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Ma and Ki 間と気

I live in Canada. Whenever there is an opportunity to learn something in Japanese, I try hard to attend.

It was 2-3 years ago. Sadly I don’t remember what the title of the event was, or who the instructor was, but I went to an interesting presentation that made me think.

The talk was about ‘Ma’(間). ‘Ma’ is a tricky Japanese word, hard to translate exactly right into English. It sort of means ‘empty space’ or ‘space of nothingness’. The lecturer drew three circles like below to explain why ‘Ma’ is important.

She said, the characters for ‘Human being’ are 人間, ‘Time’ are 時間, and ‘Space’ are 空間. You can see that there is a common character in these three words. That is 間 which can be read ‘Ma’. Human being, time, and space are the key factors connected by empty space ‘Ma’. She said, when ‘Ma’ from these three factors meet, there is an encounter, and encounter brings opportunity. For example, when you encounter someone, the two people both have to be in an open mindset. If you are preoccupied with some intense thoughts, you might not notice the other person. And, the two persons have to be at the right place at the right time. When you are there a few minutes later or earlier, you might not meet that person. If two persons were separate from each other by a few meters, they might not encounter. So human beings, time, and space have to be just right for the encounter to happen and to bring opportunities.

So why is Ma so important?

Ma, according to this instructor is a space where there is no obstruction. it is important because that is where ‘Ki’ flows. Ki is a Japanese word for energy or Qi in Chinese. When Ma is stuffed, lost, stuck, or too full, Ki can not flow smoothly. Clear space is necessary because that is where energy flows. If energy cannot flow, there would be no encounter, thus no opportunity.

Hmm hmm…. the instructor continued….so try to have clear space in your heart and let your energy flow, try to have flexibility in your schedule so you are not tied down to minutes and seconds, and try to get rid of unnecessary unwanted stuff from your home and make a clean open space, so your energy can flow….. my brain stopped at that moment.

I raised my hand and asked her. “What if I don’t have anything I can get rid of? I have tons of unnecessary things or things I don’t particularly love, but they were passed down from our parents and they bring so many memories…. I can not get rid of them.”

Then this cool woman instructor said, “well, then you do Ha Hu Ki!” “What? I’ve never heard of such a word!” She smiled and said, “Ha is short for Haku (sweep), Hu is short for Huku (wipe), and Ki is short for Kiyomeru (purify). This is a Japanese ancient wisdom.”

Wow…I see…really?…. I came back home with so much reflection. I tried. I swept and wiped my stuff-filled house. I have to say….I was truly surprised how different I felt. I could feel that the energy inside the house has shifted. She was right! Sweeping and wiping did purify the house! Positive energy is now flowing in the house and I was so happy.

So ever since, I try every morning, sweep and wipe, whispering the word to myself “Ha Hu Ki” over and over.











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Mother’s Day 母の日

I’m baking cookies, because…. today is a Mother’s Day.

It’s not like my mother especially loved cookies. I just love the smell when I’m baking cookies, that sweet, warm, and cozy smell….

It reminds me of my mom. She was a homely person. I might have been rebelling against that. Perhaps that’s why I devoted so much of myself to music and to business career. I can never say I was a homely mother. I probably baked cookies once a year, just before Christmas. I baked them because I wanted to give cookies to neighbors and colleagues as a little Christmas gift. I didn’t want to give store bought ones. I wanted to show them a different side of me. So in nutshell, it was an act of duty and appearance…..

At the zoom zazen meditation this morning, I was listening to the talk on Mother’s Day and I felt like crying. I miss my mom….. I want to see her…… I love her…….

I thought I should bake cookies for her.

She is gone for 8 years now already. It doesn’t matter now how much I miss her, think of her, care for her, love her….she is gone for good. Why didn’t I go see her more often? Why didn’t I phone her to chat more often? It comes down to the same theme again. “I was too busy.” I was too exhausted by the time I came home. I didn’t have energy to phone her and have a nice chat. However, when I felt down and sad, I had no trouble finding the time and energy to phone her. Hearing her voice comforted me…

It’s a warm weekend. My youngest daughter Rutsu is preparing for a barbecue dinner on the deck. We just had a wonderful online chat with all my three children with their spouses and children. My mom is gone, but I am blessed with my loving family and friends. Why not re-direct my love and gratitude for my mother to people around me?

I am baking cookies for my mom.

Thank you mom. I love you.






急に暖かくなった週末。今夕は末娘の瑠都の家族とデッキでバーベキューをする。ついさっきも家族全員でFaceTime をしたばかり。母はいないけど優しい夫や子供たち、可愛い孫たちが居てくれる。縁あって周りにいてくれる友人知人たちにも感謝して、母に注ぐべきだった愛情をまわりに注ぐことができますように。


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What has changed? コロナのおかげ?

It’s weird. Ever since this Corona pandemic started, I am sleeping well.

I had insomnia. Every night I was tossing right and left, facing up and down, sitting up on the bed meditating….

Jealous of some guy next to me sleeping soundly with rhythm…. I felt like yanking his feet as hard as I could.

The last resort was to turn my little lamp on, choose a most uninteresting book, and read hoping to fall asleep….

Strangely I fall right asleep when I’m watching TV, but my eyes are wide open, my head as clear as ever, as soon as I arrive in bed. I was sometimes even afraid of the night coming…..

Amazingly, ever since Covid-19 pandemic, none of them is happening. Isn’t it a wonderful shift?!

But….why? Something must have changed inside me, right? What was it that changed?

I am supposed to be having a boring life of staying home, no stimulations, no personal growth, just everyday mundaneness.

But think, now my mind might be like a new born baby, back to totally natural, with much comfort and no tensions. Thanks to the pandemic, sleeping well might be a reflection of that.

“I don’t have time!” It was my motivational force. I always heard that phrase in my head.

Don’t waste time, get ready as quickly as I can, don’t spend time on unimportant things, but spend as much time as needed for important things. Efficiency, efficiency!!!

I am 64 and my time is limited. While I still have energy and health, I want to do all the things I want to do. I want to go to all the places I want to go.

Perhaps I was too impatient. I was too greedy. I was putting too much pressure onto myself. Insomnia might have been a result of that.

So now, Covid-19 forces me to go nowhere, see nobody, and do nothing. This has become my new reality. Crying, shouting, and complaining have no effect. I have no control over it. For the first time in my adult life, I am free from all the pressure and I have returned to my natural self.

Perhaps I should thank the pandemic for giving me this awareness.

At the zoom zen meditation session, the teacher asked us, “why do you meditate?” He said meditation would help you see yourself deeper and let you know you deeper.

A Presbyterian woman minister named Lynn whom I have never met in person, but follow her on YouTube challenged us. “Easter is about dying and being reborn. in order for new you to be born, the old you has to die.”

What is “old me”? What aspect of me has to die? I was thinking about that ever since I heard her just before Easter. It’s been more than 2 weeks now and I might have the answer just bubbling up in my heart.

Let’s not be impatient. Let’s not put pressure onto myself. The “greedy me”should perish, and “natural me” shall be born. May “new me” have a slow life graceful and mindful. It’s alright if I couldn’t do everything I wanted to do in my lifetime. It’s ok to have some places left unvisited. I already have plenty of gratitudes in my life.

So there! My realization for Easter 2020!























Suddenly Sick! 突然の病気

A few days after we all enjoyed our family reunion, I started feeling some minor body pain. Although I didn’t pay much attention at the time thinking it’d go away soon, it started to make me sicker and sicker. I couldn’t get out of bed. You know, I never get sick. I never get high fever. Why does it happen to me just when my daughter and grandchildren whom I rarely get to see are visiting from Japan?Nevertheless, my body was out of control. Then my brain also got out of control. It felt like I lost my ability to find words. “This is not good” my two daughters swiftly and firmly decided to take me to the emergency. “Emergency? That’s so overreacting…” I remember thinking that briefly, but next thing I remember was that I was in a hospital bed.

It was a weird experience. Doctors and nurses came to my bedside one by one and asked me, “so what day is today?” “When is your birthday?” “Who is this person?” (pointing at Neil) I know the answers but I couldn’t put them to words.

They did all kinds of tests. Until they could figure out what disease I had, they had to treat me for the worst possible scenario. I was quarantined at the hospital for five days! The diagnosis in the end was that I had viral meningitis. If it was bacterial meningitis, it could have left me some brain damage or even, could have taken my life.

OMG… how did I get such a terrible thing… It really made me think.

First of all, it reminded me of Don Juan’s words in the book by Carlos Castaneda, “death is always at our left side where we can just reach by extending our arm”. It really is true, so realistic now. I was healthy with so much energy. Who would have thought, in just one day it could completely turn around to the point I could have died? Death might really be there, always, a paper thin away, and could just move over and take me.

Another thing I realized was that now our children are bosses. Despite how healthy and sharp I was for a person in her early 60s, once I got sick, my daughters of 30s totally took over the leadership. It was a bit shocking. The end result was that they were right, they saved my life, and I am very grateful for that. But, does it mean we could be losing control of our own lives? in our 60s? Are we not steering wheels of our own lives any more?

When I think of it ….. isn’t it exactly the same thing that I did to my own mother when she became weak?

We get older little by little each day. As we feel that, we begin to think hard, plan, and prepare for our old age. Our children of 30s, of course, are in their midst of running the world, and have no idea what is happening to us or how it feels to be getting older. What happens if they take over our lives…? How did my mom feel….?

So what can we do…? I don’t know…it’s really a difficult problem.





やれやれ😥 なんともタイミング悪く大騒ぎをさせてしまった。でもなんだか考えさせられた。まず、今読んでいる本 (「イクストランへの旅」カルロス カスタネダ著) の中に出てくるドン フアンの言葉、「死はいつでもわしらの左側、腕を伸ばせば届くようなところにいるんだ」がものすごく現実味を伴って感じられたこと。だって全くもって完璧に健康体だった体が、わずか1日後には「死ぬかもしれない」とまで消耗してしまうのだから。死ってほんの紙一枚離れたところでつねに待ってて、ある時クルッと思いもかけない速さで訪れるのかもしれない。

次に、私自身は60代前半でまだまだ若く頭もしっかりしているつもりだったのに、今回すっかり30代の娘達に主導権を取られてしまったことも何とも複雑な思いだ。結果的にはおかげさまで命が助かって感謝しているんだけど… 。もう子供達の時代になってしまって、これからどんどんこんな風に自分の人生を自分で舵取りできなくなっていくんだろうか。





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To My Children (2): Career, Its Ending and Beginning 子供達へ (2): キャリアの終わりと始まり

Neil is 66 and has been retired for 2 years now. My children are in their 30’s working hard building up their careers. For me, the word “career” does not apply, since my work is so free and individualistic. I just watch. When I am watching, it gives me so much insight and perspectives from each one of you and makes me think.

When you retire and look back on your career, you realize how much you have learned over all those years. Often those learnings were earned in the hardest ways. Naturally, you want to pass them on especially to the young loved ones who are just starting. You don’t want all the wisdom you acquired to be lost and wasted.

However, do young ones really want to hear them? They might feel, oh it’s from last generation and therefore irrelevant, or you can always find better information online, or they might simply want to have their fresh start, do things their way. They might not want to be bothered with awkward suggestions, “just leave me alone!”

I don’t know if you are feeling that way…but even if you are, please graciously listen to Neil’s stories, put his wisdom somewhere in your head. One day, it might become helpful…or at least you might understand what he was saying.

Neil was an excellent researcher and wonderful educator. However as you know, he is super simple and ultra honest person, and he does not read air very well. He was not a politician and politics gave him so much pain. I could see that very well. It was hard for me to see him suffer in his career. However, he IS a deeply caring person. His struggles led him to take on the position of the faculty advisor for the university. He wholeheartedly helped for many many years those who were having difficulties in their careers. He dealt with all kinds of difficult cases. His knowledge is amazing. He was such a valuable person in the university.

Organizations are all so political, especially universities. They are terrible. One day, you are bound to face some enormous problem. When you do, I hope you remember that your stepfather is there for you, offering you some valuable ideas.


リタイアすると今まで人生の大半を占めてきたキャリア生活を思い返して実に色々な教訓を得てきたことに気づく。そしてなんとかその教訓を若いこれからの人達に伝えたいって思うんだよね。そうしないと苦労して得た教訓が無駄に消えてしまうから。でもね、若い人たちはそう言う教訓を聞きたいって思ってるんだろうか? 時代が違う、なんでもオンラインで調べられるからいい、フレッシュスタートで自分の思うようにやって見たいって思ってるかもしれない。お節介なお説教は聞きたくないって思うかもしれない。




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Family Reunion 家族のリユニオン

We were always together….nobody questioned about it. But one day, somebody moved out for university, then somebody got married, then somebody moved for work…. before knowing, our family was forever changed….sad. 😢

Since I was divorced in a foreign country, my three little children and I were like a little cocoon, so close together all the time. I really miss those days…

My boy, Ikkei, got a job in Hawaii, and we decided to have a family reunion in Seattle. After all these years this was the first time all of us gathered together. We rented a house in Seattle for three days. Ikkei’s family drove from Pennsylvania, Tomoka and her kids flew from Tokyo, Rutsu and her baby drove from Lions Bay, of course Neil and I also drove from Lions Bay, and we all joined in Seattle. My three children are now 37 to 33, and our five grandchildren are from 9 years old to 10 months old.

It was crazy noisy, but such a joy. It was my life’s highlight!

It’s so true that the time never comes back. When we gather again, we will be all different. Some of us are aging, some are growing…. that makes the moment even more precious. I would treasure the memory for the rest of my life.





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Intuition 直感

When I learned about Stella’s on-going struggles trying to retrieve her two children from Cameroon, I thought I should organize a fundraising concert for her. The timing was terrible for me, but I thought I must do it. I don’t know why, it was weird, but it was such a strong urge in myself, and I had to follow my intuition. I thought I would regret if I didn’t.

Timing could not be worse. It was already close to June. Summer generally is not a good time to plan concerts. People are often away for holidays. Moreover, I was having a nerve recking organ concert on June 8. I had no choice but to hold the fundraiser on the 16th. Having two different concerts on consecutive weekends is insane. When do you get to practice? How do you manage rehearsals? Super busy and super heavy pressure…. However, I had the feeling it would be alright and everything would be fine, and I trusted that. I contacted some performers, selected some effective music pieces for the program, created flyers, posted posters…. I just couldn’t handle all the pieces I wanted to play accompaniment for…so decided to ask my pianist friend K to help me.

Stella came to Canada 5 years ago with a nanny visa. Soon after she arrived she knocked on the door of the church I was working as the music director. It was about 8:30 on a Sunday morning. I was practicing for the day’s worship service. I remember that day vividly, because I was so surprised to see a visitor from Africa at the door so early in the morning. She introduced herself to Neil and me. She told us that she herself had children, ages 5 and 6, in Cameroon.

Her plan was to work in Canada for five years or so to obtain an immigrant visa, then bring her children to Canada. I was so impressed for her braveness and patience. It surely sounded like a long term project.

Her life in Canada for the next 5 years was not easy. Her employment was unstable and she was often not treated by her employers rightly. She was taken advantage of and lost her job a few times. Moreover, a war started in Cameroon and her children’s safety became a serious concern. Despite various challenges, her perseverance supported by her strong faith was absolutely amazing. If it was me, I would have given up long ago, and gone back to my own country.

So the concert was on June 16. The audience reaction was so encouraging. Many people looked deeply moved. Some people had tears in their eyes. The concert seemed to have successfully communicated some heartfelt “hope and love” to people.

Some people kindly bought tickets even they knew they weren’t coming. Many people made donations for her and some wrote cheques for amazing amounts of money (the largest one was for $5,000!!) 100% of all proceeds and donations went to Stella. I was overwhelmed with gratitude and happiness.

The concert perhaps helped to create a sense of togetherness and purpose….in some sense like an old fashioned community we may have long forgotten. We all worked towards the happy, safe, and hopeful future of Stella and her children.

Thank you to the fellow musicians who shared their gifts for free.

Thank you Lord, for giving me the opportunity to utilize Your gift, giving me some intuition, and guiding me through.





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Heaven and Hell 天国と地獄

On June 8, 2019, there was a RCCO members’ pipe organ recital at St. Mary’s Kerrisdale, and I played Mendelssohn’s organ sonata #6. I worked at it so hard hoping that I would play well and would be happy.

The reality was…..it went relatively well for the first 70% until a big accident happened. I had a person turning pages and pushing buttons to operate the general (pre-set registration) pistons for me. When I was at a very quiet place, by mistake, the loud pistons were pulled and I literally jumped. The unexpected loud sounds shocked me and my head went blank. At the same time I heard the other person uttering “oh shit!”

I didn’t know what to do.

I corrected the button myself, went back to the quiet part again, then carried on to the end. My heart was pounding like a storm, and my performance thereafter was messy. I just couldn’t focus.

OK, OK… accidents could happen. I have had so many accidents in my life of piano and organ playing. However, how could I lose focus after what happened? Why couldn’t I just keep my head calm and carry on? What a disappointment, I felt extremely angry for myself.

You know….I practiced so hard. I put so many hours into this piece for this concert. And this is the result. In fact, I am having this result over and over. Shouldn’t I give up my organ if I can’t even play a piece satisfactorily?

Looking at our front and back yards everyday full of weeds grown as high as my knees, I had been saying to myself, “well, never mind, I can do weeding as soon as my concert is over.”

Night after night, so exhausted but forcing myself to put on headphones and practicing one more hour, what did that do?

The sacrifice and efforts I made were all waste of time…why do I keep doing this? Indescribable anger rose inside me and exploded. I shouted. “I am going to quit organ!” Yes, I declared that to my teacher and colleagues and friends.

Two days later, I went to my Zen meditation class. During the meditation my teacher Hoben told us a story. He didn’t know what happened to me at the concert…..so it was truly amazing.

This is the summery of his talk.

When do we feel unhappy or unsatisfied? It is always when things didn’t go the way we wanted, when we didn’t get the results we wanted. The question is what do you do when that happens? Do you get angry, get emotional, shout, blame other people, or even hurt other people? Or….?

What’s important is how you live that moment. Just because you practice Zen meditation, it does not mean bad things don’t happen. External hazards, undesirable things fall on everybody equally. However, how do you live that moment when that happens? That’s where Zen meditation can make difference.

….shocked….he is talking about me…..

There is a story, Hoben continued.

A man died. He woke up in a beautiful field. He thought, “wow, what a beautiful place! My afterlife is not as bad as I thought! But I don’t have a place to sleep.” Then, instantly, a beautiful dream house appeared before him. He was ecstatic. Then he found himself to be hungry. As soon as he thought of foods, beautiful dishes appeared on the table with all his favorite foods. Everything was like that. He had everything he wanted the moment he thought of it.

One day, he met an elderly man on a walk and was asked, “so how do you like your afterlife?” He said, “fantastic. I love it. I wonder how it is like in hell…”

The elderly man said, “how do you know you are in heaven and not in hell?”

So….he was in hell. Having everything he wants, the way he wants, without any obstacles, is a life in hell.

Working with purpose, failing and trying and yet failing, is actually the real heaven – that’s what this story tells.

I was ashamed. What an arrogant attitude I had, getting angry, declaring I am quitting, just because I couldn’t play the way I wanted to play. At that moment, my gratitude for the gifts given to me had totally disappeared from my mind. I am fortunate to have music in my life, to have opportunities to learn and perform. How could I forget that?

How stupid, how pathetically stupid I was…..













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Let go of…. 手放すこと

One morning in March, after a zen sitting at North Shore Zendo, I had an interesting conversation with two other women. One of them was talking about the 10 day retreat she participated last month at the monastery in Oregon.  According to her, since February is the month Buddha died, the Dharma talk (sermon) for the retreat was focused on death and dying.  What is death? It is the letting go of life, being free from living, departing from life, ending the will to live, bidding farewell to life….


She said, the Dhama talk then diverged to “what is it to be living” and to “how should we live our lives”. 


Going back to death, what does it mean to “let go of life” when you are not actually dying at this moment? Would that be like letting go of your past, ties, career, or relationship? Do not cling to your past, live your life now and move forward? 

She said she goes to this 10 day retreat at the monastery every year in February and Dharma talks are always very interesting.  

Sounds good…I thought…. I wish I was there….. 

Somehow, the three mature women’s chat of “letting go of life” has shifted to “letting go of stuff”.  There is a book written by a young Japanese woman that has become a bestseller in many countries including Canada. She talks about decision criteria of what stuff to keep and what to throw away.  She calls it “danshari” which literally means “letting go”.  She suggests that you hold a thing in your hand and listen to yourself. Do you feel delightful? If yes, put it in the “keep” pile, and if no, put it in the “throw” pile. OK…..  I agree that letting go of something can mean letting go of your past, but…. I don’t understand the part about “feeling delightful.”  I can’t see the relevance between not feeling delightful and therefore letting go of that object or that part of your life.  I felt a bit turned off by this argument……  I don’t think life is that simple.

For example, I have a box full of materials/resources for teaching Japanese, stored unopened for perhaps 25 years now.  These are the materials I created myself when I was teaching Japanese from 1989 to 1992. If you ask me if this box full of materials delights me, I have to say they don’t delight me any more.  Since I have long moved on to something else, and now into a different stage in life, I would probably never teach Japanese again.  However, the 3 years was an integral part of my life. It was a start of my new era. Because I taught Japanese for 3 years, I was able to meet many interesting people, made good friends, was led to some unexpected paths, and my life has opened up in the directions I have never imagined.  30 years later, here I am.  I am who I am, where I am, what I am, because of the three years. The box is perhaps a reminder of my gratitude.  I was certainly led, guided and protected by a Huge Love (God) throughout my life, and I am so grateful. So the box does not delight me, and no longer useful, but I just cannot throw it away.

“Letting go” is not the same as “getting rid”, or “throwing away”.  In the same way, “feeling gratitude” does not result in “holding onto your past”.  

Then, what should I do with my box?……I don’t know.

“That’s why your house is such full of stuff!”….I can hear somebody’s voice…..  









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Camping trip キャンプ旅行

So, apparently our brain, when we hit age 60, deteriorates twice as fast as before. Wow, that’s so scary. Neil and I decided to challenge something new to stimulate our brains, and one idea was camping. We live in such a beautiful land, we should enjoy this grand North American nature and share our joy with our beloved dogs. So we bought an used Toyota Tacoma, then bought a collapsible camper that goes on top of the truck. Our dream came true when we headed out on September 4 for a relaxing, spontaneous, no set itinerary trip toward Saskatchewan.

The first 8 days, Neil and I, Kafka, and Lulu enjoyed and appreciated camping in the settings of beautiful mountains, lakes, and big 360 degrees prairie skies. At the same time I did not enjoy, did not appreciate realizing how much my brain has been already deteriorating! You know, it’s a camper, such a small space. I don’t understand how things go missing so frequently in that tiny space!!

I had to make a big cry that my iPhone went missing 3 times in 8 days!!! When I finally found my iPhone the third time, my activity tracker which I just bought before the trip, which had been on my wrist the whole time, had somehow disappeared from my wrist, for good. Why? Where did it go?

Things I’ve done, then forgot that I’ve done already…I found myself doing the same things over and over…. I swear I organized and put away everything where it was supposed to be, but then how come I am endlessly searching for them??

Is it because I am too used to living in a more spacious place and not using my creative mind to organize differently in such a tiny space? Am I getting too old to do multi-tasking? That’s for sure. When something distracts me while I’m doing something, I immediately forget what I was doing and things constantly end up being unfinished…. I am certainly getting forgetful…. scary….

When I was complaining bitterly about my brain, all of a sudden, Neil’s knee stopped working. He had a knee injury 18 years ago and that left a tiny bone chip floating in his knee joint. The bone chip somehow got stuck in his joint and gave him excruciating pain. Suddenly he cannot walk. So that means…no more camping. This happened in Regina and we decided to head home which is 2000 km away, hopping motels.

So much for that….when we arrived in Okanagan area, we had a serious problem. All the hotels and motels that allow two dogs were fully booked. We had no choice but to resume our camping. Luckily Neil’s knee was getting better everyday. So we were successful in camping another 2 nights, and finally came back home safely. We drove as far as Regina in Saskatchewan, total of 14 days trip.

Yes, indeed, our brain and body are deteriorating twice the speed as before. What could happen next….?



8日間の間に3回も私のiPhoneがなくなったと大騒ぎをした。やっと見つかったと思ったら今度は私の腕から買ったばかりのアクテイヴィテイトラッカーがいつのまにか消えていた。どうしてなの? やったことを忘れて同じことをなんどもやってしまう。ちゃんと片付けたつもりなのにあるべき所に物がない。