Escape the Classroom! Lesson Plan

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Let me preface this post with a disclaimer before we jump into the fun: this lesson requires a lot of preparation and care to create, but after it’s done it works like a well-oiled machine and can easily be adapted for different grade levels by swapping out a few puzzles later on. Also, if it seems like there are a lot of steps here, that’s because this lesson is designed to take up a full 45 minutes of class time. Feel free to use the whole idea or trim it down for a fun warm-up!

Okay, let’s begin!

I love mysteries, and I like to center a lot of my classes on solving a mystery of some sort. I find that presenting some kind of interactive problem that needs an answer keeps students interested, and most importantly, gets them communicating and thinking in English (with a few incentives and/or penalties built in to keep up the good work). I was inspired to create an ESL escape room after thinking back to my own experiences with thrilling escape or puzzle games, and seeing similar ideas for native English classrooms online.

A lot of my students are afraid of making mistakes in English. Because of this, I wanted to create something they could really wrestle with, since struggling and making mistakes actually increases learning! (https://www.youcubed.org/think-it-up/mistakes-grow-brain/) 

This was gonna be a challenge for me. How could I simultaneously get all 40 students to work together without finishing early, cheating, or just plain giving up? More importantly, how could I explain how the game even worked without confusing them?

I looked through my desk files in search of inspiration, and found a deck of playing cards, illustrated synonym and antonym cards, and instructions for a few English logic puzzles left over from past ALTs. I also had some white cardboard sheets at my disposal. Of course here, you can use whatever you’d like. It doesn’t affect the concept. I just like to utilize what I have on hand to create something new.

I chose a Secret Agent theme with the playing card symbols tying it all together. Then I created the other facets of the game during my free time at work (if I recall, this was during a break so I didn’t have a lot to do in the office otherwise, and I have a strict “don’t bring work home” policy for myself. However, I broke that rule just a lil’ bit later on when I asked my husband for help. It was completely unnecessary but super cool and worth it- you’ll see why later on haha.).

A visible timer is set to 45 minutes, just to increase the pressure a bit. 😉

I got permission from my JTEs to use the Active Learning room at our school, which is a bit more spacious and has rounded tables. Of course a regular classroom is fine, but this was perfect because I divided the students into 8 different groups for this lesson, and needed a bit of space to lay out the puzzle materials and my laptop.

This is what they see when they enter the room:

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The best way to describe how the lesson works is to explain it from the students’ perspective. So here we go!

First, students enter the room and see all the stuff laid out. I have a little bit of quiet background music playing (I really recommend the “Winter Soul” chillstep mix on Youtube. There are no words and it gradually alternates between low and high tempo, which created a cool atmosphere for the Escape Room). I don’t explain anything yet, but each group gets a piece of scratch paper with some helpful English phrases on it.

Each group gets one of these worksheets.

Each group gets one of these worksheets.

I start the timer as soon as the bell rings. I explain that the students will need these worksheets in order to survive and pause dramatically (they get a little curious at this point). They can write any notes at the bottom and if they need help, they must ask in English (otherwise no hints). Then we jump right in. I make a big show of the lock (which is quite large already), then attach it to the door with a “chain” ribbon and magnets.

If you didn’t already know this, I’m dramatic. At this point I let out one of those fake villain cackles and explain my evil plan to make them study English forever in this locked classroom. “You’ll never escape unless you can solve my English puzzles! Ahaha!”

Okay, so after we are done laughing, I explain that there are three levels. Level three holds the keys, and you need four keys to unlock the door (as you might guess, that means 2 teams end up working together at the end to get 1 key. Each team progresses through the levels at their own pace. Some teams are inevitably faster to solve puzzles than others, so when that happens they are assigned to help another team. This is good because the more experienced kids can teach the others what they know, and everyone stays busy throughout the class.).

The keys attach to the Final Lock with magnets. All four are needed to unlock the door!

The keys attach to the Final Lock with magnets. All four are needed to unlock the door!

Then I announce that each team will start at Level 1 by taking a small packet from the marked “CLASSIFIED” envelopes. I don’t give them any further instructions besides that to begin. As seen above, there are 4 CLASSIFIED envelopes marked with the 4 playing card symbols. Each folder contains 2 packets, so there are 8 packets total (1 for each team). Each team can freely pick whichever packet they like, and the corresponding symbol will now be their team symbol (heart, spade, club/clover, and diamond). Each packet contains important instructions for progressing to the next level (this lesson doubles as an activity for reading and following instructions correctly).

LEVEL 1

The scrambled sentence reveals a secret code!

Each packet in level 1 contains a scrambled sentence that utilizes some grammar they have learned recently. These should be a challenge so that the teams don’t solve them right off the bat. I made each sentence about 12-13 words long. Each word has a random number or letter written behind it. If the sentence is correct, the correct secret code will be unveiled! If students are completely lost I get them on the right track (if they ask in English first, of course), but for the most part I want them to make a lot of mistakes. Notice that the instructions call for typing the secret code in a computer. This is the fun part I mentioned at the beginning. If you don’t have a computer available for your classes, you can just manually check their “code”, but this allows students to check themselves multiple times (and learn from their mistakes) in a cool way. It also doesn’t require the internet and anyone can use or share it!

“Hacking” into the Computer

I was telling Josh about my escape room plan one evening and how it would be cool to have some kind of system for students to automatically check themselves and get a real sense of accomplishment when they got it right. I envisioned a simple interface that gave the impression of hacking into a secret file on someone’s computer. To my surprise Josh said “why not?” and whipped up a sweet lil’ program with his coding skills. Despite his claims that something like this was ridiculously simple to code, I was over the moon! Lemme show you how it works!

Check out the interface here! Looks quite secret agent, no? The tab says "classified" at the top and a black screen says "Access Terminal: Enter Key Card Code". Students type in the secret code they gleaned from the scrambled sentence and hit Enter.

Check out the interface here! Looks quite secret agent, no? The tab says “classified” at the top and a black screen says “Access Terminal: Enter Key Card Code”.
Students type in the secret code they gleaned from the scrambled sentence and hit Enter.

Buh-buhn! If they enter the wrong code, a red bar appears that says "ACCESS DENIED". Try again! They can try as many times as they like to get the right answer. Each team has a completely separate code, so "cheating" the system isn't an issue.

Buh-buhn! If they enter the wrong code, a red bar appears that says “ACCESS DENIED”. Try again!
They can try as many times as they like to get the right answer. Each team has a completely separate code, so “cheating” the system isn’t an issue.

Yatta! If the correct code is entered, Level 1 has been cleared! Time to move on to Level 2!

Yatta! If the correct code is entered, a green bar appears that says “TERMINAL UNLOCKED”. Level 1 has been cleared! Time to move on to Level 2!

Once they pass Level 1, I give them the corresponding file for Level 2.

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LEVEL 2

Level 2 consists of 8 assorted English puzzles. 4 of them are pretty difficult, 4 of them are regular difficulty. If a team finishes level 1 really fast I give them a “difficult” one to even out the speed of the class, and to make sure everyone is equally challenged. These can be any kind of puzzles you like. I’ll show you a few of the ones I used.

Matching synonyms and antonyms. This can be easy or hard depending on the vocabulary you use. I had a mix of normal and flowery vocabulary so that students would have to use their dictionaries to complete the puzzle.

Matching synonyms and antonyms. This can be easy or hard depending on the vocabulary you use. I had a mix of normal and flowery vocabulary so that students would have to use their dictionaries to complete the puzzle.

There are about ten different options for each puzzle to amp up the difficulty, but only 4 correct ones. Each answer card has a playing card taped to the back which doubles as a secret code.

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Logic puzzles- these are a bit more difficult. Students use the enclosed clues (or disregard unrelated trick clues) to line up answers correctly and get the secret code.

Straight up Grammar Puzzles- I based these off of actual sample language test questions. These were the most difficult for my classes, but I figured they needed practice with it. After all, these are my least favorite kind of questions on Japanese tests too!

Each puzzle results in a four digit code- if students don’t read the instructions carefully, they will try to type that code into the computer again to no avail. This time the team must search for the matching number code and symbol in a glass jar on the table. There’s only one correct answer for each puzzle, and lots of incorrect answers are stuffed into the jar to throw them off. If they can find the correct number slip in the glass jar, then it’s on to level three!

LEVEL 3

Once a team passes level 2 and has their number slip in hand, I direct them to the level 3 station and let them read the instructions. Notice the labels on the box “vaults” that contain the keys (for example “Heart”+”Diamond”=?). Here they realize that they will need another team with them to unlock the vault- if the required team is still stuck on a puzzle, they will help them. Once two teams have a number slip, they add them together with the calculator and show me the result. I am the vault guard, so I have all the correct sums written down under the index cards. If their sum matches my number, the vault is unlocked and they get the key (usually to a bit of cheering)! If it doesn’t match it, one of the teams got the wrong answer and should check their puzzle again!

This continues until all four keys are found. I announce to the class that my plans are foiled and they have successfully escaped the classroom! Everyone usually finishes with about 1-3 minutes left to spare (one time we finished with 5 seconds to spare- that was by far the most thrilling class haha), so use that time for classroom cleanup and have students return all of their puzzles (you don’t want to have anything come up missing in the next class!). If you have more time than that, you can start up a quick free talk activity or invite students to try out different puzzles. I was happy to see some of the teams eager to try another puzzle!

Sometimes, despite your help, students will run out of time and miss the last key. That’s okay too- but you should definitely laugh maniacally and tell them they will have to learn English forever now.

———-

I hope you enjoyed hearing about my convoluted lesson plan! Like I said earlier, it’s a lot of work upfront but it’s self-sufficient in class! If you were inspired by this at all, I’d love to hear what you come up with! Oh, and if you’d like a copy of Josh’s nifty little “hacking” program, let me know!

Cheers!

Megan

I Bought Some Things

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This isn’t a sponsored post or anything, but I do have a coupon link you can use at the bottom of this post if thou art so inclined! Anyway, as the title says- I bought some things! I don’t usually like to spend money on myself, so I felt like it warranted a blog post. I’m also conducting a bit of an experiment with this stuff, so I’ll make a follow-up post about any results I notice (if any).

First off, seasonal depression is no joke especially when you’re living abroad in a world with no central heating and don’t get out much (see frozen tundra for hyperbolic example)! So I did a bit o’ research and also heard a bit o’ recommendation from friends online and in person. So we all know Vitamin D is good to get in the dark winter time, but apparently Vitamin D3 is much more effective at banishing the winter blues. I looked around at local stores, but could only find the regular type. This began my online search.

A lot of the expats here recommend iHerb, because of their great selection and international shipping rates. I had used to site one before and really liked it, so I turned to them once again. There was a deal for free shipping if you bought a certain amount, so after I found a good brand of D3, I decided to TREAT MYSELF 2017!

So here’s the things I bought, and my reasoning why. If you wanna know brand names, just ask! I just don’t wanna give off the impression that I am advertising anything especially if this stuff ends up not doing much for me. I will mention at least one brand name though since it might be hard to find otherwise.

Vitamin D3 Softgels– reasoning mentioned above. Good price for a lot of stuff, and maximum UD.

Hair, Skin and Nails supplement– a friend mentioned to me that Zinc really helped her hair and skin, and this supplement had primarily Vitamin C, Zinc, and Copper (with some MSM). Hmm…I don’t think of Vitamin C when I think of HSN health, but I’m willing to give it a go. It had a really high rating with the most positive reviews, so I went for it. The pills are freakin’ huge though- I was a bit surprised when I received the package.

Folic Acid with Vitamin B12– I heard it’s good for women’s health, plus Vitamin B12- yip!

Witch Hazel Toner– this was on clearance and I needed something else to reach that free shipping amount. So far it feels nice on my skin and is good for removing any extra dirt after I wash my face.

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Mizon Black Snail All-in-One Cream (Yeah, it’s what it sounds/looks like)- okay, this is a first for me, and a small splurge. Have you heard about K-Beauty (Korean) beauty products? Yeah I know, I’m late to the craze. I gotta admit, I haven’t looked much into Korean culture but it’s getting pretty big in Japan. For example, I’ve seen some Korean food in conbinis (it’s freakin delicious, yo), a lot of my students and friends love K-pop and K-dramas, and apparently their beauty products and treatments are world class and highly sought after across the world! iHerb has a whole section for Korean beauty products. I did some research once more, since I didn’t wanna screw up and get something that wouldn’t work for me or I didn’t need. What was the big secret that made these products so superior to their western counterparts? I noticed a lot of natural ingredients like broccoli, egg, and green tea, oil-based cleansers and stuff with three letter acronyms (…yeah I’m dumb because I can’t remember what they are even to look them up, but they are really good for your skin), and exotic ingredients like snail mucus and bee venom. I went for the most exotic sounding stuff since it must have something I don’t have, right? This cream is a whopping 90% black snail secretion- the rest is extracts of “black plants”. I dunno what those are but they must be relevant somehow to the theme. The jar fits in the palm of my hand and is cool to the touch and weighted like metal. The cream itself is like custard, but absorbs into the skin very quickly. It stung a little bit- maybe that means it’s working, like we used to say with Listerine? Haha. Despite how hydrating it feels, Josh touched my skin a few minutes later and it wasn’t even greasy in the least. Hmm. So I’ve only used this as of last night so there’s no telling what this snail mucus is gonna do. I’ll keep you informed.

Anyways, I mentioned that coupon thing earlier. It’s only good for a few more days though! Like, get on it if you’re gonna use it. Anyway, it’s a special for January and if you use this link you get $5 off your order and I get a lil’ 10% discount on my future purchases too. Here it be! http://www.iherb.com/?pcode=PROMOJAN&rcode=WVB976

Happy days to you! I hope you guys are all staying warm back home. Love ya!

-Megan

Christmas in America & More

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Well, I skipped the whole fall when it came to updating the blog, right? Sorry about that. Let’s see if I can condense the events here before I go into our first trip back home since moving to Japan.

Since the last post in which I enjoyed the summer Tokae festival in Nara,

  • I met the new ALT arrivals in Nara prefecture
  • I enjoyed many dinners with friends and coworkers
  • I celebrated an early Halloween with a renewal of ye olde Marie Antoinette costume.
  • A Mexican restaurant opened in our actual city! It was delicious and wildly expensive.
  • Josh learned several stunning magic card tricks (you really must see them)
  • I took the N4 test again- I really hope I passed it this time
  • I created a real “Escape Room” lesson plan for my high school students (that one deserves a separate post, it was so fun and the kids really got into it!)
  • I got sick and missed some of my favorite festivals from last year!
  • I completed the final draft for my video game project, Crystal Sea (it is in beta testing now)
  • I attended a fantastic bonenkai (end of the year party) with my coworkers in Osaka. We enjoyed a breathtaking view of the city skyline at night.
  • I went Christmas shopping only to see that Japan is trying to adopt the “Black Friday” tradition of America, my least favorite “holiday” of all time, even though Thanksgiving (one of my most favorite holidays) as we know it doesn’t exist there. Hah! So, I guess years from now I can say I was around when Black Friday first began in Japan.
  • Josh made an amazing, incredible, world-ending, nabe pot the night before we left. Ohhh my gosh. It was really freaking good. I can’t convey to you how good it was.

 

 

I snapped this beautiful pic of our hometown during the Speech Contest!

I snapped this beautiful pic of our hometown during the Speech Contest!

My new friend Akiko (to the left)! We actually met because my mother-in-law struck up a conversation with her on the train while she was visiting us. :-) We've been good friends ever since.

My new friend Akiko (to the left)! We actually met because my mother-in-law struck up a conversation with her on the train while she was visiting us. 🙂 We’ve been good friends ever since.

Sweet Kelly and I during Halloween festivities.

Sweet Kelly and I during Halloween festivities.

Early Halloween shenanigans with Karan-san and Saori-san at Rachael and Obi's birthday party in Nara!

Early Halloween shenanigans with Karan-san and Saori-san at Rachael and Obi’s birthday party in Nara!

Karaoke with our favorite Joel!

Karaoke with our favorite Joel!

We got to see Joel again!! It was so great to eat at the "Green Curry Place" again with you!

We got to see Joel again!! It was so great to eat at the “Green Curry Place” again with you!

Halloween day at the middle school with my favorite ALT coworkers!

Halloween day at the middle school with my favorite ALT coworkers!

Christmas shopping with hubbeth in Osaka~

Christmas shopping with hubbeth in Osaka~

Jazz music echoing off the walls near Osaka castle

Jazz music echoing off the walls near Osaka castle

Josh lookin' fine as heel in Osaka

Josh lookin’ fine as heel in Osaka

Josh and I ate a fancy new-age restaurant in Osaka where you sit on light up floors.

Josh and I ate a fancy new-age restaurant in Osaka where you sit on light up floors.

The fare at the ritzy locale we dined at in Osaka!

The fare at the ritzy locale we dined at in Osaka!

A closer look at the fancy light up floors! My hair was looong!

A closer look at the fancy light up floors! My hair was looong!

Sweet Kelly and I Christmas shopping in our local mall- it was quite grand!

Sweet Kelly and I Christmas shopping in our local mall- it was quite grand!

The magical Nabe Hot Pot that Joshua made. Oh myy!

The magical Nabe Hot Pot that Joshua made. Oh myy!

Behold the glorious cup of Josh's cuisine!

Behold the glorious cup of Josh’s cuisine!

Festival lanterns from a neighborhood celebration during Autumn.

Festival lanterns from a neighborhood celebration during Autumn.

Oookay! So from there, we flew out to America on the 23rd of December. We weren’t initially planning to come back for the holidays due to the financial burden, but we were extravagantly blessed with tickets as early Christmas gifts over the summer by both my grandmother (Nana) and Josh’s parents! Our bags were packed with all sorts of gifts from Japan, as well as some extra thoughtful gifts sent to my family on behalf of my precious coworkers!We took Japan Airlines, and the flight was phenomenal (at least, as phenomenal as a grueling 12 hour flight to Los Angeles can be).

Our plane! Check out that awesome logo- I'm told it's very "Rouge One" reminiscent. Haha.

Our plane! Check out that awesome logo- I’m told it’s very “Rouge One” reminiscent. Haha.

Away we go~!

Away we go~!

Leaving Japan~see you soon!

Leaving Japan~see you soon!

When we boarded the plane the walls were lit up with red and green hues, and Christmas music was playing! The seats were pretty comfy, if not a bit small. Like my initial Delta flight to Japan with the JET Programme, there was a nice personal touchscreen TV with lots of options (more on that later) as well as a cute leetle remote to operate it. Josh and I took a quick selfie to commemorate this joyous occasion!

A lil' post departure selfie. America here we come! Merry Christmas!

A lil’ post departure selfie. America here we come! Merry Christmas!

After a cute safety video, I checked out the available movies- ooh it was like a buffet feast seeing all those titles, many of them new releases, and I had all the time in the world to watch them. There were even video games like Street Fighter 2 (Josh and I spent a good hour trying to beat em up with the little remote I mentioned earlier that doubled as a controller on the back, but it proved nearly impossible. Ryu and his #%&$’n CONSTANT HADOUKEN was so maddening that I had to quit). Between all that and the delicious meals and refreshments (including hot green tea) provided to us, I didn’t sleep at all. I finally got a chance to see the blockbuster Kimi no Nawa (Your Name) on the plane and it was gorgeous and beautiful. I cried a lot. If I had known it was made by the same guy who made 5cm per second though, I would have been on guard. That movie ripped my and Josh’s heart to shreds. After everything we went through with 5cm, it was NOT a good ending! xD However, saying nothing of the ending, I will highly recommend Your Name to everyone I meet. It is super good. After that, I got to watch my first “Bollywood” movie from the “World” section of the menu and I was pleasantly surprised. I chose Kapoor & Sons, a family drama with lots of twists and a love triangle. There were some dance routines, but it was done in a modern, self-aware kind of way (I was actually wanting to see some of the big extravagant numbers like I had seen online, but I guess I will have to check out some other titles!). I cried a bit at this one too.

Check out dem mountains! Wooooo. I think I saw the Grand Canyon or something like it sometime after that, but I couldn't be too sure.

Check out dem mountains! Wooooo. I think I saw the Grand Canyon or something like it sometime after that, but I couldn’t be too sure.

It's lookin quite canyon-y down there!

It’s lookin quite canyon-y down there!

From the plane, America kinda looks like a different planet...

From the plane, America kinda looks like a different planet…

The fantastic food of Japan Airlines.

The fantastic food of Japan Airlines.

Kuma-mon-mon breakfast! What an adorable meal right before landing in America! It was super delicious too.

Kuma-mon-mon breakfast! What an adorable meal right before landing in America! It was super delicious too.

So then we landed in Los Angeles to enjoy a 13 HOUR LAYOVER xD
Now for reverse culture shock: It was really really strange to be in America again. I giggled a bit at the absolutely massive American flag over the TSA entrance, and then at the small framed picture of Obama which a few people were snapping pictures next to. I thought about how that portrait will be changing in a short while as well…let’s change the subject, shall we? I almost said sumimasen (excuse me) to the one of the TSA workers and felt weird when everyone around me was speaking English. The first thing that shocked me was how…lax, everyone was at LAX. The workers I interacted with were almost jovial which comforted and unnerved me all at once. I guess I had gotten used to the hyper-professionalism of Japanese employees. Randomly, I remember overhearing one burly TSA dude say to another guy “You speak any Japanese? Cuz this one chick was almost in tears when I was talking to her”. I guess even in an International Airport, if you come to America even to visit, you best be speaking English! lol

Unfortunately for me, the first thing I wanted when we landed was a nice big refreshing bottle of green tea, the likes of which can be found all over Japan, and a tuna mayo onigiri. That was quite the wild goose chase, lemme tell ya. Obviously there is no onigiri. There was “green tea” all right, as in green colored syrup water…blech. I just wanted a drink without sugar or sweetener! Is that too much to ask for? Apparently in America it is.Ya want water, kid? We got plenty, along with some sugar flavor drops you can put in it. We went with Panda Express for lunch/dinner/what day is it again? We got the smallest serving size available and it was still too much to eat comfortably. It tasted different than I remembered…good, but like I could taste the fat grease in it? I don’t know how to describe it. We ordered a medium rootbeer to split (rootbeer being a scarcity in Japan) and received the most ginormous drink I had ever seen called a “medium”. Oy. That meal kicked us in the butt. In the latter part of the layover, I ordered some California fish tacos, but they gave me chicken instead. For whatever reason I didn’t say anything- I was just exhausted and wanted a shower. It didn’t taste so good. Tulum, my favorite CaliMex place in my hometown, was a million times better. After eternity upon eternity, we boarded the flight to Nashville where we were picked up by our awesome friend Shawn! We immediately went to Waffle House. Again, it tasted good but different yet heavenly at the same time. I completely stuffed myself into oblivion. Why? I don’t really know. We went on to gain 10 pounds each during our short stay in America (Lord have mercy).

Literally we just landed in Nashville. So freakin exhausted. But Waffle House was our top priority. All Star Special, whaat! Thanks so much for picking us up Shaun!

Literally we just landed in Nashville. So freakin exhausted. But Waffle House was our top priority. All Star Special, whaat! Thanks so much for picking us up Shawn!

That evening Josh’s parents picked us up from Shawn’s house, where I was trying but failing to stay awake while watching the heartfelt Zootopia for the first time. I kept dreaming that I was dreaming, like being in America was the dream and I was actually still in Japan. It was rEAaLLy difficult for Shawn and Josh to wake me up. I was like three gates past the living there, for a minute. Yikes.

We were like rocks in the back of the van ride home. Somewhere near Loretta Lynn’s place on the way to Jackson, Josh’s parents stopped for a meal at Arby’s at a gas station. Josh and I were jolted awake to our first big “welcome” to Tennessee. Haha. Here’s the account from my Facebook once I got WiFi. After leaving peaceful Japan it was a harrowing experience, to say the least:

“Ultimate culture shock: Tennessee Edition. Josh and I are both sound asleep on the way to Jackson as his parents make a stop at a gas station restaurant. Suddenly we both wake up to the sound of screaming right next to us and someone is pounding on the van- “YOU STOLE ALL MY #%@ MONEY. I’LL KILL YOU!! I’LL @#%¥ MURDER YOU!” I am jet lagged so bad I don’t know where the heck I am or what money I owe. We both jump up and it’s a middle age blonde lady going postal on the car next to us. Another dude is parked to the other side of us wide eyed and we are both like ”Wtf is going on”. Lady is screaming at the top of her lungs on the phone shaking this car. Josh steps out to see if she is damaging the van, she sees him and suddenly says: “Sorry, I’m just going to have murder him. Merry Christmas.” and drove off. Wtf?! Welcome to America!!

So after all that, HAHA, we had a good night’s sleep in which I entered the world of Inception again, and then began Christmas festivities. It was so wonderful to see everyone again. Literally up until New Year’s day I automatically woke up every day at like 7:45 AM bright eyed and bushy tailed like some kind of unnatural squirrel freak. Like I honestly wish I could normally feel so well rested and ready to start the day each morning. Anyway, it was good that jetlag gave me that strange benefit because our days were PACKED with holiday cheer up until we left. Here are some more photos:

My great-grandmother Margaret. This is the woman who taught me how to paint and truly appreciate art. <3

My great-grandmother Margaret. This is the woman who taught me how to paint and truly appreciate art. <3

My darling, sweet, perfect Ambrosia who is now being raised by my lovely Nana and Hamby. They take such good care of her! Here she is perched on her custom window shelf. I accidentally woke her from her nap!

My darling, sweet, perfect Ambrosia who is now being raised by my lovely Nana and Hamby. They take such good care of her! Here she is perched on her custom window shelf. I accidentally woke her from her nap!

I forgot to take photos at the other family gatherings!! Dx

Shortly after Christmas Josh and I got the board game Catan (thanks so much Nana and Hamby)!! We had never played it before but proceeded to play it every waking moment with everyone we knew afterwards. The winners’ circle now consists of Josh’s dad, Josh, Shawn, and finally me, literally like the day before we left. For great victory! You KNOW we brought it back to Japan to enjoy with our friends. Woot woot!

Ethan shaking hands with the victorious Josh, right after they VICIOUSLY betrayed me in Catan by refusing to trade with me! It was Manifest Destiny, I tell you! You would have prospered under my rule!

Ethan shaking hands with the victorious Josh, right after they VICIOUSLY betrayed me in Catan by refusing to trade with me! It was Manifest Destiny, I tell you! You would have prospered under my rule!

Playing Catan with Shaun and Terrence. I was determined to win this time for sure- but Shaun ended up winning because we forgot to explain one of the rules to him! xD

Playing Catan with Shawn and Terrence. I was determined to win this time for sure- but Shawn ended up winning because we forgot to explain one of the rules to him! xD

Everyone really seemed to love their presents from Japan, which really warmed my heart. I loved seeing my kid cousins too, who seemed to have grown exponentially since I left. I met up with tons of dear friends like Tiffany (we got our nails done and I somehow forgot how the process worked for a moment) and McCall (we ate at my favorite place, Tulum! Yeeeeeeeey!!!). Josh and I were especially happy to see our BFFs for life Spencer and Ethan (why oh why do we not have a group photo!) So much seemed to have changed since we were gone. My uncle and new aunt got married! YAAY! Dubstep is now featured in commercials for boring things like soymilk! TV now seems to be 95% commercial breaks! One of my friends even had a baby while I was gone! I loved seeing Kim and her sweet daughter Madie, who is now one year old!

15740873_10211359937736832_6425278782010057795_nOverall, our time in America was incredibly bittersweet. So much joy with the knowledge that we would be leaving it again for a long time. Oddly enough, I found myself feeling homesick for Japan at the same time. I wish we could visit our friends and family just any old time, as if driving down the road. Our first trip back in nearly two years kinda reinforced the reality that something like that isn’t possible. The world’s a big place, eh? And now I’ve picked up a ton of Japanese non-verbals that I didn’t even realize I was doing until friends pointed it out to me. It was really difficult to say goodbye to everybody, especially with the anticipated changes of the New Year. I wonder what the future holds for all of us! Let’s find out~

The "final dinner" with the Nashville crew! It was nice to meet Shaun's cool neighbor and friend, Terrence.

The “final dinner” with the Nashville crew! It was nice to meet Shawn’s cool neighbor and friend, Terrence.

Our last dinner in Tennessee with Shaun and mum-in-law!

Our last dinner in Tennessee with Shawn and mum-in-law!

 

Enjoying my last Tennessee burger at The Pharmacy in Nashville. As an American I've enjoyed many a burger, but none as good as a Pharmacy Burger.

Enjoying my last Tennessee burger at The Pharmacy in Nashville. As an American I’ve enjoyed many a burger, but none as good as a Pharmacy Burger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year, everyone! <3 I’ll be thinking of you.

A poignant piece of grafitti (quoted from Slaughterhouse 5) found in my hometown that I think (sarcastically) represents 2016 pretty well. However, there were some good moments (especially our trip!), all things considered.