Friday, July 20, 2012

The Ties That Bind...

Ok, I sortta lied. I want to keep blogging on an every other day schedule, but due to a family emergency, I must wing my way back to the United States (And should in fact be in flight when this is posted). So while I hope to blog from the States, chances are we'll be taking a short break.

But enough about the blog, one of the problems with running back Stateside for an emergency is that it will be sans kids. Plane tickets overseas, especially ones of a last minute nature, are damned expensive. Given that I'm also heading back home to visit relative who is currently in the hospital as well, this isn't a trip to bring the kids on. Unfortunately, this has had a bad effect on Makoto, but it was one that I was kinda expecting.

Story time, when Makoto was still a baby, I went out on a few trips. Oh, nothing earth shattering, just a few overnighters, once up a mountain with my students, and twice on a trip with the firefighters. During those said times, Makoto didn't seem to really have a problem with Daddy being away. Yes, he apparently went looking for me, and was a bit fussy at night when Daddy wasn't in his futon, but all in all, he didn't really notice the difference between Daddy is away on a trip and Daddy is away to school for the day (Admittedly, we DID have problems with that later on, including one morning with him screaming how he hated school because Daddy goes to it every day without Makoto).

But... Last summer... I decided to improve my education by getting my TESOL Certification. This involved staying in Tokyo for the tail end of July and a good chunk of August (Which, let me tell you, was NOT fun as I was in a capsule hotel the whole time and it was hot as hell). Makoto went with Beloved and Hikaru down to her folks for the time period and, didn't take it too well. Whenever I manged to call down, I would have a complaining boy asking me just when Daddy was going to come home. After I came back, there were a few weeks of him stating how much he missed me and asked if I was going to go somewhere again.

Then my grandfather fell ill last October and I returned home for his last illness. I was gone a bit more than a week, Makoto was devastated as I couldn't call back to Japan. Beloved said he cried and cried while I was gone and when I did get back, he attempted to stay up all night waiting for my train to come in (He didn't quite make it).

February saw a trip once more with the firefighters, this one just over night. I thought Makoto should be over it by now, just to get a panicked phone call with a hysterical 4-year-old who was crying and crying and crying. It took me 5 minutes to get him to finally state that he was just sad and wanted me home.

Of course, everyone on the bus loved it and one firefighter went home to yell at HIS sons about how they don't care about him as much as my sons do about me.

Needless to say, Makoto took the news about my impending trip badly. The day before I left, he had a major melt down in the morning, not understanding that I was just heading to school as usual. It took me a good 10 minutes to get him to calm down and accept that Daddy would be home that night at least.

The ties that bind, sometimes they cut too.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Come the In-laws

No, seriously, I am attempting to maintain an every-other-day blogging schedule, really. However, as they say about the best laid plans of mice and men surviving first engagement with the enemy...

The enemy in this case were my in-laws, Beloved's parents, her two sisters, their husbands, and one niece. Now don't get me wrong, I LOVE my in-laws, they're great people. The language barrier makes it somewhat difficult to talk to them at times (Not, this should be noted, that it saves me from a lecture from time to time when Beloved's parents feel that I need to buckle down a bit and behave myself), but for the most part we get along well and manage small talk.

It helps that Beloved's mother, father, and one of her brothers-in-law loves wine and while California wine is somewhat rare here, I've had some good luck with introducing the family to it.

The "Indian" Marumochi. 
So last weekend was a three day with Japan celebrating Sea Day (海の日) and so her family trooped up to Nagano from the southern end of Japan for a bit of a vacation. Like all good ideas of course, this one snowballed out of control fairly quickly. It started off as a camping trip. Last year for the holiday, Makoto and I went off to a place called Karuizawa for Makoto's first camping trip. Camping being a family tradition (I went on my first when I was 6 months old) that I wanted my sons to partake it. Makoto of course, adored it. Daddy was a bit dubious about the "Indian", but enjoyed it as well and the suggestion was made that next year we should invite Mommy and Hikaru along.

Which is where this whole thing started as I casually mentioned to Beloved about booking a campsite and then suggested that she invite her folks given that they had stated they wanted to come with us sometime as well. That's when we added one sister, who doesn't like to camp, and her daughter, and then the other sister, and finally their husbands decided to tag along as well. What was camping for 6 turned out to be a vacation for 11, and sans the camp.

But it worked out for the best really given that no one expect Beloved's parents had seen the new house three members of the group had never been up to Nagano.

Nagano decided to welcome them with open arms, mainly by feeding them. As always our neighbors just HAD to bring over fresh veggies and when they saw we had guests, they brought over MORE fresh veggies. And more. And more. And still more to the point where I was about ready to suggest that they leave their clothing here and just take the veggies back with them, please!

The main issue I had with my Beloved's family was their, shall we say, aggravating lack of planning. Now, I'm not quite OCD about planning trips and vacations, really. I don't like being late, but there are times when I just want to go and see what's over the next horizon; that said though, usually I prefer to have a general idea of where people want to go and do so I can plan where to go, how to get there, and make a time schedule that works, especially if we have other places that we need to be at various points in time (I.e. I had patrol with the firemen Sunday night and I kinda needed to make sure everyone got to the station and airport on time so they could get back to their homes). My wife's family has more of a grand indifference to such things which lead to a weekend of last minute scrambles to get to places.

The plan was pick up the parents, one sister, her husband and their daughter from the airport, head over to Daio Wasabi Farm for lunch and a bit of fun, return home and pick up the other sister and her husband at 6 from the station and go enjoy dinner.

Day two would be at Karuizawa, returning to the house before 7:30pm so I could go on patrol.

Day three would be spent at the house, then get people back to the station by 2:30 and the airport by 3:30.

What actually happened was: Pick up group one, get told we need to go back home to drop off luggage, decide to detour to two different watermelon markets to feed some delicious watermelons (Best in Japan!) to group one before heading home. Get told, after watermelon, no, let's go to the wasabi farm now.
Best watermelon in Japan, hell, probably the world!
Get home a bit late, ordered to pick up group two from the station with dinner now at 7:30, leading to very cranky kids.

It might have been a bit wet, but it was beautiful.
Next day, decide to go to Kamikochi instead, and once there, head back to go to a shopping area, but, no, wait, the rain's letting off so let's hike a wee bit.

Final day ended up with us driving around in circles with the destinations and times changing with every stop. Decide to start screaming in my head as I'm still expected to get everyone off on time, with soba, MORE VEGGIES, and the like.

And somehow, I DID make it all work and a fun time was had by all, so much so that everyone is already talking about coming back up in the winter when the wood stove is working and enjoying some fun in the snow... I'm thinking I'm going to be somewhere else, like Southern Japan.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Sweetest Sound in the World

Yes, I am a father and of course all fathers are interested in their children's development, but I'm also an educator and one who focuses on English as a Foreign Language. As such, watching the boys develop their languages has been utterly fascinating to me. Both of them started out with Japanese, in terms of actual words I mean (For babbling, they both had a much expanded 'vocabulary' over their Japanese friends, not too surprising given that English has a lot more sounds than Japanese), and for a while with both I was worried that while we were trying for bilingualism, we were getting monolingualism.

I really shouldn't have, but that part is more father than educator.

But in many ways, it's absolutely fascinating. Makoto started off with "hush" and now speaks as a normal 4-year-old, albeit one with a slightly lower vocabulary mainly because some of the items he encounters are only named in Japanese. Right now he has a set rule about what he speaks to whom. Grandma, Grandpa, and Daddy get English, Jiji, Baba, and Mommy speak Japanese. If he encounters a Western face, he switches to English without missing a beat. Admittedly, a year or so back, there was no set rule for him and he would just fling random language at people and get frustrated when Grandma had no idea what a neko was or why Baba didn't understand him when he talked about going to America.

Now, if you read up on bilingualism, it becomes apparent that the quicker you expose a kid to it, the better. And it can't be done via TV, babies want the real thing, which is why Beloved and I have set the ground rules for the boys; I speak English, she speaks Japanese. When we're together as a family, the general default language is English just because Beloved's English is far, far better than my Japanese.

So far, it's been working as Makoto can and does switch between language at the drop of a hat.

Not to say that we haven't had some problems, the damn kid is too smart for his own good sometimes and isn't above asking Mommy for something in Japanese and then turning around and asking Daddy for it in English after getting shot down.

But getting back to language development, Hikaru is current in the middle of a language explosion. After taking a long time to start, he is rapidly adding words to his vocab, pointing out very important objects like Hiro, Anpanman, cats, dogs, and telling people he wants THAT or he wants to go upstairs. He's also adding English words, wow, yeah, ok (All of which sound just like Daddy) and my favorite, Daddy.

It really is the sweetest sound a father can hear. It came as a surprise to me because the day before, the best Hikaru could manage was Dada, which wasn't bad, but he also called things on TV dada so there was some question as to if he meant me. The other day however when I returned home, it was to "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!" and a tackle hug to the knees from a flying toddler while the four-year-old attempted to climb up my arms.

Hikaru has also very quickly picked up that, yup, saying this gets my attention, so right now I have a small person trailing behind me most of the time saying "Daddy, daddy, daddy!", but it's all good.

Until Makoto joins in. Having a stereo rendition of "Daddy!" at top volume makes me reconsider the whole project... either that, or perhaps I should just teach Hikaru how to say Mommy instead.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Great Japanese Fourth of July (And Other Disasters)

Part of the "fun" of being in an international marriage where one partner is outside of his/her homeland, is trying to maintain and pass on the events which have meaning to you. Now don't get me wrong, sometimes it is actually fun, but many times it's a bit of a struggle between the new country not particularly caring about said special event/holiday which has such meaning to you as well as just trying to find whatever specialty items you need to pull this turkey off.

Now if you happen to be in a nation that shares many of the same cultural traditions, it's a bit easier. I mean, yes, a British Christmas is not the same as an American one (In the US, we usually don't light our food on fire), but it's not so much of a stretch. Being in a country with a very different cultural background, like Japan, however...

I've given up on Thanksgiving really. As much as I miss turkey (God do I miss turkey), the damn thing falls in the middle of the week. Now once every 5 years or so Japanese Labor Thanksgiving happens to fall on Thanksgiving in the US so I can somewhat celebrate it, but lacking an oven big enough to cook even the smallest of turkeys, not to mention lacking turkeys (Without paying through the nose) means that a holiday that was very important to me because it was one of times we would see my relatives in California has regretfully fallen by the wayside. The only real Thanksgiving event that goes on is that I DO manage to give thanks (I'm the only one, Makoto just wonders what Daddy's doing) and I do insist on reading Ten Fat Turkeys to Makoto and Hikaru.

Easter is a bit easier to celebrate, getting chocolate is not a problem and egg dye kits are relatively cheap, but all we really do celebrate is Easter morning with an egg hunt and hot cross buns (Slightly modified, finding  currants has proven to be impossible, raisins seem to work).
It can be done! Even in Japan.

Some holidays of course are both easier, and harder because Japan celebrates them. New Year's for example is one that I've given up on trying to show off American style just because it's the major holiday in Japan and Beloved will brook no opposition to celebrating it how it SHOULD be done in Japan (I.e. eating soba, watching Red vs White on NHK, and hibernating under the kotatsu). Valentine's Day over here is of course backwards as in Japan it's women who given men chocolate, not the other way around ( Beloved tends to claim she doesn't have to as her husband is American so I need to make with the roses), and Christmas is... interesting (So much so I'm saving it for another post).

This is far more acceptable for Halloween.
So with the problems of either trying to show my sons that, no, Christmas does NOT involve nativity scenes with Doraemon or that a Santa suit isn't exactly a Halloween costume OR getting blank looks when I announce that today is Presidents Day, celebrating holidays of any stripe becomes one where the wise parent must choose his or her battles.

Sadly, wisdom might be my dump stat because dammit, I am an American. I might not bleed red, white, and blue, I'm not one to belt out the Star Spangled Banner anytime I feel the need, and while I DO own an Old Glory of my own, I use it for teaching not for flying, but... I still want to celebrate Independence Day.

Growing up I remember celebrating the 4th. We had the parades, the small fair in the park, the BBQs, the fireworks, etc. It was fun, you know? Mid-summer when Mom would be off of work so we got to see her since we were on summer vacation and of course mid-July in Nevada is usually a hot one (Of course, it's also snowed, but that's Nevada's weather for you).

But there's more, silly as it might sound. I liked seeing the red, white, and blue bunting. I liked hearing Stars and Stripes Forever. I enjoyed watching the various documentaries on TV about the founding of the United States of America. As I grew older, more knowledgeable, and far more cynical, I admit that it got tinged with a bit more sighing and sadness as I came to realize that things were not as rosy as I thought they were when I was a child, but I still enjoyed it. I remember my last 4th at home, going to watch the fireworks one last time at the park and celebrating being an American. And while I usually don't make a bit deal about my nationality in Japan, I do want my sons to kinda get the same feeling I had back in ye olde days.

Fireworks ona stick!
But... there are some issues of course. Japan, for somewhat obvious reasons, does not celebrate the 4th of July. To the Japanese, the 4th is just another day, and given that summer break in Nagano starts at the end of July, it's another school day. Even worse, while fireworks are available for shooting off (The Japanese LOVE fireworks), the start of July is still rainy season so more often than not, our 4th has ended in a drizzle instead of a bang (I admit that this concept still baffles me. Nevada gets so little rain that the notion of an entire month of rain still is unthinkable). But still I try, the 4th becomes a day when I put my foot down and shove Beloved out of the kitchen and forbid the making of Japanese foods, or particularly healthy ones for that matter. No, THIS day we're going to eat American. We're talking cheese burgers or chili-dogs, with a fruit salad and maybe corn-on-the-cob, and ice cream for dessert. For one day at least my sons can taste a bit of America.

This year however proved to be a bit more of a challenge than previous years though. For one, on the actual 4th, I was teaching so it was a no-go for either the dinner or the fireworks (Which turned out to be somewhat of a blessing as it rained that night of course). Saturday the 7th also fizzled out due to classes so everything was re-set for Sunday the 8th. So we were four days late, but hey... it used to be that Independence Day celebrations lasted a week, right? Sadly, it proved to be one sans chili-dogs as while I had the dogs, the buns, and the cheese, I lacked chili and so did the store that I used to be able to find the damn stuff. I also lacked the time to MAKE chili so a very quick "Hey-Beloved-I'm-going-to-the-store-to-get-tomatoes-and-making-Chicago-style-dogs" was uttered.

Now, the dogs themselves were slightly unconventional. I didn't have all beef franks, I also lacked a poppy-seed bun and sports peppers, but excepting Makoto spitting out the pickle spear, they came out pretty good. Beloved had never had one of them before and was very impressed.

The final event, the fireworks, also started off a bit wonky as the neighborhood head wandered by for a visit at JUST the wrong time, taking up the 15 minutes I planned to do fireworks before our favorite TV show came on and then we discovered that the firelighter we had was pretty much out of juice. Still managed to fire up 4 sparklers, which both Hikaru and Makoto liked and then... well... then...

While at the local home store I bought what I thought was going to be a fire fountain. In other words, a multi-colored flare that would look pretty. What I got was an actual shell that went up a good 50 feet or so and then exploded. I'm sure our neighbors loved that one. Makoto did, he liked it a LOT. Hikaru however... well, loud bangs when you're not expecting it...

But at least we did eat American and we did set off some fireworks all to celebrate 3-out-of-4-household-members' nation's birthday.

Or so I thought, until when asked why we were doing this, Makoto replied with "It's Mommy's birthday!" I know American can be referred to as the motherland and Mom the flag and apple pie and all, but...

Thursday, July 5, 2012


"No it's not Daddy! It's time for us to eat and play and fart!"
-Makoto when told it was time for him to go to bed.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

I'm fairly sure I designed a house...

Pretty sure I mean.

The housing journey for Beloved and I (With boys in tow) was a year-long process that was more or less started out of nowhere.

Literally, one day we were talking about having to make a decision about which country we should stay in because our old house was getting far too cramped with small boys in it, and the next we were buying a plot of land.

But within that year was a lot of hard work and sweat in terms of design. We about drove the architect nuts with the changes and challenges (Don't get me wrong, I LOVE my house, but it is somewhat of a Frankensteinian monster welded together between American and Japanese notions of houses), and I know we drove the boys nuts with constantly visiting housing parks around Nagano with tape measure and cameras in hand to measure and shoot anything that looked remotely interesting.

Said year was also one for great arguments, as in Beloved and I would end up almost screaming about changes and adjustments, sometimes it came down to playing rock, paper, scissors to see who got who's way (This, in hindsight, was a mistake. Beloved turns out to be a champion at janken). All that said however, when the dust settled I was able to note to Beloved that we had a beautiful house and one that we knew every square inch of had been fought over, every compromise was one that we knew we could live with because we were the ones who made it; they weren't forced on to us by a housing company.

The only downside to being so involved in the design and construction phase of our house is the lack of surprises. Now don't get me wrong, this is, for the most part, a GOOD thing. I mean, no one wants to find out a bad surprise about the house they just bought (Like the family whose house turned out to have been a former meth lab and is now unfit for human habitat), but there's very little about the house that we now have that we didn't consider in terms of what we could use it for so there's very little in terms of surprising new uses.

Enter the boys.

Now when we designed this place, we came up with the idea of having a hallway on the north side of the house on the first floor. Said hallway, which is wider than normal for a Japanese house because the American husband refused to bounce off of the walls, connects the entrance, the toilet, bathroom/changing room, wash area, and the laundry room to both the living room and the master bedroom. One idea (Beloved's) being that we could "close off" the living and sleeping areas of the house to preserve our privacy from visitors to the door and to allow people to go to and from the bath and toilet without having to trek through the living room. The other idea (Mine) was to shut off areas of the house that didn't see heavy use to conserve heat from the wood burning stove that's our only source of heat during the winter.

Now during said past winter, the designed worked wonders. The hallway would be slightly cooler, almost cold, compared with the warm and toasty living areas and bedrooms, but that was ok, no one wants to hang out in the hallway and the bathroom has its own heater. It wasn't until this summer, with the need for keeping the doors to both the living room and bedroom open to allow the air to move through that we discovered that we didn't, in fact, design a house.

We designed a racetrack. Given that the master bedroom connects to the living room via our Japanese style guestroom, we have one BIG circle running through the house that can allow a little boy to rev up some serious turns of speed and provide opportunities to corner and practice their ability to dodge, jump, and of course, just run. The race starts as soon as its light enough and hot enough that the doors are open and ends when Mommy shuts them for the night.

But I'm fairly sure we were designing a house. The boys, however, seem to be hearing "Gentlemen, start your engines!"

Monday, July 2, 2012

Spelunking for fun and profit!

Alright, it wasn't much of a cave, one couldn't stand in it. In fact, while it held two boys quite comfortably, it was a much harder fit for Daddy who was on his stomach the whole time, but still...

The excitement of exploration, looking around this new area, what wonders will we meet? What interesting creatures infest the depths that we, the first ones ever to tread this ground, will be encountered?

Will the supplies last? Will the light? What if there's an earthquake or some other disaster?

Quietly, afraid that the slightest sound would bring down the roof, or worse, we crept along the floor of the cave till we hit one of the walls, reaching upwards to the ceiling above us. Fearfully, we climbed a bit, pausing constantly to check each other and to motion for silence, the only sound being muffled giggles and harsh breathing.

Completing the climb, we spied daylight out through a somewhat irregular opening in the cave, not enough to escape from, no, but enough for us stick our heads out and see what new sights could be seen... and then... we saw it.

Imposing! Impossible! Incredible! She towered above us, though still at a great distance. For now it seemed as if she was ignoring our presence, but who knew? At any moment she could spy our intrepid band of explorers and all would be lost, for who could hope to stand against her?

Quickly we shimmed back down into the cave! The light dimming back into a soft gloom as we dropped down from the wall, frantically gesturing for silence as not to provoke the dreaded Mommy Monster!

Sadly, Beloved told us that dinner was going to be soon, so it was time to clean up the cave the boys and I had made out of the chairs and a few blankets.
The Cave!
I seem to recall a few summers spent in various table/blanket forts that were constructed around the garage and backyard from time to time, it might not have been as impressive as, say, the caves we visited one summer in Yamaguchi, but... for two little boys on a rainy afternoon, what better way to spend it than hidding with their father from Mommy in a homemade cave?