Thursday, October 16, 2008

As close as we're gonna get to Izu: A Pre-Halloween Special

I know I haven't written anything in a long time. We are, after all, not in Japan anymore, and that's what this blog was all about. But our family had a great weekend, and it both reminded us of our trips to Izu and highlighted the very American-ness of our surroundings.

We took advantage of the cute little beach house owned by our friends Robin and Dan, down in Ocean Shores. It's never really warm there, so it didn't matter at all that this is October. It's a fully-furnished place with heat and hot water, very near the Pacific coast, so it's perfect for a weekend getaway.

Our stocking-up trip to the grocery store did not have an auspicious end, as you can see. We were trying to be frugal and bring as much food as we could from home. In rearranging the food in the back of the Jeep, it was, belatedly, discovered that the box of spaghetti was not adequately closed.

I did what any mom would do: put it all back in the box. I mean, you boil spaghetti first right?

I also got a visual reminder of why Halloween will always be superior in the States:

At the grocery store. Any grocery store. Yeah.

There was a very quaint and very Pacific Northwest sort of genral store on the way down. Jeff was very excited about it.

It had everything one might need:

Novelty candy (it fizzes! it lights up! it paints your tongue!) I had to get Red Hots. M generously offered to buy me some. I love Red Hots.

indispensable reading material (guns! motorcycles!)

and belt buckles!

Once we got there and chilled a bit before dinner, we had a night hike to the beach, through this crazy moonlit field of dunes and sea grass. We lost M for a minute, but he thought it was fun to hide from us in the dark. The beach itself is crazy. It's a very wide (and often windy) stretch of perfectly flat, hard-packed sand. You can even drive on it! In fact, they call it the beach highway.

While we were staying so close, we took a day trip the next day to the rainforest near Lake Quinalt. Yeah, I said rainforest. Not a poison-dart frog, boa constrictor, toucans and monkeys kind of rainforest, but that's what it's called. It gets a lot of rain, and it's a forest. It's like fairy-land, really, trees all covered with furry moss and gigantic cedars and pines. Lots of ferns. And not a vending machine in sight.

And lots of adorable chittery little squirrels. Very cool.

For the drive back, Jeff wanted to take the long way back, up the left coast and over across the upper coast, just across from Canada, beach-hopping and finding adventure along the way in towns with names like Moclips, Queets, Sappho, Beaver, and Pysht.

There was no direct highway up the coast, in fact, there was no road there on the map at all, but Jeff "drove" it on his blackberry the night before, via mobile gmaps, so he knew there was something there.

Well, we found the road. Very ominous.

But we had a Jeep, for crying out loud. Time to try 'er out. Besides, that road didn't look all that primitive.

Well, it did get a little more primitive:

And more primitive. When we reached this bridge, I knew we were in for an adventure. I held my breath and squeezed my eyes shut as we drove across it.

It got more primitive.

It also got really bumpy. Good thing we had 4WD, but I still was getting a bit queasy from all the rocking in and out of potholes and huge puddles of uncertain depth. We began to joke about the locals digging huge pits and filling them with water, to trap the unwary out-of-town Jeep adventurer.

The road got downright spooky when we entered into a dense forest, full of huge spooky old trees that looked like either homes for ancient trolls or were ancient trolls themselves.

The road was very muddy, it was kinda dark because of all the trees, and we were constantly keeping our eyes open for deer or other wildlife that might possibly run out in front of the car. This seemed far more likely to happen back here, where nobody goes, apparently. I was getting a bit nervous.

Then we drove up on this.

Let's take a closer look.

That was it. No way. This spooky-ass gutted van is here to tell us that we should not attempt to drive around the gaping hole in the road. I got as close as I dared to take this photo, hoping I would not see any dismembered bodies, and ran all the way back to the car, just in case the same locals we were joking about earlier decided to come out of the trees to a soundtrack of "Dueling Banjos."

We had to turn around. We tried a bunch of the other tiny "roads" that showed up on Jeff's Blackberry, but nothing passable came of those, either. We had failed to find a way up and had to backtrack to the boring ol' highway. The kids were pissed that we had wasted so much time, but then they were watching a movie in back the whole time we were creeping ourselves out, so they didn't appreciate the adventure we'd just had.

We did see a cool beach or two, once we were back on the beaten path. Like this one:

And a beach across from Destruction Island. There's a fun story behind the name:

The island is the place where two ships under the command of Spanish explorer Capt. Bodega y Quadra anchored on July 14, 1775. Seven men from the schooner Sonora were sent ashore to procure wood and water but met with an immediate and distinctly hostile reception from the natives near the mouth of the Hoh River. The party was killed in short order and their boat was subsequently stolen. Bodega y Quadra sailed away, after entering the island in his log and giving it the name, Island of Sorrows. In 1787, Captain Barkley, skipper of the Austrian East India Company's ship Imperial Eagle, also sent a party ashore from the island for the same reason, to collect water and wood to replenish the ship. Again, the shore party never made it off the beach. Barkley named the river where the killings took place the Destruction River. Eventually, the river came to be known once again by its native name, the Hoh, and the island inherited the name of Destruction.

We could see the island from the beach (it's that long one out there), which didn't look very hospitable itself, what with all the jagged rocks and loads of washed-up driftwood.

Somebody made it seem a little more hospitable, tho:

We picnicked here and drove a lot more, looking for coffee and ice cream. After being disappointed by one blink-and-you'll-miss-it town after another, I bitterly crossed Sappho, Beaver, and Pysht off the map. No coffee? In the Pacific Northwest? You don't deserve to be called a town, and you don't deserve to be on our map. I don't think we found coffee til Port Angeles, but hurray for them and for the Itty Bitty Buzz, that had both good coffee and delicious ice cream.

Jeff had found a restaurant online called the Three Crabs, and made reservations. It was Crab Fest, after all. The restaurant was in Sequim (pronouced "squim" for you foreigners). I was highly underwhelmed by the seafood chowder, crab shooters (like jalapeno poppers) and crabcakes I got. I think I am just not excited by Dungeness crab. But the view was cool

and we managed to make a ferry from Bainbridge (the posted wait at Kingston was 2 hours!) and get home for the kids' bedtime (and more importantly, Mad Men).

I might make one more post, for our Halloween party. Just to have a contrast between our parties in Japan and in Seattle. Maybe. Then I'm wrapping this thing up for real.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Still waiting...

So our shipment from Japan was delayed a week. And now has the illustrious honor of being selected for a "detailed customs inspection." Oh, joy. Hopefully we will get our stuff really soon. I am sick of the air mattress.

Things are happening, though, in our house. I got it all painted. The living-room armoire has been put back together. Our new couch arrives tomorrow (it's so cool!). The basement gets carpeted next week. All will be standing in readiness for the rest of our household goods.

I entertained four kids yesterday. This is not something I would have cheerfully taken on two years ago. But they are all 2 years older, and Tarran is actually helpful these days. I took them all to the newly refurbished Seattle Aquarium, because I wanted to see what they had done with the place, and because I heard my friend Kristine, much to my surprise, was volunteering there nowadays. We snuck up on her this time, but she said next time, if we call her in advance, she can give us a personal Secret Squirrel behind-the-scenes tour.

She did take us to an Access Only area above the giant tank up front to see the wave machine in action and to meet their baby shark. It's momma had birthed 20 babies, but only this guy survived. I didn't know sharks swam sideways like that. He was very cute, and kept poking his nose out to say hi.

We also got to see her feed the octopus. He is the coolest thing in the aquarium, in my opinion. Kristine told us a story about him: apparently there was once a female octopus introduced to him when he was in rut, or whatever you call it when an octopus is horny. He said Can I get some, she said You can't get none. So he ate her. I guess male octopuses don't handle rejection well.

We got out of there after 3 losses-and-findings of kid items (one camera, one Piggy-wink, and one set of rubbings), which led me to voice the opinion that all children should have their belongings stapled to them, and to have a renewed faith in Seattlites. They may be shitty drivers, but they at least turn stuff into Lost and Found.

The kids start school next week. Hoo. Ray. I think they are a little nervous.

Hopefully, my next post will show you our house with all the stuff in it.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Home camping

Things are settling around here. Sort of. Don't have much of a routine yet, as the kids aren't in school til the 3rd, and we still don't have most of our stuff. We are still camping in our house. Still sleeping in the basement, cooking with crappy old pans, wearing the same clothes. But we got our dressers out of storage, so I don't have to live out of my suitcase anymore, and we have a dining room table again. I would dearly love a couch. And my bed. That's coming this week sometime, theoretically.

We have been been painting all the walls new colors. That's fun. The colors, I mean. Not the painting itself, so much.

Yeah, that's a gold bedroom. Not just the gold-like yellow color, but real metallic gold. I love people's reactions when they see it. "Wow. Gold, huh?"

The kitchen looks the same, actually, but it'll be getting a facelift soon. New floor (proper tile instead of crappy linoleum that can never be clean), new fridge (so produce stays fresh for more than a day), new cabinet knobs (not so scratched-up brass, ghetto).

Fascinating, I'm sure. I think it's gonna look awesome once we have furniture. I can't wait. It's really echo-y in here, which is not a good thing when one has two not-so-quiet boys.

Went with Anuska to Uwajimaya, our Asian Super Grocery Store, to see if I could find the food to which I had become accustomed, and check out the prices. I did find a lot of the familiar food, and the prices were about as I expected: ridiculous.

My maitake is about 3 times as much. But it was interesting to find out that it is known as "Hen of the Woods" in English. It was also surreal to see the exact same packaging for condiments, but with English words in "Japanese font."

How much for a bottle of tea? Jeez. I'll just make my own, thanks.

The sashimi selection was pathetic, and now I understand why Macky et al turned up their noses at it when they were visiting a few years ago. BUT they do have a huge tank of live fish to choose from, so that's something.

So, anyway, I spent far too much money stocking up on staples like dashi, miso, wasabi, soba, ramen ("fresh" noodle, not that fresh), and yakisoba. I don't know how often I'll be doing that. I'm afraid that Japanese food is going to have to go back to being special occasion food, mostly. We do have a ton of kick-ass Thai restaurants within easy distance, so there is some consolation.

The boys have quickly re-established their sibling-like relationship with our family friends' kids. Tarran and M will be (weather permitting) celebrating their birthdays jointly for the first time in awhile this Saturday at Wild Waves. Tarran is one year and one day older.

Olivia Macy is again like a little sister (which she likes when M is giving her a piggyback or fetching her blackberries, but chafes at when M tries to tell her what to do), as Anuska and I swap kid-care as our schedules demand. She is the daughter I will never have. I took the three kids to the beach yesterday.

Nothing like the beach for low-maintenance kid-watching, though there was a marked lack of vending machines on the wooded trail to the beach itself, spawning thirsty whines. Gotta remember to carry more then one bottle of water in the future.

Our old nomadic friend Stephanie was in town, and stopped to have dinner with us last night. She's the same. Love her. She's a badass mountain climber.

Tonight I am, embarrassingly, going to meet some friends at Hooters tonight. Before you lambast me, it's for Pat's 21st birthday, and some coworkers of his are taking him out after work. So we're going to meet him there. I've never been, neither has Shannon, and we are both prepared to do soem heavy sneering and mocking. I'll be wearing a padded bra, and still feeling wildly inadequate. But I'm all for new experiences.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Rainbows and Cheese

I finally have internet after weeks of computer near-silence. I didn't even have a phone for the first few days back. It's amazing how dependent we are on these devices. Anyway, I am connected again, so I can at last post about our last days in Japan and our first days back in Seattle. Let me tell you, it's been quite the whirlwind, and I'm going to need a detox period when the summer is over. Warning, this is going to be a long one.

So, before we left our abode in Baba-cho, we had a nice day at the beach with Cynthia and Osamu. It was the perfect summer day.

Some other stuff happened (it's kind of foggy), and then we had our last Buzz Attitude at Club Lizard. I got to make my DJ debut! And Yamato cried all over me.

Following that, we had our last home party. The usual mayhem, food and lots of drink, and the signing of the underside of the "Davis izakaya table."

I was too hungover to be of much use the next day, which was spent in preparation for the packer-movers, who arrived on Monday. It was a small army, and very entertaining to watch, as they thoroughly wrapped and padded all our stuff.

What they didn't move out, like the washer-dryer, the fridge, etc., we managed to get rid of (thanks Macky, his parents, and the Hooch guys).

We did get many gifts from various people on our way out the door, from Buzz Crew friends, the owner of our home, etc., because the Japanese adore giving gifts. We got some lovely fans, towels, a wind chime, sake, wine, and a "cricket" cage. Macky also loaded us up, with plenty of chopsticks and bamboo skewers so we would not lack for entertaining accoutrements back in the states, as well as 2 ramen bowls from the Yokohama Ramen Museum. And a lamp. That guy.

Left with a (mostly) empty house, we moved to the Landmark Tower for the last few days. This was a great place to say our goodbyes to Yokohama. Killer view from the 63rd floor (for which someone coined the term "rock me" floor - Japanese pronunciation joke),

and conveniently located to activities like Hard Rock Cafe (which we did twice), CosmoWorld, and the Mitsubishi Museum (which was cool, because it was fairly bi-lingual). The kids and I met Michiko and her kids Ricky and Louie for a day at CosmoWorld.

Michiko, also having two spastic boys, feels my pain.

Our proper last night, we had a dinner at a beer hall at Yokohama station. It was pretty much my gaijin crowd (Helen and Kevin, Martine, Cynthia, Michael), with which Osamu and Shingo are lumped because their significant others are gaijin, plus Yamato, who did not cry this time.

Much of this crowd went back to our hotel room for a party, which resulted in people sleeping illegally all over our floor.

This night was the last time I was to see my bestest friends in Japan (you know who you are), but I managed not to cry, despite the fact that Helen totally cheesed out and gave me a rainbow-colored Care Bear with an artist's pallette on it's fuzzy belly (State of the Heart Bear), which will live in my studio and remind me of her. Helen herself did not manage to avoid weeping, but we'll just blame the alcohol.

We packed up our remaining possessions into various suitcases and boxes and headed to the airport late the following morning. As we waited to check in, we spotted this by the door.

Macky and a bunch of others had come to see us off. This was not a cheap undertaking, as it is about $60 in tolls to get to the airport and back. We had lunch together and many bon voyage toasts, and they followed us all the way to security. It was at this point I lost my battle to remain cool and stoic, and some tears squeezed out. What an amazing two years. Although a lot of times it was difficult and frustrating, we met some fantastic people who really made our adventures unforgettable. It really hit me at that moment that we were actually leaving. I am trusting that the connections we made will be lifelong, because otherwise, I don't think I could stand it. And even though I didn't have a very deep relationship with a lot of the Macky crowd, they all tried very hard to make us a part of their crowd and were genuinely nice people. And Macky, well, what can I say about him that would express how much he did for us? We wouldn't have even been there if it weren't for him, and he helped us with so much once we got there. And my girlfriends: Helen, who found me a comfortable place in a land where I was at sea half the time. And Martine, who is one of the coolest people I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. And Cynthia, with whom I was supremely comfortable and will be following me soon to Seattle, with Osamu, which is awesome. And everyone else who was nice to me and joined my extended worldwide family, thanks, and I hope to see you again someday soon.

On the other hand, I was supremely excited to get back to Seattle.

Here is my first glimpse of Mt Rainier, who was nice enough to be out to welcome us home:

We didn't go to our house right away, but stayed at Dan and Robin's, who happen to live just in front of Shannon and Ian, which made it all very convenient as re-acquaintance spot. Many of our Seattle family showed up to welcome us home.

Shannon and Robin:


Eric and Dan:


Tarran and Ian:

even Pat, who has apparently become more of a fixture since we left, was there:

We were surprisingly lacking in jetlag, maybe because we got to Seattle in the morning (several hours before we left Japan), and were outside all day. They say that being outside helps acclimate you to the day-and-night rhythm. M finally succumed in the evening, though, in a very odd, but very rock 'n' roll, spot.

We spent a few days saying hello and taking care of re-grounding ourselves (get phones, cars, house keys). We stayed at Kevin and Anna's new place for a night after helping them move into it, and re-met Silas, who was only a baby when we left.

We moved back into our house, with it's fabulously redone floors, and assessed what needed to be done while we are camping here without most of our stuff and no furniture. The house is in pretty good shape after two years of a renter. It just needs some repainting on the interior walls, really. The back yard, which we are thrilled to have again, was an overgrown nightmare. When we helped Kevin and Anna move with a small army of friends, we hit on the idea of having the same army help us get started on what was an overwhelming amount of yardwork. For the price of food and drink, our friends helped us make a huge dent in that nightmare. We also had volunteers for annoying jobs like getting the moss off the roof and covering the floor and painting the ceiling. These people really are the best.

We don't have a lot of useful stuff in our house right now, but we do have the costume box, which made for a fun first dinner with Anuska and Olivia:

Anuska (and Eric, I guess, but I doubt he had much to do with it) had a gathering at their place. As a bunch of us stood around the kitchen drinking and eating, I remarked how loud Americans are. I also enjoyed getting the wordplay and the jokes, and loved that I was laughing because I really got it, not just smiling in a confused manner because our Japanese friends were laughing at something.



Some things I realized about Seattle right off:

  • It's colder here. It's downright chilly in the evening. Apparently, it has been an unusually cool summer.
  • American toilets and showers are vastly inferior to Japanese. I miss my bidet, my deep, reheatable tub, and my whole-room shower.
  • Food is just as expensive, if not more, as in Japan. I was appalled. My sources tell me that there was a huge hike in prices a couple months ago. It has a lot to do with the ridiculously-high gas prices.
  • Seattle is a tiny city. You can get anywhere in 20 minutes or less. And it's practically empty.
  • You really do have to drive everywhere. Busses only run sporadically, there is no train system, and taxis suck. They are nearly impossible to hail, and even if you call one, it takes an hour.
  • Bar time is evil. You get kicked out the door at 1:30, despite the fact that last call is technically 2am. And they're rude about it. And there is almost nowhere to go after 2.
All that aside, I haven't been this relaxed in two years. I am back amongst the freaks-of-a-feather who really understand me and with whom I share a warped sense of humor. There is a whole passel of kids in our group who can hang out together. I can drive here, and I enjoy it (in my, sorry, our, new Jeep). There is a huge variety of food choice. I about exploded with happiness when I saw the cheese section:

Everything is really green here, and much less manicured. I have a garden to dig in. There are tons of trees. I have my own studio again (nothing in it yet, but still), so I can get some good painting done (I hope) while being surrounded and inspired by other artists. There is no humidity issue, and a lot fewer mosquitos. I can play music really loud in my house and not worry about the kids screaming as much. There is so much space. I can (and do) talk to eveyone around me.

Some things have changed. Everyone we know seems to be going through a transition of one kind or another: new homes, new jobs, new family. This is wonderful, because I was a little worried that we'd fall back into the rut we went to Japan to escape in the first place. Everyone seems a lot happier and more optimistic after the changes they've implemented.

Our two years in Japan almost seem like a dream now, especially since we are back in our old house and have none of the stuff we bought there yet. I don't know exactly what our life is going to be here yet, but soon we will settle into a new routine, surrounded by familiar faces and places. Like Jeff said, we have hit a huge RESET button. I think we belong here, and Nature gave us an affirmation of this the other day. That's our house:

Holy crap, I've been typing for 2.5 hours. Thanks to everyone who has followed our adventure on this blog. I may post once or twice more, I may not. Stay tuned.