In reviewing the post frequency this year, I realized that I tend to post twice – evidence that I have good intentions for about two weeks, then three months of racing around to hockey and kendo tournaments, with a few camping trips thrown in, and thus no opportunity to reflect over a Saturday morning coffee with you. But, today, Christmas Eve, that is what I am doing!
(By the way, it’s easier for me to throw a link up on our messaging app (LINE) so if you’d like more frequent chats, far-flung friends and family, please download the app and send me an email. I’ll give you my user ID. Those of you on LINE who shoot me a note, thank you! It is always great to be connected with you back home. I also switched to Google Photos for archiving and sharing. The links below take you to albums with annotations throughout, so for now the “album” link above goes through 2016 only.)
This kanji means “stay outside,” which is the Japanese way of saying “do not enter.” I found this piece of wood in my dear friend Tomoe’s stash to be burned. It was right by her wood stove in her barn. I grabbed it, didn’t even dust it off, and asked what it meant. I loved the double meaning as that seems to be a recurring theme for my adventures here – stay outside. Explore. I am rarely in my seat at my narrow desk, nice as it is, with a great view of our yard from a little solarium in the kitchen area. Today is Christmas Eve, and I’m enjoying taking a few moments to reflect on the past few months as an opportunity to reconnect with all of you during the holidays. We miss you and love you!
The Japanese language continues to be fascinating, and frustrating, but I can mo get around pretty well and develop real friendships. It takes some commitment to the place, the people, and the language to merit remaining friends past the first year. It seems that for most people, the “novelty” of knowing a foreigner wears off and they subconsciously decide if that foreigner merits retention in the tight circle of friends, which are akin to family. Groups – whether sports or in business circles – have deep roots and layers of loyalties. You don’t just “join”, really. Membership is not earned with a registration or monthly payment, or even employment. I am grateful to all those who have genuinely adopted me as a friend, a true friend. I am very lucky. I remain engrossed in learning the language because truly communicating and developing friendships requires a knowledge of Japanese as few speak English outside of the city centers. Plus, it’s just a fascinating language. For instance, the word for “pine” is “matsu,” which ALSO means “wait,” which seems to correlated to “pining away” for something or someone. See how addicting it is? Stuff you mull over while driving to and from hockey.
Dave got me an early Christmas present – this Dutch oven so we can make soups over the fire. I really want to make tonjiru, which is a pork and vegetable soup we enjoyed at a kendo party last week.
Speaking of my dear husband, he has been working very hard finishing up a Master’s degree so that he doesn’t lose step while here, plus work. He has not had time to adventure as much as the boys and I have. But just as he has every year, he’s ensuring the Christmas spirit is not lost in the hub-bub. We watched White Christmas a couple nights ago and I keep singing “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas!” I really miss the snow. We also watched Mary Poppins earlier this year, which the boys loved (and which made me laugh out loud despite initial protests against watching an older movie with my scarce chance to see a movie, which is about 3 times a year! Guess who Mr Banks reminds me of?????? ?
) Thanks to Dave for keeping the classics close. He’s a classy guy, through and through. I love you. Congratulations on surviving 16 years with me this New Year’s Eve.
Alli’s irons in the fire…instead of boring you with details on all of these I’ll just list them. These are all the fun things that make this feel like home, a community, not just a post for 3 (or more) years.
- Work…continuing to do medical research editing and writing for clients around the world.
- JOSHU (means “assistant” in Japanese) volunteer coordinator – this is a program I started last year in collaboration with the elementary school principals to recruit and train volunteers to help teachers in the classroom, supporting students in academic growth. It’s very time-consuming but rewarding to see it take off to the middle and high schools this year, specifically targeting math support.
- Sullivan’s School Advisory Council Chair – this group represents the parents through the DoDEA chain of command, and the military chain of command. It’s the first stop for parents to make suggestions regarding how we can better meet the educational needs of the students.
- Gifted education parent support group – co-lead for middle school and helped launch similar group for elementary school
- “Wacky Wed” open house – I take a crew of boys to the gym for cardio and weightlifting, then home (open house, anyone can come) for projects, snacks, fire time. I cook rice outside on an old-style kamado every Wed and if neighbors bring something to top the rice, then all the better for me to sample! 🙂 Sam loves that part… 🙂
- Green Field riding – developing trips in concert with Outdoor Rec on base to bring people out to the farm where I have been riding to experience Japanese horsemanship and develop a sustainable relationship with the barn to continue supporting their business.
- WA house – property management. Don’t even get me started on chasing a dishwasher repair for 4 months! 🙂 Exercise in patience persistence that was…
- Yoga twice a week to keep me from injuring myself doing the things I think I can do without warming up or stretching, like launching a pumpkin off a catapult (see Thanksgiving album for that movie).
- Kendo – learning the kata for my black belt exam in February. The kendo experience merits its own post…every time Ben and I go (which is twice a week) we must dig deep to renew our commitment. It’s physically and mentally challenging. And more…very interesting cultural immersion.
- Japanese language learning – I study about an hour or more every day, text in Japanese, and attend a conversation class on Wednesdays which is tremendous. I love it!
Lately, I have found myself explaining to Dave, after an adventure takes 3 hours longer than expected, “one thing led to another.” That is how this fall has been. You know how you walk by a tiny unmarked path through the trees and just wonder where it goes? For a second you contemplate whether you’ll take it or not? (Or maybe for some a small shop, or record store, or book store…) When you’re living in a foreign country for a defined period of time, I almost never say “nah…I’ll pass.” What if it turned into a memory of a lifetime? How would I NOT camp out on top of a mountain I’ve noticed for months with a group of astronomers? How would I NOT go sailing on a tall ship in Yokohama, joining in helping an organization start up an international sail training school for high schoolers? Add those all up and you can imagine what the kaleidoscope of my brain is like, storing up so many disparate memories. All year it’s yes yes yes! The year of yes. I just explained last night that for two weeks I’ll be comfortable saying that “tabun” (“maybe”). Please enjoy below some highlights from all the adventures spawned by saying yes…
One of my favorite memories of the fall, a hike with boys in the Nobeyama Highlands before the early November hockey tournament. More pictures can be found of mountain ranges, rice patties, even some video of the drive through small farm towns in the link below.
The boys are continuing to enjoy ice hockey with their Japanese teams. As in the US and Canada, the intense focus on winning as the kids mature into their teens makes the competition for ice time equally intense. Sam’s junior high team is a combination of PeeWee and Midget players (age 12-15), with a fairly wide disparity in skills from first line to third line. There is no “league” per se, so all the games are played in a tournament setting. We commend Sam for remaining committed to the sport he loves despite not being a top dog. He keeps working at it on and off the ice, and patiently waits for an opportunity his line to contribute to the team. For an excellent perspective on how to coach without focusing on the win as the objective, but rather individual player development, check out Blair Becker. That said, the new head coach hired to help Shin Yokohoma’s team is really making a difference. I can see a clear movement toward setting up plays vs. relying on one or two skaters to move the puck up the ice, only to get stripped as they try to shoot deep in the slot. I spent an entire game (when I was goal judge at one end of the ice) analyzing the tactics that the Jr High team used to employ game after game. I’m no hockey coach, but as an informed mom who spends a lot of hours driving around the mountains of Japan (sanmiyaku = mountain range), talking to the kids, ensuring that we’re not pushing their involvement but rather following their lead (setting up the play for them?)…I am happy to see that they are getting good coaching. Sam is also doing well in school and has a bunch of friends. He’s enjoying the freedom of biking to school, not tied to a bus and faster than walking. School is still not very interesting to him, but he has a few excellent teachers (shout out to Ms. Hindman and Ms. Swanland, social studies and geometry, respectively). They proactively communicate, appreciate his personality, and ensure that the tasks of learning are amenable to Sam getting them done. We still have an extensive white board recording system, briefings daily with Mr. Sam, and various ways to be sure things don’t fall through the cracks…it’s a process, but each year it gets better. And we have to remember he’s a year younger than everyone else although he’s easily on par physically. Sam continues to be a funny gentle giant with tremendous patience. He actually said recently, “I must be a real challenge for parents. I’m very patient, stubborn, AND lazy.” He’s right! But he’s only lazy about stuff other people think is important, not his own objectives, about which he’ll go without food or sleep…
Sam with the guys. And me. Proving that Japanese hockey players are NOT SHORT!
Sam playing forward this time – first time ever!
Using several different graphic design programs to model 3-dimensional space ships, houses and trees to populate games, both original (created with a buddy of his who loves coding in Java) and also Minecraft.
Sam also competed on a robotics team this year in a jousting competition. This is the final practice before heading to Tokyo to compete.
Sam started Aikido a month ago and is really enjoying it. His sensei, a man and wife team, are excellent teachers. Very strict, but joyful. I watch on Tuesdays and often hear loud clapping and laughing when a student begins to get it right. Very different atmosphere than kendo, although no less difficult! Sam’s sensei, Hattori-san, always says “ENJOY YOUR LIFE!” Very typical aikido mindset. Very appropriate for a gentle giant. He’s learning powerful defensive moves, plus sword work, which will eventually be combined. This sensei is licensed to do the black belt exams, which are transferable anywhere in the world. We’re lucky to have found him here, at the right place and the right time.
As you can see, his interests span a very wide range of things, all of which he’s intensely focused on. Now he’s into drawing and has a variety of sketch pads, pens and pencils. This is the most recent picture of Sam…
Ben’s team is doing well. He’s among the oldest on the Mite/Squirt combo team. Next year he moves up to the Squirt/PeeWee combo (the age ranges are a bit different here – it’s grades 4, 5, 6 next year for Ben). He started younger than Sam and is naturally very nimble, so he’s enjoying being a top scorer and is put anywhere on the ice they need him forward-playing defender to center. The last game we went to, against the Yamabiko Busters out in Suwa lake (3 hour drive for a scimmage!), the game was really tough. We were getting beaten badly, but Ben kept driving hard hard, forecheck, backcheck (on full international size ice rink), shooting, and even some passionate outbursts when teammates didn’t seem to be pulling their weight. He’s got drive, fighting spirit and focus. In the last few minutes of the game, he shot from the far side of the circle (far left side) and took a shot that was so far away that the moms and I had time to lament out loud that it would not make it in. “Too far away but good shot!” we said. To our astonishment it went in top left!!! For a hattie! Amazing end to the game. Ben’s buddy Jake, the goalie, had a great game defending more than 60 shots on goal with more than a few spectacular slides and glove saves. Ben continues to be a self-starter at school, a solid contributor to class, enjoyed by his teachers, and a top student. He’s learning to manage his exuberance pretty well, but it’s hard because he has a magnetic personality, loves to laugh, and has a ton of energy. I was recently watching a video of him at 12 months, in Kailua Beach Park. Sam was going over obstacles on his bike (at age 4.5) and Ben was just starting to walk. I was still excited, exclaiming “Look at this WALKER!” and just as I said that on the video, I noticed Ben take off running. I checked twice to see if it was on high speed fast forward. It wasn’t. Ben was running at the same time he learned to walk. He hasn’t slowed down since!
Ben scores in the first few seconds of this video. You can see his little “celly” (celebration) behind the net. This is Thanksgiving morning.
Ben in Evan’s lucky skates! Thank you, Debra, Arun and Evan!!! And many thanks to Liz for this awesome picture.
Speed skaters practicing in Suwa Lake. Very cold, but peaceful and a great rink to get some speed on (duh, right?!). The ice even cracked a bit underfoot, like a river.(This is actually not a lake, although Suwako (Lake Suwa) DOES sometimes freeze in the winter. This is a speed skating rink, man made.)
Practicing at home with lots of defenders!!!
Visiting the Tokyo Budokan for our sensei’s hachi-dan shinsa (exam) on Nov 30. He is 7-dan now so he was testing for 8-dan. Only 0.5% of all the sensei who test make it. He has been trying for 13 years. Amazing man. He also practices aikido, judo and is a Sumo wrestler. A lovely man with a bright spirit and intensity about teaching. He is also very encouraging. We love you, Ubukata-sensei!
Earlier this week we enjoyed a December holiday hike through the Kamakura hills. These hills sheltered Kamakura, ancient seat of Yoritomo’s shogunate, Japan’s first military government in the 13th century. The Kamakura area is protected by small (but sufficient) hills on three sides and the Sagami Bay. Old roads (now trails) show how people traveled into and out of the city. In the winter, when leaves fall and spider webs are less prevalent, it is fun to explore these trails on the Miura Peninsula where we live, especially with a local guide/friend!
The rest of the pictures give you a snapshot of the year, but each also does link into an album with notes I made at the time 🙂
Black Friday hike along the Morito River headwaters…and many attempts to get a family picture!
Thanksgiving morning – Kanagawa Championships (Ben’s team). Early morning for the two of us, but some good videos and a great outcome for the team.
Thanksgiving with hockey friends and neighbors:
Typhoon Lan (mid October):
Trail runs to find places which the family would enjoy…
A quick paddle before hockey practice, working hard to outrun a huge container ship 😉
Late August, just back from 3+ weeks in Washington getting our house ready to rent. We escaped to the beach several times before school started.
Also late August, I’m walking home from the SRF (Ship Repair Facility) annual summer party.
Last weekend before school started…we went on a MOST unusual “campout” with an astronomy club on the peninsula across Tokyo Bay from us. The boys really enjoy teasing me about this one… We have since gone actual camping with them…nice nice people!
Thank you for enjoying all of these experiences with us! We love hearing from you and wish you a very happy holiday with friends and family. All our love, from Japan.
Alli, Dave, Sam and Ben
What a nice presentation of your adventures. The
boys are experiencing so much. What learning.
Merry Christmas Alli and family! I love seeing your adventures and it makes me miss you tons. Next time you are in WA we will have to meet up. Love you my friend. Aloha!
Merry Christmas! It’s so nice to read – and see – about your adventures as a family. Your energy and enthusiasm survives no matter where you are!
Cole, Raya and I are together in California for the holidays. Hope to visit WA in the next month. I totally understand your property management from afar woes 🙂 🙁
Happy start to 2018 my friends! Lisa
Ah… Alli – as always a well written little slice of Americans in Japan heaven. I love reading your KampKrug newsletters.