About Me

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California born by a Cuban mother, married to a Japanese man, and have lived in Japan since 2004, minus one year living in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I have friends and family in many places in the world. I dreamed of traveling to many distant lands, creating music and dancing to it, meeting interesting people, and discovering treasures in the most unlikely of places.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Book Lists for Beginning Readers

To all of you ESL and EFL teachers out there:

Reading books brings together all of the grammar and vocabulary that students have learned into a realistic scenario. It gives students a good feeling of the language, and helps them learn what I would like to describe as a kind of rhythm only possible by either living in the country where a language is spoken, watching movies with subtitles in the language, listening to music and learning the lyrics, or reading books, on the internet, the newspaper, or other materials. However, reading books is the most relaxing way to do this, because most books made for beginning readers are made especially for people at a certain level. For example, High School or adult students might feel insecure if they are required to read picture books. On top of that, picture books don't always incorporate the simplest of language. Books like Penguin Readers or Oxford Bookworms are made especially for those whose intellectual level is higher, but whose reading ability is low. They also have a limited amount of new words, words that only beginners might know, plus, they use limited grammar difficulty. With each level, the number of words that must be known and the grammar level increases. This allows students to study slowly, at their own pace, while having fun with a story. And since it is a book, they can stop when they want, take breaks, and get an in depth assimilation of information at their own pace.

I have been charged with selecting books for my library, and it has been a wonderful task. Last year, I was able to order about 600 English books of all types. I tried to think of the different levels of my students, their interests and their abilities, and select books with the highest recommendation on Amazon.com. I also selected medal winners, Carnegie and Newberry, and Nobel Prize winners. Finally, for advanced students, I selected some books with thesaurus glossary in the back, and a thesaurus on each page for the harder words, from a series called ICON Webster's Classics.

I have had a heck of a time finding lists of books for beginning readers online. I can find them individually on Amazon, or on the publisher's page, but trying to get them in a list format to order easily in bulk is kind of hard.

This morning one of the teachers that I work with gave me this website, where you can get lists of some of these books, in order of their level of difficulty. There are others as well. Sorry, its in Japanese, but you can try the links to figure out how it works.

Other things for language learners to know about reading books in a new language, according to my teacher friend: Try not to use a dictionary. Rather, infer the meaning from the surrounding words and grammar (which is why a book in your level is best!). Also, you don't have to keep reading a book if you don't like it... just go get another one! This way you will keep reading energetically!
I pretty much agree with him :)


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Why I came to Japan in the first place

This is kind of a response to what my friend Danielle just wrote about, seeing completely new patterns versus creating patterns using old ones. It is about why I originally came to Japan.

When I was a child, I was really very concerned about the environment. I thought a lot about what we could do as a group, as humans, to change our ways. I often cried about the situation. Then my grandparents came to Japan to visit Hiroshima and they brought me back a book on Bonsai. I saw the pictures as something very different from your average topiary or garden tree. Then I found a book on Ikebana (Japanese Flower Arrangement) at a yard sale, and was shocked. The same rhythm could be found there.

It was a movement, a flow; a thought and then a silence and then a change in direction, and again. I saw that the Japanese must appreciate this art form, and since popular art is a reflection of people's hearts, they must think in the same way. I compared it to the noisiness and fullness of Western Art, and thought that if we could possibly learn to not be quite so aggressive and be more thoughtful in our movements, that we could save our world. So that is the original reason why I decided to come to Japan, hoping to learn it so that I could take it back and do something with that knowlege. What I know now is that that Wabi-sabi, Do and Sei, are uncommon in modern Japan, and an equivalence to Western Art is what is popular here now. I can't say that I haven't learned anything about it, but it is much harder to learn than anticipated, and I wonder if it is actually possible. There is, however, an underlying feeling that lingers, but the culture is so complex that it might have been more likely if I had come as a child.

First of all, it is probably not about taking from something or using something, but more about paths, and this is something that I did not understand in my youth. For me, the feeling in Japanese traditional art and life is something like this: it is like a silence that says that there are only a few correct paths that one can take, and that you must decide or be lost in the situation. But no one actually every comes out and says what someone must do, it is something that you have to feel out. Some people tell you, but they are your in-group(family or good friends), and very few. It would be very, very hard to try to teach how to move in this silent, thoughtful way to people who are used to being open and honest and not depending upon a particular path, but who can see that there are more options in the open air. I think that one of the difference in the cultures is that the Japanese think very hard about what the best path to take is, and if not, just stay on the one that they are on. For example, most people have no hobbies or only one, which they do to perfection. Ask them if they are bored. They aren't. In my home country, however, most people have several things that they enjoy doing, and if they aren't then they are bored. Most Japanese people have few friends. This is desirable. They can be silent, simply happy, appreciate the simple things in life, moving nowhere fast, thinking about everything before doing it, perhaps never stepping out of a comfort zone. But when they do decide to move, it is decisive and very strong in its direction. Most of my foreign friends have a lot of friends, and this suits them. Enjoying a variety of different people, working with different ideas, moving forward, somewhere, everywhere, quickly.

The long, slender, silent branch, with a single leaf and two berries, rising out of a small garden of leaves, versus a big bouquet of roses with smaller and bigger other flowers and colors, comes to mind. Many modern Japanese people however, might choose the bouquet over the simple arrangement, if you were to ask them to choose.

A mix of both might be best for our world, if it were possible. A seeking of a path, and then a blossoming into an area, but not too much, and then a change of path, and another blossoming into another area. I think, as in the very beginning at seven years of age, that if we take our time, and stop to think, that we might be able to change.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Ebi passed away yesterday at about 5PM, Shinpei saw him as he was leaving, but did not get to say goodbye. He had eaten several lily leaves, a species similar to the Tiger Lily, and lilies are deadly poisonous to cats... I had left him at the vet the day before, after the vet said that he needed more intravenous. His bodily functions had shut down, and the level of toxins in his blood was at >130, whereas normal is from 8 to 30. He had renal failure.

We had a funeral, and we have been crying non-stop. We loved him so much. Yet there are things that I have learned from this, that I never want to happen again, or that I need to reexamine in my life. Why does it take death or near death for people to change? Why could I not see this before?? I am so angry with myself for not stepping out of the haze of every day, to look at the situation, and do something about it before it was too late.

One thing is that I wasn't aware enough of his body warnings. We tried changing his food when he started getting finicky. I thought it was just a cat thing. We should have taken him to the vet for that. Also, urination went down in frequency. We should have taken him in for that. Every six months, a check up at the vet, and he would still be with us. Cats and Dogs can't say how they feel. Ebi, in particular, was a lot like me. I don't like throwing up, neither did he. He wouldn't throw up, even when he felt really bad. He also didn't show physical pain. When the vets gave him his shots, he was really quiet and just looked uncomfortable. So I should have recognized chenges in bodily waste and eating habits, and taken him in.

The other thing, and this hurts so badly to think about, is that he was so miserable. He was so very lonely and sad. We had been looking for another cat, but we didn' find one in time... I actually thought of two, but one I should have taken in and didn't, and then she dissappeared along with several other cats the very next weekend(I felt horrible about that, because I could have saved her, and I could have given him a friend, but she wasn't exactly what I wanted so I didn't though I felt that I should. This was in July). He was still eating well in July, but he had urination problems according to Shinpei. So, note to self, if one person goes to the vet, the same person should go to the vet, feed, clean, and talk to the vet, or else importan information might be lost. Then Angel came to stay with us for a week in August. Ebi was in Heaven, he was so happy. He didn't want to go outside, and wasn't restless, his playmate was there. Then Angel went home, and Ebi was miserable for four days, searching and calling for his friend. That was when I decided that he must have a friend, or something bad might happen. Then the rabbit came, and stayed with us for a month, and Ebi was fascinated with Pippin, but scared of him at the same time, and would run away from him, but follow him around. When the rabbit found a new home, Ebi didn't call for him, but he looked for him all over the house for a few days, and he would look woefully at where he had been. And then when we would come home he would try to excape outside. We think it was to look for the rabbit. But after three days he stopped trying hard, and would stand at the door waiting for us. He always wanted to go outside, and in Saga, I would let him out every now and then, but he got crazy and started going far, and then we would take him out on a leash. But since we moved to the ocean and the highway, and I got busy, then Shinpei got busy, we took him out less and less, and then these last few months he was alone all day until late at night... he must have been so horribly lonely...

I feel so strongly that, yes, he had a problem with his kidneys, and I think that if he had been happy, it would have never happened. Shinpei says he was happy, and he was sometimes. We played with him, and petted him, and talked to him and loved him. But we didn't give him what he needed the most for his heart, a friend to play with. And when I sat at the computer, and he would go nuts in the afternoon, I should have really looked at that, and asked myself what it meant, what HE needed. Because he couldn't tell me with words. Its so easy to look back now that he's gone and I'm in tears, that he just needed me to take him outside. I was so selfish with my time, and I didn't think about how HIS every day was. I just thought I could get him a friend, and everything would be better, but I needed to open my eyes to the warning signs of illness, and the body language, that would have been love.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Diving, Hiking, Dejima, Dining

I can't blog at work, so my blog is sad and lonely. Not that I'd have the time even if I could. I am so busy at work. I work from 8:30 AM to about 7 PM. It has been heavenly to be on vacation, as the title suggests :)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Birthday Presents

I had the best birthday in Japan so far! I had three get-togethers, and another is in two days! Plus i spent the 17th with Shinpei doing fun stuff. He spoiled me rotten for a couple of days. I got lots of nice stuff, too. It was the most loved I've felt so far here.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Oh, Sweet Saturday

I am having such a nice day. Shinpei went to work, and I stayed home. I read half of The Golden Compass, which I got off Amazon last week, checked my email and read about the political unrest in the Middle East and the situation in general in China off of cfr.org , the Council on Foreign Relations. It was very enlightening, and both things that I read were very well written and organized, so now at least I have an inkling of what is going on. Other than Wikipedia, most of the internet is a series of pieces of information - nothing is usually a consolidation of information, so I have to go tripping around the internet on expeditions for information.
I also opened the back window so that Ebi can look out from his kitty bed at the canal, and cleaned up a bit. I had a hot dog for lunch, my favorite!
I am looking forward to spring. I can feel myself waking up with the weather. The plums have begun to bloom.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Spring is in the air... but not yet anywhere else.

"a scent, such as never clings, to ought save happy, living things..." (from Rennaisance by Millay)

I popped my nose near the screen this morning, and a lovely smell was wafting around, a smell of things quietly awakening, not yet stirring, but considering, in their earthly beds, what it would be like to grow, and stretch graceful branches toward the endless blue above, arch delicate leaves to touch the canal, whisper to the neighborly birds so still and intent before flight. The plants are breathing, their sweet scent tells us that spring is near.

I wore my new sweater to school today. The students exclaimed when they saw it, it is a very festive striped sweater, red, green, yellow brown and white. I like to wear bright colors, to remind the students that there is a bright and happy world outside, and inside their hearts. The always appreciate it when I wear bright colors. I think that it helps them feel more excited about school, too. Colors have been proven to have emotional effects. If I wear bright colors, I hope that it will help them to associate English with fun and excitement, and help them to focus more in class.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011