It always gets so much worse before it gets better.

Heyyyyy, it’s been AGES since I’ve blogged here. But I’m doing so now for a couple reasons:

  1. We’re not in Japan anymore! We’re back in DC, at least for a year.
  2. Today at the grocery store, a lovely woman named Kara (or is it Cara? Hi, Kara/Cara! It was so nice to meet you!) politely asked if I happened to be Bethany, and when I confirmed that I was, she said, “I read your blog!” :D

Sadly, I’ve basically abandoned this blog. It’s partly because Flickr changed so much that I didn’t like using it anymore, and Flickr was a big part of how I used to blog. And Facebook and Instagram sort of became a blog substitute for me. And then Rainbow told me to get on tumblr, and I did, and I found my people there. (If you find me on tumblr and follow me, feel free to send me a message telling me you used to read my blog!)

Another big part of the reason I stopped blogging is that the first year we were in Japan, I was pretty unhappy and probably depressed. I didn’t particularly want to go to Japan (nothing against it, Japan is a lovely country, but I’d never had any particular interest in it). But even more than that, I didn’t want to leave San Diego, and I definitely didn’t want to leave San Diego a year and a half ahead of schedule like we did.

That first summer we were there, it was SO hot and humid (my least favorite kind of weather). And Troy was deployed for almost two months in a row, so we missed him terribly, and I was in a strange country and we were living in a mess of half-unpacked boxes because I did what I could but there was a lot I needed Troy’s help to get done. And then Robin Williams died, and Mike Brown was killed and all the craziness was happening in Ferguson and around the country, and it all swirled together into this big stew of misery.

I did what I needed to do every day, I made sure my kids were fed and clothed and homeschooled, and that the bathrooms got cleaned once in a while. But that pretty much exhausted me, and I didn’t do much else. I barely crocheted the entire time we were there (I still owe my friend Erin’s son Atticus a baby blanket, and he turned 2 in May, oops), I rarely baked because my kitchen was frustrating, and I couldn’t paint pottery because there were no pottery-painting places in Japan, at least not the kind I like. I made a few casual friends, but no one I was close with.

So yeah. That first year in Japan was tough, but we got through it. And we got next-door neighbors the second summer we were there whom we really clicked with and loved, and they helped make our second year in Japan a lot more enjoyable.

Our second year in Japan, I did enjoy myself a lot more. I think a lot of that had to do with time, and becoming more familiar with and comfortable in the culture. By the time we left, I genuinely loved Japan and would happily travel back there for fun anytime. I think I wouldn’t even mind living there again, honestly, and would definitely make more of an effort to learn the language. (Because we lived on a US base and in a sizeable city, we were able to speak English almost everywhere we went. When we went places where people didn’t speak English as much, we mostly got by with the words we did know, and Google Translate. How did people manage before the internet and smartphones!?) We had lots of friends and family come visit us, too, which was fantastic. We got to do some really fun sight-seeing with them (my kids have now been to Tokyo Disney more often than they’ve been to Disneyland, heh), and it meant a lot to us that so many people were willing to come all the way to Japan to see us.

Anyway, now we’re in DC again, and we’re happy to be here! The Navy is sending Troy to grad school, again, and both girls are old enough now (Annalie turned 12 in May, and Elliora will be 6 in November) to enjoy museums and monuments, so we plan to enjoy ourselves as much as we can while we’re here.

Pierced and double-pierced

Pierced and double-pierced

Oh, and Elliora got her ears pierced today, and Annalie got hers double-pierced. They were both champs.

I can’t promise I’ll be blogging here much in the future, but I might show up every now and then. Otherwise, you can find me on twitter, instagram, FB, and tumblr. I hope you’re all well!

Look! We were really here!

Wow, it’s been a LONG time since I’ve written here. I notice that I never quite finished posting my 7 Days photos from the last run this past December. Probably because I was in denial about the fact that it was the last 7 Days ever, *sniff*.

But I digress.

Anyway…yeah, we’re in Japan! In case you don’t follow me on FB/Instagram/Twitter and are just now hearing this news, the Navy surprised Troy with orders to Yokosuka in February. We were originally supposed to be in San Diego till September 2015, so this was a big change of plans, and–I’ll be honest–not an entirely welcome change. Not only do I love San Diego, and have lots of friends and family in SoCal, but I was looking forward to being in the same place for three whole years. And Japan isn’t a place I’ve ever had any desire to live.

That said, Annalie was immediately stoked about Japan. She’s an anime/manga fan, and already knew a bit about Japan from watching and reading several different series. Troy was excited about the job, which promised to be interesting and challenging and great in terms of his Navy career. And every single person I know who’s ever lived in Japan has LOVED it. So this change of plans to move to Japan might have been a surprise, but not a bad one. That’s life in the Navy–you learn to roll with it or you go crazy. So we roll with it, and hope for the best, and usually things work out just fine.

I’ve had many people, both online and IRL, ask me if I will start blogging again while we’re in Japan. The answer is: I hope so. I was thinking about my blog the other day, and about how grateful I am for the record of our lives over the past six years, and how I really want to keep that record going. What follows is partly cobbled together from emails I’ve written in the past few weeks, so if any of this sounds familiar to you, you’re not crazy; you probably just read one of my emails already.

First: On May 9th, Annalie turned ten years old. TEN YEARS, MAN.

A's 10th birthday collage

1. My last day to snuggle my 9-year-old. Tomorrow she’s 10., 2. Imprompty slumber-party puppy pile while watching Pokemon., 3. Birthday pancakes and bacon!, 4. Cupcake eaters., 5. Last Friday park day. :-( It happened to be on A’s birthday, so we got to have a mini party! :-), 6. Purple dress, purple frosting., 7. Perusing the Pokemon handbook., 8. Paloma, Audie, Quora, Annalie., 9. Party favors., 10. Me, Sonja, Yara, Summer, Lisa giving Sonja bunny ears., 11. We didn’t think of taking this photo till after Bonnie left. Oops. Sorry, Bon!, 12. Eden and Annalie. #latergram, 13. Coltrane and Corbin., 14. Big bubble. (Note: Corbin is not actually inside the bubble.), 15. Elliora napped on Troy for about a half-hour, and then on me for another hour., 16. Annalie and her godparents., 17. 10!, 18. Think we had enough different kinds of dessert?, 19. Annalie, Bug, Aurora, and the portrait Bug painted for A!, 20. Annalie, Luna, Eden, Quora., 21. I treasure this friendship and I will miss @secretagentjo! Thank God for the internet–where we’re both in our element, and where our friendship started, after all. :-), 22. Marshmallow toasters., 23. Yara, Summer, Bonnie, and some weirdo photobombers., 24. They were doing some sort of ceremonial…something. These two, I swear. <3, 25. BFFs.

We left San Diego in mid-May, right after Annalie’s birthday, and went to Omaha for a visit. Troy finished up at work and supervised the pack-out and cleaning up our house, and then he joined us in Omaha.

On June 8th, we flew from Omaha to Seattle, where we hung out for a few days. The military flight to a base near Tokyo leaves from there, and for boring scheduling reasons we had to be here a bit early. But we took advantage of our proximity to Oregon and spent one of those days in Portland, meeting up with Erin and Rocco and Indira and baby Atticus!

Indy taking a selfie with me. Bunny ears by Annalie. Erin, Wyleigh, and Atticus.

Annalie, Atticus, Indira, Elliora. Rocco and his mini-me.

Atticus was born in late May, and this was our only chance to see him before we left for Japan, so we took it. (We also got a bonus visit with Erin’s sister Wyleigh, who had to leave to go to the airport after lunch, but it was nice to see her even briefly.) Then we hung out at the Portland Children’s Museum for a couple hours before grabbing dinner at Burgerville and heading back to our hotel.

The rest of our time in Seattle was divided between swimming in the hotel pool, meeting up with a couple of internet friends I’d never met before (Hi, Donna! Hi, Lexi!), and just hanging out in the hotel and relaxing. I wish we’d had more time to do actual sightseeing. I guess that’ll keep for another trip.

SEA-PDX mosaic

1. Family-on-the-plane selfie., 2. Seattle, I presume?, 3. New glasses, Elliora? (Wikki Stix came in the kids’ picnic packs on the plane.), 4. On the ground in Seattle., 5. Laughing goobers. (Annnnd I just remembered that I totally forgot to take a picture of my Burgerville burger to make @jenwilsonca jealous.), 6. Wow, I really DO consider coffee one of my best friends. How did Dutch Bros know!?, 7. Waterbabies, 8. Ferry time., 9. Suspension., 10. Blue sky, contrails, Mount Rainier (on the bottom right, looking like a cloud), Puget Sound., 11. Family ferry windblown selfie., 12. We’re excited! One of us is asleep!, 13. Coffee and crazy hair on the ferry., 14. I can now confirm that Donna exists. Internet friends, FTW!, 15. They’re both awake and willing to go outside this time., 16. I can now also confirm that Lexi exists. Internet friends, FTW!

There was also a semi-panicked, last-minute trip to the Navy base in Bremerton to get Annalie a military-dependent ID card, since she had just turned ten. No one had ever said anything to us about Annalie needing an ID card until Troy called the day before our flight to double-check that we had the correct ungodly check-in time. Then the person on the other end of the phone told him they wouldn’t let her on the plane without one. So we called several bases around Seattle to see who did ID cards, and most of them would only accept appointments several days in advance, even though it was kind of an emergency. Luckily, Pass/ID in Bremerton accepted walk-ins. Unluckily, it was a good hour’s drive from our hotel. But in the end we made the trip and got the ID card and it was fine. I told Troy, though, that I would bet cash money that no one at the airport would even think to ask about seeing Annalie’s ID. (They didn’t. Not a single person has asked to see her ID yet.)

Ready with our billion suitcases to catch the 4am shuttle to the airport. (We're actually EARLY. WONDERS NEVER CEASE.)

We had to catch a 4am shuttle from the hotel to the airport in order to check in on time. Because this was a military flight, everyone who had confirmed seats had to be checked in very early, and then they would open the flight up to standby passengers. If you’re military or a military dependent, they let you fly standby on military flights like that one very cheaply. The catch is, you might have to wait several days to actually get on a flight, but considering it only costs about $20, it’s usually worth it.

On the ground--through customs, and a bit loopy after a 10-hour flight--in Japan!

After a looooong day and a ten-hour flight, we were on the ground in Japan. We landed at Yokota Air Base, which is near Tokyo, and after we picked up our luggage we piled into the van sent by Troy’s command and headed to Yokosuka, our home for the next two years.

My first couple of hours in Japan are kind of a blur, honestly. We landed at 11am Japan Standard Time, which felt like 7pm Pacific Daylight Time to us, and our day had started at 3am PDT. By the time we got to the Navy Lodge (basically just a hotel on base–most Navy bases have one) at 3pm JST, it felt 11pm to us, and I’d been awake for more than 20 hours except for a few minutes’ nap on the plane. I was toast–we all were. We took our luggage and all the Welcome-to-Japan groceries that Troy’s sponsor and his wife had thoughtfully left at the front desk for us up to our room, ate a late lunch/early dinner at the Chili’s next door to the Lodge, went back to our room, and crashed. The girls were out at 4pm, and we were all asleep by 6pm.

It's hard to convince Elliora that she should go back to sleep when it looks like this at 4am. (No daylight savings in Japan!)

Naturally, Elliora woke up at 3am, which all things considered, wasn’t too bad. And the sun rises around 4am at this time of year in Japan, since there’s no Daylight Savings here.

early days in Japan mosaic

1. Waiting while Troy and I talk about cell phone plans, she took off her shoes, curled up in the stroller-fied car seat, and fell asleep. <3, 2. “Hey Mama, now I’ll take a picture with you!”, 3. “It’s our job as mermaids to keep making waves.”, 4. Sunset over Yokosuka., 5. Traffic mirror cheeseballs., 6. Sunflares under a shady tree., 7. Elliora LOVES sitting in her own seat on the base shuttle., 8. Analie reading on the shuttle., 9. Afternoon bed-jumping session., 10. Tunnel., 11. Tunnel selfie., 12. Steep staircase., 13. Trying to nap on the bus, the stinker., 14. Free face-painting, courtesy of the USO., 15. First time eating out in Japan by ourselves! Elliora is having kids’ curry (“It’s a smiley face!”), 16. I guess I’ll be learning how to fold an origami Pikachu now.

And now we’ve been in Japan for three weeks. Time flies when you’re busy! We spent the first week in the Navy Lodge, which wasn’t bad–especially since we had a kitchenette with a full-size fridge–but four people in a room that small starts to feel very crowded. Not that we were spending that much time in the room. We spent our days walking all over the base or taking the free base shuttle, visiting different offices and getting paperwork filed and just exploring. Luckily this is a relatively small base; it’s possible to walk from one end to the other in about a half-hour. And you’d be surprised how much paperwork there is when you’re moving overseas for the military (or maybe you wouldn’t). Troy’s boss had a small barbecue at his house for us one day, so we could meet some people and get out of the hotel for an afternoon, which was really nice. Another day, he took us out in town and showed us around a little bit and took us out to eat at Denny’s, which was DELICIOUS.

Created with flickr slideshow.

We got a house on base that first week, and we were able to move in almost immediately. It’s an end townhouse with a small backyard, next door to a big playground and only a few minutes’ walk from the NEX and Commissary (department store and grocery store and several restaurants). We’re REALLY lucky we got a house so fast. People often are stuck in the Navy Lodge for a month or two waiting for housing to open up. We’re also REALLY lucky that we were able to get loaner furniture from the base (they have beds, dressers, dentist’s-waiting-room couches, lamps, and tables and chairs that you can check out), and a crash kit (two bins full of towels, sheets, and kitchen items like plates, cups, a coffeemaker, a toaster, etc.). And a few days after that, our first shipment of household goods arrived. This was just a small shipment, the “express” shipment. We’d included kitchen items, towels, bedsheets, and clothes in that shipment, so we’ve able to muddle along pretty well while we wait for our big household goods shipment.

We moved into the house on Friday the 20th. On Monday the 23rd, Troy and I started the Area Orientation Brief. Every day for a week, we sat in a classroom from about 8am-3pm and listened to a parade of speakers telling us about life on this base and what resources are available to us here. We learned about everything from the enviromental services (trash and recycling) to how to license bicycles to what office can help if you want to pursue a college degree while you’re here, and much, much more. We also talked a lot about what it means to live overseas as a U.S. military member or dependent, and learned a lot about Japanese culture–money, food, customs, language, transportation–from a Japanese national who works for the family support center here. One day, we took a field trip to the nearby town of Kamakura, where we visited an important historical shrine, ate at a ramen restaurant, and used the trains to get ourselves home.

Kamakura field trip mosaic

1. Blue tile sidewalk, blue road., 2. Train station self-portrait. I have no idea what the mirror says., 3. A street in Kamakura., 4. Ramen! And gyoza., 5. That was GOOD., 6. Signs in Kamakura., 7. Cute yellow clothes, deep blue fiction., 8. Torii gate., 9. Star Festival decorations., 10. Iced latte and mixed berry muffin, necessary for refueling after being tourists in hot weather. (That’s not melting butter in the middle of the muffin…it’s melting white chocolate.), 11. When I set my sunglasses down on the table, I thought the reflection of the window in them was cool., 12. These are ema. Worshippers at Shinto shrines (like the one we were visiting) make a small donation and are given a a wooden plaque to write their prayers or wishes on. Then the priests at the shrine pray for them., 13. Just life! all right (lots of the ema had English or drawings on them as well as Japanese), 14. Tsurugaoka Hachiman shrine, built by the first Shogun ruler of Japan in the 12th century, when he made Kamakura his capital city., 15. I saw these awesome manga-style drawings on some ema, and took a photo for Annalie. Troy pointed out the “potato people” (as our niece Aurora calls them) on the ema at the bottom right., 16. Look! We were really here!, 17. I asked our tour guide, Emi, if the paper decorations all over the shrine had any significance, and she said, “To look pretty.” :-D, 18. There were hundreds of students visiting the shrine. Because of its historical significance and proximity to Tokyo, it’s a popular school-excursion destination. We had several groups of students walk up and ask if they could practice English with us., 19. Beer and sake offerings–from the companies., 20. Four years ago, the sacred gingko tree that had stood here for a thousand years suddenly fell over. There are shoots growing from the roots now, in the roped-off and flagged area–you can see them on the right.

Where were Annalie and Elliora while Troy and I were at class every day, you’re wondering? The teenage daughters of one of Troy’s co-workers, M and N, took turns babysitting the girls for us. We met them at that barbecue when we first arrived. They’re lovely and got along really well with our girls, and when their mom mentioned that they might be open to watching the girls for us, we grabbed at that chance. It was a godsend because that way we didn’t have to mess with the headache and paperwork of enrolling them in the base child development center, and Elliora and Annalie got to stay together. And they had fun with M and N, who brought games and crafts over every day, and one day they all walked over to the exchange for pizza and ice cream. It could have been a very stressful part of the week for all of us (since they’re homeschooled, neither of them have ever been in a situation where they had to attend school or daycare), but thanks to M and N it was downright pleasant.

Tanooki crossing is the cutest thing I learned while studying for my driver's license test. (Haven't taken the test yet. Not worried.)

The last day of the orientation course was driving safety instruction and a written driving test. (Before the test, over the lunch break, the intstructor put up a slideshow of Japanese traffic signs for us to review, like the one above.) We took the practical driving test earlier this week and are now licensed to drive in Japan. Because we’re here with the military and fall under SOFA, we didn’t have to actually live up to Japanese driving standards, which is good for us. In Japan, driving is very much a privilege, not a right, and requires much more extensive education and testing than in most of the U.S. All we had to do was take the one-day safety course, the 50-question test, and the driving test–and that was challenging enough, since in Japan, they drive on the left and the driver sits on the right side of the car. The very first time I ever drove a right-side drive car on the left side of the road? My practical driving test two days ago. Apparently I did well enough, though, because I passed. And now we’re looking for a car to buy! (Our cars and minivan are in storage because it’s pretty expensive to bring cars over and get them licensed and safety-tested for use here. Easier to buy a used car from someone who’s getting ready to go back to the States, then sell it before we leave.)

The McDonald's on base is quite nice, and the view isn't bad. Almost sunset.

Tree-climbers. Holiday brunch.

Since the orientation class ended, we’ve been in a bit of a lull. Well, the girls and I have, anyway. Troy started work on Monday, and as usual, it’s been a bit like drinking from a firehose with all the information he has to absorb in a hurry. But he likes his job and the people he works with, and he’s excited to be on a ship again, and it will get better.

We’re scheduled to receive shipment of our household goods next Friday, and then things will get a bit crazy again for a while as we unpack and settle in. We’re going to be missing Brenda something fierce then! This is going to be the first time in six years–in four moves–that Brenda won’t be helping us unpack and working her organizing and decorating magic on our house. Waaaaah! Somehow we’ll muddle through–they key word being muddle.

So that’s what’s happening with us right now. I’m sure I’ve left out plenty of information, so if you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments! I’d be happy to answer, especially since it would give me more blog posts to write. (And I’m really gonna try to write more.)

p.s. Yes, I know I desperately need to clean up my sidebar. It’s on my to-do list.

home sweet home

September 9th, 2012

Some of the 80s-tastic light fixtures our landlord will be replacing.

In case you haven’t read the update at the end of my last post, we found a house! We actually found two we loved and had to choose between. It wasn’t that difficult a choice, though. The first house was beautiful and unique and in a really neat location, but it was smaller and not great for young children. So we went with the second house, which is bigger (four bedrooms, which means we still have a guest room for anyone who wants to come visit, hint hint) and in a more traditional neighborhood and has mature orange, lemon, and fig trees in the backyard.

Our new house also came with these funky 80s-tastic light fixtures you see in the photo above. As kc said, “That’s a whole lotta chain.” When we were looking at the house, I think the property manager who was showing it to us could see that we liked it but were hesitant, so he said, “Talk to me! What do you think? Do you like the house? What would we need to do to make you want to live here?” I probably wouldn’t have said anything, but since he opened the topic I asked if it would maybe be possible to get the light fixtures replaced…and before I’d even finished my sentence he said, “Done! That’s easy. Anything else?” So I asked about removing the little bit of dated wallpaper in the kitchen and downstairs bathroom, and he immediately said, “No problem! Joaquin can take that down and paint those walls. That’ll be quick. Anything else?”

I’ll blog more about the house itself soon—I know you probably want to see photos, so I’ll take a bunch tomorrow after we do the walk-through (over the weekend they were installing new carpet as well as replacing light fixtures and fixing some other things) and get the keys. Tuesday the movers will be filling the house with our furniture and hundreds of boxes. Then comes the fun of unpacking, which Brenda will kindly be helping out with whenever she can.

We’re almost home! Thanks again for all your prayers and happy thoughts.