Thursday, March 22, 2012

One Little Word: Shine for February and March

First of all, I just have to say that the A-Team (Amanda and Adie) had another amazing idea for a mini-writing project. We asked for permission from Ali Edwards to use some components from her One Little Word scrapbook project, and we designed a poster project for our 2nd year students. This was really exciting because first of all, I got to personally email Ali and explain the project to her and then she replied with her blessings! Second, we incorporated several fun components into the project so that students could really be creative with it. The project itself took 3 lesson hours - one for brainstorming and writing the first short essay; one for writing the second short essay and then getting started on the poster design; one for designing and printing the posters. Our plan was to hang all the posters up in the hallway where the 3rd year students will pass by every day on their way to their required IT class. We thought these OWL posters would inspire everyone to work hard during the next school year and make their last year here the best ever!

Now, an update to my OWL for the year. In February, our assignment was to take a series of literal and figurative photos which express our word in some way. Here is my layout. I asked my colleague Chris to take some of the photos for me because he's got a nice camera. I am not sure if any of these photos are literal, but the photo of my car's tail lights will tell you that I get home from work after dark on a daily basis. I keep telling myself it's only for the next year that I have to keep this crazy schedule!

The March layout was just a written assignment, and if I were not doing this album digitally, I could have been more creative. However, I don't mind handwriting these assignments and just sticking them into my album. Basically, we had to write up a list of goals for the year and then choose one to actually take action on within the month of March. Then, write up kind of a schedule for March, the ONE goal for the month, and a report of how our word has manifested itself in the last three months. I had a lot to write about!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What's on my iPhone now?

I thought it would be fun to review some of the apps I use on my iPhone because they have become kind of essential to me. I cannot imagine life without a smart phone now...

Most Used by Me
Day One
For daily journal writing. You can write as much or as little as you want as many times a day as you like. It is kept private, and I find it most useful for transferring over to my scrapbooking of Project Life. It is so easy to forget the little moments and random thoughts, but they are stored right in one place now. One advantage of using this app is that I am much less likely to randomly post elusive status updates on Facebook.

Home Routine
This is a to-do list and cleaning check list all rolled into one. There is a basic template which you can edit according to your lifestyle. The to-do list is divided into three parts: today, this week and later. There are Focus Zones as well for deep cleaning of certain areas of your home and it keeps you on a schedule - one week per zone. There is no pressure really except that you it fills in a part of a star every time you complete a task, and it counts up your accomplished tasks each day. When you open the app, the first thing you see are these partially filled in stars and a note that says something like, "You've completed 6 tasks today!" Like a child, this really motivates me to want to do more.

Addicting. I downloaded the app the day of the earthquake (3/11) because it was the only way to contact people for a first few hours. I have been addicted to it every since.

While driving in the car, this is a useful app for when you hear a song but don't know who the artist is. It listens to the song for 10 seconds, sends the data to Shazam, Shazam sends back everything you have ever wanted to know about the song. Does not work with live human voices. I tried it. But, this is my way of finding out about new music to add to my iTune collection.

Just started this today but I can already see it will be addicting. It is a way for friends to share images of just about anything with each other. Each person maintains their own "bulletin boards" of whatever topics they like, and if you see something on another person's board, you can repin it.

On a Needs Basis Only
I use dropbox with my work/grad school laptop and my home desktop. Can't live without the syncing of my files and the knowledge that my most important files are safe. It makes things so much more efficient too. I use it on my iPhone only once in a while.

When studying at a noisy cafe, this certainly comes in handy. Not only does it have white noise, but it's also got a variety of color noises, nature noises, and whatever else your heart would desire.

Also downloaded right after 3/11. Almost everyone in Japan has it now, so when there is an earthquake (a bigger one), everyone's smart phones start going off. This happens on trains, in offices, in classrooms, in stores, everywhere. It shows you some basic info about the earthquake along with a map pinpointing the location of the epicenter. It sometimes goes off BEFORE the earthquake arrives to your area and sometimes after or right at the same time. It is not always consistent, but then again, neither are earthquakes!

If you want to text with friends who live abroad and also have iPhones, this is the way to do it. You can also call and talk for free, but I have to admit there is a bit of lag time. The texting works well though!

When I am truly bored, I check out this app to find out what the latest flicks are. You can watch the trailers, and if I were in the USA, I would find the movie theater location and price information very useful.

Tunein Radio
This gives you access to radio stations from around the world. When I first downloaded it, I listened to Q106 (Madison's Country Station), but it kept cutting out, so I gave up. I am sure that there are some radio stations which never cut out ... still looking though.

When lost or in an unfamiliar place, I find this app useful for finding coffee shops, gas stations, restaurants, banks, etc. in the immediate area where I am at that moment. This even works in Japan!

Used by the Kids
Mr Thorne
My friend Gayle recommended this one. It's a British guy who teaches the alphabet and phonics via these video feeds. You can watch him on You Tube as well, but if you download the app (it's 4.99), you can access everything right there on your iPhone anytime your kids are bored. Ailin watches it all the time and she really catches on to it. He is a unique and memorable person, so I think kids like him.

Both of the kids enjoy these sets of quizzes that were actually designed by a guy who wanted his kids to be able to play games on his iPhone. The quizzes range from easy to difficult and are accompanied with sound, so they hear the words/letters and have to choose the answer. After getting a certain number correct, they get to choose a sticker and place the sticker on an outdoor scene.

Friday, March 16, 2012


My 6th grad school class (Second Language Acquisition) just finished and we are at the end of the school year, so I am on a little studying break this week. That's about to end though because my 7th class (Grammar) will start on Monday. Before that, I want to write a couple of posts. One thing I really miss while focusing on the degree is writing on my blog.

Recently, because of certain events that have happened, which I cannot get into here, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It gives me great relief and even more motivation to finish the degree and move ahead with my life. Every day, my kids remind of me of why I am doing this, and as we get closer to Ailin's impending "graduation" from daycare/kindergarten in one year, I know that by the time my courses finish, I will be able to be around more for them.

What I want to focus on for this post is my Project Life.

Project Life is now in it's 3rd month, and since it is a work in progress, I am going to discuss the process/design for the last two months. Basically, in trying two different approaches, I'm attempting to see which one works better or if I need to go a different route for the next month. I am not completely happy with either January or February's layouts, but since the purpose of Project Life is to capture real life, I think I have managed to do that in both months. So, it's not all bad.

January 2012 Project Life
My basic approach for January was to collect information for Journaling, tidbits such as Ailin's drawings, and photos of everyday life. I was able to use photos taken on my iPhone as well, so it was easy to do. On the 15th and on the 31st of the month, I scanned tidbits I had collected thus far, and once a week, I went through my iPhoto files and chose representative photos for PL. I kept everything in folders (one for scans, one for photos, one Day One app for iPhones, and one for journaling. Ailin helped a lot by choosing and even taking some of the photos, and she helped to remind me of information I need for journaling. I tried to keep lists of things such as Luka's new words, funny moments, dinner menus, etc. Ailin helped with this part too.

Click on the images to enlarge.

At the end of January, I quickly put together all the lay outs using the Becky Higgins templates and papers. It was quite simple once I got comfortable using these particular templates. I admit that they are not very pretty or interesting, but they serve their purpose for Project Life.

February 2012 Project Life
I tried a different approach for February, which was a busy and stressful month, especially at work. I ended up using my Day One app to document daily life, particularly feelings I was having concerning my job or my progress with my grad school course. In fact, I forgot to keep lists of Luka's new words, which are now actual sentences and a little harder to keep track of. The Day One app is useful except that the entries cannot be exported to a word processing program, and so I had to retype all of the entries into Word later. I have read that Day One will soon add the ability to export entries, but that has not materialized yet. I did the same process of collecting memorabilia and scanning it and collecting photos. I had more layouts this time because I had used Day One for the entire month and had more journaling to spread across the layouts, and there were a few major events to feature, including Ailin's 5th birthday.

Click on the images to enlarge.


Because I was so busy in February, I couldn't finish February's layouts so quickly, and it wasn't until March 15th or so that I finally finished. This is an important issue. For one thing, it puts me behind in March, and I was less motivated to take photos or collect memorabilia for March knowing that I am already falling behind. For another thing, it is not as much fun. I actually would prefer to do random layouts instead of a Project Life type album, BUT this is what I have chosen to do this year and it is really all I have time for.

That said, Ailin and (maybe Luka too) love these Project Life pages! She really enjoys helping me choose photos and she loves to see her scanned drawings (and other stuff) on these pages. One small problem though. Yusuke doesn't make many appearances in this album and I guess that is a reflection of how much time he spends with us. I should ask him to take a few photos at work or on his way to work...

Now, notice the blank spots where journaling would normally go. Some things I just cannot put on my blog because they are too personal and work-related rants might get me in trouble; however, work-related rants are part of life and I don't mind documenting some of them in the PL album. So please excuse the big orange spaces.

Some people might be wondering what I will do with all these pages that PL produces. I am planning to just have a digital album printed at the end of the year. It will produce a thinner album that will fit on a bookshelf easily, because as you can imagine, I am running out of space for my albums! Well, we'll see how it goes. I think 6 layouts a month is quite enough so February was a little overboard (We can thank my job for that...)

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Little at a Time

Whew! Glad that project is over. Now I can focus on what I am really supposed to be doing - Second Language Acquisition.

So, after listening to my favorite podcast, the Digi Show (a podcast about digital scrapbooking), I realized that in order to link my scrapbook pages to my blog, I should technically be crediting the designers of the templates, papers and elements that I use. I used to do this when I posted individual pages on my blog, but since linking up to Picasa slide show, I have done nothing to properly credit the designers.

This project took about three weeks of diligently work - a little bit every day. I have over 500 templates and over 500 digital kits, so it was a lot to go through and match up. I know I missed a few things, but after all this work, I now have a much better handle of my digital inventory. I didn't even know I owned certain things, so it was a nice surprise to come across various items that I thought were so beautiful and wonderful.

One more step in this project was to protect myself a little bit. I noticed that on Picasa, anyone can download a photo and do whatever they want with it. This might be okay for family and friends, but I would prefer that anyone asks my permission first, so I added a watermark layer to all of my layouts that go on the blog. The AJY2012 is there just to deter people from using or printing my layouts, but for family and friends, if anyone wants something, just ask and I'll email you or snail mail you a normal layout.

Now, on the left side of my blog, there are 5 slideshows. The most recent is the one called "Theme Albums", which features the Daily December album I did at the end of 2011. This is the only family-oriented album I did in 2011, so you won't see an Everyday Life Album for 2011.

Good news though! You will see one for 2012! I am working on Project Life, which is the system designed by Becky Higgins. Each month, I'll do a couple of lay outs relating to our daily life and daily routines, our thoughts, goal progress, and developments. So, I'll be adding a new slideshow called Everyday Life 2012 and it will feature these lay outs along with any random ones that I feel like doing!

Look, I don't know how it will be possible to fit this in, but really Project Life does not take a lot of work. It does, however, require an awareness of one's surroundings. Now, I have a reason to jot things down - new words that Luka says, funny questions that Ailin asks, progress of my goals, bad days, good days, basically the little stuff that makes up life.

Where do I jot things down? I found two ways to do this that seem to work for me. I downloaded an App to my iPhone called DayOne. DayOne should be syncing to my dropbox, but so far I cannot get it to work. For now though, DayOne allows me to type in what ever I want and it keeps track of the date and time, keeping the entries organized like a diary. It is not meant to be shared, so I can write whatever I want without worrying that it is too mundane, too conceited, too happy, or too depressing!

The second way is to open up the Journaling Card templates on the computer, save them in my drop box and have them ready to complete at any time. Last weekend, Ailin helped me fill them out by helping me recall various details of the last few weeks. Even Luka got in on the conversation by telling me all the words he knows, so I could pick out the new ones to add to the list.

One more feature of Project Life is to use ephemera (real stuff) from your life. I want to do the entire album digitally, so I had to find a way to do this properly. After much ado, I made some decisions about the types of things I want to save, and these things must be scannable. I keep a large ziploc bag in the kitchen and I fill it with items that can be scanned later. Some examples of items that I saved recently: the report of my weight/measurement for my first visit to the gym, a to-do list, a cool clothing tag, a recipe, and a menu from a new cafe in our neighborhood. On the 15th of January, I scanned all the items I had so far so that it wouldn't be overwhelming at the end of the month.

The photos - well, each time I upload photos to the computer, I choose a few representative ones and drop them into my Project Life folder.

Here is the key to getting stuff done though: I keep all Project Life-related stuff in my Dropbox folder so I can work on it from my laptop or from my desktop computer, anytime, anywhere.

Hopefully, at the end of the month, I can easily pull everything together into two double lay outs and that will be it!

A little at a time. That's how to get stuff done.

Friday, January 6, 2012

My One Little Word: Shine

Last year, my word was LEARN, and you can see many of the scrapbook lay outs in my slideshow (upper left corner). I explained a little about this experience in my last post. With the help of several good friends, I have chosen a new word for 2012. I wanted something positive and optimistic. Here are the lay outs for January.

If you are interested in this concept, Ali Edwards teaches this class at Big Picture Classes.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Bring it on 2012!

Before I dig into my next grad school class and my regular teaching schedule begins again, I wanted to post an update and some interesting tidbits about 2011. After my fifth grad school class finished on December 19, I have had the last three weeks to play catch-up in other areas of my life. I got a few extra days off of work as well, so that gave me an actual two-week vacation! How rare that is!

Here is what I did during my 2-week vacation at home:
  • Watched 15 DVDs during my morning "study" time and one movie at the theater.
  • Cuddled and played with my kids as much as possible.
  • Cleaned and re-organized several areas of our home.
  • Created several scrapbook pages (digitally).
  • Read 1 1/2 books. (Ha....I guess reading wasn't a priority this time.)
  • Updated our budget for 2012.
  • Roasted a kick-ass turkey for Xmas dinner.
  • Took the kids on a short trip to visit friends in Odawara.
    Work in 2011
    Last year was a toughie. I am hoping that 2012 will be a little easier and that I can focus on more important things. I was forced into supervising the Debate Team at my school, which I spent most of the year feeling very bitter about. Good things did come out of it though. I got to work with a great group of kids and then we made the trip to Kanazawa together. Kanazawa is a snowy area of Japan and I had never been there before, so I was excited about that. The Debate topic for the year was "Death Penalty", and let's just say it is a depressing topic that made me feel even more bitter and down in the dumps than I already was. I am glad it is over, and I hereby would like to announce that I will NOT, under any circumstances, allow myself to be forced into supervising the debate team for another year. I need to focus on other things this year.

    One Goal for 2012

    So, one thing I want to focus on is my health. It's difficult when you are working full time, parenting two small children, juggling grad school classes and cooking and cleaning daily, but I found that my health declined greatly this past year. Call it the Freshman 15, but it was crazy how much weight I gained just in one year of sitting on my butt studying my a*# off. I know it will continue unless I take some action soon. I hereby declare that I am joining Curves and will go after work at least twice a week. Since my contract says that I can leave work at 4:05 every day, I plan to actually DO that and take advantage of that extra time I have before going to pick up the kids. Curves is only a 30-minute workout, but it is a start and it will get me up and moving around more often. Fortunately, our local Curves is in the same department store building where I often study for my grad school classes AND it is next door to the grocery store. Ailin's English class is also in that building, so I might be able to fit in a workout while she is at her English class.

    Savings Plan
    Another issue we are having is saving money, specifically for these astronomically expensive Disney World trips to the USA! I mean, we don't actually go to Disney World, but I think that we have to spend twice the amount that a typical American family would spend on a trip to Disney World, so it feels like that's what we are saving up for every year. Last year, I opted not to travel to the USA because it is so expensive and I was way too busy and stressed to deal with it all. This gave us several extra months to save money for our next trip. That said, I am balking at the amount of money we have to sock away each month in order to make our next trip in July. (Then, Yusuke came along and insisted that he also go with tack on a car rental, his plane ticket and the pet hotel fees for Max. Oy vey.)

    Grad School Update
    So, how did grad school go this past year? It was difficult and demanding. I have never worked so hard in my life, but it was gratifying and true to my "word of the year" which was LEARN, I did a whole lot of learning. The great thing about studying while working is that you can immediately apply what you learn at work, and I saw a lot of positive changes in my teaching approaches and my classroom management. I did well in all of my classes, but it was never easy. Any time that I spent on grad school was at the expense of my children and my marriage. People often asked me how I could do it all. The truth is that I couldn't and I'm not going to lie about that. There were Saturdays and Sundays that I spent all day at the library or an internet cafe stooped over my computer while my husband and his mother took care of the kids. When I could, I would take a day off work in order to make progress on a paper. Most courses required two extensively-researched and well-documented was hell, I tell you. But, I am proud of my work, and with every course coming to a close, I know that I am closer to my degree.

    My grad school requires us to attend two residential sessions somewhere in Asia. This past year, it was a four-day session in South Korea. It was my second time to visit Korea, but I was scared out of my mind. I had never traveled anywhere in Asia by myself before, and I was nervous about getting lost or not being able to communicate. I know that's stupid. I am an English teacher, for god's sake! It turned out to be a simple trip where I met many of my classmates and three of my professors. I was so excited and happy to meet these people in person, and I felt like we already knew each other so well. I also met my soul sister...a woman who lives in Kamakura, not far from Tokyo. We got along really well, and we've been able to encourage each other and give each other advice since then. Aviva rocks!

    Ailin and Luka Update
    Now, to my first love - my kids. They have grown and thrived, despite my being so busy and irritated! I try to give them lots of cuddles and kisses, so they know how loved they are. Luka began talking about half way through the year, and he is a great communicator. I am not sure if others can understand him well, be we sure do. He uses gestures and facial expressions to along with his sentences, and it is just comical. Ailin is starting to learn to read and write, but it is a slow process. I know that if I was home with her more, I would be able to teach her, but that just isn't going to happen any time soon. She is now attending an English school once a week with a boy who recently returned from the USA. I like the English school because they study a variety of subjects - liberal arts, math, science and art. Each month, there is a topic, such as "Sensory Organs". I think she enjoys going, but Yusuke wants to enroll her in some kind of dance class as well. We'll see if that will pan out.

    And, now for my second love - scrapbooking. I thought I would have to put aside scrapbooking for the entire time I am in grad school, but seriously, I could NOT escape from my desire to do it. Of course, I didn't make pages on the scale that I was doing before, but I did two projects. One was Ali Edward's One Little Word which is an easy project that kept me on track with my new year's resolution. I only had to make one lay out a month, and it was quite enlightening. My favorite assignment was making a soundtrack of music that reaffirms our word in some way. I love my soundtrack. Then, we had to make a lay out based on our song choices by choosing some of the lyrics that really stands out to us. I love this lay out because it made me realize that the ONE THING I was learning about was how to be more independent. That is something I never would have realized without seeing all those song lyrics excerpts on one page. The second project I did was Ali Edward's December Daily. You guessed it, this is a 31-lay out project for the month of December. I did every day except for the 13th. I thought of this as a way to tie up 2011, seeing as I had not done any other lay outs throughout the year, and it was a way to celebrate the end of the Debate Season and my first year of grad school.

    I have updated my Scrapbook Pages slideshow on the upper left corner of my blog. Please click on that to see many of my pages from the last two years, including the two projects I did in 2011.

    So, what's on the agenda for 2012? Aside from no debate team and a promise to leave work at 4:05 every day, here is what Yusuke and I have in the works:
    Tokyo Disneyland for Ailin's birthday in February
    A Women's Education, Language and Learning (WELL) retreat in February (Adie and I are scheduled to present at it.)
    A trip to Miyagi (Yusuke's mother's hometown) in May
    A big trip to the USA in July and August (also cousin Ashleigh's wedding)
    A residential session for grad school some time in the fall

    Personally, I am hoping to control my weight better, or to at least not gain more, and to eat more vegetables. Ailin will be in her last year of kindergarten, so I hope she learns to read and write. Luka should be potty-trained some time in the next year...fingers crossed. Yusuke will be coming home earlier than before due to a cut-back movie schedule. Let's hope it stays that way...he could use the rest. And, I will keep on plugging away at grad school so I can tick off another five courses this year!

    I want to thank all the friends and family who have supported and encouraged me over the years. I only wish we all had more time to keep in touch, even with all the technology out there, it doesn't matter when the huge time difference still exists. Still, best of luck to all of you in 2012 and I hope your lives are filled with joy and love.