Just 360 or so days ago...

Just 360 or so days ago I started this blog with an article about resolutions and goal-setting.

One year later, it's time to take stock, and see how we did.

I have got in the habit with the kids at the free school to review and make a list of the biggest PERSONAL news stories of the past year. Younger kids seem to write all ten entries from last weekend. Anything further back is just distant past.

Most people seem to come up with 5 or 6 events, but I've found the real reflection happens with entries 7, 8, 9 and 10. What really happened last year?

For me, and now with a family of 4 I say, "us," it was a year of being pregnant. After spending New Years in Las Vegas, we learned early in the year that Emiko was pregnant. That news colored the rest of the year, obviously...

Aside from getting some administrative things done (permanent residence permit: Japan's Green Card) and staying close to home, I also started being coached, took a trip to the Philippines, was visited by mom (she came bearing diapers) and of course, celebrated the birth of Elinor Cullen Stratton on September 16th.

While bringing new life into the world certainly "counts," there were other goals that didn't get met.

Discussing that with my "coach," I was advised that there are some mechanical goals that just take grit and hard work, others were more "open" and could be met in unexpected ways by the universe, ala Law of Attraction. For instance, if I am working on an audio project, it will take some recording and editing. But asking the question, "How ELSE might this work?" opens us up to new solutions and ways of "getting things done."

I include here a picture of my still new family, which gives me more pride and happiness than I've ever known.


Law of Attraction and Letting Go

Just want to give you an interesting story about "letting go" of results.

As you may know I had been working on getting kids to come on a study exchange trip to the Philippines this summer.

With that and another camp to organize, I had been feeling some strain from trying to recruit participants.

I felt the peak of my frustration when I asked my morning elementary boys, "Are you ready for the camp?" and they said, "What camp?" or at best, "dunno yet."

Well, obviously they were not as commited to the project as I was.

The Philippine group is a bit older, but no less non-commital.
Me: "So, have you decided if you're going to go?"
Them: "Not yet."
Repeat above conversation daily for 14 days.
Me: "What information do you need to help you decide?"
Them: "Dunno."

Well, I finally got sick of pulling them where they didn't want to go, so I just "released" it.

It was up to them, about the camp, and about the Philippines. I had "promoted" all I could, and the ball was in their court.

However, for the Philippine trip I wrote as a To Do List Topper: "The five members for the Philippine trip have been decided, and I am relieved and excited."

Then I just let it go. I admit there was a bit of "Screw 'em" sentiment when I un-invested from the outcome, but it was a conscious removing of energy from the result.

SO, the first thing that happened was that I felt a LOT better, immediately!
Lighter, kind of, but with a sense of anticipation, like that there-is-something- good-waiting-in-the-mail kind of feeling.

For the first time in two weeks the bounce in my step returned, and I mean, THAT day.

Then I got a phone call from an old student, who said she wanted to come on the trip. I had invited her days before, just on an inkling.

The other boys started to show some initiative and decision-making
ability to actually commit to going or not going.

So three days later, we ARE going to the Philippines next month, and though one boy is still negotiating with his father, we got enough members (five counting me) to make the trip feasible.

The camp in the mountains was cancelled, but we all seemed the better for it.
The younger boys don't feel "pressured," to do something they are not really sure about, and I have an extra weekend to polish that grant application!

It really does seem that things work out for the best.

And I think I am starting to get this "letting go" business.


The Most Important Thing to do Right Now

I thought my readers (mom?) might get something out of this article
from another guy named Charlie, who lives in Japan. That's the name
of the blog, anyway....

Though I haven't met this Charlie, or even know if he goes by Charles,
his submission struck a chord as I was racing around in my car,
hurried, not having enough family time, just trying to check things
off on my 'TO DO' list.

Maybe some of the most important TO DO's can't be checked off on a list.

Do you have the feeling you're fully appreciating your life RIGHT
NOW, or are you somehow failing to treasure the richness of all
you have in the moment? Living a life of gratitude is a challenge
that I think most all of us face.

Three years ago the eight year old daughter of a friend died in a
freak accident at school. My friend was devastated and I could
not think of any wise words that might console him.

As the weeks rolled by my friend slipped into an ever deeper
sense of despair, and nothing anyone said seemed to lift his

After a few months time he went out of town on a business trip,
and on the train ride back home he engaged in a conversation with
the woman sitting next to him. The woman sat there and nodded her
head often as my friend talked about the death of his daughter.
He reported to me that he had the sense of talking and talking
and talking, until he finally felt like he had nothing more to

As my friend came to a natural state of rest, the woman nodded
her head one more time as she took a deep breath, and then said
the following,

"I can very much feel your pain, and I understand that the loss
of your child must be devastating."

"At the same time," she said, "I wonder if your pain would not be
lessened if you celebrated the life of your daughter."

"You told me about your daughter's sense of awe the first time
you took her to the ocean, and how you carried her in your arms
as you waded out into the water."

"You also spoke about the many times she sat on your lap and told
you about the magical adventures she had during the course of her

"Perhaps the sweetest story you shared was how you told your
daughter every night how much you loved her as you tucked her
into bed."

"I am wondering," the woman said, "What is it that leads you to
believe that you and your daughter did not live a glorious
fulfilling life together?"

"Is it because she died at eight years old and not at eighty?
Certainly it would seem that the quality of one's life is not
tied to the length of one's life."

"I would suggest that you and your daughter did perhaps live a
full and complete life together. She just didn't live as long as
you had hoped for and expected."

As the train neared the station the woman continued speaking.

"I am fifty two years old, and in looking back on my life I don't
feel I have shared with anyone, the depth of experience and love
you and your daughter had together."

"On one hand this makes me deeply sad. On the other hand, it
helps me to realize that with the time I have left, I can indeed
strive to live a complete and fulfilling life."

"This is the realization that your experience has helped me to
understand, and for this wonderful gift I thank you deeply."

The woman smiled as she stood up, preparing to exit the train.

"None of us know how long we have to live. We don't seem to have
all that much control over the length of our life."

"The quality of our life on the other hand, we can indeed ensure
on a daily basis. It is never too soon to begin to enjoy and
fully appreciate the life we do have, right here and now."

To the readers of this article I gently suggest you consider how
you want to live your life, in order to ensure that your time on
earth is fulfilling and complete.

(c) Charlie Badenhop,

About the author:

Charlie Badenhop is the originator of Seishindo, an Aikido instructor, NLP trainer, and Ericksonian Hypnotherapist. Benefit from Charlie's thought-provoking ideas and various self help and self hypnosis practices by subscribing to his complimentary newsletter "Pure Heart, Simple Mind" at http://www.seishindo.org/


Top 10 Ways How to Improve your English (from my students)

I promised English learning tips on this blog, so here goes:
Actually, this is a list compiled by two of my star students (who have since retired to get ready for their college entrance exams!) Isn't it ironic and sad that studying EIKAIWA or English conversation is seen as mutually exclusive from doing well on your tests? Sigh!##

Anyway, here's the list, which I thought was pretty darn good:

Top Ten Ways to Improve Your English (in no particular order)

--Check unknown words in the dictionary and mark them

--Listen to CDs to check correct pronunciatioin

--Watch foreign movies in English like Star Wars (Friday, Saturday on Japanese TV)

--Be interested in the culture of English-speaking countries

--Take English proficiency tests (the STEP test) to motivate yourself

--Have friends who also study English (you can share knowledge)

--Go to English conversation classes (like Able, in Joetsu, Niigata)

--Write English sentences and have them checked by your English teacher, and get a penpal

--Talk to the ALT (Assistant {Native} Language Teacher) at school -- it's free!

If anyone would like to add to this list, please do!
Also, thanks to Tomohiro and Ken for this EXCELLENT list. Good luck on your exams!

(I also teach at ABLE English Conversation Club. Our website is:


check out the games corner for kids, even if you're a native speaker!)


Where did all the resolutions go?

Just one month into the new year, and if you're like me, you probably are not yet one-twelfth of the way through with achieving your goals for 2006. In fact, I wonder how many 'resolutions' are still standing on January 31st?

I've read it and you've read it I'm sure. The key to any long-term or grand scale goal achieving is moving ahead in small, consistent increments. The Japanese call that メKaizenモ.

There is also a wonderful Japanese expression for the メfast-out-of-the- starting-blocks-but-no-finishモ style of action which describes so many of our self-improvement efforts: メMikka Bouzu.モ This literally means メThree day skinhead,モ but really refers to the hairstyle (not-hair style?) of temple monks. I imagine many a repentant person has knocked on the temple gates with burning enthusiasm, just to see that feeling fade in less than a week.

I suppose it is a commentary on those well-intentioned souls (all of us?) whose best intentions last but a few days. My Ab-flex (remember those?) went from being used (for about three days, exactly) to a rack to dry clothes on in less than a month. I was happy to finally give it away to a friend, I believe at around New Year's resolution time. I wonder if he is drying towls on it yet, or tried to sell it on ebay.

The point is that it is very easy to let yourself go back to your old, unhelpful habits. How do you stay on track? Here are my top five suggestions:

・Keep your goals where you can see them! (We all know this, butノ)
・Tell people about what you are trying to do (if you choose carefully, those around you can be your best supporters)
・Get a 'goals coach' or accountability coach to help you stay honest
・Send yourself emails to get yourself fired up. (You don't need any fancy autoresponder, just schedule your email delivery for the future)
・Small steps, small rewards (again, we know this, right?) Finishing a small goal on the way to a bigger one can keep us motivated. You know the best way to eat an elephant, don't you? One bite at a time!


The Responsibility of Gratitude

My wife, son and I just returned from a Christmas and New Years trip to California and Nevada. In addition to it being the first time to visit the US for our one-year-old, Yuto, it was also a big challenge for my wife's parents and brother, who also accompanied us.

I have led many homestays to the US and New Zealand over the years, but this was one of the more challenging. I was determined that my wife's parents had a good time-a great time-as it was the first time out of Japan for my mother-in-law, and she had all the images of pistol carrying subway-riding thugs that we have all seen on the news.

Well, lo and behold, the trip was a great success! Everyone had a great time, learned a lot, and not least importantly, returned home safely.

As my wife and I prepared for our return to Japan, she started getting nervous about all the shopping she had yet to do. Now, for me, Christmas was over, and with it, my shopping commitments for the next 11 months. Emiko, however, had at least another Christmas list worth of gifts to buy: that wonderful and strange Japanese custom of メOmiageモ [oh-mee-yah-gey], or souvenir-giving, was rearing its ugly head.

When we in America take a trip, we send a picture postcard to those at home, メWish you were here,モ a Jackalope or some scantily clad beach bunnies or something for the boys at home.

In Japan, its gifts, gifts, and more gifts! The system is such that you can even order your Hawaiian macadamia nuts to give to your friends and relatives at the departure airport, so your souvenir shopping can be finished before you even depart on your trip!

Needless to say, I was stunned and even angered to see my wife spending our vacation budget on t-shirts for the neighbors! After all, we WERE in Las Vegas and the casinos were calling!

To make a long story just as long, the two of us returned to Japan with 9 suitcases and a baby. I was still miffed until we saw the worst snow in 20 years on our doorstep in Niigata.

The neighbors, bless them, had shoveled our car out from under almost two meters of snow. On the next day, my car got stuck and I got locked out of our classroom. Again, people came to the rescue. When the refrigerator in the classroom broke, a friend offered her old one to replace it. Again, thank you!

It was at about this time that I began to ask Emiko: メUm, did we get them anything from America?モ Her reply was a well-deserved メI told you so!モ

In Japan, where gifts are sometimes used to grease social relationships, I felt a faint glimmer of understanding. No, a postcard simply would not do for these people who dug out our two cars, found replacement keys and donated kitchen appliances.

The Japanese is, メO sewa sama desu!モ or, メThank you for taking care of us!モ I somehow the Vegas ballcaps don't quite express it adequately either, but I can see now why the custom of omiyage giving will not quickly disappear from these shores.


2006: The year to come?!

Here in Japan (and elsewhere, I’m sure) they have a tradition of listing the 10 biggest news events at the end of each year. At the school where I work, we all spend some time at the year-end party (or in Japanese: Bo-nen-kai: lit, forget-the-year party) not forgetting, but remembering those events which impacted us over the entire year. This is not a ‘best 10’ list, as the events may be either good or bad.

With younger kids, most of the events listed are within the last 2 or three months. That is to say, if we do the exercise in December, they may list the Halloween party of October but are likely to forget the ski trip at the beginning of the year.

It is times like these when a journal or diary comes in handy!

When the kids look over the event calendars of the last year, they really get a sense of all they have accomplished and enjoyed—or even overcome—during the past year.

Two years ago, as a journaling technique, I started to write my ’10 biggest news events’ for each DAY. It seems that if reflection is good once a year, 300 times that amount of reflection could lead to some pretty good insights.

As many resolutions do, my experiment did not last past January. But it occurs to me that if we woke up and wrote 10 goals every morning, then reflected and recorded the 10 biggest happenings of each day, we could really make some daily progress not only in achieving our goals, but also in reflecting on the events that happen to us, how we respond to them, and even more importantly, the events that we cause to occur.

Here is my challenge: Try it for one week. When you wake up: look over your yearly goals and then make daily ‘things to do’ from that. As you turn in for the night, list (on a datebook, for example, or in a diary) the 10 biggest things that happened to you today.

If you find yourself struggling to find 10 (you will), persevere. One of the best things about the ‘Rule of 10’ is that you will also start to appreciate the smaller ‘big events’ in your life. So, if number 8 on your list for January 10th is “ate a delicious dinner” so be it! Those are the small ‘big events’ that make up a life.

--For another perspective on year-end reflecting, as well as year-start goal- setting, see my friend Charles Burke’s sizzling edge blog for December and January at http://sizzling-edge.blogspot.com