Sunday, May 4, 2014

How Not to Climb Fuji: #2

So we've already covered How Not to Climb Mt. Fuji #1, Wait Until the Last Minute

Image courtesy of Michal Marcol /

Now it is time for #2

2.  Do No Physical Conditioning

Part of the reason climbing Fuji is so popular is because it is totally doable even for a beginner.

But that doesn't mean it is just a walk in the park.

It is a very long way up and a very long way down.

At high elevation.

We meant to prepare.  We intended to do some shorter mountain hikes near home in the weeks preceeding our climb.  We meant to be working out daily leading up to the climb.

But it was a busy time (see post #1) and blah, blah, blah.

The truth is, I was the only member of the family who was regularly working out at the time.  Oldest Girl was frequently walking home the 2 miles from school and the Professor walked a lot in the normal course of his work but... the other two were essentially couch potatoes.

"We'll do a lot of hiking during our vacation in Guam," we said.  "There are lovely mountains in Guam."

It is true there are lovely mountains in Guam.  But the reality of tropical heat and humidity hit us harder than we expected and the lure of the lovely beaches and snorkeling was strong--too strong for us to resist.

We started up that mountain about 6 am full of energy and enthusiasm.  We were hiking with several other boy scout families and we were a chipper bunch.  Many of the scouts and siblings had participated in our Vacation Bible School so we even sang some VBS songs as we climbed.

We had perfect weather, warm but not hot, sunny clear skies.  Most horror stories about Fuji involve rain, fog and cold temperatures.  Not us.  It was beautiful.

I hadn't really thought much about the experience of hiking Fuji.  It was more of an item to be checked off a too do list.  But I must say I really enjoyed the hike up.  Honestly,  I throughly enjoyed the hike up.  Way, way more than I expected to.

Unfortunately, what goes up must come down.  But more on that later.

Friday, May 2, 2014

How NOT to climb Fuji

There is a saying among westerners stationed in Japan that if you don't climb Mt. Fuji while you are there you will end up stationed there again.

Image courtesy of Aduldej /

Fuji climbing mishap stories abound as well.  It is a lot like birth horror stories.  When you are pregnant everyone seems to delight in telling you about how bad things went for them (or their cousin's cousin twice removed).

As soon as people hear you are planning to climb Fuji, the stories will come out.

Here's our story, or as I like to think of it, a tutorial in all the things NOT to do when planning to or actually climbing Fujisan.

I'm going to split it into parts and call it my "Top 10* Things Not to Do When Climbing Fuji"

Top 10 Things NOT to Do When Climbing Fuji

Number 1:  Wait Until the Last Minute

Very early on in our time in Japan we (that is the Professor and I) decided we wanted to climb Fuji.   But we wanted to do it with the kids so we decided to wait for them to get a bit bigger so they would be able to make the climb.

Our last summer in Japan was approaching and it was a very full one.  The window for climbing Fuji is small.  You can only go in July and August.  It was hard to see how we would fit this in.  Then the boy scouts announced a family trip to Fuji and it just happened to be at the only possible time for us to make the climb.  How could we pass this up?

The first week of July I was crazy busy preparing for the major event of my job, running a Vacation Bible School with over 250 kids and 100 volunteers.

The second week of July**, we went on a family vacation to Guam.  Great fun and very relaxing.

The third week of July was non stop motion preparing for VBS and asking myself what I was thinking taking a vacation the week before.

Then the crazy week of VBS itself.  All 5 of us were heavily involved including the Professor who helped out each day and then went to work and put in another full day.

VBS ended on Friday.

Sunday morning we went to the 8:00 am service and then drove the 12 hours down to Camp Fuji to meet up with the boy scouts.

Monday morning at 5 am we headed out to the mountain.

Tuesday afternoon the Professor took the train back home and the kids and I drove in to Tokyo so we could meet up with my brother and his family who were flying in for a visit.

So, tight schedule like I said.

'Cause when you're planning to climb a 3776 meters mountain it obviously makes sense to start out already exhausted right?
*Or however many things I end up coming up with.  Obsessive pre-planning is obviously not my problem or I wouldn't have this story to tell.

**Only time the Professor could go

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Don't know, can't reach

Children should do chores, right?

Image courtesy of franky242 /

It is important for them to know they contribute to the family plus it teaches important life skills.

And of course, I get awfully tired of doing it all myself.

We don't do any kind of chore charts these days.  I tend to just nab any child who isn't actively doing homework when a job needs doing.  Not surprisingly this system leads to a lot of suddenly remembered homework.  Which is great because if said child was just goofing off prior to being nabbed there is obviously plenty of time for him (or her) to do the chore and then start on the homework that I am now aware needs doing.

Yesterday, Imagination Boy unloaded the dishwasher.  I was sitting at the table reading the newspaper (one of my important daily chores).  I glanced up and saw an amazing sight.

The dishwasher was empty and IB had the final dish in his hands and was opening all the cupboards looking for the proper place to put it.

I nearly had to choke back a sob.

My baby is growing up.

For years, IB would declare himself finished with the job of unloading the dishwasher and I would find it still half full of dishes.

"Those are the ones I don't know where they go or I can't reach to put them away" he would say.

Over the years, the phrase got shortened.

"Have you finished unloading the dishwasher," I would say.

"All but don't know, can't reach," he would reply.

The most annoying part of this is that usually Music Girl would be tasked with loading after IB had unloaded.  Rather than put away the clean dishes left behind or even alerting me to the situation, she usually just added dirty dishes to the clean.

But yesterday, yesterday my little boy not only was tall enough to reach any dish location in the kitchen, but he even took initiative to look for the proper place to put a dish he wasn't sure about.

I'm so proud.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Noodles in Xi'an: Memorable Meal Monday

Over the years and during our travels, we have had many memorable meals, some good, some bad, but on the whole more good than bad.  I thought Mondays might be a good time to remember some of those meals.

One such meal was a dish of noodles in Xi'an, an old city in China.

Xi'an is most famous for the Terra Cotta Warriors and that is what brought us there.

But when we headed just a wee bit off of the beaten tourist path, we began to wonder if maybe we were the greatest attraction in Xi'an.

In Bejing our pasty white family of five was constantly being stopped and asked to pose for pictures by Chinese tourists.  "Three children!" they would say to me or the Professor, "So lucky! So lucky!"

After thinking about the one child policy and the fact that our three are quite close in age and have strawberry blond hair, perhaps this attention wasn't surprising.

But in Xi'an the attention rose to a whole 'nother level.

When we walked down the street, we pretty much stopped traffic.

People at road side cafes stopped with food held halfway to their mouths.  Couples stopped their conversations to stare open mouthed at us as we walked by.  Small children followed us down the road.

It was an interesting experience.

So, getting to the meal.  It was dinnertime and we were hungry after a day full of sightseeing.

Choosing a place to eat while traveling is often not one of our finer moments.  The Professor and I are both cheap frugal so while we enjoy good food we don't want to waste money on a bad experience.

In our European travels, the question usually was, "Do you think this will be a good place to eat?"*

In our Asian travels, the question became, "Do you think this IS a place to eat?"

So, there we were, hungry in Xi'an, searching for a place to eat.  We had already rejected one option because they had no pictures on the menu (expecting English would have been way too much to ask for but we can make do with pictures).

We found a little place with people inside eating at small tables.  There was a picture menu (all writing in Chinese of course) so we decided to give it a try.

We stepped in the door and a woman rushed over to us and began chatting away.  Rather than seating us at one of the empty tables she motioned for us to follow her as she lead us through the dining area to some stairs.  We followed her up the stairs going past another floor which also had people sitting at tables eating (with plenty of empty tables) and up to the third floor where they was yet another room full of tables but this one had no other people in in.

After flipping through the menu perusing the pictures while the waitress stood by waiting, we pointed at a bowl of noodles and hoped for the best.

Image courtesy of Simon Howden /

When the food arrived it looked absolutely nothing like the picture we thought we had ordered. Perhaps the staff determined that what we had ordered was unlikely to appeal to Western tastebubs.  Perhaps we had ordered wrong.  Perhaps all the dishes looked nothing like the photos.

In any case we picked up our chopsticks and dug in.

Now, let me just state for the record that we had been living in Asia for three years at this point.  We were all accomplished with chopsticks.

But not with this dish.  These were the widest, slipperyist noodles I have ever encountered.  You would lean forward and think you had one captured on your chopsticks.  You'd lift it cautiously up to your mouth, open wide and at the last moment it would slip through the chopsticks to fall back in the bowl with a splash.

We were all eating out of the same bowl, so soon all of our heads were practically touching in the center of the table as we positioned ourselves so as to minimize the distance the noodles had to travel from bowl to mouth and maximize the chances of getting the delicious noodles into our mouths.

Because, make no mistake, these noodles were absolutely delicious.  The best noodles I have ever had or ever expect to have in my entire life.

And all five members of the family loved the noodles.  Do you know how often in all of our travels all five of us have enjoyed the same dish?


It didn't take long before we realized that we had an audience.  After the waitress set our food down, she backed away and stood against the wall of the room and watched us eat.  She was quickly joined by a few other waitresses who also stood watching us.  They were soon joined by the kitchen staff.

It wasn't long before at least a dozen people in restaurant uniforms stood silently around the perimeter of the room and watched us eat our noodles.

Which might have been intimidating but in truth, the noodles were so tasty, and actually getting them into our mouths so challenging and the whole situation so absurd, that we were all just a giggly joyful mess.  And may I point out that laughing does not enhance ones chopstick handling abilities.

We finished the bowl and ordered another one and then another until we were satisfied.  It was one of the best and also one of the cheapest meals we ever ate overseas.

It was also the most entertaining.

For us and for the restaurant staff.

*Translation:  "Will it be affordable, tasty and have food the picky children will eat?"  I ate the most expensive albeit also the most delicious grilled cheese sandwich of my life in Paris after Imagination Boy rejected what I figured was a sure fired child pleaser.

**Unless you count Gelato, which I don't since it is desert and even there we all had to have our own flavors.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Diet Bet: Friday Favorites

4 years ago I lost 60 lbs.  Maybe someday I'll write about that journey.  It was both hard work and very easy.

I have also beat the statistics by keeping the weight off.


It's that mostly part that bothers me sometimes.

The truth is that in the last 4 years I have never gotten anywhere near putting all the weight back on.  I have found it easy to keep at least 40 lbs down from my top weight.

It's those last 20 lbs that have a tendency to creep back on when I'm under stress.  And then I have to get all disciplined with myself and work them back off again.

The thing is, it was easier to stay motivated to lose weight the first time when the results were dramatic and everyone around me was encouraging me.

No one notices when I am struggling to take off those final 20 lbs, again.

But I found a great tool to keep me encouraged and on track

I have now completed 2 month long diet bets and have doubled my money.  Basically the way it works is you put up a certain amount of money to enter a bet.  You then have four weeks to lose 4% of your body weight.  Everyone's money goes into a pool, the diet bet people take their cut and at the end of 4 weeks the pot is split between everyone who managed to lose at least 4% of their body weight.

I knew that losing 4% was very doable for me but that I would have to work on it.  I knew myself and knew that if I put money up, there was no way I was going to let myself fail.  

For me diet bet was the perfect way to keep myself accountable and on track.  The last day before my last weigh in I was at a March Madness party and I know I would have overeaten if it wasn't for the bet.

I'm not getting paid by dietbet or anything, I just thought it was a cool concept that worked for me and some of you might want to know about it.

You can get a group together and do a bet or you can just join in one.  You can do up to 3 at a time.  I just joined a public one.   

I put up $60 originally for 2 different $30 games that ran at the same time.  I then plowed some of my winnings back into another 2 games the following month.   When I won those games also, I decided I was too close to goal weight to want to do more bets so I cashed out at $131.  

Not bad.  

Want to know what exciting things I did with the winnings?  Paid for Oldest Girl's SAT test. *

Yup, I live on the edge.

*Mostly just because the winnings are paid out via paypal and when I went to pay for the SAT I saw the paypal option and thought, why not.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Don't Sing Mom

"No sing," came the emphatic voice from the carseat in the back, "No sing."
Image courtesy of photostock /

It might have have been Oldest Girl's first sentence.*

It actually started before she had words.  We went to a "Mom and Me" class at the library once a week. All the babies sat on their mom's laps and we sang such classics as "The Wheels on the Bus" and "The Itsy Bitsy Spider".

Some of the babies grinned and giggled in pleasure waving their arms.  Some sat there bemused as their mothers manipulated their hands to do the motions.

Not my baby.

I tried to help her do the motions.  She pulled her hands away.

So I did the motions myself.  She turned around in my arms and swatted my arms down.

At least I can sing, I thought, singing out a little louder.

Nope.  She turned around again and put her hand over my mouth.


It was years before Oldest Girl let me sing without protest.

Now I'm no concert vocalist but my singing voice isn't that bad.  They let me sing in the church choir and I haven't noticed anyone wincing at my voice.  Babies are supposed to delight in their mother's voice right?

I blame it all on sleep training.

I got pregnant with Music Girl (who has never complained about my singing voice thank you very much) with all the morning sickness and exhaustion that entails while Oldest Girl was still a wee little thing who wasn't sleeping through the night.  I decided that for all our sakes this situation had to change.

I read all the many conflicting books on how to get your child to sleep from the "let them scream it out forever and lie in their own vomit if necessary" to the "just let them sleep with you and nurse constantly and learn to love it or you will damage them permanently" points of view.  Then I did what I always did in the end with conflicting parenting advice, whatever worked for me that I could live with.

So first I night weaned.  When Oldest Girl woke up in the night I would walk with her and sing until she fell back asleep.  Then I moved to singing without picking her up.  Eventually she was sleeping through the night.

Which. Was. Wonderful.

Except, it apparently lost me the right to sing to her.

The irony of it all is that my current job involves singing to small children.  I teach Creative Movement and my day is filled with me singing, often acapella to preschoolers.  And, if I may be so bold, I am good at my job and the kids love me and my singing.

Take that Oldest Girl.

*I can't be sure because I'm not the kind of mom who carefully wrote these things down in a baby book.  Instead I'm writing them down now, haphazardly, as I think of them.  This has the disadvantage that I don't remember everything perfectly but the advantage is that I can remember it the way I want too.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Grandma 'Rene

It was Grandparent's Day recently at the preschool where I work.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

The program was cute with the kids singing for the grandparents and then joining them at tables for snacks and playtime.

And I found myself fighting back tears.

I'm not really that much of a crier but my tears are much closer to the surface again these days.  I feel like I'm back in those earlier days after my dad's death when each day I wondered if it was safe to put on eye makeup because it was just so unpredictable what might set me off.

I tried to figure out where these particular tears were coming from.  Was it my children's loss of their grandfathers, one before they were ever born and one more recently.  Or was it the many grandparent events my kids missed out on because we lived too far away from their remaining grandparents.

Then I remembered that when my kids were the age of the preschoolers I work with not only did they have more living grandparents (and even great grandparents) but they also had a bonus grandma who lived only two blocks away.

Grandma 'Rene.

Grandma 'Rene was my great aunt.  My mother's mother (who died when my mom was in high school) was the oldest of a large family.  Her youngest brother, in what was probably the wisest decision of a wise life, married Irene.  Unfortunately I never got to know him as he passed away before I moved to the area.

So technically Grandma 'Rene wasn't even a blood relation.

But she was one special lady.

When I think of hospitality I think of her.  She opened her doors and took us in when we needed a place to stay even though she had never meet us.  The Professor, Oldest Girl and I moved in with her when Oldest Girl was only six months old.

Oldest Girl is now a delightful young lady who I am always happy to spend time with.  As a baby however, let's just say she didn't break me in to motherhood easily.  As a young mom I felt like I was surrounded by advice, mostly contradictory, on how to handle this baby.  Most people, well meaning as they were, made me question my ability to parent this child properly.

Grandma 'Rene didn't see a difficult baby.  She saw a delightful baby with her own personality.  And she genuinely enjoyed interacting with my child.  As a result she set me free to delight in my daughter for who she was.

When Music Girl and Imagination Boy came along, Grandma 'Rene delighted in them too.

When we walked Oldest Girl to school for the first day of kindergarten passing near her house, Grandma 'Rene was standing at the corner to give her a hug and wish her well.  When we walked home that day we stopped at her house to tell her all about the first day.

Whenever it was time to leave Grandma 'Rene's house she would encourage the kids to visit the cookie drawer, a large drawer at perfect child height that was always filled with delicious cookies.  "Take a cookie for the road," she would say.

When Oldest Girl was in first grade and Music Girl in kindergarten, Grandma 'Rene visited their school for Grandparents Day.

When we learned we would be going overseas one of the hardest people to tell was Grandma 'Rene. There were many people we knew we would miss, including all the grandparents but we knew Grandma 'Rene's age meant she might not be alive when we moved back.

She wasn't.

We were able to visit Grandma 'Rene several times during our trips back to the states but by the time we moved back she was gone.

Oldest Girl remembers Grandma 'Rene fondly.  Imagination Boy remembers her vaguely.  But I will never forget the gift she gave me that was so much greater than the cookie for the road.  She gave me the gift of freeing me to delight in my children.