Japan 2014 – part 2

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My recent trip to Japan included a four page itinerary. There were 17 people in our group -six Tribute Center docents, three Rotarians, two Mount Sinai doctors, three Mount Sinai medical students, and 3 translators. Our fearless and super organized leader did a tremendous job of keeping us on time and on task. The four page itinerary included logistics meaning what we were doing each day, mode of transportation and what kind of attire was appropriate – casual, business casual, business or formal. Formal didn’t mean evening wear. It really meant suits for the men and our firefighter docent needed to wear his uniform.

Our last two days of our twelve day trip were unscheduled.  In ten days, we attended 6 Rotary Club functions, visited 2 Mental Health Clinics, 1 School for the Deaf, 1 High school, a Memorial Rose Garden, the Sakado Crane Memorial, 1 Temporary Housing site, 2 Shrines, and 2 Temples. We had formal meet and greets with the Mayor of Koriyama, the Minister of Reconstruction, and the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs.  We listened to 3-11 stories and told our 9-11 stories. We exchanged gifts and were treated royally. We had “tea” in some amazing places and we ate a lot of raw fish and rice. We traveled as far east as Kesennuma, Miyagi and as far west as Nara. The best I can estimate we traveled over 1000 miles.  Our modes of transportation were the bullet train, the regular train, cabs, subway and a chartered bus. Oh and we “dragged” our luggage wherever we went.

We had private guided tours of:

  1. Chusonji Temple, first national Treasure of Japan   http://www.chusonji.or.jp/en/precincts/konjikido.html
  2. Kaiseizan Shrine
  3. Kasuga Shrine   http://en.japantravel.com/view/the-stone-lanterns-of-kasuga-shrine
  4. Todaiji Temple http://www.taleofgenji.org/todaiji.html

I stood at the foot of the giant Buddha in Todaji Temple. I had tea in the room only special guests  and  the emperor visit at Kasuga Shrine. I learned that a shrine is Shinto and a temple is Buddhist. I loved seeing Japan and learning new things but my favorite thing was interacting with the people. If you asked me my favorite experiences:

  1. Doing “ballet arms” with a teenager who wants to be a ballerina when she is older.
  2. Having a woman tell me she had traveled two hours to come to the mental health clinic seminar because she meet me last year and wanted to see me again.
  3. Traveling with the most compassionate, selfless group of people who made me laugh, cry and always had my back.
  4.  An amazing dinner conversation with a Shinto priest, classical pianist, Japanese business man and Jewish doctor that started with me asking “I learned today that every 20 years the shrine is taken down and rebuilt. Can you explain that to me?” and lead to me explaining what grace is?

You can’t make this stuff up.  I am so blessed.



Japan 2014 – part 1


When I told my daughter I had been invited to go to Japan again with the Tribute Center, she said “wow, mom! You get your once in a lifetime trip twice.” I was very surprised and pleased to be part of the “3rd International Outreach Program for School Children and Community Survivors of 3/11 Great East Japan Disasters.” It was wonderful to be back in Japan. I felt I was better prepared this time to understand that “none of this is about me.”

The schedule of the trip was similar to last year. To be honest, the schedule is grueling. You are up early, sleeping in a different hotel just about every night, traveling for hours between appointments, you are meeting and interacting with many people and most of the time you are being translated. Even after all of that, I can say it was absolutely the most amazing experience. The country of Japan is beautiful and clean. The Japanese people are gracious, giving and kind. This year’s trip was 12 days instead of 8 so we had time to do some tourist type things which was an added bonus.

Our journey started with a very long flight but thanks to American Airlines we flew business class to Japan. I have been spoilt – lots of leg room, a seat that can go flat, Boise headset, movies, delicious food, hot towels, blanket, pillow. storage space and no one was seating next to me. I don’t think I can ever go back to economy class. 🙂 Fast forward to the flight home that was economy class but I can’t really complain. American Airlines donates the miles for our trip. Thank you, American Airlines.

Our first official function was to attend the International Academic Conference with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Fukushima Medical University (FMU). The Mount Sinai members of our group (2 doctors and 3 medical students) were presenting at this conference. On Saturday, Dr. Craig Katz was presenting about “Displacement Post 3/11:The Anxiety of Feeling Placed”. On Sunday, the Mount Sinai & FMU medical students presented a paper on “Post-Traumatic Stress and Growth in Medical Students after Natural Disasters”. It was very interesting and informative.

On Saturday as we arrived at Fukushima Medical University, one of my fellow docents commented to me whether I thought there would be translation equipment available. I said “I think I am going to need more that Japanese to English translation. I am going to need what are you talking about translation.” Many of the presentations were in English and if not there was translation to English. There were presenters from all over the world and I felt like a little kid, who had been invited to the big kid table.

The part that was a little bizarre to me was hasn’t nuclear energy been around for a long time and now “they” are discussing what to do when things go wrong. It is a good thing they are discussing it and formulating a plan but I thought what other things do we use and there is no plan for when it goes wrong.

Japan 124

Mount Sinai travelers are missing from this photo. They were getting ready to present. More about my Japan trip to follow in next blog or two.

what I read vs. what it said

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The text I read last evening said “While we were cleaning there was a baby mouse/squirrel . We found him under the couch. Sorry two cleanings ago Meghan’s photo got broken. Let me know how much I owe you.” I am at the Barn (my weekend house), I am envisioning a baby squirrel running/flying/leaping/crawling around my house since Thursday. I am thinking how embarrassing my friend and cleaning person comes and there is a squirrel. How did it get in? Maybe when I left the door open to load the car, it ran in. The wheels of my mind are spinning – what, who, how, why!?! I send a text trying to appear calm and collected that said “Wow! Is he out of house now? Not sure how he got in. Don’t worry about the photo.” I immediately send a second text “I am at barn so haven’t been home.” I received the following text “lol no, no I’m sorry I should have mentioned that it is a stuffed animal =)” At which point I reread the original text. The exchange is below:


I share this story to remind myself (and others) to read, truly read every single word, don’t glance or scan or skim or even assume you know what is written, read.

This is the squirrel (I think it is actually a mouse) I had envisioned running/flying/leaping/crawling around my house. I truly hope it belongs to my daughter’s dog. I don’t remember it belonging to my dog and that would be truly embarrassing if it was Buster’s because he has been dead for years. 🙂


summer randomness

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Japan 038

I have had a very interesting and diverse summer. Since mid June, I have flown to Seattle for my daughter’s convocation and then flew directly to Minnesota to help Kari, my niece, care for her 4 children and her newborn while Jeremy, my nephew, was doing his two weeks active duty. Kari, the five kiddos and I drove to Kansas to meet up with Jeremy and spent time with Jeremy’s folks and more family. I flew home and five days later I directed Kids/Tween Camp. I had the “dream team” of staff, counselors and CIT’s. Directing camp is always a great week but it is also a difficult week. I was home from camp twelve days and went to Japan for twelve days. I plan on writing about Japan soon but first I want to share a couple of random quotes that even weeks later make me smile.

“Jumping in the shower is dangerous. You might fall.” said by one of my great nieces after I had commented “I am going to go jump in the shower”.

“You will not throw up!!!” said by me in my Miss Ann voice to my niece after a huge insect flew into the windshield while traveling to Kansas. Kari was driving, a bug went splat on windshield, blood was dripping down the windshield and she started to heave. Did I mention one of the grand nieces had already thrown up and she had done a super job of throwing up in a plastic bag but we had no more plastic bags and this was hours later. 🙂

“He didn’t follow us” said by the three boys I found walking by themselves on the first morning of camp. I was driving to the dining hall when I saw three boys walking with no counselor. The following conversation ensued: Me “gentlemen, where are you going?”. Boys – blank stare. Me “where’s your counselor?” boys – “He is in the cabin. We left and he didn’t follow us.” Me – blank stare and then “Your counselor doesn’t ever follow you. You follow him.” There is some food for thought.

One day at camp during lunch I suddenly heard banging on tables. I turned around expecting to see kids doing the cup game and instead saw 6 seven-year old boys banging their forks and knives on the table ala something you would see in a prison movie. I walked over and asked the participants what they were doing? They looked a little shocked to see me and were still holding their knives and forks in an upward fist clenched position. I promptly collected their knives and told them to put their forks on the table. Me -“would you do that in a restaurant?” boys – “no”, Me – “would you do that at home or school?” boys – “noooo”, Me – “so why do it at camp?” The usual finger-pointing started and I informed them they were each responsible for their own actions. This was obviously a teachable moment. I commented that they needed to apologize to the dining room manager for disrespecting his dining room. I walked over to the dining room manager and asked him to join me at the table. I told him I had some campers who wanted to apologize to him for disrespecting his dining room. He looked at me and said “I have been waiting all summer for this.” I introduced him to the boys and the boys to him and they apologized for “disrespecting his dining room.” He accepted their apology and then I said “Does anyone have anything else to say?”. A small hand went up and a little voice said “Can we still eat here?” I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry. 😦

“writer’s blog hop “

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My friend, Susan Panzica, invited me to be part of a “writer’s blog hop”. I panicked at the idea and told Susan to use me “only if she had to”. She “had to” so here I am in a blog hop. From what I understand the idea of a “writer’s blog hop” is I introduce what I am writing by answering 4 questions and then I introduce you to three of my “blogging friends”. Well, I only have two bloggers to introduce and I almost thought I can’t do this because I don’t have 3 and I don’t have any witty, smart answers to the questions. Then I realized there are probably no “blog hop” police or even “blog hop” penalties for doing it wrong. So here goes:

1 – What am I writing or working on?
I am writing a few pieces to submit to magazines and devotionals. My goal for the fall is to really start working on a manuscript for publication.

2 – How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I share stories from my everyday life and my goal is to show the intersection of the spiritual in all things.

3 – Why do I write what I write?
After September 11 I promised the Lord that whatever opportunities He gave me “to tell of His praiseworthy deeds” I would step up and speak of Him. I have had many opportunities to speak and for some time I have believed that I am also supposed to write.

4 – How does my writing process work?
I am trying to figure that out. 🙂 I need to be more disciplined about writing. Writing actually scares me to death. I don’t mind speaking in front of hundreds people but putting my thoughts on paper (or my computer) isn’t something I feel qualified to do.

I meet the following two ladies at Mount Hermon Writers Conference in the Spring of 2013. Hannah and I actually meet at the airport. We were both “newbies” and I was so glad to have someone to learn the ropes with. Since I met Hannah she has released a beautiful Christmas CD which was one of my favorites last Christmas and will be for years to come. Jennifer was one of Hannah’s roommates at the conference and I was thrilled to make another friend. Jennifer has published a book since I met her. You go, girl!

Hannah Frances DeVol Thomas is a writer, a singer, and a pilgrim. She is the Principal at By the Lion Arts—a fledgling enterprise dedicated to words and music of quality and substance. Her blog, At the Top of my Lungs, was launched to chronicle the release of her first album, In the Bleak Midwinter, in December of 2013, and has embarked from there on explorations of life, art, and other worthwhile things, including recent journeys to London, Oxford, and Paris. In the Bleak Midwinter is currently available from Amazon and iTunes

Jennifer Edwards is a writer, blogger, speaker, and editor. She recently published her first book, God’s Radical Plan for Wives (with co-authors Gil & Dana Stieglitz), and a companion 9-week Bible study. Her blog, Truth Bites, is rapidly growing in readership. Women of all ages & stages enjoy her transparency, humor, and crazy life lessons as they gain new insights, perspectives, and clarity about many issues women face today. She also writes a monthly e-newsletter just for wives (The Radical Wife) sharing from her own married life, as well as the principles taught in her books. For more about Jennifer, visit http://www.jenniferedwards.net.