Japan Here We Come!

Japan Here We Come!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Big Milestone

Hazel is walking!! She finally decided to let go and trust herself. These are not her first steps, no, she decided to do those earlier in the day with the babysitter. Go figure.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Hazels Milestones

Ok, this is only one of Hazel's milestones (I have temporarily misplaced the camera, and this video loaded so those of you who know how long it takes to upload a video, I'm posting it).

No, she is not walking, and she has been crawling and clapping for months now. This is "Nose Blowing." The impetus is me blowing my nose. She has done this for about a month now and I still think it is so cute when she does it.

More milestones to come when I find the camera.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Garden

A week before Tom left we planted this garden. It is coming a long nicely, which after 8 years of marriage, is a first for us. The kids love it and Emma even gets the neighbor boy to help her weed it.
So our pumpkin plants, first zucchini which Sam ate for dinner tonight, our raspberries, tomato plants, and even a some roses.

Independence Day

I hope you all had a very enjoyable 4th of July. I read the papers back home and saw that many events paid tribute to deployed troops. It is nice to think of all that thought and good will directed our way.

Besides the thought and good will, however, it was pretty much just another day here. Why should there be a celebration? In our world without weekends, why have holidays? I did notice that the Air Force put up a slip ‘n slide for their people… we weren’t invited.

I guess there was the “extravaganza.” I am not sure if it was planned to be an activity for the fourth of July, but that is the day it fell on.

There is a small market just outside our area where you can go buy Hookahs and really bad ripped off DVDs – the kind with heads from the theater bobbing around at the bottom of the screen. So, they announced that there would be an “extravaganza.” The plan was to augment the normal market with several vendor stands selling local antiques, baked goods, real silk carpets, and artisanal crafts. There was also going to be a camel to ride.

Honestly, we were pretty excited about it – something different, and potentially fun. I was hoping to find something cool that was actually from the local area that I could send home to my kids. I even went to the finance office and got a bunch of American cash and a bunch of local currency – just in case I saw something I couldn’t pass up. I read online all about how to tell real silk carpets form fake ones… I was not going to be ripped off.

On the Fourth of July, we drove out there with money burning holes in our pockets. When we arrived, we saw about four tents more than there normally are – with real local merchants, as promised. It was good to see some people that at least looked like they were born in this quadrant of the world.

I first approached the antique stand. Immediately, as you might expect, a young man with surprisingly old-looking teeth behind his smile arose. “Bery old,” he said through an accent, and held up a copper plate. “Bery, bery, bery old. Tirty dollar.” I took the plate in my hand and saw that it was a machine made copper plate, tarnished enough to give it an antique look. There was a nice brass design attached, but the attachment was poorly done with aluminum pop rivets that were certainly not bery old. I set it down on the table. The man’s smile dropped, hiding his teeth. He continued nonetheless to show me the fine craftsmanship in each little carved stone elephant and dog down to the end of his table.

I wished him a good day, and went over to the baker’s table. This certainly did look genuine, because nothing looked similar to anything I am used to eating, and because the gentleman there spoke no English at all. I found someone who spoke his language well enough to ask if the various baked balls were sweet or savory. I picked a tray of handsome looking sweet balls, resembling white powdered donut holes with tiny brown caramelized specks. The gentleman pretended to not be able to make change in local currency, apparently preferring dollars, so I paid him three dollars and took the goods. My first bite revealed that they were simply finely shaved coconut baked with a little sugar. Not too exotic, but not bad. And my lack of illness since then suggests that they weren’t poisoned as part of a terrorist plot – another bonus.

The carpet vendor was under the largest tent. I guess my advanced study paid off, because I could see from 15 feet that the carpets were cheap imitations, definitely not real silk. OK, the give away was that some were pink, featuring Disney Princesses.

At this moment I was struck with déjà vu. I considered it for a moment, knowing that I had certainly never been here before. Then I placed my finger on it – Tijuana. It made me feel a little closer to home.

The last tent was the artwork tent. Inside, the walls were covered with paintings, and local artists stood by to sell and even paint portraits if we desired. There were a few decent oil-on-canvas still life studies of fruit. Everything else was a depiction of lounging local ladies in shiny, fringed clothing, painted on black velvet.

We had, by this point, noticed that the money was no longer burning holes in our pockets, and we began to regret our exchange for what was clearly way too much local currency. Well, at least we would get a camel ride.

As we approached the tent with the camels, we saw that there were two, but one was resting. The ride was to consist of hopping on the camel and having the camel stand up. There would be enough time for a picture, then the camel would sit back down to let us off. I think this was the first time I had seen someone ‘riding’ a camel.
I soon saw that camels are great creatures, much more cantankerous than any American donkey. With each person who would sit on its back, the camel bellowed, neighed, and huffed. It spat through its huge teeth that were even a few shades darker than its owner’s. After thirty seconds of throwing a fit, it would stand up reluctantly and await the command to sit again.
As we approached the front of the line, it was determined that this camel, like its friend, was too tired to continue. They would still let us sit on its back, but would not have it go up and down.
By the time it was my turn, I was quite entertainedby the animal's show. I felt like I should feel sorry for the animal. It probably was really tired. But it was throwing such a huge fit as each of us sat down that it lost all credibility. Pure camel drama for sure. As I sat down, it let out an ugly snort and shimmied its hump to show discontent. I had no trouble grinning for the picture, but did find it hard to make it look genuine.

So, we drove back, pockets still full of money. To top off our celebration, there was a large sheet cake in the DFAC decorated like a flag, but a placard below it declared it for display only. The real high point of my day was a package from my mom with the best socks I have ever worn. No, not even the mail here stops for holidays. To our delight, there were no fireworks that evening… Next year, at home, I will certainly be busier with festivities. I will be sure to take a moment, though, to think of the Independence Day camel and laugh.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

One of Tom's letters

Most of you have already read this, but for those of you who havn't, Enjoy!

Hello Family,

Life out here is still good. I get to chat with Keriann almost every day on Gmail chat, which enhances my quality of life greatly. It’s not a bad age to deploy, when you get to talk to your spouse every day.

Yesterday I ate ice cream. It was good. Most days I’ve been able to resist the temptation. I think that was only my 3rd helping since I arrived – OK, maybe 4th. The DFAC is what we call the Dining FACility. If this was a Navy installation, it would be the galley or chow hall. But in this not so nautical world, it’s the DFAC. When I got here, I quickly realized that the DFAC was going to be my biggest enemy.

The DFAC is a modular structure – like a bunch of trailers all hooked together. It is surrounded by a tall grey concrete wall that makes it hard to really size down. As I approached it, I was expecting it to be kind of a small joint. I entered for the first time into a smallish room without windows, and with the walls completely covered by stainless steel sinks. Papers taped to the wall above the backsplash caulking declared “HANDWASHING IS MANDATORY.” One of these papers was even in a frame, which, out here, lets you know the contents are important. There were also graphics posted to visually instruct us in proper hand washing technique. As I advanced past the garbage can full of paper towels, another set of taped papers caught my eye. These used scare tactics, just in case we had gotten this far without washing our hands. They threatened diarrhea unless we complied with the prescribed course of cleansing.

Having been properly sanitized, I merged again with the flow of people headed deeper into the DFAC. We shuffled through another small room, where we each, in turn, scanned our ID cards and grabbed a tray. I followed the faint boot prints on the white tile floor a few more steps, then looked up.

Instantly overwhelming. All the food you can imagine. An enormous quantity of food. I turned my head to the right and saw a wings bar with buffalo wings, barbecue wings, and fried wings. Next to that was the Mexican bar with all manner of tortilla and bean choices. An aroma of cilantro led my eyes to the vegetarian bar with some great smelling eggplant parmesan. Turning my head straight again I saw the main line with potatoes, barbeque ribs, corn on the cob, baked trout, fried trout, and baked potatoes. A glance to the left found a fast food line with onion rings, burgers, fries, and other deep fried goodness. In the middle of the room I ran my bulging eyes down a huge salad bar. Across the aisle was a hot sandwich line, a cold sandwich line, a fruit bar, and a soup serving area. In the center of the room was a huge wire basket full of single serving cups of every cereal ever invented, as if it were a monument to General Mills himself. And all around the room, I saw hundreds of tables with thousands of sweaty, uniformed bodies in a whir of conversation and mouth stuffing, with ketchup and hot sauce being dripped liberally to their trays.

Finally, next to the 17 coolers filled with soda, juice, and Gatorade, I eyed the desert display. Cheesecake, chocolate cake, every kind of cookie (big ones), smoothies, baked cobblers, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and all the ice cream you can eat. Cookies and Cream, Chocolate, Vanilla, Pralines… Baskin Robbins. Except here, the whipped cream, hot fudge, and nuts are self-serve.

As I stood there for the first time, I was totally lost. Questions in my head overcame my hunger, and prolonged inaction. How do they get all of this out here? Is this why the Higginson kid came back from the Marines so fat? How much (taxpayer) money does it cost to feed each of us each day? Is this a terrorist plot to fatten and decondition the entire U.S. military? My initial excitement died down a little when I reasoned that the food must be terrible. After shipping it halfway around the world and preparing it in the biggest school cafeteria you can imagine, it was going to be bad.

I finally noticed that my standing in awe was holding up the line behind me. Re-engaging my military bearing, I followed the flow to the main line and filled my plate. I wanted to try at least a few of the tempting dishes, but didn’t have room on the tray for a fraction of the offerings. I sat down, still expecting some taste disappointment. Then I realized I had been totally wrong. Cafeteria food can be good. The ribs were tender and tasted like they had been rubbed, marinated, and sauced before they came off the grill in the back yard. The lettuce was green, cool, and crisp. Even the steamed carrots were crisp, not soggy, and were topped with a little butter and just a dash of pepper. And the Baskin Robbins was the real stuff.

The DFAC is definitely the enemy. Three times each day, I fight another battle with it, trying to strengthen the self control of my jaw with each surrendered bite.


Seattle Aquarium

My SIL came into town with her two year old and b/c we had drive to Seattle anyway we thought, "Why not go to the aquarium?" We had a good time, and the highlight for me was the octopus. I think the kids' highlight were the oreo cookies afterwards.

Walking down one of the steep hills in downtwon Seattle.

The touch pool they had, starfish, anenome, and more starfish.

This is Olive Oil. The other male octopus that was retired was Popeye. She gave us a great show.

Hazel's 1st Birthday

Seeing as Hazel is child #4, she didn't get the birthday party that most kids her age usually do.

She did however, get a trip to the zoo and after feeling guilty, I made cupcakes the next day.

I promise her and those who may feel she was cheated, that she will get a better birthday party in the future when she cares.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Crying at Costco

This afternoon Hazel, Sam, and I made a trek to Costco. Since it was the day before the 4th of July, it was quite busy. We finished the shopping, and we were looking forward to our traditional Costco hot dog and churro lunch, but there was nowhere to sit. We finally found some seats next to a kind looking older couple, and started a conversation:

Me: It’s busy today
Mr: Yes, a bad day to come into town.
Me: Oh, you don’t live in Burlington? Check Spelling
Mr: No, I live on Camano Island
Me: I live in Anacortes.
Mr: Lived there long?
Me: A little over a year. My husband is in the military.
Mr: I was in the military once. So was my wife. And her dad was in three branches of the military.

We listened, interested, as he proceeded to give us a few tales of his military lineage and career, in the way old military folks love to do. He continued:

My son was in the military. He died in Iraq.
Me: (with sinking heart) Oh, I am so sorry. My husband is deployed right now.
Mrs.: What does he do?
Me: He is a flight surgeon
Mrs.: He is in a pretty safe position then right?
Me: Yes

The mother of this fallen soldier then told me some of his stories. He really went on some impressive missions and accomplished some great things in Iraq. She continued:

“He died in Feb 2006. He pretty much knew it was a suicide mission. There had been two men, with three kids each, slated to go. He had no children so he spoke up and said 'No way, I’m going.' He called me the night before, as if knowing what would happen. But I now know six kids who are being raised by dads.”

Needless to say, all three of us were crying right there in the food court in Costco.
I could barely choke out a good bye as they left. I am grateful for them and their hero son. I'm glad they are the ones kind enough to let me sit next to them in the crowded food court.