Sunday, December 18, 2011

how i love thee

I just had another morning dose of how amazing Japan is, and it wouldn't fit in my facebook status update, so to my blog I fled.

Our garage door was broken. So this morning, I got on the phone with our realtor, who basically calls the utility places for us since most of them don't speak English. He let me know he would get in touch with the company who makes and fixes the garage doors and get back to me with an estimate of when they could come fix it.

There are about 6 inches of snow on the ground right now, so I didn't expect to hear back that they were coming for hours or even days. In NC, the snow would have meant that it'd be weeks before someone could come out and take a look at it, and that doesn't include the time that it would have taken to order parts and come back out to install them.

Five minutes later, he calls me back and lets me know that the garage door man is on his way and will be here shortly. Two minutes pass (I know I tend to exaggerate at times, but I swear this is two minutes to the tee) and the doorbell rings. It's the "garage man" and he is here to take a look at the door.

He fiddles around with it, figures out the problem, gets his tools and step ladder out of his car, and fixes it. Then he tests it out 5 or 6 times to ensure it works consistently. He proceeds to call our realtor to let him know it's fixed, passes the phone to me so our realtor can tell me that it's fixed, I pass the phone back and then we both bow and he's gone. The whole transaction took about 10 minutes, and if you've been lucky enough to see my video of how slow garage doors in Misawa take to open and close, you'll know that at least 7 minutes of that time was taken with the door opening and closing.

So from the time I decided to call our realtor to the time I sat down to write this blog, it took about a half hour.

Japan, how I love thee.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

the moral of the story

Yesterday, I read a fable to my students. Basically, it was about a crab and a lobster who are friends and about as different as could be. Lobster was laid back, outgoing, adventurous, and sometimes a little too excited about dangerous situations. Crab was a stickler for rules and preferred to lead a quiet, and sometimes boring, life. One day, Lobster convinces Crab to go for a boat ride. There is a storm approaching and Crab is very weary of going out in the boat. They end up going anyway and the boat sinks. Crab is terrified, and Lobster points out that they aren’t really in danger, since they are both sea creatures so drowning really isn’t a worry. The boat sinks, and as they take a leisurely walk along the ocean floor, Crab realizes that he had a great day full of adventure.

I asked the kids what the moral of the story was, and they all said something to the effect of making sure you’re careful when you go on a boat so you don’t drown.

While that is good information, I pointed out to them that the point of the story was that Crab had a good time when he left his comfort zone and had an adventure. We then had a class discussion about some of the amazing things they can do here that they won’t be able to do anywhere else. We talked about Japanese festivals and the cool restaurants they can eat at. They brought up how fun it is to talk with the locals here and how nice they are. They were excited about the salmon festival a few weeks back and Sapporo Ice Festival that is coming up in a few months. They were ecstatic to share some of the Japanese foods they have tried here that most American kids have never even heard of. It was a great conversation about stepping outside your comfort zone, and of course, being safe while doing so. We encouraged each other to go and try something new this week: whether it was something we had never done, a place to explore or an interesting food to try.

My new adventure was something that I had actually decided to do earlier that morning. On the way to work every day, we pass a mysterious bridge on the other side of the fence that marks where the Misawa Air Base land begins. This bridge is actually inside of two fences, belonging to some sort of “no man’s land” in between the main road on the base and the beach where military families can hang out and barbeque in the summer. Every day, we see cars driving on it and wonder how they got there, and where they are going. I told Ben that after school that day, we were going to find out.

When I got to school in the morning, I told one of our friends that we were going to explore the “mysterious road on the other side of the fence” and she let out a gasp, and then explained that she had always wanted to figure out how to get to that very same road. So a plan was set in motion to go on a courageous expedition (yes, we may have made it out to be a lot more exciting than it really was) to go find the road.

Two hours later, I read the fable to my kids, and was excited to be able to use a real-life example in our conversation. The kids were excited to hear about our findings, as most of them had seen the road and had never been on it.

School ended and we set out, with a vague google map and our iPhones to lead the way. I’m sure it would have been a lot more adventurous without the use of technology, but it gets dark here at 4:15 pm and we didn’t want to spend hours trying to figure out where it was and then not be able to see it because it was dark.

It took about 20 minutes to go around the base and the lake, and we started thinking that we must have gotten lost (which is very easy to do in a city with no street names and very little English) but we finally found a road that looked promising. As we drove over the mysterious bridge, we waved at all the cars on the base who were driving by on the other side of the fence. Then we took some pictures, admired the view of the lake, and then climbed back in the car to defrost and talk about how proud of ourselves we were for finding the mysterious road.

A little silly? Yes. But a great time was had by all. (And now, every time we pass the mysterious bridge, we know that we’ve been to the other side of the fence.)






(left) The mysterious bridge and (right) Lake Ogawara from the beach.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

thanksgiving adventures

Thanksgiving was an eventful day, and was different than any Thanksgiving we had ever had. Normally, we have all the family traditions that we have tried to upkeep even though we lived so far away. Parade in the morning, decorating the tree, watching “White Christmas,” and the whole turkey smorgasbord. This year, though, it seemed like none of those things were going to be in the mix, at least in the way they normally are. Our household goods aren’t due until January, so there were no decorations (and we were in the lodge, so we couldn’t get a tree even if we had the decorations to put on it.) The parade would be shown live…at 1 am our time. And who wants to cook a Thanksgiving dinner in a tiny kitchenette for two people?

So we basically made other plans.

The plans made our first Thanksgiving in Japan an amazing day, filled with new traditions and old ones.

We have some friends who have been in Japan for a long time. When I say long, I mean nearly 20 years. Needless to say, they know the ins and outs and are a wealth of information and great ideas for things to do around the area. We went with them, and some new friends as well, to the beach. While this may sound like a nice place to spend a Thanksgiving day, let me remind you that we live in the northernmost area of the main island in Japan. This means cold weather and snow for a good part of the year. That part of the year had started, so our beach trip was quite literally freezing. We arrived and hurried to bundle up in the massive amount of layers we brought with us. It was 0° C and snowing, though our awesome Swackett app said that it felt like -4° because of the wind chill. It was beautiful and brisk, and we were excited for a fun adventure.

We walked the beach with different purposes. Most of our friends had the purpose of looking for sea glass. The fishermen up here use the glass fishing balls, and they often wash ashore. Apparently the area we were in was a prime spot for finding these treasures. My purpose, though, was to find some great photo opps. (Does this come as a surprise to anyone??) We were all rewarded one way or another! Most of our friends ended up with sea glass, I ended up with some awesome pictures, and we all ended up having a great time.

Here are some of the pictures from Shipwreck Beach. By the way, these are real shipwrecks.




After Shipwreck Beach, we all felt that we needed a warm place to warm our body temperatures (and go to the bathroom!) so we met up at a local shop that sells tofu donuts. The donuts were amazing, the bakery was adorable, and we had our first experience with a traditional Japanese bathroom.





After our trip to the beach was over, we returned to Misawa to join our work associates at my principal's house for Thanksgiving. We had an excellent turkey dinner and more pie than one could even imagine. It was a warm, inviting event and we felt right at home with our new friends. One of our friends even brought her Yorkie, so we got to play with him and find a new friend for Seamus once he gets here.



Later that night, I watched the parade, skyped with our families, and began my online Black Friday shopping! All in all, it was a great first Japanese Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

snow and sushi

We are loving all of the "firsts" we are having here in Misawa. This week, we experienced our first snow and sushi in Japan. Ah, which one to start with...they were both so much fun!

Now, you know I'm really not the biggest fan of either snow OR sushi. I don't the combination of wet and cold that snow often brings, and I don't like to partake in much of what comes from the sea. So me telling you that I enjoyed both of these must say something about where we are!

The snow was crazy. It wasn't just that we received real snow for the first time since we left Reno several years ago, but it was the fact that it was bright and sunny for most of the day. The snow seemed to come out of nowhere, and then it just kept going. And going. And, wait for it, going. For about 24 hours, it snowed continuously. It was only overcast and cloudy for a small portion of that day. At times, it would snow lightly, with huge, puffy flakes. Then were the times that it felt like it was being dumped all at once. Either way, it was a pretty entertaining day just to watch the weather. Needless to say, my students had a hard time concentrating since we have an excellent view out our window. They had a blast playing in the snow at recess.







Like the snow, the sushi was crazy. We went to Kappa Sushi after hearing about how great it is from a friend as well as a Japanese local.


What we didn't know was that it would be more the experience than the food that made the night so much fun. When you sit down, there are several sites to take in. First, the food comes out on a conveyor belt. There are plates of sushi that are pre-made, and you can take the plate right off the belt if it looks like something you want. Second, there is a touch-screen where you can order something specific to be brought to you. Third, there is a track above the conveyor belt that holds the bullet train. Yes, the bullet train. Any food you order from the touch-screen is brought to you on a little yellow shinkansen that beeps to let you know it's coming. We had an immense amount of fun ordering our dinner!





video

So to sum it up, we've had snow and we've had sushi, but we've never had it quite like we got to have it here in Misawa.

Friday, November 18, 2011

of noodle museums and new coffee treats

We recently had our first Japanese mall experience. And yes, I do say "experience." Just like most other things here, we are learning as we go, and the mall was no different. We went to the ELM Mall in Goshogawara (try saying that three times fast!). Since we hadn't eaten that day, the first place we wanted to head was toward the food court. We had gotten a recommendation to try out the "noodle museum." Having no clue what this was, we didn't know what to expect. Was this actually a museum about noodles or did we lose something in the translation? When we got there, we understood.

This was not really a museum...it was an exhibition. A noodle exhibition. Basically, you walk in and you're transported to this whole new world, revolving around noodles. It had a bit of a rain forest motif going on, and there were about 20 different noodle restaurants along this dark path with Japanese tiki statues and trees surrounding the whole area. Each restaurant had somewhere around 10 tables in it, and each one had what looks like a vending machine in front.




Well, it doesn't just LOOK like a vending machine. It is one. Basically, you decide what you want to eat and then push the button on the vending machine. You insert your yen and it prints a ticket. You hand the ticket to the person at the counter and they bring it to you when it's done being made.

Well, this is all fine and well, except that it was all in kanji and we had no clue what we were ordering. We decided to take a crack at it, though, and ordered a few things. We ended up with udon noodles (which I love) and a fishy soup (not so much) and some amazing gyozas. Ben ended up going with the noodles and soup while I polished off the gyozas. We had seen several Japanese bakeries throughout the mall, so we weren't too disappointed that we both only had half a meal.

We wandered around the mall, observing the objects and the people (as well as looking for Christmas gifts for friends and family back in the states!) We found some awesome little trinkets, but most of the things we found were really expensive. We figured we were better off going with some of the things we had found in local shops around Misawa instead. Along our walk, though, we found a few familiar sites, including a Baskin Robbins and (drum roll, please) the only Starbucks in Aomori Prefecture!



While we have a few cafes on the base that brew Starbucks coffee, none of them have nearly the selection that a real Starbucks does. While we were unable to find the Starbucks mug with "Japan" on it, we did find some really great Starbucks treats. We decided to try drinks that were not available in the states. I got a dark chocolate java chip frappuccino (which was the best drink I've ever gotten at a Starbucks!) and Ben got a matcha frappuccino.



Armed with our caffeine, we were ready to do some more exploring. We found a fish market (and a few vegetable and sushi markets) right inside the mall, where the Macy's would have been in an American mall. We found a suspicious looking KFC across from an even more suspicious looking Italian restaurant. And, we found a ton of bakeries with scrumptious goodies calling our names. We ended up getting an amazing cheese and meat stuffed sandwich to compensate for our small lunch, and marveled at how intricate some of the pastries were along the bakery shelves. We knew when we came here to expect the Hello Kitty cuteness that pertains to just about everything in Japanese culture, but it still surprised us that they even add these attributes to their bread.


We are excited that something as mundane as going to the mall could seem so exciting, and we're even more excited about exploring more around the area!

Friday, November 11, 2011

water for sunsets

We finally got a car AND the insurance to drive it, so we have been trying to leave the base every day, if only for a little bit, so we can get to know our way around Misawa. It's been getting dark at 4:30 in the afternoon, so we don't have a lot of daylight once school is over, but we've have fun exploring!

Today, we had three missions. First, find the hundred yen store (which turned out to be awesome!), the McDonald's (which is WAY better than any McDonald's in the states), and the beach.


I was so proud of myself that I successfully navigated us to the store, to the McDonald's, AND to the beach...until we actually got to the beach. After the tsunami, the Japanese began building breaker walls because of the crazy undertows and the damage to the beaches. We could smell the salt air and the fish at the port, but there was no ocean in sight.

We decided to try and drive up the coast to see if we could find beach access. Twenty-eight km later, we still had no luck. We found a few areas that used to be access points, but are now closed to the public. We decided to be intrepid and continue on, and we finally found a wharf. From there, we could see the ocean! My wish to touch the Pacific Ocean from its Asian boundaries will have to wait, but at least I've seen it now!




On the way back to Misawa, we were lucky enough to be able to watch the sun set. We found a few spots that were so breathtaking, we had to pull over and shoot some photos!!


While we didn't get to walk along the beach, our day of exploration ended up being a great time!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

accident

Well, our rush to jump into local culture continued when we got into our first Japanese car accident today. Now, let me preface this by telling you that nobody was hurt and we were not the ones driving.

We were on the way back to school from lunch and got into a bit of a fender bender. This was nothing unique, but what happened afterward was truly Japanese. See, when a driver in Misawa needs to make a phone call, which isn't allowed while driving, they simply and stop the car and make the call. Note, I didn't say they pull over and make the call. They often just stop in the middle of the street. So it's understandable that the lady whose car was hit stayed put in the street for twenty minutes while waiting for the police rather than pulling to the side.

When the police finally came, they directed the involved cars into a nearby parking lot to get them out of the way...and then proceeded to park the police car right in the street. It was at least entertaining watching all the traffic coming from four directions trying to maneuver around it.



Wednesday, November 2, 2011

backwards

So we have realized that while many aspects of life over here are similar to what we were used to in the states, there are differences we never expected.

Take for instance driving. We knew to expect cars to drive on the opposite side of the street, but didn't realize that this would affect us in so many ways. When crossing the street, I never realized how engrained in my mind it was to look to the the left, and then to the right in order to cross. You do that here and you are road kill! Looking right first is the way to ensure safe crossing. Then there are the drive-thru windows. Never did it enter our minds that one would go around a drive-thru clockwise!



When entering a building that has multiple doors, you enter on the left and always walk on the left side of the sidewalk to keep traffic flowing.


Another thing that is different is the signs! The stop signs look like the yield signs you would see back in the states, and then we kept seeing this sign all over the place.



What looks similar to the "illegal immigrant" signs you'd find all over southern California, or maybe a warning that people might be running and to watch out for them, this is simply an exit sign.


We have learned a lot in just a few days on how to live here, and we still have a lot to learn!!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

konnichiwa

Well, we're here! After what seemed like the slowest month in our entire lives and the fastest and busiest, we are finally in JAPAN!

The last week really flew by as we got the house packed up, finished working, and said goodbye to some pretty amazing friends. Don't forget the piles and piles of paperwork that needed to be filled out! And then out of nowhere, we are on a plane with bilingual directions for everything, headed for Tokyo!



After 19 hours of flight time, we arrived at Narita Airport in Tokyo and took the shuttle to the main terminal. Having never traveled with enough belongings to last a month or two, we had some trouble getting all of our luggage where we needed to go! Luckily, customs wasn't too far away and we made it through without too many hitches.




After getting through customs, we found the counter that takes care of Takuhaibin shipments (they will take your baggage and deliver it to you the next day, anywhere in Japan) and from that point it was much easier getting around. We only had three bags instead of six, and I honestly don't know how we would have gotten through the rest of our trip if we hadn't done it!

After the Takuhaibin counter, we took an escalator down to the train station and bought the first of several sets of train tickets to start our rail trip to Misawa. The first train we took was the Keisei express to Tokyo - it was about 45 minutes on the quietest train I've ever been on. It felt like a really fast version of the monorail at Disneyland! Passing through Tokyo was AMAZING. There were so many buildings, cars, and people everywhere!! It's definitely a city I want to spend some good time exploring.




From there, we navigated our way through Ueno, which is Tokyo's main train station. It was quite a feat, since we had to leave the station we were at and head to the Shinkansen (bullet train) station down the street. This station was also in the middle of a Japanese shopping mall, and it was PACKED. We passed by a Starbucks (which we had been craving, big time) but weren't sure we'd have time for it. We found a ticketing agent and purchased our Shinkansen tickets that would take us up to Hachinohe. The tickets cost about ¥ 16,000, (about $200) -- still have to spend time trying to calculate the conversion rates in our heads! Good thing we have an app for that ;)

Finding our way to the terminal was a pretty crazy experience - I'm pretty sure we went up and down about 10 escalators at the station - one of them has got to be the longest escalator I've ever seen. It just kept going and going and going. It seemed like we had to be a mile underground by the time we got to our platform.

The Shinkansen was a great experience. There was a nice old lady sitting behind us who had a great time trying to explain to us how to get the seats to recline. She demonstrated the whole thing for us and then watched us do it. There was a family traveling from Omiya to Morioka and they had some young daughters who were entertaining to watch. The youngest was fascinated by the motion-sensor directed door between the cars and would try to sneak up on it to get as close as she could without opening it (or opening it at the last minute and running into the car before her parents could catch her!)

We got to Hachinohe at 8 pm and had exactly 8 minutes to get off the train, ride the escalator up to the gate, put our tickets in the machine to leave the terminal, find the ticket office, purchase tickets to Misawa, go through the terminal gate, ride the escalator down, and get on the train. We almost didn't make it, but the captain of the train saw us and waited for us to board! (wheww!)

The last train ride was only about 20 minutes or so. We got there around 8:30 pm and Denise and Ben were waiting for us at the Misawa station. From there, we entered the base, checked in to the lodge, and collapsed into our bed!

We are loving it here already!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

hello and goodbye

In some ways, I can't wait for the next month to fly by and be over!! In others, I wish I could hold onto them for just a while longer.

I never expected to feel remorse about leaving the great state of North Carolina. I kept telling myself not to get too involved, not to make great friends, and to be ready to leave at any point. Of course, that didn't happen.

I'm so excited to make this huge change that moving to Japan will bring. I can't wait to meet my new class and my new coworkers. I really can't wait to experience all the culture that is just waiting to be explored!

But I have to say that I will miss it here. Not that I will miss Fayetteville by any means. I will, however, miss the amazing people I work with (and often play with!!) I will miss several of the families I have had the privilege of getting to know while teaching their children. I will miss several aspects of living in the south. (Though, I won't miss the insects and the humidity!!) I will miss only having a three hour time difference between us and home. For all of you who made my time in NC not only bearable, but amazing, thank you. You, I will miss.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

new, fun things

I've discovered some really cool, new products in the last few months, and thought I'd share a few of them with anyone who is into new, cool products!

The first thing I want to tout is my new website!!
I really did love the old one, but upon my lurking on Blu Domain's blog, I realized their birthday was coming up. They always have some amazing prizes, giveaways, and sales around their birthday month, and I was ready to take advantage of it! I searched every single new website they had put out to find the one I would eventually fall in love with, purchased it for HALF OFF, and then, voila. Magic was in the air. I love the unique features you can add to their websites to make them as individual as the people and businesses who run them, but they are simple enough so that even those with no html/graphic/coding skills can still manage them. If you're on the lookout for a great way to advertise your business, I'd definitely recommend them.

Another great product I recently (and it's recent, because it's NEW) discovered and played with is Totally Rad's new RadLab. It is designed to be used with Photoshop (I think they may have a Lightroom version in the works). I've used their actions before, and have always loved them, so all the hype they were putting out about this new RadLab intrigued me. The more I read about it, the more I wanted it, and I have to say that I was not disappointed. As someone who has learned quite a bit about Photoshop, I am loving the shortcuts into making my photos look amazing!! The nice thing, and something you don't see with too many actions packages, is that it's completely customizable. You can go in and change the opacity and intensity every step of the way, and you can pile several of the "stylets" on top of each other for a unique look. And if you find that you want to get rid of the first stylet you applied? You don't have to go all the way back in your history and redo everything else...you just delete it. This program is great for Photoshop beginners, and it's a godsend for those who know Photoshop but don't have the time to go in and do everything manually.

I recently decided to jump on the bandwagon and try out Groupon and now, I wonder how I got on without it. What a fun way to save money on things we do all the time, and a cheap way to try things we've never done! For example, we got a movie deal at this great theater near us. We got two tickets (any time), popcorn, candy, and two drinks for the same price two matinee tickets would have cost us. Then there's the new adventures. Next week, we're going to MollysMud to try our hand at painting. I'm sure that our paintings will be completely awful, but we've already set aside some wall space in our office to hang our very own paintings so that we can remember how much fun we had creating them. It's something I never would have thought to spend money on until I found the Groupon for it and realized we could afford to try it!

I'll keep you posted on any other fun findings...'till then...

Friday, September 16, 2011

news!

Just found out that we are moving!! I got a first grade teaching position at Misawa Air Base in JAPAN!!!

It seemed like this moment would never come - we have been trying to prepare our families (and ourselves) for this for nearly two years...and it just seems so surreal. Will write more later as we find out more details about the how's, when's, and all the important info!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

month of the military child

We are in the midst of celebrating the Month of the Military Child. One of the activities our school participated in was to interview any teachers who grew up as military kids. Having a third grader interview me about my life as an Army Brat really made me look back at my life. Growing up in so many towns, posts, and cities, I've lived a different life than most people in this country. Honestly, I hated it back then. Every time I'd finally get situated at school and make some good friends, off we'd go to the next place. Even the places we returned to after several years were like new, as those I had been friends with had moved on as well. Now, though, I see it as an important part of who I am. I feel I'm capable of dealing with change better than many of my counterparts. I might not like it or want to embrace it, but I deal with it and move on. With all the upheaval we've had due to the economy and being laid off, I think it was the constant change growing up that helped me to deal with it this time around. Yes, it was devastating to lose my job. Yes, I hated that we had finally gotten to choose where we wanted to live, and now we had to move across the country, where we didn't know a soul. But, move we did. And it was a lot easier than I had envisioned. Not that I see myself staying in North Carolina forever, as we have bigger and better plans...

A few months ago, I went up to Seattle to visit my best friend. While I was there, I was able to go back to Ft. Lewis, where we were stationed several years ago. I was probably 4 or so when we lived there, and it's the first real home I remember. Not having been back since then, all I had were these pictures in my head: some from pictures I've seen of us living there and others, just foggy memories. Going back was an amazing experience - getting to see the park I remember playing at, hiking the paths I remember walking down with my family when I was younger, visiting the lake where we used to feed the ducks. Even though all the houses basically look the same, I was drawn to the one that was ours for that brief time. It made me realize that, yes, we moved a lot and didn't settle down until I was nearly an adult. Though fleeting, that time was real and it made me who I am today.

Walking down memory lane was an eye-opening experience for me. What can it be for you?











Saturday, April 16, 2011

ft. stewart

A few weeks ago, I was asked to lead a training down in Ft. Stewart on guided reading and our new reading curriculum. I would be going with two other teachers from our district, to a school nearly twice the size of ours, to teach other teachers (some of whom have been teaching since I was in elementary school). It also included a two-hour model lesson, where they (along with their principal and district superintendent) would be watching me teach THEIR kids, whom I had never met. What a daunting task!

It felt like every step was another sign that I wasn't cut out for this, though. Any source material or reference I wanted to use mysteriously disappeared from our school and even district office. Videos on the topic with a good lesson to show couldn't be found (and once we found some, they couldn't be downloaded.) After days of creating my own material, asking my tech-savvy husband to rearrange our entire hard drive and download programs that would allow me to download a video, and still running my own classroom, I was ready to go.

And what a trip it was. We felt so totally unprepared once we got there -- we worked tirelessly to revamp everything we had come in prepared to demonstrate. And in return, we got a lot of great ideas and hopefully, some new friendships.

This week, I got something else amazing out of it. Dr. Curtis, our Area Superintendent (meaning the superintendent of not only our district, but of the entire DoD continental U.S., Puerto Rico, and Cuba) sent me a letter, thanking me for my service. What an honor and what a great testament to the organization I work for. That someone so high up would take the time to personally sit down and write a letter to me was just amazing. (And it can't hurt my resume either!!)

You know me...I had the camera with me (of course) but didn't have a whole lot of time to go out and shoot. Here are some I snapped around post on my travel day, before heading back to North Carolina.