I Miss Japan, But…..

We’ve arrived in Connecticut and survived jet lag and starting at two new schools and settling into our little temporary apartment all in one week.

We all miss Tokyo quite a bit and are suffering some “re-entry” issues, but have started to notice a few things here in America that are pretty nice after three years in Japan….

We arrived just in time to catch the end of fall foliage, which while a big deal in Japan, ROCKS in New England.  My drive to school for The Cuties in the morning takes me down a winding lane around a reservoir.  Even The Cuties commented bright and early one morning how amazingly beautiful it was to see.

foliage-connecticut-wood-creek

{photo credit: drivenct.com}

We had a family fun night this week that included dinner out – no requesting an English menu necessary, no relying on picture menus and no struggling through katakana!  We then went to the movies, where everything was in English, and everything was a first run movie {of course, we still opted for Big Hero 6, which we could have seen in Japan now, LOL!}

movies

I bought seedless grapes at the grocery store.  Yes, grapes.  Where to start?  For starters, grapes in Japan that are labeled seedless aren’t always so….

JPgrapes

And that price?  That’s for about eight grapes!  I kid you not.

But I’ve been buying a big bag of organic grapes at Whole Foods for about $5.  Score.

And of course, the mother load of Expat shopping…

target-logo

The first three days in our apartment we went so often and spent so much our credit card started calling!  Thank goodness there’s no room in our tiny little place for craft supplies or I’d be living at Michael’s, too! ;-)

So we’re finding our way, little by little.

The air shipment arrives in a couple of hours and that should make us feel that much more at home as we remind ourselves that home is wherever the four of us are together.

Posted in Adventures | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Bat Mitzvahpalooza

So for months I’ve been referencing Bat Mitzvah projects for Big Cutie that I wasn’t yet ready to share.  Well the big day has come and gone and was everything I imagined as a Mom and more.  We were blessed to have an abundance of friends and family make the trip from America to celebrate with us here in Tokyo which meant we had a week of celebrating, sightseeing, and of course, food!

And it was spectacular.

I knew Big Cutie was prepared.  She’d diligently studied with little to no prompting for the past year, including waking up early many mornings in Kiawah to Skype with the Rabbi back in Tokyo due to the time difference.  But her poise and confidence on the bima literally took my breath away that evening.

I could go on and on.

But, let’s get to the crafty, party-planning stuff because that’s what this blog is about ;-)

{photos courtesy of 37 Frames}

In this digital age, I still felt strongly about sending out a paper invitation.  Big Cutie and I love to peruse stationery stores, and I’ve talked before about how we still send out invitations to almost all events.  I will admit I was surprised at how challenging it was to find what we were looking for ~ we wanted something very girly and appropriate for a 13-year-old, feminine and that also incorporated Big Cutie’s favorite color, turquoise.  Everything was too young or too sophisticated until we stumbled upon perfection at Just Invite Me .  Amber was lovely to work with, and readily turned the Adele Glitter Suite into a Bat Mitzvah invitation for us.

Leah's Bat Mitzvah. October 18, 2014. Tokyo.

Since we had so many out of towners, we really wanted to welcome them in style.  We created hotel welcome bags filled with subway maps, itineraries for the weekend, lots of snacks to help stave off late night munchies when suffering from jet lag and more.  Our favorite item in the bags were “survival kits,” containing band aids, Advil, Altoids, Tums, Shout wipes and tissues.

I found the perfect assortment of labels and tags at Evermine that I was able to customize in a variety of colors, sizes and shapes for a cohesive look at a very reasonable price.

labelsOne of my favorite projects for Big Cutie was the tallit bag I needle pointed for her.  I carried it with me on the subway, to volunteer meetings, and to several different countries in my attempt to finish in time to send it to the seamstress.

Leah's Bat Mitzvah. October 18, 2014. Tokyo.

We had a great afternoon in Skokie, Illinois last May selecting her tallit at Hamakor and my dear friend Lynn of Kanoa Pure Silver worked with me to design one-of-a-kind silver tallit clips with a sakura image.

Leah's Bat Mitzvah. October 18, 2014. Tokyo.

Finally, our last serious shopping was clothing for all of us, but especially for the Bat Mitzvah girl.

It took more legwork than I anticipated, but we finally found the perfect dress for her at Radical Rags in Mount Pleasant, SC.  They were so very helpful, and even ended up ordering us a few different dresses in different colors for Big Cutie to pick from with no obligation ~ isn’t that phenomenal customer service!  The Dress was from Stella M’Lia, who designs specifically for tweens and teens.

We found great formal shoes at the Saks Fifth Avenue outlet and then I blinged up some Converse for her to wear at the reception with mini crystals.

clothes

Now on to the party!

Our reception was held at the Decanter Restaurant in the Tokyo American Club.  We loved the set up of the restaurant and the color scheme was perfect for a party for a teenager.

Our guests arrived at the restaurant up an elevator and as the elevators opened a table was set with multiple trays of place cards.  These were made by cutting out card stock shapes with my Silhouette machine and writing names with a white Uni-ball gel pen.  I then attached a bamboo skewer to the back with clear tape and stuck the skewer into a Ferrero Rocher candy.  The candies were set into lucite trays filled with sparkly, purple crushed glass vase filler {I used a small gold dot sticker to indicate vegetarian meals}.

Leah's Bat Mitzvah. October 18, 2014. Tokyo.

The adults sat in the main dining room, where the pink velvet chairs and eggplant tufted banquettes complimented the peacock colors of Big Cutie’s theme.  The beautiful flowers were done by Bloom and Stripes here in Tokyo.  I printed menu cards on cover weight stock paper from Paper Source and rounded the edges with a corner punch, and a peacock feather was added at each setting.  I made the table numbers by painting inexpensive plain wood frames from Michael’s with glitter paint.

tables

The teenagers all sat together in what is usually the restaurant’s bar.  They sat at high top tables, decorated with sequined table runners and cups of rock candy instead of flowers.  The favors served as place cards and were personalized L.L.Bean tote bags, tied to the backs of each chair with a tag saying “Leah’s Bat Mitzvah ~ It was totes fun!”   At the end of the evening, the wait staff gathered the rock candy in cellophane bags and dropped them into the tote bags for the kids to bring home.

Leah's Bat Mitzvah. October 18, 2014. Tokyo.

The kids had their own mocktails and kid-friendly appetizers on the terrace off their private seating area, which was decorated with custom pillows.  These were made with inexpensive plain covers and inserts from Ikea and Silhouette heat transfer material.

loungepillows

loungesign

On the dance floor there were Mardi Gras beads, metallic top hats and plenty of glow sticks for the kids.  As the girls’ feet became tired there were custom socks they could take home with them, too. {we provided mini packs of ear plugs for adults since we know the kids like the music loud and it’s some times a bit much for the older crowd}

dance

In lieu of a sign-in book, I painted a chair that will become Big Cutie’s desk chair back in America.  The back rungs have her name in English and Hebrew and the date and we had it out for everyone to sign throughout the night.  We then used this chair to lift her and the rest of the family as we dance the hora.

Leah's Bat Mitzvah. October 18, 2014. Tokyo.

Leah's Bat Mitzvah. October 18, 2014. Tokyo.

{check out how we blinged her WalkAid to match her dress!}

There were two other special things we wanted to include for the night ~

One was a birthday cake because Big Cutie’s Bat Mitzvah fell on her actual 13th birthday.  So everyone sang Happy Birthday to her and Yuka at Cookie Hound made her a delicious and beautiful cake.  Check out that hand-painted peacock!

Leah's Bat Mitzvah. October 18, 2014. Tokyo.

The final thing was that we all wanted a large-scale photo booth.  Our amazing photographers, Dee & Tracey offered a fabulous sequined backdrop and together we came up with some very fun props.  I found plain chalkboard thought-bubble signs and painted both sides for a variety of options in addition to the mustaches, lips and glasses.  The prop chalkboard sign {like the lounge sign} was made with my Silhouette machine and vinyl.

Leah's Bat Mitzvah. October 18, 2014. Tokyo.

And there you have it!

The ceremony was inspiring, we were surrounded by people who mean the world to us and the party was a labor of love.  I can’t remember the last time I smiled so much!

photobooth

Posted in Celebrations, Craft Projects, Parties | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

To Japan, With Love, Part Two

So the packers are here.

And just like that, our home in Tokyo is becoming bare and generic and filled with boxes and suitcases and all the undeniable signs that we really and truly are getting on the plane and flying fourteen hours back to America on a one-way ticket.

{and here’s where I had to pause from writing because I started crying again}

There are so many things that have made our time in Japan amazing but the most lovely part about it for me has been the friends I’ve made.

We’ve moved many times back in America.  I’ve always met terrific people, and have many wonderful friends.  But it’s been different this time.

When you move to a new city in America, you meet people slowly and fit into a community that already exists.  You join into existing book clubs, teams, and supper clubs.  It’s all really nice and enjoyable.

But Tokyo.  It’s a whole other world.  We landed on a Sunday, and orientation at school was Monday.  I remember feeling completely panicked when emergency contact cards were passed around to place in The Cuties’ backpacks for the hour bus ride to school and back.  Not only did I not know anyone to list for school to call in case they couldn’t reach me, I didn’t know my own phone number!  And yet, the next day at the bus stop, I met some parents.  Who were all in the same boat.  And we laughed about it.  And the Mom who introduced herself who lived in the building next door, gave me her phone number, told me to feel free to use her as an emergency number and invited me to go with her to Starbucks and Costco the next day.  And just like that, I knew it would all be OK.

See, I was up for the adventures.  The snow festivals, the tea ceremonies, the shrines, the sumi-e classes, the traveling throughout Asia.  What terrified me was everyday, simple Mom life and finding my people.

I wanted to run into friends at the grocery store, join the PTA, flip latkes at Hanukkah, go to lunch, and have an occasional glass of wine at a girls night out.

And my sadness at leaving Tokyo?  Well some of it is the sheer beauty that is Japan.  The things that are interesting, and unique and fascinating.  But really, it’s about my girls.

Three years have felt like a lifetime.

It’s leaving my girls.

In the blink of an eye, we bonded over common language, our embarrassing moments, being strangers in a strange land, shared our life stories, and made memories together.

They’re the best.

In fact, I’d call them my light.

lantern

And I will think of them with love every time I light my amazing lantern they gave me as a sayonara gift.

Ja mata my dears.

Posted in Adventures | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

To Japan, With Love, Part One

In March of 2011, I awoke in my comfy house in Connecticut to read of the Great Earthquake in Tohoku and the devastating tsunami that followed.

It was all we read in The New York Times for weeks on end, and the images were haunting.  The Cuties made and bought paper cranes outside their school to send to Japan for relief efforts and we prayed for the people of Fukushima at synagogue.

One small thing I did that month was to purchase this t-shirt from J.Crew, knowing that 100% of the profits from the sale of the shirt were donated to the Japanese Red Cross Society to provide medical and emergency care to the area affected by the Great Quake.

JCrewJapanTee

Little did I know that a few short months later I would move to Tokyo and how special Japan would become to me.

It has been three years, two months, and four days since we arrived in Japan and it’s all been amazing for more reasons than I’m ready or able to enumerate.

My Japan Love shirt, as it was called by J.Crew, has been a weekly staple; first as a regular shirt with jeans, and later after it became threadbare and filled with holes, as a sleeping shirt.  When my husband asked me over a year ago when I’d get rid of it, I told him only when it was time to leave Japan.

Today, while sorting belongings to pack in suitcases, to be packed for the air shipment and for the sea shipment to eventually head to temporary storage, I squeezed my Japan Love shirt and tossed it in the trash.

I’m being silly to feel such affection for a battered old shirt, but it’s one more sign it’s time to leave and one more thing about which to be sad.

We have moved a lot.  We’ve made a lot of friends and liked living a lot of places.  It’s never been this hard.

This time it’s different.  The tears are different.  I’m different.

Japan, I have loved you big red puffy hearts and to your rabbit moon and back.

Posted in Adventures | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

One Last Trip Before We Go-Go

The clock is ticking down on our time here in Japan {sniff! sniff!} and with it will end the constant travel we have enjoyed so much.

However, we felt we would be remiss if we left Japan without visiting Hiroshima, and so this past weekend we hopped on the Shinkansen for one last trip.

shinkansen

We had especially interesting conversations with The Cuties connecting the dots between this trip and our very first trip upon moving to Japan where we visited Pearl Harbor.  The general consensus was war is extremely complicated and sad.  Amen.

We spent all day visiting the Peace Memorial Park and I spent some time alone in the Peace Memorial Museum {we tried with The Cuties, but it was understandably just too overwhelmingly horrifying for them so they went outside with their Dad who had been their years ago and I walked through on my own}.

I think this part of our trip really merits just photographs.

ABombDome

PeaceBell

papercranes

cenotaph

To break up the solemnity of the day, we also took a tour of the Mazda Factory.

Zoom! Zoom!

The most interesting part was observing the assembly line in action, but we were not allowed to take photographs due to industry confidentiality!

Sophzoom

I especially liked this one ~ there were only 1000 ever made!

Cosmozoon

The next day we took the ferry to Miyajima Island which may go down as one of my favorite places in all of Japan.

Wild deer roam freely on the island and will essentially beg for food and follow you around.  Little Cutie loved the fawns and we had an especially curious and hungry doe steal our map right out of the backpack and eat it!  I guess she wanted some fiber.

deer

The highlight of the island is the Itsukushima Shrine and the “floating” torii gate.  At high tide, the torii appears to float on the water.  We were extra-lucky while there and saw a beautiful wedding taking place and the bride and groom were taking their formal photographs around the shrine and then throughout the town.

lowtide

lantern

itsukushima

{photo credit: The Husband}

We took the ropeway to the top of Mt. Misen where we had beautiful views of all the surrounding islands and The Cuties learned to make the local treat, momiji manju.

mtmisen

And finally, our day was done and it was time to head back to our hotel in Hiroshima.

sunsetmiyajima

It was a great way to end our three years of travels and I’m so very happy we squeezed it in amongst all our crazy this fall.

And now we are sitting here booking our one-way tickets back to America and I am crying.

I’m gonna be a mess, people.

Posted in Adventures, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A Mitzvah of a Project

Big Cutie’s Bat Mitzvah is in just five short weeks.

One of the requirements of this day is that she design and implement a service project, and so six months ago she came up with the idea that she would begin collecting travel-sized toiletries from our families and friends and would distribute them to homeless men here in Tokyo.  She wrote a lovely letter explaining her idea and drawing a connection between our travel here in Japan and being able to turn that blessing into something helpful and meaningful.

And so our friends in Tokyo have diligently and kindly carried items back from their travels, asked their colleagues to save their amenities kits on airplanes and we have sweet-talked our way into extras from generous hotel staff everywhere we’ve been of late.

And our family and friends back in America, have saved their travel toiletries and this summer shipped them to us in Kiawah, and we filled suitcases to their maximum weight allotment upon our return!

Today, Big Cutie and I sorted and counted everything and readied it for our delivery date scheduled in three weeks.  We had over 2,000 items.

mitzvahproject1

But wait!  There’s more!

mitzvahproject2

We were able to make 100 bags that included the following for the men in need:

*a pair of warm socks

*shampoo & conditioner

*2 bars of soap

*2 toothbrushes and toothpaste

*brush or comb

*body lotion

*lip balm

*eye mask

*pack of tissues

*set of ear plugs

*vanity kit (q-tips, cotton balls, etc)

*razor & shaving cream

*wet wipes

We have another 100 or so each of shampoo, soap, toothbrushes, and lotion that will be donated for future packages as well.

mitzvahbags

It was a great way to spend the day as a family, running around our assembly line, rocking out to music, and discussing the details of distribution day.

The husband and I are very proud of Big Cutie’s hard work.  At one point we ran out of some items Big Cutie felt were very important to include in our bags, and so we let her know we had allotted a small amount of money towards the Mitzvah Project in our overall Bat Mitzvah budget.  So we gave her the amount, she tallied up what was missing and spent significant time shopping at hyaku yen and drug stores, pen and calculator in hand.  She managed to stay in budget and presented us with all her receipts!

This has been a great learning experience and something with which she’s really connected.  I think we’re all actually looking forward to waking up at 4:00 AM to give everything away!

Posted in Celebrations, Ordinary Days I Love, Organizing, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The First Last

We are back in Tokyo and are all suddenly feeling like there’s a giant clock ticking down our time left in Japan .  The Cuties will randomly mention something they did last Winter or Spring they didn’t realize would be their last time doing it with a wistfulness that makes us all sigh a little.

So when they started school this week, it became our official “First Last” moment in Tokyo.

Little Cutie is a Fifth Grader and starts her last year of Elementary School.

6 inches was the magic number of the last year ~ she grew six inches in height and hair length!

SMG1stday14

Big Cutie is a Seventh Grader this year and is fully in the swing of Middle School life.

She seems more and more grown up to me every day and I can’t believe her Bat Mitzvah is just around the corner.

LG1stday14

And me?  I’m doing my darndest not to cry my way through all the Lasts and savor it all.

Posted in Adventures, Celebrations | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment