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.

June 14, 2011

Just Floating

I pulled into the parking spot closest to the exit doors of the commissary and did a silent dance of triumph in my head. One of the coveted parking spots was MINE! And this would be the biggest victory of my day. When you're forced to grocery shop every week with two young children, the closer the parking spot the better.

I pulled the baby from her car seat, took my son by the hand, and we walked over to where the rocket ship carts were stored. At our commissary they have special carts for kids where the top part is a plastic rocket ship and they have steering wheels in them. We ALWAYS grab one of those if we can simply because it makes the whole shopping trip a little easier. After strapping the kids in I sighed a perfunctory sigh , and began shopping from my list. Fruit, veggies, diapers, chicken, milk. . . 

Ten more days until my husband is home, and fifteen until he graduates. Then he is done. Everything is done. All we have to do is wait for the movers, and pack our personal items. I should be bursting with excitement, and in some ways I am, but I am also finding myself just floating through my days in an almost surreal state of mind. I still cook every night when my husband is gone because when I eat like crap, I feel like crap, and so do my kids. . . and from experience, that is a bad plan. Thus the necessary trips to the store. We've even eaten up our emergency stash of food in order to avoid throwing things away, so when we are out of groceries, we are OUT.

My son is done with school, my house is cleaned out, and organized, so the only thing I have on my oh so urgent agenda is keeping things tidy, laundry done, and the grocery store. Aside from that, there is literally nothing else to do. I have nothing that HAS to be done, or that can be done right now. While it is nice to relax, it's a peculiar feeling. It's slightly unsettling, and I think that is because I know what is coming. This is the calm before the storm so to speak.

Our countdown has gone from months to weeks. While there is still much to be done, nothing can be accomplished until my husband graduates. I know that once he is back it is going to be a whirlwind of stress and excitement while we try to fit a month's worth of stuff into three weeks. And we will even be homeless for little while when we visit our families in the midwest before we head overseas. I don't like feeling complacent, or bored. I am definitely getting itchy for things to get going since I know how much must be done. However, there are 15 more days of floating. So I guess I will just fill up the pool in the backyard, and float we will.

June 10, 2011

How to Send Stuff to an APO/FPO Address.

This post is mostly for friends and family, or for people who've never shipped to an APO/FPO address. In today's world, most of us military wives have had a lot of experience with this. . .

But for those who haven't, I will start at the beginning. APO stands for Army Post Office, or mail service that goes to Army and Air Force personnel, and FPO means Fleet Post Office, or mail service that goes to Navy, and Marine Corps personnel. The letters and codes after the APO such as APO AE designate where in the world the mail is supposed to go. The US Postal Service is currently the only carrier that I know of who ships items to APO addresses. When we move to Okinawa, we will have an APO AP - meaning Army Post Office, Armed Forces Pacific.

There are several things to remember when you're shipping things overseas to APO's. No package can weigh over 70 lbs. and there are also restrictions on the dimensions of the box(es) being sent. This means that you may have to break a shipment down into several smaller packages to make weight. My best advice is to get several priority shipping boxes from the post office. Its easy, fairly painless, and you know your package will meet requirements.

Next, if you're shipping to any APO or FPO there are restrictions on what you can send. No fire arms (duh!), no perishable food items, no hazardous materials, basically just use your common sense. There are also more detailed restrictions depending on where you are shipping your package. You can check these further restrictions by the zip code following the "APO AE" part of the address.

Anything being sent to an overseas APO also needs a customs form stating what is in the box. A postal worker can assist you with this if need be. I would also recommend insuring the package because between here and Japan, Afghanistan, or wherever, there is a lot of room for that guy to get lost. In addition to the customs forms, and insurance, sending ANYTHING priority is the way to go. Priority will take a couple of weeks maximum, while parcel post being the cheaper option can take as long as 6 weeks or more for the package to reach its destination. (Meaning, mail all Christmas, birthday, anniversary gifts early!)

Finally, here are a few tips from a seasoned APO sender (me). Keep a stock pile of priority boxes, and customs forms at your house. You can ask for the boxes the next time you're at the post office. They are free. Customs forms can be obtained near all of the other confusing forms while waiting in the post office line. Have all your items boxed, and your customs form filled out before making your post office trip. Especially if you have more than one box. This makes it easier for the clerk and the people in line behind you. Depending on what you're sending, be prepared for it to be a bit pricey. And try to remember while you're standing in that long non-moving post office line, be patient! Once you've sent a couple of boxes, it becomes second nature! Good luck and happy sending!

Below I have included a few links for further information.

All About APO/FPO - you can check your zip code restrictions here!
How to use Customs Forms

Who Wants to Live in Military Housing? Raise Your Hand!

I open my eyes as the morning light streams in between my curtains. I roll over and look at the clock. It's early so my kids still must be asleep. My husband has already left for work so I have a quiet house to myself for a little while. 

I rub the sleep from my eyes, and head into the kitchen to turn on the coffee. The smell of the freshly brewing caffeinated beverage is like the fountain of youth for me. I pour myself a cup and revel in the blissful few minutes I have to myself this morning.

I walk across our living room without bothering to turn on the tv. There is probably nothing on anyway. At least nothing that I want to watch. I open the sliding glass door to our patio and step out into the calm morning air. I sip my coffee while I gaze out over the turquoise waters of the East China Sea. I sit in my deck chair while I watch the morning ocean rise and fall. This is my life.

This is what I pictured for myself and my family when my husband said, "We've got Okinawa!". After all we will be living on a sub-tropical island south of Japan's main island. I've looked at several rental agency websites and grown more excited by what I've seen. But as our move approaches we must ask ourselves the eternal PCS question. Do we live off post? Or on?

In this situation I feel that it's important to consider all of our options, and weigh all of the pro's and con's to living in military or civilian housing. And there is a lot of weighing to do. Where will we be spending most of our time? How expensive is it to rent? Is an off post neighborhood safe? I am almost certain that living off post will be more challenging for me at first. But in the end I also feel that it will be a more rewarding experience. After all I didn't haul my children and myself halfway around the world to live on yet another military post. We've lived on post before and while I did enjoy the experience, and the closeness of the families, I am leaning toward a full immersion in our host culture.

At the same time though I also consider the security and familiarity of living on post. It will be easier to make friends, my son can walk to school, I will have easy access to the commissary, gas stations, and fitness facilities. I will probably feel safer when my husband deploys. I also know that I will probably not get my ocean view living on post.

I think our wisest course of action is to make a final decision when we get there, where will be able to better evaluate and consider all of our options. For now I think I would rather go the off post route. While it will probably be a larger adjustment, and a bigger culture shock, that is really what I am looking for. I want to make the most of my experience in Japan, the culture, the people, the life.

June 8, 2011

The Last Time.

Last week my husband left for his final field exercise. As much as I hate having him be away from me and the kids, I have to admit that this departure was painless. This has a lot to do with the fact that I know the end is near. And to be honest, I really don't mind not having to share the bed! The training is almost over and we will finally be on our way to Okinawa. Something that has been in the works for over 2 years.

Unfortunately while my husband is gone, there was yet another wedding to attend. At this point in our marriage I'm pretty much used to doing things on my own. Weddings, funerals, birthdays, etc. After all what military wife isn't? This time the wedding was in Tampa, Florida. One of my husband's best friends from college was marrying the love of his life, and after much discussion I decided to go. That meant driving 10 hours from North Carolina alone with two children under the age of 5. Sounds fun right? Let's just say that by hour 5, I was a screaming lunatic in much need of a glass (or two or three) of wine!

So I packed up my trunk, kenneled the dog, loaded my kids, and off we went. Luckily I have family in Jacksonville which is about 6 hours into the drive so I decided to stop for the night on the way there and back to give the kids a little break from being pent up in their car seats.

Just a little back story, when I first moved to Savannah, Georgia to live with my husband, my aunt and uncle were like my second set of parents. When my husband deployed, and left me alone and friendless in a strange city I often traveled to Jacksonville to stay with them and my cousins. Over the last 8 years of living in the south, they have been a better support system than I could ever have asked for. If I didn't have them in such close proximity to where I was, I'm not sure I would have been able to make it.

Anyway, the stop over was just what we needed and it was so wonderful to see my family again. But as I loaded us up to make the drive back home, a horrible sadness came over me. This was the last time I would be here with these people, in this house, in this city, for a long, long time. This home away from home is going to be missed. As I drove out of the neighborhood, and out of the city I tried to soak up every last piece of scenery, and remember everything I could because I have no idea when I will be back. It will be a long time before I will be able to just get in the car and go. I wonder, will every goodbye feel like this? Will I have a deeper appreciation for what is around me simply because I'm leaving it for an unknown?

It is another on our list of goodbyes that must be said. Worse, I had to say this goodbye alone. I didn't have my husband to lean on for support. I didn't have his hand to hold. I couldn't hear his voice telling me everything would be ok and to talk about our next exciting adventure. And Lord, that was hard. The next goodbye will be both easier and harder for us. I will have my husband by my side for the next one, but who will be the recipient of our farewell? Does it matter? Moving on and away from those who matter to me will always be difficult, but a necessary evil in the life of any military wife. In order to PCS to Okinawa and go forward with much anticipated adventures I have to leave the people who mean so much to me. But I have faith in myself and my family that home is wherever we are, and it will be what we make of it.