Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Weinsteins Ski!

This week the kids had Thursday and Friday off from school, so we decided to take a trip up to Nagano, about 4 hours north and west of Tokyo.  We rented a car on Wednesday and off we went! The Hakuba area of Nagano is stunning - adorable and everything a ski-village should be.  There were chalets next to the mountain, good apres-ski pubs, excellent hotels, and Japanese onsen (hot springs) all in a contained area near the mountain.  You might remember that this is the area that hosted the 1998 winter olympics - and in fact, was hosting a world-cup event for disabled skiers while we were there.  
Marc has been skiing since he was about 10 years old, so he enjoyed the experience from start to finish.  He said the snow was excellent and the mountain trails were terrific.  I, on the other hand, have just had my fourth skiing experience, so all I can say is that the beginner trails were nice and smooth!  I don't love it, really, but it is such a fantastic experience and a new way in which to use my body, so I forsee a few ski trips per winter for a while.
The best part of the trip was the kids, though.  Bailey took about 15 minutes to get his "ski-legs" back on after a few years, but he took off in a flash.  The instructors at the ski-school at which we had the kids enrolled nicknamed him speed-demon.  He and Marc spent Friday afternoon skiing together and Bailey kept up with him perfectly.  Sydney was the biggest surprise! She took a lesson Thursday morning and went to daycare on Thursday afternoon because I did not want her to get over-done or overtired.  Then she took lessons all day Friday.  By Friday afternoon she was going up the chair-lift and skiing right down the mountain! In fact, on Sat. afternoon, she and Marc got to ski together - and she really was proud of herself.  She did excellently and we were so proud OF her!
We stayed in a place called the Morino Lodge, run by a Canadian and a Scotsman who are total ski bums and they own the lodge to indulge their habits - skiing every day!  Craig and Matt were both relaxed and happy people who genuinely want their guests to have a good time.  They did everything they could to ensure it.  We were staying in one of their tatami rooms so our "beds" were futon on the floor, but the room was quite spacious and clean.  Breakfast every morning was nothing flash, but very filling coffee, toast, cereal and fruit.
The weather was absolutely perfect.  Both days were "bluebirds" - perfectly blue skies and just about at the freezing level.  The sun was so bright we had to wear our goggles to see properly from the glare off the snow.  Saturday was snowy - almost too snowy to ski, but we all did a bit of it anyway.  We came home Saturday afternoon after lunch.
After each day of skiing we went to a local onsen and relaxed.  Onsen are traditional Japanese hot springs.  Users take a full-on shower and then soak in the water which is over 100 degrees.  The baths are separated by gender and bathers are in the buff.  I swear, it is the reason the Japanese live so long - one soak and I can literally feel the stress melting off my body.  After the full day of physical exertion the water felt incredible and made us ready for the next day on the slopes.
The whole thing was incredible and I'm so glad we did it. Enjoy the photos!!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Omochitsuki, February 11, 2008

Yesterday the kids had Omochi pounding at their school!  Omochi is a traditional Japanese treat for welcoming in the New Year - and we did it to celebrate the Chinese New Year, not the secular one.  Aren't we multicultural?? 

Omochi are sweet, sticky rice balls.  Rice is pounded by huge mallets in a ceramic bowl until it is extra-sticky, then balled and rolled into various toppings before being eaten.  Anyway, the event was under the purveyance of the parents' group - and specifically the Japanese parents who knew how to do all this.  They did it purposefully on a Japanese holiday so the dads could be there, too.

Each class got 30 minutes to complete the event.  First they put all the kids in traditional Hapi Coats and headbands.  Then each kid got a turn taking the long-handled hammer and pounding it into the hot rice. Think about it: SANCTIONED SMACKING!!!  Each time the kid hit the rice, the traditional shout of YOOISHO rose through the crowd.  Cheering and chanting abounded! The kids just loved it.  And according to the principal, we had just about 100% parental participation.  What a community!

The bowl with the pounded rice was then ferried upstairs to the big multipurpose rooms where Japanese moms stood at the ready to roll the balls and dip them into sauces.  There were three different ones: brown sugar, soy sauce and seaweed, and sweet azuki beans.  After the pounding the entire class trouped  upstairs for tasting. Each kid tried each one and there was so much that they could come back for seconds!

The parents were so great - they had prepared everything perfectly and stayed ahead of the pounding so that there were always plenty of omochi ready for the next class. As you can see above, Marc helped with a good deal of pounding himself.

The most interesting part of the whole thing was the coming together as an international community.  In addition to the Japanese contingent, there were Indian kids, French kids, American kids, Armenian kids, Korean kids - and the list goes on... All of those children and their families were uniting to take part in an ancient Japanese tradition.  Enjoy the photos.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008