2021年10月9日土曜日

On being 9 - two different worlds

This summer, my daughter turned 9. She was enjoying every day at Summer Fun with her friends and her favorite group leaders, playing outside every day, swimming in the pool, eating popsicles and generally having a blast. On her birthday, she and some of her friends took the day off, and we invited other dear friends and family for a good old fashioned birthday BBQ pool party, like we used to do before all this. She played in the pool and ate cake and hit a pinata and it was the best day of the year. And then in the fall, school and Japanese classes started full-time for her, and this time, for her little brother too. Sure, everyone is wearing masks, but they were all together again and able to play and learn and work hard every day. She has become so popular at school playing the ukulele as well. The ukulele jam group we go to has also started back up, and she enjoys attending when she can. Sure, sometimes she fights with her brother, or argues with me, or ignores her Dad, but we work it out. 

She probably has a lot of worries and struggles of her own, and she has a whole lot of hobbies and interests I know nothing about, and there is a Chinami at school that is different from the Chinami at home. And this is all perfectly fine and normal for a 9 year old. I'm just her mother, I have no way of knowing or controlling everything in her life. And I have no desire to. It's her life, I'm just there to help her along with it when she needs it.

For her, being 9 seems pretty good. 


For me, being 9 kind of sucked.

The summer before I turned 9 we went to Disney World. And we visited family in Florida, and our family in Pennsylvania, and we even had a big birthday party for me in a restaurant. That was fun. 

And then we went back to our home at that time (we had moved about 3-4 times already up to that point) in the Caribbean, to be met head on by a Category 4 hurricane. It leveled several parts of the island. I still have the images clearly in my head, because my parents and their friends decided it would be appropriate to get in their car and drive around to gawk at all the damage, and took pictures and video as well, making jokes about the locals losing their homes and looting. 

We didn't have power or running water for a long time, and I would read, craft, do other analog things and take cold sponge baths by bucket. 

We spent some time after that temporarily at grandfathers in PA and I went to school there for a few weeks. I was very clearly struggling at this point. 

I had experienced a massive natural disaster, had no way to contact my friends, and to top it off, a shy child entering an inner city public school after spending years at a private school for ex-pats. I was out of touch with their culture, their social hierarchy, their mannerisms. So basically, an easy target. I was relentlessly bullied, ostracized by teachers, I lost all motivation to do any school work (the work itself was at an academic level way below what I was used to. However I felt like the inside of my head was just blank most of the time). At home, my parents would watch and rewatch the videos they took of the rubble. I would cry when I saw them. There was no grief support. Just demands on me to be a good student and so I had to pretend to be resilient. 

Luckily, my school reopened after another month or so, and I was able to spend the rest of the school year in a somewhat comfortable environment while my parents attempted to pick up the pieces and figure out the next steps. Yes, I acknowledge that this was a tough situation for them too. Maybe their callousness and indifference to the suffering of others was a coping mechanism for them. 

After this, we moved back to Philly. I was starting 6th grade now, again in an unfamiliar, hostile inner city middle school. Middle school is hell for a lot of kids. But for me, I was over a year younger than all of my peers due to having skipped a grade, I was sheltered and out of touch with what was cool among Philly kids due to living on an island for years and going to a private expat school, and I had experienced a major natural disaster to boot. It was kind of a nightmare. I made one friend but my parents didn’t really approve of him and  after a while I wasn't able to see him...now I see clearly what kind of friends my mom would have deemed acceptable...but that’s another story for another day.

The next thing that happened was my mother had a major car accident while practicing for her driving test. We all had to go to the hospital, my mother in the ICU, my father and I getting everything checked. I was not hurt at all, my father had whiplash and my mother had a broken hip and would need major surgery, 3 months of bed rest and physical therapy to walk again.

So instead of making friends, maybe going to a summer camp or something like some kids did, or doing anything enjoyable, I was stuck in an apartment for three months expected to just be resilient and "help out". I hadn’t been taught any basic life skills so I was pretty useless. My mom would ask me to hand pick up bits of hair and dirt from the carpet, shave her legs for her, and rub lotion on her feet and back. I don't remember much from most of this year actually. A lot of pain, brain fog from my brain desperately trying to shield 10 year old me from the pain, and loneliness. 

Yes, I was 10 but I don't even remember a birthday happening that year. I had been traumatized and then the year just kind of passed without anything to look forward to. My parents made no effort to give me some kind of outlet or activity to enjoy and work at. I didn't have any motivation within myself to learn or do anything. I just stayed inside watching TV endlessly. How sad. I wish I could go back and give her a hug and reassure her that she can still be a kid, and that she has value and talent, and that she can still find happiness even though so much has gone so wrong. 

But because of this, I am now able to look at my 9 year old daughter, and make sure she doesn't have to feel like I did. And I can find happiness as I watch her find hers. 

Our experience with COVID

It's been a while since I have written a public entry...I have been doing a lot of internal reflecting and journaling, there are tons of writings in my drafts that I may publish or may not.
Anyway, a pandemic update:
Fall 2021..18 months after the first lockdown, and with 2 vaccine shots for the adults, it seemed like things were finally going back to the way they used to be. 
Chinami finally got the day full of fun and food with her friends for her birthday in July, and in August school and Japanese school was all back in session full-time for both her and little brother. 
We even had a small end-of-summer/Obon BBQ a couple weeks in, just with some friends from Chinami's class and their families. We enjoyed food, drinks, and bon odori outside on a Friday night. 
That Monday, we learned that one of her classmates had tested positive for COVID and had been out of school since Thursday. Her whole class was put on quarantine and Zoom links were sent out for Tuesday and beyond. 
What about siblings from the same household? If they are a contact of a close contact, aka in contact with someone who may have been in contact with a confirmed COVID case, they do not have to quarantine. Two degrees of separation. So little brother was cleared to keep going to Kindergarten. 
Until Wednesday night when Chinami came down with a fever and complained that her head hurt, her joints hurt, her stomach hurt....We ordered a test the next morning for Friday. On Saturday we got the results--positive. By this time both Yasushi and I had some symptoms ourselves as well--I was experiencing fatigue, weakness and body aches and Yasushi had a fever, chills and body aches. Kyle was in quarantine with the rest of us and his entire class as well until we could get test results for him. A few days later, on Tuesday, he tested negative so his whole class was able to return to school. 
And then on Friday, Kyle ran a fever and complained of body aches as well. We got him a second test right away on that Saturday, and he spent the weekend resting. Chinami and I had almost fully recovered by then and Yasushi still had some lingering aches and loss of taste/smell. 
All in all, we spent about 3-4 weeks quarantining as a family. 
At first I was crushed by the idea of having to go into quarantine after finally being able to enjoy social activities after a long 18 months of the pandemic.
However, I reflected on these feelings and realized that we could get through it because we have had those 18 months and two lockdowns. I knew what we needed to do to get through the isolation. And this time, we had our whole family together. 
We made a daily schedule, rested when we needed to, and took some time to clean and tidy in the home as well. After we all started to feel better, we did go out to quiet, isolated beaches to enjoy the sun and nature. 
So we did get through our quarantine and even enjoyed it. How lucky we are to have been able to do it as a family, and neither of the parents had to worry about the time taken off work, because I work at home almost completely now, and my husband is home on disability/workers compensation. 
And after we were all cleared, we had a belated birthday dinner at one of my favorite buffets, and I ate so much I looked pregnant! 
While this wasn't the best experience, I'm grateful to have had it because it taught us so much. Even though we had mild cases (thanks to being healthy, and being vaccinated) I could still feel that this was NOT just a cold or flu. The flu has knocked me off my feet before, but this felt bad in a different way from the flu. When I had COVID, my chest felt tight, and like there was something heavy on it. I felt weirdly fatigued and weak. So weak that at one point lifting a mattress, something I do on an almost daily basis, was impossible. The mattress did not move an inch, no matter how much I tried. My husband lost his sense of taste and smell. He says a mild onset of COVID felt similar physically to having severe pneumonia. 
Because of our personal experience as well as the experience of close friends with COVID(Delta variant) I know how important it is to be vaccinated. And how important it is to be going outside, getting exercise, eating healthy food, and taking care of your mind and body. Neither one is more important or effective than the other, in my opinion. So yes, get the vitamin D, drink lots of water and exercise daily...but also get vaccinated. It would have been a very different story I write today if we were not vaccinated. 

2020年11月22日日曜日

Wrapping up 2020 with positivity

 2020 is going to be a year that began with and ended with coronavirus. 

Walking outside without a mask, seeing friends, having music jams in the park, going to karaoke, all seem like things of another era. 

A lot of people lost their lives to this virus, and still more lost their livelihood and way of life as businesses and schools closed, income dried up, and all they could do was stay at home and grapple with the pandemic stress with no foreseeable light at the end of the dark, dark tunnel. 

I started out optimistic, even as I saw others start to crumble, I tried to stay resilient, using what resources I did have creatively to make the best of a rapidly declining situation. 

However, pandemic stress and the feeling of helplessness from wanting to do so many things, but needing to put the needs of others first gradually took its toll. I tried my best to stave off a C-PTSD flare up and was able to for several months, but after about 6 months I unfortunately did have an intense relapse. However even with flare ups and relapses, I now have a whole array of tools and strategies to manage, and I quickly thought of a plan to incorporate more meditation, and use a few seratonin-increasing supplements.  I also contacted our family physician to let him know the situation, and he advised me to stay on the course I was on, but if needed he would refer me to a psychiatrist and help me to get a prescription as well. A different physician also advised me on how I could get a 329 card for medical marijuana, as cannabis has amazing benefits for anxiety and PTSD.  Anyway, after a few short weeks of using the more natural methods within my reach, I felt a lot better and was able to regroup and refocus on my goals. 

The pandemic has given a lot of us a gift of more time to slow down and stay at home. Because of that, I have been able to really reorganize and optimize my home so my family and I and the roommates we are able to welcome are able to enjoy it more. This year, both our shower and breaker panel needed total refurbishment which was an expense I hadn't planned for and wasn't excited about, but because of that I took the steps to refinance our mortgage to get a lower rate, consolidate some other debts, and streamline and optimize our finances as well. 

Our libraries may be closed, but anyone with a library card can still access a wealth of information using the online resources, including various certification courses which I've been enjoying. Of course, watching interesting TV shows like Euphoria, Black Mirror, Impractical Jokers Dinner Party, and the new episodes of Archer and Superstore have been enjoyable and offered some laughs and escapes, but learning more about Microsoft Office, Social Media Managing, and Cryptocurrencies might actually serve more of a purpose in the professional world going forward. I mean, it's easy to get comfortable in a job, especially when it's a job I enjoy, but things always change and I am always happy when there's an opportunity to move forward and upward! If someone had told me 5 years ago that I would go from barely above minimum wage working as basically the one day neighbor island trip equivalent version of a Walmart greeter, to overnight shifts at a call center that usually only hires native Japanese speakers earning almost double the wages, I wouldn't have believed them! But now that I know it's possible for me to climb that ladder, I feel like there are a lot of other possibilities out there. So while I would be content to work at both of my current jobs until I'm a senior citizen, it's exciting to imagine what could be, and to never stop growing and seeking it out.

Even so, my online job search back in the spring led me to dead end after dead end and it was discouraging. The online work from home hiring pool was oversaturated and continues to be steadily crowded now in this new era. And the one section of the market that I did get various offers from, which is the Chinese ESL online tutor business sector, dried up due to my Internet speed being too low so I shelved that while I tried to find other solutions. However, since my main call center job has been work from home for over 6 months and is continuing in that way for the forseeable future, I realized my internet bill is now a work expense. So I made the decision to change our Internet provider to get a faster connection that would support my daughter's e-learning, future roommate's remote school and work, and for me, teaching online. 

And our roommate finished her year abroad and went back to her home in China in October, which made our already socially isolated life just a little more lonelier, but luckily another friend of ours was planning to stay in Hawaii for a few months, so after they did their pre-tests and their quarantine in a private residence, they moved into our spare room. I have a companion to share wine and conversation face to face with, and Chinami has a girl around her age to share ideas and fun with. This year has been so hard on her, and seeing her light up again has made me feel so much relief. 

So what does 2021 hold? New knowledge, new jobs, new friends, and this crazy new pandemic lifestyle. I'm ready for it! 




2020年9月22日火曜日

COVID-19 part...??

I think when the pandemic emerged, a lot of us were in denial, myself included. "It's just a flu" "Oh, we'll lockdown for a bit then go back to normal, that massive Cinco de Memorial Independence Labor Day weekend party is gonna be lit!"

It's now mid-September and life as we know it has changed so very much in the past few months.

As we headed into June, our curve was flattened and people were looking forward to starting up tourism, and with it, most of our economy again. In July, it seemed like that light at the end of tunnel was so bright and close as we learned to social distance, wear our masks, and slowly resume our lives while keeping the pandemic in the back of our minds. Chinami wasn't able to have a birthday party, but we had a whole week where we surprised her every day with something special, and she was able to attend a social distanced Summer Fun program in the park the whole month of July as well. 
And then in August, as we looked forward to school starting with a hybrid schedule and the same social distancing measures that had been successfully implemented in the Summer Fun program, cases spiked and we went into a second lockdown which is currently projected to continue through October.  Non essential businesses, parks and beaches all closed down and school started via Zoom classes and Google classrooms. Chinami and her classmates and teachers have been really doing a great job with this new style of learning.  

Unemployment has hit more and more snags and it's been difficult to get benefits due to their lack of staffing (aka our leaders lack of preparation). Yasushi's restaurant is still busy, they have had to go back to bare-bones staff due to dine in having been restricted again, but all of the delivery apps have been bringing plenty of to go business. Even then, we are still grateful for every week that goes by with the restaurant still in business. 

I find myself struggling with being bored, while trying to remain strong and positive for the sake of my family. I try to keep myself out of the void of endless mindless scrolling and political/COVID bullshit, and try to focus my energy towards getting myself to exercise more, sew more, draw more, cook more, and just do more analog things in general. My hope is that my kids will see me enjoying simple, labor intensive, productive activities and follow suit...and for the most part it has been working that way. They always want to take my workout stuff, they love to draw and sew with me, and we have been enjoying some interesting meals lately as well. We did bon dance/natsumatsuris every Saturday in our living room from June-August, and after the summer season ended, we've been learning about a different country every Saturday through cuisine and language/culture videos on Youtube. 

I have found myself thinking about the remainder of 2020 and beyond. Our roommate leaves in October and finding a new one is going to be challenging. Halloween is definitely going to be a different experience this year. Maybe it's time to focus more on the "scary" aspect and have some haunted house fun at home. Watch a scary movie, etc. Thanksgiving will probably be pretty lonely with just 4 of us, and Christmas is going to take a little effort to conjure up all the cheer and joy with the harsh economic realities, the cancellation of all of the parades and city lights/santa events, but somehow we will make the best of it. 

It's really the only thing we can all do, just get through this with an open mind looking for ways to enjoy what we can during these times. 

2020年5月2日土曜日

COVID-19 part 2

A whole month has passed since the official stay at home/shelter in place orders, and it seemed to go by pretty quickly. Having a daily and weekly schedule to follow, and keeping busy with studies, exercise, and fun activities has really helped us stay healthy and strong through this difficult time. 
Here is what we generally do daily:
7am-10am Relax, eat breakfast (the kids...I do 16:8 5 days/week so I usually just drink water and coffee or tea) do some quiet activities such as reading, writing, drawing, yoga, etc. 
10am- Play, get ready for the day, etc 
11am- Go outside for a walk and to pick up lunch from the local school
12- Eat lunch, watch Bill Nye or other educational show
1-3 Homeschool study
3 small snack/tea time 
3:30-5:30 music/exercise/video games
5:30 Shower
6-7 Eat dinner, watch anime
7-8 Get ready for bed, relax in bed with books 
8 lights out! 
Sunday is Yasushi's day off so we generally run an errand or two if needed, go to the beach or the park for outdoor time and exercise, and eat a good meal or two.
Monday is #MaskMonday and #MusicMonday, we sew masks in the morning and have a jam session in the afternoon.
Tuesday is #TacoTuesday of course, and we also do a T-25 video for exercise.
Wednesday is Yasushi's day off so same as Sunday. Since my hours at work got cut, I don't work on this day anymore, so 
Thursday is the day I go into work and bring the kids, so from 10-2 they listen to Japanese radio, read, play quietly, eat lunch/snacks and write/color. We do more T-25
Friday is #FitnessFriday and #FridayFeeling!! Chinami usually has two different Zoom classes on this day which she loves. We also try to enjoy something fun, like dancing on this day. And I take a break from fasting from Friday night thru Saturday as well, so I usually have a drink, eat some snacks and relax at night. 
Saturday is #StayathomeSaturday and also a day where we try to do a little more Japanese focus in Chinami's studies. We have a couple Zoom Japanese classes with our local friends, and we try to do something at home that we would usually go out to do, like making our bedroom into a movie theater, or a karaoke box. 

I have been mostly focusing on my time with the kids, however, I have also been applying for jobs left and right, signing up on countless freelancer databases, with most of them leading to dead ends. However I still believe that I will find something that is right for me and my family, and so I am not giving up. Luckily, the unemployment I filed for, and the extra CARES act benefit, finally went through after over a month of waiting for a status update, and for at least the next few months, I will be receiving over twice my previous income, and since I've been organizing and checking up on our finances over the past couple of months, it looks like 2020 is going to be a good year for us after all despite the hurdles life has thrown at us. After the pandemic is over, I definitely look forward to planning more trips to see our families in Japan and maybe even Pennsylvania again over the next few years! 

2020年4月7日火曜日

COVID-19

When 2020 started, I was in high spirits...after two years of so much growth and good news, I was optimistic for another year.

In January, a high school friend's grandmother in Pennsylvania passed away suddenly due to an intestinal hernia. I wouldn't have even really known this grandmother if it weren't for a project her daughter (my high school friend's mom) started and reached out for my help with earlier last year. This dear grandmother was Kimiko, the star of the book "My Wacky Mom" that was published last year. I was asked to translate the book into Japanese for her to share with her family and friends in Japan. Through this book I was able to enjoy many laughs and make an amazing connection with Kimiko. At the end of the year, I sent her a New Year's card with some Japanese snacks and mementos I picked up at our local market. Chinami also enjoyed writing her a letter in English and Japanese. Kimiko lived a long and happy life until the ripe age of 90, but nevertheless I was still saddened to learn of her passing. 
A few weeks later, we lost another wise and fun-loving soul from this world. My dear Sensei, who was like a grandfather to me, passed away from pneumonia suddenly on February 14th. He was a teacher, mentor, and friend to many and kept the beautiful traditions of Japanese court music alive so that his children, and others in generations beyond, can carry on the wisdom and rich heritage. I feel so honored to have been able to learn from him and to have fond memories of him to look back on. We had a small memorial at the classroom at University of Hawaii the following Sunday. 
After this, news reports from other places in the world started to trickle in about our rough flu season and a new virus somewhere in China. Most of us tried to downplay it, as the virus itself was terribly similar to a flu, and was mostly contained in China....until it wasn't. 
Nearly a month later, there were talks of "self quarantining" and "social distancing". The kids were starting Spring Break on Monday March 16th, and there weren't any guidelines in place, just vague suggestions, as plane loads of tourists still arrived by the thousands every day. So on March 15th, we enjoyed one day of fun at our son's 4th birthday party, which was attended by a modest crowd of 20-30, spread out amongst a whole 80+ capacity restaurant we were lucky enough to be able to use for the party. 
From March 16th, we voluntarily stayed in, keeping distant from friends, only going to the supermarket sporadically for essentials, and going on walks or to quiet beaches where we didn't have to interact with others.
From March 23rd, our mayor issued a shelter in place order, and from there it progressively got more strict. On March 26th, they issued a 14 day quarantine order for any travelers to the islands, and Japan followed suit with their airline arrivals as well, which was the last nail in the coffin for the Japanese tourism industry here. Most of the hotels and travel agencies closed for business with most of the Waikiki and Ala Moana retail not far behind. And following even more regulations for social distancing from our Lt. Governor, most of the supermarkets and stores that are open require masks, and only let in a small amount of customers at a time.
Like all restaurants, Yasushi's workplace has closed their dining room and converted to takeout/delivery only. The wait staff and a portion of the kitchen staff was laid off. My job has suspended most of their contracts, but there are still a few partners who we take calls for, although the calls are few and far between. All of us from the answering service now work from home, on reduced hours. Of course, when I was first informed that my hours would be halved, I was a bit worried. And now that I go through my shifts with the phone not ringing even once, I'm still worried. However, the bright side is even though I only work 16 hours per week, I'm blessed with a high hourly wage. We have a company bonus in April which is not effected by the pandemic, and we have our tax refund, and the stimulus coming our way over the next month, so hopefully we won't be struggling as much as we thought we would. I'm also using the extra time at home to pick up more freelance work and explore more remote working opportunities around the whole homeschooling thing.
For the first couple of weeks, we just tried to enjoy Spring Break as usual, having movie nights, lots of living room jam sessions, some video games, and we did some Spring Cleaning as well and got the toys all reorganized and more personal storage for Chinami up by her loft bed. Since we live in a 2 bedroom condo, which we rent one bedroom of to a roommate, both our living room and bedroom have to serve lots of different needs. Our bedroom is a play room, a family bed, and Chinami's reading loft/personal library. Our living room is a work space, family/TV room, music space, play space, and a dining room.
From last week, I gradually started to introduce some homeschool curriculum for Chinami and get everyone on a loose schedule. Chinami is in no danger of falling behind in her regular schoolwork...over the last week she actually finished the 2nd grade math course and moved up to 3rd grade, and she has been reading novels from 3rd grade level and up since the beginning of this year. So she's using this time to get ahead, and to catch up on Japanese as well, starting to really learn to read and write kanji at the Japanese 1st grade level.
So now, we start our 4th week of isolation. Schools are closed until April 30th, and pretty much every event and festival that we were looking forward from early March until June or so has been postponed or cancelled. Libraries, museums, and even parks are completely shut down. Living in an urban environment means shared green spaces and social events are such an integral part of our livelihood, so having everything shut down and our daily routine changed so drastically was definitely a shock for us. But as always, we are trying our best to just adapt and make it our new normal, and take everything one day at a time. Even if we don't have community events and social interaction to look forward to every day, we can still make the most of this family time and use it as an opportunity to make ourselves stronger and gain some different skills. 

2019年12月13日金曜日

Family outings

Another year has gone by so fast. In the past few months, I started another regular job at the local Japanese radio station which means I pretty much work full time....however my son still only goes to preschool 2x/week, and Yasushi is still the head chef of a popular restaurant, and it's not like we have the grandparents around to help out, so there are a lot of things that always need to be done!

I work hard but I also make sure to care for myself and make lots of fun memories with my rapidly growing children. As I enjoy spending time with my family,  and celebrating various holidays and festivals , I can't help but be reminded of the lack of such memories I have from my own childhood, and the memories I do have instead. Being a parent after the kind of upbringing I had is a constant journey of healing and learning like that.

~~~

Ever since I was little, I have always had an interest in learning about all kinds of culture and especially music. However, going out with my parents rarely did much to fuel my creative fire. I have very few memories of us enjoying and sharing quality time and learning together, and more memories of my parents merely dragging me along to work related events, loud, dark , crowded concerts of music I didn't like, or boring dinners at some strangers house. Sometimes I would end up feeling sick from the loud noise or the beginning of CPTSD related anxiety. As I got older, other family members and friends would take me out to sports events, science museums, church, carnivals, farm festivals and other things that normal kids and families did. Even if I wasn't super interested in everything, I was never forced to do anything and I was usually able to find something interesting about the event and appreciate the kindness of those friends and family. They would also listen to me when I talked about my own hobbies and interests. It was something I really needed as my home environment became less and less supportive and encouraging of my individuality.

Being the child of musicians, its not surprising that I have a bit of musical ability and a strong affinity for all things music. I always loved to sing, but my parents idea of enjoying music at home was playing recordings of their favorite music very loudly while I was trying to concentrate on something else. If I sang to myself or listened to some music I liked, I was usually belittled and criticized. After a while of this, I started to feel intense shame when trying to enjoy music at home. However, due to that thing called passion, I never stopped trying to enjoy music and sing. I always joined the school chorus and musicals, even though I had no confidence in my singing, I always felt good when I sang.

So when I moved out on my own, I finally had freedom to enjoy the things I loved without judgement and criticism. I joined campus clubs, music ensembles, and volunteered and participated in many kinds of cultural events. My parents called me untalented and my hobbies stupid and childish, and told me that I would never make it out there in the real world if I didn't change myself into something that they saw as acceptable. However, now that I was living on my own, in the real world, I only formed a wide circle of all kinds of supportive friends of all ages who shared the same interests.

~~~~~

And now here I am, a mom of 2 bilingual, bicultural kids who are 7 and 3, and learning how it feels to enjoy things as a family and cultivate a healthy, supportive home for my children. I'm so grateful for all the time we can enjoy together doing various educational family-oriented activities. Even though we don't have a lot of money to spend on leisure activities, there are always plenty of things to enjoy for the whole family that are cheap or free. I take my kids to outdoor concerts by all kinds of local and international musicians of all genres, zoo/aquarium/museum free admission days, library movie showings and story times, volunteer opportunities like park clean ups and nursing home visits, and cultural festivals and parades.

During the summer, Avengers Endgame came out in theaters and became the #1 highest grossing film of all time. I had never seen an Avengers£ film so I decided we would try watching the first Avengers movie. We enjoyed it so much that I decided once or twice every week we would watch a movie together and move through the MCU timeline until we watched Endgame.

Soon after that, we prepared for Halloween. Naturally, our costumes were little Iron Man, Captain Marvel and mommy Captain America holding the team together. We wore our costumes proudly going out to various movie showings and festivals during October, and on the night of Halloween we joined our hanai extended family for trick or treating in Kahala.

And just a short month later was Thanksgiving. Of course I planned out our dinner at home with family, but in the afternoon we were fortunate enough to be able to enjoy a delicious homemade lunch at the Japanese church, and Chinami and I were the honorary entertainment, Chinami played and sang ukulele and I sang a couple Enka songs and we sang Speechless as a duet as well. Since we regularly have ukulele/piano/karaoke singing jam and practice sessions in our living room, it's great that we have these little performances to work toward. I always feel so proud and impressed when I watch Chinami sing and play music. The lunch was an amazing mix of traditional turkey and stuffing with makizushi, tsukemono, nimono and all kinds of traditional and Japanese dishes. And our dinner menu was the one I customize and fine tune every year for our family. This year we received gifts of Japanese sauces from a restaurant distributor and we had new crop rice from Japan, so I decided I would try marinating the turkey in a half gallon of teriyaki sauce and a bit of usukuchi shoyu for a day and stuff it with whole ginger while I roasted it. It was amazingly juicy and flavorful and the skin was sweet and salty! I made butter shoyu kale and cabbage, roasted some cauliflower tots and topped with kewpie mayonnaise, furikake and minced takuan, and we had salad and fresh local sashimi as well as the good rice. For dessert I made pumpkin butter mochi and purple sweet potato pie. In previous years I made wild rice and quinoa takikomi flavored like stuffing, and two layer green and orange sweet potato kabocha pie....our traditions are evolving to fit with our family's tastes. We also had plenty of drinks, snacks, movies and games to enjoy with friends and our roommate.

The day after Thanksgiving, we enjoyed a day of joining an ukulele jam group up in a beautiful home in the hills overlooking Koko Head and the ocean, and at night we joined a tree trimming party at a condo building in Waikiki, and even watched a little bit of the Waikiki holiday parade before going home for the night.

And now at our own home, our own decorations are up and our schedule is quickly becoming packed with the various parades, concerts, parties, and such for the Holiday season. We already spent this past week at two parades, a Christmas party for children at the Makiki district park, and donated to a charity event while watching performances at Ala Moana shopping center. This week promises more of the same, and during the school holidays we can enjoy at home activities like candy house crafts, Christmas movies, and such.  After Christmas,  we close out this year with our traditional Kohaku viewing party and start the next year with mochi pounding at Japanese church, and Gagaku and sechi-ryori lunch, and a blessing at the shrine.

I'm so grateful to be able to enjoy another full year with my family. I was so happy with 2018 already, but 2019 kept the positive trends going, mostly thanks to starting intermittent fasting and my new second job. My wish for everyone is the drive to do better for themselves, so they too can experience how amazing it feels to be healthy and happy, surrounded by a warm environment and supportive tribe.