Our Mt. Fuji climbing experience

I’ve stated before that climbing Fuji was on my “bucket list” and we knew this was the only time we could climb this year. When we arrived in Japan on November 2nd, 2012 I was mesmerized as we caught small glimpses of an overcast Fuji from the plane before we landed at Yokota, AFB.

The pure excitement I felt after we pulled into the Hokuroku parking lot can only be compared to a child in a candy store.  Being in the presence of this majestic natural wonder is very inspiring. In my heart and mind I’ve felt that once my husband and I successfully climbed Fuji I would be at peace. If we weren’t able to climb it during our time stationed here in Atsugi, Japan I would always regret it.

I quickly returned to reality when my dear husband and I had to find “the best” parking location. Why is that we can’t just park anywhere [like “normal” people do]?? Instead we spend 7.5 minutes factoring in the direction of the morning sun warming the vehicle despite owning a shiny, silver front dash sun shade. Or it’s essential that the location of our vehicle is in close proximity to the bus stop.

Speaking of that bus stop, there is a bus that will take you to the 5th station. The bus ride is about 45 minutes and the buses run every 30 minutes. The bus fare is round trip and valid for 2 days. Adults are 1,860¥ and children are 930¥.

2014 bus schedule

Sunday – Thursday departure from the bottom to the 5th station  runs from 0530-2200 
Sunday – Thursday leaving 5th station runs from 0620-2300

Fri & sat departure from the bottom to the 5th station runs from 0430-1830 
Fri & sat leaving the 5th station runs from 0520-2100

31aug departure from the bottom to the 5th station runs from 0530-1700
31aug leaving the 5th station runs from 0620-1750 

However, the bus schedule varies daily so make sure to read it carefully and plan your arrival time when a bus is running unless you want to spend 12,600¥ on a taxi like we did. Mt. Fuji provides this information and it is referred to as “period of passenger car traffic control.”

For those who react to money conversion as if their brain is frozen, like after inhaling a large Wendy’s frosty in 4 minutes, follow this simple rule.

Take of the last 2 digits from the amount.

So our 12,600¥ taxi ride was $126.

Keep in mind the exchange rate of yen to USD changes daily and today is .97$ = 1¥

After a very windy drive we arrived to the 5th station. I reluctantly handed the driver 12,600¥ when I felt 4,000¥ was sufficient.

We quickly and happily bought our hiking stick [Kongouzue in Japanese]. We bought the large stick for 1,500¥  and chose the one with the Mt. Fuji flag instead of the Japanese flag. There are many shops and some restaurants at the 5th station so this is a good place to get any last minute essentials.

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I quickly put on windbreaker pants over my 2 layers of shorts, pulled my hair back [it was very windy], put on my old favorite, falling apart orange Polo baseball hat. Layers are great because you can easily control your temperature level. You will want to have your head lamp on because once you start hiking nothing is lit [you will be walking through a forested area].

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Before you enter the hiking trail you will be asked to provide a donation of 1,000¥ per person. This is not optional! You will receive a stamped ticket and a pin after providing your cash donation.

We began our journey on the Yoshida trail around 9 pm and I quickly learned that I wasn’t able to turn and look at my handsome husband because doing so was blinding him with our LED head lamps. Whoops! Hard habit to break.

IMG_3395 Truthfully, I’m out of shape since the birth of our 2 circus members & was tiring quickly as we walked through the dark forest. My heart was racing as I took small sips of water from the camelback. My non-water buffalo husband didn’t need water. All I could think of was that I wasn’t going to make it to the summit and if I did half of our money would be spent on trips to the bathroom. You have to pay 200 to use the bathroom. 

 If my legs were burning I would stop for a few minutes. My husband patiently waited and then eventually it felt normal. We developed a pattern of switching who was the leader so it wasn’t this monotonous never ending hike. That is before we approached that darn zigzag area.

Uh those darn zigzags!! Imagine walking up a never ending zigzag path of volcanic gravel that is being kicked up by the people in front of you. This is the moment you will want to put a dust mask on if you’re not already wearing one. As I dug through my back pack I realized we’d left the pack of dust masks we picked up at 7-11 in the car! I blamed my hungry husband who was more excited to try Japanese snacks than put one thing in my bag. In a pinch of desperation he tied a towel around my face so I could stop inhaling the dusty nonsense. 

When we reached the first hut we were so excited to get our first stamp that we almost missed it because of the poor placement of signage. Naturally I approached others in the area about the stamp [Yakin in Japanese]. There was a stamp at this hut and we learned a valuable lesson to simply ask, even if our Japanese is minimal. 

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The zigzag path seemed never ending but once we reached the “slightly rocky” area I almost wished the entire trail was zigzags. The description of the Yoshida trail says that once you leave the zigag area it’s “slightly rocky.” Yeah right. BIG FAT LIE!! Luckily I am here to rescue you with the truth! Climbing Fuji is not a paved path you will be climbing over natural huge rocks/boulders that can shift and move. There are countless signs warning hikers of falling rocks. So up we went the rocky area motivated to get the yakin at the next hut. 

Having just added another yakin to our stick we continued up the mountain. Little did we know this would be the moment where everything changed. In the distance we could see lights from the next hut which to us appeared to closer than it actually was. Looking up at the illuminated summit was both inspiring and frustrating because you think you will be there in no time. The rocks at this stage of the climb were very huge and the journey was taking forever, but we continued on. I stood on a rock in the darkness of night just wishing I was asleep in my comfy, warm bed, but I knew that I wanted to finish what I had started. Then it started to mist. My handsome, but incredibly tired husband asked in a daze state, “Is this rain or snow?” It misted for a little bit which motivated me to climb faster as I gazed up to the hut wondering just how much longer we needed to climb. Then the sky opened above us and down came the freezing cold rain. It was awful. In a matter of minutes my clothes were soaked as I wasn’t wearing my windbreaker at this point. The black rocks were slippery and as the dense fog rolled in with the heavy rain I could barely see a foot in front of me despite wearing that super awesome LED headlamp. Resorting to prayer, I pleaded to God to make the rain stop. Moments later the rain was gone. Gracious, I couldn’t believe it had worked!! But about 5 minutes later the rain was back with a vengeance and we muttered some not so nice four letter words. I’m sorry God, but that rain of yours was unbearable. It made my body turn to ice, tired me out, broke my spirits and once we reached the hut the look of sadness on our faces was palpable.

We quickly found shelter among others in the outer area of the bathrooms. I have never experienced such a repulsive smell in my life and pray I don’t ever again. My husband was exhausted and at one point fell asleep on my shoulder as we stood, hugging to stay warm. As the wind howled and the rain came pounding down on this rickety wooden structure he looked at me with blood shot eyes and said there was no way he could continue up the mountain. We wouldn’t make it to the summit. I was overcome with tremendous disappointment but my mind knew the dangers of attempting to reach the summit would be perilous. Once I accepted this news my energy shifted into finding warm shelter away from the stench. I sent my husband to see if there was availability in the hut behind us not knowing what to expect. I noticed a hint of a smile as he sleepily walked toward me and told me to grab our stuff. 6,000¥ bought us shelter from the elements and a place for us to rest our heads for a few hours. Well my husband slept, I didn’t. That man can sleep anywhere! 

As we settled onto the top bunk I couldn’t hold back the urge to visit the bathroom. I woke my husband to inform him that I would be walking out in the rain to use the bathroom where we had first sought shelter. He grumbled something incoherent. 

Overall the hut was a bizarre experience. When we entered we had to remove our shoes due to the tatami mats and were instructed to remove all wet clothing which was thrown into a plastic bag. Sleeping on a bunk bed with other people we didn’t know was not comforting. I can’t sleep when my husband snores so imagine what it’s like sleeping in close proximity to snoring strangers! As you know the bathrooms are outside so regardless of the weather you have to put your shoes on and make the trek outside. If you want to eat or drink you have to do so in a common area as you’re not allowed to eat or drink anything in bed. So don’t tell anyone that I took a quick sip from the Camelbak to swallow two Advil in attempt to soothe my aging joints. 

Two hours later, at 5 am we were woken to leave the hut and see the morning sunrise. After minutes of staring at our bag of wet clothes I opted to wear the un-worn green fleece from my backpack that was slightly damp, but not soaked. As we put on our boots I caught glimpses of a blue, peach and orange sky. Our windbreakers were soaked but I followed my husbands advice to just put in on quickly and get outside. 

That moment when I saw the sunrise took away all of the pain we had endured just a few hours prior. It was majestic even though we were seeing it from the 8th station instead of the summit. We stood there gazing out at the white clouds, gorgeous colors in the sky and for a moment it seemed like heaven. 

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It had rained from 2-5 am {stopped right before sunrise} and despite the clear weather at sunrise my husband still wanted to begin our descent. I agreed as the Advil I took hours prior made me feel like I was in the body of an 85 year old. 

And so we started our descent, muttering more four choice words as we climbed over the boulders and avoided knee & ankle injuries. I’d heard horror stories from those who have lost toenails on the descent but we made it down & to the car with all 10 toenails & not a single blister. I gracefully fell twice on the sandy, gravelly zigzag area and have 2 glorious bruises on my legs. What a relief after all we endured on Mt. Fuji. 

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Luckily the buses were running that morning {no overpriced taxi for us} and 40 minutes later we wobbled to our car, which was the furthest from the bus stop! 

I left Fuji feeling like a failure for not making it to the summit or mailing our kids a post card from the post office. However I am grateful for the time my husband and I spent alone, reconnecting, even though it was raining & he was exhausted and grumpy. I know we did the best in our situation without having more rain gear. 

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One day when we are on a plane leaving Japan and I see Mt. Fuji for the last time, I’ll be content as I won’t have regrets that we didn’t climb but I am certain that I will mutter some four choice words under my breath. 

our hiking stick [one of a kind decor]

our hiking stick [one of a kind decor]

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Mt Fuji | What to pack

In my research before my husband’s and my climb I came across numerous Fuji packing lists. Each list included essential items and then optional/additional gear. I have compiled a major list so if I’ve listed something you might not want to take that’s your decision. I’ve also included specifics of what gear we took, not that you need to buy that particular brand but it’s always helpful to see what worked for someone else.

  • Back pack [my husband and I each carried one. Mine is by Swiss Gear & can hold a laptop. We purchased it at Office Max prior to our PCS to Japan to hold all over paperwork & I highly recommend it.]
  • Camel back [I carried our 70 oz one which is equivalent to 2L. I filled it before we left and it will hold 3 1/2, 16.9 oz bottles of water]
  • Extra water [some posts said to carry 1-4 L of water per person. I felt this was a personal decision & my daily water intake is always higher than my husband’s. I loaded 13, 16.9 oz water bottles in my husband’s backpack {hey he said he wanted to carry it}. Those 13 bottles were 220 oz = 5 L. We refilled the camel back 2 times and went through 5 bottles on the mountain. Keep in mind you have to pay 200¥ to use the bathrooms & won’t want to constantly have to go]
  • First aid kit [assortment of band aids, alcohol wipes, Neosporin, Advil, any other medications you take daily. You could also include heat patches, instant ice packs, ace bandages, etc]
  • Moleskin [the Nex Depot sells a pack of 22 pre-cut moleskin patches, perfect to prevent blisters. I thought I would need this but was surprised when I didn’t and walked away without any blisters on my feet]
  • Canned oxygen [We bought 2 cans locally in town so we didn’t have to pay 1,000-1,500¥ for it on the mountain. We didn’t use either bottle as we took small breaks to allow our bodies to adjust to the altitude.] 
  • Sunscreen
  • Chap-stick [Climbing up Fuji you can experience awful winds.. I bought this at the NEX] 
  • Sunglasses [I wore mine at night to keep the dust out of my eyes]
  • Head lamp [I purchased ours at the NEX Depot but they also sell them at the NEX Home store]
  • Deodorant 
  • Extra batteries for the head lamp [our type takes AAA batteries]
  • Bandanna [to tie over your mouth if you opt to not use a face mask]
  • Face masks [to keep the dust out of your mouth. This was one of the items we picked up at 7/11 on our way to Fuji but we accidentally left them in the car. Luckily I was able to buy just one at a mountain hut for 100¥]
  • Gloves to protect your hands from climbing over rocks [I used a pair of fast fit mechanix gloves purchased at the NEX Depot]
  • Hiking boots [I bought this pair of men’s Columbia hiking boots at the Atsugi NEX last summer. I’m a size 10 in women’s, but my size 9 boots are a perfect fit]
  • Sneakers [my husband wore his new balance sneakers and didn’t complain of any issues with traction or discomfort]
  • Low cut ankle socks [Once again I go to the men’s section.. Men’s socks will give me more room than a woman’s sock and are usually more cushioned in my opinion. I purchased the Under Armour Heatgear Trainer socks in a size large. They are sold in a pack of 3 & come in white or black. These were the perfect fit and super comfortable. These are sold at the Atsugi Nex]
  • Heavy duty tall hiking socks [I purchased the Under Armour Hitch Heavy Cushion Boot sock which is also sold in the men’s section at the NEX. It’s a single pair of boot socks which was enough for me. I loved the thickness of the sock and loved how it didn’t have an itchy wooly feel. I wore these over the white ankle socks and turned the top of the sock down over my tied laces to take place of boot gaiters
  • Extra socks [placed in Ziploc bags] 
  • Sports bra [take an extra in a Ziploc bag] 
  • Extra pair of underwear 
  • Rain gear [coat, pant, poncho] 
  • Hand warmers 
  • Extra shirts/fleece’s
  • Extra shorts
  • A small towel or two to dry yourself or wipe away sweat 
  • Hair Ties 
  • Face wipes 
  • Bathroom wipes [an alternative to toilet paper & you can find these at the NEX in the travel section]
  • Clorox hand sanitizing wipes 
  • Wisp’s [because having fresh brushed teeth after being awake for hours makes you feel like a human again. You can find these at the Commissary]
  • An assortment of energy bars [we took Power Bar’s, Pure Protein Bars, Cliff Bar’s, Luna Bars & Kind Bars. We loved this Luna bar & this Kind bar].
  • Gallon Ziploc bags to bring all our trash home as there aren’t trash cans on the mountain 
  • 5,000¥ in coins for stamps & the bathrooms 
  • 500,000 for tolls, bus, taxi, souvenirs, huts, any emergency situation [we spent money on a taxi as the buses weren’t running at 8 pm Friday night when we arrived & in the middle of a downpour we spent 3,000¥ per person to be warm in a hut. It’s better to have more money than not enough because the last thing you want to face is a problem like a 12,600 taxi ride and not being able to afford it.]
  • Id’s, drivers licenses & medical insurance cards [if you have a local Japanese hospital insurance card make sure to bring that in the event of an emergency. I brought just the ID’s I needed instead of my entire wallet.]
  • We left a change of clothes in our car as well as comfortable footwear. I was so relieved when I was able to take off my boots and put on flip flops. 

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So you want to climb Mt. Fuji? | Planning, directions & tolls

One of the perks of being stationed in Japan is the opportunity to climb Mt. Fuji. When the weather is clear, we are incredibly fortunate to have daily views of Mt. Fuji from our apartment on base. Seeing it daily has made the desire to climb it even more of a “must do/bucket list”.  Besides how many people do you know who can say they’ve climbed a UNESCO World Heritage Site?

view of Mt. Fuji from our apartment in December 2012

view of Mt. Fuji from our apartment in December 2012

snowy Mt. Fuji on 3.10.2014

snowy Mt. Fuji on 3.10.2014

Climbing season is from July – to the end of August/beginning of September. When you decide you want to climb Mt. Fuji my first advice is to plan. Plan for everything you will need to buy, borrow, etc. The official Fuji climbing site has information about the trails, weather updates, other important information. I highly recommend looking over this to determine what trail you want to hike, find driving directions to each trail head, etc. 

The first thing is to decide the date you want to climb. For us this was determined by my husband’s busy schedule. Unfortunately the day we climbed was during the Bon Odori holiday so the mountain was more crowded than normal. On a positive note we didn’t have any traffic driving towards Fuji as it was going the opposite direction toward Tokyo.

Next you will need to decide if you want to do a day climb or a night climb. Keep in mind that if you do a day climb you will be descending the mountain that night. If you climb at night you will be descending the next morning. Our decision was simply based around childcare for our 2 small circus members. We felt that a night climb would be the easiest for a sitter since our kids would be asleep for 10 of those hours. Plus we wanted the experience of seeing the sunrise from the top of majestic Fuji-San. We decided to begin our climb at 9 pm Friday night and allotted 8 hours to reach the summit. 

I have heard from people who did a day climb that they had to leave at 3 am to drive to Fuji. I felt that leaving at this hour would have been very unfair to a sitter and confusing for our kids in the morning. I also heard countless stories about the blazing sun & how frustrating it is to look up to the summit & feel you are nearly there.  In my experience a night climb has it’s own frustrations as you look up at the lit zig zag of huts and the summit which appear closer than it is. 

There are 4 climbing trails on Fuji and my husband and I decided on the Yoshida Trail. Since this is one of the most popular trails we knew there would be many huts, which meant more stamps for our hiking stick.

You can purchase the hiking stick [known in Japanese as Kongouzue| at many shops at the 5th station. The short stick is 1,000¥ and the large stick is 1,500¥. We purchased one long hiking stick so we had more room for stamps. The stamps vary in price but the average is 300¥. It is a wonderful memento of our journey in attempting to conquer Mt. Fuji. 

While we didn’t anticipate needing to visit the First Aid Station we felt that choosing a trail with 2 stations [at the 7th & 8th station] was a wise choice, because anything can happen. We never visited the First Aid Station & I hope you don’t need to either. 

In preparation for our hike I printed the trail map & laminated it so in the event of bad weather we could still use it. Can you tell I enjoy any opportunity to use my laminator?

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As with most things in the Navy schedules always change, but my husband and planned what time we would leave, driving time, allotted a certain amount of time to climb and when we anticipated to be back home. We decided to leave at 5:30 pm on Friday night, however the mister walked through the door at 5:10 pm after a long day at work in the heat.  Twenty minutes later he was dressed to go & I had shoved a few more things in our backpacks and we kissed the kids & ran out the door.

Did I mention this was our first date in 21 months? That’s 21 months we haven’t left the house without the kids in tow. We really needed this quiet time.  As we were driving off base we looked at each other and said, “It’s so quiet without the kids. This feels weird.” We quickly reassured ourselves that the kids were happy & safe with the sitter in our home.

quick selfie at the longest stop light in town

quick selfie at the longest stop light in town

If you’re on Atsugi base stop by the MWR Tour office to pick up a map with directions to Mt. Fuji. We took the Tomei Expressway and despite reading the map carefully, highlighting it, asking a friend for reassurance that we were going the correct way and pulling up GPS on my iPhone there were several times we had to pull over in the striped area before getting off the exit.

If you have ever been to Fujikyu Highland [the amusement park]

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& have a pin to either of those locations you will know that it’s about a 90 minute to 2 hour drive. Friday night our drive was an hour & 45 minutes. We did make a quick pit stop at 7/11 for some car snacks! 

You’ll spend about 30 miles on the Tomei expressway [1st toll, 1,460¥] and then take the Gotemba IC [Interchange], exit 7. Also good to note that the premium shopping outlets are at this exit.

You’ll then take the Higashi Fuji Goko Toll Road [2nd toll, 530¥] and enter a long tunnel. Keep in mind to follow signs towards Lake Yamanaka.

You will take exit 3 to the Fuji Yoshida IC [3rd toll, 530¥]. Make a right turn at the traffic light, go straight and you will see a sign on the right hand side for the Fuji Hokuroku Parking area.

So a quick recap on tolls: 

1st toll  1,460¥

2nd toll  530¥

3rd toll  530¥

For the first toll you will be greeted by a person in a booth but the last 2 tolls are deposited into machines and it will show you what denomination bills and coins are accepted. We used 5,000¥ on for one of the toll machines to get smaller bills.

If you take the same route back to Atsugi the tolls are the same as above, so round trip is 5,040¥.  

The blog is back!

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Hello, I’m back!! It has quite a while since my last post, but I have been quite busy since we settled into our new apartment {you might remember that was AFTER our 55 days in the Navy Lodge} and accepted the challenge to make stark military housing a home {hello linoleum floors}. I have successfully won that challenge, so stay tuned for more posts!

We’ve enjoyed every moment Daddy is home and have explored Japan, played, watched movies {has anyone else seen Planes: Fire & Rescue 5 times?!?!?], park hopped, built mega train tracks and been “Princess Polite” during tea parties.

This past week our family was reunited when Daddy’s boat, the USS George Washington came home for a deployment break. This is his 5th deployment since our oldest was born in 2010 and it has been amazing to watch the kids learn about deployments. As their comprehension has increased at the age of 3 & 4, I have worked to make sure they have tangible reminders of Daddy throughout the house.

We had the “Daddy chair” at the dining room table & the kids would take turns sitting with Dad. Ok, most of the time they fought about whose turn it was to sit with Dad, but overall it was the best idea I came up with.

I put an old NWU blouse over the seat back of our chair and tied the sleeves in a loose knot in the back. The 8 x 10 photo is printed on heavy duty card stock which I then laminated. If you don’t have a laminator or access to one you can skip this step, but this protected Daddy’s photo from a ton of kisses.  Just tape the photo to the chair & imagine your better half is joining you for dinner and supporting your insistence that your preschooler eat one bite of peas. 

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Our oldest slept with one of Dad’s old NWU blouses on his pillow so felt Daddy was with him as he slept.

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We created a “Daddy wall” on a door that otherwise would have been just a plain door. We taped photos of Daddy’s boat, his plane {the e-2 Hawkeye}, photos from previous homecomings, a list of things to tell Daddy, a countdown calendar & a map on which we kept track of his port calls.  Each morning the kids were excited to see another check on the countdown calendar as they knew that Daddy was one day closer to coming home.

USS George Washington

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The day before he came home we hung welcome home banners & red, white & blue balloons!

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I’ve been asked by many people where our vinyl welcome home signs are from and I’m happy to say they are from build a sign. I designed both signs by choosing to customize them rather than ordering a stock design option.

We baked his favorite cookies | triple madness cookies {they have Andes mints in them!!}

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And when it was finally time for Daddy to get off the boat there we were, with open arms & smiles on our faces.

10580232_10100952988879753_7976178085523990514_nAnd this year I saved our glorious van from the car wash!

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la la laundry

laundry. some hate it. some love it. 

but it needs to be done.

unless you were “that” girl that lived in my dorm freshman year of college. 

you know her. she’s the one who would buy new underwear at victoria’s secret instead of washing her dirty pairs. honestly, i was surprised she even wore underwear! i don’t think she appreciated my comments about her laundry skills, or lack thereof. 

fast forward to life in the navy lodge & communal laundry rooms on each floor. 

your new laundry room

your new laundry room

if you were fortunate enough to escape communal laundry then clearly you’re a Davidson graduate & lacking degrees in color sorting, master of detergents & water temperature. however i wouldn’t bet more than a quarter that you possess skills like ironing or sewing a button on your crisp Brooks Brother’s shirt. 

in our circus i’m the head of the laundry. and i’m sure there are many other mom’s who are the ringleader of their very own laundry circus. i can’t help but wonder if there are any trustworthy dads that have earned laundry privileges as they have complete knowledge of wash cycles & don’t intentionally put black socks in a load of bleached whites. did i just describe your husband? my apologizes. just put him back on trash duty. pronto!! 

i did our laundry daily in order to keep the pile smaller than mt fuji. i miss doing it daily & i miss my own machine. here in the lodge i’ve done our laundry every 2-3 days.

the problem is finding the best time of the day to do your laundry. this isn’t a competition but i will remove your clothes from the dryer & set them on the counter. you know the ones that you left in there overnight! 

be ready for dryer hogs

be ready for dryer hogs

each floor has it’s own laundry room. luckily our room {on the 2nd floor} is right across from the laundry room so it’s very convenient when i need to check on stuff & start another load. 

our room from laundry

laundry is just across from our room

our floor has 3 washers & 2 dryers, however one has been out of service for about a month now. the 1st floor has 2 washers & dryers & the 3rd floor has 3 sets of each.  i & many other women i’ve talked can’t comprehend the lodge’s reasoning of the difference of washers & dryers on each floor. you’d think they’d make things easy & have the exact same number on all of the floors. not so much! 

broken dryers are never fun

broken dryers are never fun

each laundry room has a vending machine with overpriced snacks & drinks. but it’s better than nothing. 

get candy bars at the commissary! they're cheaper!

get candy bars at the commissary! they’re cheaper

behind the laundry room door you’ll also find a laundry supply vending area. i checked each floor & their products vary so checking each floor before buying if you need a particular product as they’re not all the same.

this is a great option if you’ll only be doing 1-3 loads & don’t want to buy a bottle of detergent & or softener. when you first get to the lodge i recommend stopping by the laundry room to see if anyone has “gifted” a 1/2 full bottle of detergent or a box of dryer sheets. this happens weekly as people are always moving into their homes. you’ll find any leftover laundry products on the far right hand side of the shelf to the left of the dryers. 

laundry vending

laundry vending

the laundry machines operate on quarters only so make sure to stock up on them! when you run out there are change machines in the laundry rooms on the 1st & 3rd floor, but NOT the second. once again, don’t ask me why.

just a helpful hint: save yourself time & go to the machine on the 1st floor as the one of the 3rd is always out.

the machine takes $1 & $5 bills, USD only, so make sure to have large bills broken down before you need change.

before we realized there were change machines i walked to parcheezi’s pizza {just across the parking lot} & the friendly staff would exchange dollars into quarters even though i wasn’t buying pizza. 

quarters heaven

quarters heaven

there is a bulletin board to the left of the dryers with basic emergency information but new fliers are always put up so make sure to check & see if there is anything interesting.

laundry bulletin

laundry bulletin

you might find your new car from someone who is PCS’ing or get information about an upcoming class. 

cars for sale!

cars for sale!

the laundry machines aren’t fancy, because they’d probably be broken simply by being touched! the ones provided get the job done. simply load your clothes in the machine, add detergent, adjust the water temperature, close the lid, put 4 quarters in the slots & push the handle in & the washing machine will automatically start. 

if you can’t understand the above mentioned instructions remember you’re a Davidson graduate & call your mom & cry. 

the simplest washing machine

the simplest washing machine

you’ll know things are a go when the box to the left of “in use” is green. the color will shift to the appropriate cycle but the wash cycle is about 28 minutes. be kind and set a timer on your iPhone & remove your clothes & start the dyer cycle. 

dryers take 2 quarters & the cycle is about 30 minutes. select the temperature & make sure to press start after pushing the money in as the dryer doesn’t automatically start. for those who went to Davidson “the dryer doesn’t automatically start!”

don't make the dryer a complicated process

don’t make the dryer a complicated process

if you open the door to check the drying status you’ll need to make sure to press  start again once the door is closed. be sure to set a timer for the dryer & remove your clothes when they’re scalding hot & dry.

for $2.99 a set of 2 spiky dryer balls eliminate dryer sheets & get things super fluffy!

a cup of bliss

hi there. i hope you’re enjoying the 4 ring circus. 

it seems that i almost always drink while i write. while i do reference “sanity savers” quite a bit, that’s not the particular beverage i’m referring to.

if you were in my home i’d offer you a drink. 

depending on the season i might serve you a nice tall glass of sweet tea, 

or a margarita, 

or a cold beer,

or one of my incredible frozen mudslides {which might have you falling out of your chair}

but it’s getting cold outside, 

and even though it’s not “technically” winter,

any chilly or breezy day is a great excuse for hot chocolate! 

and those who know me will understand, 

that i’ve been enjoying a cup or two, or three 

of decadent hot chocolate. 

all while fending off 2 weaselly toddlers waiting to wrap their little mouths around mommy’s precious mug

{brief history about this little mug: he was rescued from the clearance section of target & was intended to be used only for our 5 remaining weeks in virginia beach. however, our attachment grew quite strong & i was overcome with extreme guilt at the thought of abandoning him at goodwill. this guy braved many conveyor belts after being tightly wrapped in a confiscated hotel towel as i’d failed him miserably by not allowing him suitable space in any of our 5 carry-on’s. as i unwrapped him from the towel i redeemed myself & promised him a seat of his very own from there on out}

perfect whipped cream garnished with sprinkles

perfect whipped cream garnished with sprinkles

for me it’s all about the whipped cream 

ok and the sprinkles… 

oh and do i have a collection of sprinkles!! 

who needs starbucks when i’m this talented?!?

indulge in a cup of bliss & don’t be afraid to add more whipped cream after it’s all gone! 

“what’s for dinner?”

with stays in the navy lodge of up to 60 days you’ll eat your share of Dunkin donuts, McDonald’s, Popeye’s, subway, taco bell & pizza. when you’re sick of fast food, which  will more than likely be in 4 days, you’ll be the chef! 

happy meals won't make you happy for long

happy meals won’t make you happy for long

enter. in. same meaning.

enter. in. same meaning.

one of the most frustrating things about staying in the Navy Lodge is attempting to cook in the small kitchenette. however the navy lodge does provide many kitchen items  during your stay.

you’ll have a mini fridge the size of beer keg, a 2 burner stove, microwave & toaster. in your kitchen you will find  a drying rack, 3 pots, 1 pan, 3 glass mixing bowls, a colander, cutting board, a glass measuring cup, plastic spatula, 2 mixing spoons {1 is slotted}, bread & paring knives, a can opener, corkscrew, potholder, utensils {4 of each: knife, fork, regular & soup spoons}, 4 large hi ball glasses, 4 small rocks glasses, 4 mugs, 4 dinner & salad plates & 4 cereal bowls.

deep sink

deep sink

2 burner stove

2 burner stove

tip#  ask the front desk for an extra fridge. if they are not booked full they might be able to put another in your room & if they sell out of rooms they’ll let you know when they’ll remove the extra fridge from your room. 

with 2 kids on amoxicllian for ear infections our tiny fridge was packed with milk & 4 bottles of amoxicillian. so instead of playing tetris to get the item at the back of the fridge out, i kindly asked for another fridge. 2 weeks of more fridge space made life much easier. lesson learned: it never hurts to ask for something. 

i’ll add my personal recommendations of what you’ll need & might want to buy while staying in the lodge. adjust these to suit you & your families needs as every family is different. i love to cook & you may not, therefore you might not need to buy anything. 

one word about the pots & pans the lodge provides: they are NOT nonstick! if you like food sticking, burning and scraping the bottoms continue to use them. for us this predicament was easily solved by purchasing a 12.5 in nonstick skillet for $21.97 on black friday. my husband & i decided this will be our “PCS” skillet. so once our household shipment has been packed we’ll continue to use this & pack it in one of our checked bags with our other various “PCS kitchen items”. while this may seem unnecessary it’s a simple way to make this entire process easier.

our “PCS” skillet

for about $13 i bought 5 3/4 in chef knife {by chicago cuttlery} that could easily serve as a form of self defense {if need be}. i chose a chef knife for it’s versatility as you can easily chop vegetables, cut through a cantaloupe & de-bone a chicken. i love the streamlined stainless look & the absence of the blade underneath the handle. i get creeped out by all the little bits of food & what not that get stuck under those handles. you never can really know if a knife is clean. with this one you most certainly can. it does need to be handwashed, but all GOOD knives need to be handwashed. any good chef knows that! 

perfect 7 1/2 in chef knife!

perfect 5 3/4 in chef knife!

sharp blade

sharp blade

the kitchenette doesn’t have a pair of scissors so make sure to buy a pair. i save the education box tops for my 4th grade teaching sister & was tired of ripping them off packages. the kitchen shears i bought at the nex have a built-in bottle opener which will come in handy.  

 buy paper towels, paper napkins & liquid dish soap at the commissary or mini mart. after using the dishes a few times we switched to paper plates. both my husband & i were tired of having to handwash everything!!  we put the humongous drying rack in the bottom of one of the cabinets as it took up half of the counter, literally. when we need to wash dishes we just put a clean bath towel on the counter as it takes up less space.

best paper plates as they're strong enough to withstand cutting food into tiny pieces

best paper plates as they’re strong enough to withstand cutting food into tiny pieces

naturally i bought a bottle of evoo {extra virgin olive oil}, old bay, salt & pepper grinders & garlic powder. taco seasoning packets {get the reduced sodium type} are great as a little goes a long way, just dump the excess in a ziploc bag. the packets of spices in the spice aisle will be your friend as it eliminates the need to buy entire jars {wait to do that once you’re settled & know how much space you have}. 

seasoning "staples"

seasoning “staples”

lastly get a bottle of liquid antibacterial hand soap. to make things easy i bought 2 bottles: one for the kitchen & one for the bathroom. in fact when i stay in hotels i always bring a bottle of liquid hand soap for the bathroom as i can’t stand the greasy residue from bar soap. please tell me i’m not the only one who does so. my mom thought i was nuts! 

it's the little things like soap that you tend to forget

it’s the little things like soap that you tend to forget

the downside to the kitchen area is the 1 electrical outlet to the right of the sink. naturally with 2 toddlers grabbing everything in sight i’d like to plug my laptop or cell phone on the counter to charge but we’re not able to.

binders

the left counter is home to binders of important paperwork. our bar “sanity savers” is on the far right. the nex mini mart is the only place on base to buy alcohol. they have a decent selection of liquor, wine & beer. if you like limes in your mixed drinks i highly recommend buying the small lime juice bottle {which you can find in the juice aisle of the commissary} rather than fresh limes. this bottle is great when space is minimal but make sure to buy fresh limes for your dad’s vodka tonic when he comes to visit.

sanity savers

sanity savers

don't worry dad, i'll have the real deal when you visit

don’t worry dad, i’ll have the real deal when you visit

 you’re limited to what you can cook, but with patience you can make some great meals.  

my challenge is coming up with a nutritious dinner that will please 2 toddlers, but not require 20 ingredients & constant trips to the commissary. one can only disguise chicken in so many ways.

since you’ll be very limited on space & the first thing to forgo is refrigerated condiments. now is the time to create your stockpile

IMG_0587

packets of ketchup from McDonald’s

dipping sauces from Popeye’s & McDonald’s

hot sauces from taco bell

honey for hot tea from popeyes

 sugar from dunkin donuts

straws! McDonald’s is the only place that has bendy straws which make drinks less messy for kids. i prefer Baskin Robbins’ pink straws simply because they’re the widest.

straws galore

straws galore

plastic utensils {as it’s one less thing to wash}

 as a former flight attendant i’m very used to taking extra freebies from fast food restaurants, hotels, etc. my husband might wasn’t used to this but he’s quick to tell me when we’re running low on bendy straws. when you’re living in temporary lodging i take quantities i know i’ll use, so it’s not a waste. i’m not the first mom with this mentality. we’ve all done it!

the commissary is closed every monday so make sure to plan ahead! if you have a stroller you will have a new appreciation for it despite the previous months of previous extreme profanity over it’s steering & turn radius.  

if you’re past the stroller days keep your mouth shut & kindly refrain from the “oh i remember those days! it’ll get easier honey” when you see stroller pushing mama completely clear off a display rack as she attempts to make a wide right hand turn.

if we had it our way you’d have to carry your groceries back to the Lodge, but luckily for you, the nice people at the commissary do exist.  simply leave your military id with the cashier & you can take your shopping cart back to the lodge. your id will be returned to you once you bring the cart back. 

grocery shopping, the easy way

grocery shopping, the easy way

invest in mommy hooks for your stroller

invest in mommy hooks for your stroller

IMG_0415

groceries galore

i hope my meal suggestions are helpful as monotony of the same meals gets old very quick!

one quick {sorry this is NOT going to be quick!!} word about milk on the island, be prepared for differences. who knew cows & their milk could be so different? i’m still angry that i was deceived as a little girl as i though chocolate milk came from brown cows. on the east coast, in Virginia beach i mainly bought our milk at harris teeter, so generally i bought harris teeter brand milk. for quite some time we purchased organic horizon & stoneyfield. our kids started drinking cows milk at the age of 1 & neither showed any sign of intolerance or an allergy.

my husband & i were shocked when our daughter broke out in hives after drinking milk once we arrived in Japan. we gave her Benadryl, took pictures to document it in case it happened again, kept a journal of what she ate in hopes we might pinpoint the trigger, checked the milks expiration date & watched her closely. we were perplexed, our son wasn’t having this reaction, perhaps it was just her little bodies way of dealing with the change? that’s the silliest thing i’ve heard of. 

throughout our milk “detective” days i noticed a very different smell from the 2 major brands the commissary sells. your choices are california sunshine milk & darigold. we first bought the california sunshine milk as the darigold shelves were completely empty {i’d later learn why}.

the 2 choices

milk choices

put bluntly the California sunshine milk has a strong smell that it’s expired even when the expiration date is weeks away. at first i thought my nose was too sensitive so i had my husband check it & he had the same reaction. everytime we went to buy the darigold they were sold out. everytime! 

finally we snagged a 1/2 gallon of darigold & were pleased that it didn’t have that “bad milk” smell. i’m going to regret putting this advice out there, but if you only want to buy darigold milk you’ll need to stock up every few days. however, i won’t be responsible for the claws that come out at the milk counter! 

after a visit to the doctor i was even more frustrated that we wouldn’t be able to determine a true milk allergy since our base isn’t able to perform allergy testing. we were advised to switch to organic milk & see if the issue stopped.  so despite the high cost we made the switch and after a few hive free days we knew it was something in the california sunshine milk. we don’t consider it an allergy, perhaps more of an intolerance that her body reacted badly to. or maybe a virus she picked up on the plane that came out whenever she drank milk. who knows. 

switch to organic if need be

switch to organic if need be

don't worry, they sell lactaid here

don’t worry, they sell lactaid here

after 2 weeks of straight organic milk, mom knowledge told me to switch her to darigold. mom knowledge also told me there’d be no reason to worry about hives. but just to be safe i had the benadryl ready. this mom was right. 🙂 

buy this milk

buy this milk

in order to to make sure we don’t end up in hive-ville anymore i texted my husband a photo of the “mom approved milk”. darigold only comes in 2 gallon paper boxes {you know the plasticized kind} but their boxed 2 pack is cheaper than the individual 1/2 gallons.

i certainly hope my “milk clarification” helps you & your family with any potential milk issues that may arise. 

breakfast ideas: bagels & cream cheese, english muffins with peanut butter, preserves {jam doesn’t exist in my world}, or butter & honey, pop tarts, muffins {warmed in the microwave}, pecan rolls, donuts from baskin robbins, cereal with milk, oatmeal, instant or stove top. add raisins & brown sugar & you’re all set!, frozen waffles reheated in the toaster with maple syrup, yogurt- simply go-gurt {you know the kind in the tubes} takes up less fridge space but can be messy so make sure to have an extra change of clothes ready, granola- this can easily be added to yogurt, fruit- our kids adore cantaloupe to the point that they ate an entire melon in one day!  other great choices are apples, oranges & bananas. strawberries & berries are very expensive here.

coffee- there is a coffee maker in the room, but i haven’t used it. during & since my days as a flight attendant i won’t use a hotel coffee maker. nor will i share my horror stories. since my husband isn’t a java fan,  the easiest route has been Starbuck’s’  bottled coffee frappuccino’s or their via iced coffee packets. plus the via packs are perfect to throw in my purse or diaper bag. 

not as good as the real deal, but good enough

not as good as the real deal, but good enough

each morning the navy lodge has complimentary hot Starbucks coffee & tea in the lobby from 0800-1200. since drinking hot tea while pushing the kids in the stroller isn’t ideal i grab a few bags of that chugga-lugga-lipton so i can enjoy a cup in our room while the kids are sleeping.  

perfect remedy for a sore throat

perfect remedy for a sore throat

lunch ideas:  peanut butter & raspberry preserve sandwiches on whole wheat bread, all natural applesauce {we love the squeezable packets, but the individual cups are also great when space is limited!} simply pop one in the fridge the night before or if your kids are like mine they’ll eat it room temp, gold-fish {my kids love dipping their fish into peanut butter}, grilled cheese, soups {campbells microwave varieties are my favorite as i don’t have to wash a pan}, ham & cheese slices, string cheese, baby carrots, bell pepper slices, apple slices 

snacks {varies based on lunch}

cookies, cheez its, goldfish, pretzels, fruit, pudding 

dinner 

rotisserie chicken from the commissary 

the easiest meal

the easiest meal

shake & bake chicken {done on the stove since you can’t bake it!} 

IMG_0263

IMG_0715

shake & bake chicken, rice & green beans

pork chops 

steak on the grille {the Lodge has an outside grill you can use} 

red beans & rice 

rice {the microwavable bags or individual cups} 

rice has never been easier

rice has never been easier

macaroni & cheese 

pasta with butter & parmesan cheese 

spaghetti 

frozen ravioli

quesadillas, tacos or fajitas 

chips & salsa 

frozen vegetables {peas & corn are staples in our house}

fresh green beans or broccoli {they’re both cheap & always fresh}

shrimp scampi

all you need is a few staple ingredients

all you need is a few staple ingredients

voila shrimp scampi!

voila shrimp scampi!

due to the single control in the fridge it’s quite difficult impossible to keep ice cream frozen. unless you enjoy melted ice cream, make your life easier & get ice cream at baskin robbins or get a hot fudge sundae {without nuts, as they never have them} at McDonald’s.

 don’t forget that ever so necessary adult beverage. you need your sanity! 🙂 

mudslide milkshake

mudslide milkshake

 

1st trip to the Daiei

after a week & a day of walking around base as we’re car-less till we get our Japanese drivers licenses i decided it was time to go explore the town {what’s right outside of base}.

mount fuji in the distance from base

 i met an officers wife who told me there was a dollar store on the 3rd floor of the daiei. she must have sensed that i’d been confined by the walls of base for too long. i wondered if the daiei had produce as most of what’s sold at the commissary is outrageously expensive!!

so i buckled the kids into the smart car {our stroller} & off we went. i was excited about what we might see & i hoped they shared my excitement. is it possible for kids to get excited for things that aren’t toys?

i vaguely remember the last bit of our shuttle ride to our base so i felt confident with the area right outside base.

further up this street on the left hand side is wellcham’s, a car lot where many military people by cars. every time we’ve asked someone where to buy a car we’ve heard  wellcham’s. these cars come with a warranty unlike one you might buy in the “lemon lot”. plus they take care of paperwork & getting your temporary tags from the city hall which is a 40 minute drive from base.

when you get to the top wellcham’s will be on your left & you’ll cross the street to the right. you’ll then walk across the overpass & walk across the street & make a left. after walking a bit longer you’ll see the back of the daiei on the right.  keep walking & follow the path to the right & you’ll be at the entrance.

japanese people chain their bikes to racks out front but strollers are allowed inside.

the first thing you’ll see is the produce section on the right.

at the end of the produce department is the meat section. i didn’t buy any meat but i have heard that meats at the daiei are pricier than meat at the commissary. however the meat section at the commissary has signs posted of which items we previously frozen & shouldn’t be re-frozen.

past the meat section are many rows of other foods, like baked goods, soups, oils, seasonings,etc.

i thought i’d find a kid friendly Japanese snack for my littlest to try & remember seeing these sold at Target.

trying out 3 flavors

being a undecisive momma & since i never know what my kids will eat i bought 3 flavors so we could sample them all.  pocky also has an amazing almond crush flavor which is chocolate with crushed almonds. i kept those for myself!

my kids LOVE these thin chocolate dipped biscuits & i love that they’re not incredibly messy {only when the chocolate melts or if they grab them the wrong way}

i was craving something salty so off we went down the chip aisle

a great edamame snack!

lastly we went down an aisle that is close to my heart as it reminds me of my late Nana, a woman who traveled the globe & adored basmati rice!

you would have had a field day here

some of the bags were $30!

our first trip out was a success as i remembered how to get back to base!!

 

2 ear infections

before we arrived in japan i should have known we wouldn’t make it a week before needing to go to medical.

with the 2 little circus members fussy, running fevers, pulling at their ears & with runny noses i called medical to make an appointment.

parents diagnosis: ear infections.

so much for the lollipops & drinks we gave them during take off & landing. honestly, those lollipops were a sanity saver for the potentially disgruntled passengers seated near us.

it is possible to get a same day sick appointment but to better your chances call at 0730 when they open.

i was relieved to get them both appointments but bummed when i was told they were with different doctors. any mother understands my frustration. while i try my hardest to be super mom i can’t split my body in two.

so i accepted both appointments & naturally did the first thing that any rational wife would do, call her husband on his cell till he answers.

my husband was at work since he’d finished his check in & wasn’t pleased when i told him that he needed to meet me at medical for the kids appointments.

“you can’t take them yourself?”

hmm, how am i going to answer that ridiculous question when i’d just told him about the time scheduling.

 “no, i’ll see you at 1030!”

naturally he arrived AFTER vitals were started but came around the curtain at the critical moment when our son was crying as if he was being murdered while the corpsman “attempted” to get his pulse ox. why he insisted on taking it from his finger instead of his foot was beyond me. next time he’ll know better.

the situation increased to “daddy’s pissed level 3” when he & our son were escorted to an exam room but i wasn’t as our doctor was running late.

“what in the heck am i here for? their appointments aren’t at the same time!”

i smiled & opened ant smasher on my iPhone to entertain the kids.

men just don’t get it at times! please tell me yours the same way. i’m not the only one am i?

5 minutes after smashing ants & being forced to the waiting area i was informed that our room with “dr. late” was now available.

after a lack of pediatric ear loops to remove wax but enlarged lymph nodes “late dr” and i agreed to start antibiotics for an ear infection. this seemed like the best plan of action since a text from angry daddy read, “ear infection. pharmacy.”

i seriously love those text messages. would it kill him to write in a complete sentence!??!

waiting for amoxicillin

the wait at the pharmacy was the equivalent of 1 tom & jerry episode.

i kissed my now happy that-his-wife-booked-doctors-appointments-since-the-kids- have-ear-infections husband goodbye & he went back to work.

a few days later this little girl was feeling much better & so was daddy

the cutest budweiser girl

 

 

english google

one of the perks of staying in the Navy Lodge is free, secure, in room internet. there is a binder that tells you how to set it up & provides both the network keys & password.

however, once you go to google it will be in japanese. so all results for any searches or shopping will be in japanese.

in english please!

sorry but i don’t read, write or understand japanese.

i tried to fix it several times with absolutely no luck. remember my lack of patience?

while skyping with my mom i told her about the problem & as always she did her best to help. gotta love moms!

but when i tried to open google.com/usa it reverted back to japanese google.

why in the world does something like english google need to be sooo complicated! i understand technology but am not a full-time IT support help desk. i happily leave that job to someone else.

late one night, while the other circus members slept i talked with our daughter’s fairy god-mother on Facebook.

naturally i blurted out that i was in desperate need of help & sure enough she was willing to take on such a difficult task. i’m sorry i’m such an awful friend & demand help with my problems before asking how you are.

after logging into my google account & verifying that my settings were all in english she sent me this link.

FINALLY!

i’ve added it to my favorites bar so i won’t ever be without english google.

tip #24   add english google to your favorites so you won’t have to go through my ordeal

https://www.google.com/?hl=en

 

 

get ready for carpal tunnel

we arrived 3 days ago & today my husband began to check-in.

he went to his squadron, vaw 115, also known as the liberty bells.

vaw 115 {click for more information}

he then checked into psd where all money matters are handled. this is where you’ll submit your travel claims & make sure you’re getting any advance payments, tla reimbursement.

tip #22  make sure to save receipts for hotels & rental cars. food receipts aren’t accepted when you’re pcsing.

then the 4 ring circus walked to medical to begin the check in process which includes,  tricare, medical & dental.

all sponsor’s must be tricare prime, but dependants have an option to be tricare standard. back in the us the kids & i were tricare standard but it is incredibly easy to switch over to tricare prime.

all you need to do is go to the tricare office which is to the left from the medical building, fill out some paperwork & set your PCP {primary care physician}. they process that information in the office immediately, it takes about 5 minutes, which is the amount of time it’ll take you to walk back to medical.  

if you have kids your husband will leave you to handle your check in on your own as he has to check in at flight medical, which is in a different area. he will need his medical record to check in, but he should know this. when you walk thru the door, he’ll go to the right & you’ll go to the left.

once medical verifies that you & your kids are in the system you’ll turn in all of your medical records. remember those are the ones you had to request for your overseas screening back at home.  you will fill out a form stating that medical has 30 calendar days to copy your records. if you want the originals back you need to let them know at that time. we checked in on 5nov so they have till 5dec to copy our records & call me to let me know they’re ready for pickup.

tip #23  scan all your civilian medical records onto a zip drive & keep this in a safe place. in the event that you don’t get your originals back you will have a copy which is better than nothing.

dental is just to the right of medical check in. by now my husband had finished his medical check in so he willingly took the smart car & the kids outside. i was left to check our 2 kids & myself into dental.

i’m grateful he did because had one more left shoe or request for water been demanded i’d have lost it. dental check in is VERY repetitive.

you’ll be filling out the same forms, about 9 total which make up your military dental record. it’s all general health history/hippa forms. the last 4 of your husband’s social will be on every page so get used to writing those 4 numbers over & over.. 

hello, carpal tunnel. how i love thee!

if you have your dental records, which you should, you’ll turn these in now. unlike medical you won’t get these back in 30 days so make sure you have a copy on that zip drive!

when the time comes for you to leave japan you will get both your military medical & dental record to take with you.

we saved the best for last as we then visited the housing office & met with the on base counselor to activate our housing application.

our housing process has been difficult. i believe we were deeply misinformed about on base housing here at NAF Atsugi. we were told that we had to be here in person to activate our housing application & couldn’t find out our number on the waitlist until after my husband checked into his command. if you’re on leave when you arrive in japan, which you will be, checking in takes you off leave. generally people use their 30 days of leave in the US to visit family before coming to japan. we didn’t go that route. instead we came straight to japan hoping we could quickly get housing as the ships were out to sea & we were told the time when they returned was high PCS season. we wanted to beat that. now we’ve been told that we should’ve been informed of the length of the wait for on base housing while we were still in the US.

once you get orders for japan you’ll put in a heat module which the housing office uses to determine housing. then you’ll put in a housing application. once you arrive in japan & your husband has checked into his command & psd you can go to the housing office. you will be greeted by the japanese employees.

to check into housing you’ll need a copy of your orders, dea, page 2 & detaching information report

your counselor will go over the on-base housing wait list check form & housing is determined by rank. your place on the wait list is determined by the check out date from your previous command.

there are 3 housing options here: high rise towers, 2 level garden apartments & townhouses. they generally offer the high rise towers first. if you decline the first offer you’ll have to move off base & will immediately loose the tla allowance.

dogs are not allowed in the towers but if you have a dog there’s no guarantee that they won’t offer you a tower. generally they’ll offer you an apartment.

we almost fell of our chairs when we were told there was a 4-6 month wait for on base housing. i personally wanted to scream. are you kidding me? why weren’t we notified of this before we got here?!

the long wait is due to renovations of one of the towers, which is currently vacant. we thought being #7 on the wait list was a great spot, but it wasn’t & were told we needed to look at off base housing.

4-6 mo. wait for on-base housing!

don’t panic about wondering where to find a house. the housing office compiles a list of available houses & has binders {based on location} that have each listing which you’re entitled free copies too. most of the agencies some speak english, however a few don’t but if you’re interested in that particular home the housing office help you by calling on your behalf to answer questions, translate & set up a viewing time. 

the oha {overseas housing allowance} is determined the same as bah, it’s by rank & if you have dependents. our oha was 210,000 yen, which is about $2,749.41. no that’s not a typo, japanese living is extremely expensive.

if you find a home for $197,000 yen you will only get a check for that amount, so it’s in your best interest to find a home as close to your oha limit.

you will also get a utility allowance which is based on dependents only, not your rank. all ranks get the same amount.

with dependents you a 100% allowance of 98,434 yen which is $1,288.74

without dependents your allowance is only 75% which is 73,825 yen, $966.56

utilities are INCREDIBLY expensive in japan. this is noticeable when you drive around town as you’ll see laundry hanging to dry from lines outside homes & apartments.

despite our preference of living on base we HAD to start searching for a home off base due to the TLA requirements. with excessive wait times for on base housing if you’re not making a sincere effort to find a home off base you could possibly lose your TLA. remember you only have 60 days TLA & if you need to move off base you’ll want to have things set up in advance.

we left the housing office very frustrated and angry.

all i could do was hope & pray somewhere in the near future we’d get a phone call that we had a home.

a good day for a walk

with nothing to do & nowhere to go we decided to go for a walk around base & explore the area, without a map. after one too many viewings of cinderella it was a wonderful idea.

totally captivated.

reading time

in attempt to let the kids burn as much energy as possible we let them walk & left the smart car {stroller} in the room. it was chilly outside so it was time to bundle up!

we walked up & down hills & inspected potential vehicles in parking lots. it was a nice change to not be in a rush for once.

then a sweet little girl got fussy & began to cry. so i had no choice but to carry her & minutes later we didn’t hear a peep.

sleepy girl

absolutely precious

our pink bunny slept in my arms while her big, lion brother had a blast running around the grass kicking the leaves & finding sticks. such a boy. he also enjoyed daddy picking him up so he could get a close look at the planes. maybe he’ll be a pilot!

my boys

can’t wait to frame this!

our sweet little bunny woke up as we left the grassy area with the planes which is near the main gate.

we stopped by the nex mini mart which is the only place on base to buy “sanity savers”. we thought we’d give this bottle a try.

awful. save your money.

a week later i picked up this bottle in hopes that it’d restore my faith in the wine selection here. i was pleased they have yellow tail & chateau ste. michelle but the moscato & riesling we adore from those 2 makers are the only wines they don’t carry. bummer.

a wonderful moscato!

to my ever so clever father it’s moscato, NOT muskrat wine!

my husband loved it. it’s sweet, but not sticky sweet & worked well with cheese & crackers & even shake & bake chicken!

my favorite experience this far was when i went to get ice & the machine was written in japanese. luckily the japanese housekeepers here in the Navy Lodge walked by at that critical moment when i couldn’t figure out what button to push!

you push the red button to dispense ice

who knew getting ice could be so difficult?

hooray for our 080 iPhones

since when did phones become attached to our hips? puberty? college? being cell phone & key-less for the past few days has been an odd feeling. everytime we left our room i felt like i was leaving something behind.
 
so off we went to get phones! luckily we didn’t need to walk far as there is a soft bank counter right at the end of the food court @ the nex.
 
there are 3 cell phone companies here in japan: softbank, domco & au.
 
when we checked into the Navy Lodge we received a bunch of paperwork, it was mainly junk that met the trash but in the midst was a small slip from Soft Bank about a free iPhone. not being a believer i dismissed it & said this has got to be a scam. sure enough it wasn’t. it was for a free 16GB iPhone 4s with a 2 year contract. FREE? iPhone. rarely are those 2 used in the same sentence.
 
as soon as you can grasp your head around the exchange rate of yen to USD things will be much easier but until you have that “lightbulb & singing harmonious angel moment” download a currency app. you will thank me!
 
tip #18  download the free iCurrency app for your iPhone. if you don’t have an iPhone yet, go ahead & download the app into iTunes, as you’ll have an iPhone once you arrive here. downloading it in advance along with other free apps will save you time. after using them on your new phone you can always delete them if you wish.
 
we went with soft bank simply for convenience as they are located on base & although the employees are Japanese they speak English.
 
you will have a 2 year contract, however there isn’t a military clause to break your contract when you get orders. typically after the 2 year contract, people pay monthly for their last remaining year.
 
initially their cell phone contracts were hard for me to understand for many reasons.
 
their plans are: white plan, double white, white plan, family discount 24.
 
you don’t have minutes like you do with plans in the states, you have free calling times from 0100-2100. long gone are minutes, 300, 600, 900, unlimited. but those minutes are only free if you call another soft bank cell phone.
 
so you’re going to need to ask people you meet who their cell phone is with. chances are they’ll have soft bank, but to be safe ask & add a note under their contact info of who their carrier is.
 
my husband and i are on the same contract so i can always call him for free. i’m trying to make this easy to understand.
 
if i need to make a call after 2100 but before 0100 i get charged 21 yen/30 sec including tax. so depending on the yen to usd exchange rate a 8 minute phone call at 2230 might cost me about $4.08. it doesn’t seem like a lot at first but it can be very expensive if you don’t plan accordingly.
 
since my husband will be deploying it was important that the data on his phone {internet & skype} can be used when in different countries. he will be able to use data but will not be able to make phone calls as it can rack up to thousands of dollars & they inform you of this when you get your contract.
 
if they see your bill is getting too high due to calls from overseas they will temporarily put a stop on the line so you can’t make any more calls. this is simply a way to save you from having the largest cell phone bill of your life!
 
the process of getting a cell phone is as follows:
 
* decide what plan you want
 
* pick your phone
 
* set up the contract. a family plan only has to be in one person’s name & all you need is a photo id, credit card & either your PSC box # or the sponsor’s unit address
 
{since my husband will be deployed we put our account in my name as this will prevent me from needing to bring in a POA if i need to discuss our bill. if my husband has any questions about our phones i will need to be present with him or he will need a valid POA where i’ve granted him access}
 
*  pick your phone number & set your pin’s
 
* wait an hour for them to test your phone & voila you have a cell phone!!

testing out my iPhones camera

tip #19  before you leave the US call your cell phone company & suspend your service for time you’ll be gone. this a free service provided to military families & t-mobile allowed us to keep our numbers for the entire time we’re here in japan.

tip #20  make the last 4 digits of your japanese cell phone number the same as your American cell phone number. if it’s available all options will pop up with either a 080 or 090 prefix. we both went with 080’s to simplify things. if the last 4 of your american number aren’t available try inverting the numbers as that’s what my husband did.

insurance must be added when the account is set up. it can be removed at anytime but it can’t be added back on. soft bank generally replaces iPhones rather than repairing them which leaves you responsible for only 15% of the cost of a new phone as opposed to 100%.

currently soft bank has both the iPhone 4 & 4s in both black & white in 16 GB, 32 GB & 64 GB. you’ll get to pick your color & GB size. keep in mind the larger the GB the more you’ll pay out of pocket. they were taking orders for the iPhone 5 & take about a week to come in but it will increase your monthly bill.

other phones include the color life 3, aqua style, pantone 5 & dell streak pro

we went with the iPhone 4s 32 GB in white & black. i’m not going to tell you what upgrading to a 32 GB cost us because you’ll truly hate me. ok, ok i’ll tell you.

the upgrade is factored into our monthly bill & costs an additional $5 each month. over the next 2 years we’ll pay $240, which is the equivalent of 48 venti white peppermint mocha’s from Starbucks. don’t deny that you drink Starbucks.

to protect our new phones we bought screen covers from soft bank {they come in a 2 pack} which my husband was able attach without any bubbles! i’m so horrible at it. cell phone screen cover is going to be the next new degree i tell you, right after master toy installation.

soft bank has a decent assortment of cell phone cases most for about $28 or $32 & most are the rubber plastic kind, not hard cases.

our temporary ifrogz covers

since i planned on ordering otterbox’s from amazon {i’m telling you this blog is going to be become a promotional for amazon.com!} we bought temporary ifrogz covers from the nex for about $8-10 a pop. i wouldn’t recommend them for long term use as they offer minimal coverage but it it was enough protection till our otterboxes arrived!

love our covers! can you guess which one is mine?

my cover

his cover

while our defender otterbox’s do make our phones bulkier it’s a small price to pay to keep them protected from 2 toddlers who feel the need to constantly grab them!

super saver shipping was very quick as our cases arrived about 9 days after i placed the order. getting 2 for the price of 1 was even sweeter!

tip #21 set up a free account with amazon {just your shipping, billing & credit card information} & see what you might need to order

you don’t need a prime membership since you can’t get 2 day shipping to an FPO address but if you have a prime membership & ship things to family or friends in the US it would still be beneficial.

now if i could only use my beautiful iPhone to call family & friends in the US.

and get used to japanese numbers.

if.

welcome to japan!

after TSA screening, hustling through airports with 2 toddlers, an amazing Delta flight attendant Patti, several doses of Benadryl, 3 plane rides, 1 overnight stay in a less than desirable hotel in Seattle, 8 checked bags, 6 carry ons, 2 car seats, a double stroller that’s as big as a smart car, clearing customs, an awful shuttle bus drive from Yokota Air Base to NAF Atsugi, we arrived safely in Japan.

after being up for about 32 hours we were exhausted & simply wanted to sleep however we were advised to attempt to stay up for as long as possible to help our bodies adjust to the time difference. they must not understand that mama needs her beauty sleep.

my husband & i wanted to fall asleep as soon as possible but our 2 toddlers had other things on their agenda.

read: opening the cabinets, flushing the toilet 10 times in a row, turning on the shower, ripping the toilet paper like cats from a previous life, pulling the heater knob off & throwing it into the heater followed by dropping toys down there for “long term storage”, the list goes on…

our spacious 2 bed room, 1 bath, kitchenette room at the navy lodge is large enough for the 4 ring circus, yet big enough for 2 toddlers to drive us nuts!

we’re grateful for our amazing family & friends who wished a safe trip.

we might be in Japan, but our sanity is gone!

especially mine.

the “reinforcements” come to visit

the last few months have been a blur, similar to a tornado or a force not to be reckoned with.

we finished our medical screening in July. in August we applied for our passports. we got our final approval paperwork the 2nd week of September. the movers packed up our apartment on the 26-28 of September. we sold my Trailblazer. my husband’s truck went into storage. we did our final walk through of our apartment & turned in our keys. on Halloween my husband checked out of his command & we our flight from Norfolk left @ 1345. we’d been all go, go, go!! but not the dr. seuss version.

in our last days at home in Virginia Beach my parents came up to say goodbye. despite the hustle & bustle of the last few days it was nice that my parents had time with our kids. i’m so grateful for that.

it was also nice to eat out at nice restaurants {hello pf changs!} & stay in a hotel for 2 nights after roughing it for 5 weeks on a futon & floor. but more importantly we had 4 extra helping hands and grandparents are just itching to help!

it was nice to have girl shopping time with my mom {thanks for the new shoes!} & i’ll never forget getting a pedicure in an empty salon in the midst of Hurricane Sandy. a girls toes need to look nice!!

even with all of the early preparations of the previous months of

cleaning out closets,

selling things on craigslist,

consigning the kids last bit of clothes,

donating things to goodwill,

my husband taking in a huge box of pantry items to work,

there were STILL things left.

i couldn’t grasp my mind around it. i’m not a hoarder. where did all of this stuff come from? i move the fridge & oven monthly to clean, primarily to find lost toys. i was shocked beyond belief.

tip #10 start purging now. do it every day. don’t stop till all that’s left is what you’re taking with you. if family will be taking things home to store, put them in boxes & label these so you can account for what’s in them

over the past 2 1/2 years our wonderful 2 bedroom apartment was full of baby gear that came & all the other accoutrement’s that come with kids. who knew little people had such baggage!!

with the “reinforcements” in place my husband & i had the best date night ever:

a romantic dinner with many bottles of wine followed by a movie & then a moonlit walk on the beach  {in my dreams, no more Nicholas Sparks movies for me!}

a late 2 1/2 hour cleaning spree of our apartment, primarily the task of cleaning “le oven”, the task that my wonderful husband graciously accepted.

anyone that’s ever cleaned a non self cleaning oven knows it’s impossible to clean an oven with 2 busy toddlers running around due to the nasty fumes that come from the chemicals in the spray you need to use. after 4 sessions of cleaning the oven, yes 4, we were finally satisfied, exhausted & headed back to the hotel. i’m quite sure we both fell asleep in about 180 seconds!

none of this would’ve been possible if grandma hadn’t supervised bedtime. we love you!
{credit for things like this always goes to grandma }

my dad was there as he always has been & graciously accepted any task & willingly patched up the holes on our walls left from picture frames. i secretly think he has a love affair with spackle.

at the very end it was another trip to the dumpster, another load to the car. my dad’s suv was full of borrowed items, a table, crib & items of ours they’ll keep for us while we’re in Japan.

i generously gave back to the residents in our apartment complex by leaving presents by the dumpster which included both large & small trash cans & an pretty much every cleaning product available at Target.

tip #11  take inventory of your cleaning products & use up what you have before you go out & buy more. cleaning products are hazmat & can NOT be shipped overseas.

the morning of our flight i made one last trip to Target, Babies R Us & the bank. i got back to the hotel just in time to cram more stuff into our suitcases & pack food in our carry on’s.

the housekeeping staff in the hotel made out like bandits with what we left in our room. the sheer joy on one of their faces as we rushed out of our room on our way to the airport, warmed my heart. what we’d left behind & had served us well & was on its way to new homes.

tip #12  the morning of your flight, check everyone in electronically & print your boarding passes. this will save you time.

i printed our passes from the business center in the lobby of hotel before running out on my morning errands.

when we got to the airport we still needed to check in at the counter for our baggage as we were on orders & had 2 bags a piece.

tip #13  if you have a rental car, have a family member return it to the lot at the airport so you can check in at the airport. you will need that time.

my mom returned our rental car & my husband & dad watched the kids while i checked us in at the counter.

tip #14  have single bills, about $20 for the porters. the last thing you want is to not have enough money or wait for them to break a large bill, or worse not be able to. if you have 14 bags & 2 car seats you’re going to need help getting everything inside.

in the US the Navy will fly you on Delta as that’s who they are contracted with. when on orders Delta will allow each dependant 4 checked bags at 70 lbs each.

AMC {military flights} allow each person 2 checked bags no more than 80 lbs each.

therefore we had 2 suitcases per person, for a total of 8. one of our suitcases was simply for diapers.

tip #15  if your kids are in diapers plan to pack & carry with you a minimum of  a months supply. you will be limited the sizes of packages & brands here in Japan & you do not want to run out as you won’t have a car & it will take time before you can have them shipped as you’ll need to set up your PO box.

our son is in pampers cruisers size 7, our daughter is in size 4’s. the largest size of cruisers they have here is size 5. if your child wears huggies they have a bigger selection but you are still limited with the count in the box. get used to buying diapers from amazon!

we had a set number in the diaper bag. one of the kids duffel bags we used as carry ons had more diapers for when we ran out of our supply in the diaper bag. a checked bag had the rest of our supply.

we each had our own carry on & our diaper bag & camera bag were considered personal items, which brought our carry ons to 6.

add our 2 car seats that the kids sat in for the flights & our double stroller which we gate checked. we were certainly a sight to be seen.

it’s never easy to say goodbye, especially when you’re moving to a foreign country.

tip #16  before you leave, make plans of who you will contact once you safely arrive at your destination. let them know how you plan to contact them, be it through e-mail, Facebook, or a phone call.

it was nice to know that once i e-mailed my mom she’d notify the rest of our family. it was one less thing for me to worry about. i’d update my status via Facebook when i had a minute but initially my concern was sleep.

tip #17  as much as you plan for your last few days & day of departure, know that it’s not going to go as planned. things will come up & you’ll save your sanity & that of everyone around you if you accept that now. it might rain. the restaurant you want to go might not have a reservation for 7 o’clock. one of your kids might throw up on the plane. sure it’s great to have a plan of action for every imaginable situation but you can’t change what life gives ya.

{trust me, i have a very hard time on this one & if you don’t believe me ask my husband or my mom.}

after our bags were checked & all that remained were our carry ons, car seats & stroller we said our goodbyes.

i’m not sure how many times i reassured my mom that everything would be okay & we’d Skype with them soon, but it broke my heart to see her cry.

her baby was leaving to go somewhere far, far away. i’m quite sure my husband isn’t her favorite son-in-law anymore!!

i’ll never know what went through her head but i had to remain strong for my kids as i knew if i didn’t we’d have a mega meltdown.

it wasn’t until our plane took off from Norfolk as it headed to Atlanta that i had a smile on my face.

it was our kids very first flight.

as a former flight attendant i’d played out several “plane” possibilities in my head. you just never know with kids.

but then we went barreling down the runway and just as the wheels lifted up into the air i heard my son say, “funny”.

when i looked over at him the smile on his face was from ear to ear.

& somehow, i hoped that on the ground beneath us,

grandma had a smile on her face too.