How Did Cinderella Get Into Her Stepmother’s House in the First Place?

princess bookHow did Cinderella get into her stepmother’s house in the first place? If you’ve ever asked yourself this question, then this book is for you. The Witch and the Baby Princess by David Rich is a fun, action packed explanation of Cinderella’s background along with the events that led up to the whole stepmother scenario.

More than just a prequel, however, this book is meant as a story for kids and parents to share. The author, an avid reader, active storyteller and involved father, didn’t want to just hand his daughters a book – he wanted to create something he could share with them and that they could read together, which is exactly what he has done.

This book does not have a big, glossy cover or thousands of pictures with a few words on each page. This is a full-on, meaty story. Oh, it has a bunch of really adorable illustrations, but that’s not the focus here. The focus is the story itself. It is meant for a parent and a child to sit down and read together. There are words in it that a child under twelve is not going to understand. There are concepts such as the shades of grey between good and evil, which parents should be excited to discuss with their children. The book is rife with big, tough topics such as friendship, love, beauty, goodness, envy, and expectations that are designed to spark good talks between children and the adults who love them.

What Rich has done is created a springboard for parents so that topics that can be hard to broach for adults and harder for kids to understand, become gentle and accessible for both parties.

The story itself is quaint, sweet, and lovingly told. In a land far away, a baby is born to a great witch, but the queen of the fairies does not want the baby to be evil and instills in the young girl a conscience and a particle of free will. What the child grows up to do and become, and how she uses her gifts in the context of her parents’ expectations of her becoming an evil witch, is the crux of the story. It’s easy to see how the idea of parental expectation is juxtaposed against the personality of the child – good lessons for parents and children alike. The characters are drawn with great care and attention to detail. At any moment I could “see” each person and the location as well due to the strong and exhaustive descriptions that only add, not detract, from the plot itself. Emotion is tended to with care and the plot moves along with a mix of action and feelings.

In a world where the bonds between children and their parents have become increasingly fractured, kudos to David Rich for creating a lovely story, as well as something to serve as a binder of families.

How to Print Essays at the Convenience Store

netprintAs usual when I teach, I hope my students learn as much from me as I do from them.  Last week, the first draft of their essays was due.  Most of these kids are either in a home-stay situation or in a dorm, neither of which allows much access to a printer, so they ran to the computer center at school to print out their essays.  However, a few of the students had their essays ready, so I asked them about their method of printing. It turns out that the convenience stores, which are omnipresent in Tokyo, have a system called NetPrint.

The first step is to pick your favorite brand of convenience store – most likely the one closest to your house. Then go on their website, which will be only in Japanese, to sign up for a NetPrint account.  Once you are signed up, you can upload whatever type of document you want to the site and in return, you will get a confirmation ID.

Then you can go to any convenience store at which you have signed up for an account.  So if you’ve signed up for the Lawsons account because it’s closest to your house, you can use the Lawsons store right by your office or school as well.  It’s only one program for every branch of the shop.

The NetPrint machines in the shops often speak a little English on their touch-screens.  All you have to do is enter your confirmation number and the document you’ve uploaded will print.  You can’t edit from the convenience store machine, but you can change some formatting.  If you don’t upload the document, but have it on a USB key in PDF format, that’s okay too.  You can’t print a .doc or .xls, but you can print a PDF from the key.

You pay right at the machine, inserting coins as needed. It’s 10 yen ($.10) per page for black and white, 20 yen ($.20) per page for color.

To my students, I say sorry – no more excuses for an unprinted essay.  To everyone else, I say, geez, I love this city.  What a system!

Communication Issues – Text vs. Talk for Teens

writingpicMy son Bailey, age 14, a freshman in high school, got an text message from a girl who is friends with Bailey’s date for homecoming dance.  The girl told him that his date is only going with him because she feels sorry for him.  The message went on to say that Bailey shouldn’t think he’s “all that” and not everyone likes him as much as he thinks they do.  It didn’t even stop there. It said he must be some sort of loser because he often sits in a group of girls at lunchtime. There was more, but you get my drift.

To me, Bailey’s mom, he is a fun-loving, silly sort of kid who loves people of all types and doesn’t have a mean bone in his body.  He had forty-five kids at his bar mitzvah last year, all of whom looked like his good friends to the adults watching. He tells me he has friends in the orchestra where he plays violin, and friends on the field where he is currently playing JV football.  However, this is my view of him – I have to remember that I have no real idea who he is at school and how he acts there.  He’s so generally happy at home that it leads me to believe he’s a fairly well-adjusted teen.  Maybe he is a bit cocky at school – or overly dorky – or something else that I don’t even know.  It’s not my business to know every detail of his social life.  I’m just glad he has a social life for me to ignore.

When I was a fourteen-year-old girl, I didn’t have such a bright social life.  I was overweight and decidedly uncool with glasses and weird clothes.  I used to write letters to various kids at school who would not tease me per se, but would rebuff my efforts to be friends.

Here’s the difference: I would leave the letters in stacks on my desk at home and then every so often I’d re-read them and ball them up for trash can. If I wanted to communicate with anyone for real, I had no choice but to do it over the phone or in person. I don’t pretend that kids being mean to one another was invented in this young generation; I just think it’s a lot easier to press the “send” button on a nasty text or email than it was for me to send a pen-and-ink letter.  In a way it was harder for my mom and dad to find out what I was up to when the door to my room was closed.  There wasn’t a mobile phone on which they could snoop into my texts and emails.  There’s a sometimes-blurry line between privacy and needing to monitor the behavior of young people.

HOWEVER, the day after this message, I learned that my son wasn’t so innocent in the whole matter.  It turns out that though the girl started it by sending a bunch of messages trying to tell him that his date doesn’t like him in “that” way, Bailey got mad at her for saying it, and called her email antics “bitchy” and that’s when she sent him the mean message.  Learning about Bailey’s role in the exchange changed my perspective pretty quickly.  To my husband and me, this was the perfect opportunity to discuss communication skills in general. As parents of these young teens, we have to take some responsibility for teaching our kids right from wrong.  But it goes deeper than that; we have to teach them about the power of their own words, both oral and written.

When he first got the message and I thought it was in a vacuum, I counseled Bailey to delete the text, the equivalent of balling up paper into the trash can.  It’s gone.  But then my husband sat Bailey down and told him that enough was enough.  This use of go-betweens and texting was inappropriate at best, hurtful and harmful at worst.  His best course of action, we told him, was to talk to the girl he is taking to the dance.  He should be as nice to the girl who was texting him as he always was and he should sit exactly where he wanted to at lunch. Then he should open a line of communication with his date, who clearly knew about the conversations.  And you know what? He did. Bailey told us that he and both girls decided (over lunch together) to just forget the exchanges ever happened. At the end of the day, I was proud of the way he handled himself, even if he didn’t start off so well.

Bailey, my husband and I learned a number of lessons from all of this.  We live in a society that over-shares. We have to tell ourselves to “think before you tweet” in our social-media-driven world, and though we have to give him a modicum of privacy, as Bailey’s parents, it behooves us to monitor his communication tools.

However, the number one lesson that Bailey learned is the power of direct communication face-to-face with his friends as opposed to listening to third-party opinions, writing emails and pressing the “send” button too quickly.  There is no substitute for looking a person in the eye and speaking with him or her.

Kids today are learning to hide behind texting, emails and social media (and don’t get me started on the grammar issues inherent therein) so they don’t communicate directly.  While I’m sorry it took a lousy experience like this to teach Bailey the lesson, I’m not that sorry it happened.  I only hope we all learned something along the way.

The Big “C” – Control

C“Come on, you need to go to the bathroom. Let’s go.”

The command came from a compact woman with a set mouth and a helmet hairdo.  I was standing somewhere between the gurney and the hospital bed, supported by my husband and I could only stare at her.  I just arrived in a hospital room on an oncology floor that would be my existence for 5 more days. Between 6:30am and that moment, somewhere in the 3pm area, I had had a port for chemotherapy inserted, a bone-marrow biopsy, a CT scan, a PET scan a chest x-ray and an EKG.

I paused for a moment, gathered a little strength and said, “I’m sorry, could you ask me that a little more nicely please.”

Thankfully, six weeks later, I can tell you that awful woman was the only person I have met on my cancer journey so far who has been anything less than wonderful and loving.  And I only saw her for a few hours that day until she went off duty by 7pm.

But what happened next proved apocryphal.

Another woman in the room, a young-ish nurse named Jennifer, told the horrid woman that she’d help me get settled and she should check in later.  The horrid lady left.  As Jennifer gently helped me change a dressing and get a new hospital gown she said very quietly, “you have to give up control.  From here on out, you don’t have control.”

The words slammed into me like an out-of-control truck on a rainy night.  She is absolutely right.  From a medical standpoint, I have had to lie back a thousand times and let someone else DO something to my body.  Sometimes it hurts; most of the time it doesn’t.  Most of the time the inflicting nurse or doctor or technician is so apologetic and careful.  But it doesn’t change the fact that I am the object – my body is the object being acted upon and the actor in this situation is not me.  It’s all in the name of healing and getting well again, but it’s still completely out of my control.

I am only six weeks into this treatment plan.  I have a minimum of three months to go.  I go through all sorts of motions to grab control of what I can – which lab I use for blood draws, which chair I like in the chemo room, or even voicing that I prefer cranberry to grape juice, but it doesn’t change the fact that my control over my own body is all but gone.

As I came home from the hospital, I realized that there were other things over which I had no control as well.  My kids were being taken care of by other people; I was at the mercy of airlines in allowing or not allowing us to change around all of our summer plans; I relied on other people for meals.

In case you don’t know it, I am one of the most control freaky people I know.  I arrange my kids’ schedules within an inch of their lives. I am always the go-to person for the PTA or my pet charities if there’s something to be done. I don’t sit back and just take things – I dish them out. I have always said that I’m the good type of control freaky: at least I am aware of it.  Now, however, I am learning to let go of all control.  Most days I can do it gracefully, but there are some times when I just get so blasted mad about the whole thing.

So to me, “The Big C” as they say, means so much more than just cancer.  It means control.  I don’t know if I’ll ever accept it completely and I don’t know if I will emerge (God wiling) from this experience as a different type of person, but in the meantime, it’s interesting to think about as I sit in my chair in someone else’s home, reading a book generously put into my hands by someone else, and waiting for yet another person to tell me what’s for dinner tonight.

I’ll explain more as we go along. Come join me on my journey.

Blogging Doesn’t Happen in a Vacuum – My Interview on Expats Blog

I have been interviewed by the blogging site ExpatsBlog!  You can read the interview and see my opinions on life in Japan HERE.

Recently I’ve been connected with other bloggers through Expat blogging sites.  These sites are wonderful clearinghouses for bloggers like me, but also for the expats who live abroad and are looking for multiple viewpoints/experiences to guide them on their journeys abroad.

One of my favorites is Expats Blog.  They have such a breadth of different writers in different countries, all writing about their varied lives in their countries of residence.  It’s so helpful for me to read the pieces and get a feel for how other bloggers relate to their audiences.

Enjoy!

 

Writing, Editing and um… Cleaning Up The Mess.

clock“There’s a blog post in there somewhere,” said my writing partner, A, after a lengthy and funny conversation about time management, drafting and editing.

Of course she’s right; she’s always right.

The whole discussion started because we both receive the daily email from a group of female writers called “The Girlfriends Book Club.” Some of the entries are truly great –ranging from tips on publication, traditional publishing vs. self-publishing, and various other topics including the work/family balance thing.  And then some of the posts are mediocre. But I’m always glad I get them and have the choice to read and learn, or to press the delete button.

The post that really struck A and me was by a woman named Maria Geraci, who discussed her “Secret Time Management Weapon.”  Well what woman wouldn’t want to know about a weapon for managing time??  Geraci, like most writers, has a “day job” – one that she loves. She says that writing completes her as a person, but nursing is part of who she is.  She is lucky to be able to juggle both careers, and she doesn’t take that for granted.  The big piece of advice Geraci offers is that there is value in the fifteen-minute pocket of time.  If you have 15-minutes, she says, you can write one sentence or maybe edit two. Even that little bit counts as progress. It’s all how you take advantage of the increments of time you’re given.

Much of what A and I do with and for each other follows this principle.  With writing, there are no bosses to answer to – no one cares if we spend one hour or one minute on the writing. So we hold each other accountable. Weekly, we each set goals and check in with each other pretty much every day to see if we’ve met the goals or not.  There’s accountability to each other which makes goal setting worthwhile, but we don’t have penalties for each other if goals aren’t met.  Both of us are able to follow this system because one personality trait that we share is how hard we are on ourselves.  Not meeting the goal of the day causes both of us to engage in more self-flagellation than we could ever envision inflicting on each other.

Time management is something A and I also discuss ad nauseum because I am a teacher in my “other” life and she is very active in Japanese/English translation, as well as journalism and other writing-related pursuits, including a recently debuted text book.  We both have kids. So our time is precious and valuable to us and our families.

What was funny about the conversation however, is the different tack we take for writing.  A is a wonderful writer, but she is also a crackerjack editor.  She can labor over a sentence until its perfect, with the result being these beautiful sentences that flow magically into each other to weave a story or article.  I, on the other hand, can spew out 1000 words in an hour without blinking – sometimes more, but when the story is done, so am I.  I don’t mean to denigrate my own writing or anything, but let’s face it: editing and revising are not my strong suits.  I would rather write a great story and hate taking the time to really refine it for the public.  A would like to refine and refine and refine – though she has great ideas, getting them out of her head isn’t always so simple for her.

What that means for time management is that she needs to spend her chunks of time committed to initial writing and I need to schedule dedicated time for editing and revising.  A different type of time management for both of us.

“Yeah,” says A, “Maybe we should pair up.  You puke out the mass and I clean up the mess!”

And this is why I love her.

Fifteen minute chunks of time.  We’re trying it – without the blowing of chunks, of course.  But hey, if you can’t have fun when you’re writing and holding each other accountable, then what’s the point??

Education for Expat Kids – or: So I Entered A Blog Contest

Japan flagThis blog is lucky enough to be listed on a great site for expats across the globe called Expats Blog.  In fact, look at it on May 21st (don’t worry, I’ll remind you) and I’ll have a featured interview on the site.  But for today, please go look at it to see my entry in their blog contest.  The theme of the contest is International schools, a subject near to my heart since I have one child at Nishimachi and the other at The American School in Japan (ASIJ) so I can’t help but compare them sometimes.

For the contest, bloggers had to write about education abroad and/or international schools, but I wanted to focus on a more specific aspect of the kids’ schooling rather than writing a post about general education in Japan.  I chose to write about Japanese language skills.

I haven’t written much about our language abilities lately, but suffice to say, I’m rapidly becoming the dummy in the house as the kids’ language skills – writing, reading and speaking – improve rapidly with daily instruction and weekly tutor support.  But, as you will see in the post, the kids are learning different Japanese.  My son is learning Japanese as a foreign language at ASIJ and my daughter is taught more natively at NIS, which has a strong bilingual program.  It’s an interesting contrast as my daughter chats easily with friends, while my son corrects her grammar.  They’re both learning beautifully, but differently.  It’s neat to watch.

In entering these Expats Blog contests, I am eligible to win prizes.  One of the prizes is for comments on my post on their site.  So please click to read the post (here) and then, if you’re so moved, write a comment.

If you normally enjoy my posts, then you will really enjoy this one on Japanese language learning in international schools.  Give it a look and let me know what you think.  Expats Blog is a great site – and a wonderful place for expats to go for information.  I’m thrilled to be listed on their site!