Sunday, May 30, 2010

Scrapbooking Sunday: Finding Time to Do It

I had to skip the last few days due to lack of time. You see, I had to spend most of my work hours actually working as I had a long list of "Things that need to be corrected and handed back." It started with exams from the week before, but included monthly book reports, speech evaluations, skit evaluations, homework assignments, weekly journals, etc. I know the key is to NOT assign and collect work so that I never have to do any correcting - that is what lots of teachers I work with used to do, but I noticed in recent years, that even the Japanese English teachers are collecting grammar workbooks on a regular basis and actually going through them page by page. Anyway, I cannot fall behind on correcting now because there is no way I am taking that stuff home and correcting here...home life does not allow me those time luxuries.

Speaking of luxuries, as I sit at the computer at 10pm on a Sunday night, drinking a hot cup of chai and typing on my blog, I'll tell you that the truth is I would much rather be scrapbooking. I promised to write about how I find the time to do it though, so rather quickly, I will give some hints about how I make it happen.

My scrapbooking desk is located in the middle of our house, so I can see and hear the TV while I work. It is next to the computer, so I can easily do some computer-related scrapbooking steps and switch between the two when needed. It's not like I want to be watching TV all the time, but having the desk in a central location means that I am "always present". For now, with small kids, I have to be present at all times.

My current page is always sitting out on my desk, so when I can grab a few moments here and there, I do something. One page comprises many small steps each of which can be accomplished in seconds or minutes. Some of those steps involve the computer and can even be done at work, on my breaktime, of course.

If I am late on completing an assignment for a class, I find a way to do some of the steps at work. For example, one day, I brought my half-finished lay out to work with some inks, sandpaper, and glue tape and I sat there during my breaktime and sanded down the edges of my papers, inked them & then adhered them together. Colleagues who could not see what I was doing mistakenly thought I was filing my nails!

At home or on weekends, as soon as the kids are happily playing (because we all know how long that will last), I sometimes do a few steps - such as choosing paper for my next lay out, cutting up some paper embellishments, online shopping for more supplies, etc. I have been known to be inking and sanding paper while Luka sits next to me playing with some toys. Today, he was crawling all over me while I tried to choose paper for my next lay out.

Lastly, this is the most important thing, I demand to have time for myself. Monthly Craft n Chats are not enough for me to complete weekly assignments for class, so if I get behind (or I feel like I am going insane), I tell Yusuke I need the weekend evening time to do some scrapbooking. He uses this time to watch DVDs or even to go to a movie by himself. In fact, this past weekend, I actually went ahead and printed out the movie schedule and set it on the table for him. He took the hint, but opted not to go out as there wasn't anything worth seeing. Instead, he stayed home and watched TV, but he understood that he had to leave me alone. I think I need to do this more often.

Oh, and as I have mentioned before about my dirty, messy house - it is partly because I do spend my "free" time on scrapbooking. Sometimes, you just have to play it like that.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Traveling Tuesdays: Summer Vacation Spots

It's May, so Japanese people are already planning their summer trips for August. In most cases, you must plan far in advanced in order to secure your hotel rooms - things fill up quickly.

Yusuke and I haven't had time to talk about it yet. I don't know if we will go anywhere, and it's been years since we went somewhere memorable. Here, people usually escape to the mountains or to the beaches. We used to go to a place in the highlands of Nagano called Kurumayama. Kuruma means car, and that is exactly what you needed to get up there.

Kurumayama is a ski village in the winter, which makes it a great place for hiking in the summers. It is located in the southern part of Nagano, up in the highlands. We went there sans car so that meant a lot of buses and walking for us. Pre-kids, that was do-able. Now, that would not be the case, so we've put off going there until our kids our older.

The best part about Kurumayama is our favorite pension. Pensions take after the European style of pension which is to serve both breakfast and dinner. The Shetland is a small pension run by a couple. The guy cooks the meals and wife serves them, but they must be pretty busy cleaning and fixing things all day long. It can't be an easy business to run. For dinner every single night, they serve steak. Wine is all you can drink and you can sample wines from nearly every prefecture in Japan. If we ever get back to Kurumayama, we will for sure stay there again.

Aside from the amazing views, beautiful flowers, wide array of pensions to choose from your stay, and in general a peaceful, uncrowded feeling you can only get when you you leave Kanto area, we most enjoyed hiking down the mountain to the valley where lies a small village called Shirakabako. Shirakabako is actually a lake with a surrounding village, and Shirakaba means birch tree in Japanese.

In it's prime, perhaps during the bubble era of Japan, I am sure that Shirakabako was a happening place, and it still does draw a small crowd, but nothing like the current most popular places for escape in Japan. Most people have never heard of this place, so let's keep that way.

So, what's there to do in Shirakabako? Rent bicycles and ride around the lake. Shop at the convenience store for an impromptu picnic and walk to a quiet spot on the lake to enjoy your lunch. Dine at any one of the cafes or restaurants along the lake, some of which have verandas where you can crack open a book, drink your coffee and let the breezes flow over you. Feed the carp in the pond just off the lake. Rent a swan boat or a cheap paddle boat and paddle around the lake. It's just one of those quiet resort towns that doesn't get much attention anymore, but still has all the fun things to do. I am looking forward to going there again someday.

Time to mention it again to Yusuke and see if he wants to try taking the kids there this summer. Problem is that he refuses to drive, and I cannot imagine taking the kids there without a car!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Manic Monday: TV

There was a time when all I could get of American TV was occasional episodes of Full House and some obscure Canadian sitcom that I had never heard of. Other than that, I watched Japanese TV when I could stand it. Four years ago, we started subscribing to Cable TV and there are about 5 channels that sometimes have shows I am interested in wasting my time on.

Here's what I watch:
American Idol - We are only about 4 weeks behind the live version, and unfortunately, Google Entertainment News keeps us up to date with their weekly headlines. The results themselves cannot be avoided, but many of us still enjoy watching the "drama" unfold. Although this year's "drama" is kind of predictable and the contestants themselves are a little on the plain side, I do enjoy it. At least it's English, right? My pick since the beginning has been Lee DeWyze, so we'll see how it goes later this week. In Japan, we just said good-bye had Shania Twain country week on the show.

Glee - Could TV get any better than this? It's high school. It's teenagers. It's music, but not cheesy, corny stuff like High School Musical (which is good, in it's own right). It's quirky characters that we can all somehow relate to. If you have not seen it yet, go find an episode and watch it.

Hannah Montana - I make Ailin watch this every night. It's her educational English TV. I am so serious. We don't have a lot of choices here and I refuse to let her watch some of the cartoonish stuff that is on. Anyway, we both enjoy it.

That's it for today. I don't have time to watch much, and as it is, I have to record it and watch it at my leisure. Leisure? Ha? I meant, when I actually have a chance to sit down and fold laundry, which is only once a week, these days.

Gone are the days of my daily 10am tea break. Sigh.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Scrapbooking Sunday: Golden Week

Remember last week I talked about our Golden Week trip to Hokkaido? This time, I want to show off my 3 lay outs. I was thinking about making one more, but have not decided the exact theme yet. All three were done for the Dimensional Details class. Click on the lay outs to see them up close.

The focus here was on making our own scalloped border using punched out circles. Also, using lines to sort of draw a line beneath the photos, and of course lots of layering and painting. The theme is just highlights of our "family trip" to Hokkaido.

This double lay out was a bonus assignment. Left side was supposed to be a sort of collage of many, many small photos showing one event or trip. The right side was supposed to be journaling. I often journal in this fashion for our trips, so this was very easy to do. I've had this cool tree paper for a while, but could never find a use for it until now.

I think the focus for this assignment was on title treatment. I used white thickers for the "not famous" letters and painted them with blue/white acrylic, then sponged over with white ink. I really wanted to highlight this photo because of all the tree photos I took on the Tree Tour in Hokkaido, this one turned out the best.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Thank God Its Friday

My chance to give thanks for another the end of another week:

  • A successful field trip with Ailin
  • Tired kids who went to sleep pretty quickly tonight
  • Music on my iPod Touch
  • Co-workers who bring treats in for us once in a while
  • Paperclipping Roundtable Podcast
  • Old friends who email out of the blue
  • Facebook conversations through the private messaging system
  • American Idol
  • Exam Week at work
  • Students who manage to be funny in both Japanese and English
  • My slow cooker

That's all for this week. I would thank my husband for something but I haven't seen much of him this week. Hopefully, we will connect at some point this weekend, once he catches up on his sleep.

Terrible Therrible Thursdays: Parent Child Field Trip

(Note: This field trip actually took place on Friday, but since I am writing this one day late, I'll write about it for the Thursday theme.)

Today, our daycare had its annual parent/child field trip for 3 years old and up. Normal kindergartens would have a field trip for just kids, but I think our daycare wants to give the parents some bonding time with their kids so we all have to take the day off from work and accompany our kids on this special field trip.

I knew that I would mess it up somehow though. I got the print quite a while ago but could not read all the details, so yesterday, I made sure to ask a few of the parents if there was anything special we should bring along. I also asked the teacher, AND I called up Yusuke at work to ask if he thought Japanese Field Trips (since they are inevitably all exactly the same!) required anything special.

I was told to of course bring a boxed lunch for me and my kid, some snacks, a small picnic sheet, a change of clothes, and that is about it. Nothing new as this was common sense, and I could pick that up from the print.

What I did not pick up was the following:

  • Every kid should wear their P.E. uniform.
  • Sugary and chocolate-ly snacks are perfectly acceptable for field trips (Bring enough to share with the people eating around you!).
  • Fruit would be a nice addition to the already-amazing boxed lunch that you will have made for you child.

So, when Ailin showed to the daycare this morning in her cutest pink Cinderella skirt ensemble, and one of the parents said, "Oh, she's so cute today!" and I looked around, I noticed that EVERY KID was wearing their P.E. uniform. I told her I didn't know we were supposed to dress them in that, and she said, "Oh, I forgot to mention that yesterday. Anyway, it was on the print!"

"In case you have forgotten, I can't read every single kanji out there, and NO, my husband does not look at something and then read it to me, unless I force him to."

So, the teacher offered to lend Ailin an extra gym uniform belonging to the daycare, and they changed her clothes for me while I took Luka to his classroom.

The field trip itself was fun. We went to a huge park which has lots of athletic opportunities for kids, a small petting zoo area, a horse stable where you can let your kid experience riding a horse, great ice cream, a maze, etc.

It happens to be Field Trip season, so there were about 20 other kindergartens, daycares and elementary schools there for their annual field trip as well! And, YES, EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THE KIDS from each school was wearing their P.E. uniforms! So, in Japan, it simply must be common sense to send your kid on a field trip wearing their P.E. uniform, esp if they are going to a park for the day. Lesson learned!

I learned something else today too. Most of the parents who have kids in Ailin's class are actually not Chinese like I thought. Most are of Japanese origin. I am not sure why I came to the conclusion that they are Chinese. Our daycare has a lot of Chinese because it is located in a neighborhood where lots of Chinese families are living. This is neither here nor there, but even they have an advantage over me! They can read the kanji on the papers sent home with our kids.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Working Mom Wednesdays: Work it work it work it

I just want to say that over the years of teaching and especially since becoming a mother, I have perfected the evil stare which lets people know a variety of things. Here are some things they might glean from my stares:

"What are you doing?"
"Stop it."
"I'm watching you."
"Better be quiet."
"Excuse me, I'm talking now."
"And, what exactly do you think you are doing now?"
"That's boring."
"That really su-u-u-ucked."
"I knew you weren't listening."
"Yes, I called on you because you were sleeping."
"See me after class."
"I have absolutely no idea what you just said."

Okay, this is getting to be too fun. Back to work.

Traveling Tuesdays: Cool One-Day Trips in the Kanto Area

One day late but who cares.

Recently, at school we are having the students give informative speeches on the topic of "Cool One-Day Trips in the Kanto Area".

I'd like to pass on what I learned from their speeches.

In Tokyo
Harajuku is a good place to go shopping, visit a famous shrine and see lots of people dressed up in costumes. We are not talking about Halloween scary costumes. Imagine multiple versions of Little Bo Peep walking around, and you will have some idea of what we are getting at. It's called CosPlay.

Akihabara is a great place to buy electronics, visit Maid Cafes and observe lots of anime geeks (called "otaku") in their element. Otaku are "kimochi warui", according to my student. Kimochi warui means "gross."

Asakusa is the best place for first-time foreigners in Japan because you can visit the famous temple with the big red lantern and you can shop along the street at all the little "totally Japanese" stalls where they sell everything from chintzy fans to samurai swords.

In Chiba-city
Aoba-no-mori is a nice, big park perfect for viewing cherry blossoms in the spring.

Soga boasts a mall called Ario, and nearby is Chiba-city's soccer stadium.

In Chiba Prefecture
Urayasu is located between Tokyo and Chiba (much closer to Tokyo though!) and is the home of Tokyo Disneyland and Disney Sea.

Choshi is located on the pacific coast of Chiba and is known for having a soy sauce factory. The soy sauce goes well with the fresh fish served at the restaurants there and the great views of the ocean.

Narita is the home of Narita International Airport. There is a park where you can get a good view of the planes taking off and landing. There is also a farm nearby called Narita Yume Farm and you can milk cows and experience a host of other farm activities with your kids.

Kamogawa is also on the pacific coast of Chiba but a little further south. You can visit the SeaWorld there and see the awesome killer whale show. Mother Farm is nearby for some more cow-milking.

Tateyama is located on the southern border of Chiba, along the Pacific Ocean and because it is so far out of the way, it is a great place to escape the crowds. The hot spring resort has a huge living room-type place to relax in after your bath.

Other Areas of Kanto
Utsunomiya is located in Tochigi prefecture and is famous for chinese dumplings (gyouza). They even have a gyouza festival in November.

Mito is located in Ibaraki Prefecture, just north of Chiba and you can visit their Natto factory. Natto is fermented soybeans often eaten with rice or with raw eggs and rice. Yummy.

FujiQ Highland is a famous amusement park located in Yamanashi prefecture and boasts some heavy-duty scary roller coasters and haunted houses.

Yokohama, as we all know, is like a twin city of Tokyo and is the home of China Town, Yamashita Park, and tons of shopping opportunities. Who doesn't like Yokohama?

Hakkejima Sea Paradise is actually located in Yokohama and has an amusement park, an aquarium and great views all around.

Kamakura is famous for tons of shrines and temples - a perfect place for foreigners to go and get to know old Japan. There is a shopping street with lots of great Japanese souvenir shops, restaurants and cafes. Have fun hiking along the trails from temple to temple.

Wow, I hope you learned something. Next time you come to visit Tokyo area, you won't have to lack ideas of what to do. Congratulations to 1I class on your great speeches!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Manic Monday: Days Off

I had a whole list of cleaning jobs for today because it is Monday and I happen to have the day off to make up for Saturday. It is now 4:30 and I have not done anything on that list.

Like my friend Chris said, "no one's going to notice anyway...except for you, that is!" She's right. I seem to be the only one bothered by certain areas of the house. I can tend to the more obvious stuff within the next 15 minutes - vacuum, dust a bit, tidy up the toys, etc. All that deep cleaning stuff will have to wait. But, I did take Chris' advice and set some Mold Killer Spray on the bathroom mirror just to see what would happen. I think I should give that a wipe before the kids come home.

My main problem these days seems to stem from lack of time at night. When the kids go to sleep at 9pm, I tend to fall asleep right with them and sleep like a log until 5am. Recently, Luka has become more much more mobile and wants to practice his new skills every chance he gets. So, when he wakes up at 5am, he wants to go go go. After a long day at work, being nice to people and acting fairly energetic while teaching, and then dealing with the likes of Ailin all evening long, I am completely exhausted by the time 9pm rolls around.

If I could stay up later, I would tend to the laundry more regularly, maybe even wipe down the bathroom sink sometimes, tidy up the kitchen a bit better, etc. I would also get more time to read or do scrapbooking, or for goodness sake, just veg out like Yusuke does when he is at home.

Why is it SO EASY for him to veg out in front of the TV or computer? In Japanese, we call this "botou suru" and he is so darn good at it. If I sit down to watch some TV, most likely, I am also doing 5 other things at the same time. I am starting to resent people who "botou suru" all the time, but perhaps I am just jealous because I can't do it very well.

Time to get that 15 minutes of cleanin' done.
That's all for Manic Monday. You don't even want to know the gritty details of my morning, so let's not go there.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Scrapbooking Sunday: April Lay outs

I get one day a week to write about scrapbooking or show some of my latest lay outs.

Today, I'll go ahead and put up my lay outs for April. Remember that you can click on the lay outs to see a larger version and then you can read the journaling.

New Kid at School: I took photos of Luka just before and on his first couple of days of daycare.  This was the first week of my current class Dimensional Design with Nic Howard and her main focus is on layering and using a variety of elements. Every week, she gives us a "Build it" assignment and shows step-by-step, how to make the page.

Day 1: This was an assignment for the Adventures in Hybrid Class with May Flaum. We had to use this digital kit by Kate Pertiet to complete the page. Yusuke took this photo of just before we were leaving for my first day back at work, Ailin's first day in the Dolphin class and Luka's first day at daycare.

Ode to Sakura: This was a challenge from the Dimensional Design class. We had to use scraps from our ever-growing scrap collections along with glimmer mist to create a nice background. I also made up this song for Ailin during sakura season and used it for the journaling. (Translation: Cherry, Cherry. The cherry that fell from the tree. Pick it up. Pick it up. Let's eat it! ... NO!) She likes to say the NO! part at the end.

BKC Easter: The focus here is to create a cool background using old stickers just behind the photos. Isn't that the coolest thing? I think everything goes so well together in this one.

BKC: A bit more detailed lay out about our BKC Easter Party. This is a digital one using a template called Stamped Frame LT12 from Kate Pertiet.

Cool Guy: Just had to highlight Luka's first haircut. This was an extra assignment I did for the Dimensional Detail class. We were supposed to create our own backgrounds using letter stickers or even sillouettes of letter stickers or letter templates. I have an entire metal alphabet that I am afraid to use, so this was a good way to use them without actually using them up. I didn't add many embellishments because I want some of my lay outs to be flatter for the album. 

By the way, my colleague asked me how I can possibly have time to do so much scrapbooking. That is a topic for another Sunday, but I want to point out that those colorful rhinestone embellishments are actually one big sticker! I didn't sit there and put them on the page one by one. 

Hair Dilemma: Once in a while, I have to do a page about Yusuke. (Actually, sometimes I run out of themes for our assignments, and I end up dreaming up these silly pages. We had to put more focus on our photos by darkening the area just behind them. 

Friday, May 14, 2010

Thank God It’s Friday

I thought this would be a good day to recognize some of the things I am grateful for this week. Being aware of all you have to feel thankful for is a great way to stay positive and improve your life. In the simplify 101 class, we were asked to keep a diary and write down a list of things each day. I stopped after about a month, but I think it would be good to get into the habit again…even if just once a week.

1.    Beautiful weather these past few days.
2.    Luka is starting to use some sounds that seem to have meaning, at least for him. (mamamama, ngu ngu, ka ka ka)
3.    I am getting the hang of making Japanese style adult obentos for myself.
4.    A 6-day work week. Sounds rough, but actually, we get next Monday off and I am so looking forward to having the house to myself for a whole day! Fingers crossed that no one gets sick.
5.    Coca-cola (Need I say more?)
6.    Yusuke helped with some of the chores this week when he came home and realized I had fallen asleep with the kids.
7. This is the web site I use for menu planning and shopping list-generating. Kudos to this web site!
8.    Mother’s Day – I meant to write about Mother’s Day this week, but anyway, I am still reveling in my memory of it which was an afternoon OFF to go and see a movie at a movie theater, something I had not done in about one year. Alice in Wonderland!
9.    Scrapbooking embellishments – I ordered a few things from Kirsten and they came in the mail this week.
10.  Café Mocha – Maxim brand, 198 yen for a box of six. (Again, need I say more?)

Whoa, that was a difficult brain exercise for the end of my week. No, it’s not the end of my week because I have to work all day tomorrow, but I am very much looking forward to a quiet evening at home with Yusuke after the kids go to bed. (That is, IF I can stay awake.)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Terrible Therrible Thursdays

[One day late due to one long tantrum that caused all of us to collapse in a heap at about 9:30pm last night. I never awoke to finish my blog entry.]

Today is the day when I write something about my kids. It’s not always terrible, but life with a 3-year old is generally unpredictable and chaotic. Her mood swings alone could drive anyone mad. People always said I was a moody and melodramatic person, but I never thought that was a “bad” thing … until now.

I don’t want to say a lot of negative stuff about my own daughter, but I will say that each day brings new challenges along with the same old things. I keep thinking, “Gosh darn it. I forgot the cup again!” These things seem so very important to her and are cause for huge tantrums, whining and screaming.

I often wonder if she is normal for a 3-year old. And, if she is not, then Yusuke and I wonder about our parenting skills. A little while ago, someone told me that everyone makes mistakes in parenting. I’ll have to look up his advice again because it was valuable. But, one piece of advice this guy gave me was to read the book “Children Learn What They Live.” It’s based on a poem by Dorothy Law Nolte. This poem was written in the 70s and then later expanded into a book for parents. I bought the Japanese version as well so that Yusuke could read it. We learned a lot from it, but it is hard to always be a good example for your kids. There are times when I am yelling, “Don’t yell!” at her. It makes no sense. Of course she is going to yell at me if I yell at her.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Working (Mom) Wednesday: Chaos comes to town

When I started this blog and chose the LONG name “Working Mom in Japan”, I was hoping to write a lot about my challenges and tribulations related to being a working mom. It’s been hard to do this though. I haven’t come to terms with all of it yet. I am constantly questioning my decisions, and I find that I don’t have enough distance to write about it objectively. Wednesday’s theme will force me to write SOMETHING though, whether it be about the trials and tribulations or the advantages of working while raising a family. We’ll see how this develops.

Today, I’d like to tell you about my evening routine. A perfect evening runs like clockwork. It is a minute-by-minute plan with no room for tantrums, injuries, toilet accidents and burned dinners. I am not tired at all, and after the kids fall asleep easily on their futon, I rise again to begin my 2nd part of the evening, which includes a few chores but MOSTLY my time to myself before Yusuke arrives home. Last night was NOT one of those evenings.

Here is what my evenings are SUPPOSED to be like:
4:50 pm – Leave work and go pick up kids from daycare.
5:45 pm – Arrive home
5:45-6:00pm – Put everything away, get Ailin’s snack, start running the bath
6:00-6:15pm – Relax on couch with kids, nurse Luka
6:00-7:00pm – Make dinner
7:00-7:30pm – Eat dinner
7:30-7:45pm – Clean up, tidy house, prepare for baths
7:45-8:30pm – Bathtime
8:30-9:00pm – Storytime
9:00pm – Bedtime
9:00-11:00pm – Chores & MY time for emailing, scrapbooking, American Idol-watching, reading, etc.

I have a few standing policies:
  • Always leave work at 4:50 pm.
  • Never do errands after work with the kids in the car.
  • Always have dinner at 7:00 sharp.
  • Always clean up dinner dishes BEFORE bathtime.
  • Always have the kids in bed by 9:00, if not before.
  • Never, ever bring work home with me.

Obviously, the above schedule and policies fail to leave room for, well, failures. Little failures throughout the day that can end up spelling disaster and chaos all at once. Like yesterday.

Here are some examples of my typical failures:
  • Leaving work 30 minutes late.
  • Forgetting to buy certain ingredients for this week’s menu.
  • Giving Ailin her snack in the wrong bowl which inevitably leads to a tantrum of some sort.
  • Taking too long to [quickly] check my email before dinner.
  • Forgetting to marinade something that was planned for that night’s dinner. (also, forgetting to defrost something.)

Some things lead to failure due to issues beyond my control:
  • Bad weather, which slows everything down
  • Lack of clean laundry due to days of rainy weather
  • Illness
  • Unforseen emergencies, such as lost data, emails that need to be responded to immediately, etc.

Let’s just say that yesterday was one of those days when everything that could go wrong, did and that it lead to chaos. I got called out on it though. At 9:35 pm, I was on the computer doing some “emergency emailing” while Ailin was running around playing with my cell phone and Luka was asleep in his bouncer chair. Neither had been bathed yet. I was afraid that if I put them to bed, I would fall asleep with them and, for the 4th night in a row, be unable to send those ever-important emails. Then, in playing with my cell phone, she accidentally video dialed Yusuke, and I suddenly could hear a very confused voice on the speaker phone saying, “Hello! Ailin! What are doing? Where’s Mama?” Uh-oh. I quickly hung up the phone and then he called back to ask me why Ailin was still awake. I explained it was just one big chaotic night and that we were running late.

We were running late! Ailin had a tantrum about the strawberry koala cookies I gave her, then she was upset about the drink I wouldn’t give her until she would say “please”, then she was upset because I bumped her on the way through the dining area and her drink spilled on the floor, then she peed her pants because of all this stress and crying. Then, I realized the meat had not defrosted in the fridge so I had to use the microwave to defrost it the rest of the way. After that, I noticed that the recipe for the dinner was too long and involved – there’s no way I could pay attention to it while looking after the kids, so I had to think of a good substitution. Luckily, it was ground meat and thanks to growing up in my mom’s house, I developed 3 old stand-bys for ground meat that never require a recipe – spaghetti and meat sauce, sloppy joes and tacos. So, I switched to sloppy joes and that took a while. By the time we ate, it was already 8:30pm. I still had that darn email to attend to and was determined to finish it up.

The night ended well though and I will include this part because I learned some things from it:
  • Not everything will get done.
  • Not everything will get done perfectly.
  • Yusuke does help out.
  • Some things can wait ‘til tomorrow.
  • Ailin needs to use the toilet as soon as she gets home.

When I awoke after putting the kids to sleep, Yusuke was already home, and I finished up some of my chores. Couldn’t do everything I wanted, but I did manage to fold the laundry that had been sitting there since last weekend, and I also put away the clean dishes which were in danger of toppling over and knocking someone unconscious. And, for once, Yusuke was in the mood to chat. He actually told me all about his day at work, and then we chatted about the weekend plans while he used the computer, and I scrapbooked on the floor next to him. We stayed up ‘til nearly 2am but it was a nice change from usual pattern of crabbiness and non-communication. I am looking forward to the weekend now.

Trips in Japan Tuesdays: Hokkaido

Tuesdays are hereby going to be centered around travel, particularly traveling in Japan. I love talking about cool vacation spots, even if those are one day trips close to home. I’ll start with Hokkaido because we went there for Golden Week last week.

For those who don’t know, Hokkaido is the northernmost island of the main four in Japan. It is shaped like a blotch of ink, and we flew directly to the center of this blotch to a small airport called Asahiyama.

We stayed there for 2 nights: The first night in Biei Village and the second in Shirogane Onsen Hotel.

Upon arrival, we rented a van and drove to nearby Biei where we ate lunch at the Hotel Biei Love (not a LOVE Hotel!). Biei is known for curry udon because local ingredients are used to make the udon (wheat) and curry (potatoes) and the beverage (milk) served with it.

After lunch, we went tree sightseeing. Really. I was pretty shocked about all this driving around, tree-map in hand, searching for specific trees just north of Biei Village. These trees set on the sides of farm fields seemed oddly familiar to me. Wisconsin has tons of scenes just like this. After a while, I got into it though. Many of these trees are accompanied by small parking lots for the tourists, back-stories about why the trees are famous, names, and even a few have souvenir stores. Yes, it’s odd, but some of these trees were used in movie scenes and advertisements. One, called the Mild Seven tree, was used in a Mild Seven cigarette ad, and is therefore a must-see if you go to Biei.

Late in the afternoon, we stopped by Yusuke’s Great Aunt’s house for a visit. They served us a big dinner and we ended up staying for a few hours. Aunt Fujie married a man from Hokkaido when she was a young woman and has lived there ever since. They used to run an asparagus farm. Yusuke’s mom is still close with her but had never visited her and wanted to do so before Aunt Fujie gets too old to accept visitors. She is now eighty, but looks to be sixty! We had a great time and they served Gengis-kan, Hokkaido’s version of grilled meat, along with an array of sushi, crab and veggies. We had a great time and Yusuke’s mom is still talking about it non-stop.

On the second day, we parted ways with Yusuke’s sister and her husband who went to Furano for the day. Furano is known for a cheese factory and a wine factory. There are lots other quaint things to see and do in Furano. If we didn’t have kids, it would have been a great way to spend the day. Apparently, they took the train there and just walked around all day.

Meanwhile, we took the kids to Asahiyama Zoo. You cannot go to this area of Japan and NOT take your kids to this ever-famous zoo. I am still unsure of why it is so famous though because we couldn’t actually see anything worthwhile. It was so crowded that we had to stand in the ticket line for one hour and by the time we entered, long lines extended out of every exhibit. It was a hot day, so we decided to walk around and see a few things while pretending to be excited for Ailin’s sake and then leave just before lunch. We saw two deer, the brown bear, a chimpanzee, a couple of gibbons, the orangutan, and a few Japanese Mountain monkeys, but none of them were doing anything exciting. We missed out on the all the cool stuff that this zoo is known for. In a word, it su-u-u-cked. But, such is life when you live in Japan and try to take your kids to a popular destination during Golden Week.

For lunch, we drove back to Biei Village and ate at a regular old soba shop on the main artery that runs through town. Very nearby is a Vegetable Tourist Center where tourists can sample fresh-roasted potatoes among other veggies, and they can buy and send asparagus to far-flung family and friends. It’s true. Japanese people often send veggies to each other in the mail. My mother-in-law was dying to send asparagus to all her friends. Yusuke and I were just hoping to sit down at the café and enjoy a coffee along with a soft-serve cone.

We met up with Yusuke’s sister and her husband in the late afternoon and drove to Shirogane Onsen. It is located just south of Biei about 45 minutes. We enjoyed looking at the hundreds of skinny birch trees as we drove along the road to the hot spring. As soon as we arrived, we prepared to bathe in the hot spring (not an easy feat with 2 small kids, as it was their first time, so Ailin was quite excited until she got into the hot water. Then, she couldn’t wait to get out. Same for Luka.) After the bath, we had a huge Japanese-style dinner served in our room. Then, it was bedtime for the kids. Yusuke and his mom went across the hall to continue partying with Nanako and her husband.

On our last day, we tried to do some souvenir shopping around our hotel and found the waterfalls and the river that feeds our hot spring. If I had known about that, I would have appreciated our stay there much more. Truly magnificent.

On the way back to the airport, we stopped by the Blue Pond, which is located very near that river. We had to park and walk quite a ways to see it, but it was worth it. Reminds me a scene from the Harry Potter movies.

We did a lot more souvenir shopping at the airport before leaving to return to Tokyo. I made sure to bring back chocolate-covered and caramel-covered potato chips for my co-workers.

Eventually, I will post some lay outs about this trip and you'll see a much more personal perspective about our adventure to Hokkaido.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Manic Monday: Podcasts

I've decided to take a new direction with my blog and see how this works. Every day of the week will be a theme of some type, and I will try to write about a variety of things - all things that I am interested in or dealing with, and of course, scrapbook lay outs will be featured once a month or so. Mondays will be "Manic Mondays" which sort of gives me a chance to write about what ever keeps me from going insane. If I can't think of anything along the lines of preventing insanity to write about, then I may just tell you a few tidbits about the reality of my life.

In order to keep insanity at bay, I listen to my iPod Touch, particularly after "lights out" time. I discovered that listening to podcasts at that time of day helps to keep me from feeling that my brain is slowly leaking out of my ear while I wait for my children to fall asleep. ("Take your sweet time, kids. I'm listening to another episode of 'This American Life.'") Later in the evening when I go to bed, I can't turn on the lamp and read like a normal person would because it might disturb my precious kids who would wake up and start driving me bonkers again. Another important use for my iPod.

I'll introduce some of my favorite podcasts, and if you could add your own favorites in the comments, that would be so great. I always love hearing what others recommend.

First, if you are over 40, you might be wondering what a podcast is. (Hello, Mom.) Podcasts can be downloaded from the internet, mainly from iTunes, and are like radio programs. You can find podcasts that focus on pretty much any topic. There are also video podcasts which follow the same format. Podcasts are almost always free and are updated on a regular basis depending on who is putting them out.

Many podcasts are associated with a blog or web site, which means you can go directly there and enter your own comments about their shows.

Fun Ones
WTF with Marc Maron. This is a good example of a comedian's podcast where guest comedians are invited on to help him solve ridiculous philosophical issues that crop up in everyday life.

Newsy Ones
I don't personally listen to any of these currently, but there are ones made by CNN, BBC, ABC, NBC, etc. In fact, some of the morning shows do some segments specifically for their podcast audience. There are some podcasts that are more gossip oriented, so if you like celeb gossip, take a look.

Educational Ones
The Stuff You Missed in History Class
If you even mildly enjoyed History Class in high school, then this is a great way to find out even more about World History. This podcast comes from, which includes several other podcasts that center around science. I have learned surprising bits of information about everything from Michelangelo to Patty Hearst! Most of these podcasts are around 20 minutes long.

This American Life from NPR
Storytelling at its best. For me, it all started with David Sedaris, but this show is hosted by Ira Glass. He tells plenty of his own stories, but he also introduces guests storytellers who spin interesting tales about their childhood, friends and bizarre families. All stuff we can relate to on some level.

Anything Else from NPR - In iTunes, you can view all of the podcasts put out by NPR. Enjoy!

Environmental Ones
I sometimes get interested in green technology and green living, and podcasts centered around this theme are so easy to find. Just type "green enviroment" in the search box and you'll get plenty to choose from.

Specialty Hobby Ones
Paperclipping Roundtable - Currently ranked #4 in the arts and crafts category of podcasts, this one is hosted by Noell Hyman and produced by her husband Izzy. Both have their own web businesses, and her web site is called She puts out scrapbooking tutorial videos. For her weekly podcast, she invites 2 or 3 scrapbookers who work in the industry to join her and her husband as they discuss the week's topic. I am hooked on this one. Gee, I wonder why. The podcasts are funny, thought-provoking & lead to quite a discussion between the listeners on her site afterwards.

Spiritual Ones
Appleton (FVUUF) Unitarian
This is my sister's (and her family's) community to which I was introduced when Luka had his dedication ceremony there last fall. I began subscribing to their weekly podcasts around that time, and I have learned so much. They cover topics such as "domestic partnership", "parenting", "coming of age", "greek mythology", "taoism", etc. I have learned more than I can ever express from just a few months of listening. I wish I could be there to hear the real thing every week.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Dimensional Design instructed by Nic Howard is currently Under Way

This is a 12-week course and we are now on Week 6. I have managed to keep up ... barely! It is all thanks to Luka being sick and me having to stay home with him on some of those sick days! With no plans and nothing to do while he sleeps, I can manage to do a few lay outs. This class focuses on layering techniques, inking, painting, stamping, etc. Who knows what else she will have us doing? All I can say is that my ink and stamp collection went from non-existent to needing it's own toolbox!

For the first time in a long time (ever?), I feel like an artist. Kneeling on the floor surrounded by my paints, inks, stamps, papers, etc., my fingers discolored with ink, I can feel my passion. It's a beautiful feeling.

I only have 3 lay outs to show for March. The first is a pre-assignment that we did just to get our toes wet.

We were asked to use scrap papers to create a background. See how much orange there is? 

This was an exercise in layering and also color coordinating. Orange again!

More for March

May Flaum's Adventures in Hybrid Class was fun too. We had to use both Photoshop and Word to create portions of the lay outs - either small photo collages, titles, elements, etc. I had never thought to use some of my digital elements in this way. Just alter them to my taste, print them on cardstock, vellum, etc. and cut it out for a lay out. This class was a great place to experiment, and I learned a lot.

Well, it was March and I was very much dreading going back to work, so some of my lay outs reflect that. Here goes one of them.

This is my first lay out for a mini-album called "Why". This class is a self-paced class that I downloaded from Big Picture Scrapbooking. I mentioned this class recently on the blog.

It's crooked. I know. That happens sometimes, doesn't it? Anyway, this was a Cathy Z design, using some downloaded elements from the hybrid class which I worked with on Photoshop and printed out separately and cut out, and then assembled with real glue tape.

I sometimes try to make lay outs for my Love Story album and this is another one. For the Cathy Z class, we were asked to take one of her designs from earlier in the class and alter it.

This is one of my favorites! I am so in love with this one. The colors are so bright and cheerful. It was fairly easy to make. The papers were a free download from Two Peas in a Bucket, printed on to cardstock, and then cut out. I used flower rub-ons to sort of blend in with the flowers on the green paper. This was a Cathy Z template, and I think the focus was on making titles that stand out. 

My husband thought this was a boring lay out, especially compared to all the others I've made recently. For the hybrid class, we were asked to use a digital template. I sized it down, printed it out on photo paper, found a journal box and added a little swirly thing to it. Put everything together with matching cardstock and some inking. Simple & flat is good because albums can get really thick if you have 3D elements on every single page!

March Lay Outs are Up (and there are a lot of them)

Keep in mind that I was taking 3 classes at once during the month of March. I'll show these in 3 different blog posts because I want to show each class's lay outs separately.

Cathy Zielske's Design Your Life Class Wraps Up
First, a study in color. For one of the Real World Color assignments, we were asked to choose one of our favorite colors and go through our photo files (iPhoto in my case) and choose photos of that color. It was amazing how easy this was to do. I chose green and orange. I have noticed since how often I choose orange papers from my collection when I start a page and how often I buy orange things. Weird. Who would have thought that I would come to like orange so much?

Towards the end of the class, I was running out of theme ideas and since Ailin had just turned 3, I decided to use a collection of photos of her over the past year to show her growth and development. (Honestly though, as I write this in May, I realize that she has changed MORE in the past 3 months than she did over that past year. Terrible Therrible Threes!)

For one of our final assignments, we were asked to go back and choose a favorite lay out design from the entire class and use it again, but with a different theme and photos. I did this lay out originally for our Door County trip with Amy last November. This time, I did a collection of photos from Ailin's day care adventures in Penguin-class. Every month or so, they give us the option to buy photos that they have taken of our kids, and these are just a few of the photos I had from that collection. (Used the Pure kit from Kate Pertiet for this lay out.)

The last all-digital lay out I made for the class. From this point on, I tried to combine my hybrid assignments and Design Your Life assignments, so you will see more in the next post. I have actually forgotten what the focus of this lay out was to be. Can anyone guess?