Any Ring is Commitment, Even One Made of Fire…

Published in the beautiful Kyoto Journal, this is my piece on life on the Ring of Fire–perhaps apt to share as we’ve just moved through a pretty decent string of typhoons and some recent tremors.

…I was not prepared for the bevy of personal emergency toilets, or non-cook rice or spools and spools of floor-to-ceiling plastic sheeting for who knew what. Eight years later, I have a giant suitcase and half-a-closet of earthquake stuff. Because being prepared means I can breathe. It’s just what you do in an earthquake zone. It’s not about being Type-A anymore. It’s just what we do to be safe, maybe all we can do…

Please view the PDF of this piece, Ring of Fire, in its entirety because Kyoto Journal makes it look so polished and professional! Everyone should have the joy of seeing what this journal does with their words.

To buy the entire issue, click here.

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Your 500 yen, roughly $5.00 goes to support the beauty and quality of work Kyoto Journal is known for.

I do hope you read my piece and many others!

Please let me know what you think! This was a piece I was passionate about writing and continues to be a touchstone to many wonderful prayers and conversations.

May we not be terribly shaken. May we be firm like Mt. Zion.

Love always to the people of Tohoku,





In Our House, Birthdays Last All Year

In our house, birthdays last a month. They have to. They’re too much to get done, too much to fill! (See? I already sound hyper and quite juvenile).

In the space of one day, what can you cram without too much pressure for some perfect day, the stuff dreams wish they were made of? You’ve got to be able to play it cool, let the cards dribble in, the sweet notes on social media sit in a virtual pile. You’ve got to have time to paint your nails, go out in heels maybe, and also plop on the couch with ice cream and some form of yoga pants. You just can’t do it in one day. You need the husband date, the kid time, the family time, the me time, the real life, everything that still has to get done time, like for instance, work and have the kids eat.


Nope, we in my family prefer the slow crawl, the luxury of time plus a bit of delayed gratification. If a friend or co-worker hands me a card or a wrapped gift ahead of my birthday, that card or that wrapped gift is sitting on my desk, waiting for the day, and practically the minute I was born. You can’t rush this stuff!


I may sound spoiled, but it’s just that I get the enormity of life and the miracle that each of us was born! It’s not just cake and ice cream; I get really deep. None of us had to happen. The fact that we are each alive is grace, is a miracle, is some magnificent power! Each of us is more than incredible, a distillation of family, and at least a small reflection of God. To be given life and be loved? There’s too much to celebrate.


Anyway, my sister and mom are both known to send multiple birthday cards–there are so many flavors of card out there. They’ll want to express humor in a silly card (please please let me receive one of those talking cards with the funny voices!!!) and something way more sappy and heartfelt in another. My sis is known for sending our Grandpa multiple, multiple cards at which he would crack up. She must have spent $50 on cards and postage each year.

So as I continue to enjoy the day of my birth two, going on three days after the fact, wondering how else to celebrate, I’m realizing one thing: for as much as I love birthdays and want to lift up a person in the air, raise them up on a chair like at a Jewish wedding or Bat Mitzvah, I’m coming to terms with how sucky I am as the giver when stuff has to get in the mail. Really really. By the time my friend’s son graduates kindergarten, or maybe veterinary school, I may find a way to mail his “congratulations you were born” card.


People give me the “Oh, don’t worry! You were pregnant” and “puhhlease, you kind of just had a baby” line, kind of like validating my parking fine, but really? I’m a birthday louse.

Admittedly, it is harder, much harder to get cute cards and get them out when you’re living across the globe from your kin as I am. There is no Target, no Walgreens with aisles of cards for every occasion and relationship, even your dog. Japan does cards much differently.


Add to that the fact that we cannot plunk outgoing mail in our own mailbox. No, instead we must get our bodies and our young children out of the house in the sweat or in the torrential downpours, speak a foreign language, weigh the envelope, pay for postage, and try to do all of this a good two weeks before our loved one’s big day. This is of course after we’ve whipped up a homemade (crappy) card or gone on another train to go find a card at a far away card shop.

This is my life. This is why I send out telepathic sticky notes for Mother’s Day and Grandparent’s Day. This is why Hallmark isn’t making any money off of my smoke signals. I’m a birthday-fraud and I’m sorry, dears.


I do solemnly pledge to get my act together and find the ways to my post office in time. While we continue to inhabit this earth, in this lifetime. I do swear.

And the funny thing is I’m already in the future! I am one day ahead of most of my friends and family! One day may just not be enough. But hey, I’ll make due.

I’ll put my thankfulness to good work and make it happen for others. Time to turn over that rumpled, thirty-seven-year-old (omg) leaf.


Can We Pay For Your Cab?

Today the grossest parenting thing happened, like ever. It couldn’t have gotten too much grosser. I am in the entry to the house, now, having stripped my kids and thrown them in the shower. I did contemplate cutting off their clothes, all of our clothes with scissors, but instead, I have them soaking for forty-five years in the washer. Shoes, too, and my fancy new baby carrier. 

If I could walk you through a slow-mo reel played in reverse, that would be best.

I’ll try.

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We have just been let out of the cab. A little distracted, I couldn’t pay attention in time to direct him to just outside of our house. Instead, we are getting out of the cab like a people in the throes of bad drugs. Or people more than dabbling in crack cocaine. We are covered in vomit. Covered. I hold their school bags and three umbrellas. I also have my two-month-old in a carrier. The big kids, five and three-year-old, they are the culprits. They are sick.

I have just allowed him to keep the change–as if 1,000 yen (ten dollars) is enough to absolve this, enough to rid his cab of what has gone on. Like it’s a steam vacc or a sage smudge stick to clean out the negative space. What I really think he should do is pull any valuables from the glove box and drive it into a river. Try to stay under the radar of being called on insurance fraud.

The automatic door waits for me. I am embarrassed and horrified, but I’m stifling a laugh like a crazy woman because it really couldn’t have been worse. And the setup, too–he started with white seat covers, with knit doilies fashioned for passengers’ heads. Grimmace. No, my 1,000 yen is hardly enough to do anything to fix this. It can buy him a beer.

“Get me out”, my boy says. He is also deeply horrified. It is hard to pick out a spot on his person that doesn’t look like a bucket of sick, the poor boy. At just three and a half, this is the first time he has lost his lunch in public, and only the second time he has ever thrown up. Now he is caked with it. My daughter, too. We look like we’ve come out of something bad. Bad bad. Something like war or a horror movie hospital ward. I’m glad none of my neighbors are out.


“I look like I’m laughing; I’m not.” I try to convey how sorry I am, what bad fortune as we walk towards our driveway, but oh, this is one for the books. I cannot wait to tell their dad.

I strip off their clothes. I think about that poor cabbie and how he will never again, perhaps, stop for any family with a child. Especially not when it is mid-day and he is asked to pick up a family from a school, as this very obviously implies that someone is going home ill. I don’t know what miracle there is for the cab, what product can make this okay. He may do the noble thing and drive it into a river. Or pour bleach over all of it, do I don’t know what before the evening crowd needs rides out for drinks. My kids have soiled his baby. See, here in Japan, cabbies own their own cabs. They take pristine care, always shined, always waxed, hence the white gloves and white seats. Not his. Not anymore.

Now that I have the kids washing in the shower, I call their father. I am giddy when he picks up. “You know that part in Stand By Me? The part with the pies?”

Silence, and then, “No.”

“Oh, yes. It was bad. First J- and then K-. They were seat-belted in. Seatbelted in when they threw up and then he did it again and then she looked and started, too. And it was both of them again and again.”

I feel a small thrill of holding him mesmerized by the sheer grossness of our ride. Normally I tell such boring stories, but this one? This really is one for the books. Legendary. This is when, if not before, I win some badge.

I cannot even tell him about the details. It is way too bad. The state of the driver’s seatbelts is just too bad to get into detail about. I know I shall have to find him one day Oprah or some Japanese talk show. I will have to give him a check for the equivalent of five grand in Japanese yen.

I do tell my husband that as we walked up to the door of our house, my daughter looked at her stunned, shell-shocked and puke-covered brother, assessing, “You look like you stepped into one hundred cakes. One hundred stinky cakes”.

Poor kids. Poor driver. Poor washing machine. I stand stronger for having survived all the mothering it took to arrive.


Observations and Love at the Kitchen Sink

She is washing her hands in the kitchen sink after clearing her dishes and filling her bowl with water. The scent of mint dish soap feels extra summery, extra clean after another hot day. Her vacation burn/tan has peeled, giving way to new skin across the bridge of her narrow nose and the high apples of her cheeks. She smiles and looks up.


“I just love watching you do things like pick dead leaves off of the plant.” What a funny thing to say. She makes it sound like poetry. Just ten minutes prior, I had to pluck off sad, withered leaves that utterly broke, became mushy when I put and left them out on the veranda. She was curious about what flowers they would have grown and how beautiful they would have become. Now, she recounts that she loved watching me deal with the dead houseplant.

“And I love watching you when I tell you there’s a big bug on you. To see what you will do.”

Can you believe that? Like anyone who pushes buttons, she wants the reaction, loves the effect.


But isn’t this love, I think? To want to simply be with the one we love. To watch them, whether they’re swatting a fly or pouring maple syrup. Even through day-to-day annoyances, we are locked in at the eyes, keyed in at the heart.

Life can be exhausting. I’m thinking specifically of the kind of exhaustion with two big kids and one infant. Diapers. Dishes. Today both kids stayed home from school. We’ve had fevers and potty-training. Science and art activities. Everyone is phenomenal at pushing each other’s buttons, especially the kids to each other. I chose to step into their shared shower just to play ref, therapist, and bruiser. We work at de-escalating a lot. Getting back to forgiveness and the tenderness of kids who know how to be in love. They are infatuated with baby now. If only I would let them sit perched on the edge of wherever their baby sis is laying, look with her at whatever has caught her infant-eyes.

Family is getting back to remembering that this is a person you love. Deeply. Wholeheartedly, without malice. This is true for a good marriage, or maintaining any good friendship. What did you first love? What continues to draw you to this person?

And here she said it. Even through the summer heat, the prickles of her wanting more independence and sometimes acting annoyed, she just wants to watch me. To throw whatever at me (a bug, a hug, another invitation to read a favorite book, a whiny whine) and see how I respond. Because she loves me.

We leave the sink and she volleys, “Mom! There’s a giant roach.” Just to see me squirm. To see me fight back with a gleam. We hold onto each other’s eyes. We see each other. The dishes aren’t so overwhelming and the next button I allow to be pushed may not seem as big. I’m on a sort of display, but she knows how to watch, intently, with her heart. She knows how to wear it on her sleeve.

We take each other’s hand and walk upstairs.



How We Respond to Rape in the News

I don’t usually make a whole post to point out an article I’ve written on another site. My husband doesn’t usually highlight something I’ve written, sharing it with a “Good job, Meliss” on Facebook. But maybe this subject is different. It’s more than about me.

It impacts more than a handful of kids. Way way way more.

This is about rape, abuse, tough words like “consent” and the sickening blurred lines. I actually penned three versions, all responding to the prominent Stanford Case. Who could believe that the parents of the abuser would not only come to his aid but vehemently argue his case? Never once was the woman, the abused and victimized, mentioned.

Like so many, I was so beyond frustrated with this specific case and so many cases before it. I couldn’t stop reading the details and it just kept fueling my disgust.

My article featured on the terrific,

At any college or university, abuse can occur. On a date. After the library. Preppy clothes, a solid GPA, urban or rural. Loose jeans or whatever. None of the variables matter. We live in a broken world. We must speak about the tough things—words like “appropriate touch” and “consent”. We beat back the darkness by shining a light. We use our words.


Rape is just too prevalent. Too sickening. Voices are lost to shame and a legal system that can be flawed. We saw that with Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer and his parents. We saw that with the judge.

I sit with my children, watching the innocence, the fabric of their days, their joyous interactions, and I know there is grief in this world. Most children are sexually abused by someone they know, a figure they trust. Known or not, our girls may be blamed instead of the attacker.

I know that my sister, my children’s auntie, hears reports while away at college–reports of yet another incident, another attack on the college loudspeaker. It can seem like every night they are told to be careful, perhaps stay put. And the harrowing part is that most incidents of rape and assault go unreported. Mostly, a woman may be blamed and open to additional threats, should she go out on a limb and choose to report. That is if she can believe her own self-worth at that point if she can muster up the strength to look in the mirror and use the voice that has shrunk down so deep.

What is a parent to do? What can I do to battle the darkness now, even in this season of teaching my girl how to swim, of battling the formidable hill called Pottytraining? I mean, I’ve got milk leaking. What can I do? Rather, what must I do, for my son and my daughters? For others’ children, too? What am I called to do?

Speak about it, in the most direct, absolutely appropriate ways. To a four year-old, the talk will be very different that the way we speak with a sixteen-year-old. Of course. But talk. Talk. Let it be part of the family culture to talk about the tough news, the way abuse impacts lives, not just one. Talk about the way kind, respectful actions can go on to bless generations. Talk.


I’m sparked, I’m on. I want to volunteer at hotlines. I want to organize nightly watches on campuses and in between parties. I want to offer young women a way out, even after they’ve already said “yes”, but feel otherwise. I want to hold tight, bring hurt girls and boys the freedom they need and desperately lack. I want to teach them to use their voice and treat others with some form of sacred respect.

In the end, I penned this piece (linked again) on what parents of young kids (and all kids) can do. It’s amazing what writing can do to soften the heavy emotional loads we carry. It’s a step, anyway.

Let this be the beginning of the kind of help I’ll do. Even if it is just towards my kids, let it be the start. May even the most grievous news catalyze, spark the understanding and a joy to help.

We’ve got to start somewhere. Let it be here, in this season, while my kids are 5, 3, and an infant. Let the light beat out the darkness, here, starting now, for all of us.

Fourth of July is another Monday in Japan—xoxo, An American Living Abroad

Abroad? Expat? Interloper? For how long can you stay and live in another country and still be considered to be living abroad?

Well, perhaps it depends on your home country. America allows its citizens to live abroad indefinitely, maybe forever, and still have the right to return at any time. In other words, I can retain my Americanness, in citizenship, and still reap the opportunities that living away affords me. I never have to choose; I will always be a citizen.

As it is, I miss my culture and country a bit extra today. It is the Fourth of July and I sit knowing there will be no fireworks tonight in Japan. I didn’t think to order any celebratory red, white, and blue goods early-on to be shipped–no tiny flags, no confetti with stars. Besides, my husband and kids are at work and school. It is a normal day here in Tokyo. While all of my American friends and the bulk of my Instagram thread shows lobster rolls and barefoot kids in cutoff shorts enjoying picnics and sparklers on parade-sidelines, I think about my Americanism and the dualities, the good and bad of living abroad.

People are complex beings. In eighth or ninth grade, I wrote my own mythological story to illustrate the origin of some emotion. I wrote about a rainbow after a storm and two Greek sisters experiencing something both devastating and profoundly beautiful. It was a whole dramatic story leading up to the origin of “bittersweet”. We can have warring emotions, two realities coexisting.


To be of a certain culture living away from one’s home is often complex. One may love their newer home but greatly miss those they left behind. One may adore the transportation system and their new view, a high-paying or more satisfying job, but feel torn at times. It can all be a bit bittersweet, no matter how great the call or reason to come to this new land.

It is the 4th of July and it is more than nostalgia I feel. I identify as an American. I celebrate the country’s ideals. As a foreigner, I have spent almost eight years here in Japan adjusting and missing my family, adjusting and comparing cultures, walking in between language and customs.

Even if I spend the rest of my days here or anywhere away from the US, if I retire, become a grandmother here, continue to adjust and even become adept at language here, I will always, to some extent, be living abroad. The American in me may not ever cease being American. That is fine, that is A-okay. I’ll be complex. That is, after all, only human. We don’t get “wiped clean” to receive something new. We can gain and trade languages, add stamps and experiences to our passports, even become residents in a new country and still always be American, or Swedish, or Mexican. We don’t ever have to give up identity. This stays with us even while other variables shift. People are layered with gorgeous details and complexities. My sun-splattered freckles may stay with me forever, though I am far from the beaches and summer days of my youth.

We never really stop being that original person–the little boy or girl with memories of writing their name with sparklers on the beach, the kid who was afraid to try a new food, the shy preteen who realized they felt alive waterskiing at summer camp. The humor, even that we grow up with, watching movies and hearing our uncle, mom, or grandpa tell jokes. All of it is important. All of it speaks to identity.


The way I grew up, all of the memories, the holidays like Fourth of July, vacations, and conversations–see, they make up our foundation. The way, the culture in which I grew up, that which I saw and experienced will always be my foundation. Part of that, a major part of this, is location, right? Country of origin. Opportunities, moments, the gifts and sadly, the tragedies that affect us. How we see others deal with pain. How we as a family, as a people, as an individual celebrate. These attributes can be tied to country. How we even view “diversity” and “challenge”. It’s all in there.

I am an American with a certain lens. Yes, it’s been widened a certain extent by living abroad. I will hopefully continue to grow and change, but I may never really ever stop being or at least at times, feeling “foreign”. I will continue to lay down roots. My children, though, for as much as they are Japanese, will always also be American. We can be complex people. People rooted to a space but also thinking of what we miss. This is some of the magic of America, in its collective self. Americans are not one type, not one general physique, not one accent, or one non-accent. We’re from all over and may live all over. All of us living abroad become part of the body, joining in a new cultural identity, landscape, an workforce, but we also retain our roots, enjoy new opportunities while celebrating our origin.


My kids don’t know that if in the US today, they’d be home from school, gobbling blueberries, making eating someone’s wiggly Jell-O dessert, hugging their aunts and cousins. We’d probably be at the beach or in Philly with Grandma, looking at The Liberty Bell. They’d certainly know the words to our national anthem (Reminder, self. Teach this). They may not be privy to the nuances of each American holiday, but I do and I miss these things.

Yes, I get the double goodness of new holidays to celebrate in Japan, but I don’t have it all. There are costs to widening one’s vision. We don’t get to see our family, those close friends we left up close. We get tinges of nostalgia and the joy and pain of comparison.


We get other kinds of popsicles and treats made out of sweet beans, but there is no ice cream man coming down our block in his ice cream truck with the song. There are no shops with the red, white, and blue flag hung outside. There is no Macy’s Day Parade on Thanksgiving in Tokyo. There is no float with veterans waving whom we may salute.

A holiday of one’s birth country or childhood may prompt some sadness or at least a moment of wistful thinking if we aren’t stateside or with others to commemorate the day. Celebrations may be internal and with a bit of pain. We see a whole big view and there is more cost than the international flight. There are new friends, though, a more complex understanding of war and international relations. There, like in my typed-up myth, is a whole rainbow to discover, yes. There is a greater appreciation for those here who bridge my world with their kindness and acceptance. There are trips to plan–both domestic and international. New memories to shape.

There are Fourths of July that are bittersweet. I am, after all, an American living abroad.



Making Peace & Raising Babies Out of Culture

Making our way out of the house, there are a few things you should know: it is June 27 and while coolish now, temps will continue to climb. I have with me in the stroller, my little girl, almost three-weeks-old. In Japan, it is obligatory for newborn babes to stay in the house a solid month—recovering moms, too, as they are both doted on by her mother. (This supposes that the grandmother/mother of the postpartum woman is alive and available and that the woman does not live abroad).

My baby and I receive stares. We are out and it hasn’t been one month.


I am not new to the culture here; it is my third baby in Tokyo and because of that, I now have thicker skin. In the beginning, with my first, I was fragile. My second, too. We moms and those of us living in a foreign territory are vulnerable to jabs, even from well-meaning ladies who ask, “Isn’t your baby cold?” with sometimes piercing eyes and stern tones. A perceived judgment from a doctor any neighbor seemed to wield every power to make me cry and shrink into my skin. It used to, anyway.

On our walkabout this morning, my neighbor raises her eyes in alarm when she sees me with baby. “Ehhhh? Is it okay to have her out?” with an implied “already??” I know how to reassure her now with the Japanese for “It’s okay; it’s a very short walk, just around the neighborhood.” The stress is on “short, little, brief”, as in “Don’t worry–I know the rules and feel my own concern.”


At the nearby market, the fawning cashier asks how old the baby is and upon my reply, she shuts down, just after giving me a double-take, mouth in a grimace. Three weeks is not the correct answer.

It’s cool–I’m secure. I walk with shoulders back, smiling at anyone who gives me eye contact. I’m proud of getting out. I’m proud of her.

In the old days of living here, abroad, and raising babies? I would not have felt this cool peace. I would have shrunken back from the sun, afraid of others’ opinions or I would have felt real anger. I’ve leveled out. I’ve found my voice and my rhythm, no mattter what.


See, mothering can feel so foreign already, so mothering abroad can at times, feel overwhelming. A new mom can feel quite weepy, anxious, or a mix of forty different feelings inside.

Add the dynamic of being outside of one’s home culture? Eesh. Whatever we thought we were good at before may not even be relevant anymore in a different setting. Without language, too, we can feel like dopes. Or maybe we look reckless.

I’ve shocked, surprised, concerned the entire area with the fact that I bicycled while pregnant. I have been told on and talked about. I’ve defensively lifted my chin a bit too much sometimes, wanting to show that despite my lack of fitting in, despite my lack of language, I have my education and my own mother’s advice. Mommying in another culture can shift more than your body. It’s a journey, truly, of the emotions and the mind. Sometimes all of that gets mangled and tangled as we try to find our place and the things we’re good at in this new role.

To have a voice and lift the unspoken words onto a page has been, for me, some of the best medicine. To use my voice in a culture where I am limited has been the best.



So I talk and I sing and I compromise, too. I make room to incorporate the bevy of wise advice and wonderful treats found here (longer stays in hospitals and birth houses here; granting more independence to children; introducing different first foods to babies on a different schedule) thanking and appreciating others for their input; assuming first that they come with love instead of judgment, etc. I encourage new moms, too.

I have a bigger toolkit now, a broader palette—one that incorporates and understands two worlds, two languages, and so many more people. Sure there may be tough moments, but I’m grateful for the confidence that generally beams where insecurity used to slump. The questioning, negative comments, and glances I more easily shrug off.

I know I’m a good mom now more than ever, perhaps. My voice, my choices and the cultural decisions I weave into our life bring about confidence. I stand on the firm rocks of who we are as a family, who I am as a mom and woman, the confidence of two cultures who will catch me and gird me up. Maybe they’re also two worlds which laugh as I try to figure it all out.


**Attention!!: For many mothers and women raising children abroad, finding our voice is that much more paramount. I’m using my voice, along with 25 other women in 24 other counties. We share our unique stories of change, belonging, joy, and loss in the book, Knocked Up Abroad Again. 

This self-published wonder of a book is LIVE on Kickstarter! Come see, support, and spread the word! Help us use our voice. Without full financial support, this book will not be. 


And, heya–did you catch my post on Roasted’s Traveling With Toddlers series?

Here it is! There’s also Kenya, Colombia, Bali, China,…great for any of us who wonder about life around the globe as a curious traveler or expat.

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