Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

I suppose it was bound to hit me eventually.  Christmastime brought on the first case of homesickness I've had since arriving in Japan.  Christmas is certainly not non-existant here, but it just isn't the same.  Of course I miss my family and friends back home, and I've even been missing the cold and snow a bit.  Bear declares that Christmas just isn't Christmas without snow.  I pointed out to him that we didn't always have white Christmases in Illinois, but he doesn't believe me.  Mike had a perfect plan to rid me of missing the snow.  If snow wouldn't come to us in Kobe, we would just have to go to the snow.  And so we headed for Nagano.



Mr. Mike and Beaver

Mrs. Mike

A very sad thing happened.  The memory card on our camera went corrupt.  Mike managed to salvage some of the pictures and videos, but we lost a lot.
Somehow the many pictures of the kids being silly survived just fine.

Beaver calls his ski boots "robot boots."

We had a good time.  I admit was a bit skeptical about how a ski trip with a three-year-old would turn out, but it went much better than I expected.  There wasn't much snow, so we were limited to just one run at one resort, but it was still fun.  Bear liked skiing through the powder off to the side of the groomed run best.  I would go with him and it was pretty fun.  Mike mostly skied with Beaver because I'm not so confident in my skiing abilities.  Although when Mike was helping Bear, and Beaver announced that he needed to use the bathroom, I skied with him to the lodge as fast as I could.  In times of desperation my abilities can, in fact, exceed my expectations.  Mike went by himself for a half day on Friday, so he got some real skiing in.

We skied Tuesday and Wednesday.  By Wednesday afternoon the kids were pretty much done.  We had reserved a room through Friday, but on Thursday I was ready to pack up and go home.  There just wasn't much to do in Hakuba besides ski.  After some deliberation (and, admittedly, some frustration), we decided not to leave, but to drive to Nagano City to see the snow monkeys.  It's about a two hour drive from Hakuba to Nagano, and it was beautiful.  Once we got to the mountain where the monkey park is located, we had to hike for about 1.5 kilometers to get to the monkey onsen.  Nothing like a walk in the woods to restore one's spirits.  I was really glad we decided to go.

A little background on the monkeys:  Most monkeys live in tropical climates.  The Japanese macaque is the most northerly-living monkey in the world.  There are natural hot springs in the mountains around Nagano, and the monkeys that live around the hot springs will go in the water when it is cold out.  A pool was built just for the monkeys and in 1964 Jigokudani Yaen-koen (wild monkey park) opened.  Visiting these monkeys was quite a unique experience.

We spotted a Japanese serow (goat-antelope) on the trail as we hiked.  Very cool!

Walking with our monkey friend.

There are no barriers or anything.  The monkeys just go about their monkey lives while we humans gawk at them.  They aren't aggressive, although there are signs warning not to take food because the monkeys will steal it from you.  At one point, Bear crouched down face-to-face with a monkey.  That monkey did open its mouth at him, and I yanked him back up again as quick as I could.  That was the only instance I saw of the monkeys taking any notice of the humans.  I'm particularly disappointed at losing so many monkey pictures.  We will go skiing again (if fact, Mike is campaigning for another trip this week!), but I doubt we'll ever visit the snow monkeys again.  And just think of the great Christmas card potential of a picture of my kids with snow monkeys!

We got home Friday evening.  We had a lovely Christmas Eve dinner with friends last night, and had a nice Christmas morning and Sacrament meeting at church.  Not many pictures since our camera is on the fritz and the phones don't take great photos.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Stream of Consciousness Week in Review

Over the past week I visited two beautiful Japanese sites that are particularly noteworthy in autumn.  Last Saturday was Mino Falls.  It was pouring rain, but our Relief Society had been planning this excursion for weeks, so we went anyway.  We all got soaked, but it really was a lovely little hike and we had a good time.  We also got to try momiji tempura - battered and fried maple leaves.  They tasted like - fried batter.

Wednesday was a holiday, so Bear didn't have school and Mr. Mike took the day off work.  We went with some friends to an arboretum up Rokko Mountain.  It was very crowded, but as we kept hiking up some trails farther out in the park the crowds thinned considerably.  I thoroughly enjoyed the hike, and it is certainly a place I would like to go back to.

Another awesome Japanese climbing structure. 

I couldn't resist giving this one a try.

Bear on the zipline

The kids and Mr. Mike - Bear is resisting having his picture taken.  Resisting in vain!

Handsome kid

Japanese maple in all its autumn glory - and our friends' little boy.

I started to make jam this week, but realized that I didn't have enough sugar.  Beaver was at preschool, I didn't feel like getting in my car, and I figured the exercise would do me good, so I walked down the hill to a little grocery store near the train station to buy some.  I located some bags of what looked like sugar, bought two, and headed home.  I was pretty sure it was sugar, but there must have been a tiny bit of doubt in the back of my mind, because when I got home I tasted it before dumping it in with my strawberries.  Salt!  Can you imagine if I had made my jam with 4 cups of salt?

Yesterday morning Beaver and I were out riding our bikes near our house.  Beaver was quite interested in a patch of pretty flowers.  He wanted to pick one, but was a little daunted by the many insects buzzing around the flowers.  He told me, "Those bugs are eating connector.  'Cause that's what butterflies eat.  They eat connector."

Yesterday evening we enjoyed an excellent Thanksgiving feast with friends.  I missed the Thanksgiving dinner at the clubhouse the week before because Luke came down with a one-evening illness, so I was glad to have another chance.  It was a great time with great friends.  I was having a weird relationship with Thanksgiving this year.  In my mind, Thanksgiving is a harvest celebration, and since I didn't have a garden, I had no harvest.  So, I didn't feel like I had any business having a Thanksgiving.  I'm glad our friends didn't feel the same way.

Lately if Beaver wakes up during the night, he doesn't get up - he just yells from his bed, "Mommy!  Mommy!"  Mike is often not home when the kids go to bed, but I always tell Beaver that when Daddy gets home, he will come and check on him.  So, a few nights ago he awoke at 2:30 in the morning, called for me, asked if Daddy was home, and requested that Daddy come check on him.  His other bedtime ritual is to have me tell him the "story about his day", and sing bedtime songs.  If Mike is home and puts him to bed, he always asks for me to come check on him to sing and tell him about his day.  A couple of nights ago I was surprised when Mike put him to bed and he just went to sleep without asking for me.  3:30 in the morning:  "Mommy!  Mommy!"  I stumbled sleepily to his bedside.  "I want you to sing songs and tell me the story about my day."  Um, a little too late, Sweetie.

Leaf pile!

This shrub in our backyard in blooming - for the second time this year!  Have I mentioned that I love the extended autumn here?  It totally makes up for the hot, miserable month of July.

Tonight we got out our Christmas decorations.  Without the presence of a big Christmas tree, I feel like we have pitifully few Christmas decorations.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Photos of Recent Goings-On

Today at Beaver's preschool the kids made pizza for their Thanksgiving cooking day.  Other moms were there with their cameras, snapping pictures, but I was just hanging out, enjoying myself.  Poor Beaver had to ask me, "Please you can take a picture of me making my pizza?"  Good thing I had my phone with me.

Honestly, we moms were a bit skeptical about how well it was going to work to have a dozen or so preschoolers mixing dough and making pizzas, but the school had it nicely organized and it turned out very cute and fun.  They even had little pizza boxes for the kids to take their pizzas home.  It was interesting to see what kinds of toppings the parents sent.  One little girl had anchovies, capers, and fresh basil leaves, among other things.  Another had sliced, hard boiled egg.  Most of them had corn.  Japanese like corn on pizza.  Beaver will eat nothing on pizza except sausage, pepperoni, and cheese.  Someone offered him corn, and he seemed ready to break down into tears at the horror of the thought.

Cute kids with their pizzas.
Check out Beaver and his little blonde friend next to him.  They were holding hands throughout the photo shoot.

Last Saturday was the annual Food Fair at Bear's school.  It is the only fundraiser they do, and it is a big deal.  It was fun, with lots of food booths selling all sorts of delicious food.  They also had carnival games going on in the school, hosted by the various classes.  Bear's class was doing Bingo, and they all had to take a turn helping to run the game.

Bear had a cub scout activity a couple of weeks ago.  Beaver needs to work on his Japanese peace sign for photos.

I had something else going on, so I didn't go, but Mr. Mike took Beaver to a fish market...

...and a castle.

I took a Japanese cooking class last week, so now I can recognize a few more grocery store items.  Hooray!

And....I think that about sums up our latest happenings.  November is flying right by.  It is still beautiful autumn weather here, so it is hard to realize that we are coming up on December.  Although tonight it was chilly enough that we made a fire in our fireplace and roasted marshmallows.  Time to start thinking about Christmas!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Guam Travelogue

When I mentioned that we were planning a trip to Guam for fall break, I was a little taken aback when multiple people seemed surprised and asked, "What is in Guam?"  It's a tropical island!  What more does it need to recommend it?  As I did some research on tripadvisor, I found mixed reviews, but it's a popular destination from Japan and everyone we talked to here that has been there had good things to say.  We embarked on our trip on Wednesday, and for my first tropical vacation, it did not disappoint! 

Just off the ferry from Kobe to Kansai Airport

We have become accustomed to Bear waking up in the wee hours of the morning because he is excited about something.  This time it was Beaver, too.  At 4:30 Wednesday morning, I awoke to Beaver calling me from his room.  "Mommy!  Mommy!"  When I went in to check on him, he announced, sleepily, that he was not tired.  As I tried to settle him back into bed, Bear popped his head in the door.  "I'm awake, too." he said.  "I've been awake since 3:48.  I'm trying to go back to sleep, but my head keeps filling up with things about Guam!"  I tried going back to my bed, but I was planning to get up at 5:30 anyway, and by then both kids were in our bed, whispering, so I didn't have too much trouble rousing myself.  Once we were settled on the airplane, Beaver's early morning caught up with him, and he slept for an hour or so.

Wednesday night we went to the Chamarro Village Night Market to see the sights and have some local street food.  A few guys were there displaying their local pets.

 They had these coconuts sitting out at one booth, and you could buy one for $3.  The vendor would then take a big old knife, whack off the top of the coconut, and hand it to you with a couple of straws.  It tasted like slightly coconut flavored water, but I am crazy about coconut, so I enjoyed it.

Bear and I sampling coconut juice.

So, a quick recap:  We had a great time.  We stayed at a resort with a water park, tennis, badminton, putter golf, snorkeling and scuba lessons, a swim-through aquarium, sea kayaks, wind sailing, and more, in addition to being only a few steps from the beach.  Bear took a snorkeling lesson in the swim-through aquarium, and then went out to the ocean and explored all around the coral reef with his snorkel.  Mr. Mike went on a dive tour in the ocean and loved it, and even I took the scuba lesson at the resort.  I think I would have liked it more if I had been able to equalize my ears better, but I couldn't seem to, and they hurt.  Snorkeling was awesome, though.  I had never done it before.  I experience a moment of panic in both snorkeling and scuba diving when I first submerge and gasp for breath to reassure myself that I really can still breathe.  It was pretty amazing to swim over the coral reef.  The best part was being out there with Bear the first time he snorkeled in the ocean and hearing him yelling his excitement through his snorkel.  I couldn't understand what he was saying, but his delight was certainly contagious.  Beaver was afraid to go down the water slides in the park, but Mike finally just took him anyway - screaming all the way - and he ended up loving it.  I asked him tonight what his favorite part was, and he said the big slide and the little slide at the water park.  Bear's favorite part was snorkeling in the ocean, Mr. Mike's was his dive tour, and mine was Ritidian Beach.

Mike's dive site

The view from our hotel room

Kid's pool at the water park

Ready for his snorkeling session

Off through the swim-through aquarium

Tumon Bay

Our islander friend

That is a flower in my hair.  It looks like a butterfly landed on my head.

Sea kayaks!  I love paddling.
By Friday, we had pretty much done all there was to do at the resort.  We kept waffling about whether we wanted to rent a car to see more of the island.  Saturday morning we finally decided to go for it.  We wanted to visit a beach on the northern shore of the island that I had read about on  After getting rather lost for awhile and driving through some very run-down areas of Guam (honestly, I was rather afraid!), we found our way there.  Ritidian Beach is part of a wildlife sanctuary, so it is completely undeveloped and absolutely gorgeous. 

Mike is always making friends wherever we go, and Guam was no exception.  He got talking to a couple of fishermen out with a group of kids, and we spent a good hour or so watching them fish.  The kids were more than happy to show off their various catches.  We got to watch them reel in the biggest one.  My boys thought it was awesome.

We ended our trip with a (shockingly expensive!) shopping spree at Kmart, where we stocked up on Cheerios, Pantene mousse, and Adam's peanut butter, among other things.  We also bought the boys some Guam t-shirts.  Beaver's barely fits and will probably shrink when I wash it, so he will possibly never wear it again.  Of course I should have tried it on him, but I didn't.  Someday, perhaps I will realize that he is always bigger than I think he is.