Thursday, March 2, 2017

Our Crazy Trip to the States

Like many adventures, mine started with a crazy idea. An idea that, on its head, didn’t seem so crazy but the more you thought about it, the more impossible it became. I decided to take advantage of the military flight “Space A” stand-by option and come back to the states with my three (and a half) kids. Several months ago, I was so overwhelmed at the thought of taking a 12 hour flight to Japan and here I was considering doing a round-trip alone.

Well, like all impulsive decisions, it was a great idea. After getting the necessary paperwork, we decided to try for the end of January and hope for a return flight at the end of February.  It’s been insanely difficult and soul-stretching and mind-bending. It’s been so fun and rewarding and deeply gratifying. I know that as time sifts out all the kinda bad but not traumatizing memories, it will all have been worth it.
June looking the part of a seasoned traveler. 

Even trying to keep things pretty minimal, it just requires a lot to travel with three kids.

My flight out was about 9 hours long and the girls slept soundly for the majority of it. William was in and out and cranky as can be during those transitions. I like him, but he’s the worst. I discovered some great tricks for keeping mean little 20 month old boys entertained:

1.       Hex bugs
2.       Play dough
3.       Tiny plastic animals
4.       Animal flashcards
5.       Mini flashlight

Sweet Ivy and...lovely June.

He took a good little nap right off the gate.

Ivy and June measuring all the things with some tiny measuring tape...

...then we settled in for the long haul. All the apps and shows. 

One of the huge lessons I learned with all the traveling we’ve been doing is to really just embrace who your child is. June is a TV addict and Ivy needs to change activities frequently. So for this leg of the journey, I am letting June watch her favorite movie on the Kindle for the third time and before she fell asleep, Ivy was working on her 5th or 6th activity. If you have a wildcard (like William) who doesn’t seem to stay content for long, I would suggest bringing many small things in small bags within a big Ziploc bag (no books or big toys). Unless they actually like shows or apps. In which case: that. 

Seriously, though, navigating and maneuvering through the airport is 20 times as bad as a plane ride. 

Our flight out was pretty ideal in many ways – we got on the plane, which wasn’t full, and settled into our seats at the very back and after a few hours, my girls fell asleep for the night. William was next to me in his infant carseat, which he felt was offensive considering he upgraded months ago. It was wonderful for naps, though, and I was so glad to have it.

Getting off the plane was rough. June wasn’t ready to join the land of the living and was only persuaded when I assured her that the stroller would be right there as soon as we got off the plane. Which it wasn’t. A long walk to the international baggage claim later, we got our stroller and our two huge bags and booster seats and everyone was happier (except for me, since I had to push everything, but I was at least happy to not be scraping June off the floor every few paces when her sense of hopelessness bubbled back up to the surface.)

Customs, done. Immigrations, done. FINALLY we were ready to leave. It was so fun – we ran into some friends from college who were also trying to Space-A to the states, so we hung out with Dasha and her girls while her husband got their car and we waited for Grandma and Grandpa. I wish I had gotten a picture, but it made the whole thing much more enjoyable.

Then we embarked on the next leg of our journey – my mom and dad drove us to their house in Deer Park about 5 hours away and we enjoyed the hellish effects of a 16 hour time change. For about 5 days, my kids woke up at 2 AM, regardless of their bedtime. The second week was much more fun for all of us.
Here's a picture our fun night parties. Luckily we had lots of fun distractions from our plane ride.

 We had fun outings to Spokane, saw good friends, made good food, and played in the snow. 

Ivy and June subtly asking for the attention of their funnest uncle.

Ivy loving every second of being outside.

June, who kept grabbing the snow with her ungloved hands and freaking out, warming up, and then doing it again. 

William unequivocally hating the snow. 

Hating it, that is, until Aunt Marielle made it into ice cream. 

After two weeks in Deer Park, we flew to Salt Lake and were picked up by Luke’s parents. His mom is known to my girls as their “hot chocolate grandma” because of her hot chocolate maker and liberal nature when it comes to using it.

Utah was a whirlwind of fun and exhaustion.

The good:
Seeing so many friends and all the family in the area! I feel so blessed that so many people made time for us. I would have liked two or three more visits with everyone, but I suppose it’s always good to leave wanting more. I was also able to attend my niece’s bridal shower and endowment session at the temple. She is getting married this weekend! I wish we could be there, but this was the next best thing. During one of our play dates, Ivy played outside and got about 20 small burrs all up in her hair. Maybe that should go in the "not good" category, but they came out without too much trouble (just about an entire bottle of baby oil). 
The disheartening discovery.

The aftermath. 

Mikelle drove up and stayed with us for a week! It was so wonderful and ridiculous to have 6 babies under 5 but we had fun. Lots of adventures tempered with even more loungey down time and This is Us binge-watching.

Twin love! 

More snow watching with cousins.

William feeding his sucker to the taxidermied animals at the Bean Museum.

And of course a stop at the creamery for lunch was in order. Though June preferred to save her appetite for the ice cream and poked all her fries into her cheeseburger instead.

Natalie was so great to host family gatherings and watching kids and she has become insanely good at lettering. Her kids were so pleasant and accommodating. It brings me little pangs of sadness that we don’t all live right down the street from each other.

AMERICA! I got little thrills driving down the wide, spread-out streets and just knowing what everything was. I could buy things without that awkward moment where a cashier probably asked me if I want a bag and I just look at them cluelessly and smile like the dumb American I am and they smile because they work in retail and that’s how you keep yourself from strangling someone. None of that!

FOOD! Oh my gosh, I love food. I like Japanese food, but I have been eating in America for much longer and my preferences still lean heavily (haha) in that direction. We had Chick fil A, Café Rio, Zupa’s, and a few other favorites a few times and now I’m very satisfied and happy to come home and start cooking again.

SHOPPING! Guys, do you have a Target nearby? Get in your car, drive there, and just give that store a hug for me. I went the morning we left for Seattle to get a few things for the plane and ended up with so many perfect, adorable, totally great things from their dollar and Easter section. And their kids clothes? And their fun snacks? I didn’t even look at home décor because it would have just made me sad.

The not good:
All three kids got some gross virus with lasted way too long and ended with an ear infection for Ivy. I don’t think she’s ever been so miserable.

Just…travel. And doing it alone. And doing everything alone. But even that has some silver lining. I’m going to launch into a bit of a preachy moment, so be prepared. It was so insanely hard, but it was totally doable and the only reason not to do it was the insane hardness. Which means that I was the only reason – the limits of what I perceived I could do. I could tell you 20 times off the top of my head where things were just impossibly difficult, but now I know I can do it. 

Would I do it again? Mmmmmm. Ask me later. All I know now is that it's great to be home and I can do hard things. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Kyoto and Brian's Visit

We are so lucky to have had Brian here for the past two weeks. I feel like part of the reason I haven't blogged in a while is that normal life kicked in, I stopped staring wide-eyed out the window everywhere we went, and it was hard to remember all the things that blew my mind when we first got here. It's crazy, but I think that's how the brain works - we adjust, adapt, and then carve out functionality for ourselves. It's amazing, really, but it's also a little sad not to be awestruck all the time.

Well, having Brian here has brought back so much of that and made things new and fun. We are so similar in the things that amuse us and make us laugh - he ended up buying so many of the same souvenirs that I did even when we weren't together. It was great being able to point out funny or different things and remember how it felt the first few weeks. 

We have done a few outings and day trips, but our main event was our weekend trip to Kyoto. 

It was our first: 
  1. time using Airbnb
  2. experience being/sleeping in a Japanese house
  3. time driving for more than an hour in Japan 
and many, many more. Overall, Kyoto was really cool. It was a bit early for the fall colors, but it was such a fascinating place with truly all the elements of a more traditional Japanese experience. Our apartment was a three minute walk from Kinkaku-ji, a super famous Zen Buddhist temple. The accommodations were large by Japanese standards, but were a little on the tight side for 6 people. The host was awesome - she gave us toys for the kids and fun gifts from the 100  yen store and a bottle of wine (which we politely declined). It had some fun elements, like heated floors and a TV in the wall of the bathroom by the tub. The kitchen was tiny and the storage options were limited, so it was difficult to imagine a family living there, but I'm sure they do fine! 
I didn't get any pictures, but Luke took this one of bathtime with Japanese cartoons. Seriously, the girls stayed in there for hours.
And then June took all the these. She's totally obsessed with using my phone to take 100 pictures at a time and it's my fun job to pick out the gems. 

Okay, on to the good stuff. We woke up bright and early and walked to Kinkaju-ji. It was a beautiful, crisp morning with rain on the forecast but none in sight. 

It really was stunning. Some sights are a bit underwhelming after all the build-up, but this was so beautiful and peaceful, even with the crowds. 

And then June took some pictures of Brian...

And Ivy took an instagram worthy shot of her feet...

And this cute one of June.

We walked all around the little pond, through the little gardens and few wishing wells, to a stand selling prayer candles. 
You might not be able to read on the boxes, but some of the different candles represent prayers for "be in safe and sound," "family in safety," one's heart desire," "schoolwork accomplishment," "a got of marriage," and "do a brisk business." 

The girls each took a candle and added theirs to the rest. It was a really beautiful "ceremony," with the scent of incense wafting through the cool air. 

Brian tried his luck at a fortune, which was pretty all encompassing.

We then headed over to Fushimi-inari Taisha. It is a Shinto shrine that is famous for the thousands of torii gates that cover the paths leading up the mountain behind the shrine. 

The walk up to the shrine was awesome - tons of food stands and shops that looked so fun. Maybe if we were on a more spiritual journey, it would have been offensive. But as commercialized tourists, we loved it :)

William is so done with my agenda.

Ivy found and petted the world's nastiest feral cat. All the Japanese people were taking pictures of her, so I did too.

On the way down, we got a little grapefruit juice

and some "potato tornadoes"

and a QUAIL with the HEAD still on.

The less said about the quail, the better. Needless to say, Japanese people must not mind eating tiny bone splinters in their game birds. I can't say the same for myself. Our dinner that night was awesome yakiniku (charcoal grill at each table with raw meat and vegetables) and was delicious. You win some, you lose some. 

It was a great trip and an awesome experience to assimilate more into a Japanese lifestyle, which we definitely don't get living on post. I'm ashamed to admit how relieved I was to go to our commissary (American grocery store) on base when I got home. As a parting note, the rest stops off the expressway were incredible. So. Many. Stalls. 
With this fancy screen to tell you where the open stalls were, which ones had the changing tables, baby holders, which were "Japanese style" (ie. glorified hole in the floor" and how not to get lost in this massive facility. Surprisingly, the Japanese style ones were often occupied. I suppose the older generations prefer to squat. The "western style" stalls featured full pod-style rooms with no awkward eye contact through the door cracks, heated seats, bidets, and all the things I have come to know and love about bathrooming in Japan. 

My in-law's come about a week after Brian leaves and we are so thrilled to have them! My girls call Luke's mom their "hot chocolate grandma" because of her seemingly endless supply pouring from her Cocoa-motion machine. Who wouldn't be excited to see their hot chocolate grandma?! 

After they leave, we don't have any visitors until March. So if you get the itch to come, come. I can promise you weird and wonderful food, quirkiness galore, and the best bathroom experience of your life.