, mentally, or spiritually it is probably for the best to remove them from the situation for a better one. yet, a lot of the time in our lives we have to be with others who we don't agree with and we need to learn how to deal with others in a cooperative and respectful manner. it is a daily lesson in non-violence with sebastian when we explain that hitting is not the answer. and when he asks, like he always does, why do the other children hit?, there is another lesson waiting, a lesson in understanding and compassion. most of the hitting is done in a "friendly" manner but even so, it should not be tolerated. i have a lot of students who hit me (sometimes hard) but they are not trying to be cruel. i do my best to let them know that it is not acceptable but since it is not being reinforced by anyone else, why would they respect me?
so, that brings us to my last short post (with the heart rock ;)). we are trying to get out of here. not japan (sorry mom) but this particular situation. i really want to move to kyoto and most of that desire is based on the fact that they have an excellent international school there that is inquiry based and provides a stable bilingual education. i would personally love to work at a better school but the most important element is that the boys have a better environment. we might switch back to homeschooling if we can't find a good school but since the boys are so energetic due to their intellect and sensitivity, it is difficult for jason to guide them along that path, especially since he is going to start working on his own education soon. besides, they love being with other kids. and children learn best from each other, provided the situation is one that generates peacefulness. if that situation is in a traditional classroom or in a loving home, that is determined by each family.
anyway, i hope this illuminated some of the ideas that i began in haste in my last few posts. hope you are all well and please, comment away. take care.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

february (e)

so, a bit of reflection and contemplation have allowed us to consider the possibility of change. and today, i took a step towards that change. i can't say what it is now but i am going to ask for you to cross your fingers once more for us. this step could be an amazing leap if it actualizes and i would love to stretch my legs for the jump.
thanks and take care.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

february (d)

so, i am not going to retract the things i wrote yesterday concerning brats. but i wanted to clarify it. i don't believe children are ever at the core brats but their behavior can be brattish. the inability to listen, to rise to a challenge, to calm their frustrations. i simply haven't worked with enough young children but i am also a little shocked to be in a room with a child that turns his/her frustration into violent action. who throws chairs, or tears class materials, or hits another child with a book. sebastian or nico have never been prone to temper tantrums. meltdowns, yes. crying, overstimulating meltdowns but it is always very self-involved. of course, now that sebastian is at school he is influenced by others and brings that home to share the good and not so good behavior with nico like a virus. this makes me question my decision to enroll him in school but i feel like for now the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. the idea of socialization is not just for sebastian to learn how to be a "regular" person: no, it includes learning how to deal with others who don't live in the same way because that ultimately is what life in society is about. our main gripe is cultural right now. japanese parents typically don't discipline or correct destructive behavior in preschoolers. jason has a really hard time of it on the playground afterschool when other kids are roughhousing and he is the only parent to take sebastian to the side and explain that we don't hit or treat others like that. then of course sebastian has a hard time because he is the only child to be scolded and he already is different from everyone else. our solution is two-step. starting next month, sebastian will stay at school a few hours longer. if this doesn't change his meltdowns, then we are going to either withdraw him from school or move to a place where he can have an education that includes peace, ideally a montessori school.
as a teacher, though, i have to be prepared to deal with children who are not, to use the montessori term, normalized. i have found a lot of wisdom lately from the book The Tao of Montessori by Catherine McTamaney. this one passage in particular under the tao: "When people see things as beautiful,/Ugliness is created./When people see things as good,/Evil is created".
It is only through empathy that we can understand the child's life. It is only through compassion that we can serve her. We must look at the child who is standing is front of us (or lying on the ground screaming in front of us!) and see the child who is yet to come. We revere the child for her potential. We respect her for her promise. While bearing witness to the normalized child serves us well, encourages us to continue to do this work, and gives foundation to our accomplishment as teachers, sometimes the most important work we do is for the child we never see change.

following this is a quote from the great Maria Montessori herself:
If we have neither sufficient experience nor love to enable us to distinguish the fine and delicate expressions of the child's life, if we do not know how to respect them, then we perceive them only when they are manifested violently.

so this creates a dilemma for me as a teacher at this school. my students don't come to me normalized nor is that the aim of anyone involved in the students' lives. the problem, obviously, is that i am a montessorian at heart and so in dealing with children, this is my approach. is it possible to practice montessori philosophy and use the methods in an unsupported context? the answer is not definite. i can do so to a certain limit and my interaction with the children can definitely carry the influence. it is hard for me though to know about this amazing way of helping children on their way to adulthood and witness so much that discourages this direction.
i am at a junction. i can either commit fully to teaching English using all the fantastic knowledge i am getting through my studies or i can switch and follow my passion.
okay, anyway, that is all for now. time to pick up the legos and work on some sandpaper letters. take care.

Friday, February 13, 2009

february (c)

Can I make Sebastian my patron saint?
I know I am a bit biased but really. My Sebastian, not Saint Sebastian. We don't need any arrows in the mix.
My sons look like angels to me tonight. Oh, the glory of comparative perspective.
I am trying to come to the point. How can I say this? Today, I saw a lot of, what is that word I am looking for? Oh yes, brats. Please capitalize the b. Yes, I know. This contradicts my staunch stance on labeling kids but the way these kids act, a-l-l t-h-e t-i-m-e, makes me believe that it can't be blamed on Friday the 13th. Most of the kids are great and in that light of comparison make my kids look scruffy and begotten. But it only takes one. Or, as I had today, five.
I will probably get in trouble for the last one, though I did nothing but try and teach him. Since it is a private school, coddling is the typical approach to keep the kids happy and the parents paying. I teach the most academic classes for all levels that come in. I actually have the nerve of trying to do what I thought was my job. I am attempting to teach them English. Most kids enjoy it but there are a few who cannot stand a challenge or even the appearance of a challenge.
But the week is over. I have papers to write and two boys to live up to. I don't know what next week will be like but for the next two days, it doesn't matter.
Hope you are having lucky 13ths. Happy weekend.
Take care. xoxo

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

february (b)

tuesdays seem to be my day to visit here now. jason has started teaching a class on these nights and nico always goes to sleep around seven, allowing me the chance to duck in here and say hello.
if you were going to ask about my classes (either the ones i teach or the ones about teaching), don't. i'm feeling rather overwhelmed and frustrated with both right now. one of my graduate classes is all about grammar. see, i told you not to ask.
jason is getting restless here on the island, anxious to be someplace else. i'm trying not to let his anxiety infect me. i like the quiet here and the natural beauty that is almost everywhere. it is enough for now.
i am wishing for a bit of positive change, though i can't define in what form i hope it will happen. i just feel a yearning for something.
well, i suppose this post now matches the picture: blurred and out of focus.
i hope you are all well. take care.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

february (a)

hello and welcome to another month. we are rising out of winter slowly but surely here. our tiny ume tree is blooming and its larger kin are following suit. spring is coming. i've been taking pictures after work to document the lightening of the evening sky. it is no longer pitch black at 6 o'clock. in a few months i will have forgotten about the cold and the darkness and will be suffering through summer, dreaming of january.

i do wish i had brought my camera today for setsubun. oh goodness, to capture the terrific terror that was experiences by my littles today when the demons/ogres(oni) climbed in through the window. and the fantastically terrible costumes worn by the oni-san: matted long black hair, masks with yellow hooked teeth and black horns, rice skirts encircling their legs and waists. setsubun is usually translated as "bean-throwing day". it is the day when people can actually face (or as my 3 year-old students preferred, run from) their demons. before the oni-san entered, the teachers gave a little show about how bad behavior invites oni-san in and how when we are good, they retreat. they also retreat when they are pelleted with dry soy beans by the thousands while hearing "oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi": out with the demons, in with happiness. it went on for a while with lots of screaming and crying as the demons chased the children about, bent on capturing them and carrying them towards an exit while the other children hysterically threw more beans.

speaking of children and their demons....

we went to nagasaki over the weekend. i had a language teachers meeting and the lantern festival was happening so it seemed like a good time to get away from the island. except that we were reminded as we always are about the effects of living in a small, quiet place with sensitive children. it makes their reactions to the hustle and bustle of a city extreme. many, many meltdowns. many, many, many occasions of sebastian running off in the middle of a crowded and large store. so, so relieved to be back. the lesson from it is: don't take the entire family to the city when we only have a weekend because with the ferry ride it is more like only having a day and a few hours and a lot of those hours are spent sleeping at the hostel. also, don't expect a five year-old to be interested in ordering shelves from muji when there is a little flashing and pinging corner of coin-hungry games across the way.
lesson learned.
i didn't get any pictures of the teachers' meeting but if you head over to flickr there are some of the lantern festival.
hope you are well. take care.
p.s. i hate thinking of titles so i will start labeling my posts by month and alphabetical order.