Saturday, June 21, 2008

Showa Kinen Park

On Friday, two students from my Wednesday class, Yaeko and Miyako took me to Showa Park. Yaeko is a photographer and her good friend Kiyoko was the first tour guide at Showa Park and has been guiding tours there for 9 years. She met us at the park and spent the entire day showing the three of us around. It was an awesome day! Kiyoko knows every inch of the park and took us to all sorts of cool spots off the beaten path. The park is massive, even after 7 hours we only covered about 1/2 of it!! Parks are another thing the Japanese do so right! I've made a plan to visit as many parks in the Tokyo area as possible this summer with the kids. (They didn't come today).

There are lots of different themed areas in Showa Park, like the Children's Forest and Japanese Gardens, and there's a huge water park area called Rainbow Pool. We had such a great time just wandering around the park snapping pictures of anything and everything we saw. I took a crapload! Over 140!!! I uploaded some to Flickr if you want to check them out.




Me in the Japanese garden



I've gained about 20 lbs since we got here last August, tack that on to the 30 I never lost after Ethan was born and you've got yourself one fluffy mama! Because of that I've really resisted having my picture taken, but I realized while we were at the park that I don't want to leave Japan with no photographic memories of all the amazing things I'm getting to experience, so I handed over my camera several times during this trip. **Note: Since Otis has been gone (he's TDY for 3 weeks) I've made radical changes to my diet and have been excersicing everyday, including 3 days at the gym. Granted he's only been gone 8 days, but I've been consistent all 8 of those days, which is about a 7-day improvement over my ususal weight loss kicks!! I've already lost 6 lbs!!

This is the Bonsai Master and sensei at Showa Park; at one time he tended the bonsai at the Imperial Palace! Now he's here and also does a show on TV teaching how to create and care for bonsai trees. Anytime I ask a Japanese person if I can take their picture, they always insist that I be in it too. Being photo-resistant like I have been it usually bothers me, but I know one day I'll be happy that I obliged.


This display shows the progression of a bonsai tree begining at 3 years old on the far right, ending at 45 years old.


While in the Japanese garden we stopped for tea. Above is a traditional tea sweet called natsugoromo, or "summer dress". It's a red, bean paste ball wrapped in a rice gelatin thingy. Contrary to my typical, close mindedness culinary preference and thoroughly unadventerous palate, I've really been trying to expand my cuisine experiences while I'm here. I've tried more new (and often unidentifiable) food in the 10 months that I've been here than I have in last 20 years of my life (I know, that's incredibly sad). That being said, I'm sorry, but this was so yucky!

It's pretty safe to say that matcha (green tea) is the national drink of Japan. Everyone loves it, you can buy it any and everywhere, and there's a green tea flavor of just about anything edible you can think of, gum and ice cream to KitKats. I sample it in every form I find, hoping I'll stumble on one I can tolerate, but again, eeeeewwww! I just can't understand the appeal!But I choked down both my snack and tea with a smile and repeated exclamations of "Oishii !!!"


This is the view of Tachikawa from the highest point in the park, at the top of a big hill.


This is the hike down the back side of the hill.


It's so hard to believe that all this is smack-dab in the middle of the bustling city, and only a 15 minute drive from my house! I'm planning to go back often so I'm going to buy a 1-year pass, which is about $40.

Ethan's on top of the World!

Just a few cute pictures of Ethan from the mall on Thursday night. This map of the world is in the floor and lit from underneath. It's so incredibly rare for him to look directly at the camera, and even more rare that he'll actually smile that I just had to post these. They're a little dark, you can thank my crappy new camera, I can't take a decent picture with it to save my life!!

Happy Hotaru

On Thursday night, two of students from my Thursday class, Hamuri and Satoko, took me and the kids to see hotaru, fireflies. There are several places near the base where they breed, around cute little streams, it was really beautiful. It's probably been 15 years or more since I've seen fireflies and it was the first time ever for Ethan. He was a little afraid at first, but pretty soon he and Satoko were running along the stream trying to catch one. They told us there was a Firefly festival in Fussa last weekend, we hadn't heard anything about it, but I've already marked on the calendar for next summer!



After the fireflies we went to Saty mall in Hino City for ice cream at Baskins Robbins. Malls in Japan stay open until 10p or 11p every night. Harumi's daughter Ayumi (in black in the middle) came along to translate because Harumi and Satoko get nervous about their English. Ayumi just returned from attending college in Seattle and San Fransico for 2 years, her English is flawless, she doesn't even have an accent.

They have some really different flavors at Baskin Robbins here (I hear a lot of Japanese people just calling it "31") like Pink Grapefruit Sorbet & Cream, Blueberry Panna Cotta (Panna Cotta is a creamy, Italian dessert) and Dainagon Azuki. Azuki is a very popular sweet, red bean that's used for lots of desserts, I think it's yucky (surprise, surprise). I had double chocolate cheesecake, yummy! But no Chocolate n' Peanutbutter, my all time fave. I wonder if they have regional flavors like we do in the States?

It was a fun night, and a nice change of pace, staying out until 10:30 on a Thursday night.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Last weekend we took the kids to Summerland, an indoor/outdoor water/amusement park. I went to Summerland as a kid 30 years ago and I was so excited when we got here and found out it was still open!! There have been lots of renovations of course, but a lot of it is still the same and it's still as fun as I remember!

Below is a map of the whole park. To the left of center you can see the outline of a square around the pool with white wavey lines, that's the indoor section.

Inside is a huge wave pool and two slides. There are a few amusements rides inside as well: a pirate haunted house ride, house of mirrors. There was a big roller coaster inside when I was a kid, but it's not there anymore.

Behind the wave pool and slides are two kiddie areas with wading pools and smaller slides. Ethan is terrified of any water outside of the bathtub, it took lots of cohersion (and a little bribery) to get him to go down this very small, slow slide, and he clung to the side, inching his way cautiously down.

This is Gabi and Meg on the Flush Dance.

Gabi at the base of the huge ferris wheel. At night when this ferris wheel it lit up, we can see it from the top of the parking garage on base.

Otis, Gabi and Ethan on the ferris wheel.

The view from the tippy-top of the ferris wheel. In the very center you can just barely make out a few of the tower apartments on the main side of the base.

Here's Megan and a two of her friends on the pirate ship ride, Gabi and I sat on the opposite end. There was a group of Japanese boys in the seat in front of us, one of them saw Meg with her hands up and decided to challenge her to a test of wills, Meg whooped his butt! As the ship hit its highest point, he was gripping the bar and screaming like a girl, but MY girl kept her hands up the entire time! She's fearless on rides, she'll ride the biggest, scariest coaster in any park......but can't sleep without a nightlight!!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

When?!?!?! WHEN?!?!?!?!

We are STILL trying to potty train Ethan. He just as absolutely no interest. He knows full well how and when to go, he just refuses to do it!!! His newest bit:

Me: Ethan, do you need to go potty?
Ethan: Um, no thanks mom.
Me: Ethan, you need to go potty!
Ethan: Moooommyy! I SAID "NO THANK YOU!"
Me: Ethan, it's time to go potty.
Ethan: I can't right now, my crinkle is taking a nap.
(crinkle is our word for his you-know-what)
Both girls were potty trained within a month or two of their 2nd birthdays, Ethan is now 4 months past his 3rd birthday!!

Testing, testing (and cute kids)

I needed to test out my new camera (an Olympus Stylus 1010, I don't like it) and Mo-mo (as Ethan has started calling my mother) wanted some new pix of the kids to take to a family reunion next week, so we went over to the Officers' Club where there's a really pretty Japanese rock garden and took some pictures. As usual, Ethan was completely uncooperative and out of 42 shots, only 6 or 7 were decent.

A day at the gakuen

Today was Observation Day at Ethan's school. It was really fun to see some of what his days are like. It was only half a day, but it gave me a pretty good idea of what he does and how he's adjusting. Sometimes he still seems a bit lost, but he's teacher is so sweet and loving, Ethan adores her and she tries really hard to keep him involved and included in everything that goes on, difficult enough with a room full of 3 year olds, factor in that neither of them speak the other's language and she's doing a wonderful job!

As each bus load of kids arrive, they line up to greet the teacher before heading to their class to unpack their backpacks.

Ethan and Aya Sensei. Her first name is Aya, Sensei means teacher. Ethan's wearing his summer hat and smock, they changed from the winter uniform on June 2. (He's still trying to master the "peace" fingers).

The kids arrive at 9:00 and get to play on the playground for an hour. Then they line up by class (each class has it's own hat color) for morning excercise. Ethan's class is the orange hat, he's to the left of their flag, the 2nd kid in line, in the green striped shirt.

Taking attendance. Sensei says "Chesoonato, Isaynkoon" (phonetically). Girls are called chan, as in Gabi-chan, boys are kun, Ethan-kun


Getting ready to go home.

The school is perched right on top of a big hill, there's a long, steep staircase leading down to the parking lot at the bottom of the hill.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Congratulations Scooter and Hootie Whopper, Love George Dubyah

My baby girls graduated today! Gabi is moving on to high school next year (to her Aunt Debbie's alma mater) and Meg moves up to middle school. Luckily I made it to both graduation ceremonies; we weren't notified ahead of time, but BOTH girls earned the Presidential Award for Educational Excellence!!! The criteria for the award is to have at least a 3.5 GPA, Gabi has a 3.8, or at least a 90 on the 100 grade scale, Meg has a 94 and scoring in at least the top 85% nationwide on the standardized tests, Gabi scored in the 96%, Meg in the 93%.
I'm so proud of both of them!!!
They're both so smart and are turning into beautiful young women. I can brag because I don't any take credit for how well they're turning out! I was an average student who hated school (I tried to drop out in my senior year!) and don't have an athletic bone in my entire body, I have no clue where their talents and drive come from, but it's obviously not genetic!

Congratulations Scooter and Big Hootie!! I love you!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Watashi wa daigaku gakusei desu

I've enrolled in Japanese I at the University of Maryland (there's a satellite branch on base) and tonight was my first class. We learned about making introductions and started learning Hiragana characters.

We worked on the Japanese vowels, which are the same ones as in English but the pronunciations are: (a) as in father, (e) bed, (i) see, (o) old, (u) tool. Many Japanese words are spelled the same, but actually have different vowel lengths when pronounced, which changes the meaning of the word. I have absolutely no idea how to explain this more clearly, so I'll just give you some examples: biru (hold the i sound for one beat) means building, but biru (hold the i for two beats) is beer. Both are pronounced "beeroo", you just hold the i longer in the second word. Chizu is map, chizu with the longer i is cheese. On a stupidly funny note: husband is shijun, prisoner is shijun with the longer i !!! When writting these words in romaji (basically writting with the English alphabet) the long vowel is either written as double letters: biiru or more commonly as a vowel with the little line (macron) over the top, the way we usually signify a long vowel in English.