Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Struggle Has Been Real..

July 1, couldn't have been more welcome. Not because it's a new month, but because the wait was finally over. I haven't really written that much about it here on the blog, and sometimes I just don't want to be too personal, but I thought that I'd share with you why this day was so welcome.

Close friends and family already know, but for others, it might not be clear what a stress we have been going through for the last couple of years. Not just the every day to day stress, with constant changing work schedule for my husband, switching units, working nights and days, and with work hours sometimes reaching the double of what many would consider a "normal" workday. No, it's been more than that.

For me, it's been tough as I had no say in all this. I could complain, but I couldn't change anything.. As a military wife, I could never count on that he would be there for something that we had planned. If it was activities going on, I planned them for the kids and myself, and if he could join us, it would be a bonus. I was left with the stress of taking care of the kids, keeping the home running. Always putting myself last. Never be able to plan or do anything for myself, as I had to be there for the kids, as even if their dad wasn't deployed, it sometimes felt like it. He came home to sleep a few hours, and then he left again. For years, he has been getting up and left for work before the kids are awake, and several times a week, he's been coming home late at night when the kids are already in bed. Saying goodnight over Skype, even if he has been in the same town..The family life has been hurting, and even if we have tried always to make the best of it when we are together, and actually do something, build memories as a family, it's not always easy either, as there is two sides to consider. I've been dying to get out of the house and do things, he on the other hand, has been dying to be home and relax and do nothing..Both sides very understandable - which has lead to a lot of friction.

There was a time that was especially tough. When I hurt my back in July 2013. Actually now thinking about it, it is two years ago to the date. It was the days before the 4th when it happened! When I was in such a pain that I couldn't stand upright, when I couldn't even cope, but tried to make it work anyway, as there was no sick leave to take for my husband to care for the kids because his wife is's different here, and in the military life, it's even more different. I was in pain, really bad pain for over 6 months, before it finally started to get better, and before I finally got the right painkillers. It was a rough time to say the least, and to say that it was a happy time would be to tell a lie..

Or if we go back to when I was pregnant with the twins. It was a hard pregnancy, and it was hard not having the husband around much. He worked then on a normal workweek on recruiting duty, around 80 hours/week...And there is no double paid after a certain hour, or double paycheck on weekends and holidays...haha- we wish! The first year with the twins was hard. I had to make it work, and I did. They never slept, woke up several times a night/ per child and I never slept more than 4-5 hours/night, and those were always interrupted, several times. It was more a few short naps throughout the nights..My twins are now 5 years old, the didn't sleep through the night until they were around 3 years old, but still there are long bedtime routines..

There were other stress factors in our life the last couple of years, like moving everything you own and your whole family from KS to the totally unknown AZ. To drive across several states to reach the hot desert. To not get a house on base, to start a new life, to not finding any friends, to struggle with bullying and hard times with the oldest in the new school. I never felt like I did enough. I always felt like I failed somewhere, someone, but there is only so much one person can do..

Then, most recently, the big surprise, the big move half across the world, to Okinawa in February. Nothing that we wished for, nothing that we could choose or do anything about. A decision was made - as always the military made it for us, and again it was time to take the kids and our belongings and start over. Only this time the stress level was higher than ever as there were so many unknowns, so many extra stress factors with this move that made it the "worst" one yet. The part that we could only take about 25% of what we own, selling of furniture, storing of cars, transporting of Rusty, tickets that kept changing..not knowing AT ALL where we would live, how we would live, where the kids would go to school, where my husband would work...nothing! The unknown made me stay up for nights for months to try to gather as much information about everything possible.

This readers have been able to read about and to follow to the most part, even if I normally don't write much about the personal stuff, and how I have felt about it. BUT what not many have known is that since we came to Okinawa, we have lived with a new level of this stress - the very reality that if my husband wouldn't get selected for promotion, then his career would be over. This is something that was almost too much to take in, and I have tried to put it away in a box to deal with later...The reality looks like this, that the administration that this country is under for the moment, tries to make cuts on the military where ever they can. This means low salaries, and not many chances of raise or promotion. Where just a few years ago, hundreds of his rank would get promoted to the next rank, this year it was only 38 spots available. Not for his MOS, his job within the Marine Corps, but for the whole Marine Corps. That is not a lot. And the competition was harder than ever.

My husband has been up for promotion for this rank before, and we were pretty sure that he would get it last year, it was deserved, and the only reason that he didn't get it then, was that he didn't have the completed school that he went to go and do for 7 weeks last fall. Had he done it early in the year when he wanted to do it, but wasn't allowed to go as his work place didn't find someone to step in and take over for a few weeks. Due to this, his chance of promotion went up in smoke..We didn't know then, what a competition it would be this year and what the odds would be, we thought well, then he'll get it next time/next year. BUT, since this administration like mentioned before has cut down the amount of people that are able to be promoted, that they don't want to keep people in the Corps, but want to kick them out, it's harder than ever. Where before you could easily do your 20 years of service, to get full medical and dental for life, get all benefits and your pay after retirement, it's now down to that they can't and that they try to make them get out before 20 years, as they don't want to pay for them...

This has lead to that you can only be passed over once. If you are passed over twice for promotion, you are pretty much kicked out. Then you get retirement money, no benefits that you have planned for your family to get - that you signed up to getting!!! - nothing. This is what we were almost facing. My husband knew that the competition was fierce this year, and if he didn't get selected for promotion, that he would be kicked out. He couldn't stay in for another 5 years with this rank, that would be impossible, and he would be asked to leave. The stress was unbelievable and insane the last two months since the board was looking into the candidates. One never really know what date they come up with the list, but it's brutal. All we knew was that we will know in June.. If Chris wouldn't have been selected for promotion, we would have had to leave Okinawa within 7 months. They give you about 6 months to clear out and finish up where you are and to move.

The thought of that this would mean leaving Okinawa so soon was killing me, after all the stress of getting here. And to move where? We don't have a home in the US..We don't have an obvious place where we will go back to, where we will so many others have. Many go back to a certain state or even town just because they came from there. They have family that can help them out getting a house, contacts with getting work organized etc..But, we don't have that set up yet. We don't know yet. We have not yet the final plan on where we want to go after he is done. We were certain that we would have another couple of years to figure that out. It all depends on so many things, on where he can get work after, on where we can afford to buy a home, on where Cassie will go to college, so many factors play a big roll into where we will settle down one day. To possibility that we would have to make that decision much sooner than later, was all of a sudden staring us in the face.

My husband has worked night and day, and when he wasn't at work, he's been at the gym. To make everything possible into the very end to prove that he needs to be promoted. That he made a first class fitness report with great score, that he has done all the schools and work required etc etc, so has many others...We couldn't count on that, only hope that it would be enough.

So trust me when I say that when we got the word two weeks ago that he got selected - it was such a relief that was impossible to describe. He made it, we were going to make the 20 years, he was going to be able to stay in, he will be able to sign a new contract for the remaining years. The future is all of a sudden not as black and scary - we are safe! In one text, everything changed and we knew..

In the military they call it that they get selected for promotion. It can actually take awhile until they are promoted. It all depends on lots of paperwork, on how many there is to be promoted before you according to the list etc etc. They don't start to promote service members until July 1st, and that's the date that Chris got! How wonderful. They even said in the speech, that he was the first in the Marine Corps to be promoted this year. Which we first didn't realize, but as Japan are 16 hours ahead of the West Coast and even more hours with the rest of the US, it was not even July back in the States when Chris got promoted, so yes, it could very well be. Pretty cool.

So, promotion ceremony was to be held at 9.00am down on the bigger base Foster. This is where the headquarters are and where the higher up's have their offices. There were around 20 marines from the unit that showed up for the ceremony and to pay their respect. Sometimes these ceremonies are held outside and it's a little bit nicer with the marines in attention etc, but with the heat and humidity already high this morning, we were happy that we were able to do it inside. Plus, the wind and the noisy cicadas would have made it impossibly to hear a word of what was said. They are loud!

Below are the pictures taken with my camera that one of the Marines offered to take during the ceremony. I almost wish that I would have taken pictures myself, I would have focused on several different things, these are all already cropped by me as he didn't zoom in and there were several just randomly shot, but not even getting the faces in the pictures..sigh. Well, this is just something that annoys me probably, and I am glad that we were able to get some pictures from this big day.

Getting his award and title.

In the Marines, something that symbolizes the rank is the chevron that is pinned on the collar. The change of the chevron is something that is very special and the "pinning" is a part that the family members can take part in. As Cassie was in the ceremony when he got promoted last time (even if she missed out on the pinning part, as he then on recruiting duty was in another uniform that doesn't have the chevrons..), he thought it would be nice if the twins could pin him, on on each side at the same time.

We had been waiting on the sidelines in the room during the beginning, and then we were escorted to the middle of the room where Chris stood. Two chairs were taken out so that the kids could reach and then they had to take the old chevron off with the lower rank, and "pin" him with the new chevron with the higher rank. Cassie was a great helper making taking the old ones and ready to take over if there was a problem.

Taking out the old chevron.

Daddy holding the new chevron ready in his hands

They are pretty tricky to get into the fabric,
 so the marines had to stand in attention for a while....

Ben didn't like the attention - and here he asked "Can we go now?" 
Which brought a smile to everyone's faces..

The Marines were released out of their attention and were lining up to congratulate. Here Ssgt H. who was our sponsor coming onto Okinawa, is congratulating Chris.

Another family picture,  Benjamin had already had enough and didn't want to be in the picture.

And a last one of my Marine & I.

After the ceremony, Chris had to get back to work for awhile, and then later in the evening we had a nice and quiet dinner at home. The getting together for the "wet down" party will not be until next Friday, as the long weekend for the 4th of July has many marines on leave already. 

The Wonder Museum

On our way out from the Zoo, we did go into the Wonder Museum. We thought that it wouldn't take too long to walk through it, but it was bigger and more interesting than we had thought. It was built for the kids to explore, to use all senses, to imagine, to dance, to play and to have fun! I wish that we would have had more time here, so the kids could have looked around and really enjoyed everything they wanted in their speed and without having to feel rushed. Now we didn't have time for many of the things there was to see, the museum was spread out over three floors and there was one thing after the other. We have been to a few Children's Museum in the US. One in San Diego and one in Phoenix, and this one was just as good or not better than the one in Phoenix, that was our absolute favorite.

They had one floor where the kids could dress up, play boardgames, one huge craft station, where there were feathers, glue, stickers, glitter, paper in all the colors of the rainbow and many more things that one could think of, but we had to skip that part completely, as I know that if I would have taken the little kids into that section, we wouldn't have had time to finish and meltdowns would have been crazy in the end of the day here. I think we have to come back and focus on the Museum and less on the Zoo next time!

Turn the wheel and see how you turn your head upside down..

A dance floor with sensors where in some movements there would be 10 of you on the screen - 
the girls loved this part!

This was so beautiful. I had never seen such a colorful and pretty piece of cloth before. I didn't know about this Okinawan style of dying cloth. They call it "Bingata" here.

Playing with air, regulating the angle with the wheel, and making the ball fly all the way up. If you ended up angling too much to the side, the ball would loose most of the airflow and fall out on the floor. Isabella thought that this was very fun, and she and the Okinawan boy next to her, kept taking turns for a long while.

Another dance floor, where the light follows your steps, 
surprising you with small or large colorful patterns.

Above was one of my absolute favorite activities in the museum! It was like a light table, and on each side there was instructions on how to hold your hands/fingers to make out a shadow of an animal. There were many different ones, and some harder than others. On the table there was a half circle in front of each side, where you would have to try to hold your hands in the shape of one animal, and if you succeed, there would soon be an image of a rabbit, deer or bear hopping, jumping or walking across the light table! So much fun, and sometimes you tried for one animal, but by making mistakes or not holding the hands still enough, the computer read it differently and another animal but the one that you had tried for showed up on the light table. This was so much fun, and we all loved to see how many we could do. I wish I would have filmed some of this, will have to try to remember that next time!

She got the whole wide world in her arms...

Another dance floor. 

Two yellow circles, Isabella was the monkey on the screen to the right, and Benjamin was the bear on the screen to the left. Jumping, dancing and having fun to the music and the kids were not following the lead of the animals on the screen, the animals on the screen were doing what the kids were doing, which made it even more fun!

So, we had a great Father's Day. We went home to eat a nice dinner, and the kids had made cards, pretty pictures and written their names on a photo frame each with their school picture for daddy to bring to the office. Very much appreciated!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Okinawa Zoo

For Father's Day last week, we had planned to do a day outing to something special. The original plan was to go down to Naha, the big city in the southern part of Okinawa, but as Chris has to work half the day on Sundays, he wasn't home until just before noon. With over an hour travel time, and very many different things to do there, we decided that we rather want to go down there early morning one time to make a whole day out of it.

So with pretty short notice, and weather that couldn't be trusted, we decided to spend the afternoon at the Okinawa Zoo, that isn't too far from our house.

We started off with the merry-go-round and drive some motorcycles that were just past the entrance before heading to see the animals.

Both wanted to ride the panda, luckily there were two on the merry-go-round!

Little bikers

After the rides, we headed up a steep hill to get the the different animals. The condition of this Zoo is not what we are used to in America and not what they normally have in Europe either for that matter, but we are in Asia, and have to accept that there are different ways of handling animals and different rules and regulations. The cages and their areas were small, but for the most part it seemed clean. Big down side were the many spiders above and around the cages, and one did NOT want to raise the eyes to look up, as there were many many thick spider webs and spiders all around the cages, the walkways and all around the Zoo. Freaked us out here and there and made us have to keep a closer look at the kids so they didn't run ahead, lean over some bushes etc..

I have read that in Japan, it's considered to bring luck if you see a spider in daylight, so maybe that's why they didn't clean or spray against them? Maybe they also like to keep them around as they do a great job in catching bugs, flies and other insects that would be bothering the animals? I don't know, but some areas we almost skipped, as it was just too many spiders.


The girls posing with the protectors of Okinawa, the Shisas.

Luckily, the signs were also in English...

As a horse lover, I was happy to learn from Cassandra, that got this knowledge in her "Japanese culture class" in school, that this horse breed, Yonaguni pony, is a breed of horse native to the southwest islands of Japan. It used to be used for farming and transportation of timber, but since technology took over, these horses were no longer bred. They were down to only 59 living in 1975. The Japanese started breeding them again, but it's still very rare, and there is only around 200 known living today.


Father's Day picture, before going into the reptile house.

Ben had been wanting to see the alligators and wasn't too happy about the size of this one..

Many little turtles!

We were here for Father's Day, 
we still couldn't understand what they offered extra at the different times scheduled..

Daddy elephant!

And mommy and baby elephant in a separate area.

We smiled at many of their warning signs..

Playing soccer...

Another easy to understand warning sign!

It was a hot and humid day, and the ice creams melted faster than they could eat them! Nice to have a brake from all the walking and have a snack though.

After the ice cream break, we walked to the Petting Zoo. They had some guinea pigs on some tables easy for the kids to pet and to feed. They also would have some bunnies, but they are not doing as well in the humidity, so they were not out this day. All around this area were several big fans to cool the animals off. Ben helped with his little hand held fan!

"Cute Chick"

A colorful Koi fish in it's true habitat..


Above are some of the spiders that we saw during our walk around, especially where the monkey cages were. I had to take some close ups, to be able to Google them to see if they are poisonous or not. To me- all spiders and snakes are BAD and I tell my kids to keep away from all, especially here where we aren't so familiar with the many different insects, spiders and other animals that can harm you. Here the yellow one to the left is a so called Banana spider and the one to the right is called the Giant Wood spider. And it was true to it's name. This one was probably as big as my palm..BUT, as from what I have heard and what I've read- they are both not poisonous.

After the Petting Zoo, it started to get late, but we wanted to get a look into the Wonder Museum that is connected to the Zoo. More about that in the next post.