Nov 28 Best 10

1. Kazuyuki called this morning to say that the freezing rain would keep him home today, but that he had indeed been hired for the job he interviewed for last week! It is "only" a 4 month gig at an educational publishers printing press, putting things in boxes, keeping things in order. He was so funny when I asked him about the interview, nonchalant, "yeah, I'm 'sposed to get started next year." Yes, January, in one month. This is a big step, and, beyond the idea, did it all by himself. Bravo to him!

2. Got an I CAN poster out to the NPO support center, who will display it at their 10 year anniversary event tomorrow. Though they didn't greet me as a king, like yesterday, I was happy to see this group, energized for thier event, and happy that there was a poster to contribute that would help I CAN as well.

3. Today's Rotary meeting didn't go as I had planned. I had hoped to tap on a few shoulders and mention I CAN, but suddenly the lights were dimmed for a historical video presentation. Lunch, "Katsu-don," was pretty good, though :)

4. Hit the fundraising trail again. I think I mentioned the past due notices arriving at I CAN, so there is a sense of urgency. I went to our kids' pediatrition, but she was very busy with flu shots. Then I went to "JMIX," a computer solutions company, again part of the Oshima empire. Though the decision-makers were not in, it was really nice to have someone there who would listen to our pitch, take notes, and make us feel listened to. No sponsorships at the golf driving range, but I saw some old familiar faces who said they could set up some free time for our kids, anyway.

What I am getting from these fundraising outings more than anything is the feeling of community and connectedness. Everytime I get out and meet people I realize how much more important, interesting, productive that is that staying inside and doodling with the computer.

5. I tried to immerse myself with gratefulness feelings yesterday, to help balance the bills that showed up. I really imagined what it would be like to put the required cash into the hands of the collector. I was grateful, and imagined what I would really feel if some magic influx of income "just showed up."

Then, in the mailbox, 3 unexpected checks, putting a dent in what's due. My heart beat a little faster as I opened up the deposit envelopes. Then I laughed.

6. During all this, Emiko called and said she was inspired to have a Thanksgiving party tonight. OK, one day late, but with the time difference and all, not too far off. This woman surprises me again. 2 days ago she was feeling unappreciated. Today she is calling the neighbors, roasting chicken and making her first quiche. I missed the first half of the festivities, but arrived home after work to a feast, then endless games of hide and seek with the 3~4 year old guests that had also been here at Halloween. A great end to the week. Oh yeah. Exhausting!

7. I stopped by I CAN this evening to check on Akiko and her student Hiro, and to give her a paycheck. By the time Hiro arrived, I was just remembering that she had asked me to cover this class. Whew. Saved by being there, on accident. Lucky?

8. Paycheck deposit!

9. Yuto and Eli being way too hyped up after "their" party. One of the things I love about these guys is that they honestly crack me up. Oh yeah. I mentioned exhaustion, too, right?

10. Emiko's new mood. She was making an effort to be sweet today. "I rented that DVD you wanted." Tiny gesture. Giant gratitude.


Nov 27 Best 10

This could be hard because of another blow-up at home and a few large “past due” notices at work…but here goes:

1. It was Thanksgiving! My favorite holiday the whole year, though it’s a bit different over here…

2. Before today’s mis-communication (read: meltdown), Emiko made a great poster for I CAN and the Pony group’s joint project this morning. The things she can do with a Microsoft Word program always amaze me.

3. Nice weather. Abe decided to use his time on another part time job he has to support his I CAN habit: delivering fliers, door to door. It gave me some much longed for alone time at I CAN, as Yuki was still out sick.

4. Just when I was about to get bored, my best friend and former Engish teaching comrade Simon came in the door for a visit. I have missed having him in the English school’s staffroom. Very nice to see his friendly face today.

5. After lunch and an argument at home, I tried to continue the donor canvassing from yesterday. All the low-hanging fruit has been taken by now, so thinking about where to ask is becoming more of a challenge. On the other hand, sitting down and listing possible donors starts to shift the mind into a more resourceful (abundant-thinking) state. I felt like making the list itself was important work.

6. Then I got started knocking on doors. A few false starts, then I went to UKIO, a hundred year old Japanese garden restaurant right in the middle of town. It is gorgeous, and happens to be owned by my former boss, Mr. Oshima. I like to arrive without calling. Though I lose points in business manners, I get a lot more done, meet a lot more people, and get my foot in more doors by actually being there, standing in front of the person in charge.

Today I met Mr. Fuse (Fu-say) who was remarkably friendly and happy to chat. I hope to plan another “foreigners event” at this restaurant, with geishas and everything, so we talked about what that would be like. (answer: quite expensive! You seen the rates of geisha lately?!)

Before long we were talking about who we were, personally, and it seemed as if I had made a new friend. Doubly nice if he decides to make a contribution to I CAN ;)

7. Getting greeted like a lost king at the NPO support group. I’m not sure why, but I suspect it’s because they want more attendees at their 10th anniversary event this weekend. I should probably go, but it is right on Yuto’s 4th birthday this Sunday.

8. At an evening English class, one of the little (11?) girls who had been driving me crazy with her attitude, for the first time since I met her two months ago, seemed cute. I’m not sure if cute is the right word, but for the first time I could see her as a little girl who, despite flare ups, was really doing her best in english class.

9. Same story, different class: one of the giggly, screw-around boys stood up and gave a near flawless english presentation. Smiles.

10. A wonderful call between classes on my cellphone. It was Yuto, on his mom’s phone, calling to tell me I had forgotten a pink plastic monkey at home that he was certain I needed for work (yes, we have pink plastic monkey toys at my house. No, I don’t need them for work). Also he wanted to get a haircut. Also would I try to pick up the new Narnia DVD for him this afternoon. Amazing to me, because this whole conversation was in his second language, English.



Nov 25 Best 10

1. Keeping a promise to Yuto by buying him a kind of steamed-curry meat bun. I don’t know why, but it seemed important enough that I visit a few convenience stores to find this snack that I promised him yesterday. The smile on his face was worth the effort!

2. Nice hot shower to wake up from the cold night.

3. Mr. Okaniwa’s visit. It looks like our new member/donator will be dropping by for chats. About 65, with a little extra time and money now, he has found our little non-profit. A delightful man.

4. Keitaro’s University application is due on the 30th, and is coming down to the wire. It feels good to help him clean up the English on his essay, but there is still a long way to go in merely a day or two!

5. Melted cheese on toast with seasoned salt and pepper. Simple, a tad junky, but warm and soothing today at about 3:00.

6. Abe’s comment today in the car: “I think I’d like to start taking on more responsibility…” Fantastic. On the downside, I could only pay him about 90 bucks for his efforts this month.

7. Very productive meeting with the horseriding NPO we are trying to joint venture with for just a day next month. Amazing how crossed our signals had become (thanksgiving vs. christmas, our place vs. theirs, budget, etc) All these negotiating bits had waited until today. Now it seems we are back on track for a successful event come Dec. 7.

8. Nice, little tidbits of English from the little ones: a non-prompted, “Hi Charlie, how are you?” makes a world of difference. Little bits of natural(istic?) conversation mixed in with the “lesson.” The Santa is Coming to Town girls continue to amaze me.

9. A good conversation with Blair at the Engish school. Though we spent some energy criticising our last collegue, we are both looking forward to the new one, who’s visa “eligibility” just came through from the immigration office here. If all goes well, we will be welcoming a new teacher in 2~3 more weeks.

10. Hitting the hay before…um. 1:00?

Nov 24 Best 10

1. Sleeping in.

2. The fact that today, “Thanks for the Workers Day” was a holiday. Kind of a cross between the American “Thanksgiving” and “Labor Day.” Only a single, one-on-one English class in the evening, which went well.

3. It’s been a while since I rode the highway (freeway?) bus. Nice to be able to sleep, as a passenger, than have to fight the rain, fight for parking, etc.

4. I was taking the bus going up to Niigata city, the prefecture capitol, for a Free School Lecture. The speaker, Keiko Okuchi, is kind of the guru of the free school world here. Hearing her presentation, I was re-inspired and re-energized to continue with this work.

5. Ms. Okuchi invited me to their National event in Tokyo in January (to speak?) Bullet train expenses paid;)

6. A hot pastrami sandwich and a Starbucks cappucino. Yes, I go all out when I go to the big city…

7. Seeing my family after 2.5 days. The freedom I enjoy when they are at grandma’s is one thing, but the reunion is even better.

8. Communication with Emiko in the car. When the kids are asleep in their carseats, we finally can stop singing “Ultraman” songs and have adult conversation. One of the things I love about emily is that she is always trying to improve herself.

9. Rain. Rather than snow.

10. Something is stirring about writing a book…

11. Whatever I do next!


Nov 22~23 best 10 at Yoga Weekend

Good rejuvenation at one of my favorite places.

1. Meeting 2 new people, in person, via Facebook! Angela and Holly were fun new additions to this group.

2. Shiatsu (finger pressure) massage!

3. 2 days of delicious, self-grown vegetarian dining

4. Hugs from Akai san. I swear she is the only woman in Japan to do this greeting.

5. Too-hot-at-first, then just-right onsen (hot spring) bath.

6. Cold, clear sky with stars twinkling after our trip to the public bath.

7. Getting to know Takako, the lady who comes up for English lessons is now also my yoga partner/masseuse.

8. Foot massage? Not massage of the feet, but by the feet. You know, having someone step on your lower back and knead it with heel/toe.

9. Getting up early for a morning walk in the mountains. White with first snow, they were beautiful!

10. The fresh vegetables we picked and Akai san whipped together for breakfast.

11. The whole deal. Peaceful, restful, refreshing.


Nov 21 Best 10

1. Kids and mom out again early; I enjoy one of those “big breakfasts.”

2. Mom calls from California. When she calls on an unscheduled day, my heart always skips a beat, expecting bad news of some sort. Today’s big tragedy? She wants to know how to fill out the California Drivers license renewal that came in the mail. Easy enough! Great to hear mom in a good mood.

3. Kazu called I CAN to cancel his meeting today, but added that the reason was because of a JOB INTERVIEW. His voice sounds good. This is movement we have been working towards for literally years, now.

4. Getting the courage to go next door to Oshima’s Car Dealership. Having the same owner as my former boss, they are also yearly donators to I CAN. However, the last time I asked for “dues,” the woman in charge of the books had a stern face, not too willing to help out this time. When I got up enough courage to go BACK, again, and re-ask, she smiled, said she had forgotten, and then gracefully put some cash in my outstreched paws.

5. Helping Keitaro on his…UC Berkeley application. Now this boy is a go-getter. Upon refusing to go to high school, he immediately passed his equivalency exam, then took a year to study in Australia, and now wants to go to college in America. Does he have the record to go to Cal? Not sure, but I’m happy to polish his “personal statement” and help him go through the learning experience of making an application

6. Abe and I on the charitable donation hunt. The most unfriendly, downright gloomy place we visited was the psychological hospital/counselling center. I thought we would have some common ground there, but after two meetings I give up. My god, even the receptionist looks like an Adams Family escapee. Do people go to such places expecting to feel better? Talk about weird, down energy… On the other hand, our visit to the retirement home was met by a bright, sincere, eager to listen young woman (I might even say “perky”) This is part of Oshima’s empire, so of course the reception was a bit warmner, but we had a nice cup of coffee, making plans to set up volunteerism at the home with the I CAN girls members…

7. Picking up the finished miso that we made back in April. Finally it has fermented enough to be “done.” The ride up to the kitchen to get it was hairy: lightning, thunder, blinding hailstorms. The Strattons, 4 of us in the car with Emiko at the wheel, oooohed at each lightning flash, aaahhhed at each thunder clap. And Yuto was proud to pick up the miso that “he” made.

8. Emily made a “tofu milk hotchpotch” tonight for dinner. Basically, hotchpotch is the dictionary translation for “nabe” (naw-bey) in which all sorts of vegetables and meats are simmered together in a big broth. In Japan, most families but a little gas stove on the eating table and a big earthen pot simmers in the center of the table. You take the raw vegetables and meats that you want with your chopsticks and add them to the brew, taking them out when you want. Very communal and fun. With Eli (and Yuto, too, running around for that matter) we have yet to try the gas stove on the table version. Emiko makes it in the kitchen and brings it out. Boy, it tasted good. Who would have thunk it: Tofu milk?

9. The weird, “up” energy of Yuto and Eli this night before bath, literally running, singing and dancing through the house. Naked.

10. Emiko catches me for a few minutes: “I’ve been thinking about how you can help get more business for I CAN.” Her ideas are excellent, even inspiring. And more than the substance of her ideas, in fact, was that she had been thinking of how to help me, and communicated it. Highlight of the day.

Nov 20 Best 10

Nov 20 Best 10

Posted By Charlie3

A lot of little good things to be appreciated in the last few days. I need to be more diligent in journaling them! For instance, the drive up the mountain river valley almost like a time slip into some earlier, thatched roof Japanese time, the family that I met up there who offered me green tea and takuan pickles, and then the grandfather himself, 75 years old, who came down to teach us how to make rope from straw by kneading it with our hands.

For today:

1. Woke up to the first snow of the season. Yuto is excited for a snowfight, 2 year old Eli says she doesn’t like it.

2. Yuki calls in sick. This is really not a good news item, you see, but it does free up the day…:p

3. Abe stayed self motivated, produced an I CAN poster and sent it off to the national free school festival in Tokyo

4. Writing a letter the old friend who felt motivated to Paypal a donation to I CAN.

5. A visit by Atarashi san (the Franciscan monk) and his 2 Philippine nun friends. They were promoting their Christmas Gospel Concert. Kind of interesting when performed by Japanese, wearing incredibly politically incorrect afro wigs…in the Catholic Church.
6. A semi-productive meeting with the local newspaper about how to work together to produce a lecture/seminar on self esteem for kids in January.

7. Warm weather that melted the snow, delaying the purchase of new snow tires for which funds…I now require!

8. Finding out that 3 new non-Japanese aquaintances will be joining for Ms. Akai’s yoga weekend in the mountains this weekend. These are people who live locally, but whom I only know through facebook (susan, another nudge?) I’m happy to be able to help out Akai san in this way.

9. The first English class of the day, 9 and 10 year olds, who got genuinely excited when they matched two pictures of hippopotami during our game of concentration.

10. Getting back to these Best 10 lists!


Nov 12 Best 10

Late, but here goes: Today was mainly about Yuto’s and my trip to the apple orchards with I CAN.

1. Son Yuto is in a very excited mood because we decided he was coming apple picking with the I CANers this morning. 3-year-old excitement is fun for everybody.

2. We had a small meeting before getting into the car at I CAN, and went through the very Japanese ritual of self-introductions, as Yuto was a guest. Because he WON the rock-paper-scissors decision mechanism, Yuto was first, his dad watching a bit too closely. And he did just great. In Japanese, “My name is Charles Yuto, my favorite food is chocolate, and today I want to pick a lot of apples.” With no one to model after, I thought that his was right on. I’m biased. He smiled.

3. Beautiful blue skies. Good driving weather for the hour-plus into the mountains in Nagano prefecture. You remember Winter Olympics there, right?

4. The drive up with Yuto in the passenger seat, 4 I CANers sitting behind us. In a way, taking my son on an event like this is a mini-dream come true. Though I couldn’t get past the feeling that most of the conversation was beyond him, and I spent energy trying to be equally an I CAN teacher and a dad, I felt like Yuto really grew up on this trip with the older kids.

5. A very warm greeting by Aoyama, the man who owns the orchard/preschool here. The preschool itself is incredible, with hand-built showers and library, a wooden main building that looks like a log ski cabin, emphasis on cooperative learning in a natural setting. Yes, our kids would be going here if it wasn’t an hour each way!

6. Picnic lunch under bright red-leaved autumn trees in crisp blue air.

7. Playing in a treehouse with my son. Swinging on the giant, “scary” rope swing.

8. Yuto again, racing with the big boys down a giant hill, taking a wild, cartwheeling spill, getting scared, crying, hugging dad, then 2 minutes later being back on the starting line.

9. Lifting my son up to pick the giantest fruits from trees laden down with softball-sized red “Fuji” apples.

10. Telling the stories all over again to Mom at dinner.


Nov 11 Best 10

1. The few extra moments -- for the second day in a row--when Emiko took on preschool drop-off duty, and I could fully wake up with coffee and internet news.

2. Abe ready to go this morning: "should I get that mailing shipped off?" Yes, and good initiative!

3. That little song I posted by The Weepies. It was fun being re-introduced to them

4. A great visit at the chairman of I CAN's office. Mr. Nirei is officially the top of our organization, but as a prefecture-level (state level?) elected official, he mainly comes when there is a problem. Once in awhile mail addressed to him comes to the classroom, and I had some other information for him, so Abe and I set off to his local office. Though Mr. Nirei himself wasn't in, his staff ushered us in for coffee, let us talk about I CAN and our mission, and professed support for what we are trying to do. Nice to meet some people so nice, unexpectedly.

5. Repairing fences: our next stop was visiting the kitchen where we hoped to roast our self-killed and dressed chickens as part of an appreciate life/thanksgiving project at I CAN. The woman there, who had been a friend, had been being less friendly since spring. Strange tensions. Although our chicken/turkey sacrifice project seems on hold, and she remains not as inviting as she once was, it was worth going to make the visit, have some face time, look eye to eye and have conversation. A step in the right direction.

6. I found half an avocado to stuff into my tuna sandwich at lunch today ;)

7. Reaching out: I called the mother of a couple of members who have been out of the picture lately. Anyway, they will join us tomorrow for a field trip to an apple orchard. Also, though not as direct, I emailed another mother whose children have been absent lately too, inviting the kids to join us for activities in November.

8. An almost perfect rendition of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" prepared by two darling 10 year old English students. Bless them, they have been practicing on their own, at home, for weeks. The Christmas party at the Engish school is still weeks away, but they nailed it. Really made me smile:)

9. Amazing! A $100 donation, via a paypal "donate here" button on I CAN's site, from an old American friend whom I met here in Japan 18 years ago. Now Greg lives in the California Bay Area, and surprised me with a little gift, it seems. Cool how money can manifest from literally nowhere. Thank you to Greg!

10. Kimchee and beer!


Nov 10 Best 10

I want to beg off of doing the top 10 for the weekend mainly because it was not so hot. Moody people at home and a messy, tearful, boozy English school party made for a rough 2 days. I debated changing the title for this month’s objective from “10 Best” to “10 Biggest” which is really how I do it at the end-of-the-year round-up. That means that the biggest events of any year (or day), the ones that have impact, aren’t neccessarily good. Certainly, breaking your leg would probably count as a “10 biggest news” story, but most certainly not a “best 10.”

On retrospect, though, I want to keep it positive, and keep focusing on the BEST parts of my day. So here goes, today’s Best 10:

1. a quiet cup of coffee and “The Daily Show” via internet, by myself while Emiko and kids were getting cough medicine from the pediatrician.

2. Abe and Yuki in good spirits. Yuki, after years of being a little rug rat, is turning into a young man.

3. Having my calls forwarded to my cell during the weekend has already paid off. After hearing so many people hang up without leaving a message, I looked up call forwarding, saw the price to be very reasonable ($8.00/mo?), and signed up. Today, when I returned the call I received over the weekend, I met a potential client/member. Another older young woman, 22, with not much life in her voice. Though she lives too far to commute to I CAN, we made an arrangement to keep in touch.

4. another $20 check trickles in. That means that 97% of our $1000 donation goal for a new barbeque grill and ice cream maker has been met. Do you remember the powerpoint presentation I gave in Feb or March? It was for this project. With just 3 more donations of $10, we will have acheived our fundraising goal. In fact, the barbeque and ice cream maker was purchased on my credit card when I was in the US in August, to save on freight. So this is really just a matter of re-imbursing myself at this point. But it will feel great to hit that $1000 mark!

5. Taking action on (part of) the paper pile: a medium-sized stack of returned mailings that has been sitting on the floor next to my desk for weeks has been re-addressed and re-sent. Wonder if the last 3 donations will come from this group…

6. A call from Jusco, the big shopping center/department store that I interviewed with 2 weeks ago. Apparently I CAN qualifies for thier 1% charity program, but they want to see I CAN a week from Wednesday, on the 19th. I may have to scramble to give us a more crowded atmosphere; however, I am not ashamed to show them how I CAN really works, and don’t really want to do any “performing.”

6. Wife Emiko came by I CAN this afternoon to get some help for her English class, which would be attended also by parents. It was a semi-unusual situation, with her in my workspace, but I was happy to be able to help her professionally. I don’t think she saw my disappointment when it turned out she didn’t need me as a classroom visitor today :(

8. A good English lesson with the hospital chairman, followed by a lesson cancellation, which made for an early night(!)

9. coming upstairs to the apartment, in from the cold, to find the heater on, the room toasty.

10. I came home at an inopportune time again tonight, meaning that the kids jumped out of their futons to greet me. Sometimes I have to get under my covers and feign sleeping to get them to settle back down. The winding-down talk, “Good night, Mom, good night Dad, good night, Eli, good night Yuto, sounded like something from the Waltons, until 2 year old Eli said, in perfect English, “Good morning!” and cracked us all up, under the covers.


Nov 7 Best 10

My eyes were stinging and I felt a seasonal bug coming on but the day had a few nice surprises:

1. K. (our oldest member: 26?!) reported that he got his motorbike license!! This is a vicarious Best 10, to be sure, but he has been trying to get this for more than 2 years! In fact, he's set it up in his mind that until he got a license, it would be impossible to get a job, part time or otherwise. This is a giant step for a man who, despite getting his high school diploma at age 21, hasn't moved forward much, since.

2. Akiko, who tutors at I CAN, interupted Kazuki and my driver's license celebration with news about a part time job opening, sorting and packaging educational materials that seemed right for I CAN's older members. Kazuyuki, to my surprise, says he wants to interview for the job. (He's on a roll)

3. The Rotary Club lunch featured some incredible smoky-mushrooms-and-tofu dish that I have never imagined. Great to notice the flavors. As a bonus, today's speech was about the history and making of miso, that staple of the Japanese palate. We all got free samples:)

4. My meeting with the manager of the health club (they have "Curves" franchises in the US, right? Here, too) did not result in a new sponsor for I CAN. On the other hand, I had another great, informative learning experience just by listening to him for an hour. Quite possibly more valuable than a measly donation...

5. Despite the above meeting ending just as the banks were closing at 3 on Friday, the two banks I CAN uses to receive student payments allowed me to submit my accounting sheets authorizing the bank transfers after they had just closed their doors today. Don't get me started on the banking system here, but if you want to read a former rant of mine, check this old blog.

6. After the bank run, I stopped by the English Conversation School for a cup of coffee and found wife Emiko there, doing the same thing. She apparently locked herself out of our house in a mad rush to her classes this morning. Nice to enjoy a cup with Emiko and Yuko and the staff there, as it rained outside.

7. Third night this week with dinner at home. Children were relatively non-wild and we had a (nother!) pleasant meal together

8. Returned to I CAN where Akiko was tutoring Hirofumi. She had more ideas for I CAN, including making wood block prints and calling a calligraphy teacher. Sometimes she gets overly enthused about ideas that don't work, but these seem to have potential. She also introduced a kitchen facility open at night where the older girls from Wednesday night could try some cooking. We've been wanting to do that for a long time, but our meeting times have been too late to rent any city facilities. Until now. Today I am thankful for Akiko!

9. I got home again just in time to wake my kids up at 9:30. This can have disasterous consequences, but tonight their futon-warmed hugs and calls of "Daddy! Daddy!" were the highlight of my day.

10. Writing this and being in bed before midnight!

November 6 10 Best Things

Yes, it gets hard coming up with BEST THINGS around numbers 6, 7, 8. But that’s the point. To stretch, to recall those moments that might have got missed if there didn’t have to be 10. So let’s see how it goes today:

1. Kids to pre-school smoothly. Not a big deal, but when it doesn’t go well it can color the whole day.

2. A bento box (lunch box) prepared for me by Emiko! This is a rare treat, and thanks to Yuto’s field trip today to the local park/museum, mom made a 2-fer, and I didn’t have to eat out for lunch today.

3. Easy day at I CAN. Our single morning student, Yuki, called to cancel. While it would be possible to worry about the lack of attendees here lately, I choose to take the easy days when they come, knowing that extreme busy-ness is right around the corner.

4. Squaring away some financial documents and Xmas party plans with Yuko at the English Conversation school.

5. Being able to suggest a fellow NPO group (”Junior Leaders”) who would love to help make balloon animals for the Christmas party. Feels good to be able to connect people.

6. Cleaning up by returning getting-old phone messages and emails.

7. Sneaking home for a 20 minute dinner between classes. I had a rare eye-to-eye talk with Emiko about how our day was (often we are too wiped out to do any real communication: DANGER!)

8. An email from a Peace Corps friend in Ghana, rejoicing about the US elections.

9. Unexpected $140 donation for I CAN in the mail :)

10. Beer and “Juno” video coming up…

Best 10 News, everyday for a month: a new way of journaling

In December, I have all the kids at I CAN write their 10 biggest news events for the past year. Personal events, like passing an important test, taking a trip, or meeting someone new. And I have often said that it would be an interesting experiment to write the best 10 events for every day rather than yearly.

The point? Well, it is related to gratitude, journaling and reflection. I am hoping that by making a commitment to writing 10 best things everyday, my appreciation for each event will increase (”a delicious dinner by Emiko,” “A great conversation with the man at the bank,”)

Part of the exercise is to stop to remember the good parts of every day. Even the little ones.

Here goes:

1 Beautiful, crystal clear blue-sky morning

2 soccer and laughter at I CAN

3 some good “management communication” with Abe, telling him how his negotiations with the horses-NPO might have gone better

4 choosing “variety salad” from the supermarket instead of “chicken wraps” from KFC

5 Watching the acceptance speech of Barak Obama

6 A good dinner at home, Yuto, Eli, Emiko and me sharing at the dinner table

7 When Yuto said, “I wanna help you, Daddy.”

8 Conversation with Mizuho’s mom and finalization of I CAN membership sign-up

9 Yurie’s payment of yearly dues

10 Laughter about Emiko’s and my poor use of each other’s language.


Hosting Visitors from Pennsylvania

Friday’s interpretation marathon is over.

I started the day kind of bristly, feeling used and taken for granted. I was able to mention that more lead time would be more respectful.

Then I met the gentlemen. They were exhausted from their travels, but enthused about their trip to this part of Japan. We visited local history museum, had lunch at a restaurant staffed by disabled young adults, then visited the therapeutic horseriding NPO in town. I was able to be a good guide for them, and in fact I know from hosting other visitors that this is “work” that I like. It’s easy to communicate what you like to someone who wants to hear it!

That evening they gave their presentations to a gathering of about 30 NPO groups. This was the part of the translating that I adamantly refused to do. I have no experience with simultaneous interpretation, and wouldn’t want to mis-communicate anything of importance! They hired a “pro” from the big city 100 miles away. Unfortunately, she was terrible. I literally had to jump in about 7 times to re-say what she thought she meant.

The contents of their presentations (about fundraising and corporate responsibility) were excellent, and actually close to what Charles Burke had been teaching me during our coaching sessions (now on break, by the way). The main ideas: have a good story, be able to tell it with passion, and then give people the opportunity to give and support you by asking for what you need. An excellent refresher lesson for me.

Hopefully, the organizers have learned that speaking a foreign language does not qualify one for translation/interpretation. It was a great learning experience, and I have gotten an inkling that “guiding” English speakers in this town is something worth exploring.

Though I wasn’t paid much for my day, the best benefit was meeting the NPO consultants from Pennsylvania. It feels like I did some good service for them, and they have offered to do some email consulting with me to say thanks (!)

All in all, I appreciated the little stretch their visit opportuned me.


International Dis-education?

Yesterday was parent-teacher conference day at the preschool. I was at work so Emiko went. In short, daughter Eli is fine. But son Yuto (and his parents!) have a few habits teach is not too pleased about. We arrive at preschool usually at about 9:15 or so. Doors open at 8:30, and we should arrive by 9:00. But it is a battle to get kids out the door, especially when son is testing about not having to go at all. Further, since I get home from work after everyone is asleep, I appreciate our relaxed mornings, breakfast together, conversations. Teacher says that this is just Father being selfish(!) and that it is more important for Yuto to arrive ON TIME, so that her schedule is not compromised.

That’s OK. Though I don’t appreciate the editorial, I can set the alarm earlier and arrive at school half an hour earlier.

But, that’s not all. They want Yuto to stop using English words at preschool. They say it is for “his own good” to learn in Japanese only. Apparently, they have corrected his English to Japanese several times (”no, not ‘bucket’, BA-KE-TSU”; “not spider, KU-MO”) etc. This may explain why Yuto asks everyday if he has preschool or not. I sure don’t think a 3 year old boy should have to look at someone’s facial expressions and consider the situation before he decides which word to use.

Emiko was angry about this development, too. We agree that they are denying a part of his identity when they refuse to respond to his English. And what a shame. They have a great ambassador for English education in their midst (Yuto, not me), but instead of saying, “Oh, a SPIDER! That’s how to say it in English?” They completely are shutting this part of him out.

Emiko says, “maybe we should think about changing preschools,” but Yuto already has a great group of friends where he is.

In a good development, Emiko’s mother fully supported her and her grandson, and told us to fight for Yuto’s RIGHT to express himself as he saw fit. That made Emiko happy. Also, the I CAN member’s reaction to this story was great.

Yuki, who at 14 has yet to calm down, and is usually bouncing off the walls from his diet of fast food and video games, and seldom has a serious word, says, “That really makes my heart hurt.” I looked to see if he was joking, but apparently he was really moved by this story. And remember May? She surprised me by saying, “Great! Now you can homeschool him at our house! We speak three languages: Japanese, English and Hebrew!”

Funny that you can get understanding from the most unlikely sources….

It looks like we will be continuing this discussion with the director of the preschool….


America, Where goeth thee?

There's going to be a new President, January 20, 2009. Whositgonnabe?


Creativity in the Classroom: Beautiful!

Here is a guy from England who gets it almost perfectly right.
His bit about "kids are being taught that being "wrong" is the worst thing that could happen"
speaks directly to the Japanese school system.

I'm going to watch this a few times, and I invite you to, too. (about 20 min, WELL WORTH IT!)

How to Blog...

I'm evaluating a multi-media course on blogging from the folks at Simpleology. For a while, they're letting you snag it for free if you post about it on your blog.

It covers:

  • The best blogging techniques.
  • How to get traffic to your blog.
  • How to turn your blog into money.

I'll let you know what I think once I've had a chance to check it out. Meanwhile, go grab yours while it's still free.



2 days ago, I buried myself in the "mystical" ceramic baked pellets made from a mysterious energy-giving "power stone" in a southern island in Japan. Kind of like a hot bath, the above title is the Japanified pronunciation and spelling of "Sand Bath." I have written before about my friend trying to multi-level market me, and get me to experience this health elixir.

So I let them bury me in mystery nuggets.  I sweated up a storm, and literally felt my hands and feet pulsating with the heat.  They told me this was my capillaries opening up, that my body was being cleaned from the inside out.  When I got out of the "sand," they filled it up with hot water again, and pointed knowingly at the film (yuk!) on the water.  "You have a lot of impurities built up in your back and neck. See?"  Well, I didn't really see, but I was not surprised when they recommended the extended course.

I don't think I will be back for a while.  The tension in my neck and shoulders did not vanish.  I had another healthy wild rice lunch there.  And I did feel a bit lighter. (Sweat/water loss?)

The rest of the day got worse.  I found out one of my English classes (where the little girls gave me valentine's chocolates last week) will be closed, starting next month.  An insensitive financial decision. Within the hour, I had to go tell the mothers that their kids would have no class to attend in 3 weeks.  I felt really betrayed by the English school, but perhaps, on reflection, perhaps that is the nature of the beast.  They see four expendible bodies, I see 3 girls and a little guy who love English, and who have improved, who look forward to coming and playing in English. I haven't felt that angry in a long time.

 To complete the day, I also found out there wasn't enough income in I CAN's vaults this month to pay my salary.

 Maybe I shouldn't have gone to the "sandobasu" after all! 

Then again, I could choose to believe that the rest of the impurities were being purged from my being....

On the next day, the kids at I CAN and I made bibimbap, the Korean dish, at a cooking facility in town.  A bit of work, but looking back, with shopping, cooking and eating, they had a very good Free-Schoolish day, full of teamwork and success.

Also, in an interesting development, the college student who came by to volunteer last month (FP1 gratitude card recipient) came back for the entire day, and spent the night until Thursday.  On Wednesday night, we had a good discussion about what he wants to do in the future, and it looks like it may be possible for him to work for a cram school here in town while helping I CAN during his off-hours.  It looks like there should be a way to make a win-win for everybody with this guy.

Of course, I've only known Abe san for 3 days, and I don't know how he will be with kids, but they seem to like him, and it seems like a worthwhile avenue to pursue.

Finally, on my scorekeeping front, the scale read 68 kilos when I went to bed last night, a new low(!)


Another blog about Dieting. How Mundane.

Today I was trying to be mindful of food. The upshot was that I was mindful of this goal all day, and not just when I was eating. My mind is very much on what is going into my body these days. In a way, I think that is a good thing: mindfulness. However, I think that thinking too much about this “diet” will undermine the results I am after. Don’t want to be food-obsessed.

I had a glass of water and a bowl of cereal for breakfast, with half an apple.

For lunch we went with I CAN to the “bento shop” which makes hot, boxed lunches for take out. I chose a vegetable stir fry, and we had rice we cooked in the classroom along with miso soup and some kimchee. Actually I am hoping to get the nutritionist who works 3 doors up the street to come give a volunteer presentation for our group. Some of them have instant cup-ramen noodles for breakfast (if anything), fast food for lunch. I don’t know about dinner, but I do know they are pretty sedentary. Gaming and all. Hopefully I can show off some results before scheduling the nutritionist’s visit.

I noticed that at lunch I felt really hungry, and everything tasted good. I tried to slow down and taste the food rather than inhale it. The 13 year old boys surrounding me (and Japanese males, generally) are pretty good at wolfing down food. They learn it at school where, if it takes only 5 minutes to eat your lunch, you can have 30 whole minutes for recess. You can see salarymen slurping noodles at the “standing only” counters at the train stations. Food eating champions become TV idols.

I was able to come home at 6:30 to have a shortened dinner with my family before returning for classes. Emiko baked salmon, made a tomato salad and a spinach/bonito flake side dish. Water. Again, it tasted better. I tried (with 2 toddlers vying for attention) to focus on the process of eating. Then rushing off to night classes at I CAN.

I feel a little lighter today, less sluggish. Day four without beer though I kind of wanted one while watching the latenight broadcast (in English!) of Desparate Housewives...