Sunday, December 28, 2008

happy anniversary to us!

Today we hit the one-year mark. It was Dec. 28, 2007 when we first arrived in Tokyo with the kids to start our new life. We didn't do anything remarkable to celebrate today (mainly because I just realized it now, and the kids are already asleep and Terry is playing an Xbox game...). We just had a lazy Sunday morning followed by an outing to the Children's Castle where the boys jumped around in the rooftop ball pit while I read a book and Terry did the crossword puzzle. Then we watched Kung Fu Panda, which, I have to say, I totally loved. The DVD was a Christmas present from the folks at home. Thanks, Murrays!

(the boys on Christmas morning)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Goodbye Tree

I had to pull a Dexter today and hack up our Christmas tree (which we had started calling, with great affection, "Old Brownie") into pieces small enough to stuff inside regular size trash bags.

Refuse disposal here is nothing if not tidy, and organized, and getting rid of the tree was to be no exception, at least that was the message I received, despite the language barrier, from the Japanese gent who works in our building. A kind and patient man, he listened as I attempted to ask for his assistance by making wild gestures with my arms, as in, I've got something big I need to throw out. Back home in Brooklyn, we'd just call down to the front desk and one of the guys would (eventually) bring up a Hefty bag big enough to cover a small car, shove the whole thing inside, tie it off and drag it away. This more than earned the Christmas bonus in my mind.

But we are living in the Windsor House now, and it occurred to me that dragging the thing along the breezeway outside our door and into the carpeted elevator and down to the trash room, leaving a trail of pine needles on the spic-and-span tiles of the common areas and the impossibly pristine concrete floor of the garage, would simply not do. I wouldn't dare make a mess like that. Which was why I consulted the maintenance man, and which was why I asked him to follow me home so he could see what I was talking about, and why I then followed him back to the basement and didn't protest when he handed me a small saw, a pair of gardening sheers and a stack of clear plastic bags.

Tools in hand, I went back upstairs and was studying the thing, trying to figure out a plan of attack (Terry had taken the boys to a park so I was on my own), when the doorbell rang. It was the maintenance man, and I thought for a second, he's here to help me! But I was wrong. He had forgotten to give me one more thing: a pair of gardening gloves, the kind with rubber tread on the palms. How thoughtful! No really, I mean it. Arigato gozaimasu. (Sure you don't want to stay and snip branches? No?)

On my own again, I started hacking away, and it was slow going at first, but pretty soon I got the hang of it. I can't say how much time passed before I had the thing bagged up, only that our maintenance man seemed to know precisely how long it would take me because just as I was sweeping the last pile of needles into a dustpan, the doorbell rang again. It was him, with two empty garbage bins and a rolling cart. He'd come to collect the bags! And that was that.

Oh but I didn't let him leave until I could take a picture. Goodbye, Old Brownie!

Friday, December 26, 2008

round-offs and other moves

Today parents were allowed to stay and watch the gymnastics. Poor Dylan was up at 4 am throwing up all over the bathroom floor (we're hoping he aims better next time) so he basically napped on the sidelines while I watched Conor show his stuff, including a round-off dismount off a (small, very low) balance beam -- unassisted! Of course I left the new Flip MiniHD camcorder, a Christmas gift from my mom and dad (thanks guys!) at home so all I have are dark, blurry images shot with my iPhone.

In other gymnastics news: I watched Conor do a handstand against the wall, and a tripod headstand on the mat. And a forward roll on the trampoline. And a straddle jump off the mini-tramp.

This 'I can.' program was the best thing for them this week. Too bad they both missed days due to illness. At least the stomach bug is making the rounds in our house now, as opposed to next week when Terry and I will be busy preparing for our first annual Tokyo New Year's bash! The disco ball is already installed in the living room ceiling...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

The cool thing about Dec. 25 not being a holiday here is that, with business going on as usual, the postman was able to deliver to our door one last Christmas package. It was from Terry's mom, and it contained, among other things, an enormous spicy Italian salami, from the famous Volpi shop in St. Louis, Miz-er-ah. Grazie, Nonna! Time to mangia!


7 more holiday cards turned up in our mailbox this afternoon! Thanks everybody! (Our mass mailing should be landing stateside sometime next week...)

After spending the morning ripping presents open and emptying "stockings" (Conor's soccer socks) of Pokemon cards, Pokemon pencils and little blocks of modeling clay, the boys did go to their 4th day of gymnastics camp.
When I picked them up at 3pm, Conor reported that he learned how to do a 'round-off' on the balance beam (with assistance, I am going to assume) and Dylan announced he can now do 'tuck straddle pike twist' on the trampoline. Now they are watching Kung Fu Panda (thanks Aunt Sarah!) and later they will most likely resume building a giant AT-TE out of Legos (thanks Papa Jack!)

And thanks to everybody else who sent us holiday gifts and greetings. Mazel tov.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

xmas eve dance party

weekend away

Tip for families traveling to Kyoto: you can hop on a local train (Sagano JR line) and in 15-20 minutes be in Arashiyama, a little river town, with a cool bridge, mountain scenery, a giant bamboo forest, and the usual assortment of shrines and temples (the big one is Tenryuji, considered the best of the top five Zen temples in Japan).

Oh and there's also a monkey park, which was a huge hit with the boys. The park is actually on top of Mt. Arashiyama, and it's well worth the hike (well maybe it's not at the very top, but we walked up steep paths and stone steps and more steep paths for a good while. The route is clearly marked with signs like this one..
You can see the river behind Conor, and part of a tour boat that takes people on a 2-hour cruise. We didn't have time for that. Monkeys were the top priority.

Still not quite at the top, our first close encounter with the macaques (I read somewhere that there are 170 of these snow monkeys at this park)

There's a rest hut at the summit, where you can buy bags of cut up apple and sweet potato, and outside there are several park benches facing a great view of Kyoto and surrounding mountains.The monkeys were good at reaching through the chainlink fence to get their handoutsAt one point Terry said he saw this big one got mad at this little one, and climb up onto the roof to pee on his head.There were many Japanese tourists with very nice cameras there when we were there. We met two guys from Singapore and one of them had the biggest lens you can get for the Nikon D series SLRs. He also had a tripod sticking out of his backpack. We asked if he was a professional photographer and he laughed and said he was just a tourist on his first trip to Japan...
None of these pictures show the monkeys' pink faces. They were bright pink, fuschia even. Their butts too.

So Friday was Arashiyama; we returned to Kyoto to sleep, basically, and on Saturday we went to Nara (30 minutes on the superfast train, reserved seats recommended!) where we fed the overly aggressive, somewhat mangy deer and visited the Great Buddha (the largest in Japan -- the one in Kamakura is the second largest). Oh and we hiked up a hill to visit a temple where there was much incense burning...

But first, deer:
As soon as they see you buy the crackers from the Deer Food stand, you are surrounded.
You back up, and they just keep gets a little scary.
If you don't have crackers, they basically ignore you and let you go about your business as they go about theirs...The deer's charms were quickly lost on Dylan, particularly after one of them slimed the sleeve of his coat. I washed it off with a moist tissue and even sprayed --no, saturated -- the infected area with that antibacterial stuff we moms tend to carry around in our purses, but it still took a while for the kid to get over it.
The Enlightened One, in Daibutsu-den, Todai-ji temple

Dylan took this picture. He's very arty with the camera. We've seen these silk pouches for sale at lots of shrines we've been to, and I believe they serve as a sort of amulet, or talisman. You write out a prayer or wish (for health and happiness for your family, say) on a piece of paper or a small piece of wood and put it inside, and carry it around with you for good luck.

That night, we returned to Kyoto and, not wanting to just go to K's house, the hostel where we were staying (nice and clean and cheap! two bunkbeds, kids on top!) where we would be stuck for the rest of the evening, we popped into this little bar on the corner with a sign saying, simply,
It was tiny inside, about 10 barstools around a J-shaped bar, a TV, one of the old-fashioned big box ones, at one end. The bartender, an older Japanese lady, welcomed us inside with a wave and a smile and promptly filled two empty nut bowls with candy from big glass jars on the shelf. She served Terry and me big bottles of Kirin beer, which we drank out of these delicate blue etched glass tumblers, the kind of glasses I've only ever seen at my grandmother's. I asked if there was karaoke, sort of half-joking, but she said yes and motioned toward the coin-operated machine under the TV and the two wireless mics standing in a charger at the end of the bar and handed us the big book of songs. Each song was 200 yen. We needed change so she dug around in her purse and emptied it of 100 yen coins for us...

The catalog was in both Japanese and English, and before long we were able to find Aerosmith, The Beatles, the Carpenters...even Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" (Conor's solo). Wish I had video footage of Terry and Dylan singing YMCA. "Rainbow Connection" which was our big finale, and the video that accompanied the onscreen lyrics was a loop of New York City street scenes, including a drive over the Brooklyn Bridge and a brief glimpse of our building, the St. George Tower! It was surreal.

At one point an old guy came in to eat a bowl of soup. He sat at the bar with us. Then another old guy came in for a meal. When he started smoking that was our cue to leave. So we went to the Zen Cafe next door to the hostel, ordered pizza and yakisoba and more beer for the grownups, and played Crazy Eights.

On Sunday we finally had our chance to hit the sights in Kyoto. A journey to the Fushimi Inari shrine (or really series of shrines), on Mt. Inari, just outside the city, took the first half of the day.
The place is famous for its 10,000 red torii gates, which stand so close together it's like walking through a tunnel. There are many many stone fox statues there as well, as the site exists to honor the Shinto god of rice and sake, and the fox is believed to be this deity's messenger.

After lunch...

...we managed to fit in a visit to the Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion). Isn't it pretty?

Then we toured the secondary building at Nijo-jo (Nijo Castle), where the floorboards are designed to squeak like nightingales, to signal an intruder. You have to leave your shoes at the entrance and put on slippers. And you can't take pictures, which is a shame because the walls of the various rooms of that building were covered in beautiful paintings, images of Japanese pines and other trees, peacocks and other birds, set against a golden backdrop.

Monday, December 22, 2008

creative tree trimmings

Wanna have a green (i.e. eco-friendly) Christmas? Don't buy new ornaments, just hang any old thing you have lying around the house. Like this Pikachu. The black twister seal wrapped around his head makes him look kinda badass, doncha think? Like a samurai...

bad parenting

I lost Dylan this morning. For about 30 seconds. He was gone, vanished, nowhere to be seen on a busy avenue in Azabu-Juban. We had just gotten off the bus, and, after mopping up some Yakult that had spilled out of Conor's packed lunch, I checked the time and noted that we had to get a move on if we were to make it to gymnastics camp on time (I hate being late, especially on the first day!). I said "Come on guys, follow me!" and started walking fast, leading the way. At the corner I turned left, around a flower shop, and kept going, assuming the boys were right behind me. I went about half a dozen paces, and, turning around to make sure they were still there, as I do, I saw Conor was right behind me but not Dylan. I looked back toward the flower shop. No Dylan. I jogged back to the corner, Conor following behind, and poked my head around to the right, toward the bus stop. No Dylan. We turned and ran across the street where I then spotted a little boy, but it wasn't Dylan. I said out loud, maybe to Conor, maybe to myself, What is this, a joke? and Conor was like, "I don't know where he is!" My head was whipping around, right, left, right, left. WTF!?!? I actually envisioned a car pulling up alongside my kid, pulling him inside and driving off. A kidnapping, in Japan, I thought. Unthinkable! A few seconds later, I caught a glimpse of a bright orange jacket, with bright orange hood covering a little bowed head, a half block away. It was Dylan. I ran toward him, calling him name like a lunatic. People were staring and I thought, Yeah, that's right, I'm a crazy American, and I'm running down the street, shouting. So, what?!

So we caught up to Dylan and he was, of course, crying, tears streaming down his face. A kind gentleman who looked Southeast Asian and spoke English was with him and explained that he had walked into the convenient store...and then he said something else but I wasn't listening, I just thanked him and apologized "for the trouble" feeling vaguely idiotic watching my child blubbering away.

So, to recap, Conor and I rounded a corner while Dylan kept walking straight, crossing a street BY HIMSELF (he had the light, but still) and then wandered into a Sunkus, which is kinda like 7-Eleven, then walked out with a stranger who proceeded to try to help find me.

Rather than feeling relieved when the drama was over, I was furious! So I lectured him about not paying attention and crossing a street without holding my hand. If he had stopped to take my hand he would've noticed I wasn't with him. I told him that if at any time he suddenly finds himself alone, he should just stop and wait where he is. Had he done that, I would've found him immediately. And there were cops on that corner, and friendly looking women opening up the flower shop (they gave me a sympathetic look when I frantically gestured to them that I was missing a boy about yay high). I explained to Dylan that when he walked into the Sunkus, he was then out of sight and harder to find.

That's right, I blamed the six year old.

I know I shouldn't have booked ahead, and that when we finally found him, and saw that he was clearly distraught, I should've just hugged him and told him everything was OK.

But I didn't. Because I suck.

As we continued walking toward Nishimachi International School, where "I Can Gymnastics" is using the gym for their camp this week, Dylan kept crying, though quietly now, and said, "This is a big country and I don't want to live in a big country all by myself." I told him he was never in any real danger, that it was my fault for walking so fast and not paying attention, and he said "No mommy, it was my fault for crossing the street by myself." And with that he started sobbing again. I had my arm around him by now as I continued marching on up this stupidly steep hill toward the gym.

He seemed to have forgotten the whole thing by the time we got there. I didn't get a chance to say goodbye because as soon as he walked in, he took off his shoes and joined the group on the mat, and it's awkward to go over to your kid at that point and I was worried he'd start crying again and maybe ask to leave. So instead, I gave Conor a squeeze, told him to tell his brother that everything's OK, and left. Feeling shitty.

Tomorrow we are taking a cab.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

for me?

The other day I got into a cab with the kids and there was a pink rose, a real one, just sticking out of a side panel. I always thought it was the lacy white seat covers that gave Japanese taxis that little something special, but this, this just made my morning. I think Dylan pricked his finger on a thorn trying to grab it.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

pretty leaves and rugby

A few weeks ago Terry played rugby with the Tokyo Crusaders, against YCAC (Yokohama Country & Athletic Club). They lost by one try ("Grrr..") but it was nice to get out of the city and see some of the autumn leaves. The game was in Hodogaya, on a lovely field with bleacher seats, part of a larger outdoor sports complex, with a separate baseball stadium and lawn tennis courts.

That's T on the left, in black and green, standing, as he was playing 8-man, which I think means he watches the ball during the scrum and calls out to his teammates when it's back in play. Only I think the ref just called a foul here...
Here T is clutching the lower leg of the guy with the ball, trying to prevent him from crossing the try line, which he managed to do, but only after he had already been tackled, and you can't hit the ground, maintain possession and get up again and score, which is what this guy did, only the ref didn't call it, so it counted as a try. (So not right.)
Don't know what's happening here, I just like the shot. Terry's running in from the left (nice legs!) and the ball is in midair, and that guy in the middle, blue jersey and bent at the waist, is about to slam into those other guys.
Post game, walking to catch the bus that will take us to the station where we will catch the train back to Tokyo...

I am all dressed up because I am due for tea at the Hilton hotel. Seriously, it was a friend's sayonara party, and I was going straight from the game. I don't normally wear a skirt to the pitch!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Shibuya street fashion

I am officially stalking people now. When I'm out and about and see someone wearing something interesting, I move closer, pull my iphone out of my pocket and follow behind for a long as I can (before feeling completely ridiculous), tap the little camera icon and hope I get something, anything, in focus...

The other day I spotted this dude while crossing the big intersection outside Shibuya station. Lucky for me he stopped on the other side for a smoke.
Second-favorite dude outfit of that day goes to guy with the backpack spotted a couple blocks later:
Third one's a charm, in polka-dotted fleece and, um, denim leiderhosen?
Later that day: hightops with high heels
Walking the boys back from school: funky print tights and leopard Uggs More tights. First, a pattern on Aoyama-dori In jean shorts and tall boots, across from Tower Record, ShibuyaWith green patent-leather wedges with ankle strap, Shibuya station
Smart trench and suede elf boots, corner of Meiji-dori and Aoyama-dori