Monday, September 18, 2017

Grace's Wedding

Back in May we went to Cincinnati for Grace's wedding, and I'm so excited to have pictures to share. Grace was a stunning bride and our cousin Olivia did an amazing job as photographer. I don't know how Grace is going to decide which ones to hang up. All of them?
Grace and Joey
It was a very rainy afternoon during the picture-taking window, which was really funny after the fact. In response to someone's comment about the rain being romantic, Olivia said, "I assure you, there was nothing romantic about me and Joey in that gazebo." They were in there during a torrential downpour with sideways rain. I was probably feeding Elise junk food in the back of Grace's car and praying it would pass. It was raining a little in this picture, but amazingly enough we don't look wet.
The handsomest little ringbearer, Damien
I love this SO much.
Fact: Grace and Anna picked out all the flowers by hand, most of them at Trader Joe's. We put all the bouquets, corsages and boutineers together in Anna's dining room. I say "we," but all I really did was trim off leaves because I have no florist skills. She had THE most beautiful flowers of any wedding I've ever seen, in my humble opinion. I love the way all those colors pop against the gray.
You'd never guess we were sisters, right?
The original seven of us -- plus Elise
Grace, Joey, Lotus, Elise and .. baby boy due in January makes 5!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Joey: 21 Months

For the first time ever, just a few mornings ago, I woke up to the sound of Joey laughing instead of crying. I was immediately confused and disoriented. What time is it? What's going on? I looked at the clock and it said 6:23. It was light in the room. Morning. Now I heard two voices, Timmy's and Joey's, and they both sounded like they were having fun. I went into their room and saw Joey out of his crib and the two of them playing. Okay! A little while later when I was remarking on how strange it was to hear Joey happy first thing in the morning, Timmy said, "He woke up good and I got him out before he got mad." And that is all fine by me as long as it takes place after 6.

This brothers' room-sharing success story is another sign of a partnership I see starting between the two of them. Neither of them had much use for the other until recently. Timmy was too young to take care of any of Joey's needs, and Joey was too much of a baby to be a buddy to Timmy. But now that Timmy has proven himself able to help Joey do things he can't, and Joey can now amuse Timmy as they play silly games together, we're seeing the beginnings of a beautiful friendship.
Another new development is that Joey, at long last, has adopted a lovey. I figured the window for loveys had passed, but as of the last few weeks every time he goes to sleep he does so while clutching "Car", a little blue Ford GT. Cuddly, right? It's about 6 inches long so it's not as easy to lose as a regular Hot Wheel would be. It used to be Delaney's, but after he dropped it one two many times and the doors stopped closing the right way, she gave it to him.
It never gets old hearing everything he says in his baby voice.There are a lot of motorcycles here in Okinawa, and Joey loves them all. He points them out and calls excitedly, "Gagoo! Gagoo!" The kids love getting him to say their favorite words, like 'poop' and 'butt'. He says the former like "put" except with p at the end, and the latter like "bet." It's hilarious and cute. And isn't it great the vocabulary we're helping him build? He's also starting to add some phrases in. For example, we'll go around the house looking for Car, and when we find it he says, "Eh you ah!"

He still loves his Elmo, and since we still don't have our TV I let him watch it on my Kindle a couple times a day. It's so nice for getting him out of my hair. He yells out the parts that he knows and sings along with the song. Annie got him a little stuffed Elmo at the Exchange.
We were at one of the sushi restaurants at American Village. The table they put us in is a little different than what we're used to. We have to take off our shoes, climb up some steps and then sit down on the floor with our feet going down into an opening in the floor. They provide these lovely boosters for the babies, but when the booster isn't strapped to a chair, you see what happens.
I've started taking him to "lap sit story time" at the library for babies up to two years old. He is at the perfect age for it. He loves the songs and the big stuffed puppy that goes around giving hugs. I love how laid back it is --- the babies can wander around and that I don't have to try to make him sit still and "behave". I used to try taking Timmy to a story time when he was that age, and they were very strict about kids not being allowed to move around or make a lot of noise. I had to take him out for breaks and what's the point of that? It's supposed to be for the toddlers, not for us. We're going there tomorrow morning, as a matter of fact.
There's a page in The Little Blue Truck where the toad character is smiling all big and toothy and showing his muscles because he's going to help; and Joey looked up at the page to me, smiling the same way. He is so cute and funny.

Last night after his bath I was holding him as I pulled pajama pants out of the drawer and selected just a random shirt to go with them. He said, "One. One," and reached toward the drawer as I was carrying him away. I went back to the drawer, and sure enough he wanted to pick a different shirt. Already?
This is our bedtime routine as of right now: At around 7, I tell him it's time to get ready to go night-night and bring him upstairs to put on his pajamas. Or if he's having a bath, I put on his pajamas afterward and tell him it's time to get ready for bed. Once he's in pajamas I take him back downstairs so he can make his rounds and give out his "mas" -- kisses. Once he's given everyone a "ma", I take him back up to his and Timmy's room and turn out the light. He always likes to take a look at the ferris wheel out the window, and I say, "Goodnight, beautiful ferris wheel." Then I nurse him and I say prayers and lay him down. He likes for me to kiss each of his hands. He holds up one and then the other. Then we blow kisses to each other as I leave.

I know I said I love watching him grow and change, but right now I kind of just want to freeze time. Is there a way to do that?

Monday, September 4, 2017

Our Temporary Home

I have very mixed feelings about our tour in Okinawa being only seven months long. Seven lousy months. Every time it comes up and I am bemoaning the limited time we have here, Tim reminds me it's never to late for him to call the monitor again. He always wants to find a way to fix the things that make me upset, and I appreciate that but it isn't always possible. I wouldn't want him to call the monitor and tell him he doesn't want command in Cherry Point after all, and pass up an opportunity he's worked for his whole career. I want us to go there, I love eastern North Carolina, and I'm really, really proud of what he's accomplished so far and will accomplish as commanding officer of his unit. I'm overjoyed we'll be able to make it to the family beach vacation in Topsail in June, and that both our families will be a day's drive away again. I want that and I want this. I can't have it all, but I keep forgetting that.

So I'm going to attempt to get it all out of my system the reasons I (so far) love it here and wish I could stay. Once it is all down here in words and pictures, I get to keep it forever.

A neighbor in Parris Island who had just come from Okinawa told me that it took her a year of hating it before she finally got used to being there and then started to love it. I'd heard that a bunch of other times too. The expression is "You go to Okinawa kicking and screaming and you leave kicking and screaming." I'd heard it takes anywhere from six months to a year to finally feel like you're home here. Knowing there was a good chance we'd only be there a year, I told myself I don't have the luxury of time to spend hating this place. I had to skip straight to the honeymoon!

The reality is we don't even get a year because the commanders' course is in April. Seven months is all we get. Seven. Months. So I'm going to sit here and just list all the things that I like or love about being here. Maybe once I've done that I can stop complaining about having to move so soon, and just start looking forward to North Carolina. That probably makes zero sense, but here goes.

1) House and its location.

If we're going to have a condensed Okinawa tour, there's one huge thing that worked out in our favor, and that's housing. Ordinarily, people move here and live on base and get no other choice. But with so many base houses being renovated, many people are being told to go out in town. The rental market has been inundated and people spend a month or more living in a hotel while they try to find a place to live. Getting the house locked on right away freed us up to just start living here.

When my friend down the street first described Camp Lester and the houses here, it didn't sound all that great. I didn't and still don't know what "tier two" housing is, and why it is not being offered to people; you have to know to ask for it. But I figured if it was good enough for them it was good enough for us, so Tim asked for it at the housing brief and we got offered two houses here.

Like a typical Okinawa house, this house has zero curb appeal. Picture a concrete bunker and you've got our house. But inside it is perfect! It has the exact amount of space we need, no more no less. No huge, huge expanse of living spaces that we're trying to fill with random furniture like on PI. Plenty of natural light pours in throughout the day through a handful of windows. It's an open floor plan, which is very conducive to our family. The kitchen is way bigger than most kitchens here, with ample counter space and more storage than we know what to do with (that is, until our slow shipment arrives).
One of our resident lizards
Speaking of storage -- we have so much upstairs and downstairs. The bedroom closets even have cabinets above them. There's a huge storage space behind the stairs too. In our last house, we had all this space, but no places to put anything away besides the closets! It was so strange. There are certain times of the year when you could really use some hiding places if you know what I mean, and that house had none. This house has lots.

There are two small full bathrooms upstairs, and small bathrooms with itty-bitty sinks are a cinch to keep clean. We also have four bedrooms upstairs. The girls and the boys each share one, and the fourth is a spare.

Besides the house itself, I'm really happy with the neighborhood. For one thing we already knew one family before moving in, and they have introduced us to several more. Our next-door neighbors have all approached us to introduce themselves. Timmy, ever the sociable one, has already made friends with the boys in the surrounding houses. There are plenty of places to play, and the neighborhood is quiet and safe. It's just like Parris Island in that regard, and that's why as a stay-at-home mom with young kids I prefer living on base over the other options, however nice and affordable they may be. I like being part of a community, not just a nice neighborhood. As introverted as I am, I still hate to feel isolated and alone among people who can't be bothered to wave as they walk or drive by. That was how it was living off base in North Carolina, and I won't soon forget it.
Across the road from Camp Lester and in walking distance (as long as it's not the middle of an August day) is Starbucks and Blue Seal Ice Cream. Behind that is Sunset Beach, aptly named because the first night we went there, we saw people lined up along a wall watching the sun go down. The portion of the water that swimmers are allowed in has netting all around it to keep out the jellyfish, and the water is so calm it's hard to believe it's the ocean. It's just like being in a big shallow pool. American Village is about a block away from that. We've walked around there a few times and gotten dinner. At night it is all lit up, colorful and flashing like a mini Las Vegas strip. There's a ferris wheel that the kids can see out their bedroom windows, and a fireworks show on any given weekend night. This place is what first got me thinking that the way people have always described Okinawa to me is very misleading. I remember our first next door neighbors on PI telling me about what a "simple life" it was there with no distractions. I said, "Simpler than here?" She was emphatic that yes, Okinawa has even less to offer than Parris Island, Beaufort and the surrounding area. There were the beaches and some hiking trails and that was about it. Well, maybe a lot has changed since she was there about 8 or 10 years ago, because this place is very built-up and touristy just from the little I've seen with my own eyes. We came from the simple life. This is not the simple life. But I'm OK with that because it's been a fun change of scenery.
This was right outside of Starbucks the same night.
Tim has a 15-minute drive to work in the morning and about a 30-minute one on the way home. (It's a small island, but traffic is heavy.) Unfortunately he works long hours and will be traveling a lot too.

I haven't gotten the lay of the land here by any stretch, but I'm comfortable finding my way to the commissary (five to 15 minutes away depending on the lights), the library, the pool and school. I know enough to get me by, but I have to push myself to venture beyond that. It makes me nervous, but it can be really rewarding. I took Timmy to a fish market across the island a couple weekends ago, and it was only about a 22-minute drive, but it felt so far away. When we got there I had no idea what to get -- we just guessed and pointed to things, and it was all delicious, the stuff we ate there and the stuff we took home for later. We even sampled squid jerky and squid ink. We both gave them a thumbs up.
Timmy was feeling very smug because he had picked out our lunch himself. Also because of this: As I was paying for our meal, I did the math wrong and gave the lady way too much yen (of course I did). She laughed and gave it back, I laughed too, and then she handed me my change, a 500Y coin. Timmy held out his hands for it and without thinking, I just dropped it in his palm. A minute later I realized I'd just handed him basically $5! Keep the change, you filthy animal! So he got to keep that one and I learned my lesson. But every time I'm paying in yen he holds out his hands next to me, hoping I'm distracted enough to just drop the change in. He's bound to get lucky at some point. One more reason I like using credit cards.
Today we drove to the big mall a few miles away. We'd had other, more outdoorsy plans for the first part of the day, but changed them because rain was threatening. Tim missed a turn and Google Maps rerouted us down this hilly, windy, very narrow two-way road.. And I'll tell you, every time I think I'm finally accustomed to being on different sides of the car, this happens. I'm on the side of the car that I used to drive on but feeling completely out of control, like we're about to careen off the edge or hit a telephone pole. It's terrifying. Tim, very amused at my discomfort said, "It's a real Okinawa experience!" I said, "I'm closing my eyes, let me know when it's over." I think I drove down the same road on the way to fish market awhile ago, but it's a completely different experience in the driver's seat.

2) School.

I've always heard people sing the praises of the DoD schools here. After just one week here I don't know enough to form an opinion on this school in particular, but their teachers made a good first impression on me and the kids seem pretty happy so far.
Joey waits eagerly for them to get home and yells, "Annie! Annie!"
Annie's finally lost one of her top two baby teeth! Both girls have lost teeth since we've moved here, and we're finding the Tooth Fairy to be very fickle, sometimes leaving 1000Y for a single tooth, and other times forgetting to come at all.
Their school is about a five-minute drive away depending on traffic, and that alone makes me happy. They spend about 20 to 30 minutes on the bus round trip, and they walk to and from the bus stop which is about a quarter-mile away at the entrance to our neighborhood. In Parris Island, they went to a school that was 25 minutes away by car, but a 45-minute bus ride each way. I really hated that the kids spent so much time getting to and from school, and their days were so long. This was something I really worried about as we prepared to move here. How far away from school would we be, what time would they need to be up, how long would it take to get there? I am very grateful for how it's turned out to be -- it's an answer to many fervent prayers.

3) Nothing in the air or on the ground trying to bite me or sting me.

The heat and humidity are as bad as Parris Island, maybe even worse. But I can handle some sweating because at least I know I'm not getting bitten to pieces by mosquitoes or sand fleas every time I go outside even for a minute. I can also wear sandals and flipflops without looking down all the time watching for fire ants. Anyone who lives in the South knows what I'm talking about.

We go walking and running at night and come back with only an occasional mosquito bite. It's amazing. The ants are all over the place, even inside the house, but they are harmless and I don't care.

We've enjoyed a few meals outside since we've gotten here. Amazing.

Once the weather starts cooling down a bit, I'm afraid Tim really will have to drag me out of here kicking and screaming.

Friday, August 25, 2017

First 2 Weeks in Okinawa

Two Fridays ago we stepped off the plane at Kadena Air Base dazed, disoriented and dependent on our sponsors to drive us to our hotel, show us around and tell us what to do. Today we walked out of our house on base, piled into the huge van which we are the proud owners of, and drove to school for a meet and greet with our kids' teachers.  All the days in between have been a whirlwind, but I have to say it has gone way, way better than I thought it would. I think expectation management was key to preparing for this move, and my expectations were way, way, way low.

Our plane landed around 5 p.m., and we had a whole entourage meet us at baggage claim, making us feel like VIPs. Tim's boss was there pushing a cart full of our luggage, and our sponsors too (they weren't actually our assigned sponsors, but people Tim will be working with who were helping out in our sponsor's stead since he was away at the time.) They drove us to our hotel in two carloads, waited while we got checked in, helped us get our six suitcases and six backpacks inside, chatted with us for a bit, and then left, telling us they'd be back the next morning at 10.

Tim reconfigured the furniture (we had adjoining rooms with a door between) to our liking and then I got Joey to bed. Tim and the other kids continued to buzz around but I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open. I changed, got into bed, pulled the covers up to my chin and told them, "I'm ignoring all of you and going to sleep now."  Tim said, "Seriously?" I said, "Yep. Goodnight." Once I did that, the rest of them settled down soon after to bed. That was about 8 p.m.

We were up for the day at 3:30. Breakfast didn't start until 8, and we were waiting at the door at 7:55. So much coffee was consumed by Tim and me that morning. Breakfast at the restaurant next door was included with our stay at the Westpac Lodge on Camp Foster, and we were really happy for that.
Waking up at 3:30 was acceptable for the first morning, but not for the second. Every time Joey woke up in the wee hours I'd tell him it was still nighttime, he had to lie back down. He was very sad. At 6 a.m. I opened the shade and took him out of his crib over to the window so he could watch the sunrise. I hoped this would help reset his little clock.
One of the people who had picked us up the day before, had us over to his house out in town. We met his wife and kids and walked to the seawall and ate dinner at a pizza place. I did not go all the way to Japan to eat pizza, but it was delicious. And now I know where to go if I'm ever in the mood for pizza. People were scuba diving right off of these rocks while we were there. It is a scuba and snorkeling paradise from what we hear, and that (the snorkeling at least) is something I'd love to try.
Tim went to the housing brief that Monday, and within a day secured us a house on base in a great location convenient for his work and where friends of ours lived. I was ecstatic. We went out for sushi with those friends and their two kids soon after. There was a lot more food there than we expected to get. We tried valiantly, but we could not finish it all. Delaney could not believe the size of her rainbow roll, but she ate every last bit.
I took the kids to the pool on base one day, I forget which. I told you it was a blur. The rule at this pool was that you couldn't be out of arm's reach of a parent if you hadn't passed the swim test. Delaney and Timmy were ordered out of the pool because I wasn't in with them. The girls were not keen on taking the swim test here even though they had passed it on Parris Island (I made sure to mention that they had passed the test at a Marine Corps Community Services -- MCCS -- pool. That didn't help.). Timmy eagerly volunteered to take the test even though he had failed at PI, and once they saw him pass, the girls took theirs too. Triumph!
Tim and I passed our SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) driving tests on that first Tuesday and Wednesday. We bought a Nissan El Grande from someone on Facebook, and Tim christened it "Rank", for Rachael's Tank. He says we are definitely getting a Suburban after this. I keep telling him it's not anywhere as long or wide as a Suburban. It's really just tall. I wouldn't want to take a turn too fast in this thing, although as slow as traffic moves around here, that would probably never happen.
Last weekend we were invited to a birthday party in our neighborhood-to-be, and it was fun to meet more of our neighbors.
So many people recommended Coco's Curry House that I decided we had to try it a few nights ago. When we drove up we were surprised to see that it was a fast food place, basically. Tim and I are kind of food snobs who avoid fast food, but it was Japanese fast food at least. The curry was alright; I've heard it's an acquired taste. But for as short of a time as we're going to be here, as seldom as we go out to eat once we're in our normal routines, and as many different places as there are to try, I don't see us making our way back there. If we get curry again, we want it to be at a local place that looks like a complete dive. Oh, and is full of Japanese people, not Americans.

I had to change Joey before we left, and the single stall bathroom had a nice changing table that even had a cushion for his head. The toilet had so many buttons you'd need a pilot's license to use it. 
Um.. I think I'll wait till I get home.
I have no words.
We moved into our house this past Wednesday, after giving the housing people a chance to fix the air conditioning, clean it up and fill it with government loaner furnishings. Our express shipment arrived first thing in the morning which was wonderful, given that the window they gave us was between 8 and 5. Tim took the boys to the commissary while Delaney, Annie and I unpacked and put everything away. It is so nice to have a home again, if only for a few months!
Tacos.. and coffee? Tim says they'd better have good bathrooms there. It's right down the street, maybe we should try it.
Sign at the beach across the highway from our neighborhood. Swimming prohibited during swimming hours -- got it!
The kids start school Monday, Tim's first real day of work is on Monday, and he'll be traveling a lot in the coming weeks. I'm hoping to find a good routine myself, and get more comfortable with driving around. Driving on the left side of the road is still weird and some of the lights are not what I'm used to at all. But it's going to be no fun if I stay at home all the time. So wish me luck.