Friday, December 19, 2014

Has it really been 6 weeks...?!

OK, OK, first off, an apology to my grandmother... I did not mean to not blog for as long as I did. I keep forgetting that not everyone I know is on Facebook. How does one live in today's world without Facebook? Except for my grandmother, who, let's face it, at 93, is not expected to make the social media plunge. Seriously, the woman survived a bunch of wars, the birth of television and 16 different presidential eras. Facebook is not required.

However, if you were born after the Harding administration and aren't on Facebook, don't get mad because I haven't posted here. Especially if you tell me that you aren't on Facebook because of the "drama." The reason you have drama on your Facebook page is because of the friends you have chosen to add to it. Choose your friends more wisely.

So, if you are Facebook friends with me, you know I have been busy. Very busy. I have three jobs and two volunteer posts, and Fall is only less busy than Spring, so "#I'm sorry not sorry" for blogging. Except to my grandmother... to you, Grandma, I am genuinely sorry. Hopefully Mom is keeping you in the loop and sharing photos from Facebook. If not, here are some highlights from my Fall in Iwakuni, with some helpful hints to people who may be getting stationed in Iwakuni soon:

1) Military Spouse Events are Popular... for reals.

Seriously, I have never been to more squadron/unit/spouse/girls night events than I have been in Iwakuni in the past 6 weeks. I think it's because there is a language barrier once you set foot outside of base and it's tough to make friends. So many MCAS Iwakuni spouses, such as myself, who avoided other military spouses like the plague before because of the ahem, "drama," have learned to either 1) join the drama and revel in it, or 2) find some fun, less dramatic people to hang out with. I am a proponent of option #2. Either way, the holidays seem to bring out the sense of camaraderie in almost everyone and I have mingled with lots of spouses. Take a look:







Some of the events were for pure fun, some I worked at, helping the ladies make holiday ornaments. Either way, there was a lot of food, fun and festivities and the people who were there were great. I managed to go to 15 different spouse events since Nov. 20... and not one hair got pulled or cheek got slapped. I'd say that's a success all around. I've met some amazing women here... I never thought I would say that. So, those of you planning to PCS to Iwakuni, realize there are plenty of enjoyable people here. You just have to be open to finding them.

2) If you RSVP, for God's sake, show up

Yes, this is a dead horse that has already been beaten severely in blogs, columns and sewing circles the world over. But, I have seen it really mess up some events up this season and I felt I should mention it. If you RSVP that you are coming to an event, move mountains to show up, especially if it is an hour before the event. 1) No one will think you are a bad mother if you hire a sitter for the kids because your husband might run late at work. 2) Trust me, husbands are very resourceful with sick toddlers if they have no other choice. Sink or swim, people, and if he's a Marine, it's his job to persevere and read cold medicine labels. If he can't do that, how is he going to find an insurgent in a haystack? 3) If you aren't going to make it to the event because it's kinda rainy outside and you don't want to have to change out of your comfy pants, suck it up. Wear the comfy pants or trade them for jeans... no one cares. But someone did plan for you to come with your potluck item... and guess what? You're not the only one who committed to come to the event and then didn't follow through because the comfy pants won. Remember that. And, on the flip side, if you were supposed to RSVP for an event where you know there is a limited supply of something, don't show up. It's rude and you're taking away from someone else who did what they were supposed to do: take 60 seconds out of one of their days to RSVP. So, please, think of others and follow through on your commitments. Sick children are almost everyone's excuse... it's gotten eye roll status in some circles already. One family has already "had the sniffles" 16 times since Dec. 1. Just kidding, but you know what I mean. And don't give me the song and dance about people who are really sick. I am not talking about them.

3) Lots of people are buying good cameras, despite Apple trying to make iPhone cameras amazing




I have taught 5 different photography workshops since I last blogged. I love that so many people are taking an interest in photography and are really trying to capture great memories of this unique time in their lives - living in Japan. If you want to check out their work, it's all on my business blog. It's been incredibly rewarding watching these budding photographers' skills take off.

4) There's lots to do this time of year

While most Japanese don't celebrate the religious aspect of Christmas, they still love the sentiment of season. And MCAS Iwakuni does try to keep it festive, knowing that a lot of people are really missing family and friends this time of year. Here is a sampling:

In November, until about Thanksgiving, the leaves in Momijidani Park on the island of Miyajima are ablaze with color. It is a fabulous time to go capture the beauty of the island.
Peace Boulevard (I have no idea if that is the real name or not) in Hiroshima, near (surprise!) Peace Park, has three blocks of holiday illuminations through the beginning of January. Here I am as who I think is Princess Elsa from Frozen. "Dreamination" is definitely something to see each year.

MCCS Iwakuni puts on the Jingle Bell Jog the Friday before the kids' winter break. People of all ages dress up festively and the run or walk around the base... and then follow it up with free lunch, games and crafts provided by the base.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, the large cypress (I have no idea what breed of tree it is, just guessing) next to the commissary is lit for the first time. This is the only photo I have from the event because I was selling ornaments and other goodies. Plus, I don't want to ruin it for the people PCSing here. It's fun, there is caroling, plus free food and prizes.
There are tons of ways to volunteer and give back, from orphanage visits, to barracks cookie drops, to Santa events for kids. This is the spouse volunteering at the base thrift store to raise money for toys for Japanese orphans.
You learn how to decorate your tiny home for the holidays with the fraction of the stuff you own because you are only allowed so many pounds of stuff when you PCS overseas and the spouse says you cannot take all of your holiday decorations. And you may or may not find replacement items at the exchange and Diasos.

You keep important family holiday traditions alive... like adding a new ornament to the tree every year.

Packages!!! Those of us overseas live for the packages sent from home... especially when they have t-shirts with deer hunting references or homemade chocolate candy. Packages must be sent priority by Dec. 10 or so each year to get to us in time. I feel really sorry for the Marines who have postal duty. I have seen more than one person "go postal" on them when a package did not arrive on time. Merry f$%7ing Christmas!
You can get your kid or spouse hypnotized. There is a hypnotist who comes to Iwakuni every year at the end of November/beginning of December. Last year I got hypnotized. This time is was Will's turn. There is a family show and an adult show.... definitely fun to watch, with no lasting effects, as far as I can tell...

If you work from home, you get to enjoy the first snow of the season from the warmth of your home...complete with comfy pants. But expect expressways to shut down, which makes the surface streets, like Route 2 for those familiar with the area, come to a screeching halt because all of the expressway traffic starts using them. Some friends were stuck for 8 hours trying to go what would usually take an hour and half. Again, I stayed home in my comfy pants and edited photos.

5) You get a damn elf

OK, I thought I had managed to dodge the Elf on the Shelf craze... my kids are 8 and 12 and about to expire on the whole belief thing. Or so I thought. When I came home with an elf and 8-year-old Xan saw it, he was thrilled. "I'm the only one in my class who doesn't have an elf! Do we get to keep him?!" I explained that this one was a gift for another child... and I thought my youngest was going to cry. He went to bed that night and guilt ate at me for a good hour or two. I finally caved in and let the elf stay. I keep my begrudging attitude about it because if I changed my attitude, the kid would suspect something. So... our elf, named by Xan as "Spike" because of his "spiked" collar, has gotten creative with his shenanigans thus far. Here is how he introduced himself:

Please note that he "busted" out of the front of his box. It's hard to see.

"Fine," I told Xan when he came home from school that afternoon. "He can stay, but you have to read the instruction manual he came with."
"OK!" Xan said, and the kid who hates to read grabbed the manual and sat down to read it.


"Mom, this is a story, not an instruction manual," he informed me.
"Oh, OK, whatever. Does it say what the rules are?"
"Yes."
"Then I say it's an instruction manual."
"Well, just don't touch him. EVER."
"Fine. Make sure you tell you father. He might screw up."
"Can I call him now?"
"Sure. Call him at work."

So, that night Spike went ziplining through the living room.


Then he pooped chocolate. Gross.


Then Spike drank margaritas while he read a book the boys bought for me this summer. Probably not age appropriate, but that's my, er, Spike's, sense of humor and the kids found it amusing.


Then he got excited when the first snow hit and modeled after Xan.... in Bisquick, which won't come out of his suit. He got dirty, so...


Xan wrote him a note demanding he take a bath, so Spike complied


And by this time, Spike was hungry and wanted to be a part of the family "eating" collage we have in the living room.


Of course, Spike was the inspiration for a school Spirit Week costume for the older child:


Other than realizing once at 1 a.m. that Spike hadn't moved yet, this has been an excellent way to get the sarcastic creative juices flowing. I may continue this through the boys' teenage and college years just to embarrass them when their friends come over. I need to look up inappropriate Elf on the Shelf situations on Pinterest in preparation...


6) Life's incredibly busy, but try to stop and enjoy it

We had family photos taken this year, all dressed up. They will be posted soon... once Christmas gifts have been opened in the States.

You get to fight with your cat over which Christmas ornaments are hers (none!)
You get to fight with your cat over whose warm husband is hers on a cold day (none!)


Thanks to my fabulous photography clients, I was able to upgrade my camera, and the spouse gave me a camera strap that is more friendly to women. I'm having fun playing with my new "toys."

Don't worry if you are too busy to cook... Italian night on Mondays and Mongolian night on Wednesdays give easy, healthy options. And if you guess the weight of your Mongolian food correctly, you eat free... like these two did one night! Got to save some money for extra stocking stuffers! ;)
So, that's been my six weeks in a nutshell... thanks for staying patient and understanding for the lack of posts... I already have more blog posts ready to go, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The joy of mikan picking and large spiders

So, our family has enjoyed the wonders of Suo-Oshima on several occasions... some of which I have blogged about (click here for the search and scroll down to read the posts in order). We did something new today that can only be done during the fall... and that only one member of the family had done before: mikan picking.


Mikans are small Japanese citrus fruit, something between a tangerine and an orange. The whole family thinks they are delicious, so having a bunch of them around the house... doesn't remain and bunch of them for long. I thought it would be fun to pick mikans as a family.

Quick directions: Oshima is off of route 188, as you head west from Iwakuni toward Yanai. The bridge is about 45 minutes away from base. After you drive across the green Oshima bridge, turn right, on to Route 4. Not too far down the road, on the left, are flags like this:


Turn left there and wind your way up the hill. When you see this, you know you are on the right track:


When you come upon this building:


... park somewhere close. This is where you pay and get the necessary tools to pick mikans.

All-you-can eat mikan picking is 500 yen (about $5) for adults, 400 yen for school-age kids 1-6th grade, I can't remember the price for kindergarteners (sorry) and kids under 3 were free. If you want a bag to take home that carries about 12 mikans, it is 800 yen.

You get the clipper rental for free.


So, 8-year-old Xan had gone mikan picking on field trips the past couple of years, so he was the resident expert. He showed up how to clip the mikans properly.


And then we commenced clipping.



And eating...




They lost money on Xan, I think. He ate the most in our family: 5 large mikans. Will at 3 and I ate 4.
Except for Rodney, who chose not to eat all he could eat, and chose to fill our take-home bags instead... while the rest of us ran around, stuffing our faces with sweet, juicy goodness.



There were even plastic crates all over the orchard to toss our peels in to:


All was fun and games until the spouse saw a large spider in a large spider web in the trees.



Then it was time to grab our mikans and go home, I was informed. But the kids and I did manage to frolic and have fun while the arachnophobe marveled at how I managed to walk past spiders without shrieking like a...well, girl. Seriously... he asked me how I could just walk past a big spider. Um... like this, honey... just don't look it in the eyes or turn your back on it.. okay? But I digress...



Here are shots of the orchard and the view of the sea from the orchard.





Once we were safely away from large spiders who were minding their own business, Rodney got to finally enjoy a mikan. He agreed that they were oishii!