Thursday, February 27, 2014

Food in Japan: Attack your snacks.

Ahh, the first post of what I hope will become a regular series:

Food in Japan. 

There are so many beautiful and breathtaking and curious and wonderful things about Japan. Right up there on the list is the food. 

And it's not what you're thinking. 

Sure, I loved a good sushi roll (or ten) over a glass of wine (or ten) with my girlfriends when I was in college. And my naive little self thought that it would be 'awesome-girlfriend-sushi-night!' every day once we moved to Japan. Then I arrived; pregnant with morning sickness that could rival a junkie on day three of meth detox. Nauseous and throwing up all day in a country that smells like fish. 

But I had to be a good gaijin! I had to eat all the fish! Fatty tuna! Fatty Salmon! And... wait a minute... why isn't it rolled up with scallions and and cream cheese and where is the decorative drizzle of that mayonnaise based deliciousness? And does that menu really say 'chicken womb'?!

Don't get me wrong; now that the childbearing time in my life is no more, I will indulge in the authentic (and culinarily supreme) sushi that is sold all over Japan. However, during those first couple of years when I was making and having babies, fish in Japan was not my jam. 

When we lived in Misawa, our neighbor would go fishing on the weekends and bring us back fresh squid. He invited us over and demonstrated how to properly cut the slippery cephalopod and how to use every part of the thing. You eat it all; some raw, some cooked. My legs wobbled, and my mouth watered from fighting the very intense and very real urge to vomit all over their bamboo cutting board. 

It was somewhere between my first experience at a kaiten sushi and watching our neighbor (whose name, ironically, is Misawa) separate the mantle from the funnel of the squid that I became… opinionated.

And I was totally in the closet about it. Jeff would invite me to lunch or dinner with his coworkers and I would go, reluctantly. I would scan the menu, select the safe entree and avoid those that seemed suspect. But all the while I was secretly in anxious agony, completely expecting a my gut to flip flop at any moment. But I would smile and act excited about the wonderful opportunity to eat authentic Japanese cuisine while living in Japan. I couldn't let on that my palate wasn't up to par; how gaijin can you get!?  

One particular evening Jeff and I were invited to a celebratory affair at a very Japanese (as in, usually do not serve Westerners… we were with Jeff's Japanese friends and this was the only reason we were granted entry) establishment; fugu was the main attraction. 

Being a once in a life time opportunity, and not wanting to offend our hosts, I did partake in the fugu gamble. And it was not bad at all. And it didn't kill me. Dinner WIN. 

After almost six years of living in Japan, I can honestly say that I now am one of those people who rave about the food. I have come a long way from the flip flopping tummy; once I got over myself (and my gag reflex) I was able to really appreciate all the wonderfulness around me. 

I didn't go all total emersion; I started small. Baby steps to loving the Japanese-way-of-eating.  

If you want to learn to love a different cultures cuisine, start with the snacks. 

Walk into any connivence store, market, grocer, train station… all over Japan in all the different stores there are all sorts of SNACKS. Just grab a pack, any pack, and give it a try! 

These little corn puffs are snacking perfection. I love every thing about them; texture, flavor and packaging. Although, that peanut man lied to me… there was not a single peanut in that bag. Nonetheless, I am in love with this caramel corn (sweet corn puffs; not popcorn). To the point where, if I could, I would have a third child just to to name him or her Tohato. 

Don't judge me. I am Frito name my imaginary third child after a Japanese snack food if I want.

So, if you find yourself in a foreign land, intimidated by the gastronomic selections… just go for the snacks. You will build confidence in selecting new things, and chips are almost universally delicious. Before you know it, you will be ordering off of a menu written entirely in a different language, asking the waiter to bring you whatever the chef recommends.  

Friday, February 21, 2014

If you're going to make a kid, make them weird

Hands down one of the most unexpected joys of becoming a parent: witnessing your child's developing personality. 

I could talk about how unique every soul is. I could talk about how we are perfectly designed to be the way God intended us to be. And that is all poetic and beautiful and so on and so forth....

However (and take note, parents) now is the time to teach your child how to be the fun and funny sort of human you would choose to spend time with, outside of genetic obligation. 

Kids are impressionable, and if you say 'comin' atcha!' enough times, then one day they will make your heart swell with pride and your eyes swell with tears of laughter when they say just that. 

I'm still working on proper application of the comin' atcha in conjunction with the use of air guns, but I don't want to put too much emphasis on that; they are only 5 and 2.5 years of age. I'm not asking for advanced hilarious weirdos, just above average. 

Honestly, I really am striving to teach my children to think off the beaten path. To ask silly questions and come up with off the wall responses. To see magic in the mundane. 

On a car ride the other day, as Noah was thoughtfully looking out the window, he turned to me and asked 'Mom, are my undies drunk?'.

I love imagining what his thought process was before he asked this ridiculous question. He overheard a conversation I was having with a friend about a drunk driver; and his undies do have cars on them. Could that be it? How would you respond to that question? Do you go into an off the cuff lesson on past and present tenses? Do you talk about responsible alcohol consumption? 

(For the curios, I asked if his undies would like some lemonade. I jokingly explained they would drink the lemonade, they drank the lemonade, and then the lemonade was drunk. This seemed to satisfy is silly question.)

This afternoon, Noah was talking about the Hulk. He was talking a mile a minute when he suddenly slowed, obviously thinking, and said to me 'He is back to Bruce. He calmed down. He must be doing yoga.' This train of thought tickled me pink. 

And when he saw that I enjoyed his little antidote he was so proud. I hope that, in listening to him and expressing my joy in him, he feels comfortable sharing his creative thinking with me and then the world. 

Far too often, people (even adult people, not just child people) fear they will look ridiculous or silly if they show their creative ways of thinking. And maybe that is the case in certain crowds. But if parents teach their children that it is ok to be silly, it's ok to be creative and to think outside of the box... then soon we will have a whole society of little, creative, funny weirdos. And how amazing would that be?

So, for the sake of humanity... if you are going to make a kid, make them weird. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Get your School on... at home. Some call it Homeschooling... whatever.

If you have been reading this blog since its inception (or if we are friends on FaceBook... or in Real Life... heck, even if we just met at the park...) then you likely know the trials  and tribulations we have experienced when it comes to Noah and his speech development. And you likely have heard me celebrate when a milestone is reached or marvel in his accomplishments and sweet, sweet soul. 

Noah has been attending a preschool here on Ikego Base called PSCD (Preschool Child Development) since he was three years old. It is for children, ages three to pre-k, who would benefit from services in one area or another; speech, occupational therapy etc. He has an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) based off of his current goals and the areas (speech, social, fine or gross motor)  that he needs to work on. Each year his teachers, other professionals that work with him and myself meet to go over his past goals, talk about his progress, and set new goals for the school year. There are parent/teacher conferences along the way, and, obviously, daily reports. 

Noah has now graduated from speech therapy. He still attends PSCD and very much enjoys going to school and playing with his friends. He is working on a lot of kindergarten prep alongside his sweet classmates, many who have been in the program with him since they were three years old as well. It has been nothing but GOOD for him and I adore and appreciate the teachers and professionals that have helped Noah come out of his shell and not only thrive, but be 'seen'. 

With all that said, however, there is a part of me that feels like Noah is now ready for a bit more of a challenge. Therefore, after much soul searching and evaluating and re-evaluating my reasoning... I have decided to start Homeschooling Noah.

And, wouldn't you know, I have opinions, y'all. 

First of all, I don't plan on taking Noah out of the PSCD program unless I am told to. There are several new three year olds in the program who started after the new year that require a lot of attention from the teachers. And since Noah no longer 'needs' services there is a chance they might tell us he no longer qualifies. 

However, I did not enroll Noah in PSCD just so he could work with a speech therapist. Beyond Noah TALKING, this has also been an invaluable life experience for my little guy. He is around so many different types of personalities at school. So he has learned how to get a long with all sorts of different people. He has seen good behavior and bad behavior and can recognize how bad behavior makes him and others feel... therefore he is mindful towards having good behavior himself. 

And, when next school year does roll around and Noah is ready to start Kindergarten, I am pretty sure that I will still send him to public school. All for the same reasons I mentioned above. I feel like, at least for my little guy, that the social and life skills that are learned from being a part of a group dynamic can not be replicated at home.

So why am I saying that I am Homeschooling?

Really, every mindful parent schools their children at home. You help with homework, you solve problems, you are involved in their education. To think that schooling starts and ends with a bell in a building is foolish and discounts the influence you have on your child as their parent.

So, when I say I am going to start Homeschooling, really I am just using a curriculum created for homeschooling families to supplement what he is already getting from his teachers at school. 

No matter where we are living, what school we are zoned to, what teacher my child is assigned to.... if I feel like they would benefit from a little extra work at home then of course I am going to supplement their education. Also, what a great opportunity to gear a subject 100% toward your child and the way that THEY learn! 

A lot of this sounds completely obvious, right? But, for some reason, I have been completely overwhelmed with a feeling of 'what-am-I-doing?!' and 'who-authorized-ME-to-raise-a-child!?!'. I felt stuck. I knew that should be working with Noah on letter and number recognition and dutifully purchased some Brain Quest workbooks from the book store. But this felt unorganized, forced, and a lot like the information was not sticking because he wasn't enjoying the process. 

So, like any good mother would do, I hopped on the internet and googled 'kindergarten prep homeschooling'. Then, like any good mother would do, I quickly closed my laptop, vowing I could never be one of 'those' mothers. I felt like I did not and COULD not measure up to these other homeschooling moms. And, who am I kidding, I am still sending him to a PUBLIC school, so how dare I call myself a homeschooler? And my craft supply cart is way too sparse to do ALL THE THINGS. And I have no patience. And there is no way he would WANT to learn from ME. 

Then I emailed Ali. 

Ali, you adorable lady, you. She's at the bottom. I am the third one up. I do believe that's a ribbon in my hair. Judge not. This picture was taken in the '90s, y'all! 

I have a lot of friends who Homeschool, and they all do a fantastic job. I have known Ali since I was in High School; she was my Young Life leader. And, glory be, we reconnected over FaceBook. And, thanks to social media, I have gotten to know her children. Pictures of crafts, projects, adventures... you name it. And, for the first time since I started entertaining the idea, I felt like it was something that I could do.

It also didn't hurt that Ali just keeps it real. With each link she sent she would preface 'Now, don't freak out... this woman must not sleep.' She shared with me what worked for her kids and what resources helped her. And I wasn't overwhelmed! I was actually excited!

My online carts were filled with supplies, and the 'place order' button was pushed. And, just like that, the wheels have been put in motion. 

Like it or not... I'm a homeschooler. 


Next up, what curriculum I have chosen and why. I can not wait to share what we will be working on! My goal is to share our experience with homeschooling/public school combo with other parents who feel the same way I did; who still want to send their children to public school but would like a structured learning environment at home as well. 

Also, please be kind! I know that some people take their decision to keep their children out of public school very seriously, and I very much respect the very personal decision each family makes in this regard. Please respect my decision to keep my son in the school system. I am very new to this and will likely make a lot of mistakes... which will hopefully turn into learning experiences:-)