A Travellerspoint blog

Home for the Holidays and Pregnancy in Japan

Expecting Baby Walt next week!

Hello again everyone,

The past couple of months have gone by quickly with us visiting family in the US and preparing for Baby Walt, who we're currently expected to meet next week!

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We flew back to Florida over Christmas/New Year's, and I misunderstood when I thought they were just asking if we wanted priority boarding because I was pregnant (getting on the plane early), so I said yes. They ended up driving us over to the plan on a bus, and then the whole bus lifted up and attached so that we didn't need to walk up any stairs. I was glad there was a couple of other people on there as well, because it felt very ridiculous for me, given I had literally done a workout that included squats that morning. Otherwise, the plane ride was not too bad, and we had a kindly gate agent move our seats together during our second flight. It was great to see everyone over the holidays, including our relatives currently in Florida and also Matt's parents, who came down from Chicago, and my cousin (Seth) who was back from the UK + his parents in from Michigan.

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We spent most of our time their relaxing, playing games, and ordering/organizing baby gear. We got in several water aerobics classes, which were especially enjoyable because I hadn't been in a pool yet while pregnant. (It's nice!) After staying through Christmas at my aunt's condo in Ocala, we were able to visit Steve, Vanessa, Roger & Sylvie in Fort Myers for a few days with more relaxing, great conversations + food, and swimming with the kids. It's always wonderful to see them and we were so excited they came down from Michigan to make that possible. Then, we saw Trombone Shorty in Orlando with Pete and Heather (our Birthday present for Pete), which was a fun show, before heading over to the other side of the state (Jupiter) so I could meet some of the family on Pete's side. While we were there, Matt was able to reunite with Tierra Cali, the Mexican rock band he toured with for a year before we met, and played a super late New Year's Even show with them. It was nice to meet the band and they were obviously excited for Me and Matt. Also wonderful to meet some of his family that I had never met! A couple of other highlights while we were there included visiting the turtle sanctuary and meeting up with an old friend of mine from when I worked at Fuller's, who I had not realized was in the area.

When we got back home, we were preceded by a day by Matt's longtime friend, Alex, who stayed with us and visited for most of the rest of January (taking some short trips on his own + with us). Alex was very understanding of our work schedules and was an absolute pleasure to host. He frequently got groceries and made dinner for us, and was generally so considerate. We got to take one weekend trip with him to Nagano, where we visited the monkey onsen and also had a private onsen in our hotel. We also visited a really cool Izakaya there, and enjoyed walking around in the snow, which we hadn't had yet in Tokyo (though we did end up having one day where snow stuck and we got a snow day this month). We also got to go to an open Jazz jam session at our regular nearby dive bar with Alex, which Matt enjoyed playing in.
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We had a good amount of work to do in both January and February, for me prepping to take time off (grading + planning for subs), and for Matt planning the spring concert. That has been slowly coming along, and I feel like things are in a decent place now, though I'm trying to wrap up a bit more grading this week (and I know I would never be completely satisfied with the state of my classes to hand off to someone else). The admin, staff, and students at both of our schools have been supportive about the baby and are very excited for us. We took a brief hiatus from working to celebrate my Birthday earlier this month and went to the new location of TeamLabs Borderless Museum, which was super cool but missing a couple of things that I really enjoyed from the previous location.

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Matt has been super supportive while I've been pregnant, and random people have been nice as well, including things like giving me a seat on the subway and letting us in a restaurant after last order because the hostess said, "I see your wife is pregnant and I don't know how far she's walked already. Let me check if we can get you in..." I've been able to maintain about one workout per week and doing decent on steps and macros (it's been nice to have the consistency of working with a trainer for that, especially since she's had three kids herself and is very understanding) but I generally feel very awkward and big at this point...and just regular things are painful, sleep is difficult, etc. I know I've been pretty lucky with my pregnancy experience overall but I am still ready for it to be done, so it's exciting that it likely will be wrapping up soon!

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We were told at our appointment two weeks ago that Baby Walt's kidneys had gotten larger and they thought we needed to have him ASAP so he could get a full evaluation out of the womb and they could figure out what's going on (they just wanted to wait a few days to get past the 37 weeks mark); they also gave us the option to see a neonatal specialist (named Yoda, which is pretty sweet) at the university hospital so I left work a week early and we went there on Monday. The good news is the specialist believes this is not urgent enough to require immediate induction and they think it is something they can fully fix with no long-term side effects. The current plan for labor/delivery is still to most likely induce this next week - -we're going in for an appointment on Monday if he hasn't come yet (this is more because of his size, not the kidney issue). The less good news is that he can't come home with us from the hospital, and will instead need to go on his own to a separate hospital for 2-3 days to undergo further evaluation; the most likely outcome from that is he will need to be on antibiotics for 2-3 months until he is old enough to have surgery to repair the connections between his bladder and ureters (the tubes that connect the bladder to the kidneys), but it sounds like a fairly successful surgery that doesn't have many complication risks or any permanent side-effects.

We are super grateful they identified this issue now, which almost certainly would not have happened in the US, where late-term ultrasound scans aren't the norm for low-risk pregnancies, because the main risk with his issue is UTIs that can cause permanent kidney damage (and starting on the antibiotics right away should help prevent that). The level of care here is exceptional, and it's so crazy that our hour long appointment with the specialist, his team of four other people, and our own interpreter (who was really there more as a back-up because the doctor spoke fairly good English) cost us $30. We're feeling positive and excited to meet Walt soon! We were hoping my parents could make it out for the birth, which isn't going to happen but Heather will be visiting later on and helping out so I can return to work and finish out this school year.

We are currently planning to come back to the US at the end of June for a Billy Joel + Stevie Nicks concert and then a family reunion with my dad's family, but we are holding off on booking flights until we find out more about what Walt will need in terms of surgery and recovery this summer. Hoping we can still make it back to see friends and family, but obviously that's not the highest priority at this point.

Love,
Tara, Matt, Baby Walt + Thor & Loki

Posted by taraMatuszek 09:55 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Big Changes!

Excitedly looking ahead to the next chapter in our adventure

Hello Again,

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It's been a long time since I last wrote a blog post! Matt was planning to do a guest entry about our summer that he didn't get to, so I used waiting for that as an excuse to not write anything myself for a bit -- I will go through some summer highlights and then focus on what's happened since then and where we're at now.

This past summer, we were able to spend a month in Bali relaxing, visiting with family, and getting our SCUBA certification. We were so excited that (my cousin) Melissa, Brian, and Elara met us their for almost the whole trip and then (my brother) Scott came part way through and came back to Japan with us. We also got to spend some time with (Matt's cousin) Ben and Yana, who live in Bali, and it was SO NICE to see everyone. It was especially fun visiting with Elara, who was not really talking much the last time I'd seen her and now has lots to say =)

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We enjoyed lots of delicious food and some live music (Matt brought his trumpet and got to play along a couple of times) + solid beach time, along with:

1. Finding out I was pregnant in a Balinese hospital: Scott was immediately hospitalized on his arrival after an allergic reaction on the plane that caused his throat to swell and something to get stuck -- it was quite a rough start, but turned out OK and we were glad he had a long enough trip to still enjoy most of it + it was fun that he was the first one there who we shared the news with.

2. Discovering a new hobby (thanks to our Airbnb host, Peter) that we're hoping to keep up with: Hash runs! We ended up doing three while we were there, and Brian + Matt even got the shirts! The Hash House Harriers is an international organization that is a self-proclaimed "drinking group with a running problem."

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It originated from the British game of Hare and Hound, and basically involves one person (the hare) setting a path or two, with varying difficulty, by leaving bits of paper along the way and including some false trails, forks, etc so that everyone else (the hounds) can't catch up to them (ours included rice patties, drainage ditches, bamboo forest, parts of the towns, etc). There is some club-specific lingo to tell other people when you're on the path, or you've found a false trail, and an induction song (somewhat reminiscent of a friendly hazing) for new members. The ones we went to included all ages and nationalities, with some people running and some walking, and ended with beer + a ceremony (one of them ended at a temple and had some traditional Balinese dancing as well). I was really not feeling well for the second one, which I later realized was likely because of being pregnant.

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3. Finally getting a wedding ring for Matt: Ben introduced us to a friend of his who does a lot of jewelry design (he did some pieces that were in Black Panther, and I feel like Wakanda really captures a lot of his aesthetic) as well as some other design, including fully designing his own compound, complete with a slide out his second story bedroom window and into the pool -- the whole space was very organic, curvy, and felt like a haven for creativity. He was kind enough to give us a full tour and show us a lot of things he was working on.

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4. SCUBA diving: it was really fun to get certified together with Matt, and we got to see some huge Manta Rays + I had one sea turtle swim right up to me and investigate! The scariest part for me was definitely doing the drills where you lose your mask and regulator in the open water (I was more nervous about that then I expected) but on the whole it was great and we are hoping to do some diving in Okinawa down the road. I barely squeaked in being able to go diving this time before it would have been a risk to the baby.

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5. Rock climbing: I hadn't been able to top-rope in quite awhile (Tokyo mostly just has bouldering) and it was really fun doing an outdoor climbing day trip with Scott and Matt! I definitely wasn't in peak climbing form, but our guide was super nice and I did get to lead an easier route as well. We were also inside an absolutely beautiful Caldera so the views were pretty fantastic.

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After we got back from Bali, I ended up with an infection in my leg (from itching a mosquito bite, I think, which was pretty lame) that got way worse than I expected until my whole leg was swollen and it was painful to walk + I was getting full-body chills. I ended up getting some antibiotics for it and it got better, but we spent a good bit of that time playing the new Pikmin game with Scott and relaxing on the couch (Matt and Scott were both very helpful about doing pretty much everything around the house while I did almost nothing). I was also still recovering when had our trip to Mount Fuji scheduled, which we had managed to put off just long enough that there were only two spots left in the hut so we planned to go up and down both in one day. To add insult to injury, I somehow also had diarrhea the day before (and I had lost my appetite and was struggling to eat much of anything) so there was no way I was climbing up and down the mountain. I stayed at base camp and read an entire book (Becoming Mrs. Lewis, about CS Lewis's wife, which was quite good) while getting occasional Whatsapp updates from them along the way. Scott and Matt made it all the way to the summit and back in time to catch one bus before the last one, so that was great.
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Shortly after that, it was back to school. I started coaching the middle school volleyball B team straight away, so we had tryouts and practices several mornings before school every week, and I was still fairly sick/tired for a bit. I think my immune system was definitely weakened by pregnancy because I also ended up getting the Flu about a month into school (I think -- I did not get a formal test myself but some of my students did) and missed a few days of school. Overall, I think I lost around 10lbs in about 8 weeks, before finally regaining my appetite. Since then, I started working with a personal trainer again and I've been trying to eat well + stay active. I got pretty behind on work (planning and marking) during that time so it's been a struggle to try and stay on top of things and I didn't use our fall break to catch up at all because Michelle and Gordon came to visit!

Michelle also arrived quite sick (hopefully this isn't the start to a trend of unlucky visitors?) so we mostly stayed in for the first couple of days, and then explored a little more around Tokyo and took the Shinkansen over to Osaka and got day-an-a-half passes to Universal Studios. We were there just in the afternoon on the first day, mostly looking around, walking and catching Pokémon + checking out a couple of things. The second day, we got into Nintendo World and spent most of the day there, which was a lot of fun, and it was kind of crazy thinking that almost certainly the next time we're at an amusement park will be with our own kid.

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Now, we're finishing up our last week of school. I've been mentoring a teacher working on her certification for the last 7 weeks, which has been really enjoyable, and I'm taking a half-day next week to see Matt's students in their Winter Concert (I haven't seen his Nishimachi students perform at all yet, so that will be nice). We're both really looking forward to spending some time with family in Florida over the holidays, and we're working a lot on prepping for welcoming a new addition to our family. Matt just put together the rocking chair (a gift from my parents) yesterday and we already picked up a number of things for the baby during Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales.

We are very excited to be having a kid, though the speed of things definitely took us by surprise (first try!) and it's a bit daunting having a baby in a foreign country without a local support system. That said, we do both think Japan is a great place to have a kid -- the healthcare is much more reasonably priced and the general culture sees giving birth as a more natural process. I cannot imagine a Japanese person every saying or thinking "this is taking too long" about anything, so I have no concerns about them wanting to speed up labor or anything like that. We are required to stay in the hospital for at least five days after birth (which seems really long by US standards) and I'm really excited that our hospital has a water birth option, which I am planning to try. We've been working with a doula, who's been very helpful (we've even taken one "breathing for birth" class with her) and they do an incredible number of check-ups and scans to make sure everything is OK. They were somewhat unhappy that we will be gone for three weeks over break because they do check-ups every two weeks starting at week 24! The thing we are definitely most grateful for is the national government's childcare leave program, which allows both parents to take up to a year off of work after the baby is born (6 months at 2/3 pay and 6 months at 1/2 pay). We are planning to finish out this school year and then both take off the fall semester of next school year. I can't believe we are fortunate enough to get that much time off work together with our first child. We both feel very blessed. I also feel very comforted to have Matt as partner and he's already been doing a lot more of the cooking/cleaning since I've been pregnant. I'm really excited to see him as a dad, and get to parent our child with him.

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One somewhat funny thing about the check-ups has been the gender questions. I am very glad that we already planned to find out the gender of the baby in advance because we definitely could not have been surprised here. At our 18-week appointment, the technician stopped partway through the scan (describing what everything was), with a bit of an "Oh, wow" moment and then stayed there and asked if we wanted to know the gender, which was quite apparent. We both laughed and said sure, and she confirmed that it was a boy (and that he is not shy!). We had a similar experience at the next scan as well. Another thing that we found pretty hilarious is that we received our first baby gift, from our neighbor -- since they also live in our complex, they of course understand the limited space here and the need to prioritize practicality + items that can be easily stored, so naturally the first thing parents expecting a baby in four months will need is a kid's piano.

We always appreciate positive thoughts and prayers for us and our baby, and if you feel like you would like to contribute something specific for the baby, we do have a Baby List registry (most things are shipping to my parents, who we will be visiting shortly and who are hoping/planning to fly here for the birth, but a few things that we want to get beforehand to assemble or make sure we have in case the baby comes early, we'd like to get sent to Japan directly, which is a bit tougher). We also haven't decided what we want for some larger items, so happy to get suggestions on some of those (stroller, high chair, crib, play pen, swing, walker, etc). Here's a look at our first ultrasound and our most recent scan (at 24 weeks):
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Happy Holidays everyone!
-Tara, Matt, Thor, Lok & Baby

Posted by taraMatuszek 01:18 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

Wrapping-Up Work and Starting Summer

Can't believe we taught a full school year already!

Hello Everyone,

Once again, it's been several months since I've written anything here, and we've made it to another milestone! One big highlight since the last post is that we stopped being required to wear masks at work, and have just recently gotten to the point where we don't wear them on the subway either (I had my first mask-free subway ride a couple days ago, though the majority of other people did wear masks there were a decent number who did not). I'll catch you up on the end of the school year, highlighting some notable events and incidents, and then briefly review our summer + fall plans. I realized I need to start taking more photos again, cause this post they're pretty sparse. (Sorry!)

In general, the end of the school year was busy and stressful -- Matt got sick after not sleeping enough prepping for the school concert, and then I got sick as well but not as bad (I managed to not take any days off and just wore a mask again) so we ended up pretty behind on both work and regular household stuff. Neither of us had realized that grades and comments were due during before the school year ended, and Matt had over 400 to write, which was quite stressful even though I tried to help by setting him up spreadsheets and formulas for each class. I was also wrapping-up posting content and just finished submitting final grades to the last districts yesterday for my other job, and I'm finishing up doing more prep to help get them set for next year in my last few weeks working. I ended up taking a personal day on the last day of regular classes in order to work more on grading, because I had a deadline for my students on that day and it was supposed to be the final day grades were submitted. Matt started a week later than I did and is still in his last week of school now, but he's just got one more full day of teaching and then a couple of half-days, and we feel like we've both had successful school years despite some challenges/hiccups along the way. After getting in our annual Lord of the Rings movie marathon during Spring Break, I checked out The Hobbit from my school library, and we read that together at night before bed. I turned it in the last day of school and picked up the Fellowship of the Ring, which we're planning to start tonight.

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My school sent all the high school and middle school students on trips Mon-Wed of our last week of school, and had the extreme good luck to be selected to chaperone the grade 11 Canyons trip (they try to choose teachers who enjoy outdoor adventures), which was an absolute blast. We had the oldest students and ours was one of the only single-grade trips, so that made it way less work to supervise, and we had 6 chaperones because the students got split into small groups for some activities, so I basically had no supervision responsibilities and just got to do some fun stuff with a lot of kids who had never done things like that before. We went pack-rafting, canyoning, hiking, and rafting and it was great! I think canyoning was my favorite, which is where you just navigate down river in a canyon, through a combination of wading/walking, swimming, jumping, and sliding (and one time being lowered partway down a waterfall before we were dropped). At the lodge, the first night I finished my grading but then got to enjoy games of Bananagrams with the other chaperones, and started reading a book for fun (Thinking, Fast & Slow).

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We've started collecting items we bought from Sayonara sales (other teachers leaving), including a couple of small trees, some curtains, collapsible shelves, storage bins, adjustable weights, and an outdoor table. As it happens, I didn't understand what a set of curtains meant, so I accidentally purchased twice as many as I thought, and within the same week somehow ordered two guitar capos on Amazon. We also have random things that haven't fit where we thought they would or that we got as gifts/prizes, and I'm really missing the convenience of Goodwill in the US. It's difficult to get rid of things here and I'm going to try to list some things for free online this week. As for the curtains, it almost turned out good that I got extra because I think I had possibly the messiest incident of my life a couple of nights ago (another close incident was when I lived with Melissa and Polly got into flour and cocoa powder from the cupboard and dragged them all over). In a string of unfortunate events, I first burned myself on the lid of a pan while making dinner. Then, because of the burn, I was icing the inside of my wrist against my smoothie cup, and accidentally knocked over Matt's completely full smoothie. This would have been a fairly contained mess, except that I got in a full direct hit on Loki with all of the smoothie. This first off made the initial splatter zone more spectacular -- ranging from the bottom of the table, to all three chairs, the back wall, the cupboards and drawers on one side of the kitchen, and almost stretching to the trash cans on the opposite walls. Then, of course, Loki immediately panicked, and sprinted into our bedroom. He went so fast that he was drifting around corners and managed to get smoothie skid marks on several walls and doors (in addition to numerous drips and smoothie paw prints on the floor and rug), before jumping onto the window sill. This caused a splatter all across our bed, and got more smoothie on multiple curtains and windows. I caught him there but I was trying to be careful cause I had on a white shirt, so I managed to lose him again in the bathroom. Thankfully, Matt caught him there, and the additional damage was contained to the bathroom entrance/sink area, before we finally got him into the shower room and I hosed him down while he howled in despair. Matt and I were laughing fairly hysterically the whole time, and though the cleanup was immense, we now think that we have hunted down all traces of smoothie from the apartment (though I would not be surprised to still encounter some for the next month in spots we may have missed). I really wish we had gotten some video footage of the event, as it was truly spectacular.

The end of the school year has also seen more social events coming up, as we've had several staff parties over the last couple of weeks. In a miraculous feat of social activity (for me), I have multiple social events today and had one yesterday! I am going rock climbing with one of the teachers who's leaving today, and then meeting up with my school yoga group for dinner -- our regular classes on campus ended, but I've still bee doing a Saturday morning Zoom class, which Matt says makes him nauseas for 70% of the class. The teacher is great but it's very challenging and she frequently watches everyone's alignment and then says cryptic things we'e supposed to change like "lift your kneecaps!" Her attention to detail is fairly incredible, given we're on Zoom. Matt will sometimes mutter something like, "how could she possibly see my heel wasn't down!?" it's been fun getting into some more active routines, which brings me to my social event yesterday, a volleyball open gym. Apparently it's been going on for a long time, because one of the teachers I went with had gone herself as a senior in high school (?20 years ago), but hadn't been back since. We showed up and took our shoes off, at the door. Then, we were instructed to pay 140yen (about $2) in a vending machine that gave us a ticket, which we then exchanged with the guy at the desk for a laminated number, after filling in a few things on a sign-in sheet. We were very grateful that one of the teachers spoke Japanese, as no one else there spoke much English and the instructions were a bit complicated. Once we got in, we put on our other shoes, and were told (translated by the teacher) that we would start with some drills and then play games at the end, where the guy leading it would divide us based on skill (he also said that there were supposedly people of all levels there, from advanced to "absolute beginner," though I found that I was likely the worst person there and I would have put myself quite aways above absolute beginner). We weren't allowed to even drink water in the gym, so I'm sure the floors were spotless, though we still swept them at the end. It was a lot of fun, and unbelievable how even one of the guys who looked to be about 80 was really good. There were also a number of middle school boys, with boundless energy, though mostly it was middle-aged men (one other woman came, besides the three of us from Seisen). I managed to feel very culturally out of sync when we started the games. I managed to mis-time the rock-paper-scissors, even though Yuri tried to explain the timing to be beforehand, and then right after I was somehow the only one in our team huddle who thought that your hands go down after a cheer. When one of the guys next to me got a good hit early on, I went to give him a high five and realized he was going for a fist bump, so we both switched and I fist-bumped his open palm (then we both just laughed). I wish my Japanese was better than virtually non-exsistent, but I still had a great time and I'm hoping to go back every Monday!

We recently saw the Dungeons & Dragons movie (it's a lot of fun, if you haven't seen it) and I've been very grateful that Matt started playing D&D with me when we moved here. I think I would be remiss if I didn't mention in my blog at some point how much we enjoy or weekly D&D games! It's really fun to catch up with everyone, and reminds me how lucky I am that my older brothers and friends let me start playing with them 23 years ago, even though I sometimes did dumb things in our campaigns. It's been a mainstay throughout my life and it's a collaborative/creative outlet that I hope to stick with forever. It has been a lot of fun to share that with Matt, which reminds me that we recently had the five year anniversary of our first date (and three years from our engagement, which I intentionally planned for the same day so that we would have fewer dates to keep track of). We haven't done much to celebrate yet because it's been a crazy time, but I did take a moment to read through our wedding photo album (thanks Melissa and Brian for the photographer, and Heather, for getting us the book!) with our vows and Steve's comments during the ceremony. I can't imagine living here without Matt, or living anywhere without him, for that matter. He's a truly incredible life partner and I wanted to take a moment of gratitude for him here, in our blog. I still feel somewhat guilty/nervous admitting that I can't think of a time when we've ever had a fight. I constantly hear people mention wanting time away from their spouse or some habit that drives them crazy, and I feel grateful for every moment that I get to spend with Matt. I can't think of anyone else I'd rather be with, even though we spend most all our free time together, and I missed him when I was gone for two night on the Canyons trip. I appreciate how he can just laugh with me when things are ridiculous and terrible, and that he always communicates in a way that is both kind and honest. I had someone tell me that I would never feel as confident in my spouse's love as I did in my family's, but I can't imagine feeling more certain of anyone's love than I feel with Matt. He's the best.

My summer classes ended up not going, so I am just staying home more to finish work, plan for next year, and get stuff done around the house. I've practiced both Japanese and guitar for a few days in a row now, and I'm getting some cleaning (still catching up on laundry from the smoothie incident) and gardening done, along with grocery shopping, cooking, exercising, and reading. It's nice to have some downtime and I'm really looking forward to the next few weeks, though I'm definitely looking forward to Bali and seeing everyone even more. We're also solidifying other plans to see people -- including a Christmas trip to Florida, and some friends coming here over fall break. We got our tentative teaching schedules for next year, and it should be fairly similar for me. I will be teaching two older grades of Design, which means a bit more work in class prep but I get to stay with my students so I won't be learning a whole bunch of names to start the year! Matt's schedule will be a bit lighter, though he is somewhat sad to be going to only elementary. I hope it works out well for him, but I feel a little bit guilty that we're so close to my work and my job is so great. I think he's getting the raw end of the deal with his long commute and work he's less excited about, but we're definitely glad that he has a contract for next year. On the whole, we're finally settling into life here somewhat. I think it's taken the full year for me to feel like I can say that, and there's still a lot more to learn and do, but it feels like we're making progress, and I'm excited to see what comes our way next.

Cheers,
Tara, Matt, Thor & Loki

Posted by taraMatuszek 00:47 Archived in Japan Comments (2)

2023 in Japan

Whew, I haven't written since last year -- when I was a year younger and not yet a "Master" =P
A lot has happened since then! 'll start where we left off, go through the highlights of what's happened since then, and wrap-up with what's coming next!

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We really enjoyed the rest of Heather's visit and ringing in the new year with her on our rooftop here, and spent the remainder of our break mostly hibernating inside and playing Pokemon Scarlet. That was a refreshing break but, overall, January and February were pretty tough for us. I was finishing my Master's program (I got my Master's in Educational Technology from Moreland University) and then immediately busy with my US work for Count Day (the busiest time of year each semester), and the cold + shorter days in winter are never my favorite. Apparently most schools here also give paragraph long comments from every teacher for the end of semester report cards, which was a ton of work for both of us.

Thankfully, my admin agreed to my request to keep the same students for second semester (they initially had me and the other design teacher switching grades mid-year) but in order to ensure the 10th graders still had some exposure to computer science before choosing their classes for 11th & 12th grade, I ran an extra week-long camp for them at the end of January. The camp was pretty fun but not as organized as I wanted it to be and just generally a tough time to add another thing to the mix. I got one snow day, which was the only time snow stuck to the ground, and Matt was already off school for a long weekend that day. (The picture here is from our snow day.)

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I also finished helping out with judging for the debate team in January, which was fun but took a bit more time than I hoped - especially when one of the teachers interrupted my class to basically beg me to go to an all-day tournament which I'd told them I didn't have time for, but did eventually agree to. I got to participate in a staff basketball game, which kicked my butt (much more tiring than the staff volleyball in the fall) but was still fun, and Matt started biking to school with a colleague some + chaperoned a ski trip for the elementary kids. We also went to a Spanish-themed gala event at a swanky hotel that my school's parents association put on, which had delicious food and was mostly fun, but a random comment the emcee made about us not seeming to fit in bothered me more than I wanted to, cause that's somewhat how I've felt about Japan in general. There are some things I really appreciate about the culture but I mostly feel out of place in a way that's less friendly and fun than other places I've traveled, though maybe that's only because I haven't lived in any of them for more than semester. We did win a coupon for 60 roses at the event, which we ordered right away and got between my birthday and Valentine's Day!

After February, things have slowed down a little, thankfully. I enjoyed reading my first book just for fun in awhile, which was a set of stories my friend published about his Dungeons & Dragons character in our current campaign, Sir Locke the Gnome -- they're a lot of fun, so please check them out here, if you're interested. (Kind of like a cross between Sherlock Holmes, The Hobbit, and Aesop's Fables.) We mostly waited to celebrate my Birthday until March, and had a fun weekend where we biked to supposedly one of the best vegan restaurants in the world (which we felt did live up to the hype and was surprisingly reasonably priced) and went to a Salsa class/dance. The coolest thing at the vegan restaurant was the skewers of fake meat that came out on a grill, but then really the "coals" underneath were like french fries! As a birthday present from my parents, I got a used guitar on Mercari, which was a half day journey to pick up. I basically stopped playing during grad school, which is why I didn't bother bringing mine from the US, but I was planning to pick it up again after and I'm excited for that. I've only played a couple of times so far so I still need to get more regular with that (I realized last time that I need to get a capo too).

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We have spent more time with some of Matt's colleagues, including a weekend game night that was our first time visiting someone else's home here (other than picking up things people were giving away) and going on a beautiful hike a few hours' drive from here. Neither of us had done a hike in that much snow before (we passed a ranger's hut that was completely buried, with only the chimney sticking out and the area in front of the door excavated. It was pretty intense and I didn't make it all the way to the top in time but I really enjoyed it, and we both especially loved sliding back down on our butts for the steep portions! The very beginning part was too steep/long for that, and really rough going down without crampons. I had a Japanese guy who was probably close to 70 years old stop and take my backpack from me + trade trekking poles (mine didn't have the snow tips), and tell me "slowly, slowly," after I had already been going unbearably slow except for the frequent falling/slipping. It was somewhat demoralizing but also just pretty funny, but then I felt like I couldn't just slide on my butt for part that I thought it would have been OK because the guy was there helping me. I love all mountains, and have a strong desire to leave near/in the mountains some day. It feels a bit too cheesy but I'm always reminded me of the Rocky Mountain High line "Coming home, to place he'd never been before" because mountains just feel like home to me. We also really enjoyed the car ride back, which was close to three hours of Karaoke and left me feeling a bit hoarse the next day.
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We ended classes before break with parent teacher conferences, which were less hectic than last time for me, but still fairly busy. I am working on a cardboard armor unit with my 6th graders, and I really wanted to finish my own armor in time to wear it for conferences but I didn't quite get it done yet.

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Now, we're coming off a week of spring break, and not feeling ready to go back to teaching but it was nice. I started training a friend who is planning to take over a bit of my other work, and I went to an onsen for the first time with Matt. Onsens are the public baths here that are fed by natural springs, and the one we went to was super nice. It's split by gender, and they don't allow tattoos (my work also doesn't allow visible tattoos, as they still has some cultural connotations of being gang-related) so Matt taped over his with medical tape. When you go in, you get a change of clothes and towels (we got two sets of each because there was a separate outfit for the sauna area, which we went to together after) and then there's a whole restaurant inside, plus lots of recliner seats to relax, which each have their own mini TVs and charging ports. Then, you go through the locker room into each bath area, which has around 5-10 pools of varying depths and temperatures inside and the same number outside. You have to be naked, shower first, and not let your hair touch the water in any of the pools. They range from super shallow ones where you can sit or lay down and there's just a little bit of water running behind you, to deeper pools like more "traditional" hot springs, and ones like a personal bath tub equipped with steamers. They even had one cold pool inside. The ware on some outside was almost black from the minerals, and it was very relaxing + nice. My hour flew by and then I was heading out to meet Matt for the sauna before I got to try all the pools. I really appreciate that nudity is not viewed as sexualized here - the onsens are typically a family thing so there are just naked women of all ages, which reminded me of the jimjibang I stayed at in Korea. It was not too crowded cause we went on a weekday, and I'm definitely hoping to get back somewhat regularly.

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My parents got us a volleyball and a couple board games for Christmas, and we've hit the volleyball around a few times in the park by our house + been on a solid board game streak over break - Matt beat me in Catan and we're 3-2 in games of Wingspan. We started an online Japanese class this past week, so we're looking forward to getting better at that, and I've noticed a lot of improvement in my biking since we've been here (which isn't saying a lot, except that I had a very low bar for biking skill/level in the US). The weather here is beautiful now and cherry blossoms are blooming, so it is definitely the nicest time of yea we've had yet. It's crazy that I only have 10 more weeks of teaching regular classes, and then the last week which I'll be chaperoning the 11th grade canyon trip for most of. We're getting really excited for summer.

We're working out our summer plans -- I've proposed several summer camps that I'm hoping to run at my school: one LEGO Robotics for middle school, a Puzzles, Logic & Games camp for MS/HS and "Adventures in Storytelling with Dungeons & Dragons" (MS/HS), which I'm pretty excited for. I've had several staff members approach me, excited about the D&D camp, but we won't know what runs until they're posted for students and we see what enrollment looks at. I would plant to only run them if at least two go. Those would run the three weeks immediately after my regular school ends, which includes one week where Matt is still teaching (he also started a week later than I did), and a couple more weeks, wrapping up at the end of June. Matt is working on writing up descriptions for teaching a few week-long camps at his school in the two weeks after that.

We're going to Bali for most of July, visiting with my cousins Melissa & Brian, and their daughter Elara, and meeting my brother Scott. We'll mostly be relaxing, exploring, and enjoying time with family but we may also try to get our open water diving certification at one of the smaller islands as well. Scott is then coming back with us to Japan, and we're hoping to climb Mount Fuji with him (I constantly say Mt Fiji instead, and Matt corrects me, so I really thought about it before typing that one). I'm finishing up the part time work I've been doing remotely in the US at the end of this school year, and not continuing that for next year, which is bittersweet because I've really enjoyed that but I'm ready to be less busy/stressed. That means our Bali trip is going to be the first time in over 10 years that I'll be not working for a full month, and I'm stoked about that!

Cheers,
Tara, Matt, Thor & Loki

P.S. Matt put in his goals for next quarter to write a blog post, so hopefully you'll be hearing from him soon!

Posted by taraMatuszek 11:28 Archived in Japan Comments (3)

Christmas in Kyoto (and I can't believe it's been 5 months!)

Hello Everyone,

We're on the train back from Kyoto and I realized that it's been about two months since my last blog post...it feels like I'm overdue, but I also can't believe it was that long ago.

We've been in Japan about 5 months now, and it still feels foreign in a lot of ways. We've gotten used to which side of the street people drive/walk on, our chopstick skills have improved, and getting around is much easier - - we've got our bikes, and we both feel fairly comfortable with busses and subway transit; trash and mail are still daunting, and pulling out a translate app to look through items at the grocery store is often tiring.

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For me, grad school and two jobs have taken up most of my brain power, and left me without much energy to explore or keep up with some of my regular hobbies. I anticipated that, and didn't even bring my guitar here, but I was hoping to keep up with things like exercising, journaling, and cooking, which honestly hasn't happened much. I'm enjoying the break right now, and having some down time to recoup, plus looking forward to the end of grad school next month (I have been getting my Master's in Educational Technology online). Matt is making some friends at work and got an official band invite from the maintenance guy whose band he played with once awhile back.

I really enjoy teaching here, and getting to know my students, but I feel like I've been slowly getting behind and I'm trying to use this break to catch up on marking + planning as well - - it's super nice that I got a full 3 weeks off + a long weekend on either side. Matt has been mostly on his own with with laundry, dishes, trash, and cleaning around the house, which I really appreciate (my main household contribution is intermittent cooking, but that's a stretch sometimes) and his mom has been helping a lot with that since she's been here as well.

Being reunited with Thor and Loki has been awesome - - getting them here was a nightmare of paperwork that will likely haunt my dreams for years to come, but we're so happy to have them with us. Josh did a great job caring for them (maybe a little too great, Loki especially has put on a few pounds), and I know they got into enough trouble at his house that he's happy to have them gone, but we love them and couldn't be happier to deal with all their mischief ourselves!

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Josh and Heather arrived with the cats early this month, and I took the day off to meet them at the airport (the far one, where pets can come in). They had a very long day traveling, as we still had multiple trains and a walk to get home, but the cats made it without any accidents in their carrier - - a situation we faced once in the car on the way to Jeff and Danielle's in Seattle, and I was very grateful to not have repeated with Josh and Heather. Matt ordered Domino's and we all went to bed fairly quickly. It came in handy that our bed is actually two twins, which we were able to separate to make room for everyone.

That week was fairly busy, with us working, Josh going out for tea and remote work, and Heather helping out at home + catching up from jet lag. Ww got in a few sights over the weekend (Matt a little more than me), including a fun museum - - the sister museum of the one we went to when we first arrived - - with a hanging orchid garden and a Michelin star vegan ramen restaurant. We also made a repeat visit to a nearby dive bar with Josh, where he was on his way to the drum set to play before they even poured his drink (included with the cover charge). He played a couple songs, and we all three went up to sing along with the band for Sunday Morning by Maroon 5. Josh left early the next week, so he had a short visit but got in a good amount of walking and language practice, and also came with us to one of our favorite nepalese restaurants here, which we love more for the friendly owner than the food (the food is good, but not amazing).

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Another highlight we got to enjoy with Heather was Matt's birthday dinner at a fancy Michelin star French restaurant - - we each got at least five courses and everything was delicious + beautiful! We also spent time eating, drinking, and visiting at home, and walked around and stumbled on some live music outside the Christmas tree in Futako. I really love how they always have mats for the kids to sit on up at the front of almost every show. We had a few days of down time (and work/school), before leaving for another trip to Kyoto. This was really fun to visit with Heather, because she came with her mom on a trip about 40 years ago.

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We did a lot of walking in Kyoto, and Heather even got a picture of her fitbit at over 18k steps on our last full day (we decided she gets some extra "steps" from how much she talks with her hands, but she was still a champ about all the walking). We all got massages twice at the Thai massage place by our hotel during the trip. We visited the largest market of the year, which supposedly had about 100k people, but was so large that I would have guessed less than that, and revisited a couple fun places in Nara - - a temple in the deer park (which we now found out is the largest wooden structure in the world), and the sake brewery, with several new seasonal sakes included in their tasting. The deer were bowing more than we remembered last time, which seems to be a trick they've learned to get more crackers from tourists. (It worked!). We ate at a variety of restaurants, from traditional Japanese to Indian, to our exhausted Christmas Eve dinner of cup noodles from 7-11 at our hotel.

We went to a new temple with a beautiful Christmas light show in Kyoto, as well as their most famous attraction, a shrine with hundreds of Tora Gates, which we plan to revisit at some point for a full hike. We also made it to Osaka, for a nice walk through the palace-turned-museum, with a spectacular view of the city from the 8th floor conservatory. The last night of our trip (after the sake tasting), we stopped at a really cool store that re-purposes old kimonos into modern clothing, and splurged on some presents for ourselves - - I got one if the coolest pair of shoes I've ever owned, which I can only assume were still available because they are too giant for any Japanese women, as well as a beautiful reversible vest (I was debating on this one, but the last have is a discount and Heather contributed some as my Christmas present) and a headband. Matt got a shirt made from a kimono about 100 years old, which was super fun.
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We enjoy the slower pace here in Japan, and we ended our trip by checking out of our hotel and getting our final massage on Christmas day, before getting a cab ride to the train station. Our cab driver made origami and did a magic trick during the red lights, and our Starbucks barista who took the time to write Merry Christmas and have a nice day on our receipt at the train station, despite a long line. One thing I really appreciate here is how everyone takes time for whoever they're with in a way that I'm really not used to in the States. It reminds me of one of my favorite things about my dad, and somewhat my brother Scott as well. I am sometimes impatient with people myself, especially when I don't plan well and end up rushing, but sometimes even for no reason, for some imaginary need to "get things done." I do feel like I've gotten a little better about that being here. The lack of jaywalking - - even on small deserted streets - - doesn't irk me the way it did when we first arrived.

On the whole, it hasn't felt like a "normal" Christmas at all, and it's hard to imagine that five years ago, I hadn't even met Matt and now we're married + living in Japan together, and I couldn't imagine a better teammate for life. I am missing my family, and some of our traditions, but I'm also excited to make new traditions here, with Matt. I would like to continue to improve at taking time for the people I'm with and enjoying the moments I have with them. I think slowing down is my hope for this next year, which is something I've never been good at.

Keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we continue to learn and grow together here in Japan, and we wish everyone a wonderful holiday season and a terrific new year!

Cheers,
Tara, Matt, Thor and Loki

P. S. Matt got up at 3:30am today (Christmas morning), ostensibly to video call and watch football with friends but, when I checked in on him a little after 5am, he was sitting on the bathroom floor in our hotel room with a mini bottle of whiskey, constantly refreshing his fantasy football screen. He's in the semi finals of his main league (not one of the two less important ones) and trying to regain the trophy he lost last year. Fantasy football is a serious event for Matt, and he jokingly said "New tradition?" We're still negotiating our future holiday traditions...

Posted by taraMatuszek 08:29 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

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