Saturday, January 2, 2010

Forewarned is Forearmed

Many of you have asked about celebrating American holidays here in Japan - do we celebrate Halloween (yes, on base), Thanksgiving (yes, on base) and Christmas (yes - but outside the gate it is more of a secular celebration than a religious one).

One of the first pieces of advice I received upon arriving here in Japan was "stock up on butter." Really? Apparently for those who have lived here a while they still recall The Butter Shortage. Seriously. For some unknown reason the commissary was out of butter starting before Thanksgiving until after Christmas a few years back. Holiday bakers were apparently having a major crisis. And so, following this advice I stocked up on butter (5 lbs in my freezer) and have now crossed the line from "be prepared" to "be a hoarder."


My friends and family know that I do not like to keep unnecessary items - "purging is cathartic"- could be one of my mantras. Stocking up is against my nature - which is probably why we don't belong to places like Costco, I start to hyperventilate when I enter those places - there's just too much stuff. However, apparently to survive here on base during the holiday season (which starts here around Labor Day when the Halloween candy comes out) one must become a hoarder in order to make it through the holidays without having to grovel for let's say ... cocoa. This year apparently the item "to have" - instead of the latest Coach purse or Jimmy Choo shoes is baking cocoa. At social events you could hear the whispered conversations of “where did you get the white chocolate for Peppermint Bark?” or “You have baking cocoa?! How did you get that?”… “The commissary has been out since October and they're not getting any more in?!” “If you’re really desperate, I heard “so-and-so” has some in her pantry … she’s a hoarder.”

Pumpkins, Turkeys, and Christmas Trees

I have been given many good pieces of advice since arriving – some of which include:

• buy your Halloween candy as soon as you see it out, and set a price limit - you will never have enough.

• buy your turkey as soon as you see it in the commissary, last year they ran out (I bought mine right after Halloween).

• buy your Christmas tree Thanksgiving weekend when they go on sale. They will run out by December 1.

For someone who tends to procrastinate when it comes to these sorts of things – this forced holiday preparation is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s sort of like preparing for a hurricane back east, where you have an emergency kit to survive for a week with food items that need little prep only here it would include things like canned pumpkin – because I was told they ran out last year before Thanksgiving and they never received another shipment. Or, Halloween candy – you’d better get it the first week it’s out or you may not be able to get any. Oh, and you can’t buy enough Halloween candy because they open the base up to Japanese guests – this year we had over 600 pieces of candy and the advice I was given was one piece per child. I didn’t even make it an hour – that’s more than 10 kids a minute! It was madness.

I had our Thanksgiving Turkey in the freezer for a month before Thanksgiving, which meant I had room for very little else what with the 5 lbs of butter already being stockpiled. And our Christmas tree, we went to Nikko Thanksgiving weekend but you can bet we managed to stop by and get our Christmas tree – the kids were confused “but we’ve never gotten our tree this early.” I think mom's holiday preparedness freaked them out just a bit - I can just hear them thinking "Who is this woman? Where's my mom who would run out to Target on Halloween to buy candy and then come home to carve the pumpkins and hope somehow it would all be done before the first trick-or-treater arrived?"

It is amazing though when you think about it, that the commissary actually ship pumpkins, turkeys, and Christmas trees all the way across the Pacific so that we can enjoy our American holidays here – and yes, we do have to pay for them Koggie – the pumpkins were so expensive I was relieved (but also somewhat saddened) that our boys decided this year they did not want a pumpkin to carve.

You can take the Southerner out of the South but not the South ...

Most people that meet me are genuinely surprised that I am a Southerner – whatever accent I had has all but faded over the 25+ years of moving all across the U.S. There is the occasional “y’all” that will slip out and I’ve been told if I have “enjoyed a few glasses” my words start to sound southern, it’s in there – deeply embedded. There are some things that a true southerner just could not do without – one being, bringing in the new year with greens and blackeyed peas. Thank goodness someone out there knows that a certain portion of the military population was raised “south of the Potomac” – as my mom would say – and as a southerner you absolutely cannot bring in the New Year without Collard Greens (for money) and Blackeyed Peas (for good luck). The Commissary had fresh Collard Greens (thank God because I’m not sure I could swallow canned greens, I think that’s some sort of southern sacrilege) and plenty of blackeyed peas. Our family sat down to our New Year’s Day Dinner of Luck and Money and I took quiet pleasure knowing that this annual tradition continues despite being half way around the world from my southern roots.

Shortages? Bring it On.

None of us know what 2010 will bring. I love the end of one year and the start of another – the end and the beginning – see sidebar quote from T.S. Eliot. Jeff mentioned on the 31st as he was walking out the door to work “What? You look pensive.” (which I know unsettles him … when he sees me staring off and thinking – it’s like oh no, here it comes she’s going to want to repaint the living room for the third time or tear up the entire backyard and landscape or decide to throw herself full steam ahead into training for another tri). “No, I said, I’m just reflecting.” I enjoy looking back on the last year and taking stock. Almost as much as looking forward to the New Year with all the anticipation and hope that new beginnings bring.

Will we have butter/cocoa/turkey shortages in 2010? Who knows, and honestly I don’t care – I can learn to make do. Looking back over the last year I am reminded how much we have to be thankful for and it has nothing to do with how much butter I had stashed in our freezer. It was much more about what we do have, like our friends and family that were there for us, helping our military family make an international move and bring us together again – and for that we are forever grateful.

I wish my friends and family much Luck and Money in the new year. And, new beginnings.

Till next time, sayonara.

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