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Maura presides over the decor

This year, I was able to release all expectations for Christmas. I bought gifts from my family and friends’ small businesses, baked some cookies to share with neighbors, decorated my office for Zoom calls, listened to Christmas playlists on Spotify. A recognition of the season that was mostly neutral.
We made a vague plan to leave the house and drive to IKEA to replace some broken dishes and ogle doodads, but when it came down to it that was too far and too people-y. We ended up going to Nittori instead. No plates, but we got a bathroom scale and a cushion. Then a trip to a shopping mall, where we had lunch and Tod bought some fancy imported groceries. When the mall got busy after school, we bailed.
I drew our usual nengajou and sent them mid-month – this year with a Christmas letter putting a positive spin on the things that happened in our 2020. But that letter was written before Isabella Bird’s death. I’d like to request everyone who received one to please take a red pen to it and write: 2020 sucked after all. Here it is, as it was sent:

18 December 2020

This has been a year of unexpected everything, so here’s another unexpected thing—a Christmas letter from me and Tod to accompany our New Year card. 

What have we been up to? Staying home and staying safe, mostly, just like everyone. We’ve had no hard lockdown in Japan, fortunately, and we are comfortable with the cats and each other for company. So we’re good. Living in the countryside has been a blessing during this pandemic. We take walks in the fields and mountains to exercise and we enjoy the natural wilds (aka unmown weeds) even in our own yard. 

Our plans for Christmas Day might be a refreshing change from staying at home. In a tradition we began when we first moved to Japan in 1998, we will shop for our presents on the holiday itself. When we were living in Tokyo, we’d leave work a bit early, go to one of the many department stores and shop for an hour or so. This year, we’ve decided to drive for an hour to visit IKEA for some festive meatballs and a tour of housewares. A big day out for us country folk. With masks and lots of handwashing, of course, and assuming Japan’s third wave doesn’t precipitate measures to encourage us to stay home.

Kristen’s 2020

For me, it’s been a good year in many ways. Though I can’t say it’s been smooth sailing, I won’t look back on this year with bad feelings. It seems like my long experience of online communication prepared me for bringing nearly everything online and a childhood in the woods made me adept at keeping myself quietly occupied. Since March, I’ve been hosting a lot of Zoom classes and social calls, which let me connect with  people around the globe whether we were moving in yoga or sitting to draw together. 

This morning I taught my 270th in a row daily yoga class on Zoom.  I’m pretty proud of myself for being so consistent, and I’m watching my strength and flexibility improve day by day. Even better, there is a solid core of people in Japan, New Zealand, and North America who join class. We’ve created a supportive community through movement and meditation. Perhaps someday we will be able to do yoga in the same space together. Until then, you are invited to join us; drop me a message and I’ll send you the link for the 7 am JST class.

Drawing Meditations, a small business my friend, Tracey, and I started five years ago by producing a coloring book, now has online classes and new material I developed over the last few months. I’ve had students join from all over Japan, and also Sweden, Greece, India, Australia, and the US. 

They say artists never get rich; so far, that’s true.  However, a lot of my work with clients this year has been illustration and graphic design. And while far from getting rich, I did pay a couple months’ rent with my income. So maybe that’s a start to build a lucrative artistic career. At least I feel comfortable referring to myself as an artist now, instead of a “creative dilettante.”

Over the summer, I joined a small business Facebook group that has given me a huge amount of connection with other people working from home. With weekly accountability calls, guest speakers and more, it’s been delightful to connect with this group of supportive solo entrepreneurs. We encourage one another, advise, and share experiences. I definitely needed this in my work life. 

Tod’s 2020

Tod continues to enjoy a well-deserved retirement from office life, though he also continues professional activities, setting up WiFi networks and Internet infrastructure for clients in Japan and elsewhere. 

Mostly, he has been spending his days focussed on mastering world cuisines. I am the lucky recipient of meals from China, India, Korea, Japan, Poland, Italy, France…we eat very well. Enough to add a Covid Kilo or two.

He invested in a pair of cast iron frying pans and with daily use and good cleaning habits, they have become the most non-stick pans ever. We are never going back to Teflon, that’s for sure. He built them a hanging rack in the kitchen so they have pride of place over the onion basket and flour jars.

Tod and our friend, Lawrence, have been collaborating to process local game (deer and boar) into sausages, bacon, smoked hams, pastrami, and more. Lawrence is a treasure trove of knowledge and brings his childhood experience in Georgia to the Japanese countryside. 

Outside the kitchen, Tod’s been avidly finding us interesting places to explore – gotta drop the Covid Kilos. His ability to find new paths and abandoned roads is epic and we have tramped all over our neighborhood and the mountains around our town. During the summer, we enjoyed some sunset-hour “spicy adventures” driving into closed-off areas with our neighbors and their 4WD. We had good times when the Jimny was angled at 45 degrees and we were all getting swatted with branches. Adventures near home are not to be ignored. 


It’s hard to say if you’ll get this before or after the holiday, mail being what it is, but whenever it arrives, we wish you a Happy Merry Whatever Comes Next!