Sunday, November 30, 2008

Nikko Getaway

So I am sorta posting a lot of blogs at once to catch up on November! Jenny and took a long weekend last weekend up to Nikko, north of Tokyo. It's a small city by American standards, considered inaka or countryside by Japanese standards. It was a peaceful getaway and highly recommended for a relaxing time spent in the outdoors. We stayed at a cool little hostel called Nikko Park Lodge. It's a small walk from the station, but Jenny and I are always walking everywhere on our trips, so it wasn't a big deal. The lodge is off across the river, surrounded by trees and walking trails. The dining room had big picture windows, so each morning we could look out and feel like we were in our sort of "secluded getaway" while we ate our AmAzInG costco muffins and french toast. Since it's quite a ways north of here, it was much colder than it's been here! Jenny and I were cold most of the day when we were out sightseeing, but the fall colors made it worth it. Nikko is surrounded by forest, mountains, rivers and lakes, making it an awesome place for spending time outdoors.

Nikko is full of woodcarving shops and world heritage sights, so it was definitely different from most other places we have seen so far in Japan. Of course, we hit up the "world heritage" shrines which are starting to be a little less than exciting for me, as I have seen a gazillion shrines and temples since arriving in Japan it seems. Nikko though has the famous "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil" monkeys at one of their shrines, so that spiced it up a bit! We also took a day trip up to Kegon Falls and Lake Chuzenji and spent a lot of time looking around in the woodcarving shops. There is a lot of hiking that you can do around the area, and we really didn't take full advantage of that, because it was just a bit too cold we thought. The lakes and trees with fall colors reall made me feel like the place was familiar, almost like northern Minnesota, but with mountains :D The familiarity of it also made the trip that much better at a time when I had been missing home a lot!

We also had some good eats, mixing it up with Japanese, Korean and Indian food! We had THE best gyoza at one place that has walls covered in business cards, pictures and notes from all the people that have eaten there over the years. It was a small, friendly atmosphere with awesome food. The Indian place had THE best cheese naan, something I doubt we will find better anywhere in Japan!! So between the breakfasts at the lodge, the naan and the gyoza, we definitely ate well, another requisite to a relaxing northern weekend. I hope everyone else enjoyed the fall colors while they lasted. I am sure they ended long ago in Minnesota! My kerosene heater is quickly becoming a necessity as it gets colder and colder each day!

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving Day! I celebrated on Saturday with my friends that live in the Fuji area. We couldn't find a turkey, so we had to have chicken breasts, but it was paired with stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, homemade rolls, and pumpkin pie. It was a combined effort by the six of us, and it turned out amazing despite our small ovens (easy bake ovens as Joe would say). We cooked and ate dinner, played Wii, played some Scene It! Squabble, and just plain had a great time together. It was the best Thanksgiving I could have imagined short of actually being at home with my family. Here are some pictures of my Thanksgiving day! Above at the left is our Thanksgiving spread, picture compliments of my friend Kelly. Looks delicious doesn't it? Below at left is Me, Jenny, Kelly and Andrea toasting to a great Japanese Thanksgiving! I spend a lot of time with these ladies, all teachers in the same program as me. Below on the right is my dinner plate :) was just like Thanksgiving, I totally overate and wanted to take a nap afterward!

And last, but not least...

Our Fuji Family:
Joe and Andrea, Kory and Kelly, Me and Jenny
Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It's a PicNik

Hey Guys! Just some photos I was playing around with when I should have been sleeping :) Hope you enjoy. I had my adult class tonight and they invited me out for coffee afterward. It was really sweet of them. I also had some good conversation with my international exchange friend, Taka, last night. Tests are going well this week, today was a good day of class. Tomorrow is the last day of class til mid-January!! But don't worry, I will find things to fill my time!!! I am going on a weekend mini-trip this weekend and have no plans! I need to get moving on that one!! And Thailand is coming much too fast!!! And I will be starting to help seniors with their English essay writing for the college entrance exams as well.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

New Pictures

I added some new pics - from our school sports festival with beautiful Mt. Fuji in the background and pretty fall colors. Also included are a few pics of my English Club students at our Halloween "party" and some pics of me and my friends at our Mid-Year Seminar. We had meetings all day, and relaxed all night, it was fun and nice to see people I don't get to see very often. Enjoy the pics. Hope you're all getting geared up for Thanksgiving; I will be working :(

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Miss you guys!

Things are good...I've been missing home the last few days, but I feel like it makes it harder to talk to people at home when I miss them, I know it's weird, but it's true. So hey guys :) Hope you're all having a great weekend and I'll catch up with you this week, probably while I am avoiding correcting the 240 tests I will have to correct. I love you and I miss you - Ash

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cars, Evaluations, and Blankets

It's been a really long two days with long hours at work. I'm experiencing how some of the other JETs live, having to stay late at work every day. At least I get to go home early on other days to make up for it. Lucky girl I am! Having the car is heavenly, especially with staying late at work since it gets dark so early here! I would have had to bike home in the dark the last two nights if I didn't get my car. It's unbelievably small though. And has a tinted back window which makes it REALLY weird to look in the rear view mirror since it's already on my left instead of my right. My teacher told me today that she's glad I have a car now...I was looking really cold when I got to school lately apparently. Haha. I think that's her way of saying I looked like crap? Red face and windblown hair apparently isn't professional enough for her ;)

I finished writing my test today and my teachers are actually going to give me feedback, it's a milestone in our team teaching relationship. I hope it's fairly close to what they wanted though, but I did hear them discussing it before I left work.

Oh yeah - speaking of feedback I had my "preliminary" evaluation yesterday by my head vice principal, who's never seen me teach. Apparently my teachers told him good things about me though cuz I got really good marks. I think they'll take me for a second year if I sign up for it :) I'm sitting at 90% on the second year, although I have started to question it a little bit lately. Only a little bit though in pondering what would be the best decision.

Miss you all! I hope you are enjoying your central heat, cuz I'm jealous! I brought a blanket to school today!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The New Look

And I return to my blog. I hope you like the new look!

It’s been a long week since I last wrote.

I had to work on Saturday. It was a long day – I overslept and then was in a hurry to get to school on my bike in the rain and had a bike accident. It definitely ruined my day, but I am okay now, just a few band-aids mending me :) If you would have asked about this situation on Saturday, you would have heard the long version, but since it’s already Wednesday, I’m over it. It hurt, I was embarrassed and I had a long day of teaching ahead of me after that.

I have finished with teaching for the semester, so I thought I was going to be having carefree days at work. Haha. That didn’t work out so well. It’s really okay; I like to keep busy anyway! But I am working on writing my listening test today and tomorrow during school hours and then after school I am staying late to tutor some seniors for their entrance exams. I am also assisting with correcting the translation section of a test for seniors, which means tomorrow I will be starting to correct a stack of 280 exams!!! Ugh. That will be topped off with the correction of my own students tests next week – 240 more! And I agreed to help a few other senior students (possibly up to 20) work on their writing skills for the English writing test for college entrance exams, so I will be giving them an essay question each week and then have to read all of those and give the students feedback. I haven’t had much paper correcting to do since I arrived, so it’s gonna be a shocker and a big flashback to student teaching!!! At least I will be kept busy, and at least I will have time at school to do it. During student teaching I was doing most of the correcting at home, which is really not fun!

I finally got my car as well! I drove it back last night from my Mid-Year Seminar. I got to experience the highway during rush hour, the Tomei expressway, and getting gas. Sounds not all that exciting, but it was an interesting adventure and I was glad to have my Fujinomiya sidekick Dion to help me. I feel pretty confident now with driving here, I just have to tell myself every time I turn to stay on the left side of the road. Other than that I am pretty good. Still turn on the windshield wipers every now and then instead of the blinker and I REALLY need to work on my back-in parking. Why people insist on parking that way here I don’t know!!

I’ll post an update after Friday – it’s Sports Day at school, which means no classes and a day of sports tournaments for students! I will try to update with some pictures too! Keep an eye out!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Sleepy Girl

I am SOO tired today. I think it's cuz I spent all weekend relaxing...til Monday night when I was like, "wow, I forgot I was going to fold paper dice for my class tomorrow." Something I could have easily done while watching TV or sitting around this weekend. Instead I started at like 11:30 and didn't go to bed til like 2. Smart idea. Despite the little sleep, yesterday I was fine because I was busy all day at school and had my night class. So instead, I am feeling it today! I am in my last week of teaching lessons, 4 more to go this week and then I am finished except for the listening test in two weeks. Oh Joy! Before I was kinda dreading the "nothing to do" syndrome, but I have a lot of planning to do. I will probably make a small weekend trip at the end of November because it's the last three day weekend of this year and in the spring there is like one. Thailand planning is in full gear. Yesterday I signed up to get my vacation time approved and I've started looking at flights, hopefully to be bought by Sunday! And hopefully with the extra time I can bust ahead in Japanese! Some teachers have started trying to ask me small things in Japanese. Kinda cool since I am noticing the improvement in my understanding. Now I am just lacking vocabulary to give very good answers. Gesturing is always fun though ;)

Although it's Wednesday here, it's sorta like Tuesday because we had Monday off and I have to work on Saturday. Ugh. I should consider myself lucky though, because a lot of ALT's have to go to school on Saturdays much more often than me. This will be my first time, even though my students and the other teachers are very often at school on Saturdays and holidays. From what I understand, it's sort of a Junior High Expo day, so the Jr. High kids can come and see what it's like to be a high schooler/decide if my high school is the one that they want to come to (kinda like a college visit, but at high school). They also have to take entrance examinations if they want to come here, so it's the first step in making a decision where to go. I don't really know if there will be Jr. High students in my class then or what, but I shall find out soon I am sure. Like Saturday morning right before class haha.

Really, I don't have much else to write. As I was trying to think of something to write, I realized that all I want to write is "I am getting my car on Monday" ... but you already know that if you talk to me on the phone or read my blog. So instead, I guess I will just say "Sayonara" and hope you are all at home watching the election results instead of reading my blog. I am checking on CNN as we speak and should go correct a few papers before class this afternoon. Might need to sneak off and take a nap - I love how acceptable it is to take small snoozers at work here in Japan!

Monday, November 3, 2008

The "me" weekend

This weekend was a long weekend, and oh how fast it flew! I decided that I need to take a weekend for myself because I have been traveling so much lately and even if I am around home I have been a busybody. The "me" weekend was a success, and I am (almost) geared up for work again this week. Really, the "me" weekend just got me geared up to do more traveling soon :)

Friday night I went to a farewell party, which was interesting, but just reminded me how much Japanese I don't know despite the fact that I have been studying quite a bit lately. I have graduated romaji into studying in basically all Kanji and hiragana/katakana (except grammar explanations that are in English). My teachers did comment at the party however that they think I study a lot. And that I have gotten better since I arrived (which isn't too hard to do since I understood literally nothing when I arrived!). It was encouraging and will hopefully inspire me to study in December when I don't have much work to do.

Saturday I slept in for the first time in WEEKS! Apparently I am a part of the adult world haha. I slept until 10 when my brother woke me up, so it was a nice wake-up call from home! I got to talk to him for a bit before heading to the onsen. We relaxed in a variety of baths, laid in the sauna for awhile, sat in the massage chairs for a long while :), watched tv/took a nap in the tv/sleep room despite the loud snoring man next to us, and soaked a little more in one of the baths. Then it was a night of watching "Sex in the City" and some homemade fettuccine alfredo and white wine. It was an amazingly relaxing night to close out a really relaxing day.

I was renewed Sunday morning after sleeping in (yes, again, but who knows when it will happen again!). After all that relaxing and sleeping, I did some hardcore cleaning and organizing and laundry. I washed sheets and basically everything I own here, put blankets outside to air out (some are a little musty from the summer humidty), washed dishes, organized the pile of papers that has gotten bigger every day since I got here, and baked brownie drop cookies. Such a domestic day!

Jenny was here today, and we started discussing our trip to Thailand! I am very excited; we are planning on trying to buy our plane tickets by next weekend. We also did a little bit of 100 yen store (= dollar store) shopping. The 100 yen stores here are huge, and Jenny doesn't have one off in no man's land where she lives, so she always stocks up. Literally walks out of the store with the biggest bag they have full. I had a big bag too, I think the store clerks must laugh at the gaijin blondies with bags too heavy to carry and no cars. I also bought a few more things to prepare for winter, like some heavier tights for under my skirts and a fleece jacket and a winter hat. Uniqlo is my new best friend - a store much like Old Navy with mostly plain clothes, but they come in bigger sizes (aka the XL barely fit me) than most other Japanese stores.

I also fired up my kotatsu table tonight. I was moving some stuff around in my apartment and since I moved my kotatsu into the bedroom, I decided I had to test it out since I have never used one. It's glorious. Even though it's only about 50 degrees at night, it feels much colder to me. Maybe it's cuz I spent last winter in Texas, but I think I never have been made for the cold! If you don't know what a kotatsu table is (which I am doubting anyone at home does), check it out on wikipedia: Ah yes. Next step. Figure out how to use that kerosene heater. I should be okay without using that for awhile though hopefully.

Days til car: 7