Thursday, January 31, 2008

on being bi-lingual

I had been thinking about writing about how teaching our kids two languages is going when one of my blog friends wrote a lovely post about her experience with her daughters. Then all of my other blog friends wrote long comments about their experiences, too (including me!). So if you're wondering how it's going and what we face then please go and check out Laura's blog. Her writing is so awesome that you may just be tempted to read all of her posts. If you do, be prepared for some tears and laughter along the way.

This is my new favorite picture of Natsuki.

Isn't she just pathetic? She's trying to guilt me into letting her play in the garbage can!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

just to be clear

Once a month we go to Costco and I stock up on some of our favorite foods. Then I try desperately not to eat everything in the first week! We usually buy ground beef, cheese, sour cream, salsa, cream of mushroom soup, torilla shells and then other assorted goodies depending on the season. Once we've got all the things we need then we head over to the bakery section and Chikara and I try to decide between getting pastries or muffins for our breakfasts for the next week. The girls always lobby for the package that has all chocolate muffins but that's a little bit too much for us. Once we bought the package that has only blueberry muffins and there was a great outcry of disbelief from the peanut gallery!

Last week we bought the variety pack of muffins and the next morning when I asked the girls what they wanted for breakfast, I had this conversation with Misaki.

Me: Hey, Misaki, what do you want for breakfast?

Misaki: nuffin...

Me: what?

Misaki: I want nuffin...

Me: Nothing for breakfast?

Misaki: No, a nuffin, I want a nuffin!

Me: Oh! A Mmmuffin?

Misaki: oh... yes, a muffin, please... (giggle!)

Sakura: I want a chocolate nuffin, too!!!

My girlies are so cute.

Also, did you know that they have begun selling magazines at the Costco in Amagasaki? I almost fell over when I saw the rack with all sort of magazines, in English, in the current months' edition even! It was very exciting. I probably won't buy a magazine every month but at least I know where I can get one now. Hee-hee! (I'm giddy with excitement)

Actually Chikara and I were talking yesterday about how much easier it is for me to live in Osaka now than when we moved here almost seven years ago. At that time there was no Costco, we didn't know about FBC or Expat Express and there was no hope of an Ikea. Another thing that has made my life easier is Tsutaya's online DVD rental system. The closest Tsutaya (Japanese version of Blockbuster Video) is at least 30 minutes away so the fact that I can choose videos and have them delivered to my house in one day is awesome.

Seriously, seven years ago we didn't have "nuffin"!

Monday, January 21, 2008

testing my resolve

Two Sundays ago, Chikara woke up earlier than the rest of us to take a shower but the hot water heater wouldn't work. It had been very cold that night so we figured it was just frozen or having a hard time getting going. By the time we got back from church it was working just fine so we didn't think much about. All week we haven't had any problems but on Saturday night when it was time for the kid's baths it wouldn't work again. Chikara's first thought was to go to a Super Sento (public bath) but I knew that would mean me having to bathe and keep an eye on all four kids (and try to keep Natsuki from drowning) while Chikara had a nice, relaxing bath. No, thank you! We decided that if there was no hot water in the morning that we would go to the church early and use their shower. Emi thought that was an awful idea and that for sure someone was going to see her naked. Yes, she's hit that age.

On Sunday morning there was no hot water so we packed everyone in the car as soon as we woke up, drove through McDonald's and had our breakfast and bath at the church. I think Natsuki was the most put out since it was such a wide departure from her idea of "normal". But I was mad or at the least, very frustrated. When we moved to Japan, we didn't have very much. Chikara got what turned out to be The Job From Hell and it covered all of our expenses but with baby after baby arriving, we weren't able to save for the future like we wanted to. Before I got pregnant with Natsuki we were starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel but, of course, Natsuki coming meant that I had to take a break from teaching English. Chikara had found a way better job with a better salary and our needs were being met but our goal was still to build our savings.

This year, 2008, is our chance once again to get our act together. For one year, we won't have to pay any preschool tuition but our kids are still small so their needs aren't expensive yet. Plus, with Natsuki getting older, I can take on some extra English classes if I want. So here we are, January, and we are on the same page and ready to go for it when our hot water heater breaks. It's possible that we could fix it cheaply but it's old so we should replace it. My FIL found a hot water heater last year that had only been used for 3 years so he brought it to our house just in case we needed a replacement. But it would cost money to replace and even then we didn't know if it would work. The last possibility would be to buy a new hot water heater but that could be between $1,000 - $3,000. I was just so frustrated since all options bite into our fledgling savings plan. Grrrr! As I was taking my shower at the church, I just kept thinking that this is Murphy's Law. Why even try?

Anyways, I finished my shower and got ready and headed up to the service that had already started. As I was trying to get my head and heart in the right place while coralling our kids, the worship leader was leading when suddenly he was singing an old hymn. Of course it's in Japanese so I'm trying to place which one it is when the title pops into my head. I Surrender All. It just stopped all of the busyness in my head. Of course. Surrender it. It was so clear to me that I stopped keeping an eye on the kids and just raised my hands and surrendered it all. I felt so much lighter after that moment.

When we got home, Chikara's dad called to see what we were going to do about the hot water heater. We had been in the middle of deciding dinner (part of our savings plan is to make more meals at home). Chikara had been making rice and his fingers were bright red from washing the rice in cold water. They invited us out to dinner and saved the day really. I thought to myself that already God is providing for us. Then dad called us this morning and said that a work friend of his could switch in the used hot water heater for us for $200 and he could come tonight. I almost laughed when I heard. Of course God would protect our good intentions to be stewards of what He's given us. I never needed to worry.

All to Jesus I surrender
All to Him I freely give
I will ever love and trust Him
In His presence daily live
I surrender all
I surrender all
All to thee, my blessed Savior
I surrender all

Already my resolution for this year has been tested. Did I pass? I'm not sure but at least I learned something!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

my silly girls

I was going through my pictures and I noticed a few fun pictures from the last month.

Misaki fell asleep in the car in this position. I think this just proves how flexible she is. It took me a few minutes to wake her up!

This is a picture of Natsuki with her earring on. She likes to wear it when she's awake and she will only wear one. She pauses occasionally while she's playing to make sure it's still on. When it's time for a nap, I take it off but as soon as she wakes up, she searches for it and then asks me to put it on. She's definitely a girl!

After hours of practice, Emi figured out how to do her kendama! Yeah for Emi!

Poor Daddy never gets a moments peace. If he lays down on the floor, inevitably someone climbs on top of him!

My four girls sitting ON TOP of their fort! Apparently they got bored being IN it! At least I got a picture of all four of them together. Yeah for Mommy!

Friday, January 18, 2008

no more blue...

The walls in Natsuki's room are no longer blue. I took off all of the wallpaper so step one is complete! Yeah! I'm almost surprised that I was able to keep at it. Anyways, I went to the hardware store today to price out some stuff and see if there was anything I couldn't find. I ran into two painter guys who were surprised that I was going to paint my own house. By myself. Without professional help. They were idiots. Except that I didn't want to get into a conversation with them, I wanted to say that what they do isn't that difficult, it's just time consuming. But they might've been offended by that and I'm trying to be nicer this year so I just wandered back and forth down the aisles until I had found everything I needed.

I talked with my dad yesterday and he gave me a lot of great advice about repairing holes in the walls and sandpaper, etc. He also said he would look for some websites for me to take a look at and after I got off the phone I realized that I can look up that kind of stuff by myself. Home Depot has an awesome website with lots of great project guides that include pictures and links so you can see what tools they're talking about. After reading all of that, I know that I can finish this project on my own. At least I'm willing to tackle Natsuki's room and get it ready for the girls. Then I'll stop and evaluate if I'm willing to do the other rooms, too.

Here are some pictures of the room minus the wallpaper. The next step is to take off the wallpaper backing.

My mom made those beautiful curtains when she came to help me with Sakura's birth. I'm still trying to decide where I'll use them next.

That's Natsuki's playpen that she's sleeping in now. I think she likes it better than her crib since it's not as noisy. I like it better because I'm not as worried about her climbing out of it!

One thing I discovered after I took off the wallpaper is that whoever built the house never finished mudding and taping the corners of the room. They just smoothed over the walls and then wallpapered over the whole thing. Home Depot recommended using a corner trowel when doing the corners but of course I can't find a corner trowel at the hardware store here. Probably because no one actually finishes the corners. My mom said she'll bring one for me, though!

This next picture is mostly for my dad so he can see what I'm talking about.

The white paper is the backing from the wallpaper but the dark line is where the two pieces of sheetrock meet. Probably all of the rooms are the same so this'll be good practice.

I'll update more as I get through the project. Thanks for everyone's kind words. They were very encouraging.

go fly a kite!

One Japanese New Year tradition is kite flying, otherwise known as "tako age". Chikara has really wanted to take the girls to fly kites in past years but there was always a baby or not enough of them knew what was going on so I always put a stop to it. This year was the first year I felt that Emi and Misaki would be 100% able to participate and Sakura, the follower, wouldn't get in the way. I know, I'm way too practical, but sometimes things that sound good in your head turn out to be a big headache in reality when four children are involved!

The week before the New Year's holidays, we took the girls to Toys R Us and let the older three pick out a kite for themselves. Amazingly, Misaki and Sakura picked out their kites right away but it was Emi that made us wander around all over the WHOLE store and then went back to where we started and finally picked one. Everyday they asked us if were going to go kite flying but we said they had to wait until Daddy's vacation started.

On January 1st we had two families over for lunch and during the afternoon the three daddies took all of the older kids (6 of them) to the riverside to fly kites together. Since we only had three kites, we made sure that all the kids were aware that they had to share and off they went. It was pretty cold that day but the sky was clear and the wind was strong so it was perfect for kite flying. When they came back, every one of them had pink cheeks and runny noses but they had had a great time running around in the wide open spaces (seriously, very hard to find around here). While they were gone, the three mommies and the younger children (just 2) enjoyed the quiet and were ready with snacks and drinks when they returned.

Two days later, we spent the day with Chikara's parents and before we went to dinner, they took Emi and Misaki to fly kites. Sakura and Natsuki were worn out from all of the activities we had participated in all week so the three of us napped while they were gone.

Misaki flying the kite at her own pace!

Yes, that's Emi's kite way up there in the sky!

Trying to be a little braver. The kite is so strong!

Standing with obaa-chan for support.

As you can see, they had a wonderful time and hopefully this will be a new New Year's Tradition that we can keep each year.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

new year, new project

The new year has brought with it a new project for me. Even though there's a lot of work ahead of me, I'm really excited about it. In April, both Emi and Misaki will be going to elementary school and because of this I have decided to switch around the kids rooms. Right now Emi, Misaki and Sakura share a 6-tatami size room with a bunk bed and a single bed and Natsuki sleeps in a 4.5-tatami size room in a playpen (we just threw away her crib - sniff). Emi wakes up at 7:20am and is out the door by 7:55am and then at 8am, the other three wake up and I take Misaki to the bus at 8:55am and then Sakura and Natsuki have the house to themselves for the day. Sakura, our perky morning riser, usually wakes up when Emi does and I realized that once Emi AND Misaki are waking up early, Sakura is not going to be content to wait in her room until 8am so I decided that a room change was in order.

After much consideration, I decided that Emi and Misaki will go into the smaller room with the bunk bed and Sakura and Natsuki will share the larger room. Chikara has given me a lot of flack over this because logically Emi and Misaki, being the older sisters, should have the larger room. Of course I feel the same way but I know that if I put Sakura and Natsuki in the smaller room together, I'm going to have a lot more problems with them disturbing each other at night and in the morning. They just need more space in between them. Plus next year I want to start putting toys up in their room so they can play up there and I can reclaim some of the living room space. Emi and Misaki's toys get smaller and smaller each year and I want them to have a private space and not have to turn their room into the play area. So, in a seemingly unfair move, they will get the smaller room.

Not surprisingly, this news was not well received by Emi (Misaki didn't really care, of course!). I knew that she would feel this way so I told her that I am going to re-decorate the room just for the two of them. She was immediately suspiscious so one afternoon during the winter vacation I got out my interior decoration magazines and we looked through them together. I have two great special edition Better Homes & Gardens magazines dedicated to kid's rooms and after we looked through them together a few times, I started to notice a pattern of things they really liked. I wasn't sure if we would be able to come to an agreement since Emi is a sporty-girl and Misaki is a girly-girl but some of their tastes are similar so we zeroed in on those things.

This lamp is going to be the inspiration for their room. They both really liked the colors and Emi liked the stripes.

One of the reasons this whole project came about was because when we moved into our house, the walls were in poor shape. I knew that one day my babies would grow up and I would be able to make time to re-do the walls, but as a quick fix, we painted two of the upstairs rooms instead of having them re-wallpapered (I'm not a big fan of wallpaper). The family who owned this house before had two junior high aged boys who were obviously very rough on the house, especially the 4.5-tatami size room. There are one or two small holes in the wall which are easily fixable but there are scratches and little holes from screws and nails ALL OVER THE PLACE and it would be an exercise in futility to go around and try to patch up all of the wallpaper. I have had many dreams about fixing the walls in this room and I am using this schedule change as an excuse to make the time to finally just do it.

Just for the walls, there are four steps:

1. Pull off the existing wallpaper: easy
2. Spray the walls with a vinegar mixture to get the wallpaper glue off of the walls: a little difficult but mostly time consuming
3. Use putty to fix the holes and marks and smooth out the appearance of the walls and then sand: this seems difficult AND time consuming
4. Paint the walls: easy but time consuming

I have considered removing the wallpaper myself and then hiring someone else to re-surface the walls and paint them. I might still do that but once I started taking off the wallpaper I found myself really enjoying the work so depending on time and money constraints I may or may not do it all myself. I like a challenge but I have to consider how I use my time and how that will affect my family.

I love this lamp! I have a plain white one in my entrance that's similiar so I'm hoping that I'll be able to find something like it here in Japan.

The girls will need a mirror in their room and I kept thinking that I would try to find a funky, unusual mirror but when I saw this I liked the fact that that the girls could change the feel of the mirror with different colored ribbons so I'm going to look for something simple that they can change around depending on their mood (what will that be!).

I've written about it a lot but Misaki really loves to draw and I when I saw this, I knew I would have to re-create it for her. It's just a simple art frame with the glass glued in and the frame decorated. There is a clip attached to the glass so the girls can put their own artwork in the frame and replace it when they want to. This way their drawings are the decoration for the room. I think this'll be a lot of fun for them.

Another element that both of the girls could agree on was butterflies. These butterflies are just clipart that was downloaded from the internet, printed on photo paper, trimmed and mounted in a art frame. I saw lots of ideas for stenciling butterflies, etc. so I will definitely include this somewhere in the room.

So that's what's on the calendar for the next three months. Ikea is opening in April in Kobe (only 1 hour away) so I'm hoping to find bedding and little extras to complete the look of the room. After Emi saw all of the ideas she is really excited about the room, even if it is small, so the project has begun. My plan is to work for an hour each morning while Chikara is home and can keep an eye on the kids for me. Hopefully I will be able to finish the small room before my mom comes in February (did you get your ticket yet?) and then move onto the other rooms. Yes, Emi and Misaki's room is just the beginning. I want to do the larger kid's room, the hallway and the kitchen before March. I will be so thrilled when it's finished and I can enjoy the look of these rooms instead of just seeing the marks on the walls and dreaming about fixing them.

If anyone knows of any great interior decorating websites that will ship to Japan, please let me know!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

one thing leads to another...

Well, 2008 has just begun and already I've learned something new. In Japan, once the new year has begun, when we meet friends and acquaintances we say a New Year's greeting:

akemashite omedetougozaimasu
kotoshimo yoroshiku onegaishimasu

It's long and sort of a tongue-twister but it's *very* important to remember to say. It's almost like making a first impression that's going to last for the whole year. As January wears on, it gets harder and harder to remember who I've met and who I haven't met and if I run into someone unexpectedly I get all flustered as I try to remember if we've run through this ritual yet this year.

But it's the beginning of the year so I'm still on the I-probably-haven't-seen-you-yet side of this tradition. On Monday morning, my neighbor friend stopped by my house to see if I could pick up her daughter from preschool when I get Misaki and as I opened the door I started in with the first part of the phrase and... she didn't say it back! I was even more flustered so I didn't say the second part and we just went on with our conversation. I asked how her winter vacation went and she said that her grandmother had died so most of the vacation had been taken up with the funeral and that it hadn't been as much fun for her kids. I made my condolences and as she left, I muttered the last part of the New Year's greeting and again, she didn't say anything. I was totally confused because she's the nicest lady in the world (way nicer than me!) and she's Japanese so why didn't she say it. This is the first time this had ever happened to me. I just couldn't figure it out.

On Tuesday after I came back from my English class (man, those kids were full of energy!) and our kids were in bed, Chikara told me that he had seen my friend's mom in the afternoon when he was outside with the kids and when he said the greeting to her she said that she couldn't return the greeting out of respect for her mother who had passed away recently. As he told me this, I had an a-ha moment. That's why my friend hadn't said it to me, either. Unfortunately, even after she told me that her grandmother had passed away, I didn't connect the two so I had spent the day wondering about it.

On Wednesday morning, when I saw my friend, I apologized and told her about my whole misunderstanding. She apologized too (we apologize a lot here) and we had a really great conversation about death, of all things. She and her family are not Christians and the whole thing had really freaked out her kids and caused them to ask questions that the adults didn't have answers to. She said that it must be different for us because we're Christians and I said that it's true, we view death differently. Obviously it's very sad and we grieve for our loss, but we are able to find hope and peace. The more I thought about it, I realized that I don't fear death. How can I? God has led us this far, why would he not have a plan for the rest of our lives, too?

Especially as a new year starts and people around me are making resolutions, this line of thought led me to think more about how I am using this life that I've been given. Am I doing what God wants me to do? I really hope so. Am I being a good steward of what He's given me? Most of the time. Am I having a good attitude along the way? hmm... next question. Is my heart in the right place? Man, these are tough questions. Not really an answer, huh? Um, not all the time. Do I love my neighbor as much as I love myself? I did learn a lot about myself last year in regards to this and I hope that the lessons learned help me care more for the people around me this year.

So in lieu of a New Year's resolution, I will hold onto the hope that as each year passes I am learning more and changing for the better. I think that's enough of a challenge, don't you? It can't be any harder than remembering the New Year's greeting!

Monday, January 07, 2008

she thinks she's so cute...

Yesterday I was cutting Emi's nails and because I knew that I was going to vacuum after I was done, I was just letting the clippings fall on the floor.


Me: Yes, I know, but I'm going to vacuum after this.

Emi: ...

Me: ...

Emi: Are you *that* kind of woman?

Where does she get this stuff?!?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

opening presents

I realized last night after days of trying that I was not going to be able to write about all of the wonderful fun we've had this last week so I decided to give up (gulp!) and just post the pictures. Maybe one day I'll have time to write as I please...

Santa came!

family pictures

We had such a wonderful holiday with Chikara's dad's family. It's nice to be a part of a large family again since I miss my family so much during this time of the year. The last picture is of the girls and their second cousin.

trying to take a picture for our nengajo

Lots of personality but not one picture where everyone is looking forward and/or not crying. Grrr!

the dresses and the wedding

Mom, thank you so much for sending the beautiful dresses.

first day in Miyazaki

We took the overnight ferry down to Miyazaki. The girls really enjoyed everything about the ferry but our room was hot at night and Natsuki only slept about 3 hours so we were all pretty tired once we arrived at our hotel room the next morning. At first the girls were excited about the room but soon the futons were calling their names and they all fell asleep for a nice nap before the wedding. Cuties!