Assemble your team

After a week and a half of being very deeply not ok, I realized I was in way over my head.

I needed a team.

I didn’t know it at the time – I wouldn’t have believed it at the time: but I DESERVED a team. If you are reading this, I want you to know: You deserve a team. You deserve people who have your back, you deserve people who will push you forward, you deserve people who will sit with you in a closet, you deserve people who will be there to help you out of it.

Here’s the crazy thing about anxiety: it’s way too easy to look ok to the rest of the world, when you are super not ok.

It’s way too easy to look ok to people you live with, when you are super not ok.

I mean: the husband knew I was having a rough go of things, on some level. But I had a brave face and was still moving forward and all of my worst, inconsolable breakdowns: they happened in a closet behind closed doors.

He did not know how not ok I was because I was not showing him how not ok I was.

So first team member: I recruited the husband.

My primary care provider had retired, and so I found a new one. Luckily I already had a recommendation from a friend, and luckily, she had openings.

Made an appointment with my gynecologist. Hormones can be brutal.

Found a therapist. Who was TERRIBLE. Found a new therapist.

Who gave a recommendation for a dietician. (That whole not eating thing? I was in a really bad place. The dietician was a God-send.)

And the new therapist also gave a recommendation for a psychiatrist. (I know drugs aren’t for everyone, but – especially if you have a family history of mental illness: consider drugs.)

I reached out to family.

I reached out to friends, especially friends who had BEEN there.

There are people who are part of my team who had no idea I had recruited them. And my team: it was bigger than I could have ever imagined. And they KEPT reaching out to me, even after I found my footing and was in an okayer place.

And I recognize how fortunate I am to have access to health care: I have 5 medical professionals on my team. That should not be a luxury, but somehow it has become one in this crazy world we live in.

Get yourself a team. It is terrifying. There are people who won’t join. But there are people who will! We are not meant to live these lives of ours alone.

You deserve a team.

And once you’ve got your team? Get working on that toolkit.

Assemble your toolkit

This is where the work really comes in. Want to see change? Then … there’s gonna be some work. Hard work. Fun work. All kinds of work, but for the best reason: You.

I tried so many things to find what belonged in my toolkit. So here’s what’s worked for me:

TIPP skills: These are super helpful when you are in full-blown panic meltdown. But: you should practice them before you get to that point. (If you google ‘DBT TIPP skills’ you can find all kinds of good resources.)

The skills:

  • Temperature – change your temperature (i.e., ice pack on the face)
  • Intense exercise – even just 30 seconds of jumping jacks
  • Paced breathing – slow, focused breathing
  • Paired muscle relaxation – work through your body, tensing a pair of muscles (i.e., both hands) for a few seconds, then relaxing those muscles for a few seconds, before moving on to another muscle pair.

My favorite is the paired muscle relaxation. And if you find yourself getting lightheaded doing the paced breathing: breathe out just a bit longer than you breathe in. Ask me how I know.

Quit Stuff: Ok, so maybe this isn’t a tool, per se, and maybe it’s a given. But yeah, clear your plate. A lot of the stuff that is adding extra stress? Even some of the stuff that you usually love? You don’t need to do it. You need to eat; you need to sleep; and you need to shower every couple of days. I’m lucky, in that the husband was able to run a lot of interference for me.

And yeah, it sucks to quit stuff. People will ask you about it. And that sucks.

I quit teaching Sunday school. There were a lot of weeks I just wasn’t there, because, well, uh, I was too busy falling apart in my closet. But then there were weeks I was able to venture outside, so I did! And I would be at church, trying to hold it together for 2 hours … and some people told me how much they loved my Sunday school lessons! And that was really nice to hear.

But then: one Sunday, I was asked point blank: “You are such a great teacher! What happened?”

So, yeah. That … was not my favorite moment. There is stigma around mental health. And around being a quitter. And I was still a very hot mess. I smiled and mumbled something and got outta there.

But today? Today I wish I would have said: “What happened? My anxiety exploded and I needed to scale back.” Because people need to know: it’s ok to scale back when we need to. It’s ok to quit stuff.

Meditation: yup, it works. It takes practice!! If you have a smartphone, get a meditation app. And if you’ve got room in your budget for it, I highly recommend Headspace or Calm. Calm is my preferred option, but you can’t go wrong with either one. For me, the benefit of a paid app is the organization of everything. I downloaded a few free apps, but they were just sooooo disorganized, I found it stressful to dig through it all to find what I was looking for.

What it does: it helps create a distance between your overwhelming emotion (anxiety, worry, loneliness, etc) and your self. There is a huge difference between being worry, and in watching myself be worried. One is drowning; the other is awareness of a wave that will pass, and in being able to ride it vs. resisting it.

Exercise: One thing about anxiety – it can cause a build up of all those fight-or-flight chemicals in your body. And if you never fight or flee … then they just hang around creating mayhem. So exercise! A walk around the block, a full-on kickboxing class, whatever it is: get up and move.

I love the Down Dog apps – if you’ve got the budget for it, and you are a person who loves being told what to do when you exercise (fitness class junkie? fitness dvd user?), then these apps are great. I can vouch for the HIIT, Barre, and Yoga apps. One subscription gets you access to all 3. You set your workout length (as low as 2 minutes, even, I think) and difficulty, and then it just tells you what to do. Every workout is made up on the fly, so its different every time. I love living in the future!

One thing I really like doing is a workout with all 3 apps: 5-15 minutes of HIIT, 5-15 minutes of barre, then 5-15 minutes of yoga, depending on how much time I have. 15 minute total workout? Nothing wrong with that.

Yoga: this one works, too! Yoga with Adriene is free on YouTube. Or the Down Dog app, as mentioned above.

One warning: yoga brings clarity. I’m not sure what it is about all the breathing and the movements and the concentration, but doing yoga breaks loose all sorts of stuff in your head. Clarity is good, but you may need some time to work through it all. So I suuuuper recommend pairing yoga with:

Journaling: There’s just something about pounding out your thoughts, on the keyboard or on paper, that helps focus and shape everything. Some days, it feels like all my inner truths are really held in my pen, and I just need to keep moving it to get them all out. Yeah, I write a whole lotta nonsense. But there are those nuggets that pop out that really make me stop and realize I need to make a change – or that perhaps my changes are actually working.

Bullet Journaling: So along with my journaling, I’ve started using a bullet journal to track my mood and habits. It has been illuminating, to say the least. Being a hormonally-driven lady, after a few months of tracking my mood, I found that there are 4-6 days a month that are low days. And they are suuuuper predictable. So now I mark those days on my calendar, and all those horrible things I tell myself during those days? they are nonsense, I can just put those on the shelf and look at them in a few days and make my decision later. Just the awareness that I have garbage days has made so much difference. I have permission to pause, permission to ignore. And I pause! And I ignore! Mindfulness … there’s a reason everybody is talking about it. (Now I don’t ALWAYS pause and ignore; I’m still a work in progress.)

Meal planning: I have a lot of bad eating habits. But: if I plan ahead, buy food, meal prep, and the meals and snacks are just THERE? Already taken care of? Then I am MUCH more likely to make good choices. And when your body is FED, everything is just so much better. So, so much better.

Medication: The brain is an organ, just like any other, and can malfunction, just like any other. Work with medical professionals to find the right answers for you. One word of advice: if you can possibly not be alone while you work through drug options and doses, don’t be alone. They can have wacky side effects. (They can also have dangerous side effects, luckily for me I just got the weird ones.) Also: TRUST yourself. If something isn’t working, you are the best person to know. Your doctor? works for YOU. If you need to stop and try something new, then your doctor should work with you to find that something new. There are a LOT of options available. Working with a psychiatrist (they are the experts in the brain meds), I found my drug and my dosage. Will I be on them forever? I don’t know. But for now, they are a vital part of my toolkit.

THERAPY: This shouldn’t be a luxury, but … it is. I am so grateful to have access to it. How do you think I found out about some of this stuff I keep in my toolkit?? I mean, I know there’s google … but, there are also experts who can provide specialized direction for you. And also: I am a person who needs to be held accountable. If I know I’m talking to Jenn once every two weeks, then ya better believe I meditate, exercise and do yoga at least once every two weeks …

Experts: There are so many experts out there! Some of them are bound to resonate with you. Keep watching TED talks, falling down internet rabbit holes, reading books, till you find your people. Here are some of my favorites:

Self care alarm: I have an alarm on my watch that goes of Sunday through Thursday evenings at 7:30 pm. (I take the weekends off.) And yeah, sometimes I ignore it. (Sometimes I try to ignore it, but the husband doesn’t let me. Get yourself a team!!)

But: it goes off, and I have a few hours before bedtime to focus on me. Exercise? Journal? Yoga? Buy groceries so I can meal prep the following evening? Pedicure? Blog? Organize my yarn? I don’t have to do all the things all of the time. But I can do one thing, some of the time.

Because I am worth it.

YOU are worth it. Build yourself a toolkit.

Happy Anniversary!

12 months ago today, I fell apart.

Into a million pieces.

I was inconsolable.

I lived in my closet.

I used up all of my vacation time.

I took out a vacation loan. And I used up all of that.

I stopped eating.

And that was all before 2020 really brought it! So … it’s been a rough 12 months. I know it’s been a rough 12 months for all of us, and not to brag or anything … but I really got a running start on it all.

I live with anxiety. That is a thing about me. I have spent 40 years holding it together. When a chink fell off, I picked it up and fit it back in. There were always chinks falling off. But always, always, I held it together.

Turns out: that is not the best way to handle anxiety. Focusing on the superficial means you never really get to the source.

Falling apart is not something I would wish on my worst enemy. Being untethered is terrifyingly lonely. But …. but …

When you are unmoored and broken into a million pieces, with all your bits around you on your closet floor: you get to see yourself.

You get to see what you hold at your core.

And … for me at least: it is no wonder I am an anxious mess. At my core, at my center, the foundation I built everything on top of, I held the ideas that: I am not worth loving. Not worth listening to. Not worth knowing.

No wonder chinks kept falling off! That is not a solid foundation to build on.

It feels absurd typing those words. It felt absurd admitting to myself that I felt that way about myself. Because: those things are not true about any other living soul on this planet, THAT I know. So, as a logical person, I also know that it is highly, highly unlikely that those things are true about me.

The first step to change, to growth, is to really and truly SEE that thing that you want to change. But, oh, there are so many steps to take after that.

Luckily for me, I am a woman of action. When I have a problem, I need to DO something. When I am relaxing, I like to DO something. When I am learning: more DOING.

So, after a week and a half of being the most not ok I have ever been in my life: I started DOING something about it.

I assembled my team.

And I assembled my toolkit.

Counterbalance

I’m not a romantic at heart – I don’t believe in soulmates.

I also don’t think you need a partner to be a complete and fulfilled person.

What I do believe, though, is that some people are better suited for each other than others. And that a partner can open up the world in ways you might not have done all on your own.

I needed someone who shared some common ground. Some common interests. Someone who laughed at my jokes. And someone who, first and foremost, respected me as a fellow human being.

Those common interests are what brought the husband and I together. A shared industry; a shared nerdiness; he’s only 8 months my senior, so a shared childhood experience, even if we met after we were very much grown adults.

And so that is what initially joined us – but no two people are exactly alike. (And seriously, how boring would the world be if we all were. Nobody would read my blog, as they would have already written the exact. same. thing. themselves.)

But then, after you have joined: there are the things that are different. The things that have the potential to pull you apart. The things that strain and stretch – the things that are uncomfortable and foreign.

I’ve found that having a counterbalance helps me experience the world in a more, well, balanced way. Turns out, I really do need someone to urge me to spend when all I want to do is save. Someone to pull me back and show me the big picture when I get stuck on one very tiny – and often inconsequential – detail. Someone to help me put down roots when I’m always dreaming about the next place. Someone to remind me to eat when I’m caught up in a project. Someone to push me to make a decision when I want to gather just one more idea, just one more bit of information. Someone to remind me to breathe, and to shower, and to just do the next thing when I’m drowning in anxiety.

It is really nice having someone to split the chores with. Someone to go on adventures with. Someone to share your popcorn and peanut m&ms with (put the m&ms in the popcorn! Salty and sweet, it is divine! You’re welcome … oh, from the husband. I never knew do to that before I met him, now that I think about it …)

But it is even better to have someone to grow with. Someone to pull you to the middle when you’re falling off the edge. Someone to point out another part of the picture when all you can see is one side. Someone to show you that maybe – just maybe – your way isn’t the only way.

Don’t find a soulmate.

Find a counterbalance.

Yeehaw and Darn Tootin’: End of an Era

When we moved to San Antonio 8 years ago, it felt like a forever decision. It felt like we were putting down forever roots. We had a house built! I had even thought out how we’d turn the top floor into an apartment for our live-in caregiver. You know, for when we got old and couldn’t handle the stairs anymore.

Funny thing about life, though: you can’t always predict where it will take you.

When we arrived in Texas, we owned two cars. But at some point along the way, with the husband working from home, we decided maybe we’d be a one car household. And so we sold a car.

And after living in our home for several years, we realized: we aren’t the kind of people who enjoy owning a home. There’s so much to take care of on a daily basis – and then when anything breaks, you gotta figure out how to fix it. And: we aren’t the kind of people who enjoy doing our own yard work … or our own house cleaning …. or our own handyman work. Houses get A LOT more expensive when you outsource all the not-so-fun parts.

And so we got rid of half our stuff and moved into an apartment.

You know what comes with apartments?? Free pools and gyms. And a handyman who stops by whenever you put in a work order. I highly recommend it.

But, I digress: Texas. I was talking about Texas.

You guys: this place is hot. Every May, it hits 90 degrees. And doesn’t let up till October. And even well into November, it’s not exactly fall weather. (November 9: it was 84 degrees today. Which is wayyyy better than 94, so I’ll take it, but … eighty four degrees, y’all.)

You can take the girl out of Washington, but you can’t take the Washington out of the girl. I melt, every summer. I get out into that heat, and just turn into a sad puddle.

The winter months are fantastic, though! That is the trade off for the brutal summers, a wonderfully mild winter.

When I arrived in Texas, it was a pretty big culture shock, not gonna lie. Texans take friendly to a whole ‘nother level. I have never talked to so many strangers in my life! At the grocery store. In waiting rooms. In elevators. Standing in line at the movie theater. And neighbors! There’s this thing here, actually meeting your neighbors. Cul de sac parties with the neighbors. It’s pretty wild.

And everybody at church wanted to be my friend! And in the knitting groups I joined, they just all loved me and invited me to stuff! It was … weird. I spent way too long trying to figure out what their end-game could possibly be …. before it dawned on me that it was probably friendship. Probably they, uh, wanted to be my friend.

And the driving! I drove for 10 years in the DC area, so I thought I knew how to drive in traffic. But: I didn’t know how to do it all at 70 miles an hour. Or how to change lanes 4 at a time. (My family all came out to visit one fine March, I rented a mini-van and played tour guide all week. They all thought I WAS NUTS with my driving. B2 swore he’d never move here because of the insane traffic. Where does he live now you ask? Oh, pretty darn close to here …)

I have lived in a few regions in this fine country: the PNW, Utah, DC, and now Texas. And they are all so incredibly different. I know it’s all the same country, with mostly the same language, but there are new things to learn everywhere you go.

In Texas? I learned how to talk to strangers. Me! Talking to strangers! I was the girl in college who talked to no one. In any of my classes. Like ev-er. Unless they spoke to me first. Or we were doing a project together.

In Texas? I learned to drive like a madman. Ok, well, maybe I didn’t quite master it – but I am way less timid on the road than I used to be. And my parents find it terrifying. (It’s fine. My driving. is. fine. I’m perfectly safe out there on those roads.)

In Texas? I learned to let people in. I learned to let friendships grow. I learned what it is to be loved by so many, so easily.

I am going to miss this place. I am excited for the new adventures that await (and for so very few 90 degree days), but I am sad to leave Texas behind. I am so glad for everything I learned. I cherish the friendships I have made here, and I am glad for technology that will enable us to keep in touch. And I am so forever grateful I learned this new ‘friendship’ skill that I can take with me wherever I may find myself.

You can take the girl out of Texas: but you’ll never be able to take the Texas out of the girl.

Mulan

When Disney rolled out Mulan in 1998, I finally had my princess. Sure, I was 18 and headed to college a few months later, but Mulan resonated with me in a way that no other princess ever had.

Ariel hit the big screen when I was nine. And nine-year-old me had some issues with ‘Kiss the Girl’ regarding consent. Go on and kiss the girl? Hmm, nope. You gotta ask her first.

Belle came along a few years later. I do relate to the girl who wanders around town, headstrong and desperate to go out and see the world. But … a girl who would fall in love so easily? Pshaw.

Jasmine may have been a little more my speed – but the movie wasn’t about Jasmine. It was centered around Aladdin.

The next few years brought Nala, Pocahontas, Esmerelda and Megara. All fine additions to the princess lineup, to be sure … but, still, they didn’t quite represent me.

Enter Mulan. I was super excited to see a story from Asia! But I had no idea what the movie really held for me.

Mulan is a girl who does all the girl things wrong. Her heart isn’t really in them, and when she tries – when she really, really tries – she messes everything up and is just a huge disappointment to her family and community.

And then she goes and has an adventure! Not a journey to find a man – but a journey to go be a thing that no one thinks she can be. She has her struggles, but, ultimately, she comes out on top.

And in the cartoon, at least: a man follows her home.

The cartoon does have some great songs! But: it’s not a musical. I made the mistake of buying the soundtrack when I got to college and … well … it’s mostly instrumental background stuff.

There’s been a big kerfuffle about the new live-action movie not living up to the cartoon: it’s not as funny! They took the songs out!

But for me: this movie’s soul is the same as the cartoon. When Mulan’s father sat her down to tell her to hide her talents: I was five years old again, my dad telling me I couldn’t be a Cub Scout. That this thing that I saw my big brother do, that I was so excited about! I couldn’t do that. I shouldn’t want that.

Mulan is a girl who wants all the wrong things. Who is good at the wrong things. Who is so very bad at the things she is supposed to excel at. The things that will bring honor to her family.

But those things that are so wrong? They wouldn’t be wrong if she had been a boy.

So off she goes, has an adventure, saves the world. All by pushing aside the expectations society put on her, and embracing who it is she wants to be.

So this live-action Mulan? It was everything I wanted it to be.

What’s in a name?

Dr. Akemi  Togawa

This weekend, the husband and I had a monster movie double feature of a couple of childhood favorites: The War of the Gargantuas and Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend.

I was really impressed this time around with our childhood tastes! Both of these movies are actually a decently good time, even if you aren’t 5 years old.

So the War of the Gargantuas: I remember watching this movie as a child. This is where I learned that monsters live in the mountains. This is also the first and only time I saw someone with my own name in a real-life movie. My parents tell me that I was very worried about Dr. Akemi Togawa. Apparently, I was glued to the tv until I knew she made it out ok.

This time around, as I settled into the movie, I found it odd that they don’t mention the lady doctor’s name during the first half of the movie. It’s all just a bunch of “Dr? Dr.”

And then! And then she falls off a cliff and is hanging on for dear life when the American doctor finally says her name.

As someone who never randomly hears my name unless someone is talking to me: it’s jarring. It’s jarring to hear ‘Akemi!’ yelled from the tv.

And from then on out, it was constant yelling of her name. Pronounced a myriad of ways, but all very recognizable as, well, my name. It caught me off guard every time. Every time!

I have to say, I really am quite used to being an almost-only. It used to bother me, as a kid, when I could never find my name on a keychain. But now? Now, I couldn’t be happier to be one of a few. It’s a small club, but it’s a good one.

Japan: What we Wore in the Fall

Ok, so what did we pack for 16 days in Japan? The 16 days were spread across Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Okinawa in October. The first 3 cities: average 56-73 degrees during the month of October. Okinawa? The stats say 72-81 during October but … it’s a HOT 81 degrees. High humidity and unrelenting sun make it unbearably warm during the day, if you are out and about trying to see as much as you possibly can. Which is kind of our thing.

So we had to pack for pleasant tourist weather and also a few days of seriously hot and humid weather.

First up: the husband packed every single item of clothing he owns into a bag.

But for me, I spent a long time putting together the perfect trip wardrobe. This list is based off of memory, photographs, and my packing list. I wish I had taken pictures of myself every day, but, alas, I didn’t. So this is close-ish:

Bottoms:
2 pairs of jeans
1 pair of Eddie Bauer travel pants
1 skirt/swimsuit coverup

Tops:
1 blouse
3 3/4 sleeve shirts
5 t-shirts
1 hand-knitted sweater (that required a t-shirt underneath)

Shoes:
Flip-flops (Clarks: so super comfy)
Casual ballet flats + Gekks inside (Clarks again: super comfy)
Ankle boots (Earth: again, super comfy, great support)

Outer:
Hat
Eddie Bauer windbreaker
Multi-way cardigan (Love, love, love this thing)
Travel scarf/dress (Have not yet gone on a trip where I’ve made serious use of it; but I love the multi-use idea of it – I do LOVE this for wearing on the plane, it makes a great wearable blanket, that you can quickly turn into an infinity scarf or cardigan)

Other:
Bathing Suit
Yoga pants (for lounging around the hotels)
Jewelry
Purse (Love, love, love this bag! I love Baggallini bags for their practicality, but this one might be my favorite. This isn’t my favorite color, but I like it well enough: I jump on their site every couple of months to see if they’ve added something more my speed. But still: 8 months later, this is STILL the bag I am using.)

Pinterest Board

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Japan: A Collection of Hopefully Helpful Tips and Observations

Osaka

Ok, so maybe you want to go to Japan and don’t care about all my hilarious anecdotes? Here’s a collection of random tips:

If you have an unlocked phone, order a sim card and swap it out! You’ll have internet everywhere.

If you are going to use the local trains, get a Suica card. (You may be able to order a card online before you get there, if you really want to hit the ground running.) We used ours on different lines in Tokyo, and in Osaka. If we had taken the train anywhere in Kyoto, it would have worked there, too. We found the trains fairly easy to navigate. You can trade in your Suica card at the end of the trip to get any remaining money back. They can also be used at some vending machines? We did not try that.

Google translate is a lifesaver! Not sure what the menu says or what you are buying in a conbini? Aim your phone at it (internet required, see the tip above), and it will translate enough bits of things that you can sort of tell what it is you’re considering.

Need cash? Conbinis have ATMs.

Oh, you’ll need cash. Weirdly, not all places take credit cards.

Hungry? Conbinis have surprisingly good food!

What’s a conbini? A convenience store. Family Mart, Lawson, 7-Eleven. Yes. 7-Eleven. I have no idea why they all have ‘L’s in the name, but … they do.

Wendy’s First Kitchens have machines to order at, so you don’t have to interact with other humans (for ordering at least) if you don’t want to.

McDonald’s has handy laminated menus at the counter so you can point at what you want.

No eating and walking on the street. It’s rude, I guess? No one will stop you, but if you pay attention, anyone eating on the street has stopped walking and is standing off to the side.

There are drink vending machines everywhere, but food vending machines are few and far between.

The Japanese are all about the seasons! Including in their snack foods. We managed to get Apple Coke and White Peach Fanta because we were there in the fall. If you are a junk foodie, keep an eye open and you’ll get to try all kinds of weird stuff. (But Apple Coke and White Peach Fanta? So good.)

Japan (and Malaysia, too, so maybe it’s in all of Asia? Unsure) is all about random flavored Kit Kats. We tried all kinds of flavors. All kinds of flavors – many of them probably seasonal.

Stop in at a Don Quijote store. You’re welcome.

Also, check out the Robot Restaurant if you are in Tokyo. No locals attend the show, so it’s not really an authentic Japanese experience in that regard. But it is something unlike anything you’ve ever done, I can almost guarantee that.

Tokyo: The End of our Adventure

My new tshirt! And a furoshiki full of snacks

Our last day in Tokyo, we rode the Airport Limousine Bus to the Narita airport. It picked us up right in front of our hotel, made a couple of stops to pick up other passengers, and then we were on our way.

At the airport, we spent the last of our cash in gift shops and vending machines. The husband had been considering trying Coolish and he finally took the plunge. And then he was so sad he missed out on 16 days of coolish fun: It’s soft-serve ice cream in a toddler applesauce pouch. So … the presentation leaves a little to be desired, but I understand the actual product is quite delightful.

I loaded up the snacks I wanted easy access to on the plane in my furoshiki, all flipped and folded and knotted up as a bag. And I wore my new shirt!! (First time I washed the shirt … it shrank. A LOT. Turned into a belly shirt. I guess Japanese ladies aren’t generally as tall as I am … so they don’t need shirts as long as I need them? It’s a shame, though, I really loved the color.)

And then we got on a plane and made it home, and were so sad to not be in Japan anymore. But … super happy be back in our not futon-mattress bed. The end!