Wednesday, 01/29/14 – Back in the Mix

Hey all.  I realize its been over a month since I updated anyone… I am terribly sorry!  We spent a wonderful three weeks at home over the Christmas and New Year Holidays, and we have been home now for a few weeks and boy, we keep busy.  I sleep, I eat, and then I’m tired so I sleep some more haha!  As of today, we have a month until Baby Fishy comes, exactly 30 days (February 28!).  As of my last doctor appointment, we had exactly 5 weeks left to go, and I reached the official 25 pound mark in my pregnancy weight gain, and Baby Fishy (still unnamed, in case you all wondered) weighed in at 6.6 pounds.  In this stage, babies can gain up to half a pound a week for the last few weeks, so I am excited to see what she measures next time, with only three weeks left to go! I am on a mission to get one good/decent/acceptable end of pregnancy pic, and if I do I promise to share this torpedo belly with you all.  My real mission though is to be able to walk to the hospital on the day she comes.  So far so good, and I don’t see any reason I can’t make this happen as of now.  I  fully intend to take a “selfie” on the way and title it something like “Oh, just walking to have a baby” haha. :)

We are super excited for my parents to come and stay.  They will be here on the 22nd of February, about a week before D day.  I am so fortunate that my parents can be here and help out, I know so many whose parents wouldn’t be able to due to working or economics or whatever, so I feel extra blessed.  Alex is counting down the days till they arrive for sure.

Alex got a new boy in his class (YAY!) named Blake.  He is from Australia, and he and Alex have really hit it off.  The best part is that they live super close to us. The boys have already had a play date and there is talk of a sleepover in the near future.  I’m sure hoping this is the good friend Alex has been waiting for.  It helps that Blake isn’t Asian as well I think, it gives each of them an ally they can relate with, and Blake teaches Alex some new and interesting words in the Queen’s English. :) Alex also got an iPad for Christmas! We have set him up an email address, and he checks his email daily, and plays Words with Friends.  He loves communicating with his Grammas and Papa, and i think it gives him some independence with me outside of the communication loop.  He even scheduled his own Skype date with Gramma Pat!!  Sometimes he reads me his emails, usually the funny parts from Papa, but mostly keeps them to himself.  I also like that I can iMessage him from my phone (and Gramma Connie can from her iPad) so he feels special like he is texting. :)  Funny Gus.  Most of you should have received his email, but if I forgot, or if you didn’t and want it, shoot me an email and I will get it to you.

Michael is doing good.  Back in the swing of things at work, working 7-7 right now every  week day, plus overtime when he can.  Its been nice not having him work weekends since we have been back, but i worry that he isn’t banking enough hours of OT and that when the baby comes they are going to whine and complain again.  Michael tells me he has it under control, so love and trust, right? :)  He has some amazing plans for this new technology group once we get back stateside, I am really looking forward to watching him grow within the Toyota environment.  He’s so dang smart :) Plus, a couple Japan trips every year and he would rack up a bunch of vacation miles WINK WINK!!  :)

I’ll sign off with some pictures, as my fingers are numb (do you all have any idea how terrible Carpal Tunnel is???  I want to cry some days…).  I hope to keep updated more regularly again, and I am positive once baby fishy comes you all will be inundated with pictures :)  Big hugs and lots of love to you all!!

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That’s my Gus, silly in Public :)

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My rocking chair came, and its packaging was another japanese feat of engineering lol!

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Alex made excellent use of the box while mike assembled and Mommy watched!

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TADA!  Thank you to everyone whose Amazon gift cards made this possible :) :)

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A couple of pictures of blooming flowers/cabbage I’ve taken in the last couple of weeks.  Amazing the difference between here and all that nasty snow and cold back home :)

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So in Japan, this is a thing.  Made me smile :)

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The absolute cutest outfit from our friends Matt and Gwen!!


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My new little ride.  Its a Toyota Vitz.  I was actually pleased it was the four door version lol!! Awe, so tiny!!

Thursday, 12/12/13 – Christmas Extravaganza!

Just a quick blog this week everybody, since we will be seeing most of you in just a few days!!  I cannot even begin to tell you how excited we all are to come home for the Christmas holidays, to spend time with families, and for me, personally, to eat my weight in Taco Bell. :)

Here is a video from Alex’s Christmas Pageant at NIS this year.  The 4th grade kids did excellent at the Cup song!  If you haven’t seen the original you can follow THIS LINK.  Each grade performed a different pop-culture hit.  Most were just singing, but the 4th grade did the cup song and the 5th grade had an entire band, with violins and electric guitar and everything!  What a talented group of kids :)

(PS – I really have a newfound dislike for ignorant people who sit in the front row and video tape the ENTIRE school’s performance with their iPads up in the air.  There must have been a dozen of them blocking the views for everyone behind them and the stage is in the very small cafeteria…  Very inconsiderate. Mike had to stand alongside the edge to get the video, and I couldn’t really see at all (until I watched the video).  Oh well I suppose.

Last weekend we explored Nagoya Castle and Tower, and Alex really enjoyed it!  We love it when Mike can enjoy a Saturday off work with us, even if it is locally :)

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Practicing his “Not Fake” smile with Japan Fall in the background  :)

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Crossing the dry moat to the castle grounds.

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There are beautiful flowering bushes blooming all across Japan right now.  Makes it feel very un-winter/Christmas haha.  But they smell divine…

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This guy’s mustache was quite a scary attribute…

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Alex, pulling a stone block into place like they would have in the ancient days when the castles were built.

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The Golden Dolphin!

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Well, we love you all and will see most of you in about a week!  I am busy packing and trying to stay un-stressed so the doctor lets me fly.  I have my checkup tomorrow, so as long as all is well I’m planning on taking baby fishy on her fist trans-world trip :)  Miss you all and big hugs!!

Monday, 12/02/13 – Giving Thanks

Hey all!  I’m going to post just a quick blog today, mostly pictures I think, for all you back home who were so interested in how our “Japanksgiving” was going to turn out!  I have to say, we have all taken to Japanksgiving like crazy, enough so that my iPhone now recognizes it as an actual word, and not some figment of my imagination!  Regardless, what a huge success it turned out to be!!!  It was such a joy to open our home to our American friends and to have such amazing food, it was just like being at mom’s, only maybe better because I cooked it myself this time HAHA!!  I’ve never attempted a thanksgiving before, so I believe it was a smashing success…

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Here is our group that came!  There were 19 of us, including Caden and Alex.  16 of us are Toyota Families, and then McKeller’s Mom, Dad and Sister were here over the holidays from the US so they tagged along.  It is an amazing group, and we really have become a support system for each other.  I am looking forward to going home and knowing these people (quite a few pictured are from TTC in Ann Arbor, where Mike is hoping to get to in a couple years)!

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Adding this pic for two reasons, one being that you can see my massive baby belly (Baby Fishy is quickly becoming Baby Sea lion or Baby Orca haha), and two because my fantastic husband is gracefully mutliating the 21 pound turkey I prepared.  HUGE shout out here to two of my moms (Mommy and Mom Fish!)  for all their shipping of supplies.  I had no trouble with the bird, and it turned out AMAZING.  Couldn’t have been better…

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And a view of the bar before consumption!  Our Menu was thus:  Turkey, Plain Stuffing, Corn Bread Dressing, Cheesy Potatoes, Green Beans with Ham, Sweet Squash, Savory Squash,  Mashed Potatoes, Turkey Gravy and Gibblet Gravy.  We also had lots of wine and sangria to go around. (I did not make all the food.  I was responsible for the Turkey, the two stuffings, and both Gravy’s).  I had made some Hummus and Ranch Dip for veggies, pretzels and chips too while we waited on dinner to finish.  Everyone’s dishes were fantastic!!  :)

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But then there was dessert!  We had Pumpkin Pie, Bourbon Sweet Potato Cupcakes, Chocolate cookies, Gluten-Free Brownies (so many allergies in our group!), and it was all sooo good!  I couldn’t believe how much food we managed to make and consume.  Some of the boys had third and fourths, and there was enough turkey leftover for about 4 sandwiches. :)  (Thanks to Lori for being of the mindset to take pictures of Japanksgiving!!!)

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Well, being large and in the kitchen for an entire day, I was worn out Saturday :)  We had dessert leftovers for breakfast.  Alex loves Pumpkin Pie :)  I slept aaalllllll day Saturday, and I would have loved to sleep all day Sunday as well, but we were busy…

Well, I can’t say enough about how excited we are to be going home for Christmas!  We are counting down the days (13 days and a wakeup!!!) until we leave, and we can’t wait to see everyone at home.  We will be in E’ville for a couple of days, and then split our time between families in Michigan for the rest of the trip.  I am looking forward to food and dairy products the most haha!

Here are just a few more pics from the last couple weeks to round out the blog gap! :)

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Yepp.  This is a thing.  I think it’s like steak sauce, but not sure.  I thought it was comical :)

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Mike’s sister Stacie turned us onto Trappist beers a while ago.  There are 9 monasteries in the world that produce beer, and are authentic “Trappist Beers”.  We have seen more trappist beers in our little corner of Japan than we ever did in America and all our beer stores lol.  I’m going to try to bring a few home for people!

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Yes, you see that correctly.  That is 15 small, not very nice looking strawberries for $10.  we start seeing them now for the holidays, but we won’t be consuming any of them at that price!

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We were in a subway “shelter” area in Fushimi, and as you can see, Alex and I enjoyed wondering what would happen if there was actually a volcanic eruption…  Waaay too many natural disaster-type incidents are possible on this island :)

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We went to the science museum with some of the boys from Alex’s class (missing 2 or 3).  He had such a good time, and we will go back because we didn’t see even close to all of it!

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I’m viewing the boys from a monitor outside the light room.

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And there were Dinosaurs!

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We went to Seto, famous for their ceramics, to do a little christmas shopping :)  I really liked this covered alley, which houses some artsy shops, because of the way the ceiling curved around.

Well that’s all for now.  Big hugs and lots of love to you all back home, and we will see you in 2 weeks!!!  :)

Thursday 11/14/13 – in Sickness and in Health!!

Good Morning all!  Hope everyone is fine on this gloriously chilly day here.  So, I decided my weekly blog is turning into a bi-weekly blog without my knowledge.  It seems something comes up way too often and I am sidetracked by life.  Maybe I wasn’t meant for this line of work haha!!  :)  Anyway, I am finally recovered from my illness.  I came down with a really bad sore throat on the 3rd, and I didn’t get out of bed for 4 days, then I spent some of the weekend in bed as well… Being sick when your pregnant is ridiculous.  Can’t take any medicine (I can’t read the boxes or labels anyway haha), and when I get sick its rough anyway.  Thank God its rare.  I can best describe it as having Strep and the Flu at the same time.  After the second day, Mike took the day off work to help (Alex had conferences, etc) and he went to the kusuriya (Drug Shop) for some organic throat spray for me.  I figured 48 hours of not eating and drinking was my limit.  I either needed to ingest something (for the baby’s sake!) or go to the hospital.  Well, everybody is fine now, uhmmm, maybe Michael not so much haha.  He caught a little version of what I had, no flu symptoms tho so that’s good! We have been cramming the vitamins and Zyrtec to Alex so he doesn’t come down with it, but he’s generally pretty healthy :)  We have discovered the most amazing thing for sickness tho… HOT GINGER ALE!  There are small areas of the conbini’s here where you can buy cans of hot tea or hot coffee, and they sell this ginger ale there!  Sometimes, the cans are so warm you don’t want to touch them!  But MmMmMm, is it wonderful.

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Delicious Can of Goodness!

Not much has been happening  lately, I’m off to my 10AM Kimikomi class in about 20 minutes.  I manage to stay quite busy, and even with all the walking I do it’s still amazing to me how much weight I have not gained with this baby! I guess after gaining 80 lbs or so with Alex, I assumed I was destined for largeness haha :)  But, I’m feeling great at 24 weeks, and Mike sure enjoys talking to the Lil Guppy and she is responding to his voice occasionally!  It’s really the sweetest thing!  :)  I can’t believe how blessed we are that this little surprise happened when it did, with Mike not having to travel at all (even if his shifts don’t let him be home normal hours every day).

Alex is doing good in school, he started after school soccer once a week.  They don’t really offer much to the elementary kids through the school (like back home), but I know he misses hockey as much as I do…  He loves reading and writing, which is fantastic.  He chose not to go trick or treating this year (it’s not the same here anyway), but asked me to take him out to dinner instead.  I agreed, and we got Baskin Robbins for a treat instead.  :)  He’s turning into such an amazing kid (I can’t even call him my little man anymore, he’s as tall as my shoulder!), with an appetite to match.  The going record is 6 tacos on taco night and  he recently ate a WHOLE medium pizza to himself.  He is 9! And he regularly eats more than Michael and I combined haha.  I don’t know what I’m going to do when he is a teenager lol.

We are getting excited for coming home for Christmas for sure!!  Just about 5 more weeks or so! I can not wait.  I’m going to eat the living daylights out of some taco bell, and some chicken noodle soup, and REAL MILK!!!  oh wow.  Anyhow, :)  I will leave you with some pictures from the last couple of weeks.  Miss you all, and big hugs to everyone back home!!

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I went and saw the Sound of Music (on “Broadway”, and in Japanese) the day before I got sick.  Was wonderful!  You recognize the music, but can’t understand the words.  Still an amazing experience.  Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is coming after Christmas, and I am sure I will attend that one as well. :)

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Alex wanted this guy SOOOO bad.  He loves his nutcrackers (like his cousin James).  He wanted to make sure you saw how big this guy was, Grandma Rusty!!


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I toured a Gyoza Factory (they made gyoza dough, crepes, ramen and udon noodles) on Monday.  It was so neat to see, but I still wasn’t feeling my best and it was probably a bit too much for me to tackle.  Still it was fun tho!

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This is Gyoza, or Chinese Dumplings.  Some people at home call them Pot Stickers.  TGIFriday’s Pot Stickers are some of my favorites!!  :)

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We divided into small groups and made our own.  2 plates for 5 of us in my group, it cost 300 Yen ($3) each and we got to eat all that we made!  It was not easy, but I might try to make them sometime if I can find the dough back home!

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Alex has been reading lots on my kindle.  He is currently deep into the Percy Jackson series, now that he has finished with all the Tolkien.  Any suggestions on what he should read next??

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I found this TREASURE at Komeda Coffee, the can was almost $5, but they also had pre made  Keebler graham cracker crust, so I’m going to make a cheesecake next week.  I CAN’T WAIT!!!!

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And I thought this was a little Japanese gem as well!  Theres a section of the pet floor of Tokyu Hands that now sells “AIR BUGGY”, which is really just a baby stroller for your dog.  I knew that Japan was urging people to have babies, I just never realized they were the canine kind :)

Thursday 10/31/13 – Culture Shock and Other Musings

Hello Everyone!  Hope all is well back home and everyone is enjoying the slight dusting of snow in the frigid Mitten (and Eville!) and I hope that everyone has taken a deep breath of fall for us.  I try to really focus on Alex for all you grandmas and family back home, but this post wont be so much about him as it is about me (Hey! I’m important too :) ).  Update on the Gus tho, he is going great in school, he is really thriving now I think.   He takes on his chores and responsibilities at home without complaint, and he is constantly surprising me with his insight and aptitude.  I will add another post soon with updates from this evenings festivities very soon, promise.

Tonight is Halloween, and one of Alex and my favorite holidays.  Back home, we would have had a party with his classmates at our house, been to every Halloween store in the tri-state area looking at every available costume before deciding which store to spend our life savings at, and decorating the house with cobwebs and other ghoulish treats before heading out into the fall evening to run around our subdivision with the hundreds of other kids (who DON’T live there lol) collecting candy that Alex won’t finish eating before valentine’s day comes… Oh, the American Dream :)  Here in Japan, they don’t really celebrate Halloween.  I’ve seen a few places with some decorations and the Seiyu (the Wal-Mart) has about 2 costumes for girls and 3 for boys to choose from on a small display rack, with some other miscellaneous decorations.

I have become increasingly involved with a group of women called the CCEA (Cross Cultural Exchange Association or something like that) where everyone speaks english, and many have studied abroad at some point .  It seems among this group there is a longing for an American style Halloween for their kids as well!  I have seen pictures of parties going on since last weekend where they get their small children together and give them tons of sugar :).  I have chosen for Alex and I to participate in one event of actual trick-or-treating here, this evening.  A friend I have made has organized a trick or treat at her apartment complex where the kids can go door to door.  The only difference, it costs about $7 per child to participate!  :)  But, at least Alex will get some candy, and have an experience.  I know he is excited, he got to take his ninja costume (what else do you go as in Japan??) to school to wear this afternoon, and hopefully he will enjoy the evening.  But in general, there is no celebration.  Kids don’t dress up or go door to door, nothing like at home.

We did go to a Halloween party last Saturday, at our friend Merrill and Chris’ home (Chris works for TTC out of Ann Arbor, I told Mike he needs to make good friends with him and get an inside man lol).  We had such a wonderful time, Merrill made her families Spaghetti Sauce recipe and Alex got to carve a Pumpkin (small and pricey, but oh, the smell was divine!) and the adults got to partake of a little RnR… And there was a Joey, the silver lab, who Alex and I are madly in love with.  Having puppy kisses made my week for sure :)

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Alex with his Pumpkin.

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The Carved Ones on the stoop before we left.

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HUGE shout out to my favorite, Ellen, and to Eric, who I drank this NON-alchoholic pregnancy beer with in spirit at the party :)

AND NOW – AVERT YOUR EYES IF YOU ARE SQUEAMISH OR EASILY OFFENDED!  :)  No, Seriously.  My Halloween Costume was awesome.  Only, you might not think so…

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I figured, not many people enjoy the full array of costume opportunities for pregnancy.  I needed to take it and run.  It was a huge hit (with everyone but Lori lol) and thanks to my Hubby for running around on “Mission: Baby Doll Procurement” for me while I was being lazy. :)

A couple of weeks ago, I had an amazing thing happen to me, well, an event that made me feel very welcome here.  I was at a playgroup outing (I am practicing for when I have a baby to play with!) at the zoo,  and I was talking to one of my Japanese friends about the difference in schooling at the High school/college level between our countries.  All of a sudden,  someone noticed this group of 3 or 4 girls standing behind me.  They were 6 at the oldest, probably first graders if I have to guess (The zoo was very busy with school kids that day), and they were just standing there listening to me speak (and gesture, I am quite animated I suppose).  I turned and acknowledged them, shy little things, but none of them spoke English. I tried to give them a couple of my American quarters (I brought a roll with me for occasions such as this!) but they wouldn’t take them, and they ran off.  Not a minute later, those girls were back with most of their classmates I think!  You can see in the picture below, there were a dozen or so.

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One of the Japanese ladies translated for us, and they asked me many questions, and were very interested in my American money.  It was a good 20 minute Q&A session!  I was so happy they were bold enough to come forward.  The questions ranged from guns and war to how I knew some difficult Japanese words.  Quite the array.  I really, really enjoyed it.  But, it’s a typical example of cultural difference.  In America, if a group of small kids heard someone talking in a foreign language that they were unfamiliar with, they would not stop to listen, they would NEVER speak to that stranger without their parent or teacher (we have taught our kids well), most would just pass on by without a second glance… I had enough coins for almost everyone to have one at the end of our chat, but they would not accept them.  I have later come to understand that it was for two main reasons.  One, I did not have enough coins for the entire school/group to have one apiece, and since I did not, they could not accept because they were on a school trip and not with their parents.  So, we parted ways with me making sure that if they were to see me on the subway or walking around they needed to stop and ask me for a quarter when they did :)  I really treasure this memory.   I doubt my re-telling does the situation justice, but it was kind of the first time I felt open and happy about being the “foreigner” here.  

Which leads me to an instance one day shy of two weeks ago.  It was my huge “AHA!” moment.  We had just come back from our wonderful overnight in Osaka with Lori and Caden, and Alex and I had some errands to run (he had the week off of school).  We were headed to Lachic in Sakae to meet my Korean friend Julie for lunch, before going to Yabacho to see about  a high chair and other misc baby items on the cheap.  We walked up to street level from the subway station, and were waiting for Julie.  Alex was chattering about the week and I just took a look around.  All the neon signs, all the people everywhere in their very japanese fashion, on this scarily huge street in the heart of this larger than life city, and I just smiled.  I was happy, I wasn’t homesick anymore, I was just enjoying existing here…  It was a huge moment for me.  I was finally on the back side of the culture shock mountain!  For those of you who haven’t experienced or who don’t know, some people experience culture shock when they relocate to another country, and it’s not a temporary thing.  It has stages, like grief has stages.  The last two in my version are acceptance, and then immersion.  I am finally at acceptance.  Not everyone immerses themselves in the new culture, and especially because we aren’t staying here I doubt I will, but it’s really a huge difference in my quality of life!  I don’t dread leaving the house now, I am excited to see what there is around me.. I’m not so homesick it hurts…  I am sure lot’s of these emotions were made slightly worse because of the pregnancy hormones or whatever, but that doesn’t make them any less feelings.  I have finally made Japan my home for the duration :)

Lori and I were talking at the Halloween party last weekend, and I really do need to thank her for everything she’s done to pull me out of this funk :)  She constantly has made my life easier, and she has been a great friend.  Introducing me to so many women and groups, motivating me to leave my couch, go shopping, go on trips, have lunch dates, and giving me someone to confide in and talk to (especially with all the garbage that has happened back home since we got here…).  Its funny, because we realized that in any other situation we would probably never have been friends.  Its true!  She’s beautiful-smart-sorority-girl- from-upstate-new-york, and I’m, well, hillbilly-rock star-ass kicker. Not your typical combo lol :)  But, it works here, out of our elements and surrounded by this amazing new culture and experiences…  And I’m sure it will continue working once we all leave for back home :)

I am just happy that everything has fallen into place finally.  I am preparing for a thanksgiving meal/party with a bunch of Toyota expats that I am going to cook a bird for (uh,oh lol!), among lots of other upcoming activities like a broadway play, touring a Gyoza factory, all kinds of fun! I promise to keep everyone updated.

Big hugs and lots of love to everyone back home!!

Saturday, 10/19/13 – Osaka

So the middle of our week last week was spent in Osaka.  Osaka used to be the mecca of Japan, until in recent years Tokyo has taken that role.  It is still a huge city, 2nd largest in Japan (1 – Tokyo, 2 – Osaka, 3 – Nagoya).  Like Nagoya, Osaka spreads out for miles in every direction, while also being on the coast.  We really enjoyed our time here, and I would like to go back sometime again… 2 days are just such a short time!

We had a large typhoon come through (#26) Tuesday night.  It was the worst one we have had yet, and it was really scary.  Mike’s been on nights, so he got home around 1:30am, and I had barely slept for the wind and the rain… Neither of us got much sleep that night, and there was definitely one point where I was going to drag everyone downstairs because I was sure that the second story of our house was going to blow off… But, no damage, not bad in Nagoya anyway.  Tokyo got hit pretty hard. It was definitely a blessing though, as I was not about to walk 20 minutes to the station in a typhoon Wednesday morning, and we needed to leave home at 7:30am.  I swear, not 5 minutes before we needed to leave, the wind and rain stopped, the sun came out, and it turned into a beautiful day! We arrived to the station on time, and met up with my friend Lori and her son Caden (this was a girls and kid trip!) to find that because of the typhoon, all the trains had been delayed… I got to thinking about it, and I realized its a great example of the difference in American and Japanese culture.  This typhoon was a natural occurrence, just like a snow storm or a tornado, and there was nothing any human could do about it!  There were thousands of stranded people in the station whose train was delayed and had no idea how or when they were getting home.  In the US, if this had happened, people would be lined up to scream at the airline representative, people would be hostile and stressed to the max! But not here.  Everyone took it in stride, waited patiently, and was content that they were safe.  It was very awe-inspiring…  Our Shinkansen was delayed over an hour, and even then, our car was empty!  It was kind of nice.  We traveled to Osaka in just under an hour, man those trains are fast…

We arrived, and went to drop our baggage off at the hotel.  We actually had a really nice hotel on a very upscale  street (across from Tiffany & Co, Prada, Fendi, etc).  I have procured the Lonely Planet Japan Guidebook, and it really comes in handy!! We used it to find this place quite close that served calzones (I’m pregnant, I get to eat what I want :) ) called Slices, which ended up being owned by some Canadians who spoke great english and we had such a nice visit as we were their only patrons at the early hour of noon lol! We wandered around Ameri-Mura (short for American Village in Japanese) and saw the very american shops, all the crazy dressed kids, and the mini statue of liberty.  After that, we spent the rest of the day at Tempozan Harbor Village.  Here, on Osaka Bay, we had a wonderful time!  First, we rode on a recreation of Columbus’ Santa Maria ship.  It took us for an hour ride around Osaka bay, and Alex really enjoyed it as you can see in the pictures.  The Santa Maria dock was right outside the aquarium, so of course we did that next!  I read somewhere that the Osaka Aquarium is arguably the best in the world, and I might have to agree.  I have loved Shedd’s in Chicago since I was a kid, and the Nagoya Port Aquarium was absolutely amazing with the Orcas, but this aquarium was so wonderful.  It was big, but not huge, and had a good variety of animals.  We started with a long escalator ride up to the top floor, and the aquarium path circles down and down, ending on the ground floor.    In the center of the structure was one very very large tank, so no matter what floor you were on, the tank on the right was always the same tank just at different depths.  It was filled with the most amazing creatures, from big to small, and you were always seeing something new.  I really liked the huge Manta-Rays and the Hammer Head Sharks :)  They were so scary up close!!!  It was the best thing I’ve seen yet.  The tanks on the outside varied, and we saw everything from otters to jellyfish to giant crabs.  It was tons of fun, and it was really cool to see it with a baby (Caden just turned one!) and watch his excitement.  At the end of the tour, there was a huge shallow tank where you could pet sharks and rays!  Alex and I both spent a lot of time feeling them, I liked the way the rays felt slimy and soft and the sharks were rough and smooth, like a tongue!  That was a blast.  At the Harbor was also the Tempozan Ferris Wheel.  It was dark when we exited the aquarium, so we took it for a night ride.  In 1997, when construction finished, it was the world’s largest ferris wheel.  Since then, others like the London Eye, have been made taller, and this one is now ranked 5th largest in the world.  It was definitely very high, and provided some excellent views of Osaka lit up.  Breathtaking, especially for Lori when Alex accidentally rocked the car :) We headed back to the city and once again had Okonomiyaki for dinner, cooked from scratch in front of us this time!  So very delicious.  After dinner, we wandered around the Dotonbori area looking at all the neon lights and gaudiness.  It was very much like a Japanese Times Square!  We definitely saw some “Street Ladies” and I had to cover Alex’s eyes more than once at an advertisement, but it was very cool!  We all slept very good that night, especially the two boys!  We finally woke up around 8:45am… That is the latest I have slept in in years! And on vacation, I couldn’t believe it :)  We didn’t have a whole lot of time the second day, since our train was a little earlier to get us home for dinner plans and the boys slept so late. We wandered around central Osaka in the midst of the skyscrapers for a while, and went to the Umeda Sky Building (the Floating Garden), Umeda is another name for Osaka or something, I didn’t really catch it.  That was really fun too, with some great views.   We took a glass elevator up, then took a glass escalator up the last 5 stories to 173 meters high.  We walked around the roof in the open air, and you could see for miles and miles, across the bay, and on a clear day, your supposed to see all the way to Kobe! We enjoyed that.  We got a little lost looking for the station from there, but thank goodness for iPhones and Google maps!!!  :)  We really did have a wonderful trip, and I want to do something similar in the near future.  Here is the slide show of the pictures from Osaka.  Please enjoy!!

Big Hugs to everyone! Love to you all.

Friday, 10/18/13 – Kyoto Trip

Hello Everybody :)  Sorry it has been so long again, but we have been so busy!  I am sitting at home (finally!) for the first time in almost a week, and working on this so I can get it out tomorrow.  Uploading/creating videos sure takes some time… But I think its worth it to be able to share with everyone back home what we have been up to.  So, Alex has had the last week off of school for Fall Break (yes, Fall Break). What the school does is take all the days that the Japanese kids are off for holidays, and combine it into another week of break, instead of having random single days off.  It really makes it nice for us!  We left last Sunday, and spent 2 days in Kyoto, then we were in Nagoya for Tuesday, but not at home, then left Wednesday morning for Osaka for 2 days.  We got home very late Thursday night, and were out and about in Nagoya again today, and tomorrow (Saturday), I will try my best to do nothing but this blog (and maybe laundry, and dishes…) This will be a long one, but I am going to do picture slideshows instead of uploading a gazillion pictures.

Here are the Kyoto Photos (about 10 minutes)

So, we started out early sunday morning heading for Nagoya Station. We finally got to ride on the Shinkansen, and I think that Mike was just as excited as Alex. Kyoto is about 100 miles from us, and the train ride took about 40 minutes.  Very fast mode of transportation!  Mike clocked the train at 165 mph at one point.  Kyoto is one of the few remaining traditional Japanese cities, where they still respect the old culture and you can see actual geishas, rickshaws, and their dialect is slightly different.  Its  a beautiful city, and I want to go back very soon.  I really enjoyed our time there.  Our first place to visit was Arashiyama Bamboo Forest on the far northwest side of the city.  It is a huge forest covering many acres where the bamboo is free to grow tall.  After that, we went back to the downtown area and explored the local temples.  It is so cool that you walk along these modern city streets and then all of a sudden there’s this huge temple or shrine that has been there for hundreds of years…  We saw 2 biggies, the Higashi-Hongan-ji and the Nishi-Hongwan-ji.  Both are buddhist temples (one meaning east, the other west).  You can’t take pictures of the inside of the temples, but we were very fortunate to see the shrines, as usually they are kept behind closed doors.  I think because we were there over a holiday weekend, they were visible.  I have never seen anything like it before, very intricate and covered in gold and positively glows.  Also, Higashi-Hongan is one of the largest wooden structures in the world.  And some of the beams that make it up are the largest I’ve ever seen… And to think they were built in the 1800′s.  You can see the sleds, and the rope made of hair donated by parishioners, in the photos. :)  Nishi-Hongwan is a very old temple, headquarters of the largest sect of Buddhism, and was built in the late 1500′s.  We ate dinner back at Kyoto Station before turning in for the night.  We have all fallen in love with Okonomiyaki! Its a dish made with cabbage, noodles, meat, and an egg, with a mayo and a worcester sauce on top.  Boy, its yummy… We woke up on a mission the next day, and headed to Fushimi-Inari.  I loved this.  It was the most magical, beautiful place I have ever been.  Inari is a mountain, and Shinto believers have been coming and worshipping on the mountain for over 1,000 years.  There are shrines devoted to thousands of deities spread out around the place, and people make pilgrimages to pray here.  The most notable aspect is the Torii gates, which you see across Japan at Shinto shrines.  There are thousands and thousands of them here, lining the pathways up and down the mountain.  It was a 4 km walk up the mountain (1km = about 1.6 miles), and it is stairs.  The whole way.  Concrete/Stone steps. Upstairs.  In case you missed this, I am pregnant :)  But, we took our time, and stopped to wander when we needed a break.  It was very fun for us all… I love this video of Alex marching at a flat spot (just 20 or so seconds)…

Climbing the mountain took most of the day, and we were all very tired and exhausted by the time that was done. So we went and saw one temple, Kiyomizu-dera.  It is one of the most famous temples in Kyoto and offered some amazing views.  There were thousands of school children and people visiting, so we did not wait in line to get inside the temple (we were tired!), but we did explore the grounds and admire the views.  We even ran into a group of some of Alex’s teachers from Nagoya!  That was a really neat thing.  After our 2 days of adventuring, we went back to Kyoto Station for dinner and to wait for our train (which was at 9pm!).  We were very lucky to see the light show on the staircase (the stairs are 11 stories tall) for halloween.  Evidently, it doesn’t play regularly. Here’s a 30 second video:

It was about a 20 minute show, very fun and Alex loved running up and down the stairs while it played the next time.  He said it made him feel “Pixelated” :).  I really loved Kyoto, and I want to go back as part of a girls weekend maybe.

Big Hugs to everyone!!

Friday 09/30/13 – Ninja Skills and the Arrival of Fall

Hello everyone!  Hope all is well and everyone back home is enjoying their season change :) Fall has finally arrived here in our corner of Nagoya!  It has been 3 consecutive days with the windows open 24/7.  It still is getting up to 80 during the day, but will cool off to the low 70′s or even high 60s at night.  It’s definitely not as beautiful here with the colors, but I hear there are places in Japan that are green haha :)  I am telling you, it has been the biggest reprieve after the heat of this summer.  And, well, Mike will like it when the electric bill comes!  It is almost cool enough for pants haha :) I feel like it has been forever since my last post, but I have been so very busy!  Tomorrow will be my only day at home all day until the weekend and I have to do yard work that has been long neglected due to the heat.  We are hosting a party for my friend Lori’s son at our home on Saturday (they live in an apartment, and we have ample space) to celebrate his first birthday.  I sure am enjoying having a friend with a toddler.  Helps me not miss little Carson or Amelia (who I haven’t even met yet!) quite so much… But I’ll soon have my own little one to fuss over anyway haha.  Little Fishy update: I am in my 5th month, at 18 weeks so almost halfway.  We are scheduling the “birthday” for the first week of March for the little minnow.  I am definitely showing, and definitely not glowing yet haha, but I feel good and healthy and we are very excited to meet the little one.  I have another doctors appointment friday, so those of you on that email list will get updates afterwards. Hoping to find out sex any time now!  We are keeping the name a secret, I think, but I’ll let you know once we confirm this little guppie is a girl (or boy I suppose, tho I am pretty convinced) :) Anyway, enough about me!  Alex is really the star of this show right now (as we all know).  Mike and I got a really nice email from the elementary headmaster at NIS about Alex.  He said he is settling in well, adjusting properly, and that he is a joy to the staff and students around him.  He is making us all proud every day.  Not every little boy would do as well in the situation we have thrown him into  :)   Two weekends ago, we decided to go for a drive into Mie Prefecture and visit the Ninja Village of Iga Ryu and the Castle at Iga Ueno.  Iga Ryu is one of two main locations in Japan where ninja’s lived and trained hundreds of years ago in their art or warfare, and the Ninja’s of Iga Ryu were said to possess magical powers.  Here is a little info on the castle if you like  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iga_Ueno_Castle, and on the Ninja House http://www.iganinja.jp/en/about/index.html.  Both are really quick reads :)

It was a beautiful Saturday for us to be out, and even though the crazy traffic turned a 2 hour drive into closer to 3 (each way!), it was really worth it.  After all, learning the ways of the ninja was why Alex agreed to come with us on this Japanese adventure in the first place! :)

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Here is the Gus with the Park’s van. He’s picking up the traditional Japanese photo pose :)

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Peering over the walls to the moat (one of the highest in Japan I think!)

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Iga Ueno Castle, also called The White Phoenix.  Sometimes, I get astounded at how ignorant I really am.  Our country is so young, it was such an awesome feeling to be inside an original structure that is almost 500 years old… Over twice as old as our country! What stories those walls could tell.

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Alex with some warrior uniform recreations. And below are some cool artifacts from the Castle Museum.

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The view from the third level was awesome.

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In front of a shrine on the park grounds.  And a good picture of us all :)

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Alex and Michael both learned to throw Shuriken at the Ninja Village.  You can see how happy they both were.  Boys haha :)   Below is a video of Alex throwing and a couple of clips of the Ninja Show.  We really enjoyed the whole experience.

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“Pink Ranger” was as close to Ninja as I got :)

I wish we could have taken pictures inside of the ninja house, though. We got to tour through an actual Ninja House where Ninja’s would have lived and trained.  They had amazing exhibits, things like rotating walls and invisible staircases and awesome hiding spots where they stored their secrets and weapons or could escape an enemy attack.  It was my favorite part.  Our tour guide was trained to use all the tricks and traps, and a couple of times I swear she disappeared!!

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Alex, trying out the water shoes in the Ninja Museum.  Ninja’s used them to walk on water or swamps.  Has anyone else seen the Mythbusters’ episode where they tried them?? Alex recognized them from the show and was so excited :)

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Different types of Shuriken.  Mike bought an awesome set of ceramic Shuriken as a keepsake!

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Alex, enjoying some artifacts.

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Here are some of the tricks of Ninja’s and Samurai’s.  I don’t think that the two got along very well :)

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The staircase back up to the castle from the Ninja Village. I don’t think pictures ever do the heights justice…

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Alex in his authentic linen ninja costume.  It was so pricey but his enthusiasm made it worth it.  He didn’t want one of the kids ones, of course, so he has a small adult one he will be able to wear and enjoy for a long time.

We are planning a trip to Hiroshima in a couple of weeks over a long weekend, I am really excited for that.  As most of you know, Alex loves learning about WWII and has read books about the bombings and America’s fight with Japan.  I think it will be a really good experience for him to see it from the Japanese perspective as well. It will also be an excuse for us to finally ride the Shinkansen!  Yay :)

Just a couple more pictures to round out this post from my explorations recently:

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Here is a Mailbox (postbox) on the street near Fushimi.  It was beautifully done and is one of my favorite.  Some are red and plain, but some are very elaborate like this one.

IMG_0949This is a Kimekomi Doll (well, Panda haha).  You may have seen traditional Kimekomi dolls like these - http://www.nakayamadoll.com/en/kimekomi.html, but this panda is for someone learning to make them.  I have my first “lesson” in Kimekomi on Thursday where I will make this panda (the one shown is completed, mine is a wooden ball currently haha).  I am excited to learn and I hope I enjoy it, it will give me something crafty to do and will make awesome gifts/souvenirs! :)  Well anyhow.  That’s all for today.  Much love and big hugs to everyone!!

Thursday, 09/12/13: Life at a glance

Hello all!  Hope everyone is doing well and enjoying their beginning of fall.  It is finally cooling off here slightly.  It gets into the high 80s and 90s still during the day and the humidity, well, we do live on an island… but at night it cools off enough that the last couple of nights I have opened the windows upstairs while we sleep, and it has been glorious.  The fresh air is amazing, and the breeze, oh my. Only problem is that the noises echo so loudly between all the brick buildings so close together, I just know its being amplified.  And the idiots on the motorcycles race up and down the street all night, revving their engines and going waaaay faster than they should.  Will wake you up from a dead sleep it’s so loud…so its a toss-up.. breeze and fresh air or less sleep :)  But, I am still thankful that it is cooling off!

The Gus is doing good in school.  He seems to like it a lot.  We had some trouble with the other boys at first (there are only 5 other boys in Alex’s class, and he is the only new boy) but after a lot of discussions and coaxing, and the purchase of some new Japanese Pokemon chips, he is not sitting alone at lunch and is being included in the playing at recess.  He is content and happy with that, so we will be too.  He is really enjoying his Japanese class, which is one of his specials this year.  He can write his name in Katakana and is learning his Kanji numbers and even doing math problems with it!  He really seems to like his teacher, which is good.  I think that it’s a really good time for him to have his first male teacher, and Mr. Mayer seems very kind and quite funny.

I kind of wanted to take this post to talk about what we have been doing over the last few weeks, so there will be lots of pics and explaining of them :)  Please enjoy!

A few weeks ago I went with my girlfriend Lori to a Brazilian festival.  There is a very large Brazilian population here in Japan (I have actually been confused as a Brazilian and been spoken to in spanish on more than one occasion.  Me.  And I’m albino…)  and we have run into Brazilian days and street festivals a few times.  But to backtrack, Lori and I took the boys to a pool a few weeks ago and had a blast.  But while we were there, Lori and her son (in the baby pool) made friends with a couple of women from Brazil.  We didn’t know at the time they were brazilian, we just knew they weren’t Japanese (they were in string bikinis, and Japanese women wear long sleeve zip front hooded swim shirts or other such coverings). Anyhow, as we were leaving, the women stopped to speak with us, and we talked about life in Japan and then we were invited to come watch them Samba dance at this festival! We said we would try to make it, and parted ways.  Since the festival was kind of late on a weeknight, just us girls went.  I am so glad we did!

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Here you can see their elaborate costumes, with the wings and headdresses.  Beautiful.

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Here I am with the girl from the pool.  I look a hot mess, but it was a million degrees and the street was so crowded. It verged on miserably hot lol.  But she was very nice, and she remembered meeting us! It turned out, she is the teacher of the Samba dancing here in Nagoya and has her own school.  Very fun!

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The rest of the festival was fun too.  This is a traditional Japanese kids game/snack at festivals.  It’s a bamboo shoot with water flowing and they send noodles down the water, then the kids pick them out with their chopsticks and put them in a cup, and then eat them. Kids seem to really enjoy this.  I enjoyed watching them.

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Here you can see a jazz band.  Yepp, Jazz.  They played so well, and it was really cool to listen and watch. You can see the open case out front, this was the first (and probably last) time that I ever tipped anyone.  There is no tipping here in Japan, at restaurants or with bell hops or valets or anything.  None.  Very different.

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Here is a group that performed some traditional japanese dance.  It was so hot, and they were in long linen pants and jackets. They did remove the jackets as part of a “costume change” mid way through their performance.

That is all from the Brazilian festival :)

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I just giggled at this.  There are so many hair studios here, it’s almost crazy.  But I don’t know if I would get a trim at a place named Bee M’s :)

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Here, we were at Higashiyama again, and if you look closely, you will see that the people have buckets of water.  They were pouring out the water with ladles onto the ground. Some kind of Japanese something I suppose.  But we see stuff we don’t understand like this regularly. :)

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Here was my favorite stand in Mitsukoshi Depato. These are hand painted traditional Japanese lanterns. They are magnificent, and not cheap.  I will be buying one before we leave as a souvenir (if anyone else is interested, let me know).  The ones that were a little more expensive (talking $200-300 instead of $100-200) stand about 2 feet high and they are double layered.  The inside rice paper is painted with an iconic Japanese image, say Mt. Fuji-san or the temple in Kyoto or something, and when illuminated, you can see the intricacies and the detail of the inner paper, so beautiful…

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I don’t know if you can tell what this is from the picture either, but this was Alex’s favorite thing at Mitsukoshi on the food floor.  This is hand blown sugar in the form of a dragon.  It says $315, but I don’t think it’s really for sale.  The guy was very sweet and gave Alex a free taste and we watched him a little.  So of corse I had to buy Gus some Lollies :)

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This was an orchid display in a gardening shop.  I have never seen orchids like this in all the colors and styles. I love orchids, and if you know me you know for some reason I can grow them fantastically.  But this display really reminded me of our neighbor in Evansville, Veronica.  She shares my love of orchids as well :)  If I had a way to transport it home to USA safely, I definitely would buy some…

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Here you can see small children in traditional Japanese Kimono.  You see them dressed like this all the time, I think it is adorable. Sometime when we are not in a hurry and I can find a willing victim, I will ask for a proper picture so I can share how adorable these kids are :)

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Haha this is my favorite.  A couple of weeks ago on my way to Lori’s I saw them preparing for some construction outside of Mitsukoshi.  If you look carefully in this image, you will see a man standing between the second and third white covered base.  He is handing a pole up to the white hard-hat on the second level, who in turn will hand it up, and so on in order to build the scaffolding…  It was so comical to witness!  We have to explain to people back home all the time how our perception of Japan as this advanced “mecca” is not as accurate as one would think! :)

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Ah, here was another adventure.  One day on a hunt for the store Tokyu Hands and a baking dish, Lori and I decided to try a small mexican restaurant for lunch.  These were our nachos.  Looks well enough, only the red on the chips you see is not salsa, nor taco or enchilada sauce.  Its ketchup.  Ketchup and cheese nachos.  Not yummy :)

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This picture is from SnT, which is a large fresh fish market and frozen goods store very close to our house.  We watched them carving this enormous fish for a while.  They even were giving samples of it, and packaging it how the customer wanted (steaks, sushi slices, etc).  Does sushi get fresher??  I very badly wish I could have tried some :( But the size of this fish was enormous.  I don’t know that the picture does it justice, but I do know it was longer than Alex is tall, and the head was huge (it was on display, I won’t gross you out with it tho!)

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This was another fun evening (and another Brazilian celebration).  We went out to Sakai for dinner on a Friday evening.  After eating and drinking our fill (I had a delicious fresh mango smoothie), Alex desperately wanted to find the source of the Laser.  What young boy wouldn’t!  So we walked a few blocks and found the pyramid it was emitting from, and in the picture I am standing at the base of it.  You can see it lining up over the sculpture and then beaming directly onto the Nagoya TV tower in the distance.  Well, how could we deny Alex the chance to see both ends of the Laser!

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This picture is as high as we could go in the TV Tower. The laser is hitting a point higher than us, but we still had a wonderful time admiring the views of Nagoya in the night time atmosphere.

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And here is Alex, posing as Godzilla with a picture of the Nagoya TV Tower.   And yes, we will continue to be hot, sweaty messes in all of our pictures as long as it continues to be a million degrees and humid. :)

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I got my first ticket :( For parking my bicycle in a paid bicycle parking spot.  Oops!!  I won’t park there again :)

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I talk a lot to people about food, but this was an excellent example.  I posted a picture on Facebook of the fruit salad I made a couple of weekends ago, and how it was so very expensive.. Well, as you can see, this tiny package of raspberries is $9.80… Most fruit isn’t quite this expensive, but berries and melons are (we have seen watermelons for $50.00). Apples and oranges (Ringo’s and Mikan’s) are usually $1.50-$2.50 each.  Yes, each.  Anyone who wants to feed us fruit when we are home for Christmas is an Angel :)

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And lastly, updated picture of the little guppy.  You can see baby’s face in this pic, and arms up by baby’s head. :)  I will get an ultrasound each month at my appointments, which is awesome, and also different from back home.

I think that’s all for today.  I am hoping to get Alex to give everyone a guided tour of our home here in Japan very soon so I can post the video for everyone to see :)  Miss you all, and God Bless America!

Monday, 09/02/13: Mike’s Perspective #1

Hey, everyone.  I’ve been meaning to contribute to Hollie’s blog for a while.  I have a few subjects to write about but people have been asking about driving a lot so I’m starting with that.  It turned out kind of long, but please enjoy.

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First, a few observations about the vehicles in Japan…  We have noticed that the roads are much narrower here than at home.  And because the roads are narrower, vehicles are smaller.  There is an extra classification for lightweight vehicles here.  You can spot them because they have yellow license plates.  Not to mention they are tiny and look like they have wheels from a golf cart or even a wheelbarrow.  A Toyota Prius is a pretty large vehicle here, and has also become extremely common.  They are everywhere!  There are SUV’s in Japan, but wagons and vans are much more common.  The vans range from teeny tiny (think smaller than a Corolla) to about the size of a Sienna.  I also think that vans are “cool” in Japan.  We see customized and decked out minivans all over (rims, body kits, special paint, etc).  This is similar to what people back home would do with their Escalades.  And the Toyota Hi-Ace is the most stolen vehicle in the country.  I have seen a few big American vehicles including one bright purple Chevy Tahoe, and a Dodge Charger that belongs to someone at work.  And I have seen one full size truck – of course a Toyota Tundra.  But vehicles like this are few and far between because they are just too big to navigate the roadways and especially to park here.  I also think that image is much less of a concern to the Japanese than Americans when picking out a vehicle.

Now onto the actual driving…  Before I started driving here I was a little worried about the road signs and about remembering to stay in the correct (left!) lane.  But the signs aren’t really a problem after you learn the two most important ones: stop and one way.  And in the beginning I always reminded myself (usually out loud) when turning corners to “go to the left lane”. This helped me avoid making that big mistake.  But there are so many other crazy things to stress about while driving in Japan, I’m not worried about driving the wrong way anymore.

Pedestrians:  Pedestrians and bicyclists have the right of way, period. They also have no concern for their own safety, since as the driver of the car, their safety is your concern…  It sounds practical in theory, but in practice it is really annoying.  At some intersections, the crosswalks are timed to all turn green at the same time while all 4 directions of vehicle traffic waits at red.  But, most are normal and the lights for parallel traffic will change at the same time.  When going straight through one of these intersections, pedestrians are rarely a problem.  Most people obey the crossways lights religiously, and even if there is zero traffic, they will not cross on a don’t walk light. However, if you are turning left or right at an intersection, you better be watching for people on foot or on bikes.  Usually when turning you will get about half way into the intersection and have to stop and wait for the foot traffic to clear before you can proceed.  Often times this means you wait until the light changes back and only one or two cars will make it at a time, and they make it because they are stopped in the middle of the intersection.  Sometimes the people clear out, and you think you can go, but then some person runs or rides out of nowhere really fast and you are forced to hit the brakes again.  One day I watched some kid ride his bike out into the intersection while holding something next to his face to block the sun.  There was no way he could possibly look at traffic and I thought he was going to get hit by this car that was already turning.  But that’s just the way it is here, and the driver was paying attention so he slammed on the brakes.  Pedestrians also sometimes cross where there is no cross walk.  This is pretty rare, but you still have to watch out for it because even though they are in the wrong, if you hit them it’s your fault.  And the pedestrians are hardly the biggest problem.

Motorcycles:  I almost want to say that the people on motorcycles or scooters are the worst.  Which is terrible because I love motorcycles, and Hollie is still trying to convince me that I need one here.  The problem with these guys is that they can fit anywhere, and so they do.  They go anywhere they want.  And I don’t just mean to park, which they do – parking on the sidewalk, parking in doorways, wherever they fit.  When you’re driving they will pass you if they are going faster than you.  Pass you in your own lane, between the lanes, or on the shoulder of the road.  I have had several motorcycles drive between two lanes of traffic on the expressway while I was going up to even 80 km/h!  If you’re stopped at a stop light, they will pass you and go right up front to the intersection.  Again doing so in your lane, between the lanes, or on the shoulder.  Just like in the image below.

motorcycle

This isn’t just motorcycles, this includes the scooters that are not going to get up to the speed of traffic anyway, so you end up passing them for the third time this trip…  It’s really annoying and I think it’s really dangerous.  But maybe like pedestrians, it’s been that way for so long they are all used to it and nothing bad ever really happens.  And like I said, motorcycles aren’t even the worst.

Other drivers.  Other drivers are more annoying than motorcyclists.  Mostly because there are so many of them.  Driving anywhere around here is difficult just because there is so much traffic, regardless of the time of day.  Of course, we live in a metropolitan area with over 8.7 Million people.  That’s more than New York City by a half a million, which is the largest city in America, and we do not live in the largest city in Japan.  Plus I come from Small Town, USA and I can’t stand driving in large American cities either.

But back to the driving, it gets even worse when people stop and park on the side of the road.  As in most inner city areas, there are no shoulders on most major roadways, or they are very small.  People still park on the side of the street anywhere they please.  They leave their cars there, no flashers on, for however long it takes them to pick up their dry cleaning or their take out meal, or whatever they are doing.  These cars (and buses if there’s a bus stop!) usually hang at least half way into the lane.  But the other cars that are still driving don’t stop, slow down, or even look when proceeding around these cars.  They just veer into the next lane and keep going.  So when you’re in the middle lane you really have to be watching for this.  It happens constantly.  Hollie took this picture below so you can kind of see what I mean.  This guy is at least pulled onto the sidewalk and over the curb, but still is parked on the side of the road where parking is not meant to occur.  Even that small amount of overhang into the street makes a big difference when the roads are as narrow as they are here.

IMG_0754

Other drivers also force their way into your lane.  People at home do this too, but it’s on another level here.  When you’re on the “express” way people drive all the way to the end of the on ramp before they even think about merging.  And when they get there, they are changing lanes. Wether you like it or not.  On the way to work one morning I tried to block one of these guys and he almost hit me.  On purpose, after he knew I wasn’t going to let him in.  But it’s ok, I learned my lesson.  After people jam up traffic by acting like this they flash their 4-ways at you for a second as a sign of acknowledgment or thanks, even though you had no choice but to let them in.  Kinda like a thank you wave.  But, it doesn’t help my opinion of the idiots…

The road system itself?  Seriously it has got to be the worst part.  It’s just not adequate for the amount of traffic.  (But, again I don’t have much experience in real large cities.)  My commute to work is about 14 miles.  It will take anywhere from 30-60 minutes.  Which depends heavily on what time I start work.  If I want to start at 7:00am, I can get in the car at 6:25 and have plenty of time to walk to the building from the parking lot.  To be there by 7:30, I need to leave about 6:45.  But I usually start at 8:00 which means I have to be in the car by 7:05  Even then I may end up running to the building to make the 8:00 bell or even be late.  The biggest reason for the long commute is the Tomei (express way).  I drive about 8-9 miles on this road.  It costs ¥550 (about $5.50) one way…  That’s $55 a week!  And to pay this toll, you have to stop and get a ticket at the beginning and stop and pay it at the end. That time waiting in line really starts to add up.  When you get onto this 100 km/h (that’s about 62 mph) speed limit “express” way, you will usually average something about 55 km/h between all of the stopping for idiots merging and the traffic.  Occasionally the speed peaks at 80 km/h (about 50 mph).  The rest of my commute time comes from sitting in traffic, sitting at traffic lights (which can take forever if the intersection is large, because that could mean 6 or 7 roads crossing in the same place) or sitting for who knows what…

And the traffic lights are definitely weird.  There is one set of lights with a red, yellow, and green circle.  Similar to home, only going horizontally instead of vertically.

traffic-lights

But along with these lights are a set of green arrows: left, straight, and right.  The red light is almost always illuminated, and you can have a red light and still proceed straight thru the intersection.  If there is no green arrow with the red light, you can not go at all.  But if the red light is on and there is a green arrow you can go that direction.  It kinda makes sense but we have seen the red light plus all three green arrows!  What kind of sense does that make?  Also, there is no left on red here (we drive on the other side of the road in case you forgot).  You could get places so much faster if they would only adopt this one little thing! Its like being at home, waiting to turn right and the light is red with no traffic coming at all, but it is still illegal for you to turn right…  And the last thing I will mention is the toll roads.  All the “express” ways are toll roads.  This allows them to keep the roads in nice shape, which they do, but man it costs a lot to drive in town, out-of-town, or just drive in general since you almost always have to take an expressway to get somewhere.

I feel like this was one complaint after another,  which it wasn’t meant to be.  I’m sorry for that, but I just don’t like driving here and it kind of tumbled out.  I can say that when you do travel, the scenery will be quite beautiful.  We went to Osaka a few weeks ago and there were mountains the whole way.  And going to Nagano was amazing.  It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  I think Hollie has already covered that though.

Thanks for reading!  Next time I’ll try to write about a subject I enjoy. :)