Mikans and Memories

November 15, 2017



On Monday, while picking mikans, I had one of those crazy olfactory flashbacks. You know those teleportation sessions that happen when a smell that transports you to a different time and place? 

Moments after entering the little orange grove, the intense citrus scent scooped me up and I was suddenly five years old again and clinging to the top of a Louisiana satsuma tree in the side yard of our old farm house. Climbing higher and higher on the hunt for the sweetest, ripest orange until a sticky river of fear and orange juice started coursing through my body. The tree was bending under my weight and I was scared. 

And in another flash, I was suddenly back in my forty-four year old body standing in the middle of a mikan grove with my kids and our dog, on an island surrounded by the Seto-Inland Sea of Japan. Isn't it strange when those moments happen? It almost seems as if time travel is possible via smell-induced triggers. 

Boxes

November 14, 2017



A tiny origami box with itty-bitty origami cranes, moving boxes, sardines, and cousins...I somehow managed to cram all of these things into an essay on Hello There, Friend.  Writing the piece made me miss my cousins, my grandparents, and sweat-drenched Louisiana summer days. It also made me think about what I choose to carry with me and what eventually gets discarded. Boxes of various sorts are a constant in my life. And I am not just referring to the military packing boxes that taunt me in the "office" space which will eventually get unpacked and organized. I am also talking about the boxes that keep stories, memories, and emotions tightly tucked into place.

Exploring: Suo-Oshima Island

November 13, 2017




Give a kid (or a dog) a stick and a sandy beach and all is good!  In addition to sticks and sand, Suo-Oshima also has mikans (super sweet Japanese oranges) and prior to our beach romping, we did some mikan-picking. After loading up on fresh citrus, we stopped for lunch at Aloha Orange and then crossed the street to check out the tiny beach and Shinto Shrine. We are definitely planning to return to the island for camping, onsen soaking, and further exploration.  

Autumn on Miyajima

November 10, 2017





Tour groups, over-friendly deer, fiery maple leaves, grilled oysters, local ginger ale, conger eel, and stunning views around every bend: Miyajima Island. 

Home

October 30, 2017




And suddenly our house now feels like home...Hugo made it to Japan this weekend. 

He flew halfway around the world. We drove ten hours (round trip). And on a rainy night in Osaka, our little family unit felt whole again. The past two days have been a blur of sleepless nights and messy days. Doggie jet lag is very similar to toddler jet lag, but with a lot more night time barking and equal amounts of confusion and frustration. He is eagerly investigating all of the new smells and sounds and we can't stop smothering him with hugs and kisses. We will forever be grateful to the doctors, friends, and family members who helped to get him here. 

Me

October 26, 2017


Here are the things I need to function properly: yoga, time alone, stories, daily tea, nature, authentic connection, gardening, laughter, creative pursuits, travel, and dark chocolate. 

Here are the things that drive me crazy: hearing others chew their food, a jam-packed schedule, mean people, last minute changes to a well established plan, putting away clean laundry, sickness, and cold feet. 

Here are the things that make me worry: polluted oceans, flying our dog across the world when a typhoon is approaching, phone calls in the middle of the night, snakes, North Korea, and scary movies.

Here are the things that make me laugh: Pink Panther movies, baby antics, Fawlty Towers, dancing in the kitchen with Adam and our kids, David Sedaris, Japanese game shows, and Hugo chasing a fly. 

Here is my Myers Briggs type: INFJ (and the most thorough, spot-on description I have ever read about myself). 

Halloween in Japan

October 22, 2017



Yesterday I walked by a kimono shop which had an elegant display with kimono-clad witches and a few minutes later I entered a grocery store proudly displaying Japanese Halloween candy (flan-flavored Kit-Kats, chocolate jack-o-lanterns, etc). The hundred yen stores have been crammed with costumes, decor, and kitschy Halloween trinkets for the past few months. The coffee shops have pumpkin spice lattes.



It feels surreal and it is by far one of the biggest changes I have seen since living in Japan for the first time twenty years ago. At that point, Halloween was a very exciting foreign concept for my high school students. Since there weren't any North American pumpkins, I brought in bags of oranges and they gleefully drew Jack-o-Lantern faces onto the tiny orbs. And when we lived in Okinawa fourteen years ago, there was the memorable year of the pumpkin lottery when the shipment of pumpkins that were being sent to the commissary arrived too rotten to sell. The remaining healthy pumpkins were raffled off: twenty five pumpkins for the fifty thousand Americans living on an Japanese island. That was the year I purchased three plastic jack-o-lanterns who have happily traveled the world with us. 

And now we are back in Japan and a bit overwhelmed to see Halloween celebrated in stores, bakeries, and even in a local sushi-go-round that is selling ghoulish bites. I have mixed feelings about it. It's fun to see the festive Japanese twist on this very American holiday, but it also makes me sad to see how much of it has seeped into daily life here. That hasn't stopped me from stocking up on gobs of candy because one thing that always happens when we live overseas is that our host-nation neighbors are invited to trick-or-treat on the base and that always results in a very busy night of celebrating. It's strange to be living this mixed-up expat life, but I guess that cauldrons filled with bizarre concoctions is all part of the Halloween experience, too. 

Writer

October 17, 2017




I didn't expect to get choked up, but I did. As soon as I saw the word "writer" next to my name my throat tightened, my eyes teared up, and I fought to keep the salty mix of feelings from overwhelming me. I took a risk, I submitted a few writing samples, and I was honored to be ask to join the brand new team of writers for Hello There, Friend (hooray for today's official launch day!). Writing has always been a core piece of my existence and yet, I have never felt brave enough to declare myself to be "a writer". It just felt too big, too risky, and too bold. 

And yet, here it is now in black and white:

Writer

Exhilarating, terrifying, and happening at just the right moment in time. 

Fluttering and Swirling

September 27, 2017






I have been walking around with a little bundle of words squirming in my head. The words come from a line in Joyce Carol Oate's novel, "The Gravedigger's Daughter". A few words about the mesmerizing aspect of learning to read and snatching bits and pieces of words as they fly overhead. It was a lovely sentence and my first impulse was underline it, and although I do admit to dog-earing library books, I do not write in library books. That was quickly followed up with the impulse to copy it down in the little journal I usually keep on my nightstand, but that book is still in transit. 


I thought it would be easy to go back and find that sentence again. I was sure it happened in the beginning when the main character was teaching her young son how to spell the word "tetanus", but it wasn't in that section. I have been poring back over early chapters in vain and have come to the conclusion that Oates' tantalizing sequence of words will now taunt me and my inability to grab onto them before they fluttered away. 

So many words seem to be fluttering and swirling in my head these days. A weird hodge-podge of Japanese, English, and random Italian words that sneak in when I am at a loss to find the right phrase. I remember how tired I was the first time I lived in Japan. Crashing onto my futon each night after long days immersed in working and living in a little town surrounded by rice fields and mountains in Fukuoka prefecture. Our current situation is not nearly as immersive, but it is still exhausting and I sincerely wish I had the power to capture phrases midstream so they would be permanently seared in my memory instead of flying away into the sunset. 

Shake Off Your Shoes

September 22, 2017



We are in the midst of celebrating the Jewish High Holidays in Japan and to be honest it was actually a piece of our move that I have been dreading. We knew before arriving here that we would be plunging back into the life of a Jewish family living overseas and with that would come the work of finding/building community, the notes to teachers explaining absences, the food adaptations, and the repeated conversations explaining Judaism to Japanese and American friends who have never really known a Jewish family before. And that is exactly what has been happening. 

It's not new territory for us, but the hardest part of it is the loneliness and with this move I knew it would feel even more pronounced since we were leaving behind a beloved congregation in a part of the country where Jewish holidays are school holidays and where challah is available at just about every bakery. As the first Jewish lay leaders on this military base, we started to spread the word that we were planning to have services for Rosh Hashanah but we had no idea if anyone would actually show up. In those anxious moments of waiting to see if we would be the only ones celebrating Rosh Hashanah, I couldn't stop myself from feeling sad. Sad that we were alone on this holiday. Sad that we didn't have real challah. Sad that my kids were sitting in this empty, beige chapel classroom instead of eating Nana's kugel and laughing with cousins. Sad and homesick.

And then the door opened and suddenly we weren't alone. 

Other Jews joined us. We lit the candles, we sang, we prayed, and shared pieces of a sticky Japanese maple pastry. We are not a big group, but there is more than just our little family and that feels good. Yesterday morning we gathered to discuss the Torah portion which meandered into a lively conversation about our diverse roots, Jewish humor, and sacrifice. My favorite moment of every Rosh Hashanah is the Tashlich service and last night's was one of the most beautiful ones I have ever experienced. We tossed bread (symbolic of casting away our sins) into the Nishiki River in the shadow of the famous Kintaikyo Bridge. Herons and egrets hunted along the edge of the water while the pink sun set over the mountains and the illuminated the castle high up on the ridge above us. Hope pulsed through my veins as I held the hand of a tiny two year old who giggled as she tossed rocks and bread crusts into the chilly water. 

The days that I had been dreading had been transformed into a true celebration of faith and community. And that's what I love about this time of year when we enter a liminal state between old year and new year. Regrets and hopes  are entwined. Joy and loss are braided together. We turn inward while still reaching outward. And unexpected happenings occur, like the gathering of Jews on a small Marine base in western Japan. 

We are getting back into the habit of removing our shoes when we enter Japanese homes, but in light of the High Holidays it feels even a bit more symbolic and weighty right now. During these days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we are consciously taking time to "shake off our shoes,to give thanks, to forgive, to be forgiven, and to break ground". I wish I could take credit for those lovely words, but they come directly from a song that I heard today for the first time. A song by Sarah Watkins that feels like the perfect song for the Jewish High Holidays. Not a religious song, but definitely a spiritual one. 


Take Up Your Spade
by Sarah Watkins

Sun is up, a new day is before you
Sun is up, wake your sleepy soul
Sun is up, hold on to what is yours
Take up your spade and break ground

Shake off your shoes,
Leave yesterday behind you
Shake off your shoes,
But forget not where youve been
Shake off your shoes,
Forgive and be forgiven
Take up your spade and break ground

Give thanks, for all that youve been given
Give thanks, for who you can become
Give thanks, for each moment and every crumb
Take up your spade and break ground
Break ground, break ground, break ground

May this new year be filled with more ground-breaking moments for all of us. "Shake off your shoes", dip your apples in honey, and Shanah Tovah!

Pausing

September 16, 2017


Swollen joints, achy muscles, a bad reaction to meds, and cabin fever have had me feeling grumpy, frustrated, and anxious. I don't like this disconnect from my body and not knowing if I will be able to do something that was easy for me to do just a few days earlier. I don't like the uncertainty of what is happening and when it will stop. I don't like feeling ill. I don't like a lot of things about this current situation, but I have a good acupuncturist, an interesting assortment of Japanese probiotics, and a daily gentle yoga routine.

The silver lining surrounding this dramatic slow-down is that I have had to be very thoughtful about my daily activities. I haven't been able to do what I normally do when we arrive at a new duty station which is to sign up for an overload of volunteer duties, go on tons of cultural outings, and actively attend every possible social function in an attempt to find new friends. And I think I might actually be letting go of some of the guilt or self-judgement that was an active motivator in the past for pushing myself beyond healthy limits. That's a big shift for me. Is it an age thing? or just being too tired to care? or a sign of some seismic self-care growth spurt? I don't know and I don't really have the energy right now to analyze it too much, but I do know that I adore the reliability of Japanese vending machines and the joy of finding quirky little spots to rest while enjoying a can of Royal Milk Tea. 

Izumo-Taisha And A New Collection

September 6, 2017


 On our way home from a fabulous weekend in Matsue, we stopped at Izumo-Taisha Shrine, the oldest Shinto shrine in Japan. In addition to its age, the shrine is famous for being a spot where all of the gods gather each October and it is home to Okuninushi no Okami, the central deity in Japan's creation myth. He's also known as the god of relationships and when believers approach Izumo-Taisha they clap four times instead of the usual two time. Twice for themselves and twice for their partner (or desired partner). 



Couples come to Izumo-Taisha seeking special blessings for their relationships. Some place special requests onto little wooden placards or little slips of paper which are hung/tied near the shrine. Another way to get a blessing is by having a priest sign and place a special seal inside your temple/shrine book (shuin-cho or goshuin-cho). It felt right to get a shuin-cho from this important shrine which also happened to be the first one we have visited since our return to Japan. We searched for the small building (they are usually on the side of the main shrine or temple) and near the stand that sells the wooden placards and religious charms.



After waiting in a short line, it was our turn and as we watched the young priest use a steady hand to mark the date and location in our book, Camille said it reminded her of our letterboxing book. I hadn't made that connection at all, but I do love it. This idea of having a physical reminder, especially one as beautiful as Japanese calligraphy paired with an official temple seal, to remember our visits really struck a chord with me. Now we will just have to be sure to keep it in a safe place AND remember to bring it with us on our travels. 



Roller Slides, Garbage Sorting, and Unexpected Bliss

September 1, 2017



Roller slides, natural beauty in unexpected spots, adorable cars, endless vending machines, local summer festivals, and friendly greetings: we are thrilled to be back in Japan. The past few weeks have been a crazy blur of getting settled, battling jet lag, dredging up my very rusty Japanese skills, late night bike rides, and savoring the tastes and smells of a place that feels both familiar and foreign. 

During one of our first weekends here we were on the hunt for garbage cans. I know that probably doesn't sound like a very appealing cultural experience, but it turned out to be quite an interesting one. Garbage sorting is an exact science here and requires a very precise system which also means we needed to find trash cans (and bags) that would work for our new house (which has very limited storage). After a long morning of discussing/measuring various options, we decided to hit one of the local beaches. 

We found a lovely little cove with stunning mountain views. It was hot, but the water was clear and refreshing and we were also lucky to snag a spot in the shade. I am usually the one who hunkers down with my book on the beach just happy to take in the view, but on this day I couldn't stay out of the water and I found myself wishing I had a raft or a float. As if reading my mind, an older Japanese man climbed out of the water to hand me an innertube. I was initially kind of stunned by the timing of it and then felt a bit uncomfortable taking his tube from him, but he insisted and he headed  off to walk his dog along the beach. Without another second of hesitation, I plopped myself in that tube and allowed the tiny waves to wash over me. After all of the stress of moving and the exhaustion of adjusting to a new place, those moments in a borrowed plastic tube on the Inland Sea of Japan were bliss, pure bliss.

A few days later I dragged the kids out of the house and introduced them to the joys of Japanese rollerslides. This was a fancier one with it's own tram to get you to the top of the small mountain and even had little pads you could sit on to protect you from the hot metal and bumpy ride down. I didn't make as many trips down as the kids did, but I did enjoy the views and the fun of it all, especially seeing the kids' reactions. Simple, bumpy, sweaty, summer joy. 

Having done a number of overseas moves, I know that the next few months will continue to have their bumpy moments, but I also know that seeking out and relishing the good moments will be important for all of us. We are happy to be here. Happy to be feeling a bit more settled each day. And happy to embrace all of the adventures that are waiting for us. 



Summering

July 14, 2017


We did it. We successfully survived three different pack-outs. We moved out of our house. We found a buyer for Adam's car. We have our flights booked for Japan. We got Noah packed and off to big adventures in Arkansas and Mississippi. And we are now in the pleasant bubble of exhaling and savoring our final weeks in the States. 

Visiting with friends/family, eating icy treats, and doing all the things in the DC area that have been on our to-see list for the past five years. Savoring easy access to large public libraries, inhaling watermelon, going to as many yoga classes as possible. Letting Hugo frolic in Rock Creek, trying to brush up on my very rusty Japanese, and sending letters to Noah at camp. It's nice to have this little slice of summer before we get thrown back onto the roller coaster of an international move. 

Eye of the Storm

June 17, 2017






As a kid growing up in South Louisiana, I have vivid memories of hurricanes with fierce winds, driving rain, piles of library books, flash lights, and ice chests of melting food. But the eye of each storm was always the most intriguing to me with its noticeable shift, the change in pressure, the eery silence, and a magical pause in the drama. It's a surreal thing to experience and it always had me wanting to exhale while also attempting to hold my breath. 

Junk Drawers

June 8, 2017



I had a yoga teacher several years ago who described the hips as the "junk drawer" of the body. That phrase has been circling in my mind and my body for the past month as I sift through the junk drawers in prep for our move and deal with the stress that seems to be accumulating in my hips. Emotions are high around here right now. The first of three pack-out dates happens tomorrow and I am not sure we are ready.

Azerbaijan

May 20, 2017




In the weeks leading up to our trip to Azerbaijan, I have to admit that there were moments of doubt. I wondered if we were nuts to make a big international trip right before moving to Japan. I worried that we were going to be too jet lagged to do anything. I panicked because I hadn't done any of my usual research or preparation, but as soon as we got on the plane there was a collective exhale. It turns out that a trip to Azerbaijan was exactly what we all needed.

Saturday Morning View

April 8, 2017



Packing lists for Azerbaijan. Perfect elephant eyes/one-eyed Petes/wrangler eggs (what do you call these in your house?) made by Camille. Carla Bruni station on Pandora. We leave tomorrow and haven't had a chance to really even wrap our minds around that. It's going to be a busy Saturday filled with packing and trip prep, but feeling giddy about finally getting there and being with some of our favorite people in this crazy world of ours. 

Exploring: The Mansion on O Street

April 7, 2017


This morning I sat on Rosa Parks' bed, searched for hidden doors, read a note from June Carter, and got lost too many times to count. With the clock ticking on our time here in the DC area and a quick visit from our niece, I decided we all needed to head over to the O Street Mansion for a truly unique DC experience. I was the only one who had been to the Mansion before and had been looking for the right opportunity to bring my kids. And today turned out to be the perfect morning for it.


Seventeen Years

April 6, 2017



Seventeen years ago. New Orleans, Louisiana. Grape hyacinths, lavender, rosemary, pale pink roses. Family, friends, and a rabbi who lost his voice. Adam wore his dress uniform. I wore the dress my mom sewed for me. We got married under a homemade chuppah and ate chocolate hazelnut cake.  

Through A Different Lens

April 5, 2017


Five years ago, I bought a 50 mm prime lens. I had good intentions of playing around with it and getting better at portraits, but it didn't really happen. The first few times I tried, it just felt awkward and frustrating. I had become so accustomed to having a zoom lens that

Seasonal Shift

April 3, 2017



Winter was quite a roller coaster for us. The highs included trips to Louisiana, Arizona, and our Harry Potter weekend in Orlando. The lows included emergency appendectomy for Adam, flu for all of us, and a frustrating state of limbo in regards to where and when we will be moving. Limbo is never a fun place to hang out for an extended period of time and in all of our years as a military family, this upcoming move has certainly been one of the most testing. But in the past two weeks plans are starting to taking shape and we are thrilled to be moving back to Japan.

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