Monday, March 13, 2017

This is Me

I’m a wife, stepmom, NaNa, Pitbull lover, cousin, niece, sister and daughter in law,  best friend and neighbor… I’m also everyone’s favorite Aunt Janet!  I’m a Photographer!  I love to shoot families, pets, births and beautiful vistas(“shooting families”  just doesn’t sound right, but you know what I mean).  I will jump at any opportunity to travel, meet new people and make beautiful art. All of this and a little sunshine makes me happy.... this is me... in a nutshell!

I'm all about my relationships.  I know so well that through no fault of our own, relationships come and go.   I know the value of the relationships I have each and every day.   I've had and have many wonderful relationships that have changed  over the years due to this thing called life.  Today I focus on the relationships I have here and now.

I am a wife.  My first and most incredible relationship is with my husband, Jay (or as I like to call him, "Jay Cruz"... has a ring to it, don't cha think??).  Jay Cruz started hanging out at our house with my brother, Andrew.  As time went on, he was there more and more.  I thought he was there because of Andrew.  Tracy and Andrew were quick to point out it may have started that he came around because of Andrew, but it was clear to them he was there for me!  

Jay Cruz was one of my brother's greatest gifts to me.   He is my rock, my everything.  We met, let's just say when we were mature adults!  We got all of our experimenting, craziness, ups and downs out of the way, then Andrew introduced us.  We've been together now for 15 years. What a 15 years it has been.  Good, bad and ugly.   The ugly has come from the garbage life throws at you.  We've stood together through it all.  I love this man with every cell in my body.  He makes me smile, he makes me laugh, he always makes me feel alright! Jay Cruz makes me a better person.

I am a step mom.  My stepson, Josh is one of Jay's gifts to me!  While I have many young people whose lives I am a part of,  I have only one person in this world I get to call my "son".    I love him to pieces.  He is a kind, sweet, thoughtful young man with a heart of gold.   I love the relationship we have.  It is one of a kind and it is uniquely ours.  

I am "NaNa".  My niece and nephews have given me the joy of being "NaNa" to their  seven little ones (as time goes on, I'm sure that number will grow).    These little people are my sunshine.  There is nothing that makes my heart melt as it does when I hear them call me "NaNa"!  They bring pure joy into my life.  

Pitbull lover...yes, I'm a pit bull lover.   I don't even know how that happened.  Well I do and it's all my brother Andrew's fault.   I love blaming things on him.  It's not often I can do this given he passed away 8 years ago, but when I can, I do!  
The day I bought my house, I was so excited because I could finally get a dog.  I wanted a little Doxie so bad.  Andrew knew this.  One day he came home and announced that he found the "perfect dog" for me.   He even put a deposit on her.  He was sure she was the dog for me.    Andrew was a "dog man" so I trusted him.   A few  days later we went to get her.  She was a little black pit bull.  What didn't he understand about I wanted a "little Doxie"?  Well, let me tell you... I quickly fell in love with my Sadie girl.  He was right, she was perfect for me.  She was my soul dog.   Sadie was with me through some of the worst days of my adult life.  Then, at 13 years old, after getting me through those days,  she joined Andrew and his pack.  My Sadie girl was one of a kind.   When she was gone, I knew I could never replace her... a few days later I saw "My Little Red Rose",  Rosie.... she is no Sadie Girl, but she is a sweet, pretty, little lovable, licking pit bull.  She's one of a kind. So much for Doxie's!  Thanks to Andrew,  I love, I mean LOVE my pit bulls!  

I am a cousin and a niece.   My parents left this world as we know it at a very early age,  my brother and sister did the same, leaving me a sibling-less  orphan.  I am lucky to have grown up with a close extended family.   Birthdays, holidays, Sundays and fishing days, to name a few were all spent with aunts, uncles and cousins.  We have all moved to different corners of the country over the years, but thanks to Facebook, email, snap chat and so on, (as well as occasional cheap airfare) we have found ways to stay connected.  These are the people who have known me all of my life and still love me!  They are my roots.  I need roots.

I am a sister and daughter in law.  I have to say I have the best in laws anyone could ever want.   They were another gift from my Jay Cruz.   He brought me into the family and they welcomed me with open arms.  My sister and mother in law are two of the strongest, kindest, most loving women I know.  Knowing them, it's no wonder that Jay Cruz is Jay kind and loving.  I married into an amazing family!  Is that not the greatest thing?  

I am a best friend and neighbor.  I grew up in a place where you knew your neighbors.  Kids played out front,  we came home at night when the street lights went on.   We didn't have TV's with 5000 channels, video games or texting.   Life happened on the front stoop.    We knew our neighbors.  
When it came time to buy a house, I wanted a neighborhood like where I grew up.   I found my little place in the world and I think I hit the neighborhood lottery!  My neighbors are the best.  We all know each other, can count on each other and actually talk face to face now and again!  It's a great place to live and I call it home.  

I have many friends, and some are better and closer than others.  I treasure all my friendships particularly my friendships with Chris, Cindy, Joyce, Maurya & Cristine. They have been by my side through the good and bad.  They know the best and the worst of me.  They are always there for me.    They are incredible women and I am proud they call me friend.  

Let's talk about Tracy.  What can I say?  He is the best!  I can't explain it, he just is.  He's a gift from my brother.  Some 20 years ago Andrew brought him home.  I met him early one morning in my basement and he's been a part of my life ever since.   As time has gone on Tracy has become family.  He has stepped in where Andrew could not be. I know he will always be there for me.  To top it all off, he and Jay Cruz are also the best of friends!  

Not to be outdone by Andrew and his gifts to me, Tracy gave me Kosti.  Konstantin to most, (to formal) Kosti to me!  He is my best girlfriend, partner in crime and confidant.  Life is good.

Okay, then there is life as "Aunt Janet".  I'm not sure if I am really everyone's "favorite Aunt Janet" but it sounds good if I do say so myself!  

My Mom and Dad were my everything.  While I only had them but a very short time it was the best time.  They gave me the gift of  life, love,  family,  friendship and of respect for life.  I learned so much from them during my short time with them and in the legacy they left.  My personal mission in life it to be someone who justifies their short time on earth.
My parents gave me my sister Carol and in a round about way, Andrew.  After my parents died, Carol and her husband David gave us a home and a family.  They didn't have to do that, but they did and never complained or looked back and wish they hadn't.    
While we were still living with them they began to have children of their own.  First Jason, then Kristen, Mark and Michael.  I was their Aunt Janet!!!  Wow!!!     While I was, am their Aunt Janet, they have never called me that (I really never wanted them too!).  They all always  do introduced me however as their "Aunt Janet".   While they don't call me aunt Janet, all their friends do.  It is hilarious!   I love when I'm in a store and I hear, "Hi Aunt Janet"!   To this day, I'm known as Aunt Janet to many.  So why not be everyone's favorite Aunt Janet?   It's a good thing to be.  Aunts can be best friends, confidants, like a mom without the day to day responsibility.  Aunts are loving and nurturing.  Aunts are the best! I try to be the best Aunt Janet there is!
...Me and the roles I play...

Stay happy, remember that life is good, people are good.  Love each other.
Bad things don't need us to do a thing to happen, they just happen.  We need to compensate for the bad  that happens by loving one another and being kind.   

                                                                     Hugs from,

                                                                             Your Favorite Aunt Janet


Friday, February 3, 2017

Plumbing, Pokemon Go and Tacos....

Where does the time go?   I don't know but it sure seems to be moving faster and faster each day.   We have all been together this season for a little over a month now and there are oh so many stories.  How do I choose?    ~ I'll take a stab at starting.....

We got here in enough time to ring in 2017 and celebrate Tracy's Birthday.   Each decade, Tracy does something memorable to celebrate.   In the past it has been a tattoo.   This year to ring in half a century, with  Kosti, his Mom and her husband,  his Sister,  his Daughter,  her fiancĂ© and his grand-babies, he decided to celebrate in St. Croix!  Jay and I sat out this trip.....

Two weeks apart... seemed like an eternity.... but it ended and the boys made it back home safe and sound after a glorious and fun vacation.   

Wednesdays are for walking.... and Pokemon Go!  

Actually, I've been walking at least 5 miles each day. I am determined to leave a bunch of all this extra weight I have been hanging on to in Florida this year.  It's been over a month and you would think I would have lost a ton, but NOOOooooo......  Yesterday I realized that the more I walk the hungrier I am.   The hungrier I am, the more I eat.   At first I thought it was okay to eat lots of lean protein, yogurt, fruit etc. It has now dawned on me that calories are calories and I'm eating to many!  I'm obviously not eating right as not a pound has disappeared yet.   Time to do some research and see what I can fix to get this right.   There has to be a way!   I  do feel good about the fact that 21 days of doing something makes a habit.   I've been walking at least 5 miles each day for more than 21 days! I got a Fitbit to use and it has made a monster out of me!  If you have a Fitbit and are up to some challenges message me here and I'll add you as a friend!

Getting back to Wednesdays are for Walking..... Tracy is a Pokemon Go player....   On Wednesdays he heads down to Centennial Park to do some walking, play some Pokemon, get some balls... (guess you have to play to understand).    I do try to help him out from time to time.  I carry his phone with me, quasi playing Pokemon while I walk each day.  I don't understand the game.  I do try to "play" since it's in my hand.  I know it helps if the game is on and I'm logging miles while carrying it, so I do.   Our Kosti man goes to school by day to learn to be a plumber.   After school he heads down to a really sweet second hand boutique to put in a few hours of work.   He does this Monday through Friday.   Around 6 on Wednesdays, we head down to Centennial Park and wait for Kosti to get out of work.   Tracy Pokemons and Jay and I wander.  Tracy racks up the miles and balls, and I rack up the steps!     We wander until Kosti is done with work.   Then we head to downtown Fort Myers for Wednesday Tacos!  You'd think we'd do this on Taco Tuesday, but noooo,   we do Taco Wednesdays!  Dare to be different, right....

So, our Kosti loves plumber school.   He's loving all the testosteroney.   He's learning tons.   He's having fun!!!  On walking Wednesday, it was so exciting for him as he was sent out into the field.  While he was excited, his skin wasn't quite prepared to be out in the blazing sun all day.   He got a little burnt to say the least.     Before we left for the night, we got a call to bring him some aloe leaves to soothe his burning head.  We did head out to Dick's Sporting goods first to pick  up some supplies for him.  We figured we'd get him a sun blocking shirt and hat.  That in and of itself was an adventure.  I am here to tell the people at Dick's that if someone comes in and asks for a sun-blocking shirt, it doesn't matter if it's for swimming or fishing.  It really doesn't! We found a brilliant sales person who showed us all the short sleeve sun blocking shirts in the swimming section.  Tracy asked if there were any long sleeve ones anywhere else to be told "Nope, that'a all we have".   Wandering through we found ourselves in the fishing department, with all kinds of sun-blocking clothing you could imagine..... Dick's please share this info with your sales folks ~ There's more to sunblocking  than swimming!  

We headed out to Centennial Park...Tracy took off on his Pokemon marathon and Jay and I hung out to wait for Kosti to get out of work.  We did have the aloe ready and waiting for him when he got there.   I decided that I need to put some time into adding steps to my daily total.  Jay stayed behind.   By the time I added another 1000 steps and headed back, Kosti was there... I wish I had a camera with me so I could have captured the sight in the park that night!     Use your imagination....Kosti sitting on a picnic table.   He and Jay rubbing an aloe directly from aloe leaves on his head.   His bright red, now shiny head....I guess you really had to be there to appreciate the sight.  Oh if I could only hear what others in the park that night were thinking!

I did break from the walk last week and headed out to an incredible Conference in Orlando.   One of the best I've ever been to!   The Southeast Photo Conference.   I just can't stop talking about it!   If you're a photographer,  you should check it out!   I'm already signed up for next year..... I can't wait!   I tried to keep up with my 18-20k steps each day and in the process, I did learn that if you don't do it right, you can hurt yourself.   The first two days I got all my steps in.  I did about 5k each day in my room, running or marching in place.   I did some damage.   I had to knock down my steps for a few days so my knees could recover..... lesson learned.

Well today is Friday.  Yesterday Tracy and Jay gave me a long list of 5 things I had to do.   Oh how they were over working me!   They didn't feel bad about it, even though I did remind them it is because of the two of them I get to enjoy this lifestyle they have provided me with!   Oh yeah, I am accustomed to it!   I'm getting older, I was only able to remember 3, got them done.....  Life is tough.   I do know how fortunate I am.   I am grateful to my boys/men for everything they have given me and do for me.   They did tell me that it was my day to cook dinner, oh yeah that was one of the "to do"s.   Pizza!  (and I didn't make it) .  

I am no cook, I will not pretend to be a cook.  I don't like cooking, I can't cook... that's all there is to it!    Well this was not such and exciting post.   

Hold tight..... Tracy and I are heading to Key West next week.   That is a "Bucket List" place for me.   I can't wait.... there are a few men I love and don't know..... Michelangelo, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and Ernest Hemingway!   Ernest Hemingway ~ here I come!   Stay tuned!!!!



Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Hello 2017...

 I hope you are enjoying this great year we have been given.   We certainly are here.   Only a few glitches so far, but nothing we can't handle!

This the first time we are celebrating the New Year together since Tracy and Kosti moved to Florida 3 years ago.   In years past with the boys,  Jay and I would welcome the New Year  (midnight) with everyone and then head up to bed by 12:30am.   We decided that given our history,  we'd need a plan.  We would drop a car off downtown Fort Myers, once the New Year rang in,  we'd kiss, have some champagne,  and then Jay and I could head home sooner rather than later.  We all know how Tracy likes to ring in the New Year straight through to sunrise.  A good plan.... or so we thought.

The Beach was calling, that's were we decided to ring in 2017,   Fort Myers Beach with some friends!

Thinking it was probably going to be very busy there and  knowing that traffic on a regular day is bad, we figured we'd be spending hours getting there.   We left extra early ~ giving ourselves enough time to get there, settle in and ring in the New Year!

First,  drop off the car, pick up The BOYS!  We usually refer to Tracy and Kosti as 'the boys', but these two ~  Jon & Colin are "the boys".  Cute, young, fun, sweet!  Did I say young?  I could have given birth to them!  The Boys!  ( I think I love them!)

Jon & Colin

The process of dropping off the car was one for the books.  Jay's eyes are playing tricks on him so I had to drive.   Okay ~  not so bad you think however,  I was following "Tracy Andretti"!    Keep in mind, I had no idea where we were going,  actually I don't think Tracy did either.   After a couple of detours through Home Depot parking lot, almost running down some snowbirds, a U turn or two, we ended up at the correct plaza and Popeye's Chicken.  (we had to have something to snack on at the Beach)   Brainstorm!   Kosti, would drive our car and Jay would ride with Trace ~  I wouldn't have to keep up with Andretti. Better plan!

I had my Sippy cup filled with RumChata,                        
(my favorite).   Since I was driving,
I wouldn't sip (killing' me!).   With Kosti driving, I could sip... a lot!

Before we got to our destination I emptied my
cup.   U turn to the ABC store to replenish my
Rum Chatta!

Made it to Jon & Colin's house, safe and sound.   After packing and piling everyone into the jeep we were off!

Whew..... ready for traffic ... guess what... we breezed through.   No traffic.   A~mazing.  It's going to be a good year!   Our plan was for Tracy to drop us all off at The Lani Kai, and then he would go search for parking.   Amazing!   No need to drop us off,  we found a parking spot right out front!  It is really going to be a good year!

We had given ourselves a 2 hour window to get through traffic and find a parking spot.  Piled out of the car and found our spot on the beach, settled in and waited for the New Year!   We were early.   The Beach was kind of empty.   Hmmmm.... did we miss something?  Are there fireworks?

It was fun getting to know Jon and Colin.  Two little cuties!   Jon, I found out is a hug fan of Miss Darienne Lake.  Well of course, so am I! Could we can get her to come to Fort Myers?   I kind of selfishly want her to come to SWF!  She's the only one I let touch my hair and in a few weeks... let's just say she'll need to touch it!     We messaged her to check!

Miss Darianne Lake
Yay,  on her way on stage, she answered our plea!!!   She'd come if we can get a club to book her!    We have a mission!   Bring Darienne Lake to South West Florida!!!!

Oh so much excitement for the night and it wasn't even 2017 yet!

Around 11:15 ~ 11:30 the beach started to fill up around us.   The ice cream man showed up, people setting off fireworks, laughing, lighting Chinese  lanterns, getting married!  What fun!!!!

The Ice Cream Man!

Genna & Jim

Yay a festive night for sure.  So much fun!   There was a sweet young couple on the beach next to us who just happened to celebrate their wedding that night.  Lucky me!   Tracy asked if I could take some pictures.  I tried to explain to him, it was to dark to take anything worth wild,  he wouldn't hear it, he insisted I could take it!  I gave in, perhaps if he would shine his cell phone light on them, maybe, just maybe I could get something..... It worked!   Who knew? They were so cute!!

        ....then it happened!     People, kissing, fireworks!!!!   2017!!!   HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!

                                                   2017, what a great year!

.... a change in plans.... the beach was so crowded, we decided we'd let the crowd and traffic calm down before we left.   Okay, we could do that, so... Jay and I wouldn't get to bed at 12:30 ... we could stay up a little later.....

We packed our stuff in the car and headed to the club in the Lani Kai.   Some drinks, some dancing and then they spot it!   Henna Tattoos!   Tracy decided all the guys needed to get matching "Turtle Clan Tattoos!"  (hmmmm feeling a little left out!).   Seemed like a good idea at the time.   Have ya ever gotten a henna tattoo?   Me neither, with these it took about an hour for them to dry.   Ummmm, celebrating New Year, sitting still for an hour while your henna tattoo dries.... good idea?   Jay got his done then someone bumped into him, it smeared.   He washed it off (or so he thought) and went and had the other arm done....and on the ride home going over a bump, it smeared again......Tracy was the only sober one, so he says that's why his didn't't smear as much!  (okay, sure!)  The rest smear city!!!

The Turtle Clan Boys..... (fresh)
...and here they are a few days later!
Two to three weeks with these ink smears..... fun!    We made it home, Jay & I that is by 3:30am.     What a year....first time in a long time,  this mature couple stayed out that late!   Our boys, Tracy and Kosti saw the sunrise.   January 1, 2017 was a lazy day at our house!

Welcome to 2017!  Happy Happy New Year!   


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Earlier in the lives of "Us" Japan 2001

In 2001 Tracy was working in Japan.   That summer his daughter Ashley and I went to visit him for three weeks.   We left on August 6th.   Looking back, the funny thing is, the day before I left on this trip, JR and Chicken got married. (friends of my brother's).  I had offered to do the wedding photo's as Andrew's gift.  He was the sweating, nervous best man.   I shot the wedding and left.  Those were film days.   I dropped the film off and gave instructions to Andrew to pick it up and deliver them to the Bride and Groom.    I went home and packed,  woke up the next day and left for Japan.   One of the people, I met that day, of the many, was a man named Jay Cruz.....

The world was different back then.   Ashley and I travelled back by plane in the end of August 2001 Tracy flew back a few weeks later, just prior to 9/11....

This trip, while it was not our first trip together was a memorable one.  

I have always kept a journal of all my trips.  Below is a summary I wrote to share with friends when we got home.

Tokyo  August 2001

First, let me start by telling you that I love America and I am so glad to be back home.  Tokyo is on the other side of the globe, traveling there takes it’s toll.  Our plane left Rochester at 10:30am on Monday and we touched down at 2:30pm on Tuesday, Tokyo time, (that would have been 1:30am Tuesday Rochester time).  Out return trip, I think was even more grueling, we left Tokyo at 2:30pm Thursday, Tokyo time, which would have been 1:30am Thursday Rochester time and arrived in Rochester at 6pm  after 14 hours in the air and a two hour layover in Chicago.  Our flight from Chicago actually left Chicago at 1:10pm Thursday, an hour earlier then when we left Tokyo, so we got to live through Thursday twice last week!

When we arrived in Tokyo, we immediately became the minority with a disability.  They called us “guy-jing”, (foreigners).   Japan is, obviously all Japanese.  I have never experienced this before,  I soon realized the other countries I have traveled to were all western countries, where for the most part, if I did not speak, I could “blend in”.  This was not the case in Japan.  I am too big and my hair too curly, not to mention my eyes look nothing like theirs.   The language is very difficult to pick up and the writing is almost impossible to decipher, although we did learn some helpful sight words.

The Japanese are very nice people.  They are very polite and very proud.  In direct contrast to their politeness however was the fact that they did not like or accept “guy-jing”. I would venture to say that about 80% of the time when we would get on a train or subway and would sit down (when there was a seat) who ever we sat next to would get up and move.  They actually would rather stand, then sit next to us.  It happened time and time again.  One time I was standing in front of an older lady and she grabbed me by my blouse sleeve and pushed me to the back of the crowd.   One night when we were out, I was denied access two clubs because I was female and American.  Tracy bribed the doorman double the entry fee at the second club and got me in.  (3400 yen, about $30).  I’m not exactly sure, but I think it was a “sex club”,  I got this impression from the videos playing and the activity occurring in the back room.  It was by Shijuku, where the explosion was last week.

Tokyo is a very, very large, populated,  neon city.   People, whole families actually, live in very small apartments, one on top of the other.  The Japanese love their plants.  The front of just about all apartments are loaded with potted plants.  It was very pretty walking down some of the smaller streets, like the one our apartment was on.   During our stay we spent some time at The Imperial Palace.  Unfortunately, “guy-jing” are not allowed into the palace, but we were able to walk around the gardens.   The Japanese gardens are not so much about flowers, but more about meticulous grooming and shaping.   The gardens were beautiful.    The city is very clean.  While people smoke like crazy, you never see a cigarette butt on the ground or any paper/ trash.  Very rarely did we see any graffiti.  They take great pride in their environment, and that was evident in how they keep it so very clean.

Unfortunately we did not have a car, (too expense to have there), and  the other modes of transportation were so expensive that we did not leave the city much.  We walked about five miles each day.  Tokyo has done an excellent job of making itself accessible to people who are blind.  All the streets, subways, sidewalks have different grooved patterns specifically to let them know where they are.  Streetlights have voices that say when it is safe to cross.  That is the extent of accessibility for Tokyo.  The rest of the city is vertical with no elevators or ramps.

While there we lived in a “western apartment”.  We laughed at ourselves each morning when we got up and left the apartment, we had created such a western atmosphere in there that when we walked out the door, one of us would often comment, “oh yeah, we’re in Japan”, once we hit the “unwestern street”.  The apartment was about 500 square feet, it had a small kitchen, a living room, a bedroom, a bathroom, modern toilet room (we had a very modern space aged toilet – thank God! Which in Japan is a luxury I soon found out), a shower room and a room with a sink and mirror.  The last three rooms were no bigger than a closet.   The shower room was about four feet by four feet. Half was a shower and then there was a tub about three feet long by two feet wide and three feet deep.  What you are suppose to do is fill the tub, take a shower then dip yourself in the tub after you are clean.  You are not suppose to empty the tub, the whole family uses the same water to “dip” into.  We didn’t use the tub in that manner.  The apartment cost $2000 a month.  Everything in Japan is half the size it is in America, for the most part including the people.  The refrigerators there we call “dorm” size here.  Our apartment didn’t have a stove; it had a fish oven. (we never used it).  Our disability came in when we realized that in Japan we didn’t know how to use the washer and dryer, run the dishwasher, or use the microwave.  All the buttons and knobs to operate these appliances were written in Japanese (there were no pictures).  In an attempt to use them we just began turning knobs and pushing buttons until something would happen at which point we liked to believe we turned on the machines correctly and everything would turn out the way we wanted.  After three weeks, I believe I got the correct sequence down for operating the washing machine  (even though we laugh, because we’re still not sure I didn’t just put it on to the rinse cycle each time).

We did have a television, but no cable so everything for the most part was in Japanese.  We had gotten to the point that we would make up the news as we were watching it in the evening.  Particularly the weather report.   While we were there, a typhoon hit Tokyo.  I had called that weather report correct, much to our surprise.  We spent that evening visiting with friends on the US Airforce Base.  Most of the movies on TV and in the theaters are American movies and interestingly they sub title them in Japanese, so we were able to watch videos and movies, and understand them!

The streets in Tokyo are very narrow.  They drive on the left side of the road and the steering wheel is on the right side of the car.  That took getting used to when catching buses and crossing streets.  The subway station that we took most frequently was about a mile away from the apartment.  We walked that at least once a day there and home again.  I could summarize my trip as three weeks spent on a treadmill and stairmaster.  There were always, ALWAYS stairs to climb, and no matter where we went or how we were getting there we always had to walk a distance to our mode of transportation.  

Each time we would head towards the subway we passed a little pet store, among other types of shops.  Once the stores open each day, they expand out onto the sidewalk.  The sidewalks were crowded with people to begin with, now add groceries, produce, pets, plants and they were very tight.    The sun was very strong there so, whether it was raining or not, people used umbrellas.  While walking down the street we frequently had to duck to keep from being poked in the eye by an umbrella, or we had to step aside to the ringing of a bicycle bell.   Bicycles are very popular modes of transportation and they ride them on the sidewalks.   The pet store was our favorite to pass each day because of the caged animals, domestic pets that we stopped to play with daily.  The most interesting of which were the cute little caged squirrels, that would reach their little paws out to us crying to be freed, (we thought anyway).  Yes, squirrels.  We would stop and rub their bellies and they would hold our fingers in their little paws.  I have a new love of squirrels.  Ashley and I were trying to plot a way that we could free the squirrels before we left, but we never had the nerve to follow through.  We even considered buying them to set them free, but they wanted 2980 yen per squirrel,  (about $270).

 Tracy worked a portion of the time we were there, so Ashley and I took to exploring the city on our own.  It is a very safe city, so we never worried about being mugged or harmed.  We had mastered the subway system there.  The city is broken up into districts or sections.  We lived in the Hiro-o district.  We knew the symbols for that and Rapongi, (the stop on the subway prior to Hiro-o), so we always could figure out how to get home, even when we couldn’t find a subway map with English on it.  Japanese people, as I had mentioned are very polite and proud.  There were a few times we had gotten lost and would attempt to ask someone for directions.   We had our address written on a card in Japanese, so we could always show that and ask for help if we were really in trouble.   However rather than say, “I don’t know”, the Japanese would give you some sort of information, even if it was wrong,  so we never knew if the directions we were given were actually correct.  We learned quickly to ask several different people and head in the direction most often given.

When Ashley and I were our own, we ate many of our meals in a good old American chain, like McDonalds, KFC, Subway or Pizza Hut.  The reason we did that was, you go into a Japanese restaurant and the menu is all in Japanese and you have no idea what you are getting, as I was traveling with a 14 year old, her tolerance for surprise food was very limited.   Go into an American Chain and there is always pictures with the menu.  Not only were there pictures, but 90% of the employees in them spoke English.
My standard drink is ice tea.  The Japanese drink ice tea with milk in it.  I tried everything once, the milk in ice tea I wasn’t really crazy about.  In Tokyo there are pop, juice, water, cigarette and beer machines on every corner.   Smoking is a popular thing in Japan.

Early in our trip, Ashley and I though it was very nice of the people in Tokyo to give out little packs of tissue on the street.  The packs had advertising on them.  Soon we found out that they did that because the public restrooms do not provide toilet paper.  Not only that, there were no male/female restrooms for the most part and there are no porcelain bowls.  You squat to use the facilities consisting of a hole in the floor.  You also squat in most homes and establishments, unless they are “westernized”.   

The second week of our trip we ventured out to tackle Fujisan. (Mt. Fuji).  Mt Fuji is the highest point in Japan.  It is about two hours outside of Tokyo.  It is a beautiful mountain, which even though I bonded with it, I never saw the whole thing from a distance (except for pictures) as the weather never allowed.   We tackled the mountain the day after the Typhoon hit.   We headed out to Fujisan about 7am.  We had to take a subway to the JR, (Japanese Railroad) to a bus.  The ride out was beautiful.  We passed beautiful countryside and many many rice paddies.  We arrived at the mountain and headed up on our way.  Climbing Fujisan is a popular activity in July and August.  It was, by the way about 85 degrees that day.  My description of the climb will never do it justice; the pictures may help to explain what I mean.  Mt Fuji is 3776 meters straight up!(that’s 12,388.45feet, or 2.34miles above sea level).  There are ten rest stations along the way.

The hike starts out kind!.    Actually it was quite beautiful.  Lush trees, mild incline and millions, I mean millions of butterflies.  It made me smile.   Then it struck, we passed the tree line and I believe that I found hell on earth.  Yes, it was pure hell.  The terrain quickly turned black,  and rocky.  You know the lava rocks in your gas grill, enlarge them 100 times, that’s what we were climbing.  At the sixth rest station the mild incline disappeared we began about an 80 degree rock climb up.  IT SUCKED.  Pure hell.  At the start of the climb we bought walking sticks, every station you make brands your stick.  That was a little fun.  There were many people on the climb with us, not actually with us, but climbing also.  I noticed that most of the Japanese were in climbing groups with guides.  This was one place that the Japanese were extremely accepting and helpful to us.  Everyone we climbed with, passed or passed us greeted us with “good afternoon” “good luck” or “you can do it!” of course in Japanese.  We quickly learned to greet them, “ka-ne-chee- wa”.  This climb was pure torture.  I knew that every cell in my body was alive.  At one point I was struggling so much that a tour guide, (my hero) adopted me as part of his group.  He was very much like a mountain goat.  He ran up and down that mountain like he was born there.  He was dressed all in white,  with jeannie pants on and an embroidered vest.  He wore shoes that looked like mittens.  He showed me how I should be climbing.  I didn’t have climbing gloves and he gave me his.  He didn’t speak English, but spent a lot of time with me. He routinely would check with me to make sure I was all right.   When his group would make a station before I did, he would stand at the top and cheer me on until I got up there, then he would congratulate me.   He was my “sensei”, my personal teacher.   

It was a difficult climb, but what got me was when 70 and 80 year olds would pass me up.  Unbelievable!   As it turns out, the Japanese know how tackle the mountain.  They do it in two days, where as we were trying to do it in one.  You can stay in the huts, different stations for 7000 yen a night, ($64).  The accommodations consisted of a straw mat on the floor that you shared with maybe thirty or forty other people.  It cost 100 yen a squat on the mountain, (80cents).  Fluids were quickly going through my body by way of sweat; I didn’t have to worry about squatting.

At the 8th station, about 3100 meters up (7 hours into the climb), I started to get altitude sickness.  My head was throbbing; I was dizzy, nauseous and crying.  I actually told Tracy (you get a little loopy at this altitude) that I would rather lay down and die on the mountain than go one step further.  At that point it was dusk and we headed back down.  I think if we had made provisions to stay overnight, we could have made it.  We didn’t have reservations, so couldn’t stay.  Who would have thought, you need reservations to sleep on a straw mat 3100 meters in the sky with 30 others!  My sensei and his group stopped to sleep at the 8th station.  

Because of the typhoon, the mountain as very rough.  It had also wiped out the “slide” down.  So we had to climb down the same way we went up.  While I found hell on earth going up, I found God coming down.  It took us three hours to climb down, we all fell hard at least once.   The whole three hours coming down I prayed to God to get me off the mountain alive.  My body was shot, it was indeed God who got me down!  Getting home we took a bus, a train, the “bullet” and a subway.  While it was free to climb the mountain, transportation that day cost us $400.

The following day our friends in the airforce made it to the top in 7 and a half-hours.  I am so proud our armed forces are in such good shape!  Our Japanese friend, Joon made it in 4 and a half-hours. (unbelievable).

Tracy had found a nightclub spot where most of the “guy-jing” hung out.  Some Japanese people hung out there, but for the most part it was full of people from all over the world.  Our favorite spot, interestingly enough was a little corner bar called, “The Advocate”.  It was there that we met our Japanese friends, Joon, and Hiro, and a few others.  We met our Airforce and Navy friends.  Even thought the Navy boys were young enough for me to have given birth to them, it was fun to be around Americans, comparing Japan experiences.  We met and hung out with people from Australia, Malta, England, Germany, Brazil and Columbia.  These were all people who were there working either with the US Armed Services or with some technology company.  Hiro by the way is a concert pianist, who will be working as a translator at the Eastman in October.  

Japan is caught between being high tech and very simple.  The cell phones, “J phones” are in everyone’s hands over there.  Not only are they cell phones, but also they connect you to the web, and they take pictures.  I had a ball one night taking pictures with one of my friend’s phones and emailing them to my family.  

One night we invaded a karoke bar.  What an experience.  The Japanese LOVE, I truly mean Love their karoke.  It was fun to watch.  Fashion is very westernized.  The latest craze is kind of bizarre, I have no idea where it comes from.  The girls, teens and 20-year-olds dressed in Shirley Temple type outfits with anklets, patent leather, lace and frills. They actually wore these outfits like crazy and styled their hair in pigtails.   Periodically you saw a Japanese girl, woman on the street in a Kamono.  I bought two at a second hand store.  They are beautiful, silk and hand made.  Japanese don’t like second hand things so I got the two of them for 3000 yen about $26.

During the course of the trip, while I saw many many Japanese, I saw about 20 individuals with disabilities.  At one point however, I realized that one young man I saw a few times on the subway at first I thought nothing of then it occurred to me that he had Down Syndrome, and I hadn’t realized it, because he looked like everyone else.  Only once did I see a group with 5 people and two “staff”  the rest were by themselves.

I spent a day with psychologists from the National Institute on Disabilities.   They were wonderful.  They all spoke English very well, and in fact all except one of them had studied in the United States.  One of the functions of the Institute is to prepare teachers to work with children with disabilities.    They were eager to hear and talk about inclusion.  Children are not included in Japan.  To go to school there children have to take and pass an entry exam. The average size of a “normal classroom” is 35 students.  40 is the maximum that can be in a class.  All students wear uniforms to school.   Children with disabilities are sent to special schools and facilities.  They are also grouped by the severity of their disability. 

 I spent an afternoon and evening at an agency similar to The Advocacy Center.  As similar as Japan can get.  The Agency is located in Yokohama.  So I also was able to see Japan’s beaches and the Pacific Ocean from the other side of the world.  At this agency, they work with parents, supporting them to support their children.  In Japan parents are responsible for their children their (the children’s) whole life.  People do not become their own guardians once they turn 18.  Financial support comes through the parents.  If the government is going to provide funding it is through the local government where the parents live, no matter where the child lives.  Most children live at home, with their families, in their communities.  It is believed in Japan that when you have a child with a disability you will have good fortune.  Families with children with disabilities are believed to be blessed,  they are held in high esteem.   About 50% of people with disabilities live in facilities.  They told me that is where people go when their parents died.  All go out into the community to work.  There has been a recent turn in events over the past five years.  Manual, traditional jobs are disappearing with the advancement of technology.  Five years ago this agency placed 2000 people in farming and or fishing jobs.  This past year they placed 200.  They are facing a new challenge and are not sure where to take it.

My meeting with the Agency people was a very eye opening experience.  They did not speak English.  I had brought a translator with me to assist with communication.  To start out with 10 of us sitting in a big room around a large table.  My translator, John was American.  He has a child with a disability.  He is fluent in Japanese, and recently took a job there.  He is moving his son over in January, so he was very interested in the services available.  What was interesting for me was how this meeting made me feel.  It was so odd.  Whether it is true or not, I feel that I didn’t get half the conversation.  Nor do I feel that what I was saying was relayed the way I meant it to.  I felt very stupid, inadequate and over whelmed.  I sat there and smiled most of the time, nodding my head.  With the translation, this group thought my transition training was a very odd thing, because it sounded as if we felt we had to be pro active and avoid problems before they occur.  They told me that they didn’t expect problems with people with disabilities and when there was a problem, they handled them as they occurred.

We talked about self-advocacy.  They have self-advocacy groups that meet four times a year. They are very proud of that.  One of the groups wrote up a list of requests for the government to take care of.  Number one and number three on their list had to do with transportation.  They wanted more accessible transportation, (imagine that, a world wide problem) and the second one regarding transportation was that they wanted the people who you asked for directions in the subways to be more friendly and to give understandable, simplified directions.

Towards the end of my stay with them the group wanted to show me a 20-minute video on employment.  I said no thank you a few times and finally gave up and watched the video after they insisted.  Of course, I have no idea what it said because it was all people talking, lecture style about employment apparently and it was all, of course in Japanese.  My interpreter summarized it for me at the end.  He took a whole 3 minutes to summarize a 20-minute video.  I really felt lost, and at a great disadvantage.

We all exchanged business cards.  The Members of The Institute asked me to come back and spend more time with them in the future.  Sho, who was my connection recently, spent a year at The Center for Human Policy in Syracuse.  He is trying to come back for a few weeks next year. 

My trip was a very interesting one, one I won’t soon forget.  I had many new and educational, eye opening experiences.  And Fujisan will forever haunt me!.  While it was hell on earth, if for some odd reason, If I ever go back, I am going go conquer that mountain.  For now, I think I’ll take a few weeks to get back into the western hemisphere time zone, stay on flat ground and show anyone who will look, my photos!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Our Chosen Family

We’re back ....

Family…. chosen family.  

We are gay, straight, male, female, Puerto Rican, Russian, German and Italian.  Two of us were born on Islands, one in a foreign land.  

We are from 33 to 61 years old, two of us born in January, two in October.  Two of us are Boomers, one a Gen X'er and one a Millennial.

One of us is an orphan….  three of our Mom’s are still living.   Our closest Mom lives 1118 miles away by plane.  Our furtherest Mom is 6259 miles away and we talk to her every day!

We have five college degrees between us and too many different jobs and professions to list.

We have  been married four  times, two marriages have been knowingly to lesbians (& I’m not one of the two  lesbians nor  have I ever been married to a lesbian).   We've been divorced three times.  One of us has never been married.  We have two children and a niece and three nephews who I love as my own.  We have eleven grandchildren of sorts.   

We have thirteen siblings of the thirteen only two who are full blooded siblings.   They happen to both be sisters.  We have ten step brothers and sisters, five of whom we have never met .  We have one cousin who we consider a brother, he is responsible for bringing us together and we adore him.    Eleven of our siblings are still living, that we know of….  

We have lived in five states,  one US territory and seven countries.  Between us we have traveled to forty seven states, three territories, and  thirty five countries.  We are fluent in three languages, and can get by in four more.   One of us has dual citizenship.  
We have three pit bulls.  Three of us love dogs, one of us prefers them stuffed!

We’ve owned nine houses, we currently own four and today we are living together in one.

We have five vehicles, a BIG jeep, a pickup truck, an SUV, a family car and a sports car.  We have two giant jet skis.  

We sit down to a family dinner every night.    Our favorite gifts are experiences,  okay…. two of us love jewels just as much!

Two of us started together nineteen years ago,  one more joined us sixteen years ago and we became whole seven... (you can read about some of our early antics in previous posts, going back to February 2011) 

We all greatly dislike cold weather, snow and ice...the other thing we all share is that our life stories so far are way better than any reality TV show and probably just as hard to believe.

The only thing we ever argue about is who is going to pay for dinner.   It’s always a race to the server to pay first.  We have never been mad, angry or disappointed with each other… well except for that time halfway up Mt. Fuji, when I wanted to kill Tracy for deciding the night before  while out drinking in Shinjuku that it might be fun to climb the mountain the next day.      Oh yeah...then there's that time Tracy got mad because we asked about purchasing something from a person who came to the front door.  (notice the pattern here, it's part of his charm!)

You can find us all together, in pairs, trios or solo.  All and any combination of us works!   

We love and adore our birth families…..  We also love  and cherish the  family we have created here.   We are colorful.  We are diverse.  We are us!  

                       We wish you all a fabulous New Year!!!

                                                         Janet, Jay, Tracy & Kosti!