Friday, September 25, 2009

Typical Day

I am not sure what is typical anymore. For today's Type + Writer assignment (yet another of my online classes!), we are supposed to do our free write about everything we did today. Wow, I wish I was doing this on a more interesting day.

Today is Friday. I had several things on my to do list to accomplish today and wasn't sure which ones I should, and which ones I should just put off. I did the priority system method and decided by priority which things were most important.

(I really just wanted to go to Ikea and spend money.)

But, the choice was made for me. When I dropped Ailin off at daycare, I realized that I had forgotten her bag at home! So, I would have to stop by the apartment at some point between my many other errands and try to get the bag to her BEFORE lunchtime.

(Which meant I would just have to do all those darn errands instead of going to Ikea.)

So, I went to the bank, returned some dvds to the rental store, & sent some packages from the post office. Three things checked off.

Then, I drove over to Hard Off and submitted the baby bed gate. I had been hanging on to it all this time thinking I might need it again, but since I found a better solution to the family bed issue, I no longer need it.

(Besides, we've moved to the futon in the kids' room recently.)

I had to wait 30 minutes before they would reveal to me how much they would give me for the bed gate. 160 yen! Enough to buy a coffee from a vending machine and maybe a piece of gum.

(I had just bought a coffee from a vending machine.)

Well, that was kind of a wasted trip. Then, I drove back the apartment, ran in to get Ailn's bag, ran out and drove back to the daycare.

(I was just in time!)

Finally, all my errands were done! I felt really proud of myself, and I even thought of a good solution for my Ikea craving. I would ask Yusuke to go with me and the kids during the weekend. Maybe he has an Ikea craving too!

(I did ask, and he did agree to go with me, but wanted to make sure that Ailin knows her own name just in case she gets lost in the store.)

By then, it was nearly noon. When we got home, Luka, who had been a good sleeping baby this entire time, and I took Max for a walk. Luka continued to sleep in his carrier.

(Then he woke up and wouldn't go back to sleep all afternoon.)

I still had a lot to accomplish. In between entertaining Luka, doing little household chores, and eating my lunch, I managed to make some progress on my online classes.

I finished my mini-project for the simplify 101 class, so I uploaded my photos of the "after" results, and then checked out the forum to see if there was anything new. I also started brainstorming for my next tasks regarding this class, and I went through one of the boxes from my storage room.

(In case you are curious, it is great class about organizing different areas of your household. I am working on my storage room, the kids' room & our veranda. My mini-project was my computer desk & top drawer of the filing cabinet.)

My computer desk & top drawer which is now pristine & neatly organized.

Still, the main thing was to do the lay out for the Type + Writer class. I am one day behind. I spent some time on that, and it was challenging. I learned how to do circle journaling, create a brush from a quote, and type-set a quote to make it look really cool. When I finished, I uploaded it to their gallery.

(All digital materials from the Type+Writer kit supplied in class, template created by Jessica Sprague.)

And, for my 3rd online class, a photography class, I did my creative assignment for the week. We were supposed to portray some kind of emotion through color.

(I decided to portray the emotion of "stress". Can you guess the color I chose?)

I used the following settings to create this effect. Shutter 1/125, f-stop 4.5, focal length 30.5, ISO speed 400. It is just the view from apartment and those apartment buildings and trees.

Finally, it was time to go pick up Ailin. On the way downstairs, I noticed a rainbow in the distance. When I showed Ailin the rainbow later, she kept calling it a "rainboat." That was so cute!

Gross alert:
During dinner, (we had rice, fried chicken & salad), Ailin started to do a big poopy. I took her straight to the toilet and forced her to sit on it. She did her first big poopy in the toilet. I was very happy, and so was she.

After dinner, we took a bath, got dressed & read a few bedtime stories. Luka, who had not really napped since noon, was beside himself.

We went to sleep, and I woke up about 1 hour later to continue on with my night. My first priority was to do some work for my photography class. I still had not watched this week's how-to video and needed to that. I was doing email when Yusuke came home about 20 minutes later.

(To make it seem like I was a busy bee - which I am, by the way - I took the laundry out and hung it up.)

Back inside, I dutifully sat on the couch and chatted with him even though I had a million things to do. After a while, he turned on the TV, and I took that as my cue to leave the room and go back to my projects.

I worked a little bit on each class, and then I sat down on the floor to go through another box from the storage room. Making progress there...that storage room will look really spiffy in a few weeks.

Now, here I am, doing my daily free-write. It is 2:16 am. Time to go to bed.

(But, must check my email first.)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

I've been scammed.

I could have entitled this post, "I'm a dumbass" because it is entirely my fault for not being more careful.

I am kind of addicted to internet shopping. There are a few shops that I use on a pretty regular basis and have never had trouble, so sometimes I get a bit too trusting, and then I end up submitting my personal information to random stores for things I don't actually want or need. So here are my scam stories.

Travelers Advantage
Last year, when I was planning our family's trip to the USA, I reserved a rental car through I have used Expedia several times before without any problems. After reserving a car from Budget Car Rentals, I called Budget directly to also reserve a car seat for Ailin and to confirm a few other details. The customer service rep, after assisting me with my requests went on to convince me to join a discount program called Traveler's Advantage. He wouldn't shut up about it and kept saying that the trial membership was only $1.00 each month for 3 months, if I didn't like the program, I could call them and quit without having to pay their monthly membership fees, yada yada yada. He kept saying that I would receive amazing discounts on future hotel stays, car rentals and plane tickets. He also talked about cash back rewards for my current car reservation, including gas coupons.

He reminded me many times that I could cancel my membership at any point just by calling their toll free number.

At some point during our stay in the USA, I tried using their "amazing" web site to reserve a hotel room, but did not get very far. Their site was so hard to use, and it was really slow as well. The "amazing" discounts were nothing special, and I thought I would just cancel my membership ASAP. I also received a postcard in the mail saying that I had been rejected for something, but I didn't recognize the name of the was some really obscure name that I had never heard of. When I checked their web site, I found that it was somehow related to this Traveler's Advantage, so I figured, "oh, maybe they didn't accept my membership in the end. Oh well."

Of course I forgot to look into this a bit further, and what did it matter anyway...I had been rejected, right? About 6 months later, my mom, who manages my USA bank account, asked me about monthly charges for TRVLRS ADV. At first, I really had no idea what she was talking about. The charges were for $14.99 each month. Um, could it be?

Yes, it could be, and it was. I eventually got around to calling them, but it was mainly because their web site was difficult to navigate on, and I wanted to truly compare their prices with those of Expedia. While planning my November trip to the USA, I tried calling Traveler's Advantage to see if I could get more personalized service. Since I cannot make toll free calls from the USA, I had to get connected by their direct number. The person who answered listened to my situation and then put me on hold, saying she would transfer me to someone else, but she did not explain why or to which department. After several minutes, I was disconnected. When I called back, this time, fully intending to just cancel my membership outright, I got a message saying "Sorry, our system in down, please call back later."

Here is their scam:
1. They offer it to you even though you are not looking for it.
2. They don't shut up about it so your only way to end the conversation is to just say "No, thank you" and hang up immediately.
3. The trial membership is extremely cheap, but if you agree to it, it is their way of getting your credit card information and other personal information.
4. The full membership is an inflated price, let's say 15x higher than the trial membership.
5. They figure that you will forget about cancelling, or be too lazy to cancel, and they can freely charge your card forever.
6. They make it really hard to cancel it ... like, you can only cancel by calling their phone number.
7. They are not helpful on the phone and do not have a good system for taking calls, thus making it harder for you to cancel your membership.
8. Their web site is not easy to navigate.
9. There are no true discounts. I mean, you can log into Expedia for free and get better discounts, and that is just one example.
10. Cash back rewards are bullshit because most people are too lazy to fill out the needed forms and snail mail them in.

I have more scam stories. The next one is about magazine subscriptions.

Magazine Subscriptions
A couple years ago, I was ordering something on-line when another screen popped up saying that if I agreed to answer these simple shopping surveys, which they would send to me every so often, I could get 3 free magazine subscriptions. I would just have to pay 1 dollar for each sub to cover shipping & handling.

I love magazines, but I didn't really want 3 new subscriptions being sent to my house in Japan as that can get costly. And, I didn't think it would be too smart of me to ask Mom to include those heavy magazines in my care packages. But, I agreed to this anyway, and I, of course like a dumbass, input my credit card info so that I could pay the $3 shipping and handling.

The list to choose from was sparse, to say the least. I had never heard of most of the magazines. I decided to get magazines that perhaps my parents would enjoy.

I don't think they really appreciated my gesture because they, themselves, were maxed out on monthly reading, as was I. (I was already subscribing to 2 magazines and that was enough for me.)

Anyway, you know how you can get many subscriptions for $20 a year? Well, after the first free year, my subscriptions were automatically renewed, and I was charged the full price, more than $40 a year, for each of these magazines. Luckily, my mom caught this and called to cancel the subscriptions and get my money refunded.

Here is their scam:
1. They pop up on a new window when you are in the middle or just ending a transaction for another product.
2. They sound too good to be true with their promises of free things if you will fill out monthly surveys or something really easy like that.
3. They get your credit card info by charging for shipping and handling only.
4. Unlike normal magazine subscriptions where you have to manually renew every year, they put you on automatic renewal status.
5. Their choices for your prize (in this case, magazine subs) suck.

By the way, I never did answer the monthly surveys because it was for really high-class stores that I would never shop at. I couldn't answer any of the questions properly.

And, as they say, 3 times a charm. I think I finally learned my lesson. Here is my 3rd story.

Reservation Rewards
As you can probably guess, I ordered that photo album I made from Shutterfly. I had never ordered from Shutterfly before, but I knew several people who had used it without incident. Just as I was finishing my transaction to shutterfly, a screen popped up saying I could get cash back rewards for my future Shutterfly purchases. Thinking this site was part of, I entered and filled out the needed information.

It turned out that this site, called Reservation Rewards, handles all kinds of gift cards that you can buy at a discount. I had heard of these types of sites before as they are sometimes recommended in my parenting magazines, so I thought, what could it hurt to get a $25 gift card only $20? I decided to search for a specific restaurant's gift card and buy that one because I could just use it in November.

I guess you could say I was in a hurry because I didn't really read through all their information, but I do remember seeing something about becoming a member and being able to order up to 4 gift cards per month. Sounds good, but I have to be a member? That thought did run through my mind, but I saw nothing about membership fees.

I filled out my credit card information in order to get the restaurant gift card, but was rejected. Sometimes this happens because my computer's ISP address is in Japan, and for companies that do not ship outside of the USA, they can refuse to ship to me. It was strange though because I had filled out my parent's address for the ship to information. I tried again, and again.

On the 3rd try, it finally worked. But, the next day, my mom emailed to say that the credit union who handles my visa card called with concerns about my recent card activity. They put a block on it until I could confirm my purchases saying that they had been receiving many complaints about a company called "Reservation Rewards."

Here is their scam:
1. They pop up at the end of a transaction and pretend to be directly related to the company that you already trust. In my case, it was shutterfly.
2. They charge a membership fee, 1.00 for the first month. After that, it is an inflated fee - not sure how much though.
3. They pretend to reject your information so that you have to re-input the information more than once.

It turns out that I was charged 3 times for a gift card, so I might be receiving 3 gift cards in the mail. I was also charged 1.00 for the membership fee.

Acai Berry
If you fall for Acai berry scams, you really are a dumbass.
Yes, I admit it. I fell for this one too. I'm fat and wanted to lose weight. It was all over the news in August, so I went to check out their free trial. I found one and ordered. The free trial would be one bottle, and I just had to pay shipping and handling which was a cheap $1.95.

I didn't realize that I would then be a "member" and would have to pay a membership fee to belong and then pay for future bottles of Acai berry. There was no information about how much those future bottles would cost.

When I input my information, I was rejected. A screen popped up saying they do not ship to Japan. Then, I was redirected to a completely unrelated web site. I gave up after that...oh well, I thought.

A few days later, my mom received a bottle of Acai berry in the mail. She told me to be careful because there had been complaints about Acai berry scams, specifically about the product not actually doing what they promise it will do.

Three weeks later, I was charged by the same company, perhaps for their membership fee, for $65.95. The website listed on the credit card bill was What the hell is that, I thought? I noticed I had been charged by them in August for $1.95 so it could only be this Acai berry thing. $65.95 for a bottle of Acai berry!

I checked this news limu web site and all it is is a gray screen with the contact information to call customer service. WTF.

I only discovered this Acai Berry thing because after my credit union blocked my account, they recommended that I frequently go online to check my visa card statements so I can monitor if anything is amiss. I normally don't do this because I just leave it up to my mom, but when I saw the bill, I noticed the Acai Berry thing. My mom is now working on cancelling my membership to the Travelers Advantage, as well as the Acai berry thing.

Just be careful out there!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My Everyday Life

One of my friends told me she missed reading about my everyday life on my blog.

Yes, perhaps for those non-scrapbookers out there, you might feel bored by my recent entries. Thanks anyway to those who have emailed me privately to comment. I'll give a little update about what my family and I have really been up to lately.

Biggest News
We got a new car so now our family fits into this car plus we can carry a few extra people, namingly Yusuke's mom. I personally think she is the reason he was in a hurry to trade up, but that is fine by me. I love it! It's a mini-van type car called a Nissan Serena.

Of course, Yusuke is still kind of scared to drive it anywhere, even though it has a navigator system. I knew this would happen. Here is a snippet our latest conversation regarding the car and traveling:

Me: So, do you realize that next week we have 3 holidays and that means that we have a five-day weekend?!
Him: Yes, of course.
Me: Do we have any plans? Are we going anywhere?
Him: Well, I'm thinking about it.
Me: Okay, so ... where?
Him: You know, according to the news, MOST people are not going anywhere for this holiday. MOST people are just STAYING HOME.
Me: Oh good. That means, no crowds. Let's go somewhere.
Him: Oh, I mean, SOME people will stay inside their houses, but most people, if they go anywhere, will go somewhere nearby.
Me: Great, let's go somewhere a little far away.
Him: But, those people will go by car, so the roads will be crowded.
Me: Okay. So?
Him: And, the toll roads are not charging right now, so they're free.
Me: Great. Let's definitely take the toll road and go somewhere.
Him: We don't have ETC (automatic scanning system installed in cars that scans them as they go through the toll gate). And, I think only ETC is free.
Me: Really?
Him: Anyway, the toll roads will be too crowded. I don't think we should drive anywhere. We should just take the train.
Me: Forget it. Let's not go anywhere then.
Him: FINE!

Long Pregnant Pause

Me: Hey, how about we go to the Aoba No Mori park. It's nearby and Ailin can play.
Him: No, too many cars on the road.
Me: It's right down the road from here.
Him: We should just take the train.
Me: You can't take the train to the park. Fine, let's not go anywhere.
Him: FINE!
Me: This conversation doesn't make sense anyway.


Well, as you can imagine, still no plans for this five-day weekend. I am sure Yusuke is cooking something up, but he tends not to communicate that to me. Instead, I am supposed to guess what he is thinking. My guess is that involves alone time for him - ramen, a movie, possibly a massage. Oh well.

In Other News
Ailin talks quite a bit now, and she tends to use a lot of phrases that I say frequently. I better be more careful about that because I do tend to say nasty things while driving or parking the car. Here is a list of common phrases that Ailin says:

Let's go!
What are you making?
What are you doing?
Where's Max?
What's he doing?
Get up!
Wake up!
Hello there!
I don't know.
It's okay.
Dumbass (referring to Max)
Hello Luka!
Big Poopy
Is it funny?
It's funny.

She speaks quite a bit of Japanese as well. In fact, her Japanese is a little stronger since she goes to daycare every day. My personal favorite thing she said recently was this:

Saki mita kara, mitai ne.

The story is that we went on an overnight trip to Yokohama a few weeks ago, and while there, we visited an aquarium museum in Kanazawa. One of the first displays is a huge floor-to-ceiling tank filled with sardines, sting ray and some sharks. Everyone seemed to be waiting for the show to begin. At 3pm, the music started and the school of sardines actually swam in sync to the music. They have silvery colored bodies, so their colors reflected as they swam in sync to this classical music. Everyone was oohing and aahing over this.

I'll admit that there were tears streaming down my face as I was so moved by scene. You just had to be there.

Of course, Ailin was getting tired of watching the fish and she kept going over by the penguin statue and asking us to take her photo with it.

Finally, we moved on to the next part because Yusuke said, jokingly, "Well, we didn't come all the way here to watch a bunch of sardines." Ha ha.

We rode up the escalator which goes under the same aquarium and then we watched the stingray from the other side. Ailin kept saying in a very loud voice, "Saki mita kara! Saki mita kara!" It means, "We saw this before!" I guess she wanted to move on.

Later that night, I was showing the photos on my camera and teasing her about how she kept saying "saki mita kara", and she seemed to think the name of the sting rays was "saki mita kara." So, she said, "saki mita kara, mitai ne!" "I wanna see the saki mita kara!" Either that, or she was playing along with my joke. We were both laughing about that for days afterwards.

What I am up to in my free time
I am currently taking 2 "live" online classes. One is called Oh Shoot! Digital Photography, taught by Candace Stringham. It is offered through Jessica Sprague's site. It is challenging, but very useful stuff. I am also taking a class called Organizing 101, taught by Aby Garvey on her web site, simplify 101.

My goal is to have a smooth-running and organized household by the time I go back to work next spring. Right now, I am working on re-organizing my nightmarish walk-in closet, the kids' room, and our veranda. Other parts of the house are running fairly smoothly.

I am also doing some redecorating in our multi-purpose room with the help of my friend Kirsten Woest.

Going Home
We are planning to visit Wisconsin in November. Yusuke is going with us and staying about 2 weeks. I am staying with the kids for one month. My mom is flying back with us and staying in Japan for one week. We just reserved our tickets a couple weeks ago, so I now have to work on getting hotel rooms, a rental car, and making arrangements with friends that I plan to see.

Luka will also be baptized while we're there, and I have asked my sister and her husband to be the godparents. Luka is getting bigger every day, and doing all the things that little babies do, but I forgot about. It's funny to think that only 2 years ago, Ailin was doing those things and now she is so big.

Bilingual Kids Club
Still going strong, we now have 6 members. Originally, we were hoping for more members, so hopefully we will get more in the coming months. We had a meeting recently to discuss changes we need to make now that the kids are getting older. We had a meeting a few weeks ago at one of the members' houses and decided to have ONE official meeting per month. Other than that, we will try meet up once a week or so, but the activities will be less structured. Our first official meeting is in October. Each month, we are going to concentrate on a theme so we can focus our activities around certain vocabulary words.

This week, 2 of us were able to meet up at the park and do some nature-themed activities with our kids. Yoko and her daughter Yako, along with me, Ailin and my buddy Luka, all had a great time hiking through the woods, doing bark rubbings on the trees, collecting acorns, etc. We also had a picnic. Oh, and now Ailin sleeps with her bag of acorns. I guess she is really proud of them.

One Last Thing
Ailin's godfather, Karl, was visiting Japan recently and we got together with him a few times. One time, we took Ailin and Luka to the zoo. She was a bit weary of him at first since she had not seen him since he left Japan more than a year ago, but she warmed up to him after a while and they had a great time. Besides acorns, she is also passionate about sticks, here she is showing off her 2 sticks she found at the zoo.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Beautiful Evidence

This will explain why I have been so busy lately...not returning phone calls or whatever. This was the project for a 21-day online course through Jessica Sprague entitled Beautiful Evidence. Beautiful Evidence of what, you may be thinking. Your life, of course!

Each day, we were provided with a new template to complete the next page in the album. All templates needed digital paper, ribbons and photos, so it was fun to choose a combination of papers for each page. It looks like the kind of thing that would take forever to do, but actually, I only spent about 15 to 20 minutes on each page. I had taken or gathered most of the photos prior to the beginning of the class.

This is so much faster than traditional scrapbooking, and the perfect way to get a nice snapshot of life as it is right now...before the moment passes. One other benefit was learning to appreciate what I do have ... even if things seem crazy sometimes. It won't be like this for long. If I did this album again in 5 years, it would look so different! Anyway, I think I am going to get one made for each of the kids, and I'll put it in their memorabilia boxes so when they grow up, they'll have this album to keep.

This project has inspired me to think about other projects I could do easily - one option is a look back at the 40 years of bliss my parents have had together. Never too early to start thinking about that 50th Anniversary album!

Edited Note: I want to add that these templates were designed by Jessica Sprague, using embellishments designed by Meredith Fenwick ( & Jan Crowley ( Almost all of the digital papers & embellishments used came as part of the kit we received when we enrolled in this class provided by the above sponsors. was also a sponsor of the class as well as who in the end are giving us a nice discount for printing with them, and some freebies to lucky winners of the final drawing.

Click here to view this photo book larger

Thursday, September 10, 2009

My Stories about Grandpa

Now that I have had the official acknowledgement about the previous post from my mom, who said that all information seemed correct, I will go on to tell 3 stories about my grandpa. Two of them affected me profoundly. The first is just a fun memory.

I am five years younger than my brother (6 younger than my sister), so when I went to kindergarten, my mom went to school to get a degree in nursing. I came home on the bus every day at noon, and my grandpa was always waiting in his car at the end of the driveway to pick me up and take me to his house for rest of the afternoon. Since Grandma was working, he had to babysit me every day. (I'm sure he would have rather been doing other things, so that was nice of him.)

He always made lunch for us. Lots of tomato soup and sandwiches. I do remember playing Beauty Shop with him. He had long, thick silver hair that he combed back, and I would laboriously comb it forward and put curlers in it. (My cousin did the same things when he babysat her years and years later.) I also remember that one time he went outside and I was standing by the door waiting for him to come back. I must have been fiddling with the door because it accidently locked. He tried to explain through the door how to unlock it, but it was one of those tiny latches, and I couldn't hear him well, so he finally gave up and crawled through the woodshoot in the basement. I was so ashamed that he had to resort to crawling through the woodshoot just to get back into his own house!

Land of the Rising Sun
Back in the 80's, when Karate Kid was still a popular movie, my grandpa brought a hat (like a baseball cap) over to our house. He explained that he'd been driving and picked it up on the side of the road. He was always finding stuff on the side of the road. I guess that is what happens when you always have your eyes peeled for aluminum cans. Anyway, this hat was white, red and black. It showed a rising sun on it, and there were some Chinese characters as well. He told me it was from Japan, the land of the rising sun. It peaked my interest, and I kept that hat for a long, long time.

Until recently, I thought my first exposure to Japan was in 7th grade when I decided to do a country report about it, but why did I choose Japan when all my classmates were doing European countries? I was thinking about personal memories I had about my grandpa, and this one crossed my mind. I hadn't thought of that hat in years, but it actually was the first thing I ever owned with reference to Japan. And, it most certainly was the first time someone had told me that Japan was the Land of the Rising Sun.

The Sick Pillow
I tell this story to my high school students every year, but I have never shared it on this blog.

During my sophomore year of high school, I was a cheerleader. I was also preparing to study abroad in Japan for my junior year, and with all this trying to maintain my GPA since colleges would be looking at my sophomore grades. I may have felt a bit stressed out because I started having mysterious pains. I couldn't move my joints. Most of the time, I felt frozen, except when I was cheering at a game. That was the only time my body would actually work for me. This went on for weeks, and we saw the doctor about it, but he had no idea what to tell us.

Finally, one night, I was writing an essay about a short story we'd read in English class, and this story really struck a chord with me. Tears were streaming down my face as a I wrote the essay. I just felt so trapped and frustrated. Then, I grabbed an old ratty pillow that my grandpa had given me recently and I just hugged it to my chest.

Instantly, I felt better. This was no ordinary pillow, I thought. I slept with that pillow that night, and it gave me peace.

How did I come to have this amazing pillow?

A few weeks before, I happened to be visiting my grandparents, who lived only 5 miles away. While I was there, my grandpa got a new chair. He always sat at his place at the table where everything was within his reach - a shelf full of doo dads, his magazines, writing utensils, etc. He never had to leave his chair if he didn't want to. So, the chair had become worn out, and the floor beneath was showing signs of wear as well. My grandma had bought him an office chair with wheels. As he settled into his new chair, he grabbed a small pillow from behind his back.

"Well, I guess I don't need this anymore."

I looked at the pillow. It was a faded pink decorated with blue, paisley butterflies. The light blue fringe sewn around the edges was pilled and ratty.

"I'll take it." I said. There was something special about this pillow, maybe.

That was the pillow I hugged to my chest that night I sat on my bed crying. What was I about to do with my life? Why had I decided to leave Antigo and go to Japan for a whole year? How would this affect me? How the heck did I become a basketball cheerleader? Was I putting too much pressure on myself?

Later, my joint pains went away, but I realized this pillow could be used for other things. When I had a headache, I would lay my head on the pillow and it went away. Same thing when I got stomachaches. By summer, I had decided that this pillow just had to accompany me to Japan.

On the way to our final Rotary Youth Exchange Convention which took place in Michigan, I began sewing a new cover and fringe for the pillow. The faded pink and paisley butterflies just wouldn't do. We rode a bus there, so I brought my sewing kit on the bus with me and sewed the fringe on by hand. I am not a sewer, so believe me when I say, this was a big achievement for me. I was to leave for Japan in just a few short weeks.

In Japan, the pillow got a new name "The Sick Pillow" because it helped me through every illness and bout of homesickness that I went through. Eight months into my stay, I was feeling pretty comfortable in Japan and at my school.

When I got the news that Sara's brother, Brian, had died in a car accident, I literally screamed into the phone at first. My best friend's brother. He was only one year older than us. I knew she must need her friends around her, but I couldn't be there. Neither she nor my parents wanted me to rush home, so I did the next best thing. I boxed up the Sick Pillow and sent it to her.

I hope the Sick Pillow helped her through those hard times, especially those first few years of dealing with the trauma. There were times when I really wanted the Sick Pillow, but just had to make do with the memory of it. When I visited Sara throughout our college years and after, I wondered if she still had the Sick Pillow, but I was afraid to ask.

Then, sometime after Sara got married (a few years ago), I received a box in the mail. I wasn't expecting anything and it wasn't my birthday. Imagine my surprise when I opened the box to see the Sick Pillow there in all its glory...with a matching green flower pin attached.

In her note, Sara explained that she no longer needed the Sick Pillow and that maybe I would like it back. She'd added the pin.

Reunited again. I cried.

When I tell my students this story, I don't tell it quite like this. What I do tell them is that "prized possessions" are important and meaningful, but that people and relationships are much more important. Rather than worry and feel sad over the loss of my Sick Pillow, I had to learn to rely on the relationships I had begun to develop during my year abroad. When I felt homesick or ill, instead of turning to the Sick Pillow, I had to turn to my host family (the Satos), my best friend (Chiharu) and my new love (Yusuke, whom I met shortly after).

Well, there it is. Tribute post to Grandpa over, but this experience along with one of the online classes I am doing called "Beautiful Evidence" has made me realize how grateful I should be for what I do have.