Friday, August 30, 2013

Growing up!

I haven't mentioned yet that Beaver lost his first tooth while we were at Grandma & Grandpa N's house!

We had noticed that it was a little loose, and I was surprised, and even a little concerned, because Bear didn't lose a tooth until he was seven!  Beaver tripped one day and knocked it even more loose, and then he spent the day just wiggling and working on it, until, as we were driving in the car in the evening, he announced calmly, "Now my tooth came out Mommy."  Sure enough.

He got 50 cents from the tooth fairy, but the tooth fairy sort of forgot the tooth and left it on the base of the lamp in our bedroom.  Sorry Mom and Dad.  It's a little gross that Beaver's tooth is probably still sitting there.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

For your amusement:

A video of me coming down the stairs the day after I came down from Mt. Fuji

It's Wednesday today, and I am finally feeling almost back to normal!

Sunday, August 25, 2013


Before we left Japan for home leave, my friend Quinn and I made plans to hike Mt. Fuji when we returned after the summer.  I intended to spend the summer getting, or at least staying, in shape to be ready for the hike, but of course the reality of summer was that my exercise program was thrown completely off track.  Then, while at Aspen Grove, I tried to do the adult ropes course, but, to make a longish story short, I couldn't do it, and that further shook my confidence in my physical abilities.  That was the first instance I can think of when I actually didn't have the strength to do something that I wanted to do.  In addition, when Mike hiked Fuji a couple of years ago, he got pretty bad altitude sickness.  Even though I was keeping fairly active through the summer and even did a couple of hikes in Utah, these things combined to leave me feeling pretty nervous about climbing the mountain.  I was kind of hoping that when Quinn got home to Japan, she would have changed her mind, but instead she called me a couple of days before all fired up and ready to go.  So, Friday morning I left the house at 5:50 am to catch a train for Mt. Fuji.

Quinn's husband pretty much arranged the entire trip for us, which was very nice of him.  There are four trails that ascend Mt. Fuji, and we planned to hike the one nearest to Kobe.  This still required a two hour Shinkansen ride and a two hour bus ride, but the trip there went off without a hitch and we reached the Fujinomiya trailhead about 12:30.  We each bought a hiking stick that we could have stamped when we got to the top of the mountain and were on our way by 1:00.  There are several stations that you pass through to get up the mountain.  The trail starts at the 5th station, and when you reach the 10th station, you are at the top.  It's a little deceiving, though, because on our trail there was an old 7th station and a new 7th station, plus a 9.5 station.  We needed to reach the 9th station by 8:00 because we had a reservation to sleep in the hut there before completing our hike in the morning.  The popular way to hike Mt. Fuji is to arrive at the top early enough to watch the sunrise from the top of the mountain.

The Fujinomiya trail is the shortest route up Mt. Fuji at 5 km, but that means it is also the steepest.  The trail is mostly rock and gravel and not a whole lot of switchbacks.  It pretty much just goes straight up the mountain!  When we read 5 km, we thought, "Easy!  We can do 5K!"  5K straight up a mountain to 3000 meters when you've just come from sea level is a bit of a different story, though.  Still, we were getting along and making pretty good time.  The weather was lovely for hiking.  It was cloudy and misty, but the temperatures were so much cooler than the sweltering summer heat in Kobe, so we were happy as can be.  Around the 8th station, I think, it started raining, so we put the rain covers on our backpacks and put our rain jackets on, but I was still only wearing my t-shirt underneath and we were pretty comfortable.  The rain started falling a little harder, and just as we reached a sign that said "9th station - 200 meters", it really started coming down.  Not even just rain - it was sleet or hail or something and it was just pelting us.  I had some rain pants in my backpack, but I would have gotten drenched had I stopped to get them out, so we just put our heads down and went into survival mode.  By the time we reached the ninth station, our gloves and pants were soaked, but I was happy that my rain jacket proved itself totally waterproof!  It was so nice to arrive at the hut and know that we had reached our destination for the night and could relax and dry off.  We went inside, paid our 5000 yen, and were shown to our quarters.

We were sort of under the impression that we would have a private space to sleep on tatami mats.  We were quite wrong.  We were taken into a big hall with bunks on either side.  The bunks were each probably about 15 feet across with futons and quilts laying side by side across them and eight pillows lining the back wall.  We were shown to a bunk and assigned pillows 4 and 5.  You might be imagining a regular size standard pillow.  No.  The pillows were about 1 foot long and maybe 8 inches high.  Tiny pillows.  We had about a shoulder's width of sleeping space apiece.  We kind of looked at each other and were like, wow.  We started taking off our wet things and hanging them up on the various hooks around the bunk.  There was no space on the floor, so everything had to be hung.  The hall was rather chaotic, with people everywhere and the floor in between the bunks covered with slippers and backpacks.  "Do you think they separate the bunks by gender?" we wondered.  A few minutes later a man climbed up the ladder into our bunk.  He was with two young women, and on the other side of us were two women, so maybe they sort of separate by gender.  I went down the hall to the bathroom, opened the door, and was facing urinals with men standing in front of them doing their thing.  I quickly backed away.  Had I opened the wrong door?  There was no other door, though.  I saw another woman coming, so I stepped back to see what she would do.  She opened the bathroom door and walked in.  Okay.  I took a breath and followed, walking past the men at the urinals and around the corner to where the stalls were.  This was certainly turning out to be an unusual experience.

I was glad to be in dry clothes now, but I had gotten pretty chilled and was still shivering when I got back to our bunk.  I had been feeling slightly sick to my stomach most of the day - I think the result of drinking some too-sugary syrup with the canned mangoes I had for lunch - and now the altitude was perhaps affecting me a bit because I was feeling a little light-headed as well.  I hadn't been eating or drinking much because of the upset stomach, but I felt that after the hike I needed to eat something for dinner.  We went to the dining area and I forced myself to eat the curry bread I had brought along and a piece of cheese.  We returned to our bunk and I put on my thermals and my ski pants to sleep in.  I had a moment of feeling like there was no way I could sleep in this situation - on the hard floor with a too-thin futon and surrounded by strangers - but then I told myself to relax.  This is Japan, and when in know, do as the Japanese do.  Lights out was at 8:00, and being Japan, everyone was in bed and quieting down by 7:45.  The girl next to me (I mean, right next to me!) was already asleep and snoring.  Quinn and I settled into our tiny sleeping space and spent a few minutes talking and chuckling.  Just like a strange slumber party.  I didn't sleep well, but I did sleep, so it wasn't as bad as I thought it might be.

Lights out was 8:00 pm, and lights on was 2:00 am!  Quinn and I had already decided that the trail was too steep and rocky to climb in the dark, so we gave up on being at the top for the sunrise and slept in until about 4:00.  I expected to wake up with sore muscles from hiking and stiff from sleeping on the ground, but I actually felt fine.  I wasn't a bit sore, and the upset stomach and light-headedness were gone.  We got back on the trail about 5:15.  I kept hoping all the way up that we would get a break as far as the incline of the trail, but the last 2 stretches were probably the steepest of all.  We did a fair amount of scrambling up and over rocks and took lots of breaks to breathe.  At 6:30 we reached to top!  Hooray!

The top of Mt. Fuji is not wilderness, by any means.  There is a post office, a shrine (where we got our hiking sticks stamped), and a hut selling cup noodles, hot drinks, and souvenirs.  We stayed long enough to take some pictures, call our husbands (yeah, you can get cell phone service up there, too!), and have a snack.  Then we headed back down the mountain.

As we climbed toward the top, there were several sections of trail that I thought, "Oh boy, this is going to be fun to go down."  Like, the whole trail from the 9th station.  I was beyond right.  It was brutal.  Quinn and I both agreed that the hike down was 10 times worse than the hike up.  My legs felt like jelly by the time we reached the bottom.  But we had done it!  And, as Quinn described it, we did it with our dignity still intact.  There was no bent over heaving or crying or moments of "I can't do this!"  If my dignity was still intact yesterday, though, today it is lying around me in shreds.  I have never been so sore in my life.  I can hardly walk.  Bear tried to sit on my lap this morning and I shrieked in pain.  And stairs!  Stairs are almost impossible.  I have to cling to the stair rail and lower myself gingerly down one step at a time.  This evening I managed to go up the stairs without touching the rail, but I gasped with pain all the way.  My family is quite amused by it.  Mike took a video so you can witness my anguish.  It seems that in addition to the treadmill, I need to add walking downhill to my exercise regime.

I've heard a saying in Japan that if you don't hike Mt. Fuji once, you are a fool.  And if you hike Mt. Fuji more than once, you are a fool.  It was sometimes awful, but mostly awesome.  It was beautiful in a sort of other-worldly way.  Quinn and I talked about if the views from the top were worth the hike, and it was pretty, but I have certainly seen more spectacular views in my life.  I'm really glad that I did it, though.  It is a truly Japanese experience - hiking with hundreds of people, staying in the mountain hut, and seeing the country from it's highest and most revered peak.  Generally you can't see the mountain in the summer because of the haze, but as we rode the bus back through the valley toward the train station, the clouds parted and we could see Mt. Fuji rising majestically behind us.  I felt a thrill of awe and excitement to see it there, and I drove away exhausted and anxious to get home, but with a smile on my face.                

At the trailhead

Hikers disappearing into the mist

The other-wordly landscape of Mt. Fuji

Made it to the top!

The view from above

And the view from below.  The picture totally does not do justice to how steep the trail was.

Quinn and I

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Wedding!

I'll get to Aspen Grove, but right now I'm jumping ahead to Jay and Leslie's wedding.  There was so much loveliness going on that day!

My lovely Mama and Auntie

My lovely brother and nephew

 My lovely sistahs (and auntie again)

My lovely son was happy Aunt Samantha happened to have a Nat Geo magazine for him to read while he waited for Jay and Leslie to come out of the temple.

Miss T's lovely fishy face.

When are they coming out?

The lovely couple!

While we were waiting outside, Beaver came up to me with a shy and slightly embarrassed little smile on his face and whispered in my ear (regarding Jay and Leslie), "Will they give kisses?"

Evidently the answer was yes.

My whole lovely family! (minus a few)

Leslie suddenly acquired several lovely nieces and nephews.

My lovely, uh, I mean manly, brothers

My lovely sis and my lovely self.

One final picture which I must add because it was such a significant moment.  Beaver ate strawberry shortcake at the wedding luncheon!  And liked it!  It may seem strange that I was so amazed by this, but if you know Beaver, it truly is amazing.  He loves strawberries - plain strawberries - but he almost never eats food that isn't familiar to him.  Even food that he likes, if it is served in a different way or mixed with other ingredients, he won't touch it.  I mean, he won't even try cookies other than chocolate chip.  I was sure that strawberries in a sauce, served on cake and with whipped cream on top, would be instantly rejected.  But he ate it up without pause and with no urging from anyone!  I could hardly believe it!  Bear, on the other hand, wouldn't try it.  It was, in fact, delicious strawberry shortcake, and I  wanted to eat Bear's but I thought I shouldn't be so greedy.

A lovely, lovely day!


Hiking, paddling, splashing, and exploring with cousins.

This is Bear after taking an accidental plunge in the river.

These two carried their handfuls of dead guppies around for hours - until they found a frog to replace them.

We interrupt this home leave post...

To tell you that the kiddos started school yesterday!

Beaver's kindergarten does this nice phase-in period, so he only goes to school for two hours Monday and Tuesday, three hours Wednesday and Thursday, and doesn't have school on Friday.  It's a good phase-in for parents, too.  I couldn't be sad about sending him off to school on Monday, because two hours is nothing.  That's only half the time he spent at preschool.  And by next Monday, when the full day begins, I can't be sad because he'll already have been going to school for a whole week and it's silly to cry about the second week of kindergarten.  Yesterday I rode the bus to school with him, but today I just sent him off without me.  That was a little heart-wrenching, but Bear was on the bus, so not really.  He was hesitant to leave me yesterday, but I knew he would be fine once he got through the gate, and he was.

Have a great year, little one!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Those Halcyon Days of Summer

Mom perfectly described our summer with those words.  We spent a magical six weeks with family back in the mother country.  Mr. Mike was already in the U.S. on business and met us when we landed in Boise.  Kelsey and co. had arrived the evening before, so we all had a happy reunion on the farm.

Bear and Grandpa

Honestly, we were a little worried about how we would manage staying in pretty close quarters for weeks at a time, but the kids got along fabulously.  Here they are playing prairie dogs in the dirt pile.

Red-neck boat ride

Mother May I?

Playing Risk with G&G

Exploring the sugar beet field...

...and showing off their muddy feet!

It took Sammy two weeks to even let me look him in the eye, but he was snuggling right up to Mike after a couple of days!  So jealous!

No shortage of opportunities to get dirty on the farm.

Beaver looked like an ad for UNICEF after playing in the powder-fine dirt outside the old corral.

More fun on the farm.

Feeding the fire-breathing dragon.

B&B&E joined the party after a couple of weeks.  The more the merrier!

Reading with Aunt Brooke

Visiting these little kitties was a definite highlight of the trip.

Have you ever seen anything cuter than Sammy snuggling a kitten?

Family reunion in Albion!

Ancestor treasure hunt.

Uncle Ben doing his ancestor impersonation.

Bear joined in the volleyball game.  He was pretty good!  I didn't even know he could play volleyball!