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.


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.

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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.


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.





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!


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


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.


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.




{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.


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


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.


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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