Friday, December 31, 2010

Seeing Spots Wearing Lemon

I am seeing spots today.  Her name is Roxy and she is wearing LEMON !

Today I picked up Roxxxxaaannne from the Boston Animal Shelter after she was spayed yesterday.  She is now officially a member of the crazy BETZ family !  ( Just what we needed! )

When we first met Roxy the week before Christmas, she was very shy and quite skittish.  Alot has happened since that first meeting.  She has calmed down.  She has embraced her new name and is actually excited when she hears us calling her name... sometimes we are silly and sing it, because it is VERY hard NOT to start singing like STING !

There was a large box of new leashes and collars to choose from today at the shelter.  It was only befitting that she wear lemon.  I was going to choose the red, but "ROXANNE, you don't have to turn on the RED LIGHT" kept running through my mind, so I choose yellow!

2010 has been a difficult year in many ways, but in many more ways it has been a wonderful year.  I am thankful for my many blessings. 

Our new set of spots wearing lemon will bring much joy into our home in 2011.

I have a feeling 2011 is off to a great start !

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December 1st 1990

Happy 20th Anniversary to my hubby Steve !

We have been married for 20 years now !  Wow, we look so young in that photo.....

It has not been an easy road for the both of us.  We have had a few bumps along the way.  Our perspective on life and marriage has gotten us through good times and bad times.  I am amazed that time has passed by so quickly.  It is such a cliché to say it was just yesterday that we fell in love.  We have been together so long that I can barely remember a time when I did not know Steve.

We met in 1989, at "Bobby McGees", a restaurant/bar/club.  My friend Lynda Cary ( now Lynda Finance) and I went out to celebrate me getting a cast off of my foot.  Steve and Lynda knew each other because Steve worked there as a cook & Lynda was a frequent patron of this establishment.  He asked me to dance.  I remember it was Soul II Soul, "Back to Life, Back to Reality".  We had a great time that night.  He asked me for my number.  I actually gave him a correct # since he knew Lynda. ( I would usually give out bogus #s)

He called the next day.  I was a bit shocked.

He wanted to come over to my house to get to know me better.  I wanted to go to a movie because I thought there would be less talking.  He insisted on coming over and going for a walk or something.  I had a roommate at the time, who was virtually never home.  I was nervous on having this stranger come to my house.

We made an arrangement for him to come over the following Thursday.  I gave everyone at work my phone #, as well as his phone #.  I did not know if he was an ax murder or not.  It was not like me to be so trusting and give out my number to anyone, let alone let them know my address.  I wanted to make sure my co-workers knew about the date, just in case I did not show up to work the next morning.

He came over, we chatted.  He tells the story that I was very nervous and somewhat stand off-ish.  He says I was sitting on the couch clutching onto a sofa pillow the whole time & hiding behind it.  I do not really remember that, but if he says I did, I believe him.  It might of been subconsciously.  I was not looking for a relationship.  I had broken up with a longtime boyfriend only a few short months before and I was still pretty devastated and very mistrusting of men in general.

We got to know each other over the next couple of weeks.  I found myself really starting to open up again to him and found that our relationship was much different than my previous one.  Ours was based on maturity and we were able to communicate at such a higher level.  He became someone that I admired and felt like I could spend the rest of my life with.

Our first real "date" was a trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  It was a 2 hour drive each way.  We were able to really get to know each other better being stuck in the cab of his little pick up truck.  We had a wonderful time.  I think this is the first time we went to our favorite restaurant, Rosini's in Monterey.

I remember that we could not stop calling each other  & would talk for hours.

On October 17, 1989 there was a HUGE earthquake in California.  We had only been dating for a month or so.  I think it was then through some of the panic that we both realized how close we were getting to know each other.  Both of our concern for the other during this time of craziness was overwhelming.  I was at work.  He was attending his cooking apprenticeship on the other side of the bay.  For hours there was not any communication between us.  ( There were no cell phones back then in the dark ages)  After we were able to communicate, we were so happy that each was ok and safe.  I think that going through this event really brought us closer together and we were realizing that we were staring to fall in love.

December 17th, 1989  Steve took me to see the San Francisco Ballet performance of "The Nutcracker".  I had always loved seeing it.  It was a wonderful surprise.  During the intermission we were sitting at a table.  He had seemed a bit off that night & somewhat elusive.  I thought it was something I said or did.  I couldn't have been any more wrong.  We were sitting there drinking our hot chocolate.

He said,  " I need to ask you a question"

( this was a usual dialog with us & I would react and automatically say "No")

He then got down on one knee and presented me with a golden wrapped small box with a red bow.

He then said, " So you don't want to be my wife?"

I was speechless.  ( I know, hard to believe)

All of a sudden those around us started clapping.  I was turning beet red.

I hugged him & said YESSS !

I opened up the package and there was a beautiful emerald cut solitaire engagement ring.

He slipped it on my finger.

We went in for the second act of the Nutcracker.  I sat there in utter amazement looking down at my left hand and seeing the rock on it.

No one had ever made me feel so special and loved.

I had always wanted to be married in December, so we were engaged for almost a year.

We were married 20 years ago today.

Happy Anniversary HONEY !

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A different kind of Pilgrim

We read about the pilgrims in our history books when we are young.  I really never understood what it meant to be a pilgrim until we moved to Plymouth in 1998.  The details of what I learned in school were very vague and did not include the details of the people that were living in this area before 1620.  I am thankful for the knowledge that I have gained over the years and the appreciation for the native people.  They were instrumental in the survival of the European settlers so many years ago.

My ancestry cannot date back to the Mayflower as far as I know.  My father and my grandparents came to the USA from Italy in 1955.  I am a first generation American.  My family history included making a pilgrimage of sorts to a land that was more prosperous and where people would achieve success by hard work.  It was truly the typical emigrant story.  They arrived in February of 1955 in NY's Ellis Island.  They did not go far, and settled in Westchester County New York.  It was a foreign land to them, and they did know a few people here when they arrived.  It is here in the USA that they made a life for themselves.

I am thankful for Pilgrims of all sorts.  The settlers in 1620 wanted religious freedoms because where they previously lived they could not worship with out persecution.  My family left Italy because they were living in poverty after the depression and World War II and sought a better life for themselves and their children. While I do not think they left for religious reasons like the settlers in 1620, I feel my family left Italy and emigrated to this country because they wanted to work hard and live the American dream. 

At times I am conflicted at my love for my family because of the current issues that I am having with my Uncle Mike.  I love the fact that they were adventurous and left behind the only county and language that they knew and came to this foreign land.  They had faith and out of desperation they exited the only security that they knew existed.  My father was only 10 years old.  He arrived in an English speaking school in NY in the winter, not knowing a word of the language.  It was a very different climate in NY than in Calabria Italy, adjacent to the Mediterranean Ocean.  My father never went back to Italy.  I think he had too many bad memories of being poor.  He spoke of stavation and not knowing where the next meal was going to come from. I remember him talking about the home he grew up in.  Dirt floors, no electricity or indoor plumbing.  The "out house" was detached.  He rarely spoke about this time in his life.  I think it was too painful for him.  He really did not like to talk about the past.  At least not until he got sick.  When he was in hospice, he spoke about the past quite a bit.  I learned many things about my dad in those few short weeks, than I did in my entire life time.

I do not know much about my Mothers side of the family.  I need to do some research.  My mom thinks we might have some connection to the Mayflower, however so do a few million other people.  I am not great at genealogy.  I would love to be better at it.  I never really thought about it until my dad died a few years ago.  That is when I became interested in it.  I am always amazed when I see someone who can trace back their family for many generations.  I have come to a stopping point mostly because I need to devote time to the issue, and that is something that is such a scare commodity for me right now.  I think my family tree is a Walnut, because they are all nuts !

This Thanksgiving I am SO thankful for ALL of the pilgrims and pioneers that have come before me and that have sacrificed so I might have a better life.  Their courage and determination continue to amaze me even so long after the fact.  As I get older I think about what legacy I will leave for my family. 

I wonder what kind of Pilgrim I will be to my family.  Hopefully one that has some of the same admirable qualities of those Pilgrims that have gone on before me and who have sacrificed so much for my welfare.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010


That is what my license plate says.  I have never had a vanity plate before.  I have never had a "cool" car before either to put a vanity plate on.  The cars I have had include, chevette ( not to be confused with a corvette), 1973 Volvo,  Chevy blazer, Dodge Mini-van and now my little VW Bug.  It is VERY cool.  I feel like this is my "mid life crisis" car!

Why the obsession with U2?  That is really hard to pinpoint.  I have always loved everything Irish I suppose since I lived in Southern Africa.  The music isn't that bad either !  The lead singer Bono is also to be admired for his humanitarian work in Africa.  I remember seeing this photo in TIME magazine a couple of years ago of him visiting a school in Maseru, Lesotho.

That is where I lived when I was in Southern Africa, Maseru Lesotho.  I have that photo of Bono & school children on my refrigerator today.  It is a constant reminder to me of a connection that I have always felt about Africa.  Of all the places for this rock star to choose in all of the continent of Africa, he and his wife Ali choose Lesotho to be involved with.  It is amazing to me the coincidence of it all. ( This photo was taken in 2006, 26 years after I lived in Lesotho!)

Lesotho is where I first fell in love with Ireland.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Visiting Zimbabwe Again !

In 1982 I visited Zimbabwe with my family while we were living in South Africa. This week end, many years later I was able to "visit" Zimbabwe again, only with another purpose: to help Spencer with his Geography Fair project.  The theme  is "Fresh Water: Clean Water". 

I love project based learning.  I love how my boys really get into the subject and  learning about somewhere far, far away.  I think so much is learned by trying to visually put facts on a tri-fold board with glitter.  The best part is coming up with the 3-D model and working with clay.  It is all about the clay!  Spencer had such a great time with the clay, he almost forgot he was learning about solutions to clean water in Zimbabwe.

It was in 1982 that I visited Zimbabwe.  I wish I had had a camera back then, as I do not have any photos.  My parents didn't take picture either back then, ( although when they divorced, I think my step dad took the slides & I have never seen them)  The only remembrance I have are a few coins from Zimbabwe.  Where ever I have travelled, I have collected coins.  I have a large collection of silver and copper pieces from around the world.  I love going through them and recollecting memories of where I got them and I am able to be reminded of how fortunate I have been to travel.

What I remember about 1982 Zimbabwe:

When we arrived at the airport from South Africa, we were strip searched as a measure of security at the airport.  I remember the women were in one line and the men in another line.  Each person went into a room with a security guard and searched down to their under cloths.  I remember it was very respectful, and they kept apologizing, however that was their procedure.   Afterwards we went to Harare (the Capital) I remember Harare was very crowded.  The people though were so kind, and I remember having a great feeling for the people of Zimbabwe that we had met.  We took a tour of some of the official offices/buildings.  I remember sitting at a square in the middle of the city and watching the traffic and all of the cars driving crazy by me.    I think my step-dad went to a Rotary meeting for lunch.  It was an adventure.  We were only there for a few days, I am not sure why we did not go and visit Victoria Falls.  I was more concerned at the time with my new Sony Walkman.  I think I had 5-6 cassette tapes with me.  Foghat, Foreigner, Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, Go-Gos, U2, those I know for sure as they were in my constant rotation.  There could have been others !  I remember I had some USA radio station recorded from 1980 so I could be reminded of what I was missing back in the States.

I certainly have more memories of Southern Africa.... to be continued in further entries !

For now I am thankful to have guided Spencer with his "Water in Zimbabwe" project.  He is so enthused about Africa.  Hopefully someday I will be able to take him to Africa and share with him and the rest of my family my love for the continent.  After working on the project, maybe he will be one of those who will help in the solutions to clean water in Zimbabwe.  Our kids are so fortunate to have all of this infomation in front of them, and with that will be able to do great things !

I dream of Africa. 


Friday, November 5, 2010

Topping Off 11/3/2010

Today was a ceremony to celebrate the last steel beam being placed on the Plymouth North High School building structure.

( I just noticed I am "wearing lemon" on my head ! ) 


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Jet Lag that lingers

It has been over a week and I still feel the effects of my trip to Japan.  It is 3:30am.  I am still awake.  In Tokyo it is 4:30pm tomorrow.  I have never taken so long to get my internal clock straitened.  Maybe because I am older, I am not sure.  I find myself sleepy in the afternoon. 

When will I be able to sleep more than 4 hours at a time?  Maybe I need to do another sleep study.

I want to sleep, but there is so much on my mind.  I wonder why?

Maybe I don't have jet-lag, maybe I just like the wee hours of the morning.  I used to work the overnight shift and loved it.  I think I am somewhat nocturnal.

Now I am getting tired.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

To Blog or Not to Blog....

The main intention of starting this blog was to chronicle my trip to Japan, however I knew that there would be more to me writing that just about a trip.  Now that the trip is over, I am faced with the decision of whether to keep blogging or not.  I actually like writing my thoughts & ideas, however I am not sure if they are really necessary to write.  It seems like a way of "exposure" when you put your inner thoughts out on a page for others to read.  I have not always been one to talk too much about what is going on in my life, especially the under the surface stuff.

My next idea is to blog about my trials and tribulations with my crazy family and the current court case I have against my uncle, who is the executor of my fathers estate.  I am not sure if that will be too risky.  What I do know is that even in my wildest dreams, I could not make up what has happened over the past 6 1/2 years.  When I tell people about it ( always the condensed version), they are astounded.  Families are not supposed to act that way, however when money is concerned I believe that people do foolish things.  I do believe whole heartedly in KARMA though, so that is some consolation on my part.   I wish I started a blog back when the mess all started, but I did not know about blogs.  Maybe I could have learned something through the writing.  Right now I just have my email file folders full of legal info from my attorneys, and a legal bill to match it.

So the question remains.  Do I put myself out there?  I will think about it in the next few days.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Marketing is about Creating Relationships

Now that we are home from our sister city Shichigahama Japan it is time for me to reflect on what we have accomplished on our trip.  Before we left on our journey I attended a Finance Committee Meeting and was questioned on why the school was involved in this trip to Japan when the purpose is/was to be to increase marketing of Plymouth to our sister city. ( In addition to celebrating the 20th anniversary)  We had a binder put together by the Plymouth Chamber of Commerce with information on tourism and businesses that would like to engage in increasing business relationships with our sister city.  That binder was received well by Shichigahama and the town offices.  I do not think though that the binders will be the greatest marketing tool, although it was an exceptional aggregate of information about Plymouth.

I believe that the best marketing we can do is to create relationships.  I had a different binder that I took to be presented to our sister city.  The binder I had contained over 100 drawings done by Ms. Brown's Geography classes in Ranger House at Plymouth Community Intermediate School.  These drawing depicted 7th graders describing what Plymouth is like to them.  They drew pictures of historical places, recreational activities as well as what life is like in Plymouth.  Fashion, sports and traditional homes were also drawn to paint a picture of what Plymouth looked like through their eyes.  Even special needs students participated with their drawings.  All were included.

This binder was presented to the Superintendent of Schools in Shichigahama.   He was SO  excited, that he called over his two middle school principals, as well as their school committee chairman.  Through a translator I explained to them about our plan to create a "pen-pal" relationship with the middle school students in Shichigahama and Plymouth middle school students.  Each of them were on board and promised to reciprocate and start talking about a plan to forge ahead with this type of exchange.  Our contact/translator at the international village, Marti, said she would also help us facilitate this endeavor.  She plans on meeting with the school officials in the coming weeks to come up with a plan and to discuss future possibilities of an exchange through out the year.  This was not going to be a one time deal.

This is marketing.  This is creating relationships.  It is my hope that this will go forward and strong because these are the future students who will be coming over in an exchange when they enter into high school.  It will also be wonderful for our students in Plymouth to learn more about student life in Japan.  It will be exceptional if at the middle school level they are given information and are able to inquire about what Plymouth is like and that will inspire them to come to the USA and make Plymouth their chosen destination.  These students are also the future leaders of their community.  We are planting a seed with the hopes that in the future it will blossom and grow even at a stronger pace than the past 20 years.  These students are also the future business owners and decision makers.  We can learn a lot from them, and they from us.  This will also inspire our Plymouth students to visit Japan and truly engage in the exchange program.

It is only 4 days that we have left Japan, and I have already received a few emails from the people I have met.  It is amazing that after only meeting someone for such a short time, and having a language barrier, there is common ground that can create a bond that will hopefully last a life time.  Marketing at its finest, yet it might not be something that can be measured and put onto a chart.  It can be measured though by its longevity and the strength of its bond.  That is my goal.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

And now we are walking....

Now for the long haul home.  After spending 10 days abroad, I am ready to go home to my family.  The only thing between me and them is about 6500 miles and a few time zones. We started the day by getting picked up by bus and taken to the town hall for our Farewell Ceremony and Memorial Photographs.  Again more speeches.  We then posed for a photo with a few middle school children, our delegation and the Shichigahama friendship committee.  It was sad to see everyone and say good bye.

And now we are walking...

Bus to subway station, where we met our luggage.  Subway to Sendai Station.  Next lugging of luggage & more walking to the platform for the bullet train.  My arms are tired from golfing yesterday.  Pulling around my luggage was not easy, but necessary.

Bullet train to Tokyo.  Express, only 1 1/2 hours.


Tokyo, find train to Narita Airport....


Airport. Check in.

Meal before flight, Pizza.

Flight: 11 hours to Newark, NJ.

1 1/2 hour lay over in Newark, then flight to Boston.  Arrived at 7:26pm EST.  27 hours of travelling.  Finally home.


Now I wish I was back having fun in Shichigahama!

We will always remember Cha-Cha's !

Golf Lesson #1

Today is our last full day in Shichigahama before we have a day of travelling tomorrow.  6:30 am came all too soon, however it was a day I have anticipating for quite sometime.  We arrive at the Golf Course at 7am and eat breakfast.  Out T time is 8am.  On our way out to the first hole, Mr. Boteri says to me, "this might not have been the best idea for you for your first time to play golf on a PGA course".  Oh, no.  What am I getting into?

My team:
Mr. H. Susuki ( Post master for the region... he even has a stamp with his photo)
Mr. S. Susuki President of some oil company or something like that.
Gary Maestas

I asked Mr. H how long he has been playing golf, he said 22 years.  He asked me how long I had played, I said 2 hours.  Eeekkss !  This was also Garys first time golfing, but he is a natural athlete.  It was a lot of fun.  Luckily both Mr. Susukis were very gracious.  Mr S. was my shadow and my teacher.  He was with me all of the way through the 18 holes.  He told me how to stand, swing and place the ball correctly.  By the 18th hole I was finally getting the hang of it.  The second shot of the 18th hold I hit the ball into the sand trap.  Mr. H got out his camera and was perched to take photos of me playing.  I had to make it a good shot.  So much pressure.  Luckily it was my best shot of the day.  Great contact with the ball, and it actually went where it should go.  Wow, I almost impressed myself.

After we were done, we had lunch back at the club house.  Yes I had the worst score.  That is OK, I still got a trophy.  They had ones made for all of us.  My first golf trophy.

Tonight is the last night & the goodbye party.  More speeches.  We then had a performance by children of the NANA5931 dance group.  They were so cute & sang for us as well as danced.  This is a group of 40 children between ages 6-14 years old.  It was a buffet dinner.  After dinner there was a gift exchange.  I received many lovely hand made gifts from women that were attending.  At the end those who had not given speeches during the week were asked to now give a speech.  I spoke for a few minutes.  I said that hopefully this was the first of many visits for me to Japan.  I also thanked Mr H & Mr. S for their golf lesson.  Big laughter. 

Back to the hotel, change for last night at Cha-Cha's  Karaoke.  Not as strong as prior nights.  I think we were all tired after going out for the past 5 nights.  Some of us are not as young as we used to be.  It was still fun though.  Early night, traveling tomorrow.  I still had to pack !

Dreams of our Children

Monday 10/18

Our first for the day is to visit the Police Station and take a tour.  We arrived at the station with officers waiting outside ready to receive our group.  We went inside and sat down with the Police Chief and some of his top officers.  He gave us the statistics of his department.  They have 190,000 people in the district that he covers and has about 3,000 calls per years for the police department.  We asked if they have any female officers and he said yes, they have 3.  Then the Plymouth Police Chief, Mike Boteri spoke about the Plymouth Police department and gave some of our statistics.  It was quite the comparison.  We asked if they had officers in their schools, and they responded no, that their schools were safe.

We took photos at the police department with our delegation and the Japanese police officers.  As we walked outside we noticed a police car and Chief Boteri asked if he could see inside of it.  Within minutes, another officer appeared with the keys and Chief Boteri was allowed to sit in the drivers seat and turn on the lights.  The lights actually rose and were elevated so the people could see the car better when approaching.  The lights were set up to only make noise when the car moves, so we did not get to hear the sirens.

Next stop town hall.  We visited with the mayor and vice mayor again and took a tour around the town hall offices.  We met our DPW, Board of Education, Planning, Accounting counterparts in the town hall.  It was interesting to see how their offices were designed.  I did not see any desk top computers.  Each desk had a lap top.  There were no frills in the offices.  Basic grays and whites.  Some of the desks had personal objects on them such as photos, etc.  Other than that, it was pretty stark.

After our visit in town hall, we were invited to observe an event that happens twice a year.  Middle school students take a problem, try to find a solution, and then present it to the mayor.  We were able to observe two presentations of the assembly. 

The first one was, "Disaster Shelters--Raising Disaster Awareness by Training in the Evacuation Guidance Procedures.  The students wanted to have a full experience and did a practice evacuation that lasted all school day.  They described how they went down to the gym and spent the day there in their 1 meter allowed space.  They talked about the challenges and what they thought could be improvements.  Then there was an opportunity for the Mayor to respond to the project.  He was very impressed by their efforts to raise disaster awareness.  He also said he was "very impressed by their ability to look back on the past evacuation exercise and use those mistakes to make innovative improvements."

The second presentation was, " Increasing  Eco-Friendly Activities in the Community". The students recognized that there was a need in the community for recycling awareness.  They focused on two items, plastic bags and plastic bottles.  They came up with great ideas and solutions after surveying students.  The mayor responded by thanking the children for the efforts in recycling and said, " we are all depending on you to continue our proactive efforts".

Back to the hotel to relax for 1 1/2 hours.

Rotary meeting.

BBQ dinner party at the Kokusaimura International Center.  More speeches.  We were presented with a beautiful framed photo of our delegation and our counterparts from Sunday night.  The Frame is a beautiful crystal frame with the dates and 20th anniversary info on it.  At the party I met Mr. H. Susuki.  He explained that he was the postmaster for the area, and was giving out stamps as gifts.  I was wearing my scarf that has a USA Love stamp on it.  I showed it to him, and with the help of the interpreter I was able to let him know that I collected stamps when I was a child.  He was impressed.

We went to an after party at some place in town.  It was a karaoke snack shop.  We were only there for about 2 hours.  Took a cab back to the hotel.  Early morning tomorrow.

Now its a Party

Sunday 10/17/10

Sister Town's 20th Anniversary Memorial Ceremony

This is the reason why we have travelled 6500 miles over a 28 hour period.  The big event.  We arrived on the 2nd floor of the hotel to receive our red & white ribbons to be pinned on our suits.  Tonight was the formal event of the trip.  At the appropriate time, we were then led up the elevator to the 4th floor where the Ceremony/ Banquet was to take place.  There were 102 guests in total is what I was told.  We were the guests of honor & the rest of the guests were waiting inside the ballroom.  We were then announced & entered into the ballroom with the other guests on their feet and clapping.  Our group was separated into two tables, Gary, Margie and myself were at one table to the left with our school counterparts of the Japanese delegation.  The table to the right had our selectmen: Dickie, Sergio, Matt, as well as the Fire Chief Ed Bradley, Police Chief Mike Boteri, Mark and Patrick and their Japanese counterparts.

It looked like a wedding reception with the decorations, flowers and table displays.  The front of the room had a stage and a podium for the speeches, as well as a podium to the left for the announcing of the speeches.  There were many speeches, mostly entailing thanking those who have contributed to the 20 years of the exchange.  The signing of the Sister City Affirmation was signed by Dickie Quintal and the Mayor of Shichigahama.  After the speeches and signing of the pact was the gift exchange.  Plymouth was presented with a beautiful framed picture of the Japanese character of Happiness and the name of the mayor going down the side.  We presented a crystal trophy like gift that had the logo of our 20th anniversary that included a light house, shape of the country of Japan and a Mayflower.  After the exchange was time to mingle and meet the rest of the people at the party.  It was also time for the entertainment.  On the stage first were Shamisen musicians.  They were amazing and played traditional Japanese music.  Next on stage were traditional Japanese dancers in their beautiful kimonos.  They were gracefully dancing with their fans and ever so lightly transversing the stage ever so lightly.  Lastly were the Taiko Drummers.  The huge drums took the stage like statues.  The sound of the drums took over the room and one could barely talk to their neighbor.  It was amazing.  Such talent.

After the ceremony we went back to our rooms and changed.

Karaoke time.

Now its a Party!

Fire, Fish and drums.

We waited in the bus for about 15 minutes.  Marti told us it was because we needed to arrive at the Fire Department at an exact moment.  As we drove up to the Fire Department, the front landing was lined with Japanese Firefighters.  Our Fire Chief got out first and started down the reception line introducing himself to them, and then finally the Japanese Fire Chief.  We followed them up to the Chiefs conference room and sat down and heard about their fire department.  He described in detail the operations of the department and how one of the largest duties of it is prevention.  One of their main focus in emergency preparations.  The chief described how every 32 years a large earth quake hits the area.  ( they have 6 years to go), and their goal is to make sure everyone is educated on how to respond to this disaster.  Our Fire Chief then went into detail about the Plymouth Fire Department.  They discussed the simularites between the two departments and also the challenges that they faced.  Our chief made a statement that was received very graciously by the Japanese Fire fighters.  He said:  "In the USA a firefighter can go into any fire house and get a meal and feel welcome, and now he feels the same with Shicogama Fire department.  There were alot of smiles and loud clapping.

One of the reasons why Plymouth and Shichigahama are sister cities is because of the similarities in industry.  We visited the fish market and took a tour of the facility.  The timing was perfect.  The trucks were backed up into the bays of the building, waiting for the auction to start.  There were only four trucks and their crew.  The live fish were put on crates and then on the scale & auctioned off.  It was organized chaos.

The next stop was the Kokusaimura, the International Relations center.  We were able to attend a peformance of "Groove Factory 5", a youth percussion group.  Traditional Japanese drumming as well as current rythms were demonstrated by the drumming artists.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Getting to know Sendai

In Plymouth we have the Mayflower II, in Sendai they have the San Juan Bautista.

Today we started with the tour of the San Juan Bautista museum.  The bus ride was about an hour away from our hotel and we were able to see the country side of the area.  The streets are so narrow, even in areas where there is plenty of room to create the roads larger.  The green fields with crops at the end of their season looked like they were getting for the colder season.

The museum was located in a cove and you could not see it from the street.  As we pulled up, we could only see a structure that looked like a building.  Upon entering that we went through a beautiful court yard with a modern water fountain.  From here you could see the museum below.  We took a few esculators down and were at the sea level where the museum was located. While waiting in line for the "experience" ride we were able to view a short movie explaining the history of the San Juan Bautista.   The ride was an opportunity to go through the history of the voyage and make the rider feel as though they were on the boat with the passengers.

Next we were able to board the replica of the vessel.  In looking at it, you could tell that without the outer decorative markings, it was almost exactly like the Mayflower II.  The tour guide led us through each parts of the ship and described the living conditions and what life was like on the boat.  The history of the ship is identical to the Mayflower II.

After the tour our next stop was the International Festival held by the Tagajo City International Association.  We were only there for a portion of the meeting.  The purpose of the portion we attended was a panel discussion with three foreigners living in Japan.  A woman from Sri Lanka, a man from Germany and a man from China comprised the the panel.  I was fortunate enough to sit next to our interpreter Marti.  The panel was here to discuss how they as foreigners who have settled in Japan have adjusted to life in Japan, and any problems they have experienced trying to fit in.  The woman from Sri Lanka spoke the most.  She talked about how she became involved in her children's school with the PTA.  The German man spoke how he always is mistaken for an American, & his usual response is to say that there are more western countries in world besides America.   He laughed and said though that that was not to be at all disrespectful to those in the audience visiting to day... ( us)...  everyone laughed!  The highlight of this event was that moments before we entered we were told that we needed to sing at some point in the program.  Well the panel was over, so that was out cue to sing.  We sang "God Bless America", and thankfully it was over quick.  It was quite amusing.

Our last stop for today's adventure of sight seeing around the area was the Sake factory.  The building was built about 150 years ago.  Just like the temple we went to see the other day, the long cedar logs in the ceiling were in their natural state, just smoothed.  We saw how the rice is cleaned and parts of it are taken away.  It was an interesting visit to see the process.

Tonight we are having dinner at the hotel.  Each meal is an artists showcase.  While the rest of the crew had sushi mi and sushi, I enjoyed the Crispy Fried Duck.  I can't even remember when I had duck last.  It was so smooth and almost buttery.

Last stop Karaoke.  Enough Said.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Zen and Electricity

We arrived last night via bullet train from Tokyo to Sendai, which took about 2 1/2 hours.  It was great to finally meet up with the group.


The agenda is full today.  Our first stop is the Town Hall for the welcome ceremony.  When we arrived & came into the room, it was crowded with about 20-30 town officials ready to welcome our delegation to their town of Shichigahama.  To the other end of the conference room, there were about 30-40 middle school students waiting with their instruments to play to us.  As we filed into our seats we were greeting with clapping and cheers.  The genuinely were excited to have us visit their town and start the 20th anniversary celebrations.  It was an honor to be introduced to the town in such a manner.

The music started.  The children first played our national anthem.  It was flawless.  The sound from orchastra was awe-inspiring.  I was amazed to see such young talented students with such enthuasiam.  We later found out that the children were comprised of two different elementary schools, both of which only received the sheet music for our national anthem only three days prior to the celebration, and furthermore they had only practiced together as a group just one half hour before we arrived.  Talened children can accomplish so much when they have a strong foundation.  It was apparant that this set of children could play anything given to them at anytime because they had a tremendious music education.

Speaches followed next.  First the Mayor of Shichigahama, then the Chairperson of their Selectmen.  Next from our delegation, Mr. Quintal spoke and finally Dr. Maestas.  Next item on the agenda was a multitude of  "official" photos of our delegation and with the children and the local officials.  Smile !

Next stop: Sendai Electrical Power Plant.  We were given a brief powerpoint presentation of the transformation of the power plant from a coal/oil plant to now a modern state of the art thermo energy plant.  It was interesting to also see the photos of what the plant looked like 50 years ago with the big smoke stacks and huge ugly building.  Now the 21st century structure looks more like a traditinal bulding, along with a Japanese traditional roof.  It was very informative to hear about the innovative way in which they approached all of the needs of the community as well.  The power plant greatly respects the surrounding area in respect to fauna and flora.  Endangered species of birds and other wild life occupy part of the facility grounds.

We arrived at the pier of the Shicigahama marine gate.  Lunch was promplty served to us.  After eating a delicious meal of beef at the seafood restruant, we embarked a boat to take a sight seeing tour bay cruise of the Matsushima Bay.  The Matsushima bay is well know for its beautifully carved islands.  Our interpreter said -shima meands island.  We saw many little islands with in the bay.

After about an hour of going in and out of the islands we arrived at the port town of Matsushima.  We were at the gates of the Zuiganji Temple grounds.  It was such a soothing feeling walking through the forest of cedars on the way to the Temple.  We took a tour of the Temple and learned of its history that spanned over a thousand years.  Some items they had were in the range of 500-600 years old.  It was interesting to hear of the stories of the Samari warriors.  This Zen temple was made of the cedar logs that enveloped the landscape.  When standing inside the entrance & looking up to the cealing, I noted the beautiful logs used in construction of this marvelous structure.  The logs were not planned boards, or even timbers that had been shaped into smooth logs.  They still had the formation of the tree with the bends and curves of their natural form.  The only preparation to the logs was the removal of the bark and the smoothing of the surface.  The length of the logs spanned the entire area of the cealing.  They must have been some pretty tall trees.

Across a zen stone path from the temple was the Matsushima History museum.  We were fortunate to come to Matsushima in October.  Local law states that a portion of the musuem can only be viewed in May and October for a total of 60 days.  Inside this portion was the special room the priests built for when the emperor arrived.  The background painting was traditional Japense screen painting with a gold background and figures painted on it.  This area was about 400 years old.

Our next special treat was a meeting with the Mayor of Matsushima.  He invited us to a traditional Tea creremony.  The amount of ruitual that goes into the tea drinking reminded me of the readings of "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson.  I could see similaraties between the cultures.  The ceremony consisted of eating a sweet item that was prepared with bean paste.  It was purple in color with a yellow accent to decorate the top.  You ate this with the portion of a stick that was neatly placed beside it on a white cloth.  The texture was smooth, yet somewhat grainy.  The next step was to drink the green tea.  Well if you read my previous post about green tea, you must have imagined my delima.  Luckily I was fortunate to sit next to Mike, and him seeing my distress, took the tea and drank it for me.  We did this so fluidly that no one appeared to notice.  Thanks Mike for taking if for me!

A bus was located outside of the tea ceremony structure and we boarded it for our next destination, dinner at the Hotel Taikansou hosted by the Mayor of Shichigahama.  We were placed in a private dinner party room with two long tables and seated by name.  Very well organized.  Our dinner consisted of 5 courses, all of which were beautiful creations of art.  The plates were undeniably done with perfection in both appearance and taste.  At the conclusion of the dinner we were presented with a beautiful gift from the Mayor.  It is a delicate crystal paper weight with the Japanese characters for friendship, and the Mayor's name sketched into the crystal.

Now that our days activities had ended, we arrived back at our hotel via another bus. 

After dinner we came back to the hotel, and pursued other night time activities which included a long walk and singing Karayoke at a small establishment called Cha-Cha across the street.  Who knew the group of people I was with were such great singers?  Their talents amaze me.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

3 Shades of Green

My second day in Tokyo started out with a strange shade of green.  Getting used to Coke Zero instead of diet coke has been somewhat of a challenge for me.  So to be "good" my inclination was to substitute my usual diet coke with another beverage.  Maybe one that is a bit healthier.  I had the urge for apple juice.  I caught the 7am Tokyo Highway bus from my hotel to Tokyo Station.  At the station there is a store, not a 7-11, but one that is similar.  I searched the shelves for apple juice.  I took my purchase, along with some other goodies to the check out.  It was painless.  I am getting accustomed to the currency change.  I had few minutes to spare before my train for my next activity when I decided to crack open that apple juice.  First shade of green.  What I thought was apple juice was in fact green tea.  They look the same to me.  It even had an apple on the outside of the plastic container.  It was me who turned green.  Yuck, I am not a fan of green tea.

One of the sights I wanted to see in Tokyo was the Sumu Wrestlers.  They crack me up.  I know it is a serious sport, and that tradition prevails.  I visited the Tokyo tourist office yesterday and the kind young lady gave me detailed instruction on how to get to where some Sumu's were training.  They train each day from 7:30 am to 9:30am.  I had a lot of ground to cover to get to where they are training.  From Tokyo station I took the JR ( Japan Railroad) to the Bakuro Cho Station.  There I was to find the subway station, Bakuro Yokoyama and take the Green Line, Toei Shinjuku line & get off at the Hamo cho St Station.  A total of 3 trains.  When I came to the surface street level I was in a neighborhood that was less like the downtown area of Tokyo and more residential.  Still the streets were narrow.  I found my way a few block towards the park & saw a Sumu outside.  It is customary to allow four people inside to sit on chairs to observe the training.  All seats were full, so I stood outside and watched through the open glass windows.  It took me quite a while to get to this location, and I only saw the last 20 minutes of the training.  The oil that they use on their hair smells like incense.  The  body stench does not smell so good.  Hard to describe.  Gym feet and incense combined I suppose would be the best description.  My second shade of green was envy.  I was shocked that men so big were so flexible.  While they were stretching, a few of the men could actually do the splits.  Front to back as well as side to side.  They might be big, but not fat.  Alot of muscle and strenght.  After visiting with them afterwards,  (one spoke broken english)  I walked around the neighborhood and through a park.  I watched some kids play lacrosse in a field that had a 100 foot net surrounding it.

With my subway map in hand I am off to my next stop.  Most who know me know that I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints ( Mormon).  Our church has temples through out the world.  ( )There is one in Tokyo.  Because of great directions that I received from a former Missionary to Japan ( Thanks Todd !),  I able to navigate from Hamacho ( Sumu Wrestlers) to the area where the Temple is located.  I took the Green line one stop to Bakuroyokyuama and changed to the orange line to Ningyocho.  Next I got on the silver line and got off on the Hir-o stop.  I came up to the street level and saw a sign showing the neighborhood.  In Todds instructions he said that theTemple was across the street from the park.  I saw that the park was quite large & I suspected that I would be walking around the park in hopes to find the Temple.  I came around the corner to where the park is located & I had to make the decision to go left or right.  While contemplating I looked up & saw the golden Moroni statue on the steeple of the Temple.  My decision was made, go left.  I walked up to in & went inside and spent a couple of hours.  No green, just white.

After my Temple service, I decided to explore the beautiful park across the street.  It was what I had always imagined a typical Japanese garden or park to look like.  The beauty was in the details.  Bridges, archways, ponds and ducks.  Turtles, carp and koi.  There was even an old man fishing & releasing his fish that he caught.  Green ferns, trees that scooped and trees that bended in many different directions are my last shade of green.  I do not think this this was a zen garden, however it was a place that was peaceful.  Maybe it was because I had just had a great experience and felt like the park was somewhat holy as well.  It was a spiritual feeling to be in the outdoors like that in the middle of the city.  I sat on what I thought was a log, only it was cement made to look like wood, and was able to look in all directions and just see green foliage.  What a contrast from the rest of Tokyo.  If you were to ask me what color is Tokyo, I would say "grey" because of all of the cement buildings and sidewalks. It is grey with splashes of color that are the neon signs, etc.  It was refreshing to be surrounded by trees, birds and turtles.  All need green space to thrive, just like we do to survive.  I think there should be more green spaces.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Photos from Day 1 Tokyo

Stay to the Left

Today was my first full day in Japan.  I spent the day in Tokyo. 

I don't know if I knew that Japan drives on the left hand side of the road, or if I just forgot.  When I arrived last night & took the bus from the airport to the hotel, I was surprised to see cars on the left.  It has been quite some time since I have been in a place where they drive on the left.  When I lived in South Africa, I learned to drive on the left.  That was a LONG time ago.  More recently in 2005 Steve and I were in Ireland, and they too stay to the left.  It was fun driving in Ireland.  It did not take me long to adjust.

I took the bus from the hotel into downtown Tokyo train station.  It was there I changed my e-ticket  to a JR ( Japan Railroad) pass.  This pass enabled me to travel through out the JR system unlimited.  In wanting to be spontaneous, I asked the lady at the information booth where I could find a record shop.  She gave me instructions to Tower Records, which is supposed to be the largest one in the world.  I took the orange line to the Shinjuku station.

Again, stay to the left while going up or down the escalators.  I learned this the hard way.  A gentlemen in a hurry tapped me on the shoulder to move over.  I was standing on the right.  It was odd getting onto the escalator and keeping left.

Tower Records is on floors four through ten.  I was impressed by the size. It seemed quite odd to hear rap music on all of the floors.  By the time I reached the10th floor I was on the left.

Walking around Tokyo was facinating.  I love to people watch.  I walked from the Tokyo train station to the Imperial Palace Gardens.  The tour busses emptyied where I was sitting and I was able to watch old and young, Japanese and non-Japanese meander up to the gate of the palace.  An elderly gentleman was working tiredlessly at sweeping tiny stones off of the path, and back onto the stoney area.  As I sat and watched him, he went up and down the path sweeping small amounts of pebbles.  It seems like a tedious job, but I could tell that this man took pride and ownership in his efforts.  The pebbles were carefully swept with what looked like a handmade broom.  He was quite graceful in his sweeping.  I watched him for a while.  It always intrigues me to see people at work.

Steve and I have a joke about Paul Revere.  I might not have seen Paul Revere, but I did see his Japanese counterpart in a beautiful bronze statue in the gardens outside of the Imerial Palace.  The statue is of a warrior on a horse.  It is called the Statue of Kusathoki Masashige.  The detailing and expressions of both the face of the horse and the warrior and amazing.  I enjoy great art, and this statue was impressive.

With the JR pass I am able to get on and off of the train.  I explored a few areas.  I do not know where I was for about 2 hours.  Luckily I was able to find the JR station & ask a kind person for help.  What I have  noticed is that everyone that I have spoken to and have asked for help has been extremely kind.  People are very receptive for a conversation and to provide directions.  One woman walked two blocks with me to make sure I got to the correct destination.  I was impressed.

Now I am back in my hotel room.  Not much to watch on TV.  Americal Idol from I think 2 or 3 years ago.  Some Japanese game shows.  There was one funny one where they were measuring mens eyebrow hairs.  I could not understand any of the conversation, but I did see them pull out a ruler and measure one old guys eyebrow hair measured 7cm.  That is pretty long.

Now I am watching doubles badmitton.  I am sitting on the edge of my chair !

Tomorrow I have a lot planned, stay tuned.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Cat Naps on the way to Tokyo

10/11/10  6:30am Monday
My first flight was from Boston to Newark New Jersey.  49 minutes in the air and my first cat nap.  Next flight was from Newark to Tokyo, thirteen hours and 52 minutes in the air.  Wow, that is a long time.  It is amazing to me that a plane can fly that far and hold that much fuel, let alone diet coke for me.  After boarding the plane my first priority was to introduce myself to my "seat-mates".  It was going to be a long 14 hours and we might as well get to know each other to make the time more enjoyable.  Jannine and Bernard for Ottawa Canada.  My guess they are retired, and maybe in their 60-70s.  French Canadians, it was fun to listen to them speaking French during the trip.  This was their first time to Japan.  They are seasoned travellers, and make one big trip a year, as well as spend February in Spain each year.  When I grow up, I want to be like them.  They were such a cute couple.  The only difference I would do when travelling is NOT to travel with a tour bus.  Jannine and Bernard were one of ten couples spending two weeks in Japan.

Back Up Plan
Letter to Juliet
Star Trek

Three movies I watched during the flight.  The other 7 hours is when I had my cat naps.  I have a large carry on bag.  What was I thinking?  Well, I thought I would be bored out of my mind & would need something to do to keep me occupied.  I was so wrong.  I did not realize that there would be 132 movies for me to choose from to watch on my own screen on the back of the seat in front of me.  I also played solitaire.

Arrived in Tokyo 10/12/10 @ 2:40pm
Getting out of Narita Airport in Tokyo is extremely easy.  Customs lines are run by efficient workers.  I was amazed at the technology when entering Japan.  Luckily I do not have a criminal record I guess.  They took scans of my finger prints, as well as a photo of me.  I appreciate their efforts to keep their country safe.
Next task was to get the luggage.  Again, easy.  I am beginning to think Japan might be a place I visit again.  Everyone is so polite.
It is customary to send your luggage ahead if you are riding the Shinkansen (bullet train).  It makes sense, that way you do not have to commandeer your luggage through multiple train stops and lines.  I said goodbye to one piece of luggage.  Faith is what I have as I hope I gave them the correct info of where to send the luggage.  I will know tomorrow!

I have come to Tokyo two days early before the rest of my group.  They are arriving on Thursday.  I wanted time to spend in Tokyo to explore for a few days.  This part of the trip is on my expense, and not a part of the official delegation.

Next mode of transportation was a shuttle bus from the airport to the hotel.  I am staying for 2 nights at the Radisson in Narita.  Beautiful hotel.  I am never disappointed when I stay at a Radisson outside of the United States.  Always beautiful.

Cat nap in hotel to refresh.

Leave it up to me to find a hotel that has a free shuttle to a HUGE mall. That was easy.  Plans made for tonight. 

Cat Nap on the bus to the mall

There is a Hard Rock Cafe at the mall.  I know, why go to Japan to eat American food?  Well, it is something I do.  I collect the Hard Rock Cafe Guitar Pins.  I think I have over 30 of them.  While I am there, I always have the same thing.  Twisted Mac & Cheese with Chicken and a diet Coke.  Only they do not have diet Coke.  They have Coke Zero.  So I guess that is my drink of choice this next week and a half.  The promising thing is that they do serve the soda with ice.  I remember in France drinking Coke-lite that was warm.  Gross, but I still did it.

Cat nap on the bus on the way back to the hotel.  This one I did NOT want to do, but could not help myself.  I am exhausted.

So now it is 10:45pm Tokyo time and 9:45am Boston time.  What am I doing right now?  I am watching grown men play dodge ball on TV.  Japanese TV cracks me up.  There are 3 channels showing Japanese game shows, one for CNN, and one for BBCTV.  Then there are a few movie channels.  I am stuck on the dodgeball.

Now I hope to get a proper nights sleep. 

No more cat naps.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

10/10/10 10:10pm

It will never be 10/10/10 @ 10:10pm again.... then again, it will never be 10/10/10 10:09pm either.  What is the difference?

I just think it is cool to write 10/10/10.

Ipod charged. Check
Laptop packed. Check
Fancy Dress packed. Check
Large suit case packed with everything I can think of to take to Japan.  Check.

5.5 hour until leaving to the airport.


With a little over 24 hours to go, I have so much to do before going to Japan.  This blog will be my "journal" of events, and adventures.  I have never blogged before, this should be interesting.  I have read blogs, and love reading about other peoples take on their lives.  I realize that my life is usually boring, with a jolt of excitement every now and again.  It is like California.  Years go with out an earthquake.  Then one hits & usually it is a big one.  Then there are after shocks.  My life has been boring for a while now.  The richter scale is going to go crazy Monday morning.

I am leaving for Japan.  Yes, Japan.

Why Japan?

Little Plymouth MA history lesson.  ( Yes, there is more to know about Plymouth than a rock and a boat).

In 1990 a delegation from Shichigahama Japan visited Plymouth MA to see if there was a possibility of a sister city relationship.  Well, to be brief, YES, it did work out.  Plymouth has sent over 300 students on an exchange over the past 20 years.  This month, there will be a 20th anniversary celebrating the sister city relationship.  

Why was I invited?  Well, because I am the Chairman of the Plymouth Public Schools School Committee.  I have been on the school committee for the past 3 years, was just re-elected for a second term.  I was elected chairman this May.  I have embraced the challenge.  Education is a passion.  

I start by leaving Logan Airport in Boston at 6am Monday 10/11/10.  I wanted to leave on 10/10/10, but there were no flights to Japan.  I thought it would be a cool date to travel.

Now that I wrote about the analogy of the earthquake, I hope while I am in Japan there is NOT one!  

Tomorrow I will pack. ( But first I will have to do laundry)

( also, please note that U2 is NOT in Japan.... they just finished their tour in Europe)