Saturday, November 12, 2016


I've had never really thought too much about earthquakes until we moved here to Japan. I had felt a few small ones in Michigan and once in California, but didn't worry about them.  I was also aware on a conceptual level that Japan (like the US west coast) was an area that experienced many more than most parts of the world.  We have experienced a few minor tremors since we've been here, but not been too concerned.  Maybe it's because everything is so well prepared.

Earthquake bracing on a building in our neighborhood

Evidence of preparation and planning for earthquakes can be seen all over Japan. There are signs for safe areas and buildings are built with earthquakes in mind.  Schools hold earthquake drills and evacuation procedures manuals are present in every room along with helmets for every student.

Earthquake helmets for each student under their chair

The mindset is very much that earthquakes will happen, and we can't change that. But we can change how much impact they have, how we prepare for them, and how we react to them. Good lesson for all us I think.

A mild earthquake happened here the other day - I think the third since we have been here. It was so mild that I never felt it while working at school.  My sister was visiting at the time and was still at the apartment getting ready to go to the airport when she felt it - and heard a noise in the other room.  She went to look and found that the TV which had not been sitting very securely on it's little table in the corner had fallen You can see the results below.

Nice pattern, don't you think ?

So - we don't currently have a TV, which is OK since we don't watch much anyway.  When we do get another one, I think I will think a little more and plan a little more carefully for when the earth will shake next, because it certainly will.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Japanese Gardens 101

Tim and I just returned from a week in Kyoto. We walked every day (most of the days 30,000 steps according to our iPhones) and by the time I got home, many of the temples, shrines, and gardens were a blur.

Here are my thoughts as I try to sort out the gardens: 

Some of the temples and gardens were chaos! Hoards of school groups were visiting Japan’s most famous and revered places. The screaming, shouting, running students did not fit my preconceived notion of the Japanese garden experience. But when I look at my pictures, the gardens are serene and calm. I could turn my camera’s eye to stone lanterns, still ponds, and trees starting to show hints of scarlet. Japanese gardens are the essence of peacefulness. It is an art form like nothing I have ever experienced.

Students waiting to drink from the sacred spring of water. 
I focused my camera on the quiet beauty of the garden.

When I was in the Japanese gardens of Kyoto, I found my senses heightened. I noticed beauty in both the overall design and the small things: a moss covered lantern, a pine tree branch that twists and turns gracefully—shaped by hundreds of years of skilled gardeners, a path of boulders in the middle of a pond inspiring the viewer to stop and admire the brightly colored koi swimming in the still water.

A path at Eikan-do.
My favorite garden was Eikan-do with its small magical pond hidden away from the bustling crowds. There were not many visitors and we were cast under the spell of the gentle rain, the green lily pads, the branches that hovered over the water with leaves starting to turn red. A small wooden structure that looked like a miniature cabin was placed in the middle of the pond. I paused to ask, "Who lives there and what is its purpose?"

Eikan-do is a garden off the Philosopher's Path.

A new concept for me was the importance of sound and movement. I took videos sometimes because the sound and the movement was essential to understanding the garden and its experience: green, yellow, orange, white, and purple brocade banners fluttering in the wind, water slowly poured from a bamboo cup into a deep well resulted in a soft, xylophone sound floating up into the air, water overflowing from an urn was directed down one leaf to make a thin stream of water.

Needless to say, I’m sure there is a metaphor hiding in these gardens for my life. Sometimes Tokyo, the demands of teaching, politics at home, and my own busy mind make it hard to turn away from the traffic noise, worries, or thoughts that won’t quit. I think the gardens in Japan are beckoning me to put aside the chaos. Focus on the calm, take a deep breath, stop and notice the beauty.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Hi Tech Home

Late afternoon, Tokyo on a warm summer day.Nannie and the old guy are sitting on the couch in living room after a long flight, hauling the suitcases unto the apartment and spending a few minutes with Chris trying to figure out how to turn on the air conditioner. 

One might think that task not too difficult for a librarian and a teacher who specializes in helping students learn to read. Of course all the controls are labeled in Japanese and  It turns that the air conditioning system is also a heating system and when they old guy clicked the wrong button, cold air was reluctant to enter the apartment. With a little exploration, however, That mission  was soon accomplished and they get a brief overview of the rest of the apartment.  

"Here's the controls for the bathtub. You turn the system on, then click this button to fill the tub. The water will come in at the preset temperature and stay there. "

Later that evening Nannie went into the little room that was the "bathroom" ( and contained nothing but the bathtub and an adjacent handheld shower sizzle attachment. She click the buttons, took a bath and luxuriated in stepping into a hot bath and steeping the stress away.

The old guy found that a couple of glasses of water and the passage of some time were resulting in a need to relieve himself of extra liquids so he went into the "toilet" room (which contained nothing but the electronically controlled porcelain throne). He sat down to discover that the seat was warm and the control panel on the wall adjacent offered a number of interesting choices in Japanese again, but luckily these included helpful pictures :

As one might note from the picture above, a person can adjust the temperature of the seat as well as the temperature and force the water sprays in addition to the force of the flush (which happens automatically when you stand up ). Very interesting.

The stove controls are fairly simple : on and off for each burner and up and down arrows for the level of heat desired.

But the washing machine. Here's an interesting conundrum. Our Muzungus were given a brief exploration which included something about timed wash and etc. but they haven't quite figured this all out yet. They do greatly appreciate the two English words found there as quite appropriate "fuzzy control"

The exploration continues, as does the adventure ...

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Enjoying Michigan

Living in Michigan
Nannie and the old guy (aka the Mzungus) live in a great old house in a beautiful part of the US - Holland Michigan. Here are just few glimpses into why they enjoy Michigan so much ...


"Let's do something this weekend."
"Good idea. What do you wanna do ?"
"I don't know, but let's do something fun."
"Go for a bike ride ?"
"We could go back over by Rockford on that bike trail I like - what's it called again ?"
"The White Pine Trail. Fun. Let's do it!"

So the old guy put the bike rack on the car, Nannie filled her water bottle, they both changed into their very attractive biking shorts, and the Mzungus headed off to Comstock Park. Arriving at the trail head parking lot, (behind some stores and restaurants downtown), they slathered on the sun block, straddled their metal steeds, and peddled up the converted railroad bed.

It was a perfect day with a mix of sun and clouds, a light breeze, and very pleasant temperature for a nice ride.  The couple rode about 22 miles, stopped for a couple of refreshing and well deserved local brews and then finished with about 8 more miles back to the car.


"Hey Kate - wanna go Kayaking?"
"That sounds like fun. Is Nannie coming?"
"Of course"
So Kate, Nannie, and the old guy bundled into the car and headed down to Douglas and the kayak livery at Wades Bayou. All the kayaks were rented out so they decided to have a little lunch and come back a little later.

A couple of hours later, the kayaks were available and off they went.

It was a beautiful cloudy day and not too hot as they meandered around the lily pads and tall reeds.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Mzungu Mansion Celebrates 100 Years

Holland, Mi.

The Mzungu Mansion, located in Holland Michigan, and currently occupied by Nannie and the old guy, recently turned one hundred years old. The house is located in the Holland Historic District,  and the exterior is little changed from her original construction. The house has a clay tile roof, an Italian Marble fireplace, and an Art Deco stained glass window. While exact date of construction completion in 1916 is not known, a birthday party, attended by several dozen friends and neighbors, was held at the house on June 18 to celebrate the occasion. 

Showing only a few signs of her age, the house has had some recent minor cosmetic work done as well as some new landscaping to enhance her charm. She begins her second century in fine form, and family and friends anticipate many more happy years ahead for the house.  Nancy and Tim have been living in the house since 2003, with occasional breaks, including a two year absence while living in India and a 3 month adventure as Mzungus in Tanzania.

We congratulate the place for her fine years of service to her occupants and to the community.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Run, Tanzania

Hearing his wife leave to go to work, the old man rolled over on the mattress on the floor, got to his knees and then to his feet, and then sat down again to pull on his running shorts and shirt. It was cool in the bedroom with the air conditioning on, and he could feel the outdoor warmth and humidity as he went downstairs. He made himself a little tea and checked his email briefly to allow his body to wake up a little. He picked up his keys from the table, let himself out the door, locking it behind him, and sat down once more to put on his running shoes.  The sun was shining today for the first time in more than a week and he felt the heat of it, even at 7:30, on his face.

Nodding to the guard, he went through the gate and then picked his way around the puddles on the path to the main road. It had been raining for days (it was the rainy season after all), and he decided he would run along the main road again. He had tried last week to run on the back roads and came back with squishy feet and shoes from sinking into unexpected mud-holes.

He walked to the corner, turning down the invitations from the bajaji and piki-piki with a couple of waves, and started jogging.  As usual the first few minutes were hard as he tried to get into the rhythm.  Running against traffic on the right side of the road, he saw mostly solid SUV type vehicles and a few bajaji's with one or two people inside heading toward town to go to work. The shoulder, like the road, was fairly smooth, with stretches of soft sand where the water had flowed across and left a track of fine sediment.
Bajaji - also known as Tuk-Tuk in other countries

As his breathing settled into its regular 3/2 rhythm, his mind started to wander back a year or so, comparing running here in the Bahari Beach area with running in Mumbai.  It was so much less crowded here in the almost country-side environment 45 minutes ride from downtown Dar Es Salaam,  than it had been in Kohinoor, also 45 minutes from downtown Mumbai.  He could run much more smoothly and evenly without having to dodge the holes and piles of debris in the roads. Sure, he sometimes had to wind around a muddy depression, but the edges were smooth and rounded, unlike the sharp lines of tilted, broken concrete in the big city. 

He turned the corner off of the main road and on to the side residential road.  He liked this route because of the lack of traffic and the shade. He was close to the ocean here, too, and often the cooling breeze felt good on his face, though he was sweated profusely after five minutes.  He waved at the car containing a parent and a couple of kids from the school - no doubt he would hear from his wife this evening that her students had seem him out running on their way to school.  He neared his favorite area where someone had planted a number of Baobab trees years ago, reached the end of the dirt road and turned around for the run back. He liked those trees - so different from other trees with their fat trunks and upside-down feel.

Picture from :
The first time he had come this far, more than a month ago, he had had to stop and walk several times, and he felt good that he could now simply keep putting one foot in front of the other now.  Back to the main road, he started to pick up the pace a little and pushed himself for the last few minutes.  Finishing his run in what, for him, felt like a sprint, he slowed to a walk, put his hands on his hips and caught his breath. He walked back to the compound, knocked five times for the guard, and walked to the back of the apartment, where Joyce, the housekeeper, had begun doing the laundry.  After exchanging greetings with her, he walked around to the other side of the apartment to sit in the shade and do his after-run stretches.  His sweat dripped from face and elbows to create small puddles, but the breeze in the shade was cooling. He felt good.