Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Aspire for Erin

About 3 years ago I watched a special on TV about conjoined twins Jade and Erin Buckles. I saw the show again awhile back, I knew that the girls were only a year older than Ethan and as he flipped and jumped around the living room, I wondered how the girls were doing. Google to the rescue again!

I was so excited to find out that their mom had started a blog! Their dad, Kevin, is a Marine, and the girls and their big sis Taylor are bi-racial, so I felt a tiny connection with them. I spent about 5 days catching up on nearly 3 years worth of posts (am I a life-less nerd, or what?) and now check the blog regularly following the girls' progress and cheering them on as grow and blossom.

In case you actually have a life and don't have time to read all their history, here's a quick recap:

Jade and Erin were born in Feb 2004, joined from chest to stomach. They were successfully seperated in June 2004, but Erin suffered a spinal stroke during the surgery and she's paralyzed from the chest down. Just after the twins 1st b-day it was discovered that their sister Taylor (I think she was 3 at the time) had a tumor on her spine; they were able to remove most of the tumor through surgery, but it will require life-long monitoring, she will more than likely need more spinal surgeries (yes, that's plural) and she'll always suffer from effects of the tumor. In the mix of all this is Kevin's 16 y.o. son Kevin Jr.

This family is absolutely AWESOME! The joy and optimism they maintain in the face of what seems to be never-ending struggles is amazing! All the girls are healthy and thriving, attending school and doing all the things that little girls do.

The family is in the process of raising money to get Erin a service dog through paws4people. It costs upwards of $30,000 to raise and train a dog for service!!! From a military family standpoint, I can tell you, it may as well be $1,000,000! The Buckles are selling these customized car magnets for Erin to help raise money, check out the link and buy a magnet! If you'd like, there's also a link on the Buckles website for donations. If you can't manage a donation, or the $6 for a magnet, please just keep the Buckles family in your thoughts and prayers.
>
>

Saturday, September 27, 2008

You go girl!

Just heard from Gabi at Misawa. She came in 2nd! So far this season she's consistently been coming in 7th or 8th; to qualify for the Misawa meet she had to finish their last race in the top 8, she was # 7, so she barely squeaked in! 2nd place is a huge jump for her! She said she's having a lot of fun, has only spent 1/2 her money and that's it's really cold up there. Weather Underground says it's 55 (13 celcius) and partly cloudy. It was 84 here when she left! They should be home around 2am tonight, if they don't hit any traffic.
>
>

Monday, September 22, 2008

Surprised!

Meg had her second meet at Tama on 9.13 (Gabi didn't). This time she ran it in 17:46! A full 2 m 13 s off her first time! I knew she liked to run, but always assumed she was doing it more as a sibling rivalry thing, just running because that's what her sister does. But I think she just may be a better runner, more of a natural runner than Gabi. G has a runner's body with the super long legs and arms, but Meg really has the heart and somehow the speed, she has beat both of G's first two Tama times. We'll see how the rest of her season goes.

>

Great start!
The tiny girl behind Meg is the 8 yr old sister of a teammate, she just runs "for fun", but she beats half the girls on the team.
>
>

Strong finish!

Gabi has been moved up from JV to the Varsity team. Next weekend they have a meet at Misawa Air Base, way up north. It's about 12 hours by bus!! I'd sooner give birth with no epidural while having a root canal than ride in a bus with 20 kids for 12 hours. They leave Thursday night at 9:00p and are due back around 4:00a on Sunday.
>

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Can I be your Mrs. Donut?

I love donuts. Anytime, anywhere. Although we do have Krispy Kreme (maybe 3 locations?) none of them are close or convinient, same for Dunkin' Donuts. Enter my saviour: Mister Donut.They have a dizzying array of donuts and pastries to choose from, as well has a menu of soups, ramen, sandwiches and all sorts of coffee and tea drinks. Yum!>
>
Mister Donut, as with most bakeries here, is self-serve. You grab a tray and a set of tongs and move down the line picking out what you want. All donut shops are expensive in Japan, Mr. Donut usually runs between Y100 - Y300 per donut, which usually puts a dozen circles of puffy, gooey, sugary goodness at about Y1500 ($15.00).
>
>
The green, glazed donuts below are green-tea (of course) and azuki bean flavored. You'd be hard pressed to find any flavor of donut that I don't like, these just may be the first.
>
>

>

>


>

Cherished keepsake

In my Wednesday class, my only male student, Katsu, brought in a really cool show-and-tell. His grandson just turned one. As part of the celebrations, Katsu's son (the baby's father) cut off a lock of baby's hair and used it to make bristles for a calligraphy brush for ojisan (grandpa). Is that cool, or what?
>

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Ummmmmmm........

My 11 year old daughter came home from school today and asked "Mom, what's jungle fever?" !

Me: It's the name of a movie, with Wesley Snipes I think. And there's a song......
Her: No, like when someone says "Hey, you've got jungle fever!"
Me: Ummmmm......well...............

So I did what any responsible parent would do and looked up jungle fever on urbandictionary.com. Here's what I got:


Whites/Blacks who make dating Blacks/Whites into a fetish activity. That is, they're consumed by the mythology behind a person's race (ie virility of Black men, the Black penis, Blacks as more primitive and closer to the mythical Jungle, etc.) than the person him/herself. Many are attracted to such relationships because they perceive them as transgressive and are turned on by that. Not all Black-White relationships are based on Jungle Fever. However, one may be able to identify relationships that are based on Jungle Fever by analyzing the couple's dating history. For instance, if a White person who lives in an area with few Blacks has only dated Blacks, then it's likely that that person has Jungle Fever. Generally considered a derogatory term that hints at past colonial relationships between Blacks and Whites, where White colonizers enter, with fascination, the African Jungle in order to learn from and conquer it.


"Watch out for that White girl Angela cause she has major jungle fever. She can't keep her eyes off tha brothers, probably because her daddy won't let her date a brother."

>
Is that what it means? I'm about as far from urban as you can get, so I'm clueless. I always thought it just meant a white person who liked a black person, and I didn't think it had any negative connotations. I liked the song. And that's how I explained it. Naturally her response was, "So you've got jungle fever?" Well, yeah, I guess I do. Then off she went to watch Pokemon and eat some Cookie Crisp.

>
Now that I've thought about it and written it out, I can see how people could take it as a derogatory term. I'll have to follow up on our discussion and make sure she knows it's probably not the best phrase to be tossing around at school, or Girl Scout meetings.

>
We rarely discuss race in our house, it's just never an issue that we even think about. (Although 3 or 4 years ago we were sure our now 14 year old son was on his way to being a Black Panther in-training, he was pretty militant for awhile. And not too long ago Gabrielle went through a phase of bursting in the front door yelling "I'm back and I'm BLACK!") I'm happy to say that none of our kids have had issues with the melting pot that is our family.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

So cool

Is he awesome, or what?!?! He's a three-legged, lucky money frog. I got him at a recycle shop (thrift shop). I'm pretty sure he's Chinese. He's only about 7 inches tall, but he weighs 8 lbs! You're supposed to put him somewhere facing the front door to "welcome" money into your house and also to "bid farewell" to any issues that might be causing money problems. So cool.




More food!

Yesterday I went out to lunch with my friend Zina to Bamiyan, a popular Chinese food chain. I've eaten there several times and it's always yummy.
>


The big, pink peach is the Bamiyan logo
>
>


Lots of choices. There were two more pages of menu. On the bottom right are gyozas and shrimp rolls, which they have instead of egg rolls.



Lots of Japanese restaurants have these service bells at the tables. Ring it anytime you need your waitress. And at nearly every restaurant the waitress takes your order on a little electronic menu pad thingy, like a PDA, that transmits your order to the kitchen.
>
>

Typically there are no free refills on soft drinks, unless you're at a place that has a "drink bar" option, which you can order for unlimited, self-serve drinks. And soda glasses are always ridiculously small by U.S. standards.
>
>

Typical table set-up. As you probably figured, those are chopsticks in the cup.
>
>

My lunch.

Fried rice, ramen topped w/ tofu and seaweed and two steamed dumplings for Y841.


Sadly, I can't yet tell the difference between Japanese food and Chinese food, it really all seems the same to me. But I can tell you that Chinese food in Japan in nothing like Chinese food in America. No General Tso's chicken, no egg rolls.

>

Kendo

Last Sunday I took the train to Ayase, to the Tokyo Budokan, for a Kendo tournament. Kendo is the very traditional martial arts form of sword fighting using wooden swords. One of my students, Akemi, was competing in the women's competition. It was the first time I had ever seen kendo and the first time I seen any sort martial arts comepetion.

>


Tokyo Budokan
>

Female competitors in Akemi's age class

>

Akemi (far right) waiting for her 3rd round to begin
>
>>
Akemi in her 3rd round
>
After her competion. She won 1 round and lost 2.

>

video

Winning her first round
>
>
There were 5 competions going on simultaneously, apparently it's good form to scream like a banshee, I guess to intimidate your opponent? It was weird to hear those shrieks coming from Akemi, she normally so shy and reserved. It was really interesting and I had a good time.
>

Monday, September 15, 2008

Hinohara Waterfall

When we found out we were coming to Japan, we began scouring the internet for any and all information we could find on the base and the surrounding area. We really struck gold when we stumbled across the Yokota Officers' Spouses Club's Travelog. It's an awesome, 200 page information and travel guide for Yokota and tons of other places in Japan. I love that thing and flip through nearly every week figuring out where we might want to go next.

One place that went on my list immediately, before we even got here, was Hinohara Waterfall, mostly because of it's proximity to the base (only a 45 min drive) and the fact that you can get right up to the waterfall, even in it if you want. Lame as it sounds, I've never been up close to a real waterfall (been to Niagra, but that's not quite the same). I'm really into the "taking a Sunday drive" thing, and this seemed like an ideal destination.

Fastforward over a year later, and still no trip to Hinohara. I decided to rectify that this weekend.
>
>

The drive up was really scenic on narrow, winding, mountain roads taking us up into the foothills that lay just beyond the base. We must have pulled of the road 10 times to take pictures.

>

>

>

>

video>>

Hinohara Waterfall

>

We also stopped at a Kanotoiwa Gorge, equally beautiful. The girls had a good time climbing around on the rocks. We saw some Buddhists meditating in a waterfall. The water was freezing, even from a distance we could see them all shivering and shaking as they prayed.

>>

>

video

Takigyo

>

Once again, I'm sad that we didn't go sooner, but now we can't wait to take Otis when he comes home, I know it will be spectacular in the fall.

The night the lights went out in......Musashimurayama

We had a crazy thunderstorm a few weeks ago, the worst we've had since we got here. The power went out about 9:30p, for about 1.5hrs. Megan freaked out! Every 5 minutes she would flip the switch for the backporch light, "I'm just checking!" And it occured to me that my kids had never experienced a power outage. Ever. Through eight years in Florida, several hurricane close calls, we never lost power, maybe just a quick flicker here and there.
>
>
>
>
>
So, we lit the candles, cranked up the ipod and spent the night singing and dancing. It was actually kind of fun. At one point Meg asked "How are we going to flush the toilet or get a drink of water?"............what? She thought the water was powered by electricity.
>
>

Origami cranes, heading towards the light, on top of my TV. The girls and I are working on a crane chain, we're making 1000 origami cranes.

>

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The "Asian squat"

Ethan's never been a squatter. I'd noticed it especially at school, all the other kids would be squatting, but E would be sitting on his butt.
>
>


I didn't assume it was a cultural thing, just figured Ethan didn't clearly understand what the teacher was telling them to do.

I didn't really give it much thought until we were at Ethan's bus stop one day last week and one of the Japanese moms looks at Ethan (who was squatting) and said "He's really becoming Japanese!" It's true, he squats all the time now, especially when he's waiting for something. It got me thinking about it, so of course I Googled it, and apparently it's a real thing. There's even a movie about it. Weird.
>



>

>


Farmers' market and new baby

After lunch at Nashinokian, we headed to Hanayo's house to meet her new grandson, that's her holding the baby. I think I understood her to say babies in Japan don't get named until they are 3 weeks old, but don't quote me on that. At any rate, he didn't have a name yet.
>
>

My Thursday class, minus 3 people

>

Next we headed to the Akiruno Farmers' Market which is right around the corner from where we have class. Outside were different stalls selling prepared food like grilled corn-on-the-cob, yakitori, yakisoba.....

>

Farmers' Market

>

Fresh eggs.

For Y50 ($.50) you stick your hand in this box and grab ping pong balls. The number of balls you get in one grab equals the number of eggs you get. Most of the women had their husbands do it because they had way bigger hands.

>

I think this is a pretty traditional festival game. These are water ballons floating in a tub of water. Every balloon has a long rubberband tied to it, on the end of which is a metal hook. You get a thin strip of paper tied in a loop and you dip it down in the water to try to snag a hook to pick up a balloon. Of course the longer you have the paper loop in the water, the soggier it gets. If you're not fast enough, the paper shreds apart as you try to lift the balloon. We did okay and ended up with 4 balloons. The balloons are used kind of like a paddle ball, slipping the end of the rubberband over one finger and using your hand as the paddle. I remember getting them at festivals as a kid.

Sneaky Italian

I went out to lunch with my Thursday class not too long ago. I always ask my students to pick where we'll eat because I know it will be someplace cool that I would never find out about on my own.

This time we went to Nashinokian. The restaurant is an old Japanese farm house that was trucked into the city a plopped down on top of a little hill in the middle of town.
>
>
>
>
Steps leading up to the restaurant
>
>

Nashinokian

>

Cool door knocker. You clunk on the fish with the mallet

>

To ward of evil spirits. Yes, it's a dried fish head on a stick

>

The inside was all very traditional with tatami floors, shoes off at the door, etc. We sit down and I'm working out how I'll politely get past the usual pickeled eggplant, squid ink soup or other very Japanese fare that I just haven't been able to wrap my taste buds around. I open the menu and..... it's Italian food!!! Pizza and pasta! So totally not what I was expecting, everyone got a good laugh out of my surprise. Everything was eaten with chopsticks though. It was a lot of fun.

>

Ch-Ch-Ch-Chili's!!!!


The week before school started I took the kids down to the Navy base in Yokosuka to shop for new school shoes. Our shoe dept sucks, it's very small and has no selection, there's not a lot going on in the kids' clothing department either. Yokosuka, on the other hand, has a huge shoe department and the kids' clothing is in a whole seperate building!
Of course, I also had an ulterior motive for wanting to visit CFA Yokosuka......they have the only Chili's on mainland Japan!!!!! Oh Skillet Queso, how I missed you!
But I've got amazing news!!! Construction is finally underway on the Yokota Chili's!!!!!! Woo hoo! It's supposed to open in the spring! I cannot wait!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Sharpie Freak Out

Fen totally freaks out when anyone takes the top off of a sharpie. I guess it's the smell, not sure, but he hates it! Which of course makes it hilarious to get out the camera and whip open a marker!

>

video

>

He sounds ferocious, but he's definitely all bark and no bite.

What a weirdo!

Seriously. Stop it already!

My little hooter whopper.

My chunky monkey who's thighs were so fat we couldn't buckle her carseat over them.

My butterscotch baby who for years insisted she wasn't black, or brown, but "hot cocoa".

My baby einstein who at four years old asked me "If Adam and Eve were the first people, how did they get born?"
>
>
>

>

Just so you know

See? I do eat a lot of Japanese food, even though my posts are usually about the rare treat of eating at an American restaurant. This was just a quick lunch at another popular fast food joint. I had a beef bowl: sticky rice topped with strips of beef and onions. Cheap and tasty again, always my MO. The only thing I don't like is that this restaurant usually only serves water or green tea, so I have to grab a soda if I plan to eat there.
>


>

On the run


The girls had their first cross country meet last Saturday at Tama Hills. It was a huge meet, 9 different schools and nearly 500 kids!

Meg made a pretty decent showing for her very first race and only her 2nd time on the Tama course. She ran 2 mi in 19:59, coming in # 55 out of 103, and # 4 out of the 14 girls on her team. Not too shabby!

Gabi ran 17:46, a good time, not her best at Tama, but it's a good starting point to work from. Her coach hasn't posted official times or rankings.
>
Go Meg! Heading down the first hill
>
>
Start of the high school girls (this is only 1/2 of the 2nd pack of HS girls!)
>
>>
Run Gabi, run! Sprinting to the finish line
>
>

Just cute