Saturday, August 7, 2010
This was our 1st 'real' weekend in a very long time. Literally, for over 2 months we have had no real feel for the weekend. We were on permanent vacation! Patrick wasn't going to work, the kids weren't in school, and I had no social calendar to abide by. But this week Patrick had a full work week (gasp!) and I was busy with the kids again. So Saturday really felt like something to celebrate!
We actually had NO plans! The kids were starting to get wound up so we decided to run some errands - just to get out of the house. Literally 2 minutes before we were about to leave, my new friend Amy (shout out to the Mormons) called to see if I wanted to go to a function at their church. It was not a religious activity - rather just a get together that was held at their church (I had gone to plenty with my Mormon friends in Ohio and always had a great time). Apparently, their ward (church location) has 2 services. One in the morning in English and another in the afternoon in Japanese. This upcoming week is the Tanabata Festival around here (kind of like Halloween where they celebrate the dead coming back to bring joy and happiness to the living), so the Japanese sisters wanted to put on an activity to help the American sisters dress in kimonos (called yukatas, summer cotton kimonos) so we could go to the festival in style!
A few of the members could not attend (but replied they would go) so they had some extra yukatas. And that's when Amy called me. So Evelyn and I went to her house (she lives right behind us) and we drove over to the church together. Evie loved watching everyone get dressed and there were about 8 Japanese women helping everyone get dressed. One of the younger ladies did mine - but the oldest 'sensei' made me take it off because she said I was too skinny for it. I wanted to kiss her right there on the spot, but I didn't know if that was appropriate :-) They made me choose a smaller one and then the sensei wrapped me in it TIGHT! It was fun to see how there was no problem with a language barrier when women are helping each other with fashion!!! One lady even let me borrow some clothed for Evelyn...they were boy ones - but she didn't care. Pokemon is cool for boys and girls!!!
After we learned about the yukatas and about the reason behind the festival, we walked about 10 minutes to go there. It was what I expected - with bright colorful balloons and streamers, dancers, dragon puppets, vendors, etc. We weren't too daring with the food - we only got sno cones and popcon for the kids - but it was still such an unexpected, last minute fun activity for our family!
Friday, August 6, 2010
The good - our crazy backdrop of Mt Fuji
Also the good - hearing people who have been all over with the military tell us how lucky we are that this is our first assignment. Every single person that finds out this is our first "accession" (assignment) wonders how we got here. Apparently this is a base that you have to work hard to get to because of how nice the base is and how well run the area is. As an added bonus - we get to experience one of the coolest cities in the world.
The bad - Patrick's partner is getting deployed. This means his family (and us) will miss him for 6 months and Patrick will be the solo surgeon (aka on-call all the time) for that time. He will still be able to take holidays and leave - but not as easily. It also means that if they bring another ortho in next year (to replace his current partner) then there is a chance Patrick could also have to go. To Afghanistan. No. Thank. You.
But....what will be will be. It is what it is. And all the other cliches out there. Seriously (prepare for another cliche) if it is meant to happen, then it will happen and it will happen for a good reason. We will make the most out of whatever experience is thrown our way :-)
Thursday, August 5, 2010
On wednesday, we went to that pool (from last week) with another group of friends. It was a gorgeous day for the pool and we enjoyed it just as much, if not more, this time around. At the end of the playdate, some of the moms were talking about other playgroups they belonged to. One mom said their group was going off base to get some ice-cream...which sounded super fun. Then another mom said her group was going to "The Children's Castle" in downtown Tokyo...which sounded even more fun! Plus, it would give me a chance to learn how to ride the trains/subways with a group of other friends/kids instead of learning by myself!
So we agreed to join them the next morning. I packed some small snacks and juice boxes, as well as the kids games (DS and Leapster), my handy-dandy Tokyo guide, and some money in yen and USD. We left our house at 8:45am, met everyone at 9 (at the parking lot right before you leave base), and then walked to the train station. This was about a 10-15 minute walk and we were HOT!!! There were sidewalks for most of the walk (only large enough for one person...so we had to walk in a line) and all the other moms had littler kids, so they were all in their strollers. My kids were champs and didn't complain though!!! Thank goodness :-)
Patrick and I inherited some train passes (already loaded with money) so it made it a little easier for me to navigate. You literally just swipe your card when you go into the station and when you arrive at your final destination you swipe it again and it tallies your fare. Like EZPass. It deducts it from your account and you just refill it with cash when you get low. There is a designated area on each train for older people, pregnant people and people with kids...so we were pretty fortunate to get there. Unfortunately, we had a large group and wanted to stay together - but we made it work. I stood but the kids shared a seat. Immediately, I knew I was going to have to take a 1/2 dramamine for my motion sickness...but it never got too bad once I took it. All-in-all, it took about 2 hours from leaving our car until we got to the place we needed. Truthfully, I would've just preferred to drive myself. I don't care about traffic or tolls....I would rather drive anywhere than take public transportation (train, bus, plane, taxi). I am not being snobby...I just don't like it. Plus it was so hot outside - and not much cooler inside the train. It made for a LONG, HOT trip...but an experience I am glad to have had.
The Children's Castle is a large tower in the city designed to let 'inner-city' kids have a place to play. Each floor has different activities; from a pool, to an art center, music hall, playground, etc. It was a pretty neat place - but I found myself comparing it to COSI (the best Science Museum in the US). The kids had tons of fun though...which is the whole point!!!
After all the activites were done, we started to head back to the train station. One of the girls mentioned there was a Razzleberry Ice Cream store (like Pinkberry in the states) so we decided to walk past the train station to get some. We ended up going through the Times Square of Tokyo (very cool) to get there - but the kids HATED the ice cream and started to melt down! Evie was the worst -and I ended up dragging her - SCREAMING - back through the streets to the train station. I promised them that when we got back to the train that they could sit down and nap or play games. WRONG. It was 4pm - when people start to get off work, so it was your typical train in Japan. Literally shoving people in to fit. Eventually one seat opened - which the kids shared while I stood next to them.
We got back to our train station and they were spent (me too) so I paid a taxi to take us back to the main gate of the base. Best 750 yen I ever spent. We got back to our car and drove into our driveway at 5:30. I was soooooo tired (from the walking, the heat and the dramamine) and I was alseep by 8pm. I slept right through the night (except for the 4:30am phone ringing) and got up around 6:30. I am glad we went - but don't think I will be doing it again any time soon!!!
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Time to take a quick break from the Japan updates and brag a little bit about Gavin. Before we left Ohio, Gavin had decided he wanted to save money and donate it to the Police (to keep bad guys in jail longer). We got a piggy bank (from Edward Jones Financial) that has a special slot for donations. And since we couldn't take the piggy bank filled with money with us (the movers are not allowed to move money - even coins) we took all of his saved donations to the Hilliard Police station the day before we left.
It was pretty cool because we went during a shift change and got to meet and give the money to the Chief of Police. He was leaving for the day - and got a little teary eyed when this little 5 year old boy gave him a zip-lock of coins to help the Police. It was pretty sweet and I was VERY proud of Gavin. The chief let us see some steel that was brought in (from the Twin Towers) for a special monument in Hilliard. And he took down our address so he could send a thank you.
Well, 6 weeks later...Gavin finally received his special package. Inside was a very nice note written by the Chief of Police himself, along with lots of goodies. Gavin was so excited and has been playing with the books and toys all night!!!
Monday, August 2, 2010
Today I ventured out to take Evelyn for a preschool interview. In my last post, I stated how awesome the GPS is. Well, I take it back. Although it is great for the most part - it took me to the wrong location (it took me to the town hall instead of the school I was trying to get to) and it also tried to take me down an alley that was obviously not meant for a mini-van. No one seemed to try to stop me on the 'street' but at one point, it was so narrow that I clipped the side of my mirror. Then it came to a 90 degree turn. Imagine a one lane 'street' that dead ends and you are to turn right. Since my GPS was telling me to do it...I tried. Once I felt my bumper scrape the wall....I stopped and reversed back down the street. Yep, I was that stupid American who went the wrong way and then reversed back out of the 'street'. Thank goodness we only spent $2000 on the van :-)
We ended up 45 minutes late (after going to the town hall, finding the ONE person who spoke broken English and writing down the Japanese website to get better directions) and was a little disappointed. I know I was still shaky from the car ride...but the school seemed a bit to strict. They do not take holiday breaks (well...a small one over Christmas and another small one in March) and they go from 9-3 everyday. They did offer great activites while the kids are in school - gymnastics, ballet, swimming - but I just didn't feel that 'feeling' I was hoping to have. Evie passed their entrance exam (yes - that's right folks, an entrance exam) but needed improvement in her writing skills (yes again, folks, they expect 3 years olds to write). They did believe she was a fast learner and could be a great asset to the school though.
Another bummer was the cost. They severely discount the military English speaking kids - but it was still going to be $380/month. They include bus and lunch costs in there...but we wouldn't use it, and they didn't discount for not participating in those. The new school (not the one that took forever to get to today) would be 10 mins from base - so I would just drive her. Also, since she has a nut allergy - I am REQUIRED to provide her own food. But yet they still charge me for food she would not be eating???
Regardless, I was pretty bummed when I left. I was, however, proud that I ventured out, got lost, found my way, and returned home safe and sound - with just some love taps on my car. The rest of the day I ran errands on base and got quite a lot done. My favorite thing we did this afternoon was take Gavin to a Japanese kids class. It was very similar to the Spanish classes he took - and he LOVED it! There were 3 other boys his age and they hit it off great! Plus, he already learned a few new words and practiced the ones he already knew. YAY Gavin!
Sunday, August 1, 2010
This weekend we ended up going to Tama Hills, our first vacation in Japan. We were sort of forced into it since the our side of the base was going to be out of power ALL day on Saturday...but we were excited to go.
Now let me preface this adventure by saying we literally bought our car on Friday afternoon. For those that don't know, people drive on the other side of the car AND on the other side of the road in Japan. Also, the highways are beyond crazy. Think if driving through downtown NYC everywhere you have to go. There are alleys that act as side streets - but the main roads have lights at almost every intersection and traffic is horrendous at all hours of the day. So for us to just jump in the car and drive somewhere took real Kahunas.
Patrick did great - but we were able to follow our friends the whole way. Not that we really needed to though, because our GPS in the car in pretty awesome. It is all in Japanese...but the arrows and directions are very clear. It is way more advanced than any American GPS that I have seen - and it will show the upcoming intersection and highlight the lanes you are to be in. For example, if there are 5 lanes...1 goes left, 2 go straight, 2 go right...it will highlight the one(s) you should be in and warn you of the ones NOT to be in. It also has your next 2 turns to warn you. It will count down the (kilo)meters before the first turn, but also make you aware of how soon the 2nd turn is from there. And since we can't read or write Kanji (japanese symbols for words), we can type in the phone number and it will get us there! The previous owners also set a 'home' button and they live close to us...so we can just hit that button anytime to get us home.
Anyway, the room we stayed at in Tama was very nice. They even brought 2 cots for the kids. We got there around 6:30pm, ate dinner and then went back to the room for bed! We slept in until after 7 (which was awesome!!!) had some breakfast and then had some fun! The kids went on pony rides, we watched some softball games, played mini-golf, went hiking, etc. The only bummer was it was H-O-T! We were drenched in sweat and sought some coolness finally back in the hotel for lunch. I tried fried alligator tail (which was just like chicken wings) and a korean beef sandwich. I was proud of myself for being daring with food! It was all actually very good :-) The kids stuck with burgers and fries...but I am sure they will venture out soon!
Once we got back to base we have been getting more essentials and nice-to-haves for the house. Groceries, Gavin's school supplies, etc. We rented some movies for tonight and hope to have a relaxing night to ourselves (Patrick and I). Things are starting to settle in and we expect all of our items from our BIG shipment of AUG 13 (yes...friday the 13th). After that, it will feel much more homey. Although, I was pretty bummed the other day when Evelyn told me this place was just our 'house' not our 'home'. Our "home' is in Ohio still :-(