Monday, May 27, 2013

Parties, Theater Sets and Ikebana

Lots of fun stuff happened this week. This weekend was the opening of the play that Ian helped build a set for. We haven't seen much of him leading up to opening night because he comes home from work and then builds set for a couple of hours. We got to go see the play, "Steel Magnolias", on Thursday night and the set was really nice. This play is definitely one of the more polished ones here on base and I'm hoping that we keep having them. I think all the building has made Ian a touch more fulfilled. He even built me a shelf out of driftwood.

Guys, we got a four day weekend for Memorial Day! And then my ikebana exhibition was scheduled for Saturday and Sunday which means that I have to be in Towada Friday night and Sunday night for the arranging and the cleaning up. So pooh, we couldn't just pack our selves up and go camping in teepees like some lucky people did. But the flowers were really cool.

This years exhibition was at the Towada Civic Center. There wasn't as much room as last year but at least they didn't kill all the flowers because they turned the AC off like last year. I got orchids! victory dance! And I even get to do most of the arranging this year! I used sensei's tall skinny blue vase. My friend used a large rectangular shallow vase. Her arrangement was a little more structured than mine. Sensei pretty much told me not to worry about a form and just make it look pretty. No rules...that I can do!

Here are some more of my favorites.

Then on Memorial Day we decided to host a BBQ and boardgames day. We had more people than I expected and our apartment is pretty tiny. It was a grand old time and the weather was really lovely. There was plenty of meat to go around. Though Ian's meat branding iron didn't work as well as we would have hoped. It is a little crazy having kids running around and a board game going on both sides of the house, but we managed quite beautifully. Now we are brainstorming ideas for the next party - maybe 1920's cocktails?

This is Bea when we went out for sushi at a nice restaurant with private rooms and tatami mat floors. You think keeping a kid happy in a high chair is hard? Try keeping them happy when everyone is sitting on the floor and there are pretty decorations littered around. I have to say though, good quality sushi is fabulous and melts in your mouth.

Bea has learned a few new tricks this week. She now drives her cars around and makes vroom vroom noises. She also likes to lounge on the couch and commandeer my kindle, though she doesn't quite know what to do with it yet. It's just so funny to see her lounging on the couch with her legs and belly sticking out. She's very business like. She's also a fan of putting things in boxes and closing the lid.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Theater Sets and Tulip Festivals

This past week has been a little bit on the busy side. Not too bad. But we made up for it this weekend.

Ian has been working on a set for the local theater company's Steel Magnolias production. He's spent a couple of nights painting, cutting wood and building things. They were just painting the flats from the last production but there was a rift between the theater company and the director of the show so they built new flats that they are gonna donate to the high school. The set looks great at least! The production is next week so I didn't see much of Ian this past weekend.

In Bea news, she got her first dentist appointment this fast week. All her pearly whites are doing great. No molars yet. We are going to have to fit tooth brushing into our night time routine. Other than that Bea is being a baby. Back to waking up every night again. Pulling herself up on everything. Spitting food out and then feeding it to herself. You know, the usual. She's in love with bath time and is always trying to get into the bathroom to look in the tub or toilet. She is also a fan of opening and closing doors. The fun never ends.

Sunday Bea, my friend and I all went off to Karumai for their tulip festival. Much fun ensued. We took the back roads to get there and got lost once in Hachinohe because the route wasn't marked, and then we got a little bit lost in the boonies because I turned before I should have. Sometimes Japanese road signs are confusing.

Karumai has gone all out with the Dutch theme. Complete with giant windmill. I'm not sure if the red bridge is Dutch but it is pretty. We didn't go on it because it was narrow and there were quite a few people. Cami got some great pictures of Bea and I though.

Bea was a huge fan of that juice box. You had to pay a few yen to get into the tulip grounds but there were tons of varieties of tulips and they were all labeled. Even in English! There were lots of opportunities to get pictures down in the flowers. The tulip bed were kind of at a slop so I got my work out pushing that stroller. I should just do what the Japanese do and carry my baby everywhere. You could go up into the windmill and look down but we were in a bit of a time crunch and I didn't want to try it with Bea.
The most exciting part of the journey was sitting down to lunch with a random Japanese family. Grandma, grandpa and daughter with two boys. The youngest was around Bea's age. Unfortunately, I exhausted my Japanese pretty quick...I need to learn more phrases so that I can prolong the fun interactions. I got a picture of Bea eating a fish, but after she licked it a couple of times she didn't want to try anymore so I ate the rest of it. I let her have some of my fried chicken pieces and she loves that...go figure.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day and Japanese Car Inspection

This week has been pretty sedate over all. Our major excitement has been getting my car ready for the Japanese Compulsory Insurance or JCI. The JCI is where you have to get your car fixed up to guidelines and then you pay some taxes and have it inspected. The problem being that Ian and I always end up with 20 year old vehicles that are on their last legs anyways so we usually have to decide between junking it for $60 or spending a couple grand to keep it for another year. I like my little station wagon so I'm glad we got to keep it. My drivers side door handle broke off while Ian and I were in the states so at least that got repaired. The only unfortunate thing is that my car is navy blue and the replacement handle is white. At least I could pick my car out of a line up.

On the Ikebana front, I've started using my impressive new compendium on "plants used in ikebana". The only problem being that it is all in Japanese in hiragana I can't really read it. Except that there are scientific names in romanji and sometimes a common name in English sprinkled throughout. I've realized that I only have a year of ikebana left and I need to document all the materials we use and the seasons we used them in. So much work to catch up on! This week was yellow roses, Japanese witch hazel and a filler that really has no common name in English. It doesn't look nearly as impressive at my house because I don't have one of these beautiful round dish like vases.
The rain has actually stopped falling, for the most part, and the weather has been nice enough that Bea and I have been able to do a little outdoor adventure. Bea really likes picking things up off the ground and putting them in her mouth. Which I guess is just the way of things as long as she doesn't swallow rocks or seed pods. She really enjoys walking Ginger. Bea'll do her gimpy crawl while holding on to the leash and leading Ginger in the direction she has chosen. It's very cute.

Bea can now pull herself up to standing almost everywhere. She also likes to experiment with no hands. She'll probably be walking soon after her first birthday. In Japan it's bad to walk before your first birthday. They call those kids "Oni ko" or demon children. So mom's try not to let their kids walk till soon after their first birthday. I'm getting pretty excited about Bea's birthday party and I've been doing my research on fund Japanese things to do. I'll write more about that later though. Bea has also learned how to feed Ginger from her high chair. Ginger licks her toes and she tosses a big chunk of whatever she's eating over the side and then giggles when Ginger goes to scoop it up. I don't even know where to begin correcting that.

Bea is talking in more fluent gibberish so she might even be talking soon too. I've been working on her being interested in toys so she's beginning to play with them. As nice as it is to have a kid that enjoys flipping through the pages of a book it makes me a little nervous that she wouldn't relate to toys all that well. She loves musical instruments at least because I found a maraca in a bag of toys from a friend that moved and that was a whole afternoon of play. I'm thinking cars might be one of her favorites in the future.

The cherry blossoms are losing their petals here. It's beautiful because they flutter in the breeze and look like snow. However, they stick to everything and get tracked all over my house. I'm vacuuming everyday between the dog shedding buckets of hair and the cherry blossoms everywhere.

I got my studio shifted to the dining room and now the dining room table is working as eating space and studio space. So far it has worked. Is it ideal, no, I really need an entire room so Bea's room is still storage for most of my stuff. Ian and I have been learning to paint warhammer miniatures at night after Bea goes to sleep. It takes a lot of skill and patience to paint on such a small scale.

Mother's day was more relaxing than anything. Ian took us all out to the Mother's Day brunch at the club. Which though it had an excellent selection the quality wasn't near where I expected it. They did have a cooked whole salmon out that you could pick meat off the sides that was very good. Then we came home and put Bea down for a nap and took a nap ourselves. We took a little bit of a walk in the afternoon but didn't make it down to the beach because it was a little late and it probably would have been too chilly for Bea. Next year. Later our friend came over and we all when onsening. Us girls watched Bea and drank while Ian was in the water and then we traded with him after he came back. Onsen's are so relaxing. This was the first time I was able to onsen with my contacts in. It's so bizarre to be able to see things in detail instead blurry shapes floating by. After onsening we came home, put the Bea to sleep and had a late spaghetti dinner with Ian's hot-from-the-oven weekend baguette. A perfect day all the way around.

Just wanted to share a picture of what I looked like a year ago. What a difference a year has made. Bea is a constant source of amazement and wonder.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Cherry Blossoms!

This weekend was extra interesting. We managed to get to Hirosaki to see the cherry blossoms in all their riotous glory. But I should probably explain that besides being a fairly productive week for crafting (meaning I finished a really good romance novel) I broke my toe by accidentally kicking the fridge on Monday night. When I say I broke my toe, I mean it was at such a hideous angle that I immediately started going into convulsions out of terror of having it reset. Yah for the team at the UCC for setting it so nicely! What I didn't know is that I shouldn't have feared the setting the the toe but the needles they stick in you to numb it. I'm fairly certain I was doing back bends in pain and the nice people at the UCC let me swear as much as I wanted. It's amazing how therapeutic swearing is for the soul.

So I've been a gimp for the last week and slowly getting better. Much to the frustration of Ginger, she's had to wait for Ian to get home to go for her walks. Let me tell you carrying a 20lbs baby up two flights of stairs on one good leg is a real challenge. But we soldier on for cherry blossoms!

First I should probably explain the mania that surrounds the Japanese cherry tree or sakura. Sakura are spindly, awkward little trees that have lichen growing on them and ugly red/green/dun colored leaves. But oh when they bloom...all I can say is that I immediately start composing haikus in my mind when I see the sakura's in bloom. In all honesty they are the Cinderella of trees. And the Japanese plant them everywhere. You really don't realize how many of them are around until this time of year. There is a tradition of "flower watching" or Ohanami in Japan where you travel great distances to see the sakura in different towns. They also have a map that predicts the start dates of  blooming of sakura throughout Japan. Don't believe me, check out this link

It has been extra cold up here in Aomori this year and it has pushed the cherry blossoms back. Yesterday I would say they were fully bloomed. This corresponded with Golden Week in Japan making our journey to Hirosaki extra crazy. Golden week is the largest paid vacation period for the working stiffs of Japan. Even our construction workers got a few days off. Most people are wise and leave the country for greener pastures. For all of us crazies who stay and even decide to go off base it's a nightmare. I have never witness such terrible driving in my life, running red lights, buses (BUSES!) trying to out turn our station wagon in a traffic jam. Believe me we saw it all. Ian's hypothesis is that they let people drive this week that wouldn't normally drive and they wreak havoc on the senses.

This being said it took us 6 hours to drive what would normally be a 2.5 hour drive. Shoddy driving instructions and all it was crazy trying to keep the kid buckled and happy in the car that long. There were many considerable naps. I thought Ian was gonna lose his cool. Do you realize how hard it is to make my husband flip his business?  But really seeing the castle grounds covered in pink fluffiness was so worth it.
Hirosaki is considered one of the best places to view cherry blossoms in Japan. It was a large castle complex, the administrative seat of aomori prefecture. All that is left is one guard tower but it still have the beautiful moat. There is a lovely red wooden bridge that takes you over the moat but it was so jammed with people we didn't bother because we had been inside the tower on a different tour.

We also brought our friend who is one of Bea's sitters. Her hubby left for TDY and they went to Hirosaki last weekend but it was just so rainy and miserable that she agreed to come with us again. Skyping with hubby while viewing cherry blossoms...hawt! She kept a hobbler like me company while Ian was marching on ahead with Bea. 

On the way home we took a short cut through the mountains on a very windy road with snow on the sides taller than our car. They close this road after dark. We didn't know and were luckily the last car to sneak through. It was a good thing that Bea was asleep the whole time because in between snapping photos we were all on the verge of motion sickness. We are totally gonna have to do this drive in the summer, it's so beautiful!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Yasubame and Sakura Blossoms

Our weekend wasn't quite the bundle of fun that I had planned for it to be. Oh, weather in Japan. The forecast was way to rainy, blustery and cold for us to go all the way out to Hirosaki for the cherry blossom festival so we opted to go next weekend. But we did make it down to Towada for a little women's Yasubame under the cherry trees and art action on Sunday. It was the perfect little day trip for us exhausted parents of a cranky baby.

This is a monument to something in the park where they hold the Yasubame event every year. Not quite sure what it's a monument to, but isn't it pretty?

We were pleasantly surprised to see all kinds of flowers and bonsai's being sold this year. It made me cry a little bit because I wanted to bring some home but I knew that they would just die because of the construction workers. At least I have one more spring before we leave.

There were also a few people selling some wood working. I had to get a picture of Ian next to some statues. The Giacometti-esque stick person has boobs! I almost died laughing. Bea was bundled up an asleep by this point which is good because the wind is chilly.

There were also pony rides and a leather working area.

It's not like we could resist the food. I actually found something new in Japan! They put half of a smoked duck loin on a stick and grill it. So fabulous! The fatty skin is so crispy and wonderful! I'm going to have to find another one sometime.


I realize that I have yet to explain yasubame yet. It is mounted archery. In the spring, under the cherry blossoms the emphasis is on women's yasubame. When we came to Towada last fall it was for men's yasubame.

The women ride a horse at a full gallop down a sectioned off "track" that is probably around a hundred yards long. There are three targets set up along the track and the goal is for the women to notch three arrows and shoot three targets all while riding a galloping horse. This is incredibly hard. These women are pros and rarely do I see them loose three arrows...mostly just loose two and notch the third. How would you hold a boy and arrow steady while controlling a galloping horse?

The targets have a square of foam insulation in the center and the idea is to get your arrow through the center of that and not crack the insulation. You get different points based on where your arrow lands.

These lovely girls with parasols allow the judges to know what the arrow did from a hundred yards away. They are the card girls of the event.

After everyone has had their shot they parade the horses back to the other end and their trailers. I'm assuming that they do it in order to who won to who lost. Aren't their outfits and their horses tack wonderful?

This gentleman is demonstating the stance that you have to take to be able to shoot an arrow while riding a horse. Japanese people are usually not does one put it?...gregarious, in their body language. I'm wondering if he is drunk. It's also interesting to note that I never catch the face of a Japanese person when I take a picture. They are masters at turning away at the last second.

These women have fabulous skill and fabulous clothes. I saw a woman with silk chaps! I also love how they mix and match their colors and patterns.

 We got to see a group of funny vegetable mascots running around.

Only in Japan would kids want their picture with a yam. Nagaimo.

Other than that we have little news. Bea seems to have kept growing. She needs more clothes. More sleepers really. I'm looking forward to the week so that I can get her back on a regular nap schedule. She doesn't have many identifiable new words yet. She has learned to "sing", usually along with me in the car. She has learned how to open the refrigerator and the drawers down low. She's gotten really good at pulling herself to standing and she's now working on cruising. But we don't have too many things she can cruise on since I sold the coffee table.

We had a crawling specialist come into babylap sit to talk to me about Bea's gimpy crawl. She drags her left leg so bad that I'm worried the rug burn is gonna start bleeding. I've been trying to train her to come up on to both knees more. It's a slow process but her rest position seems to be on both knees now.

Ian has got a parcel of news. He found out that he will be testing for Staff Sgt. at the end of May. He's studying away. We also got the list of places that will need a person like Ian around the time of our move. Really the list is just and illusion of control. They will send us where they will send us. But I have high hopes for Europe.

Note: I know there are no pictures....blogger is being crazy and I wanted to put this up anyways. I'm gonna work on adding pictures later.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Birthdays and Standing Tall

The key words for this week are "Busy" and "Exhausting". I apologize for the lack of pictures but I spent most of this week in either a stupor or far too busy to pick up the iPhone. Such is the life of a supermom.

Ian's birthday was this past week and we celebrated for a good three days. It's not everyday that my hubby gets incredibly old ;-D. We got him a new espresso machine for his board game. I was relieved because this is probably the first holiday in which we haven't bought him a board game. Seriously, they are stacked to the ceiling. Anyways, we set it up the night before his birthday and you  should have seen how giddy (not to mention caffeinated) he was experimenting with the darn thing after he got home from work.

Friday night I got a babysitter to watch Bea while I took Ian out for a lovely French dinner. Courses! It was not to be though because the restaurant was closed for a large party going on. This is why you book ahead! I didn't think there would be a problem getting in because only Americans go there for dinner and the last Friday night I went it was a very lean crowd. All the Japanese go there for lunch and I can't even begin to describe how fabulous their eggs Benedict are. Anyways, we ended up at a low key ramen shop called Sapporo Ramen. Very tasty but neither of us were really dress comfortably enough to be sitting on the floor. After that well, with an hour and a half to kill....with the weather hovering just above freezing and raining....and not being dressed for anything so romantic as a walk on a moonlit beach...Ian being on standby so we can't really go out to a bar...not knowing at the drop of a hat where a love motel is... We headed to the Universe for some good old fashioned grocery shopping. We are so pathetic. Ian bought a $10 bottle of Scotch about which he said "The $9 much have been for the import fees because the whole thing tastes like it couldn't cost more than 75 cents. " I being a little wiser than spending money on cheap booze got a bag of croissants. Now I get jam and warm croissants with my breakfast every morning. Heaven!

So we all know that Ian loves nothing more than board gaming with people. However, he wouldn't put anything together for Sunday. He has building a set for the theater company on Saturday. So Thursday I put out a Facebook blast letting people know that we were having and Espresso/Food/Games soiree...practically all day. Ian and I were cleaning and cooking all morning and then people started showing up around 1pm. It was such a blast. Tons of good food and conversation. Our friends brought some wickedly awesome Indian style curry. Ian made Italian bread the night before. The Espresso was flowing. There was chocolate mousse and brownies. Ian got to play games with the boys in the dining room and I got to play games and gossip with the girls in the living room. I think we'll have to do it again soon.

In Bea news, she has finally learned to pull herself to standing! It is so cute because she puckers her lips and hoots at you to let you know that you should praise her. My days of hiding things on chairs is numbered. In fact a week ago, I took her to a baby lap sit and she saw another baby crawl on all fours and since then she's been experimenting with getting on all fours and pushing her self up. I swear a week after she sees another baby do something she's got it down pat. A keen observer that one.

She has also learned to blow kisses. Ian and I discovered this when we were kissing each other, making a kissy noise, and then Bea did the same thing! So we had to test it out, and sure enough she could make the kissy noise after we do. So now we give her lots of kisses just so she will make the kissy noise. We'll have to turn it into a bed time ritual. which we haven't quite gotten around to making one. Usually we put her to bed after exhaustion takes hold.
Bea was helping me sort through my kimonos after I reorganized her room to give her a little more space. Bea has become quite the talker. She babbles too herself and sorts the laundry or the kimonos into piles. Which means she's using her whole arm and body to move the clothes from one side of her to the other. I haven't been successful in getting pictures because as soon as she sees my phone she stops and poses. She did surprise me on Thursday when she pulled off her sock and said "Sock". It was so clear, and then I said sock back to her and she giggled. Those are the moments that make you pause and realize how quick your kid is catching on. It's scary. Ian and I still turn to each other and say "We have a kid". Continual source of amazement.

I feel like some time this week Bea went to bed a baby and woke up a toddler. Now she has realized that she can refuse to eat certain foods, pureed peas, peaches...and the list goes on and on. I think she just likes to spit things out for the hell of it. That and she discovered her tongue so she's always sticking that out. Now the only things I can get her to eat are fruit and whatever we are currently eating. Mommy woes.

This week I got to do a little flower arranging for the officers spouses club. They were have a little bingo night and wanted some ikebana like flower arrangements to give away as door prizes. I say ikebana like because ikebana is really hard to do in the round and since I'm not a sensei I don't really know what I'm doing. Sensei, a friend and I went down to sensei's flower shop the day before and sensei helped up pick out some wonderful flowers. I absolutely adore the azaleas and Gerber daisies. We had a lot of fun arranging them and had to continually tell ourselves that we didn't have to strictly follow all the ikebana rules. Though I tried to follow most of them. We got lots of praise for the arrangements and that's what's important. Here are the pictures that I did actually manage to get taken this week.

On a side note Ginger has a stomach parasite. That was a whole Tuesday afternoon of running around for me. But she's on meds and will probably over come. Shiba's are like cockroaches, extremely loyal cockroaches. Now if I could only teach her not to eat every scrap of bone that she finds on our daily walks.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Ikebana, Baguettes and Goodbyes

We found out this week that our good friends are getting an early separation because of the DOS roll back. It's really tragic for us because they are wonderful people to play games with, talk cloth diapers and baby carrying, and our kids play together. Now they have to sell everything so they have money to support their family of 4, soon to be 5, through a relocation and potential joblessness. So Ian and I had the bizarre experience of walking into our friends house and really looking at their stuff to buy. You want to give them all the support you can and you know that the best way to do that is to give them money...but on the same hand it's creepy to buy your friends stuff. It felt a lot like when my grandparents ask us to go around their house and make a list of what we wanted when they died. Some of my cousins couldn't do it and I completely understand why.

I have a feeling that Ian and I are going to have to do this a lot in our military years. We are going to have to make quick friendships and then just as quickly say goodbye to them or move on to another base. It tugs on the heart strings...but what can you do? Moving on to the next set of friends. And it really sucks.

In happier news, I got a 95 on my ikebana test after a lot of stressing and just a touch of freaking out. I have moved on to the next level, something level 1, it's the beginning of the advanced levels. I think that I am now what you would call a Sensei's assistant.

This is how the morning went down. I walked to the civic center, giving myself far too much time, and getting there half an hour ahead of schedule. I meet my friends, go up and register, buy the flowers, sit down and begin to unrap them. All of this done in a very methodical, zen, now I'm going to do some ikebana type mentality. That's when I realize that I forgot my pin frog and vase, full on panic. I've got 15 minutes till I have to take the test so I call my husband to see if he can drive the vase down while my friend goes to talk to the ladies in charge to give me a couple of extra minutes. Luckily, we know all the ladies in charge because they are students of our sensei (all sensei's in their own right) and I'm gonna get a few extra minutes to get the vase. I go outside and pace infront of the civic center waiting for Ian to do a drive by and drop off the vase. After that's accomplished, I run up stairs to the testing room and sit down in a flash to get ready to arrange my flowers.

 Usually, all that extra time spent before the test you get to do some thoughtful contemplation of what flowers go where and how you want things arranged. When your time is done arranging you step out into the hall and talk about how great or crappy the flowers are this time, everybody compares what they think they will be dinged on. Pretty much that means all the other students were coming over and asking me if everything was alright because all they could understand was that I was freaking out in English and rushing around. All the explaining of my thoughtlessness makes me super nervous and embarrassed. But I keep telling myself that the disaster for the day has happened and so hopefully my score wont be a disaster too. Then we are let back into the room where we see our scores and success! Then the judge explains all our scores and talks about our arrangements. She said my varigated iris leaves were leaning back a little bit too much but she complimented the length of my roses. Because the roses were so big and deep pink in the center I kept cutting them back and cutting them back because they seemed to overwhelm the arrangement. She told the advanced students to take note because even though I cut the roses shorter than the typical "1/3 the height of the subject" rule I cut the roses to the correct height for their size and color. I was super proud and got lots of congratulations.
Our judge is the woman in grey. She goes around to all the other arrangements and talking and rearranging everything to show you how to do it next time.There weren't any 100s this time. Just a few 95s. Most people get 90s and 85s. Getting an 80 is like not showing up.
This month there were a lot of abstract arrangements! They non traditional vases or they get to free form the materials. I really love these arch vases. I'm gonna have to find one.

In other news, Ian has had a pretty uneventful week inspecting Hazmat programs. He did however bake me some wicked awesome baguettes! So I think that every weekend I'm gonna make him make me bread. He went to a coworker's going away party the other night.

Bea has been scooting around being whiny this week. I think her teeth and sinuses are bothering her. She has started saying gok for dog. I'm pretty sure that's her third word. She is also very preoccupied with putting plugs into walls, the keys into the door nob, the leash on the dog, the glasses on mom, stirring pots with spoons to name a few. She really likes for us to hold her and let her stir dinner on the stove. I like to play the please and thank you game with her. I hold out my hand and say please.Then she puts what she's playing with in my hand and I say thank you. We got some cute new diapers for her. That's all the big news for now, she's not talking or walking or doing complicated arithmetic equations.
I can't remember if I shared this on the blog, but Bea found my knitting. Hilarious baby experimentation photo shoot ensues.