Surprise! New blog name!

Yes, I have changed my blog name!

My original blog name was Sandier Pastures, a name I picked when I started blogging when we moved to Dubai from Japan in 2007. I was happily blogging for eleven years and used the handle @sandierpastures in my social media accounts. Everyone who knows me connects that name automatically to me that PR people started addressing their emails to me as “Dear Sandie”.

I started blogging using Sandier Pastures without thinking of anything at that time. That at one point in time, we could move somewhere where there’s no sand.

TIP TO NEW BLOGGERS: Pick a blog name that is not restrictive either by your location or your life situation. Also, pick a blog name that’s easier to understand.

I struggled a bit with my old blog name, with even some people wondering, “is it English?” Sandier Pastures was born from a play of the idiomatic expression, “greener pastures” which means a better life or situation than what is now. Most people move abroad to work for better opportunities, however, our main intention of crossing over to the desert land of the UAE was to experience living abroad as an expat family and for my daughter (then 3) and husband to be able to learn English. Thus, our pasture wasn’t really greener, just sandier.

It’s been half a year since we moved out of Dubai and relocated to Japan. It made me cringe every time I use my blog name and social media handles. I don’t know if my followers/blog reader felt the same but I know I had to change it. To be honest, I had a hard time choosing a new blog name. I had some brilliant ideas but then the domain would not be available or very expensive or the Instagram/Twitter is already taken.


Because I love backroads?

A backroad is defined as a little-used secondary road, especially one through a rural or sparsely populated area. I chose this new blog name (and URL to boot, thankfully it’s available) because we live in a place with so many backroads right now and more so, “finding backroads” reflects how I travel; how my family travels.

A few days ago, my husband and I were looking for this certain shrine. A few minutes into the drive, he said, “do you want to take that backroad over there?” And I realize, we do this a lot. We don’t just from Point A to B. Most of the time, we find backroads to discover off the beaten path tracks, often without anybody there, just the way we like it.


Blogging has been quite challenging right now, time wise. But I think I couldn’t quit writing just yet. I’d be updating this blog every chance I get to share stories, discovering backroads and showing you another side of Japan that you may not know. (Yes, there are rice paddies in Japan and there are places where the streets are dark at 8 pm)

I am going to explore this new home of ours, my husband’s hometown and hope to share the Japan that we love to anyone wishing to visit through my new project called Travel with Grace!

Please subscribe to get first hand information when I launch the project soon!

Why we left Dubai


I don’t know how many times I’ve apologized for the lack of updates on this blog so I’m not going to do it now because I can’t promise to be consistent in writing with all the things currently going on in my life. But if you are reading this, thank you for still being here.

If you have followed me on social media, you may have come across posts where I mentioned that we have left Dubai, our home for the past 10 years and 11 months. To many, it was a sudden move, a surprising decision even, especially when I said we’re moving back to Japan – it’s shocking to some people who has heard me say I will try hard not to live in Japan again, after we left in 2007. (But that is another blog post to write)

I struggled for the time to be able to sit down to write this post and even thought of just closing down this blog and quit writing. But who am I kidding? I don’t know if I’ll ever lose my love for writing. Sentences have already formed n my head even before our flight out of Dubai took off and I couldn’t wait to be able to open my laptop and write away these thoughts.

Also, when you have followers on social media and readers on your blog, you feel some kind of social responsibility to be transparent, to share the goings on in your life, especially they have followed you from the start. And I really wanted to write this post to collectively tell our story for those reading this and for myself, as a reminder years from now why we made this big move.

There is not one single reason why we left Dubai. It is a mix of so many reasons that snowballed into the major but necessary decision to pack up and leave.

Reason #1: my work

“Life’s too short to do the things you don’t love doing.”

Somehow, this quote had been crossing my mind so often I wake up in cold sweat in the middle of the night.

It wasn’t always like that. I am grateful to be given the chance to work in Dubai in my previous company with so many wonderful people who became not just my work colleagues, but my friends. My day job allowed me and my family to live in Dubai comfortably and indulge in life’s little pleasures like traveling outside of the UAE.

However, after many years, the stuff I do for a living has brought more stress than happiness no matter how I tell myself ,”get over it, this too shall pass”. Day in, day out, getting on the train, running to catch the time, sweating profusely during the grueling hot months (more than half of the year?!), sitting down from 8 am to 6 pm on mechanical mode going through papers and papers, putting in over time some of the time but feeling unappreciated, etc. And then repeat again till the last work day of the week. Lately, the theme of my life had been #WaitingForWeekends.

When you reach the point where you dread when the weekend ends and the work week begins, you know life has become stressful and unhealthy. When sometimes you find yourself half-assing your work, unconsciously, you know you need to put an end to it.

I know that sounds like a selfish thing. And there are bills to pay. Believe me, I have battled voices in my head saying, “you should be grateful you have a job!” or “the pay is good, the work is not difficult, why leave?” or “why don’t you just get up, show up, sit for 8 hours and wait for the paycheck?” and then on the other side, so many voices of reasons that would sum up:

“Are you sure you want to do the same thing everyday for the next ten years?”

And the answer to that was NO.

I guess when you work in a place that long, (10 years and 11 months for me in the same company), you would want some sort of change. I’ve asked for it but that change didn’t come and I didn’t see it coming at all. Doing something over and over again that long is not sustainable, at least for me. I feel my feelings weren’t normal because in my previous company, people have worked for 10, 20 or even 30 years. No one ever leaves (almost) that people didn’t believe I resigned and started to speculate and spread rumors that I was terminated. When I said I submitted my resignation paper last November 2017, there wasn’t a single soul who didn’t think I was joking. “Why would you?”

There’s also the lingering matter of my age. I’m 41 and it came to the critical point where IF I have to change jobs, I have to quit the current one NOW otherwise stay there till I retire. There was no change in the horizon with the current one and no, I don’t want to do the same thing I was doing day in and day out for the next 3,650 days of my life.

“So if you didn’t like your job, why didn’t you apply for other jobs, in Dubai?”

We move on to reason #2.

Reason #2: the kids

playing in the snow

There are several reasons worthy enough of a separate blog post that could be controversial to other families raising their kids in Dubai. Dubai is still a great place for families for many, however, PERSONALLY, I feel it wasn’t the best place for us anymore. The lifestyle didn’t fit what we wanted for our family.

I have a child who is transitioning into adulthood. She is 14, and while very open minded and sensible, I feel that living in Dubai as she transitions into this very important phase in life will not ready her or arm her with important life skills she needs and resilience when life is not so convenient and comfortable anymore in the outside world.

The other child is six years old and always happier when taken outdoors, not just for a period of time (cooler months in Dubai) but everyday.

Reason #3: the husband’s job instability

Background: we moved to Dubai because of my work; he was the trailing spouse.

To his credit, he really tried. He has come a long way from someone who didn’t know how to speak or write proper English sentences to someone who can negotiate business affairs using a language foreign to him. He is Japanese and only speaks Japanese language with me from the start. And in Japan where we previously lived, there is no need to use English.

In the past years when his job doesn’t work out due to various unfortunate reasons like salary was too low to compensate for the long hours, company downsizing, etc, he managed to get another and then another. He even worked in Saudi Arabia for a year while the kids and I remained in Dubai in 2016.

We decided, ENOUGH.

Now that we are in Japan, he can find something that would suit him better here. It’s his home country after all and as for me – I can manage to fit in, as I did for 10 years I was here before moving to Dubai. I can find something here should I decide to work (I have worked here for 5 years after graduation before).

Reason #4: there’s no forever in Dubai

Dubai is a transient place. More than 80% of the population are expats from 200 different countries…who will ultimately leave one day, it’s just a question of WHEN. It’s actually scary when you really think about it.

Why? The UAE doesn’t offer permanent residency – visas are tied with your job that if you lose it, you only have 30 days to either find a new one or exit the country, no citizenship offered as well.

It’s a temporary place where people come to earn and/or save.

I liken living in Dubai as part of the story of the Japanese folk tale of Urashima Taro – a fisherman who gets to visit a beautiful kingdom under the sea as a reward for rescuing a tortoise. The kingdom under the sea is like paradise and Urashima Taro lingered on, enjoying every moment, forgetting about the outside world. When he came up and went back to land, he was shocked to find out so many years have passed since the last time he was there.

Most expats in Dubai, us included, arrived thinking they’ll stay “just for a couple of years” but then the lifestyle is too comfortable, convenient and appealing, the malls so big, bright and shiny LOL, and we all end up making Dubai our semi-permanent home and before we know it, we’ve been living in this glorious city for years and decades.

And leaving gets harder and harder the longer you live in Dubai.

It’s a transient place and we’re all waiting for that “snap” that could be in the form of: you or your spouse losing your jobs and can’t find one before the 30 days grace period ends, you or your spouse’s company closes down and can’t find another company to sponsor your visa before the 30 days grace period ends, Dubai’s economy all together snaps and you become redundant or worst case scenario, war erupts in the Middle East (the UAE is peaceful right now and I think it will be for the next years…but then again, there’s no guarantee?)

So what if the “snap” happens tomorrow and we have no savings or when we’re 50? Where will we go? Will there be any companies to accept us back home or somewhere else?

We felt it is time to settle and build a permanent home.

ben walking in snow


We are all Japan passport holders, my husband is from here and we have family here (his side, our children’s grandparents who are so delighted with our move). Japan will always be that place we can base ourselves the easiest, move with least effort, financially, logistically. Here, we are eligible for social insurance and school for the kids is free.

Also, we feel it’s time for our children to get to know the culture and heritage that’s part of who they are.

Are we staying here for good? I don’t know about the “for good” part but “for now”, yes.

No matter how comfortable and almost perfect life is in Dubai, we are only there on borrowed time. With the visa, we are given the privilege to stay in Dubai/UAE. In Japan, we have the right to stay as long as we can.

One interesting thing about this move – much like when people in Dubai asked me why we left Japan, people here in Japan are asking me why we left Dubai – a seemingly modern day Utopia where everything is convenient; even the heat is a mild matter as we live in temperature controlled houses and sleep with our comforters even when it’s nearing 50C outside.

The grass is always greener on the other side, eh?


January 13th 2018 (that’s today in my time zone) would have been our 11 years anniversary in Dubai but we’re no longer there. I wanted to start the new year fresh and new so I chose to leave before 2017 ended. Honestly, I thought I’d write a really sappy post how I missed life in Dubai but not right now. I actually didn’t have time to grieve over leaving the city we called home for nearly 11 years. I was so busy with so many things like patching things at work before my exit, selling/giving away/disposing things at home and preparing to leave for the Philippines last month for my sister’s wedding. (Had several incidents even before we landed in Manila with Benjamin suddenly getting sick on the plane and we had to call emergency when we landed and then the airline losing 2 of my checked in luggage and typhoon Vinta got our flights to my hometown cancelled …who has time to be sappy about Dubai?)

And then this move to Japan.

I might eventually get nostalgic and write the sappy post someday but not today. I’m busy looking forward to the challenges we’ll all face. The kids’ attending Japanese school, me looking for a job (or deciding to stay at home!), looking for a permanent house etc.

Oh, and the harsh winter. I am more bothered of the cold, cold temp inside the house this winter to be grieving about the past.

I do have a passing thought and probably an advice to you expats thinking about leaving Dubai: don’t leave when Dubai is at its most gorgeous in the “winter” months, especially if you’re destination is the real winter world. You’ll miss and long for Dubai’s glorious sunshines in December.

Leave during the summer when you’re cursing your way out of the airport and happily looking forward to your normal world destination where you can stand outside without your arm pits transforming into waterfalls of sweat and you can breathe without being choked by 95% humidity.

Oh and one last thing keeping me from grieving?

I need a new blog name.

Dealing with food allergies while eating out or travelling

b with shinkansen bento

My son Benjamin (6 years old next month) is allergic to all tree nuts – almonds, pecans, walnuts, pistachio, cashew, etc. We’ve had accidental ingestion in the past where he ended up in the emergency so we are very careful with his food but alas, sometimes even I fail.

The last incident was a year and a half ago when we were dining in a dimly lit restaurant and the staff served brown bread, not informing us that it was actually walnut bread. I didn’t check as well because I avoid eating bread and normally Benjamin doesn’t eat bread that much but that night, he did and boom.

We’ve survived a year and half without any allergy related incident after that, we even travelled and stayed at four different countries without any awful surprises.


Whenever we eat out, we always stick to Japanese food – mostly because that’s what we like and prefer and because Japanese dishes are not too complicated. You’ll have plain rice, miso soup with some tofu or vegetables/seaweeds and a grilled fish or meats with vegetables. Sauces mostly consist of only soy sauce, some mirin. We have a Japanese restaurant we always frequent every weekend at lunch and not once he had some sort of allergic reaction to the dishes we’ve ordered so far for him.

However, this week, we wanted to try a new Japanese restaurant.

Benjamin said he wanted to eat ramen so we ordered that and he was looking forward to it with gusto. Japanese restaurants usually serve small appetizers at the start and the waitress brought in what seemed like harmless tofu with some miso paste on top. Benjamin took a spoonful and I did too. I realized that it’s a different kind of tofu – it’s goma tofu (tofu mixed with sesame).

A few minutes later, Benjamin fell ill. He is fighting through it telling me he is just tired (from his earlier swimming lessons) and that he is also sleepy. He leaned on me with teary eyes, asked for hot tea and water. I suspected something was not right and gave him Aerius, an anti-histamine that I always carry in my bag wherever we go. Two minutes later, he laid down and started to sneeze. His bowl of ramen came but he was surprisingly disinterested, though saying earlier that he was hungry.

A few seconds later, he gagged and my daughter was quick to carry him out to the restaurant, to the nearest toilet. I followed behind them.

We didn’t reach the toilet.

He projectile vomited just a few steps away, to the shock of the manager at the reception desk at the restaurant’s entrance. At the toilet, his small body was lurching forward, throwing up all the things his body considers as poison. When the vomiting stopped, nasal congestion set in and he wasn’t able to breathe from his nose.

While comforting him, I managed to do a Google searched about sesame seed allergy. And voila – it seems that people who are allergic to tree nuts could also be allergic to seeds. Who knew. It was my first time to learn about it, and we had to find out in a very scary and messy way.

Ambulance was called just to make sure his blood pressure and oxygen levels were not dropping. Thankfully, his vitals were stable and save for the nasal congestion and watery eyes, he was fine. He was tired from all the vomiting though so we stayed a bit.


Now you may ask, with my love for taking the kids to travel with me, am I not discouraged to go out at all? Was there a time I didn’t want to travel because of Benjamin?

I admit, I get anxious whenever I take him out long enough for us to eat outside during meal times i.e., travelling to another place, including plane rides. However, I don’t want this anxiety to take over me, restricting my son of going out and seeing the beautiful world outside.

We just have to accept and deal with this health matter and do whatever we can. We do not want this ‘disability’ to overwhelm us and keep him inside all the time, after all, Benjamin LOVES travelling – he loves planes and airports and now I just found out from our recent trip, hiking in the mountains!

b in Austria

b hiking in austria 1
p and b hiking in Austria 2

His allergic reactions so far had been rashes/hives, nasal congestion and vomiting. No anaphylactic reaction so far (thank GOD!!). It’s not life threatening now and hope it stays that way. But still we take precautions whenever we are out and about.


1. Stay at accommodations with a kitchen, fridge or microwave, as much as you can.

It would be easier and safer to cook if the allergies are more complicated. When we were in Japan, we stayed in an Airbnb rather than a hotel so we make some our meals there especially breakfast. It does require some additional work, but I had piece of mind knowing my child is safe. Another bonus is that it’s very cost-effective.

2. Find a local grocery store.

After you have reached your destination, the first stop you need to make is the grocery store in order to stock up on safe foods for your child.

3. Research area restaurants.

There is nothing worse than getting to a restaurant with your hungry brood and finding out you can’t eat there.

4. When eating out especially in a new restaurant or in another country away from home, always ask what is in the menu.

5. Always order the simplest dish as possible.

No complicated sauces. When we were in Germany and Austria I just ordered sausages and french fries – I know, I know, not the healthiest options but when it comes down to food, I’d rather opt for a bit unhealthy but safe rather than healthy but unsafe or with questionable ingredients.

6. Pack safe foods.

For road trips, it’s more convenient to pack safe foods for your child with allergies rather than be wary what to give him during drive breaks. For airline meals – For people with food allergies, airline meals pose a particular risk. Many airlines will organise a special meal according to individual requirements, so mention it during booking and when they serve, check again.

7. Take note of emergency numbers at the destination and save it your phone.

8. Always pack allergy medication wherever you go.

To avoid problems at airport security, pack the medication in safe ziplocs and bring prescription, if available.

9. Don’t expect the general public to understand.

THIS. There’s so much stigma around food allergies that some people shrug it off as “disease of the rich kids” or “just an excuse for picky eaters”. Unbelievable because many people actually die of food allergies every year all over the world.

10. Despite all of the (minor) discomfort, ENJOY YOUR VACATION.

Food allergies don’t have to rule your vacation, but you do need to pay attention. With a little preparation, you and your family can enjoy your family time together in a fun and safe environment.

Ben in Niigata 1

Our travel experiences with Benjamin have been very positive so far. We understand the nature of his allergies and make careful choices based on this information. So far, Benjamin (6 years old next month) had been to Japan, Philippines, Singapore, Prague, Germany and Austria. Travelling with a child who has food allergies requires some extra planning, but the rewards of seeing him with sparkle in his eyes at each new place or new experience is well worth it.

Do you have a child/children with food allergies? How does this affect your travels?

Sorry for the long hiatus. An update.

I’ve lost track.

I’ve been on a blogging hiatus for the longest time in my ten years of blogging. Not writing anything for a month has been tougher than not eating chocolates for a month.  I expected it. I didn’t fully wanted it – semi-quitting blogging and all but it happened. I still couldn’t believe I did it, shrugging it off with thoughts like, “who’s reading anyway?”

Do people still read blogs? If you have been a visitor to mine before, are you still there?

I tend to blame the loss of my blogging mojo to social media – myself posting updates on Instagram, Twitter or my blog’s Facebook page that I lose the spirit to really sit down in front of my PC and write like a true blogger does. Like my old blogger self.

Then I thought I’d still want to write again so here I am. I still would like to read blog posts I wrote from x years ago, I am writing a part of my life’s story here so I will continue.

Moving on,

The holy month of Ramadan has started last month; we’re already halfway through it actually. I’m not a Muslim so I don’t fast but irrespective of religion, employees and workers in the UAE do get shorter work times. I only work from 8 am to 2 pm. I do extra hour of work every day to avoid the rush on the metro and the blaring hot sun at 2 pm (it’s still hot at 3 pm though) so I arrive home just before 4 pm. It appears that I *do* actually have ample time to blog and I didn’t because I was focusing on other things: exercising, playing with the kids as this month is bliss for working moms like me. I love Ramadan mainly for this opportunity to be with my kids longer.

And speaking of Ramadan, I just realized this is our 11th Ramadan in Dubai. ELEVENTH, people!

I admit, lately I’ve secretly wished every Ramadan is the last. More than 10 years in the UAE and I honestly feel our time is up and I am ready to move on, somewhere. But I just don’t know where. YET. I hope we come around to that. SOON.

And in between staying here longer and wishing to go away, the much awaited vacation time comes again. This year, I managed to plan to include JAPAN. The last time was four years ago!

Four years ago means Benjamin was still in a stroller, only less than 2 years old, still breastfeeding!

benjamin at subway

It was during that time I really felt Tokyo is a city not meant for traveling families with small kids. I lived just outside Tokyo for almost five years and never really realized that…because I was single that time. For one, there are so many train stations without escalators or elevators. There were times I had to carry the child in one arm and a folder stroller on the other (the husband wasn’t with us that time).

subway scene

It’s hot in Japan in the summer so we took breaks from the concrete jungle of Tokyo to parks. If you’re around Shinjuku, don’t miss to check out Shinjuku Gyoen when you’re tired from all the walking and want to lie down on green grass.

benjamin at park

P and B in Tokyo 2

P and B in Tokyo 3

We’ll be in Japan for just 9 nights. It is not enough but I’ll take it. The weather in Japan in June is unpredictable but I plan to make the most of it, especially now that the children are older and they actually know what they want to do while in Japan: from simple things as wanting to eat as much ramen, gyoza or curry rice to shopping at convenient stores for different onigiris to exciting visits to the Ghibli Museum (even this excites me – Pristine was only 5 when we last visited Totoro’s abode!) and probably, I may sneak in a surprise visit to Tokyo Disneyland, weather and health permitting!

We’re visiting their grandparents north of Tokyo. They’ll be getting to know Japan’s Shinkansen (bullet train) for the first time!


The last time we’ve seen them was in 2009 and since they’re the kind of folks who doesn’t have an email address or WhatsApp, Facebook or anything online, they will be shocked how big the kids have become. (They have not seen Benjamin yet since he was born and now he’s almost 6!)


After Japan, we will be flying to where my parents live where the children will be spending their summer vacation. I hate to be away from them for about 7 weeks but they’re better off there than spend the whole day indoors in Dubai. If only I could stay with them for the whole duration of their summer vacation but alas, work awaits. I’ll fly out again to pick them up at the end of August.

I will be active on social media, mainly on Instagram and hopefully, I could have enough material to write blog posts about our travel to Japan this time. Benjamin is bigger this time so I suppose I could take lots of better photos too. I am excited. Meanwhile, I need to get back on my feet really soon – I am so sick with bronchitis that fully transformed into asthma. Very bad timing as I need to pack, plan, work and actually fly out in a few days!

When the fear of travel creeps in


Stockholm and Alexandria were on my mind and in my travel plans this year.

By now, you must already know what happened lately to these two cities: a truck being driven into a crowded shopping street in Stockholm and there was a church bombing in Alexandria during a Palm Sunday mass at a Coptic Christian Church just a few days ago.

Stockholm was an easy choice for my first visit to the Scandinavian region – and not just because I am a huge ABBA or IKEA fan. It is one of the world’s most beautiful cities, where lakes meets the sea, where beautiful island towns stitched together by bridges and ferries creates an irresistible allure.

IMG_9797 wm

Alexandria on the other hand is home to my daughter Pristine’s best friend, Laila. Laila and Pristine had been friends since kindergarten. They love each other like crazy that summer vacations became agonizing and unlike most kids who enjoy no school days, they count days till they meet again. It’s very difficult to peel them off from each other on the first day they’re back to school.

Laila’s family migrated to Canada five years ago and at the tender age of 9, my daughter felt the hardest part of being an expat – losing a friend through relocation.

Laila transferred to a school in Canada while maintaining contact with her best friend in Dubai, however, due to the huge time difference, the girls rarely sync their time for Skype but when they do, they are both grinning from ear to ear.

Now, after five years, Laila’s family with their resident status in Canada all settled, they are going back to their home in Alexandria for vacation! Isn’t it just a 3 hour flight from Dubai? Laila’s mom buzzed me last week to share the good news and asked if we could surprise the girls to meet and spend a few days with them in their Alexandria home. I’ve made arrangements for the kids to spend summer at my parent’s home in the Philippines for the entire months of July-August BUT I couldn’t pass up on this opportunity to go to Egypt and for my daughter to see her bosom friend again so a couple of days ago, I called up the travel agent and asked to reschedule our flights out of Manila so we can come back to Dubai earlier and fly to Alexandria for the remainder of summer.

Cue my mother’s voice: “Wait, what? You’re going to Alexandria where there was a bombing incident? And you’re taking the kids, too?!”

I will not lie. I am anxious.

And you ask, well, if you are that anxious, then why go? Why not just stay at the comfort and safety of home?

I guess that the problem with me is that, even if I sometimes get scared of travel, that doesn’t stop me. I always have this familiar mix of excitement and apprehension that comes before every excursion, especially to places I would visit for the first time.

Especially, if I am travelling with the kids.

Especially travelling to vulnerable areas this time (Egypt).

Then I do extensive research and preparation, be brave and walk out the door proudly but then, as I sit on the plane looking out the window as the carrier pulls away from the tarmac, I ask, “what am I doing? Am I making a right decision?” It’s a crazy mind game inside my head.

It’s unfortunate that there is so much hate and violence in this world right now that makes travelling to some places difficult, scary or even impossible. I feel lucky to have visited Istanbul and Jordan (I was shaken though as only 2 days after we left Jordan, there had been a terrorist attack at one of the popular tourist spots) during more stable times.

I wish I had seen Damascus (Syria), one of the oldest cities in the Middle East before the war.

It’s sad to know that many people might never see these places for a while due to fear of safety.  (And those are very legit fears.) However, I found some tips how to stay safe while travelling to risky countries which was informative and logical.

Over to you – are there any places you’d wish to visit but can’t or won’t due to fear of safety?

How I got my Japanese family name

wisteria in japan

I was doing the car registration renewal process a few days back when the Emirati guy behind the counter at Tasjeel chit chatted me while he holds my car registration card, “So you are Japanese? You have a Japanese family name and nationality but you look Filipino!” If I attempt to count this kind of query every time someone gets hold of my personal documents like passport, driver’s license, etc, the count would be the same as the number of hair strands I have. It’s a question I get all the time since I changed my nationality more than a decade ago.

“Oh so you are married to a Japanese that’s why you have his family name!”

Uhm, actually no. But more often than not, I just say yes and move on.

Today, I am going to share something about Japanese family names and how I got mine because – today is the anniversary since I became a Japanese citizen. I just realized that when I saw the above photo on a travel website. So here goes,

Japanese family names, in most cases are derived from nature. The family names usually consists of two kanjis (Japanese characters), a combination between the “geographic feature” group and the “adjective” group.

Here are 30 most common geographic feature used in surnames, plants and villages included:

japanese family names 1

As for adjectives, the most common are probably these ones (note that the 2 first are not adjectives, but act as such as they do not mean anything by themselves) :

japanese family names 2

The order can be both, geographic feature/nature first then adjective next or adjective first then followed by geographic feature/nature. For example, there’s Murakami (mura (village) + kami (above)) and then there’s Uemura (Ue (above) + mura (village)), both using the same two kanji’s though the other kanji is read differently when it comes first.


I’ve been living in Japan for 6 years when I decided to apply for naturalization. Applying for naturalization (citizenship) requires applicants to choose a Japanese name according to their wish. Basically, I could choose a Japanese first name and family name, ANYTHING that I like. I was in a relationship with my then boyfriend now husband for three years that time and we brainstormed what name I should use – honestly, it was kind of weird to rename myself. What if someone calls me by my Japanese name, how many times would they have to shout, for me to recognize it is actually my name they are calling out?

We learned that for the first name, we can use a foreign name to be written in katakana (katakana is most often used for transcription of words from foreign languages). I decided to retain my original name Grace as not to complicate my life too much but then what family name would I use? Or create for myself? I had only a week to decide.

Since we were contemplating on getting married anyway and I actually liked his family name, I asked him if I could use it. And he said yes.

The first kanji is FUJI, which is this.


Fuji means the wisteria plant in Japanese. Isn’t it lovely? I even like the word. WISTERIA.

(You might associate the word “fuji” from Mt. Fuji, Japan’s highest peak and most popular mountain. However, the Japanese character or kanji for fuji in Mt. Fuji and fuji in my name is different, though their reading is the same in English. The Japanese language is complicated like that.)


Years before I met my husband, I’ve read a feature of the oldest wisteria plant Japan in the pages of an old National Geographic from the school library when I was in high school. I thought it was BEAUTIFUL and wished I could see it with my own eyes. Whenever I’m asked what’s my favorite flower, I’d say wisteria and people back home look at me with blank stares.

I’ve never seen a wisteria plant till my first spring in Japan in 1997. I chanced upon an old wisteria tree in a park near my school!


The next kanji in the family name I chose is MAKI, which means to wind, to turn or wraparound. The visual description of FUJIMAKI would be wisteria flowers wound up in a wreath of sorts.

So that’s the story of how my current family name came to be – although my husband and I have the same family name, I did not get this from him through marriage. I was already a Fujimaki before we got married and in Japan, one is able to retain her maiden name even after marriage so we’re technically two separate entities of Fujimaki’s.

(That even if we did not end up together, I would still bear the name “Grace Fujimaki”.)


Photo credit

It’s been 1o years since the last time I saw a beautiful wisteria. I miss it but every time I see or write my family name, I can’t help but have this vision of walking through a canopy of wisteria flowers over my head on a beautiful day in spring.

International Women’s Day and other updates


Hello, beautiful people. If you are a woman reading this blog, hope you had a great day so far today. And at least got offered a seat on a busy train, even just for today.

8 March is International Women’s Day, an event held around the world to commemorate the struggle for women’s rights. There are several rallies and demonstrations all over the world but I hope one day, women won’t have to march in the streets demanding for equality. According to the UN, March 8 is “a day when women are recognized for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political. It is an occasion for looking back on past struggles and accomplishments, and more importantly, for looking ahead to the untapped potential and opportunities that await future generations of women.”

I wish everyone gets that message into their hearts and live by it, everyday.

The people at my workplace made this day extra special by devoting an hour long program devoted to the female staffs. We even got a box of my favorite Patchi chocolates in the end!

Other updates –


I’ve not been blogging for a while, long enough to make me temporarily forget my WordPress admin password. It’s been really difficult – I’ve been busy at work from morning till evening with no chance to sneak in a paragraph or two like before and after that, being a single parent right now, it’s hard for me to blog at home. Benjamin is always wanting my attention (naturally) and when he’s asleep I have zero energy left. I love spending time with the kids because they’re a fun bunch and never fail to make me smile or laugh but I admit, I miss my alone time where I can write.

Spring break is around the corner and the kids will have two weeks off. I wish I had too so I can take them somewhere. I’ve planned it and did a lot of research and study for it because I’m that crazy type of person who creates imaginary itineraries and takes pleasure in grasping information and familiarity about the place even before I’ve been there. I map streets in my mind; I print and study the train routes – my idea of chill time is studying how to transfer from one place to another, imagining things as if I’m already there.

Even before I even bought tickets to that destination.

Sometimes I feel that I’m wasting so much time (and ask myself – is this even normal?). Just a couple of months in to 2017, I already fixed itineraries for Japan, Amsterdam, Bucharest, Milan and Como area in Lombardia region and lately, Sofia, Bulgaria. I even studied how to read Cyrillic so I can read signs in Russian (it’s not hard + it’s fun).

But the painful truth is, only one of those itineraries will be materialized. And not on spring break.Who am I kidding? With a full time job, I can’t really leave for vacations often. And my vacation days have been already allotted in summer.

I hate that after a long time without blogging I’m coming back just to whine.

Also, I was under the weather the past two weeks, first with a very painful, debilitating period then the kids got sick and then I got sick. I wasn’t able to exercise for 2 weeks now and I get so heartbroken not being able to cross out my schedule pasted in the refrigerator door. I miss being in the zone. I always feel better if I exercise first thing in the morning before going to work.

I did my routine religiously for 7 weeks and then on the 8th, I feel like a complete failure. If you look at me, maybe you couldn’t tell that I’m that person who exercises. But at this point in time, I’m not really after the much coveted “bikini body”, I’m after being fit, mobile and not dying while running up the stairs when the escalator at the train station breaks down. And I am in need of a dose of happy hormones.

It’s almost the weekend and I’m going to take the kids to the beach. Not because they needed it, but because I need it. Hopefully, next week is a better week! I wish you all a great weekend ahead.

Even when I can’t blog, you can see updates on my Instagram (I frequent there than here) and Twitter or my blog’s Facebook page.

My year 2016 in review in twelve blog posts


Another year is about to end, in like, a few hours. Ready or not, 2017 is just around the corner. How was your 2016? Was it full of (hopefully) good surprises?

A couple of weeks ago at home, our house help blurted out, “It’s a lonely/sad Christmas!” maybe because she misses Christmas in her home country (which I can totally understand) but I told her, even if we’re having our own version of Christmas or New Year outside the Philippines, in a non-Christian country like the UAE, there are still so many things to be thankful for.

For me – as long as I wake up every day and not be in pain, my legs fine, my back not aching, my kids healthy and thriving, that is ENOUGH. I’ve had bouts of setbacks with my health this year from sciatica to herniated disc to plantar fascitiis that I learned to appreciate the little things more.

There are really so many things to make us sad, if we really look for it but as I turned 40 in 2016, I aim to see the ‘brighter’ side of things, for my sake.

So how did our year 2016 go here at Sandier Pastures?

January had me almost going mad to toilet train my son.

In February, just when the potty training phase was almost over, we had to face difficulty finding a school that will accept Benjamin. The crazy and borderline illogical assessments for kindergarten make me wish schools would rethink about kindergarten readiness. I cured by stress by buying plane tickets when Fly Dubai had a seat sale! Totally unplanned.

I discovered the wonderful world of Amazon India in March and so happy I won’t be bankrupt buying overpriced books in Dubai again!

In April, I counted the reasons why I love travelling with my daughter.

The tickets I bought on February was for a flight to Prague in May, with the kids and my sister.

June came, and along with it, anxiety about being a single parent most of the time, like three months straight at a time (due to the husband’s work situation).

It’s the start of the kids’ school vacation in July and we travelled to the Philippines!

What’s a working mom’s biggest woe (ok, one of the biggest)? Your vacation days are not as lengthy as the school holidays!! I only had 2 weeks to stay and had to go back to Dubai for work. We decided to let the kids spend the whole school summer vacation (2 months) in the Philippines, at my parents’ place. That meant, I was alone for the whole month of August. I’m not sure if I would want to do it again!

It’s been a year since I went for a solo trip to Austria. In September, I recalled how I spent one week in Austria. I need to go back, because after a year has passed and you’re still thinking of something, that means it made a big impact on your life, and you have not moved on. Who wants to move on from travelling, to Austria?

After a few weeks of being back in Dubai, the husband has to go back to work again and be away for another three months so we made sure we have lots of family fun – we went to the beach at Ajman for the first time in October – it’s almost th end of summer and the beach was such a delight!

November came. I turned 40. The end.

Lastly, Pristine and I did another mother-daughter trip in December. This time, travelling to Jordan! I think we may make this all-girls-trip a tradition.

Whatever your 2016 was, I hope you’ll all have a better, more wonderful and prosperous New Year 2017!

5 Things I’m glad I did before turning 40


When 2016 rolled over, the first thing that came to my mind was – this is the year I will be 40. The thought of being four decades ‘old’ didn’t actually bother me. But then the annual birthday blues hit me again. Around this time of the year, I just want to curl up in a ball and toss obscenities at the world.

I know why it happens and yet I fall for it year after year after year. There’s one big, nasty word that has everything to do with why birthdays end up being exactly the opposite of what we think they should be: expectations. When another year rolls in and our expectations aren’t met, we end up with feelings of disappointment, depression, and sadness. 

I woke up at 1 am this morning, no scratch that, I was half asleep, half awake at that time of the night envious to the snores of my children sleeping at my sides. I checked the news (I know I should kick the habit of sleeping with my phone!) and found out another massive quake hit Japan with imminent tsunami at the same Tohoku region devastated by earthquake and tsunami combo in 2011.

Suddenly, I felt small and mostly selfish with my birthday blues. Here I was, alive, safe and have everything I need but choosing to sulk.

I got up and grabbed my Moleskine note to write a few things I am glad I did/grateful that I did before I turned 40. Here they are:

1. Started and maintained a diary in my teens

I’ve always been the one who can better express in writing than talking so I started to write/document the goings on of my life since I was probably 12 or 13. It’s old school blogging and I am glad I did that because it’s always a joy to read my old diaries now that I’m 40.

And writing was therapy for me at that time, always been.

Diary writing is actually one of the habits I am very keen for my daughter to take on because it don’t only develop writing skills but a great thing to look back on.

2. Studied, lived and worked abroad in my twenties

I am grateful to be given the chance to study abroad (on a scholarship program) to Japan when I was 19. The diploma isn’t the only thing I got out of my four and a half years in the university – I gained resilience, self confidence and courage (to battle homesickness and the challenging academics at the same time). I also had the opportunity to discover a lot about myself while gaining an understanding of a different culture.

Back home, it could be easy to get stuck in the bubble of my own experience, but studying abroad taught me that there’s so much more out there.

3. Got married and had kids

I put an end to bad dates before I turned 30 25.

Research suggests you’re more likely to marry a true peer and someone whom you have lots in common with if you marry in your 20’s as opposed to later. It makes sense. Couples who get married in their 20’s often meet in college, a time in your life when you’re surrounded by people who are of similar age and background and have similar interests. It’s easier to find someone who’s the yin to your yang in the classes, clubs, and extra curriculars you’re interested in, than it is to sort, or swipe through a random assortment of prospects online.

The husband and I met at the university in Japan and got married 3 years after graduation.

I had my first baby at 27 so now at 40, I have a teenager as my able travel travel buddy and whom I can talk and confide to like a friend and laugh with my silly jokes! On the other hand, my second child was born when I was 35 so feel I am still a ‘young mom’ and when he is 10 and big enough he could be my new travel buddy when the older one is off to college far away.

4. Travelled as much as I can (even if alone)

I went to places within Japan (only because I faced visa related challenges with my previous passport) – took railway short trips, climbed mountains, explored onsens (hot baths on natural springs) sometimes with a group of friends or if they are not available, alone.

Yep, alone, even when I was in a relationship.

In the words of Henry David Thoreau, “The man who goes alone can start today but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.”

I was never uncomfortable with going solo (introvert alert!).

Except for trips home to see my parents to show the baby, travel for me took a back seat for a while. However, I picked up what I left off by travelling alone again when Pristine was 8 to Thailand for a blogging gig (!), when Benjamin was 2 to Turkey (another blogging gig!) and last year when I went off to Austria, just because.

5. Took care of my health

Although still a little frumpy than I would like, I am still glad I didn’t take my health for granted when I was younger.

I’ve always been active, conscious about food and adapt a healthier lifestyle because I have my parents as fitspirations. My father late into his 60’s still plays tennis 6x a week and do not have prescription meds to sustain him. My mom is super strict with her diet and can say no effortlessly to carbs and sugar, something I am still working on! They look and feel so much younger than their real ages.

While I had health setbacks earlier this year with a mild herniated disc from doing too much weights and plantar fasciitis (so much better now, thank God!), right now, I am happy to report that all my blood work are excellent and everything is normal – blood pressure, sugar, cholesterol, etc.

And today I woke up, I am not in pain and that is ENOUGH. Health is wealth. As long as I wake up painless and can carry myself, I feel I can do anything.

BONUS tip: Take care of your skin too even if you’re still tight and plump and perky in your twenties. Never sleep with makeup on, exfoliate, hydrate and moisturise regularly so you could thank yourself when you look at the mirror the morning you turn 40 🙂

I felt better writing these five things. Now, where’s that cake?

Why I am no longer on Facebook


I first joined Facebook when my daughter’s favorite teacher relocated to Australia in 2009 and asked me to get on this social media network so we can ‘get in touch’, so I could see her baby (she was pregnant that time). And I did. I opened an account and slowly slid my way through in this would be huge world of Facebook. Prior to that, I was happy with only blogging and then Twitter.

When I first joined Facebook back in 2009 it was really exciting to reconnect with long lost elementary/high school friends and even people I met briefly but wanted to keep in touch with.

But last week, I logged out of my personal Facebook account and uninstalled the app from my phone. It has been a week since my Facebook sabbatical and I don’t miss it at all (for now).

Why did I pull the plug on Facebook?

One fine day in October while on my daily commute from home to work, I stopped and looked at the people around me. Maybe 95% of the commuters have their eyes stuck into their phone screens that I bet no one would ever notice even if Sheikh Mohammed walks in. Everyone would just do little sidesteps to accommodate other passengers coming in.

With the huge social media revolution, that is the norm but I feel something’s not right.

Here are reasons why I quit Facebook.

I realized I derived zero pleasure from it now, yet couldn’t stop looking at it. It’s a huge time waster.


It’s a scenario all too common: we plop on to the couch and start scrolling Facebook. Then…close the app, get distracted and open…Facebook. Again and again and again all throughout the day. It’s so easy to get carried away that I feel, in the eyes of my kids, it’s inexcusable behavior.

While being on Facebook and scrolling down through the news feed, many are not aware of the time they actually spend on viewing others’ life events or sharing. It became such a disease that many even feel obliged to like or comment on anything that was shared. I saw the time I spend on Facebook as my free time, but honestly, I can spend the same time taking care of myself, reading new books to my son or learning something new or doing other tasks that I’ve put off – like blogging.

Its funny because it’s the only social media platform that really bothers me. I have no problem with Instagram or Twitter. (You can follow and connect with me on those social media platforms, if you like to.)

Related read: 3 Reasons Why I Use Twitter (it’s a good brain exercise)

There’s too much noise.

I crave for information. I’ve been an avid newspaper reader since I was maybe 10. In the time of Facebook, I subscribe to a lot of pages that feed me news, fitness articles, science breakthroughs, entertainment, life hacks, etc. But what was once a fun fuss-free platform, Facebook is now littered with ads. The more you populate your timeline or like statuses and posts, the more Facebook bombards you with ads. Facebook mines our information to sell companies who orchestrate invasive advertising campaigns. I don’t like my timeline anymore and yes, you could say I can filter it, but even I lost the interest and energy to “organize” my Facebook so I’d 100% like what I see.

Sometimes, Facebook makes me feel unhappy.

I won’t lie, there are times I see a friend’s post and feel inadequate with my own life.

And I found out – my feelings are not invalid or unique to me. Recent study conducted by the Department of Behavioral Science at Utah Valley University found that Facebook makes us view our lives negatively. Social comparison, a byproduct of the Facebook experience, makes the user feel worse about their lives because Facebook tends to serve as an onslaught of idealized existences – babies, engagement rings, graduations, new jobs. It invites upward social comparison at a rate that can make real life feel like a modesty festival.

I want to live in the moment.

because sometimes, you see beautiful things when you look up

…because sometimes, you see beautiful things when you look up, rather than look down at your phone screen (photo taken in Bohol island, Philippines when I temporarily shut out Facebook during a family vacation with my parents)

All this social sharing has too often ruined my ability to be present and live in the moment. It’s easy to start viewing the world in terms of what will make a great status update. Or taking photos only for the sake of letting other people share in a moment. Constantly reporting our lives rather than living them.

But what about moderation?

Of course, if it works for you. “Doing it in moderation” is easier said than done. Personally, it’s easier to control when the limit is zero. It’s like eating doughnuts. One bite is not enough. Oftentimes, a whole doughnut is not even enough. The solution is NOT to have doughnut in the house!

What happens next?

I am not on Facebook anymore so I won’t be able to see any comments or posts that tag me. But that’s ok. My family and real-life friends know they can still text or call me, as we always did in the past. Information still travels, sans Facebook. Right now, I gently advocate for the more private, simple, and direct methods of day-to-day communication.

And the news that I crave for? I can always get it directly from their websites.

I still keep my blog’s Facebook Page though to promote blog posts or share something interesting.