Monthly Archives: March 2014

SOLSC #31: Success!

When I began this challenge, I was insecure and intimidated.  Prior to this month, I haven’t been writing everyday and I wasn’t sure how I would get something done each day that I was willing to show others.   After the first few days, I lowered my standards and convinced myself to just push through.  (I’m not sure you would be able to tell I lowered my standards by comparing the first posts to later posts.  I may have, perhaps, unconsciously lowered my standards from the beginning.)

I was convinced that this would be a painful experience, but it turns out that I truly enjoyed it.  I’ve definitely got work to do with my writing, and I see that that work is much easier when I’m actually writing.  It is also easier when people are reading and commenting.  Of course, I knew before this that you have to write to improve your writing, and feedback is important.  What I realized, though, is that the feedback really didn’t need to be constructive criticism.  I only received really positive, affirming comments.  That made me feel good and want to post again the next day.  But, as I read others’ slices, I could see what I hadn’t done in my own writing.  I could see things that I appreciated and that I would like to try to do.  I wanted to write better for my audience.  I felt an obligation because with so many people participating, I knew that reading my slice was taking precious time.   I now have a list of things to try and I have thirty drafts to work with.

I am so grateful to Beth at Seeking Six for posting the information about Slice of Life on FB.  In fact, it wasn’t until the second or third time that she posted that I decided to commit and signed up.  Both Beth and Lee Ann (Portable Teacher) are long-time friends and colleagues, and their comments kept me going at the beginning when I wanted to quit.

If it were just the three of us (me, Beth, Lee Ann) I’m not sure I would have kept going.  This is a wonderful thing that Two Writing Teachers host.  I know it must be a lot of work so I didn’t want to quit on all of those who made this happen.  So many people are benefitting.  When you think about each person that is participating, and then each student that each participant educates. . . whew!  Impressive!

I really appreciate each person who took the time to read my posts.   Reading comments and blogs has allowed me to get to know some people just a bit.  Thanks Kim K, Bbutler, Loralee, Julie J, Shaggerspicchu, Tara Smith, tsudmeier, Adrienne, arjeha, blkdrama, and Elsie for responding numerous times.  And thanks to the many others that I heard from and who gave me the privilege of reading their writing.   I look forward to visiting on Tuesdays and being better in 2015!


SOLSC #30: Baseball Bobblehead

Damp, overcast, windy, muggy… not the day we were hoping for for our first baseball game of the season.  And this was a really important game.  Ok, ok, it’s the beginning of the season so, really, the game itself wasn’t more important than others, but the first number of fans into today’s game were supposed to get a Balentien bobblehead.  And bobbleheads are important!  Ok, ok, bobbleheads aren’t really important but this one kind of is.  This would be the first bobblehead that any of us owned that represented someone we actually know.

We started going to the Swallows games fairly frequently last season.  My friend thought the right fielder was cute, in the way you think any baseball player is cute.  But these stadiums are a bit smaller than those in the States, and my friends and I with our lighter color hair stick out.  So, we would wave and he would wave back.  We strategically chose our seats to facilitate interactions.  It was kind of exciting to communicate with the players, but it never went anywhere.  Then I started thinking we live in the time of social media!  If I can communicate with the YA authors who are my rock stars, why not a baseball player?  We’re fellow-foreigners living in Tokyo, seemed like we might have a chance.  I found him on Twitter and sent a request to follow him.  Then he sent me a pm.  Then I gave him my friend’s phone number.  Now he’s someone we know.  And he’s got a bobblehead.   And we should have one too.

Unfortunately, the rain and wind didn’t cooperate.  Despite the weather, we set out for Tokyo.  We engaged in the dance of the umbrellas through Takeshita Street in Harajuku.  We got to the stadium early and knew we were in trouble when merchandise tables were nowhere to be seen and only a few fans were milling about.  The game had been canceled.  No game, no bobbleheads.

Fortunately, we were not swayed by the overcast weather and canceled game.  We live fortunate lives in an amazing city, so we went to lunch.  Eating out in Japan might be my favorite thing about living here (certainly the one I take advantage of most often).  And there’s nothing better than a reasonably-priced Japanese lunch set.  So, not the spring day we had planned, but I enjoyed the walk, the food, and the time with my friends.  And maybe we’ll come into a bobblehead later in the season.

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SOLSC #29: Hanami

DSCN1546The ground is covered with a patchwork of tarps and blankets, each full with groups of family or friends.  As we walk past one area, there is a circle of friends holding a bottle of wine up to a young lady’s mouth while she chugs.  Next to them, another circle watches as a guy leans over on hands and knees and retches into a paper bag.  We continue walking, passing another area with 7-8 people laughing, chatting, and enjoying their bento boxes.  This is the tradition called hanami, or cherry blossom viewing.

By my unoffocial estimation, this is the most popular time of the year for Japanese.  The sakura, or cherry blossoms, are breath-taking, but they only last a week or two, and the Japanese are serious about taking advantage of this opportunity to enjoy the wonders of nature.  Tokyo is a large prefecture and every park will be full of people.  Today, my friends and I are visiting a park that surrounds a small lake (ok, maybe it’s a pond) encircled by sakura, or cherry blossoms.  Unfortunately, the trees are not fully in bloom yet, but they have started so the celebrations have started.  It is also one of the first few warm days we’ve had after a more severe than usual winter.

We sit by the water and unpack our chu-his (corbonated wine coolers), edamami, chips and dip, cheese sandwiches, and rice crackers.  The friendly group next to us takes the opportunity to practice their English.  We discover that one of them lived in North Carolina for 11 years and speaks English with a perfect American accent.  Eventually, we all return to our own people and our own spreads.  On the lake, children, couples, parents and offspring, move around the water in paddle boats and row boats, floating between the trees for close-up views of the blossoms.  As we watch, we chat about baseball, boys and books.  We’re all tired from a busy week, but we’ve made ourselves come out for this picnic because, although the trees are not in their full glory, we all leave for spring break next weekend and we can’t miss this spring tradition.  It turns out that there’s nothing better than fresh air, flowers, a little girl talk to help unwind.



SOLSC #28: Resolutions Revisited

A couple of years ago, my friend Beth turned me on to the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.  She recently sliced about it on her Seeking Six blog (read it here: Seeking Six), and it was a good reminder that “self-control is an exhaustible resource.”  With that thought in mind, it seems like a good time to reflect on my professional resolutions for this year as, somehow, we are 25% through this calendar year (Yikes!).

I made my professional resolutions based on 2014: 2 new goals, something I’d like to stop doing, 1 thing I want to learn, 4 new books I want to read (yes, I stole this idea from another blog).

My 2 goals:

1.  create/find an easier way to share with teachers – I am nowhere with this.  One of the huge disadvantages of working for the Dept. of Defense is all of the tech rules.  We can’t use thumb drives, social media is extremely limited, avenues for work sharing must be approved, and so far, I haven’t found the avenue that many teachers love.

2.  better follow-up for trainings – I have made small steps here.  I keep a chart of the trainings (I work with 21 schools), and attempt a follow-up within the first week, then after a month.  There’s so much going on that it’s easy to get distracted.  That just looks ridiculous in print, but I suppose that’s why it’s one of my goals.  Surely I can do this!

I want to stop accumulating more stuff on my desk.  I am doing better with this.  Ok, I’ve added some books, but they can’t possibly count as “stuff.”  Otherwise, I am making a much better effort to scan, file, and/or get rid of things.

1 thing I want to learn:  How to use Evernote.  I pay for Evernote, and I’ve tried a bit to use it, but I just can’t make it work for me.  I really like the folder idea, but I can’t seem to easily work out how to get my documents into the folders.  Notes and pictures, I can work out, but I haven’t figured out the documents.  It must be so easy.  I’m sure I’m going to chuckle then shake my head when I figure it out.

4 books:  High-Impact Writing Clinics, Rigourous Reading, The Common Core Companion, Reading Ladders.   All four are sitting on my desk.  I’ve read all of the front matter for High-Impact Writing Clinics, and now I’m working on how to try this out in one of my local middle school classes.  The Common Core Companion isn’t so much a “read” as a “use,”  We haven’t actually moved to the CCSS so this will be used a bit later.  I haven’t even cracked open the other two, so I’d better get to work.

I made fairly reasonable professional goals, most of which I expected to have done by now, so it’s disappointing to see that I’ve diverted my self-control resources.  On the bright side, I have written and posted 28 times this month!  🙂

SOLSC #27: Confusion in the Commode

Image“Excuse me, do you speak English?  I need help in the bathroom.”

The need to utter this question is one of my worst fears in Japan.  Why, oh why would I ever say such a thing, you may be wondering.  Well, it’s because I live in Japan, the land of high-tech, luxury toilets, and I don’t read Japanese. 

You see, not only are the toilets in Japan fancy, but it seems as if no two are the same.  If you hit the wrong button, you may get music or water sounds or a warmer toilet seat or a shower.   I’m rarely adventurous enough to roll the dice and take the chance that it’ll be the shower. 

Not only is there a buffet of buttons, but the buttons change from toilet to toilet.  The location of the buttons changes too.  It might be on the arm (yes, some toilets here have arms), or the back, or on the wall to the right or to the left of the toilet, or the wall behind the toilet, or it could be one button on the toilet.  Really, there seems to be endless possibilities for button choices and locations.

In fact, some toilets in Japan even have a faucet on the back of the toilet so that you can use the water that fills the tank to wash your hands.  It’s incredibly environmentally friendly, but I haven’t seen a corresponding soap dispenser, so I don’t normally use it.   Image

On more than one occasion I have stood in the stall for several minutes, looking, searching, trying to read, frenetic for the right button.  At the point of complete desperation, I try pulling together my few Japanese words and imaging the conversation.  Do I have enough words to make my plea for help?  Do I have enough guts to ask someone to help me flush the toilet? 

So far, the buttons have made themselves known just before the tears come, but each visit to the Japanese stall brings a new challenge and renewed anxiety.

SOLSC #26: Soroban

Slice of LifeI am English teacher, and I love reading and writing, but prior to college, math was my favorite subject.  I tend to be a practical, logical person and math just made sense.  I’ve attributed my comfort with math to bowling.  I started keeping score when I was very young (yes, long before automatic scorers), and I think it gave me a mathematical kickstart.  I needed to add, subtract and multiply in my head, so I did.  And, of course, the more you do something, the easier it gets.  I had no dependence on a calculator.

It has frustrated me as a teacher to see so many students struggle with basic calculations.  And this brings me to another thing I love about Japan … the soroban.  A soroban is a Japanese abacus, and they still use them in school here in Japan.  The students learn early, they practice, they 20140326-221357.jpgcompete.  They deal with numbers in the millions and billions and do it in seconds.  It is an amazing sight.

Today I had the pleasure of visiting a soroban contest.  The soroban organization holds an event to bring together elementary students from Japanese schools and American schools to compete, play games, and socialize.  Not all students from the American schools learn soroban.  I wish they did.  I wish students in the States did too.  It is such a pleasure to see students interested, focused, invested, and successful with a math activity.  Really, it’s not just math.  The students listen to the problems, do the calculations, and record their answers all in a second or two.  The students here are mostly listening to Japanese people read the problems.  So, not only do they have to hear the problem, but they have to understand the numbers read with an accent.  How many times do we tell students what page to turn to and have to repeat it three or four times (and maybe have it written on the board too).  Well, these problems are read once, they’re read quickly, and the students do the calculations in mere seconds.   They LISTEN and are focused.20140326-221438.jpg

This event gives the American students the opportunity to interact with their Japanese peers.  It teaches them Japanese culture and a little piece of history.  And I think it might also help instill a comfort with numbers and mathematical computations.



SOLSC #25: Am I Too Progressive?

There is a lovely couple that bowl in my league Tuesday night.  They are both 80.  The husband (Art) is American and the wife (Toshi) Japanese, and they’ve been here since Art was stationed here 50 years ago.  When I got out of my car this evening, Toshi came over with a little gift:  stuffed cabbage rolls and rice.  Toshi has brought me food before and it is always a treat.  While I was bowling, Art came over to my lanes.

Art:  Toshi told me what she gave you.  I asked her why she gave away my favorite food.  She said it was okay because she gave you her portion.

Me:  She is spoiling me!

Art:  As soon as I met her, I knew she would take care of me like my mother did.  You know, my mother used to clip my toenails.  Even when I was in the military, whenever I went home she’d still clip my toenails.

Honestly, I was a bit taken aback, and thankful that it was my turn to bowl so I didn’t really have to comment.  I know that Art is a different generation, but is it ok to say you got married so you’d have another mother?  (Ok, not his exact words.).

I was chatting with my teammate about this.  She is a Japanese woman married to an American man, although they are closer to my age.  She said, “Most men want either a maid or a mother.”  Now, this could refer to most American men (or men, in general) who marry Japanese women.  I immediately pointed out that I am good at neither – being a mother nor being a maid.  We discussed this idea of American men marrying Japanese women a bit.  Obviously, we see quite a bit of that here.  Something is not going well, though, because the divorce rate of Americans who marry Japanese is 70%.

This brought me back to a conversation that I had Sunday with a 25 yr old American male (Brian) and an 30 year old Japanese male (Kudoh).   Kudoh is looking for a new job and Brian asked him if he or his girlfriend made more money.  Kudoh replied that his girlfriend made more.  Brian asked if he was embarrassed by this.  Kudoh said no, he’s not.  Brian, who is recently married to a young Korean woman, said that he would be.  I was shocked again.  This seems like a very old fashioned philosophy to me, and I was shocked to hear it coming from a young American.

I know these are individuals and do not represent all men, but there are patterns that it is difficult to overlook.   I wonder if these patterns are specific to my current community and culture, or if I have spent my life misunderstanding men.