Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas 2013

Maximo prepared a snack and wrote a letter to Santa this year...

Maximo's note and snack for Santa
He even colored his stocking, so Santa would know which one is his and which one is Lola's.
He also wrote his whole name because there "may be other Maximo's in the world".

I enjoyed baking this month - but now I'm done for a few months!

Opening up her stocking!
 Maximo asked Santa for fruit for his stocking.  This is due to the fact that he doesn't see commercials and has been watching some of our old Christmas specials where good kids get fruit in their stockings.  At least Santa was fancy and brought him a dragonfruit and a persimmon.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Last Week of School 2013

As teachers, this is always a busy week at school.  Luckily at this school, it is not the end of the semester, so we don't have the added chaos of posting final grades and writing comments.

We had birthday parties for Luke at the bowling alley, which was a blast and then a party for Lola for her friends yesterday.

We wanted to show our appreciation to many people at our school who help us through the year.

We had school celebrations - Maximo's Dance Party, Middle School Talent Show, the Hour of Code.

I had to finish my coursework for my Certificate of Educational Technology and Information Literacy course 4 (one more class to go!).  I finished a whole 24 hours before the deadline, but had to put in about 5 hours of work, last night.

Needless to say, it's been busy, and now we can relax with the kids for three weeks.  We'll be spending most of that time, home, in Kobe, but we'll go to Nagano for a ski holiday between Christmas and New Year.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Holiday Activities - Snowflake Making

Our snowflakes with an animated snow effect courtesy of Google+

Our snowflake making activity, may have been the most successful one yet!  I think the kids could have sat at the table and cut snowflakes for hours.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Happy 3rd Birthday, Lola!

Lola's birthday gift from her senseis with cards to practice her hiragana.

Dear Lola,
You seem so big and so little at the same time right now.  You are opinionated and often test boundaries in our house.  You love anything you can nurture - dinosaurs, baby dolls, the Christmas ornaments, whatever.  You love TV, even enjoy watching Ninjago and Star Wars, just to get in good with Maximo.

Lola with her new doll & stroller

You absolutely adore Maximo.  Whatever he is doing, you want to do also.  Whatever he has, you want the exact same thing.  When you see him at the end of the day, you rush to him and tell him "I missed you so much"  and give him a kiss and a hug.
Mo & Lo

You are finally starting to eat better.  You are finishing full meals, rather than just surviving on cucumbers, eggs, rice and chips.  I think you are becoming a better eater because you are watching your big brother, and you want dessert after dinner.  When I asked what you wanted for lunch for your birthday, you said "Obento", so that's what you got:
Birthday Obento
 We can't believe you're three.  In the past few weeks, you've pretty much potty trained yourself.  Most days you are extremely easy going and funny.  But, you are strong willed and can totally lose it if we pick the wrong clothes or hairdo for you.  You are easy in a crowd.  You are branching out from your 5 BFFs - Yuto, Kohei, Toma, Sam and Dima and even play with some girls now ^_^.   It's great to watch you interact with your friends and slip in and out between Japanese and English.

First Day Pic & Big 3 year Old

Happy Birthday, Big Girl!  It's going to be a great year - you'll start school next fall and we have some great trips and new experiences on the horizon.


Mom & Dad

Making a wish!

Sunday, December 01, 2013

'Tis the Season

The weather is now cold.

We've eaten some delicious turkey for Thanksgiving.

...And now it is time to start the holiday cheer at Casa de Los Lemleys.

I've started a new photo album for Winter 2013-2014:  (Here is the completed Fall 2013 folder).

Today, we've also started the Christmas Countdown with Christmas stuffed animals and Snowman pancakes.  Maximo has the extra special treat of the Lego Star Wars Christmas Advent Calendar to open every morning too!

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Halloween 2013: Cross Cultural Holidays

A German candy (like gummy bears) made in Japan
 with the common R for an L mistake
Tonight we went to a faculty kids' Halloween party in "the backyard" at school.  It was supposed to be two weeks ago, but we have had a crazy fall of typhoons and rain, so it the first date was cancelled due to rain.  Since we had Fall Break last week, it was rescheduled until tonight. Maximo and Lola didn't know any difference.  I think they'd dress up every day of the year with or without the promise of candy anyways.

The kids had a great time.  Before we went to the party, I did a role play with Lola to make sure she remembered what she had to do to trick or treat.  She seemed to remember the "trick or treat" party and I loved her Japanese response of "arigato" at the end. (So of course, I had her repeat it for the camera).  She got a little confused during the actual trick-or-treating tonight because most everyone was sitting with their doors open, so she didn't have a chance to knock.

Halloween is a holiday that is definitely recognized in Japan.  In general, Japanese people like to dress up and there is always Halloween-like displays at the stores, including candy and costumes. But, it is not common for Japanese kids to trick-or-treat like John and I did growing up. However, there is a huge festival on our island for Halloween where kids dress up, but it's mostly eating great street food and doing other festival games (which our family got to enjoy this year). There is a kids' costume parade at the Rokko Island Halloween Festival, but the line/wait is always horrendous, so we've never participated.  The kids are happy to just dress up and munch on food on sticks for two days (the adults are too!).

Saddling up for the Halloween Party

Going to Trick-or-Treating
(John went as "Old Spice")

Maximo's Halloween Bag.   I labeled it in English and he did it in Japanese.
We love it that Maximo and Lola have some of the same traditions we had as kids, especially with interesting Japanese or Peruvian (or where ever is next) spin on holidays and traditions.

Friday, October 18, 2013

30 Things You Should Know and/or Will Love about Japan Series: # 30

#30 - A quick summary of some of our favorite things we didn't write about (sorry about the all the food - we love to eat and food in Japan is good!):

Yakisoba - literally "fried noodles", it's sometimes served with a bit of pork and pickled ginger.
Image Credit:
I'm just realizing I never posted about "plastic food"
It's an easy go-to meal, especially if we can't read the menu and the kids enjoy it too.
Something we haven't tried (and don't have a lot of interest in trying), but can be found in most convenience stores is the yakisoba sandwich - a massive carbo load. "Yakisobapan"
Image Credit:

Gyoza - fried dumpling (potsticker), usually with minced pork filling.  Eat these fast around Maximo.  He loves them and will try to eat more than you!
Creative Commons Image by Roger T Wong via Wikimedia

Takoyaki - a ball shaped pancake (like a fritter, but not fried) with octopus on the inside. Another thing I like "nashi" (without) mayonnaise.  It's usually covered in a sauce and bonito flakes.
Image Credit:

Painters Outfits
Image Credit: by Kelly McCormick
The shoes being equally as awesome (we've never tried them though).  I'd love to know the history behind this uniform.

Image Credit:

Wasabi Almonds - I can't believe I don't have a picture of them.  We get them from a local sake brewery.  They are so, so good!

Momoji (cakes) - Momoji are maple leaves.  In Miyajima, they specialize in these little cakes, which have different flavored centers.  I like custard and chocolate, but bean paste is also yummy!
Image Credit:

Kobe Beef - It's so good.  We're going to take you to our favorite place!
Image Credit:
Robotoyaki - translates to "fireside cooking".  Picture yourself sitting up against a display of food.  Behind that is the cook who will prepare what you order (or point to), then serve it to you on a paddle (yes, like a flattened boat paddle) as he reaches over to hand it back to you.
Image Credit:

There are also many places which we haven't even begin to talk about, but we didn't really want to spoil it for our family. We want them to experience these places first hand, in real life, not through photos on our blog.  Barely off the plane, I'll whisk them off to Hiroshima and Miyajima (as long as the typhoon stays away).

We'll also go to other amazing places, which are all day trips from our house:

Kyoto - including the Golden Pavilion and Nishiki Markets (KNIVES!)

Arashiyama - we'll see the monkeys, bamboo forest and walk around town

Miyajima - oysters, deer, the beautiful torii gates, many temples, a great little island!

Nara - Todaji temple, more deer, gardens, parks.  Japan's first capital city.

I've enjoyed writing these posts, even during a hectic time of the school year, with multiple trips.

Hopefully, in the future, I will add in a few more "Living in Japan" posts to our normal posts which are smattered with pictures of our kids and our travels in Japan and throughout Asia.

Come to Japan... it's an amazing place.
No we're going to try to squeeze in all 30+ of these posts + more into 14 days.  Let's see how we do!

30 Things You Should Know and/or Will Love about Japan Series: # 29

#29 Japanese School Children
Image Credit:
This may seem like an odd topic for a post, but everyday after we drop Lola off and head to work we there is a sea of Japanese kids heading off to school.  They are all donning their uniforms and their randoseru. (I really wish I have taken a photo of this... when I do, I'll replace these pictures.)

Image Credit:

A randoseru is a hard formed leather backpack.  Japanese children get it when they enter school... and they go for a whopping ¥30,000 (about $300 USD).  The traditional colors are red and black, but I've seen pink and blues too.  They usually only use it through primary school.

Image Credit:

Also many children, especially hoikuen, daycare age, or lower elementary often wear matching hats, especially on field trips or outings from school.  
They are quite cute...  Don't you think?

Unfortunately, our school doesn't have a uniform policy.  We are one of the very few, probably in all of Japan.  Many other international schools even wear uniforms.

You will see a lot of Japanese school children when you are out and about in Japan.  They start riding trains alone when they are about six and they travel in packs to their neighborhood schools.
Depending on where you are, often times, Japanese school children will try to practice their English with you, yelling out "Hello!" when they see you.

We are sometimes baffled by the long hours that Japanese school children spend at school or in lessons.   Most of our students are involved with sports and/or activities every night.  We have frequently seen kids in uniforms when we are out on the train at 8-9pm at night.  Most schools have sports activities on Saturdays, and sometimes Sundays.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

30 Things You Should Know and/or Will Love about Japan Series: # 28

#28 Mochi

What is Mochi?
Image Credit:

Mochi is a rice cake made from pounding glutinous rice.  
Maybe this is still not clear if you've never seen it or tasted it.

I love it, but I don't think everyone likes it.  It's super gummy/chewy/elastic.

I've always heard of tales of people choking on it (like here and here), so little kids and the elderly (really everyone) should eat with care.  It can be served many ways, but of course, it is usually served beautifully.

My favorite way to eat mochi is sweet, around a strawberry covered in a layer of bean paste.

Image Credit:
Hopefully we can find these while you are here.  Strawberries are a winter fruit here, so we'll see.

It can be served savory too, like in okonomiyaki or in other dishes.

While it can be made manually like my students following the traditional way to pound mochi here:
Some students pounding rice to make mochi

It's just as easy to buy mochi powder at the store.  I have never attempted to make mochi on my own, because there are so many great places to buy mochi treats, but I think it's fairly easy.

Wagashi is the term for Japanese sweets, usually served during a Japanese tea ceremony.  It usually contains mochi and they are beautiful pieces of art.  There is so much information on wagashi and mochi, so investigate some more if you are interested.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

30 Things You Should Know and/or Will Love about Japan Series: # 27

#27: Okonomiyaki
Image Credit:
As the weather starts to change this time of year, I start to crave more okonomiyaki.

Okonomiyaki is a savory thick pancake that can contain a variety of ingredients.  The most common is cabbage, egg, flour and some pork belly.  You can get a lot of variations of this, including the addition of noodles, shrimp, squid, mochi or even cheese.

One of my favorite places to get it from is the guy who has a stand out in front of Pantry (one of the grocery stores on island).  There are many okonomiyaki restaurants around Japan, some where you make your own and others where it is brought to you.

Okonomiyaki is mainly associated with the Kansai region (the area in which we live) and Hiroshima (where we will also travel).  In Kansai it is more of a mixed pancake while one in Hiroshima is more layered.

I always order it "nashi mayonnaise" (without mayo).  I love to watch the bonto flakes dance on top as it "melts' into the hot okonomiyaki.  I like the okonomiyaki sauce on it - it's hard to explain, but maybe a mix of Worcestire sauce/ Teriyaki sauce.  (That may be a stretch).

Image Credit:
Itadakimasu!  いただきます!
(Japanese version of Bon Appetit!)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

30 Things You Should Know and/or Will Love about Japan Series: # 26

#26 Puppy Love

In Japan, people love their dogs.  For the most part, people live in small apartments, so most of the time these are very small dogs.  Most apartment complexes have rules on the size of the dog living in apartments, so you don't see large dogs frequently.

Dogs here are often dressed up.
Image Credit:

It's not uncommon to see a dog in a stroller.

It's not even that uncommon to see a dog in a "baby" sling.

There are many specialty shops for animal accessories, so one's dog can be as cute (kawaii!) as the owner.

This little pup is for sale in a tiny little dog boutique right near our house for about $3,000 USD
Japanese dog owners are very respectful when taking their dogs out.  They are often seen with a little bag which includes bags for poop and often a water bottle to rinse off any areas that the dogs may have peed.  It is very uncommon to see dog poop in parks, which is nice when you have little kids running through them.

Monday, October 14, 2013

30 Things You Should Know and/or Will Love about Japan Series: # 25

#25 - Sports Day

Sports Day is my favorite school day out of the whole year.  Sports Day is a national holiday in Japan.  This holiday began to commemorate the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 and it was created to promote health and well being.

Schools have large events on these days which would compare to a Field Day in the U.S. (but better).  All families come to Sports Day.  Sports Day looks a little different at our school compared to Japanese schools.  Most of the Japanese schools on our island have already had their Sports Days the last two weekends.  In combination to a well orchestrated event and competitions, there is also an bento (lunch) "competition" amongst the moms.  A lot of time and effort goes into creating these beautiful and balanced lunches.

Our school has events that the whole school participates in (my favorites) and then the different sections of the schools go off and has competitions by grade level/age levels.  It isn't too competitive at our school, but the kids do separate off into two teams - Red and Gray, representing our school colors.

This year, our Sports Day is going to be a bit different, because it's our school's Centennial Celebration, so there are a lot of alumni and guests on campus.  We will only have the full school group activities and then a whole community BBQ.

Go Team Read 2012
Here are some of our previous Sports Day blogposts:
Sports Day 2009
Sports Day 2010 (no record of this - but I was VERY pregnant with Lola, so we'll blame her)
Sports Day 2011
Sports Day 2012

We're excited this year, because Lola will be joining us.  Her daycare is closed due the the national holiday and now that she's a bit older, she can come and hang out with us, and maybe even participate a bit!

Sports Day at the Rokko Island High School last week

Sports Day 2013 Pictures HERE

Sunday, October 13, 2013

30 Things You Should Know and/or Will Love about Japan Series: # 22

#22 Money - Japanese Yen

Image Credit:
In Japan, the currency is the yen noted as ¥ or 円.  At the time this is being published, the rate of the Yen to the U.S. dollar is about 100¥ to $1.  One of the easiest things to do (and something we did for the first few years we were here when taking money out of the ATM machines), is to just cover up the last two digits to figure out how much you are spending.  Seriously, those zeros sometimes get confusing.

The 1,000 Yen note is about $10 USD.
Image Credit:
The 10,000 Yen note is about $100 USD.  And referred to as "an ichiman"
Image Credit:
(There is also a 2000¥ note, but the aren't commonly found when you are out and about shopping for things).

Image Credit:
500¥ - about $5 USD (it's about the size of a silver dollar)
100¥ is about $1 USD
50¥ is about 50 cents
10¥ is about 10 cents
5 ¥ is about 5 cents
1 ¥ is just like our penny (and feels fake and almost weighs nothing).

In Japan, the money is always clean and barely looks used.

Foreign debit/credit cards in Japan usually work at the stores, but not always at the ATM machines, which are plentiful.  However, the Post Offices have ATMs that accept foreign cards (and have "English" and sometimes "Korean"/"Portuguese" buttons for easy use).

One of the other issues with getting cash, as at least where we live, is that there are no ATM machines open late at night or early in the morning - so you just have to plan well when you need cash.

When you are here, you'll have no issues, as we have both foreign and Japanese bank accounts to get money.

And always, because Japan is so safe, you can easily walk around with money or ask for help when you are trying to figure out how much something is, because they are definitely not trying to rip you off!