Thursday, December 07, 2017

Grandma and Grandpa take Japan

My parents flew in on the same day President Trump arrived at Yokota. They shut the gates while he was here, so we had to leave ahead of schedule so as not to be trapped on base. 

The little two, Sean and I got to the airport a tad early and had lots of time to kill. Thankfully, Narita is a wide open airport and there are lots of places to wander around, eat, and shop without having to go through security or have a boarding pass. 

Jude was the only kid who was 100% clueless as to who was coming. We told him we were at the airport so we could meet the President. He was super confused when he saw my parents and we may have taken the surprise a little too far because he didn't give the performance I expected when it finally clicked. He stared in disbelief at Grandma and Grandpa for a good hour before becoming animated again. 


The first day we took it pretty easy on them. Arashi for dinner, of course, & then...

the jet lag caught up to them. I was proud of them for hanging on til after 8 pm. 
Days 2-8 I did not take it easy on them. We went to a local shrine I've never visited. 

We went to Lake Motosu and Shiraito Falls. 
My dad holding the 1000 yen bill(it's 10 bucks, don't get excited) that depicts this scene. 
They got to see Fuji many times. I dragged the whole gang out of the car several times that day.

I dragged them up to Chuerito Pagoda. They were total troopers. My mom didn't curse me at all during the 400+ stair climb, even though I know she wanted to. 
We stayed just long enough for the sun to dip below the horizon. I have now successfully missed cherry blossoms and fall colors at Chuerito Pagoda. This Spring, I will win. 



Mom, print & frame this one!! I love it!


We went to the Kitchen District. It wasn't nearly as awesome as I thought it would be. Watching people make kitchen knives from scratch was kinda cool, but the knives were too rich for my blood. Before we leave, I will get a few. I don't need my name etched in them or anything, I just need knives that will cut through an onion or apple without taking my hand off with it.

 

We took the train that day and my phone died. We didn't get my parents a Suica card because we only used the train for one day. Not only were we calculating ticket prices each leg of the trip, we were having to navigate based on the main map. It wasn't nearly as daunting as it looks, but it certainly made for a longer trip than usual.



My Dad handled it like a local. He even started to lean into the person next to him a bit. I had my mom-arm ready in case he lurched forward into the aisle, but it wasn't needed. 




My mom and I went for a tea party with my friend and her mom(who was also visiting from VA) and baby Eleanor. It was an absolutely gorgeous day and I have never been so full in my life. Normally I leave the tea house a bit hungry still. It's definitely chick food and it tends to be light on the belly. Not so on this day. The pumpkin scones on top were the best morsel of any food I've ever consumed. SO GOOD.


This is a must for anyone who comes to visit. I love this place. 


We went for sushi. If you know my mother at all, you know she gets major kudos just for trying it. She is not one to eat anything raw. She likes her meat beyond "well done." Her face + Jude's make this my favorite picture of their whole visit. 



We went to Joyful Honda. The lady in the petstore saw my mom for a sucker and kept handing her all the older puppies, the ones slated to...go wherever they go when they don't sell. I choose to believe it's to a big open farm where they run freely and eat bacon on the regular.


We went to Yakiniku. They both preferred that to sushi. :D 


My mom and I were able to join a group of my friends for a geisha performance at Mt. Mitake. Thank you, Evelyn!! It was so fun. The climb up wasn't, but the rest of it was awesome.



We celebrated Thanksgiving. Sean cooked an amazing meal.


And just like that, they had to go home. Nine days doesn't go far when two of them are travel days. 


Poor Jude held it together until we were climbing back into the car to go home after dropping them at the shuttle. You see in the picture that he was completely unwilling to go along with the, "smile!" request. He sobbed when he realized they were really leaving. Please come back! I promise we'll feed you more meat. Well done meat, even!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Magic.

Simon and I entered a photography contest on base. The short version is that neither of us won anything in any of the categories we entered. The long version is that I was pretty proud of both of us for entering and having pictures good enough that they looked as if they belonged with the rest of the entries. I did, however, feel like a big, fat loser during the lame little awards ceremony as the same people got called for prizes over and over again. According to the fella running the show at Arts & Crafts, those who entered are all at the professional level and are the "heavy shooters" on base. Contextually, I came to understand that the same folks always enter these contests and the same folks always win. They changed the rules this year so that no one person could win first place in every category. So if, for example, one awesome photographer won first place in every category, he or she would receive one first place prize and the rest of the categories they would receive runner up. One lady did that and won something in every category. She was really good.

I got a few things from the experience. One, I won't ever go to any awards function ever again. If I win, I can find out later. I did not like the feeling of being the odd man out. I should probably mention that the prize was a coffee mug with the winning pictures printed on it. One winner's name was completely misspelled. I'm totally okay missing out on such an award. It was the whole "you belong/you're good enough" feeling I was seeking more than the tangible reward.

I also learned that my style isn't going to win any contests. I take pictures of my kids and places we can afford to visit. The big winners of the contest had taken pictures in places I've never even heard of. At the end of the day, though, I'd rather have a picture of my kid or snapshots from our adventures that invoke a memory than anything else.

I came away with the desire to try a little harder, but at the same time the desire to continue doing what I love for me and mine, not for any contest. I want to learn more and try different things for my sake, not for the sake of a coffee mug. If I happen to win with a picture that I love, it's that much better.

The whole thing led to a trip to the Canon repair shop in Shinjuku. One of my lenses has been giving me error messages and leading to a frustrated red head for quite some time. Thankfully, we got a technician that spoke enough English to figure out the problem; my lens was dead. It would've cost me $220 to fix a lens that only cost me $400 a decade ago. I'd say I got my moneys worth out of said lens and I am willing to let it go to it's grave. I did decide to leave my camera for a good cleaning. *Locals, Canon will give your baby a good scrub down for about 30 bucks. I had it done in the states and it cost me $150.

The biggest and the littlest went back with me to Shinjuku a few days later to pick it up. After four days with no camera, I was eager to play around. I'm not one to shoot much at night(something I need to work on), but when Jude ran up to these windows, I grabbed for my trusty sidekick.
That's it. Yeah. Put your mouth right up against that window, Kid. It's only one of the busiest cities in the world and God only knows who or what has touched it. I kid, I kid. The only smudge on these windows were due to him. :D
Before we went to the camera shop, I'd dragged Simon and Jude to Nippori (Fabric Town) real quick. It was just a short train ride from where we were and I needed a few things. It was a bit colder than when we'd left home, so I popped into a kid store that's just before you hit the fabric stores for a cheap hat. *Locals, if you need emergency kid stuffs on your way to fabric, this store is suuuuper cheap. On the right hand side. You'll know it when you see it. Sidewalk is crammed with cheap kid clothes, Hello Kitty, and Snoopy merchandise.*

It was kismet that it matched his vest.



For a country that "doesn't celebrate Christmas," they sure do know how to decorate for it. Christmas is everywhere! It's magical and wonderful and the fact that songs honoring Jesus are playing everywhere you go unbeknownst to the masses...that's just icing on the Christmas cake.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Veterans. Ew.

This year on Veteran's Day, I found myself in the dining room of a Japanese woman. I meet with her and two of her friends to chat a few times a month. The goal is for them to improve their English(which is way better than my Japanese, lemme tell ya). We talk about current events, cultural similarities and differences, and politics(their favorite). 

My mom got to join in on this class and we got wrapped up in talking about all the places we've visited. They are adventurous, and we are forced to be adventurous by our husband's careers. As talk turned to the military, I asked them:

"Do Japanese little boys play soldier?" Meaning, is it like the G.I. Joe/soldier infatuation that most little American boys have at some point during boyhood. I was curious if the children here express a desire to be a soldier, even if it is born of childhood ignorance of the ways of the military. Based on my personal experience, little boys don't follow the media's portrayal that all soldiers are baby killers. My own little boys have always seen soldiers as heroes, and rightfully so.

What bothered me isn't so much what my students answered or didn't answer, but the look on their faces. One of them cringed and wrinkled up her nose like I'd said a dirty word. I understand that the Japanese Defense Forces and the United States Military are quite different, but I think the universal idea of "military" is there. Why the cringe? Why the outward disdain? It's possible I read her reaction incorrectly. Maybe I'm sensitive because the military is so stinking personal to me and so many of my favorite people.

I remember having a conversation with a young man, several years ago. He had a criminal record and no real prospects for the future. He seemed genuine in his desire to get his life straight(he was an awesome liar). He was asking Sean all about the military and he made the statement, "Well, they have to take me. They take anybody, right?" He couldn't grasp why the military wouldn't want a kid with a record. He didn't realize there were tests to get into the military. I see it frequently, especially with this younger generation. The military is not a society of castoffs that couldn't do anything else with their lives. It's quite the opposite. 

The military members I see every day of my life have one focus: to serve. They serve in every context of the word. They serve so much more than their country. They go beyond their job description. They serve over and above what is required of them. They sacrifice so much on a daily basis that gets completely overlooked. There is so much that "Thank you for your service" doesn't even come close to covering. The kicker? They do it without complaint. 

It's not always the big stuff like deployments or living on a different continent from your family(although, those are very really and I know people currently doing such things). It's missing your child's birthday. It's not being able to go "home" for the holidays. Not having the leave to fly around the world for your best friend's wedding. It's donning chem gear way too often, to practice "just in case." It's having to have hard talks with your children about what to do if the alarm goes off. It's being thrown out of your comfort zone time and time again. It's having a present and future decided for you in which you have very little say. It's SO. MUCH. STRESS. about every detail of life. It's having a Plan A and B and C and not having any of them work out. It's about being content when there is so much to be upset about. It's about watching your best friends move again and again. It's about always saying good-bye. It's about finding your most precious worldly possessions smashed to bits. 

On Veteran's Day, I noticed so many people thanking their Grandfathers and Fathers and folks of generations past for their service. Aside from all the active duty folks that we serve alongside with, I noticed a huge gap. Is military service a thing of the past? A lot of our grandparents didn't have a choice. The voluntary part of service makes it that much bigger, in my mind. Those serving now do so by choice, not because they were forced. I think it's awesome to thank those who have served, but I have to wonder about who will serve. The way it's portrayed, it's no wonder throngs of young men and women aren't beating down the doors at the recruiter's office. 

This lifestyle isn't for everyone, I get it. But this is what preserves our freedom. It's not easy, but it's worth it (at least 75% of the time). The service of my husband has afforded us one grand adventure after another. We have made the most amazing friendships that will last our entire lives. As I was pondering the "who will serve" factor, I had a hard swallow. What if it's my boys? What if I have to pack them up and send them off to only see them once a year? What if they serve in a time of war? It's a thought that strikes fear and sadness into the heart of every mother, but also pride. 

I am so proud of the legacy of service in my family. I am proud that I got to grow up in this military and now serve alongside my husband. I never would've pictured Sean in the Air Force. He is not the quickest to conform. He has always spoken his mind. He doesn't do well with BS. Yet here he is, serving well, doing his country proud. The military has changed certain aspects of him for the better. Or maybe he has changed of his own volition to better suit his place in this giant machine. 

Either way, he serves. Our family serves. And thousands upon thousands of other incredibly talented, intelligent, kind, wonderful people from every walk of life serve. They sacrifice every single day of their lives, willingly, for you. For all that America stands for. 

They give of themselves so you don't have to. 

My dad hates it when I post these pictures. The top is probably one of my favorite pictures I've ever taken. The lighting was crap and they're not in focus, but I can feel all the emotions of the moment when I look at the scene. Our family had been waiting all day in the cold. The plane kept getting delayed. The crowd got more and more dense as the day went on. Emotions were super high. My brother was back from a terrible deployment and the second he appeared in the crowd, the relief on our dad's face...ooph. It gets me every time.



"Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point." C.S. Lewis

Shh

God is working on my heart when it comes to being content. I accidentally had some heart overspill pour out of my mouth when barking at one of my kids. I was trying to connect their brainwaves with reality in regards to their Christmas wish list.

"It doesn't matter if there isn't a single present on Christmas. We have so much crap we are literally tripping over STUFF.  We are privileged and we are blessed and Christmas is about Jesus, not presents. It's not about getting, it's about being!"

Oopsie. I had to shut up as I had turned into the pot. Or the kettle. Or maybe both? Either way, the words that tumbled out convicted me. In this world of posting a picture of every experience(guilty), bragging under the guise of informing(also guilty), and especially here where everyone is going on vacations and then everyone else copies said vacation...it's hard to be content. It's hard to just BE. To sit still and take in all the daily-ness.

All the while my boys are turning into big kids and young men. I found this little reminder the other day.


When my parents were here, we packed in a ton, but everything felt normal. Like it used to. Thanks to my rockstar of a husband taking over all the meals, I was able to be present. Having my parents around felt like home and the way things should be. Perhaps coming just before the holidays compounded the homesickness. I would give my left arm to hug my sister right now. Although it would be an awkward hug, with just the one arm and all.

We had Thanksgiving when my parents were here. I didn't even take any pictures. I asked Simon to take some on his phone. Of 22 snapshots, 4 have our faces in them. One photo makes me look 800 pounds. The rest are of his plate of food, my arm scooping food, the counter full of food, even the raw, naked turkey. That kid + food...I have no idea how he has a negative BMI. He is so freaking lucky.

Anyways, I'm blathering. I had a point to this post. I was listening to Christmas music today and heard the last line of this verse and it struck me that I've never really heard it before.
  1. Yet with the woes of sin and strife
    The world has suffered long;
    Beneath the angel strain have rolled
    Two thousand years of wrong;
    And man, at war with man, hears not
    The love-song which they bring;
    Oh, hush the noise, ye men of strife
    And hear the angels sing.

    It stuck with me. How often, in my discontent, does my strife block out...everything? I'm missing the love-song. I'm missing the music of angels. So I'm working on it as God is working on me. 

    Tomorrow, instead of thinking about our families back home celebrating, I'm going to be content in the here and now. Not focusing on the way things used to be, should be or thinking about the future. No grumbling, no strife, no discontent. No what's next. No what are they doing or where are they going. I truly believe what we are thankful for matters less than to whom we are thankful. I want to focus on true thanksgiving.  I want to hush the noise.

    I want to hear the angels sing. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Gingko Tunnel

Autumn is upon us! A few days ago, I was itching to bolt for the hills in search of tinged maple leaves. All the websites I found said, "Wait." No reports of peak colors, just yet. I jumped the gun with Sakura blooms and was disappointed time and again. I promised myself I wouldn't do that with Fall colors. I held firm until my camera buddy texted with an invite to a local park.

I overlook Showa Park. It's local, how awesome can it be? Um, very awesome, actually. I don't know why I overlook it so. Perhaps it's the $8 to park, $8 to get in, $11 to rent bikes, $infinity kids seem to spend on food.

Anyway, Evelyn and I went yesterday and ran our little ones ragged. Today I decided to go back with all the boys+camera in tow. I found the Gingko Tunnel and went a lil nuts. It wasn't terribly crowded, so we found our spot and I clicked away.

There was arguing and shoving and throwing leaves in each others face. There was bribery and threats. There was a, "He made me swallow a rock!" and several, "No, I didn'ts," but these pictures were so worth it. Every time I peeked out from behind my camera, another Japanese photographer was taking pictures of my kids. I'm not sure if it's because they're adorable, American, or obnoxious but...


This kid...





 & this one looking especially dapper and grown up in his Isaac hand-me-down. 



The thing about gingko trees is that the leaves come with nasty little vomit bullets. They're squishy orange balls that seriously smell like vomit. They get all up in your shoes and leaf piles. Hence the cringing of Titus' face. 



 The older two weren't so much into picture time today. Bribery only goes so far...




After pictures, I made good on one portion of bribery, the giant marshmallow. I love it. These two drive each other absolutely insane. The bickering! Yet when given the chance to play with all of Southern Japan that was gathered at the marshmallow, they stick with each other. 






"Ma! Don't let anything happen to me!" He's a little hesitant on the ropes. 


 The yellow was so beautiful!





I asked for one more shot. Sometimes I push it one shot too far, but this time I'm glad I did. Not as gorgeous as the Gingko shots, but ones that let me see maybe they do like each other a little. 


 You can see Jude's wheels turning. He's thinking about how he can annoy three brothers at once. 

He somehow got Titus in on the action.