December 30, 2011

Adventures at the Makishi Market & Kokusai Dori

Kokusai Dori, also known as International Street in downtown Naha is mildly put as an interesting place. Anyone from my home town will understand my comparison that Kokusai Dori is like the Japanese version State Street, only weirder. The street is lined on either side with small shops that sell everything from Awamari - the Okinawan (and much more potent) version of Sake, to Habu Sake - that's sake with the very deadly Habu snake pickled in it just the worm in the tequila, to designer clothing, and even a Starbucks. Bestill my heart, I got my first cup of Starbucks in MONTHS.

Off of Kokusai Dori there are little "arcades" or hallways that make up the market. Anything and everything you could ever think of can be found down these little arcades. There is a maze of hallways with Kimonos for all sizes, hand blown glass, Okinawan pottery, jewelry, snacks, flowers, men's, women's, and children's clothing, albeit a little on the ugly side. . . anything your heart could desire can be found here.

Buried within the depths of the arcades is the Makishi Market. It's somewhat hard to find if you don't know what you're looking for. The directions I found on the internet had us turning down one of the arcades called Heiwa Dori. You walk until you come to a curtain shop (which also sells rugs and fabric FYI) and you turn right. Look for sets of glass double doors on your right. You will smell the fish and the meat before you even see the doors. Follow your nose. Yes, these were the honest to goodness directions. . .

We found the market. Now I love to cook, and shop for ingredients. But being in this market where everything is written in Japanese, and no one speaks english, I was overwhelmed by the amount of stuff in there! I would love to go back on a day when there are far fewer people. There are just counters of the freshest meat and seafood I have ever seen. And upstairs above the market proper, are restaurants where they will cook what you purchase on the spot. My husband and I are going back next weekend and getting ingredients to make our own sushi feast. Can't wait.

Now finding the market was not a problem for us. Saying the smell will lead you is an understatement. You KNOW when you smell that market. We all knew we smelled it because we all stopped walking and went "OH." My parents had come out for Christmas and we'd all ended up with one of the worst stomach bugs they've seen around here. We were all finally on the mend and this was our first outting in about 4 days. My poor father couldn't even stomach the smell, so my mom and I went through the double doors to explore and just see what they had to offer.

As we explored the smaller arteries off the main arcade, I noticed something that I've seen happen every other I go out into town with my kids. Japanese women go NUTS over my kids. I mean crazy! They snap pictures, they coo. . . my son has been petted on the head more times than I can count. At first I thought this was an anomaly since the Japanese people are usually very polite and not so touchy feely. But it happens everytime we go out into town. They LOVE my kids. And it finally clicked. They love the blonde hair. Both of my kids have corn silk colored hair.

We ran into another American family while we were in the arcade and one of the little girls had red hair. I said that the Japanese are probably all over that little one, and the mother confirmed that her red headed daughter gets petted a lot too.

All in all, this place is somewhere I am dying to get back to. Now that I know where I am going I will probably have the courage to go on my own. Or maybe I will take a few of my friends. To another year filled with new adventures. . .

Happy New Year to all.

December 22, 2011

My Ghosts of Okinawa

Thunk, thunk, thunk. Swish, swish. . .

and a little later. . .

Knock, knock, knock. . . I think something just touched me. . .

Ask anyone who has lived on Okinawa any more than 5 minutes about the ghosts here. Everyone has a ghost story to share. It's either a personal encounter, or a story that's been passed from person to person. Recently, I shared my encounter(s) with a friend, no longer caring if she thought me to be insane, only to discover that she had had ghostly experiences too. The Japanese, and the Okinawans in particular are a very superstitious people. Since ghosts, and anything to do with the supernatural is right up my ally, I looked around and did a little research on the ghosts of Okinawa. I came to find out that this little island is fondly known as "spook central".

I certainly do not doubt the prevalence of ghosts here. One of the bloodiest battles of WWII was fought here. Many soldiers, both American and Japanese, and Okinawan civilians died during that battle. TheOkinawans worship their ancestors, not a "God" in the sense of Christianity, Judiasm, or Islam. Tombs located randomly all over. Small, single person tombs, and larger tombs to accommodate many family members. The prevalence of these tombs is somewhat spooky, and unnerving, yet you get used to it eventually. Homes, restaurants, hotels, and more are not uncommonly abandoned by the Okinawan people due to a haunting, or other supernatural experience occuring there. So no, ghosts in my home do not surprise me.

I don't know anything about the ground that our townhouse is built on but I am convinced that there are spirits that visit me. Shortly after we moved in, my husband was sent out for a training mission for several weeks. The first few weeks were quiet and uneventful. I became accustomed to the sounds of our home, our neighbors. The neighborhood dogs barking in the evening, and the sound of the airconditioning kicking on were all sounds that I eventually got used to hearing.

One night I had gone to bed early and quite suddenly my bed started to vibrate, and then shake. Could have been an earthquake, yes, but not night after night after night. Shortly after my bed becand shaking I started hearing foot steps coming up my stairs. Not necessarily an uncommon thing, true. However, our house is built like a bomb shelter. Everything is concrete. The stairs are concrete and covered with carpet, the walls are concrete and covered in paint, everything. The only thing that is drywalled, are the interior walls. So the sound of footsteps coming up our concrete stairs, down the hallway, and approaching my bedroom were not something I should have been hearing. Especially while my kids are in bed asleep, and my husband was away.

Along with the footsteps, I could hear knocking on the exterior walls. The concrete exterior walls. There was also knocking on walls that weren't shared with nextdoor neighbors, or other rooms in my house. Including the wall between my shower and my husband's closet, and my closes and the empty stairwell. You could explain it away with pipes, and waterlines, etc. But Our homes are wired and piped through the floor. Our walls are concrete.

At night while I'm laying in bed, and it's all quiet, I can hear what sounds like a radio tuned between two stations. I hear this almost nightly. I hear it still. Sometimes it's loud enough to sound like I am standing in the middle of a crowded room. Sometimes it sounds like there are children playing in the hallway. No matter what it is, it's always there.

And finally the clincher. I was laying in bed  reading a book and I hear the footsteps come up my stairs. I hear them come down the hall. I heard them come into my room. I could hear the swishing sound that clothing makes when you're walking. Then it stopped and I felt something sit down on my bed, and put it's hands on my legs. It didn't scare me a bit. I just put my book aside and fell asleep.

I contacted the medium who did a reading for my family shortly after my brother died and asked him what he thought of my situation. I told him that I didn't mind if the spirit, or spirits stayed just so long as they weren't evil, and didn't scare me or my kids. He gave me some advice. So I promptly said aloud one evening, that only good spirits were welcome here, anything else had to go. And in keeping with the Okinawan customs, I went out and bought myself a pair of Shisa. The Shisa are half dog, half lion and are said to be protectors. They are almost always seen in pairs. The Shisa with his mouth open keeps evil spirits away, and the Shisa with her mouth closed keeps good spirits in.

I don't mind sharing my home or my city with spirits and ghosts. I am ok with the fact that there are some who reside in my house. The fact is that they were there first. As long as I can live comfortably in my home I'm ok.

I guess I really did get a true welcoming to Okinawa.

December 6, 2011

Dear Anonymous,

This week I really wanted to write a post about the ghosts of Okinawa and my recent experiences with them. Nearly anyone you talk to who has lived here more than a few months will have a ghost story or an encounter to share with you. However that post and my excitement to write it will have to wait.

Tonight's post is very different from anything I have ever written. I am so angry I don't even know where to begin, and the anger is from years of biting my tongue and being "the bigger person". But I've come to believe that there is a point at which biting one's tongue and being the bigger person is detrimental to your own self preservation. There comes a point at which you can no longer remain silent. There comes a time when you must speak up for yourself.

Tonight what I write has little to do with being a military wife, and more to do with being just plain human. There are few things that have affected me so deeply as to change me and my beliefs forever. The first was marrying my husband, the second was the birth of my children, and the third was the death of my brother. Naturally as my uncle's life hangs in the balance, (and though he is doing well now, his situation is precarious enough that we could still lose him) I have spent a lot of time thinking about loss. Possibly losing him, losing my brother, and other losses that are much too close to home.

To be completely truthful, death and loss have been a constant reality in my life since I married my husband. I've come to peace with the reality of death. However there are others with whom I share blood lines who have not come so far. The lack of compassion for the losses and sacrifices made my parents and I is almost inhuman.

Today, a family member who shall remain nameless for the purposes of this blog, called my mother to discuss my uncle. My mom is 3rd in line to make decisions regarding his current situation and care. During the course of conversation, this person told my mother that she "wags my brother's death in their face." My mother was asked by this person why she isn't over it, and why she can't move on. . . my poor mom, so deeply hurt by these words called me to talk.

Upon hearing this, I decided that this is the moment where I can no longer be silent. This is where I must speak. I am stuck on Okinawa, desperately wishing I could be with my family right now, but there is nothing I can do. If only this person knew how lucky they are to have 5 living brothers and sisters as opposed to 1 dead oneerhaps they would not treat their siblings as such.

So I sat down and I wrote. And I wrote. And I wrote. I wrote in hopes that something I said could shock certain people into reality. I can only use this as my forum because if I actually sent the letter, the fall out would come down on my mom. Not on me. And, I'm pretty sure that the people whom this is about don't care enough to even know that my blog exists, or that I even live on Okinawa. But I'm so angry I just can't shut up. I just can't.

So here it is:

Dear (name removed for privacy),

My mom told me that the two of you spoke today. I was so happy to hear it. I know she was happy that you called as well. Until you said that she “wags Nick’s death in your face”. I know that it’s hard for you to hear, and talk about Nick. It’s difficult for all of us. But to say that she “wags” his death in your face is a terribly insensitive thing to say.

Let me tell you something about my brother’s death. My mom, dad, and I will NEVER be over it. EVER. It is something that has changed us all so deeply, so fundamentally that there is no way to fully recover and be what we once were. How can you not understand that? Nicholas (name removed for privacy), my brother, my mother’s and father’s only son, died violently and unexpectedly! At 21 years old!!

Tell me how long it would take you to get over seeing your son’s body smashed on the rocks. Seeing where his brains spilled out of ears because he hit headfirst. Seeing ridges where his skull was cracked and crushed through the skin on his forehead. Knowing that his organs were so badly damaged that they were practically mush. How long would it take you to get over having the sheriff and the coroner come to your front door? How long would it take you to get over having to drive down to the morgue to identify your son’s body? How long would it take you to get over seeing your boy laying naked and lifeless on the metal gurney? How long would it take you to get over having to call your pregnant daughter, knowing her husband is in the field and she is 1500 miles away to deliver the news? How long would it take you to get over the need to hold his ice cold hand for as long as you could before they closed the casket for the last time? How long would it take you to get over having your son’s body incinerated in the crematorium because the pain of putting him in a box in the ground was much worse.  How long would it take you to to get over knowing that you’ll never see, or hug, or hold your baby, your child, your only son ever again? How long would it take you to get over the fact that you’ll never celebrate another birthday, or Christmas with him? How long would it take you to get over knowing he’ll never get married and have children? You’ve never had to do it. My mother did! Nick's death will affect us for the rest of our lives!!!! Please get that through your head, and your heart.

There is not a need for you to discuss his death in detail. All it would take is a simple, “How are you doing today?” or even “I know the holidays are hard. Are you getting through alright?” Thats all!! If discussing Nick’s death is difficult for you, have you even considered how hard enduring it has been for us? Ignoring it completely, as though it didn’t happen is terribly painful and insulting. All it takes is a simple validation of how awful it has been for my parents and me. Not nasty comments about how we’re not over it yet, and why can’t we move on. My mother sent out a letter to you, (name removed), and (name removed), BEGING for compassion and help. She received very little in return. My husband’s family has shown more compassion and concern to my parents and me than you have in the last 5 years. 

Nick’s death is not about you, and you have no place judging how my parents and I mourn. We will mourn how we choose. For the first year or two, it was all we could do to live through each day with the sorrow. We didn't have the space in our souls to consider much else. Only God will judge us. Not you. My mother does not need snide comments about how long it takes her to get over it. SHAME ON YOU for saying such a thing. We will not tiptoe around Nick’s death because it’s uncomfortable for you. WE are the ones who have to live with it every single day. We miss him every single day. My children will never know my brother, their uncle. They will never have cousins from my side of the family. As my parents age, and eventually pass, I will not have my brother there with me as I should. And I’m supposed to just get over that?? 

If you ever took the time, perhaps you would see that our days are no longer consumed by grief as they once were. Perhaps you would see that with the help and support of those who truly care, we have crawled out of the black hole of sorrow, and are living as best as we can with the pain his loss that endures. Maybe you would see that it doesn’t hurt all day every day anymore, but when it does hurt, it is just as acute as though it happened yesterday. Perhaps you would understand that we go to work each day, we spend time with friends and family, and we carry on as normally as we can. Maybe you would see that finally there are more days where we can smile and laugh rather than cry. 

Any criticism of how my family chooses to mourn my brother’s death, or how we keep his memory alive is disrespectful to all of us, and it is unacceptable. You will not do it anymore. Period. Just because you don’t understand how we mourn does not mean that we are wrong. All we’ve asked of you is support and caring. Perceived or not, that is something we did not receive from you. Expecting a time limit for how long it takes to “get over it”, is not supportive or caring, and clearly shows your lack of an understanding of the mourning process.

You will no longer criticize how my mother mourns for her son. You will no longer ask her why she’s not “over it”, tell her it’s time to “move on”, or tell her she needs to consider YOUR feelings about it. You will validate the sorrow she feels about Nick’s death no matter how uncomfortable it is for you, because she is the one who lost her son. You did not. If you must say something regarding Nick or his death, it will be thoughtful and kind. Not wrought with criticism or judgment. You CAN be selfless enough to give that much.

I am not interested in a response from you. I am not interested in excuses, explanations, or any kind of justification you may have for your behavior. My mother, father, and I are allowed to mourn my brother. We will continue to mourn him, love him, miss him, and remember him forever. We have a right to do that without a set time limit from you or anyone else. We have a right to do that without expectations placed upon us for when we will be over it, because we never will be.

You can’t undo the pain of the past, but you can work to make the future better.


December 1, 2011

Never Felt So Far

Most of the time I love, Love, LOVE, living on this island. There are a few small annoyances and inconveniences that get to me occasionally, but I really am enjoying myself. Because of the total awesomeness of Vonage, I really haven't felt all that far from home. I talk to my parents every day. Sometimes twice.

Until today.

I won't get into the how or the why I knew something was coming, (thats a different post all together) but for days I've had this feeling of foreboding hanging over my head. I couldn't shake it off. There was no reason for me to be feeling the way I felt. My favorite holiday is almost upon us, my parents are coming out for a visit, and my husband is home to celebrate the season with me and the kids. What more could I ask for?

Then I got a phone call from home. One of my favorite people in the world, my uncle is ill. I mean VERY ill. He had a heart attack, and subsequently open heart surgery which included five bypasses, and the repairing of one valve. Things were going well. Until they weren't. He was stable after the surgery and then he just crashed. I don't know how many times he "died" before they were able to bring him back. . . by opening him back up and massaging his heart with their hands. . . the doctors said at this point it will take a miracle for him to live. ----- So all you believers, PRAY!!

To say I am heartbroken is a huge understatement. My uncle has always had a place in my heart. He was in the Navy. He cherishes and values his service, and anyone else who serves too. Then when my brother died, my uncle and I became pen pals of sorts. He is one who enjoys the tradition of the hand written letter. Over the years we've exchanged a few, including one shortly after my brother's passing. He asked me to never share the contents of that letter to anyone. And to this day, I never have. He had been prompted by the short duration of my brother's life and unexpected death, to reflect on his own life. I'm not sure why he chose me to be the one to hear it. Maybe he knew that I would still accept him without judgement, despite the mistakes he's made. Maybe he knew that I would always see the good. And after my daughter was born, he stood as her godfather at her baptism.

Now he lays in the hospital waiting for the inevitable to come. My mother is near hysterical. And here I am. Here I will most likely stay. Normally if we were in the states, all I'd have to do is hop on a plane and I could be there in just a few hours. Being here makes it much more complicated than that. I have the paperwork to get me on the flight list, but the chances of actually getting my kids and myself on a military transport plane this close to Christmas is very slim. Anytime other than the holidays and we'd be good. Nor do we have the money to pay $2,000+ per ticket for me and my two kids to get a commercial flight home. And the kids would have to come. There is nothing else I could do. So here I sit waiting for news. And waiting sucks. It kills me that I can't be there for my mom. She adores her brother. But my dad is there and thats going to have to be good enough. I'm probably not the first spouse out here to have faced this kind of thing. But that doesn't make me feel any better.

Today I can physically feel just how far away I am. I can feel the sadness and the worry across the thousands of miles. Even through the phone I am hyper aware if the measured distance between my loved ones and myself. I've never felt more isolated, more helpless, and more far away from home.

November 24, 2011


Every year since I was very small, I remember having Thanksgiving dinner with my family. I always thought we had a large family. Larger than anyone I was friends with. Being young, it always seemed that I had an endless supply of aunts and uncles, and cousins. Every year my mother, father, brother and I would make the 1-2 hour drive to the Milwaukee area to celebrate Thanksgiving with our family.

Each dinner had certain traditions, staples, which made the celebration special. My grandma’s pies, or her special recipe for gravy. Or the relish tray that always included my favorites. Black olives. Each year we would gather at my Aunt Sandra’s house. I don’t remember much in the way of conversation. My memories are of togetherness. Of love. Of family. I remember my Grandma Alice smiling. Laughing. Delighting in the family that she, the matriarch had created. We all were there because of her. I remember her pies. Always Lemon Meringue, and Pumpkin. And they were, to this day, the BEST pies I have ever tasted.

Every year since I was born, my I have been lucky enough that my Thanksgivings have always been spent with family. Until this year. This year, we are on an island in the middle of the ocean, and it literally costs our family $2,000 a person to fly over here, or for us to fly home.

So this year we had to make a new tradition. In lieu of my family, a friend and I made our Thanksgiving meal for the men, and their families. This year, instead of spending my favorite holiday with my own family, I spent it with another family. A family that is infinitely as important to me as my own flesh and blood. For they are as entwined with my livelihood as my own cousins, aunts, and uncles. Each one of these men means something to my husband, and something to me. We are a family. Those who serve share a bond that no one else could ever know or understand. As a wife, I will never know the bonds that are shared between those men just as my husband will never know the bonds shared between wives while our husbands are gone.

This year we cooked a feast fit for a king. We had more leftovers than we knew what to do with. So we sent them on 4 giant platters to Staff Duty. For a moment in time, a moment in this life we all choose to lead, we gathered together in this strange land, where they don’t celebrate this wonderful holiday. Thanksgiving in my new home was everything I wanted it to be. It was everything of the aura of my Thanksgiving’s past. We ate, we laughed, and were as much of a family as any.

This Thanksgiving ranks among the best of them. For a while we all forgot that we were not among our families. For a moment we forgot that we were miles from our homes. For a while, along with good food, and good friends, we celebrated, we laughed, we enjoyed, we ate, and we were happy. For a while we forgot the reality of why we all were here on Okinawa. We forgot why we all were together. We made a new tradition with my Grandma’s pies, my husband’s turkey, my friend’s cream corn, and all of our new friends. Happy Thanksgiving, from Okinawa Japan.

November 18, 2011

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Emotions

This week my husband emailed me a picture of himself and the men he works with. Pictures like these are precious. Not only to the families of the men, but pictures like these are a part of our nation's history. Our  soldiers are making history. So often we see in history books, photographs of men who've served in wars long gone. We look into the eyes of these historical people in old, blurry, black and white photographs and we wonder about their lives. Did they have wives? Children? And I wonder, 40, 60,100 years from now, will there be teachers and children looking at photographs of my husband and his men while studying this war?

The receipt of this particular photograph induced a picture finding frenzy on my behalf. I searched for hours for old photographs of me, of my husband, of our friends from units past. I found pictures of men we knew. Men we know. Their families. Men who've since died. Men who've since been injured. Lost limbs, lost their families, lost their minds. . .

So many emotions came from reviewing old photographs of the last decade of our lives. I was not only reviewing our personal history, but the history of our country. A history that has been repeated every generation since our founding fathers. And then looking at the picture my husband sent of himself, of his men, I couldn't help but let the wave of emotions wash over me.

First there is pride. I am so proud of my husband and life I lead along side him. I am so proud of all he's accomplished, I'm proud of his men. I'm proud of their families. The life of a combat soldier and his family is not an easy one by any means. The second is fear. I can't help but worry that not all of these men will come home to their families the next time it's their turn to serve in combat. The third is sadness. I am so very, very sad, anguished in fact, because I know how bad it feels to lose someone you love so dearly before they are old and have lived the long life they deserved. After all, that's how it is supposed to be. I look at the photograph, into the faces of these smart, brave, and accomplished men, and my heart aches with worry and fear. And there is so, so much more. But I don't have the capacity. I can't. I just can't. . .

Yet I know that despite what the future holds I will cherish this picture always. Not only is it a part of our nation's history, it is a part of my husband's life. A part of my life. A part of my children's lives. What is going to happen will happen and I have no control over that. So all I can do now is look at that photograph and pray.

November 15, 2011

Taken For Granted

This morning began like any other morning. I woke up with the kids, made breakfast, packed my son's lunch, got ready, dropped him at school, and went for a run with my friend. It's when I came home that "something" happened. I put the baby down for a nap and sat down to eat my post-workout apple and yogurt. I turned on the news (I won't say which station) for a few minutes to see what is going on the world. When my husband is gone it's easy to become very disconnected from current events. Self preservation I suppose.

I was watching the reports of the New York City police evacuating Zuccotti Park of the "Occupy" protesters. Now, this post is not political, and I'm not going to go into a rant on what I believe, the message of the protesters, or any of that business. But as I was watching, a group of men and women were chanting,

"Show me a police state!"
"This is a police state!"
"Show me a police state!"
"This is a police state!"

I put down my food, having lost my appetite and had to turn off the tv. I got up and started pacing around my living room growing angrier and angrier. This kind of stuff gets me all worked up which is part of the reason I prefer to read my news. But it touches a special nerve especially when my husband is gone. My utter disgust has nothing to do with why these people are protesting, or their message, and everything to do with what I had just witnessed.

First of all, these people clearly have no idea of what a "police state" really is or what it entails. If this were a police state, lets face it, most of the protesters would be arrested or dead by this point. Look at Iran or North Korea for examples. Look at Germany under the Nazi regime. These are examples of a police state. No one is allowed to protest or rise up, and those who do are usually "arrested" or killed. These protesters chanting about a police state have no clear realization of the freedoms they are taking for granted. None.

Living here in Japan, I've experienced a small but definite culture shock. Not so much from the environment since Japan is a developed country and has most all of the modern conveniences we enjoy in the United States. The culture shock comes from local customs, language, and just how things are done, and run here. It's very clearly not my home. It's not my country. Once you've been here a few months, you really begin to notice and appreciate, love, and pine for your homeland. I, like the other Americans living here as guests of the Japanese, do not have the luxury of taking our freedoms for granted. I don't have the luxury of taking much for granted at all. For military families, we are in a constant state of training or readiness. We ALL wonder if tomorrow will the the day our husbands are called to fight. And when they go, we ALL wonder if tomorrow will the day he never comes home. I take nothing in my life for granted, because it can ALL change for me in the blink of an eye. My happiness, my family as I knew it is gone because we chose to fight for them.

So while my husband IS gone fighting or training to fight for these rights, watching people claim to have the desire to exercise their 1st amendment rights, yet have no desire to follow the laws and municipal codes of a city makes me angry. I have my issues with our country and how it's run, but for these people to have the audacity to disrespect the city that has hosted their protest, and the nation my family gives so much for. . . For them to take the 1st amendment and twist it. . . for them to essentially spit on the freedoms and rights they've had since birth, because a judge didn't give them their way, enrages me. Especially while I spend my nights alone, praying for my husband's safety. Especially while I shed tears of fear and loneliness. Especially while my children grow up with out their father. Especially while I live 3,000 miles from friends and family, and everything I have ever known. Especially while I support other wives like me.

I completely agree with the right to protest and peacefully assemble. If no one ever stood up for what they believe, then nothing would ever change. Nothing would ever get better. But to stand there screaming about a police state at the very same time they are engaging in a protest is ignorant. The rights of our country's citizens are maintained as long as they are not infringing upon the rights of others. Has anyone considered how the people who live around that park are being impacted by the "shanty town" that has been Zuccotti Park? What about their rights? It's taken for granted. All of it. And I'm tired of it. To live in the United States, to be a citizen of the country is a privilege. It's a privilege many people were born to and don't recognize. It's time they educate themselves and start acting like it.

November 3, 2011

Just a Little Homesick.

We exit the gate and turn onto one of the main roads. I'm on my way to drop my son off at his school. We take generally the same route every day since there really aren't any back roads between our home, and school. I'm familiar with the route now so instead of things being unfamiliar, I know my way by landmarks.

"I wonder what that is?" I say out loud.

"What Mommy?" my son asks me.

"I just wonder what all these buildings are, all the stores too. I can't read Japanese so I don't know what they are." I say back.

This has been an unexpected frustration. At first I found the fact that everything was written in Japanese endearing. Now I find it more than a little irritating. I can't read it. Unless there is English on the sign too, I have absolutely no idea what it is aside from the obvious car dealership or restaurant. This is not handy when I am looking for a jar of Garam Masala to season my cooking, or a few flea market chairs to refinish for my photography. Google is not helpful since it doesn't really identify "indian grocery" here on Oki unless I google it in Japanese, which isn't happening.

Essentially, unless it's by word of mouth or my handy dandy Oki reference website,, I'm not exactly sure of where to go sometimes. So my daughter and I went back to the fabric store the other day to purchase more fabric for a project I've been wanting to do. Since I know my way, there were no issues. However the lovely, perky sales girl that was working the last time I was there wasn't there on this particular visit. In her place were two cranky "we-never-smile" men. I chose my fabrics and set them aside. One of the men came up to me and asked if he could cut my fabric for me.

"Hai." I responded. Then I realized I had no idea how to say something as simple as "One yard please." in Japanese. (And yes this place cuts in yards for us Americans) I felt utterly ridiculous and rude as I sputtered in English. Usually the cuteness factor of my baby, a few smiles, bows, and a small attempt to speak in their language cuts through the awkwardness and almost all of my interactions with the Okinawan people have been lovely. This time was different. This man was NOT charmed by my cute baby or my pathetic attempt to speak Japanese. He stared at me blankly while I ineffectively tried to articulate what I needed. Neither of us was rude to the other, and I quickly busied myself while he cut my yards in order to avoid any more uncomfortableness. <---is that even a word?

I have a desperate desire to engage in small talk with these people in order to learn more about this island. Or just to be able to tell the staff how much I enjoy their store. I am frustrated because I don't know how to ask a local where I can go to get the best produce, or find the spices I need. I miss being able to just drive by a place and say, "Oh, THAT'S where that is!" and just being able to pull in because I know that I can find what I need there. I miss being able to pick up the phone and call my mom to tell her about the day. She's sleeping while I'm awake.

Living here is an adventure, and I love it. I love exploring, and the views of the sea from the tops of the hills simply take my breath away. But aside from being on base or conversing with other English speakers off base, I've been feeling a little lost.

October 27, 2011

The Bonds of Sisterhood.

An awful accusation was made against a dear friend of mine this last week. Let me clarify that I have never met this woman in person, but she is truly a sister of my soul. Some of you may ask why I would consider a person I have never met a "dear friend". Let me explain. She lives the same life as I do. Her husband is in the Army. Her husband, like mine has vowed to make the military his career. He has deployed to a combat zone countless times. He leads men into battle, and makes difficult decisions. They have moved from place to place. They have two young children just about the same age as mine. This woman walks in my shoes, and I in hers. Though we have never met in person, we would certainly have a lot to discuss if ever we did. And in the world of the Army, it certainly is possible.

In February of this year, one day after my 30th birthday, which I spent alone, because my husband was out in the field for another stint of training, Megan wrote something that truly resinated with me, brought me to tears because I have spent many birthdays, anniversaries, and countless holidays by myself while the man in my life, my best friend, and my partner was away in a combat zone. Her words resinated with me because my family faces many more holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries while he is away because our family CHOOSES to serve this nation in a way that most citizens of this country will never know or understand. Her words got down the nitty gritty of the relationship between a soldier and their spouse. For it is a complex one. The link to her post that I am referencing is here ---> "Promises"

A young, and inexperienced Navy wife accused Megan of stealing the words of her post from someone else, but has yet to produce evidence of such plagiarism. The truth of the matter is that for the wives of soldiers who have deployed to dangerous places in the world, continue to do so, and will do so again if called upon, Megan's words could be each of our own, if ever so less eloquently put. For only Megan has a way of writing that is wholly her own. It is unmistakably from a place within her, and written with such a raw honesty that it can only be from her. For those of us who've followed Megan's journey and have been inspired by her enduring strength, her love for her husband, her country, and her undying faith in God, we recognize what this young Navy wife has not. These are indeed Megan's words.

Us wives of combat soldiers and Marines have a unique journey, and a unique life. As I said in a response to Megan's post, we live in a world where fear should prevail, but instead hope does. Our reality, our view of this world, and our life in general should be harsh. It should be pessimistic. We have every reason to be sad, and feel sorry for ourselves. We have every reason to be bitter and angry, but instead most of us choose to lead a life of love, service, and hope. We band together in bonds of eternal understanding. We are each other. We are sisters of the soul. We walk through this life together. And despite the fact that at times each of us feels very alone, we never are. A woman who knows the same things, feels the same things, lives the same way, is only a phone call away.

When someone attacks one of our own because notoriety is today's most valuable currency, we all take it very, VERY personally. We all know there are people in the world willing to do anything to gain that 15 minutes of fame. But 15 minutes of fame is not why Megan, nor I, post our stories, and expose our lives to the public sphere. I cannot speak for Megan, but I write because I feel that families of combat soldiers are often misunderstood. This life is one I volunteered for the day I signed my name on the marriage certificate. It is one I signed up for the day I fell in love with a soldier. To me, notoriety only means that I've reached one more reader in a world where the war my husband and my family fights is forgotten. I do not get paid to write. I gain nothing of material value from this blog.

Women like Megan, and like the countless women who blog or read about military life, need not another reason to shed our tears. We don't need another cause to fight for. We have plenty. But do not underestimate the resolve of a combat soldier's wife. We come to each other's aid at a moment's notice. We band together and strengthen our ranks. For those who would rather beat us down, for those who would rather accuse than discover the truth, for those who would rather take something that truly does not belong to them, we will take lessons from our husbands, who fight for us. We will fight for what we believe, and it will not be without honor, for sometimes honor is all that's left.

Megan, you have my support. I am behind you.

October 26, 2011

Full Circle

I originally created this blog to have a place to discuss how military life affects me, and my kids. At first, it was just the superficial "this-is-how-this-lifestyle-is" kind of stuff. But for a long time there has been a desire do delve deeper into how this life makes me who I am. Selfish, maybe. Vain, perhaps. But this life has made me so much more than I ever thought I could be.

This life always leaves a huge gapping hole in my heart. Don't get me wrong. I love and adore my husband. I am his biggest fan. I'd give my life for my two children. I love my life, and I wouldn't have it any other way. But the fact is that I'm away from my family with whom I am very close, and my husband is frequently gone leaving me to lead the lifestyle of a single mother but without the single mother income. Someone we know is always deployed, always hurt, always dying. The people we make friends with are always moving away, and friends who've become like family are scattered all over the world. The harsh reality is that we are a country at war. We have been for 10 years. An anniversary that slipped quietly into the night for pretty much everyone but the military community. I've lived in fear of losing my husband to this war for nearly a decade. A fear that is made worse by the fact that we now have two small children who very well could grow up without knowing their daddy.

Through the years I have constantly been searching for a way to fill the hole. I fill my free time with friends, phone calls, my kids, movies, the internet, or furthering my education. What I've been ignoring, is the ability to fill the hole with something so simplistic I can't believe it took me this long to figure it out. Me. I fill the hole with me. I don't know if it's this place in the world, or this time in my life but it feels as though things are falling into place. I've spent years doing the things I should do. Searching for the things I should be. What I should have done was listened to myself when I was 16. I knew then what I wanted. I just didn't trust myself enough to see it through.

However my husband has taught me a little something about motivation, dedication, and fear. He's taught me that in order to be a fulfilled person, you have to do what makes you happy. He's made his way through his career doing exactly what he's wanted to do. I've always been there supporting him because I love him. He's taught me that you can't hold back from what you really want because you're afraid that it might not work out how you'd planned. And finally I realized that I needed to do the same. I needed to stop doing certain things because I should and start doing things that make me happy. I know I have my husband's love and support to do so.

So I've come full circle. I've discovered that I really did know what I wanted when I was 16. I am living a dream. I am the artist I always wanted to be. I successfully started my own photography business, and it's growing. I love what I do. I spend my days making people happy simply by doing what makes me happy. And I can physically feel the change. I've regained myself. I can't help it that I love pretty pictures, and I won't apologize for wanting to create that utopian moment for the parents of a newborn baby. I won't apologize for the desire to capture the miracle of pregnancy in a romantic and poetic way. I love everything about it.

In every way, I owe this life for the courage and the strength to finally become what I've always wanted. It may have taken me 14 years to find my way, but the point is that my past and my present have finally become one, and I'm back to being me.

October 20, 2011

Buying Something Out in Town

Since we live on base while we are here in Okinawa, I make a point to venture out into town several times a week. I have to take my son to school and pick him up each day, but I like to get out and see things. I don't have the confidence to go too far away yet, and I've already gotten side tracked once or twice, but not lost! Soon I think I will make my trip to the market in Naha.

My children and I found the closest Toys R Us, which by the way is NOTHING like ours in the states. But within the same small shopping center was a 100 Yen store - the equivalent of the dollar store in the states. We went in and I was amazed at all of the stuff! Way better than our dollar stores for sure! I am definitely going to have to make another trip there soon, but that's another story.

The following day, my quest for fabric brought me out into town again. Sure I can order anything I desire on, but then I have to wait at least a week for it to get here. Being that I'm an instant gratification kind of girl, I'd rather go on a little adventure and see what I can find. Especially with fabric. I need to see and touch the fabric to be certain it's what I'm looking for.

So I've discovered that there is a specific etiquette to purchasing something. First of all, in many places they have a little tray that I believe you're supposed to place the money on. I don't think you're supposed to place the money on the counter. Once you've given your money to the cashier, they speak for like 5 minutes in Japanese. I clearly don't understand what they're saying, so I just nod along and say "hai" but for all I know, they're ripping me off (I don't think this has ever really happened) and I am very greatful for the cash register, most of which are ancient by American standards, but they work none the less, to show me the amount of Yen due. Then they hand me back my change which is almost always in a fist full of coins, so now my purse weighs a ton. (I'm thinking I need a coin purse hint hint honey!) because my wallet is falling apart from all the coins clanking around in there. Once they've given me my change, the only thing they say that I DO understand is Arigato gosaimasu - thank you very much.

Conclusion is that I must must must learn whatever this etiquette is so I don't feel like the stupid American woman engaged in a bizarre game of charades!

Oh, and honey, if you're reading this, I'll take a either Coach or a Louis Vuitton coin purse. Either one would be fashionable enough to hold all of my Yen! Ha ha ha!!

October 12, 2011

Watashi Wa Watashi No Zubon Ni Un Chi Suru Tsumoridesu

Today began as ordinarily as any other. My son woke me up by lifting the blinds that keep the bright tropical sun from streaming into my bedroom at 6:15am. My husband is training again so his schedule is unpredictable and therefore the care of our children falls solely to me. Not something I'm unfamiliar with so getting into the swing of things is easy.

I begged my son for a few more minutes and sent him downstairs to watch cartoons. He's independent enough at this point to grab a banana and some cereal while I wash my face and brush my teeth, and get the baby out of bed.

I plodded down the stairs with the baby to make my coffee and pack my son his lunch. In that order. Coffee comes first. When my husband's schedule is like this I don't sleep very well so coffee is the elixir of life that allows me to pry my eyeballs open enough to drive my son to school. I was standing in front of the coffee pot with my giant mug in hand literally vibrating. The second the pot beeped it's "I'M DONE!" beep I was pouring the steaming liquid into my cup accompanied by my sugar free French Vanilla creamer. Now its unfortunate that my cups of coffee are not bottomless because some mornings, I sure wish they would be. This morning was one of those. I had 3 cups.

After all was said and done, we dashed out the door at 8:15. Traffic on the 23 is touch and go at this time of the morning and the drive can take 15-25 minutes depending. But this morning I had a plan. I was going to drop my son off at school and then head down the the running trail along the beach. It's been probably 2 months since I've run and I was looking forward to it. I didn't care how long the drive to school took. I'd get there.

I dropped off my son and drove excitedly toward the running trail. No sooner had I pulled into the parking lot than my stomach committed mutiny on my well laid plans. I have a veeeeerrrryyyyy sensitive stomach. If I get nervous, excited, scared, etc, my stomach is where all the tension goes.

GGRRAAAOOOOWWWWWMMMMMMMB! My guts are rolling. Nerves? I think I'm ok. I know I haven't run in a while but really? My guts drop into my butt. I'm standing by my trunk getting my jogging stroller out of the car. I can't believe this is happening. I turn to look at the day. Not a cloud in the sky, slightly humid, but cooler than it's been, the path is practically empty, and the ocean is a shimmering, crystal blue. Then I remember. 3, thats 3 cups of coffee.

BRRRRRRRRRRRTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTOOOOOOOWWWWWW!!!!! OMG! I glance around in a panic. I need a bathroom like NOW. But alas, there are no bathrooms to be had, not that I really care for the squattie potties that are the norm around here, and I don't have the time to walk around and search for one. I make the quick decision to get back into my car and head for home. It's a fairly short drive. . . 

Not a good plan. I spent 30 minutes in traffic trying to get back onto the military base where we live. I'd forgotten that the gate closest to where I was located is always a zoo at this time of day. I was speeding north on the 58 because the maximum speed limit is 60 kilometers per hour. That calculates out to about 37.28 mph. I was going 80 kph. I had not spotted 1 public restroom along the way. Speeding off base is BAD. If you're caught it's expensive and you can lose your license for anywhere from 7 days to 3 months depending on how fast you're going. I was going 20 over. Not good.

I began to contemplate what I would say to the Okinawan police officer should I get stopped. . . How in the hell do you say, I am going to poop in my pants! in Japanese?!?! I have no idea where to even begin, and since I'm driving so fast I most definitely cannot google it at this particular juncture. I am seriously considering putting on one of my daughter's diapers. I am close to tears because my body is so full that something has to come out somewhere and I'd rather it come out my eyes than, well, you know. . .

I make it to the gate. I'm in line. There is only 1 lane open. WHAT?? ONE M$%@&R-F%$@#$!G lane open?!?!?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I am the 12th car in line, and we're not moving. . . I still have to make it to the other side of base where my house is. I absolutely can not speed on base. I already have one ticket and crapping in my pants would be FAR better than what my husband would do to me if I got another. Well at least I don't have to worry about explaining what is going on to a Japanese cop. And I am pretty sure that the military police have heard every excuse in the book and would not be sympathetic unless I actually did shit in my running shorts.

To spare you the remaining details, I made it home poop-in-pants free. But this is the second time I've been frustrated by the language barrier. Oh, and by the way, Watashi Wa Watashi No Zubon Ni Un Chi Suru Tsumoridesu, means - I am going to poop in my pants - in Japanese.

October 10, 2011

Wanting to Speak Japanese vs. Actually Doing It.

"Here Honey. It's loading up!" My husband proudly announces that he's remembered his password for Rosetta Stone, which we get free through the military. Since we learned that our PCS to Japan is official I've decided that I am going to learn to speak some Japanese using Rosetta Stone. Even if I can't speak perfectly, they'll respect me for putting in the effort right?

I sit down in front of the computer screen and click on Lesson 1, and my eyes immediately bug out of my head. Everything is in Japanese characters. . .

"Konnichiwa!" The voice says cheerfully. I dutifully repeat.

"KOH-NEE-CHEEE-WAHHHH!" I stutter struggling to get the inflection right. Oh boy. This is gonna be harder than I thought.

Eventually I get through lesson 2, and 3, and then I stop. I simply don't know how often I am going to announce to the restaurant that "The boy is eating!" in Japanese, which at this point is really the only thing I can say besides Hello, and Goodbye.

Fast forward to now. Here we are living in Japan. I have mastered 4 Japanese phrases with correct inflection, and they include, "Good Day", "Good bye", "Thank you very much", and "I'm sorry". The "I'm sorry" I learned after my son spilled an entire glass of coke at our favorite soba restaurant where the staff does not speak English, and to order our meal we pretty much just point to the pictures.

So my son tips over his glass and coke and ice go flying everywhere. All over the tatami mats next to our table, all over him, and the floor. And the snooty rich Japanese family next to us were giving me dirty looks and scooting their chairs as far away from us as possible even though ZERO soda had spilled in their direction. I quickly took out my phone and googled "I'm sorry" in Japanese because I had no clue, and it was clear that no one could speak English, or had the desire to speak to me in English.

Our waitress came over with a rag and I was literally on my hands and knees wiping up the spilled soda all the while repeating "Domo Sumimasen" (I'm very sorry) to anyone who even glanced in my direction. And while all of this is happening, my son is singing "Arigato, arigato!" - (thank you, thank you) - his ONLY Japanese word, and he uses it interchangeably as hello, good bye, and thank you.

We got a few sympathetic looks from another family who had a small child about my son's age, but the snooty family was still glaring at us, and I knew they were thinking, "Those damn Americans!" I realize that whether we like it or not, we are ambassadors for our country. This family has probably had negative experiences with Americans and thinks we're all like that. So in an effort to smooth things over, I whipped out my full arsenal of Japanese words.

I walk over to their table, "Domo sumimasen." I say as I point to the spilled glass of coke and my son. I grab my son's hand and then I say, "Sayonara." I bow slightly and we leave. And my son is still singing, "Arigato, arigato!"

Clearly I need to learn a little more of the language. And maybe teach my son what Arigato really means.

September 27, 2011

Driving on the Left.

"Honey?" I ask timidly, "Are you on the wrong side of the road?" We both just got our licenses to drive on the island, we're in our new car driving as a family for the first time, and my husband is behind the wheel. He doesn't respond right away and I can tell he's considering.

"Yep!" He replies a few seconds later. He quickly corrects the car by moving onto the left side of the 2 lane road. I giggle nervously. Funny, sure. But thank goodness there wasn't a car coming from the other way. As we approach the stop sign, which by the way is a red upside down triangle here, he puts on the right turn signal. Only the turn signal doesn't go on. The windshield wipers do. The signal lever is on the right hand side of the wheel, not the left.

"Aw, crap." These are the only words running through my head. I haven't driven yet. I don't even have a car. But I will tomorrow, and I'm going to have to drive at some point.

Upon arrival on the island, the thing that freaked me out the most was driving on the left. The ride from Naha Airport to base was a harrowing journey for me. Every time we would make a turn, the U.S. driver in me wanted to shout, "WAIT! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?" as we turned into the "wrong" lane of traffic. Our sponsor had picked us up and his driving was fine, but I couldn't silence that loud voice screaming in my head as we violated traffic laws as I knew them. Over here there's a whole new set of rules.

I won't get into the details of all the different signs and Japanese driving laws. Most of them are pretty self explanatory and come down to plain common sense, but there is the occasional bout of confusion such as the difference between "the blue arrow on the white background" vs. "the white arrow on the blue background". I still don't remember the difference without having to look it up. Or the fact that the center line isn't always yellow, though it can be a solid yellow, or a dashed yellow, but it can also be a solid white, or a dashed white.

And then there is the driver's test. When we arrived we received a booklet from my husband's command that was the Japanese driver's manual. We studied it and took our test the next day. That is, we took a written test. For experienced drivers over the age of 25 with a valid US license there is no driving portion of the test. If you answer 30 questions correctly and miss no more than 6, BOOM!! You can drive on Okinawa. A terrifying prospect during your first week here. Especially with the realization that there are others like you on the road. There is no practice. Just that manual, and your memory.

I was assured by my friends who have been on the island a while, that there would be incidents of turning into the wrong lane of traffic or trying to signal with my windshield wipers, an apparent right of passage for us island newbies. When your windshield wipers are going on a clear, dry day, you may as well just hang a sign on your car that says, "Hi! I'm new here!"

While I've only had one brief incident of turning into the wrong lane of traffic (unlike my husband who has had many), trying to signal with my windshield wipers is a frequent, nay, daily occurrence. However the adjustment period is brief and you figure it out. You go from nervous to pretty comfortable quite quickly, and now it almost seems wrong to drive on the right.

And the final challenge of driving around here. Pretty much everything is written in Japanese. Thats with the characters, not letters. There is the occasional english thrown in for main highways, but otherwise you'd better learn to navigate, give, and receive directions in landmarks. For example. Our favorite Soba restaurant is in Yomitan. Go over the red bridge, straight past the Starbucks, and its on that main road. Look for the place with the purple flags on your right. Yes, seriously. Those are the directions. And pretty much everyone here will know what, and where I'm talking about.

But I've got it now. I'm down to only one quick absent minded flick of the windshield wipers when I get flustered. And if I get lost because everything looks the same, and I can't read Japanese, I know that it's an island. Eventually I will find my way back!

September 22, 2011

Getting There is Only Half the Fun

How in the firey blazes of Hades are we going to carry all this stuff? We are somehow going to manage the transportation of two small children, two car seats, a stroller, four carry-ons, and five 70 lb. suitcases. How? I don’t know but we’ve got to do it through 4 airports with just my husband and me. But I take solace in the fact that we are not the first military family to undergo this feat, nor will we be the last. In the now immortal words of our Commander in Chief, “YES WE CAN!”.

So began our journey to Okinawa. We flew from my husband’s hometown in Iowa to Raleigh (with a layover) since the military wouldn’t fly us out of our leave location. From Raleigh we flew to Washington Dulles. For those of you not familiar with airport names, that’s Washington D.C. not Washington State. From Dulles we flew 14 hours to Tokyo, and from Tokyo to Okinawa.

6 coach class flights later, we arrived after dark in Naha Okinawa. But not without much adventure in between. Saying goodbye to our families was difficult but not as horrible as I anticipated. My mom and mother-in-law were a mess, but that’s to be expected as their children and grandchildren move to the other side of the planet.

As our wheels left the tarmac, lifting off for Tokyo, I had a small breakdown with the realization that this is going to be the last time I will be on American soil for a while. And let me tell you, that hit me like a ton of bricks. Tears fell for about 10 minutes until the gravity of my current situation hit me. We. Are. Stuck. On. A. 14. Hour. Flight. With 2 young kids.

All said and done our flight wasn’t bad. There were individual tv consoles in the backs of all the head rests. Our flight attendant has a daughter who is married to a military man and lives overseas, so he made it his personal mission to take good care of us for the entire flight, and boy did he. We got first class treatment. Free drinks, free tv and movies, and pretty much anything else we wanted. If for any reason he ever reads this, bless his soul. He is probably the reason we survived the trip a little less worse for the wear.

It was the end of the long flight that brought about the most drama. The baby and I drank some milk. We both got sick. She barfed twice about 30 minutes prior to landing, so she and her car seat smelled like puke. Then as we were in our final approach for landing, the waves of nausea were pouring over me. No sooner did we land than I was in the plane lavatory losing most of what was in my stomach.

I managed to get off the plane and to customs where I thought I was going to be sick on the floor, and the Tokyo airport does NOT use their air conditioner liberally. Not to mention that, but as you approach customs, there is an announcement that anyone with illness should report to the “health office” aka, where they quarantine your sick ass until they are certain you won’t infect the population of Japan with some terrible disease. The only thought running through my mind was “If they quarantine me we will miss our flight to Okinawa, and Andrew will be PISSED.”.

So there I am standing in front the of the customs agent, attempting with every last ounce of my strength to be normal while I am sweating through my clothes, trying like crazy not to blow chunks, all the while I’m holding the baby who smells like puke. How was I going to explain that my issue was not due to some infectious disease, but a mild case of food poisoning in addition to the fact that I’m having a panic attack due to the whole prospect of possibly being quarantined. And anyone who has ever had a panic attack knows that it does not make nausea any easier to bear. I’m pretty sure the Japanese would not be very understanding of a mother and a baby trying to enter the country whilst vomiting.

Finally we made it through customs and had to pick up our luggage from our international flight in order to report to the domestic flights counter to check our bags for our flight to Okinawa. My dear, dear, wonderful husband collected all of our stuff while I spent 20 more minutes in the airport restroom puking my guts out.

Eventually we made it to the terminal for our last flight where my amazing husband took care of the kids while I slept on the floor for an hour. Our last flight was short, and uneventful, and I was feeling slightly better because I had nothing in my stomach except a little bit of water and a sedative. We landed in the dark, and the last thing I remember was pouring myself into bed in our hotel room on base.

That was literally and figuratively the longest trip I’ve ever taken.  The memory makes me shudder, and I thank God every day that it’s over. Thank goodness there were many better things to come!

September 1, 2011

Making My Way

Around my daughter's first birthday I decided that I wanted some pictures done for her. However I didn't want to pay someone to do it when I knew I could.

Before that, I had snapped a picture of my son, wearing my husband's old kevlar helmet and rucksack, standing in front of our door waiting for his Daddy to return from a lengthy training period in the field. My father, upon seeing the photograph made a suggestion that I did not take seriously until a while later. He told me I should submit my photo. It was good. It is my father I would like to thank for kicking my butt into gear, and helping to inspire me with those simple few words.

After taking my daughter's birthday pictures, and several shots with my tiny point and shoot camera, I hounded my husband to help me purchase a quality camera. I didn't get a teaching job this year, and part time work is not enough to justify me putting my children in daycare, not to mention unaffordable.

So I realized that there is no better time to open my own business. The perfect storm, so to speak to allow me to follow one of my passions, and be true to myself. Instead of conforming to a way of being, a way of doing, and being chained to one place every day, I have given myself the chance to do what I love. I used to take pictures and be involved heavily in art, but as I got older, the stability and reliability of being able to make a living at it was not on my radar. I ignored what I really wanted and tried to achieve other things, chase other careers because they were more stable.

Maybe the fact that I did not get a job this year is a blessing in disguise. I have the chance to start a career that I can more easily pick up and take with me every few years as the Army deems necessary, and I don't have to give up much to do it. In fact the opportunity to move around so much and travel is an asset for my new career.

After having been informed that I will most likely be spending a lot of time on Okinawa with out my husband, I realized that I needed something for me. I'm a mother, I'm a wife, a daughter, a friend, and I am sure I will become more things as time marches on, but I could no longer ignore what's inside myself. I've discovered a way to meld my love of art, with a career. When I take pictures I feel myself shining through and glowing from the inside out. Perhaps my photography will be my life long career, perhaps it will be my saving grace.

August 31, 2011

What the Heck is Sleep?

It's my turn to get up with the kids this morning. My husband and I take turns getting up on the weekends or when he's on leave so that the other person can sleep in. I'm tired. No, I'm exhausted. We've been traveling for almost a month, living out of our suitcases, and the kids haven't had a normal or structured bed time for that long. To and from Toronto, back to the midwest, to and from my parents house. . . And it's beginning to show.

Our son now refuses to sleep alone, getting up at least 5 times a night to remind us of that fact. The baby randomly wakes at all hours of the night which of course wakes me. I've taken to just letting her fuss and usually she'll cry herself back to sleep within a few minutes. Sometimes.

While I sit here sipping my (elixar of life) coffee, I'm really starting to wonder about this time change business and the effects of jet-lag on my kids. The last time I dealt with a significant time change was when I went to the UK for a summer when I was 17. But that was only 6 or so hours difference. Moving to Okinawa means changing our days and nights around completely. Please explain to me how to do that with a 13 month old. Dear God, I shudder at the thought.

I guess I better saddle up for  few more weeks with out sleep. Not a cheerful prospect since I become the Incredible Hulk - without the incredible strength, when I've had fewer than 6 hours of sleep in a night. However I must remind myself  that I am the adult. I do not have the luxury of a temper tantrum when I'm feeling down and out. (Something I truly envy of our son) I have to be the one to put out the fires.

In 4 days we'll find out for ourselves. . . 

August 30, 2011

If You Want It, Bring It!

The best piece of advice I've gotten from friends who are already settled into life on Okinawa is that if you know you're going to want it, bring it with you.

I'm not exactly sure what this applies to specifically. Furniture? Electronics? Clothes? But that one sentence has been an incessant, tiny voice echoing in the depths of my brain every. single. time. we go to the store. Any store. It's like a last desperate attempt to hold onto American life. One friend I have is currently here in the states visiting her family and was super duper excited to go shop at Walmart. . .

I do a double gulp because clearly the ease and convenience of the one-stop-shop is going to be a thing of the past. Need a cheap end table fast? Too bad! Maybe some bathroom storage, and some groceries on the same day? Nope, that'll require at least 2 stops - commissary and PX.

The only thing that gives me pause to filling cart after cart with stuff I think we might probably need or want, is that we have to fit it in our suitcases. Clearly we have limited space since all of our household goods, and unaccompanied baggage are already on their way.

How about some rain boots, umbrellas, and slickers? No. Can't fit it. I've packed and repacked our suitcases at least 5 times apiece. We'll have what we have, and we'll just have to deal with the rest. However I take comfort in the fact that if we really, really, REALLY need something our families would be happy to pay an arm or a leg to get it to us.

In the mean time I am just making sure we have all of our passports, and carry on items in order. Sunday is coming up quick.

August 29, 2011


"Umm, where do you plan on putting that?" I asked my husband. We were in the process of simultaneously packing the car, emptying and cleaning out our rental house, and having the place inspected by our landlord. There is more stuff than space in our Toyota Camry, and we still have to strap the kids into their car seats. 

"Oh it'll fit in the trunk!" He replies with a grin. Great. I know exactly what that means. Our trunk is going to literally explode upon opening. Our vehicle is packed to the brim with stuff. There is stuff at my feet, the kids feet, between the kids, and we have a car top carrier - also full.

My husband is cramming as much of our beloved crap as will fit into our overstuffed trunk. And it won't close. So he jumps on it. . . SCORE. It closes. Not to be reopened until we arrive at our destination, my husband's parent's house, and then PLOOIE! As the one used to explosions, he's dealing with it, not me.

So we hop into our sardine-can car and head out of Fayetteville on our 18 hour trip.

The relief I feel to finally begin our much anticipated journey to Japan is palpable. We've been waiting to get to this place for so long. I'm happier than I've been in months. A lot of my friends from back home ask me how I can stand to move around so much, and honestly now that I've adapted to the lifestyle, I get itchy to move after a few years.

As I've said before, this move is not like any of the others. One week from today and we will be on a plane over the Pacific, well on our way. It's incredibly hard to believe that it's really here.

We spent some time at my parent's house where I grew up, and I insisted that we do all of my favorite summer activities (excluding a few things) like going to the farmer's market, listening to live music by the lake, eating sweet corn and cheese curds, and basically soaking up all the things I will miss the most.

It's incredible how quickly the time I want to savor the most zooms by in the blink of an eye. As we finished our week in my home town and pulled away from my parents house, I realized how much I want to stay, but how much I need to go. In essence its like I lead a double life. The life I have back home, I have family, friends, familiarity. . . I have a life there. I am myself there. But then there is the other side of me. The woman who knows that despite the fact that my husband will be gone half the time we are in Japan, I will live there. I am excited to experience what is coming my way. I have my fears and doubts but they won't stop me from doing what I do. Building a home, and a life for my husband and my children alone, building a new family made up of other military wives and children so we can support each other in the face of having nothing and no one familiar nearby.

The two sides of me continue to be shocked and amazed by each other. One drawing strength, and the other making a home as much like the one I leave behind as it can be. Time is not on my side. The midwestern country girl is sad to say goodbye, the military wife couldn't be happier.

August 15, 2011

It's PCS Time-God Give Me Strength.

It's been a while since I've written because so much has happened.

First of all, we FINALLY got our orders for Okinawa. Due the nature of my husband's training, they would not give us orders until he had officially completed all of his training. Now that it is done, we received our orders. It's really real! We are going to Japan.

Secondly, we've been dealing with nothing but hick-ups and setbacks during this whole entire process. Let's just say that it has been a learning experience for all of us. We've been misinformed which delayed our paperwork. Transportation never sent off our contract to the movers to get our household goods picked up. We got our storage, and our unaccompanied baggage taken, but NO household goods. Talk about frustrating.  So last week we packed our stuff, organized what was left into the proper shipments, and waited. For nothing. So instead of sitting around Fayetteville, we took off to see our nephew perform as "Billy" in Billy Elliot up in Toronto, a much needed get-away. But now it's back to reality.

Plus our rental company (First Class Property Management) is awful. For anyone moving to the Fort Bragg area, I would not recommend that you use them. They do not treat you well at all. I will not go into the details since the purpose of my blog is not to do that, but I will say that if you use First Class, you will be sorry.

Moving right along. . . Finally our movers came and packed up the remainder of our items and took them today. The kids and I sat isolated from the mess and the madness in our one small upstairs room with all of our stuff that is coming in our suitcases. God bless computers and video streaming, but it will be an interesting experience sleeping on the floor tonight.

Also, we learned a few things while we were in Canada. We still get netflix, but we get the international version. That means that most of the American tv shows I've saved probably won't stream in Japan. Second, my friend Tracy was right. You can't watch American shows via the network website while overseas due to copy write laws. Boo.

Another little detail that is gumming up the works, is that apparently the Army will not fly us from our "leave location" to Okinawa. Despite the fact that we are going home to spend a couple of weeks with our families before we move to the other side of the planet, and it would probably be cheaper for the Army to fly us from, oh, Chicago, rather than Fayetteville, so we either have to call the airline directly and change it ourselves (for a fee of course) or figure out how to get ourselves and all of our stuff back here.

In addition to that, our current itinerary goes from Fayetteville, to Raleigh/Durham, to Washington Dulles, to Tokyo, to Okinawa. Great. Just great. THAT sounds like a ROCKIN' good time with two small children. Wouldn't it just be easier to do it our way??

So in conclusion-I hate using that but in the face of this whole debacle, it seems appropriate. My husband, children, and I are going to be sleeping on air mattresses, ordering pizza, and my husband and I will drink cheap wine. We still have to clean our place, ya know, wipe down floors, pray we get our security deposit back, etc, and then we are outta here. Iowa or bust.

July 8, 2011

1st Birthday, Army Style

"How about a comfortable outfit to wear on the plane?" I ask my husband. 

He frowns at me and shakes his head. "That kinda sucks." He says back with a smirk.

I sigh. I am out of ideas and so is he.

We are trying to figure out what to get our daughter for her first birthday. We don't want to jip her, but we also don't want to buy a bunch of stuff just to have it packed up 2 weeks later, not to be seen for a month or more. We aren't having a party since we are going to Disney World the week after her birthday. So what should we do?

I plan on making a cute little cake for her to smash her sweet, chubby little hands into. I plan on getting her the "It's Your Birthday" book by Dr. Seuss. I plan on writing a beautiful little note to her on the inside. But what else? What else? It is a dilemma I am surely not the first to have encountered. Our baby girl is turning 1, and we don't want to buy her anything because it means that we will either have to pack it up, carry it on the plane, or put it in our luggage. So the question remains, what should we do for this milestone birthday?

As bad as I feel about not being able to celebrate our baby's birthday the way we would like, she has a better deal than our son did. At least our baby girl has her daddy home to see her first birthday. Our son celebrated his first birthday while his daddy was in Iraq on a 15 month deployment. My husband left just 6 hours after our son was born, and returned 15 months later. He missed it all. I made a HumVee cake in honor of my absent husband, and took as many pictures as I could, but he did. He missed it all. The first roll, the first crawl, the first smile, the first steps, the first words. . .

My husband has been present for the majority of our daughter's first year and with her first birthday approaching he said something that nearly tore my heart in two. It's something I've been thinking and feeling for 4 years. It's something I've been wanting my husband to realize and recognize for 4 years. . .

"I can't believe I missed all of this with N." He said while he stared in amazement as the baby waddled across the living room floor. She just started walking and is taking very deliberate, very cautious steps. My husband remained quiet, not looking at me as his words hung between us.

I couldn't speak. Tears stung my eyes and I willed them, with every ounce of my being, not to spill over onto my face. I've been waiting for my husband to see our son, just for a moment, as the tiny and vulnerable infant he was, as opposed to the walking, talking, independent toddler he came home to. I know that my husband would have a deeper appreciation and greater patience for our son had he witnessed the amazing journey our baby boy took in that first year. FINALLY he sees. Finally he SEES. As much as my husband loves our son, he finally sees that our baby boy grew that first year without his father. He sees how much that baby needed him too. Finally he understands exactly how much he missed.

I couldn't stop it. One tear slid down my cheek. I wiped it away quickly, but not quickly enough. He saw me. I looked up at my beautiful husband. Our eyes met, and we both just knew. Nothing more needed to be said.

So with the first birthday of our baby girl, our little family will grow. Not in people, but in love and understanding. Thanks to our baby girl, that missing year for father and son is no longer lost. Thanks to our baby girl, my son's daddy finally is able to see what once was, have a greater appreciation for what is done, and for the beautiful child he's become.

This July 20 as we celebrate the birth of our baby girl, my husband will revisit the first birthday of our baby boy. I know that as we blow out the # 1 candle, as our daughter smashes her tiny fists into her first cake, my husband will also be seeing his son. He will revisit those pictures I sent to him in Iraq, and he will imagine what it was like to be there for N too. We will laugh, we will smile, we will love, we are whole.

Happy 1st birthday my babies.

July 6, 2011

I Don't Know How Anyone PCS'd Before Facebook

Summer is PCS season. This is evidenced by the fact that yet another of my military wife girlfriends is moving from their home near Fort Benning onto post at Fort Polk. And she's doing it while her husband is still overseas. She deserves my utmost respect for that. She made a comment the other day that struck me as so incredibly true. 

I don't know how anyone PCS'd before Facebook.

I'm sure she made the comment jokingly because really, we CAN live without Facebook, but for those of us who have friends strewn all over the world, Facebook is the most convenient way to keep up with each other. So with one week until her movers come to pack her up, she was on Facebook asking for advice, tips, or any suggestions on how to make her PCS smoother for her young daughter and herself.

I have been addicted to the Internet since I found out about the location of our PCS. And thanks to a good friend I left behind in Savannah, I am now Facebook friends with one of her friends who already lives on Okinawa. Super thanks to this new friend, who has been patiently answering all of my questions about everything from housing, to life on this island, to tips for the plane ride. We've even made plans to meet up once I arrive, thus I already have a friend on the island. Having this kind of immediate access to information has made this move so much easier on me. 

I cannot imagine how it was for military wives before there was instant access to infinite information. I cannot imagine the stress of anticipation there was as they prepared for such a move. I would think there would have been a lot of letter writing, and phone calls. So I've never been more thankful for the convenience of modern technology as I am today. Even as my questions get answered, I come up with more questions, and instead of having to wait until my husband can gather the info, or having to call and bother a person, I can log on to the Internet and find the answers myself.

God bless the Internet, and all of my Facebook friends too!

July 4, 2011

What in the Blazes of Craziness

My wonderful husband finally returned home last weekend, and finally graduated from his course. After two years plus, of planning, preparing, researching, and waiting (the Army's favorite thing to make wives and families do), it is finally here. We are in the final stages of our preparations to PCS to Okinawa.

I recall our first PCS from Fort Stewart to Fort Benning 2 summers ago with startling clarity. The movers came, they packed, we moved. End of story. This is NOTHING like that. Certainly the movers will come into our home and "lovingly" pack our items for shipment across the Pacific, but it's the things that come before that part that have us running in circles. Which we expected.

Our To-Do list is 17 items long and includes things like making sure the kids and I have physicals completed, getting Government passports which function sort of like our green card, termination of our lease, termination of our utilities, holding/forwarding our mail, obtaining a P.O. box on Okinawa, etc. Most of our conversations pertaining to our move have taken place while we are driving, and go something like this;

him: Babe we have to make sure that we (insert task here). Ok?
me: Ok. I think we should also make sure that we (insert more efficient way of doing said task here).
him: Ummm, (insert his rebuttal on the validity of my idea here)
me: Fine, whatever. *sigh*

In the mean time, I've been sitting up at night searching the internet for information that can help me get this move done, and making lists. I have lists for what to pack in my carry on. What to pack in the kids' carry ons. What to pack in our suit cases. What goes to storage. . . I have a list of which lists I've made!! Ok, maybe not that bad. . . So yesterday as we were in our car headed back from Lowe's with our clean-and-repair-the-house supplies, we had yet another PCSing conversation.

him: We need to sit down this afternoon and make a list of all the stuff that needs to get done.
me: Done. I already HAVE a list of stuff that needs to get done.
him: Oh. Well, can you put (insert task here) on the list.
me: Sure thing. I will add it when we get home.
him: Can you also put (insert 200 more tasks here) on there?
me: *brief pause* You're right. We need to sit down and make a list.

At this point we are both equally informed on what actually needs to happen to get our family and our stuff overseas. We're just informed on different areas of expertise so to speak. So we sat down and made a list, which really consisted of me rewriting my list, and then following him around the house while he made tiny repairs and quizzed, questioned, and badgered to get the info out of him. I know that inevitably our fresh, crisp to-do list will wind up crumpled, and ragged or lost, but it's alright as long as we get it all done. And in time, I suppose we shall.

June 21, 2011

Pre-pre-pre Packing.

I carry the baby onboard and we settle into our seats as quickly and efficiently as possible. She and I have the window seats, and my husband and son are across the aisle. It's a full flight of course but at least all four of us have a seat to ourselves. That makes the prospect of a lengthy flight a little easier to deal with.

We've been up since 1AM, the kids are cranky. I'm looking forward to getting airborne, feeding the baby, and possibly getting everyone to sleep. Alas, it's not to be. No sooner are we taxiing down the runway, than both kids start. My son is hungry and bored, the baby is screaming because she hates being strapped into anything. I have no snacks, no entertainment, NO CARRY ON!?! Did I mention it is a FULL flight? 

Aaaaaaannnnd my nightmare begins. Yes, I've actually started having nightmares about our ensuing trip. Can we say "high strung"? Being high strung and anal is only part of my charm! The ability to anticipate and prepare for any given situation is the other. So has begun my quest for items, games, toys, anything really, to put, and that will fit, into our kiddie-flight-o-fun bag. Stuff that's made the list includes homemade puzzles, my son's video game thingy and games (which we will put in later), extra batteries, an assortment of snacks, rattles, and other not-too-obnoxious baby toys, magazines, a few children's books, (insert any other ideas here please!!). We are stock piling cheap entertaining things to to keep the kids busy for a couple days worth of traveling. And to ensure that they aren't bored with most of the items, they aren't allowed to use or play with them until we begin our journey. (Mean Mommy!)

It's not that I've never traveled with small children before, I've just never traveled with 2 of them on a plane that I can't pull over to the nearest rest stop when we all need a break. Its the task of keeping 2 young children happy for hours, and hours, and hours, in the confined seating of coach class that seems more than a little daunting. Obviously we are not the first, nor will we be the last family to have to do this, so I guess I'm hoping for a miracle, and a plane full of other families with kids just like mine.

So, help a mommy out, and give me some of your travel tips, ideas, toys, games, and other great ways your family survives traveling! I would really appreciate it!

June 16, 2011

Fears and Tears

I've been spending a lot of my spare time (re: when the kids are finally asleep for the night and I have a glass of wine in hand) on one of my go-to websites Okinawa Hai researching and reading all I can. My need to plan and prepare has made this a priority. Not knowing what to expect, I need to be able to hit the ground running once we get to Okinawa. I don't know what my husband's schedule will be like. I don't know what I will be doing on my own, I don't know how it all works. The more educated I am on all of this the better.

However, today I had a truly terrifying realization. Moving to Okinawa and getting settled is going to be the easy part. We have to get there first. I found several posts on Okinawa Hai about the actual journey from the states to Okinawa, and what I read scared me to the core. Lots of luggage, middle of the night departures, nowhere to store stuff, long layovers, needing Yen for the layover, coach class seating, L.O.N.G flights, and all of this with two pretty high maintenance children.

I've been so busy getting my family ready for our PCS and learning all I can about life on the island, that I haven't given myself time to do the natural human thing - be a little afraid, and a little sad about leaving, and be a little afraid, and a little sad that I will be living so far from my family to whom I am very close. I've been so busy comforting my parents telling them it will be ok, I will be ok and so will the kids. While I am indeed very excited for our new adventure, I haven't dealt with the other emotions. I haven't allowed myself to feel or show anything besides excitement. 

I've gotten pretty good at ignoring my negative emotions since my brother died nearly 5 years ago. So good at it in fact, that it has become second nature to focus, sometimes to the point of tunnel vision, on only the good in a situation and completely ignore the undesirable. For me that has been a way of survival for the past 5 years. I've endured so much emotional stress that I'm no longer sure what will break me. For that reason I've been ignoring the sadness and uncertainty I feel about our move.

So when I began reading about other's experiences on the long journey to Japan, the tears began a-flowing. I've been ignoring the scary and the sad for so long that there is no more room to keep it inside. It will no longer be as simple as getting in the car and driving to see my family. It is a lengthy and expensive plane ride for them to come see me. No one can come "at the drop of a hat" like they can while we are here. It won't be as easy as just picking up the phone to talk to my mom at the end of the day, only 1 timezone apart. There were bird's eye view pictures from the plane landing on the island, and it hit me. I will be doing this for real in a few short weeks. I will be seeing this in person in a few short weeks. This is no longer a far off reality. It is MY reality. And so the tears fell.

Then amidst my tears I realized that the world will not stop turning. After I've dried my eyes, life will move on. Even if I allow the tears to fall, things will still be ok. We will get there, we will deal with what happens along the way and get through it together. We will settle in and take care of what needs to be done. Even if I cry a little bit along the way it will all be ok. The excitement will kick in, the tears will fall, and we will live in Japan.