Wednesday, March 19, 2014

There's No Place Like Home

So happy this place is still going strong after 30 years.
At the end of last month, I had the opportunity to go "home" to San Luis Obispo, California for a week.  This is something I've been planning on doing since last fall. I hadn't been there since July 2007 for my 20 year High School Reunion.  Needless to say, my visit was long overdue.

I love San Luis Creek!

My favorite thing about flying into SLO is the beautiful scenery.  Flying over the Pacific Ocean, then heading inland towards town, never disappoints.  Its usually sunny and clear.  The two things I love and miss the most about the Central Coast.

Remember those Midnight Movies?!

Although the area has grown and changed so much since I left in 1992, I still feel very comfortable there.  I know that I never appreciated it when I was younger, and as an adult have wished numerous times that I could move back.  Maybe one day when the kids are grown, and we have some freedom, I will get my wish.   I did enjoy visiting with my relatives, eating good food, catching up with old friends, relaxing, walking downtown, and running into familiar faces.  I felt refreshed after this trip.  I think I needed to regroup after our move.  I'm certainly grateful that I have a wonderful husband that keeps the troops in line when I'm gone. 

On our way back down Madonna Mountain

Here are some highlights from the trip:
  • Climbing Madonna Mountain with Jenny.  This is something I've never done before.  I guess I was privy to going up to the "P" instead.
  • Eating at the Custom House in Avila with Martha.  I miss Avila, the pier, the scenery.  It's not the same funky place it was years ago, but I still love it!!
  • Hanging out with Heidi, laughing like there was no tomorrow, catching up at the Luis Wine Bar, eating breakfast at Madonna Inn, being "Bar Moms" at Bull's, and of course holding and kissing Heidi's Emmy she won last fall.
  • Being in town the same weekend my other friend Heidi was in SLO.  She had a great Oscars Party.  Its such a great idea, I think I want to host one at my place next year.   
  • The Central Coast rained most of the time I was visiting.  The wind and rain even kept me up one night.  This is so atypical of SLO, especially since they only had 4 inches of rain in 2013.
The Avila Pier.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Three Years Later, Three Months Later

Three Years Later

Its hard to believe that the large earthquake/tsunami that devastated Japan is celebrating its 3 year anniversary.  I remember the details of 3/11/11 like it was yesterday.  The uncertainty, panic and most of all, the feeling of helplessness for my host country.  While I had a warm bed to sleep in, and my family around me, the victims up north had lost loved ones, their homes, their livelihoods.  In all the sadness, I was fortunate to have been a part of relief efforts on base.  This work provided purpose, bonding, and a door that opened to some wonderful friendships.  After the relief efforts on base were shut down, another loving and giving soul named Masako, created a group called Helping Hands for Tohoku.  This group is still active today and has hundreds of members in Japan, and around the world.  I'm grateful to Masako for starting the group, for being a part of something huge, and for all the people who have spent countless hours translating, shipping, shopping, donating, and visiting the people who were given assistance in some shape or form.  I know that Japan will take a long time to recover from the effects of Fukushima and the tsunami, but the one thing that I learned from the Japanese is that they are strong.  They will never forget, but they will persevere.  That's what they do.

A little piece of Japan in my front yard!

Three Months Later

We left Japan almost three months ago!!  Where has all the time gone?  We are still getting things organized. Now, if we could just get some sunshine to stay for awhile, we would be able to tackle our outdoor projects. The kids are in school, the younger two in scouts, Justin's getting settled into work, and I've been job hunting.  The pickings are pretty slim here on the peninsula, but I'm sure the right position will eventually turn up.  I've also joined the YMCA.  This is not CrossFit, but I had to make a decision on many levels, and its working for now. We are looking forward to spring and some outings that are already planned.  I love that I have a cherry tree (Sakura) blossoming right now in my front yard.  It reminds me of Japan and makes me smile.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Exploring Seattle

I've had the chance to explore various neighborhoods around Seattle since returning to The United States.  This city is our birthplace, and I love the hustle and bustle of it.  While it doesn't begin to compare with sprawling Tokyo,  I'm still enjoying the sites, people-watching, the food, and the noise.  I've learned that I love a lot of commotion and feel energized by a city.  I've made a pact with myself that I was going to go to Seattle more often.  We are only 10 minutes away from the ferry, so why not!

Some places worth checking out:

Tea ceremony dates at Japanese Garden in Arboretum.

Washington State Arboretum

We caught a bus (#43) downtown Seattle from Pine Street to Montlake and walked along some pathways in the Arboretum.  A little glum this time of year, but it was a nice day to explore.  They have a Japanese Garden that opens in March that has tea ceremonies and other happenings going on there.  I want to go back in the spring for Cherry Blossom season.  There are also some other great trails along Lake Washington where you can picnic, take in the scenery, or walk over to MOHI (Museum of History and Industry). 

Teatro Zinzanni Dinner Theatre

This was a wonderful evening of entertainment near Seattle Center.  I bought General Admission seating which weren't cheap (over $100/pp), but I think well worth it.  We had an awesome view of all the entertainment (singing, dancing, acting, acrobatics, gymnastics, music, etc) and a 5 course meal.  The venue changes every few months and runs year round. 

Seattle Great Wheel

Seattle's newest attraction since we've been gone.  Although it doesn't compare to the huge Cosmo Clock Ferris Wheel in Yokohama, it was still nice to do on a sunny day.  For $13pp we saw some great views of downtown, and of the water..  Not to mention we went around about 4 times which is usually unheard of with such attractions!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Celebrating The Seahawks

We came back to Washington at an exciting time.  Not just to our home, or in time for Christmas, but also to a winning NFL team.  Seahawks Fever was at an all-time high especially when "The Hawks" were going to the Superbowl.  Many stores and fans in and around Washington were displaying 12th man banners and wearing Seahawks colors to show their support.  It was fun to see everyone getting into the spirit!  We've enjoyed being able to watch a couple games in real-time, or on the same day. This was always a little tricky in Japan with  the 16-17 hour time difference.

Superbowl Sunday- On Feb 2, 2014 The Seahawks played against the Denver Broncos and won 43-8!!! This was the first ever Superbowl win for The Seahawks which was so awesome!  To celebrate the win, The City of Seattle hosted a victory parade in downtown on Feb 5th for the 12th man from 11-1:30pm.  

Parade - Since I was free on the day of the parade, I went with a small group of people over to watch the "little" parade.  Not sure what I was thinking, because me, along with over 700,000 people were packing the streets of Seattle, ferries, etc to get to the parade. It was really COLD (mid-20's for Seattle in Feb is pretty chilly), but the crowds were mild, and most everyone was happy to be there to show their love and support for the team.  I didn't get the best photos, but I could see the players, coaches, support staff, politicians, etc pretty good from my vantage point.  I'm glad that I was able to participate in this monumental day even though my middle son keeps reminding me that I should have taken him along.  Oh well, maybe next year!
Tons of parade viewers!
Richard Sherman

 The 12th man or 12th player is a term for the fans within a stadium during American football and association football games. As most football leagues allow a maximum of eleven players per team on the playing field at a time, referring to a team's fans as the 12th man implies that they have a potentially helpful role in the game.
Definition courtesy of Wikipedia

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Everything Is Delivered and Let The Purging Begin

We received both our temporary storage and our final shipment from Japan last week.  Within two days we had about 16,000 pounds of belongings...........and junk in multiple places around the house and on our property.   Its amazing how much I purged before we moved to Japan, once we arrived in Japan, and before I left Japan.  Despite my efforts, we have already made four trips to donate our things to charity, plus one trip to the dump.  It feels pretty liberating to start weeding through our things and purge the things we no longer need.  Our living spaces are coming together, and we are slowly going through the boxes in the closet, basement, etc.  I think the kids are enjoying their rooms,  connecting with old friends, and getting into a routine.  Work at PSNS is going fine for my husband.  He's been in a routine pretty much since we've been back from Japan.  I'm wishing for more consistency with the gym, and a schedule, but I haven't quite gotten into a good flow.  Hopefully within the next month this will change.  I'm really trying to place few expectations on myself after such a big move.

Stuff to be donated and taken to the dump.

This week's experiences:

  1. Its quite expensive having a male driver under age 25 on our car insurance.  Luckily, even college students can get discounts for getting good grades.  We will have to wait until after winter quarter grades are turned in to see a change in our monthly payment.
  2. My middle son has become an expert at driving after his second week of drivers education. ;)
  3. I've seen such an influx of people that look, or act transient.  It seems worse since we were last here.  
  4. We finally have our first Android phone.  I was able to figure out how to answer it and charge it...that's at least a start.
  5. It costs $80 to get a license in Washington State.
  6. The Seahawks spirit is awesome.  They are going to the Superbowl!
  7. If you don't like your job, then you need to quit.  This past week has been jam-packed with horrible customer service.  Maybe the full moon had something to do with it.
  8. Having my younger kids take the bus to and from school is liberating.  
  9. Its been joyful not having to worry about the kids being loud in our home.  I constantly worried about this when we were living in base housing.
  10. Yams/sweet potatoes in the U.S. do not compare to the wonderful tasting ones in Japan.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Uwajimaya in Seattle may have Japanese sweet potatoes. 
  11. I'm remembering to lock my house and cars.  I had to re-learn this behavior after living in Japan.   

Friday, January 10, 2014

Ready For The Next Phase

Over a month ago, I said how happy I was to be moving to the Lodge.  It was going to be a mini-vacation from cooking and cleaning.  While that part has been pretty nice, we're getting tired of living in temporary quarters and looking forward to being back into our house.  Our move in date is coming soon and some of the rooms have fresh paint and new carpet!  I love all of the updates, and it will be an interesting task to see how our belongings from Japan and temporary storage are going to fit into our little house.  I foresee a lot of things being donated in the near future to St.Vinny's and The Goodwill!

Shipment 1 out of 2 from Japan!

Here's a rundown of things that I continue to witness and experience as I re-enter my own culture:
  1. Community College tuition has greatly increased since my $75/semester in California in the late 1980's.  Its over $1,0000 for two classes in the state of Washington.
  2. People wear pajama pants not only to the grocery store, but to pay for their college tuition and to get their drivers license.
  3. Food portions still continue to amaze me.  I keep thinking about how much the owners of businesses would save if they just cut back their portions even by 1/4.  My kids are going to go hungry once I start cooking again.
  4. Driving schools (I think) are making a ton of money.  You go to them for drivers tests now (written and driving).  The Dept of Licensing no longer does testing at their sites.
  5. Cutter bought his first car this week.  We paid half.  He was happy to haggle with the owner about the price.
  6. 1 of 2 of our shipments from Japan arrived this week.  Its so nice to see some of my clothes and shoes again!  Our other belongings arrive next week.
  7. I started at a CrossFit box last week.  While I feel like a newbie, and like I've never worked out before, I'm hoping once I get a regular routine the soreness won't be so bad.  I need about 3 days to recover after one workout.  Ugh! 
  8. The touch-screen Coca Cola machine is pretty cool.  We are wondering how they offer so many choices in one machine.
  9. There have been so many changes in the roads in my city since we left.  I can't keep up with the new roundabouts, one way streets, traffic lights, etc. I need to be grateful that I haven't once driving on the other side of the road.
  10. We were able to find Bulldog sauce for Katsu at a local supermarket for a whopping $5+.  I'm hoping to find some over in Seattle for cheaper.  I should have stocked up on some at the dollar store before leaving Japan.
  11. Reconnecting with friends when you aren't an adult isn't always easy.  I'm sure the kids will continue to make friends, and have some of their old friends over when we get into our house.  Its a beautiful thing being able to have conversations with friends as if you never left.
  12. I am still not used to paying sales tax.  It throws me off every time I go to buy something!

Coca Cola soda machine.  You can mix your own drink.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Easing Back In

I'm not going to lie, but leaving Japan and the people we love there was difficult.  Between all five of us, we had over a dozen going-away lunches, dinners, coffees, outings, etc. There were a lot of lifelong friendships made in the host country that became our home for three needless to say, Japan will always have a large piece of my/our heart.  Although it was not always easy, our family will always be able to reflect back on all of the experiences we had.  I'm most grateful for my husband whose job allowed us to complete this one, huge goal of living overseas.

A little shaky, but we flew over 4,700 miles home.

Aside from a lot of turbulence on the plane from Japan to Seattle, and going on week 3 of hotel living, here are some situations and observations I've had since returning stateside:
  • We have been met with some great customer service in the U.S.  I was worried about it after being in Japan for so long.  I'm happy to be pleasantly surprised.
  • My first impression of taxi drivers in the U.S. was not good (funky teeth, mullet, scabs on arms, attitude, couldn't figure out how to get our luggage into the van, etc).
  • I've been overwhelmed (in a good way) by the food and drink choices in the grocery stores.  I am unimpressed by the food in the Asian aisle though.
  • I realize how big the portions are here.  Wow!!  From a person who loves to eat, even I haven't been able to finish what's on my plate!
  • Gas prices are comparable here (Washington State) to the prices on base in Japan.
  • It has been reasonably easy to get back to driving on the "right" side of the road.  
  • There are seat covers in most public restrooms.
  • Everyone stares here!  I even do it!  
  • Americans are SO loud.  I factor myself into this equation because I am not quiet. 
  • I cannot find a decent car here for under $3,000.
  • Its been wonderful to reconnect with friends here.  I haven't gotten to seeing everybody, but plan to do so when we get back into our house.
  • I have enjoyed being able to read the street signs and menus.  This is not meant to be a slam on Japan, but this was always tricky when eating out, and trying to get around.
  • I love taking the ferry and monorail, but really miss the trains in Japan.  They were efficient and awesome!!
  • Cell phones (especially Smart phones) here are not cheap.  We still haven't decided on a plan, but did set up Magic Jack.  
  • Jet lag sucked.  I'm happy we're all pretty much adjusted to our current time zone after a couple weeks.  Hallelujah!! It was rough! 
Happy 2014 to everyone whose been there to support our journey both abroad, and back to the U.S.  We've had a huge amount of supporters and interest in our adventures.  I plan on still blogging about our life as we deal with "reverse culture shock".  I feel like we're all doing as well as expected.   My motto for the past couple of months is to just take things day-by-day.