"Are you awake?"
"Aren't you thirsty?"
"....?.... "

(New Year Resolution: teach Yoko how to use the espresso machine.)

I've never been one for making new year resolutions, but these days, I need a 'to do' list just to make it through the day. If I'm going to survive the coming year, I'd better start making my list now.

Not that I have so much to do, it's just that there are so many distractions in a day now. And it's not the noise that is the problem, but the silences; what's happening that is so bad that I can't hear it? Just a moment while I check on the kids...yep, Michelle found a clean spot on the carpet that was just the right size for a glass of milk.

Michelle has decided that her mission in life is to cover every inch of the carpet with items that shouldn't be stepped on. Recent items have included wooden blocks, pocket monsters, marbles, books, mandarin oranges, rice balls, and puddles of various liquids. If the carpet is Michelle's world, then the living room portion is her Beirut, and Daddy spends a good chunk of every day clearing the land mines for the sake of his tender haole feet.

(New Year Resolution: trade in the Electrolux for a Sears Wet/Dry Shop Vac.)

As quickly as the past year passed, not a whole lot happened. The kids went to school, Yoko went to work, Steve went crazy. Just the usual year.

One of the highlights of the summer was our trip to Fukui-ken and the Japan Sea, where we met up with some friends who were back in Japan for a short visit. We spent one day at the beach, got good and red, then spent the following day in the deep, cool shade of a mountain forest. Nights were spent in the hotel's onsen (outdoor mineral bath). Ahhhhh!

(New Year Resolution: spend more of the coming year up to my neck in hot water.)

Brian is in Yochien (kindergarten) and having a blast. His Japanese is now quite strong and is his primary language. The B has this astounding ability to fall asleep anywhere in any position in a matter of seconds. He can go from zero to 60 in the blink of an eye, and then back to zero in another blink. I have several more photos of him in various sleeping positions on our home page.

Calvin is well into his first year at elementary school. Just like daddy, reading and writing come easy for him, but the math takes a bit of work. He excels in art, however, and has an eye for detail that amazes his teacher. Who knows, in a few years he might be providing the artwork for the annual nengaletter.

In the fall, Calvin's school put on a carnival. Each class created and manned a carnival attraction, from ring-toss games to haunted houses to games of chance. Materials consisted of paper, cardboard, plastic bottles and other recycled items, Calvin's class did various ring-toss games. They made the rings out of old newspaper and the posts out of 1.5-litre plastic soda bottles. Even the game prizes were all hand-made from recycleable materials. Quite a lesson in recycling for the generation that's going to need it most.

Script was created and each child's family received a certain amount. The families were supposed to go around the school and choose attractions to try. At the end of the day, the classes with the most script (i.e., the most popular attractions) won a special prize, so all of the kids worked hard on their sales pitches, marketing strategies, and customer service skills. All future P&Ger's.

This past fall, Calvin's Peter Pan class took a hike along an abandoned rail line out in the country. Part of the line goes through a long dark tunnel. The kids were asked to turn off their flashlights and perform certain tasks or help others perform their tasks. A good lesson about what it is like to be blind and how to be of service to a blind person.

(New Year Resolution: encourage more of these living lessons.)

Like all of the other kids his age, Calvin has put aside his mini yon ku (4-wheel drive racing cars) and started collecting pokemon (pocket monsters). His goal is to collect all 151 monsters, but Michelle's habit of strewing them around the house, Daddy's resulting sore feet, and Mommy's firm grasp on the purse strings will probably prevent that.

(New Year Resolution: get the optional toy filter for the Shop Vac.)

You may have heard about a recent incident in which several hundred kids were sent to the hospital suffering from nausea after viewing a pokemon cartoon episode on TV. Both Calvin and Brian saw the episode and were not affected. Interestingly, Daddy suffers terrific headaches and nausea just watching Calvin play his new Nintendo 64 game. Something about the fast motion.

(New Year Resolution: stop playing video games after everyone is asleep.)

The year ended with a small party on Christmas Eve at our place featuring the traditional japanese Christmas dinner: cake and a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Don't ask me how these traditions get started. I just know that a friend of mine, who spends most of the year in America, must come home to Japan every November to help make Christmas cakes for the family bakery, and that KFC sells far more chicken on December 25th than on any other day of the year. Even McDonald's gets into the act, offering 20 McNuggets in a special Christmas pack, but you have to place your order in advance. Yummy.

(New Year Resolution: this year, get a turkey from the Price Club.)

In last year's nengaletter, I mentioned an incident during Michelle's birth regarding Hagen Daaz ice cream. Only a very few have heard the story, mainly Yoko's version. So in self defense and for the first and last time I submit my version of the story....

One night during Yoko's last month of pregnancy with Michelle, while everyone else was asleep, I went looking for a snack. I found a pint of Hagen Daaz vanilla ice cream in the freezer. It beckoned and I responded.

(New Year Resolution: in the future, ignore anything said by cartons of ice cream.)

Four hours later, Yoko went into labor. The midwife arrived about 4:00 a.m. I settled in for what was surely going to be a long day of waiting.

Then disaster struck. In the throes of a natural childbirth with no drugs, Yoko screamed for the Hagen Daaz. I searched the freezer for a second carton of Hagen Daaz. All I could find was a little plastic cup of yellow stuff that had come as a 'service' with a pizza we had ordered several months ago. I didn't know why it was still in the freezer, but any port in a storm, so I proffered that. And got the expected reply, "What's this? Where's the Hagen Daaz? I want the Hagen Daaz!" I replied, "I ate it." The midwife, who couldn't understand English and therefore didn't follow the conversation, later said that in 40 years of delivering babies she had never heard anyone scream so loudly. Michelle must have heard, because she arrived in record time.

And that's the story of the Hagen Daaz ice cream. I hope you all enjoyed it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going back to bed...

(New Year Resolution: Wait until the kids are asleep before trying to write the nengaletter!)

Happy New Year!

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