Serenity in Taxes…Hmmm

Who doesn’t need a little love in their life during tax season? April 15th seems to sneak up fast every year but we all know the cold truth; we always know exactly when it will strike. Suddenly paperwork takes over everything else, invading family time and quiet team. It may be the only time we resent making money as we may face an unpleasant surprise of a new tax bracket.

So rather than focus on drudgery, take a breather from the paperwork. Remember that whatever the outcome, dollars do not control our destiny even though it certainly feels like it in the moment. Remember to be grateful for what you have.
Carve out a moment to embrace love around you. Hug your little one, be it a baby or a puppy. Lean over and give your spouse a smooch in the middle of your tax fight (am I the only one??). Walk away from the paperwork or blaring screen, step outside, and breathe in some fresh air. It is good for the soul. Phone a friend. Reconnect with what really makes the world go round. Money helps but it ain’t what controls the world. (Hint: Look up!)

I actually prepare my own taxes and I always cry out in prayer even with an advanced degree in tax. Minutiae is not my friend. So in the midst of it all, I make time to step back and remember what brings joy and fulfillment. It ain’t Uncle Sam for me!

Grab a cup of tea, glass of water, or ice cold lemonade. Kick up your feet for just a moment and give a mental thank you to all the good in your life. Leave the tedious taxes behind for a moment and remember all you have to be grateful for, including everything that makes your taxes more complicated: family, a job that brings you purpose, and a house that brings your comfort. If these don’t apply, appreciate the supposedly “EZ” return, enjoy what you have, and live with expectancy of the dreams in sight. Wishing you all a little serenity this tax season. See you after the 15th when I have time to write a decent post again.

Zen in Piping Hot Coffee

Finding zen in the morning coffee.

Morning coffee. There was a time I used to drink my morning coffee hot. I ran to different courthouses in a single morning, accruing miles and stressing the clock. I argued before judges and with other professional arguers. I guided my scared clients, drunk clients, angry clients, belligerent clients. I faced down jail time, financial ruin, demise of reputation (of my clients, not my own). I fended off deadlines. All while wearing heels and a skirt and a made up face. All while drinking a hot cup of coffee each day.

Fast forward to the arrival of little munchkins. Four years knee deep in diapers, sippy cups, obnoxious cartoons, laundry, dishes, dancing, playing, nagging. I juggled a case load of legal fights with hot coffee but somehow I failed to find the time in the harried pace of motherhood.

Here I am. Four years of cold coffee. I don’t mean the fashionable iced coffee or the hipster cold-brewed coffee. I mean the old fashioned coffee straight out of the pot coffee of our forefathers. I no longer juggle make up, unpredictable clients, and dry cleaned suits. I still wake up early but without the demand to be articulate and composed. Yet I can’t manage a hot drink in the monotonous but hectic mornings of motherhood. Each day I carefully pick my timing. The kid are calm or sleeping. Yet, somehow in the five minute window of brewing, fights break out, Matchbox cars crash, diapers need changing, and snot needs removing. When a moment of calm trikes again and I realize my craving for a little self-indulgence and morning pick-me-up, I turn and see my sad, lonely cup of Joe.

I miss my hot coffee. But I embraced my new reality and switched to ice coffee. Only to discover it too becomes sad with neglect, lukewarm and diluted with melted ice. And it got me wondering, what my hang up is about coffee? Parenting has required many changes to my routine and (hopefully) temporary sacrifice of my personal desires. Coffee seems so miniscule in the scheme of parental sacrifices. But it is symbolic of our need for a breath in our day. A moment to collect our thoughts and reconnect with our inner self. A moment to pray or just be silent. A moment to rest and regroup for another day’s demands and adventures. No matter how busy life gets, we must take the time to restore our spirits. Even if its just a minute with our coffee, hot, iced, or lukewarm.

Strength of Koi

Golden hues shimmer in the water.  Orange, red, yellow, brown, white and black swirl around. Translucent fins dance through the water, reminscent of scarves suspended in water.  I envision myself suspended in water. My thoughts ebbing and flowing like the dancing fins.  Shimmering light in golden hues surround me. I loosen up. I release control and let the water dictate my motion.

While I see grace in the koi, koi symbolize strength in Japan. They are known to climb waterfalls and swim upstream. They also have long lifespans and survive many different conditions. If you have never heard about koi invasion of the Illinois River, you can see a clip of their takeover here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLmJjRqXDCo. Koi is prevalent throughout Japanese art. The photo above is a prime example, with koi intricately carved into a single piece of wood.

As turbulent waters arise, I will aim for grace and strength like the koi. After all, every storm ends and calm returns.

Art in Motion: Museum of Art in Atami, Japan

Staring at an artistc masterpiece for minutes on end.  Perusing ancient statutes, paintings, and handcrafted pottery. Sitting before a behemoth Miro or Picasso, mesmerized by bright colors. Hours on end staring at Van Gogh’s chunky brush strokes from every angle.  Days spent wandering museums from Amsterdam to Paris to St. Petersburg to New York City to Madrid. Then along came a baby.

My love of museums didn’t stop and I kept trucking. With my baby tucked in a baby carrier, we journeyed through the Louvre and the Norton Simon Museum. But then he turned into a rambunctious toddler . Once he wouldn’t stay in a baby backpack, I thought my museum wanderlust was resigned to stimulus overload at children’s museums. And then I had a second child and became scared of losing my kids in the whirlwind of motion at the kids museum.

Yet, at, here we are at an art museum at last. We are in Atchi, Japan, known for hot spring inns (onsen ryokans) that are centuries old. It is also known for MOA, Museum of Art, standing over the city on an oceanside cliff.  I don’t know what got into me but I decided to take the family to the museum. The sky looked with rain clouds waiting to burst, so we drove off to the museum.

The ride alone was worth the trip. We swerved through curvy local roads and spied on life outside the touristy resorts. Around every bend, ocean vistas appeared. The feeling of impending death on narrow, curvy roads in Japan never gets old. As the museum neared, we drive through a bamboo forest wonderland. The museum appeared, with Roman Greco columns of white. So….Japanese…

Museum of Art, MOA, Atchi, Japan

 

Suddenly the anxiety creeped up. Our relative was dropping us off with no car and two kids at an isolated museum. We would be there for hours with two nap-deprived kids. And onward we go!

The museum is sandwiched between a bamboo garden and an ocean side perch. There is not a bad view in sight. The vastness of the ocean and the high-in-the-sky bamboo dwarf  my stress. I am reminded that the world keeps on turning to the hand of an awesome Creator, and I start to settle into zen, kids and all.

Ocean Vista

This museum is like the Getty in Los Angeles; you can come just for the view and the grounds and have a wonderful time. Oh wait, there is art to be seen? Who wants to be indoors with this view?

Old me would grab a map and plot out a whirlwind tour through the key collections. New me is focused on finding the cafe. Nursing hunger pains! Plus, well-fed kids are less cranky. We find the restaurant which overlooks the museum gardens with floor to ceiling windows. Better yet, the food was so delicious, we ordered another round! The restaurant sticks with local ingredients and the freshness is clear. We had a pork meatloaf (in Japan, this is a hamburger) served on a sizzling black stone. It was surrounded by local mushrooms, radish, potatoes, eggplant, and onions, all sizzling in the pork juice. Everyone, baby included, indulged in it. Highly recommended! Go for the view and be surprised by the food.

image

The next stop was the tea rooms. The museum houses an indoor tea room constructed gilded gold. It is perfectly preserved. I loved it for the history and a love of all things tea. The boys loved it for it’s blinding shininess.

 

Golden Tea Room

 

Afterwards, we traveled outdoors to the other tea room, one that actually serves tea! The museum garden contains a classic summer residence with ancient Japanese architecture and gorgeous gardens. We could have spent all day there. The kids loved roaming the moss-sprinkled pathway, destroying the zen in the rock garden, and roaming around ancient corridors. I loved immersing myself in a bygone era and the serenity of the gardens. I am also a tea nerd, and loved drinking freshly made matcha (green tea powder) in the tea room overlooking the gardens.

Bamboo with Wild Lillies

 

Entry to the Gardens

Former Residence

Tea Room

Eventually, we went inside to see the art.  We spent all of our time in a temporary exhibit about light. The kids, and the grown ups, loved it. As a result, this is my only photo of traditional Japanese art forum the permanent collection:

Japanese art

In the end, my kids taught me a new way to enjoy museums. It turns out I am less cranky when I am well fed. The art was more enjoyable on a full stomach. But beyond that, they forced me to slow down and really live the experience. Did I see every masterpiece in the museum? No. Did I read about the history and symbolism in the pieces? No. Did I stop, breathe, stroll, and take in the grounds and residences like a local from the past? You bet.

Light art

When it came to the actual art, my son introduced me to the joys of more experiential art. We spent half an hour in front of an interactive screen projection where our sillouhettes controlled the movement of colorful balls (see the featured image of this post). My son ran back and forth between colorful light displays. As his face lit up with wonder, so did mine. He reminded me the world is magical and the best art is to be fully enjoyed. And whatever you do, take the scenic route. (This includes the museum’s endless elevator corridor, filled with colored lights and surround sound symphony music).

This elevator has at least four sections this long and seems to travel to the center of the earth.

This elevator has at least four sections this long and seems to travel to the center of the earth.

Ocean View Hot Springs: Getting My Zen On in Luxury

I am buzzing from the hot spring high. Fifteen minutes in the natural, hot, bubbly springs will loosen your muscles, soak away your cares, and force you to let loose. Then you hop out and get right back to the craziness of toddler, baby, and in laws. But it is such a nice way to bond as a family!

Traditional Japanese inns, called ryokans, are clustered throughout the country. Many ryokans also have hot springs, or onsen. The whole family dresses down (or dresses up in my Western view) into ukatas, which are casual cotton kimonos. They are so comfortable that many people sleep in them. There are no shoes allowed in the inn. Everyone wears slippers in the common areas and goes barefoot in the onsen and in their private rooms.

Once you change into your traditional Japanese pajamas, you head to the hot spring. As per my previous post, you get naked with the whole family (usually single gender but not always). You bathe before entering the springs. Today’s bath took place outdoors with an ocean view. Then, you slip into the hot spring and let your body adjust to the heat. Slowly, your body and mind unwinds. I take in the view of the bay and the city lights. Fifteen minutes later, it is time to cool off in the nude in the fresh ocean breeze. If I stay any longer, I run the risk of falling asleep. Then, bathe again. There are usually a variety of spa products to pamper yourself, and of course you can purchase them later if so inspired.

Once double bathed and fully refreshed, it is time for endless food in your room. Ryokans often serve eight to twelve courses, including sushi, wagyu beef (heavily marbleized), and an array of Japanese delicacies. Today we indulged in local, sweet lobster, both grilled and raw sashimi. Another specialty item was steamed abalone. We ate on pillows and a low rise table. It allowed the kids to run around the tatami floor in between courses. Relaxing fun for everyone!

For a little more self-indulgence, I took a nighttime dip in the onsen. Fully relaxed for bed….until my baby screamed for attention. Getting my zen on indeed!

Sashimi

Appetizers
Abalone steaming up!

Travel Tips for One and All

I read lots of articles about traveling. Many of the points are recycled and old hat. This article contains 35 useful tips, most I never heard before. I can personally vouch for the tip about booking aisle and window for two people traveling together, especially with a lap child. If the plane is ji t full, you may get a full row to yourself. Even if the plane is not full, you wull ease the tension with your airplane neighbor by offering them an aisle or window sw at when they thought they would be stuck in center. http://news.distractify.com/dark/trivial-facts/24-travel-tips-that-will-change-your-life-forever/?v=1

Eating Like a Local While the Typhoon Rages On

A major typhoon is sweeping through Japan. For three days, torrential downpours and black clouds heave covered our valley. There have been moments of sunny skies to break the gloom. Two nights ago, I became convinced I would be struck by lightening. The clouds were thick and heavy. I could barely see the streetlight right in front of my window. Thunder and lightning shook the house every two minutes. About every ten minutes, I heard the big crackling an death rattling lightning strike. We are surrounded by forest on the backside. It sounded like the trees were getting pounded. Every time he lightning flashed, our whole room lit up. I found myself wanting to crawl into my mom’s bed, until I realized I AM the mom know. Amazingly, my three-year-old never woke up. My baby woke once but was easily calmed by my presence and fell back asleep. Clearly, he couldn’t see the panic on my face in the dark.

During the day, I drive slower than the numerous grandmas here. I am very cautious of rain on windy mountain roads. When the rain pours the hardest, I stop in to the nearest eatery and pig out until the weather calms down. It is for the safety of my children. A bonus is the delight of my tummy and meeting new faces.

Along the back country road, there is a little development. The drive surrounds me in forestry, rolling hills,and vistas of the town and farms below. Rarely, I stumble upon a little eatery. My first thought is where do they get customers? The road feels deserted, as if I am traveling through a fantasy world by myself. I am frequently the only customer at places I stop. I enjoy the intimacy. The shop owners have time to talk with me, whether out of boredom or any real interest in me. They are always surprised to see a foreigner, especially with a baby in tow.

Today, the rain suddenly picked up speed close to home. I pulled into a little cafe run by a local farm. The little house is surrounded by apple trees and blueberry bushes. The windows look out over the uninhabited forest and a lonely log cabin with wild flowers. The kitchen is run by a mother and daughter team while the grandfather comes in and out as he tends the farm. It feels like dining in there home, as multi generations gather in the kitchen for a family meal while I eat next to them in the dining room. The entryway is filled with bags, dolls, tissue holders, and other items hand sewn by the grandmother. It feels more homey than my own home.

My baby crawls around and takes in all the attention. Meanwhile, the daughter serves me hot tea.  While I relax and watch the downpour, I see her dash out into the typhoon rains to a shed. She comes back in, drenched, holding a small bowl. Would you like some blueberries while I cook? Would I ever! I feel guilty that she suffered the rain for me to eat blueberries and savor them even more than usual. The baby ate them right up! He will be quite disappointed when we get back to eating produce in the desert.

Ooiishi! Yummy!

Ooiishi! Yummy!

The restaurant only serves three dishes. One is soba (see my noodle post: https://misomommy.wordpress.com/2014/07/02/noodles-a-japanese-noodle-guide/). Another dish, displayed proudly on a outdoor banner, is grilled rice balls on skewers slathered with a sweet and chunky miso paste.

Miso rice ball skewers

The third dish is called kurumi. I ordered it blindly and then learned about the dish as it arrived. Kurumi looks like white miso soup, but it is actually coarsely ground walnuts boiled in a sweet broth. The soup is topped with two, freshly-grilled mochi squares. The aroma of buttery walnuts and grilled rice filled the air. As I dug in, the mochi softly pulled and stretched. I bit off a piece at a time, chewed the mochi, and drank the soup. In between bites, I looked over the storm and the mountains.

Walnut soup with grilled mochi

Walnut soup with grilled mochi

A chart on how to make Kurumi, mochi walnut soup

A chart on how to make Kurumi, mochi walnut soup

As you can seem the soup came with homemade pickles.  The salt content is lower than commercial pickles  and the experience is crisp, cool, and refreshing. I didn’t think it could get any better, until she brought out local cherries that she had frozen. They were like little cherry Popsicles plucked right from the cherry tree.

Frozen cherries - a refreshing summer treat!

Frozen cherries – a refreshing summer treat!

After a delicious respite, it was time to face the tsunami and drive slowly home.

Wind and rain typhoon-style

Wind and rain typhoon-style

Real Life Wife Swap: Where is the Greener Grass?

What better way to see if the grass is greener on the other side than to crash in and live on the other side for a couple months? My gracious sister-in-law invited me to live in her house for two months, along with my two boys and her three boys (four if you count her husband). That’s right, five boys.  My sister-in-law juggles a demanding career and motherhood, while I currently stay-at-home full time while contemplating a new career venture.  She is raising her family in rural Japan and I am currently raising my kids in Las Vegas, U.S.A.  This experience creates a personal, first-hand look at a different path of motherhood and cultural perspective. This post will focus on the contrasts and insights from a mom working out in the field and a mom working exclusively at home.

All the moms I know question their parenting and lifestyle choices. Many struggle with the decision to stay home full time or balance work outside the home. Moms and non-moms alike often make hurtful judgments about the choices of other moms. But deep down, I think we all wonder if the grass is greener on the other side, no matter which side we choose.

Wthere is no universal answer for whethe r amok should work outside the home. Each family has different circumstances and an array of factors involved in the decision. Whichever green pasture you choose, both sides should acknowledge  the give and take in the decision. When I studied economics, we called it the “opportunity cost” of your decision; what you give up in exchange for the choice you make. No decision in life is without opportunity cost.

1) Time and energy are finite for all of us. We all must prioritize how to allocate these precious resources. There are ways to increase efficiency, but ultimately spending more time and energy in one area means taking it away from other areas. When you see another mom who appears to do it all perfectly, chances are she just prioritizes things differently. One mom takes pride in baking cupcakes from scratch. Another mom emphasizes looking her best and teaches her kids to do the same. Another mom lets mismatched socks slide because she focuses on teaching her kids how to rock a career by example. We can’t be all things all at once. Another mom leaves her career behind to homeschool her kids. Different priorities with different opportunity costs.

2) Don’t confuse quantity and quality. Whether you are fatigued from career stress or full-time motherhood, find time to refresh. Carve out time to read, write, phone a friend, work out, zone out or just drink a cup of coffee that is still hot. Do not feel guilty for taking a few minutes or a couple hours out for yourself. It is not time away from your kids if you are resting and rejuvenating to be a happier, more focused mama when you get back. Spending every free minute with your kids is only valuable if you are really present an interactive. Snapping at your kids because you are at your wits end is not bonding time. Get yourself Ina. State of mind to provide quality time with your kids.

Also, schedule special family activities or down time when you actually have energy.  There is a tendency to wait until late evening to sit down together, at which point everyone is exhausted. Try to make time right after school. If work doesn’t permit you any time during the week, make sure you schedule your family first during your time off before making other commitments. Also, incorporate your kids into work events and social committments when possible.

3) Parenthood demands flexible scheduling and the ability to drop everything else at a moment’s notice. This conflicts with work and results in many disagreements about which parent will leave work to handle the unexpected. In just one month, the following emergencies arose: hospitalization of relatives, torrential rains necessitating pick ups and activity cancellations, a bear on the loose requiring immediate pick up of kids from school, and random monkey sightings creating danger for walking home from school. You may not have typhoons, wild bears or roaming monkeys, but emergencies and illness will arise.

4) This leads directly into the 9 to 5 myth. There is a myth that work is 9 to 5. Most careers are not to 9 to 5. Schedules are erratic and even when you are physically home, many jobs are taking up your mental energy. Accountants have busy season. Doctors have countless emergencies. Lawyers have deadlines and client emergencies. Teachers have planning and parent meetings. Business owners have to be there whenever the business needs them. When work demands attention after hours, family time is invaded. This is especially difficult with younger children who cannot be left unsupervised.

5) When the cat is away, the mice will play, kick, scream, fight, break rules, break valuables, and play lots of Nintendo. While kids may survive time on their own, they need a good dose of parental guidance and supervision.

6) Whether juggling an outside job, every woman needs time and space to cultivate their own identity aside from family and career. Carve out a little time for yourself.

7) Loosen up on control and the pursuit of perfection to let in some help. I spend time with a lot of moms. I often observe them criticize their spouse, kids, or visiting relatives when they try to help clean up or do chores. The mom has devised a meticulous system to get the dishes clean or how to wash the floor, and she is aggravated that her common sense wisdom isn’t so common sense. It is easier to just do it herself. And you know what the worst part is? A sudden realization follows that I am guilty of the same behavior! Consider this my public apology.
It may be easier to do it all yourself today, but it is much harder in the long wrong. Your spouse, kids and friends will become afraid to help. You will get more burned out and resentful. Your kids also won’t form the habits of taking care of the house. Some guys hate housework or think it is all on us. Ugh. We can’t control others thoughts but we can control how we treat and influence others. Surely every guy hates his wife’s wrath. So let’s try to let loose and let them in.

7) My only conclusion is THE GRASS IS AS GREEN AS YOU MAKE IT. The author of “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” Robert Fulghum, said “The grass is greenest where it is watered. When crossing over fences, carry water with you and tend the grass wherever you are. Whatever pasture you choose, career juggle or full-time motherhood, work hard and nurture your pasture. And if you are truly unhappy, you can change your mind. Just know your Ttitude and efforts are whAt make the grass green, whichever path you go. Although, the grass truly is greener in the Japanese Alps than in Vegas.

Greener pastures in the Japanese Alps