Friday, October 22, 2010

The Journey to Japan

**(Just a warning that this is an extra long blog post, so read it when you have some time, or come back and read it in sections as time permits.)**

We've called Japan home for 2 months now and we still feel so fortunate to be on this journey together.  It took a few weeks to get adjusted to the time difference and to the environment, but now that we're getting more settled, I think it's time I recapped our trip from Little Rock to Japan.  Oh, it was an adventure!

The movers arrived on Monday, August 23, 2010 to pack up our personal belongings to ship on to Japan.  We spent the rest of the day cleaning and getting our suitcases organized and then tried to get a good night's sleep for the long week ahead.  On Tuesday, we left for the airport bright and early that morning to catch a flight to Seattle, WA.  Matthew didn't have his own seat on these flights, so it made traveling a bit exhausting with him in our laps.  Our flight from Little Rock wasn't completely full, so we were able to have a full row (two seats, the aisle, and two more seats), which helped tremendously since the flight was 2 hours long.  Matthew had plenty of room to stand up and play with his cars.  He made lots of friends on the flight (thankfully we were surrounded by men and women who were either parents or grandparents and thought Matthew was really cute!).  To save on time, we stood Matthew in the center of the aisle and changed his diaper - he thought it was hilarious - and we were just thankful that we got the diaper on and securely in place before we landed! 

We had a brief layover in Denver, CO and with our luck had to walk almost the entire airport to get from one terminal to the other.  We were able to grab some sandwiches before boarding the plane and let Matthew run around a bit.  It was a full flight, so we were praying that Matthew would do okay.  The flight from Denver to Seattle was about 3 hours long.  The plane was set up with three seats, an aisle, and three more seats.  We were fortunate to have a sweet grandma sit in the seat with us, and it was a blessing that she was so patient with us!  We had the window and center seat, so Matthew was pretty active trying to move around and play.  We learned our lesson -- we'll splurge and get him his own seat next time!  When children are under the age of 2 they can sit in your lap, which was fine when Matthew was smaller and not mobile, but at this point as a 30 pound toddler, sitting in our lap for more than 30 minutes is a challenge!  Thankfully, we made it safely to Seattle and knew we had at least 36 hours to recover. 

We located all of our luggage - 5 suitcases, 2 backpacks, 1 laptop bag, 1 carry-on bag for Matthew, a stroller and Matthew's car seat.  This is what we'd have to live out of for at least the next few weeks, so it was definitely a hefty load!  We found a guy to cart our bags to the rental car area of the airport and got the keys to a nice, shiny white Yukon!  The largest car we've ever driven is the Honda CR-V we sold before we moved, so this was huge!  The funny part is that we filled the entire back with our luggage, so I'm thankful they had an SUV available for us!  Here's a photo of the car and of Matthew in the back with our luggage. 

We checked into our hotel, a Hampton Inn, just outside the city of Seattle, got somewhat organized with all of our luggage, and then went to find something to eat.  Since Pacific time was 2 hours behind us, we decided to try to stay on Central time for Matthew's sake (at this point it's still just Tuesday afternoon - had we really just left Little Rock that morning?!?!).  So, it seemed like the best thing for Matthew to just stay on schedule as much as possible since our arrival in Japan was going to be a doozie - 14 hours ahead of Central time! 

We got some decent sleep that night and got up on Wednesday morning and just took it easy.  We were scheduled to be at the airport that night at 10:30pm to get checked in and ready for our big flight to Japan.  So, since the Hampton Inn provides breakfast, we had breakfast in bed with Matthew and relaxed and then decided we would try to go downtown for lunch and to sightsee for a few hours.  I honestly can't tell you how beautiful the weather was when we arrived.  I expected cloudy skies and showers off and on.  We were very fortunate to have sunny skies the entire time we were there - up until the day we left! 

The drive into the city was absolutely beautiful!  I could seriously live in Seattle.  It's such a neat city!  Here are a few photos from our drive into the downtown area.

After driving around, we finally found a place to park and set out to walk through the city.  I sure didn't expect it to be situated on a huge hill with the harbor and water at the bottom, so boy was I surprised to do that much walking up and down hills!  It reminded me of San Francisco.  Our first mission was to find Pike Place Market.  We found some interesting scenery along the way...

At first glance, I thought the things lining the sidewalk on the left side were cable dishes.  I was wrong - they were some sort of odd sculptures to keep people off the wall.  Very interesting but also very sharp!

This is the famous "gum" wall.  Gross if you think about it, but look at all that gum!

An up-close and personal view.  Yuck.

After a nice walk, we finally found the famous Pike Place Market!  It was a neat area and there were lots of food vendors and restaurants.  There were tons of people walking around, so we just followed the crowds and took in the sights.

The fresh produce looked delicious!

The flowers above the building were so colorful.

I couldn't believe how beautiful the flower bouquets were that they were selling for only $10-$15 each!  If I lived in Seattle we would have fresh flowers on the table every week!

 The one place I definitely wanted to find was Pike Place Fish Market -- home of the flying fish!  The guys who work there not only have amazing work ethic, but they can also seriously throw some slimey fish around with their bare hands! 

The guy on the bottom right was throwing crabs to the guy behind the counter.  He was going so fast, we didn't get one in the air, but it was pretty neat to watch!

We had a beautiful view of the mountains as we drove out of the city.  It looked like a postcard!  Can you see the mountain in the background?  I believe it's Mount Rainier.  Wow!

We made a stop at Target, grabbed a bite for supper and then returned to the hotel.  We went through Matthew's bedtime routine (even thought it was only about 4pm) and put him to bed (thank goodness for dark hotel curtains!).  We knew we were going to have to wake him up in a few hours to leave for the airport, but we wanted him to rest as much as possible.  Ryan and I tried to nap, had a last minute phone call with family and showered to get ready to go.  We arrived at the airport at around 10pm and dropped off our rental car.  We had arranged for a guy to meet us there with a cart for all of our luggage, which was wonderful, and he lead us to the AMC ticket counter.  When we arrived the line was completely full and wasn't moving because they weren't opening up the counter until 11pm.  So, we hauled all our luggage into the line, picked up the paperwork we were required to fill out, and started waiting.  The waiting would have been easy for just Ryan and me since they have free wi-fi in the Seattle airport, but Matthew obviously wasn't going to sit still.  So, I hooked him into this backpack that has a "leash" on it and let him run "free" for about an hour.  The kid has more energy than the energizer bunny -- and it was almost 11pm!

When the attendants arrived at the ticket counter, we found out that the flight was going to be delayed 24 hours.  So, instead of taking off at 4:30am on Thursday morning, we would now be leaving at 4:30am on Friday morning.  No problem.  We'll just pack it up and get a good night's rest and do this all again tomorrow.  Not quite.  Instead of just sending us back to our hotel, they had us file through the line as if we were checking in our luggage.  We had everything weighed and got our boarding passes and then were told to be back at the AMC ticket counter at the same time the following evening.  While Ryan waited in line, Matthew and I ran back to the car rental office to see if our car was still available, but they didn't have anything at all -- not even a smaller car.  So, I frantically went from counter to counter looking for a car, and by the grace of God found one.  The attendant happened to be a mother of a young man who is finishing up his college degree and then plans on joining the Air Force.  Not to mention she was pretty sure he was slotted to be a Navigator!  So, when she found out we were moving to Japan with the military, so took special care of us.  Isn't God awesome! 

After successfully having our luggage checked and picking up our boarding passes, we loaded everything back into our next rental car (this time a Suburban) and headed back to the hotel.  Thankfully we had paid for the room so we could leave late, so that made it much easier to check back in.  We got a pretty decent night's sleep and woke up the next morning planning to take it easy since we had a better idea of what to expect at the airport that night.  We made another trip to Target, let Matthew run around, grabbed some lunch and headed back to the hotel to get organized.  That evening, we ordered a pizza, went through the same bedtime routine for Matthew, had another quick round of phone calls with family and napped with Matthew for as long as we could.  The excitement finally set in for me when I got up to shower and at this point I was just ready to get the show on the road!  Once again, we made it to the airport and headed to the back of the very long line.  We moved much faster through check-in this time around since our bags had already been tagged and boarded passes had already been handed out, so our wait was fairly easy and Matthew did awesome!  Here are a few pictures of the area where we checked in -- just imagine it full of a few hundred people...
Here we are with all of our carry-on luggage.  Yuck.

Here's the AMC ticket counter, which was full of people when we arrived!

 The line actually wrapped around the corner to the big open space to the left of the counter.  If you look closely, you can see Ryan and Matthew in the background standing where we started in the line.  I had no idea so many people would be heading to Japan!

Instead of heading straight to the gate, we let Matthew run around the airport for a while.  At this point it was almost 1am, so the place was virtually empty.  It was here that we discovered Matthew's love for the escalator!

We made a stop at Starbucks for some coffee and snacks, and then went to check out the USO Lounge.  It was already full of people sleeping, eating and some kids playing, so we decided to go on and head to our gate.  In case you're wondering what it looks like, here are a few photos of the front of USO Lounge.  In the back there are couches, a few beds, bathrooms with a shower, and a few cribs.

The security gate check point was empty (which turned out to be a blessing since we had SO much stuff).  One of the security guards was sweet and gave Matthew his very own security badge to put on his car seat!

We made our way to the gate, grabbed a few snacks, magazines and milk for Matthew and basically just spent about 2 hours letting Matthew "run free" before we boarded the plane.  We were scheduled to have two seats together by the window and then a third seat across the aisle.  Ryan went to the gate counter to see what time we would be boarding and just happened to be there when they loaded a family onto an emergency vehicle because they were all very sick with some kind of stomach bug.  Again, God works in mysterious ways, and I'm not happy that a poor family was sick and couldn't make the flight, but Ryan knew that now meant there were 4 available seats open and he worked his charm on the ladies at the counter and got our seats switched!  So, instead of 3 seats, we now had 4 seats to spread out in -- and they were closer to the front of the airplane than what we had originally been given!  Praise the Lord! 

We boarded the plane a little after 3am and got settled for the almost 10 hour flight ahead of us.  Matthew was getting tired and he fell asleep before we even got off the ground.  We had a very smooth take off and the majority of the plane settled into a quiet sleep.  About two hours into our flight, they turned on the lights to serve breakfast.  I was hungry, so the food was welcomed, but the lights woke Matthew up, and that wasn't good.  After being awake a few hours and taking turns walking him around the airplane, playing with cars, reading books, watching Elmo DVDs, we finally got him to go back to sleep.  But, a few hours into our sleep, they turned the lights back on to serve lunch/dinner.  Once again, Matthew was wide awake and this time wasn't very happy.  Looking back on the situation, Ryan and I were very patient and worked really well as a team, but it was exhausting and very frustrating at times.  We were seated around several other families, so they all understood and were also dealing with kids who couldn't sleep.  With about an hour left on our flight, I was able to get Matthew back to sleep one last time.  He managed to nap until we began our decent and the people around us started to move around.  I tried to take a few photos as we came into Japan, but they didnt' turn out well.  Here are one or two just so you can get an idea of what we were seeing -- but the pictures honestly don't do it justice!

After being on the plane for a very LONG 9 hours and 45 minutes, we landed safely at Yokota Air Base, Japan!  It was so exciting to have our first look around.  Here are a few photos I took from the plane as we taxied down the runway. 

I'm so thankful that the Lord brought us here safely!  We feel blessed for this opportunity and plan to embrace every aspect of it as we get more and more comfortable with our new home! 

Stay tuned for the next blog post, which will be about our first week in Japan! 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Family Days in Little Rock, AR

After we returned from a great trip to Canada, we had to kick things into high gear for the move to Japan.  Ryan and I were so thankful that my parents (AKA, Nana and Poppy) drove all the way from Rock Hill, SC to Little Rock, AR to be with us for a week.  It was such a huge help to have them with us to keep Matthew entertained while we sorted, packed and cleaned.  Of course, we took some time out to do a little sightseeing and enjoy the beautiful (but very hot) Arkansas weather. 

There is a playground on Little Rock Air Force Base, where we lived, that has a wonderful tree coverage and is right near the base lake.  The playground is the perfect size for Matthew, so we decided to go there one afternoon to play and then feed the ducks.  The weather could not have been more beautiful.  Of course, it was hot and humid, but it was a great summer afternoon!

Matthew loves the bucket swing!

Nana was brave and took Matthew down the slide!

Nana and Matthew had so much fun, they decided to go down together again!

The slide looked like so much fun, I had to give it a try too!

Matthew and Nana walking across the bridge - below is a small creek that leads into the bigger base lake.

Poppy helping Matthew climb the slide backwards!

Poppy decided to give the big slide a try too!  The slide was a hit for everyone!

Once we finished playing at the playground, we went over to feed the ducks.  It took them no time to greet us once they saw the big bag of bread we had for them!

Matthew had so much fun watching them!  We had to make sure they stayed in the water (they were not afraid) or else they would have been eye-to-eye with Matthew!

After a long day at the park and feeding the ducks, we went home for a nice dinner.  Matthew had his bath and got ready for bed, so Nana sat with him on the couch to read some bedtime stories.  So sweet!

There is a Trolley that runs through downtown Little Rock, and you can ride for $1 per person.  We thought Matthew would love riding the trolley since he loves trains, and it was also a great way for us to show my parents the city. 
Nana, Matthew and Poppy walking to the Trolley stop.

Poppy showing Matthew the Trolley as it approached to pick us up.

Happy to be riding the air conditioned Trolley!

Matthew was so happy snuggled on the bench with Nana!

Matthew taking time to snuggle with Poppy too!

We're having fun!

After an exciting afternoon downtown Little Rock, we decided to go on an adventure and find the famous "Hubcap Burgers" at a local restaurant called, Cotham's.  I have to admit, when we drove up I was a bit hesitant about going inside.  The place honestly looked like it was about to cave into the swamp it was sitting on.  If I hadn't heard first-hand that these burgers were amazing, then I may have suggested we find another location for lunch!  I'm glad we stayed because the food was amazing once you got past the look of the location!

Sitting on the front porch waiting for a table.

Dad and Ryan were the only ones brave enough to eat the Hubcap burger -- look how big that thing is and they both ate the entire thing!!

Mom and I after our very filling (but very yummy) lunch!

Can you spot Poppy in the background trying to get Matthew to smile.

I still can't believe we ate here!  It looks like it is about to fall apart!

This is the side view...glad we survived!

 Sadly, our week together came to an end so quickly and it was very hard to say our goodbyes.  Our time together was wonderful and I feel so blessed that they were able to come visit before we left for Japan.  It really meant so much.  I obviously cried like a baby when they drove away, but had a peace in my heart from God that I know we are meant to be in Japan - even if we are half a world away.  So, thank you, Mom and Dad, for taking the time to drive 15+ hours to see us!  You don't know how much it meant to us that you had some quality time with Matthew and with us.  We love you and can't wait for you to come visit us in Japan!

Matthew with Nana and Poppy before they headed back to Rock Hill, SC.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding: in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."  - Proverbs 3:5-6