Tuesday, December 29, 2009

TBR Reading Challenge

My sweet friend Kristina is the reading guru- and a reading challenge fanatic.  I haven't joined in because in the past two years I have been waay too busy.  But now I have more time to devote to reading and want to join in on the fun!  So I picked the TBR challenge.  Technically, the books do not have to actually be sitting on my shelf looking forlorn as they wait and wait and wait for me to FINALLY pick them up to read.  But since I DO have many books that I have had way too long and need to be read- I am going to stick to those books.  That way I don't buy any new books since damned Kindle makes it too easy it is very convenient to download a new book instead of grabbing a book off my shelf.

Here are my books I have picked for the TBR (TO BE READ) Challenge:

1. Birds of a Feather- Jacqueline Winspear
2.In The Company of a Courtesan- Sarah Dunant
3. Between the Bridge and The River- Craig Ferguson
4.Songs Without Words- Ann Packer
5.The Dogs of Babel- Carolyn Parkhurst
6. Sushi for Beginners- Marian Keyes
7. The Bolyen Inheritance- Philippa Gregory
8.Bright Sunny Morning- James Frey
9. Snow Falling on Cedars- David Guterson
10. Accidents in the Home- Tessa Hadley
11. The Turtle Warrior- Mary Relindes Elis
12. Girl in Hyacinth Blue- Susan Vreeland

Alternate list:
1. Miss American Pie- Margaret Sartor
2.In The Country of Men- Hisham Matar
3. The Lincoln Lawyer- Michael Connelly
4.The Story of Edgar Sawtell- David Wroblewski
5. Testimony- Anita Shreve
6. Anybody Out There?- Marian Keyes
7. A Wedding in December- Anita Shreve
8. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest- Stieg Larson (No I don't own this one yet as it isn't for sale just yet- but I WILL own it as soon as it is!)
9. Bridge of Sighs- Richard Russo
10. The Sister- Poppy Adams
11. The Other- David Guterson
12. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe- Fannie Flag

I am totally pumped now- too bad I have to wait until the first...  3 more days!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas '09

We had our first Christmas in Japan!  I have to say- I had the MOST fun shopping this year.  I found THE neatest stuff!  There was no worry about buying them something they already had as long as I stuck to the Japanese stuff.  I shopped at a holiday bazaar- filled with Japanese vendors.  They even had the most beautiful furniture.  I am starting my Christmas account now- got to buy some of that stuff next year.
I found Kokeshi dolls.  They are these beautiful dolls handcarved out of wood.  I have heard that the more popluar the artist- the more expensive they can be.  I found birthday dolls for my mom and aunt and an old man for my uncle.  I also sent them to my mother in law and sisters in law.  Here are the pictures of the first ones mentioned- I never took pictures of the others I bought.  The first two are birthday dolls- the pictures don't do them justice- they are gorgeous.

For the in-laws- I also bought all my neices and nephews their own chopsticks and sent lots of candy and goodies.  I heard my father in law even tried the dried anchovies- he chased it down with a beer of course!
 The bottom right are my favorite coffee candies- they are kind of hard and chewy- and delicious.  Pringles are big here- and come in all sorts of flavors.  The bag that says Merry Christmas actually has cotton candy in it- I had no idea when I bought the bag since I can't read sticks yet.
Dried anchovies and "beer snacks". yumm  (No I haven't been brave enough to try to the dried anchovies, not yet...)
The bag to the right holds rice crakers- they are sooo good!!  The ones I buy have a little bit of frosting on them- so they are salty and sweet- kind of like kettle corn.

The last picture shows the tissue packs.  You can find these everywhere.  A lot of restaurants and bathrooms don't supply napkins, tissues and/or toilet paper.  So people usually carry their own packs of tissues and also handkerchiefs.  They come in handy during the hot and humid summer too!  Also, the businesses like to advertise their prodcuts on packs of tissues (and fans in the summer).  So you will be sure to receive a few free packs when you're out and about in the city.  They hang out by the train stations and busy street corners.  I always grab them when they are being handed out.

This year for Christmas we went to Tokyo Disneyland.  We didn't go on Christmas day, but on the Tuesday before.  (Apparently Tuesday is the slowest day- it turned out to be true.)  Hubby was upset that morning when we left because we didn't get up early enough.  He was worried that we would not have enough time in the park.  It turned out we had plenty of time.

Tokyo Disney is a replica of the Dsineyland in Anaheim- just smaller and watered down.  It was not the same of course but still fun!  Actually- I was a little disappointed it was not more different- i would have liked to see Japanese inspired rides- not just the replcas of the rides from the States.  But- it was different hearing the characters speak Japanese!  Our first ride was Star Tours- the kids laughed at the little robots carrying on in Japanese.

I liked the fact that there were better food choices- Hubby said it wasn't important to him but I appreciated tehre being more places and more choices for food.  We ate at the Blue Bayou- the restaurant inside the Pirates of the Caribbean restuarant.  We hardly had to wait even.  I had a delicious gratin with salmon, scallops and snow crab.  Sister had the cutest Mickey plate.

She couldn't wait to dig into her flan before we could get a picture.

I think Hubby enjoyed the giant smoked turkey legs that were sold in the little stands (they were the most popular too.)  We kept smelling curry- turned it out it was the popcorn.  All the kids had these little buckets they were eating popcorn out of- they even had little crarrying straps to put around their neck.  Of course we had to pay $20 for our very own.    They had different flavored popcorn at different spost through out the park.  We tried the curry and the "salty".  We missed out on the soy sauce flavor though.

Front entrance to the park.
The "receptionist" area in the  Monsters Inc ride.  It was pretty cute- just  not worth the long wait.

One observation I made was that the Japanese seemed to be more interested in the "kiddy" rides like the Monster's Inc ride the kids are waiting at in the picture above.  I think us American prefer the thrill rides.  By the way- we waited almost 2 hours at that Monsters Inc ride- it lasted maybe 3 minutes- not worth it at all!  Brother told me it was a "rip off."

All in all we had a great time and it was an experience we couldn't have anywhere else.  I admit I would have rather gone to see something with historical significance- but you can't win them every time huh?  The drive over was about 2.5 hours and the way back took us 1 hour 15 minutes.  Driving at 10 am is a big difference from dricing at 11pm.  Though I must say it reminded me of LA at night- still plenty of traffic on the road in Yokohama that time of night. 

Christmas eve we arranged for a special visit from Santa.  Brother was so surprised!!  I need to upload the pictures still- sorry.  He is actually smiling- I love it.  Later on that night he asked if we were leaving cookies out for the "real" Santa.  Dohh!  Hubby just laughed when I shot him a "look".

We had a good Christmas this year- in spite of being so far away from our families.  It is ironic- I never wanted to go to the in-laws at Christmas time- I didn't find it enjoyable and wanted to make our own traditions.  Now I just long to be near family.  Maybe I am getting older?  (I KNOW I am getting older- but maybe that is why I long to be near family now?)  I had hoped to have people over for Christmas dinner- but I couldn't rustle anyone up.  I admit I was saddened by this- but I got over it quickly.  We were originally thinking of going to Australia for Christmas next year.  But I told Hubby I want to see his family next year instead.  The funny part is that when he called his mom to wish her Merry Christmas- she told him she wants to get away for Christmas next year. He didn't know how to tell her we wanted to go to her house...

I hope all my bloggy friends had a wonderful Christmas!!! (or if you celebrate something else- I hope that was wonderful too!)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Happy Hour Friday

My good friend Stacey from Willowjak Boys introduced me Otin's Happy Hour Friday.  Every Friday I look forward to a good laugh as he write about "how" happy he is- (my favorite this week is how he is "happier than Charlie Brown with a mouth full of Peppermint Patty").  He cracks me up!!
  My Friday comes earlier than his, but I thought I would join anyway...

I am happy that it is Friday and I so not have to get up early in the morning.

I am happy I do not have to cook dinner and Hubby is bringing home pizza on the way home from work.

I am happy that Brother is making more friends besides the initial annoying  talkative kid he befriended when school first started.  (Yes I am happy I can be a bitch and still feel good about myself.)

I am happy that Sister made a 2010 calendar for me in school.  It is the best present so far this Christmas!

I am happy that my baking gets better every year.

I am happy that the mini-mart is well stocked with liquor.

I am happy that it feels like winter outside.

I am happy that I finally was brave enough to chop my hair off.

I am happy that I am not stressing about driving in the snow as I was this time last year.

I am happy I survived the "big move" this year.

But most of all:


I am happy we can still buy real Christmas trees here- even if they are of the Charlie Brown variety.  (See my young sailor in the corner?  LOVE that picture!)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Like the Griswolds on Crack

In one of my previous posts I meant to make fun of my neighbors.  Yes I do have an evil streak in me.  But my neighbors are weird so its ok. ;)

The day after Thanksgiving my neighbors on both sides of our unit (we live in a 4-plex) busted out their Christmas decor.  Hey, I have been known to do that as well- I have no problem as long as they wait until AFTER Thanksgiving.  Its all good.

Two weeks later and they are still putting out decorations.  The funny part is- both of them are white guys married to Japanese ladies.  I think maybe they are trying to impress/please/educate them?  I don't know?  These two guys are weird though- I have to say that.  They are friendly enough- until I try to make coversation beyond the casual "hi, how are you?"

I was feeling the pressure- seeing how we didn't have any lights up outside or anything.  Well I guess I waited too long because one neighbor decided to extend his lights over MY door.  Huh?  Has he been gone from the states too long and forgot that it is a faux pas to decorate your neighbor's house without asking?  He already took up our little strip of grass between our front doors with his lights.  Maybe he thought that since we didn't complain about that he would go ahead and put lights over our door as well?  Geez!  If I could reach it, I would put our lights over HIS.  What could he say? Nothing!

My house is on the left- see the blue lights?  Those are the neighbor's on the right. The candy canes and green and red rope lights are his also.

I am not mad really, maybe a little miffed.  It is kind of like when someone flagrantly takes something out of your yard or cuts in line in front you.  I do like to point out the lights to my friends when they come by- it is funny then.

See how much I love my readers? (all 8 of them)- I went out to take a picture in my pajamas and slippers- my sock monkey slippers.  I have matching pj pants for them too- but they were in the wash...

I really wish I had said something when the first lights went up on our side of our grass.  It would have been something like- "Oh we don't celebrate Christmas, its against our religion."  The look on his face would have been worth it!  But really- what IF we didn't celebrate Christmas?   I would be MAD then!

The neighbor on the other side has kept to his own yard with his MANY decorations.  Of course he has the corner unit with the beautiful Japanese Maple tree.  (I covet that tree.  It has been shedding its little bitty multi-colored maples leaves on the sidewalk- it is quite beautiful.)

The imposing neighbors are moving- next year we will be the 'senior' residents.  Maybe I will take over the yard next time?  Of course not- I would never dream of being an ass like that.  I would rather bitch and gripe behind their backs.  That just how I roll...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Did You Know? (Random Facts about me that you may or may not care about!)

As you know- its "all about me"- so read on...

Did You Know?...

That Rosie Greer taught me how to make a hook shot when I was at basketball practice in the 10th grade? (and I had no idea who he was until my coach told me afterwards.)

That I really sucked at basketball?  I could make 3 pointers no problem- only not during the actual game.  I just couldn't dribble and run at the same time.

That I once met Mario Lopez from Saved by The Bell?  Yeah- I wasn't that impressed either...

Maybe is he was dressed like this I would have been more impressed...

That I can't rollerskate? (see the comment about basketball)

That Tony Lama gave my mother a pair of cowboy boots when she was 9 months pregnant with me?  I have those boots now.

That my first kiss was with Johhny Martinez in the 2nd grade?  I thought he was cute because he looked like John Travolta (as much as a 7 year old can look like John Travolta anyway.)

Johnny had the headband thing going too.

That I don't like plain Lay's potato chips- because they smell like farts to me?

That I like to dunk my PB&J sandwiches in chicken noodle soup?

That I once threw a heavy pair of scissors at the girl who lived across the street from me when I was 9 years old?  Lucky for me (and her) I had bad aim.

That I was robbed at gunpoint when I was working for Petco 15 years ago?  They never caught that bastard.

That I married my hubby a little over six months after meeting him for the first time?

That this month we celebrated our 14th anniversary?

That growing up in San Diego- I swore I would never date a sailor?  And then I married one!

That my junior high school was (is) next door to the San Diego Zoo?  We really enjoyed the smell of camel dung when we did our Friday run.

That my first words were in Spanish- because I had a Mexican nanny?  I then forgot it all after she left.

That I speak Spanish now?

That I have lived in 7 states and 2 countries?

That I have two tattoos?

That my favorite foods are sushi and ceviche?

I prefer my sushi served on a plate- personally...

That I think it is really gross to eat sushi off someone's naked body?  Whipped cream and chocolate maybe- but not RAW fish!  I was grossed out when Samantha did that in the Sex and the City movie too...

That I can't think of anything else to say?

Well- not really- but...

Hey!  Thanks for reading!


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Nothing to say... (yeah right!)

I started to post the other day and then scrapped it- it seemed like I had a good idea- but then it just sounded like a bunch of rubbish.  I tend to babble- but this was bad babbling.

So I am in a better mood these days.  After getting over the unanticipated shock over my grandmother's anticipated passing- I feel more at peace.  I realized that her being in hospice was always in the back of my mind- and I felt guilty that I wasn't there for my mom.  It is kind of like I have been holding my breath this whole time.

I am still trying to get into the holiday groove here- which is a task if you live in Japan.  Here they buy a Christmas Cake on the 25th on the way home from work for their family.  Strange that they don't have the day off- but why would they?  The groceries store in town has flyers in the front entrance showing all of the cute cakes they make.  Like I said- they are "cute"- but to me not very Christmas-y.  I told hubby after chowing down on some marzipanstollen I bought at the commissary yesterday- I would like to spend a Christmas in Germany some day.  I would probably eat my way through the country and then have to buy two seats for myself on the plane ride home.  The Germans make the best Christmas food- in my opinion.  Hubby actually lived in Germany as a teenager- so he agrees.  Last year for my Christmas present he took me to a bed and breakfast in Leavenworth (Washington- not the prison.)  Leavenworth is this adorable little Bavarian town nestled in the Cascade Mountains.  That was the best Christmas present ever.
The Serenity Suite at the All Seasons River Inn

The All Seasons River Inn is located on Icicle Road- which is aptly named.  In January the whole town is one giant icicle.  Good thing we had 4-wheel drive and good thing I didn't have to drive.  Hubby parked our giant Dodge truck in the tiny parking lot- or should I say he "slid" the truck into the parking lot- literally.

I loved that place- I dream about it all of the time.  When I need to go to my "happy place"- I think of our room in that B&B.  Everyday they leave you a delicious homemade goodie in your room on antique glassware.  They are always cooking and baking so the place smells like heaven.  They served the best breakfast too!  We spent our time there enjoying the ice festival, eating shnitzel, and drinking german beer.  Oh, we also checked out the wine tasting galleries.  We bought one of the bottles from Three Sisters Winery and found some lovely cheese to to go with.  Like I said- I LOVE Leavenworth.  If we get to move back to Washington some day- I am going to make that an annual ritual for our anniversary.

I guess I am thinking about Leavenworth because of the holiday feel and the "coziness" of the place.  If I could go anywhere right now- that would be the place.  For now I will just have to get out a bottle of wine and some cheese and close my eyes and pretend I am there.

I was going to write something about my wacky neighbors- but I think I will save that for my next post- something to look forward to (at least for me.)

Until then...


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Something Happy and Something Sad...

So today and actually the past couple of weeks have been filled with highs and lows. Hubby coming home is at the top of the list of good things, that is for sure! Brother swam in his 2nd swim meet and today and he beat his times by 10 and 12 seconds. He made 3rd, 2nd and then 1st places on the heats he swam. I was so proud!! Last time he didn't so so well so I worried how it would go today. Honestly, the last meet he didn't even get upset about coming in last- he just enjoyed himself. That makes me so happy. I had to keep from crying today when he won first place, that was just an awesome moment in time. He didn't even know he came in first.  He walked up to me aftewards and asked, what place did I get?  The look on his face when I told him he was first was just priceless.  I AM SO PROUD!

So today after getting home from the awesome swim meet- I found out via email that Grandma has finally passed away:

Hi Nan,

Mother is gone. About 20 minutes ago. She went peacefully, Aunt and Uncle and I were there with her. We are ok. Please don't be too upset. She had a long and good life.

I love you. MOM

I knew it was coming just talked to my mom yesterday and she told me the end was very near. I know that my grandma is happily reunited with her family once more and I should be glad about that- and I am. But I didn't expect to feel such a hole in my heart as I do now. I haven't told the kids yet because I don't think I can without crying and I don't want to scare them or upset them. I did that to Brother when my dad died and I don't want to do it again.  I still remember how huge his eyes were when I told him his grandpa died and I was sobbing and crying.  He was so worried about me, and he was only 5 years old, poor little guy.
So I am going to "cowgirl up" so to speak.  I will focus on the good memories of my sweet grandma and remember all that she has taught me.  When I look at my thumbs I will be reminded that she is a part of me.  If you don't know what I mean by that- read my post from a couple of weeks ago.  I will keep her memory alive and tell my children and someday grandchildren about the best grandma a person could have.

Rest in Peace Grandma. 
 You are truly missed, the world will not be the same without you.

 Thankgiving 1991.  Grandma posing with her feast she had prepared for us...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dropping the Ball

I had a rhythm going, I was in the groove.  Then my Hubby comes home and my world is in total upheaval!  So I have an "excuse" for not having posted anything for over a week?  Homecomings are wonderful, they are happy and joyous.  Even our dog Brownie was in 7th Heaven when her "daddy" came home.

                                                        Our chocolate Lab- Brownie

In fact- I think she was the happiest member of the house to see him home.  It was like the best day of her life- she was so happy.

So life is crazy and happy and stressful all at the same time.  I would rather have my honey home of course- so it is all worth it!  I am especially happy that he is home for the holidays- that is the best news of all.
Now my challenge is to get back into my groove and keep up my blogging.  I will do it! 

This is my third attempt to post something since my last post, by the way. 

Until next time...

Yours Truly

Saturday, November 21, 2009

If They Were Smart...

Lately Sister has been a pill.  I think she is just plain sick and tired of me and wants her Dad.  I don't blame her.  Tonight she was in an exceptionally good mood- I enjoyed every minute of it.  She did her cheer thing this morning and got to have a picnic with her very best friend this afternoon.  I was kid free for a few hours today- it was delightful.
Sister came home at dinner time.  While we waited for dinner to finish cooking- Sister entertained me with her book of songs she kept from the first grade.  I even joined in on the Christmas songs and "She'll Be Coming Aroung the Mountain..."  Afterwards we got in to a discussion about Santa Claus...

Sister: "Does Santa go all over the world to deliver presents?"
Me: "Yes, to all of those who celebrate Christmas."
Sister: "They don't really celebrate Christmas in Japan do they?"
Me: "Not for the most part- but some do."
Sister: "Well- if they were SMART they would!"

I almost wanted to correct her and say that not all people have the same beliefs and customs and that doesn't mean they are wrong- yadda yadda yadda.  But then I realized- she was thinking about Santa- its all about the presents right?  (to a 7 year old it DEFINITELY is!) 

Presents... and snuggles and new PJs.  Life is good.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Just a few thoughts and observations on a cold fall day...

Today I received in the mail a very official looking letter.  On the outside it says "Business Mail-Penalty for Tampering"  at the bottom it warns of a $2000 fine, 5 years imprisonment- yadda yadda yadda- to anyone who "interferes or obstructs delivery of this letter".  It is one of those presorted first class US postage paid letters.  I know it is most likely junk mail.  But just in case- I open it to see...
Important Notice--Please read
Regarding your property located at:
*insert my military post office box number*
Hmmm, my property?  I didn't realize people could own a home on a military base in JAPAN.  Obviously these people send out so many letters they don't check silly things like referring to my home as located at a post office box.  It was good for a laugh anyway!

I swear moving to a foreign country has really messed up a lot of things for us.  For instance- the city we lived in and where we are renting our home- continued to charge us for garbage and sewer.  This is after confirming at least twice and the new tenants calling to confirm their move in day- the day they would take over that bill.  Obviously the billing department was not paying attention.  They mailed out the bill the month before the tenants moved in and the bill was returned by the post office.  Yesterday I received a happy letter saying I was 90 days past due.  Excuse me?  I had to refer them to the lady that is managing my property to confirm the new tenant's move in date.  So now the city has obsolved me of any charges- but I think they plan on billing the tenants for 90 days of service.  I hope the tenants raise hell personally.  That is not the first time the city has pulled a boneheaded move like that. hmmph

Right after we moved- my insurance agent up and quit the business.  I had no idea and tried and tried to contact him to suspend the insurance on our truck we left behind.  Finally I had to contact Allstate directly- they had no idea what happened to my insurance agent.  But I did find out this insurance agent added the landlord policy to our home- but did not cancel the homeowner's policy.  So we were double insured and double billed.  Today I received a happy little refund check that I was not expecting.  Its always nice to get money when your not expecting it, don't you think?

Citibank is almost back on my good list.  I won't explain why as it would be TMI for the general public.  But the nice lady I spoke to on the phone tonight thanked my husband for his service in the military.  That doesn't happen everyday (except from my own friends)- so it was nice to hear from a stranger.

I bought a can of Mocha Roca today. That stuff is THE BOMB. It is like Almond Roca but instead of the amonds there are espresso beans inside. So yummy. Who cares if all the Almond/Mocha Roca candies look like cat turds scooped out of the litter box?  I just have to slow down before I devour the whole can.

I have had one million and one tasks/chores/errands to do since we arrived here in Japan.  I think I almost done.  I need to submit the pictures to moving company to prove all the damages they caused to our stuff they moved.  I have been putting it off, I need to get on that if I expect any money from them (I am not holding my breath.)  Part of it is that I just get so mad when I think of how the movers treated our stuff!  I worked so hard to make it easier for them, I was nice to them, bought them donuts and soda.  Bastards!!  At least I know that the efficient and conscientious JAPANESE movers will treat our belongings with kid gloves when they pack our things for when we move from here.

I still don't have a No-Fee Passport.  And those bastards at the special issuance office in DC still have my original documents I sent them (if they haven't lost them ALL by now.)  I don't see what is so "special" about that office.

I gotta get rid of my Dell.  I want a MAC!  Dear Santa...

Brother told me I should go back to work (as in full time).  I thought about it for two seconds.  The money would be nice- but it is hell working and taking care of the kids when Hubby is deployed.  Last March I used two years worth of sick leave because the kids kept getting sick and I had no one to help me.  Sea Duty is for me to play the Stay at Home Mom.  I am ok with that.  Staying at home is hard too, but at least this way I have a little time to myself- and more time to blog.

*In my best Martha voice*... "And that is a GOOD thing!"

Monday, November 16, 2009

Early Thanksgiving Special (A Tribute to my Grandma)

I've been having my own little pity party lately- as you will probably notice from my recent posts.  I could go on with the FML moments, but I thought I would change it up a bit.  Thanksgiving is next week- it is the time to think about what we are thankful for, right?

Whenever I think of Thanksgiving I immediately think of my sweet grandma.  Growing up we always had her over for Thanksgiving.  We also shared our birthday celebrations together.  Her birthday is the day after mine, and every so many years one of our birthdays will fall on Thanksgiving.
I can't lie, many times I resented her being there at every birthday party.  She always liked to watch my friends and myself- see what we were up to.  As she got older her watching turned into open mouth gaping.  Oh Grandma!  Of course I miss all of that now.  She loved me most of all out of all of her grandchildren.  (I hope my cousins don't read my blog.)  It is a fact, we spent the most time together.  She taught me to sew and crochet.  She taught me how to iron and how to make biscuits. 

That's me with my Grandma and Grandpa in 1975.  I have a dirty look on my face because I hated that dog- Jo-Jo.  He was the meanest ball of teeth and fur that walked the Earth.  He tortured me until I was about 10 when he finally died of old age (he was like 17 years old I think.)  I remember that little guitar in my hands fondly.  Maybe I should have whacked the dog with it- show him who was boss!

Grandma made the best chicken and dumplings on the planet.  And iced tea, oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, bread.. I could go on.  Her pride and joy was her Thanksgiving dressing.  She started on it the night before.  It wasn't anything fancy- homemade cornbread and Stove Top Stuffing mix.  But it was out of this world- I think it was all the love she baked into it.  Did I mention her pies?  My mouth is watering, thinking back to those pies.  I know I have pictures of some our Thanksgiving feasts- my mom always took a picture of the table before we all dug in.  I need to find them, they have so much more meaning to me now.

Next week will be her 97th birthday on Thanksgiving Day.  She was born in 1912- I wish I could see history through her eyes.  This may very well be her last birthday.  I am sad we will not be able to spend it together like old times.  I will try calling her, but honestly I don't think she will know who I am.  She was one of 7 children and the only one left.  She nursed two of her brothers and her only sister on their deathbeds.  After her last sibling passed- about 4 years ago- she started to let go.  I really think she made it that far- just so she could take care of them.  Now she lives with my mom and is in hospice care.  My mom said she talks to her father all of the time and thinks I am still a baby.  She gets confused when my mom tries to explain that I am all grown up now- so when asked "where is the baby"- mom just tells her I am sleeping.

She is a tough lady.  She told my mom that she wants to make it to 100 so the guy on the Today show will announce her birthday.  I wouldn't be surprised if she does.  The doctors will probably say no, but we are not sure what to expect.  She survived breast cancer and a masectomy at 75.  She laughed about getting her "boob" cut off.  We were all just amazed. 

San Diego- going to lunch at Mission Beach 1993

Not only did she pass on her love of sewing to me, but she gave me her thumbs as well.  I have the same squat fat thumbs as she has.  Kids used to tease me, ask if I sucked my thumbs.  That never bothered me- I was proud to have my grandma's thumbs (no one else in the family inherited them.)  My children didn't get them, but maybe some day I'll have a grandchild that will get them.

To sum it up I am grateful to have known such a wonderful woman and to have known her endless love.  I am grateful to remember catching her snooping in my shopping bags to find her birthday present I bought her.  I am grateful she dragged me to church in my great aunt's Charger with the vinyl seats in the 115 degree weather- and go eat at Bob's Big Boy afterwards.  I am grateful she taught me what it means to take pride in one's work.  I am grateful she always took my side when my mom got mad at me- no matter if I was wrong or not.  I am grateful I took my children to see her and spend time with her (Sister referred to her as "my old grandma who lives in the desert.")  I am grateful I have her thumbs so I will always have them to remind me of her.

I hope one day I can be as great a Grandmother as she is.  Happy Birthday Grandma! I love you!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Why I Locked Myself in the Bathroom (or Why Too Many Days off from School and Video Games are Bad)

Dude! I need a break. The kids have only been to school for 4.5 days in these past two weeks. Nearly 2/3 of these students have single parents at home because their other parent is deployed. Are they trying to kill us? The summer is one thing- but when the weather is cold and they need to stay indoors because of the torrential downpour- well- that makes for children climbing walls and their mothers pulling out their own hair.

I thought I would be nice and let them play video games (they are very limited on their playing time these days). That only makes things worse. Video games makes crazy kids, I am not kidding. Actually if I did some research I am sure I could find studies to back up my claim.

I'll spare you any more details except to say that after dinner I ended up running upstairs- into my bedroom- locked my door- into the bathroom- closed the door- into the comode/shower room- closed the door- put the toilet lid down and sat down with my head in my hands and let the tears come.

That helped a little.  Right now Sister and Brother are upstairs jumping and screaming- it sounds like they breaking down the walls. Granted-everything sounds much worse from downstairs. Still- it is NOT helping my headache.

I love my children and can't imagine life without them. I feel bad about complaining and venting- I am grateful they are happy and healthy and I know things could always be worse. But...

I can't wait until bed time.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Happy Veterans Day

First and foremost I want to wish a Happy Veterans Day to all those who have served our country and those who are currently serving.  I am so grateful!  And I think us military spouses deserve a big pat on the back because, well- We Rock!

I feel fortunate that while Hubby is sailing out there on some ocean- at least I know he is somewhat safer than those in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He has only been to Afghanistan once for a short time, and only after he came home did I find out they were fired upon (everyone was ok.)  That was scary enough.  I can't imagine what is like for those in imminent danger on a daily basis, and what it is like for their loved ones back home.  Every phone call, every knock on the door would send me into a panic.  My prayers go out to all of them- for a safe return home and happy reunions. 

Reunions are the best- I know that much.  I get choked up just thinking about it.  I can't wait for my sailor to come back home!!  Happy Veterans Day Honey, I love you and I am so proud!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Rhea Rhea of the Mouth

My dear dear friend used to tell me that I had "diarrhea of the mouth" whenever I started babbling too much (which was quite often).  Eventually diarrhea was shortened to "rhea rhea"- which just sounds better and not as disgusting. She wasn't the only one to tell me that I talk too much of course- but at least she said it in a sort of affectionate way.  My old roommate just told me that I talked too much and would go in her room and shut the door in my face.  Whenever I find myself talking someone's ear off, I realize that I am having a case of rhea rhea of the mouth again.  Poor Hubby has been subjected to this condition of mine many times.  When he is super quiet and stops responding I realize I have overdone it again.  Maybe that is what draws me to blogging- I don't have to corner my victim to get him or her to listen to my ramblings.  Here you can take it or leave it and I don't have to know.  Of course I could always get a rude comment or two- but I am not too worried.

Speaking of ramblings...

One of  my neighbors keeps grilling really delicious smelling food every night, or every other night.  It really makes me miss our big stainless steel grill we left in storage.  We thought we wouldn't have room- turns out we do of course.  I didn't think I would start missing American food this soon.  But I do miss Red Robins.  We went there at least 3 times a month.   They have the best fries. Yummm...

I took the kids to Yuzawaya (the big craft store I raved about previously).  They loved it as well, I had no doubt they would.  It turns out there was a big festival going on right outside the train station.  So we meandered on over to find all kinds of booths- food, crafts and the typical businesses handing out promotional stuff- similar to what you would see at an American street fair.  We got to see a tea ceremony and even took part.  The nice ladies from the Yamato Tea School (I may have that name wrong)- some of which were American- presented us with a "sweet" and tea.  The sweet was some sort of white dumpling with a purple center- it was very pretty and very sweet- and different.  Brother DID NOT care for it.  He didn't like the tea either.  He was making faces while trying to drink it.  I looked up and saw an older Japanese couple totally enjoying his expressions and they were laughing.  I didn't tell Brother- I knew he would not appreciate that.  I asked where to buy the green tea powder.  The use it in the restaurants and it is so yummy.  I did find a sort of green tea latte powder.  It actually crackles when I pour hot water on it.  It is very good, but I am sure it is not as healthy as it is sweetened.  After the tea we bought some yakisoba and "meat on a stick"- there is a name for it but it is not coming to me right now.  It looks like chicken sate you get at Thai restaurants,  except this was a bigger stick with big pieces of pork.  Brother loved it.  Afterwards I bought the kids chocolate covered bananas.  I wanted to try the sugared sweet potato fries, but I was too full.  One thing I don't think I will try is the "fish on a stick".  I am sad I didn't get a picture- next time.  It was literally a whole fish- head and all- on a stick.  If it was frozen we could call it a "fishcicle".

Speaking of food, I went grocery shopping at the local grocery store- Maruetsu.  It is an adventure in itself.  There are so many things to discover and boggle about- *what the heck is that??*  I have to say the fish section is beautiful- the fish looks like it was just caught an hour ago it is that fresh.  Makes the nasty commissary fish look even worse (if that is even possible.)  The cool thing I have noticed about these grocery stores is that if you go upstairs you can find a 100 yen store and all sorts of other goodies.  I think it is the Japanese version of a Super Wal-Mart in a way.

I had a thought about some of the food I have purchased at the commissary.  I bought some Chuka Soba noodles.  It was made in Thailand to be sold in the US.  So does that mean I just bought something that was shipped from this area only to come back?  That seems very silly.  It is definitely not very "green".  I am going to try to avoid that from now on.  Hopefully it was shipped directly to Japan in the first place and never to the US, but I doubt it. 

Friday, November 6, 2009

No School Today

So I've been a bad girl- was posting regularly and then dropped out for a week.  I just couldn't think of what to write about.  Would you call that a blogger's block?  I know that is corny. 

It's Friday and the kids have been out of school since yesterday.  They return on Monday only to get out early on Tuesday and then do not go back until the following week.  The teachers are still there- I see their cars lined up outside.  I know Brother's teachers are busy recording all of his Fs on his report card.  Maybe not all Fs, but there are way too many.  One F is too many in my book (and I am sure in most everyone else's).   It is beyond frustrating.  I know Brother has to be the one to do it- I can't go to school for him.  But I really feel that the teachers are not doing their job.  They have all of the 5th and 6th graders combined.  All of them.  They also have a strict policy of no late homework.  If it is not turned in on time, they get a 0.  No ifs, ands or buts.  I understand they are trying to prepare the students for junior high and that is great.  However, in my eye they are setting up the children for failure.  I know for a fact my son is not the only one to miss homework assignments.  What does that mean for the child who doesn't understand the assignment and is too frustrated to complete it?  No homework?  You lose!  We were up until 10pm the other night finishing Brother's homework- mainly his math homework.  I checked his work and helped him with the problems he did not get right.  He received a 10 (as in 10 points out of 100).  WTF??  I thought homework was supposed to be practice, not a test?  Hubby doesn't understand why I don't agree with grading homework.  I think he should get credit for completing it.  If it is obvious he just guessed at the answers then of course he shouldn't get credit for it.

So I emailed his math teacher and asked if she would be there at Brother's parent-teacher conference.  When she replied she asked if I wanted to have Brother tested so he can get into the math assistance program.  What??  I just talked to her two weeks prior asking if there was any kind of tutoring available for him and she said she didn't know of anything.  I forwarded the email to Hubby- I was fuming.  I will cut her some slack as she was not here at the beginning of the year (she was on maternity leave)- and the substitute did not follow her teaching plan at all.  However, if I tell her from day one that Brother is having problems she should have found out then what could be done.  She gave him an A- for science at least- I should be grateful for that.

Brother does not like school.  Aren't teachers supposed to inspire the children?  Are they too caught up in trying to just get the kids all the be quiet and do their work that they forgot that they are supposed to provide encouragement?  Why does it feel like it is an "us against them" (eg. teachers against students) kind of war?

I am emotionally drained from all of this.  How do I help him?  He is so totally lost still.  And I realize I am repeating myself over and over on this topic.  I do know that if things do not get better, I am seriously considering home-schooling.  I know of one parent that has pulled her daughter out of school already because of the curriculum.  And she was a teacher back in the states.
I scouted the Amazon website to find books on how to help Brother with school.  I stumbled upon some books about boys in particular and how we are failing them.  In the past two decades we have been so focused on girls that the scales have tipped and now girls are making great strides while the boys have been left behind.  It is a big controversy I know.  There are many women out there who fought so hard for equal rights and Lord knows I am grateful for that.  I also think as a society we develop tunnel vision, and we forget to look at the whole picture.  The book I am reading right now is called The Trouble With Boys, by Peg Tyre.  It is very interesting so far and she seems intent at looking at things from both sides of the spectrum.  I plan on posting my first book review when I am done.

Once someone told me, after I said I was praying for patience (with my children), that I should pray instead for understanding.  If we understand, then the patience will follow.  I take that to heart as I also think that understanding can also lead to solutions.  What I am trying to say is that by understanding where my son is coming from- I hope to come up with solutions to help him succeed.  It is an uphill battle and I am putting on my battlegear!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Yuzawaya and a Tribute To...

The Highlight of My Week- YUZAWAYA
It is a huge craft store with 5 floors in Yamato.  It is literally across the street from the train station- very accessible.  I did not realize that the Japanese had a love of crafting as we do in the West.  My favorite part was the fabric floor.  I am a fabriholic- I have bins full of fabric.  I love love love to buy fabric.  The sad part is that last time I sewed anything was last Halloween.

I love how they display the fabric, very efficient as that is the Japanese "way".  Some of the fabric is pretty pricey.  Although I am still trying to figure out in my head how meters convert to yards.  I'll have to sit down and write it out before I go to buy any of the fabric.  Or maybe there's an "app for that" on my iPhone? 

I did buy some some origami paper.  I love origami and so do the kids.  I ended up spending more than I intended, but it won't go to waste right?  I am definitely going back to do Christmas shopping there, so much fun stuff.  That and I'll go to the 100yen store.  Jaime, who has been my SAVIOR since moving here, gave me an early birthday present (apparently she can't wait to give gifts)- it is a book on how to make origami jewelry.  So not only does that inspire me to do more origami, but make jewlery as well.  I call that AWESOME.

Jaime is also the one who introduced me to Yuzawaya.  She asked me if I would like to to Yuzawaya- a 5 story craft store.  Does a dog like to eat steak?
I am going to take the liberty to post some pictures of her as well.  Love ya Jaime!

Here she is looking fabulous in her fabulous purple hat.  We were admiring this sort of flower "tree".  The planted the pansies in pots that are positioned on thier sides.  Quite creative I think, and also very beautiful.  The pictures don't do the flowers or Jaime justice!
Not only does Jaime look fabulous in her purple hat, but she is also a fabulous writer. I love her sense of humor, which is very apparent in her blog Life 'n' Times of...
Jaime was the one who saved me that first night in Japan- supplying blankets, toilet paper, capri suns and Diet Coke.  I don't know what I would have done without her- probably curl up in a ball and cry.  I am not kidding, it was that bad.
So Jaime has been there for me to help me with the kiddos and has random things I can borrow such as food dye.  She has also just been a great friend to talk to.  The bonus is that our girls get along fabulously as well.  Did I say how grateful I am to her?  How grateful?  VERY GRATEFUL.  The sucky part is that she will be leaving us sometime next year. *sniff*  Hopefully we end up in the same area again in the future, who knows?  Tha Navy is a small small world and it happens quite often that you meet friends again when you relocate.
So this is my tribute to you Jaime.  You ROCK!!
And thank you for getting me to work out again and for taking me to the most awesome place ever.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Rain and Driving School (and yummy bento boxes)

Right now as I type the rain is coming down in mad bursts of wind.  It feels like Washington.  The big difference is that it is not as COLD.  Brownie, our chocolate lab, does not want to go out, even though I know she has been holding it all day.  You would think since she is a lab she wouldn't mind the water.  But no- she practically tip toes out onto the grass when it is wet out.  Silly roggy!
Of course my car battery is dead so I had to walk to the post office today in this crazy weather.  I have one of those umbrellas made for wind and it is very handy.  Today it met its match.  I thought that any minute I was going to catch air and go off flying like Mary Poppins.  Hubby needed me to mail him things ASAP so I couldn't put off the walk.  He is lucky I love him so much. :)

Today I went on a field trip with Brother's class to a Japanese driving school.  Who knew a driving school could be so entertaining?  It starts off in a classroom and a man in a suit goes up front and starts speaking to us in Japanese.  He starts off with "Ohayou gozaimasu!" (prounounced o-hi-yo go-zi-mas)- meaning good morning.  The children understand and return his greeting.  After that most of us are lost because he continues on in Japanese.  We all just smile and nod- or in the case of some of the children- stare at him with a blank face.  In spite of the language barrier we all enjoyed it.  The local police are there to teach the children about bicycle safety and the rules of the road so to speak.  Except the "rules" are referred to as "promises" and traffic violations are called "traffic violence".  I think the kids knew what they meant?  The good thing is that the Japanese are all too ready to laugh when they mess up.  I think it is out of nervousness or embarassment- but it really difuses the situation.  One police officer who only knew enough English to tell us that he does not speak English had no trouble explaining traffic lights and how to perform a safety check on a bicycle.  In fact he is quite entertaining and there are many smiles and laughter.
Down one flight (we were on the third floor), we all gathered in front of the large window to watch a demonstration with a dummy and a bus.  At one point the bus hits the dummy (who was standing waaay to close to the bus when it was trying to turn).  The children thought that was very hilarious.

The best part of the trip- in my opinion- was lunch.  They served us bento boxes for lunch.  They weren't the pretty laquered bento boxes but rather plastic take out style bento boxes with a lid- including chopsticks and the cutest little bottle of soy sauce.  Brother LOVED the food.  We didn't know what half of it was, but it was good I have to agree.  Bento boxes are the BOMB.  We had fried chicken, salmon on rice, some kind of yummy egg custard, a mini hotdog, some kind of yellow crunchy pickled cucumber, a salted plum on top of rice, flaky fishy stuff on rice and then there was the weird kind of jelly that smelled like ramen?  I didn't eat all of that one.  There were a couple of other foods included that I don't know how to begin to describe except to say they were good.

we'll just call it yummy

Did I mention that Brother LOVED it?

As we left the employees all came out and waved goodbye.  The followed us outside when we boarded the buses and waved goodbye to us once more.  I wish I had a picture of that. 
After all the talk about wheel differential- we almost hit a truck trying to make a right turn (remember we drive on the left side here).  Somehow the bus and truck driver managed to squeak by with maybe an inch between them.  I would have been surprised had I not seen this before.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Oh Brother...

This time last year Hubby and I had a conference with Brother's teacher.  We found out that he was was not turning in his homework and basically had all Fs at that time.  It took a lot of grounding and other rewards and punishments before he turned around and changed his tune.  He even made the honor roll later that year. 
So you can imagine the deja vu I felt when Brother's teacher asked to talk to us.  Guess what, he is getting all Fs again.  He is not turning in assignments and not doing his homework.  I should have seen it coming really.  I never saw him bring anything home.  I didn't understand why my 2nd grader had more homework than my 5th grader. 
In reality I think poor Brother is just lost in the big 5th grade world he has encountered.  It is a new school, new country and a new ball game.  He is naturally shy and very reserved.  He does not handle change well.  Not one bit.  He started off the school year with stomach aches.  We had to pick him up twice from school because the nurse said he was throwing up.  He has not contracted the flu or any virus- it is his nerves.  And for the record- I don't think he really threw up.  Once he got home he felt better about the time his friends got out of school.  Very convenient eh?
What to do?  I can't be there at school with him to hold his hand.  He has to learn to take initiative- how do you teach that?  The other issue is his self esteem- he is low in that area.  We do what we can to build his self esteem- to take pride in himself and also to stand up for himself.  But it remains a big problem with him.
Honestly the kid does not like school.  He thinks it is "boring" and would rather be out playing.  He does not like to do anything that is "boring" to him- this includes chores at home.  How can I help him to like school and to understand that we all have to work before we play?  I am at such a loss!
Speaking to one of teachers last week I almost started to bawl right in front of her.  I am so stressed out about it all- last week I felt like the Hunchback of Notre Dame- my back and neck were tied up in a knot.  I can ground him until he is 30- but in the long run that is not going to work.  I have to find a way to motivate him!   Help!!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Crossing the border

I was thinking today how big of a deal it has been for us to go "off-base".  I mean, it is a totally different scene once you walk through the security gate.  Before I walk through, I double check to make sure I have my ID- my assurance that I can come back across.  It occured to me that going "off-base" is kind of like crossing the border.  Our base is a little self-contained city.  yes, we are on foreign soil, but everything has been done to make this feel more like "back home"- we even have McDonalds.  Most everyone here speaks English, and all of the signs are in English.
Once you pass through the gate- it is a different story.  Funny how much difference a few feet can make huh?  It feels like you just went from one country to the next.  Some people will spend their whole time on base- only to venture off base when absolutely necessary.  I admit I was hesitant to venture out at first.  But I do think if we had a better sponsor to show us around- it would not have been so scary.  I can't imagine NEVER wanting to go out however.  What is the point of even coming here?  I know if I don't go do and see as much as possible here, I will have huge regrets down the line.
I see the term "crossing the border" as a sort of analogy for stepping out of one's comfort zone and experiencing new things. 

I have to sign off now- the kids and I are going to go "cross the border"- Brother wants to use the camera I just gave him.  Maybe we will hit up the 100 Yen store too, see what flavor of Kit Kats they have today.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Wednesday Words of Advice

If you teach your children the proper names for their private parts- be prepared for embarassment.

About two years ago Sister was having accidents at daycare so her teacher called me to tell me she suspected a bladder infection.  So I called the doctor and made an appointment.  I then called the daycare teacher back to tell her I would be picking up Sister in a couple of hours.  Sister was assured by her teacher that I would pick her up soon and take her to the doctor so the doctor could make her feel better.
A little while later, the daycare teacher's assistant arrived while the children were all outside playing.  Sister spotted her across the yard and proceeded to yell, in her loudest voice:
"Hey Jen, my mom's coming to pick me up to take me to the doctor so he can fix my vagina!"  And if that wasn't enough- Jen didn't hear what she said and asked her to repeat it- before the teacher could cut her off.  Sister repeated the whole thing.  Oh dear.
Sister and I had a little talk later that day- not everyone wants to know what's going on with our body- so we will keep it between us.  And that worked for a while, until she decided to talk about "it" in the grocery store one day...

If you would like to see more words of advice- check out Willowjak's Blog.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What freaks me out

Today I had a few "freak-out" moments.  Ok I admit it, I am high-strung at times.  But when something sets me on edge I have a hard time shaking it.  One of the things that freaked me out today was when I dropped my iPhone.  It bounced. Twice- and the sim card popped out.  When I put it all back together it was telling me "no service".  I thought for sure I had broken my iPhone- which by the way is my only phone as we don't have a house phone.  And- I was across town with a car that was sounding like it wanted to die. 
I walked across the street to the cell phone store (at least I dropped my phone in a convenient place).  I handed the phone to the polite Japanese girl and told her what happened.  So she starts fiddling with the phone wearing a very concerned look on her face (at least that is what I interpreted that look to be).  It turns out she was checking out her cuticles.  And voila!- she got it to work again.  I wanted to hug and kiss her- but that would probably "freak" her out.

Here is my top ten list of things that freak me out.  This is not the same as things that scare me- the things that scare me include losing my family, getting in a horrible car crash- legitimate fears that I am sure I share with a majority of the population. 

These are things that cause me to go into panic mode.  Usually it's all internal, but everyone once in a while people can tell I am freaking out. ;)

1. When my car sounds like it is going to die on me in the middle of traffic.  It did that today- on a hill.  You know- that little sputter thing that cars do when they want to just take a nap right there on the spot.

2. When animals run across the road while I am driving.  I hit a cat once- I felt so bad.  I tried to find the poor thing- and almost got hit myself in the process.  I avoided that road for a long time after that.  Hubby has been angered more than once when driving and a cute bunny rabbit hops across the road- and I freak out like we are about to slam into a large semi.

3. Running late to the airport.  I hate that feeling that I am going to miss a flight and possibly ruin a trip I am about to take.  I am one of those people that likes to get to the airport like a day in advance- to be on the safe side.

4. Thinking I lost something- like my wallet or car keys.  This is especially true now that I live in a foreign country.

5. When the phone rings at 2 am.  No one calls at that time in the morning with happy news...  Unless of course they have a wrong number.  I have a hard time going back to sleep after that happens.

6. When a major household appliance does not work.  This is especially true of of our house back in Washington that we are renting out.  I got an email early this morning saying they (the renters) were having trouble getting the heat to come on.  Turns out it was just a light switch that needed to be flipped up.  I was convinced we were going to have to buy a new furnace.  (That still could happen so I will knock on wood.)

7. Thinking that I made someone mad at me.  I am very sensitive to people's moods.  So if someone is having a bad day I automatically think it has to do with me.  (Because it is ALL about ME, right?)  This true for hubby too.  I start feeling bad about something I didn't know I did or didn't do- just based on his bad mood or if he is too quiet.

8. When I have a wardrobe mishap- just before I am about to go somewhere.  I had a beautiful silk dress I bought at Macy's before we came here.  I meant to wear it to the Khaki Ball.  I should have taken it to the cleaners to steam out the wrinkles for me.  I tried ironing the day of the event- only to get a huge water spot on it.  So I had to wear something else.  I was so distraught that I didn't even want to go the event- even though I was the one who insisted Hubby get us tickets.  (I did have a good time that night inspite of myself.)

9. When my computer acts up on me.  This applies to technology in general.  I get so upset thinking about all the money spent- only to have the damn thing not work. GRRRR

10. MOVING.  It is stressful- that is a given.  But so many aspects of it just send me on a whirlwind of freak-outs.  Read my posts about getting a passport- there is a good example.  My co-workers got to see me freak out every time I called those damn people in the passport office.  I was completely over the top freaked out that I wasn't going to get a passport- therefore not be able to move to Japan- therefore not be able to see Hubby for a long long time.  DOUBLE GRRRR

I think that is it, it should be, well maybe I could add a few more things, or a lot more...  I told you I am high-strung didn't I?

What freaks you out?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sweet Potato Digging

Sister just joined Girl Scouts this year. Today we had the lovely opportunity to pick sweet potatoes with a group of Japanese Girl Scouts- I think they are actually called "Girl Guides".
We had a chaotic start.  It is hard enough to navigate through the train stations and even harder with a large group.  You can bet we were quite the sight.  The locals were surrounded by loud boisterous American girls.  After getting on and off I would say two too many trains- we arrived at Kurokowa.  I must mention that my train map shown below is like my Bible for navigating my way through this crazy tangled web of train lines.  Now I just need a map for every train station so I can find the way to right train line when I need to transfer.  That is wishful thinking of course.

I never leave home without my train map

Our Girl Guides met us outside the train station and they led the way to the farm where we would dig for sweet potatoes.  Tokyo really is a concrete jungle- you would think you would have to travel out to the country to find any agriculture.  One simple turn around the corner we see up ahead green hills, small green hills.  When we get to the top we find a good size field, or I should say fields.  It reminds me of the berry farms in Washington where you pick your own fruit.  Here they had peanuts and sweet potatoes.  There were other fields- but I am not sure what was growing there.  I wouldn't have know about the peanuts- but Sister saw a group pulling big green plants out of the ground.  Dangling underneath them were peanuts- very cool.  So our girls all got to pick a root and start digging.

Sister dug up three very large sweet potatoes.  I actually think they are more like yams- they are longer than sweet potatoes I think.  We are going to attempt making sweet potato pie with it.  After a group picture we all said thank you to the farmers- "Arigato Gozaimasu!"  The farmers bowed in return and gave us big smiles- I just love that.

     The Girl Guides are in blue with the cute blue hats.

After another uphill hike- we arrived at a community center where we would eat lunch.  They served us something called nagashi soumen- "floating noodles".  The girls loved this.  What they do is take bamboo (cut in half  to make a spout) up on a stand and run water through it.  At the end is a bowl with a strainer in it.  Then they take the soumen noodles and drop them in the water.  The object of the "game" is to catch the noodles with your chopcticks before they float away (hence the bowl at the end to catch them.)  Then you put them in your bowl that has a sort of soy sauce broth in it along with thinly sliced onions.  It is quite tasty.  Sister became a pro at it.  In fact she went back for more and came back with a huge bowl full of noodles- much to my chagrin.  When my turn came up the ladies also dropped cherry tomatoes in with the noodles- making it more challenging. I am proud to say I use my chopsticks very well.

After lunch the girls exchanged "swaps" (little cards the girls decorated) and then did a craft together.

Demonstrating the craft
When it was time to go- the Girl Guides made a tunnel for our girls to walk through- saying "goodbye!".  Once we were assembled on the other side we sang to them- "Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other's gold."  It is a Girl Scout song I remember from when I was a Girl Scout myself.  The Girl Guides surprised us by singing the same song back to us- but in Japanese.  There are no words for how that made me feel.  It was so heartfelt and genuine.  I have a soft spot in my heart for them.  I hope Sister remembers what a special moment that was- if not I will have to remind her.

the "tunnel" they made for us to walk through

I am falling in love with this country.  It makes me sad to think we will have to leave eventually.  Maybe I will be ready to go once that times comes- but for now I am going to enjoy it all I can.