Tuesday, December 28, 2010

An Ode to Nasty Commenters

Merry Xmas and Happy New Year to you...nasty commenters included.

If going around peoples' blogs and leaving nasty, ugly comments is your thing...just remember that what goes around comes around eventually.

I try to keep my blog positive rather than spend all my time complaining about the stupidity of others, but I thought I would give a shout-out to the negative people out there.

If you want to leave nasty comments about perfect strangers, the least you could do is NOT hide behind a nickname and a private profile so that we are unable to track you down and courteously thank you for bringing such joy to our lives.

Scaredy cat.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

No Excuses

So much for making time to write on my blog each week!

I have not updated since the beginning of November because of a whirlwind of school-related projects, work-related drama and some personal projects that took precedence due to so many impending deadlines!

Today is the day when the kids and I leave for the USA! We will be visiting family and friends for two weeks, and Yusuke will join us mid-next week to celebrate Xmas with my family.

Up until today, I was running around like a headless chicken during the day and collapsing from exhaustion at night. This week, in between packing, I decided that making this lay out was essential because when I get back in January and feel refreshed, I will have forgotten some of these pertinent details of what made the last two months so amazing and so hellish all the same time.

Please click on the lay out to see it in more detail and to read the Journaling.

Merry Xmas to Everyone...I hope to write more in the next couple weeks if I have some downtime. I have just been given two homework assignments though - read a novel for class and write a report for the Board of Education. It never ends.

(The template used for the lay out was designed by Cathy Zielske, and the digital papers and elements are from a kit called "Make a Change" by L Banasiak.)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Working Mom: Halloween 2010

Halloween 2010 was awesome and reminiscent of my college days when Shannon and I dressed up as drag queens every year. This time, I was not a drag queen and there was no drinking involved - just hundreds of adoring fans (no, not fans, really, just students and not all were adoring, but stay with me here), lots of partying (as in class parties), and much posing. Those sexy poses from my college days did come in handy here.

2nd Incarnation as Drag Queens - Our Stage names were Olivia & Desiree

Our Final Incarnation - my wig was much improved this time and so was the make up.
This year, I was told that I absolutely have to dress up for work because I teach two 9th grade classes and it just happens to fall on Parent's Day every year. Since the moms have come to expect this tradition of teachers dressing up in costume on Halloween, I was told that it was absolutely unavoidable. I had not really dressed up since my college days, but what the heck.

I had that awful white disco costume left over from AFWJ Convention 2009 when I was on the committee and we did a performance at the Cabaret Show. The performance was based on Mamma Mia, and I was quite pregnant at the time. I decided it might be a good idea to use that costume again and be a disco diva complete with a Farrah Fawcett hairdo and lots of make up. I got the wig online from Amazon and copied the make up cues from the photo that came with the wig. I had to buy some cosmetics that I did not already own - eyebrow pencil, eyeliner, pink lip gloss, etc.

Adie, 50s Girl and me, the 70s Disco Diva

I did one practice session about a week before the big day and discovered that my rolls of fat do not bode well with this lovely white disco suit. So, back online, I searched and searched for some kind of girdle or body suit that would help hide my rolls. I finally ordered Spanx but then realized they would never get to Japan in time for Halloween, so I then went to my local department store and got some help from a nice saleslady who recommended a 2-piece girdle. Yes, they are tight and constricting, but I looked so much better with one on, and just to get used to it, I wore it under my work clothes all week. I knew that the big day would entail high-heeled shoes, so I really wanted to limit my body to one shock at a time. As it was, the girdle must be the big secret for many women in their 30s and 40s. What a great way to "slim down" without actually doing the slimming! It is certainly not recommended for every day as it does get tiring, and even on the fourth day of wearing it, I had to remove it by about 3pm. But on the big costume day, I looked and felt great in it. My feet, on the other hand, suffered greatly, and are still in recovery mode.

I was a disco diva, complete with microphone, but many students and teachers thought I was supposed to be Mariah Carey, Madonna, Lady Gaga, or Beyonce. I didn't exactly deny that. I mean, they are all divas who have worn pretty wild costumes out in public and some of them may have even worn sequined bell bottoms at one time or another. And, let me be frank. If I could come be born again into any lifestyle, I would choose to be a world-famous diva with a great voice, like Celine Dion or Mariah Carey.

Here is what I actually was supposed to be: A retired disco diva who is past her prime, but she comes back to the stage to perform once in a great while. I wasn't anyone in particular, but when you watch shows like American Idol, you'll often see performers like this - coming back to sing their old famous tunes but looking way too old to be on stage and certainly nothing like you remember them. (Someone told me that I am still young-looking, but she is really really old so I can understand her point of view.)

Of course, I can't explain all that to students, but that's what I was!

I had to teach two classes in costume, and the other two classes were the Junior High class activities, so it was more like a party. After school, we had a party for the ESS (English) club, so it was a full day for me. There are photos on my facebook page that students took while I was teaching, or just before or after class. Those are funny because it looks like Mariah Carey is teaching a high school class.

Enjoy the photos!

My team teacher for one of the classes who also acted as my body guard, if only for a few fleeting moments.

My biggest fan: We told him that I was supposed to be Nicole Kidman just to get him more excited about it.

Same biggest fan from above photo, but this time, he is wearing a Batman costume. Forced into it, I guess, and he probably wouldn't like me posting this on my blog, but I just had to!

With the boys of 3I class.

Hilarious but real photo of a 50s girl and a diva actually eating the school lunch. Was it edible? Yes. Was it gross? You be the judge.

Four teachers, one dressed as a student and he fit right in!

With some of our students from 1I Class.

My contribution to the English Club's party - Kitty Litter Cake. Mmmm.

I decided to give Ailin a good memory and go pick her up in costume.
She thought that was pretty cool and so did her teachers and classmates.

Monday, November 1, 2010

October Round-up

I noticed a few new things this month.

About Ailin:
Her hair is finally growing thicker and longer and faster. She just got her hair cut in August and will need it again soon. She says she wants to get her hair cut just like mine.
She says funny things like "French Rice" for McDonalds french fries.
She's really sassy. It gets worse each month.
She can speak English and knows a lot of words, but I think she chooses to speak Japanese. She often surprises me with a slew of English words or sentences, so I know she is picking up stuff. Yesterday, she said, "You're mom. He's dad. This is brother. I'm Ailin."
She really wants to learn to read. We may have to start Hooked On Phonics or something similar soon. Oh, where will I get the time?

About Luka:
He is much more "INTO EVERYTHING" than Ailin ever was. I have put locks on every single cupboard door in the kitchen, plus the garbages and many of the cabinets throughout the house. I may have to put a lock on the toilet too.
He likes to play hide and seek, as in peek around the corner and then run away.
He likes to stand up on his high chair. Not good!
He also likes to crawl from his high chair onto the table, and he can do this very quickly...just to get some food that he couldn't reach.
He really likes his Papa. (and of course his Mama too.)

About myself:
I am getting old and fat.
I discovered a secret weapon though - girdles and spanx.
I finally decided that out-sourcing is a good and necessary thing in some cases. Hello professional house cleaner and hello professional typer.
Every year, I start out by promising myself that I will keep my work desk organized and clean, that I will keep up with evaluating of homework and projects. It all goes well until a virtual tornado hits my desk in September, and I am left with a huge pile of evaluations, a messy desk and NO TIME to possibly do it all. (Then, I promise myself that I just won't assign homework next year! Ha! How easily we forget.)
I discovered Genius Playlists on iTunes works really well to help me listen to my 1000s of songs, most of which I have forgotten about. Genius rocks!
(I can't believe I just wrote that something "rocks".)
I am working too late every night and need to get out of this office earlier so our evenings can go smoother. (See above!)

I learned something new too.
The word "kaba" in Japanese means hippo, but it can also refer to a stupid idiot. The word "baka" means stupid, so if you call someone a hippo, you are really throwing an insult their way. It might be akin to our English insult, my personal favorite, "dumbass" as in dumb donkey or dumb butt. Please do not ask me how I learned about this.

Not much going on this month except our EXTREME preparations for Halloween.
Annual Sports Festival at Daycare on the 4th.
Bilingual Kids Club on the 23rd.
My School celebrations on the 29th.

I am SO TIRED from celebrating Halloween that I have decided there will be no Thanksgiving this year. I just can't handle another month of expensive preparations with Xmas just around the corner.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Working Mom: How to Write Fiction

I have often wondered this myself and of course am no expert. I usually prefer writing about my own life and the people in it. I have written a few fictional pieces, my most recent was based on my own life as a recent college grad trying to find her way in the real world. It was so similar to my real past that even friends who didn't meet me until much later were saying, "Uh, yeah, you can totally tell it's about you."

I often wondered how in the world to fiction writers come up with all those details. Do they have to experience it themselves? Do they actually visit the places they write about and take photos or notes? Do they interview people who have been through those situations? I truly have no answers here, but I imagine that it depends on what they're working on and the methods they are comfortable with.

In any case, I need to write a fiction story for an upcoming assignment, and I really welcome the challenge but had no idea how to go about it this time. Writing about an American woman who is married to an Asian guy and living in his country is a bit too close to home.

I hit upon a useful method while at work because I am in the middle of a project with my seniors. In groups of five, they have to write a soap opera scene or set of scenes from scratch, and in November, they'll have to perform their scenes on stage. This project is in its eighth and possibly final year, so I am hoping it goes well. (It may be cut due to certain teachers' opinions that a soap opera drama is just not challenging enough for our high-level students who should be spending their time debating and discussing serious social problems. I am into discussing social problems - in fact, I created the Current English elective class where they do just that, but right now, we are talking about the required English Comprehension class that we only have once per week.)

Step One:
The Soap Opera Project begins with magazine cut-outs of various people - some famous and some not, but that doesn't matter in the end. We let the students choose pictures from a combination of five categories: Women under 40, women over 40, men under 40, men over 40, and children/teenagers. Some groups will have no children in their combination while other groups will have no one over 40. It's kind of random, but it's one way to force them to be more creative.

Step Two:
Now that each group has five images of people, we ask one person to come up and choose five cards from our stack of "character cards." The character cards each have two characteristics on them, for example: heartless and cruel, shy and timid, lively and outgoing, sensitive and kind. The cards are facing down so they cannot choose the cards based on the what is written.

Step Three:
We do the same thing with "job cards." The number of job cards matches the number of characters over age 15. So, if a group has a child character, they can only take four job cards. Examples of jobs include super model, hotel receptionist, millionaire, flight attendant, doctor, etc.

Step Four:
The students now have five images, five characteristic cards, and four or five job cards. Then next step is to match everything up, and decide names for each character. This takes a little while, and we usually have to write a variety of girls' and boys' names on the board.

Step Five:
Sometimes we skip to Step Five and let them do Step Four a bit later in the process. Step Five consists of choosing two "setting cards". In each soap opera, there must be at least one change of scene or they must show action in two different places. Examples of settings include ski resort, the bathroom, a pub, a church and an airplane.

Step Six:
The last card is a "plot card." Students are often surprised we won't even let them choose their own plots, but we think this forces them to be creative as they try to fit the puzzle pieces together. Each group chooses one plot card, and some examples include family argument, money problems, an accident, natural disaster and a crime.

Step Seven:
The writing process which takes the longest begins here. Of course, the group members must all agree on the outline of the story and it takes quite a while to first figure out the relationships between all the characters and how the setting and plot will fit in. Once they are ready to start writing, we hand out blank script sheets and they begin the process. Currently, my seniors are at this stage, and I am hearing rumors of a tornado that carries an entire casino full of people to another land and era; a group of four neighbors ganging up on their money laundering super-model neighbor. It's all good, but we'll see how these stories come out in the end. I will post about that in November after the performances.

What's this got to do with me?
So, here was my dilemma. For the AFWJ Journal, the theme for December is to write a fiction story and remembering my last attempt (back in 2004 when I was editor), I really wanted to give this a try. However, rather than base it on my own life, I wanted to do something really different. Sitting at my desk one day this week, it occurred to me that I could use the soap opera method and have elements of my story chosen for me by the cards! I quickly went through my stash of famous/not famous magazine cut-outs and chose five characters, randomly picked out the appropriate cards and set to work.  I am now on page four of this awesome story.

I don't know if others will agree about its awesomeness, but I am really enjoying this process. The most fun part, I think, is that rather than including entire situations from my own life, I am just choosing small details here and there. For example, I listen to the podcast Foolish Adventure which is about how to build an online business, and I listen to several other podcasts as well. In my story, one of the characters has her own online business where she hosts a few podcasts every week. Another example is that one of the characters spends a lot of time at Starbucks. Oh, and the whole story takes place in Chicago because Yusuke is in the middle of planning his trip to Chicago this winter, so I'm envisioning Michigan Avenue here.

One great thing about setting a story in a place you are only vaguely familiar with is Google Maps and Earth. You can actually pick up a little figurine of a green man and make him walk through the city and you can see everything from his point of view.

Though I am used to writing and getting interrupted many times, I find that with this story, I enter a zone where I can sit there typing and feel like only one minute has passed, when actually an hour has gone by. Therefore, it's hard to do this at night when I could be interrupted at any moment by the kids or by Yusuke. Same problem at work. Anyway, the process is definitely fun and exciting. I'm looking forward to the finished product.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Prepping for Grad School

People, particularly my family, have been asking me how the heck I am going to pull this off with a full time job and two small kids. Since I opted to start classes in January to give myself 5 months to prepare, I've been spending my free time arranging my life to fit this new venture into it.

Here is what I am working on in terms of "arranging things":
a. Negotiating with Bilingual Kids Club to move their monthly meetings to Sundays so that the kids and I can still participate.

b. Looking into hiring a house cleaner to come in once a week and clean for 3 hours.

c. Cleaning up and sorting through and storing all my scrapbook stuff. My desk is bare now and I will be making it into a study zone.

d. Signing up for Saturday Daycare at the kids' daycare. There may be some weekends when Yusuke wants to spend the day with the kids, but I have a feeling that on most weekends, he will be too tired or annoyed to do it. My classes take place every Saturday morning, but then I can spend the rest of the day studying if I need to.

e. Getting information on all wi-fi cafes and internet cafes in our area so that I have a nice place to study and use the internet on Saturdays, when I cannot be at home.

f. Looking into buying a laptop computer that I can use at these wi-fi cafes OR upgrading an old laptop we have. I guess the latter is a bit cheaper, but it is starting to add up to more than I imagined. (I will tell the story of my laptop in my next post!)

g. Borrowing interest-free from our other savings accounts to pay for the grad school bill in December. If I pay in full, I get an extra 10% off!

h. Finishing up some personal projects. I'm making a few more decoupaged magnetic boards, taking a class to make my own photo album based on the book Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, turning my articles for the AFWJ Journal into a bound book through a web site called Blogs to Books.

i. Paring down - once again, it's time to pare down our stuff, and it is definitely time to get rid of Luka's baby stuff because he is not a baby anymore. It will feel good to clear the house of some of these things. I am not sure if we'll ever be able to get rid of that crib though. We barely even used it with Ailin and almost never with Luka, but since MIL gave it to us, we are kind of stuck with it, out of Yusuke's sheer devotion to her.

j. Giving in to Japanese food - I have decided that the easiest and most economical types of dinners consist of Japanese food. Why? Because it's easy to buy it and there are many dishes which are quite simple to make. I prefer donburi, which is food placed on top of rice and served in individual bowls for each person. Many of the side dishes served in Japanese cuisine can be purchased ready-made and no one blinks an eye if you serve the same side dishes every single day. 

What do I want to hold on to?
This is a good question since I realize that for the next two and a half years, I need to spend a lot of time concentrating on my studies. But, there are certain things I don't want to let go of completely. I had to make a list of everything I do and then decide what I needed to change, stop doing, or just keep in my life because I need it or love it so much.

1. My Blog - obviously, I love to write and it is a good way to keep in touch with family and friends without writing separate emails to each person. And, this stuff will be valuable to me someday, so I want to keep recording my thoughts in this way. I'll do whatever I can to keep my blog up to date even if they are much shorter entries than usual.

2. Bilingual Kids Club - I started this club and I really like it, so I don't feel right giving up on it. I am also afraid that if I don't continue going, it might not survive. I'm not sure. I would feel bad if Ailin could no longer see her friends, some of whom she has known since she was six months old!

3. Sundays - I decided that I would deem Sundays sacred family days, so aside from the monthly BKC meetings, it would be nice to devote Sundays to family time. Now, to figure out a way to get the grocery shopping done...

So, what am I giving up? 
For the next two years, I am okay with giving up things like our monthly Craft 'n' Chats, paper scrapbooking, certain podcasts, subscriptions to magazines, etc. I am pretty confident that Chris will carry on the Craft 'n' Chats, and the scrapbooking will still be there when I finish grad school. If I get really desperate to make a page or two, I can make something very quickly on Photoshop.

Lifestyle Changes
I think that I need to seriously consider changing my lifestyle in terms of my sleeping/waking schedule. I tend to stay up late to do chores or work on hobbies, but then I have a hard time falling asleep. Keep in mind that I sleep on a futon with both of the kids, and I am still nursing at night. There are times when I need to go and tend to Luka for a while late into the evening, and I STILL try to get up and continue with my projects until late. It would be best to just go to sleep with the kids and wake up early. If I could wake up at 4am or 5am, potentially, I could work on laundry, read or study, catch up on email and maybe even get ready for work before everyone else wakes. I talked with Shannon about this, and I was saying that someday I would like to take up "running." Well, I don't see this happening anytime soon, but she suggested that I get up early and fit running into my morning routine. That would defeat the purpose, I think. I wanted to do chores and study, not go out for a run and then shower upon my return! Maybe I should think about waking up at 3am. No way. Running can be taken up somewhere way down the road.

Anyway, over the next few months, I am going to do some trial runs (excuse the pun!) of this new lifestyle. Maybe a week here and there to see if I feel okay with it. There are some disadvantages to it, but they might be outweighed by the advantages. I keep ya'll posted.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

TGIF: No, really, I'm glad it's Friday

This was a tough week at work. It should have been really easy because our 2nd graders are away on their school excursion so our schedules were lighter than usual. This is supposed to give us more time to catch up on evaluations and lesson planning.

I am slowly making progress on a joint excel spreadsheet we made for evaluating 120 speeches from the annual speech contest held at my school. It took a while to figure out that two people cannot work on the same spreadsheet, even in different tabs, without messing something up.

The most stressful thing though was watching certain 3rd graders flounder as they made their big final presentations for an elective course I teach. We've been working on these presentations since June, and I thought their Power Point slides were well done, but even if you have great slides, you still have to practice the presentation. As always, more practice was needed, but I see these 3rd graders are kept really busy in their other classes as well as preparing for their university entrance exams. It kind of hit home for me when I realized that every presentation ran over time, I was doing way too much trying to manage all of it (there is only ONE of me, you know!), and what would have been a 2-hour class turned into a 3-hour class because we made students stay after school to finish the 1st-day presentations. Why did they run over time? Because even with the 10-minute time limit, they had not practiced enough to know that they should make some cuts. They each had a 1/2 hour appointment with their teacher during the week before, but for many, this appointment was their first and possibly only practice! I see that now. On the teacher side of it, could I have done something differently? Well, just to get through the 2nd day of presentations, I will be asking some of the students to help with classroom management during the next class. This means that one student will need to work the video camera, one student will be in charge of the timer and one student will be operating the remote control for the presenter. This way, I just need to introduce each presenters and then sit down and concentrate on the the initial evaluations during their presentations, and manage the Q and A session after each one. That's enough for one person, right? You may wonder where my co-teacher is during all of this. Hmmm, good question.

As always, I need to look back on my week and figure out what I learned and/or what I am thankful for. This is a good way to decompress after a hard week.

At work:
I learned that 8 (students) is a really good and perfect number to make the current English class work well. 20 is way over the top. We are planning to request that since it's an elective and the Japanese teachers don't want to limit the number of students, there should be a student teacher ratio of 8:1. This means that 3 teachers (and three separate sections) would have been ideal this year.
I learned that excel spreadsheets really cannot be edited by two people at the same time even if they are working in different tabs.
I learned that pumpkins at Costco cost 1280 yen this year, and that it feels really good to buy one after all these years of never needing to.
I learned that English teachers and other teachers really don't care what we Native teachers are doing.
I learned that I am still responsible to clean my section of the school even if my students don't show up to clean.
I learned that, as a working mom, I need to take advantage of every opportunity to take a day off either for myself or to do catch up on housework.
I learned that communication is really important and if others don't feel the need to communicate with you, it doesn't mean they don't have something to tell you.
I learned that staying late at school to help my students makes me very tired, and that I am getting old.
I learned that if I get over the habit of staying up late and I get up really early instead, I can probably accomplish more, lose weight faster, and feel healthier. (This is from a student's presentation.)

At home:
I learned that Ailin has a really good memory. I promised to carve a pumpkin with her this weekend and she has been asking about it every day since.
I learned that Yusuke is still in his own little world and really doesn't pay attention to anything I am doing (or not doing!) unless it's related to housework. (Then he notices big time!)
I learned that Luka loves to push buttons, so this will explain why the hot water suddenly turns cold in the middle of a shower, and why the rice is only half-cooked when I am ready to serve dinner. You should hear me swearing then.
I learned that when I stay late at work to help my students, it is not helping my kids or myself because then I am too tired in the evenings.
I learned that parenting is not always teamwork, and that I can't count on my husband like I imagined I would.
I learned not to send my husband to do the grocery shopping by himself. He spent more money than usual and he still couldn't get everything on my list.

Out and About:
I learned that Kiwiberries taste really good. They are like miniature kiwis but without the hairy skin. Even Ailin likes them.
I learned that old computers fixed up to be as good as new are just as expensive as brand new computers.

Okay, I feel a little better. Decompressing has begun. Hopefully this will be a nice weekend as I promised Ailin we would carve that darn pumpkin and we would decorate our apartment for Halloween.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

September Round-up

Lots of happenings this month but I'm afraid that I don't have much to scrapbook about!

Three friends gave birth to baby boys!
Sept 12, Christine had a boy whom she named Ken.
Sept 19, Alya had a boy whom she named Ryohei.
Sept 22, Dai and Yukiko had a boy they named Zen.

I love baby boys. You can tell because I am so in love with my little Luka.


  • My dad celebrated his 65th birthday on Sept 17. I forgot to send him his favorite chocolate from Japan, but I will be sure to do that soon.
  • Adie celebrated her 28th birthday on Sept 16. We spent an afternoon at Starbucks discussing work-related issues for an upcoming meeting, and I treated her to a coffee and snack. It's so nice to get out of the office sometimes, but shhh...don't tell anyone.


  • We took the kids to Nihonbashi in Tokyo for the day and ended up in Ginza, as always. We ALWAYS hang out in Ginza when we go to Tokyo. I managed to not buy anything while there, but I did get Yusuke to take my photo in front of the Prada store, just to say I was there.
  • I took the kids shopping for fall/winter clothes. The weather changed suddenly and it was a bit of an emergency.


  • I am preparing to start grad school in January, so my scrapbook desk has been cleaned up and most scrap stuff is being put into storage. I am working on selling or donating other stuff. I will be doing digital scrapbooking for the rest of the year, and then who knows after that?
  • I got a gold star for losing more than 5 pounds since starting Weight Watchers in July. I won't make my goal by December, but at least I am on my way!

New Developments for Ailin:

  • Ailin can now fold an entire load of towels when she puts her mind to it. I was amazed last weekend when we were all cleaning together, and she folded all the towels while I folded the rest of the clothes. In fact, she does a much better job than Yusuke ever did.
  • She has developed an affinity for several stuffed animals and insists on bringing her litter everywhere with her, claiming that she is the mother, Luka is the big brother and I am the big sister. Papa is still papa though.
  • Ailin likes to draw faces and can make a variety of faces with different hairstyles and eye expressions.
  • She prefers that I pick her up late so she can have the 6pm snack. In fact, she gets mad at me when I pick her up early.
  • (Edited on 10/05/2010) I forgot to mention this before, but Ailin is now up to the letter G. She is learning how to write the letters, and she sometimes watches the Sesame Street podcasts which go through each letter.

New Developments for Luka:

  • He plays chase with Ailin and with Max sometimes.
  • He can now eat by himself, for the most part, and rarely gets frustrated during meals.
  • He loves sweet potatoes now.
  • He indicates when he has dropped food on the floor and wants me to pick it up before Max can get it.
  • He wore blue jeans for the first time.
  • He likes to peek at me from around a corner and then run away.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Working (Mom) Wednesday: Love Songs in English Class Part 2

I wanted to summarize each song and activity from our class. Enjoy!

Bad Romance (Lady Gaga)
The group who presented this song chose to have a class discussion. First, we tried to define what Lady Gaga is talking about. What is a bad romance, according to this song? How would we personally define a bad romance? Do we have any "bad romances" in our own lives? This lead to a discussion about whether we like "angel boys" or "bad boys". It was a fun and lively discussion.

I Say a Little Prayer for You (Dionne Warwick)
This group also wanted to make us discuss the song, but first they asked us to choose our favorite lines from the song. I chose the line "...For me there is no one but you". The group asked us to imagine who the singer is talking about. Most people agreed that she is talking about a boy she likes but is not going out with yet. Then, a student asked about the line "...Forever, and ever, you'll stay in my heart and I will love you". She wondered why this line was in future tense, and I suddenly realized the singer might be talking about her unborn baby. Pregnant women spend a lot of time "praying" and imagining what their baby will be like, and I posed this idea to the class. Many people, after hearing my explanation, seemed to agree with me. It was truly enlightening how different interpretations can be depending on the listener.

Keep Holding On (Avril Lavigne)
This song, as sung in Glee, was supposed to be about friendship, but since my students don't know the whole story about Glee, they decided that it must be about two people whose relationship is on the rocks, but who are trying to encourage each other to keep it together. There wasn't much to discuss about this song, but the group played both versions and asked us to vote on which version we preferred. Most students voted for the Glee version because they liked the background vocals. They asked us if there is anything in our own lives that we "have to keep holding onto". This was a tough question as most students couldn't quite understand this phrase, and in fact, I think the presenters misinterpreted it. It means "Don't give up...keep going, fight fight fight." But, they took it to mean a material item that you would want to keep. That was a bit confusing too.

Gives You Hell (All American Rejects)
By far the best group presentation was for this song. They opted to play the original version, which is sung by a man, and asked us to imagine who he is "talking to" in this song and what kind of relationship he has with this person. We all agreed that he is sending bad wishes to his ex-girlfriend who he actually still has feelings for. They asked us why the melody is so upbeat while the lyrics is so depressing, and then made us discuss in pairs. After that, they went around and asked EACH pair to comment on their thoughts. Most people seemed to think that he is trying to get over the ex-girlfriend and is cheering himself on. He is a singer and hopes she will hear his song on the radio someday and realize that it is about her. They also translated the chorus into Japanese so we could really understand what the singer was getting at. A lot of students reacted with "Oh, I get it!" when they heard that. Finally, they asked us if we have any similar experiences in our own lives.

My Life Would Suck Without You (Kelly Clarkson)
This group did not do very well for some reason. They started out by asking us what the song is about, and then asking us to talk about anyone in our lives who could be portrayed in this song. These were tough questions, I guess or perhaps the mood of the classroom was off that day. No one was willing to give a straight answer. The group then tried to explain what the phrase "to suck" means and then gave examples, such as, "Your life would suck without your parents," etc. I think the class had a hard time trying to come up with examples, and I really feel that the group could have taken a different route in explaining the story of the song. In fact, they didn't explain the story at all, and just showing the music video would have helped with that. Or rather than ask such a basic question, they probably could have started small...or done a different activity altogether!

Alone (Heart)
After listening to the Glee version of this song, the group showed us 3 posters they made to help explain the story of the song. In Poster #1, a girl monkey is sitting alone on a bed using her cell phone to call someone. In Poster #2, the girl monkey is just sitting there waiting. In Poster #3, the girl monkey is daydreaming about her great memories with her boyfriend. Then, they asked us to choose our favorite lines and discuss them in our groups. After that, we had to tell the class about one of our lines and explain why. I told the class that we liked the line "How do I get you alone?" and that we had discussed the difference between being completely alone and being alone with the person you love. Then, we were asked to think of a new title for our song. My group came up with "You Don't Know" and "No Answer." Another group came up with "True of Heart" and "I Want Your Love." Then, we had to vote our favorite new title. "I Want Your Love" got the most votes. Finally, they asked us if this song depicts a healthy relationship or not. Some students replied that it might be a healthy relationship but they they are going through a rough time right now. Other students said it was just a typical relationship, and many girls have evenings just like this...sitting home alone waiting for the phone to ring.

I think that if I do this exercise again next year, I will make one more rule. No group can do the same activity. So, if one group chooses to have us make pairs and discuss the theme of the song, other groups will need to choose different activities from the list. Since the first group was so successful with their discussion questions, all groups took this "easy route".

In sum, I loved doing this exercise with the class and for my students, it worked beautifully. However, my initial requirement of having each group present for only the first 15 minutes of the class period was inaccurate. It turned out that some groups needed more time, especially when the discussions were going so well! This meant that I didn't always have time to teach my own materials, and we had to extend the unit by a couple of weeks. No big deal because the materials I made are very flexible, and I could have skipped a few of my activities if necessary. Discussing various themes that came out of the songs also lead me to skip around my own handout packet a bit. On the day when we did the song Gives You Hell and we talked about break ups and ex-girlfriends and ex-boyfriends, it was a great opportunity to go through the vocabulary list of words related to break ups: separated, divorced, remarried, etc. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Working (Mom) Wednesday: Love Songs in English Class

Many teachers want to fit music into their lesson plans, and I have experimented with several methods. I finally hit on something that really seems to be working for both me and the students.

Every fall, in my Everyday English class, we do a unit called Love & Relationships. In the first part of the unit, we talk about the various types of relationships between people and how to express that. Some examples are, "They are getting married." or "They are boyfriend and girlfriend." or "She is his boss." Later, we get into discussions about giving advice to a lady who has to choose between three guys who all have plenty of both good and bad qualities. (We usually advise her to stay single.) On another day, we discuss gender roles, like who usually fixes things in your house, who usually washes dishes and so on. This kind of discussion usually gets the kids realizing that they should do more to help their parents at home. We also talk about relationships, in terms of, who usually asks who out, who usually pays, etc. There is never any right or wrong answer, but it gives the students a chance to discuss their opinions as well as their own experiences.

To make the unit even more fun, I like to add another dimension to it: Love songs!

It's so easy to find love songs to use for class, and I have tried a variety of methods. Over the years, I have switched between teacher-centered and student-centered methods for incorporating music into the unit.

1. Teacher-centered - I found the love songs, made the worksheets to go with them, played them for the class and had them do the activities on the handouts. Activities included fill-in-the-blanks, put chorus lines in order, opinion-sharing about the themes, etc.

2. Student-centered - The students are put into groups and given the task to find a love song and make an activity to go with it. They are given 10 minutes at the beginning of class to present the song and activity to the class. We did this once a week for the duration of the unit until each group had a chance to present.

3. Teacher-centered - I gathered the love songs, pulling ffrom different genres and made an entire packet. The packet included the lyrics for each song, the background about each musician along with their photos, the activities for each song, and at the back, a matching exercise using the some of the idioms and meanings pulled from each song. For some songs, I showed the music video. For other songs, we just listened to the song.

4. Student-centered - Using the soundtracks from Glee, Season 1, I chose about 15 love/friendship songs and made a mix CD for each of the groups. Groups were given the CD and told to pass it amongst their group members until everyone had copied it to their iPod (or whatever they happen to use these days as a listening device). Groups were also asked to choose one song and to prepare a worksheet for their "song presentation." The "song presentation" would basically be a mini-lesson for the class, and their worksheets had to include the lyrics and the background about the artist and/or song. Groups also had a plan an activity, choosing from a list of ideas which I provided. I had one rule: No fill-in-the-blanks activities! I feel this type of activity is overdone and I wanted them to try some other types of activities.

I found that  with teacher-centered, they did not always like the songs that I picked out, and the idiom-matching activity was too difficult, and for many students, idioms are akin to algebra ... not all that useful. With totally student-centered, I didn't like the songs that students chose. There were a lot of Disney theme songs and over-played movie soundtrack hits. (Can we hear the Titanic theme song one more time?) I thought the songs were too simple as the students are already so familiar with them and their Japanese versions, plus the activities that students created for the class were lame.

This year, I think I've hit on a formula that works, a perfect mix of teacher-control and student-centeredness. #4 option above explains in more detail, but let me explain why I think it works so well. First, the students are given a gift - it's cheap and easy for me to burn a few CDs for them, and it exposes them to something new. Glee, though extremely popular in the USA, is only shown on Cable TV FOX here in Japan, so many are not able to see it. I showed them the pilot episode just before summer vacation, and of course, they couldn't understand all of it, but they got the picture.

Even though it appeared that the students had a wide range of songs to choose from, I essentially had control because I chose this range. The CD provided them with the Glee versions of the songs, but students were free to use the original versions for their song presentations. You Tube lets us show music videos in many cases and we could play the original songs if students could not bring in the original artists' CDs.

Though students had a wide range of activities to choose from, the first group who presented just happened to choose "Discuss the theme of the song as it applies to your life" as their activity. This worked so well that most groups from then on chose the exact same activity. I would say that some groups were very good at executing a class discussion, but other groups froze, and let me be frank, some songs were much more difficult than others to discuss.

In the next post, I will share what we gleaned from each song and activity chosen by the 6 groups in the class.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Working (Mom) Wednesdays: Engrish Lesson

Lots of correcting of summer homework assignments means that we get to savor some awesome English mistakes! These are from our 9th graders. Keep in mind, this is only their 3rd year of studying English.

I was the first baby in my family.
I blow saxophone.
I god last child.
I want to live 30 years old.
We were good fight friends.
I would like to enjoy unknown future.
Moreover, because the sea is dirty, the fish cannot fish though I often fish in Ichihara's sea.
Because it was a good fish pole, the fishing pole was good.
But, I suffered no fatal injury in accident.
I'll be normal adult.
If I could go 5 years into the future, I hope I'll be a genius.
The movement of my intestines stopped and it had to be hospitalized.
Because I want to help a lot of embarrassed people.
A junior high student pricked a kitchen knife with a friend.
Sometimes I feel shy when I talk to my friends because I don't speak.
The thing I hate doing the most in the world is murder.
When I am angry, I see smoking people.
Sometimes I feel shy when I make a boob.
The story's hero is died boy.

Friday, September 10, 2010

August Lay Outs

Click on the lay outs to see them up close and personal. For this month's lay outs, I decided to do all the Nikko trip ones on Photoshop in order to save time. I was inspired to do the other two using real paper and embellishments, partly because I wanted to use some memorabilia. All three of the digital kits that I used were from August's Digi Files on the Daily Digi.

Family Trip to Nikko: Template from Janet Phillips at Sweet Shoppe Designs, scanned in the wrapping paper from a souvenir box and enlarged it for the background, used Beauty Within (Valorie Wibbens Designs) digital kit for the paper and embellishments.
I recommend trying new things every month. Last month, I practiced doing my own drop shadows to make the embellies look more realistic. I think I am getting better at it each time! This month, I decided to try making my own background paper using the wrapping from a souvenir box of cakes. This is a painting of the big golden temple in Nikko, and I just scanned it and masked it into the background. I had a digital kit that seemed to go well with this background paper, so I used as much as I could from the kit. I discovered that you can mask papers and embellishments over letters, so I masked in a black smudgy overlay, also from the kit, and it gives the title a really mysterious feeling.

Nature in Nikko: Used template from Janet Phillips of Sweet Shoppe Designs, used Bug Catcher digital kit from Chelle's Creations for all paper and embellishments, used Torn Frame from Windsong kit created by LivE Designs kit for the center photo's frame.

This lay out deserved brighter colors as the nature theme was so prevalent on our trip. I love the challenge of layering embellishments on top of each other and then trying to get the shadows just right. By the way, this church down on the bottom left is eerily similar to a church in my hometown and I think it was designed by the same architect. I am still looking into this. It might be the common design for Episcopalian churches.

10 Things We Learned: Used template from Janet Phillips at Sweet Shoppe Designs, all papers and embellishments come from the Amy Wolff's summer digital kit. The alphabet letters from from Studio Flergs (scrapbookgraphics.com)

After a trip, I always do a variation on this theme. 10 Happenings. 10 Things We Learned. 10 Memorable Moments. 10 Things I Would Rather Forget. Anyway, it always adds humor to the trip and is a good way to wrap up the lay out series.
Dates w/ Mama: journaling spot from Ali Edwards, picture frames from Jessica Sprague.
Now, for the traditional paper lay outs. My challenge for this month was to do something different...a lay out design that I would normally never use, for example. Notice that the photos don't look very clear. It's because I printed the photos onto canvas paper. Canvas paper works really for portraits of people. The close-ups of Luka and of me and Ailin look pretty good. But, detail shots and far-away shots are barely detectable. I was disappointed in this, but it's all part of the process! I'll know for next time.

Lady's Day is every Wednesday at our theater, and I challenged myself to see one movie a week during the summer break. I wanted to use memorabilia this time and had a great idea to use the tickets for a banner. Banners are the new thing in scrapbooking and everyone's making them. There is a ribbon strung across the page and the tickets are glued to it. The tickets, as well as some of the other papers are inked with orange and brown inks. On the bottom right corner, I used a calling card of a tea shop I went to in July (Lipton Tea) and scratched it up with sandpaper before inking it. Then I sketched lines on it to list the movies' English titles. Ailin was standing next to me when I was stamping the yellowish paper, and she grabbed the stamp and stamped right onto the middle of the paper. Oh well! I used it anyway. The flower is made of green leaves that I glued together and then just glued a small circle on top of it. Oh, and here again, the photo of me was printed onto canvas paper, but this time it turned out okay because all you really need to see is me, looking serene, in my movie disguise.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Working Mom Wednesdays: The One Flaw

Today, I am very busy WORKING. Correcting papers and journals in time for grades due next week and also judging a speech contest, so I'll just share this wonderful little 3-minute movie for the all the women and girls out there. If you like it, pass this link on to others (or Facebook it!), so they can see it too.

The One Flaw in Women

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Monthly Round-up: August

Wow, end of August already. This means we are back in school teaching classes, and I am getting used to the old 9 to 5 routine again. Luka got sick last weekend so we had to deal with that, but he seems okay now.

Chiba-city's Fireworks Display (enjoyed from the veranda of my MIL's home)
Dates with Mama - a new tradition I started this summer
A trip to Nikko

  • Has entered into a blue phase, where she colors everything in various shades of blue. 
  • Started learning how to write the alphabet and numbers.
  • Acts out stories that I read aloud to her, especially when I ask her what's going to happen next.
  • Has become obsessed with Shrek, and all things Shrek.
  • Has shown an ever-developing imagination, pretending to have a baby and take care of it (named it Passy), or holding birthday/Xmas party events complete with cake, dinner, presents and coffee.
  • Went to the movie "How to Train Your Dragon" with her mom and dad.
  • Went to an indoor pool with her mom.
  • Going through a blue phase in her drawings. 
  • Walks like crazy now, all over the house, getting into everything.
  • Gives lectures about various things while pointing...of course, we don't know what he's saying.
  • Loves bananas.
  • Can finally sit through a story.
Movies I Saw in the Theater
How to Train Your Dragon
Karate Kid

Movies I Saw on DVD
Date Night
The Rebound

Books I read
Still working through A Divided Heart by Rachel Power
Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, want to finish it before I see the movie in a few weeks.

Best Discoveries
  • Still getting the hang of it, but Twitter is finally starting to get interesting for me.
  • That summer homework for high school students sucks! Worse yet is the fact that I have to check it all! Next year will be different. I am already making plans to assign as little as possible.
  • That traveling with two small children is STILL not that much fun.
  • That my husband is still really moody, and I just can't predict what he is going to do next.
  • That I get to watch one more season of the Office before I am officially caught up!
  • Leonardo DiCaprio really is a great actor, and I have seen and loved most of his movies. I didn't realize it until I saw Inception. He is only getting better with age!

Friday, September 3, 2010

TGIF: It's only the 2nd Day of School.

First, big announcement here. I was accepted to the grad school program I applied for, and I'll be studying for a Masters in TESOL from January 2011. I am really excited about this as I feel it's a step in the right direction, regarding both my career itself AND my determination to continue working while being a mom. It's hard to explain how my desire to get a Masters is tied so closely to my issues of work and family, but it is (even though my husband doesn't buy this for a second).

Anyway, for those who don't know, TESOL stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. I get asked this frequently by people who, surprisingly, don't teach ESL, so why would they know, right?

This is my TGIF post, so I'll post about all the things I am thankful for this week.

I am glad that I could:

  • take Tuesday off to get ONE MORE day to myself before classes begin for the fall.
  • set up a wi-fi unit in my house so we can use the iPhone and our iPod Touch throughout our house (with the help of a computer expert who happens to be a co-worker...Thanks, Chris!).
  • get my camera fixed easily because the Canon Headquarters is very nearby.
  • take advantage of the exchange rates ... the trip to the USA in December is taken care of now.

I feel grateful that:

  • I work with people who are easy to talk with and we can bounce ideas off each other anytime we feel like it.
  • my mom finally emailed me back.
  • people are starting to compliment me on my weight loss. To be honest, I have only lost ONE kilo (about 2.2 pounds) since starting Weight Watchers, so I am sure that the difference is very very tiny, but it gives me a bit more motivation to keep going.
  • Journey songs are making a comeback (and this is because of Glee).

I think it's so cool that:

  • Ailin loves to listen to Glee soundtrack music and she sometimes requests to watch a recorded episode or two.
  • Luka likes to pretend to cook. He is feeding my his "creations" as we speak.
I am sure there is more, but I'm drawing a blank now. I have a whole list of errands to run and need to do those in order to clear my mind. Besides, Journey is playing in the background and I can't concentrate.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Manic Mondays: My Best Recommendations

Today, I'd like to recommend some good stuff to you.

Glee Soundtracks...I now have four. Yes, I am addicted to Glee and I plan on using some of the songs for a music project in one of my classes next month. I am really excited about it!

I still listen to Paperclipping Roundtable and The Digi Show, both of which are about scrapbooking and are produced by the same people (Noell from Paperclipping.com and her husband Izzy from Izzyvideo.com).

Izzy recently started a new podcast with a guy named Tim Conley. This one is called Foolish Adventure. It's all about starting your own web business, and like most podcasts, it is FREE. I really recommend this one if you have any inkling at all of turning your passion into a career. Izzy no longer works for corporate America because he makes more than enough to support his family on his web business. (His wife earns her share with her scrapbook web site!) This is a great way to get the information you need all in one place.

Other podcast gems I found recently:
The Guy's Perspective - this is basically a group of dads who sit around talking about marriage and families. It's funny and clever, and for female listeners, we can glean lots of useful information from it.

The Moth - If you like listening to good and moving stories, this is the perfect podcast for you. Actually, the Moth seems to be a membership community of people who enjoy honing their storytelling skills, and the Moth provides a stage and an audience for them to do so. Many are professional storytellers of one sort or another, but others are just starting out. Each week, they feature one or two stories on their free podcast. If you want more, you have to pay for a membership to get access. Very tempting.

Annoying Orange - Just a funny video podcast about an orange and his encounters with other foods. My students loved it. You can see Annoying Orange on video podcast or free or you can just check him out on YouTube.

Blogs into Books
Finally, would you pay $84 for a book? What if the book was written by yourself? I recently took my old blog Mande's J-Life and put it through a web site called Shared Book - Blogs2Books, just to see what my book would look like. It would look awesome!!!! But, it is 234 pages and would cost a pretty penny. I am going to look at other sites and compare prices. My other idea is to put all of my columns from "Surviving Japan", published in the AFWJ Journal since 2005, into one blog and then have it made into a book. I think that would be an even better Xmas present to myself, since I am planning to officially retire this column in the December 2010 issue!

iPhone Apps
Aren't free Apps fun? Here are the ones I have so far.
Fun Ones
Shazam - the best ever. When you are driving in the car or watching a movie and you hear a song that you like, you can turn on your Shazam App. Shazam will listen to it for a minute or so, send it in to their database, and analyze it. Then they send back the info to you - name of song, artist, album, exactly where and when you tagged it. It is awesomely addicting. On my 5th tag, it alerted me that I am only allowed 5 tags per month! Five tags! I was already addicted. It asked if I would like to buy Shazam to get unlimited tagging...it's $4.99, but for a music-lover, I think it's worth it.

Movies - lets you see the trailers of movies and then gives you theater schedule information. It doesn't go as far as Japan, but I do like to know what is coming out in theaters.

Baby Flash Cards - something for the kids to play with when they are bored.

Everyday Useful Ones
Evernote - You need to have opened your own free account on evernote.com to then use this app. Evernote allows you to save all your ideas, web pages you like, notes, etc into one place, and you can create folders according to project or topic. The mobile version allows you to photograph, type up notes, or voice-record things you need on the spot and then saves them into your evernote folders.

Weight Watchers Mobile - Again, you'll need to open your own account online to use the mobile version, but you can track your meals and activities on the go throughout the day and it immediate syncs up with your online account.

Relish Relish - Once again, you'll need to have opened your own account online, but you can access your recipes and weekly shopping list on the go. Shopping just got a whole lot easier.

Healthy Recipes by SparkPeople - Another great source for recipes, so if you are in the store and have no idea what to buy and make for dinner, you can easily access recipes through this app.

Time Wasters
Facebook - just as much of a time waster on the go as it is when you are sitting at your computer, but this App makes it very easy to check up on your friends.

Twitter - I have not used Twitter much yet, but I do have an account. I made an account mainly to follow some of my favorite scrapbooking icons, but once in a while I do post a sentence. Having it on my iPhone means that I could potentially post while traveling and then have something to scrapbook about when I get home. How easy it is to forget all those random thoughts you have while on the road.

Skype - I used Skype mobile for the first time the other day to talk with Louise, who is currently in New Zealand for the summer break. I didn't have a good wi-fi connection so we kept getting cut off, but I can see the potential for this. International phone calls would be free and I could call while on the go or at work...this means that those nasty time differences would not be such an obstacle. Mom, Shannon, Amy, et al - get hooked up on skype, please!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

TGIF: That's what friends are for

The title of this post is a good way to sum up this week. I really needed help, and I called on a few friends, and they did just that. I am really grateful for all the friends I have.

Thank you Shannon and Jill for helping out with the application process for grad school. This may be the start of a new path for me, and I am feeling good about it.

Thank you Sara and Amy for just giving words of encouragement and support. This helps too.

Thank you Adie for being a good sounding board. I hope you'll take the plunge too.

Thank you to Yusuke for being understanding about my decision and for keeping your mouth shut. I know you don't read my blog, but I felt really thankful that you agreed to respect my dream and told me that you admired me for having the courage to go for it.

Hopefully, I will be announcing some GOOD news on my blog in a few weeks! Wish me luck!

Now that this is out of the way, it's time to clean off my desk!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

July Lay Outs All Digi

In order to save time this month, I decided to do all my lay outs digitally on Photo Shop Elements. Each lay out took about one hour to complete...maybe more with the shadow tweaking at the end.
Field Trip: Used a digi kit from the Digi Files at The Daily Digi. The name of this kit is A Beautiful Beginning by MiCHELLE Batton Designs. The ticket stubs are from Kate Pertiet, Designer Digitals.
Love this lay out! Omg, these photos are the pro photos taken on the parent/child field trip we did back in May, and I wanted to make a lay out just using these gorgeous photos. Why gorgeous? Because, I actually look decent in them and how often does MOM get to look decent in photos with her kids? Let's save this one for posterity.

I want to add that for the first time in doing a digital lay out, I did NOT use a template nor did I look at something and try to copy it. I just used my inspiration gleaned from the Nic Howard class (Dimensional Design), and I paid more attention to drop shadows this time. This is when the idea of "dimensional" meets digital. There is an awesome drop shadow tutorial on this blog. Look to the right side and you will see the tutorial button. I felt like I could not take full advantage of this tutorial because I have PSE and not the full version of Photoshop, but still, it was very enlightening.
Hot Summer Moments: Used a quick template by (I wanna say) Crystal, but now I am not so sure. In any case, the cloud background, journaling spot, brackets, frames, etc. were already in place. All I had to do was add my photos and journaling. Took like 5 minutes or less!
It's fun to use these quick templates once in a while just to get the job done. I probably couldn't have done it better myself, and I thought the clouds looked pretty summerish. I am always talking about summer clouds with Ailin and showing her these gorgeous cumulous clouds that show up only in summer here. It reminds me of the movie Tonari no Tottoro, thus we made sure she had a chance to watch that DVD during the month of July.

Photos of Jimmy's Wedding: Used a template by Kate Pertiet, which can be dressed up or dressed down very easily.
Gotta include these little jaunts to Korea, don't we? Well, this time it was for a wedding, and I chose a very simple template where I could fit a variety of photos. Love the title? It's so obvious, but it came with the template and I just added the "of Jimmy's wedding" on my own. Notice that I changed all the rectangle colors to match the colors from the photos? Maroon, red, yellow, blue and white were all taken directly from their Korean-style kimonos and her wedding dress.
This is a template by List Girl Designs from a kit called Good Gumdrops. The red paper is from Geek Chic designs, otherwise known as Jen Graham.

This template is an Ali Edwards template (#20).

I wanted to see what would happen if I chose two completely different templates and tried to match them up by using the same colors and some of the same elements. I used the postage stamp-cropped photos from the right side template for the photos on the left side. I also copied the scalloped borders over. I think it works well and it gave me a chance to use tons of photos up.

July Birthdays: Most of the papers and elements used here are from a digi kit called When the Wind Blows by Geek Chic (Jen Graham). The green balloon is #1 from an alpha set inside a kit called Bug Catcher by Chelle's Creations.

Ah, the infamous birthday month for our family. Like the first page from this entry, I wanted to try my hand at designing my own page from scratch. Perhaps my style really has been affected by Nic Howard's class. Notice the balloons made from random elements and ribbons!

My Question to you: Which pages do you like better - the ones that look like they are layered with embellishments (meant to look 3D) or the ones that are purely flat-looking? Please answer in the comments.

Friday, August 6, 2010

TGIF: Four Day Weekends

For me, at least. I took Thursday and Friday off and stayed home both days to veg clean the house from top to bottom. I also got caught up on Glee, So you think you can dance and began researching for my new "project" - to be announced soon. Oh, and I saw 2 great movies - one at the theater and one on iTunes. No, actually, the one at the theater sucked, but it was Ladies' Day and I only paid 1000 yen for it. (Salt). The one on iTunes was surprisingly interesting (Chalk, a fake documentary about high school teachers). Salt and Chalk - that is a good pairing. I wonder what that would taste like.

I used to do this frequently, but stopped for a while - it's called a Monthly Round-up. So, for the month of July 2010, this is what went on in my life and in my family's life.

My 34th birthday
Yuki-chan's 60th birthday
Yusuke's 34th birthday

Parents went on road trip to Reno
I assisted in a 3-day lecture (no, not all day lectures!) at Kanda Gaigo University's summer seminar


  • Draws bodies complete with arms, hands, legs, ears and bandaids
  • Applies bandaids to MY owies
  • Goes swimming every day with her daycare buddies
  • Still likes pink
  • Fell in love with the movie Shrek
  • Went to a movie in a theater for the first time (Toy Story 3)
  • Learned how to sing Doe a Deer, a Female Deer, Ray, a drop of Golden Sun...complete with hand gestures (that I totally made up!)
  • Loves to listen to Simon & Garfunkel (but still calls them the Wiggles)


  • Still has a very charming smile
  • Is learning to walk - can do up to five steps before falling
  • Says Mama, especially when upset or in need of being picked up
  • Gets mad during mealtime and throws food, plates and/or silverware (then gets over it and starts eating again like nothing happened)
  • Tries to get into Max's room whenever his door is open
  • Enjoys playing with the pots and pans in the kitchen while I cook dinner
  • Likes to turn the shower water OFF while others are using it

Movies I Saw in the Theater
An Education
Sex and the City II

Movies I Saw on DVD

Books I read
An Abridged Version of Me, from A to Z by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Best Discoveries

  • Lupicia tea makes great summer iced tea - just add water, no boiling necessary. Amazing!
  • Joined Weight Watchers online - hoping to finally make some progress on my weight loss goals.
  • There ARE online Masters programs from the USA.
  • Yusuke feels lonely when I fall asleep with the kids and he comes home to a dark, quiet house.
  • All Top . com as a way to manage some of your favorite blogs for reading.
  • Evernote as a way to keep track of your project ideas, resources & inspiration.
  • Facebook is actually kind of fun.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Working Mom Wednesdays: English in the Media Class

Some people wanted to hear about how this class turned out. The last day was yesterday, and we took a survey to see how the students felt about each of the activities we did.

Day One: Video Sharing and Viral Videos (You Tube)
Here is a list of what we showed:
Rick Astley - Never Gonna Give You Up (The Art of Rick Rolling)
Frozen Grand Central (brought to you from Improv Everywhere)

After explaining a little about the short history & purpose of You Tube (my students first guessed that You Tube is over 20 years old!), we talked about viral videos in general. Then, we showed them the videos and had them fill out a chart where they had to match the number of views they thought that video had gotten so far. (The year of posting was listed next to the video titles, and the answer box with all the numbers in it was provided below.). They also were asked to jot down their impression of each video.

If we had had more time that day, we would have asked them to go ahead and find a few virals on their own and then recommend some good ones to the class.

We ran out of time though because we also showed them some of the parodies and remixes that people have made based on the original viral videos. Once again, the BLACK HOLE that is You Tube.

Day Two: Interactive Web Sites and Games (Discovery, Scholastic, Cartoon Network, etc.) - we will be sticking with the G-rated types!
I was not in class on Day 2, 3 or 4 due to a prior commitment, but Chris taught by himself. From what I gather, he introduced some of these web sites and then let them play around.
He then gave them some hints about how to get more information about their own hobbies  and showed them how to bookmark the sites.

Day Three: Social Networking Sites (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc.)
I think MySpace is kind of dead and in fact, was bought out by Facebook or something? Anyway, it is the "original" social networking site for English-speakers, so Chris introduced it. In Japan, they use Mixi, which is still very popular.
He first had the students make their gmail accounts since most of them only use their cell phones for texting. He then talked about each of the above sites, their purposes, and had the kids brainstorm ways to stay safe while using these sites. Then, he let them start their own Facebook and Twitter accounts. Most of them are already using Facebook, I think.

Day Four: TV Shows & British Humor
Pink Panther (actually from the Steve Martin movie)
Little Britain (interview with Elton John)

Since I wasn't there, I am not entirely sure which clips from these shows that Chris decided to show, but the above links will give you an idea in case you have never seen these shows.

Chris let the students watch the clips, write down some of the phrases they could catch and then rate the clips according to "funniness".

Day Five: TV Shows & American Humor
I came back to school on this day, so I could actually teach this class, but I was very pressed for time in choosing clips. In fact, since there are billions and billions to choose from, it was so hard to narrow it down! Here is what I showed in the end.

Saturday Night Live
The Famous sketch starring John Belushi, where he is a samurai sandwich maker. We could not get this off of You Tube and Chris used another web site to access it. It was actually quite difficult to get decent-quality clips of SNL from You Tube. We do not have access to NBC.com because we are located outside of the USA.

Sara Palin & Hillary Clinton (done by Tina Fey and Amy Poelher). This was inaccessible as well, and we could only get the Good Morning America news report clip. Sucks! But anyway, our sophomore students barely remember Palin and they only know Hillary because of her husband, Bill, so they didn't really get it. But, we wanted to show an example of political satire because that is SO NOT DONE HERE in Japan.

Mad TV
It was so easy to get clips of Mad TV from You Tube.

Sitcom - That 70's Show

The Culture Lab (Japanese Sushi) - Since this is subtitled in English and narrated in Japanese, the kids were on the floor laughing about how hilarious and off-putting this explanation of how to eat sushi and how to act in a sushi restaurant. They loved seeing how Japan is "made fun of" by other countries and wanted to see more. They felt the same about the Korean drama parody.

We asked students to observe the "style" of comedy, which we broke into the following categories:
Cultural (ethnic, age, gender, political, etc.)
(Honestly, I cannot remember any more of our categories.)

Day Six: Blogs
We introduced them to various types of blogs, parts of blogs (blog rolls, link lists, comments, etc.), history and purpose of blogs, what makes them popular, etc. Then, we showed them how to find blogs according to their interests.

All Top

Finally, we gave them time to use one of these resources to search for a few blogs that they could recommend to the class. This is a tough, but important topic, for students because we want them to read more! Plus, we want them to read about topics they are interested in and choose by themselves, BUT so many of our students don't like to read.

Day Seven: Podcasts (both audio and video podcasts)
The Podcast industry has grown immensely in the past couple years, so it is harder than ever before to go through iTunes (or other web sites) and narrow it down to a good sampling. First, I wanted to show students how to access the podcasts on iTunes. Some of them have iTunes and use it for music and music videos, but most had never ventured into the podcast category. What you must remember is that audio podcasts are going to be very difficult for them to follow, even with a vocabulary list. (Believe me, I have tried it!) So, I tried to stick with video podcasts. Here is what I showed them:
Annoying Orange: The Lady Pasta episode
Delicious TV: How to make Cauliflower Rice
Sesame Street: The Letter L
The Sound of Young America: Jordin Ranks America (audio)
TED: Legos for Grown-ups

The students really loved Annoying Orange because the episode happened to be a spoof on a Lady Gaga video, and my students are really into her right now. They were absolutely shocked that someone would make a cauliflower dish to look like white rice, and they thought it was a joke! They enjoyed writing down all the L words as they watched the Sesame Street episode. No one (including me) really got the Jordin Ranks America, but I have to say that it is one episode of a variety/interview podcast, and is actually quite interesting. TED, if you don't know, is conference which invites people to give speeches about a certain theme. It is a great way to find good example speeches to show students when teaching presentation skills.

Day Eight: TV Shows: Sitcoms - I ended up showing an episode from Full House, Season 8. I didn't have time to make a brand new worksheet and was also unable to download the sitcoms I wanted from iTunes. I guess they are not available on iTunes or something. In any case, Full House is fairly easy for our kids to follow and they already know all the characters, so it was easy to do it, even without a worksheet! We just stopped the DVD about every 5 minutes and asked them to summarize what was going on so far.

Student Response
Response to the class included comments about how fun it was to watch the American comedy clips, how difficult the British comedy clips were, how they would like to watch other sitcoms, dramas or movies, and even suggested a few (Glee, Friends, Ghost Whisperer, Mr Bean, Hannah Montana, etc.), how they would like to try some singing and dancing themselves, and have more chances to "talk in English." (Well, I would love for my students to talk more in English and I give them plenty of chances to do that. They need to take it a step further by responding to me in English rather than stare blankly or continue chatting with their friends in Japanese. Oh, I love being a teacher.) Anyway, that is it on the Media Class!

On that last day, we allowed the kids to bring in snack food, and we provided the beverages, so we could have a "party" while watching Full House. It was a fun way to end the class, and now I am officially DONE for the summer. I still have to work and prepare for the fall classes, and I need to start checking summer homework (deadline on August 10) which will be coming in via email.