Monday, September 29, 2008

Is Fall finally here?

It's cold today! I'm actually wearing a sweater. I better not get my hopes up since there will probably be a few more hot days but I'm sure I'll be able to breathe a sigh of relief when my next electricity bill comes!

Friday, September 26, 2008

preschool Emi

This is 5-year-old Emi on her first day of swim class at her preschool. She's the one on the far left squinting up at the sky. I didn't actually take this picture, the school always hires a professional photographer for school events so I purchase this one from them.
Chikara and I love this picture of her. She's so little and proper (both hands clasped in front of her) but she's also curious about everything around her. I have to say that except for her size, not much has changed!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

personal finance

This week Lulu over at Cherry Blossom Adventures wrote a very honest post about her lack of success in financial matters. A lot of people commented and shared their own issues with personal finance, too, which really surprised Lulu. She really thought she was the only one struggling but I have to say that I wasn't surprised at all. I know that everyone struggles in some way with their money.

At least, I know we do. There have been different struggles at different times in our lives. We have regrets that we didn't do more with our money when we were first married. We cannot believe that we survived those first few years after we moved to Japan. We are constantly thankful for our house and Chikara's current job. But the struggle that stands before us now is saving. I mean serious savings. We do really good in most other areas of our finances and we can save for our trips home and pay for them in cash but the trip takes up most of our savings. I know that I could say here that having four kids on one and a quarter incomes is difficult at the best of times so I shouldn't be so hard on myself but I KNOW that we can do better. We have to and we want to.

Over the last two or so years I have been searching the Internet for good information about personal finance. I have found the Money section of MSN to be overflowing with practical advice and recently I discovered The Simple Dollar, the blog of a man who has spent the last two years digging himself out of a huge financial hole. His story is very inspirational while still being relatable.

So for the next six months we are going to try something new. It's called the 60% Solution Budget. The basic idea is that you spend 60% of your monthly income on necessities: mortgage/rent, groceries, gas, utilities, etc. The other 40% is divided up into four categories: retirement, long-term savings, irregular expenses and fun money. I really feel like this plan covers all of our desires for our money. For fun, on top of that, we're also going to throw into a jar any 500yen coin that comes into our hand and use that to help fund our vacations. I'm going to keep track of it all on Microsoft Money (which I purchased online for $40 last year when it was on sale). I decided not to keep track of the 60% part since we work in cash and I know each week when the money is gone and also where it went.

Although I'm excited about saving for retirement and long-term goals, the reason we really decided to go with this is the plan for irregular expenses and fun money. This is the part that usually caused our carefully planned budgets to fall apart. You know, stuff you didn't see coming or forgot about. For example, next month we have to pay the 50,000yen ($500) application fee so Sakura can go to preschool next year and we're also all going to Tokyo for the Passion Conference which will be about 70,000yen. Both of these are expenses we both agreed on so there's no guilt there but stuff like this would usually bust our budget and then I'd get frustrated, give up for a month or two and then try again.

Another thing that frustrates me about trying to do all of this in Japan is the lack of information and services. For example, no one I know has heard of automatic transfers (a designated amount of money is automatically transferred into savings on payday). The interest rates for savings accounts and certified deposits are a joke (the interest for 300,000yen ($30,000) in a 5-year CD is 0.65%) and people are genuinely freaked out about investing. I want to find out more about what type of retirement plans are available but so far everyone says they just save cash in a very low-interest account. We have a life insurance policy and if Chikara were to die, the loan on our house would go to zero but I've never heard of a 401(k) or RSP type of plan to be a part of. Admittedly I'm just starting to look into this and maybe I'm looking in the wrong places but if all of this is possible then it's very well hidden.

I will probably update on our progress every few months and I hope that besides saving money, I'll be able to learn something through this process. I encourage you to click on the links if you're interesting in reading more on personal finance. There's a lot of great information out there!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

the fridge: before and after

before shopping:

after shopping:

That should hold us for a week!

Sunday, September 21, 2008


On Thursday nights my in-laws come and take the older three girls out for the evening so it's just me and Natsuki. I look forward to this time because Natsuki is really relaxed and playful. This last Thursday as I finished dinner I turned to her and said, "Are you ready for dinner?". She was standing by the couch and she said yes, but then she put her hand straight up in the air and said "Me!". I laughed since obviously there was only her but she wouldn't come until I acknowledged her answer. I've got another strong little girlie on my hands!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

coffee break

So I successfully quit drinking coffee except that, well, I wasn't as satisfactory as I hoped it would be. Actually, it was boring. I looked forward to Sunday afternoons when I could get a cup of coffee without feeling guilty! I tried a lot of other drinks and I found that I liked grape juice the best but it's not sold in any supermarkets in my neighborhood so that was no help.

Someone had mentioned on my last post that they enjoyed a cup of coffee as a reward for chores being done and I realized that that might be the balance I was looking for. So I switched "coffee plans" last week and not only do I get to enjoy coffee again, but I'm getting a lot of housework done, too! I'm hoping that since I end up drinking my coffee at different times of the day (and some lazy days, I get no coffee) that I won't get hooked again and can avoid the headaches. Time will tell.

Friday, September 19, 2008

father/daughter flashback

Flashback Friday 2:

This is one of my very favorite pictures of Chikara being a daddy. At the time, Chikara was working at his old job and he was so busy that he didn't get to spend a lot of time with the kids, but on this one occasion, he took Emi with him on the train to a practice and she was so excited. You can see that she's got her bag, her favorite shoes and the hugest smile. She's only 3 but she knows that this is a special moment.

I hope that she always remembers that spending time with Daddy is special.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Flashback Friday!

Welcome to the new corner of my blog: Flashback Friday!

This picture was taken right before we moved to Japan in August 2001, which means we've been in Japan for seven whole years now! Isn't Emi just adorable in this picture with her chubby cheeks and big eyes? I know I look a little tired but I had just found I was pregnant! Surprise!

Anyways, seven years later, I can honestly say we made the right decision. Here's to seven more years!

Friday, September 05, 2008

story time

I'm not sure exactly how it got started but on Monday night after dinner, the six of us sat around the table and told stories to each other for 40 minutes or so. I think Emi asked us to tell a funny story from when we were little so we told a couple of Chikara's funny stories and then Emi told a story and then Misaki and then Sakura and even Natsuki told us a story. It was hysterical and it just went on and on. Some of the girl's stories made no sense at all and Misaki went on with one story for a good ten minutes and we had no idea what she was talking about! Natsuki's story was hysterical because she kept making sounds and faces to go along with it. I sure wish we knew what she was trying to say.

It was a such a spontaneous, special time and I kept thinking that I should get out the video camera but I knew that if I did, they would stop, so I just decided to enjoy it and write about it later. But it was one of those times where I wished our life was a reality TV show so that it could've been caught on camera.

In other news (that's probably only of interest to me), I finally got rid of the washlet on our 2nd floor toilet. Ever since we moved into this house 4 years ago I wanted to throw it away but I could never come up with a good alternative. A new washlet was too expensive, especially since we don't ever use the washlet function, but if I bought a regular toilet seat we would freeze our butts off in the winter time so I kept giving up. Finally I discovered a warmlet at our local home store. It was only 50 bucks and it does the warming thing in the winter so it was perfect. I measured our toilet twice and went and looked at the warmlet in the store about 10 times before I actually bought it!

The dumb thing was that after I loosened the bolts that hold the washlet on I realized that the washlet was still attached to the wall because of the water connection. I just couldn't believe that I had forgotten about that. I tried to turn off the water to the washlet but the valve wouldn't move. Chikara was a little ticked off with me but he sweetly called his dad for advice. His dad is also sweet so although it was almost 10pm, he came over and helped me finish the job!

So now the new warmlet is on, the toilet smells MUCH better and I am very happy. And I have the sweetest, cutest kids in the whole wide world.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

with the best of intentions

For some reason all I can think of is redecorating Sakura & Natsuki's bedroom. I know in my brain somewhere that there is too much going this month and that I need to put it off until October if there is going to be any chance of actually completing the project in a reasonable amount of time. You know, so it doesn't drag on for months and months.

BUT, Ikea came out with their 2009 catalogue. Drat.

AND, there's way cute stuff all over it. Double drat.

So all of my good intentions went down the drain and I perused the catalogue for ideas for their room and guess what? I found exactly the inspiration I was looking for. I have been thinking about decorating their room like it's a garden. I'm going to paint the walls a soft yellow and then paint grass and flowers (free hand - yikes!) around the bottom 1/3 of the walls in the play area part (not all the way around the room) but I needed something to bring it together and make it seem garden-y.


Isn't this too cute?! It's frog prince and princess dancing!

This duvet cover is more adorable when you see it in real life. I actually didn't like this just from the picture but when I saw it at Ikea, it was perfect.

These curtains look like a different green but, again, when I saw them at Ikea, they're exactly the same. Also, the bottom seam is unfinished so you can adjust it to any length and it's so long (250cm) that I'll be able to use one set for both windows! Yeah for me!

Last, but not least, is this adorable wall pocket. It's 130cm long so I'm guessing the pockets are really big, which is why I want it. I don't know if you can see but the frog has a crown!

So I talked my husband into going to Ikea on Monday after the girls got home from school to get all of this wonderful stuff before it goes out of stock. Glad I went when I did because the wall pocket was already sold out although they'll get more stock eventually. I was able to get everything else I wanted plus we finally picked out a mirror for Emi and Misaki's room. As soon as I get that up, I'll post pictures of their room.

Now that I have made those purchases, hopefully I'll be able to control myself for the next month! Wish me luck!

Monday, September 01, 2008

Thank the Lord for elementary school

The font needs to be bigger than this so you know how I really feel but...


Emi and Misaki went back to school this morning and although today they only have classes until 10:30, it is still a wonderful feeling! Due to rainy weather, colds, ear infections and a general lack of space, the last few weeks and especially last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were almost torture, for all of us, not just me. Right now, Sakura and Natsuki are playing so quietly together that this morning feels positively heavenly.

Hooray for Back-To-School!