Friday, January 4, 2013

Sayonara Japan!

We are leaving early from our last duty station in Iwakuni, Japan. Our youngest, Gigi, was diagnosed with autism on October 4th and we are going back on January 6th to get the intensive therapy that she needs. We will be living with my Mom and Dad in Council Bluffs, Iowa until the first of October. Mick will need to stay in Japan until the end of his time here, which is around June 1st. We are building a home in Omaha, Nebraska 28 minutes from my parents' house. 

It was a great place to be, but now we are ready to move on. 

Sayonara Japan!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Directions to Tzusu "Sea Glass" Beach

My favorite place to go is a very short distance from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni. I have been asked for directions several times, so I thought creating a specific blog post would be helpful.

I have done posts about Tzusu Beach several times.

This one is the first time we went to Tzusu Beach. There are lots and lots of photos!

This is the second time we went and discovered the sea glass for the first time.

This is another link with some fun pictures.

Mother's Day 2011. Tzusu Beach is my favorite thing! We went there on Mother's Day and then dinner at California Chicken. A great Iwakuni day!

So, do you know how to get to Yellow Hat from the Monzen Gate? You can also get there from the main's just faster to slip out of the Monzen Gate. If's a hardware store on 188 that has a big yellow hat on the even says "Yellow Hat."

You are at the stoplight, with 188 in front of you and Yellow Hat on your left. You turn left on 188. Check out your odometer because it is EXACTLY 8 kilometers to the turn for Tzusu Beach.

You will know you are getting near, even if you didn't check your odometer, when you see this sign on your left for a pediatrician's office.

Then you will be going slightly up a sort of long hill and about halfway down the decline is when you hit the 8 kilometer mark and turn left (sea is on your left) into the entrance for Tzusu Beach.

The entrance curves to the right and around a retirement home. The parking lot is behind the retirement home.

There is a typical (rusty with weeds) Japanese park (but the kids still love it!) right in front of the parking lot along with restrooms (squatty potties, no Western potties) and a vending machine. Down at the beach, there is a small beach area to the right (with another restroom building) and then if you go left through the tunnel (We yell "ECHO! ECHO!" and "YODLELEYHEHOO!!!!!!!!!") there are a few more areas of beach. Some rocky, some beachy. All fun in their different ways!

You get much, much more sea glass (brown, clear, green, blue and, my favorite, Japanese pottery) when it is low tide. I just found this link that publishes the low and high tide times!

If you go during the week, during the morning, you may see yochien (preschool) kids playing on the beach. They like to run through the tunnel yelliing too!!!!!! :) Sometimes they also bring the residents of the retirement home out in wheelchairs to enjoy the sea view and air.

There is a "Ninja" playground (our title) in the woods behind the beach as well as a rusty zipline that is super fun. YOU NEED TO BRING BUG SPRAY if you plan on going there!!!!!!

Be sure to bring a plastic grocery bag, or two or three, for all of your sea glass and shell treasures. Also, I like to pick up litter along the way as well and throw it away or recycle when I get home.

It's also a good idea to pack a change of clothes for your little people because they will probably get wet, as in soaked, playing in the tide pools.

There is a faucet to rinse your feet at the restrooms closer to the beach, on the level of the big palm trees.

Some days there are freaky bugs that swarm and swarm on the walls and the beach. I tell my kids to stomp (when they're scared) and say "FE! FI! FO! FUM! I smell the blood of an Englishman!" to scare them away. They'll scatter. They really are creepy.

You only need to plan an hour and a half or two hours (with travel) to do this. It is not something you have to save for a Saturday, but a great morning or after school activity. It can be really hot (like everywhere) in the summer, so pack drinks and snacks for the car for the ride home. If you brought a change of clothes...stop at the Gyoza House for a quick lunch on the way home!

Enjoy! I hope this is helpful to my fellow citizens of Iwakuni! :)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Hello Kitty Presents

If you want to throw a "Hello Kitty" party...your best bet is to throw it when you live in Japan.

Hello Kitty merchandise as follows:

Bags, bags, bags and more bags (and funny enough, only one double)
Water bottle
Origami set
Hello Kitty figurines (like Polly Pockets)
Swimming pool intertube
Puffy stickers
Stationery sets
I know there's more...........

As well as some really fun Japanese and American craft sets and toys......AND a sarong and keychains (personalized for all of the Wagoner family) from Bali from Chisano Sensei who just got back from an extended vacation in Bali!!!!!!!

WOW!!!!!!! THANK YOU!!!!!!!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Claire-chan's Hello Kitty Birthday Party

Our two years at yochien is drawing to a close, with Claire going to kindergarten in the fall, and we wanted to invite all of her classmates to her "Hello Kitty" birthday party.

First, I had the cutest invitation made by a nice person on Etsy
and then I asked Mick's secretary, the FABULOUS Miss Nika-san if she could translate it and provide a form for our Japanese friends to turn in so we could get them approved to come on base.

クレア 5歳の誕生日会のご案内
日にち :6月3日(日)
時間 : 12時 ~ 3時
場所 : 米軍岩国基地内 コミュニティルーム
参加ご希望の方は、エスコートが必要となりますので必要事項をご記入の上、5月25日までにお申しみくださいますようお願いします。 もし、ご質問等ございましたら、79-5593まで日本語でお問い合わせ下さい。 皆様のお越しをお待ちしております。                 スーザン ワゴナー


お名前 ローマ字 生年月日

So no turning back....and then I looked at her class list. And my heart hit my toes. 28 kids. 17 Japanese and 11 American. So probably take the 17 x 3 for a parent and a sibling and then the 11 times 2 for just a parent and that adds up to, hmmm, carry the 3...62...oh shoot...add in the bus stop friends.....yep. Around 70 people. Holy Schmoly.

I was reassured by Miss Nika-san that our Japanese visitors would want American food. So I ordered fruit and vegetable trays, barbecue and medium hot chicken wings and pizzas. I found this nifty tip on how to cook hot dogs on Pinterest and then potato chips and dip and puff cheetos.  Note to future party planners who are having Japanese attendees....they really only want the pizza and a few hot dogs. (We ordered more pizzas mid-party.)
Grandma Yochien was kind enough to bring some sushi and rice balls!

We are extraordinarily lucky to have beautiful community rooms that we can reserve and use for free. For the under 7 set, you can have the one which has slides, climbing things and a rock wall. But since there were going to be so many kids/adults, we also checked out a jumpee (again for free) and had that outside. 
The Japanese are very prompt and the party started at 11:55 with some coloring and playing. 
Hello Kitty coloring sheets, of course!
Then we funneled everyone through the food line and panicked a bit over the pizza, but there was plenty of food and we got the backup pizza in time. 

Then, we had the treat of the day!!!!! "Grandma Sensei" is the owner of the Yochien and she brought a kimono to dress Claire up! I took several pictures during the dressing because I had a lot of chances to do so! It took Grandma Sensei about 15 minutes to get her all dressed! Claire beamed all the way through and stood very nicely! It was because she was enjoying it so much as well as she's an overall good girl!
There were several layers and steps to the kimono!

Claire felt like a Japanese Princess!

We threw her hair on top of her head.

I can't believe I didn't get a picture of the big bow! :( It was so pretty!

Getting closer to the end!

And a birthday crown!!!!
I had Claire stand on a chair and everyone gathered around and sang to her. I've never seen her beaming so much and so happy....and she is one sweet, happy girl!

Happy Birthday to You!!!!!

The Happy Birthday fan! :)
Then it was time for cupcakes!
And while no one mistakenly assumed I purchased them from the bakery....they were super cute and fun! I had made rainbow cupcakes before, but this you could taste the rainbow because instead of food coloring, I used jell-o to make the different colors. 
Miss Nika-san gave me the beautiful Ikebana (Japanese flower arranging) centerpiece since I was the Mother and it was my special day too. Isn't she the SWEETEST? 

After the cupcakes and ice cream (in Hello Kitty cups, of course)
Claire with her friend Aurora.
we had more general playing and put on Hello Kitty tattoos. 
Don't you love when Moms step in and help at a party? :) THANK YOU!
We have a fabulous face painter on base, but I thought with so many kids, the line would be too long, so I went with the tattoos. It was super fun to give the kids lots and lots! 
I think Claire had 8! :)
Then we took a few pictures

Too bad we didn't get our other girls in a family picture. All of us girls except for Audrey had on matching Hello Kitty shirts! :)
Then we offered our Japanese friends the leftover food, which they gladly unburdened us of and we said Arrigato Gozaimasu (Thank you) and Sayanora (Goodbye)
All of the Senseis came! 

 and whew! We made it!

We opened a few presents

but couldn't get through all of them and cleaned up and went home for a little slip-n-slide action and an early bedtime.

When we walked in the house, Claire remarked to no one in particular, 'THAT WAS A GREAT PARTY!" 

I'm so glad she had fun! She is such a sweet girl!

Happy 5th Birthday Claire!!!!!!
I love you! 

Salad and Rose Gardens

Mick and I, despite both being from farming (extended, not immediate) families, have never gardened. A few flowers here and there, but never a vegetable garden.

Last year Mick planted a cherry tomato plant in our cute little garden at the old townhouse on the flight line and then transplanted it to our current house and it was the cherry tomato plant that wouldn't die. We enjoyed it so much!

This year we expanded and made a "salad garden." Cherry tomatoes, Japanese cucumbers (smaller), and lettuce.

We found these two cucumbers underneath the plant this weekend.

HOLY COW!!!!!!!!!!! Did I say smaller? :)
We have picked the lettuce three times and you can see that it has grown back again! LOVE!!!!!

We have some green cherry tomatoes and there are sooooooo many blossoms still! We're going to have TONS!

I got so excited with the success of the "salad garden" that I have planted a few extra pots. Edamame, blueberries and strawberries. We'll see! One of our neighbors is an expert gardener, a good Kansas farm boy, and he told us to learn gardening, the best thing you can do is to start out slow. He said the mistake that most people make is to plant too much, fail miserably, and then never garden again. He likes our "salad" plan and has been giving us a few tips here and there.

We planted some rose bushes (tulips too, but those are gone) and they are blooming! Love them!!!!!

When you have an ISU cheerleader gnome and a Texas gnome, you get motivated to make them a nice home in which to live!

We also planted a mican (Japanese clementine) tree. It won't bear fruit while we are here, but I have the fantasy that years from now the people who move into our house will feel so lucky that they got the "Mican Tree Townhouse." :)

I don't think HGTV will be calling us anytime soon, but we are very proud of our little garden!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day Homesick Blues

It's the three day weekends that get me.

The big holidays, the Thanksgivings, Christmases, birthdays...I can handle those. Years ago Mick and I realized that because of his military career, it wouldn't do to always wish you were "home," meaning where you grew up, with extended family, for the big holidays. We wanted our kids to not be longing for something else the years that we couldn't buy 3, then 4, then 5 and now 6 plane tickets home for each big holiday, so we started our own traditions. Hoping that it would be enough to be in our, sometimes very meager, living room and around our beautiful kitchen table at the big holiday times. And it usually is. The big exception was New Year's Eve 2010 when all of my family, except for us, was gathered at my parents' home and skyped us just after midnight in Japan. That is one night that I would rather never have to remember. But normally it is fine.

Three day weekends, though, are the ones that are hard. We have never lived within driving distance of Council Bluffs (where I grew up), Omaha (where Mick went to high school) or Grand Island (where Mick grew up), so we have never, in 15 years of marriage, spent a three day weekend at "home." My Mom's potato salad, sitting on my sister's deck, gathered around my father-in-law's pool...these are things that I desperately long for on three day weekends.

There has been lots of Facebook posting about remembering the true reason for Memorial Day and I strongly believe this. It's not ALL about barbecues and picnics. Before Facebook, I would e-mail the article of The Lion of Fallujah since the Memorial Day weekend of his passing in 2007, and now I always post the article on my Facebook page. Major Douglas Zembiec, the "Lion," was a Naval Academy classmate of a friend, fellow Marine lawyer, Kyle Murray, who was our neighbor that year. Major Zembiec's death really hit home.

This year I added a new article to my Memorial Day repertoire. Tom Manion's tribute to his son, First Lieutenant Travis Manion is an important article asking the question "If I don't serve, then who will?" First Lieutenant Manion was serving under our friend, Colonel Beau Higgins, when he was killed in Iraq in 2007. Mr Manion has kept his son's memory alive through the good works of the Travis Manion Foundation.

I have long been a fan of Frank Schaeffer, author of Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Story About Love and the USMC and this year he published a must-read article in the New York Times about how Americans need more "skin in the game."

But the biggest burden on my Memorial Day heart is my friend Julie Breazeale, who lost her brother Staff Sergeant Jon Metzger this January. She is spending her first Memorial Day without her brother on an emotional tour in Washington DC, honoring the fallen.

Her family was told that this is the last photo that was taken of Jon.
I told Julie that I hate that this is his last photo, as in, I wish there would have been so many more, but as far as last photos go...what a legacy he left behind. The smile, the caring for the children, the sacrifice for his country...what an amazing man!
So after all of that, it's hard to complain that I miss my family, my "home" and wish I could sit on my sister's deck and eat my Mom's potato salad. But I'm human and I do miss them terribly. So if you are near family this weekend, I implore you to remember the real reason for Memorial Day, as well as eat some potato salad, or whatever is your Mom's special dish, and enjoy your extended family. If you do those things, you will honor the memory of the fallen in addition to the sacrifices of the military members and their families who are serving around the world.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

We don't need Nancy Drew

to solve The Mystery of the Messy Yard.

Or should I call it, The Tower of Plastic Toys?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Backyard Air Show by Blue Impulse

My rocket scientist brother is rather disappointed in me that I couldn't bring myself to walk the 3/4 mile to the flight line to watch the air show close up, but neither Claire nor Gigi like crowds or loud noises, so the flight line where there were close to half a million Japanese attending the "Friendship Day" air show was the last place I would show up. (Whew. Holy run-on sentence!)

Here's a photograph taken by the Marine Corps of the crowd. Traffic was backed up to Hiroshima. They stopped letting people in at 1:00 or so because of security and Mick said the funniest thing. He said, "The Chinese and North Koreans were here first thing. Wouldn't have hurt to let more Japanese in." ;-)

However, we were able to see the Japanese version of the "Blue Angels" from our backyard. They call themselves "Blue Impulse." Here are too many pictures, but we kept clicking away!

It was a really meaningful show for the Japanese people because the Blue Impulse are headquartered out of Sendai, where the tsunami hit, and this was their first show back after the devastation hit.

This is our backyard and our playhouse. So fun how they were practically flying over our house!

You wouldn't catch our Blue Angels doing this, but it was very Japanese and cute! (Japan is SO Japanese!) The last plane was flying an arrow through the heart, but the smoke was blowing away by the end.

They liked smoke!

Another fun backyard picture!

Our pilots didn't like the heart, but the ones I talked to after the show thought the star was cool! :)

Thank you Blue Angels for a fabulous show!
Our house is next to some Air Force Communications something or other ("We have Air Force here?" Yes. Three Airmen.) and it was guarded during the air show.
We gave them chairs. It was pretty funny to have armed guards outside our yard. They were very friendly! :)
Playing around with the zoom lens after the show.
He wore his Japanese character hat (from the High School, says "Samurai") for the show.
The show was over and it was safe for Gigi to wake up from her nap and she came out and ran around the yard in her diaper, covered by a diaper cover, which had to be covered with Dora panties.
Or as Mick said "She's not White T, She's White G!"
We went to a reception afterwards and I bought the Blue Impulse pilots and crew some beer and got a few pictures!

Arigato Gozaimasu
 (Thank you very much!)
Blue Impulse!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Claire's Yochien - Tulip Class

The Japanese school year begins in April, so Claire moved up a class to the Tulip class! Opening Ceremonies are a big deal and I knew this year to dress up a bit more...last year I am not sure if I remembered to brush my hair! :-0

Here is Claire's class with Moms (and some siblings...Gigi was in our picture last year!). :)
My friend Sheila, front row left, is the English teacher and the Sensei, whose name is Shiho, is front row right. Claire is the tallest kid in her class!

We received this fabulous newsletter from Shiho Sensei.
How lucky are we to have Claire's Sensei so sweet and motivated? Love that this is her dream an love that she wants to make a difference with each child every day! WOW!!!!!!!!

26 KIDS, but I know she can handle it!
Hooray for Yochien!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Audrey's Amazing Race Birthday Party

Our first baby girl, Audrey LeighAnn, turned thirteen last Sunday!!! (And that is not an April Fool's Joke!)

I had suggested that we have a kareoke party (the Japanese have Kareoke "bars" where you get your own private room and it's super fun), but she said no. Then I suggested a Scavenger Hunt and she didn't protest. One of her favorite shows is "The Amazing Race" and one early morning in December when Mick got up with Gigi and couldn't get back to sleep he had a brainstorm to have an "Amazing Race" birthday party and e-mailed me a bunch of ideas.

We tried to keep it a secret from her, but darn Google and it's auto-fill feature...she was googling one day and it suggested "Amazing Race Printables." Oh well! No surprise needed to make this a super fun party!!!!!!! :)

First we started with this invitation (if you didn't click on the above link for the fabulous printable it is again!) (Double parenthetical, sorry, but she was really amazing! I highly recommend!)

The day of the party arrived and we had 4 teams of two. 
Um, yes...I did have t-shirts made with Audrey's picture on it....overboard?

We had a staggered start and this was the first clue. 
Audrey had already taken off because it was suggested by Mason (holding the clue) that she go first because she was the birthday girl (followed closely by "Don't you think I should go second since I suggested Audrey go first?"). :)
This was their mission once they got to the basketball court. 
Michael and Max Coletta were nice enough to accept their fate of being volunteered (Thanks Megan!) to be the judges at this event. They liked using the stopwatch! The shots (lay-up, then where the dots are, then a free throw) had to be done in one minute and if they didn't get it accomplished, they had to start again!
Once they completed that mission, they received their next directional clue. 
And then this was their mission. 
Mick was the official judge on this one. 
Their next direction was
and they had a choice to do one of two missions. 
Two teams chose the soccer/socks mission and two chose the mailbox mission. The soccer/socks one was faster. I didn't even get a picture of it in progress, but caught up with them at the post office. 
Way to go Jenae and Kyle!

They were super tired though from the extra biking!
Brad Goode was our judge here! Julia and Olivia handed out the clue at the Torii! Thank you!

In case you were wondering, there are 2,544 boxes at the Mainside post office. :)

Then their next clue was
They were told that if they weren't safe on their bikes (not using a helmet, crossing somewhere other than a crosswalk) or being rowdy or loud where they shouldn't, etc...they would get a penalty.
And all judges had four of these in their possession but they are such GREAT KIDS that no one received one!!!! :)
The library one was the funniest because only two of the teams had a clue on what they were doing. Really? They don't teach the Dewey Decimal System anymore? 
Haille and Ariele smoked through this round, and had already made up time on the soccer/socks round, so (spoiler alert!) they were the winners! Mason and Lucas ended up using Lucas' iPhone to find out what the Dewey Decimal system was and came in second!
Then they had a LONG bike ride ahead of them which was straight into the wind!!!!
The kids were EXHAUSTED when they got to Penny Lake and were not fired up about having to put a tent together in the wind!

Mason and Lucas finished this first and received this last clue.

See, we have this amazing benefit from our Outdoor Recreation Department where we can check out all sorts of equipment for free. Tents/kayaks/jumpees/skis/snow boards/snow gear clothing/coolers/basketballs/sumo suits/etc/etc/etc. So we had to use it! :)
There's my birthday girl and her friend Becky running to the finish line!

I asked Audrey at this moment, "Did you have fun?" and she said, "Not really. I'm tired." :-D
Mason provided some good commentary for me though when they finished!
Such a character!!!

We went back to our house for pizza/cake/presents (only the second birthday party for Audrey where presents were allowed!) and announced the big winners!

(I think I deleted the correct video. Sorry folks. But I already told you who won and were the runners-up!)

Everybody had a fun time and it was satisfying to have it over. (Read: It was a LOT of work to prepare for it! Mick said, "Kind of puts a sleepover into perspective, doesn't it?)

Little sisters Gigi and Claire stayed with my friend Kathy (thank you!) and Gigi came home and fell asleep on a chair. Even Dora couldn't keep her awake.
And yes...she HAD been in her pajamas all day. :) It was a busy day for Mommy and that was one step I skipped! :)

A few last pictures of her amazing day! 

That's a t-shirt quilt made from t-shirts from kindergarten to present! My friend Kristen Razvillas did this for me and it is loved! Post a comment or e-mail me if you would like her contact information. Seems like her site is down. 

Happy Birthday Audrey!!!!! 
We love you!!!!!!! 
You are AMAZING!!!!!