Saturday, January 20, 2018

Outtakes

A year ago today we were leaving Virginia. 


We went up to Okutama a few weeks ago to have some fun with a new camera lens. Unfortunately, the little valley was already in the shadows as the sun started to set. It was flippin' cold! Zoom in to see the outtakes in more detail. There's some pretty good stuff in there. Simon's faces. Sean's eyelids frozen open. Jude's crazy eyes. 


I have another post coming for our Japanniversary, but I can't quite stomach some of my own words. I am super, super homesick this week, so all of these pictures don't fill my heart with love for Japan. It is a beautiful place, but so is the moon and I don't want to live there either(that's one of my dad's lines :)).


I really just want to go home. 


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Teenagers

I wrote this post several months ago. It was in regards to something one of my kids did. The past few days, a different one of my kids has been in the throes of teenage-dom and has committed his own treacheries. We have all had many heart to hearts and have come up with all kinds of fresh leaves just waiting to be turned over. New Year's resolutions come early. I am most excited about our plan of attack and the period of rest that Christmas Break has brought. 

As I found this post funny enough not to delete the first time I wrote it, I figured I'd post it now, given we're on another wave of teenage. I kept their names out of it as I feel my thoughts apply to all teenagers. Plus,  the reader has to guess exactly what he did and which teenagers it was...(spoiler alert: I combined two separate instances involving both teenagers. As it turns out, all teenagers are boneheads.)

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I was going to give this post a different title, but I am trying not to swear via social media. I feel "teenagers" is sufficient. I also make no promises about the swearing thing as this post is about teenagers. If you're one of those people that says, "Teenagers are the best," I'm going to make a guess that you aren't currently raising one. I mean, I love my teenagers. I feel they get a terrible rap most of the time, but then they go and do something so completely asinine that they totally earn that bad rap.

I recently made the statement that my kid would never {fill in the blank with any random, stupid move}. New mothers, never ever say that your kid would never _____. Same advice for well seasoned mothers. Girl moms, boy moms, don't say it. You may be on a lofty pedestal of perfect parenting, but all kids are capable of making really stupid decisions.

Let me go ahead and state that I am not seeking advice, parenting or otherwise. There is nothing I dislike more than a mother who patronizes other mothers who are trudging up the same hill. We get it; you have it all figured out. I do not need advice unless you've raised a hard headed teenage boy and lived to tell about it. And even then...shh.

The thing about getting it all figured out is that just when you master some part of parenting, the kid changes. Or the circumstances change. You find yourself single parenting for a season. Or you end up with all boys. You move. Or your beautiful cherub turn into a teenager.

We tell our boys all the time that when they leave this house, they are representing our family. More importantly, they are representing God. A lot of the days, I pat myself on the back. When others praise how well behaved my boys are. When I hear someone speak of my boys about how respectful they are. When they keep their cool and act like they have sense and carry themselves in a manner that doesn't shout "all boy," I take pride in that.

Y'know what they say about pride. :/ One kid took me to my knees today, quite literally. He had a bad, bad case of rectal cranial inversion and did something pretty stupid. Stupid enough that it ruined the rest of my day. It's really hard not to take it personally when you pride yourself on instilling things like morals and values into them. Especially when they do something so contrary to all that you pour into them. It's hard to smile and act like nothing is amiss when your heart is breaking over your kid.

I got to go hold pre-pre-pre-pre teens in the church nursery recently. One little fella wouldn't let me put him down. It was for the best, honestly. I was able to cuddle and snuggle instead of fume and come up with creative punishments for the stupid thing my child did. Precious little babies took my mind off of the fact that I have no more precious little babies at home. Moms of precious little babies, the whole world is lying to you. It does not get easier. Everyone who told me that lie owes me a drink. An alcoholic drink. I will also accept coffee.

Thankfully, Sean got to run point on this particular issue. He is such an awesome dad. He has these amazing talks with them. Words of wisdom pour out of him and he relates to them in a way that I can not. The man to man talks are hilarious and fascinating and I know they have way more of an impact on our boys than any form of punishment. I see the design in God's plan for kids having a mom and a dad the most during situations like these. Sometimes I got it. I mean, I has gots. it. Sometimes I am floundering and have no flipping clue who these kids are or why they've been placed in my care.

By the time I got home from holding precious children who are not yet in the realm of teenage years, my anger still had not died down. I decided to take a walk. I got the only two beings in this house that don't backtalk leashed up and ready to go. It took me a full nine miles to gain some clarity on the situation. I had time to reflect on what it was like to be a teenager. I remembered, shamefully, some really stupid things I did. Times I put myself in bad spots. Times I hung out with the wrong crowd. Times I rode in the wrong car and could've gotten myself killed(Who was it that drove 120 mph from Florence to South of the Border? We made great time...). Times I lied to my parents. Times I did stuff way stupider than what my kid did. Oh how easy it is to forget that I was once an idiot with wonky hormones and a chip on my shoulder. I was a redheaded teen which amps up the stupid by a factor of a million. Redheads have crazy rage thrown in with the hormones and it's like, whoa. Sean told me he was wary of redheads as a teenage male. I think he may still hold those sentiments? I'm not sure, I'll check...

I realize that I can discipline, punish, guilt, cajole, blame my kid into certain behaviors. I can raise him up right. I can tell him stories. I can take him to church. I can live what I preach. I can do everything in my power to churn out a good kid, but only Jesus can change his heart. I have to be okay with that. I have to get out of the way and let Jesus work.

Back to my walk: It was somewhere in the midst of A Mighty Fortress is our God (I realize my choice of exercise music doesn't fit the status quo, but I did manage to walk 9 miles in 2 hours) that God started working on me. The stupid thing my kid did was in part due to the influence of a friend. I realized that part of my anger at my kid was also anger at his friend. I need my kid to be strong on his own two feet. His friend may have influenced him, but he made the stupid decision and carried it out. I had the "you're known by the company you keep" chat. I didn't bring up, "If your friend jumped off of a cliff" schpeel because he's a male and they aren't entirely against the idea of jumping off of things.
A Mighty Fortress is our God:

Did we in our own (parenting) strength confide,
Our striving would be losing(mmm hmm);
Were not the right Man on our side
The Man of God's own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth His name,
From age to age the same,
and He must win the battle(even with, especially with, teenagers). 

And though this world, with devils(I'm not saying teenagers are devils; I'm simply saying the two words could be interchanged in this particular example) filled,
Should threaten to undo us(PREACH!),
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us...

And so on and so forth.

By this morning, the boy had a change of heart. He came down remorseful and apologetic and came up with some of his own ideas about the situation. Mature ideas and decisions that he'd marinated on overnight. God was working. I am so glad I took that walk. Removing myself from the situation gave me a chance to chill and come home not completely glum about something he did. I was able to be angry and not sin. I was able to calmly say, "I am disappointed in what you did, but I love you." Sometimes that's enough. Sometimes it takes grounding them from all forms of everything fun, which also happened. 

While this situation was embarrassing and crappy and hard, I'm glad we got to hash things out. Teenagers are fascinating and I catch myself staring at the males in this house often wondering, "What could he POSSIBLY be thinking?!"<<---- See there? Didn't cuss. I actually wonder things that are a lot more colorfully worded than that, if I'm being honest. These chumps are a lot of hard heart work, but they're worth it. I sometimes catch a glimpse that something is getting through. I can't wait to see how they turn out.* In the meantime, I'll hold my breath knowing things can, and usually do, get worse before they get better. 

*Dear Lord, please don't let it involve jail time or homelessness or living in my basement.

Monday, December 25, 2017

His name shall be...

A few weeks ago, I was searching for a short article for my English students to read about how and why people around the world celebrate Christmas. One of my students told me that only maniacs in Japan celebrate Christmas. I think she may have meant "fanatics," but either way, it made me chuckle.

As far as I can tell, Japan is really into the lights and decorations and Santa and what not, but they do not celebrate the real reason. So basically, they view Christmas a lot like America.

While I was searching for a short, to-the-point article, I came across a ton of articles about why Christians shouldn't celebrate Christmas. I found articles about how all the traditions are rooted in paganism and I basically stepped away from my search feeling like I should burn my tree and throw away all the presents.

The thing is, though, everybody knows what Christmas is really about. The difference between how Christians celebrate and how everyone else celebrates should be noticeable.

Yeah, Jesus was probably born in the Spring. We get it. The tree? Okay, rooted in paganism. But get rid of all the fluff. Take away the presents and the mistletoe and the decorations. Ignore the pageants and productions and overpriced tchotcke. Forget baking and gingerbread houses and spreading cheer.

What's left? Jesus. 

No one can deny that the entire history of the world changed with the birth of this one baby. C.S. Lewis' argument of Liar, lunatic, or LORD always resounds with me. Jesus was one of 'em. All of history seems to point to one clear choice for me, for those who identify as Christians.

If God created it all. 
If Adam and Eve brought sin into the world.
If mankind's relationship to their Creator was broken.
If prophecies written were true. 

Then we are beholden to our Creator for...what?
Then redemption is possible. 
Then Jesus.

A few nights ago, Jude got me derailed with theology. The boys know if they start chattering about God, they'll hook me for more bedtime delays.

"I know that God died on the cross."-Jude
"Well, Jesus died on the cross, but what did he die for?"-me
"For his sins."-Jude
"No, he died for our sins."-me
"But then he rose again...<me, starting to pat myself on the back for such sound theology coming from a four year old>...I don't think Jesus is a good name; it sounds like "cheese."-Jude

Matthew 1:21: And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.

Seeing as how that's what He came to do, it seems Jesus was an appropriate name.

So what are we beholden to our Creator for? That sounds a little works based and the biggest difference between Christianity and every other major world religion is that the Bible says there is nothing you can do to mend fences with a holy God as a sinful human.

John 6:28-29: Then they said to Him, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" Jesus answered and said unto them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him who He sent."

There is no amount of church attendance, no prayers to be purchased, no chanting, no memorizing, no pilgrimage. All the work was already done by Jesus. His birth changed the world, but it wasn't the fulfillment of why he came. All the fluff is fun, but if Christmas was stripped down to nothing but a baby in a manger, He is worth the celebration.

Merry Christmas, from Japan! I hope your holiday is one of reflection on the One who came to offer the ultimate gift. 
 (Can you find Ruby?)

Monday, December 11, 2017

On Quilting

Once upon a time I got the worst haircut of my life. I remember telling the lady at SuperCuts, "Halle Berry." There's several problems with this scene. #1: SuperCuts & #2: I'm not Halle Berry. For some reason, I had an abundance of photos taken during that time. Even a hugely involved Sears portrait that included my entire extended family. After waiting 743289 hours with five tired, hungry toddlers(and 4 men), they managed to squeeze us all into a tiny room and flash us out. When the womenfolk tried to argue that it wasn't what we wanted, the menfolk overruled us that it was "fine." I am not even joking, I looked like Powder. Y'all remember Powder? Yeah. Sears portraits? Supercuts? Obviously it was a season of poor decisions in my life.

I only remembered that awful haircut because I had it when my Grandma Watson came to visit that year; the year she taught me to quilt. I have a picture somewhere of me beaming over my first project as she looked on with pride. Even she hated that haircut and told me so many times.

Over the years, I've gone through seasons of quilting. Much like most areas of my life, sewing, photography, parenting, I don't know what the heck I'm doing, but I do it with gusto. Sometimes it works out, sometimes cussing is involved. 

Since September, I've made quite a few quilts. The proximity of Nippori + Yokota churning out babies has made it a necessity. We also have this guy that comes once a month to our BX with Moda fabric. He's unavoidable. He parks himself in front of the commissary, what are we to do? Walk past without buying sixteen yards of the cutest prints you've ever seen ever? That's a ridiculous suggestion no matter how many times Sean makes it.

I have officially finished my last quilt of the year. I have more I want to do--namely something I can't get out of my head for a particular friend that is about to circle the globe with 5 children on a sailboat...they might get cold--, but I have killed my machine. It was a slow, painful, loud death. When I first started toying around with fabric, I decided I'd skip all the basic stuff and go straight for machine quilting. I didn't watch any tutorials. I didn't read about it. My experience with sewing predated youtube. The only thing I knew is that I needed something called a walking foot.

One day I was in Target and I saw a machine on the clearance end cap that advertised a walking foot included. Hot dang, that machine was on clearance for cheaper than a walking foot sold separately. I should've known. I shouldn't bust on it because that machine has lasted me probably a decade or more. It is a very, very basic machine not at all meant to quilt anything. I have forced it to churn way too many layers through it's poor feed dogs. It is no wonder that it has finally given up the ghost, but it didn't go without a fight.

I tend to sew once the kids are in bed and I've had coffee for dinner. Most nights, Sean will stay up and play piano while I sew. It's a beautiful scene of cozy contentment. Tonight he said, "Y'know, I can play over the chugging of the machine, but your string of cuss words is throwing me off." And then Sean, of all people, went on to (I don't want to use the word "lecture") lecture me about how yelling at inanimate objects does not make them perform better. Au contraire, mon frere.

Who has two quilts finished that proves otherwise? This potty mouth.

My Grandma said every quilt needs to have a story. Eleanor's Rainbow Quilt:

Eleanor is a baby born to someone who has very quickly become one of my dearest friends at Yokota. Her ma worked with Sean at Langley and our friendship blossomed when her own sitcom of moving around the world began.  This one was actually quilt #2 for Eleanor. I had finished a whole quilt top and hated it so much I threw it away. Chucked it right in the garbage. Eleanor is a rainbow baby, so when the thought of a rainbow quilt popped into my brain, I obsessed over it until it was reality. They didn't know the sex of the baby, so I had to keep it gender neutral. However, I didn't want it to be all animals or solids. I LOVE the floral fabrics Japan puts out. This one got equal parts animals and flowers. It turned out a tad girly, so I'm thankful Eleanor turned out to be a girly, too. This is the only quilt I've ever free motion quilted thanks to the teaching, patience, and use of equipment of an awesome friend.

The story of this one is that my neighbor had a fourth baby; a girl. I know from experience that by the time baby #4 shows up, gifts aren't so readily pouring in. This is called a bucket quilt, I think? I may have made that up, but that's what I've always called them. They're tiny and just the right size for tucking around an infant in their car seat without it dragging on the ground. Once they're too big for it, it's a great size for a lovie. 

My leaf quilt. I kept this one. I bought the fox fabric before we visited the fox sanctuary on the way to Misawa. Having mingled with actual foxes, I felt justified sewing with it. Before, it would've been just fox fabric. Now I'm like, "Yeah, foxes. I know them."


The story behind this one is: I fell in love with the teepee fabric. The end. This one was so much fun to put together. Due to Christmas present sewing, I had to pack this one away and it will have to be quilted someday in the future.


The hexagons and red fabric I bought way back in 2009 in San Antonio. They were both made in Japan. It seems I've always preferred Japanese fabric, even if I didn't realize it at the time of purchase.

(Poor Gus. The sweater humiliates him. He thinks he looks awful in turtlenecks. Don't we all?)

The last three were Christmas presents. Well, this one was actually a, "You're coming to Japan!! We're going to be neighbors!" quilt. Except their orders never came and all of those hopes were dashed upon the rocks. Now it's a, "Remember that time you almost came to Japan?" quilt.


How sweet is Rees?! Perfect quilt model. 

My friend and her ma posted these pictures on her Instagram with these words: "When you think you're moving to Japan and you are pulled down off the panic ledge by your dear, dear friend who happens to live there and who also happens to whip up baby quilts in her non-existent spare time--this one complete with celebratory and welcoming Japanese scooter riding elephants and panda bears and all things "kawaii" and adorable--and you dust off all your random Japanese words and phrases and maps and pictures and then just as unexpectedly you think you probably aren't moving halfway around the world and you begin to panic all over again mourning the loss of all that you were suddenly excited for and you look at these perfectly hand selected Japanese prints and you remember that you have awesome friends and adventures and experiences no matter where you go and you smile and you wait and you live and love and laugh and share right where you are, while you can." 

Amen, my Friend! 


I made my niece a quilt a few years ago and it turned out way smaller than I thought it would.  Yet, I have seen her contorting into a ball to get under it and use it. That kinda of quilt appreciation gets ya another one! This one should be a little easier to snuggle up under. This was, by far, the most time consuming quilt I've ever made. Not hard, just a whole lotta steps. I actually miscalculated a TON and got another quilt top out of it that is slightly different. It was a pleasant surprise when I realized how many extra blocks I'd made and that it was enough for another quilt. 



And one for her little brother. I get that almost 13 year old boys would probably rather have a video game or a gift card. He probably doesn't need a blanket given his state of residence. However, an almost 13 year old boy does need tons of prayer and that's what I do when I quilt. I mean, when I'm not railing at the machine. I think all the happy thoughts about the person I am quilting for(until the machine jams). I pray and I stroll down memory lane(until the bobbin runs out). I dream and wonder about their future(until the tension goes loopy). I fill my quilts with equal parts mistake and love.


I'd like to think my Grandma Watson would be proud of my progress. I use to send her scraps of the fabrics I was working with and I still set aside a little pile from every project. I don't know why. Maybe it's just having the thought of her close as I go about my sewing. I hate throwing those little scraps away. I know she would crack up at me if she was a fly on my wall sewing machine.

Every quilt is a tiny bit better than the last. They are still something I'd be hesitant to proudly show a real quilter, but I am proud enough to pass it on to people I love who hopefully won't look too closely at the jacked upedness of my creations.

So if you received a quilt from me this year, know that you mean a lot to me and I am entrusting a huge fabric piece of me to your care. Also, don't pull any loose threads! 

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Grandma and Grandpa take Japan

My parents flew in on the same day President Trump arrived at Yokota. They shut the gates while he was here, so we had to leave ahead of schedule so as not to be trapped on base. 

The little two, Sean and I got to the airport a tad early and had lots of time to kill. Thankfully, Narita is a wide open airport and there are lots of places to wander around, eat, and shop without having to go through security or have a boarding pass. 

Jude was the only kid who was 100% clueless as to who was coming. We told him we were at the airport so we could meet the President. He was super confused when he saw my parents and we may have taken the surprise a little too far because he didn't give the performance I expected when it finally clicked. He stared in disbelief at Grandma and Grandpa for a good hour before becoming animated again. 


The first day we took it pretty easy on them. Arashi for dinner, of course, & then...

the jet lag caught up to them. I was proud of them for hanging on til after 8 pm. 
Days 2-8 I did not take it easy on them. We went to a local shrine I've never visited. 

We went to Lake Motosu and Shiraito Falls. 
My dad holding the 1000 yen bill(it's 10 bucks, don't get excited) that depicts this scene. 
They got to see Fuji many times. I dragged the whole gang out of the car several times that day.

I dragged them up to Chuerito Pagoda. They were total troopers. My mom didn't curse me at all during the 400+ stair climb, even though I know she wanted to. 
We stayed just long enough for the sun to dip below the horizon. I have now successfully missed cherry blossoms and fall colors at Chuerito Pagoda. This Spring, I will win. 



Mom, print & frame this one!! I love it!


We went to the Kitchen District. It wasn't nearly as awesome as I thought it would be. Watching people make kitchen knives from scratch was kinda cool, but the knives were too rich for my blood. Before we leave, I will get a few. I don't need my name etched in them or anything, I just need knives that will cut through an onion or apple without taking my hand off with it.

 

We took the train that day and my phone died. We didn't get my parents a Suica card because we only used the train for one day. Not only were we calculating ticket prices each leg of the trip, we were having to navigate based on the main map. It wasn't nearly as daunting as it looks, but it certainly made for a longer trip than usual.



My Dad handled it like a local. He even started to lean into the person next to him a bit. I had my mom-arm ready in case he lurched forward into the aisle, but it wasn't needed. 




My mom and I went for a tea party with my friend and her mom(who was also visiting from VA) and baby Eleanor. It was an absolutely gorgeous day and I have never been so full in my life. Normally I leave the tea house a bit hungry still. It's definitely chick food and it tends to be light on the belly. Not so on this day. The pumpkin scones on top were the best morsel of any food I've ever consumed. SO GOOD.


This is a must for anyone who comes to visit. I love this place. 


We went for sushi. If you know my mother at all, you know she gets major kudos just for trying it. She is not one to eat anything raw. She likes her meat beyond "well done." Her face + Jude's make this my favorite picture of their whole visit. 



We went to Joyful Honda. The lady in the petstore saw my mom for a sucker and kept handing her all the older puppies, the ones slated to...go wherever they go when they don't sell. I choose to believe it's to a big open farm where they run freely and eat bacon on the regular.


We went to Yakiniku. They both preferred that to sushi. :D 


My mom and I were able to join a group of my friends for a geisha performance at Mt. Mitake. Thank you, Evelyn!! It was so fun. The climb up wasn't, but the rest of it was awesome.



We celebrated Thanksgiving. Sean cooked an amazing meal.


And just like that, they had to go home. Nine days doesn't go far when two of them are travel days. 


Poor Jude held it together until we were climbing back into the car to go home after dropping them at the shuttle. You see in the picture that he was completely unwilling to go along with the, "smile!" request. He sobbed when he realized they were really leaving. Please come back! I promise we'll feed you more meat. Well done meat, even!