Monday, June 25, 2012

Do Not Pack: Follow the Move Part 6

“Where are all the trash cans?” my husband asked.

The frustration in his voice was duly noted.

You prep, you purge, you get organized all in an effort to have your pack-out go smoothly but right before the doorbell rings at 8 a.m. of pack-out day there is the ninth-hour push.

The suitcases that contain all the possessions that you absolutely, positively cannot under any circumstances live without for the next 2 months are hustled into the bathroom and a “Do Not Pack” (DNP) sticky is taped to the door.

You shut the door behind you for good measure.

Items that you still need to use until you fly out – like the landline phone – also have a DNP sticky on it as my daughter found out earlier this morning when she had to pull off the sticky to answer the phone. As does the coffee maker. And the cable tv DVR that has to be returned to the cable company. And the wireless router … that I need to continue to post my blogs and answer my emails. And the dehumidifiers. And the microwave that are U.S. Government property – failure to return these items upon check out from your Quarters will result in a hefty fee.

The bedrooms are labeled – “Boy A” “Boy B” “Girl” – so on the other side you can direct the “unpackers” which room the boxes will live in. Hoping I’ll remember which son was designated as A and B …

The electronic boxes that have been stashed since the last move have been pulled for their triennial use. Two computer boxes, one tv box, one lamp box, one DVD box, and one sewing machine box. One day I will be able to pitch those damn boxes, the boxes that signify my life is in transition. Seriously, who keeps these? Only people who know they’ll be moving again. And again. And again.

The live plants have been gifted to my neighbor – who will this year be one of the left-behinds. She will have an endless supply of rosemary, sage and aloe. It was the one moment in all of this mayhem where I lost it – I’m sure some medical person well versed in psych-speak would have much to say about the symbolism of plants/roots/friendships/transference/sorrow.

Getting back to the trashcans – they have all been emptied, sprayed with disinfectant (we do have a resident medical professional in the household), wiped down and are nested together – well away from anyone who may be tempted to lob any unwanted trash into them, to be packed and shipped half way around the world.

And then … and then that’s it. Your job is done until you see your possessions on the other side.

It has been a great ride living here in Japan. An amazing experience for this Gaijin family of five. 

The packers are on the tail end and my hope for one more post before the wrestle the computer from me is gone. I will try to continue writing on the other side, this next year will hold many changes for us as our twin sons prep for their college departure. 

Thank you dear readers for following our adventures and as my friend Gracious Explorer said we will say Mata-Ne (see you later) and not Sayonara (good-bye). Till next time, mata-ne.

We’re a Nice Normal Family: Follow the Move Part 5

Remember as afar as anyone else is concerned
we are a nice normal family. 
The empty bulletin board with nothing but push pins was my first “moving-moment.” My heart surged towards my throat and I had to focus on my new mantra “breathe, just breathe.” I had handed all our children zippered clear plastic cases and asked that they take down all that was important to them from their boards and put it in the folder as part of the move prep, so it wasn’t like I didn’t know that I’d be walking into their rooms with blank bulletin boards but the emptiness of these memory keepers hit me hard. It was the reality check I didn’t see coming. Gone were the high school letters for Tennis/Cross Country/Academics. Gone were the mementos of places visited, schedules for school work, motivational quotes. Gone were the photos of their lives in Japan. The three years they spent here in Japan have now become part of their personal history.

Our kids know the drill well, way to well. They are military kids and they have the moves under their belts to show for it. Our sons have attended seven different schools. They are moving the summer going into their senior year – not exactly a high point on my list of parental experiences.

When our daughter was in fifth grade her class had an assignment: they were to share where they were born and the places they had lived. She came home astonished at the number of her classmates that had only ever lived in one house (sadly she “won” for the most number of moves, at the time move count was five, she now can add two more to that list). I think it was the first time she connected the dots and maybe realized that this life we lead, of boxes and moving, of purging and organizing, of starting over every two to three years is not what most outside of the military would consider “normal.”

Perhaps that’s what makes this move more challenging than the others. The kids my children went to school with all knew what it felt like to be “the new kid.” They all have the shared experience of moving multiple times, know the demands of having one or more of their parents serving in the military and for all of them this lifestyle, this culture of the military, the label of being a military kid, for all of them – this is normal.

The bulletin boards are now wrapped, packed and sealed in a crate awaiting shipment to the U.S. It will be eight weeks before we can get them set up again, eight weeks until the “new normal” begins for us once more. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

God is in the Details: Follow the Move Part 4

When you’re in the zone, the moving zone, you’re focused on the tasks at hand. 

Picking up school records. Check.
Picking up the last of the dry cleaning. Check.
Dropping off another round of donations. Check.
Getting the POA (Power of Attorney). Check.
Getting a specified POA for being able to pick up my (MY!) car. Check.
Wrapping those Yennies. Check. Taking them to the bank. Check.
Wrapping U.S. coins and taking them to the credit union. Check.
Picking up medical records – well sort of check – they will only send them to the next military medical facility that we will be attached to and it takes more than 4 weeks to catch up with us.
Picking up dental records. Check.
Picking up the last two of our five bikes that I dropped off for tune ups so they will be good to go at the other end. Check.
Garden tools and pots, emptied, scrubbed, dried. Check.
Grill cleaned. Propane detatched. Check.
Emptying all the food storage containers and cleaning them out. Check. (Thank goodness for my daughters helping hands on that task! Her brothers, who have managed to jet out of yet another move and are already stateside and they owe her big time).

There is more to moving than just having the packers show up and pack out your goods – as if that wasn’t enough – there are all the details that need to be taken care of, the ins and outs of what keeps a family running.

I try, very hard, during our moves to wrap up lose ends. To make my endless lists, stick my stickies around the house. Last week I was writing a note to myself on the back of my daughters Eight Grade Promotion exercise program – “contact USAA re: car insurance; contact AAA for Roadside Service.” My friend sitting next to me at the during the ceremony leaned over to see what I was writing, I’m sure wondering where was her ADD friends brain going to now?

“Oh” she said, “Can you write me a note too?”

She is very savvy about the Navy system. A former Navy Nurse, she is caring, calm, compassionate. Even though I’ve clocked in the hours with the dubious title of “spouse” that follows my name on all forms military, I have looked to her this go round for guidance on an overseas move. She and her active duty husband have done more than their fare share of moves and she certainly has the system down. Happy to offer this small gesture, I handed her a stickie the next time we were together with the “note-to-self” about the car.

I believe it’s the details of these moves that stresses me out. The fear that as we get ready to depart, we will encounter some sort of detail that dropped off our radar that will thwart our departure. Or worse that we’ll get to the other end and I won’t be able to: register my kids for school, accept our HHG (Household Goods) shipment, or our NTS (non-temporary storage) shipment, or ….

At some point I have to let it go – the move will be what it will be. The packers as my husband has so often said to me “are showing up whether you're ready or not.”

And so they have. I’m sitting at my computer – the computer I asked not to be packed away until the last possible second of day 2 of our pack out – with the sound of packing tape ripping through the air – trying hard to keep the PTSD urge to curl up in a ball on the sofa and throw a comfy blanket over my head at bay. I’ve been here before, different house, different location but same situation, the packers have arrived and will begin the deconstruction process. The prep work, the purging, the endless stickies, has come to an end. Now it’s time to release control and hope that in 8 weeks time we’ll see our possessions – in tact and the reconstruction phase, the putting a household back together again will begin once more.

Till next time …

Monday, June 18, 2012

Show Me the Yenny: Follow the Move Part 3

From the moving brief, here’s what won’t get packed:
Flammables (candles, propane, Duraflame logs, charcoal, lighter fluid, matches)
Open Food Containers

After 12 moves, none of this information is news to me.

The firearms is a no brainer we aren't packin'.

The no flammables is a relief. Over the years I’ve heard the nightmare stories of shipments catching fire and people losing everything.

The medicine also makes sense and I view each move as a good opportunity to dispose of expired meds. Should do this annually but really … who does?

No liquids. Yup, got that covered – who wants to unpack a mess at the other end with something that’s leaked over your possessions?

Open food containers. If your shipment is traveling half way around the world for eight weeks whatever I wasn’t able to use up during our cooking down phase is not worth bringing along and inviting some unwanted travel companions, if you know what I mean (ick).

Jewelry, I’m on board with this one too. There is discussion amongst the spouses as to how you handle your jewelry. Some ship it home insured. Given the track record the USPS and I have had these last three years I’m not sure I have enough faith in the system to go with that option. One friend put her jewels in a lock box and hopes for the best. The rest of us hand carry our pretties, adding to the pack mule load of all we must bear to move a military family from one place to another.

The no money I also get. It’s too hard to track if the money came up MIA. Each time we move we must deplete the household stock of coins. My husband and I are on different sides of the coin usage game. I use mine up. I don’t like having them in my pocket, wallet, bottom of my purse/bag/backpack. It is one of my habits that I know annoys the junk out of him, that I will sit there and count out my coins to use them up at the register while he stands by tapping his foot waiting. He seems to possess a different philosophy – coins are not money until we move. He accumulates years worth of coins and then right before moving takes the kids to the nearest coin machine and unloads all his coins. The machine spits out a receipt, he takes it to the cashier and then presto – all those coins have magically turned into money. Paper money. Money he can now spend.

Living overseas we Americans deal with dueling currency. As soon as you step outside the gates of the base you need Japanese Yen. Inside the gates you use American dollars. As we get ready to depart, we have coins from two countries we must sort through. No easy-breezy coin machine here on base. You have to sit down and do it the old fashioned way – rolling those coins. With the experience of dumping the coins in a machine and you’re on your way out the door in minutes with paper cash in hand the process of sitting down and rolling the coins frustrates me. With so much still left to do and the one week count-down on, I want to be able to check another thing off my list … quickly. Perhaps though, it is fitting, that as I get ready to depart from a country that has so much technological advancement this small inconvenience of doing things the old fashioned way is forcing me to slow down, to take some time to do something completely mindless and let my thoughts drift across the amazing experiences our family has had while living in Japan.

It’s time to go get those Yennies* wrapped.

Americans refer to the very light weight ichi en (the counterpart to the 1 cent Penny) as Yennies.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Follow the Move: Cooking Down

Cooking Down

More than the obsessive purging, or the cleaning of items like garden tools, humidifiers, dehumidifiers before they’re packed and shipped, or the detailing of our car before it is (hopefully) sold, more than nearly anything else associated with our pack out my kids detest the “cooking down” phase. This phase when well executed, will reduce the items in our pantry to a manageable amount that can then be passed along to unsuspecting or very supportive friends.

When we left Norfolk nearly three years ago at the start of this overseas odyssey, our kids staged a mini-rebellion refusing to eat another dish with any kind of beans, even if it did include cheese, tomatoes and cilantro. This time around I thought I’d be more prepared. I’d start the process further out with seemingly plenty of time to work in those beans without encountering another mutiny.  

Taking Stock.
4 16-oz cans of pumpkin
1 pound bag dried red beans
1 pound bag black eyed peas
1 box of manicotti pasta
1 box of lasagna noodles
2 16-oz cans northern white beans
2 2-lb cans tomatoes
2 16-oz cans black beans
3 containers steel cut oats (2 unopened – 20 servings each!)
2 large cans Alaskan Salmon
2 2-lb bags of brown basmati rice
2 packages of rice noodles
1 container of Israeli Couscous
2 packages of soba noodles
1 lb bag of bulgur …

And the list continued.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband came in one morning to find me sitting on the floor with my legs all splayed out, canned goods stacked up and surrounding me.
“Are you okay?” he asked, with his signature one raised eyebrow.
“Yes” I replied, “I’m just trying to figure out what I can make this week for dinner that will use up the most items in our cupboards. Why?”
“Umm, well wasn’t sure if you’d fallen down or something …” he trailed off as he slowly backed out of the kitchen.

Use it or lose it.
Kitchen weight can account for a large portion of your weight allowance and since I’d much rather have our weight go to say some beautiful piece of Japanese pottery than 4 pounds of brown basmati rice, the cooking down phase is in high gear.

I’ve been able to use up most of that bulgur. Having no earthly idea why I would have purchased it in the first place I went searching through my recipes to find something that I thought would be palatable to this crew of mine. Who knew? I discovered a recipe from a friend of mine, which may have been why I purchased this item in the first place. The dish has been not only a hit with the home crew but also at a social function where I brought a dish to share.

When trying to figure out if I could kill two birds with one stone with the brown rice and the red beans I had another hit – three thumbs up.

Of course, I’ve had some misses too, the manicotti dish was a hit with only one teen and the Rachel Ray White Bean and pasta dish I made subbing in the soba noodles for regular white pasta was a total miscalculation no matter how much parmesan cheese was sprinkled on top. The teenager taste buds did not seem to care that I had the buckwheat noodles on hand. Through my 60-day quest for recipes in the house that everyone will eat, started more than a year ago, I was able to make Salmon Cakes that took care of 2 cans, and Pumpkin Soup that took care of another.

The pantry is slowly shrinking and that’s a beautiful thing. It’s leaving us with more room for the items we will treasure, like the bowls we purchased from Mashiko before the events of March 11, 2011 had a devastating effect on this pottery town.

With a few more unexpected hits to add to my quest for 60 and more room for the items that will matter long after the food is gone, I’ll be headed back to the kitchen trying to eliminate more items and that leaves me inspired.

Bulgur salad with Feta and Pine Nuts
4 servings

1 cup bulgur
coarse salt and ground pepper
1/4 cup pine nuts (due to a nut allergy I used toasted pumpkin seeds)
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (I used red-wine vinegar)
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup crumbled feta
2 shallots minced (I used a bit less)
1 cup chopped fresh parsley (I used maybe 1/2 cup - didn't want too much parsley)
1 cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded, diced
4 roma tomatoes, diced
1 head of Boston lettuce torn into large pieces

1. Cook bulgur according to package directions.
2.  In a small dry skillet over very low heat, toast pine nuts until golden. Whisk together lemon juice and oil, season with salt and pepper and set aside.
3. Drain bulgur in a fine mesh sieve, pressing to remove excess liquid. Return to bowl, add feta, shallot, parsley, cucumber, and the dressing. Place lettuce leaves on a plate and top with bulgur salad.

Refried Beans
From Fall 2009 Cooks Illustrated

3 cups cooked pinto beans
¾ cup vegetable broth
½ tsp salt
1 small onion, minced
1 jalapeno chile, seeds and ribs removed, minced
½ tsp ground cumin
2 medium garlic cloves minced
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tsps lime juice

1.      Puree 2 cups beans, broth and salt in a food processor until smooth, about 15 seconds. Add remaining 1 cup beans and pulse until mixture is slightly chunky, 10 pulses. Set aside.
2.     Sauté onion about 5 minutes until soft. Add garlic and pepper, cook for 1 minutes. Stir in pureed beans, reduce heat and cook until beans are thick and creamy.
3.      Remove from heat, stir in cilantro, lime juice and salt to taste.

Mexican Rice
From Fall 2009 Cooks Illustrated

2 medium ripe tomatoes
1 medium onion, quartered
3 medium jalapeno chiles
2 cups basmati brown rice
1/3 cup canola oil
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 cup vegetable broth
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 ½ tsp table salt
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 lime, cut into wedges for serving

1.      Cook rice in rice cooker according to package directions.
2.     Process tomatoes and onion until smooth and pureed, about 15 seconds. Transfer to 2 cup measuring cup. Remove ribs and seeds from 2 peppers, mince and set aside.
3.      Add oil to skillet and quickly sauté garlic and minced jalapenos, about 1 minute. Add rice and pureed tomatoes, tomato paste and salt. Slowly add in the vegetable broth until liquid is absorbed.
4.     Mince remaining pepper and stir into rice with the chopped cilantro. Serve immediately with lime wedges.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

PCSing: Follow the Move

We all knew it was coming – we cannot drive anywhere on base without seeing the trucks with the crates. You cannot attend anything – a school event, a social function, go to the post office/gym/commissary (military grocery store) without someone asking “When are you moving?” 

Some in our household are dealing with this impending change better than others. 

Mid-May to the end of August marks the height of the military PCS-Season (Permanent Change of Station). Military personnel and their families all over the world are packing out and moving on.

In a delusional effort to feel like I have some sort of control over this process a friend and I attended the Moving Workshop provided here on base. In general it was helpful, if nothing else to jumpstart me into my pre-move anxiety phase which runs in tandem with my pre-move insomnia phase. As the photo shows there are more than a few pieces to the moving puzzle – and moving, it is. In a world that has rules and regulations for just about everything a military move is very organic, requiring one to acquire the “que sera sera” mentality. If you’ve been following my posts at all you probably are already clued in … the “whatever will be will be” attitude is foreign to my genetic makeup. My Gumby is out, a reminder for me to be “ever flexible.” But after 12 moves, embarking on my 13th has left me stiff and it’s much harder to be as nimble as I was say on move no. 3 (from Alameda to San Diego) or no.4 (San Diego to Rhode Island). I have to warm up a lot longer.

OCD Phase
When it comes to moving my recessive OCD trait comes storming back, dormant for the last three years it is well rested and ready to get to work. I obsessively organize and purge – much to my family’s dismay. Everything is on the chopping block. If it’s getting packed on this end then I’ll be unpacking it on the other and putting said item somewhere … it makes you evaluate and consider the worthiness of all your possessions. The process has already begun in our house. I am armed in full battle gear with a trash can, donation bag and a ruthless eye for what is deemed essential. I have lists and stickies everywhere – on kitchen cabinets, on door jambs going into rooms, medicine cabinets – all in an effort to make sure I do not forget some essential item. 

Tums are my friend.
The packers and movers will be showing up at our military quarters in a few weeks – packing our HHG (House Hold Goods) into crates which will then be sealed, signed  and shipped to the U.S. and my stomach turns at the thought. The distinct sound of packing tape ripping off it's roll to seal up our boxes used to signal change to me and I'll be honest, a bit of excitement of what new adventures would lie ahead. The mantra years ago was "change is good." Now when I hear it, it sets off a PTSD reaction as I go in search of the Tums. It will take eight weeks for our possessions to travel half way around the world. Eight weeks going from a home, to a crate, to a ship, to a truck and to home again. It takes a lot of coordination both on the part of the military and civilians who orchestrate moving military members each summer. It takes a lot of patience, coordination and faith for the families that prepare for a major upheaval as they move from one location to another. 

Some moves are better than others – it is time to go, move on and everyone is looking forward to the adventure ahead. You have faith that there will be that yet-to-meet friend at the other end who will lend a hand, share a laugh, offer a hug, clue you in on the ins and outs of your new location. Other moves are not that easy. There is the sense of loss, saying goodbye to friends you may never live in close proximity to again. Living on a military base heightens the awareness of moving on – with most everyone living here on two or three year orders the turnover is high during the summer PCS Season. For the last two years I have been one of the “left-behinds” – friends have moved on to their next duty stations. This year it’s my turn. Over the next few weeks I will share my stories – which I hope are just that and not sagas – of moving a family of five half-way around the world. I hope you will be able to laugh with me, nod your head in the irony of the situation at times and undoubtedly at least on my end there will be a few tears shed and shared. This moving stuff is not easy no matter how many you have under your belt, but it’s something anyone in the military family is intimately familiar with.

So until next time I will organize a bit more, purge as much as I can until I trick myself into thinking I have control and will repeat my new mantra daily which is to ... “breathe – just breathe.”

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Asakusa's Secret Garden

For only five weeks each year Asakusa's Senso-ji Temple shares its secret garden, Denbou-in, with the public. Built in the early 17th century, the garden design is attributed to architect, garden designer and tea master Kobori Enshu. The temple garden is a circuit style garden surrounding a small pond called Shinji-ike in the form of the Chinese character heart.

In times past this garden was open only to nobles – ordinary citizens were not allowed to enter the garden – but for five weeks each Spring the garden is open to the public. There is an entrance fee of 300 Yen which includes the museum and a cup of tea in the tea garden but the views with the blossoming cherry trees are what you should come for.

To get there from Yokosuka take the Keikyu from Yokosuka Chuo to the Asakusa (Tobu/Subway) station and exit A5. You will walk through Thunder Gate with it's massive red paper lantern and past the souvenir stalls that line Nakamise-dori. Once through past the stalls make your way toward the left, past the heritage craftsman stalls and you will see a building on your right. This is the entrance to Denbou-in. The entrance fee to the garden is 300 Yen.

Don't wait too long because like the cherry blossoms contained with the garden walls the opportunity to see this treasure won't last - the garden is open until May 7th from 10 to 4. This year a portion of the entrance fee will go to support the recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake.

If you want to make a day of it I would recommend getting to the garden when it opens at 10, once you've had a chance to feast your eyes on the beauty of the garden head to Aoi-Marushin for some outstanding Tempura. Located in Asakusa when you stand with the Thunder Gate behind you, you will turn right and walk about two city blocks. Aoi-Marushin is located on the same side of the street at Senso-ji. Hours are from 11a.m. to 8 p.m. they have an English menu and take major credit cards. Go to for the map (the restaurant on the map is the blue circle symbol to the left of the Thunder Gate entrance on Kaminarimon-Dori).

Want to make the most of your day in Tokyo? Once refreshed with excellent tempura fare head back to the subway line and transfer to the Ginza line and go one stop to Tawaramachi and hit the famous Tokyo Kitchen District, Kappabashi. Be sure to bring plenty of Yen, while some stores do take credit cards, many do not.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Yokohama Chinatown New Year Celebration

Anxious to cross off a few more items on my Japan bucket list, I jumped at the chance to head to the Chinese New Year celebration in Yokohama on Sunday.

Fearless Explorer inquired if we would like to join her and her family for lunch at the “Crack Noodle” restaurant followed by the New Year Celebration Parade with lion dances, dragon dances, firecrackers, etc.

"What time are we meeting you at the train platform?" was my reply

This was my third visit to Crack Noodles in two months. Bossy Explorer introduced me after our trip to Yamate in December and well … I’m addicted (therefore the name “Crack Noodle”). I don’t go in for the spicy fare, being a total spice whimp, but my husband seemed to enjoy the hotter side of things. Look for next post to include directions and photos to start your addiction.

The restaurant was packed and while we were eating we could hear the parade going by. Firecrackers and the deep beat of a drum from outside made it’s way into the room as we sat family style around a huge lazy susan on the traditional tatami mats.

With appetites satisfied we made our way down the very crowded street, initially we were disappointed, thinking we’d missed the parade but as the crowd started to gather at the end of the street we made our way, staked out a spot and had a prime location to view the parade.

I was fascinated by the very ornate costumes and did a little research – I believe these are Cai Shen and Che Kung, the gods of wealth and prosperity. The dragon and lion dances were great, dancing aggressively to the beat of the drum and cymbals these dances are meant to drive out evil spirits. Every so often a cart would come by and stop and set off firecrackers. It was loud and raucous – such a departure from the very civil, quiet Japanese Way – and so much fun!

For those living in Yokosuka, you have one more weekend to enjoy the celebration. For more information go to:

Popular Posts