Saturday, December 29, 2012

Mochi - A Japanese New Year's Tradition

There is a lot of construction going on in the Lodge right now.  And, we were fortunate enough to witness many of the construction workers perform a Japanese New Year tradition.  The New Year holiday begins on Dec 28th for the Japanese.  Yesterday, around 930 at least 20 of the construction workers started setting up stations in the courtyard of the Lodge, and we had the perfect view from our window.  (I must admit, I felt a little stalkerish peering out of the window all morning, but it was when I pulled out my camera that I fancied myself a secret spy, taking note of something pretty important, something that maybe I can try in the future!)

Anywho...I asked our cleaning lady what all the fuss was about and she explained that they were making Mochi, which is a New Year tradition in Japan.  So, off to the interweb I go, to find out what this detailed custom was about! 

Mochi is a Japanese rice cake that is pounded into a paste and then eaten.  There are many different things that can be done with this conconction, some put it in broth, some add sweets to the middle, some even make it into ice cream!  The gentlemen in the courtyard were adding broth to it.

First, they set up several stations. 

1.  The mixing station - they used carts to bring out three big blue barrels, full of rice, I'm assuming it had already soaked overnight, since that's what all the recipes say (Soak overnight, then cooked in the morning).  They would take out a bowl of the rice, then move it to the next station. 

2.  The cooking station - it looked to me like this wooden cooker had two parts to it:  the top part where the rice was dumped and then covered, and the bottom part where a broth was being cooked (later, when the broth was poured over the rice patties, I noticed that there were beans and some other things in the broth, not sure what it was though).  After the rice cooked for 20 minutes or so it was taken to the next station.

3.  The smashing station - the rice is now dumped into usu, a wooden mortar, and pounded with kines, big wooden mallets.  This pounding took quite a while...long enough that I'm sure my arms would have fallen off from exhaustion.  According to the interweb, the traditional way of pounding the rice in the usu is that two men on opposite sides of the usu would each have a kine and they would take turns swinging at the rice.  I did get to witness this too!  Although, they didn't do it for too long.  Occasionally, they would get out of sync and the kines would collide.  By the look on the face of one of the guys it wasn't a pleasant experience, although all his buddies standing around laughed uproariously!  As the rice was being pounded, a guy stooping beside the usu would quickly toss something on the rice and flip it,  moving his hands out of the way just in time for the kine to come crashing down again.  From what I read, he was splashing it with a little water.  After enough pounding, the rice becomes a gooey blob, or, as Mr. Shaw says, it's a paste.  From here, it moves to the next station.

4.  The kneading station - here, two things happened:  first, one guy kneaded and rolled the blob into neat balls.  He took great care to make sure they were perfect too, to the laughs of his friends.  He made a few large and a few small.  Second, another guy put the blob into plastic bags and then rolled them out flat.  I missed seeing what they did with the flattened out rice.

At around 2, they started handing out plastic containers and little styrofoam bowls.  The guy at the kneading station then tore tiny balls of rice from the pretty balls he made earlier and neatly arranged three in a row in the plastic containers and put one roll in the styrofoam bowls.  From here it was total chaos.  I couldnt' tell where people were going or what they were adding.  I did zoom in pretty close to a few of the containers to see what they were eating.  It looked like they took their container, or bowl, to one of the cooking stations and had broth poured on top of the rice.  I could see beans in the broth, but thats about it.  It looked like one of the ladies had rice wrapped inside of seaweed and it looked like another lady had chicken, not sure where that came from! 

All in all, it was a pretty neat thing to watch.  It lasted from 930 in the morning until 330 in the afternoon.  There was a lot of hard work and a lot of laughing.  I've found a few recipes online, not so sure I'll be getting myself a kine or usu, but there are other ways.

Friday, December 28, 2012

These boots WEREN'T made for walkin...

Since we've been in Japan we have not had a vehicle of our own to roam around in (we have to first attend a week long intro to the base and country, then take a written and driving test before we can purchase a vehicle).  So, one of our first days here we took a taxi to the Commissary and back...too expensive!  Next, we tried the bus.  Our first excursion on the bus was after a house tour out in town.  The kids were with the Hogan's, and Kris and I needed to get some shopping done.  So, we hopped on the first bus that came by, turns out there is a clockwise and a counter clockwise bus.  We got on the wrong bus.  It took us twenty minutes to go 3/4 of the way around the base. 

A few days later we caught the clockwise bus (the correct one this time) on the way to the Commissary.  We bought breakfast, lunch and a few dinner items then headed for the bus stop.  Well, turns out the bus wasn't going to be there for another twenty minutes.  So, we decided we would walk back to the Lodge. was a little further than we thought, and we took a wrong turn, making it even longer than it needed to be.  Thirty minutes, four tired arms from carrying 8 grocery bags, and two whiney children later, we were back at the Lodge.  Oops!  Won't make that mistake again!

Now, a few more days later, and we hitch a ride on the bus to have dinner at the O Club.  After a yummy steak and yorkshire pudding (can anyone tell me what the heck that is supposed to be?  It sure wasn't good whatever it is!) for Kris, scallops and a potato for me, and two spaghetti plates for the kids, we head out to the bus stop....Oh, DARN!  The bus stops running at 7, and it's now 730! we go again!  We start the hike back to the Lodge.  By now we know a shortcut and it only took about 15 or 20 minutes.  The kids did great!  They did complain a little, but not as much as the first walk. 

This past Thursday, we are headed to get ID's for Kris and I.  Well, the bus isn't going to make it in time, so we start walking.  The kids did great all the way to the first building!!!  :)  We get to the ID office, at which we have 1:30 and 2:00 appointments.  We walk in and are then told the system to do Kris' ID is down for maintenance and the printer to do my ID is at 50% ink and they can't print my card....(?? Don't get that one, but okay).  We walk to the second ID office on base, the one that does not make appointments, Garytt is now complaining that his little legs are exhausted, but he pushes through!  Turns out, there is a 4 HOUR wait!!!  Forget that!!  Kris heads back to the first office to see if the computer is back up and running and the kids and I head to the bus stop to go back to our room and nap.  Garytt, not a big surprise here, falls on the way to the stop.  He's scraped his knee and hurt his hands.  I carry him to the bus stop and we wait 15 minutes for the bus to show up. 

That was yesterday, last night Garytt (who talks in his sleep quite often) about an hour after falling asleep starts yelling, "No!  No!  No, Mommy, no!  I can't, can't, can't!  But, but I don't want to waaalk!!" 

Poor, poor boy!

Merry Christmas to All!

We survived our first Christmas in Japan!  Since our friends were out of town for the week, we crashed their pad to bake cookies Monday afternoon.

 Just as we were settling down that night we heard the distinct booming of fireworks!   So, we headed out to the hotel stairwell and watched the show!  After fireworks we had a Birthday Party for Jesus, chocolate and strawberry cakes from the Commissary.  Yum! 

Then, we tracked Santa for a little while Monday night (since he seems to deliver presents here before the kids are actually in bed!) and then Tuesday morning we opened presents. 

If it weren't for Aunt Tisha and Uncle Clayton the pile would have been 1/3 of what it actually was!  :)

 Garytt got Batman and Rescue Bots, Legos and drawing books and movies.  Mackenzie got Polly Pocket and La La Loopsies, new pajamas, Legos, drawing books and movies.  It was a great morning! 

After lunch and a nap, we headed back to the Hogan's and fixed dinner...ham, macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes and applesauce for the little ones.  It was a great dinner!  Once the dishes were washed and the counters cleaned we settled in for a movie.  Brave!  All in all, it was a fantastic holiday for this Havens clan!  Couldn't have asked for better!!  And, probably one we will never forget!

 We were able to watch Santa deliver presents to the United States Wednesday morning.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

What's for dinner tonight?

Well, we were able to experience a Japanese McDonald's tonight.  Kris had a teriyaki burger, I had a Fillet-O-Ebi (Shrimp sandwich), and the kids had nuggets.  Kris said his sandwich was good, but it had a very thin patty (he had a little more dinner when we got home).  My shrimp sandwich was yummy!!!  And, very filling. non-seafood-eating husband actually tried it and said it wasn't bad!!!  Maybe I can turn him yet!!!  :)  Garytt ate his nuggets, but Mackenzie would not.  They tasted the same, but the texture was a bit different.  So, she had a turkey sandwich when we got home.  Guess McDonald's isn't going to be her favorite here in Japan.  All our meals came with medium fries and then small drink cups.  Kris' boss was with us and had his meal super sized...ha ha!  It's a regular sized meal in America.  We accidentally got just nuggets for the kids, so no toys, but I think they were the Pokimon type toys. 

Kris had ramen from a real ramen shop today.  Said it was pretty good.  We hope to try a Japanese curry place just outside the main gate this weekend.

Itty bitty living space

So, we had our first off-base house tour yesterday.  Wow!  Small doesn't even cover it!  I'm pretty sure the only room one of our beds actually would have fit in is the master bedroom, and that's just about all that would have fit!  I think we have our next tour tomorrow of Ikego.  That's base housing that's about 20 minutes off base.  I'm pretty sure that's where we will end up around the middle of January.  Then, we will be put on a waiting list to get into a house on-base.  That's a new program they started a couple weeks ago, I guess to try and get people out of the Lodge faster.  I think we are aiming for on-base housing, even though Kris was really excited about being immersed in the Japanese culture here, after looking at houses yesterday, I think he's changed his mind!  The real game-changer for him...his big screen t.v. would take up the whole family room!  :)

So, yesterday we started our Christmas shopping.  And, what a shock....there isn't much left.  We were able to get the kids a few things and then when we add in what the Aunt and Uncles have sent over it will be a very nice Christmas!  We decorated a Christmas tree today.  Spent an hour or so cutting and decorating.  Then, spent at least 20 minutes yelling at the kids not to use it as a torpedo!  We found out yesterday that our friends that live right across the street will be out of town Christmas day.  So, we will buy the dinner fixins and head to their place that afternoon to actually cook ourselves a real Christmas meal!  Sunday we will head over there to bake cookies for Santa.  So, not much has changed.  Well, except I forgot to pack the book the kids have listened to each Christmas since we got dad got one of those recordable Night Before Christmas books and the kids asked me where it was today.  I had to break the news that I forgot it and Mackenzie melted into the ground.  "But, we dooooo iiiit eeeeeveryyyyyyy yyyeeeeeaaaarrrrr" Ooops!

Garytt's Angel

Mackenzie's lights, candy canes and reindeer

                                               "Merry Christmas!"

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

This is only the beginning...

It's all happened so fast...(cue twinkling music and fade to two and a half months ago, the beginning of October 2012)...

I was sitting on the couch, watching t.v. with the hubs, when he turns and says, "So, I found out I'm on the short list to be Regional Dispatch Center Manager in ... Japan."  [my jaw drops!]  "What?!?" I say.  One week later and he's had a phone interview, been offered the job, and accepted.  So, we're on our way to Japan!  In the next month we host a Mad Hatter Birthday party for the two little ones, put our house on the market, enjoy a week with the whole Havens clan:  Great-Grandma and Grandpa, Clayton and Tisha, and Dave all make the long journey to Mississippi.  The week after Thanksgiving our household goods are packed, with only about a third of our belongings headed to Japan, the rest headed to storage.  We spend our final week in Mississippi with Kris' parents. 

Saturday, Dec 1:  We head out for a week in Delaware with the Wheeler family.  We aren't two minutes down the road before both kids drop their candy on the floor and start crying.  We stopped by our house one last time to check on things and find that the packers missed two cabinets!  We stopped for the night in Kingsport, TN to spend the evening with my cousin, Amanda, and her family.  The kids get along wonderfully!  After all the youngins are asleep we spend most of the night hanging out with Amanda and Spencer, who spent five years in Tokyo.  So, we got pretty good information on things to see and some things to expect upon our arrival.

Sunday, Dec 2:  We invade Dave's house!

Monday, Dec 3:  Not much on the agenda today, still trying to recouperate from the 20 hour drive.  I made it to LF North to have lunch with my youngest niece, Abbey.  She was so shocked to see me that she didn't talk to me all lunch period!  We had hot dogs and milk.  After nap time, I round up my little kiddos and head back to LF North to watch Abbey's Christmas Concert and then spend an hour or so at Meredith's house.

Tuesday, Dec 4:  We went shopping then had dinner at Dave's with Mom.  Salisbury steaks, green beans, rice and gravy.

Wednesday, Dec 5:  I went to LF Central to eat lunch with Skyler and Kasidey.  Skyler was first:  we sat in the middle of her class' table, she explained the whole lunch process to me and showed me which direction her classrooms were.  She had chicken nuggets, fruit and a cookie I bought her.  She talked all lunch period and ran out of time to eat her cookie.  After lunch her teacher invited me to the classroom to observe.  I got to sit in on her reading group, of which she is the leader!  She is a fantastic reader - I was able to listen to four girls read Charlotte's Web.  Next up, lunch with Kasidey.  She also had chicken nuggets and milk.  Her friends were W.I.L.D.  The whole lunch was loud we had to spend the last five minutes in silence.  On my way back to Dave's I stopped to see Mom Mom Wheeler.  As I walked up to her work station she didn't recognize me for at least a minute.  :)

Thursday, Dec 6:  Went to Felton to see Dad and Mom Mom.  The kids opened their Christmas presents from Mom Mom.  Mackenzie got Barbie stuff galore!  Beds, fridge, washer and dryer, kitchen counter, and several Barbies to go with it all.  She also got several outfits.  Garytt got Iron Man, Spider Man, Batman, and some Imaginarium soldiers.  He also got clothes.  We ate dinner with Mom, spaghetti from Grotto's.  Yummm...  Brian and Susie came over after dinner and we played pool and drank way too much wine until 2 in the morning.

Friday, Dec 7:  Kris had to be out of the house at 5 so he could go to the RDC in D.C. for a tour and quick introduction to what he'll be seeing here.  Mom came and picked the kids and I up around 10.  We went to her house for a couple hours and hung out.  Then, we went to Chic Fil A for lunch.  After lunch we headed back to Mom's for a rest then she took us back up to Dave's.  We had dinner with Carie and her family.  The kids played and had a blast.

Saturday, Dec 8:  We had breakfast with Mom Mom and Dad, scrapple, bacon, eggs, biscuits, hashbrowns, OJ.  We at lunch at Applebee's.  We told the kids to hurry up and eat because we were going to see Santa, to which Garytt replied, " long of a drive is it to the North Pole?!"  We got to Ed's around 215.  Santa arrived at 3.  Garytt was second in line to sit on his lap.  Mackenzie hid on the other side of the room and refused to go near him.

Sunday, Dec 9:  We had a birthday party for Abbey Jean!  Pretty cupcakes, presents, ice cream.  Lots of fun!!!!

Monday, Dec 10:  We had lunch with Mom.  BLT's and grilled cheese.  We played with her iPad and got her set up with Skype.  We went to Dad's at 3 to have dinner with him and Meredith and the girls.  He fixed one of the fish he caught on his Virginia fishing trip a few days before.  YUMMMMM!!!!!  Rock fish with a mix of mayo and lemon juice, pepper, salt and parsley then baked.  Probably the best fish I've ever eaten!!! 

Tuesday, Dec 11:  We went to Dad's and hung out with him, Mom Mom and Chief till about 2.  Then visited with Meredith for a played on her Nook while we all chatted.  I headed to grocery store and bought food while Kris and kids slept.  Mom came for dinner till about 7.  Then, we packed 6 suitcases and three carryons.  Bed by 10-11. 

Wednesday, Dec 12:  up at 230.  Out of house by 310 and at BWI by 430.  Dave helped us get our million bags out of the van and then left.  We headed to the check-in line and realized we forgot the car seats in the van!  Dave made a quick turn-around and gave us the seats.  We got in line and checked in.  The flight from BWI to ATL wasn't bad.  Only a two hour flight.  Garytt fell asleep 10 minutes before we landed, of course.  Mackenzie sang the entire way to keep from falling asleep. 

ATL to SEATAC.  5 hour flight.  Both kids fell asleep at the halfway point.  Once at the airport we got our bags and called for the hotel shuttle.  We got to the hotel by 230, had dinner at IHOP at 4.  When we got back to the hotel the kids both took long showers (they loved the handicap shower), Kris and I took showers and we were in bed by 6. 

Thursday, Dec 13:  Up at 230 and at the AMC counter by 3.  We were through the security line by 330.  We headed to the windows to wait for three hours and were lucky enough to find a nice table with four rocking chairs.  I spent a fortune on coffee, which only took Mackenzie about 5 minutes to fpill all over the floor.  Once Kris and I got that cleaned up I went back to Starbucks and ordered my second expensive coffee, the lady behind the counter said, "wow, you like it that much!"  I told her about the spill and she gave me the next cup on the house!!  :)  After Mackenzie and I gave her a generous tip we headed out to explore.  Didn't take long....lack of sleep and poor diet = quick exhaustion point!  Mackenzie cried about everything!!  She couldn't sit where she wanted, didn't want any of the food offered in the airport, the spilled coffee got on her bag.  We got one last quick chat in with Mom Mom Pat and Grandma before getting on the plane at 645.  We took off by about 725.  We were in rows 7 & 8 seats A & C.  We got to see the mountaintops as the sun was rising!!  :)  Breakfast for Mackenzie was sprite and ritz crackers then she had a bagel and a half.  Garytt munched on a few things.  Kris and I had pancakes and sausage and eggs = YUCK!  The first movie on the plane was Ice Age.  945 Mackenzie spilled her sprite all over my right foot.  I stuck my shoe and sock in the airplane window to dry and the kids switched places.  Both kids were asleep by 1030.  At about the halfway point of the flight (between movies they would flash up a map of our location and our path with airspeed and direction, etc.), it was at this point that it finally hit me, "Wow!  We are really doing this!!  We are going to Japan!!!!!"  Both kids awake at 1430 and my shoe is dry but the floor is still wet.  When kids wake they eat some chips and candy.  Both refuse lunch, it wasn't good anyway (steak and gravy and potatoes or chicken and spaghetti), but we confiscated the yogurt, fruit cups, cookies, extra bagels, cream cheese, jellies, butters, out of the breakfast and lunch boxes for later!  We had a fabulous view of Mt Fuji as we came in for a landing at Yokota AB.  After going through customs and getting our bags we met Mr. Shaw, Kris' boss, and hopped in the van toward Yokosuka.  It took us about 3 hours to get to the base.  Garytt fell asleep about 20 minutes before we got here.  We got to the Navy Lodge and were in our room (307).  Neil, Kris' boss at Columbus, came to see us and make sure we got in alright and if we needed anything.  We were all so out of it that I don't know how we were even able to speak in coherent sentences.  We got dinner to go from Chili's at had baths and were in bed by 730.  That was at the 24 hour point of our day!  I was so tired that when I was reading the bedtime story I was slurring my words.

Saturday, Dec 15:  I was up at 1.  Garytt was up at 4.   Mack and Kris were up at 5.  We ate cereal and watched a little tv before Mr. Shaw came to give us a little tour.  At 9 we headed out and he showed us the whole base.  Then, we parked by the front gate and took a walk down "Blue Street" - a street that has blue designs on the sidewalk.  We saw a lot of different places we want to explore.  Mr. Shaw has spent a lot of time in Japan and his wife is from here, so he gave us such wonderful advice and explained a lot of things to us.  It was a fantastic introduction to the area.  After nap time we headed to Neil's house and the kids stayed with his daughter while we all went to the Italian Garden restaurant for dinner.  After about an hour back at the Hogan's we headed back home and went to bed around 10. 

Sunday, Dec 16:  I was up at 330.  Kids and Kris were up at 5.  We ate cereal and pop tarts for breakfast.  Then, met Mr. Shaw downstairs for a ride to the O Club for brunch.  It was a great buffet.  Garytt had a plate of fruit and milk, Mackenzie had two waffles and bacon, Kris had bacon and eggs and I think Chicken, I had chicken and carrots and celery and tea.  After brunch we headed to the commissary and NEX.  We bought both kids winter coats and a few shirts and ties for Kris and a pair of comfy pants for me.  We bought a few more groceries before heading to the bus stop.  We decided that we would walk to the Lodge instead of waiting for the bus.  Whoa!  Longer than we thought.  The kids did great though!  They complained a lot, but they did the whole walk on their own!  After our nap we had steak, baked potatoes, corn, and Garytt dipped his steak in applesauce for dinner.  The kids and I were asleep by 8 and Kris sometime around midnight.

Monday, Dec 17:  I was up at 3.  Kids and Kris around 530.  We all ate breakfast while Daddy got ready for his first day of work.  While he was at work I finished 3 loads of laundry, made the beds, sorted out some of the stuff in our suitcases and built cars and houses with Legos.  After lunch we went down to the park and played for a while then came back up to the room for a nap.  Kris came home around 330.  Dinner at 5 - spaghetti and bread.  Netflix for a bit then baths and bed by 9.

My....what a beginning to a fabulous adventure!!!!  We wake up every morning to see subs and ships passing by our window.  If we could get our eating and sleeping schedules fixed we would be golden!!!  :)