October: The Start of Chilly Mornings

This morning was the first day of the season that felt quite cold. I spent most of the day shivering, until I finally put on leggings and a sweater in the afternoon. The chilliness made holding a cup of steaming coffee after breakfast seem all the more enjoyable, and the sun streaming through the windows brought the slightest bit of warmth to the otherwise crisp air.

Second to spring, autumn is my absolute favorite season.

I like wearing loose sweaters, feeling the sharp air on my face, and baking pies. I like eating steaming nabe (Japanese hot pot dishes, such as boiled cabbage with mushrooms and chicken), and wrapping myself in a soft, warm scarf (マフラー in Japanese).

Living in Japan means that the feeling of fall is also just a bit different from what I grew up with..  (more…)

Multicultural: Creating Our Family Culture

As a multicultural family, there are all sorts of cultural habits and holidays to adjust to create our own family culture.

My husband Masashi is native Japanese and also lived in Uganda, while I am from America. Our family is a unique blending of cultures and languages. His mother cannot speak English. My parents cannot speak Japanese (though my mom is learning it).. and at our home in rural Japan, we often speak a mix of Japanese, English, and “Japanglish“.

Beyond the background of where we grew up, we have multiple other differences, such as related to our educational upbringings.. and we’ve spent time living in both the Kanto and Kansai regions of Japan (which are different culturally, even within the relatively compact island country).

Some of my family members were also more recent emigrants from Europe (not hundreds of years ago as is the case with many American-European “mutts”, but within the last century), and bilingual. This means my family heritage is not fully diluted.

And it creates a lot of questions.. (more…)

How To: DIY Organic Rose Water

(Pictured: a Mr. Lincoln rose in our garden)

I grew up surrounded by roses, and when my husband and I moved to the country, I knew that I wanted to grow them. Roses are my favorite flower because of their beauty, scent, and symbolism.

I love watching roses bloom, and appreciate that they are a very hardy plant. Even in Japan’s climate of sometimes extreme weather, our roses have continued to be healthy and bloom continuously throughout the months.

Yet, it seems wasteful that occasionally the heavy rain causes blooms to wilt. After this happened a few times, I began to think about ways that I could make the most of these favored flowers, even if preserving them indefinitely is impossible.

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Tips for Healthy Boundaries: Technology

Living in a different country from the one where I was born means I cannot visit my family or old friends as frequently as I would like. So, I truly appreciate the ability to stay connected using the internet.. can you imagine waiting for handwritten letters to arrive by ship overseas, like in centuries past?

Having the ability to keep updated with family and friends is a blessing.

On the other hand, the internet has a dark side that I’m sure I don’t need to explain. Even within the nearly 10 years that I have used social media, its usage has evolved. Social media, instant messaging, e-mail, and the internet in general has changed the way that we communicate. (more…)

A Ribbiting Oasis: Our Frog Pond

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During the summer, our house is surrounded by frogs of all shapes and sizes.

There is the lone, fat frog dubbed the “guard frog”, who hides in leaves by day, and chills alone in the pond by night.. and there are dark green, neon lime, brown, and other small frogs that rest on the top of rose blooms, or climb up to greet me at the second-story windows.

Once I switched the window screen in our bedroom from one side to the other, only to find that I had accidentally let a frog indoors!

If you are frog-squeamish, our home is definitely not for you. But, despite tending toward the squeamish side myself, I have come to appreciate my four-legged friends (and will miss them in the winter!). (more…)

Obon and the Last Hurrah of Summer

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It is nearly time for the Obon festival (お盆), or Festival of the Dead. Obon is a holiday season in Japan that began as a Buddhist tradition of honoring one’s family ancestors.

The holiday is observed during different times of the year depending on the region of Japan, so it falls around mid-July or mid-August. It is not an official government holiday, but most companies take off time during the festival. In the region where we live, Obon is observed from about August 11th-15th.

Traditionally, it was thought that during Obon, the spirits of ancestors would travel to this world to visit family members. While not everyone may still hold this belief, Obon is seen as a time for reuniting with family, respecting one’s ancestors, and visiting and cleaning the cemeteries where family members are memorialized.

Since my husband and I are Christian, we do not practice Buddhist customs or believe in the spiritualism of Obon. However, the festival is a time of reunion, as it is one of the few times a year when family can take off time from work. This year, our aunt, uncle, and sister on Masashi’s side will travel to visit. (more…)

Slow Breaths and Fruitful Life

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(Pictured: a cosy garden we spotted in England)

We are ever-so-slowly learning how to homestead (see here), and this summer I started a garden. I’m still in awe that we’ve managed to grow anything!

Even though I had experience gardening as a kid, it still feels different to take full ownership of a garden. My husband and I started by cutting down untamed plants, and covering the ground with a black tarp to clear the weeds that had taken over. We could have started planting in the spring, but soon after moving, we went on a “belated honeymoon“, and planting was delayed until early June.

I decided to start small, by filling in a raised garden bed of stone at the front of the house. We removed the tarp off of the bed, and let the ground recover. Then I planted flowers, and scattered seeds in the remaining spaces: roses, cosmos, forget-me-nots, lupines, lavender, and lemon balm, among others.

My mind was still full of the gardens in Ireland and the UK, and I imagined creating a cottage-garden style bed full of flowers of all different shapes, sizes and colors.

However, it was not that easy. (more…)

Rejoice in Suffering

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After one miscarriage in January, the idea of becoming pregnant again made me feel nervous. My first miscarriage was somewhat traumatic, both physically and emotionally.

I cringed when friendly but oblivious people patted my stomach and asked, “so, when are you going to have kids?”. Sometimes people would check in with me – are you feeling better now? I wondered how to answer appropriately.. losing a child is not an illness that you recover from – it is a loss. Yet I also understand how hard it is to know the right words to share.

Enjoying pregnancy with the same innocent, cheerful anticipation is more difficult after suffering loss. Conversely, birth becomes more amazing when you appreciate its complexity and gift. It’s easy to forget how incredible it is to have children. God made that happen. It is impossible to orchestrate on our own. No amount of vitamins or workouts can ever guarantee that your body will be able to carry a baby to full-term. I now have an irrevocable sense of awe about the entire birth process.

Though our first pregnancy ended in miscarriage in January, my husband and I eventually decided to try for a new baby. Pregnancy didn’t happen right away- but soon, it did. (more…)

As Walls Shake and Rivers Overflow

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(Pictured: fallen trees in Hyogo after the heavy rainfall in Southwestern Japan in July of 2018)

A large area of Southwestern Japan was recently hit with record rainfall, and as of the last time I checked the news report, more than 90 people had passed away from this latest natural disaster, and dozens more were still missing. Rescue workers are working hurriedly to save more people as floodwaters rise, and landslides continue as the fragile, wet earth is exposed to more and more water.

Our county in Hyogo prefecture was one of several that received purple-level (the highest level) emergency warning, and although we did not have to evacuate, our alarms blared through the night at 11:30pm and again at 2:30am on July 6-7th as rain hurtled toward the ground.

It was the first time either of us had heard phone and radio alarms related to rainfall, which are usually reserved for severe earthquakes. My husband and I have lived through multiple natural disasters and dangers in Japan, including typhoons and earthquakes.

It can be easy to become desensitized to the grim death counts published by the media, or for each disaster to seem like yet another false alarm. (more…)

Rainy Season: Drowsy and Electric

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When I came to Osaka six years ago in June of 2012, I experienced my first Kansai summer. At the time, it was also my first encounter with heavy humidity. It seemed novel then (rain.. in summer?!), but later after making the move to Japan, I would discover the ills that a humid summer can bring.. including heat rash, swollen mosquito bites, and typhoons.

Summer has never been a particularly favorite season of mine, especially when it means staying indoors due to heat, rain, or both. Yet, despite the downsides of a wet and sticky season, there is something about summer that is both drowsy and electric, punctuated by the popping of 花火 (hanabi: fireworks) and the buzz of insects. 

It seems fitting that as I write this blog post, the rain streams sideways against the window glass, and my ears are full of the sounds of overflowing gutters. 

However, it was 3 years ago, while living in Asakusa in Tokyo, that I first began to describe the feeling of an island summer, as sampled below.

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