Wednesday, May 10, 2017

When the Weekend Swings Japanese

For us, most weekends are a mix of Japanese and American culture. Almost all Saturdays, from here until the foreseeable end of time, are given over to Japanese School in San Francisco. For Mimi now, and for the other kids when their number is called, it's not a question of attending; it's a given. A few weekends ago we were greeted with carp flags.
After Japanese School, and perhaps tackling some Japanese homework, we tend to shift back to more western-focused pursuits. For Kuri, that means German cars.
And perhaps we'll go out for brunch on Sunday, and just happen to come across a space museum.
This past weekend, however, swung way to the Japanese side, though, at first, we weren't sure it would. Saturday began with Sumie taking Mimi down to SF for Japanese School. She was going to sit in on the class and then listen to a talk from the teacher afterwards. In the afternoon, we were planning to attend a memorial for some elderly friends of Sumie's family who had sadly passed away.

I had thought Sumie would be coming back after meeting with the teacher to help me corral the kids and get them ready for the service, but the meeting went long, which meant I was on my own. I would have to get the kids prepped and drive them down to the city. I dressed up Kuri as best I could...
...and then got Mariko set.
After that, it was time for me to get ready. Unfortunately, this is a bit challenging with a one year old and a three year old on the loose. Kuri's new fascination with photography, and the ease of operating an iPhone, led him to capturing just how stealthily Mariko can sneak over to play with the toilet water.
He also managed to capture the results when Papa finds that his little girl is, once again, trying to destroy the potty.
Despite the child chasing, I made it to SF in time to meet with Sumie and Mimi. We then drove down to Mountain View, hit up a few Japanese grocery stores, and then made it over to the memorial. It was held in a gorgeous Japanese Buddhist temple, but I saw very little of it as the one year old and the three year old weren't too enthralled with chanting and speeches.

We attended the reception afterwards and were able to talk with Kenji, Sumie's brother's good friend and the grandson of the couple we were celebrating. Sumie's sister and her daughter Nana also made it out and, despite multiple kids, we were able to get a picture (of sorts).

One big development was that Kenji's little girl, who is also three, seemed to have a little crush on Kuri. Like most boys, he wasn't quite sure how to handle it.
On Sunday, Mimi, Kuri, and I headed out for Cars and Coffee and then, upon our return, we thought we'd continue our Western Sunday with brunch. We planned a trip to a restaurant in Sebastopol and then to a funky bakery near Tomales Bay - Wild Flour Bread. I had no idea our Japanese adventures would continue.

The restaurant we went to, The Gravenstein Grill, was fantastic. Mimi and Kuri insisted on climbing the stone lions outside.
The weather was gorgeous, so we were able to eat outside on the patio. Mimi attempted to teach Mari how to do Junken (rock, paper, scissors).
Mari quickly gave up, however, and just focused on looking cute.
Kuri, however, became obsessed with the game. There was just one problem: he couldn't form the scissors with his hand. Poor guy. After some help from Papa, he finally got it. He was still excited about it a few days later. "Look Papa! Ni! ("two" in Japanese) he'll yell, holding up his right hand in a peace sign proudly.
At brunch, our waiter told us that there was a Japanese festival (a matsuri) happening just up the road in Santa Rosa. We were pretty shocked. When we first moved to Marin, Sumie in particular was very worried that there wouldn't be much of a Japanese presence. And while there's definitely a dearth of Asian stores and Japanese restaurants up here, we've found that there's a rather vibrant Japanese community up here north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The matsuri was small, but had some great performances by local Japanese dance and drum troupes. Mimi and Kuri both got shaved ice. 
And Mimi, here in the middle of the pic in the sun her father had to hide from, recognized a boy from her Japanese class. 
After the matsuri, we hit the bakery, drove down past Tomales Bay, and returned home for a little rest and relaxation. Mimi and Kuri decided to organize Kuri's cars. 
And I, after getting the kids ready for bed, finally had a chance to look in the mirror to review the damage of the day. Perhaps it's hard to see from this pic, but there was a massive snot stain across my shirt. Of course, I had no idea how long it had been there. Ah, life with kids.
Looking back over this past weekend, I'm still amazed at just how many opportunities my kids, who are all Japanese as well as American citizens, have to take part in Japanese culture. We do make a bit of a sacrifice to live here, but when the kids can experience both of their cultures so readily, it's well worth it!

Friday, April 21, 2017

A Spring "Break" with Kids...and more kids.

When you have kids, especially multiple children, the terms "break" or "vacation" that used to cause such excitement when they followed "spring," "summer," or "winter" take on a very different meaning. They require quotes when said by parents. Observe:

Parent at School: How was your Spring Break?

Mimi: Good! I went to the museum, and then skiing, and then I played outside. No homework!

Steve: Spring "Break?" Yeah, uh, it was good. Yeah, good. I think. We did a lot of stuff. Um, is today Tuesday? I honestly don't know anymore.

While school breaks and vacations no longer hold the same excitement for parents as they do for their kids (the week after the week off ironically becomes the week off), they remain just as much of an adventure.

Our Spring Break began early, but just on Saturdays. Mimi had recently graduated from Kindergarten in her Saturday Japanese school. That meant she had a few Saturdays free.
We took advantage of this with a family hike to Cascade falls here in Marin. Kuri and Mimi did a great job scampering up the hills. Sumie, strapped down with a baby, still managed to take her tea with her. There's no stopping certain addictions.
With Mimi off Japanese school, that meant her cousins in Japan were free as well. And they were on their way. Sumie's brother arrived with his wonderful wife and four kids. It's always a special time when the cousins get together. For some reason, they liked staying in our house. I can't imagine why...
The weather was gorgeous, but it still got a bit cold at night. It's amazing how many kids can fit under a kotatsu when the temperature drops.
We took advantage of the great weather with a trip up to Napa and picnic out at Paradise beach.
Christopher, Shuhei, and I even woke up early on Sunday to take the Porsche to Cars and Coffee. This was really special for Kuri. Not only did he get to see cars, he got to enjoy them with his cousin idol. They really earned those cookies that morning.
Mimi still had school while her cousins were visiting. As they took a trip down to LA, the family gathered together at Mimi's school to share in Author's Week.
 And, of course, with the sun out and Spring finally in the air, we had to take the top off the car..
...and ride bikes in the back yard.
Just before Mimi was set to go on Spring Break here in the states, her Japanese school started back up. We went to Mimi's entrance ceremony for first grade...
...and then went home and played with Ooblick!
Before we knew it, Spring Break started in earnest. It wasn't just for Mimi. Mariko had a week off from daycare and Kuri, well, there was no way he'd go to preschool if both his sisters were at home. The only one who didn't have time off was Sumie, at least until Thursday and Friday. On Tuesday I took all three kids up to Sacramento to visit their Great Grandmother. Unfortunately, with just me on duty with three kids, I forgot to take pictures!

The following day my mom came over to celebrate her birthday a few days late. We decided to go down to the Discovery Museum...
...and fill up on fish and chips at Fish in Sausalito.
Mari approved of the restaurant choice. She was particularly fond of the chips.
We finished off the day with cake back at home. Mari had had so many chips, she passed out before she could get to the cake.
We'd definitely been on the move the past few weeks, but there was still more to do. Early Thursday morning we packed up for a one-night trip to Tahoe. One thing I learned from doing this: if you're going to pack three kids for a trip to the snow, you might as well go for a week. It takes the same amount of time. I took less luggage when I moved to Japan than I did for the family for one night 200 miles away from home.

10 miles from Donner Lake, where we'd be staying, we found Highway 80 closed thanks to yet another significant snow. We decided to brave waiting it out for an hour with three kids who needed to pee, but were rewarded with a warm lodge room and a beautiful view of the wintry storm.
Our room had a great little breakfast nook...
...where little girls could pout for no particular reason.
 After dinner, Mimi and Kuri insisted on a snowball fight. Papa obliged.
In the morning we woke to a crystal clear day.
Mimi and her Papa headed to the ski resort, where Mimi had her first lesson and her Papa, who hadn't skied in 20 years, managed not to kill himself.
As Mimi skied, Mari cuddled with her Mama back at the lodge and Kuri focused on making more snowballs.
Just before we left, we picked up a sled and found a hill. Again, we had to split up. Sumie took the two oldest while I hung out in the Pilot with a tuckered out baby.
We returned late Friday night, but rest was not on the schedule for Saturday. Mimi had Japanese school and I, well, I'd earned a reprieve. Bidding the family an early goodbye, I hopped in the Porsche and joined some friends for an, um, "spirited" drive out on the coast. It was my first child-free moment in almost two weeks.
Normally Sunday would've been our family day of rest, but the Cherry Blossom festival was wrapping up in San Francisco and Sumie had been asked, for the 6th time, to speak at the Japanese Senior Brunch in Japantown. It also being Easter Sunday, we dolled up the kids, cleaned up ourselves, and went to brave a formal brunch and awards ceremony with a six year old, a three year old, and one hyper-squirmy one year old. Here's a spot of Mari, who I had taken out into the lobby so she could point virtually everything and comment in lively babble. It's her favorite hobby.
All three kids made it through the brunch!
In fact, we all made it through not only the brunch, but through what amounted to two jam-packed Spring Breaks. We even still looked somewhat presentable.
To call the past several weeks to a vacation, or even a break, would be a bit of a misnomer. They were, however, quite an adventure. I'm not quite sure where our next round of time off will take us, but I'm sure it's going to be an exhausting, rewarding, memorable time.