“Mommy, when I …

“Mommy, when I was little in your womb, was I naked?”

I asked her what she thought.

“Uh, I think so…how ’bout baby (her little bro)?”

I love these big questions. So fun. I told her she was in there, wearing jeans and a t-shirt.

“There’s No Such Thing as a Chanukah Bush, Sandy Goldstein”

So if someone wanted to avoid certain holidays, like if they were a scrooge or something, they could move far away, across the seas, over to a country like Japan. Except, Western holidays are here, too. Santa-san visits my daughter’s school and the company Christmas party; there are wreaths and trees in stores, and Kentucky Fried Chicken has somehow convinced everyone that Americans dine on greasy buckets of their chicken for their fancy Christmas dinner. You, therefore, have to reserve said chicken a good while in advance.

It is handy living here for Halloween, a holiday I’m not so into. I’ll take the candy, thanks very much, but you can keep your goblins and skulls and All Hallows Eve. Just throw me your candy corn and a giant Twix.

And I love the sights and sounds, the panettone, and Buche de Noel of Christmas. It is my dream to belt out O Come, O Come, Emanuel or Silent Night, on stage, or just door to door, carolling. I think I’m Idina Menzel or the whole Glee Cast when it comes to Christmas songs. Forget about Elf–I think I could out-shower sing cute-what’s-her-face.  The thing is, since our daughter is now three, and oh-so-with-it-in-understanding, something has risen up in me. The deep inner-workings of Jewish Mama, that’s what. The whole, “There’s No Such Thing as a Chanukah Bush, Sandy Goldstein.” 

My parents read that little paperback to us and it’s really something–you practically have to campaign for Chanukah. There is something deep there that knows our Jewish children will want to take part in Christmas. I, myself, want to! Especially as I believe in the Messiah. Luckily, I later got stepparents who were non-Jews. Meaning, we got Christmas! All wrapped up– stockings, and British Christmas crackers, too!  I love every scent and song, every movie, soundtrack, snack, and meal (except the roast ham, that is).


Is Santa-san bringing me a gift, too?

We have to root for Chanukah, sell it strong, because our kids will ask about getting our own Christmas tree. They will petition for the beauty of twinkling lights, the chubby man in red.

Foreigners will come up and ask them if the’ve been good for Santa. Your kids will give you confused, furrowed looks. “Who’s him,” she’ll ask, suspiciously, as we part from the stranger. All the hubub of catching Santa at their father’s Christmas party, only to arrive a few minutes too late. No present, just a blur of something red.

And you’d think it would be easy, here in Japan, to just let it roll by, me teaching those carols in spurts, and educating with the Macy’s Day Parade, after they’ve been thoroughly taught on the miracle and warmth of Chanukah.


But Santa-san is here. Songs have been translated and my kid’s teacher is asking everyone who has trees and suggesting Santa-san will bring her something. Her eyes are gleaming. She is checking the sky. Chanukah is over, early this year and celebrated on a Thanksgiving turkey-high. Her presents have already, a while ago, been hidden and then found.


And there is no multicultural curriculum, no “Happy Holidays”. There are only “Christmas parties”. No blue and white paper plates covered with dreidels, no talk of Kwanza, or winter solstice. There is no “Happy Chanukah” thrown my way. There is only Santa-san. Here, it carries no notion, no division of “Christian vs Jewish.” There is only Christmas, the warmth of flickering resplendent bulbs wrapped around Rudolph.

And after all of the rising feeling, the slight tension, the joy…

I misunderstood when I needed her to arrive at school.

She missed Santa-san. I think I was the more disappointed one, sorry I had goofed.

“It’s okay”, said my husband. “She’s Jewish.”

IMAG7533 (1)

PS After all this time, I had no idea our book was made into a movie!

!. Friends Who Bake

Now I’m no Betty Crocker or baking maven, but if you’re baking with someone, you’re probably great friends. Or becoming best buds. After all, you’re creating something together. Gosh, sounds like making a baby! Actually, that is what we did.

And the gingerbread men are adorable.


K and her friend, M, first met as teeny babes. Their first play date was in a crib. They weren’t terribly aware of one another.

Now, with both girls at three, a shared birthday party, and numerous dates including strawberry picking, we families are quite happy. Actually, we’ve all multiplied. Both of the big girls have young siblings, a month apart.

Here we are now.


Big and little heads.

But really, baking is quite a magical thing, right? There is alchemy, chemical change occurring in the oven. What you mixed up is not what comes out. What you put into a friendship, you could say, is key in what you hope to get out of it, but there is this whole separate thing called synergy. Teamwork almost becomes its own element, mixing with the compounds, to become something greater than each person’s individual efforts or effects. But what did we really do, beyond giving the girls time to spend together.

To make something, but also to just be.

It was while they washed hands, away from us, and on their own, that I overheard a sweet little conversation.

Sweet M, K’s friend, suggested vibrantly, that they take turns.

She then looked right at my girl and

said, “Kariin,  you’re my best friend.”

Even so with my friend, Anna. We got together with our kids and boom. We become so much more. We’re like Team Mommy. We see all, we can do more. We have more fun. There’s honesty, frankness, but we also buoy each other up. It’s support and laughter.

And the gingerbread smelled way amazing. I think it was while we were reading The Gingerbread Man, that the smells wafted out of the oven. The two girls benefited from their shared knowledge of the story, and certainly my girl learned much from her friend’s advanced reading skills.

Not to be all boring, though. The fox eats his conquest, the itty gingerbread man, who now has swollen, buckling, soggy legs that are just melting away in the stream. We, too, had our fill of ginger cookies.

But first, the decorating!





Long live great smells piling out of ovens, icing, raisin eyes, and the friends who make & eat them with us.

Stay tuned for part deux, Friends Who Schlep.


I’m Opening Up a Cooking School

…or culinary institute or maybe just writing a cookbook.

The course of the book will be called “Disable Your Fire Alarm & Open a Window” or “If You Can’t Take the Heat, You Really Should Just Go.”

I tried out two new possible recipes for the book (quite accidentally, mind you).

The first is this: If you leave quick-cooking oatmeal on the stove for I-dunno-maybe-it-was… then when you come back to it, if you have the right, intuitive touch like I do, it will have cooked into its own souffle kind of tarte, still possessing some of the fluffy chewiness you will recognise with regular oatmeal, but in a tidy crust!


Can you tell that I actually looove reading food writing & recipes?

Simply pick it up, top with marvellous French jams, fresh fruit, or the like, and eat with the ease of a folded pita. Et voila!


The magic of foldover

The second bit of culinary magic occurred at some point while I boiled three hard-boiled eggs this morning… for some amount of time. Through the process of boiling alllll of the water out of the pot & into the form of vapor, I made oeufs fumé! Perfectly (thank the L-rd!) smoked eggies and I didn’t even have to drain the water! I am saving steps while creating hearty, delicious meals and sides.

Again, thanks to my impressive sensitivity to all things fire-related, I knew JUST when to remember and go to my stove, cut the gas, and save scoop up the three eggs. I am sorry to say there are no pictures of the eggs or my pot. Some things are best written (or not). All of my techniques do come off with a bit of sudsy, warm water. Remember, these two little rubies of culinary magic occurred within maybe two hours of each other. Perhaps the adage, “When the student is ready,…” applies. Anyway, stay tuned. There may be a Julie and Julia-esque project in here, somewhere.

I would also like to say that I burnt the elbow of my best cardigan whilst bending over a flickering candle last week.


Love & Flames, Melissa

When Daddy’s Late Nights Strike

I have a counter-attack to those late nights my hubster pulls

when he cannot see our kiddos & they, namely, our big girl, absolutely PINE for him.

Enter the Daddy/Daughter Journal, a book for them to write notes to each other–


She decorated the book with drawing, writing, stickers, & a ribbon, which she practically ties into bows herself. This was a Hanukkah present from K to her Daddy, as I knew busy nights & weeks lay ahead for us.

We know it’s the plan now, and it’s even a sweet activity to even (gasp) look forward to when the late nights happen. And oh, how they do.


K taken by M. Willms, when I was pregnant with J


The beautiful thing, besides the sweetness of a book of love letters between them is that this is such a great move for emerging literacy & words that matter. I hope they keep this book writing up–

For now, of course, I am dictating, but K also wants to do writing herself, & really-they can use this to communicate so much, about their day, asking & answering questions, …sometimes they even leave treats next to their book.

“Can you not go to work today, Daddy?

Because I just love love you so much!”

Here’s to the sweet love between daddies & daughters, particularly those under this roof.


As we opened the door to the house this evening, coming in from her school/hoikuen:

me: hun, i’m so proud of you–your English is stronger and stronger everyday.

You love love reading! Everyday it seems you are using a new word,…

girlie girl: yeah, but i’m not proud of you because you don’t have Japanese.

me: oh…..


wah wah wah. probably a great idea if she sees me actively working at expanding my Japanese

& expanding my brain. or i’m thinking this thought she shared may/will only get worse as she gets older.

how’s that for motivation? thud.



Even as he sleeps


a boy

sloping nose


pouted open lips,

everything round

and chubby, a boy.

I can picture

this boy even at six months


hitting the weight of a spinning softball

with the crack of a short bat,

his ample arms soft and strong.


Flinging down the bat and running hard

Toot toot puff puff

a heavy silver train

my boy


slow motion


past first base

and then second.


The round back of his head one day

maybe showcased in a bowl cut with bangs.

How will his half-Asian hair play out.

Front forehead button nose pout.

Dungarees, frogs, soldiers lined up

hollerin’ “Mr. Wilson! Hey, Mr. Wilson!”

but in Japanese.


Taking airplane rides like these, only bigger

seat-belts, too,

he’ll be

more like his old man

and not breastfeeding—

this six month old little boy,

Our love, distilled.


he’s at about 8 months now & full of giggles, squeals, & wanting to feed himself, wanting no part in mush.

he wants whole foods & standing up. he’s a love/ in love with his big sis. xoxo