Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Snack Food, anyone?

Shopping in a foreign country is not easy, we all know that. But shopping in an asian country where you can't even piece together any of the words on the packaging is exhausting.

I remember a story about baby food from many years ago. Women in African countries would not buy baby food at all. Researchers discovered that the women thought the jars contained ground-up babies - after all, that was the picture on the jar. I am afraid of making these kinds of mistakes as I shop completely by the pictures on the packages. How many tubs of margarine must I buy until I find butter?

And finding snack-type foods that are not junky has been a tough assignment for the grocery shopper. I have been buying rice crackers (senbei). The kids like them, they are not fried, and they have a nice crunch. Maybe a bit high in sodium? I don't know - which may be an advantage to not being able to read the nutrition information. I was so happy to see the senbei packaged in smaller bags, much like the snack bags of goldfish or pretzels.

"Perfect for the long bus ride home," I thought, and bought them. I tucked a bag each into Chris and Michael's backpacks.

They arrive home from school, and Chris announces "Thanks for the fish brains, Mom!" Fish brains? What is he talking about?

Apparently in the package I bought, there are 2 mixes of senbei. Just as there are cheddar goldfish, pretzel goldfish, pizza goldfish, there are flavors in the senbei. I was lucky enough to buy the variety pack with one regular type, and one "fish" type, complete with dried whole fish in the mix. Take a look at the package and you can see those fish! 

Setting a good example, Nick and I sampled the snack fish food. It's not bad, actually, in fact, I really like them. Nick said, "Remember those Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans? This reminds me of the sardine jelly bean."

And I think he's right. The fish are crunchy and sweet and WHOLE! Who knows if anything was removed besides the eyes? If I could read the package, I could tell you. Come visit me, I'll set out a bowl of these instead of popcorn. You take the rice crackers, the fish are MINE.

Surrounded by boxes, discoveries

The air shipment arrived, which is both good and bad. Good - we have our stuff, it feels more like home. Bad - where do we put all this junk?

And why did we send some of this? And where is the stuff I thought I sent? I hate buying duplicates, when I know it's probably sitting in storage. Somehow I managed to put all the kitchen utensils in storage - no vegetable peeler, no ladles, no spatulas - but I have fondant icing! No mixing bowls or cake pans, but I brought my tomato press and the number sign for our house in Delaware that I never got around to attaching.

None of this is a disaster, just a reminder of how confusing and mind-boggling the chore of packing is, especially when you don't really know what you are doing. The only possessions that I really miss right now are the pictures and artwork we had on the walls at home. I had an idea that hanging a few pieces would help us all adjust, seeing familiar pictures on the walls. But I managed to get confused on packing day, and I did not send the pictures I wanted. 

I miss the Wyeth print Nick and I had hanging in our bedroom, and I truly thought I had sent it. But it's not here, and for some reason I am very teary about it. It's not even a print of the Chadds Ford area, it's a Maine picture.

Here's a link to the print (for sale at the Brandywine River Museum):


I may have to break down and buy it. But if anyone would like to send me a postcard of it, please do!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Week of Firsts

It's been an exciting and very busy week for us.

Monday Chris and Michael started school at ASIJ - the American School in Japan. The whole family rode the bus to the school for a day of orientation for the parents and first day of school for the boys. And no, it's not a big yellow school bus, but a pretty comfortable touring bus. The bus ride is about 40-45 minutes from our neighborhood, so it's a good thing that it's comfy. However, I think it is just as loud as a big yellow school bus!

The orientation was very informative and interesting, and helped us get a good idea of student and parent expectations at the school. We met families in the same postion as we are, with a mid year move and kids in both the Chofu school where Chris and Michael are, and kids at the ELC (Early Learning Center) which is in the middle of Tokyo in Roppongi Hills. One family in particular, the Engerts, had their younger son with them - just as we did - and the 2 younger boys played very nicely together while the parents had the orientation. And how terrific for the 2 younger boys to find that they are in the same class at the ELC.

Nick had his first day of real work, and spent the day Tuesday out doing that. I had my first solo trip to the grocery store! And my first solo subway ride, ATM visit.

Chris and Michael had their first Japanese lessons at school. Chris learned to write his name in kata kana, and Michael is learning the parts of the body.

Sam learned his first word in Japanese, too! Our first week we had trips to the grocery store and to restaurants to eat. When you go into a restaurant, you are warmly welcomed by the restaurant workers - irashaimase! Meaning, come on in!

We are sitting at McDonalds (yes, I know, but the kids had been stretched as far as they could at that point) and I hear Sam muttering something under his breath. "What is he saying?" I asked Nick, "Can you hear him?" Sure enough, Sam is saying, over and over, "Irashaimase! Irashaimase! Irashaimase!"

Sam also had his first day of school this week. Since Nick was out of town working on Tuesday, we waited until Wednesday to take Sam. I was not brave enough to do it on my own on Tuesday. It's a longer school day for Sam - from around 8:30 to 2:25pm. He is adjusting well - no tears or temper, and his new teachers, Mary and Maki said he did not have any trouble transitioning. But he is tired at the end of the day - I wish he would rest when we come home.

And finally, I got lost for the first time. Our journey to Sam's school is on the subway. We go four stops, then get off and walk the rest of the way. After a successful trip on Thursday (just me and Sam!), I goofed on Friday. We got off the train at the correct stop, but I could not remember what exit we take to leave the station. And with some stations, choosing the wrong exit can ruin your morning. Well, I chose wrong, and we had a REALLY long walk to school. Sam was a trooper though, and did a great job. After checking my handy city atlas, and a quick phone call to Nick, I figured out where we were.

I told Sam later that day that I was sorry I had gotten us lost. He said, "We weren't lost, Mommy, it was just a long cut!" I guess he was right.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Settling In

I am really looking forward to our air shipment arrival. Then we can unpack and really feel more settled rather than the "camping out" feel we have right now.

Nick and I have taken care of some official business - the required registration at the local ward office in Shibuya. Soon we will get our gaijin cards and be officially resident aliens. (Gaijin is the Japanese word used for foreigners.)

Our family connection through the American School in Japan (ASIJ) is a family in our apartment building - the Olivers. They are a very friendly and approachable family, and Chris and their son Michael are proabably in the same class at ASIJ. Anyway, Michael Oliver has 3 teenage older sisters who babysit. Sarah looked after our guys when Nick and I did our business in Shibuya.

The other thing we have been doing this week is furniture assembly. Nick's company had budgeted for furniture rental while we were here, and the sum was ridiculous (in our eyes). We offered to take a percentage as an allowance and use the allowance to purchase furniture. Nick felt it would be a good will gesture, showing our reluctance to fritter money away foolishlly.

Well, Nick was in Tokyo in the first week of December and made a big IKEA purchase. Everything was waiting for us when we arrived - the matresses were great to have for the first night. However, after assembling 3 single beds, headboards, and bookcases, one queen headboard/bookcase combo, we want a divorce from IKEA. Never again! Too many allan wrenches, locking rings and bumped laminate!

I told Nick I was ready to hire myself out as an IKEA assembler. I could make business cards and hand them out in the IKEA parking lots. "Furniture assembly by Pam - in your home!" "Don't curse IKEA, call Pam!"

But what would my official title be? Nick suggests IKEA Savant, which has a nice ironic touch. Or perhaps IKEA Maven?

School starts tomorrow for Chris and Michael, and the whole family is going in the morning for an orientation. The alarm clocks are set, and backpacks are packed. Here we go!

Thursday, January 8, 2009


A very long day of travel is now behind us and we are in our beautiful (and messy) flat.

We had the help of my mom and dad, plus our wonderful, terrific, and saintly friends the Moores. Our caravan took us up to an airport hotel the night before so we could spend the night there and make our very early flight to Chicago. The flight to Chicago was uneventful and we got aboard our flight to Tokyo.

The flight to Tokyo was bearable, I guess. Any flight that long-13 hours- is never going to be fun. We had 4 seats upgraded to premium economy, which is very comfortable.

However, the 2 obnoxious, drunken men in the row ahead of me and the kids were just awful. As soon as the beverage service started, they proceeded to get totally loaded, loud, and rude. Why do airlines continue to serve obviously drunk people?It can't be safe for the crew, not to mention unpleasant for everyone around them.

I put Sam on the end of the row in order to be in the middle of the kids, but when those guys started acting up, I moved him over so he wouldn't be near them. It was a little scary.

I am posting from my iPod until our computer arrived, so I will continue later. I can only type so much on this little keyboard before I go nuts!

Send me comments, please! What are you curious about?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Miniature disasters

Well, you know something had to go wrong. The packers were here all day yesterday, working so hard, which was difficult with me flitting from room to room trying to be useful but really just getting in the way. By afternoon I had lost my ability to make an intelligent decision about anything. "Leave the cookware, definitely we need the UD chicken hat, pack that!"

So I walk into Sam's room - he is our youngest at age 4 - and his bed has been stripped. "Oh no," I say, "we need the sheets! We have 2 more nights before we leave." So the nice young guy from the movers very obligingly opens the packed box and takes out Sam's bedding. I am so relieved I don't check a thing and don't realize until the evening that his favorite stuffed toys which were wrapped up in his sheets have been packed. I can't blame anyone but myself. I think the young guy who packed them wouldn't have even thought to ask. So far I have been lucky and Sam has not asked for either of them yet.

But the real nailbiter is my son Michael's retainer. I think it has been shipped to Japan. I really, really hope it has been shipped to Japan. All I know is that it was in its case in the morning in its usual spot on his nightstand. In the evening I did my mom checklist: Face? Washed. Teeth? Brushed. Retainer? GONE. I just hope it didn't get sent into storage. A three year old retainer won't help anyone.

So we will have to wait until our shipment arrives in Tokyo. Until then, it's out of my hands. I used to obsess horribly about things like this, but I am really trying hard not to worry about the things I have no control over. My mother gave me a little self help book called Don't Sweat The Small Stuff With Your Family, and it's been very helpful to me. Of course, it's been packed, so I can't refer to it now!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Utter Chaos

We are finally at that moment.

I mean the moment where we pick up and leave. It's heartbreaking and exhilarating, chaotic and yet under someone else's control, and it's stressful and also freeing.

Here is where I make my first confession: I have never really moved before. Yes, I've moved from a dorm room to an apartment and then to another apartment, but seriously - I have never moved before. I don't think you can call it a move if you can put everything you own into bags and put it into a Honda Civic. You know, where the furniture is so grungy that you need to leave it in a dumpster when you leave?

So, that's me and our three kids - never moved before. Most of our lives (I try not to include my unsuccessful year at the College of William and Mary) have been spent here in New Castle County ,Delaware. Specifically, Brandywine Hundred, which is at its best the very best of small town living. And here we go to the biggest city in the world.

Now, my husband Nick is truly a world citizen. Born in Ibadan, Nigeria, where he lived until the age of three. Spent some early years back in the UK, and then lived in Aden (now in Yemen), and lived in Nigeria again until he was 14. He finished school and university in the UK, then lived in Tokyo for 2 years in the mid-eighties. Then he was transferred to the US where he met me, and he's been here ever since. So this isn't as scary a proposition for him as it is for the rest of us.

The photos are from the chaos that is our house. The movers arrive tomorrow to pack us up for Tokyo. I don't think we are ready, but here we go!