Sunday, November 30, 2008

The countdown has begun!

Welcome to the holiday season, folks. :)

With Christmas less than a month away, I'm fired up and feeling festive! I'm extra excited since I'm going home, and then to Florida, to be with my family!!

Since I celebrated Thanksgiving with the other ALT's a couple of weeks ago, it's already felt like the holiday season to me. The day of the first snowfall in Kuji, I went to the dollar, I mean 100 yen store...and bought some fun holiday/winter decor and adorned my apartment.

Since then, I've had even more Christmas decorations sent to me. (Thank you so much!) Although I don't really have halls to deck -- and no boughs of holly, either -- my living room is decked out! There's a whole lot of Christmas cheer in here, and I might have to keep all the decorations up until at least March since I'm lovin' the jolly vibes. :)

Check it out:

Here's another view...

I'm pretty proud of those paper snowflakes I made. (Decorations even cheaper than the ones at the 100 yen store! Yes!) And there's snowflake garland (I guess that's what you'd call it) around my living room door, which has snowmen on it....

This is looking into the living room from my bedroom...

And even the TV has some holiday spirit...

I'm looking forward to having a Christmas party in my festive apartment for my dance team, two weeks from this very moment. It will probably be crowded since this isn't exactly a big place, but that's ok, we'll just be real close friends, haha. Since I did some serious cleaning and decorating this weekend, I could have it tomorrow! I'm ready.

And I'm also ready to celebrate Christmas back home again in Indiana.
It's only 25 days away. Almost 24. :)

Monday, November 24, 2008

What does a turkey in space say?

Hello, America! Looking so beautiful from space. *Internet photo*

I've had outer space on my mind. That's not to say that my mind has been in outer space!

It started a few weeks ago when my friend Kiley mentioned a wonderful sermon about the universe. (And I'm not talking about the grocery store this time!) Click here for the first part. If you could find about 45 minutes to watch this, I highly recommend it.

A couple of days ago, my friend Sara sent me this link that shows pictures from space. Like the sermon, the photographs put me in awe of God. He is truly awesome, and so is His creation!

I give God thanks and praise for many things. On this Thanksgiving Day, I thank Him for designing this amazing universe that we are just a teeny tiny part of. I give thanks for the fact that the Creator of the Universe is involved in my life! It blows me away thinking about it.

I've always been fascinated by outer space. When I was in second grade, I claimed that I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. (Too bad I get so motion sick! I guess my dreams need to be more down to Earth!)

Yesterday, I found the above picture in an Internet article about Thanksgiving in space. The caption read: "The Thanksgiving feast shuttle astronauts will eat in space Clockwise from upper left: green beans and mushrooms, candied yams, cranapple dessert, cornbread stuffing and smoked turkey."

Feast is not the word that comes to mind when I look at this picture. But at least the meal consists of traditional Thanksgiving foods! Here is a picture of what I had today for "Thanksgiving dinner"...

This is the first Thanksgiving that I've eaten rice, fish and miso soup! But I celebrated the holiday in other ways. I taught the students at Mugyo Jr. High about Thanksgiving traditions, and we decorated sugar cookies with fall sprinkles. (Thanks again, Mom!) It hasn't been a typical Thanksgiving and I miss being with my family, but it's been a good day.

Sooooo....what does a turkey in space say, you've been wondering....

"Hubble, hubble, hubble!"

"Grease is the word"...and the dance!

Sunday, Nov. 23, 11:30 a.m. -- All four of the ALT "dancers" (I use that term loosely. We are far from professional!) are gearing up for the performance at Amber Hall. We've spent the last 10 days practicing our moves to songs from the musical "Grease." Besides our dance, the charity event will include a variety of acts from people of all ages in the community. The show begins in exactly one hour. Eeps! So we're about to do a final dress rehearsal. **Click here to see it! **

12:16 p.m. -- We're now at Amber Hall, in a dressing room that we're sharing with an elderly lady in a kimono. Individually, we're running through our dance moves. We're making sure our outfits and make-up are just right. We're excited, but also anxious. I'm thinking, "Let's get this party started!"

12:56 p.m. -- We'll go on stage any second. I'm so pumped! The act before us was SO adorable! There must have been at least 20 little kids dancing to upbeat Japanese music. Now it's our turn. A disco ball is coming down from the ceiling. That's awesome! I didn't know they were doing that!

Lights. Camera. Action! ** Click here to join the audience, and let the show begin.**

1:01 p.m. -- Whew, that was the fastest four and a half minutes ever! What a blast! It reminded me of my days on the movement team at church. There were four of us then, too.

Overall, I think the dress rehearsal went better than the actual performance, but at least we made our mistakes with smiles on our faces. :) While on stage, I had one of those, "this is surreal" moments. Here I am in Japan, prancing around a stage in leggings in front of 1,000 people. What a life I lead!

The dancers have Kenji to thank for letting us turn the upstairs of his office building into a dance studio. I think he enjoys this picture. :) And thanks to Kenji for the videos, too!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A (nother) blog post regarding food

What can I say? Food ("tabemono" in Japanese) is one of my passions! And I'm currently passionate about persimmons. :)

When I was reading the Indy Star on-line, I came across
this article about persimmons. Although this is the peak month for persimmons in Indiana, I've been eating this yummy fruit for the last three months in Japan.

I was first introduced to the "kaki" (the Japanese name for persimmon) when one of the teachers at Yamane Jr. High School gave me one, back in August. I thought it was a tomato.

Before you think I'm crazy, check out this picture of a kaki:

Does it not look like a tomato!? I have several of these in my fridge right now that I could take pictures of. This picture is from the internet, though.

Since I'm not a huge fan of tomatoes, I decided to give my tomato to Tomoki. Tomoki laughed at me (what's new?) and said, "That's not a tomato! It's a...ummm...errr...I don't know in English. But it's a kaki in Japanese." So he looked it up in his fancy little electronic translator, and we learned that this tomato-wanna-be is actually a persimmon.

I've been enjoying the juicy, sweet fruit -- which thankfully tastes nothing like a tomato -- ever since. :)

I always just slice it up and eat. But maybe I'll try making the apple and persimmon salad recipe that's at the end of the Indy Star article.

If you're a persimmon-eater like me, I hope you can enjoy some delicious persimmon pudding (or even some apple and persimmon salad) this Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow..."

I've already begun listening to Christmas music.

It just feels like the right thing to do.

There's a nice white dusting over everything since it has sprinkled snow for two days in a row! (I had winter tires put on my car on Tuesday, just in time.)
The first snowfall of the season is really great because it makes the trees look beautiful, but doesn't stick to the road. :)

Yesterday, I noticed a pine tree near my apartment that has blue lights strung on it. And there's a shop down the street with a Christmas display in the window! With snow on the ground and holiday decorations going up around me, it truly is "beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!"

So after I cranked up the heat in my car this morning, I decided it was time to crank up the Christmas music. I put in the tape "Christmas Party Mix," ready for my Christmas party on wheels.

And my, was it entertaining! Do you remember the song "Macarena"? The dance was all the rage when I was in fifth grade, so it's been a while.


Wouldn't you know that every single song on the Christmas tape was set to the beat of "Macarena" -- including the song "Silent Night," which is just wrong. And then "Macarena" would play after each funky Christmas song. It was almost too much. Even for me! But it made me laugh, and it also made me eager to listen to the true tunes

I usually wait until after Thanksgiving to start listening to Christmas music. But since I celebrated Thanksgiving with the other ALT's last Saturday, it feels like the holiday season has officially begun. I'm totally okay with starting "the most wonderful time of the year" a week early.

In fact, I may even decorate my apartment for Christmas tonight. "Deck the halls with boughs of holly, fa la la la la la la...

...Hey Macarena!!"

Monday, November 17, 2008

"Oh Susana, don't you cry for me..."

I got a letter from my African child today. :)

Through Compassion International, I sponsor a girl named Susana who lives in Tanzania. She is 12 years old, has a June birthday like me and always has a Bible verse to share.

Susana and I have been exchanging letters for over two years. She usually includes a picture that she's drawn, and usually it's a sketch of flowers and houses. Recently, she's progressed to drawing pictures of people.

In this most recent drawing, she has written, "I love Jesus." Precious. Along with the letter and drawing, this time I received an updated photograph of Susana. She's so beautiful, and she looks happy.

This is acutally the photo of Susana I got last time. I wasn't able to scan the photo I got today. But at least now you know what she looks like. :)

It's a delight to correspond with Susana. And it's a pleasure to sponsor her -- to help supply some of her basic needs.

I encourage you to sponsor a child. I know that times are tough for the U.S. economy right now. But this is actually a global reality. There are so many children in the world who are in desperate need, living in poverty. Sponsoring not only provides for a child's physical needs, but his/her emotional and spiritual needs as well.

Although I've never met Susana, I plan to one day. In fact, I have a very strong desire -- and I believe, a calling -- to live in Africa for a while and personally help/serve/play with/share joy with children like Susana. I can't stop thinking about it.

In recent years, I've become a world traveler. But I hope and pray that this is just the beginning!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Thanksgiving a little early

Turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, stuffing, pie...

Are you ready for Thanksgiving yet? ;)

I could easily celebrate this holiday at least once a week! On Saturday evening, about 15 ALT's got together to eat all of the aforementioned food, plus a few non-traditional Thanksgiving dishes like pigs-in-a-blanket, eggrolls and no-bake cookies. It was all A-MAZING, and I feasted as if I hadn't eaten in days!

As is usual for Thanksgiving, I became stuffed with stuffing. The stuffing was my contribution to the meal, and I had fun making it. However, I missed having the annual night-before-the-feast "stuffing party" with my family, in which we all slice and chop, and then eat the buttery bread in bowls as if it were popcorn. :)

Even though Thanksgiving isn't for another couple of weeks, the ALT's decided to celebrate early because this weekend worked out the best for everyone. Definitely better early than never!

Before dinner, we all shared something that we're thankful for. While I am thankful for SO MANY blessings in my life, I said that I am thankful for the smooth transition I've had to living in Japan.

After dinner, we played some games, including charades.
Have you ever tried to act out the word "pomegranate!?" It's pretty much impossible, let me tell you!

It's now Sunday night, and I've been thinking about what a great weekend I've had -- eating, volunteering at a preschool and playing with the cute kids, cooking, eating, dancing, chatting on Skype with family and friends, eating some more, worshipping the Lord, cleaning. You know, all of my favorite things. (minus the cleaning, haha.)

I give thanks for all of the good times! (And good food! :)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

These are a few of my favorite things...

I absolutely adore musicals. (My life is kind of like one since I sing and dance a lot, haha.)

My favorite musical is The Sound of Music. I now have a cassette of the soundtrack (thanks, Mom) that I enjoy listening to in my car as I "climb every mountain," and I have the movie on DVD to watch (thanks, Grandma).

A few days ago I found out that my friend Lauren is going to Beef & Boards to see The Sound of Music live! And "I have confidence" that she's going to think it's "something good." :)

Because I've had The Sound of Music on my mind, I think it's only appropriate that I share a few of "My Favorite Things" in Kuji. In case you are unfamiliar with the song (heaven forbid!) or need a reminder of the tune, click here. And now, without further ado, I present a verse of my version of the song:

Children on a stage and brown boots on my feet.
Dancing and tofu and crepes that are so sweet.
Making new friends and the joy that it brings.
These are a few of my favorite things!

Let me do a little explaining...

Children on a stage -- Today I went to Amber Hall and watched elementary school students perform some songs they've learned. Some of the girls wore pigtails and some of the boys wore red bow ties. :) As usual, they were SO adorable! I could write a whole post on cute kids. (Oh wait. I already have.)

Brown boots on my feet -- I think it's so funny that of all places, I finally found a pair of cute, affordable cowgirl boots in Kuji, Japan. Yeehaw! They were 50 percent off and I couldn't pass up the bargain. (So Dad, I'm ready for a dude ranch adventure when you are!)

Dancing -- I'm currently addicted to watching clips of the show Dancing with the Stars on YouTube. Seriously. I'm also continuing to enjoy my Japanese dance practices every Tuesday night. PLUS, a few ot the other ALT's and I will be dancing to songs from Grease for a charity event next weekend, so we've been making up routines and practicing the hand jive. So yeah, there's a lot of dancing going on these days, and I love it!

Internet photo of "Dancing with the Stars." Helio Castroneves is still my favorite to watch!

Tofu -- Well, it hasn't quite reached the status of being a favorite food, but I've been having a lot of fun experimenting with it. I appreciate the tofu tips and recipes that you've shared with me. I enjoyed eggs with tofu (thanks, Grandma) last night for dinner, and tonight's dinner is vegetable stew with tofu. (thanks, Wendy)

Crepes that are so sweet --
There is a crepe shop down the street (YES!) from my apartment where the sweetest lady makes the sweetest crepes! So far, I've had a banana/chocolate/custard crepe and a banana/caramel/cream crepe. (pictured below) These are just two of probably 25 combinations that she offers, and my goal is to try them all before I leave Kuji. (I have to balance out all that tofu I'm eating, HA).

Making new friends and the joy that it brings --
Always a favorite thing! As I suspected it would be, this is one of my favorite aspects of living in Kuji. I enjoy trying new things (crepe flavors!) with new friends (like Ayaka, who loves crepes, too).

Of course I have many other favorite things, but this is all for now. Thanks for reading, and "so long, farewell."

Monday, November 10, 2008

Question/Answer time with Dana-san

When I give my self-introduction at different elementary schools, it's almost always followed by a Q & A session.

I get all kinds of questions. Once in a while a brave student will attempt to ask a question in English, but most are asked in Japanese and translated by the English teacher.

Below are a few of my favorites. These are not the normal questions such as: "Do you like dogs?" or "Do you like Japanese food?" or "What sport do you like?" The ones below are more off-the-wall. My actual answers are in bold, and my thoughts about the question are in italics. Enjoy....

* * *

Q: Who of your family is more interesting?

A: First, let me correct the question. I am an English teacher, after all. You mean, "Who in your family is the most interesting?" Second, what kind of question is that!? How do I answer this? Oooh, I know. I'll answer Mr. Rogers' style...

All of my family members are different and special in their own way. :)

* * *

Q: Do you have a boyfriend?

A: Ah, the boyfriend question. Usually I get this from curious junior high school students, and here's what I tell them...

I have three. (Pause for effect and smile at the confused faces.) My dad and two grandpas. :)

* * *

Q: Do you know
(some long Japanese name said really fast)?

A: Say what!? (Look at teacher for help.) Teacher responds: "Famous Japanese rock star." Oh, that explains it. No, I do not know of any famous Japanese rock stars. Sorry. Oh, wait, I know of Yoko Ono, and she was married to John Lennon, a famous rock star. Does that count? :)

* * *

Q: Do you know the Statue of Liberty?

A: Whoa. This kid is in first grade, and he just asked me this in English!! Impressive. The real question, buddy, is how do YOU know the Statue of Liberty?!? Yes, I do. I saw the Statue of Liberty when I went to New York a long time ago.

* * *

Q: Do you have friends in Jamaica?

A: Now that's random! No (mon), I do not have any friends in Jamaica. That'd be cool, though! We'd be jammin'. :)

Teacher to class: Please ask Dana-san normal questions. (haha)

* * *

And now, dear reader, I have a random question for you...

Do you like tofu? And there's a follow-up question. If yes, how do you like it prepared?

Tofu is so cheap and healthy, but not very tasty by itself. I'm looking for some good tofu recipes. If you have a good one (I'm guessing the majority of you don't, and that's okay), please share it with me. Thanks!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Learning to expect the unexpected

According to today's plan, I was to get on a bus at noon with other City Hall employees to go play a game called park golf at Ono campus.

Well, sometimes I don't know the actual plan. It's best to just go with the flow. :)

When Liz and I got on the bus, we looked around at the unfamiliar people dressed in business attire. Something isn't quite right here. After a few minutes, we tried asking them if they were going to play park golf, and in response, we got several shaking heads and a "No. P.T.A." As in a P.T.A. meeting?!? Time to get off the bus! Good thing we asked, since they apparently weren't going to say anything!

We finally found a couple of fellow golf buddies, and discovered we'd be riding in a car with them to the course -- which turned out not to be at Ono campus. Surprise, surprise!

An hour later, we arrived at the golf course, and I learned that I'd be on a team with three people I'd never seen before. Surprise! But my teammates were so much fun, and I enjoyed playing the game that was a lot like "normal" golf, just with a bigger ball. (I wasn't exactly sure what to expect since I'd never played.)

Too bad I suffered from frozen philanges!! I seriously couldn't feel my fingers for about an hour. Surprise! (I even had gloves on.) And too bad I was over par every single time! I've determined that park golf isn't a strength of mine.

I've also determined that it is a spring/summer activity and not a game for late fall -- especially when late fall feels like the middle of a bitter cold winter!

The string is attached to the tee, not the ball. Just wanted to let you know.

After park golf, we all went to dinner. I thought we were going to a restaurant, but instead it was a small, rented building with a kitchen that was supplied with raw meat (including squid, yay!) and a grill. Surprise!

This is "Coach." (He tried giving me golf pointers, but my aim is really bad.) He's proud of the smiley face he made out of squid meat, haha. What a character!

My team! Her shirt says, "Alcoholic. Seldom or Never. Culture Fusion. Brooklyn." (huh???)

After a delicious dinner, we talked and laughed together around the table. There was a conversation that went like this:

Japanese friend: "(something that sounded like "Ricky Martin" to me.)"
Me: "Ricky Martin!?"
Liz: "Rocky Mountains!?"
"Coach": "ROCKY?!!!" *starts punching the air and humming "Eye of the Tiger"* haha

"Coach" impressed me with some of the random English words he knew -- words like "premium" and "grotesque." Surprise!

Overall, it was a good experience. I'm glad I went even though I froze. And by the way, I lost park golf BIG time. No surprise there!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

How are your philanges?

Being a junior high school teacher has its frustrating moments.

I have a few students who act like learning English is a big waste of time. On a scale of 1 to 10, their interest level is a one. I'm doing my best to change this! It annoys me immensely when they continually talk while I'm trying to teach, and I try to get them to pay attention.

Then there's Tomoki.

At the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Tomoki hangs on my every English word. On the 1 to 10 scale, his interest in English is at least a 15! Tomoki comes to my apartment twice a week for hour-long private lessons. If it were up to him, he'd probably come over every day of the week for the entire evening!

Tomoki knows that LOL stands for "laugh out loud" and IDK is "I don't know." He says "What's up?" and "Peace out, homie." And he also knows the word "philanges." All of this is my fault.

Philanges are the bones that form fingers and toes. I've always thought the word is kinda funny, and I taught it to Tomoki because he wanted to know a funny-sounding English word. That was a mistake. He uses it in everyday conversation now. HA!

Besides having a hunger for English knowledge (it's more like starvation, really), he has an exciteable, goofy personality. :) He took the following pictures with the self-timer on his fancy little camera. (He loves technology!)

Thinking deep English thoughts while staring at my laptop. (Totally posed. Tomoki's idea.)

Ohmygoodness, I can't believe it! (Again, posed. Again, I just followed his lead.)

Tomoki came to church with me on Sunday, and I introduced him to my friends there. Later, he sent me this e-mail:

Hi Dana,
How are your philangees? My philangees are fine. Thank you for inviting it to the church. I think I am going to go to church again. Please teach me when you go to church. I had a nice day. Today was very very good. Please teach me when you meet other ALTs. Because I want many foreigner's friends. My foreigner's friend are Dana&Liz&Mayla. Kenji has many foreigner's friend. I want to become a companion. Allright?

Tomoki with two of his "foreigner's friends." :)

Needless to say, the boy cracks me up. The other day he had written on his hand, "F's change notebook." He meant "exchange." (haha) And the day after Halloween, he rang my doorbell and said, "trick-or-treat" before presenting me with a box that contained three slices of cake! This isn't quite how the concept of trick-or-treating works, Tomoki, but I like your version better!

Tomoki is now into on-line social networking and has a profile on facebook. So I guess you can say that Tomoki and I are "officially" friends. Or as he says..."homies." :)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Fulfilling my American duty

Happy Election Day!

I may be thousands of miles away from the great U.S. of A., but I am not out of the loop with what's going on in my homeland. Thank you, technology.

A lot of my time is spent on the internet. I often peruse news sites, keeping track of current world events. This, of course, includes the U.S. Presidential Election. I've watched the Presidential debates and have read several articles about the candidates.

And I voted a couple of days ago.

Here is how the absentee voting process went:

First, I had to complete an on-line application to request a ballot. At the end of filling in all of the basic infomration, I printed the application and faxed it to the Marion County Election Board. A week later, an absentee voting consultant from the election board e-mailed me a cover sheet and ballot. I printed both, completed them, scanned them into a PDF file format and e-mailed them back.

Since my computer at work isn't hooked up to a printer, and I don't have access to a fax machine or scanner, I had to go to Kenji's office (twice!) and bother him with this.

I went through the involved process because voting is important to me. I believe that every vote counts. (Even the ones all the way from Japan!) I believe it's not only a duty, but a privilege to vote. Many people in the world do not have the privilege of chosing their leaders, and I don't want to take it for granted that I do.

I encourage you to spend a few minutes of your day to drive to your local polling place and exercise your right and duty.

God bless America!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Ladies and gentlemen, I have an announcement to make...

I'm going to adopt a Japanese child.

Not any time soon, obviously. I'd like to be married first -- so we're talking at least 10 years from now. (No joke.) But still. One day it will happen.

The kiddos here are so darn cute! Of course all children are precious, but I'm telling you, there's just something about Japanese kids that captures my heart. Meet the little girl I saw today outside my apartment, who inspired me to write this blog post...

I wish I had a photo of her smiling! We were apparently playing some kind of peek-a-boo game; when the camera came out, the smile disappeared. And as soon as the camera was hidden, the adorable grin reappeared. Go figure.

When I have my own Japanese toddler, you'd better believe I'll dress him or her up in a fuzzy little outfit like that fun monkey suit! I've found that these outfits are quite common, and I love it. Here's a picture of a little Tigger I met a couple of weekends ago...

Unlike the "real" Tigger, this lil' guy's facial expression does not quite say "Woohoohoohoohooo!" Instead, it says something like, "Who is this strange-looking person from a land far away, and why is she taking my picture?" It's okay, buddy, I understand. I can't help but notice the big smile on the mother's face, though. That's the look of love and pride, right there. Gotta love it. :)

I really have no problem asking mothers if I can take a picture of their charming child. I can't help it! First, I say, "Totemo kawaii." (Very cute) Then, "Shashin (picture), okay?" They're usually more than happy to let me photograph their pride and joy. Here's a young girl I thought was super cute and stylish...

This last picture was taken a couple of months ago at Samurihama Elementary School. (There's no way I could wear a t-shirt and shorts to school anymore. Brrrr.) I get the biggest kick out of the first grade students who put on their darling yellow hats when they're ready to head home. *sigh.* Again, I had to have a picture with these sweethearts.

So until I have my own children to take countless pictures of, I'm going to enjoying other peoples' kids. :)