Easter 2013

Maybe it comes with living in a foreign country, or being part of a minority religion, I don’t know, but I go out of my way to make holidays more traditional than I probably would if I were living in the states where I grew up. They say immigrant communities tend to be more traditional, don’t they? Maybe this is what they mean.

Thanksgiving is mostly food, and Christmas is easy enough (though expressing the Christ part can get kind of hairy,) but Easter is really, really a non-event here. They now have a parade at Tokyo Disneyland. Hoo-freaking-rah. That helps. Five years ago, no one knew anything about it.

Procuring the necessary goodies and plastic eggs takes forethought and preparation, which are not exactly my strong points. And Easter, with her date switching every year, has an unpleasant habit of sneaking up on me. But this year, I started a month ahead of time searching for some decent baskets. The ones we had from the Foreign Buyers Club were not meant to be used long term and have completely fallen apart. I found two great baskets at a hole-in-the-wall kind of wicker shop near the entrance to Motomachi. I may very well be the only living being to have wandered into that shop for thirty years. But the baskets are great.

HRH passes a foreign foods store on his way to work every day. After much nagging and prompting, I got him to actually go inside, where he found some chocolate rabbits. Score.

He then forgot to buy anything for White Day, and busted out the chocolate bunnies. I mean, really? I managed to convince her to put them in the fridge so they wouldn’t melt, and she eventually forgot about them.

After determining that HRH was useless in this effort, I headed out to another foreign foods store where I managed to find two kind of Easter candy and the last bag of plastic eggs. Enter a little help from Amazon, the hundred yen store, and I bring you Easter 2013.

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The plan was to go to church this morning, but I had stupidly arranged for Me First’s desk to be delivered this morning. See what I mean about the sneaking up on me? If Easter was a set day of the year or at least on the calendar here, that wouldn’t have happened. Let me say that out loud one more time so I can believe it is someone else’s fault…. Okay done.

We made Easter eggs yesterday, and I put the hot cross buns in the oven last night. It took a while since my oven is so small, I could only bake four at a time. And then?

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Come on! We can eat more than that! Next year, I think I’ll just let them make the crosses with a chocolate pen instead of doing it the old fashioned way. Cause that is what we all need on Easter, right? MORE chocolate. My kids are prostrate on the floor now after over indulging.

I guess that’s how you learn, though.

Happy Easter, everyone!

Ain’t that the truth….

Me Too still hasn’t exactly figured out the words to her favorite Christmas carols. Here’s her version of We Wish You a Merry Christmas:

We wish it was merry Christmas
We wish it was merry Christmas
We wish it was merry Christmas
And a happy new year!

Good tied things we bring
To you and your kid
Good tied things for Christmas
And a happy new year!

This is, of course, much better than last year, when the second verse was just a bunch of garbled gobbledygook. I’m not sure exactly what “good tied things” she is envisioning…

Every time she sings this (often while she is riding on the back of my bicycle, as loud as she can,) I can’t help but think, “Ain’t that the truth? That’s exactly what half the kids in the world are thinking right now, how they wish it was merry Christmas.”

I hear her in the other room, right now, adding random animals to “Jesus Our Brother Kind and Good.” I do hope the baby Jesus survives to the last verse.

Ashes to Ashes

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Sorry for the brief hiatus there.

We have been doing really important, monumental things like playing in the garden hose, catching fireflies, “visiting,” and “having company.” All those small town southern things people do without ever appreciating the uniqueness of it, as we languish on back porches recovering from the heat of the day with a glass of (iced sweet) tea, or wine (for the backsliders amongst us.)

Yesterday my sister, brother (plus one,) and cousin took Dad’s ashes up to Table Rock and sprinkled them into the wind. I’d thought this was a really important occasion I needed to be a part of, but when we got there and were facing a three mile (each way) hike up a freakin’ mountain in 98F (37C) temperatures complete with soul crushing humidity, I thought better of it. And that was before I saw the “Frequent Bear Sitings” signs.

It was important to my sister. I stayed at the lake and took the kids swimming (there were six of varying ages between 4-15.) That was hard enough. My cousin made it halfway up Table Rock and then came back. Plus One doesn’t seem like an outdoorsy type, she did the best she could. They all came back three hours later, tired and stinky.

Strangely enough, Dad’s ashes did not block out the sun. No flights were cancelled. No animals were harmed.

And that was that.

Happy Fourth

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I’ve been feeling kind of ick all week. It took me a while to figure out exactly what was bothering me. I mean, besides the usual factors: unhelpful husband, wild children, dirt magnet aka house, life in a foreign country, whether or not they caught all those penguins that escaped from the zoo.

It finally dawned on me that was nagging at me was the upcoming American holiday we all know and love, the fourth of July.

Lots of things are kind of off in Japan. Christmas is all about Col. Sanders (you may think I’m joking, but sadly you are wrong,) Halloween is explained on morning news programs as an “American religious holiday,” (please don’t tell God,) Easter is celebrated exclusively at Disneyland. For the most part, I can lament the screwing up of these events with other English speaking foreigners, though Halloween I think is most closely shared with our neighbors up north. That’s Canada. But you know that. (Please say you know that.)

Anyway,

The point I am getting to is that Independence Day is pretty lonely around here. How appropriate. I mean, sure, there are the 42,000 service members stationed throughout the country, but they seem to have better things to do. From where we live, I can hear their fireworks and almost smell the hamburgers, but I’m not invited.

It’s still rainy season here in central Honshu, and when the weather is gloomy it is easier to ignore thoughts of family and friends back home, grilling hamburgers, drinking too much beer, and talking too much. Not that I ever do that. I like grilled hot dogs with my beer and too much talking.

For a number of years, I just kind of gamaned and ganbarued through July 4th. But now there are two other American passport holders in the house, and I feel compelled to celebrate. Being an American abroad can be kind of hairy sometimes. Lots of other nationalities don’t like American policies, though they do like to tell Americans about it. I want to instill in my children a sense of identity, not necessarily pride but at least an understanding of what it is to be American before they have to wade the murky depths of Japan’s Ministry of Education’s version of history.

So today we made an American flag cake. We had hamburgers and watermelon for dinner. We talked about how today is America’s birthday. I didn’t go into any details, for now that is enough. And though we won’t be doing any fireworks, (I want them in bed as soon as it gets dark!) the day didn’t pass unnoticed.

And I realized I’m not alone after all.

Happy fourth to all the Americans out there!

The Card

Yesterday was Father’s Day here in Japan.

I bought some blank little books with nice white covers from Muji and had the kids write stories for their dad. Instead of wrapping them I got a plain A4 sized bag from the same store to put it in and let them decorate it with fabric markers. For Jiji (aka my FIL), I had the kids each draw a picture and then put it in a little folding frame.

The kids liked the idea of the stuff for Dad. When it came time to draw a picture of Jiji, though, Me Too was less than enthused. She came back with a brown circle.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Poop,” she answered.

(~_~;)

We couldn’t exactly give Jiji a framed pic o’poop for Father’s Day, so I had her try again. It was a real half-ass effort. Brother did a good job, though, so the project was salvageable.

And that was Father’s Day, brought to you for less than $10.

I spent a lot of the day trying not to think too much about my own father. He never put much stock into “Hallmark Holidays.” But sometimes the harder you try not to think of something, the harder it is to put it from your mind.

I got to thinking (first mistake) and I can’t seem to remember one thing I ever gave Dad for Father’s Day. There must have been something, more or less every year. Cards? Gift certificates? I vaguely recall something about golf club head covers, but that could have been a birthday thing….

Some great daughter I was, huh?

When we were going through Dad’s things, after he died but before the funeral extravaganza, I found a Father’s Day card to his dad from 1951, signed “Love, Wee Roy.” 1951 would have been Fred’s first Father’s Day. (I never met him so I don’t think I could call him Grandpa.) They’d been married for a lot of years before my Dad came along. That card was a long time coming. It must have felt pretty good.

Then there’s the whole “Wee Roy” bit. My dad wasn’t tall, but what he lacked in stature he made up for in brawn. And personality. Nothing wee about the man, that’s for sure.

For whatever reason, both Fred and my Dad’s middle name was Leroy. As I’m sure you can imagine, this caused quite a bit of confusion. (For my international readers: Leroy was a popular name in the fifties and sixties for black men. Which my dad wasn’t.)

Sometimes fancy folks would try to dress that name up and call him LeRoy, with the emphasis on the last syllable. Of course being addressed like the King of France was no better for my dad since it probably made him afraid somebody was gonna try and cut his head off.

I remember being at a commencement ceremony for my dad, who was receiving his master’s degree in divinity. (Incidently, this did not make him divine although he did insist on being called “master” for several weeks afterward.)

Dad was next in line. The presidente of the seminary, or whoever he was, with all his fancy robes, white hair, and spectacles balanced by some miracle of God there on the tip of his nose, looks at my dad. He looks at the name on the diploma. He looks at Dad again. He then mispronounces Dad’s name as LeRoy.

Dad accepts the diploma, but in doing so leans over the podium and mutters in his best Georgia boy accent, “I’m just a Leroy.” Then back straight and eyes forward he walks strongly off the podium and back to his seat.

And I don’t know if I ever felt more proud.

In my imagination, in that strange, dim place where I meet people I’ve never met and bring people together who no longer walk this earth, I see Fred. He’s tall and stocky, black-and-white. I see him balance Wee Roy on his knee as he opens that card. He tries to hide a smile. He’s just as proud and happy as me at the commencement all those years ago.

Then the door closes and I’m left again without either of them.

Father’s Day is different when your father has passed on. It’s more of a day of reflection, of regret. For me there is still a lot of grief and sadness. But I got to be with my Dad for 33 years, which is a lot more than Fred had with Wee Roy.

For that, I am thankful.

And maybe one day, if we meet in that dim place, I’m gonna have some fun teasing them and calling them both Wee Roy.

Keep on Hopping

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Well, that was weird.

I could have sworn (actually I did swear quite a bit) that I still had an egg dying kit left over from last year. I’m d@mn near sure I did, by god, because I had to f’ing order the gaddomn things from the sh!tty Foreign Buyers Club.

Sigh.

See what I mean?

I’m pretty sure I know what happened. HRH is constantly cleaning out closets and cabinets, things that I would never ever do. Mainly because I spend all of my time cleaning crud off the floor. But anyway, HRH in my imagination goes, “WTH is is? We haven’t used this in a year!” and tosses it out.

International marriage 101: do NOT throw away stuff from the other culture’s holiday without first confirming when said holiday is. Easter is a tricky one, I get that. I can’t remember when it is either. I’ve tried explaining it to HRH why it changes every year, but his eyes glaze over. Kind of like an Easter egg.

At any rate, I can’t find the thing now. I tried to make natural food coloring using green tea and curry powder, but it didn’t work out very well. Except for on my hands, on course. Now this stupid crazy idea wasn’t totally out of left field; I’ve used those things in dying play dough before. But alas, it won’t work for eggs.

The only food coloring I have in the house right now is red.

So now here is the conundrum: drag my two tired children and my frumpy self (dark circles and all) to the grocery store to procure food coloring and thus throw off the whole evening routing by at least half an hour, or make due with red eggs.

Scroll up and laugh at the photo of our red eggs. I’ll wait….

Okay, well, another thing happened to us earlier in the day that made me feel okay about something like an Easter with only red eggs. (P.S. Please don’t tell Me Too because she thinks they are all pink, and she is thrilled. She’s also planning to leave chocolate for the Easter bunny. I guess we need to talk about who is leaving what for whom.)

I think I’ve mentioned before that my kids go to an “English school” several Saturdays a month. Lately the parents have been arranging an activity for the siblings who are waiting. (There are two classes and only one classroom.) Anyway, today was my turn to prepare something for the older kids, and I brought an Easter themed crossword. It went over really well. In was hamming it up a lot and trying to get the kids talking (in English!) as well as sharing our (more or less) common culture.

In the course of the activity, it becomes apparent that our house is the only house expecting a visit from the Easter bunny. We were also the only family dying eggs. Maybe it’s because Me First is one of the youngest ones in the class, maybe because for the majority of these kids it’s the dad who is non-Japanese, and Dads seem to view this kind of stuff as woman’s work. But I’m assuming. I don’t know.

It made me sad. I suspect it may have pissed of Jesus. Wait, let me re-think that for a minute…Maybe the Easter bunny actually pisses him off more, hum. (Note to self: stop thinking for Jesus.) Anyway, if I’d known that the extent of Easter for this particular group of kids consisted solely of a party we had two weeks ago, I would have planned a different activity. We could have dyed eggs together. Maybe even used more than one color.

So I’m feeling like I earned some extra credit in the raising bilingual, bicultural kids category just by trying. (And my kids even know Easter is about Jesus coming back from the dead- bonus point! But they keep referring to today as “Easter Eve” so minus one. And Me Too thinks the Easter baskets go under the table so minus two. D@mn.) Anyway, I’m okay with the all-red eggs. At least it was an effort, and in our own only-red way, we’ve participated in an ancient tradition that actually pre-dates Christ.

Things like decorating the Christmas tree, dying Easter eggs, dressing up for Halloween, all those seemingly illogical things we do for the sake of tradition connect us to the past in a way studying and reading about history cannot. How many generations of children have awed in delight when an egg emerges from the dye? Like it’s magic.

Since Dad died a year and a half ago, these traditions have taken on a different meaning for me. I do them with my children, but half of my heart is back in my own childhood, reliving the sweet, simple moments. The happy times have become bittersweet. But I think there is meaning in that, in connecting ourselves to the past and to the future. I hope one day my children are able to appreciate the effort.

In the meantime, nobody seems to mind the red pink eggs.

Happy Easter Eve, everyone.

Celebrating the Girls

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March 3rd is Girls Day in Japan. To all of us with double x chromosomes, congratulations!

You get nothing.

No presents, no national holiday, no flagpole outside announcing how many of you your family is blessed with, no free zoo tickets, no special baths with weeds in it, no parades. None of the stuff the boys get on Boys Day, which insultingly enough is called 子供の日, Children’s Day, as if it were understood there are only one kind of children that really count.

Not that I’m bitter. Just my insights as a foreigner, and repeating a bunch of garbage HRH said.

And maybe I’ve overstated my point a bit. Most people purchase Hina Ningyo dolls for the daughters first Girls Day, which wasn’t the case in past generations. MIL said her parents couldn’t afford to “waste” money on their only daughter (though of course they had a kabuto warrior display for their three sons,) but they took her to a relatives house to see her dolls every year. These dolls are important because supposedly they are able to take on injury or worse in place of the daughter in case of fire or natural disaster. If they are damaged, you can’t just throw them away. You must send them to a shrine where they are blessed and given thanks for sparing your child, then disposed of with dignity. All for a price, of course. There was an article in the newspaper about dolls pulled from the ruins after the tsunami last year. Very sad.

In this part of Japan, you can’t hand down the dolls. People think the bad things they’ve absorbed for their original owner will be transferred to the new owner. So every female in the family has her own set.

Convenient for the doll makers, eh?

Girls Day turns out to be what your mother makes of it. If your mother does nothing, then it passes like any other day.

Needless to say, I make a big deal out of it.

It seems like all of the things we celebrate for girls and women: graduation, weddings, baby showers, etc., are really just ways of easing a hard transition and pretending it’s something to be happy about. That’s no different here. 七五三, shichiーgoーsan, Entrance Ceremonies, eating celebratory red rice upon menarche, Coming of Age Day, weddings are all just the beginning of a newer, harder time for the female being “celebrated.” Girls Day, though, is a chance to just be happy you have a daughter and pray for her health and happiness. Sounds like a good idea to me.

This year, Girls Day was on a Saturday. It hasn’t been on the weekend since Me Too was born. So I had to orchestrate it in conjunction with the in-laws.

Danger danger danger

MIL has no daughters. This was the first year she’s been on the prep side of Girls Day. In past years PIL were working so Girls Day passed unnoticed (by them.) The kids and I just did something at home. This year, however, MIL was dead set on doing a traditional Girls Day spread: chirashi zushi, clear soup with candy colored balls, pink and green mochi rice cakes. All of that is nice, really. Except that the girl being celebrated won’t eat any of it.

Apparently Me Too isn’t the only one with this problem. The supermarket was full of child friendly alternatives: pizza, sandwiches, non-raw seafood containing sushi (I saw some with fried shrimp inside. Unheard of in Japan!)

I suggested pizza for the kids. They really shouldn’t be eating raw fish yet, anyway.

Somehow this turned into me making me pizza from scratch.

」-¥@:&;)-」…-&1¥:)!!!

Me Too helped roll out the dough. She insisted on having a heart shaped pizza, which we managed somehow, and she ate most of it. So, yay. We ordered a very cute ice cream cake, which was quickly devoured inspire of everyone being double stuffed with pizza and sushi. Good evening all around.

MIL’s “sushi cake” there at the top looked great, but she put parsley in it for some green, so it tasted really weird. Nothing wasabi couldn’t fix, but if you, gentle reader, decide to make a sushi cake I’d suggest using cucumber or avocado instead. She’d obviously gone to a lot of trouble, and for once thank goodness the menfolk refrained from making nasty comments about the food.

MIL can’t just sit back and not be in charge of something, so she kept invading my pizza space. Apparently she loves onions on pizza. She kept loading them on, I kept re-distributing when she wasn’t looking because raw onions on pizza are just wrong, I don’t care what country you’re from.

BIL didn’t show up.

He’s missed Brother’s birthday, his mother’s birthday, his father’s birthday, his parents’ anniversary, and now Girls Day in the past three months.

Apparently, though, he was on a date. So woo-freaking-hoo. Maybe he’ll get married and then can take on some of his descended-from-heaven oldest son duties.

I’m a little worried about how my children will feel when/if the in-laws get their long awaited uchi-mago. They won’t be the center of attention anymore, and that is bound to hurt. But I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

But back to Girls Day. You are supposed to put the dolls away as soon as possible after Girls Day (but the weather must be good), or your daughter will suffer the insurmountable embarrassment of a late marriage. Yeah, well….I alway leave Me Too’s out a day or two too long. She’s worth waiting for.

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