Sunday, September 28, 2008

Welcome Home, Bob!

I have a lot of pictures in my Shutterfly album, so be sure to check those out!

Before Thursday I had only been to submarine homecomings. [No, I take that back, I've been to a cruiser homecoming...I took pictures for my old neighbor, Dawn, when her husband Ted came home]. The number of guys on board varies to 130-150ish, but usually about half are married. So there would be families on the pier, sometimes parents of sailors too, but never in my life have I seen anything like what we saw Thursday. So many people, so many wives and children, and something I hadn't seen before at a homecoming, the husband of a sailor. It was heartwarming to see husbands with children waiting for their wives to come back home. Seeing all of those people standing and Manning the Rails gave me goose bumps. I didn't think Bob would be standing outside, but sure enough he was. He was standing outside on the Admiral's Bridge, and to the left you can see a picture with a white arrow pointing to where he was.
They spelled out "Hajimemashite" on the flight deck. It means "Nice to meet you."
Those of you that watched "Carrier" on PBS should recognize this guy.
I was too starstruck to say hello. Okay, he was busy and I had two kids in tow.
Hawaii = hula dancers on the pier, Japan = Taiko drummers!
MWR (Morale, Welfare & Recreation) and the USO (United Services Organizations) did a wonderful job to make sure the families were taken care of and occupied on the pier while waiting. We took advantage of a shuttle bus set up especially for the event, and even though they didn't pull in until 10 am, we arrived at the pier around 7:45 am. We had time to eat, walk around and take it all in. Freebies were all over the place; from sewing kits to magnets, pens and pencils, all the way to DVDs! Keanna got a Muppet pirate movie courtesy of the USO. One of my favorite things that morning was participating in Colors. While I was getting us some egg sandwiches I heard First Call to Colors and knew what was coming five minutes later. I rushed back to our seats and told the girls that we'd hear our National Anthem and will have to stand with our hands on our hearts. Both did great, didn't talk and I was so proud of them. Immediately after our Anthem the Japanese Anthem was played; it's played every morning on Yokosuka. For the Japanese Anthem we still have to stand still, but put our arms at our sides. We were standing around American sailors and Japanese sailor, and it was just amazing to me. It really hit me where we live and the wonderful opportunity we have!

Bob took a picture of the pier from where he was standing, and I've also added the picture he took at homecoming (the sub) in November in Hawaii. Here's his view of the pier Thursday.

And homecoming in November...and keep in mind, this was the largest homecoming I've ever seen. We even had hula dancers!

Anyway, getting back to it, if you're interested, here is an article about the G.W.'s arrival in Yokosuka. And don't forget to check out my Shutterfly album with lots of pictures from Thursday! You may have heard about protestors here, and there were some. I have a few pictures in the Shutterfly album, and in there you'll see it wasn't a large crowd and the police looked to out number them!

There were a lot of speakers too. The Ambassador to Japan spoke along with the Secretary of the Navy. Everyone had their turn to talk, and Sydney fell asleep on my lap during that part. All the while we were sitting/standing waiting for our loved ones to be released. After about an hour of speeches the Commanding Officer announced liberty. Bob came off about 45 minutes after that, we headed back onto the shuttle and came home.

Below are two short videos; the first is Keanna and Sydney with Bob and the second are the Taiko drummers that were on the pier. Adjust your speakers accordingly! And if you get the blog entries emailed to you, you'll have to come to the blog website to view them.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

What a morning! I'll post more over the next day or two, but for now here's a teaser.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Earth Moved

Get your mind out of the gutter! Bob's not's been four months since he left, can you believe it?! We had a 4.8 earthquake this morning around 7:20 am Sunday our time, so 6:20 pm EST on Saturday. I was awake and chatting with Susan on my laptop at the time and the girls were sleeping. It was a beautiful morning with a great breeze and the sun out, so I opened the window all the way but kept the blinds down. I heard something that sounded like a low rumble of thunder, then my bed started to shake, the fan pulls were swinging, the blinds were rustling and I looked to my left and saw the alarm clock shaking.

I typed to Susan, "earthquake...[8-10 seconds later]...still...[10 seconds after that]...still." Finally it stopped, I took a deep breath, then realized I had actually heard it before feeling it! The epicenter was in Chiba, the peninsula to the northeast of us; not too far from us. There was no damage, nothing fell off the walls, we didn't lose power, etc, and I haven't felt anything since.

This afternoon the girls each got a haircut. Well, more like a trim, but Keanna's needed a few inches taken off and it looks so much better now. My middle sister, Sara, has been the only person to cut their hair, so when I told them we were going, Keanna asked if Aunt Sara was coming here. They both did great in the chair and sat still. It was nothing fancy for either of them, just trim the dead ends and clean it up a bit. Sara always put some layers or angles in Keanna's hair, just to frame her face, but I didn't want to attempt anything fancy with someone new. Maiko came highly recommended and she did a nice job with the girls, so I have a cut scheduled for Wednesday. My hair was last cut in March, so it's overdue. When we got back they wanted to take a picture for Bob. Both of them were so happy and kept saying their hair was "Just so cute!"

I forgot to post this picture when I wrote about going on the waterfalls, owl park and paper making trip. Julie took this picture while we were eating our vending machine lunch. I love the expression on Sydney's face, that's typical of her. And Keanna's making a funny face...she's really developing a sense of humor. And thank goodness she's taking after me in that department and not Bob. He does have a sense of humor, it's just a bit dry!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Here Comes the Sun

As soon as we were given the all clear to leave our homes, we were out and about and on the train to Zushi! It's only one stop down from the train station outside our gate, and the girls and I love going down there. There are little shops, farmer's markets, a grocery store and two ¥100 stores. They have some neat stuff in them, and for the price (¥100 is about $1), you can't go wrong!

I talked to Julie this morning and both of us wanted to hunt down the new Kit Kat flavor, Caramel Macchiato McFlurry. I found a website that lists the upcoming flavors and release dates, so now we know what to keep an eye out for and when. Julie said, and I agree, that it's nice knowing, but the fun was going into different stores not knowing what we would find.

On our walk out of our housing area and to the train station, we noticed the stuff set up for Friendship Day was still out. It's an open base day that happens once in a while on the housing bases and the main base as well. It was supposed to be today (Saturday), but due to the weather was postponed until tomorrow. Then late yesterday afternoon it was announced that it was being cancelled on Sunday too. So anyway, as we were walking up to the track we saw the tops of the tents and it looked like they were setting it back up for tomorrow, but as we got closer our jaws dropped!

After stopping in a couple of stores we accomplished our goal of finding Caramel Macchiato McFlurry Kit Kats! So another one added to my list! We found Kit Kat ice cream cones as well, or as the label says, "Cone Ice."

TCCOR All Clear

"Here comes the sun, here comes the sun, and I say it's all right..."

We just got the message that normal activies can be more base lockdown! Later this morning we're going to take the train into town, walk around and enjoy the sunshine!

We had some heavy rain and lots of thunder and lightening last night, and when we got up this morning it was overcast, but now we see blue sky and the sun is shining!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Tuesday in Tokyo

I should be sleeping...and will be shortly after I'm done typing and I'm done with the beer I'm drinking...okay, nursing. It's pouring rain outside and thunder is pounding and lightening is flashing. I'm glad I typed this earlier and just have to tweek it a bit now! When this is done the laptop is getting turned off.

It has been one heck of a week. Busy, aggravating, frustrating, annoying...and just about any other adjective you can think of. It was just a bad week. But it's Friday night, the week is over, and now we're sitting in the middle of a tropical storm. I'm actually happy that it's raining outside and the girls are enjoying it too. We'll be stuck inside all day tomorrow, but it's supposed to clear up by Sunday. I'm not going to go into detail about our terrible week because I'll get all worked up and my blood pressure will probably go up!

Tuesday the girls and I needed to go up to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo to renew Keanna's passport. I had all the proper documentation and thankfully had no problem with that. There's a lot of things a person needs when one parent isn't there, but we took care of it before Bob left so all was well. Aaaanyway, I've never taken the train alone except to go one stop down from our housing area. Anytime we've gone anywhere on the train I've had a navigator, and venturing into Tokyo alone scared the absolute crap out of me. Julie was sympathetic and offered to go most of the way up with us. Aren't friends great?! We went as far as Shimbashi with her, then from there had to get on a different line and go two stops down. Not bad, pretty simple. But the way back didn't go as smoothly. I'll get to that shortly. After walking out of the station and only a couple of blocks from the Embassy I spotted a 7-11. Now Julie is a nice person and I know she came to help me, but she had ulterior motives...Kit Kats! After we went our separate ways we both ended up finding a new flavor, Caramel Purin. I'm calling it Caramel Flan since that's what the picture is, but Julie can read the packaging. We also found a couple of new Pringles flavors, Sour Cream and Bacon and Onion and Cheese Gratin.

We walked around the Shimbashi area with Julie and Noah, and were so happy to see the Shinkansen, a.k.a. the Bullet Train. I saw The Rose and Crown which was featured in Pride and Prejudice. Not this particular restaurant/pub obviously, but the name. I saw an escalator like I've never seen before. The rail was one big advertisement! And Julie took us to a huge cuckoo clock, but we weren't there at the right time to see it go off. I forgot to mention this last week, but when we were shopping Julie saw a book she recognized. She paraphrased it for me, but the quick version is this...a girl meets a boy and they fall in love, only she has a farting problem. She farts all the time and is nervous to meet his parents because of it. On one page there's a picture of her farting and it was so powerful the boyfriend's father is knocked off a ladder! I forget the details and hopefully Julie will comment to fill in the rest.

So we do our thing at the Embassy and about 40 minutes pass from when we walk in to security to when we walk out. We get back into the train station and I know I have to go two stops down and switch lines. Had no problem with that, only I couldn't find the line I needed! Two women were chatting so I asked them to help me. I said, "Sumimasen, Keikyu?" One took Keanna by the hand and the other motioned to me to follow. We walked about 10 minutes, down an elevator and to a wicket. They pointed to where I needed to go and were so sweet. Sydney was sleeping in the stroller, so they patted Keanna on the head, we bowed to each other, then Keanna bowed too. She didn't do the traditional Japanese bow though, this was more like a stage bow. She put her arms out (instead of at her side) and bowed. They thought it was adorable, she meant well, and I was happy that she knew what to do. I went through the wicket, down an escalator and to the Keikyu line. But looking at the signs they said "Haneda" and that's the airport...the one place Julie said not to go to. I mean, I knew not to head to the airport, but I was so nervous at the moment that I couldn't remember exactly what she said.

Okay, getting back to the point, we were on the right train, and I double checked on my map once we made the first stop. Okay, heading south, that's a good thing. A girl sitting two seats down from me wasn't Japanese, so I triple checked with her. She wasn't American like I thought, she was from Romania. So we chatted, her English was excellent and she put me at ease. Standing in front of her was a Japanese woman who spoke really good English. She was talking to the girl standing in front of me, and the two of them were talking, looking at me and then looking at the girls. Made me a little nervous, but then she said, "You need to get off at Kanazawa Bunco and get on the train that says "Shin Zushi" on the front." Phew! I took a deep breath, felt reassured that we weren't going to get lost, and a little while later the Japanese woman that spoke English got off the train. About 15 minutes after that the girl standing in front of me that was speaking to the one that spoke English sat down next to me. When our stop came, she got off with Keanna, Sydney and me, then pointed to the sign, pointed to the ground, showed me two fingers and said, "Ni." I took that to mean (and thankfully was correct), that we needed to stay put and get on the second train that comes by. We bowed to each other, Keanna did the stage bow thing again, and the girl got back on the train. I didn’t realize until then that she got off just to tell me what I needed to do.

Yet again, the Japanese people have gone out of their way to be helpful and kind to me, and for that I am truly grateful. I absolutely love living here, and only wish Bob could be here to share in the fun and adventure!

Weathering the Weather

We're in the middle of Tropical Storm Sinlaku as I type. It's been raining most of the day and right now it's overcast and drizzling, but not a steady rain. We're surrounded by hills and mountains though, so it really isn't bad. Julie and I were talking about it today and she raised that point, and a valid one at that. We're in Tropical Cyclone Condition of Readiness (TCCOR) II right now. I'm sure you're wondering what that means: Winds of 50 knots or greater are anticipated within 24 hours. Secure outside items, secure windows and alert your commands’ essential personnel. I put the girls' bikes in the little built attached to our front lanai and covered the water table and took the toys from the water table and threw them in the shed.

If Bob's ship was in he'd probably be going out to sea...just another example of the Navy coming first, but I understand why. If the ships are moored at the pier they'll bang along side with the wind and rain, so it's safer for them to be out to sea. He's never had to do that before, and it's done with submarines for the same reason.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Something's Coming, I Promise!

It's been a busy week here for us and I swear I've got some pictures to post! The girls and I were in Tokyo on Tuesday and found a new Kit Kat flavor...we also took the train for the first time alone; Julie rode with us on the way up but on the way back I was on my own. Yet again the kindness of the Japanese people came through for me and helped get us home on the right trains! So in the next day or two something new will be up with pictures!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bubble Wrap!

Getting mail is fun, especially when there are no bills! Earlier this week I got a package from my friend, Shari. We "met" on a submarine wives message board when I was in college in 1999, and finally met in person in January 2004 while both of our husbands were stationed in Hawaii. Anyway, I submitted an order with a few weeks ago, and since one thing was oversized they wouldn't ship it to my FPO address. Shari offered for me to send it to her house and then she'd forward it to me, so that's what I opted to do. The box arrived with a ton of bubble wrap in it and the girls were so excited. They could care less about the other contents (where were also for them but are being set aside for Christmas), their focus was the bubble wrap. So Shari, this video from Keanna and Sydney is for you. Thank you for mailing the package out to me and for being so sweet to offer in the first place! For those of you subscribers reading this in your email, you'll need to go to the blog website to view the video. Click the link at the bottom of this email that says "You are subscribed to email updates from Pass the Chopsticks - U.S. Navy Family in Japan."

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Where Were You...

...on September 11, 2001. Bob and I were married for three months and two days on September 11, 2001. He was on sea duty and would have to be in work by 7 am or 7:30 am every morning. But that Tuesday morning was different because the gold crew of his sub was coming home that morning. He didn't have to be in to work until 9 am, so we got ready together and I left a little bit before him to head to work. Normally I got ready by myself in the mornings and always watched "The Today Show" to get caught up on the morning's news. Since he was home the tv was off so I had no idea what was going on.

As I was driving on Spur 40 in St. Marys, GA the song on the radio ended and the DJ came on saying a small prop plane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. By the time I got to my office the second plane had hit. I headed to the golf course still not comprehending what was really happening, and when I arrived there to conduct my interview and take pictures for the newspaper, the tv was on in the pro shop...that's when I realized something was wrong-after seeing it. I interviewed the manager and we took a ride out on the course for me to take some pictures. When we got back the Pentagon had been struck and the base was on emergency lockdown. When I saw the Pentagon on fire Sandy came to mind. I wasn't sure of where her office was, but figured she'd be evacuating. I also thought about my friend from college; he was living and working in New York City at the time.

I called my mom as I was driving off base and asked what the heck was happening. Everyone on base, except for essential personnell, was ordered to leave the base. After getting home Bob called and told me he was on his way home too. The sub had pulled up to the pier only to be turned around and head back out to sea. When Bob got home he immediately packed his sea bag and was told to be ready to go to sea that afternoon. That didn't happen, and the sub ended up staying out until that Friday. I went back to work the following Monday and by that point the images of Tuesday were cemented in everyone's minds.

Where were you on September 11, 2001?

Some New Finds for ¥100

I got my onigiri mold that I mentioned in my last entry. I cannot wait to make this tomorrow! While Keanna's at school I think Sydney and I are going to take a ride to the local grocery store and get some fish for the filling. I'm so excited!

Wow was today a fun day! We went to our usual playgroup this morning, then afterward come home, had a quick lunch and met up with Julie and Noah to go shopping. We went to Daiso, it's a ¥100 store (100 yen, think $1 store), but has other things that are more than ¥100. For you familiar with Big Lots or Ocean State Job lot it was like that, and for those in Hawaii it can be compared to Price Busters. The one we went to today was near the base and I had never been there before. We took the train and naturally the kids had fun. While we were waiting on the platform two older women (easily in their mid 70s) came up to the kids and hugged them and were talking to them. Julie picked up a little of what they were saying, I was pretty much clueless. But they were sweet and Keanna got a kick out of them...Sydney stuck close to me. When we got on the train they were waving at us, and the kids were waving back. Just another example of how sweet the Japanese people are to us.

We shopped for a little while and found some neat things...neither of us had our camera so we missed out on a few things, but I took pictures of what I bought when we got home from soccer practice. And speaking of soccer practice, when we got back from shopping Keanna changed from jeans into sweat pants. Julie laughed when she saw the two of us, and wanted to take a picture. I didn't realize it until she mentioned it...we're dressed in the same colors. And on our way out of soccer practice my new
friend, Mel, gave me something I've never seen before but can't wait to try...Ritz Bits Sandwiches with Sweet Potato filling! What you see on the package is a Japanese sweet potato; they're white inside, not orange like we're used to. THANKS MEL!!!

So here's some of the stuff I least some of the interesting or funny stuff. Who knew Coke could be healthy and full of vitamins?! The other drinks there are Apple Iced Tea from Lipton and Peach Fanta. And for the thing that looks like chopsticks, it's not. Julie and I weren't sure what it was, I thought maybe for cleaning a pipe. Well when I was taking pictures of my loot, I noticed what it was...ummm, an ear pick!

Hello Kitty is all over the place here, but today I saw something I haven't seen before, a Hello Kitty sink strainer. My friend Sandy has a friend who is obsessed with Hello Kitty. When I told Julie this, she said, "I bettcha she doesn't have this!" So Sandy, I'll be sending you this to pass on to your friend. Susan bought sushi erasers in Hawaii, and has asked me to keep an eye out for any interesting or different ones here. Today I got these with Susan in mind. My youngest sister, Elyse, is an art teacher, and when Julie spotted this book I had to get it. I don't understand any of it, but there are blank pages, outlines of famous Japanese paintings, and pictures of famous paintings. So Elyse, I'll be sending this to you.

And this isn't funny, but I think it's the neatest find today...even tops the Hello Kitty sink strainer! Julie spotted these monkeys and immediately wanted to get a package. They're little things to hold condiments in, and when you want to spread it onto your sandwich, mayonaisse for example, open up the monkey and the banana acts as the handle on the spreader. Things like this are very common in bento boxes here. I set a quarter next to it so you can get an idea of the size.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Paper Making, Parrots on Our Heads and Waterfalls, Oh My!

What a day we had on Saturday! We took another ITT trip to Nakatomi Washi Paper Village, Otodome Waterfall and Shiraito Waterfall and Kacho-en, the Begonia and Owl Park. I have a lot of pictures and a few videos. For the videos, adjust your speakers accordingly, and if you get the blog in your email, you'll need to go to the main site to view it. To view the pictures in my Shutterfly album, click here. I'm going to make an attempt to not write a lot, but no promises. The pictures I took really do speak for themselves, and Julie gave me a copy of hers. The ones she took are scattered throughout this post, and are the first bunch in the Shutterfly album...arigato gozaimasu, Julie!

We were picked up at 0600 in our housing area, then headed to
Shinzouka to start our activities for the day. We stopped at a rest area a couple of hours into the drive, and there I bought some onigiri. It was so yummy and filled with salmon! I've had it before on our trip to Yunessun Spa, the place with the feet sucking fish. Anyway, these things are yummy, and even Sydney liked it. The packaging is perfect, and has instructions for removing the wrapper without disrupting the seaweed. Once I find the molds I'm going to attempt to make it myself. Keanna didn't like it, but I think it was the seaweed that she didn't like. She eats all different types of sushi and rolls with the seaweed, but normally is softer.

Our first stop was Nakatomi Washi Paper Village to make our paper lamp shade. We did everything from scratch, and even the girls got in on the action. The sensei gave instructions and our guide translated for us. He was very helpful, and afterward knelt down and asked the girls [in English] what their names were. He was so sweet! While we were waiting for our lampshades to dry and set, we walked across the street to a natural foods store and drug store. There Julie and I found some Kit Kats...I now have Kit Kat Grape and Sakura added to the collection. The store had the packaging for Kit Kat Fruit Parfait and Kit Kat Caramel, but they were sold out.

After that we went to lunch and did something I've never done before. We ordered lunch at a vending machine, then got a ticket, went to a counter and collected our order. It certainly was different, but everything was in Japanese, so our guide stuck with our group of about 20 and helped us. After that we got up to the counter, and when our number was called she let us know. I know how to count up to 10 in Japanese, but our number was 26. After eating our noodles and tempura, we got back on the bus to the Kacho-en, the Begonia and Owl Park.

This place was beautiful, and without a doubt was the girls' favorite of the day. I've never seen so many flowers in one place before, and certainly not any as beautiful. The pictures doesn't do it justice! We didn't have much time there, and arrived shortly before the falcon show, and were leaving before the owl show. I wish we were able to see the owl show, but guess it's an excuse to go with Bob. Inside the main building with the flowers was a separate area with little parrots inside. For ¥100 (about $1) we bought a little cup filled with chopped apple. Well, we ended up buying about six of them since it was so much fun. As soon as we got in there they immediately came to Julie and I since we were holding the food. Keanna saw someone with one on her head, so she had me put food on her head...that was hysterical! And Sydney being the younger sister wanted to do everything Keanna did; she wanted one on her head too. Well as you'll see in the video below, Sydney flipped out when one flew to her arm!!! For the record, after she calmed down she fed them from the floor.

The waterfalls was our last stop. The first was Otodome Waterfall. It reminded me of one we saw on Kauai. To get to the second one, Shiraito Waterfall, we had to go down 100 steps. Sydney wanted me to carry her and I was fine with that since she was going so slow! It was so beautiful, and Julie said it reminds her of those inspirational posters you usually see hanging in offices. She got all fancy slowing her shutter speed to make the water look soft and blurry. I didn't do it on mine since I couldn't figure it out. Turns out I have to put my camera in TV least I know for next time. It was here that Julie noticed I had bird poop on my butt. Gotta love that, eh?! My mom has always said it's good luck to get pooped on. She said that while we were on vacation in Wildwood, N.J. while I was in high school. But ya know, the only people I've ever heard say that are ones that have been pooped on by a bird.

We had a great day, the girls slept on the bus on the way home, and we've made more wonderful memories for our time in Japan. As for the strange and funny finds for the day....the ladies' room at the rest stop had a lit sign letting us know which stall was available. They also had little chairs in there for babies to sit in! Our favorite had to be the Elegance for Lady's Inner machine also in the ladies' room.
An ice cream stand by the waterfalls had a variety of flavors. I immediately noticed Triple Sec, and Julie spotted caramel cracker. Do those look like Saltines to you?! And last but not least, the completed lamp we made! It will be going in the girls' bedroom on their night stand.