Thursday, March 31, 2011

Living In Japan - The Train

I've wanted to do a "Living in Japan" series for a while now, so I'm going to just start it now. I'll be honest, having two small kids has definitely changed how much we get out and I'm definitely not as knowledgeable about the culture and our surroundings as I was when we lived in Peru. So this is Living in Japan from my perspective (and is definitely a bit limited).

I saw this poster at the train station today and it made me laugh out loud (so of course I had to take a picture with my phone). I have no idea what it says, but the top picture is definitely how NOT to sit when on a train and on the bottom is what is expected on trains here and the animals look so happy and can even let someone else sit with them too.
I remember hearing about the "train rules" before we lived here and thought that there was no way I would be comfortable on them, especially riding with children. But, everybody understands when there's kids around and really they are nice rules when you have to be so close to your neighbors on the train.

This is an example of what we gave our 5th graders before a trip last year:

I remember hearing about proper train etiquette such as not wearing perfume and definitely not eating on the train (but I can't find any proof of this). Which I agree with both - I don't want to sit next to someone doused in perfume or someone eating something - like McDonald's on a hot day. Bags should be placed in your laps or at your feet, not next to you. I wish I could find a complete list, but didn't have any luck with a couple of "googles".

Some (even packed) trains are eerily quiet, but as teachers and parents, it's refreshing most of the time. The only time we have to be careful about being the rude foreigners, is coming home after a couple beers or glasses of wine; sometimes we're not so quiet, not hanging from the hand rings kind of wild, but not silently enjoying the ride, either.

That being said, we love the train. I REALLY love the train alone with my iPhone, but that rarely happens. It was a bit intimidating when we first moved here and still can be during rush hour in Osaka or gasp, Tokyo - they actually have guys who push people into the train if needed - I was so squished in one in Yokohama and I got separated from my friend that I wasn't sure where I needed to get off, but I survived.

And, Maximo LOVES the train. He could ride the train all day.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Brother and Sister

(Kinda) playing together -
Lola looks like she's trying to steal Max's pretzel while
Max tries to figure a way to get all the balls out of the baby toy.
It's taken almost 4 months, but Max is now noticing and interacting with Lola more - and she's getting old enough to almost interact back. He has been "sharing" toys with her and concerned when she's crying. Last night we wanted her to cry it out a bit because she was so over tired and couldn't fall asleep. She would fall asleep in my arms then fuss as soon as I put her down. We put her in the bedroom and had dinner together and Max was a bit bothered by the fact that we were letting Lola cry a bit -
"Mommy, Lola's crying."
"I know, Honey, she just needs to go asleep."
"Go get Lola."
"No, she's okay."

And yesterday I had forgotten to go to the bathroom all morning - yes, one can forget when living with an infant. I had to go and Lola was crying on the couch. She continued to cry while I was gone for a whole minute, and when I came back, Max was hugging her and asked to hold her, which she wanted nothing to do with at the time, but it was very cute watching him try to console his little sister.

Here are a couple of other cute pictures of the kids from the past few days:

This boy looks so big these days!
Always with her shocked look!
She loves her Sophie the Giraffe

Friday, March 25, 2011

My thoughts... (about living in Japan now)

I wanted to write this last week, but let's just say I wasn't in the happiest of places. I really struggled with the events unfolding at the Fukushima Power Plant, especially after seeing the atrocities and damage from the earthquake and tsunami. I think because I was at home it was even worse for me - I had nothing to really take my mind off of the nuclear plant problems and was constantly reading and watching any English news I could find.

One major thing that we "learned" (although we knew it already) was how loved we are. I spent hours on the computer writing back to friends and family and posting on Facebook that we are safe. People I went to high school with, our immediate families, even Max's nanny from Peru got on to her friend's email account at an internet "cafe" to write to us because she was so worried about us and the Welbes family, who she also worked for prior to working for us. But even that was hard. With the horrific images on the news and the information about the Fukishima Power Plant, many people could not (and probably still don't) understand why weren't on the first flight out of here. Japan seems small and is an island, but we are quite a distance away from Tokyo and further north where the epicenter was located.

In general, one of the things I've struggled with the most here is communication. In Peru, we easily learned Spanish and could communicate within the first few months rather easily. Here, that's not the case. This is our own fault mind you. Japanese is a difficult language, and our new jobs were (are) taxing and moving with a child is MUCH MUCH different than when John and I moved to Peru as a carefree couple. We easily took language lessons after work and went out a lot more which enabled us to practice. When you have kids, it's a LOT different. With the difficulty of not being able to communicate, I get a little panicked at times, even about day to day things or frustrated about making appointments or constantly asking friends for favors. But this was something totally different - life threatening even - Would I know what to do if there was a loud speaker announcement about a tsunami? I can't decipher between a routine message about trash pick up and an emergency.

All last week, when I was out and about walking with Lola, I constantly had my eyes on higher ground, places I could run to with her if there were tsunami warnings. I know it's a bit crazy, but some of these thoughts started to consume me. There were no tsunami warnings after that first day. I just want to protect my kids, period. Then it got me thinking that I had no idea what they do at Max's school if there was a tsunami or earthquake. Where could I locate them? What were their plans to keep my baby safe (and Lola safe in the future)? What scares me more than an actual emergency here is being separated or being away from each other when it occurs. If we are working, our first priority is supposed to be our students. I understand that's my job and the parents of my students expect their kids to be safe, but I can't imagine being away from my own kids during something like that.

Anyhow, as you can tell from my rambling, my brain was whirling around and around for days. It would not shut off until I would read myself to sleep at night. And it would all start up again as soon as I sat down with my morning coffee in front of the computer.

Thankfully, going away gave me perspective. I feel safe. I totally trust the Japanese government and our community to take care of us. I have to. I have to trust the fact that the grocery stores won't sell radiated foods, because I cannot read the labels to read where they are coming from. I have to trust the fact that things are being tested and we are very safe in Kobe. And I do. I think if I were living in another country I wouldn't have such faith in the system. But here, we do.

I felt really guilty when we were in the airport leaving for Guam. I felt like I was abandoning my host country. On our way to the airport, leaving our apartment complex with luggage, our neighbor asked, "Are you going back to your home country?" While there were times that I wanted to leave, I know that I was being irrational. Life in Kobe is normal. People are going about their daily lives - kids are going to school, people are going to work, and we see a lot of people out and about shopping and going out to eat.

We were in a big earthquake while living in Peru, much closer to the epicenter than we were here. I was pregnant with Maximo and I was at Open House Night for parents at our school. I was pretty shaken from that too, but Maximo came two weeks later and I had other things to worry about.

This week, when I dropped Max off at school, they had a whole plan typed out to inform parents what their emergency plans were. I got the gist of it, but need to get the specifics translated. They do take them off island if there is a tsunami - but that's good to know. And I was able to put some care packages together for people who have lost everything. It's been hard to help so far because many of the roads are still closed except for government personnel in the affected area. I put one together for a baby, toddler and a mother, because that's what made most sense to me. I'm sure there are plenty of families like ours who lost everything - many of which whose families are not intact.

I hope we can continue to help those in need in the North. And what I need to do for my mental health is to not read the news. I trust the system. If I need to do something, I will find out from friends or our work.

Photo Friday - Week 14 & 15

Yes, I know I missed last week. I didn't even get a picture on Friday (it's actually from Saturday morning... the horror...) Lola was pretty sick last week and not her normally happy self, so it would have been a screaming baby with snot from nose to mouth. I figured I'd spare you.

Week 14:
Week 15:
Lola Fun Fact: She likes to be a part of the action now. She is constantly trying to pull her self up from a lying down/sitting back position, but can't quite do it, so she sends up launching herself into a somersault.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


I know I haven't posted and I have a lot to catch up on... hopefully I'll be able to do so in the next few days. Lola was really sick the week before we left for vacation, so I was stressed about that (among other things) and ended up taking her to the doctor and the ER, so I didn't get much posting in, although I had a lot to say.

This was best family vacation to date. For one, we needed a vacation. We hadn't left Japan since last Spring Break and with everything going on, we just needed a break. We weren't sure how Lola was going to do on her first trip, especially because she'd been so sick, but she was perfect and Big Brother wasn't so bad either.
Guam is strangely comfortable for many reasons - ENGLISH! being one of them. Secondly, Guam is like a Japanese playground, since it's only about a 3 1/2-hour direct flight, so it was clean,safe and everyone gushed over our babes. And, it was warm - perfectly warm. John made the comment about how the warm air rejuvenated him - I agree! To most, the heat is oppressive, but we seemed to come alive while we were there. It wasn't super hot - high about 85, and there was a constant breeze which was nice. (We definitely need to move to a warm place again!)

The landscape was beautiful - clear blue ocean next to jungle-y hillsides. Unfortunately, due to what we think is a by-product of the military bases there - Guam is also dotted with MANY massage parlors (not the spa type), tattoo parlors and other classy establishments, like the pool hall down the street named "Ball Scratchers" or the bar "G-Spot". John was even propositioned one night going to the convenience store across the street - you'll have to ask him for the colorful dialogue. In some ways, Guam reminded me of Cuba. Guam definitely isn't as destitute as Cuba, but they both have a worn down look to them in gorgeous, tropical locations.

We ended up staying at Pacific Islands Club, which wasn't our first choice (The Outrigger was fully booked in January). It was PERFECT for us. There were so many things to do that we didn't even get to do everything in our 5 days - we missed mini-golf, the swim-through aquarium and wind surfing. BUT, we spent a lot of time at the pools and kiddie water park, and we fed the fish bread at the beach. Max loved the water slides which were quite fast and he got dunked each time, but went down with John over and over again until we had to go. We had friends staying there with older kids and their kids also had a great time. And once you are there, all the activities are free.

Guam is also known for "the largest KMart in the World". While it just seemed like every other discount superstore, it was fun shopping and being able to read labels and be able to buy brand-specific things like cold medicine, Tylenol, breast pads among other exciting things. We enjoyed eating out, although I wish I asked about some good places before we went because we went to some okay American chains like California Pizza Kitchen and Margaritas, but struck out with a few others. Things were reasonably cheap, or maybe we're just getting used to Japanese prices. The burgers by the pool were great, so we dined on them a few times.

It was a relatively easy flight and a really fun and easy trip for us, so we'll definitely consider going again. We did nothing to learn about the culture or really leave a 3 mile radius from our hotel, but it was just what we needed! Here are our pictures:

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Mixed Emotions

Well, I've been a mix of emotions the past two days.
First, GLAD, that I didn't feel the earthquake because they pump me full of adrenaline, and not in a good way.

Second, SURPRISED, that I didn't feel the earthquake, because I usually am super sensitive to them.

Third, HORRIFIED by the images on the news reels of the earthquake and the subsequent tsunami.

Next, WORRIED that our family and friends would wake up and see these images and worry about us. (Which you all did, but I think now you know we're okay!)

Then, GIDDY, when Lola laughed for the first time today.

Next, ANXIOUS about the nuclear power plant and the troubles they are having.

Then, STRANGE because life in Kobe is fairly normal. Maybe a bit more subdued and a little somber, but normal - everything is open and people are going about their business.

Later, HAPPY to be able to celebrate John's 40th birthday with dear friends, but GUILTY because I didn't whoop it up, but I'm pretty close to tone deaf and unless there is a lot of alcohol involved, you won't see me with a microphone. And the thought of getting up three times after going home really can put a damper on going out. And also happy that Rod and Debbie came over to watch the kids for us. We were able to go out and not worry for a second about the babes with two pros like them! (Thank you!)

And now I continue to undulate between anxiety and calmness, depending on who I'm talking to or what article I'm reading on the web. I know we are VERY lucky, but the idea of radiation exposure is a bit frightening. I look at our beautiful little babes and all I want to do is whisk them off to a safe island where I can snuggle with them for the rest of their lives, but I know that is a bit nutty and unrealistic.

Today was the first gorgeous Spring day we've had - beautiful blue skies in the mid 50s. We got out as a family, but it's hard to really enjoy it with all these emotions and thoughts running through my head and thinking about people who are closer to the epicenter who have lost or are looking for family. I continue to think about our friends and former students who are living in Tokyo who are WAY closer to the nuclear power plants than we are.

So, we'll continue to watch the news. I'll try not to stress too much and I hope the get the nuclear plants under control so the relief efforts, restoration and rebuilding in the northeast can get underway safely.

My silver lining today:

I thought I got a great video of her laughing...
but there's no sound, oops!

Max watering the lemon tree
(and check out our plum blossom in the back)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Photo Friday - Week 13

A Friday Fiasco

It's not Friday the 13th, but it's Lola's 13th week, so maybe that has something to do with the craziness around here today.

Today was just one of those days.

Max had a little "graduation" ceremony at his school. Just like this post (and this post + video) last year. Again, much is lost in translation. I thought that maybe Max would be "graduating" since he is moving on to Canadian Academy next year, but he nor the other two who will also be enrolling in the Building Blocks Program received certificates. Only the kids who will be starting Japanese preschool (Japanese schools start in April) and will be leaving in the next two weeks received certificates.

First, I was the only one in jeans. I should have known better. I took a shower and actually blew dry my hair and put a half way decent outfit (read = clean, with no bodily fluids, no sweatpants). Japanese women dress to the nines, all the time. So, I should have just worn nice pants. One of my favorite past times is checking out what people are wearing on the train, I love scoping the shoes! Oh, well.

Second, Max has a bit of a cold and was coughing last night so he probably didn't get a fantastic night sleep. Again, I should have known better. I'm not making excuses, but he's just delicate sometimes.

Many parents showed up and the ceremony started and everything was fine. Max was sitting next to his friends and in the middle of the senseis giving out the certificates and saying something nice about each one of the students, when WHA-BWAM! Max falls back in his chair and hits it head (yes, again). Let me just say. This was it. He cried and cried and cried... while all those other nice parents were trying to film their kids as they received their certificates.

Then, each of the groups of kids had a little song/skit that they performed for the parents. Max was super into this last year and bounced through the whole thing... Today, he recovered a bit and got on his mouse ears, but fell to pieces again. This time we were in the side room where they were getting ready, and this is where we stayed with Lola strapped to me and him sobbing in my arms. *I would have left at this point, but I left my purse with my house keys in the main room next to all the other parents and Max wouldn't let me leave his side*

We got it together again, then he fell apart again and I ushered him out of the room, again. Then I returned FOR... a little speech each parent had to give about the growth of their child this past year and our feelings about Yume Club. I was the only one in the room who couldn't' speak Japanese, luckily a colleague was there to help translate for me, but by this point I had had it, so it was short and sweet and not too heartfelt. I wasn't there to hear most of the other parents, nor could I have understood them. The couple after me were getting all teary eyed, so I know I should have said more - like how lovely we think they are and how we know that Max is so loved, even though we can't communicate too well and how Yume Club is one of the best things about us living here and how they were amazing when Maximo was struggling with transitioning, but... that didn't happen.

Max kept it together for the luncheon that all the parents and kids went to at a nearby restaurant, but I was exhausted at this point. We had a nice lunch then headed home. He continued to be high maintenance all afternoon, so much so, that somehow I didn't feel the GINORMOUS earthquake that hit northeast Japan this afternoon and sent John into two duck and covers with his students at school.

Seeing the tsunamis and earthquake footage in the north of Japan, makes me realize that things could be much worse. But, it's been a tiresome LONG day and I'm ready for bed.

He was ready to perform- but then lost it soon after.

Getting ready for lunch

The Kiddie Meal

Lola's Photo Friday Outtakes:

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Life As We Know It

Our life lately isn't really blog-worthy, but I'm loving it. It's really just full of hanging out with the kids - lots of playing at playgrounds and trips to the grocery store. One benefit of being at home is that Max and Lola are forced to spend time together and finally, three months later, Maximo is interested in Lola and being a helper and big brother. If I had only taken a "normal" maternity leave, I'd be back at work already (that thought makes me want to throw up a bit) and the kids would be well, I don't know, because Lola is too young to attend a daycare here, so we would have had to hire a nanny. Anyhow, I'm glad that's not happening in our lives right now.

Here are a few pictures from the past couple of days. Lola has been taking a great nap late morning/midday (in the stroller) which is great for getting out with Max - and nothing makes him happier right now than taking a train ride and playing on a playground somewhere - luckily we're in Japan and we can take trains everyday and there are playgrounds EVERYWHERE!

We can actually eat dinner as a family now - thanks to the Bumbo!

Max is all about making goofy faces these days. We catch him making funny faces in the mirror in the bathroom, in elevators, where ever he can see his reflection.

Playing with his digger at the playground

Riding the train

Waiting patiently for the brownies to bake - he fell asleep.

Tonight he asked to help bathe Lola before he got in the bath. He often mixes up his pronouns, so I thought he needed help getting into the bath, because he was saying "Help me, please." Then John figured out what he was saying and he said "No, Mommy, help you with Lola."
Very Cute.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Photo Friday - Week 12

Surprisingly, Brother wanted to get in on the Friday Photo! The past few days he's been really sweet with Lola and is actually interacting with her.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

A Perfect Morning in Pictures

Going on a picnic

"Just like the book!" Max says.
I'm not sure what book, but glad he made the connection.The picnic was packed by Max = apple juice box, Thomas cookies and yogurt covered raisins. It was too cold for a real picnic, but it was a perfect mid-morning snack.

Plum Blossoms

Sleeping Beauty

Max posing with the flowers, Lola resting in the stroller
and our apartment complex in the far back

Watching the forklifts

And the big trucks drive by...

And the diggers at a construction site

Max was in hog heaven and Lola slept through it all!

Luckily the iPhone takes decent pictures, because I forgot our camera.
There are signs of spring around, like the plum blossoms and our tulips coming up,
but it was FREEZING outside!

Girls' Day

Today is Girls' Day in Japan (Hinamatsura). We don't have an Hina dolls; we may have to invest in a few for our little girl, but we'll never have a huge, tiered display, because 1. we don't have the room and 2. that many dolls kind of freaks me out!

Yesterday was a little bit of a milestone - she is trying to sit up by herself and pulls herself up as much as she can, so after dealing with her daily fussiness due to lack of sleep (she sleeps beautifully at night, but at home during the day, it is horrible), I put her in the Bumbo so I could get some laundry on the line and do some things around the house (then stopped to take pictures).

She LOVED it! Later we put her in the Bumbo and she sat at the dinner table with us, which is a nice change from holding her in one arm and eating with the other.

She's getting big - FAST!