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.

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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!

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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!

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.

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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.

KIsofa

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.

fabricwrap

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!”

batikjars

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

Spainting

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.

batikframes

turtles

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!

piegirls

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.

cousinsmingo

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

gator

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

bikepath

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.

fishin

Including helping the captain reel this guy in!

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

shark

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.

loggerhead

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!

kayak

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.

frozen

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.

4thfam

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

fireworks

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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