Animal Encounters

This month our family broke out of our normal routine to enjoy some encounters with animals at well-known spots in Ibaraki and Tochigi prefectures.

The first place we visited was the Aqua World Aquarium in Ooarai, which is about an hour away from us in Ibaraki Prefecture. For fifth grade science this year, Katie is studying marine biology with the Apologia science curriculum so we thought this would be a great chance to get up close and personal with some of the amazing creatures she would be studying about. 

Highlights here included watching penguins feed, dive, and swim around their enclosure, enjoying a truly amazing dolphin and whale show, and oohing and aahing over stumpy sun fish and smiling sea turtles.

Then later in the month, our family hopped in the car and headed an hour in a different direction to visit the Nasu Animal Kingdom with our good friends the Abarra Family.  Nasu is located in Tochigi Prefecture where we live, but this was our first time to explore the Animal Kingdom.  Wow, were we impressed!  
We were able to get very close to many of the animals and there was quite a variety of species: lazy sloths, napping bats, lounging capybaras, some adorable red pandas, and fuzzy-antlered reindeer were just a few of our favorites.  The wild bird show was also a treat.  We had a fun, full day of being with dear friends and enjoying God’s creation.  It was great!  We’re already looking forward to our next adventure, whatever that may be!


Time Travel to the Jomon Period of Japanese History

Learning about history has become a lot more interesting to me since needing to teach it to my kids in our homeschool.  Actually, more than me teaching my kids it’s a lot more like us learning together.  This year we are taking a tour of world history through Sonlight Curriculum’s “Core W” course.  One of the textbooks we are using is 12,000 Years of World History, a fascinating Internet-linked book filled with tons of detailed hand-drawn pictures and oodles of interesting facts about ancient times through the 21st century.  We particularly love getting online after reading in our book and finding videos that give us more insight into the period and cultures we have been learning about.  For example, after reading about the China’s Qin Dynasty, we went to and YouTube to find videos about how the Great Wall of China was built and to watch a short documentary on the Terracotta Soldiers in Xian.  

Recently we have been learning about Japan’s Jomon period, which took place between 10,500 BC and 300 BC.  We enjoyed watching some videos about life and art during that period of history, but since we live here we decided to also get hands on and go visit a local historical ruin from that time period that happens to be only about 20 minutes from our house.  

So, today after we had finished up our other subjects for the day, we hopped into the car and let Google Maps guide us to Utsunomiya’s Historical Ruins Park (宇都宮遺跡広場).

This historical site was accidentally discovered by a construction survey crew and unearthed between 1982-1987.  The archaeologists involved in the project found the remains of a 5000 – 6000 year old village with special burial sites in the middle of the village.  When we visited today we were able to browse through a small museum of artifacts (such as pottery and stone tools) from the Jomon period.  We also walked around outside to see reconstructions of thatched-roof buildings that once stood there and and places where ancient people had buried their dead.  We even got to go inside a couple of the buildings.  It definitely felt like we were walking back in time.  

Here are some photos from our visit:

Outside the Visitors Center

The park had a raised platform we could climb on top of to get a good view of the overall site.

Reconstruction of an ancient long house. This one was open for us to go inside.

Inside the Longhouse

This is what the entrance to an ancient burial chamber looked like.

Inside the mini museum.

Pottery artifacts

This sweet elderly gentleman works as grounds keeper at the museum and took our picture for us. He wasn’t a seasoned iPhone user so he accidentally took this picture of himself. He told us lots of interesting information about the buildings and time period.

Trying to look “Jomonian” (without much success!)

And a final picture of us just looking cute! 😁

Bursting with Butterflies

Rainbow colors fluttering through the air, feathery antennas brushing our skin, the scent of juicy nectar and pungent flowers — these are the sights, sounds, and aromas that filled our senses when the kids and I visited Igashira Park’s  butterfly house last month.  The butterfly house was one section of a bird, flower, and butterfly exhibit on the grounds of the huge park.  We all entered the butterfly sanctuary expecting to immediately be pounced upon by friendly creatures who wanted to land on our heads, hands, and feet, but we soon discovered that getting to that experience would take quite a bit of patience and a little bit of creativity.

Austin seemed to be the most attractive to the insects flapping their wings all around us, but soon the rest of us were able to get some of them to stop and spend a few seconds resting on our fingers.  We found that staying super still, putting drops of nectar from the butterfly feeders on our hands, and even (oddly enough) carrying a coke bottle made us more attractive to the colorful creatures.

In addition to butterflies, the exhibit housed a couple of toucans, a few other small birds, some turtles, and a plethora of plants, including a tropical banana tree, which was our favorite.

All that communing with nature left us hungry, so we popped over to the cafeteria next door and feasted on some delicious ice cream cones before heading home for the day.

Igashira Park is in Moka City, about 40 minutes from our house, so we don’t go there super often, but with bicycles to rent, a “10,000 person sized pool”, an obstacle course, and other attractions it’s a fun place to spend a pleasant afternoon as a family.  We will definitely be back!





Katie’s last year of Single Digits

This month Katie turned 9 years old!  In the past we have invited a big group of friends to celebrate with us, but this time Katie decided just to have a small group over.  The theme she chose for her party was Adventure in Odyssey (an American kids’ radio show of which she is an avid fan).  Since Adventures in Odyssey would be hard to explain to Japanese friends who have never heard of it, Katie just invited two American families to join the party this year.  She worked hard with the friends she invited to create a “pin the mustache on Mr. Whittaker” game and a cute table cloth with Adventures in Odyssey designs on it.  She also prepared weeks ahead by printing out and building mini 3D models of various characters from the show and used them for decorations. Katie had strong opinions about the party menu as well.  She only wanted items that made appearances in episodes of the radio show so we ended up eating chili with corn chips, brownies with walnuts, and “Wod Fam Choc Sod” (an abbreviation for World Famous Chocolate Soda that appears on the menu at Whit’s End, the  ice cream shop that is central to many of the Adventures in Odyssey episodes).

The party took place at dinner time, so during the day we went with two other moms and their kids to Igashira Park in Moka city, about 45 minutes away from our house.  The kids had a ball tackling a huge obstacle course with thirty different stations.  Some of the stations were quite challenging, but everyone persevered to the end and had a lot of fun.

We are so thankful for the wonderful friends God has blessed us with in Japan and are thankful that we could celebrate Katie’s day with some of our best buddies.

Here are some photos from our obstacle course adventures:


Rosie was a trooper on the obstacle course.


Jin joined the kids on the obstacle course.


Scaling the castle!


Pre-birthday party ice cream


Tunnel of ropes


Even the drive was fun!


And here are some highlights from Katie’s party. (Click on the thumbnails to see them more closely).








Mom and Daughter Beret Sewing Project


Sewing and crafting are in Katie’s blood!  Unfortunately, I don’t come naturally to those arts.  However, I do my best to encourage Katie in her crafting and to help her find projects to try when she expresses an interest in creating something.  So, when Katie developed a passion for sewing a beret, we searched the internet and discovered this website with instructions that looked easy to follow.  We don’t have a sewing machine (yet!) so we had to sew it by hand, but it was very easy and turned out super cute.  The instructions call for taking an old t-shirt and “upcycling” it into a cute kids’ beret. Katie sewed what she could, I sewed what she couldn’t, and I ended up sewing over her stitches to make them a little tighter so that there wouldn’t be gaps in the seam.  Though Katie wasn’t quite able to do most of the project herself yet, it was a great learning experience and a bonding experience as well.   Katie wears her beret whenever she can and often gets compliments on it, so we dub this project a success!



Katie trying to look elegant in her beret.


The t-shirt we used for the project had a heart design on it so that became the top of the hat.


Looking stylish at the park.

baby shower

Katie wore her beret to a recent bridal shower with a matching t-shirt.

A Disney Birthday — Ethan Turns 10!

Our family usually celebrates the kids’ birthdays by inviting sweet friends to our house for a party. This year for Ethan’s 10th birthday, however, we decided to try something a little different. Since none of our children had ever been to Disneyland and Bryan and I hadn’t been in over 11 years, we decided to pile into the family van and take everyone to Tokyo Disneyland.  We made the trip with our good friend Yoshie (a die-hard Disney fan and genuine expert on the ins and outs of how to ride all the best rides at her favorite theme park) and also met the wonderful VanZante family at the front gate so we could spend the day together.

Our kids were so excited they barely ate anything all day (and just focused on getting to the next ride!)  I have to admit that I was really excited too (though I somehow managed to eat a huge Mickey Mouse shaped cheeseburger and several other snacks while we were there). 🙂

I grew up in Southern California, so I had my share of visits to Disneyland as a kid and teen, but this time I couldn’t wait to introduce my own kids to “The Happiest Place on Earth.”  As a child, riding Space Mountain and the other fast roller coasters always seemed so scary, but this time I had a giant smile on my face as I conquered those gut-wrenching dips and curves (well, in between screams, that is!) because I was getting to ride them with my very own kids!  I felt like I had come full circle.

Everyone in our group had a super fantastic time and our family is still reliving the memories together. The only downside to our little adventure is that now every few days I have to turn down requests from my kiddos to go again next week. 🙂  It is awfully tempting, though…

Here are a few pics of our trip.

Bread Making at the “Romantic Forest”

This past weekend, the kids and I drove about twenty minutes to Romanchiku Mura (which means “Romantic Forest”).  It’s a huge park with several different forests and wide open natural areas for exploring and walking, an indoor pool, shops and restaurants, a kids’ play area, and a crane habitat.  I had been there long ago, but I’d never taken the kids.  I thought it would be a good chance for the kids to get some outdoor play time in a new environment.  We also decided to sign up for a one day bread baking class.  Apparently, they have these classes every Sunday in the morning and then again in the afternoon.

We love homemade bread, but always use a bread machine, so this was a first for us to make bread by hand.  The type of bread you can make in the class always changes, but this time is was “anpan” (bread with sweet bean paste in it) and “curry pan” (bread with curry sauce inside of it.  Since Ethan doesn’t really like either of those flavors, he decided to make his plain, and that ended up tasting great too. 🙂

I think we all were impressed by how much effort it took to knead the bread.  The class instructor had us throwing the bread down onto the table, rolling it up with one hand and then throwing it down again — over and over!  He was obviously used to doing this and we were wowed by his abilities.  We were a little bit pathetic, but with some help from the teacher here and there we finally got our dough into the consistency it needed to be.  After that, we put the sweet beans and the curry inside and we were ready to bake it.

We probably won’t be giving away our breade machine in favor of making everything by hand, but it was definitely a fun learning experience.  The kids enjoyed it so much they wanted me to take them again next week for another class!  I don’t think we’ll be able to go again that soon, but I promised we’d put it on the calendar again.  We can’t wait to find out what the next bread flavor will be!

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