Friday, December 30, 2011

Goodbye 2011!













2011 was our first full year in Sapporo, and what a wonderful year it was.  Family came to see us from the US, Nate got a full-time job as an ALT, and Ethan graduated from elementary school.  We survived our first Sapporo winter and didn't slip too much on the ice.  It's been a year filled with good friends and good times, and I cannot wait to see what 2012 has in store for us.  Happy New Year everyone!!!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Keihoku Commercial High School

Now that winter holiday is upon us here in Sapporo, I thought it'd be a good time to talk about my current teaching assignment, Keihoku Commercial High School.  Last year, as most know, I went to three junior high schools and several elementary schools.  I was asked last February if I'd be willing to become a high school ALT, and I jumped at the chance.  Teaching at the JHS level was fun, but I wasn't given much responsibility, and found myself with a lot of free time between classes.  This was fine at first, but as the year went on, I was itching to be more than read from a textbook.  I replaced my friend Maggie at Keihoku, and was able to help out a little in the summer with speech contest practice, so that was a nice transition.
Keihoku Commercial High School.  Lookin' the same as every other school in Japan.

With my ALT partner, Nick, we teach all six classes of OC1 (Oral Communication for first grade), and a Cross Cultural Communication Class as an elective for second graders.  I was nervous at first, because since I was coming to the school in August, I was essentially entering during the middle of school.  Nick and I split the OC1 classes in half - each of us teaching 20 students.  What I love most is that I run the class.  My JTE will prepare the lesson plans, but Nick and I implement them, so most of the class is entirely in English, which is really good for the kids, I think.  It's a lot of work, but I've loved having that responsiblity again.  CCCClass is nine second grade girls, and we basically talk about social issues and other important topics, trying to keep their communication only in  English, of course.  It's fun, and the girls are super sweet.
Smells like teen spirit.  On School Sports Day.

We also help out with the English Club, which meets once a week.  This year, it's only girls, but there has been boys in the past in the club.  We mainly help them with English Speech Contest, but we also do English lessons.  And parties!
Some of our English Club girls at a speech contest.

Our Halloween party.

And our Christmas party

I've loved working at this school for the past four months - the longest I've ever been at a school!  The teachers are great, the students are friendly, and I've felt totally welcome there.  I'd forgotten how nice it is to teach high schoolers (I started my teaching career teaching high school theater), and in a way, much of what I do at Keihoku is like teaching theater at Randall High School, but without the costumes!  If they'll have me, I'd love to continue at Keihoku next year!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Merry Christmas

'Twas the day after Christmas
And all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring
Not even a mouse.

Because we're exhausted.

Nate's taking a nap, Ethan's listening to music (his new pastime), and I'm on the internet (my forever pastime).  We're all recouping from a wonderfully fun and busy Christmas.

Ethan had us up at his usual Christmas time: 8:30.  This is really the first Christmas that Ethan didn't receive any type of toy - those have now been replaced with guitar accessories and music stuffs.  As Ethan wore his new headphones and Ramones t-shirt, Nate and I realized that Ethan has entered into his teenager uniform.  And I couldn't be happier about it; the boy loves the music we've introduced him to (ex. Nirvana, Weezer, The White Stripes).  Takuya gave him a Jimi Hendrix album.  And when he's not listening to  music, he's making it on his guitar.  Could this kid get any cooler?

Nate got lots of presents for his new hobby, running.  Let me tell ya, this boy is serious about his running. It inspires me to do something to get in shape (*cough, cough*  maybe in the new year...)

I received some makeup, clothing, chocolate (the holy trinity of presents), but perhaps my favorite present was the ukelele Nathan and Ethan bought for me.  Now I can learn an instrument!

Our Christmas isn't complete without our traditional breakfast of German apple pancakes and bacon and eggs.

Later that evening, we had some friends over for a Christmas party.  It was so great having so many of our friends over - eating and tons of yummy food, and lots of good conversation.  And of course, some guitar hero.  Gotta have that.

Today, it's windy and snowy out; a perfect day for cuddling inside and taking it easy after a long, fun Christmas day.  Even though we couldn't be with our family back home, we feel so lucky to have such wonderful friends here in Japan that have become like our extended family.  If I say that the friendships we've created this year are the greatest presents we've received this Christmas, is that too cheesy?  Ah, whatever, cheesy it is!  Happy Holidays everyone!!!!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

一期一会 (once in a lifetime chance)

As an actress, we were always taught to "live in the moment": to fully embody the present.  I mean, that's what actors do, to show something on stage as if it is happening for the first time.  However, this is a little harder for me to do in my personal life.  I'm either thinking about how I should have done something or what I'm going to do, and never truly appreciating what is going on at the present moment.

Case in point: Ethan is almost 13.  I think about this often, about how he is about to become a teenager, and how his voice is changing, and I'm not old enough to have a teenager, etc.  I'm so worried about what he might be, that I'm not appreciating what he is now - an awesome kid who still hugs me and tells me he loves me.

And just to brag a bit, Ethan was in his middle school drama class production of "A Christmas Carol".  He was young Scrooge.

My latest singing endeavors are another way I'm attempting to live in the moment.  For so long, I never thought I was good enough to sing for others, despite being told otherwise.  When I decided to let go of that fear, and do what I loved, it was like being set free!

Takuya and I had our third and (I think) best performance last night.  We sang in a cozy little cafe, with a few of friends, and some other customers.  For most of the time, I forgot about the crowd.  I was singing just to sing, and it was perfect.

I've come to treasure these moments I'm sharing with my family and friends, and not to look over them. And that's where my title comes in, 一期一会 (ichi go ichi e).  I learned this phrase last week from some of my students, and it couldn't have come at a better time.  It means, "once in a lifetime chance".  Isn't that such a perfectly simple little phrase?  We'll never have these moments again, each one is a gift.  I want to take advantage of each and every one.   

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Merry and Bright

Decorating for the holidays here in Japan has been a bit of a challenge for me: I'm not crazy about the decorations available here, and most importantly, I don't want to spend a lot of money on holidays decor, since we won't stay here forever.  My solution the last two years has been to make the decorations for our little tree.  Last year, it was origami, but this year I wanted something different.

Is it just me, or is our tree a little lopsided?

With the exception of the silver tinsel on the tree that I bought at the 100 yen store, everything was handmade by me.  I was super excited to learn how to make pom-poms this year, so the tree is covered with blue and white ones.  I enjoyed cutting the snowflakes out for the balcony window as well.  It's simple and modest, and I have to admit, I like it that way.  Although sometimes I do miss my silver tree and vintage ornaments from back home...

Monday, December 5, 2011

What's going on

Wow, I realized I haven't written on here in quite a while.  I've been pretty busy the last couple weeks.  Here's the short and sweet rundown of what's been happening around these parts:

  • We had Thanksgiving.
This year, Thanksgiving was eaten at Phred's Bar, a little hole in the wall gaijin bar run by a man that looks a lot like Santa Claus (Phred).  For 2500 yen, we ate all the turkey dinner we could stuff in our bellies, and boy, was I miserably full.  The walls of the bar were covered ceiling to floor with beer cans from every time period you can imagine.  Really interesting place.

  • It snowed.

We finally had our first big snow of the year about two weeks ago.  Then it got warm and melted.  Then it snowed again.  I think you see the pattern here.  The scarves, hats, and gloves are all out, and we're preparing outselves for another Sapporo winter.

  • I got a haircut

In Sapporo, there are three things that you can find almost anywhere: bars, ramen shops, and hair salons.  I swear, there's two or three around every corner.  But while there's a plethora to choose from, it can be rather scary for a foreigner needing a cut.  Can they speak English?  Do they have experience cutting Western hair?  This is only my third haircut since coming to Japan, and the last two times I went  to a salon called Earth, where a wonderful English-speaking stylist named Rie has done great things.  But it's a little expensive, and I'm always looking for something new.  Friday I went to a place called Lala, and found the stylist, Kengo, to be really amazing.  He also speaks Spanish, has a salon in Mexico, and has been to McAllen, Tx.  Pretty cool.  Lala was about 2000 yen less than Earth, so if anyone is looking for a great place to get their haircut, I highly recommend both places. 

  • I took the JLPT
Why did I take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test?  Really for no other reason than I wanted to challenge myself, and see how much I've learned since coming here.  I took the lowest-level test, and I've been studying for months and months.  I think I did pretty well - the vocabulary was pretty easy, but the grammar was a bit challenging in parts, as was the listening portion of the test.  In the end, I think I did ok.  I don't think I failed, at least I hope I didn't.

  • We ate okonomiyaki
Ok, so this isn't really news.  But man,  I love okonomiyaki!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Bachelor Pad

I've always loved home decorating, and Ethan's room particularly so.  When he was small, his room had a 1950's era cowboy theme.  I raided my friends' antique store, and was so proud of the work I did in there. Wish I had some pics with me.

When we moved to Japan, the only things Ethan brought for his bedroom was a map he'd made, a few Playmobil vikings, other small mementos to remind him of home, and some books.  As hard as it is for me, I've allowed Ethan to decorate his room as he pleases.  Ok, ok, so maybe I've had a say in the decoration a little....

We lovingly call this room Ethan's bachelor pad, as he's been spending more and more time in there, listening to music, or playing his guitars.  Wanna take a look around?

Ethan has filled his bulletin board with pictures of my uncle Herman, when he was a young man in WWII.  My mom was sweet enough to send Ethan copies of these.

Oh, that couch.  It was in the living room, until we bought a nice, new one.  But Ethan loves it.

Ethan's two guitars.  The acoustic we found in the apartment when we moved in, and the electric we bought him for Christmas last year.  I'm amazed at how much he's improved!

Besides playing guitar, Ethan's other hobby is making model airplanes, particularly WWII era.  These are not fun for me to dust.

Just a portion of the map Ethan made about 2 years ago.  It takes up one whole wall.

Ethan continues to sleep on a futon at night, which gives the small room much more space.  I think Ethan likes his room - I think it's important to have spaces you can call your own.  It's a little bit of Japan and America, I think.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

All the World's a Stage

This weekend, Ethan's school had a Shakespeare Festival.  It was performed by the junior high and high school students, and consisted of not only scenes from some of Shakespeare's greatest works, but also a Renaissance museum, Shakespearean food, and a minstrel.

Ethan was the minstrel.  He practiced classical guitar songs and everything!  

I was really impressed with the performances of the students.  Shakespeare is difficult to perform for native English speakers, and for most of these students, English is not their first language.  Great job HIS!!!