Special Insert – Japan Travel Day 4

I am so nervous.  Every ten minutes or so, my eyes tear up.  I am trying so hard not to let the anxiety take over, but today is a big day for me.  We are meeting my daughter’s Japanese family today and it feels like a first date.

Last year, Haley spent six months in Japan, the first four were on tour with the Young Americans, the last two she lived with the Watanabe family on the outskirts of Toyko.  They loved her, and because I do too, I had to meet them.

At ten this morning, they sent Keith to retrieve us from our hotel.  Keith is an American who lives with his Japanese wife here in Toyko, he works at the school Ayako owns and is the best English translator they have. He came in to Shinjuku station, and walked to our hotel.  Turns out he was nervous too.  Keith led us back to the station and helped us find the line to take us to Mizue Station.  This was within walking distance to their school.  Ayako (mama) met us on the streets and introduced us around the school, we saw the class rooms for the youngest – age 0-1; then the 2-3 year olds.  They all waved and smiled.  We then joined Yukiko (mama sensei) in her office on the third floor of a local office building for some tea.DSC_0752

Next stop was the 4-5 year olds.  As we passed by them, one of them pointed and yelled “Haley sensei”  I smiled and said, “no, Haley sensei mama”  They weren’t convinced, everyone said how much we look alike.  I asked if I could meet Mutzki – he was Haley’s favorite.  When I went over to him and asked if I could take a picture with him, he pouted.  One of the Japanese teachers went to talk to him, turns out, he misses Haley and wanted her there, not me, I made him sad.

Mama and Mama Sensei piled us in to their van and drove us to Katsushika City.  We visited an old Shinto Temple there, we got our fortunes from the mechanical dragons, cleansed our hands in the fountain, lit incense and threw coins in to the box to pray for good luck.  Then we were able to enter the temple itself.  Filled with mystique, beautiful carvings, a Tori gate and monks chanting, it was very Eastern, not too many believers there, but an ancient feeling with all the dragons watching over us.

Lunch was next on the agenda after a quick stop in the restroom.  It was a traditional toilet cut in the floor like a trough, you straddle it and try not to get your clothes wet while you pee.  Fortunately, this wasn’t a new experience for me…1) I’ve been to Africa and 2) we often are offroad, I can squat.

We had lunch at Kawachiya, a freshwater fish restaurant that served eel and carp, among other things.  We had eel, eel heart, koi, octopus, and some very interesting other things.  I couldn’t describe it all if I tried.  Not all of the items are things I would eat again, others were delicious.  The meal went on for hours and then we walked down the longstanding souvenir shops.  The narrow walkway was lined with vendors, mostly food sellers, there were huge glass jars filled with cookies, dark green rice balls with red bean paste, mushed rice pods on a stick with a sticky sweet sauce, green tea ice cream.  I have discovered that my taste and that of the Japanese are not the same when it comes to desserts, give me a good old chocolate bar anytime.  But…we tried it all and ate with a smile.DSC_0771

Our return trip included a stop at the 100 Yen store, and then the long train ride back to Shinjuku station.  Shinjuku Station is home to 2 million passengers a day; Haley asked me yesterday…”didn’t I tell you to stay away from Shinjuku?”  “You did? Why?”  I could see her shaking her head thinking I never listen to her, she is probably right, what I would have heard was blah, blah, blah, Shinjuku…so when I was looking for a hotel, I thought, Oh!  Shinjuku, I’ve heard of that before!

I can’t begin to describe what it is like to discover you have a family in an alternate universe.  I am so appreciative of Ayako and Yukiko for making us feel so welcome, that anxiety I was feeling, it went away as soon as I met them.

Great day, great to meet family, so glad we took the time, truly a highlight of the trip!


Day -54 – Thankfulness

thankfulMy life is so full of good things, I can barely contain my joy sometimes.  My blessings are numerous…I have good health, a great man, incredible children, fabulous friends, an abundance of everything.  Truly Life, liberty and happiness are mine.

Each Thanksgiving I look around and Thank God for everything in my life.  I am a bit of a Pollyanna, maybe I’ve mentioned that before; I just don’t see any point in dwelling on the negatives – at least in my writing.  I have bad days like the rest of you, but there is something about grabbing my keyboard that makes me think positive thoughts.

For years, I have sent a half dozen emails on Thanksgiving morning, they begin with “I am thankful for you…” and then I say why.  This is something I send to my children and my husband, and generally one or two others who really have an impact on my life at the moment.  Folks that I just can’t seem to get by without.  Right now that would require a couple of dozen emails, so I’m going to post it here.  If it applies to you, you will recognize yourself, even if we’ve never met…

“I am thankful for you.  On this Thanksgiving, I look at all the things that matter to me and realize that you are one of them.  I am proud of your   resourcefulness, your talent, your willingness to share with others.  I am proud of your infectious smile and your laughter and the way you bring out the best in me.  I am proud of your willingness to work hard, no matter what the task, day in and day out.

Thank you for being someone who matters, for taking the time to look out for others, for listening to my silly ideas and for appreciating me.  It is because of  you that I am who I am and I couldn’t be prouder at this moment to call you my friend.  Thanks for being you.”

Do you know someone you should send this note to?

Day -16 – Minneapolis on Speed

IMAG0419Speed touring should be an Olympic sport, we are getting very good at it.  It’s what you do when you don’t have a lot of time and want to get a feel for a city.  My son lives in Minneapolis, been here a little over a year and this is our first visit.  When asked what he wanted to show us about “his” city, he kind of shrugged.  So our first action was to google “Top 10 things to do” and then the goal was to do what we could in an afternoon.

First stop was Matt’s Bar, just after noon to taste a “Jucy Lucy”  misspelled by accident back in the day, the Lucy is a hamburger with the cheese on the inside.  There is a dispute as to where it originated, but Matt’s is the front runner for the title.  We learned there is a technique to eating a Jucy Lucy, it’s kind of a bite/slurp move, if you don’t do that, you will end up with cheese all over your shirt.  Of course, it took us a few bites to figure out the method, so we were all cheesed before we got it right.

Next stop was the Mill City Museum, and here was where it was time to slow down.  This is a must see for anyone stopping in to Minneapolis.  The museum celebrates the history of the city as the world’s largest flour milling community.  Back when the city was being formed, the water from the Mississippi was used to run the mills; the predecessors to General Mills were the first to build the mills, explosions, labor issues, the Depression, the recovery, all played a part in the history of flour milling.  The building was abandoned in 1965; destroyed by fire in 1991 and reclaimed in the early 2000’s for the purpose of the museum.  It was awesome!  Truly one of the best museums we have been to, I would recommend it to anyone.  The architecture, the displays, even the movie, all well worth it.

From here we went on over to Minnehaha Park and walked the greenbelt.  The park is huge, there are stairs down to the water; the falls and the autumn leaves were beautiful in the rain today.  Next stop, back to Uptown to the Sculpture Garden.

The Sculpture Garden is all installation art, combining the big open spaces and greenness of the city with the cultural scene.  A beautiful area to just walk and explore.

By five o’clock, we were pooped, we had checked off several of the “to-do’s” on the Top 10 lists; criss-crossed the city and thoroughly enjoyed our day of speed touring one of the coolest cities in America, AND got to spend the day with my son.  I can’t wait to come back.


Day 35 – Grandkids

kidsWe are so fortunate that we have the family that we do. We drove out of Anchorage today down to the city of Kenai to be greeted by two of the sweetest little faces.  We have a total of three grandchildren, two in Alaska and one in Idaho.  I wouldn’t trade a single one.  I am fortunate enough to have been married in to their lives, the two in Alaska, when I married Rich; I got Jacob when Kayla got married.  I am so lucky.

Payten is just over a year old; she is crawling and kind of walking; her favorite toy is her purple turtle.  She is super sweet, her facial expressions are the best.  Whenever Grandpa asks her for a kiss, she wrinkles up her nose and says “nooooo”, but she says it so dang cute, with a little New Jersey twang.  Grandpa just laughs. It took her a minute to warm up to us, but now she crawls all over us.

Austin is 3 ½; we have known him well since he was born.  Austin came to live with us when he was about six weeks old.  For the first few months he moved back and forth between our son’s house and ours.  When he was six months old, he moved in to our house with his mom for the next nine months.  We got to know him well.  As we sat at dinner that first night, he looked over and said “I love you Grandma.”  I love that kid, he is so dang sweet.

I think the most generous thing anyone can do is open up their home to you.  We’ve been staying with Rich and Brittany for the week, interrupting their routine, throwing off the kids’ schedule, we’ve got our own room, but anytime you have family in your house, I know it’s not easy.  Of course, this gives us great access to the grandkids, and that is why we are here, to get to know them, to make sure they know us.

I love our family, those that I’m currently with and all the others.  But for this week, I’m going to love on those babies and enjoy every one of those hugs and kisses I can coax out of them this week.