Chemo Plan

Today was the last day of radiation so now I can load up on vitamins C and E to boost the healing of my skin.

On January 10th I begin the next step in kicking butt. The plan is for 4 3-week cycles of CEF (Cyclophosphamide · Epirubicin · Fluorouracil) chemotherapy and 8 2-week cycles of Docetaxel. I toured the chemotherapy treatment room where my weight and height were measured and all the possible side effects and how they can be dealt or coped with were kindly explained with advice to get an even shorter hair cut.

Regarding ongoing hormonal treatment, they want me to continue with the Tamoxifen and add Armidex (Anastrozole - I thought was mainly for post-menopausal patients). These should keep my overabundant estrogen from feeding any cancer cells.

The nieces are here so I can't spend too much time on line but I will be researching more after the New Year and collecting books I haven't read to take with me when I go to relax in my reclining chair or bed in the chemo room for a few hours.

The nieces, by the way, are ever so pleasant; they cheerfully keep my 4 well entertained and wash dishes too. They offered to shop for and make dinner tonight, so J helped out and learned how to make "corn cream stew" with lots of onions, potatoes, carrots, a little chicken, a can of corn, roux, and milk. We're headed out to sightsee a little tomorrow.


Christmas Dinner Chez Nous

Christmas Dinner on Kotatsu
Originally uploaded by Koggy.
This is our not quite 4 lb. turkey with the can from the cranberry sauce for perspective. Christmas dinner tomorrow will probably be something simple like vegetable stir-fry and rice as we'll be enjoying lots of special meals while the nieces from Kyushu are visiting from the 26th to the 1st.

Bonsai Bird

J requested turkey for dinner on Christmas Eve. Fortunately, a few turkeys are available at the local supermarkets for about 3 days a year, just before Christmas. I found a 4 pound bird, the largest that will fit in our oven, and thawed it out on our balcony overnight. Last week we steamed our Halloween pumpkin (we'd drawn faces on the pumpkin instead of carving, so the pumpkin was still in good shape) and pressed the pulp through our strainer to freeze until we were ready to make a pumpkin pie. Today J helped me make pie dough and filling, reading to me from my 22 year old copy of "The Joy of Cooking" and measuring with my precious U.S. measuring cups. While the pie was baking, we steamed the extra filling (I think my pie pan is slightly smaller than 9 inches) and peeled potatoes. She and I enjoyed our pumpkin pudding before chopping and sauteeing some onions and 3 types of Japanese mushrooms to toss with a 16 small chunks of French bread and whatever seasonings I could find (black pepper, parsely, rosemary, garlic) to make just enough stuffing for our bonsai bird. After the pie came out of the oven, we brought the turkey back inside from the balcony, discarded the plastic wrapping, rinsed, blotted, stuffed, basted and covered with a small piece of aluminum foil (the heating element is about an inch away from the top of the bird) and placed in our oven for the required 80 or so minutes (20 mins. per pound?). Cleaning up, I noticed the package had lots of Arabic on it, although the frozen turkey was imported from Brazil. The Christmas turkey we bought on the Shinto Emperor's birthday was, according to English translation on the package, slaughtered per Muslim custom, by hand with a sharp knife. With the turkey cooking, it smells like a holiday, to me anyway.


Today's hospital entertainment

was breakdancing between the amused wheelchair occupants. L loves the well polished floors and lies on his side, running around his own head in a nearly perfect circle, spin polishing the surface even more with his right sleeve and hip. Tomorrow is the Emperor's birthday, a national holiday, so I have a 3 day break before the final 3 days of radiation.

The tender skin under my arm doesn't look too good, but the rest of the radiated area is only slightly pink. The doctor exclaimed "That sure looks itchy." about the underarm. I refrained from commenting on how lucky I was that my surgeon (a different doctor) had left that area numb, not knowing if she'd consider this the bright side or not. Without the urge to scratch, I expect it will heal quickly. I will get an extra tube of steroid/antibiotic to tide me over during the New Year's holidays, when the hospital will be closed for about a week except for emergencies. I may not have much time to post much here while the kids are all home until Jan. 10th.



L has accompanied me to the hospital each morning this week as he is on winter vacation. He's been good about waiting in the hall with the receptionist while I have my treatment. Today took a little longer than usual, as the doctor and four other people had to position and mark me for the new radio-therapy that will begin tomorrow. Patiently waiting on the table, I heard a clack-clack-clacking sound that just got louder and louder, coming from the hall. Two of the technicians rushed out to see what it could be and found L enjoying himself with some paper cups, entertaining the other patients with some percussion while they waited their turns. They let him come into the treatment room to see where Mommy disappears to everyday, watch the marking process and check out all the equipment. He was then happy to wait in the hall for a few minutes until I was finished.


Stategy Update

Hair Strategy - Wednesday I had a little time so I went to a hair salon near our station and asked for advice about a hairstyle for chemotherapy. The sweet young man (cute too) said he'd had other clients who had lost some or all of their hair due to chemo but that they all had their hair back and were doing well by the next year and recommended a short, layered cut which will look OK if my hair only thins and minimize hair clean-up if all my hair falls out. As he was drying my hair he commented that with my volume, if I lost half of my hair I'd still have more hair than some of his clients. I'll try to get a picture of my new doo soon. I do notice that it's short enough that it doesn't move much, even in strong wind.

Radiation Strategy - Last Thursday my red guide lines seemed a little faded but the technician enthusiastically said "Oh, you're so close to finishing! I'll just write with my marker instead of using the dark red ink and brush." Today the head of the department gave me a check-over and the radiotherapy team decided that I only need 2 more days of high power x-rays and the remaining 5 days of radiation will be proton therapy, which is more focused and only reaches an inch or two in depth rather than going right through me. Less healthy tissue will be radiated, so this is good.


Kisaburo Yamakawa

Before I knew much Japanese, my image of Grandfather Y was that he was a gruff, grumpy and scary old man. After a few months in his home, when I returned from a summer weekend camp for exchange students, he was home alone as the family had taken a short trip and been delayed by a big typhoon. He was very surprised when I arrived, not knowing that I hadn't gone with the family and then understanding that I'd managed to get all the way from the camp on the other side of already far away Tokyo on the delayed trains all by myself with the little Japanese that I'd picked up by then. He told me I should have the first bath (which he had cleaned and run for himself) and made himself busy in the kitchen, having decided that it was his duty to feed the hungry host grand-daughter. He made some lovely tempura out of some mountain ferns he had gone hiking to gather the day before the typhoon. I complimented him as much as I could and he leaned over the table and asked me, in a loud voice (to be sure I understood), not to tell the rest of the family that he could cook or they would abandon him and move to Tokyo where life was more exciting for his daughter and her family. He also told me a little about his time in Siberia as a POW, which was the last time he'd had any close contact with "foreigners" like me. It was the first time he ever really said more than a word or two at a time with me and it was a turning point for me in terms of getting used to living in a new family and country.

At the end of my year in his house, I spoke to him of how much I'd miss his family after returning to the U.S. and he looked completely shocked. He asked me why I wasn't staying for another year or two to finish high school at my host-school. Apparently he had gotten used to having me around and rather expected I'd be around longer. Then he told me he wanted to do something special for me and he got all the ingredients together to make a batch of fresh udon (thick white noodles in broth) from flour and water, kneading them by putting them in a big plastic bag and stepping on them with his bare feet (I was grateful for the plastic bag at the time). He rolled the dough out on the table and cut it into noodles for Mrs. Y to boil. They were sooooo goood! I think he was a little proud that I gained about 25 pounds living in his house...

Mrs. Yamakawa called last night with the news that her father, my former host-grandfather, had died. He was 82 years old and strong enough to drive himself to his regular medical check-up last week, where his doctor checked him out and told him he should be in the hospital because of bad lungs. She went back to the town where he lives and was able to spend some time with him during his two remaining days in the hospital. I haven't seen him in years, but felt comforted knowing he was getting on with life capably, out and around his town in Tochigi and sent and received the usual annual New Year's postcards. Sadly, this year, I can't send him a card.


Slow Weekend

No treatments on weekends so I didn't have to rush off to catch the bus today. I did have a building management committee meeting today after which we hurriedly erected and decorated the big plastic Christmas tree for the lobby. After a quick lunch of fried rice with garlic and mushrooms, the kids all went out to play in the nearby park until 4:45 this afternoon when a chime is sounded over the citywide P.A. system letting kids know that it's time to go home. Of course, without daylight savings time, it's usually dark by then anyway.


Fifth Grade Music Fest

I asked a neighbor to put L on his kindergarten bus this morning with her son who is in the year behind him. That way I could catch an early bus to the hospital to get back by 10 a.m. for the city-wide elementary school music festival. I was third in line and in and out of treatment quite quickly, no troubles with side effects yet. I managed to make it to the local civic center before 10 quite easily.

Fifth graders from 6 of the 18 public elementary schools performed at the local civic center today. After about a month of practice, each school's entire fifth grade sang one song as a chorus and played another using whatever instruments the schools provided. M auditioned for one of the eight an accordionist positions their instrumental piece and won a spot. She had a cold the week before the chorus part auditions and her hoarse voice earned her a place among the altos for the choral piece. I splurged and bought her a new outfit so she wouldn't look too raggedy in her usual (and favorite) hand-me-downs on stage. I got a big laugh when I heard that everyone else in the class was also in new clothes today. They sang a Japanese song "From Space" and played "Csikos Post" by Herman Necke. I was moved by the teamwork the 100+ 10 and 11 year olds achieved, some learning new instruments for the event and all carefully watching their conductor.


Results OK

Today's radiation went as smoothly as always, with very little reading time in the lobby before my name was called. After the treatment, I took my file up to the third floor where I had an appointment with my main doctor at 11:30. There were several signs posted regarding doctors whose schedules were running late, mine among them. I took my book to the cafe on the sixth floor for a cappucino and returned to the exam reception area an hour later to wait for another 15 minutes before my name was called. My bone scan pictures and previous ultrasound pictures were on the wall mounted viewer when I walked in and the doctor informed me before I could even say hello that the results were fine. He clicked around on his computer and brought up the most recent blood work to confirm and inform that these results were also fine and said he wanted to wait until the radiation treatments have been completed before planning any specific chemotherapy menu. He also confirmed through examination that the lumps have diminished in size and sent me on my way to have another test tube of blood taken to repeat the blood work. Whew! And I made it back home in time to type this up before L gets home on his kindergarten bus.

I must look robust. A trio of old women at the bus stop were all complimenting me on my Japanese and asking me if I was a student. They acted very surprised to learn that I'm married and have 4 kids. "Did you marry really young?" they continued to ask shaking their heads in awe when I told them "I'm 41." Must have been the rosy cheeks from the overheated hospital...


Bone Scan

S woke up early today to put L on the kindergarten bus as I had to leave early to get a morning injection of radioactive stuff to scintillate my bones for an afternoon bone scan. After my injection, I had time to go around the corner and downstairs to the radio-treatment area for my usual one minute dose of x-rays. Then I had time for a long walk outside, reading time and time for lunch in the cheap basement cafeteria before my 1:30 photo session. The image taking was finished in 30 minutes and I'll see results on Tuesday when I have an appointment with my main doctor after my radiation. He'll also have my most recent blood test results then. Still no side effects from the radiation, fortunately.


Poor L

With a slight fever, a headache and some sniffles, L opted out of kindergarten today and went with me on the bus to my hospital where he was happy to sit in the hall with a nice doctor who thought he could practice his English for 3 or 4 minutes while I was in the radiation treatment room. Lucky L got a few pieces of candy out of the deal although I doubt the doctor got much in return.

Then we caught the bus back and went to the local family practitioner to have L checked. We were given a 5 day supply of antibiotics and some cough syrup. He fell asleep at about noon and is still snoring away more than 2 hours later.

Wednesdays are my busy evenings with 4 classes end to end from 6 to 10p.m. so I guess I'd better start getting dinner ready to leave for the troops.


Busy Monday

Day 8 of radiation went as smoothly as the other 7. The radio/oncologist seemed surprised that I'm not itching yet but only laughed when I, a little comically, asked if the machine was working. The nodes in my neck seem an eentsy weentsy bit smaller and she said that they should begin shrinking by the end of this week but that there may be some swelling. She reiterated that I should let her know as soon as I started feeling itchy so she could prescribe a cream medication.

I caught my bus back and got off at the girls' school for a PTA district meeting about a bicycle safety event we're holding for the 3rd graders and up next week. I'm in charge of delegating spots on the course for 6 other volunteer moms to stand at and supervise. The police will come and show a traffic safety video and oversee the written and practical tests the kids will take to earn a "bicycle license" (a piece of paper with the child's picture, certifying that they attended the course, everybody passes).

After I finished some leftover spaghetti for lunch, the girls began to arrive home. Usually, depending on the grade, the kids are sent home at different times. This week is the beginning of parent teacher conferences so the kids all eat lunch and come home. Asking a favor of a friend whose daughter is in N's class, I managed to trade times and get all 3 conferences pretty much consecutively in a single afternoon, tomorrow. S has agreed to be here at 3:03 to get L off of the kindergarten bus.


Presents and Cake

A good friend from down the street stopped by to give me a birthday hug and brought the most delicious chocolate cake to share. She also brought grapes, a shawl and a brown hat her daughter had knitted . The kids enjoyed the cake and even sang "Happy Birthday" to me a little shyly, with my friend. She's good at encouraging them. It was nice to sit down and relax with a friend over tea and cake.

No radiation today or tomorrow, only weekdays.


Mini cream puffs with whipped cream and chocolate sauce were today's birthday treat for me and the kids. Fortunately, they tasted better than they looked. Posted by Picasa



Tired of manually spinning the clothes in my broken washer before hanging them out to dry, today, with permission from S, I used his credit card to buy a new washer. The new machine has twice the capacity of the 15 year old heap of plastic it will replace tomorrow when it is delivered. Then I bought a fluffy blue floor covering to go under our heated table. The kids were quite excited to see me arrive home with a bulky package and are now sitting quietly around the table with toasty warm toes. I rushed home to avoid overheating the magnetic strip on the card.

Today's hospital trip was OK, I felt a little nauseous, but I think it was the bus ride, not the radiation, doing that. I sit near the front and look out the window if I can. Due to the nature of the bus course, a number of older people with canes and heavily pregnant women ride the bus, so I usually stand up and offer my seat. These people usually don't venture to the back of the bus, so if there are seats available, I could sit back there, but that's usually where I begin getting flashbacks of Osh Kosh (a town where I was ill on family trip more than 30 years ago). I'm glad I have friends to drive me when I begin chemo.


Day 5 of Radiation

Only 25 more times to go. So far, I haven't noticed any itching or other irritation. I had an appointment with Dr. Fukushima, the breast specialist I usually see, and a blood test to check for cancer markers. The blood test from 2 weeks ago came out negative. He recommended I get a flu vaccine, so L, who needed his measles vaccination, and I went to the local clinic this afternoon for some shots. His was free as it's required before entering elementary school. Mine was $60 and I have to go back for a second shot in 4 weeks (both shots are included in the $60 price). The family doctor at the clinic down the street is apparently well acquainted with my radio/oncologist, Dr. Takayama, and told me I was in good hands.

Sometime in December, my Dr. Fukushima will introduce me to the chemotherapy specialist but today's general explanation was that I'll be going for a day visit once every 3 or 4 weeks for my chemo cocktail IV. I decided to wait until I met the specialist to ask for more details.

Out of curiosity, I checked the prices on wigs in a local wig shop and was shocked to find that they start at over U.S.$2,000. They look pretty ugly so I thought they'd be about $200 with the usual high prices here. Apparently after-care is all included in the price. Well, I'd rather have a new washer and refrigerator and maybe an I-Pod, so I put the pamphlet in the paper recyle bin and looked on-line for alternatives.

I stopped by the Japanese version of a dollar shop and bought a tape measure to measure around and over (ear to ear and front to back) my head to figure out wig sizes and went ahead and ordered two on line from a very inexpensive U.S. wig supplier (Paula Young) for a total of $69 including airmail international shipping. Most of the wigs they sell are in an average size, which was slightly smaller than the results of measurements over my rather bulky hair, calculating all those centimeters into inches, so I went ahead and ordered the average sized wigs. With 41 years of bad hair days, even a bad wig might look pretty good. We'll be all set for Halloween in any event. Tomorrow is a national holiday so my next minute of radiation will be on Thursday.


Extended familiy 2000

Extended familiy 2000
Originally uploaded by Koggy.
A few friends have asked to see the photo studio picture of all of us in kimonos from 5 years ago so I decided to put it here on the blog where anybody and their cousin can see it. So far, the tiny outfit L is wearing gets the most comments.


CT Scans, X-Rays and The 3rd Day of Treatment

After today's CT scan and x-ray, the doctor explained that the cancer is now at IIIC stage but that the staging is just words and he couldn't make any predictions good or bad as cancer has such a strange personality. Some stage 0 (pre-cancerous) women suddenly get really worse and some stage IV women have their cancer just stop and live for 20 years with the cancer in their bones. I asked him what the radiation therapy will really accomplish and he looked me in the eyes while listening and explaining (not a Japanese custom) and told me that the radiation treatment is expected to shrink the lymph nodes so I won't be able to see or feel them, but continued careful observation is very important.

He agreed that instead of just waiting and watching for the cancer to reappear, we should go ahead with chemotherapy, and I'll probably start in January. I'll ask more about what drugs will be used next Tuesday when I visit his office after my daily dose of high powered x-rays. Now I have to look for hats and maybe a wig.


Sports Day At School

It was raining on Saturday morning so a telephone tree message was generated from school to all of the classes that the sports event that had been scheduled for that day was postponed until Sunday. Of course by the time the call reached us, I had already made our deluxe family picnic lunch, minus the rice part, so we had a nice lunch at home that day.

S had invited the PTA softball colleagues and some of their families over for a sukiyaki dinner to celebrate the childrens' efforts at the sports day. We decided to keep the party plans and they became a pre-event celebration. Including our kids, there were 10 children and 11 adults. We fed the kids first and the adults retreated to S's room for drinks (I made a big batch of Sangria with some Beaujolais Noveau from 3 years ago that the superintendant gave me last week, lots of fruit and some orange liqueur, nobody got sick...) and dinner sitting on the floor around 2 low tables. The kids had the rest of the apartment to themselves and were well behaved. Most of the moms and kids went home around 9:30 to get ready for the next day's sports event (ie. start marinating some more chicken to fry, making those square tamagoyaki omelettes to slice and cutting vegetables to simmer in sweet soy sauce or, for the kids, taking a bath and going to bed). The men sat around and drank more for another hour when the aroma of my cooking for the next day's lunch drove them away and they returned home.

On Sunday, the girls went to school at 8 a.m. and L and I followed a little before 9 with a big bag filled with our picnic mat, lunch, lots of tea and the video camera. S showed up at 9:30, after all the boring opening speeches and stretches, to take over the video taping duties from me. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the digital camera recharger, so we didn't take any photos. We can probably stop the videos in a few choice places and upload images later.

The girls all had fun, not worrying too much about winning or losing, but were glad to have the next day off (a make-up day for Sunday) to rest after all the excitement.


Radiation Update

I met the oncology/radiology team today and listened to the whole spiel about needing or not needing the treatment for about 5 minutes before the dr. in charge manually examined my neck and under-arm and immediately determined I needed the treatments. He showed me the Japanese release form and underlined the points he felt I should be most aware of, taking a few minutes to explain. Then they all fumbled around for a while and finally discovered last week's CT scan results in the file and excitedly pointed out that nodes under my collar bone are also quite visible and asked how soon I could start.

I asked if today was OK and they all walked down the hall with me to the oncology radiation treatment room where I got to lie very still on the table while they positioned, measured, marked and photographed me so we can repeat the position 5 days a week for the next 6 weeks. Then I was alone on the table while a buzzer buzzed and I counted to a hundred in French. After a quick digital photo of my position again, I was able to get up and go meet with another doctor who will be working on me some of the time. She gave me a computer printout of my schedule so I'm all set for the rest of the year.

My kids are absolutely gleeful about all the red lines they drew around the area to be radiated (left side of neck and around left underarm area plus the left half of the left breast) and here and there on shoulders and waist to make sure we match positions tomorrow and thereafter. I'd been nagging them not to write on their bodies with magic markers just last weekend and now I look like an overused connect-the-dot :-). I bought 2 new turtlenecks so I won't look like I was attacked by a horde of 6 year olds with red markers when I work.

I'll go weekdays until at least the end of the year and should be in and out of the hospital within 30 minutes each time, so the schedule is not a problem. The bus ride takes about 20 minutes one way, and is convenient.

Time to go make some dinner and go off to teach a few classes.


J was wearing my dress, so I used a cape and a wig. I changed after we arrived, not wanting to catch my cape in the bicycle spokes. Posted by Picasa

The garden where the Halloween party was held had a nice display on witchcraft. Posted by Picasa

Halloween Party

After a week of deliberations, this is what we ended up as; J was a witch in black, L was a vampire, M was a green witch, N was Donald Duck (her mask is on a hood hanging off the back of her shirt) and some kid we don't know (this was usually my youngest brother in everyone else's Disneyland photos) was another vampire.
Posted by Picasa


Tis the season!

Tis the season!
Originally uploaded by Koggy.
Play group annual Halloween party was a big success.


Fun for All at Sports Festival

S participated in the "Eye of the Typhoon" relay race with some other fathers of kids in L's class. They had to run around two cones and back to the next group of three in their team. They came in last in spite of S's powerful swing (which was quite a surprise to the other two dads), but they all had fun. Posted by Picasa

The 7th and Final Kindergarten Sports Festival

 Posted by Picasa

Relay Runner L in the lead at his kindergarten's annual sports festival. He really enjoys running and does laps when we go to the park. The girls' elementary school will hold a similar event in mid November. L's event was a morning affair and S suggested that we go out for lunch to celebrate L's victories. Fine with me. Most schools have longer, all day sports festivals requiring fancy picnic lunches for the family.


More on Harvest Festival

This is the drum N and L helped pull around. Our team's course was on both sides of the railroad tracks and it was a little harrowing getting 50 kids, the drum, the kids' shrine and the adults' shrine with 30 or 40 slightly inebriated shrine bearers in loincloths (called FUNDOSHI) across the tracks between trains. We had to do it in 2 shifts. I haven't seen these shrines move so quickly unless it was at some other more competitive festival where they bash into each other or race around the neighborhood. Our team usually just meanders along the designated route, spreading the blessing and then sprints across the tracks. I'm surpised nothing tipped over. The kids all got bags full of snacks for participating which have already been devoured two days later.  Posted by Picasa

Harvest Festival 2005

Harvest Festival 2005
Originally uploaded by Koggy.
Although we live in a big city, the local Shinto shrine continues their annual harvest festival. J was a little too tall to carry the childrens' portable shrine (called a MIKOSHI) so she just tagged along behind. L and N pulled a gigantic drum around the neighbor on a one mile route through the neighborhood. The main street near our house was closed all afternoon so teams of shrine bearers from other nearby neighborhoods could pull their drums and carts of musicians around and carry their shrines too.



Well, it's still in the low to mid 90s (Farenheit) but Monday night I heard the hot sweet potato vendor driving around the neighborhood playing a tape over a loudspeaker, touting his stone-roasted sastuma potatoes. There is actually a wood-fueled oven filled with stones in the back of the tiny pickup truck. I guess it's time to replace the bamboo wind chimes with Autumn decor...even if it still feels like summer.


Earthquakes and Typhoons

I went on-line and ordered enough food for a few days to be delivered by the local supermarket this afternoon as a big typhoon of Hurricane Katherine intensity is headed toward Kyushu and it has already begun to rain in Tokyo. It looks like we'll miss the brunt of it but a tiny earthquake this morning was extra incentive to prepare a little more. I've made a 6 liter jug of the barley tea the kids like, a big batch of rice and a pot of pumpkin soup so I won't have to cook much later when everyone is home and the place gets too humid and hot from all the bodies. The bathtub is full in case we need it for flushing toilets. The kids are all at school as the weather isn't bad enough yet for a "storm day."


The view from our deluxe cabin. Posted by Picasa

The girls on the porch of our deluxe cabin. Posted by Picasa

L enjoyed the obstacle course. Posted by Picasa

M was the minimum height for the go-karts and she was an excellent driver. Posted by Picasa

J was just the right size for these go-karts. Posted by Picasa

L was too short to drive so S gave him a tour. Posted by Picasa

Kanpai! N really enjoys grilled food. Posted by Picasa

Craft time at camp. Why is everybody looking at J? Even the girl behind them... Posted by Picasa

Family Trip

S gave me some pamphlets early in the summer with lists of hotels with swimming pools and said we should take the kids somewhere for 2 nights and take it easy. He pointed to the great prices advertised and told me to find someplace, giving me the dates of our English school's summer vacation: August 14-24. I circled all the cheapest places but, of course, none were at the advertised prices S expected because we weren't planning a mid-June or early September holiday. Still, 10,000 yen a night per person wasn't too bad for hot springs, a pool, proximity to the beach (in Izu) smorgasbord (all you can eat) dinner and breakfast.

S rejected the places I had circled saying that it would be too tiring and expensive getting all the way to Izu and back and not wanting to spend even more money on daytime entertainment (amusement parks, alligator zoo etc.) when the kids got bored of swimming. He asked me to find out if our Co-op (a delivery shopping club we belong to ) had any discount tickets for the camping place we visited last year, Sagamiko Picnicland.

This place is a city slicker campsite with 4-person dome tents already set up on wooden platforms (with 2 blankets per occupant and a flashlight) or small 4-person cabins, simple (futons, a light, running water, no toilet) or deluxe (futons, a toilet, A/C, a sink, and a TV), a pool, a petting farm, an amusement park and other attractions all rolled into one. For one price, dinner (all you can eat grilled vegetables, meat and fried noodles), overnight facilities, unlimited one day use of the amusement park rides, unlimited use of the pool, petting farm rabbits, sheep, goats, ponies and other animals), buffet breakfast, a campfire service (with sexy guys leading the songs and activities), a pack of fireworks for each child, a craft project for everyone and hot showers are rolled into one package deal.

I was able to find discount prices (5,200 yen per night per child, 5,600 yen per night per adult) in our Co-op leaflet and make internet reservations for a tent and a cabin. S said he needed a futon and that 2000 yen extra for 2 of us in a DELUXE cabin and 4 people at the tent price wouldn't break the bank. Unfortunately, the deluxe cabins were all reserved and S had to accept the cheaper (only 1,000 yen extra) cabin with no toilet. We made reservations, received confirmation by mail with a bill and remitted our money directly to Sagamiko Picnicland's account.

The tents and cabins are in different sites so I immediately sent an e-mail explaining that I had made 2 separate reservations for 2 and for 4 people as we wanted a cabin for my husband and young son but that the girls wanted to sleep in a tent and that I hoped they would try to find a tent as close as possible to the cabin. I got a reply saying that it might be difficult but that they would try, so I sent a gushing thank you e-mail, not forgetting to say how much we enjoyed our stay the previous year and that whatever they could come up with would be fine.

You can see more details at http://www.picnicland.co.jp . It is one stop past Takao on the Chuo Line and then a 10 minute bus ride so we took our train line to Takao and transferred to the Chuo Line. Most people pack all sorts of cooler boxes and other gear in their cars and just drive there but some folks do take the train with a bare minimum of luggage. It only took us about an hour to get there.

Each person in our family had a medium sized daypack with two changes of clothes, a swimsuit, a small and a large towel, a pack of instant ramen (bulky but light) and an amusement to share with siblings in case of rain (a pack of cards, a pack of hanafuda cards (traditional Japanese game), a book about bugs and a small rubber ball respectively from top to bottom). I had a tote back with a big box of onigiri (rice packed into balls and wrapped in nori seaweed sheets) and a Tupperware box with tamagoyaki (a sliced square soy flavored omelet to use up the eggs in the fridge), sweet potato chunks, cherry tomatoes and leftover yakitori (grilled bite-sized pieces of chicken and leeks on skewers with sweet soy flavored sauce) for lunch the first day and lots of snacks for all 3 days. S had the video and digital cameras and a small electric hotpot so we wouldn't have to spend extra money renting the fireplace area and pots and pans to heat water for our ramen lunch the 2nd day.

We arrived safely and were micro-bus chauffeured halfway to the top of the "mountain" where the camp facilities are located. When I checked in, they gave me a map to locate the cabin, but no tent...UH OH! But wait, I have another confirmation number...The receptionist looked relieved, punched the second number into her computer and came up with a map to our tent as well. It was right across a small path from the cabin. Hurray! And what do we find when we arrive at our cabin/tent site? They've upgraded us to DELUXE! S was ever so pleased at the free upgrade and the air-conditioning. L and N were
happy about the private toilet which was even a WASHLET type (Check out the TOTO website at http://www.washlet.com/default.asp , L enjoyed that more than the mini-roller coaster!).

It was cool enough for 3 of us to stay in the tent the first night, but we all opted for the cabin the second night, 2 of us on blankets on the floor, the other 4 in the bunk beds with futons.

The place is set up on a ridge and we did a lot of walking up and down hills to do anything. The rides are a little tame; just right for L and N. J and M would probably enjoy a little more excitement next year. Everybody seemed to have a good time so I think it was a success. City slicker camping worked well for us as we don't own any camping gear or a car.

We arrived home just before a typhoon headed toward Tokyo and it began to rain last night. After 2 nights of grilled veggies and meat, we were ready for sushi for dinner last night and the girls had fun playing sushi chef and assembling nigiri sushi and maki (rolled) sushi for us at the table at home.

Today and tomorrow are definitely indoor days with all the wind and rain. The second term of school starts a week from today.


Summer Vacation

Town Life

A large box from Grandma and Grandpa arrived the morning of the 11th, right on N's birthday, making her feel extra special. Presents for the summer birthday children (J, L and N respectively) were enclosed and much appreciated. We went out for a lunch of Korean BBQ per N's request and had an ice cream cake for snack later at home.

We closed the English school from the 14th to the 24th to relax around home and enjoy summer a little. We've been going to the local public pool a few times a week and singing karaoke a few times to enjoy the airconditioning at one of the many local karaoke studios. The children all sing very well and enjoy listening to their parents sing a few oldies from time to time. S has a lovely, deep voice, good tone and rhythm. The children seem to take after him, fortunately.

We're off camping at the same place we stayed last summer soon.


Batting Center Posted by Picasa

Sleeping sisters Posted by Picasa

N's birthday lunch out. Posted by Picasa

What a gentle guy! Posted by Picasa

M is having fun too. Posted by Picasa

This is how L is enjoying his summer vacation. Posted by Picasa


Busy Weekend

Saturday was L's birthday and he requested a chocolate and ice cream cake shaped like a cartoon character, Doraemon. I managed to do most of the preparations the day before, as I was downstairs at the monthly building committee meeting all morning and we went out to the "family" restaurant a few blocks away for lunch. We were grateful for the arctic blast of air-conditioning in the restaurant and managed to stretch lunch into two comfortable hours before returning to our sweltering apartment for the Doraemon cake. We made sure to set the table and get the video and camera out before removing the cake from the freezer, hurriedly sticking six candles on and singing a rush job of "Happy Birthday" before the face melted. Halfway through eating the cake, we realized we'd forgotten to take a photo of the masterpiece.

Saturday evening was the building's annual summer party. I cycled around late in the afternoon picking up food we'd ordered (sandwiches from the bakery and 100 sticks of yakitori from a poultry specialty shop halfway to the next station) while the less mobile committee members boiled and salted edamame (green soy beans) and waited for the sushi, beer and chilled watermelon to be delivered by the respective neighborhood vendors. The men from our new building management company helped set up the desks from our meeting room in the entrance lobby and about 40 of us enjoyed dinner and beer from 6 to 8 p.m. Promptly at 8, the chairman announced that the beer was gone and thanked everyone for attending. I sent the kids upstairs so I could help clean up, but there were enough people helping that I didn't have to do too much. We divided the leftovers so S had a few extra dishes with his beer when he returned from classes after 10.

Sunday was an elementary school parents' association softball tournament. S was asked to join our school's team and he agreed to play if they couldn't find enough players. He had assumed that he had sounded non-committal enough to be left off the team, but it seems that they needed him. A neighbor who organizes our school team each year called him last week with details and told him that they really needed him. He said it was a casual competition among 5 schools and that no special equipment would be necessary but to please wear long pants and a hat and bring a glove if we had one. S decided that his judo pants would be acceptable and easier for him to move around in, but he did get serious about other gear. He borrowed a bat and some gloves from the construction company laboratory where he does consulting work and he went shopping for a few extra knee and elbow supporters. The kids were having fun trying them on and walking around like robots. S looked a little embarrassed when L appeared with a jock strap over his head like a professional wrestler's mask.

I mentioned a batting center not far from here and S went a few times to get some practice swinging at baseballs pitched by a machine for a couple of dollars a bucket. He also had the kids throw balls to him in the park to practice chasing and retrieving. I think the practice helped him acclimate, he wasn't in terrible condition after pitching morning game, umpiring another game and then playing second base and catcher in an afternoon game while we and two other families braved the heat and cheered the team on. I was responsible for buying the team lunches; onigiri (rice balls), pumpkin, square omelets, pickles and cherry tomatoes.

The principal watched the morning game and the vice principal stopped by for the afternoon game. The team played well for never having practiced together and managed to maintain leads through the top of the last inning. Unfortunately, the opposing teams managed to get a home run with bases loaded in the bottom of the last inning and our team lost both games. S was preparing to decline the team invitation to go out with some of the wives and children to a bar for dinner and cold beer and 6:00 but when I told him I'd take his Sunday evening classes, he was happy to accept and told me to come to the bar after the last student left at 8:30. He and the children were enjoying themselves when I arrived just in time for a few beers and a brilliant green cocktail which had chunks of kiwi fruit floating in it. J said that they had to order lots of squid because the children (mostly ours) kept eating the platters of grilled whole squid as they arrived and the food never made it to the adult table. Everyone seemed to have enjoyed the day and evening out in spite of the heat and humidity.

I washed the orange school team uniform T-shirt that S borrowed and the aforementioned supporters and have them ready for the next half of the tournament on Sept. 19, a holiday.



A pain in my left calf Saturday morning developed into a swollen calf by that evening and I could feel two hard veins under the tender pink swelling. I thought it might be some kind of blood clotting so I rested with my leg up for a while and kept it cooled by soaking it in a tub full of cold water from time to time. The swelling went down and left only two reddish lines over the veins instead of a pink calf.

Monday morning I went to the clinic down the street to see if I'd done the right thing and the doctor confirmed superficial phlebitis. I was worried that it might be a side effect of the Tamoxifen that I've been taking once a day since December and the doctor thought that it might be possible. He asked me to speak with my breast doctor before deciding whether or not to discontinue the medication and to take it easy, elevate and cool the calf.

This morning the veins look much better and are just a little tender. My breast doctor advised me to keep elevating and cooling per the local clinic instructions and continue with the Tamoxifen. Sounds like it isn't too serious.


Hakone Trip Dinner

Hakone Trip Dinner
Originally uploaded by Koggy.
L seems capable of eating anything with enough peer pressure. At home he hardly ever eats tomato flavored rice in an omelet.

Hakone Lake Ashinoko

Hakone Ashinoko
Originally uploaded by Koggy.
L had a great time on his three day trip to Hakone with his grade in kindergarten. His teacher said he was always the first asleep and the last up in the morning, so I guess he had no trouble sleeping without a room full of sisters.



Originally uploaded by Koggy.
I bought a big watermelon for dessert yesterday as we had some friends over for dinner before the second evening of the festival. It was so big that we only made it through half of it so I saved the other half for snack today. It really hit the spot after cycling down to the public pool and huffing and puffing our way back up the hill home for lunch. L got a little pink in spite of the sunscreen, but should feel well enough tomorrow to go on his kindergarten trip to Hakone for three days.

Shaved Ice

Shaved Ice
Originally uploaded by Koggy.
J really needed the shaved ice. She danced for 90 minutes after it got a little darker. Of course she waited until there was a fairly good crowd of dancers before joining in to avoid seeming conspicuous. There was very little I could do to blend in...