Wednesday, April 29, 2009

BITE ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wow! What a crappy day/week! My honey came home on Sunday, so that's the one bright spot, but other than that..................... sometimes people just really SUCK! So much stupid, petty crap going on, and I'm just sooooooo done with it all!

Tonight I'm resigning my spot on the Girl Scout council, I just can't take all the garbage that's been going on all year. A couple of other things happened this week, not related to GS, then I got some news about GS, that was total BS, and it was just the last straw for me. It's such a pity that a few rotten apples can spoil the whole bunch, but it's just not worth it to me anymore.

*Sigh*
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Friday, April 24, 2009

I wouldn't brush either!

Seriously, what is up with Japanese children's toothpaste? It's the most horrible stuff I've ever tasted!

I bought the kids some Anpanman (a popular Japanese cartoon character) strawberry toothpaste. Ethan loves to brush his teeth, but when he put the brush in his mouth, he got the craziest look on his face. "What's wrong?" "It's nasty!" I took a little lick, and it was vile! It tasted exactly like strawberry flavored cough syrup! So we tried the regular flavor, even worse!

In the U.S., kids' toothpaste is sweet flavored, like strawberry or fruit punch, bubble gum is a really popular flavor too. But they don't have that minty, medicine-y after taste. The nex night, it took me forever to convince Ethan that it wasn't the same yucky toothpaste.
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Monday, April 20, 2009

Hanami 1.75

From Omotesando Crossing, we headed into Meiji Shrine, planning to take in some of Yoyogi Park. We didn't have a map and ended up turned all around and lost in the shrine grounds. When we finally made it to the park, we only had a few minutes in one tiny corner, before being ushered quickly out the exit by the security guards at 5:00p. Yoyogi Park is another great place to be on a Sunday, except for the part we were in.

We were shoved out an exit, not the one I had planned on using, so we had no idea where we were. Since I wasn't using a map and we'd wandered around so much in the shrine and park, I had no clue which direction we had gone or which way we needed to go. No worries though, I love being lost in Japan, I enjoy the challange of finding my way with no map, and no signs pointing the way. We justed strolled around until we found a subway station (in Tokyo, you can't go much more than a block or two in any direction without finding a subway or train station), and I was able to get us re-oriented and back on track (no pun intended).
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Entering Meiji Shrine

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A pretty little stream, bubbling through the park
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Meg showing us how huge this torii gate is
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Sake offerings in Meiji Shrine.
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Another torii gate on the shrine grounds
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Docomo building in Shinjuku, from the park
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Our reflection in the pond
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Whew! And we're not done with Day 1 yet!
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Saturday, April 18, 2009

My Tokyo

As most of you know, Tokyo is a finalist to host the 2016 Olympics. Of course, I'm a little biased, but I think Tokyo would be the most awesome choice!! I love Tokyo so much, it's easily my most favorite city in the world. I've travelled alot and have visited and loved lots of cities: NYC, Paris, London, Amsterdam, Rome......but none of them compare to Tokyo! My heart is already breaking at the thought of having to leave in another 1.5yrs.

A million thanks to
Tokyo Five for posting this beautiful video on his blog, which then led me to a ton of other great Tokyo videos. I'm not ashamed to say I got a little misty-eyed watching this one! I still can't believe I actually LIVE HERE! I hope you enjoy these little glimpses of my Tokyo!





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Another video I found. I love this one, very dramatic, and some really beautiful shots of Tokyo:
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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ugh

I'm beyond mortified. I got a call this evening from E's school. Today on the playground, E was throwing rocks (yes, he knows better) and he hit a kid in the back of the head with a pretty sizable stone! Yikes! The kiddy's mom took her to the hospital, and she ended up with a stitch to close the gash. I'm so embarrassed!

Now, I know that kids will be kids, and kids throw rocks, especially boy kids, and that kids have playground accidents all the time; and knowing all that, if E had been on the receiving end (and he has been, of much worse in fact) I wouldn't have been bothered at all, but I also know that all parents don't feel that way, some parents get seriously upset over things like this, which is totally understandable. And what must the Japanese parents be thinking? "Oh that little sandwich-eating gajin heathen!"

I wrote a long letter to his sensei, apologizing profusely, assuring her that Ethan had been punished and that it wouldn't happen again, and asking her to please extended my deepest regrets and apologies to the family. Ugh. There's a family strawberry-picking field trip next month, but I seriously don't think I can show my face.

Even nearly 10 hrs later, Ethan is still very upset about the whole thing. He can't talk about it all without breaking down into sobs and wailing "But it was axkadent! I said Gomen!" (I'm sorry). Poor boy, I feel bad for him, but he knows better than to throw things, especially rocks! So his punishment was no playing outside today, which is pretty tough for him, it was a beautiful day out, and there were probably 15 kids screaming and playing in the backyard and jumping on our trampoline. But he didn't fuss about it, he knew that he had done something really bad, so he accepted his punishment. He'll probably go to bed a little earlier than usual tonight as well. Ugh.
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Tri-lingual?

Ethan loves to read, he'll get a stack of books and sit all afternoon, reading. Of course, he doesn't actually know how to read, he just makes up the stories (unless he's memorized it, because I've read it 76,000 times!!!!)

Lately though, he's started reading all his books in, what I can only assume, is his own special "Japanese" language. It's soooo funny, he'll go on and on for a full hour! If you don't know Japanese, or haven't heard it very often, you might actually think he's saying something. But it's just silly babbling.

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His favorite books are actually toy catalogs. He still has, and loves to read, the Toys R' Us and Target catalogs from Xmas of '07, that my mom sent! They're very tattered and have been taped and stapled nearly beyond recognition, but he loves them. In this clip, he's reading a Tomy toy train catalog. What a goofball!

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Local hanami

I'm a bit overwhelmed with all the pictures I took during our hanami blitz, I'm still trying to sort and edit them all. In the mean time, here are a few shots from around our area. The video is on the street behind my house, taken as the blossoms started falling.
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video

(Sorry about the wobble. It's difficult to drive and video at the same time! LOL)

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Cherry blossoms in Fussa, along the Tama river (which is on the other side of the levee to the left)

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Path along the top of the levee

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On Friday, the last day of the American spring break, the kids and I went to Minami Park in Fussa, for a picnic under the blossoms

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Petals collecting in the canal
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Meggie on the zipline (and one little petal falling)
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E all tuckered out, with petals in his hair
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The blossoms over our picnic
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This is a pretty little canal that I cross every Friday heading to/from English class
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Monday, April 13, 2009

Happy Un-birthday to me!

Last year on my b-day (July) Ethan told me "Happy Birthday!" all day. It was so sweet, and every time he said it, I'd say "Thank you!" and give him a big hug and kiss, so he quickly figured out that it was a nice thing to say, and then somehow equated it to being something similar to "I love you". Now, 9 months later, he still comes up to me several times a week, hugs me and says "Happy Birthday mom" with a sweet, sappy smile on his face. What a sweetie boy!
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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Shopping trip....

......um, I mean, official travel for official military training! Otis headed for Texas today, for a week of battlefield hospital training, then he's going to South Carolina to see his family, and the kids will be coming up from Florida, super excited about that because he hasn't seen them since last June.

Last time he went to the U.S., I printed my shopping list for him, including color pictures. He did pretty well, but I know he hates the actual shopping part, so this time I got smart, I'm ordering most of my stuff online, then choosing the "ship to store" option to have it delivered to the stores nearest the in-law's house, so all O will have to do is go pick it up!


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The South parking garage levels at Narita airport are animals. We parked on 2, zou
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Ethan's Advancement Ceremony

Last Saturday was the Advancement Ceremony at E's school, for all the kids who moved up to new classes this year. Last year E was in the Himawari (sunflower) class, this year he's in Sakura (cherry blossom). Each class has a different color, the kids have a name badge and an outdoor hat (which they wear whenever they're outside: playing, field trips, etc) in their class color; last year E was orange, this year he's pink. I'm sure you can imagine how thrilled his American-macho-man dad is with the pink hat! LOL
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The principal welcoming everyone to a new school year, and congratulating the advancing students
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All the teachers, with the exception of the 3 male teachers who teach the English immersion class. That's E's new teacher Aida sensei, holding the mic
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E's teacher right in the middle. She's so sweet, and Ethan knows her from last year. During the last few weeks of school, the kids spent several hours a day in the classes they would be moving up to, so that it'd be familiar to them when they moved up.
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Ethan in front of the class assignment lists. His class the the top, left list. Reading the Japanese way, from right to left, and top to bottom, the first line, written in blue, says: Sakura kumi, Cherry Blossom class. E's name is the 10th name (or 11th line) from the right. He was able to pick it out all by himself! All the Japanese kids' names are written in hiragana, but the American kids' names are in katakana.
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Ethan's class.
It says sa-ku-ra
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E's name above his hook. This year his icon is a happy face cloud.
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Aida sensei calling roll. I was so proud when she said "Che-soo-na-toe, Ee-san-koon" and he piped up "Hai!" I didn't recognize his name at all when she said it, it comes out so fast, and with the accent and Japanese pronunciation, I had no idea what she was saying, but he definitely did, his hand shot up before she'd even said the whole thing!
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Waiting patiently for his snack; notice the hands out, ready for the snack to be put in them.
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School started on Monday, but for the first two weeks they only go for half a day. That's a bit irritating. I can understand that they want the new kids to have a chance to get used to the new environment and new routine, but two whole weeks? And why do ALL the kids have to have this schedule? Why not just the new ones? I wreaks havoc on my schedule! Luckily the girls had spring break this week, so they could get him off the bus when I was teaching, but for next week, I had to do some major juggling. Anyhoo, the new school year is off to a good start!
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Thursday, April 9, 2009

The big O! Finally!

Omotesando on a Sunday afternoon! This had been my goal for 1.5 yrs! But somehow, one plan after another has been changed or cancelled, resulting in me never making it on a Sunday, which in many people's opinions, including mine, is THE day to be in Omotesando! This weekend, I was dead set on getting there! And I made it!
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Omotesando is uber hip, chic, and funky, and seeign as I couldn't be further from any of those things, it's extra fun to mix and mingle in the middle of it! Omotesando is a tree-lined street packed with major designer stores, like Louis Vuiton and Ralph Lauren, it's home to the Oriental Bazaar, one of the biggest souveinir shops in Japan, and Kiddy Land, an awesome 5 story toy store, just to name a few places, and there tons of great cafes and restaurants, including my beloved Shakey's. I've read that Omotesando is the "Champs Elysees" of Tokyo, while it's not nearly as grand as all that, it that gives you a small idea of what it's like. I've been to Harajuku and Omotesando lots of times, but never on a Sunday.
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Heading down Omotesando towards Harajuku station

(Note that this is only half-way down the street, and only one side, the other side was just as crammed!)
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This was the first time I'd seen this taco stand! The food didn't look very appetizing.
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Entrance to Togo Shrine

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Gabi leaving Takeshitaguchi Dori.
This is a pedestrian shopping street literally crammed with little shops and boutiques, that ends (or begins) at Harajuku station. You can buy just about anything here (ncluding a purse formed from an entire toad's body).
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At the end of Omotesando, next to Harajuku station and the entrance to Meiji Shrine, people gather to.........express their artistic individuality. I blogged last year about a demonstration that was going on once to protest the use of cluster bombs; very 20 min or so, the entire group would fall to the ground, simulating the effects of the bombs. This time, there was a small group of people holding signs that read "FREE HUGS! All you need!" I got a great, big hug, but the girls were a feeling a little shy, and a bit overwhelmed by all the..........artisticness. There are lots of street vendors with their wares spread on blankets on the ground and lots of younger people gather here for "cosplay", dressing up in extreme punk and goth outfits.
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Omotesando is probably one of the best places in the world to just people-watch, something I could do for hours. Unfortunately, with the kids in tow, my people-watching was cut to people-glancing as we pushed through the crowd heading for Yoyogi park.
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I'm definitely planning to head back one Sunday by myself, and it's also on the itinerary for my BFF's trip here in the fall.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Aoyama Reien

We booked a room at the Hardy Barracks (the Sanno was booked solid, waaaaaaaaahhh!) and arrived around 2:oop Sunday.

We headed straight across the street to the Aoyama cemetery to start our hanami (cherry blossom viewing).

I really love this cemetery, it's massive with all kinds of paths and stairs leading up and down, winding through the graves and gardens. Whenever we stay at Hardy Barracks, I always like to take a walk through the cemetery. Japanese cemeteries are very different from Amercian ones, and I just think they're so interesting, not to mention peaceful. The Aoyama cemetery also has a section for foreign burials.

I've never been in the spring, and had no idea it was actually a very popular place for hanami! When I read about it online, I knew it'd be the first hanami spot!
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The big patch of green in the bottom right is the southern half of Aoyoma bochi (the tan building in the very bottom corner is Hardy Barracks)

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Entering from the south, this nice brick street runs right through the center of the cemetery. It's a very popular street for walking, jogging and biking.
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There were lots of people enjoying picnics under the blossoms

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There was even lots of cooking on grills and propane stoves, in the cemetery!!



Mori Tower through the cemetery blossoms
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Now I love this cemetery even more! It was the perfect start to our whirlwind Tokyo hanami tour!

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Monday, April 6, 2009

My dogs are howling!

Holy crap, my feet hurt! Oh, my knees!! My aching back! 16 hours of hanami in just 2 days! It was wonderful, and the kids were real troopers, but I'll have to save the proper posts until I've regained the movement of my extremeties.
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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Frugal foodie

We've been very fortunate that the current economic crunch being felt throughout most of the world hasn't trickled down to the U.S. military, yet. We don't have to worry about layoffs or paycuts, O has a guaranteed pay raise every January, and living overseas, we get a cost of living allowance every month that fluctuates with the yen rate; right now it's pretty high since the exchange rate is in the pits.


I know several people who's husbands have lost their jobs, other's who've had a major cut in income, it's a very scarey time for everyone and I know exactly how lucky we are.

I put myself on a pretty strict budget last year, long before any of this economy crisis, in an effort to build some major savings (we had NONE) and with a plan to be debt free by the time we leave Japan. I'm pretty proud of how well I've stuck with it. There have been some set backs, some unforseen, unavoidable expenses, and more than a few times when I wasn't as thrifty as I could have been, but all in all, I've been sticking to it pretty well.

The one expense that I've had the most trouble controlling is our food bill. I do a major shop twice a month on payday, but I'm in the grocery store nearly every other day, picking up this or that, always spending way more than I should. So I started planning a menu. Knowing exactly what we'll be eating helps me create a very specific grocery list, and ends the careless buying of food and supplies that will end up sitting in the freezer or pantry for months because I never had a plan for them, and then I usually end up forgetting I have them, which leads to double (and sometimes triple) buying because suddenly I need kidney beans, but forgot there were already 3 cans in the cupboard. I started with a one-week menu plan. And it's only dinner, what we eat for b'fast and lunch doesn't vary too much, so those meals are easy to plan and shop for.

Now that more and more people are tightening their purse strings, whether out of neccessity, or just the desire to lead a simpler life, the web is overflowing with sites dedicated to living on a budget, pinching pennies, frugal living, whatever you want to call it. There are tips and ideas on how to trim expenses and save money in every single area of your life. There are a gazillion sites about menu planning, I especially like Hillbilly Housewife.

Last month I worked my way up to a two-week menu. When I did my bi-weekly shopping this week, my total bill was $150.21!!!! That's two full weeks of groceries for 5 people, plus the dog! This total also includes all toiletries, cleaning products and papergoods. And I buy a lot of processed foods, I know if I could start cooking more from scratch, I could reduce even more!

I'm also an obsessive coupon clipper, thanks to my mom, who sends me pounds and pounds of coupons every few weeks. At overseas military locations, the grocery stores on base accept coupons up to 6 months past their expiry, so we're really lucky in that regard too. On this week's grocery tab, I saved $10.85 with coupons!!!!! Bringing my total two-week food bill down to $139.36! Woo hoo! I have no idea how our grocery bill compares to other families our size, or to families shopping at Japanese grocery stores (anyone care to share?), but $70/wk is awesome for us!

The girls have gotten on board with the budget too, they take their lunch to school everyday (their choice). The school lunch costs $2.05 at the JH and $2.20 at the HS, but I feed the girls for about $0.75 each, per day! O buys lunch everyday at the hospital cafeteria, but they have good food, and huge portions, at a really low price, it's really the only thing he spends money on, so I haven't pushed him to start brown bagging it. And now we'll be saving about $45/mth with Ethan's bento, I'm so excited!
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