Friday, September 27, 2013

Take a Look, It's In a Book

Growing up we didn't have things like Xbox and PS3. Minecraft didn't exist. MTV actually played music videos. Computers, if you were lucky enough to have access to one, consisted of floppy disks, the old Pong game and dot matrix printers. Pac Man and Atari were just being discovered. Boys could be found pushing their Hot Wheel cars, while making vroom vroom noises. Girls would be playing school and house with their friends. We made mud pies and ran in the rain. Kids had to be creative and use their imagination to have fun and keep themselves busy. 

I love computers and the Internet and my iPhone. Technology has allowed us to send people to live in outer space, has cured terrible diseases and given us the ability to be connected to anyone, just about anywhere in the world. But with all the benefits, there are days that I wish things would return back to the time when kids had to think for themselves and not rely upon technology to do it for them. A time where kids found enjoyment in books, rather than watching YouTube or increasing their risk for carpel tunnel from constant use of their video game controller. 

A few days ago Emily and I went to a college application essay writing seminar. The speaker stressed the importance of reading and how in today's busy and technology-driven society reading is no longer a priority for many. How good readers breed good writers, and good writers are something colleges look for in their admission process. It is something employers look for in an employee. She also went on to say that what you read isn't important –– just read. Magazines, books, newspapers, essays or reports on a topic that interests you, anything –– just read. 

Reading Rainbow was one of my favorite shows growing up. I was a huge LeVar Burton fan and was so excited that Reading Rainbow was still on-air when my kids were younger. As a child I constantly had my nose in a book. If I wasn't reading, I was writing my own stories. My parents helped foster my love for books. Even as an adult, my mom was always giving me books or sending me gift cards to buy something new. When my mom wasn't discussing Ohio State football or politics, she was discussing books. For several holiday's I would introduce my dad to a new author or series, to only have him tell me that he finished the books within a matter of a few weeks or sometimes even days. 

When I was pregnant with my children I used to read to them while they were in utero. I loved having them sit on my lap as toddlers while I read to them from some of my favorite children books. Then Emily and Chris got a bit older and their very analytical, number driven side came out. No longer did they want to read about Fudge's next adventure or what Judy Moody was doing, and as an avid book lover that made me sad. Sami still enjoys reading, and since she is horrible like her mom with numbers, I hope her love for reading continues to grow. 

So this is my challenge to you. Turn off the TV and computer. Open a book. Find a magazine. Buy a newspaper. Find something to read. Teach your children there is more to reading than just checking-off the mandatory 20-minute nightly reading assignment. Teach your children that books are our friends and that reading will teach you about some of life's greatest lessons. As Oscar Wilde once said, "It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it."




Friday, August 30, 2013

Language Learning

One thing we discovered over the past five years is the importance of learning languages. In today's competitive and transient world, one really needs to know more than their native language. I admit before moving overseas I had this notion that everyone could at least understand English, even if they couldn't speak. Boy was I wrong.

Another thing that surprised us was just how many kids could speak multiple languages. Kids who do not have mixed nationality parents. Kids who are not "full-time" expats. We learned kids are like sponges and soak up languages easier when they are younger.  This point was proven to us over and over again.

When we moved to Japan we had this very unrealistic idea that we would leave the country being able to easily speak Japanese. While Emily can speak and understand it pretty well, they rest of us left with what I like to call "survival Japanese".  Japanese is hard. Like, really hard. It takes alot of effort and I really think total immersion to learn it. While I took lessons the whole time I lived there, I reached a point that to progress any further something different needed to happen.

We have made a family goal now that we are back in the states, to all learn Spanish. Our hope is someday we all will be fluent. Emily and Chris started taking Spanish at their school in Japan. Matt and I both took it in high school and I tested out of it in college. My mother taught high school Spanish and my Aunt has lived in Venezuela for over 40 years (I spent the summer before college visiting). So besides Sami, we all have a basic understanding and some background, although Matt and I are pretty rusty.

All three kids are taking Spanish here in school. So it is Matt and I that need to really buckle down and get our feet wet. I am not a Rosetta Stone fan, although we do own the ridiculously expensive program. I have been downloading apps on my iPad. I have thought about taking a class at the local community college, but what I think we really need is to concentrate on the immersion factor. No, we won't be running off to South America quite yet, but I think finding someone to come speak with us may be key. There are many, many options here for listening on the radio and TV (Spanish infomercials are almost as funny as Japanese ones). Trying to incorporate it around our house. Finding ways to make learning fun for all of us and not so "school-like".

I would love to hear from people who have learned a language as an adult. How did you do it?  What advice and suggestions do you have?  In the meantime, I am thinking the best place to start may be with the words margarita and enchiladas.


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Deep in the Heart of Texas

Okay so Dallas isn't so much deep into Texas, but it is the only song I could think of at 6 am with Texas in the lyrics without straining my brain. The last time I posted on this blog, it was my last night in Japan. Since then Emily has arrived in the states, we have gone on our yearly vacation to North Carolina, spent two weeks in Ohio, made three college visits, put over 6,000 miles on my new car and the kids have started school. 

Sami (5th), Emily (12th), and Chris (9th) on the first day of school in Prosper, Texas

I am hoping the start of school will also be the stepping stone to the beginning of turning Texas into our home. I think we are going to really enjoy living here. The people are friendly, the weather is right up my alley, overall Texas is pretty conservative and there is so much to see and do here. It is very different than any place we have lived in the United States and very, very different than Japan. 

I know I have said this many times before, but I will be back to blogging on a regular basis. Our life is hopefully settling into a normal routine of chaos rather than the abnormal chaotic roller coaster that we have been on the past year. Some days I will have much to say on this process of repatriation that we are going through. Hopefully my words will help others who are about to embark on a similar process. Other days I may be bragging writing about my kids because 1) they are AWESOME and 2) family reads my blog and 3) Emily leaves for college in a year and since this is our last year together, I want to remember every moment. Our plan is to continue to travel, both in the United States and outside. I am excited to be able to explore new places that we have yet to experience. I hope to write about the fun (and not so fun) places we visit. And of course I will be posting LOTS about this great state of Texas. 

So stay tuned... there is much more to come!



 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Challenge Accepted

It is 2:06 am on my last night in Japan. In the morning I will go to the ward office and deregister, cancel my cell phone, have one last bowl of ramen, say too many goodbyes and board a plane bound for Dallas, Texas. Emily will follow in a week-and-a-half.

I should be sleeping, but I can't. As odd as it sounds, I want to soak up every minute I have left here. I know in my heart I will return to Japan in some capacity, whether it be as a visitor or to live again I do not know, but I firmly believe the "Japan chapter" in my book of life is not fully written yet.

The HS principal at the school here sends out a weekly blog entry on Sunday evenings. Last night she sent what will not only be the last one for the year, but her last one at CA. She too, is about to embark on an exciting, new adventure. In this entry she talked about challenges and there was one line that stood out to me: The truth is, I think challenges are good for us: good for our brains, but also good for our development as people.

To be honest, I am not one who enjoys change. I like the status quo. I know this is hard to believe considering Matt and I have moved five times with his company since graduating college 15 years ago. Japan is the longest place we have lived at just over 4.5 years. Each move was hard. Each move had its challenges. Each move was full of ups and downs. I can look back though and see how each move has developed and shaped not only the two of us, but our children as well. Each and every one of us are who we are today because of challenges we have faced in life, no matter what the challenge may be.

The principal closed out her entry with the following: I’ll leave you with this: never stop challenging yourself.  You’ll never know how much you can achieve until you push yourself to do things you never thought possible.

As Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother would say –– "Challenge Accepted." I am ready to look forward to what lies ahead for our family. I am anxiously excited about the adventures we are about to go on. I am ready to face each challenge head on, and hopefully have fun along the way.

Monday, June 10, 2013

While Mom Is Away...

Dad saves the day!

I have spent the past month back in Japan with Emily. No, she didn't miss her mommy so much that I had to rush over here to tuck her in at night. In fact, I am pretty sure she would have been okay if I didn't come back (to her defense, sharing a room for 4 weeks with your mom probably isn't all that grand). It was always planned that I would come back for the end of the school year to help her get ready for prom and then close out the school year. So while I have been over here having a wonderful time missing my family immensely, Matt has been holding down the new fort back in Texas.

I have to say I was very nervous leaving for a month. I have never been away from my kids that long, ever. Matt is always the one traveling for weeks at a time, so the idea of him being home with Chris and Sami alone for a month was downright scary. The beginning was a bit rocky with Sami (AKA Drama Queen) sending me texts of her picture so  I could always remember what she looked like, and telling me how daddy didn't understand her problems and she was sooooooo (her words) alone with just boys. I guess she decided staying with boys wasn't so bad as I rarely hear from her unless I am Skyping to Matt or Chris. She tells me she is just sooooooooo (her words) busy and can't talk.

Matt hasn't just done an okay job while I have been gone -- he has nailed it. Baseball games, movies, bike rides, baking cakes, making dinner, celebrating both the kids birthdays, going to the pool, playing sports, going to football practice, seeing movies and even taking Sami on a shopping spree.













I admit, Matt drives me crazy most days. He can be extremely stubborn, works too much, has no idea where the laundry hamper is located, forgets almost everything I tell him and drives my car when rain or hail is expected. But after the past month, between all that he has done and allowing me the opportunity to come here and be with Emily without worrying about what was going on back home, I love him more today than the day I fell in love with him almost 20 years ago.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

"Motherless" Mother's Day

A few weeks ago I saw an advertisement for a "Motherless" Mother's Day brunch. This was a time for  any woman whose mother had died to get together and remember their loved one. This made me stop for a minute and think –– am I motherless?  She didn't abandon me. A stork didn't drop me in Canal Fulton, Ohio 37 years ago. I know exactly where my mother is right now. Did she stop being my mom just because she died? I didn't stop being Allison's mom when she died. So no, I am not motherless, and I don't think any amount of time would change my answer.

My mother could be a pain. She was many at times stubborn. She could be a bit selfish. She was a horrible cook. You may have been talking to a wall anytime an Ohio State football game was on television. But she had so many amazing qualities that outweighed her "moments". My mother helped me through some of the darkest times in my life after Allison died. She was dedicated to teaching and helping teenagers. The messages we received from past students last fall after she died showed us the impact she made in their lives. She was an awesome, lay-down-your-life type of friend, and would do anything for them. She was a huge animal lover, and at times I am pretty sure she liked the dogs better than her own kids. If you looked up perseverance in the dictionary you would find her picture. She really loved my dad, and although they drove each other crazy at times,  I never once doubted the love she had for my father. And her family –– she would lay down her own life for them if that is what she had to do.

We don't always like our moms. There was that party we didn't get to go to. That boy we weren't supposed to date. That time we were grounded you for something our sibling did. But no matter how angry I may have been at times, I always loved my mom.

I was very blessed that I got to spend so much time with her last summer. It wasn't always happy time, but it was precious time that I will forever cherish. I wish I had known last year that it was my last Mother's Day with my mom. So I encourage you -- call your mom. Send her a card. Cherish her. You never know when you won't get a another day with her.

And this year, no matter how big of a hole I have in my heart, I know my mother is having an amazing Mother's Day because for the first time in 34 years she gets to spend the day with her mom. And I know that is something she wished for every day.

So happy Mother's Day mom. I love and miss you very much.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Safety Patrol

I have to admit one of the huge perks to raising children in a country like Japan was safety. Kids walk alone or with friends down the street, go play at a park, go to the store and take the train from the time they are really young –– like FIVE-years-young.  The biggest worry we had was if the local inoshishi (wild boar) would chase our kids home (Don't judge me. Those boars are mean!) or if Family Mart would be out of corn dogs and the kids would come home disappointed.

One of the worries we have with repatriating is that our children have grown up in a "bubble", meaning everything and everyone is good and safe. Sure, we traveled to some very "non-bubble" places, but that was just a blink of an eye in comparison to our 4.5 years in Japan. We have talked over and over with Sami and Chris about safety, talking to strangers, taking things from people. However, no matter how much we preach, they still slip back into their "bubble".

Last week Sami rode her bike to school with some friends for the first time. I may or may not have followed behind them for a while and then dashed to the school to make sure they got there safely.  After school she showed up with a popsicle in hand saying the "nice crossing man" gave it to her. I am sure the "nice crossing man" is a very nice, sweet crossing man, but the whole concept of taking things from people we do not know and when we are not with mom or dad went out the window.

Yesterday Matt and I ran to Costco and Home Depot. Upon our return Sami is waving to us as a SUV pulls away. Apparently Sami's little school friend came over, asked if Sami could come swim at her house and Chris thought nothing of the fact that we have no idea where this girl lives, what this girl's name was, or who were her parents. After Matt and I picked our jaws up off the floor Chris's response was "I told her to be home in 30 minutes". Both kids looked at us dumbfounded when we explained the safety concerns behind just letting Sami run off to who knows where with who knows who.

I am in no way saying the United States is this big scary place full of people just waiting to prey upon our children. What I am saying though, is we as parents shouldn't live in a "bubble". It's important we teach our children everything we can about keeping themselves and their friends safe. We can't afford not to.





Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Bittersweet Birthday

Yesterday Allison would have been 11-years-old. Someone asked me if after 11 years, this day was any easier. I had to think about that a moment. Easy isn't the right word to use. There is nothing easy about a birthday that will never be for your daughter. So I choose the word different. Each year that goes by is just different. Every year that passes a new bandaid is placed over a broken heart that slowly over the years the cracks in it have changed. I will never stop wishing that April 29th could be a day for celebration, and there will never be a day that goes by that I don't wish she was here, but I know for some reason this is the path God chose for us, and that is something we can't change.


So happy 11th birthday Allison Grace. I know this is a very special birthday for you because this year NaNa is there for your party. And for me, that makes this the most bittersweet birthday yet.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Getting Our Feet Wet

Mornin' y'all!  So that is as far as my Texas lingo will take me, but give me a few months and I am sure I will have expanded my vocabulary.

Our family (minus Emily) has been in Texas a month now. I thought it would have been much easier to jump into daily life, but alot changes when you are out of the country for 4 1/2 years.  New technology. New food. New products. New styles. New trends. New cars. New, well, just about everything. In some ways, it is like being someone who has amnesia and slowly has to remember and learn everything over again.

We closed on our house at the end of March, but have not been able to live there since most of our belongings are on the slow boat from Japan. However, tomorrow that will all end, as 427 boxes containing our junk stuff will be delivered. It will be like Christmas opening each box and trying to decide what to do with everything. (Okay, so 7 1/2 weeks really hasn't been that long, but it sure feels like it.) Chris told me recently "Our life has been like living the Suite Life of Zach and Cody. Finally it is almost over."

While I cannot tell you much about the area thus far, I can tell you where every Target, Lowes and Home Depot is within a 25 mile radius of our house. Chris and Sami have settled into school with only a few minor bumps. The kids here seem very welcoming and friendly, which has made the adjustment much easier. We miss Emily more and more each day, but we also know each day that goes by is one day closer to us to all being together again. If this is how it will feel when Emily goes off to college in a year, then I owe my mom a huge apology for not understanding why she was so upset when I went off to Ohio State. I feel a bit lonely and overwhelmed most days, but I know that is all part of the repatriation process. Hopefully getting in the house and turning it into our home will help.

Life in quiet, small-town, Prosper, Texas will be much different than being in the city for the past 4 1/2 years. I am sure the weeks and months ahead will provide laughter and many tears, but I think we will really enjoy this new adventure. So don't stay away from this blog too long. I have a feeling things are about to get interesting.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

'Twas the Night Before Texas

'Twas the night before Texas,
And all through the hotel,
Not a creature was stirring,
Not even a... forget it. Nothing rhymes with hotel.

It has been 4.5 years since we moved to Japan.  I remember nervously putting our "babies" on a plane and heading to Japan, not having any idea what may lie ahead. 


Tomorrow evening Matt and I will put our youngest two children on a plane and embark back to the United States on a new adventure to Dallas, Texas. Our oldest daughter will follow at the end of June.


I have to admit, I am in serious denial about this move. In some ways it is surreal. Maybe it is because I have so many people tell me how difficult repatriating is supposed to be and I don't want to deal with it.  Maybe it is because I am leaving my first-born child behind for three months, when we have never been apart for more than a week. Or maybe it is because I have fallen so much in love with Japan, the culture, and the friendships I have built, that the idea of leaving is hard to think about. But the reality is, in less than 24 hours I will be in the air over the Pacific Ocean, hopefully sleeping with the help of a few bottles glasses of wine. 

Our goal when coming to Japan was to embrace the culture and gain as much as we could from this experience. I think we have not only achieved, but surpassed that goal. We climbed Mt Fuji with our older two kids and 16 other Caterpillar ISEs. We have been skiing, camping, white water rafting and road tripping throughout Japan. We have learned to embrace onsens and eat raw fish. We have experienced some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, ziplined through jungles, ridden on elephants, visited seaweed farms, hiked thorough Vietnam, crawled through the same tunnels as soldiers in the Vietnam War, snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef and saw cows walking down the streets of some of the poorest areas of Asia.  My family has been blessed over and over during our time here. 

There are some things I never thought I would experience, like the 2011 earthquake and getting stitches in a rural Vietnam clinic by someone who was probably the village vet.  I went on two disaster relief trips to Tohoku shortly after the earthquake and the experiences I had during my time up North will be ones that stay with me forever. I am already thinking about ways to get involved in missions and service trips in parts of South America. 

I will take away many lessons from my 4.5 years here. The Japanese language is hard. I will never be fluent, or even close.  Japanese beer is way stronger than US beer. Everything here is a process, and if you think it should take an hour you better double that. Forget clothing style, anything goes, especially Little Bo Beep wear. Most people do not speak English, yet they will go out of their way to help you. Taking the train everywhere is way easier than driving, Japanese people can find a reason to smile in the midst of the worst tragedy. And people leaving is a hard reality of expat life and unfortunately it is now our time go. 

Most importantly, I have learned that when you pack up your three children and move to the other side of the world where you know no one, cannot speak the language and drive on the opposite side of the road, the people around you become your family. And boy are we going to miss our amazing family here in Kobe. 

In Japanese, the word for goodbye is sayonara. I do not believe in goodbyes, so as we board the plane tomorrow, heading to what I hope to be another amazing adventure, I will bid this beautiful country and all my friends ja mata, or as we say in English "see you later". Because anything else, I hope, is false.