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.


But wait!  There’s more!


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.


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!

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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!


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.


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

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Because Sometimes Its Just Wrong

Last summer I made a lot of changes to our place here in Kiawah.  It’s a balancing act because while it’s our home for the summer while we are in America, we also rent it our when we are gone.  And although we want it to be nice for our renters, we know that a lot of different people coming and going put wear and tear on a place at a more rapid rate than just we would.

The last thing I did last summer was my weak attempt at a contemporary painting for over the sofa.  While I’ve taken many painting classes over the years, modern art is not something I’ve had any experience with, and it showed.


I knew it wasn’t right and detracted from the overall look I was going for in our little place, but my budget was limited and my time was out, so the painting stayed.

And it’s bugged me all summer.

With each growing week.

I could hear it chanting “wrong, wrong, wrong” to me every time I walked in the room.

But nothing’s really changed.  The budget is still limited, there will still be other people coming and going, and honestly, I’ve been busy with a lot of other projects.

And then yesterday I had a Eureka! moment as to how to fix the problem.

And so an iron, a $13 piece of fabric, my staple gun and about 6 whole minutes later I feel much better about this wall.


Still not the lovely seascape oil painting I’d put up if it were my full-time house, but it pulls the room together much better.  It reminds me of Japanese shibori I love so much, and the fabric I found mimics the look of many contemporary seascapes I’ve oogled.

Now if I can just figure out how to fit all the Bat Mitzvah-related projects into my suitcases to travel back to Japan I’m set!

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Batik by Some Cute Artists

I love artwork by my kids.

It’s seriously one of my favorite things.

I love it simply because they made it.

But I also love it as someone who enjoys the artistic process but struggles tremendously with the whole notion of this is a banana so it should be yellow and not turquoise. I’ve often said I’m crafty, but not creative.  Kids, however, seem to totally move past this notion and paint with such freedom its joyous.  I love it.

One day back in March while we were in Kota Kinabalu, we all needed a break from the sun {that whole being at the Equator thing is H-O-T!} and so I took The Cuties to paint batik.  Because you know my mantra ~ “If there’s a crafting class, we will find it!”


They each picked an ocean theme to paint and loved the vivid dyes available to them.


When their paintings were dried and ironed, we carefully packed them in our suitcases, and carried them from Borneo back to Japan.  And several months later I packed them in suitcases from Japan to America where they arrived on Kiawah Island.

And we framed them and hung them over their beds.



We finished this project just in time as it’s turtle madness here on the island as the loggerhead nests are starting to hatch!

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Never a Dull Moment

We’ve been up to all sorts of great things here in Kiawah, and have been running at such a pace that when we woke up to massive thunderstorms yesterday The Cuties’ reaction was “YES! A day to just veg out.”  I guess it was time.

My parents and sister and her family were all here last week, so we had lots of people with whom to play.  For me, this meant we could participate in some activities where an extra adult or two comes in handy!

We started the week at Mingo Point at the weekly Oyster Roast and BBQ, where Big Cutie and I have an annual tradition of a Mother-Daughter Pecan Pie eating contest.  For the fourth year in a row, she completely smoked me! Where my string bean of a daughter manages to put a mini pie at a rapid rate after an evening of platefuls of Low Country favorites is beyond me!


We also managed to get a picture of all the cousins with the marshes behind them just before the sun set or anyone had a melt down; a double victory, indeed.


We had some very serious alligator sightings off the balcony one night at dinner.


We braved the rush-hour commute to breakfast at the market in the morning ~


We took a boat out on the ocean one day and took the older kids fishing.  We dropped anchor over a reef and the kids caught fish after fish after fish.


Including helping the captain reel this guy in!

{FYI – we released everything we caught due to size}


While not a terrific photo, we also got to experience the excitement of this loggerhead turtle circling our boat for a long time, often within arms reach.


Another day, we took all the kids kayaking on the Kiawah River for a Pluff Mud Paddle with two Naturalists.  It was a great late afternoon trip just as the day was cooling off.  We watched several pelicans dive and swoop for their supper and then beached to play around in the water and pluff mud.  Each of the kids had a net and were able to explore the area to see what they could catch and the Naturalists would tell them what was living in the ecosystem.  We found all sorts of very cool things!


Hurricane Arthur completely cooperated with Charleston and barely even sprinkled so we were able to golf as planned and played the course in our neighborhood for the first time.  I’m pleased to report there were no gator sightings on the course, but did see more than a half-dozen deer as we played that night!

We convinced all four kids to nap one night and then returned to the pool at dark with our floats for the Dive in Movies {one of my favorite puns of all time!}.   It was great fun, with sno-cones and popcorn treats and all the kids singing along to the movie from the pool.  I’ll confess I’d somehow managed not to see Frozen up until now.  Yes, I’ve apparently been living under a rock.


Finally, we managed to get to the highlight of the week, the Fourth of July!  It’s always one of our favorite events here on Kiawah and never disappoints.  We watch from the lawn of the Sanctuary hotel and it’s so lovely to see the fireworks shoots off over the beach {sipping cocktails and easy access to restrooms for kids are nice perks as well}.

Here’s the whole family in our red, white and blue finery, minus the husband sadly since he’s back in Tokyo working.


It was Cute Niece’s first time at fireworks and she proclaimed them AMAZING!


I totally agree.

And oh yeah, we swam at the beach a lot too! ;-)

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What the What

I know.

My World’s Worst Blogger Award is prominently displayed on the mantel and I’m wearing the cone of shame.

But I’ve been up to my ears in all sorts of things and decided blogging had to go on the back burner so I could be extra present in my Real Life until I could get my head above water.

Since we last chatted The Cuties finished off the school year.  It was the usual frenzy of unit tests, final projects, parties, and requests for unending baked goods {an extra challenge when you know you are leaving the country for two and a half months and trying to simultaneously empty your pantry, refrigerator and freezer and presenting weird dinners of couscous, defrosted rolls and three kinds of beef; not pretty, I know}.

I procrastinated packing us for summer more than I have for any other trip.  To the point Little Cutie first told me it concerned her, and then told me it was really stressing her out, and I finally got off my tush and took action.  I’m pleased to report I did manage to pack one fewer suitcase than last year!

In the middle of all of this, I have been knee-deep in all sorts of projects and plans for Big Cutie’s Bat Mitzvah this October.  They will all be revealed after the big day, but I wanted to finish as much as possible since the event is a mere 8 weeks after our return to Japan from the summer holidays.  I *think* I have things semi under control, but the day before I left Tokyo our party coordinator called to tell me she was leaving the country until two weeks before our event.  Seriously.  I am pleased to report I did not suffer a heart attack, and of course there is an interim person acting as our liaison, but well, it’s hard enough planning an event almost no one knows what it is in a country where I don’t speak the language without involving another person at the last minute!  And I’m pretty sure we are setting a new record at our synagogue with the amazing news that we will have more than forty guests coming from America.  How blessed are we?!

And what was really the elephant in the room in our lives was the news that we will be packing up and moving back to America some time later this fall after the Bat Mitzvah.  There’s a lot of limbo to this news such as where we’ll live, where The Cuties will go to school, cars to buy, air and sea shipments to schedule with packers, and so much more.  The Cuties have taken the news with more grace and positivity than we could possibly have hoped for, and I am so proud of them.  Thankfully, we have watched as many of our friends have experienced the unpredictability of Expat life and so we know it happens and we, too, will be just fine.

There is much to look forward to about returning to America, most especially the proximity to our family and friends.  But it will be very hard to say goodbye to our Expat experience.  It has changed us in many ways and has truly been something I’m thrilled to have taken the risk to have done.

I recently came across this quotation which perfectly sums up how I feel about our experiences and time in Tokyo ~

I never asked for it to end, but then again, I never asked for it to begin.  For that is the way it is with life, as some of the most beautiful days come completely by chance.  But even the most beautiful days eventually have their sunsets.  ~Richard Chernov

We are now here at the beloved Happy Place, Kiawah Island, South Carolina.  We’ve just spent a lovely week with the husband and the Cute Grandparents.  We’ve eaten Low Country food to our hearts’ content, swam until we’re pruned, played family golf and ridden our bicycles to breakfast almost every single morning.  And of course, we’ve had gator sightings and worn our Lilly Pulitzer!

The Cuties and I will continue to play here for a few more weeks and then they will head to the North Woods to summer camp where they will be silly, get filthy, water ski, eat s’mores and scream their lungs out at color war.  And I will be happy for them.

So that’s the last month for The Felt So Cutes.

It’ll all work itself out and I’m working hard at not being too Type-A about it all.

Really and truly.

And now the pool and an Arnold Palmer are calling my name.

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I’m All Choked Up

I’ve been a bit weepy the last couple of days.

All happy tears, I promise.

And I’m not overly hormonal {no more so than usual at least}.

Big Cutie had her end of the year Choir Concert and sang so beautifully with her sixth grade class.  Their last song was Sara Bareilles’ Brave and I found myself completely choked up listening to a group of Middle Schoolers singing these lyrics~

“You can be amazing
You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug
You can be the outcast
Or be the backlash of somebody’s lack of love
Or you can start speaking up

Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do
When they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave”


{yes, I know cell phone photos from the middle of the auditorium stink, but you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit}

This weekend, we also celebrated the One-Year Anniversary of Shaving Day for Little Cutie.  Shaving her hair off last year with the St. Baldrick’s Foundation was an incredibly moving experience for our whole family, and something that is still a regular part of our family conversations.  To date, Little Cutie raised more than ¥1.2 Million or $12,142 for pediatric cancer research {if you’d like to contribute to this amazing cause, you can still do so here!}.  

So we “celebrated” with her first haircut in a year!


She’s gonna change the world, this one.  Her conversations with me about politics, injustice in the world, and how to fix things are wise beyond her years.  Now if I can just get her to remember to get the towel into the hamper and off the floor and that chocolate does not belong at the top of the food pyramid, we’ll be in business.

Finally, I was weepy on Mother’s Day.

I have had over a decade of what we’ll just have to call cursed Mother’s Days.

Not because my Cuties and husband aren’t amazing, but just some ridiculously, borderline comical bad luck.  Seriously, folks.

My first Mother’s Day with Big Cutie, The Cute In-Laws came to visit.  On the way home from brunch, someone ran a red light, T-boned us, flipped our car and totaled it.  We spent the rest of Mother’s Day at the emergency room being checked out and Big Cutie made her television debut as every network ran the visuals of the crash with the ominous tagline A Mother’s Day Outing Gone Bad, ending with Big Cutie in her smocked dress {but of course!} playing in the paramedics arms, clearly unharmed, with a voice over talking about car seats saving lives {FYI – we all walked away fine!}.

Subsequent Mother’s Days included waiting on a biopsy of a tumor in my breast {needed to be removed, but benign}, my Crohn’s Disease diagnosis, a febrile seizure for Little Cutie and more.

So really, all I want for Mother’s Day at this point is to survive unscathed!

And boy did I!

I woke to beautiful cards from my husband and My Cuties, including long letters from my girls, I will cherish forever.  Big Cutie woke up early and ran to our local Starbucks and brought home my favorite drink {yay for life in the big city!}.  Little Cutie had picked out my favorite flowers from the little florist shop around the corner and they gave me the most adorable hashi rests I’ve been stopping to admire in the shop window for weeks.


There’s a reason behind why they picked each of the little animals, which makes them all the more special!

After Sunday School we went for a lovely brunch with two of our favorite families.  I looked over at one point where the kids were all sitting and playing a silly game to one side of me and the adults were chatting on the other side of me and thought to myself, “This.  This is Mama goodness.  Surrounded by my family – the one I have and the ones I picked.  Lots and lots of happy.”

And then I remembered it was Mother’s Day and added an extra prayer no one was hit by a taxi crossing the street.

And we weren’t.

Everyone made it home safe and sound.  My own sweet peeps made dinner, that included cupcakes Big Cutie baked herself and hubby and The Cuties cleaned up and we raced to call the Cute Grandmothers to wish them a Happy Mother’s Day as they woke up on the other side of the world before we all headed to bed.

Happy tears are a good thing.

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