Our Japanese Visitors

About three weeks ago I responded to a call on the Urban Mamas blog for families who were willing to host a Mother and Child (or children) visiting from Japan. Many areas of the country, particularly in the Tohoku region, have been affected by radiation from the leaking nuclear power plant in Fukushima. The effect this has had on the day-to-day lives of people who live in the region is enormous. Playgrounds are empty because parents are asked to keep their children indoors, food that once came from local farmers is now being shipped from across the country, electricity rationing means that air conditioning and elevators are turned off, even in high rise apartments.

But the thing they worry about the most is the health of their children. I can’t imagine a mother who would not want to remove her child from the potentially harmful effects of radiation, even if only for a short time.

And so we put up our hand and were contacted by Mayumi, a young mother with a two year old child who had the means and the motivation to leave. Just for a few months, but enough time to give her daughter the chance to run around outside for the Summer and heal some of the damage that may have already been caused by exposure to radiation.

Mayumi and Karin arrived today after a very long flight and Karin made herself home in no time at all. Thomas has taken her under his wing and Samuel is cautious, but friendly – which is the most we can ask for given he had to give up his bedroom and his space is now being infiltrated by a being of similar size, stature and cuteness.

I will definitely be back to share stories about Mayumi and Karin’s visit and the impact they are already having on our lives. But, for now, I have time to share just a few photos -mainly for Karin’s Daddy who is so far away and undoubtedly already missing his little girl.


On Being an American Mother

Growing up in Australia, my primary understanding of American childhood and adolescence were the images that came from the TV and movie screen. Happy Days and Grease (High school in the 50s), Family Ties (Family life in the 80s), Beverly Hills 90210 (High school angst in the 90s), Sesame Street (childhood with Muppets!).

Now, I realize that these representations of middle-American life are more stereotypical than true to life, but they gave me enough information to appreciate the many differences that existed for those wonderfully cool and attractive people that lived on the other side of the world, most notably…

  • School cafeterias
  • School buses
  • Cheerleaders
  • Jocks and football, track, basketball…etc. (but, strangely, few female sports)
  • Proms, homecoming dances and people who were given royal titles for such occasions.
  • Being able to drive yourself to school!
  • Lots of partying and drinking

Note: none of the above happened on Sesame Street. What I learned primarily from that show is that people and monsters can live side-by-side in harmony.

Right now, Kei and I are catching up on the one and only season of Freaks and Geeks. I don’t think the show ever made it to Australia and, if it had, I can’t help thinking that my view of the American adolescence may have been a little less bright and shiny and a little more like my own Australian experience (minus the cheerleaders).

I was the least popular girl in one of the slightly popular groups. We were not quite outcasts but we definitely lived near the fringe of school life.  I was in the singing group (think Glee but with less impressive choreography), I played a minor character with a solo in the school production of Oliver!, I got mostly A’s but a few B’s (until they changed the grading system and I started getting S’s and C’s). For the most part, I flew under the radar and I knew, without a doubt, that my life would get better when I went to University.

And it did. Phew!

Now I find myself raising children in the world I saw on television and not the world I knew. Sure, there are similarities, but my kids will eat in a cafeteria, one day ride an iconic yellow bus to school… and then there’s the sports.

Thomas just finished his first season of T-Ball. Two practices and one game each week for three months. He’s only five. In two years he’ll have to try out for the team. On the one hand, I am excited that he’s growing up and spending time outside and, right now, seems to enjoy himself. On the other hand, I’m a little afraid of this brand new world that we’re both moving in to – the world of school buses and organized sports.

One thing’s for sure, though, I have never felt quite so much like an American mother as I did when I watched Thomas at his final T-Ball game of the season. And, while I felt as though I were having an out-of-body classic-American movie experience for some of the time, it was fun to watch my little boy run the bases.

And the best part? I can tell him about my couple of seasons spent playing with the Ferntree Gully Fireballs T-Ball team. Despite the fact that many of his other childhood adventures will also be new experiences for me, we’ll always have T-Ball.

I guess we’ll learn the rest together.

A Weekend Well Spent

There is nothing better than returning to work on a Monday with the feeling that your weekend was well-spent. This weekend I had the perfect mix of getting some work done around the house (painting started but laundry not quite finished), time with the girls (hello, karaoke!) and family time that also included a whole lot of bike riding. No wonder I slept so well last night, although I could easily have done with a couple more hours. I’m waiting for my second coffee to kick in and get me through the rest of the day.

For my I heart faces entry this morning, I chose a photo that I took while we took part in Portland Sunday Parkways. The challenge is “whimsical” and I suppose this fits the bill…

Had to borrow a friend’s child for the photo because my two boys would rather do anything than run around under a sprinkler and get wet.

This week promises more house painting, prepping Samuel’s bedroom for Japanese guests (SO excited!), more laundry and, hopefully, a little time to squeeze in some photo editing, car cleaning and maybe even a pedicure. Bring it!

Five Things Friday: Inspired by Wes Anderson Cocktail Parties, French Street Artists and More…

This weeks Five Things Friday is a wonderfully random adventure.

1. If I lived in Sydney I would do everything I could to attend this Wes Anderson themed Cocktail Party.

From the Frankie Magazine Website:
“There will be Steve Zissou inspired burlesque, Wes-themed DJing, goodie bags for the first 50 through the doors, and of course, cocktails! The best dressed will also win a monogrammed bams & ted suitcase, a la Darjeeling Limited.”

Since I am about a million miles away from Sydney, I think I’ll have to console myself this weekend by watching Rushmore for the 37th time with a Royal Tennenbaums chaser.

2. Got a spare 25 minutes? Spend it watching this TED talk by JR, a French Street Artist who pastes massive photos human faces on public “canvases”. Don’t have 25 minutes? Then watch it in shifts. You won’t be sorry.

3. If I were even a little bit crafty, I would make this frame tent for my boys…

4. This blog post reminds me of why I miss traveling to work on public transport: Lessons We’re Learning Riding Mass Transit. (via Zen Habits blog)

5. Of course I could cut down on my commute dramatically if had one of these in my back yard. (Via Poppytalk Blog)

Plans for this weekend include Karaoke, a fun bike ride and a quite a bit of painting in our back room. I hear the sun may even come out for us in Portland.

Happy weekend.

Celebrating Fatherhood

Unless you’ve been living under a rock in America, you’ll know that today was Fathers’ day. A day that, thanks to it’s close proximity to U.S. graduation, earned the unfortunate marketing phrase “Dads and Grads.” It’s sad that Dads don’t get their own marketing phrase. Fathers’ Day falls in September in Australia and does not conflict with any other major holidays. I’m sure that’s by design.

But I digress. Today was about celebrating the dad in our life – the Yin to my Yan – the one who makes this whole parenting thing a true partnership and provides balance. The one who makes up for my weaknesses with his strengths.

The man who will get down on the floor and wrestle. Who will talk through an issue when I just want to put them both in time out. Who persists with the bike riding and the T-ball and everything else that I (honestly) don’t have the energy for. That’s what makes this whole parenting together thing so perfect.

Happy Fathers’ Day to the man who helped me bring two wonderful little boys into this world. I truly could not do this without you.

This photo is also my entry in the latest I Heart Faces challenge, “Let’s hear it for the boys.” Ok, now I have that song stuck in my head for the next couple of days…

Cause for Celebration: 1000 Blog Posts

Turns out that I passed the 1,000 blog post mark this week while I wasn’t paying attention.

This is post 1,004. Wow.

That’s a whole lot of stories, photos and ramblings… And I have a couple of readers so it’s more than just talking to myself.

This adds just one more item on a list of things Kei and I will be celebrating at date night tonight, a list that includes:

  • a new job (for Kei)
  • the end of Pre-K (for Thomas)
  • a special family coming to visit us for the month of July (I’ll share more as we firm things up)
  • an almost-finished backyard deck
  • AND finally some sunshine in Portland (to enjoy that deck)

Life is good. I think I might treat myself to a cocktail. Cheers!


5 Things Friday: Children’s Books Worth Reading More Than Once (because you always read them more than once)

I became accustomed to reading the same books over and over again with child number one. But then along came child number two and those books that I grew bored with the first time around became just plain painful when reading them for the 80th time. So it comes as quite a treat when, every now and then, a childrens’ book comes along that just begs to be read over and over. And when my children and I find delight in that very same book, it serves as a magical break from those annoying books adapted from TV shows, or WAY too much Dr. Seuss (as much as I love him, his books are LONG and very repetitive).

To honor those special books that I wish my children would choose more often, I present my top 5 – although I could have easily expanded the list to 10 or 20, I’ll save that for future posts. Here’s my personal criteria for a good childrens’ book:

  • Good story – one that is original and clever and will not get old the 3rd (or 5th or 20th) time around.
  • Great illustrations that look like pieces of art – critical because I am Taurus and apparently we are attracted to pretty things.
  • A lesson or moral of some sort – Not absolutely critical, but it nice when the story carries the conversation with my children beyond just the book.
  • Not too long – this criteria alone cancels out Dr. Seuss.

The Top 5

1. The Way Back Home by Oliver Jeffers. 

I bought this book in Australia a few years ago and it quickly moved Oliver Jeffers to number 1 on my all time list of favorite children’s authors. While all of his books are wonderful and quirky, this one about a boy and a martian who help each other out when they become stranded on the moon is just wonderful. Bonus points for the Aussie/English version that we own because it uses words like Petrol and spanner which are translated in the American version.

2. Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems

I am so thankful that Mo Williams decided to release a couple of follow ups to this book because our copy of the original is literally falling apart at the seams. The story of a lost toy appeals to parents as well as toddlers and I love how he mixes illustration with black and white photos of New York. Favorite line of the book: Trixie was so upset “she went boneless.”

3. Zen Ties by Jon J. Muth

Almost every family we know has a copy of Zen Shorts, the first in this beautiful series of three books about a giant Panda called Stillwater. Zen Ties, the second in the series, is my favorite thanks to the appearance of Stillwater’s cousin who speaks only in Haiku. I love the use of Buddhist parables to teach a lesson and the slow, calm  pace of the book. Perfect just before bedtime.

4. I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato, Lauren Child

Charlie and Lola has been a favorite in our house for a long time but this book is a new addition. Charlie is the older brother who is always dealing with his “small and very funny” sister, Lola in wonderfully inventive ways. In this book, Lola is a very picky eater so Charlie tries to trick her into eating things by pretending they are something else (mashed potato is really cloud fluff). Fun books to read (especially when I put on my English accent) and this one earns bonus points for convincing Samuel to eat edamame (green drops anyone?). It’s also worth checking out the adorable TV series that’s available on Netflix, but make sure you buy the books that Lauren Child wrote herself, not the ones adapted from the series.

5. The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

I bought this book as a present from the Easter Bunny because of it’s Spring theme. The story is lovely but it’s the illustrations that really drew me in. Each time we read it together it seems we discover something new in the highly detailed and beautifully colored pictures. I think we’re definitely going to add a few more of Peter Brown’s books to our wishlist.

So there you have it – a few of my favorites. Please share your own in the comments and help me build our library. I’m on a quest to phase out the Thomas the Tank Engine book that plays music and every new addition gets me closer to my goal.

Not Quite Wordless Wednesday: Five Minutes Before He Disappeared

Meet Wicket, Thomas’ beetle that he grew from a meal worm for a school project. You can imagine my joy when they sent him home so we could continue his upbringing.

This photo was taken just before Thomas decided to let Wicket explore his toy castle.

How a black beetle disappeared so quickly in the space of five minutes left us all stumped. Despite a thorough search, it seems Wicket is now roaming free somewhere in our house. I wish him the best in new life and hope he doesn’t fall victim to the suction of the vacuum when the cleaners come tomorrow.