Monthly Archives: January 2014

I’m One Lucky Duck: 2013 in Reflection

2013 was unbelievable! Possibly even one of my best years yet, so let me just begin this post by saying I am one very, very lucky duck!

I’m stealing this idea from a good friend of mine’s blog. It may be almost February, but it just seemed like such a fabulous chance to look back at the past year and feel grateful for all the wonderful things that did happen I couldn’t resist! It was guaranteed to put a spring in my step as I prepare to put my best foot forward in 2014!

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2013 began with an amazing two-week vacation to Cambodia and Singapore. Which, for a girl who loved pretending to be Indiana Jones when she was little, was a dream come true. Also, speaking of dreams, my stomach is still dreaming of the amazing cuisine of Singapore (a.k.a. The Land of Foodies). Dearest Singapore, I’ll be back one day, to eat more of your delicious food, that is a promise! cambodia singaporeAt the end of January, right in time for Valentine’s Day, my friend Tomomi and I traveled to Kyoto to attend Salon du chocolat which is an international chocolate festival. I basically died and went to heaven because I ate some of the most delicious chocolate my stomach will ever taste, I was surrounded by the most beautiful chocolate my eyes had ever beheld and I even had the honor of meeting both Jean-Charles Rochoux and Pascal Le Gac (2 very famous luxury chocolate makers!)salon du chocolateIn February I released my inner snow queen and went on 2 fun winter adventures: a 3-day snowboarding trip to Hakuba, Nagano and a weekend getaway to the quaint & picturesque town of Shirakawago.nagano shirakawago 1 shirakawago 2

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As the snow melted, the best adventure was waiting right around the corner. My parents came to Japan, and I couldn’t have loved our time together more! We 3 musketeers spent two weeks traveling around Japan creating beautiful memories to last us a lifetime. I will forever remember our good fortune that the cherry blossoms decided to say “konnichiwa!” to my parents too by blooming an uncharacteristic, never before heard of, 2 full weeks early!!! So my parents actually got to experience the most beautiful side of Japanese spring season! It was a once in a lifetime trip!

momanddad2 momdad6 momdad7You would think life would calm down after such a whirlwind vacation, but it just never seemed to. Adventures waited every time I tried to stop and catch my breath! Life just got better and better!

A beautiful hike up Mt. Aoba with good friends…aobayama1 …I walked across burning hot coals with my bare feet in a firewalking ritual at a Fukui temple…walking on fire…and participated in a day long prefectural-wide scavenger hunt with a KarRally team dressed up as Madonna throughout the ages! (That’s me second in on the left if you can believe it!)Kar RallySoon after this, came the unfortunate and busy time when good-byes had to be said to old friends as they left Fukui to pursue their dreams, and say hello in greeting to the new ALTs who came into my town to take their place. There’s never a dull moment in my life and this was my last summer in Japan so I lived every day with a carpe diem mindset.

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Two weeks road-tripping throughout Hokkaido lived up to my 2013 New Years Resolution to be more adventurous. I had never undertaken such a large holiday initiative before and I had my hands full juggling all the necessary research, planning and budgeting all by myself. It was also a personal test of sorts, designed to push me out of my traveling comfort zone because I had never done such a long trip, alone, in a foreign country before.  I learned a lot about myself during those long scenic drives and saw many breathtaking views that made me wonder if I had somehow wandered out of Japan and into a fairytale!

Such as at the Furano Lavender Farm, with purple blossoms stretching as far as the eye could see…hokkaido1…The mysterious turquoise waters of Lake Biei…hokkaido2….the wild splendors of Shiretoko which stole my heart. Seriously everyone, you’re lucky I decided to return to civilization after this place. I was sorely tempted to become a modern day Japanese Tarzan living in the wild…hokkaido3 hokkaido5 hokkaido6Reflecting on my photos of Mt. Rausu which I summited in the heat of summer – with a messed-up knee no less! – I couldn’t help but smile and think to myself “Damn, I am pretty badass!” I’m very proud of that hike in reflection! hokkaido 7And finally I went up to the beautiful Rebun Island which no one I know has ever done before, for 4 memorable days of hiking in wild flower paradise!
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I returned home to Fukui exhausted but happy as a clam. In need of rest and relaxation I traveled with my friends to the Earth Celebration at Sado Island. There is nothing quite like good friends, good food and summer music festivals in my opinion. Our inner hippies rejoiced as we let our inhibitions go, camped on a beach, went swimming in the ocean every morning to wake-up, and lay out every night gazing wistfully up at the constellations that were clear as diamonds. The pounding taiko drums at the Kodo music festival made my blood pound along in harmony and my soul soar as traditional Japanese music echoed across the field under a starry summer sky. I felt in that moment ready to take on the world. Sado Island is my personal paradise and I simply know I’ll remember that trip until I’m old, with grey hair and many more years under my belt. sado island

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My favorite season Autumn was lovely and relaxing with plenty of hikes, include a hike up the famous Mt. Hakusan which is one of Japan’s 3 most holy mountains. Watching sunrise dawn at the summit of this mountain with a best friend on each arm, I knew that right then and there was exactly where I was supposed to be. Choosing to stay a 3rd and final year in Japan had been the right choice!hakusanIn November, I was spoiled absolutely rotten when my friends Robin, Denea and Kim came all the way from Canada to visit me! (*Insert here the appropriate and necessary squeal of joy!*) Robin has insisted that 3 years is much too long for me to be gone, and insists I return home as promptly as possible. In the meantime, much to my delight, she couldn’t resist visiting! We had so much fun and I haven’t laughed so hard in years! Especially the maiko dress-up experience, none of us are going to forget that any time soon!i08cUQWmDSC_0001

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As Christmas drew near I was blessed with the ability to pop down to Kobe to see the Kobe Luminarie, an extraordinary Christmas light display which filled me with Christmas cheer…IMG_2323…before jetting off to be reunited with my amazing family and spend our first Christmas together in 2 years! I was glowing with happiness, and radiated perpetual joy every single day I was able to bask in their love and the tropical Hawaiian sun!1522230_10100844383650401_413116668_n 1486826_10100846565128701_1229695093_n 1504063_10100846565153651_800997576_n

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Finally, let me end this post by saying that I am grateful for the opportunity in 2013 to have been living my dream. I am still stunned sometimes when I remember the fact that I am living in Japan. I live in JAPAN and that is awesome!

Living here is so much more than simply amazing, it’s one of my biggest dreams come true. Thank you to all the amazing people in my life, you mean the world to me, which is funny because quite incidentally you do happen to live all around the world!

japan living in japanAs 2014 starts my heart is full to the brim with love and I’m eagerly awaiting whatever wonderful adventures this year has hidden in store!

XOXO, Jessie

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Categories: Life in Japan, Lifestyle, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Nutella-Monster Cinnamon Buns

Whenever I think of Nutella I can’t help but think of my wonderful friends Dan and Becca. If there was one thing they loved more than each other it was Nutella. If you know the character Cookie Monster, well they were his adorable twin siblings Nutella Monster #1 and Nutella Monster #2.

Becca got crazy excited if you offered her any dessert containing this super-rare-in-Japan chocolatey-goodness, and Dan was so protective of their tub he would sleep with it at night – yes, like a teddy bear! – to prevent it from freezing in winter months.  They have long since left Fukui, upgrading to sunny Melbourne, but I often think of them and miss them.

This weekend I spent a gloriously lazy 2 days and purposefully made no plans with anyone. I rolled over Saturday morning, read a little of my book and felt the pull to go to my kitchen and bake. I had cleaned it spotlessly in the days leading up to this weekend and it sang to me a siren song, the way only a clean kitchen can. ‘Come make a mess in me, come make something delicious‘ it seemed to whisper.

Soon enough, I found myself kneading dough with flour up to my elbows as I made an old favourite recipe: Nutella cinnamon buns. Becca was very upset she wasn’t in Fukui for these but I promised her I’d post the recipe. I think many people feel daunted when they imagine making cinnamon buns, but this recipe is pretty easy. It’s takes time, patience and love. If you’re still scared, let me ask you a question, how can you really go wrong with Nutella?! If you’ve ever made pizza dough, this recipe isn’t much harder than that.ImageWhat You’ll Need:

  • 3 tablespoons warm water
  • 3 tablespoons golden sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup Nutella (or more if you are feeling particularly decadent!)
  • 4 teaspoons cinnamon (sprinkle) + 2 teaspoons (for dough)

What You’ll Need To Do:

  1. In a small bowl stir together the warm water, sugar and yeast whisk with a fork. Wait for 6 minutes for the yeast to activate (it will begin to foam slightly)
  2. While waiting for the yeast to do its thing, place butter in a small pot and melt over a low heat. Add the milk, mix and heat together until milk is warm (but don’t let it simmer or boil!). Allow to cool slightly.
  3. In a large bowl combine the bread flour, all purpose flour, 2 teaspoons of your cinnamon and salt.
  4. Pour the yeast mixture and the milk mixture over the flour. Using your hands knead until well-combined and dough becomes slightly elastic.
  5. Form into a large ball, place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and allow to rise for 1 hour.
  6. Wait patiently. It’s tough I know.
  7. On a very, very lightly floured flat surface roll dough out evenly into a large rectangle. You want it to be very thin, about 0.5cm-1cm at most.
  8. Next is the fun part, slather on that Nutella! Have fun and taste it just to make sure it’s ok *wink wink* (hint: if you microwave it for about 20 seconds it spreads much easier, but then again my Nutella was quite cold.)
  9. Once the Nutella has been spread, evenly sprinkle the 4 teaspoons of cinnamon.
  10. Roll up (keeping as tight a roll as you can) and cut into 10-12 rolls and place in a buttered pan all nestled happily together next to one another. This helps to keep the sides from drying out, so every bun tastes like the yummiest and moist middle of a regular cinnamon bun.
  11. Cover and test your patience once again by waiting another 30-40 minutes for the baby buns to rise again.
  12. Bake at 375°F (190°C) for 28-30 minutes until gooey and delicious-looking.

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Om nom nom! Enjoy!

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My 2014 New Years Resolution

Quite ironically, the day I was the angriest was the first step to finding future happiness. I will not deny it, it wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t pleasant. I very well may be the world’s ugliest crying person and I only give in to crying when I’m both so mad and upset that I can’t deal with the conflicting emotions and short circuit. It was needed however, and long, long overdue. Just as it takes flames and destruction for the phoenix to rise reborn, sometimes in order to become stronger and ultimately a better person we need to suffer long enough to realize that we have only two options: give in or overcome it. Someone once said “I hope you live a life you’re proud of.  If you find that you are not, I hope you have the strength and courage to start over again.” 

Every year, after much introspection, I find something about myself that I would like to be better at, and make it the point of my new year to change it. I ensure that is never an easy task, but that it is one that’s attainable with due diligence. You can read My 2013 New Years Resolution here. This year’s resolution is much bigger, and far more daunting and I arrived at it after much soul-searching.

I have always had a problem, I just didn’t know it. The fact of the matter is, when put very simply, I am a giving person. According to my mother I always have been. When my younger brother and I were children she always used to watch in entertainment when we went for ice cream. I would take a lick or two of my chosen flavor and my natural inclination was then to offer my brother a chance to try it too. He would accept and then instead of offering up his own ice cream for a taste, would hoard his treasured cone and not want to share, at which point my mom then patiently explained that sharing was important. This went on for several years and somehow, I always still decided to share mine even knowing he wouldn’t willingly share his. We laugh at this now. All my life I naturally gave and never once had to be reminded to share, it was that deeply rooted in my nature. It was the adorably cute beginning of a vicious cycle.

It was interesting for me to discover that something I’d always prided myself on, and had always seen as a virtue, had become a double-edged sword. For years I have repeatedly suffered a vicious cycle, just changing the partner(s). I give until I feel like an empty husk, to people who are perfectly happy to take, then ask for more, even when I have no more to give. There is a line from the book Eat, Pray, Love that I still remember vividly, because it echoed a similar cord in my heart so deeply. The author wrote,

“I am a permeable membrane. If I love you, you can have everything. You can have my time, my devotion, my money, my family, my dog, my dog’s money, my dog’s time –everything.”

This hit home, in a very uncomfortable way. It was true of my own life, too true. I have the very unfortunate habit of giving my emotional-everything, not only to people I love but everyone I care about. I am unable to give 90%, my best effort is always what I give. Unable to hold back, I pour myself into my relationships, more often than not, receiving minimal effort back. I was eternally the planning go-to, the reservation maker, the group coordinator, the texting initiator and it was exhausting. I am slowly coming to realize that my expectations of friendship were vastly different from the majority of my friends, and – dare I venture to say it? – most of my generation.

We live in a harsh world of realities, where not everything is as we hope it will be. That is a difficult fact to swallow, especially for the dreamers out there like myself. Sometimes we will expect more from others because we would be willing to do that much for them. My big “Aha!-moment” of the year was this epiphany: Giving is all well and good. Where the problem arises, and what is inevitably going to leave you feeling drained emotionally, is giving with the expectation of getting as much in return as you give. It is ok to be the good and generous person who you are, you are a better person for it. But…BUT! For both the love of heaven and your sanity learn to keep it in check and within reason!

Two years ago I had a rude awakening on, no worse a day, than my birthday. More than half of my dinner party attendees cancelled due to various reasons, never once taking the time to stop and think how that would make me feel, because I was Jessie, the perpetually happy person whom nothing could upset and always said everything was ok. They had been aware of the date for almost two months so there really was no excuse. Out of my fifteen “closest” friends only four actually came, one of whom was late because he had forgotten about it until people texted him wondering where he was. I was miserable and it made me really question whether we were close friends as I had thought. Friendship is a two-way street and I was suddenly tired of being the only one who appeared to be giving and putting in the friendship effort. I had made more than half of the people I invited cakes for their own birthday and helped the other half to plan beautiful big parties, and yet so few of them had even bothered to attend my own birthday. Something wasn’t right.

My friends back home in Canada talked me through this emotional turmoil and they all suggested the same idea: that I stop trying. Let everyone go and if they came back, then it was meant to be. The friends who truly cared about me would message me and be willing to put the time and effort in if they wanted to see me.

Knowing a smart idea and actually putting that idea into action is much harder than it sounds. The thought of being lonely was terrifying. Eventually I realized that being lonely was better than constantly feeling emotionally drained, so I plucked up my courage and stopped being the hang-out initiator. Sure enough I very quickly stopped hearing from a lot of people. I used to sometimes get 20 or more messages an afternoon. In less than one week there were days my phone didn’t so much as *ping* once. Months went by and I didn’t hear from certain people at all.  It was hard when people who I cared so deeply about just didn’t give a damn if they saw me or not. However, it did make those who were willing to put in the effort and step up, all that more obvious, and I realized there were some friend-gems who had been overlooked in a large group but sparkled when not surrounded by other people.  I tried to make them my priority but over the past year and a half there has been this void that I never seem to fill completely.

It had been over a year yet 2014 dawned and I was still obsessing over this, I guess I hadn’t ever really let them go in my heart, so they were still taking up my time emotionally without doing anything, anything at all!  All because I was holding onto the insane, foolish hope that they would change! It didn’t help that I live in a community where there are very few foreigners and we all know just about everything about each other’s lives through the grapevine. So, it’s difficult to forget and move on in your life when the people you hope to move on from, live just around the corner in a tiny little rural town in Japan.

This weekend, things changed because I finally had worked up enough pent up emotion to passionatly say, “HASTA LA VITA!”…and finally mean it. It came to me as I was watching the movie Her (which I highly recommend!) and two of the characters are talking. Amy is tired of feeling guilty for the ending of a relationship and says, “You know what, I can over-think everything and find a million ways to doubt myself… I’ve just come to realize that, we’re only here briefly. And while I’m here, I want to allow myself joy. So fuck it.” She said it with such finality and conviction that I admired her. Her ability and determination to stop second-guessing herself were, in my eyes, positively heroic, as anyone as guilt-ridden as I often am when things fail would understand. I stopped the movie, took a sip of wine, re-watched the scene, paused it, took another gulp of wine and began to cry…and then sob…and then bawl my heart out. Why?

  • I was sick of caring for people who simply didn’t give a damn about me!
  • I was tired of feeling guilty for something that wasn’t my fault!
  • I was frustrated with myself for having let the situation go on for so long, for pretending they would change!
  • I was exhausted from multiple failed attempts to bravely reach out to new people trying to make new friends only to have dinner invitations cancelled time and time again with no rain-check, because something no one seems to tell you is that making new friends in your 20’s after university is bloody near impossible!
  • I was feeling impossibly lonely, and just wanted to be back home in Canada where friends who did know, love, and put the effort in, were waiting patiently for my return.

Like I said at the beginning, I only cry when I’m an emotional powder keg igniting into a messy, disastrous explosion. Something had to change, I could not possibly remain this unhappy for another 6 months. Slowly the ugly truth came out, it wasn’t “something” that had to change, I had to change. My friends weren’t going to change, nothing I ever did or said was going to change them either, so my only option left was to change myself and how I acted. I had to come to terms with the situation, let them go, realize where I had gone wrong (so often in past friendships too) and think deeply about how I was going to prevent this from happening again. The vicious cycle was after a long emotional evening brought hopefully towards a close. My new mantra is: Sanity begins the second you accept that you have no control over other peoples’ actions, only your own.

This year my new years resolution is a very strange one: I want to become better about controlling my compulsion to endlessly give, especially to people who don’t reciprocate.  I want to focus on using my time, attention and effort to deepen relationships with people who make me feel wonderful about myself rather than emotionally emptied. From now on, if I am going to give people power over my life and pieces of my heart they will be the friends and loved ones who deserve it.

Today marks a new beginning, one that was disguised and a painful ending .  Today, I say goodbye to a vicious cycle. Today, I let go of the bitterness and accept that it’s ok to occasionally miss but not grieve over the loss of friends I no longer want in my life. Today, I choose to put my faith in the knowledge that I can change; I only need the courage and strength to do so.

family

Categories: Lifestyle | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Tu me manques. You are missing from me.

In English we say “I miss you.” In French however you would say “Tu me manque” to express the same emotion. Translated this means not “I miss you” but rather “You are missing from me.” This is a linguistic difference that I love. I feel it more accurately conveys the depths of emotion I feel often when I think of my family.

We make a kickass team, my family and I, and when I’m away from them I always feel there is a part of me missing.  Or rather maybe a better metaphor is not that they are missing from me, but rather imagine a beautiful jigsaw puzzle that lacks completion because one single tiny piece of the puzzle is only god-knows-where, and I am that lonely little puzzle piece missing from the puzzle.

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The lost jigsaw puzzle piece together at long last reunited with the rest of the puzzle.

It has been 895 days since I first arrived in Japan. The two and a half years I have been living here teaching English is undeniably one of the most life changing decisions I have ever made. I’m a very strong and independent young woman, but I would be lying if I said this was something I could have accomplished without the support of my family.  Their never-ending, bottomless love gave me the strength to live miles away from the life I knew.  Without question my mum, dad and younger brother are the thing I miss most. I miss the every day little moments, the way they accept me unconditionally for who I am and how I can simply be myself when I am with them.  I knew that after 2 Christmases spent a whole world apart that Christmas 2013 and New Years Eve 2014 needed to be celebrated with my family. So that’s exactly what we did. We met halfway between Canada and Japan in sunny Hawaii and had ourselves a “Maui little Christmas” which was lovely.

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We found a Christmas tree!

My dad loved his gift, a Sapporo brewery t-shirt from my holidays in Hokkaido. 1483147_10100844215771831_1581015095_n
And I absolutely loved my Christmas present from my brother.  A wrap-around Chan Luu bracelet which I had been eyeing over when we went shopping earlier that week. He knows me so well, he couldn’t have picked a better gift!

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Gorgeous, no? I adore it.

We spent a very uncharacteristic snow-less Christmas at the beach and finished up with a nice night out around the Black Rock area of the island, which is full of swanky restaurants and bars overlooking the water.

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Then we had some drinks while watching the sunset. Matt had a mai tai and I had a coconut mojito. Deliciousness.

Then for Christmas dinner, thanks to a recommendation from my friend Denea when she visited Japan earlier this year, we went to the famous Hawaiian restaurant Roy’s. The food was to die for. The restaurant itself was a little noisier than we had expected, somehow I imagined a more subdued atmosphere in my mind, but the blacked ahi tuna more than made up for the noise. The chocolate souffle disappeared so fast no photo was ever taken, but it was a family favorite.

1526841_10100844215816741_2022825257_nIn Maui, our days were very simple and relaxing. Every day we woke up early, before the heat set in, to play tennis then headed back to the condo for breakfast. After, we would go to whichever beach had the best weather for reading, swimming, snorkeling, paddle boarding, playing backgammon or playing smash ball. Perfection.

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Can you tell I come from a family of avid readers?

We rented a couple paddle boards and I loved it! I had never paddle boarded before and it was really fun and standing up wasn’t nearly as difficult as I had expected. Perhaps that’s due to my many years of snowboarding… Either way it was an activity that I would highly recommend.

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I was pretty proud of being able to stand up the first time.

1538739_10100844227782761_1632134997_n I did a lot of reading this vacation. It was something I really missed from when I was younger. When I was little I was a real bookworm of a kid. I read at every opportunity, and when I was in trouble my punishment was that my book was taken away. Yeaaaah, I was that kind of kid.

As I got older life got busier and busier, these days I rarely have an entire day to myself that I can devote to reading. In Maui however, I read over 15 books in 2 weeks! I devoured them the same way Cookie Monster would probably devour cookies after being on a diet. Thank heavens I have a Kindle e-reader or my suitcase would have been filled to the brim with books.

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Shade paradise. Please note the “local” chilling in the background who scoffed at the idea of needing time out of the sun for the majority of our beach time.

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Feet in the water and nose in a book is bliss.

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Another family pastime is a game called smash ball which basically ping-pong meets tennis. The goal is to see how many times you can hit the ball back and forth with a partner using only a little wooden paddle. Matt and I got up to 116!

Then every night we would return to the condo around 4:30 to clean up, grab a mojito and watch the sunset. We didn’t miss a single one.

Mojito magic

Mojito magic

1504063_10100846565153651_800997576_nMy favourite memory of the trip was walking along a beach near the northern tip of the island after visiting the quaint little town of Paia for a little (or in my case, a lot of) shopping.  My mom and I took a stroll to get a closer look at some of the surfers (who were freaking incredible). We noticed a lot of people taking a lot of pictures at one end of the beach so we wandered over and looked at the rocks past the barrier that had been erected but we didn’t see much. We looked at each other in confusion, raised an eyebrow, shrugged our shoulders and promptly went back to watching the surfers. Two young tourists stepped over the boundary holding their cameras ready, and likity-split a local rushed over and asked them to please come back to the other side. Curious…

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Can you see them?

We looked closer at the rocks, wondering to ourselves what was up (perhaps it was dangerous?) when suddenly, I saw a “rock” move. Camouflaged amongst the rocks were giant sea turtles taking a sunny afternoon snooze on the beach!!!  A true OMG moment if there ever was one.

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Very zoomed in picture of one of the turtles snoozing.

As I’m sure you can imagine, I completely freaked out and pointed at the nearest turtle to my mom and exclaimed “TURTLE!” while practically jumping for joy, at which point she freaked out and ran back for the camera. We were mesmerized, even though they were pretty boring to watch while sleeping, because there were lots and lots of them! There were big turtles and little turtles, all of whom were happily napping, and we hadn’t even noticed them when we first looked over.

So two weeks later I return to Japan ever-so-slightly tanned, relaxed, well-read, rejuvenated, more than a little homesick, and broke beyond belief after spending all my money on food goodies and new clothes (hey! I haven’t gone shopping in 2.5 yeaaaaars!). I’m so grateful to have such a wonderful family to call mine, and I am so thankful for everything my family did to make this holiday special. It meant the world to be with them, something they know very well.

I have 7 months remaining before I return home, and while I am eager for the day I step back on Canadian soil for good (at least for a little while before the next adventure) I’m also determined to make these last 7 months in Japan the best yet.  2014 get ready for some amazing adventures, I’m ready!

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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