Saturday, January 31, 2009

I did it!!

Thanks to Illahee's inspiration, I decided to try NaBloPoMo. Although I could never hope to reach the bar she set, she did the 365 blog challenge! Blogging every single day for an entire year!!!!! You go girl!
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For those of you who don't know what NaBloPoMo is, from their site: National Blog Posting Month is the epicenter of daily blogging! People who want to set the habit of blogging by doing it every day for a month, including weekends, can come here for moral support, inspiration, and the camaraderie that only marathon blogging can provide.
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And I did it! I posted every day in January! Sometimes more than once a day! Go me!
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Kanagawa - Part Four

After leaving the beach we headed north to Yokohama. Because I'd saved so long for the ski trip, I was able to book us rooms in the most AWESOME hotel! I also got an incredible deal, so even with the price of the hotel and all the souvenirs and meals, we only spent half the money I had saved! Woo hoo!

We stayed at the Pan Pacific, in the Minato Mirai area of Yokohama Bay. It was absolutely spectacular! We had balconies over looking the bay! The hotel is attached to the Queen's Square mall and is directly across the street from Cosmo World amusement park.


Our hotel, as seen from Cosmo Clock 21
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When we arrived at about 7:30p there was a woman playing a baby grand piano, accompanying a another woman who was singing opera in the lobby! I had no idea it was such an upscale place! Needless to say, I felt a little shabby and out-of-place in all that opulance, and wasn't about to drag my ragtag group of kids and thrift store luggage through that lobby, so I checked us in and found a back way from the parking garage to our room! LOL
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All the hotel rooms have doorbells, and instead of the typical Do Not Disturb sign to hang on the door, there was a discreet little light under the doorbell, you just flipped the switch inside the door to turn the light to "privacy" or "make up" to let housekeeping know your preference! The bathroom had a huge bathtub with a seperate walk-in shower.
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MMy piggies enjoying a very long soak. These were the best bubbles I've ever seen!

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This was posted in our bathroom.

I've never seen a notice like this in a hotel room before.

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The next day, while O slept in (as always) the kids and I headed to the ferris wheel. Amazing views! We had hoped to go to China Town, the one in Yokohama is the biggest in Japan, but by the time we left the hotel I was completely exhausted, and we still had a 3 hour drive back home (3 hours, to drive 50 miles!!!!! I'll never get used to that!) so we just headed home.
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We had a really great weekend, a week later and the kids are still talking about it. Ethan asks everyday "Remember when we stayed in that hotel?" "Remember the ferris wheel?"
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View from our balcony
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Cosmo Clock 21
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Landmark Tower
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Friday, January 30, 2009

Dingle Danglies

Cell phone charms are hugely popular in Japan. Every one has at least one charm on their phone and every place imaginable sells phone charms, every retail store, every tourist site, every restaurant, train stations, banks, even the post office, at one time or another every place has sold cell phone charms. Ethan old school even sold charms featuring the school mascot!
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I bought my first charm at the airport when we arrived in Japan, having no idea at the time what it was really even for and no idea how massively popular they were; it was small, cute and cheap, so I just bought it as my first souvenir. Little did I know...
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...that it would soon become an obsession! I love cell phone charms! They're the perfect souvenir, the perfect way to represent all my memories from Japan. I now carry my cell phone in a special cloth bag to protect my danglies and have started buying two of each charm, so that when I get back to the States, I'll be able to decorate my new phone too!
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The funniest thing in the world is to see a businesman, all professional in his dark suit, clutching a briefcase in one hand, and texting on a phone sporting a Pooh Bear charm! Even Otis has been sucked in with a fish charm on his phone!
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The little Lucky Cat, 3rd from the left, was my first charm, the Snoopy on the far right is my newest, I bought it in Yokohama this weekend. My fave is the Spiderman hanging from the lantern.
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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Kanagawa weekend - Part Three

After the Daibutsu, we headed to the beach.

After 8 years in Florida, we're finding that we all really miss the beach, and we hate being landlocked! It's especially difficult knowing that we live on an island!!! But getting to the coast is difficult and takes forever, it's so frustrating!
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We were surprised to see so many surfers out, it was really cold!
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The sunset was in full swing by the time we got there.
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This guy was one of the last surfers to leave the water, all the other surfers were wearing full wetsuits, but he was only wearing swimming trunks!
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The sunset was so beautiful. None of us wanted to leave the beach, but it was soooo cold!

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Big boy, big bowl

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I am ecstatic to report that Ethan's sensei asked me to send a BIGGER bowl to school on udon days! They usually have school-made udon twice a week. Those of you who know E will know what a major triumph this is! For those who don't know him: Ethan doesn't eat. Anything. From the time he was a tiny baby he has had the smallest appetite I've ever seen in a kid. He's not especially picky, no more than a typical American toddler, but he eats like a little bird, just picking and poking at his food, taking tiny bites, it takes him ages to finish a meal, no matter how small it is.
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This is also a huge deal because he doesn't like Japanese food, he really dislikes the bentos they have the other 3 days a week. It took several months for his sensei to stop sending home notes, worried because he wasn't eating any lunch. I think most of that problem is that the food is so strange to him, I've never cooked anything remotely similar to what they serve at school, so fish paste soup and sardine balls aren't very appetizing to him. But in the the last few months, he's really started enjoying udon, no matter what kind/flavor it is. Good job big boy, I'm so proud of you!
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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Kanagawa weekend - Part Two

After leaving Enoshima, we headed to Kamakura to see the Daibutsu, the Grand Buddha, or Big Buddha as many foreigners call him.

Traffic was kind of congested, so it took us about 30 min to get just a few miles up the beach to the temple, but we made it. The kids had no idea what the Big Buddha was and were just expecting, well, a big buddha, not a ginormously, huge Buddha. They were so surprised!
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I have very vague memories of visiting Daibutsu as a kid, I was maybe 6 or 7 years old, but for some reason, images of the Buddha have always symbolized Japan for me, more so than Fuji-san or geisha or any of the other images people usually have of when they think of Japan.

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Otis took the bigger kids inside the buddha bowels while I waited outside with Ethan. It sounds corny and sappy, but I got a little teary-eyed standing there. It was so quiet (E was sleeping), the sun was just begining to set and this odd peace just settled over me, a feeling of comfort and of homecoming and, I don't know....it's weird now that I'm remembering it....
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As with every other place we've visited, I definitely want to go back again without the kids, so I can take my time and really enjoy the peace and history of the temple. Daibutsu is over 700 years old!!!! I knew it was old, but I was thinking 100 - 150, never 700!! The original temple that held the statue was washed away in a tsunami. Amazing.
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Monday, January 26, 2009

My dog has a frog in his throat

Poor Fenni, he stayed at the boarding kennel for 4 days while we were on our trip. He barked so much while he was there that now his doggie "voice" is just a hoarse, kind of croaking sound. The kids thinks it's hilarious and keep hyping him up, trying to get him to bark. I made him a pot of chicken noodle soup, but I guess there's not anything else that really needs to, or can be done for him. It's not any different than a human losing their voice, right?
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Kanagawa weekend - Part One

For the better part of last year I saved, saved, and saved some more, for a ski vacation to Nagano this winter. Although we weren't going to ski, I was planning a stay at a huge ski resort and we were just going to enjoy the snow. Then, the hubster chickened out; he's convinced that the snowy mountain roads are impassable and we'll end up needing to be rescued by a St. Bernard carrying a barrel of sake.
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So, on to plan B. We left here Friday evening heading towards Enoshima. We stopped in Atsugi for the night, just to cut down on the number of consecutive hours spent trapped in the car with the kids. Even though Enoshima is only about 40 miles from here, it's easily a 4 hour drive, especially on the weekends.
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Saturday morning we had b'fast at the McD's on the base (we haven't had McD's b'fast for nearly a year!!!) then drove the remaining 1.5 hrs to the island. The pic in the last post is our approach to the island on the navi.
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>Crossing the bridge to Enoshima

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I had no idea what was on Enoshima, just that it was a small island in Sagami Bay, near Kamakura. I thought it'd be a nice scenic drive around an island before heading to the Big Buddah. Turns out, you can hike to the top of the island to the Enoshima Lighthouse Observatory, and on the backside are some cool caves and tidal pools.

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We parked on the island and headed up through a little street crammed with shops and restaurants to the first shrine. There, we found out that you can take a series of 4 escalators to the top of the island where the lighthouse is, but they're only one-way, you have to walk back down. There are tons of scenic overlook areas along the paths and lots of little shrines and gardens.

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G, M, B and E on the steps of the first shrine

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The kids loved the escalators, I thought they were pretty neat too and we got to the top quickly. There was a small outdoor cafe at the top, so we sat down for a quick bite to eat. Because I didn't realize there was actually anything to do on the island, I didn't plan for us to spend much time there, so we were really in a hurry, the Daibutsu closes at 5:00p and since that was our whole reason for being down there in the first place, we couldn't miss it.
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O enjoying a steaming bowl of ramen on the cafe deck. Check out that view!
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It was a beautiful, clear day, a little chilly, but not too bad, totally perfect for our day. After we finished eating we headed through the gardens and over to the observation tower.

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Looking out towards Kamakura, in the general direction of Tokyo

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Our weekend was off to a great start, but I really wish we'd had more time on the island, it really needs at least 1/2 a day's worth of exploring. We're planning to go back in the late spring or summer when we'll be able to enjoy the water and beach.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Pure exhaustion

We're back from our whirlwind weekend. We had a great time and saw tons of cool stuff, but I'm completely exhausted and have almost 200 pix to edit, so a proper post will have to wait a little while. Until then, here are a few teasers:
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7 & i sandwich

I recently read that Japan has more 7-11 convenience stores than any other country in the world, almost twice as many as the U.S.! Can you believe that? Nearly double the number of stores in a country barely 1/20 the size! Most of them are called 7 & i, which is actually the name of 7-11's parent company; it comes from the combination of 7-11 and Ito Yokado, which is the Japanese company that bought out 7-11. Anyway, there are tons of them in Japan, but I'm sad to report, they don't sell Slurpees or Big Gulps. I miss my Big Gulps so much! When we were on our way to the hospital, in labor with Ethan, I made Otis stop and buy me a Big Gulp!
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7 & i does, however, sell strawberry sandwiches!! And I'm totall addicted to them. It's strawberries, whipped cream and a sweet, creamy, custardy type spread, on plain, white bread. Oishiiii! I love them, I don't know why, maybe because it's something new and is so Japanese? They're so yummy! I've tried making them at home, but it's just not the same.
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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Hello from Atsugi

We made plans for the weekend to visit Enoshima/Kamakura and Yokohama. Last night we came half-way to Enoshima, stopping at the Naval Air Facility in Atsugi for the night.
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This morning we're heading on to E & K to visit Daibutsu, or Big Buddah, then heading up to Yokohama for the night.
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We brought Meg's BFF Brooke with us as well.
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Stay tuned for pix of the trip!
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Kourakuen

Last Thursday (the 15th) my big culture group had its New Year's party. I blogged about the Xmas party, which the Americans hosted, the Japanese side hosted the NY's party.
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We had lunch at a restaurant called Kouraken, as always, check out the website to get the full effect. We always have such a great time in this group. For one thing, it's huge, with nearly 100 members. Because we have so many members, we have a lot of money for entertaining, so that really helps to elevate the fun factor.
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Lunch was great and we were treated to a performance by a dance troupe from Fussa (sorry, I forgot their name). At one point we had a big Japanese conga line going, but since I was in it, I didn't get any pictures. >
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I have a couple of video clips, but I'm having some issues with editing, so they'll have to wait.
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This week, one of my small groups from this big group (there are 6 small groups, A - F, that make up the Yokota-Fussa Friendship Circle, I lead groups B and D. The small groups meet seperately once a month for a cultural activity) is taking a tour of a local sake factory. Woo hoo! Any activity that involves alcohol intake rates very high on my list of fun things to do!



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Friday, January 23, 2009

Shinky

Monday was a holiday for us, MLK's b-day, no school for the girls and O was off work, so I made plans for us to go check out the shinkansen(s) in Tokyo.>
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In the end, O was on call, so he couldn't go, and the girls were less than enthusiastic about spending an hour on the train....to go look at trains. So, it was just me and my sweetie-pie.
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The weather was beautiful, warm and sunny. We set off a little before 12:00 and arrived at Yurakucho station, one stop past Tokyo station. There's a building there that's directly across the street from the station, the Kotsu Kaikan bldg, that has an outdoor deck/patio on the 3rd floor, which is exactly level with the bullet train tracks. We got some Wendy's to-go and headed up to the deck for a picnic. E was beyone excited, when the first "shinky", as he calls them, came past, he fell of the bench in his excitement! It was so cute! But all that excitement made it impossible to get any good pictures. A train came past about every 10 - 15 min, and because they were coming and going from Tokyo station right up the street, they were going slowly so there was plenty of time to take in everything. We had a great time, Ethan was so sad when it was time to go.
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Since we were so close to Tokyo station, I decided we'd walk there to catch the train home, I've been wanting to check out the station for quite awhile, it's massive and is almost 100 years old! It has a beautiful brick exterior, which is very rare here in Japan. When we got to the station, we discovered that there's a major renovation going on, which meant tons of construction, which meant tons of heavy machinery and equipment, which meant one very happy, little boy!
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We hung around outside the station for awhile, watching the construction and a beautiful sunset over Tokyo. Then headed inside to explore the station.
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I had no idea what was in the station and I'm not sure what I was expecting, maybe some historical stuff since it's so old, or maybe just the excitement of a huge, big-city train station. But I sure wasn't expecting what we found!
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First, in the basement we found Tokyo First Street, a shopping mall! Tons of awesome stores, but the most incredible was the Tomica store! Tomy is the Japanese version of Hot Wheels. This was an entire store full of nothing but Tomy stuff. By this point I don't think Ethan could have handled anymore excitement! As with every Japanese toy store, there were tons of products on display, ready to be played with! I snuck a birthday present to the register while E was distracted, then we picked him out a pair of really cool shoes (I haven't gotten a pic yet, but you can kind see them in this one). Amazingly, he was perfectly content picking out just one little car, and left happily when I said it was time to go. I was expecting tears and protests, but I think he was probably a little overwhelmed from all the excitement of the day and was looking forward to getting back home to calm, familiar surroundings; he's very much a homebody, like his papi, and prefers his own house over any other place.


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Ethan in car heaven



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Even though the rest of the family bailed on us, we had a really great day. It was nice to do something fun, just the two of us, I don't get to spend much one-on-one time with my little sweetie pie. But I'm definitely heading back one day soon, by myself, to do some more retail exploration! Next on my list: Shinagawa Station.



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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Grill daddy

Otis is a diehard grill cooker, he loves to cook outside on the grill. We use the grill all year long, regardless of the weather. We've grilled in the rain more times than I can count, last year we even grilled in the snow! During the summer we cook out 3 - 4 meals a week. We grill steaks, pork, chicken, fish, burgers and hotdogs, I've done kebobs a few times, we even grill veggies!
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Last night we did burgers with all the fixins: I had a blue cheese, bacon burger and O had a double, cracked-peppercorn burger with bacon and pepperjack cheese. The kids just had plain old cheese burgers. Oishiiiii!
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This grill, along with the 3 propane tanks we have, was one of the freebies we got from a neighbor who was moving back to the States, they had put it on the curb to be hauled away by the recycle truck! We weren't able to bring our grill when we moved to Japan, so we were ecstactic to get this one, for free no less!

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I just want to pee in peace!

Is that too much to ask? I know this is the plea of every mother with young children, but seriously? My kid will be 15 in May and she still follows me into the bathroom, chattering a mile a minute as I drop trou and ascend the throne. I still have to say "Gabrielle, I'm peeing! Could it wait 20 seconds?" I've tried EVERYTHING over the last 14.75 years to break her of this habit, including making her use the bathroom with the door open, so she can see how it feels not to have any privacy at your most private moments. It didn't help. She has no qualms about other people "sharing" the moment with her. She'll even join me for number 2! It makes no difference to her. (Was that TMI?) And while I'm glad that as she progresses through her teen years she's not embarrassed about bodily...stuff around me and we still have a very open relationship, enough already! Don't join me in the john! I don't need help in the hopper! I don't need YOU in the LOO!
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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Gag me with a yuri!

Back at the begining of November, Otis, Ethan and I spent the night at the New Sanno (yes, I go every chance I get). We had dinner at the hotel in the Emporium restaurant. When we sat down at our table, I was assaulted by the most horrific smell! All through dinner I was complaining "What in the hell is that smell?!?!" "OMG, do you smell that?". Otis claimed he didn't smell anything. Eventually I figured out that it was the huge bouquet of flowers right next to our table. More specifically.....the lilies. Seriously, it was hideous. I guess I've never really smelled a lily, they're beautiful flowers and really nice to look at.....but they reek! It honestly ruined my meal.> >
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Six weeks later was my getaway weekend back to the Sanno, I walked into the lobby and the stink hit me like a brick wall! There they were, right at the entrance to the hotel, a huge bouquet of lilies! They funked up the entire lobby. Damn it!
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Later that night, as I exited the elevator at Tokyo City View, I was nearly knocked unconsious by stench that greeted me. This time, I knew exactly what it was, but I was totally unprepared for what I found as I rounded the corner .....
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........a 12 foot tall Xmas tree.....made entirely of lilies!!!!!!


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i heart faces - Week 2

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OMG! Look at that hair!
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For this week's entry in i ♥ faces I dug back a little to this pic of Ethan, taken about 2 weeks before his 1st b-day. In this pic he's exactly one year younger than the pic from last week, almost to the day. Can you believe how much he changed in just one year?!?! How I miss the days when he'd smile so sweetly for the camera! Now, he either refuses to smile at all, or gives me that cheesy, fake grin that makes him look constipated!

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Tons of adorable mugs this week!

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Sisters

Most of the time, Gabrielle, in all her high-school glory, is much too cool to be seen with her totally uncool, junior-high-schooler little sister. They have less than nothing in common any more. Meg still loves playing outside, playing with her Bratz dolls, watching cartoons, while Gabi spends nearly every spare minute on the internet or on the phone with her friends.
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But every once in a while Megan can convince her to play a game on the Wii, or jump on the trampoline (usually when Gabi's friends are busy and she has nothing better to do). Meg doesn't care what the reason is, she'll take any scrap of attention she can get from her Sissy.

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Yes, they put the dog on the trampoline. He loves it.
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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Stamp card dinner

We usually get take-out for dinner two Fridays a month, just a little treat for making in through the previous two weeks, and a break from the kitchen for me. If the kids have been especially good, I let them choose whatever they want for dinner.

Every food establishment on the base has some sort of point/stamp card program to earn free food and I built up quite a collection. The girls also earn coupon booklets from school if they make the A/B honor roll, it has lots of coupons for free things, like a free kid's meal from BK, free movie admission, etc. We decided to redeem everything this past Friday.
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The bottom card is the best, it's good at all the Services dining facilities (listed on the bottom of the card) and once it's filled is worth $10.95 toward any food purchase.

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We fed the whole family for FREE!
The girls all-time favorite food is fried mozerella sticks from the bowling alley, that's what they chose for their dinner. I got a 6" spicey Italian sub combo from Subway, E got the free kid's meal from BK and Otis' had a double Whopper value meal.
Yes, I know, pure garbage, but it's a treat, and it's only twice a month, and it's so yummy.
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