Monday, March 24, 2014

Garytt's Belt Test

This weekend Garytt had his second belt test in karate.  In October 2013, he tested from a white belt to a yellow belt.  This test will take him from yellow, skipping blue-stripe, to a blue belt.

First, they all got lined up and did a few stretches and warm-up moves.

This whole ceremony was almost all done in Japanese, so I'm not sure how much Garytt understood, but he followed pretty well.  Yugihara Sensei does teach the kids quite a bit of Japanese in class, so I'm sure most of it he could follow easily.  It was when Sensei's grandfather (91 years old and still running around punching, kicking, blocking and striking like nobody's business!) stood up to explain things that Garytt was probably lost.

The Boy is the yellow belt in the center of the picture to the left.  Garytt's sensei, Yugihara Sensei, is standing up with the blue tie on.

He was the third group to test.  First up, his punches, blocks, and kicks.

Next, the second kata in the pinan series.

When he was done with that, he took a little test.  This always makes me nervous, because he is only reading words like:  kick, cat, plus, dad, etc.  But, he said he just had to draw pictures of fists, hands, and feet in the positions he's learned in karate so far.

We should know in a couple days if he passed.  Then, it will be another week or so before he gets his new belt.

The whole testing group photo.  Sensei Yugihara's grandfather, the man who taught him karate from the moment he could walk, is in the back row, third from the right.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Strawberry picking in Tsukuihama

Our adventure today took us to Tsukuihama to pick strawberries!  The strawberry season here starts in December and runs through May.  And, the prices vary depending on when in the season you go.  Apparently, we are right close to the peak time because it was MUCH more expensive than I thought it would be!
We packed our lunches and headed out of the house around 1130, drove to the main gate and then walked to Chuo.  It's a beautiful day so we had a pleasant walk outside.  We hopped on the 1202 train to Tsukuihama, which took about 15 minutes and no train switching.  Once we arrived I started out of the train station and to the left.  I've been by the farm once back in January and figured I would surely remember the's only been a couple months.  hahaha!  We walked for a bit and then I turned us around the other way, then turned another way, finally found a map and then Kris got us on the right path!  
We made it to the greenhouse around 1300.  I think there is an office we are supposed to pay and get a ticket that tells us which greenhouse to go into.  Well, we couldn't find the office so we just walked into a greenhouse and asked where to go.  The lady pulled up a calculator and asked how many in our party - four - then she multiplied it by 1300 Yen.... 5200 Yen!  Wowza!  That's a bit more than I expected.              We each got a plastic container with cream on one end and a spot for our stems on the other part.  

Then, we just chose an aisle each and started walking and munching.  We had thirty minutes to eat as many strawberries as we wanted...or could fit in!  Let me just say, we all got our fill of vitamin C today!

Garytt and I took one path, Kris and Mackenzie took another path.  This first pass was quite small.  They were all incredibly sweet, but they were small.  And, our path seemed to have very few strawberries at all.  So, we made it to the end, then turned and picked our path back.  
Our second aisle was much better!  The strawberries were up a little higher so it was easier to find them and pick.  Garytt had a bit of trouble...he would wrap his whole hand around the strawberry and pull.  Then, realize that his strawberry was mushy and wanted to move on to the next berry.  So, we had to put down our cream cups and have a lesson on how to actually pick the strawberries so they weren't smooshed before they came off the vine.

 Like Kris said when we left..."we hit the mother load with that second aisle!"  The berries on these rows were enormous compared to the first picks.  And, oh so juicy!!  Garytt's sleeves are both red from all the juice dripping off the berries.  YUM!

I must say...thirty minutes of berry eating is a LOT of berries!  I love strawberries but maybe not that many at one time.

 On the way back to the train station we walked on a nice quiet walkway.  The kids looked at the water and even found a pair of ducks to look at for a bit.

 We hopped on the train back to Yokosuka around 1430.  Once back in Yokosuka the kids and Kris headed home for a quick nap while I stayed out in town shopping for a bit.  What a lovely day!  And, everyone was so happy Daddy was able to join us!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Dinner from Livin

We had to make a run out to Livin tonight for a gift. And....drum roll, please.....I DROVE OFF BASE!!!! And, we all lived to tell about it!!! It wasn't so bad, of course I had Kris there to say, "don't go that way" and "not that turn, the next one." 

So, since it was getting close to bed time for the kids, we decided to try out some of the to-go food in the grocery store. We had NO clue what most of it was, so it was an adventure. :)  And the results were:

1. Kris' choice, we split this plate....yakisoba and octopus balls. I had no clue what they were. Kris took a bite, said, "there's seafood in there" and since I like seafood, I ate my two. When I finished he said, "did you happen to see what you were eating?", I was hungry so I inhaled them. He then let me know that there was octopus in them. What?! I said, "how do you know? I thought it just tasted like fish." He said, " I took a bite, looked in the middle of the ball, and saw tentacles." Haha. Well, I thought it was mighty tasty!!

2. My two choices, we also split this plate....I thought the two on the left were chicken and the two on the right were pork. Turns out the two on the left were crab croquettes and the two on the right were potatoes. The crab croquettes were very tasty. The potatoes were good too, kind of like a chicken pot pie wrapped in breading and fried...there were peas and carrots inside. 

3. Joint choice: gyoza. YUM. Nuff said. And, there were plenty left over for lunch tomorrow!

4. Mackenzie's pick: tonkatsu (fried pork patty), gravy and rice. She actually tried dipping her pork in the gravy (this picky child does not like to dip anything in anything, so this was HUGE for her). She only did it once though. 

5. Garytt's choice: beef patty, rice, spaghetti, and an egg on top. He ate all of it but the yellow part of the egg. 

For less than $15 we were able to fill up on yummy food and have an experience to laugh about. Oh....and, I DROVE OFF BASE!!!!  

Hanami in Misakiguchi

It's Cherry Blossom season in Japan!  We are all finally on the mend from one sickness after another, so the kids and I headed out to see the beautiful trees!

After a quick school session this morning the kids dressed and I packed a lunch, then we were off.  It was an easy train trip today.  The weather was pretty, a bit windy, but in the 50s.  We made it to Yokosuka Chuo a little after 1100 and waited for the 1116 train.  The train did not have the bench seats but had the double, forward-facing seats, which is not fun when there are no seats available.  The standing room is very cramped and it's hard to move out of the way for people wanting to get off.  Lucky for us, a very nice man gave us his seat so we could all three smoosh into the two seats.  Of course, there were a few fights about who was going to sit by the window, but after a quick compromise (switch at the halfway point) things were smooth sailing for the next 21 minutes.  We got off the train at Misakiguchi and just walked toward the cherry trees.

The walk was a bit longer than I thought.  I think it took the little legs in our group about thirty minutes to make it to Komatsugaike Park.  The kids were so excited to go to a park...turns out, this isn't a play-kind of park.  It's just trees, flowers, gardens, and a pond.  Not as exciting as we thought.  It was pretty though.  Next time I'll need to research the park a little better.

I found out last week that there are several different kinds of cherry trees.  There are some that bloom in late February and early March - I think these are called Kawazu Sakura.  Then, there are the plum trees, called Ume, that bloom in early - mid March.  And, then there are the Sakura trees that are all over our base.  These bloom at the end of March or early April.  There are tons more trees, but these are the only ones I could figure out when and where they were around us.

I think the blossoms we looked at today were Kawazusakura.  My plan was to head to Misakiguchi, which is the last stop on that train line, and walk around.  Then, head back toward home and stop at a few other places on the way.  Miurakaigon is supposed to have really pretty blossoms right now too.  But, after the thirty minute walk to the "park", then the thirty minute walk back, the kids were getting cranky and it was getting a little too late in the day to fool around.  So, I plan on heading out again next week while it's nice out.

The walk to the park was a quiet one.  There are tons of flowers planted all over the place.  Mackenzie called them "lion flowers", I think they are pansies.  We walked down the sidewalk for quite a ways and then under a bridge and along the bridge for a while.  We finally came around a corner and saw all the cherry trees out in front of us.  We found our way to the other side of the road and started in toward the park entrance.

I asked the kids to go stand under the trees and next to the pretty yellow flowers.  Well, they both got next to the flowers and then took off screaming down the sidewalk.  There were bees in the bushes.  Ugh.  I had to beg and beg for them to just get a little close to the bushes.  As you can see from the picture, they kept their eyes on those buzzing beasts.

Both sides of this street are lined with cherry trees.  It's beautiful!  Then, under the pretty pink blossoms are brilliant yellow flowers.  I think our train came past all of these trees on the way to Misakiguchi Station.  And,  now that I look at a map...if we had just kept walking down this road we would have been at Miurakaigon just as fast as it took us to get back to the station we came in at.  Oh well!

I really wanted to snap a lot of pictures here, but the kids were bored, so I had to move it along.  We found the staircase that leads down into the park and walked across the bridge.

Here is the entryway to the park.  The lanterns are so pretty hanging in the trees.  At the bottom of the stairs we stepped to the right so I could get a look at which way was the direction we wanted to go.  It was in this little area that Garytt saw a sign with a "creepy" looking turtle (says Mackenzie) on it.  Now, he was on a mission to find this turtle!  Gee, thanks park caretakers...

At this point the kids were really complaining about being so starving that "we ca-an't walk anymore".  So, we pulled up two tree trunks and ate our sandwiches.  This time of year many Japanese have parties under the cherry trees.  This is called hanami.  A lot of the time these parties involve a bit of alcohol and music and craziness.  I guess that comes with the later blossoms, at the beginning of April.  I guess this is why everyone was looking at us funny....why in the world were we eating here instead of under the cherry trees?  Duh!  I did convince them that they could save the rest of their lunch until we got to the pond.  So, I'm considering that our hanami.  :)

I got the kids up from the stumps and we got back on the path through the brush and marshy ponds.  When we came out into the clearing of the pond there were all the people, and the trees.  We sat down on the edge of the pond...terror filling me as soon as we sat down and Boy leaned out toward the water, did a quick can-I-do-it glance back at me, and then moved his arm toward the water.  I was quicker than him though....we had a nice talk about not touching the water and he behaved.  I could see the pain in his face when a little girl came along and her grandparents let her splash her hands in the water.  But, still, he did not disobey.  He did keep a close eye out for that elusive turtle.  Every thirty seconds he whined, "Buuuuuuttt...where's that creepy turtle?  I HAVE to find that turtle!"

The crowd on this day was mostly made of elderly Japanese couples.  I saw a few young couples holding hands and walking under the trees and one or two little kids.  But, mostly older people.  We did walk up the little hill to the food stands set up along the tree line.  They had yakitori, sweet potato fries, whatever that bread thing is below, peanuts, and a few stands that I wasn't sure what was being cooked.  Garytt and Mackenzie had a bag of peanuts and I got the bag of deliciousness below.  It was some sort of pancake and then I could chose between three different flavors:  azuki beans, cream cheese, and something else I wasn't sure what it was.  I chose azuki beans.  Mmmmmmm....yummy!!!  Garytt tasted it and didn't like it at all.  Mackenzie, of course, totally refused.  So, I had it all to myself!

I let Mackenzie chose which path to take back toward the entrance.  It was a shaded path, unfortunately, we ended up getting behind a couple walking their two dogs.  Two dogs that desperately tried to mark every blade of grass on the path as their territory.  So, we spent a lot of time dodging their paths.  Once the owners stopped to dig something out of their bag, we quickly ran past them.  

We got back out to the beginning of the path, where we ate our sandwiches, and made a turn toward the right.  On the way in I saw a staircase that looked like it led to a bridge where there were a lot of people with huge, thousand dollar cameras set up.  And, I assumed this was the way.

At the top of the stairs we made a left turn and headed toward the bridge.  Well, after we stopped long enough for Mackenzie to draw a picture of one of the pink lanterns.

We walked around the corner and came upon a small grove of trees.  It was magical walking through all the pretty pink trees!  I think the kids would have spent a lot of time running around in there, but there seemed to be a lot of serious camera enthusiasts there and I didn't think they'd appreciate a blue or pink blur running through all their pretty shots.  So, I convinced the kids to move along to the bridge.

The bridge was pretty awesome!  The kids thought it was the coolest thing they'd done all get to lean over the rails and touch flowers at the TOP of the trees!  Both pulled off one blossom to put in their backpacks and save to show Grandma and Grandpa on Skype.  Both of which got smooshed to tiny balls of goo by the time we got home.  So, I disposed of them before the kids could remember they were packed.

We stood on the bridge for a while and watched the trains go by.  Then, both kids decided it was time to go.  So, we headed back to the train station.  (Like I said earlier, if we kept walking down the road under the trees in the picture below we would have been at Miurakaigon in no time.  Oh well)

Garytt was quite disappointed in the "park" I picked out.  There were no roller slides, no dirt hills, no swings or slides...geez Mom!  Mackenzie, however, said, "This is the bestest day ever!  It's such a beautiful day!"  Of course, that sentiment was ruined a few minutes later when she tried to climb up onto a cement stand like her brother.  Somehow she stepped on her own finger....yeah, you got me how that happens!  She cried and cried.  Of course, there was a little bit of skin scraped off in the incident so that freaked her out even more.  She kept looking at her finger and whining that it was so sore!  Then, she hissed in a breath and said it was burning...burning really bad!  I looked at it and said she would be fine, she just had to get through the initial pain...."and burning," she added.  Then, she started singing, "This girl is on fire.  This girl is on fire."  (for the grandparents out's a song by Alicia Keys.)  Love that kid!

What would an excursion on my own be without a little train mixup....

We made it back to Misakiguchi station by a little after two.  As we were walking down the stairs to the platform I said, "hurry, that's our train."  To which, of course, they both sighed loudly and started flying down the stairs....too late, though.  It closed the doors just three steps from the bottom.  So, we had a ten minute wait for the next train.  There are two platforms at this station.  We were on 2.  While we waited a train arrived on platform 1 after about five minutes.  Then, the next train arrived on 2.  So, we boarded 2.  As we were sitting there, I was looking at the time.  The train I wanted left at 2:17.  Both trains would get us where we wanted to go, but on one we would have had to make a couple switches at other stations; on the other we could get on and sit for twenty minutes all the way to Yokosuka Chuo - much easier.  Well, as my clocked ticked 2:17, the train on track 1 took off....urgh....that was the train I wanted.  So, I made the kids get off and we walked around to the other track.  It would be about a twenty minute wait, but it would be such an easy ride back that I was okay with that.  When the train arrived on track 1, we hopped on.  Then, a man got on and told us we had to get off....I was confused, but we got off.  Garytt said, "why did he make us get off?"  Then, a Japanese lady came over and explained that they would shut the doors, clean the train, and then let us get on.  So, we watched as the train was swept, some water was splashed on one end, and the destination screen was switched from "Misakiguchi" to "Shinagawa".  Then, we hopped on, found our seat, and rode home.  By the time we got home it was starting to really cool off and the wind picked up.  So, we made it home just in time!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Beautiful Day in Ofuna

Earlier this week I saw that there was going to be a break in the 30-40 degree weather here.  So, I decided we would head out on Friday, when it was predicted to be partly sunny and 60!!  We didn't get as early of a start as I would have liked, but we made it out just shortly past lunch.  
Before I get into that, a little bit about how I found this place.  A few weeks ago I saw an article on The Facebook about a London photographer, Chino Otsuka, who was born in Tokyo to parents that traveled the world.  She then took the photos of her as a child and photoshopped herself into the pictures as an adult.  They were neat, and one picture had this amazing statue in the background.  After a bit of Googling I found it.  The goddess of mercy of the white robe in Ofuna. 

Okay, so back to the trek....after speeding through school that morning I fixed a quick lunch, hotdogs and applesauce for the boy and quesadilla and an apple for Kenz.  Mackenzie finished quickly and got dressed, ready for our excursion.  Garytt, on the other hand, took FORTY FIVE minutes to eat one hotdog!, we wait for slow poke to finish and get dressed.  While he's finishing, I packed a bag full of snacks, drinks, and my camera.  FINALLY, he is dressed and everyone has shoes on, so we head out the door.  We get a few minutes down the road and all of a sudden Mackenzie starts acting like she is having an allergic reaction to her clothing.  Well, she decided to wear thick, heavy boots on a 60 degree day!  Soooo....we turn back around and get back to the house so she can change.  

Now, we are all actually dressed appropriately and headed to the train station.  I noticed before we left the house that if we made it to the station by six minutes to the hour we could get on one train and ride for about twenty minutes to our destination.  Because of the slowest hotdog eater and the change of shoes the time was going to be tight.  So, I pushed the kids to walk fast.  We were doing pretty good, well, Garytt and I were doing good...Mackenzie was whining every three steps that her non-flexible leg, i.e. the leg that doesn't go into a split as good as the other one, was hurting so bad she didn't think she would ever be able to walk again.  Boy and I ignored her and kept up as fast a pace as he could manage.  We got within thirty steps of the station when the train I wanted took off.  :(  We rushed, and potentially put Mackenzie in a horrible mood, for nothing.  Darn.  So, we waited for about fifteen minutes for the next train that would take about 35 minutes and we would have to switch trains once.  That's better than the next train that would have taken an hour to get where we wanted to go.

Well, we made it on the train and were headed toward Zushi station...the one that I just can't figure out where I'm supposed to go...ever!  We get to the station and get off the train because I'm pretty sure we are supposed to switch trains.  I look at my train app, look at the train next to us, figure that's not the right one, think maybe we weren't supposed to get off our train, and so we get back on the train we just arrived on, but in a different car so people don't think we're lost.  Ha!  Two minutes before it leaves I decide to get back off again.  We head up the stairs to look at the other options.  I walk back and forth up here a couple times trying to figure out which way to go.  Luckily, the janitor stopped mopping the floor and came over to say, "Where you want go?"  I say, "Ofuna," hoping I pronounced it right.  He walks me to a window and points down at a train that is just arriving.  He says, "That one.  Three stops. Ofuna."  I then thank him profusely and run down to catch the correct train.  Shew!

In about ten minutes we arrive at Ofuna station.  I managed to find the correct exit, sometimes eenie, meenie, miney, moe works!  We walk past a lot of yummy looking station restaurants and then out of the station.  I've got the place bookmarked in my phone and so we start heading toward the dot.  We walk on the bridge across the river and then to the left.  We stop to look at the early cherry blossoms starting along the road.  We also checked out the neat looking flowers sitting outside a flower shop.  Not sure what they are called, but they remind me of cabbages.

We made a right turn at the next intersection and walked about a block when I realized that we were going in the wrong direction.  So, we turned around and went back out to the main road then went left.  Again, we walked by the flower shop, and again, I discovered we were going the wrong way.  Garytt said, "Hey, I think I know where we are supposed to turn.  It's back there where the bikers are."  So, I listened to the five year old and followed him to a little alleyway.  I also actually told my phone to give me directions to the temple.  He was right!  So, now we are on the right track.  We get to the entrance and start our way up the steep road to the temple.

On the way up the hill the kids were able to reach out and touch bamboo trees.  They were pretty impressed by how smooth a tree could be.  There were also a few fallen trees so we were able to check out the inside of the tree as well.  "Boring" was Mackenzie's report.

At the top of the hill I paid 300 yen for myself and 100 for Mackenzie.  We got our tickets and walked in.  Just inside the grounds we were able to get a nice view of the statue's head.  It was also here that Mackenzie said, "are we going to see the lady with the person on her head?"  I couldn't figure out what she was talking about...maybe it's time to change out my contacts.

From here I let Garytt, who definitely got his sense of direction from his Daddy, lead the way.

First we walked past the office and over to look at a few statues.

The statue on the left has a flame inside it.  Apparently, this flame was lit from the fires left behind after the bomb was dropped in Hiroshima and there are rocks here from ground zero of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The purpose of this whole temple is to promote world peace and remember those who died in the blasts.

The cherry trees were beautiful here.  I bet it's amazing when all the trees are in full bloom.  

The kids noticed the jizo decorated with clothing and surrounded by toys.  I learned on an earlier trek the meaning of these items.  So, I decided to explain a bit to them....some people don't believe in the God we love, but in many different gods.  They create statues to celebrate those gods and they will put clothing on them to keep them warm in the winter, or umbrellas over them to keep the sun off them in the summer; and this jizo here has toys around it because some people believe this god takes care of children that are living as well as those that have died.  Garytt didn't seem to hear anything and was running off to the next interesting thing on the path.  Mackenzie really looked at the statues and studied everything around them.  I wish I could have seen how she was processing that in her beautiful mind.

After we looked at the buildings, flowers and trees, Garytt found the stairs that lead up to the goddess of mercy.   The steps were weird.  They were all angled into the hill in a way that was fun to walk, but kind of disorienting.  Garytt ran up without noticing.  Mackenzie kept stopping to look up and then look back down and then bend down to get a better view.  

Once we got up these small stairs we were right in front of the kannon.  I wanted to find the stairs from Otsuka's photo.  So, we walked out to the right a bit and found them.  It took some convincing to get the kids to walk back down the steps instead of around the kannon statue.  But, I did.  At the bottom there was a lady that asked me to take a picture of her on the stairs.  When I finished she offered to take our picture too!  Yay!  That doesn't happen very often.  So, I was able to get all of us in a picture from one of our Daddy-less treks.  Apparently, Mackenzie thought we had cooties and didn't want to get too close.

The statue is about 75 feet tall.  Construction started in the late '20's and the outer form was finished in 1934 but the rest was put on hold due to wars and then it wasn't finished until 1960.

Here's the "person on her head"

There is a museum inside the statue.  So, we walked around to the backside, up the stairs and inside. 

The temple grounds are very pretty and oh so peaceful.  There were several tables with chairs or stools.  Mackenzie wants to go back another time with a picnic lunch so we can sit and eat.

 When she saw the statue below, Mackenzie said, "Ooh la la!"  That morning we were reading Junie B. Jones, Party Animal, and Junie B. got in her friend's grandmother's car, rubbed the "velvety interior" and exclaimed, "Ooh la la!"  I explained what that meant to Mackenzie.  From this point on in our trip when she would see something she thought was pretty she would exclaim, "Ooh la la!"  Made me smile every time.  

This was her favorite spot.  She found several rocks and was trying to replicate the kannon with them.

I'm not sure what this flower is, but it was cool looking.  Kinda like a sunflower, but with little flowers around the outside.

When we were done walking around the grounds we headed back to the office so I could get my book stamped.  I was hoping the kids would get to see them draw it and then stamp it.  Well, they took it back to an office to do that, so they didn't get to see.  While we were sitting at a table waiting, my one of my biggest traveling fears happened...a very nice Japanese man offered my kids an unknown Japanese snack.  He didn't speak any English, but he was so pleased to see the kids and to give them a special snack.  Well, for those that don't know, Mackenzie is the pickiest eater on the planet.  She wouldn't even look at the snack out of total fear of new things to eat.  Garytt looked at it but refused to eat it.  I think the man said it was ok and bowed at us.  I bowed and thanked him several times, totally embarrassed that the kids didn't taste it.  To give them a little didn't look too appealing.  It looked like a cookie with beans on it.  When I got home I did taste it, wow...yummy!!  I think those are azuki beans on top of the cookie.  The cookie itself tastes kind of like a butter cookie and the beans give it a sweet, nutty flavor.  I will definitely be on the lookout for those the next time we go to Livin.  

The trek up this hill took about five minutes.  The RUN down took about thirty seconds.  I'm pretty sure I almost dislocated my knee trying to keep up.

When we left the temple Mackenzie said she liked Ofuna so much that she wanted to explore.  Garytt, who did not get a nap that day, was getting a little tired of walking around and was ready to go home.  So, I let Mackenzie chose a path for us to walk for about five minutes before turning back and heading to the train station.  I found the platform for our train and we had about a twenty minute wait for the train that went straight to Yokosuka.  On the train Garytt got out is DS and played Mario Cart.  Mackenzie sat back and watched the cities go by.  At one point, she turned around and looked at me, then rubbed her hand on the seat and said, "Ooh la la!  Such soft seats!"

Once back in Yokosuka we walked back to the base along the waterway.  We decided to stop at the Daiei and get some yummy strawberries.  We also found a box of ice cream and some small, cheap bananas.  On our way out we also found some Minions.
Because of our stop at the Daiei we didn't get home in time for me to fix dinner...darn.  :)  And, because of all the walking we did I didn't want to have to walk anywhere.  So, my fabulous hubby drove us to Chili's.  The boy has discovered he likes ribs....he makes his Daddy so proud!