Saturday, May 30, 2009

Our flight to Singapore

I won't type much, because I took a ton of pictures, and they're pretty self explanatory.
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Our flight to Singapore was on a C17, a giant cargo plane, that was headed to Diego Garcia, which is a tiny island in the Indian Ocean, where there's a U.S. military base. The base is just a dinky little outpost, and it's one of the places that's restricted to Active Duty military people only, but the flight there always stops in Sing.
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The plane's mission is to carry whatever supplies are needed in Diego, but it has seats for about 60 people when it's not completely full of cargo. The flight on this day had room for 15 people, so there were only 11 other people besides us on board.
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Passenger comfort is second to cargo placement and safety on these flights, so if you're looking for 1st class service, these flights definitely aren't for you! But, the crew was extremely gracious and did their very best to make sure we were as comfortable as possible.
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We arrived at the airport at 4:15a and waiting anxiously for the roll call at 4:45 to find out whether we'd made the flight. it was gut wrenching, and the only part of this whole experience that I really hated. I was very nervous because there were supposed to be 32 seats available, but there ended up being only 15, but our names were the first called! Woo hoo!
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These are the flights leaving the base. This schedule is updated everyday with the projected flights for the next 48 - 72 hrs. But remember, none of these flights are guaranteed to take off on time, or in some cases, at all.
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We boarded a bus to be ferried out to the plane
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Because these planes are meant for hauling cargo, not people, there's no sound-proofing or insulation on the walls, so it's very loud. We were all given ear plugs to wear during the flight.
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Waiting for take off

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Looking towards the back
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Our plane was named "The Husky Hauler" because it's based out of Alaska
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One teeny, tiny bathroom
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Four guys crashed wherever they could find a spot. There are two on top of the cargo, one over to the left, and one in the bottom of the pic
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Again, because these aren't passenger planes, and because they're owned by the military, there aren't really any rules that apply to passengers. You're encouraged to bring along whatever you need for a comfortable trip, including food and sleeping bags. You're free to spread out wherever you'd like. This was towards the end of the flight during our second round of naps. The first time, Gabi and O were camped out on the floor, while E and I stretched out on the seats. It was actually really nice, the first time I've ever been able to actually sleep on a flight!
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The cockpit crew were all so nice (and soooo young, I swear not one of them was a day over 25!) They told us all about the different buttons and gizmos, explained the basics of flying the plane, let us listen in on radio trasmissions. I don't know who enjoyed it more, me, or the kids! That's our pilot Reid, beside him the co-pilot Trey, and beside Ethan the navigator, Adam.
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It was an awesome flight, the 7 hours went by so quickly! It was a great experience flying in a real, working, military aircraft and I'm so happy we had the opportunity to do it!

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Friday, May 29, 2009

We're home

Made it back safe and sound, and saaaaaadddddd :( I didn't want to leave! Already planning my return trip! I never thought there was any place on earth that I could love as much as I love Japan. I was so, so wrong! SINGAPORE IS INCREDIBLE! Proper post coming soon!

The view from our balcony on Sentosa Island:


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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Somewhere over the South China Sea

"Uh, I think we shoulda taken a left at Guangzhuo."
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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Space A = Space AWESOME!

The military has an awesome program called Space Available Travel, or "Space A" for short. Check out the link for a full explanation, but basically, military members and their families can fly on military aircraft, for free, if there is "space available" on the plane.
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There are U.S. military bases all over the world. Some are restricted to Active Duty military members only, like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, but lots are open to anyone affliated with the military. Most of the bases are in Europe and Asia. Because of all these bases, there are military aircraft flying all over the world every day.
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There are tons of rules and regulations, lots of paperwork, and the flights are highly unpredictable, but hey, it's free air travel, almost anywhere in the world, as often as you like, and whenever you choose, so trying to "catch a hop" as the military community calls it, is completely worth if you ask me!
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Most bases have flights that mostly fly within a certain region. Here at Yokota, most of our planes fly in the Pacific region: San Francisco, Seattle, Anchorage, Honolulu, Okinawa, Korea and Singapore. We're very lucky that we usually have at least one flight a week to each of these places, although Hawaii flights are a little less frequent. Singapore, on the other hand, has 3 flights a week.
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A flexible schedule it crucial for hopping. There is no guarantee if or when any given flight will take off. There are schedules posted 48 - 72 hrs in advance, but missions can change on an hourly basis, lots of the aircraft are old and frequently down for repairs, so you can never be sure if your plane will depart on time or not. Our schedules aren't very flexible, between Otis crazy work schedule, the girls school and extra curricular stuff and my teaching, it's difficult for us to arrange everything enough to risk trying to hop. In addition, you have to have enough money to cover tickets home in case something happens and you're not able to get on a flight (which happens pretty regularly). If we had $1500+ just laying around for tickets, we'd just fly commercially to begin with, so that's the other big reason we've never tried to hop before.
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But this week, we were able to arrange everyone's schedules to try for a trip to Singapore. The plan was to leave on the Tuesday morning flight, returning on the Friday morning flight. If anything went wrong, we'd buy O a ticket home (only $350) and the kids and I would just wait around in Sing for a few days and try for the next hop. Everything was going well, all the gazillion details were falling perfectly into place (should have known it was too good to be true), we were supposed to be at the air terminal at 5:15a this morning. Because I know that these flights can be unpredictable, rescheduled or even cancelled at the very last minute, I called the terminal at 4:30a, and found out that the flight was rescheduled for Wednesday morning!!!! AAAAAAGGGGGGHHHHHH! I was already loading the luggage, I was dressed, hair and make-up done, completely ready to go. Luckily I wasn't planning to wake anyone else until just a few minutes before we needed to leave, so no one else had to get up so early.
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Even though I know this sort of thing has a very good chance of happening, and I wasn't 100% sure we'd be going, I was still soooooo disappointed!
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I'll be calling the terminal at 10:00p tonight to check on the flight, then again at 4:30a, so keep your fingers crossed that it works out this time!
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Turn that frown upside down!

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The travel gods were not smiling on us today :( The flight was cancelled and rescheduled for tomorrow. Hopefully it'll work out, but we'll only end up with 1.5 days in...................

SINGAPORE!!!!!!! Woo hoo!
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It's a 7 hr flight, Otis is not happy about 14 hrs of travelling for only about 36 hrs of vacay, but come on! How often will we get a free flight to Singapore? I say it's totally worth it!
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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Eeeeeeeeeekkkkk!

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If the travel gods are smiling on us (and so far, they are!) I'll be posting from here on Tuesday!!!!
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Funny boy!

Ethan just came down stairs and told me "My belly was growling, and I said 'Barnacles! I'm starving!'" (Barnacles! is SpongeBob's exclamation when he's irritated or disappointed.)
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Yeah. I did it.


Last night, the unbelievable happened. In my kitchen. At my stove.
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I cooked! Soup! From scratch! With VEGETABLES! This may not seem particularly astounding to most of you, but it really is when you consider that 1) I just don't cook. I heat things. Preferably in the microwave, occasionally on the stove or in the oven. 2) I'm not a big soup eater. I'll have a can of chicken noodle a few times a year, but that's it. 3) From scratch? I'm not completely sure what that even means! and 4) I don't eat vegetables. EVER. Not any vegetables, not any time. Sounds unbelievable, I know, but just ask my mother. On very rare occasions I might choke down some corn-on-the-cob, but only if its smothered in butter and salt, that's absolutely it.
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Given all those seemingly insurmountable odds, you might now understand why I'm still amazed that I made........Curry Cauliflower Soup!!!!!! From scratch! I MADE IT! Me! The most inept, unenthusiastic, down right hostile chef to ever be dragged, kicking and screaming, into a kitchen. And it is soooooooo yummy! Also made some buttery, toasty French bread with a little parm, not from scratch, but still yum dipped in my AMAZING soup! Woo hoo! Go me!
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Good thing I made a huge batch, because I definitely won't be attempting it again any time soon. I didn't cut or burn myself, like I usually do when I actually try to cook something, but there was plenty of bungling and mistakes and I didn't enjoy it, and I worried the whole time that it wouldn't turn out. But I'm glad I gave it a try, the effort was totally worth it.
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Friday, May 22, 2009

My brave girl

Last night I put Meggie on a plane, off to spend the summer with her dad. She landed safely in L.A. 10 hours later, about 3:30a Japan time, her dad was there to meet her as she came off the plane. From L.A. they continued on to Florida, arriving about 1:00p JT.
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Both girls have been flying by themselves since around the age of 6, but usually just short 3 - 4 hour trips between FL and NC or FL and TX, but this was the first transoceanic, transcontinental solo flight. I was more than a little worried.
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In the U.S., when kids are flying alone, their parent/guardian is allowed to get a special gate pass to escort them through security, all the way to the gate. But in Japan, that's not allowed. The kids are passed off to an airline rep at security. This was a little unnerving for me, because I figured that meant she'd be stuck alone at her gate for upwards of 30 min waiting to board the plane. Turns out my worries were for nothing. All the airline reps, from the ticket counter, to the flight attendants really went above and beyond to make both of us feel comfortable and to ease my worries.
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As we checked in, the ticket agent made a big fuss over Meg, saying how brave she was, etc, etc, even calling over the other two agents so they could all oooh and aahhh over her. The rep that escorted her from security stopped on the other side and bought her a pack of gum and a Coke. As soon as they got to the gate, the flight attendant took Meg straight onto the plane, even though boarding wasn't going to start for another 30 min. I told Meg to call me as soon as she got back to her gate, but she was having trouble with the cell phone, so the flight attendant let her use his phone to call me. I found out later that the ticket agent had blocked the other two seats next to Meg, so that she'd have room to spread out, and not have to worry about sitting next to a stranger!

She'll be flying back at the beginning of August. I don't know what Ethan will do with out his "Bister" all summer! He misses her already!
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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Not such a lonely number

I've never met a child so completely content, happy even, with his own company as Ethan is. He's always been this way, preferring his own company to anyone else's.
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When he was a baby, I worried that maybe he was autistic, because he didn't seem to want or need interaction with anyone. He didn't care about being held, or played with, he didn't need to be entertained or pacified in any way. And he was down right irritated by any attention from strangers, refusing to be held, or even talked to by anyone he didn't know (much to the disappointment of his visiting grandmas). If someone outside of the immediate family tried to engage him, he'd pull away and turn his head. He didn't fuss or cry (he never showed much emotion at all), but his body language made it very clear that he was not happy about his space being invaded. He was a very late talker, but after lots of exams, including a hearing test (which he failed because he refused to even acknowledge the doctor administering the test) we determined that he was completely normal, and now we joke that he didn't talk because he just didn't have anything to say!
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Being a very social, talkative, touchy-feely kind of person, I was so sad that my adorable baby boy had absolutely no desire to interact with me, outside of feeding and diapering. Even at only 9 - 10 mths old, he'd play by himself for hours! But now that he's an active 4 year old, I'm beginning to appreciate the fact that he can still go literally hours with no requirements of me at all. He's much more sociable now, he'll yak your ear off about any number of subjects, enjoys playing with his neighborhood friends, loves going to school and even frequently indulges me with cuddles, but on days like today, a long, lazy Sunday, he's just as happy providing his own company and entertainment, leaving me free to surf the net, watch a mushy love story on TV, read a book (anything except housework, LOL).
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Since about 9:00 this morning, he's been playing and romping all over the house and yard, doing his own thing: reading, building with blocks, playing "post office", "restaurant" (where he's the cook, the waiter and the customer) and various games of Transformers, Pokemon and miscellaneous fight/attack games like only a little boy can create. He's colored, played with cars and trains, dug holes, built forts out of sticks and rocks, hunted bugs.
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It's now 7:30p and the sun has set, but after over 10 hours of self-imposed exile, he's outside, happily jumping away on the trampoline, all alone, singing the alphabet at the top of his lungs.
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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Build-a-Bear

At the end of the Girl Scout year (May), the girls get to plan how they will spend the profits they made from selling cookies. This year, Meg's troop decided they wanted to go to a Build-a-Bear Workshop. Build-a-Bear has been hugely popular in the States for several years, and I knew they had stores in a few foreign countries, but I didn't realize they had them here.

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We went to the workshop in Sunshine City mall, in Ikebukuro. According to their brochure, there are about 10 workshops located throughout Japan. If you've never been, I highly recommend a trip. Especially if you have little girls (although bigger girls love it too).


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At BABW, you "choose, stuff, stitch, fluff and dress" the stuffed animal of your choice. There are about 30 different animals to choose from, everything from the typical teddy, including blue and pink teddies, a heart teddy, rainbow teddy, to bunnies, dogs, cats, they have a frog, zebra, elephant, even a sparkle unicorn. To make your Build-a-Bear:
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1) There are bins full of "empty", unstuffed animals, this is where you start by choosing the animal you want to create.
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This is 1 of 3 walls of animal choices, the unstuffed animals are in the red bins under the displays


2) Next, take your bear (or dog, zebra, unicorn) to the huge fluff machine, a BABW employee holds the bear and insterts the fluff pipe, while the child controls the "fluff flow" with a foot pedal; you choose the amount of fluff based on whether you want your animal soft, medium or hard.


Meg getting her bear stuffed

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3) After you've fluffed, you get a little, puffy, satin heart from the bin and do a "heart ceremony", a cute little ditty led by the BABW employee where you rub the heart on your head to give your bear wisdom, kiss the heart to give your bear love, rub it on your tummy so the bear won't be hungry, etc. At the end, you do a little jump and spin and make a wish on the heart. When you're done, you stuff the heart into your bear and the employee stitches it closed.


Some GSs doing the heart ceremony

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4) Next you shop. For clothes and accessories. For your stuffed animal. This part is a little over the top, IMHO, but it's still really cute and a lot of fun for the kids. They have everything from panties and shoes, to pajamas, sunglasses and roller skates. For your teddy bear. This store even had a kimono! Too cute!


5) Once you're all finished, and your bear is stuffed, fluffed and dressed, you sit down at a little computer terminal and create a birth certificate for you new "friend".


In the background of this pic, you can see a very small section of the "fashion" area.

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Birth certificate for Ethan's bear.

Notice he named his bear だいくみ くん (Daikumi-kun), I can only guess that this must be the name of one of his school friends.


BABW is pretty pricey, animals start at Y1700, up to about Y3000, then clothes and accessories starting at Y400 for some undies, up to around Y4000 for a specialized full outfit like the kimono, but it's a lot of fun, and I think it's well worth the price, at least once. It makes a really nice special occassion trip, like for a b-day.

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Outside the train station. Meg is in the back row, and there's E in the orange shirt.

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Meg's troop. Each girl had Y5000 to spend, their share of the cookie profits. Check out the Harley Davidson bear right above Meg. He has a HD bandana, sunglasses and a tiny leather HD jacket!
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Exhausted!
This is Meg last weekend before heading to her dad's in FL for the summer, so she's trying to cram in as much time with her friends as possible. She had a sleepover the night before BABW and stayed up 'til 3am! We headed for BABW at 8am, so she didn't get a lot of sleep!
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Lots of tired Girl Scouts + no seats on the train = just flop down wherever you can and spread your crap everywhere
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Ethan and Meg's bears. Aren't they cute? Meg named hers Kenji
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Monday, May 11, 2009

I survived.......

.....my teenager's first driving lesson!

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This weekend, while we were up at Tama Hills for Mother's Day, I took Gabi out and let her drive around the recreation area. There are lots of deserted roads, way out in the woods, way up in the tops of the hills, so there were no literally no other cars for miles and miles, so it was pretty safe to turn her loose!

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She did really well! A little heavy footed on the gas and brake, but for her first time, I was very surprised at how well she did.

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If we were in the States right now, she'd be getting her learner's permit in a few weeks (she's turning 15 this week!), and when we get back to the States next year, she'll already be 16 and old enough for her license, so I figured we might as well let her get a little experience behind the wheel.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day to all the awesome mamas out there! We had a great weekend, post coming soon! In the mean time, here's my haul:


Obama's book Dreams from My Father, an Obama coffe mug (?) and some soft, fuzzy aloe spa socks.
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A beautiful bracelet that Otis picked out all by himself! Isn't it pretty? (I'll be picking up the matching necklace tomorrow!!)
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Down and dirty Delta style

Gabi is in Army JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps) this year. For those of you who don't know, ROTC is a type of military education class offered in most colleges in the U.S., JROTC is the high school level course. The classes function just like a mini-military, with all the same rank, structure, rules, etc. The kids are even issued Battle Dress Uniforms (combat fatigues) and Class A's (service dress uniforms); they wear their uniforms once a month for uniform inspections. The purpose of ROTC is:
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Developing good citizenship and patriotism.
Developing self-reliance, leadership, and responsiveness to constituted authority. Improving the ability to communicate well both orally and in writing.
Developing an appreciation of the importance of physical fitness.
Increasing a respect for the role of the U.S. Armed Forces in support of national objectives.
Developing a knowledge of basic military skills.

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But I enrolled Gabi mainly for the high level of discpline and responsibility the course teaches, in addition to the great leadership and communication skills. Fortunately she really likes it and plans to stay in JROTC throughout high school.

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Last weekend the JROTC had it's annual dining out. The military has a long tradition of a formal dining event called a Dining In (for military members only) and Dining Out (for members and their invited guests). Otis and I attended with Gabi.

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A dining in/out, as part of the whole ceremony of the event, has a long list of very formal rules of etiquette and protocol that must be followed, things like "Thou shalt wipe thy mouth before each drink" and "Thou shalt not season any food without tasting it first", "Thou shalt not butter thine entire roll at once" and "Thou not touch any thing that has dropped on the floor, including napkins and cutlery". The purpose of all these rules is to catch a fellow diner breaking a rule. Breaking a "Rule of the mess" results in the offender being sent to "The Grog".

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The grog is an incredibly disgusting "punch" created especially for the dining in/out. At real military dining ins, the grog is usually mixed in a big toilet bowl, and most often contains alcohol, along with lots of "floaties" like tootsie rolls, or meat balls. The grog tradition has evolved into a contest of makin the grog as disgusting as possible, which makes for a very entertaining evening of diners attempting to get each other sent down for a cup full of grog. Gabi's dining out was no exception.

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The grog on this night consisted of a horrible mix, including: gatorade, alphabet soup, raw bread dough, cabbage, tobassco sauce (2 bottles!), pine needles, shredded paper, band aids (colored with red food coloring for "effect"), a pair of sweaty socks, cheetos, maple syrup, enchiladas, raisins, several "mystery" ingredients.......I can't remember what else, but it was GROSS!!!!!

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The JROTC classes are divided in to 5 small groups, or companies, at the begining of the year, A (Alpha) through E (Echo). Gabi is in D (Delta). The groups create a mascot, decide on a company color and create a motto. Each company had to add something to the grog that began with their company letter, so Gabi's platoon added the dough. As their ingredient was added, each company had to yell their company motto.

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Luckily, no one at our table broke any rules (at least we didn't get caught breaking any) so none of us got sent to the dreaded grog. We had a great evening, and were so proud of Gabi. Next year she plans to join the Saber team!
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Mixing the grog


Finish grog (those black things are the sweaty socks!)
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Gabi yelling her platoon motto: "Down and dirty Delta style! Delta! Hooah!"
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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Brave Boy

About 2 years ago, Ethan turned up with a tiny cavity in one of his teeth. It was one of the few times in my life that I seriously question my own sanity. I really thought I was losing my mind!

One night after I had brushed E's teeth, and for once had bribed him into letting me floss them as well, I spied an tiny bit of silver in one of his teeth. A cavity filling? He'd never been to the dentist! When, and how, had he gone to the dentist and gotten a cavity filled? The only thing I could figure out was that Otis must have taken him, because I certainly knew I hadn't taken him. But that was insane! Why would Otis take him to his first dentist appointment and not tell me?


I asked Otis about it, and of course, he says "When, and more importantly, why, would I have taken him to the dentist? I don't even know where the dentist is! You had to have taken him, and it's just slipped your mind." Impossible!!! I have a notoriously bad memory, yes, but how could I forget my child's first dentist visit? And a 2-year-old getting a cavity filled? Was it so traumatic that I'd somehow blocked it from my memory? What was going on? Other than daycare, Ethan hadn't been around any other adults. Was this some kind of weird, new service at the daycare? I.totally.freaked.out. I really thought I was going crazy. How my baby had gotten to the dentist and gotten that cavity filled. It was like some kind of Twilight Zone episode!

I agonized for days, wracking my brain trying to come up with any kind of answer, and then suddenly, it came to me. One day a few weeks earlier, E was poking around in our bedroom and had found his papi's stash of chewing gum, the kind in the silver, foil wrapper. Being a typical not-quite-2-year-old, unwrapping the gum surely seemed like a complete waste of time, so he proceeded to chew, and swallow, entire pieces of gum, wrapper and all. I caught him on his 3rd piece. Apparently a bit of wrapper had gotten wedge into a teeny, tiny cavity in E's tooth! I took him to the dentist a few days later, and even the dentist was fooled! She thought it was a filling too!


Anyhoo, sometime in the last few months, the filling fell out, and the cavity got really huge. We took him into the dentist and it was decided he'd need a crown on that tooth in order to save it. For some reason, the enamel on that one tooth is really thin, and it couldn't have handled another, bigger filling.


So, today was the day. Ethan was very excited about getting a "transformer" tooth, but the excitement quickly wore off after the first shot in his gums. They attempted to give him nitrous oxide (laughing gas) to help him relax, but it's administered nasally, and he had a stuffy nose, so he wasn't getting a steady dose and it really didn't help much.


He was pretty squirmy, and cried out a few times, but he did really well. Far better than I would have done, there's nothing in this world I hate more than the dentist! The whole procedure only took about 45 min, and Ethan left happily with a SpongeBob sticker and toy car from the treasure chest.


Unfortunately, because his mouth was so numb, he kept chewing on his lower lip. Now it's all swollen and huge, and it looks horrible, but it doesn't seem to hurt. Tomorrow his class is going strawberry picking, so I hope the swelling goes down tonight.












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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Azaleas

The city of Ome (Oh-may), which is next to Fussa, where the base is located, is really famous for its natural beauty. There are lots of really nice gardens there that are famous for their seasonal flowers and accompanying festivals.
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In March I went to Ome to see the ume blooming and last week I went back to Ome with some friends to see the azaleas at Yakuouji temple. This was my first trip to see the azaleas, they're one of my favorite flowers. It was a beautiful day, and even though it was the begining of Golden Week, it wasn't crowded at all. We had a great day, which included lunch at a yummy Italian restaurant.
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I think next month the irises will be blooming in Ome, I can't wait!


















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