Thursday, August 21, 2014

Globetrotting: Japan, Part 5

Here we are near the end of our 5-day trip organized by Rural Japan Explorer (now called Satoyama Experience). This was the day we would tour the countryside via bicycle. We couldn't help it...the rice fields, the warm summer day in Japan, the biking, we just had to whistle the theme song from My Neighbor Totoro. Our guide was pleasantly surprised at our children's familiarity with Hayao Miyazaki's films (for those who are unfamiliar with him, he's kind of like Japan's incarnation of Walt Disney, with a twist).

Oh, this day was such a delight.

{local gentleman giving out bread for feeding the koi fish}


 {there is so much signature Japan in this photo}

{our guide--I believe his name was Pazu (I know it's a name from one of the Miyazaki films we have seen)--stopped us every now and then to teach us about the area; he did well, very amiable, with an adorable smile.}

{I love this photo by my husband}

{biking-while-photographing skills were tested on this ride}

{Pazu took us to a natural spring where we could fill up our water bottles. The small red shrine is a charming pop of color in all this luxurious green.}

{mini-picnic rest stop for the group--rice cookies with wheat tea}

{by the river--needed to test my biking-while-photographing-backwards skills}

Whew, what a ride! So, so lovely. What a great way to get out and see the countryside. (If you can go biking on your next getaway, do it!) When we returned to the bike shop our guide gave us a recommendation for a lunch spot that turned out to be a charming, artistic, East-meets-West joint. I tell you it was delightfully strange to hear American jazz music at a Japanese restaurant. After lunch it was time to take a van-ride to our final night's stay in the rural mountains of Japan.

Oh, man.


Tanekura is a mountain village with a population of . . . wait for it . . . 22 people. Talk about a sleepy mountain hamlet. Perfect. It is known regionally for its soba noodles and in the fall of the year hosts a festival in honor of its celebrated export.

Oh, but this place might just be heaven on earth. I wish I could capture the whole experience: the heat, the sweat, the quiet of the noisy cicadas, the fragrance, the falling water. 

The peace.

I just pleasantly sighed as I read that. 

{part of the village--photo by my husband}

We arrived at a kind of upscale-rustic lodge, where we were to be the sole guests for the night. The proprietors did not speak a lick of English--so it was a relief that we had our own translator (my husband speaks fluent Japanese)--but they thoroughly spoke the language of grace and hospitality.

{looking down into the entry from our rooms upstairs}

After unloading our luggage and settling in, we joined our host on a tour of the village. (My husband worked hard on this trip--constantly translating so his family could understand and be enriched by this Japanese experience.)

Oh, it was hot that day. Really hot. But the calm was invigorating.

{old grain house, specifically buckwheat--photo by my husband}

Upon returning, our host invited us to wait by the pond while he retrieved the fishing gear. The kids had a nervously-grand time being mentored by both our gracious host and by Daddy. And each kid caught at least one fish! (I'm going out on a limb here, I'm guessing the fish did not have as great a time as the kids did!)

{returning the fish back to their home}

After a group bath . . .

(wait . . . what?!)

More on that in another post. When in Rome, baby.

. . . the kids changed into jammies and my husband and I changed into the traditional Japanese robes provided to adult guests. It was time for dinner. 

We had the place to ourselves. Which was good considering the children were a little tired-wacky; it had been a long, physically-demanding day. We have some, ahem, Loud-American tendencies in our family (all except my husband who is more sensitive to the quiet Japanese culture--well, quiet when the booze isn't free-flowing, that is, because they can let loose when inhibitions are down). Another beautiful multi-course meal in an absolutely stunning setting. Ahhhh.

{this woman was so sweet tending to the littlest}

{this was quite a culinary excursion--the kids ate traditional Japanese foods the entire 9-day trip}

{we even ate fish that looked like fish}

I would do this day again in a heartbeat.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Interested in Doing a Tech Fast?

So the kids and I just finished a week without TV, movies, internet (email was still okay), wii, and phone games. It's our 16th such week in the course of 3+ years, but my first time posting about it. My recent posts have featured various aspects of our tech fasts, from common boredom-busters, to personal enrichment, and to, ahem . . . some not awesome moments.

The idea of unplugging for a set amount of time can be simultaneously daunting and thrilling. Like cloth-diapering, it's not for everyone.

But, for those of you who might be interested in some kind of tech fast, here are a few observations/suggestions:

1. Do not start on a weekend. Unless, that is, you've specifically planned a weekend retreat at some fabulous location that is well-designed for going tech-free. When we do week-long tech fasts, we start on Monday and end on Sunday. The regular routine of the week (for us that would mean school) keeps our days busy and structured. We can practice in the weekday evening hours and then build up our skills for when the whole long weekend days loom before us.

2. Do not start your first one during summer holidays. (This is for those who have young children or teenagers at home.) Unless, that is, you are combining it with an epic travel adventure that will keep them plenty entertained. We have been doing occasional tech fasts for 3 years now. Up until this year, though, our summer tech fasts have corresponded with holiday travels (National Parks, Indonesia, Japan). After two at-home tech fasts this summer, I can assure you that everyone would have preferred to have gone somewhere outside the usual! It was more difficult and would have benefited from more complete planning on my part. Note taken, Self.

3. Do not worry about getting out of touch. I know news happens at the speed of light. After being plugged in, day-in and day-out, we become accustomed to always knowing everything, all the time. What I have learned, though, is that if the news is deep and meaningful, you'll either hear about it in your general communication with loved ones, or it will still be there when you get back. If the news is some flash-in-the-pan random viral video, it's not really a big deal that you missed in. Really, it's not. Besides, there's plenty more where that came from. So just wait a couple of minutes. Another one will show up.

4. Brainstorm a few ideas before you get started. Here is a list we made once (one day I will update it): 

Leaf rubbings
Hair salon
Read-aloud books
Cooking creations
Photo safari
Walk in a park/wild space
Re-arrange bedroom
End-of-week swim party
Trip to zoo, planetarium, etc.
Write music/lyrics of a song
Fashion show
Talent show
Card games/puzzles, etc.
Jump rope
Make an obstacle course
Set up an art museum
Dance party
Extra work project/home improvement
Campfire songs

These are things that might work for our family. Feel free to use this list as a jumping-off point; tailor it to suit you or your family.

What other questions or concerns come to mind? What other ideas do you have that we could add to our list?  

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Tech Fast Week: #16/Day 6

My normal evening routine involves watching a favorite show while eating chips, salsa, cookies, candy, donuts, brownies, pie, Wendy's frosty with fries, salted cashews, raw almonds, dried cranberries, chocolate chips, peanut butter, and/or pretzels.

I find that by replacing watching shows with reading a book, I eat significantly fewer treats and snacks. Holding a book somewhat precludes mindless snacking. I don't want to get grease or salt or chocolate on the pages of my book. So I simply don't eat them.

Occasionally changing up my routine like this highlights for me just how much garbage I eat out of habit and not out of hunger.

In the end, when I'm ready to climb into bed with my book, I tend to indulge ever so slightly with a wee bit of my good chocolate.* And that's it. One square. I lie in bed, savor it, finish it, then pick up my book and nestle into my propped-up pillows. And read.

I know, I know, tech isn't my problem when it comes to snacks; it's self-discipline. But the facts remain: tech fasts do affect my food choices.

And with that, I bid you goodnight. Sherlock Holmes awaits.

*My current bars: Endangered Species Natural Dark Chocolate with Forest Mint, 72% cacao content OR Millcreek Cacao Roasters, dark chocolate with chili pepper spice

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Tech Fast Week: #16/Day 5

There is--truth be told--a dark side to every tech fast. It's inevitable.

We usually hit the wall somewhere around Day 5 or Day 6.

. . . or Day 1

Since I'm the kind of person who can appreciate hearing about other people's, uh, "realness" from time to time, I share a bit of my own realness. (With some editing--don't need to air ALL my laundry.) It's not always a hippie-love-fest 'round these parts. Here are some notes from previous tech fasts that demonstrate some hard times:

3 late nights in a row translate to grumpy kids and grumpy mom
--November 2011

got mad at g on the way home with her whining about the dinner I had planned, yelled at her about poor, starving children around the world, some of whom *maybe* get the equivalent of one plain pancake every day as their only food.  Ahem . . . editing the next part down: resorted to drilling fiery guilt into the children, knowing full-well at the time that it was a *terrible* parenting choice. 
 --November 2011

After a rough evening with exhausting kids after watching kids all day every day, I need some kind of therapy.  And, since I don’t mellow out at the end of the day with a nice glass of wine, or a shot of whiskey, I need something to dull my brain.  Tempted to watch one show online.  I don’t want to work.  I especially don’t want to clean up toys/clothes.  That is futile; complete waste of time, since it all gets undone EVERY DAY.  So frustrating....Had a sad night.  Ahem, . . . summing up my long rant: crying, impotent, failures, mess, starving, guilty, ruining, stagnating, discouraged, dumb, bad, nothing, frustrated, can’t. 
--March 2012

It’s definitely been more difficult than at home [in Utah, that is--this particular tech fast we did while living in Singapore] because we don’t have our vast stores of non-tech activities as at home.  A little more boredom this time.
--April 2013

Went to a movie with (husband) while the kids stayed home and watched TV. So, not completely tech-free, but we were desperate to get out. No energy to make anything else but that work.
--June 2014

I think we’re hitting the wall today.  Everyone is tired; too many late nights.  We’re all on edge and we don’t have our traditional coping strategies of getting lost in tech.  Not our best day. 
--August 2014
The other problem is that it’s the end of summer and we have spent just a little too much time together; we are getting on each other’s nerves.  Two tech fasts in one summer . . . 
--August 2014

Reading back through these notes was a little depressing. Ugly Mommy is scary. 

Please tell me children are resilient! 

But, we made it
--April 2013 

We finished off by consoling each other and telling each other we loved each other.
--March 2014

Tidbits from today: cousins came over, fashion show, picnic lunch, games, visited/played with neighbors, got a visit and a book from a friend, night-time back tickles and hand massages, silently reading separate books together on the couch

Meditation in blessed monotony: repetitive work is good for pondering on deeper things in life. Life sometimes forces these moments on you. Cliche as it might be, the answer is love. Just love each other.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Tech Fast Week: #16/Day 4

Outings in Nature. This is a staple for our tech fast weeks.

Here are my notes from August 2012:

Then I was trying to think of something fun to do as we near the end of summer.  (Even though the kids are back in school, there’s still some summering left to get in on the weekends.)  In the end we did a bike ride to the Riverwoods, down the big hill and everything.  G and g were so delighted!  It was like a roller coaster, they said with big grins.  Took the river trail around to Color Me Mine and spent quite awhile there.  The kids had so much fun painting.  And they were so happy and were getting along with each other.  I love that my kids find renewal and joy in nature—as we were riding past the river, they were celebrating the surroundings.  After painting we went to Kneaders to get some take-out dinner.  We had brought a large beach towel to serve as our picnic blanket and found a flat part down the bank at the river’s edge.  We ate dinner, shared bites of cookies and pastries and soaked in the last bit of sunset filtering through the trees.  Again, they were so happy.  G seems to have taken an interest in photography and just as we started to head back home in the twilight, we stopped at the river and I taught him a little bit about long-exposure shots.  We practiced some on the darkening river.  He loved that!  Then we built up our speed as we headed toward The Hill.  G made it the whole way without stopping.  g stopped once briefly in the middle, but then finished it off.  The trailer and I had to stop upon approaching a stopped g, and walked the rest of the way.  But, I was happy.  Happy that they were happy.  We continued our journey home in the twilight (which was exciting for them to be out AT NIGHT) and got some light rain during the second half of our trip.  Oh, so therapeutic.  Summer breeze, light rain, quiet streets closer to home, happy children.  g suggested that we have hot cider when we got home.  And I added, “out on the back patio so we can hear the crickets.”  And we did.

That was a good day.

Tidbits from today: spent the day up the canyon with dear friends (they feel like family), compatible child-play philosophy meant all the kids loved exploring, playing in the stream, climbing big logs/rocky walls, getting dirty, stick-fighting, feeding the fish. 

Yes, of course, we had some tiredness, and crying, and carrying-kids-who-couldn't-make-it, and scuffles, and portable-toilet disasters. Life isn't perfect.

But exploring in nature with loved ones can foster a sense of communal adventure, teamwork, and practiced independence which all contribute, in my opinion, to increased self-confidence and sense of inter-dependence.

Heard and observed: (whine, whine) "I'm so tired! I don't feel good. My tummy hurts. I can't carry this," as she dragged her feet and looked down at the ground. (This is the 5-year-old.) When she looked up, she saw one of our friends who had climbed up on the gate and was standing there smiling. Immediately, she smiled and ran, yes, ran, toward the gate so that she, too, could climb it. Glad she made such a quick recovery.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Tech Fast Week: #16/Day 3

Family game highlight. Tech-fast weeks generally see a spike in playing games--either among the children, with the children and their friends, or with parents and children. Here's a list of some of our regulars: Battleship, Blink, Cheat, Dominoes, Go Fish, Ladybug Game, Magic: The Gathering, Monopoly, Pente, Pit, Quiddler, Settlers of Catan, and War. Though we engage somewhat with each other when watching movies together, playing games together stretches different social muscles and we can work to broaden our ability to connect with friends, with family, and with our inner selves.

Tidbits from today: Pushed the planned hike to another day; needed a home-day, laundry, cleaning, played with friends, board games, Battle of the Bands prep, and a little afternoon tryst with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for me

Overheard: “I’m tired of not watching movies.  I can’t take it ANY longer!”--C, age 5.

Ahem..."Underpants Girls" made their runway debut, modeling the latest ways to wear underwear--on their heads, over their clothes, 10 at a time. They nearly brought themselves to tears with all the perceived hilarity. That is today's "Desperate or Creative?"

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tech Fast Week: #16/Day 2

Fasting from our delightful gluttony of tech is a challenge. Sometimes we do well. Sometimes we don't. You have likely heard of this kind of thing being done by some other folks out there. Everyone who chooses to partake in such a fast has her own version--from a few hours, to one day, to one week, to one month, to one year. From taking away one tech toy to all of them.

This is how mine is set up: no TV, movies, phone games, wii, or internet (some exceptions) for a period of one week, approximately every other month. I still use email for general correspondence. And I still use my computer to write or process photos. Also, music is allowed. Always!

[Full disclosure: because this challenge is my baby and not my husband's, I suspend the tech-fast temporarily so as not to impact our evening ritual of watching favorite shows together. So, truth is, most weeks I get about 1 to 1 1/2 hours break from my challenge every night. Other weeks, however, when my husband is away on business, I (try to) make myself stick to the full fast.]

I've been reading my old notes from previous tech fast weeks. Came across this from September 2011:

Observation: In the Age of Information, it is a welcome change to remove yourself periodically from all the information out there.  When you get away from it, you begin to realize how exhausting it can be to be bombarded by information, varying in importance, all day long.  Sometimes it can be hard to distinguish what is important when it continues to come at you from all angles.  It’s like watching the news, in its sensationalized delivery, where EVERYTHING is of DIRE importance and you HAVE to care about it.  It’s exhausting!  Stepping away for a week can slow things down and reset your psyche, awaken parts of you that have lain dormant, unable to get a chance to be heard over the din of the latest video/post that you HAVE to see.  We are prey to our self-conscious desire to be esteemed highly by others—and if that means we have to know everything to get that, then so be it.  Or we are prey to our desire to actually KNOW EVERYTHING and care about EVERYTHING.  Which is impossible.  We get overloaded, over-stimulated and burned out.

This still rings true for me.

Tidbits from today: outing to IKEA with the single purpose of playing in all the rooms/beds in the joint, board games, card games, playing together, rain storm

Overheard: “You can tape my hands together, just don’t tie them." (Are the kids getting desperate...or just getting started on that deep well of creative genius?)

Tomorrow: hiking
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