happy holidays!

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! Are you still here? Anyone still check this site that gets updated once every six months? If so, hi, how's it going? I'm still here. We spent a very uneventful Christmas here, the big event being going into Osaka to see Mr. Incredible (what The Incredibles by Pixar is called here). We managed to catch the only English showing of the day, which was lucky. It was a great movie. I miss going to the movies. We used to go a lot, and since we've been here, we've only seen the most recent Harry Potter movie and Mr. Incredible. We have a long break coming up in the next week, as New Year's here is a really big holiday, big enough that everything closes (even the ATM machines) for nearly a week. We can't really travel anywhere because there are no available rooms at hotels, but we may try to do some daytrips on the reduced train schedules. It's chilly here, but the sun comes out much more frequently than it did in Bellingham so that makes me very happy. I need to start training for the "cold-endurance marathon" that I'm going to try to run with the students this February. It's not really a marathon, it's 5K for girls and 10K for boys (I'm running with the girls thank you very much), but I haven't been running in a very long time and although I'm in pretty good shape from living on the 5th floor and walking everywhere, my running lungs need some practice. Although it's not as cold outside as in the north, I do wish that insulation and indoor heating were more common here. Life here is getting easier, our Japanese is slowly getting better, although it is still not really enough to be useful. We have got most of daily life figured out, although some days are rougher than others. It's not fun to be so far away from family during the holidays, but it has been really interesting to spend Christmas in Japan. The importance of KFC chicken and heavily decorated Christmas cakes supercedes all else here. Pink and red flowers are also Christmas-y here (or maybe they are for New Year's?). We got a tiny tree in the mail from my parents, which was the extent of our decorating. Our best discovery of the past few weeks was the Nature Spa Takarazuka (http://www.naturespa-takarazuka.jp/spa.html) where you can sit in a hot tub under the sky on the roof, or enjoy the Japanese-style public baths indoors. There is no better way to warm up than to sit in hot water for as long as you can stand it. Hot baths and hot tea - that's the way to get through winter.