Sunday, December 20, 2015

4th O' July

Pleasant 4th of July weekend all in all.  Heather was in for the weekend, so I got to catch up with her.  I guess that there is a chance that her office may be moved to Texas and so I asked if that happens - will she make the move?  She said that yes she would go.  So that would be a big change.  Also her daughter Megan is a senior this year.  She plans to go to law school and be an environmental lawyer, so she still has more work in front of her.

We had lunch at Buckeye Jakes - always a good place to eat.  Grandpa Jack asked who Dan was - had never met him even though he has been married to Chelsea for 3-4 years...

Had fireworks out at our place.  Asa and Shane had fun setting them off.

2015 in Review

Well it was a year with peaks and valleys.  We had a great time on our trip to Japan to visit Joe and Samantha and Ryker. It was Becky's first trip overseas and she handled it well. So that was a highlight.  We also were blessed with another grandchild - number 8.  Young Sterling Howard made her entrance in Columbus in December.  So that was another peak.  But Becky lost 2 sisters this year.  Her oldest sister, Evelyn died of cancer.  Then her sister Nancy had a stroke and died in her sleep.

 My Uncle Vaughn passed away this year too.  He fought cancer for quite a while and thought that it was in remission, but it finally overcame him.  When I was younger, he was probably my least favorite uncle.  Always seemed grouchy and grumpy. But with the passage of time I learned to appreciate his directness and learned to like him.  In a sense, it seems sometimes. that life is a series of hello's and goodbye's and new folks arrive and the aged depart.  You hope that you can leave a positive impression inbetween the hello and the goodbye.

Chad's wife, Sarah, has a job as a junior high teacher over in Richmond.  Junior high is a tough age to teach.  Young'ish teenagers trying to push their boundaries.  So the first year is an adjustment for her I am sure.  Both Cash and Serenity are doing fine.  Cash enjoys tinkering and inventing little things.  Serenity seems to waffle back and forth between being a tomboy and a princess.  Chad rebuilt his Chevy Sprint for the umpteenth time.  He seems determined to keep that thing running as long as NAPA makes replacement parts for it.

Vanessa and Eric are doing fine in Covington.  When the kids start to do sports I will have to learn to sit in the stands on the home side and cheer without gagging.  Elaina is doing OK at school, hard to believe that she is 9 now.  Young Violet has started kindergarten and seems to be thriving.  She dresses loud like Chelsea did.  And I do see some athleticism in her.  Young Elliot is bringing up the rear, but I am starting to see signs that he does not like to be pushed around by his older siblings.  He is tall for his age. At some point his sisters will be looking up to him.

Chelsea has returned to school - taking bio-technology at Ohio State.  And if that weren't enough, she just had child number 2.  So a lot of change in a short period of time.  I wonder if she trying to out do wonder woman or something.  Anyway a lot on her plate, but she seems to be handling it.  Dan has a job with power company as a customer service rep.  Seems to like it, so he is bring home the bread for now.

Young Annabelle is adjusting to having competition for Mom and Dad's attention.  So she is having to adjust as well.  Dan has been working with her at softball and she seems to get it and is showing some athleticism too.  When we let them hit the ball off of the tee, she did as well if not better than the older kids.

It was a pleasure to see Joe and Samantha in Japan.  We let them be our tour guides and they showed us a great time.  They took the time to ask around and find the best places to go. We went to some unique places and even got to see the emperors palace.  Young Ryker was a trooper throughout our visit and we got to spend some time with him. He seems like a people person.

 Joe will be leaving the air force soon and coming back home.  He is unsure what exactly he wants to do.  He enjoyed doing automotive upholstery but he might have found something with his father in laws company - they are thinking of expanding into solar power.  So he might try that out.  He is still young and should have the GI bill - so if he doesn't find anything he likes, then he can go back to school and find something new.

And finally we will be feeding into the star wars frenzy by watching star wars next week.  So support the empire - the Micky Mouse empire that is...

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

cute kids - 2000

Cut and paste from the journal I kept on the kids for the year 2000.

Jan.   3  Vanessa got to start against Stivers.  They are a pretty poor team,
          that we beat handily 43 to 20.  Vanessa has yet to score a point.  
          Her hip is giving her problems again.  X-rays show that her growth
          plates on the top of her hips haven't fused yet.  She hasn't hardly
          grown in the last year.  Doctors say it is just a manner of time 
          until they fuse.  They play Tri-County North on Thursday.  Tom Steck,
          a former classmate of mine, is coaching their team.  Vanessa's boyfriend,
          Mark, broke up with her so she was in a grouchy mood this weekend.  

          Chelsea has 2 games this weekend.  One against an undefeated 
          Brookville - should be a barnburner.  

         Joe said that it was his best christmas ever.  He is really enjoying the
         Rollercoaster Tycoon pc game we got for him.  It was a good investment.
         We have been playing Starcraft head to head on our 2 pc's.  

         Chad is putting another engine in his pickup truck.  Still has a ways 
         to go.  Has a new girl that he is seeing, she is 16.  She called several
         times this weekend, so she is serious anyway.  

Jan 24   Measured Chelsea yesterday and she is about 1/4 inch taller than Vanessa.
         Vanessa still hasn't scored a point this basketball season.  She is now
         going with John Martin, a friend of Chad's.  Chad is back at school, pulling
         good grades so far.    

Feb.14   Joe celebrated his birthday over the weekend. Went to Chuckecheese's with
         Michael, Anthony, Matthew, Allison and Chelsea.  The kids had a good time
         the parents choked down the pizza.  Joe got a gameboy with a pokemon game,
         clothes, cars.  Chad got good grades at Sinclair.  Two A's and a C.  Now he
         back at work.  Chelsea scored 15 and 8 points this weekend her team finished
         5-7 and got 4th place in the regular season.  

Mar. 8   Chelsea's team got 4th place in the tournament.  She got 2-3 pointers.  
         Joe did good at his last basketball game.  Pulled some rebounds, made
         good passes, and handled the ball OK.  Chad has an e-girlfriend named Sarah
         from Toledo.  Vanessa ran a 2:32 in 800m at a meet in Columbus, 10th place

Mar. 20  Chelsea has started tryouts for the Surge.  Both Joe and Chelsea are in the
         chicken business.  We bought 25 Rhode Island Red pullets.  Chad is getting
         ready to start another session at Sinclair.  Vanessa has started a writing

Apr. 18  Chelsea made Surge A team.  They are struggling but Chelsea has been scoring some
         points.  Best game is 6 so far.  Vanessa had a good meet 2:32 800m, but has sprained her
         ankle.  We hope that she recovers by this Saturday.  Helped Joe build a crane for
         cub scouts. Chad bought yet another car.  All the youngsters had good grades this
         last time around.  

May 03   Joe had a good time at camp Kern. Just got back today.  Chelsea is doing OK at 
         AAU Basketball - She got 6 points and 4 points in the two games she was at last weekend.
         Chelsea spent the rest of the weekend at COSI.  Vanessa is doing OK at track.
         Got 1st in 800m and 1st in 1600m in the Preble County meet.  Chad made the deans
         list at Sinclair.  

May 18   Chelsea's team got 4th place at state YBOA tournament and qualified for nationals.
         Tarheels coach wants Chelsea to play for him if we do not go.  Vanessa set school
         record (5:22) in 1600m run and tied school record for 800m.  She qualified in 4
         events for Regionals.  

May 23   Found out at sports banquet that the 1600m record had stood since 1978 and also
         that Vanessa is in second place for total points on the team.  She also got the
         most valuable runner award this year.  So she cleaned house at the spring sports
         award banquet.  Today is last day of school.

June 5  Vanessa did not make state :- (  Didn't do as well at the regional as she would have
        liked.  Chelsea is doing OK at basketball, scored 10 points for her TVS team.
        Bought a cd-burner to make backup copies of cd's so that the kids would not 
        ruin them.  Made a few backups, but Joe - not be deterred, found a way to destroy a few games anyway.
        He put the originals in the burner and had music cds' in the cd player.  The
        games were overwritten with music. 3 cd games got clobbered by Joe before we
        figured out what was going on.

Jun 12 Joe is having a good time at basketball camp this week. The second day that
        I dropped
       him off, all the coaches knew his name - don't know if that is good or bad.  Chelsea
       celebrated her 12th birthday.  She is the proud owner of a .22 Savage rifle 
       and a toad.
       Allison, Heather, and Desma stayed all night.  They didn't get to sleep until 6 in
       the morning.  Chad has been seeing a girl named Sarah - still in the just friends stage.
       He has been helping Grandpa Jack with some odd jobs.
       Vanessa is playing softball, they run ruled a team from Lewisburg 55-2.  

Jun 15 Joe got into a fight at basketball camp, more of a scuffle than a fight.  He got the better of the other kid.  He didn't rat out Joe so they didn't get into trouble.  

Jul 5  Chelsea's basketball team was runners up at the buckeye state games regional finals.
       Joe was going to make his catapult into a cat-a-pult, 
       stopped him before any damage was done to the cat.
       Vanessa is taking pre-calculus classes at UD this summer - so far, so good.  Chad is
       still at Sinclair.  He is house sitting for grandpa jack this week.  
       Two cows were killed
       by lightening at Grandpa Jack's while Chad was there - go figure the odds.

Jul 19 Chelsea and Joe participated in the Buckeye State games Regional. Chelsea threw the discus
       50 feet and the shot 19 feet.  Joe long jumped 7'6"  Vanessa has started running for
       CC.  Chad has finished his summer term and is back at work.  Chelsea had a good time
       at the Baumgartner camp.  Said that they saw roaches in their dorm though.  
       Joe has been
       getting ready for football season. 

Jul 31 Joe has started football.  He is in the middle as far as size.  
       Currently he is playing
       offensive tackle.  Chelsea's summer basketball team had a good season. 
       Had a pizza party
       last night at the pool.  Fair is also going on.  
       Chad is working on a demolition derby car.
       Vanessa is at Ohio Business Week at Youngstown State Un. 
       When I picked her up, Jim Tressel
       gave a speech at the  banquet at the end of the conference.  
        He gave a rousing - motivating
       speech and at the end - he got a standing ovation from all the teenagers 
       that were there!
       I could not have gotten an ovation like that if I had been passing out $100 bills.

Aug. 3 Just got a call from home.  Joe was running around the house with his football 
       helmet on and busted the screen door window.  
       No casualties other than the window, for now.
       So I have something to do this weekend.

Aug 14 Chelsea went to Cedar Point with a church group.  
       She helped work on a shelter, then went to
       Cedar Point.  Joe is ill, has a fever and threw up.  
       Chad is still working on his demolition derby
       car - a lot of work for something that will be demolished in about 15 minutes.  
       broke up with John, went on a date with Nick from Minster.  
        She met Nick at Ohio Business Week.

Aug 21 Joe's football has had two good scrimmages.  They beat Eaton 18-0 and TCN 6-0.  
       Next week they
       go against Valley View in their first game.  Joe has been doing OK so far.  
       Mike is staying for
       a few days.  Joe and he are sleeping in the trailer.  
       They seem to be getting along together just fine.
       Vanessa's Cross Country team is down to just 2 runners.  Chad is seeing Brittany now.
       Chelsea is waiting for the fall tuneup to start.

Sep 6  Vanessa got 3rd place at Northridge.  
       She ran the course in her best time ever - 20:31.
       Chelsea did well at the fall tuneup.  Chad is spending a bunch of time 
       at Brittany's still.
       Joe is doing OK at football.  
Sep 17 Joe was moved to safety.  So he is playing Tight End and safety.  
       They lost a close one to
       Springboro 12-6.  Their record is 1-2.  Vanessa is having hip problems again. 
        Her times
       are creeping up.  She got a letter from Murray State's track coach.  
       Chad is staying over
       at Brittany's, her parents gave him permission to move into their 
       basement at their new
       home... Don't understand their logic.  
       Chelsea has started girl scouts and also is doing the fall tuneup for basketball.

Sep 25 Chad is no longer a teenager - turned 20 this weekend.  
       Vanessa had a great finish at the CC Invite
       at Brookville.  She had a great kick at the end and beat Ivy from FM 
       for second place.  Her 
       time was fair - 20:43.  
       Joe's team is still close, but no cigar.  They lost 16-8 against BellBrook.
       Joe had some good blocks at tight end.  
       Bought Chelsea a new pair of shoes for BB - mens size 8.5.
       She is around 5'6" now.  

Oct 6  Vanessa got a call from Branden.  She is still seeing Nick from Minster.  Chad has
       more or less moved in with Brittany.  We generally see him on the weekends anymore. He was contacted by Guyler Buick in Middletown.  So he may go back to work for them.  
      Joe's football team tied
       an undefeated Dixie team 6-6. Chelsea got good grades on her midterm report. 
       She is helping to
       run the concession stand for the volleyball games. 

Oct 15 Vanessa went to her homecoming last weekend, then went to Nick's homecoming. Had a good time at both. 
       She finished in 3rd place at the league meet.  
       Chad fixed the frame on his car and did 
       some work around the house.  Joe had a good game against Tipp City.  
       Got a tackle, plus did
       a good job blocking. Chelsea had a 6th grade sleepover at school.  
       Played basketball and 
       watched some movies. Stayed up until 5am - she slept all day.  

Oct 19 Chelsea went to her first Middle School Dance last night. 
       Had a good time.  Tomorrow night
       they go to the haunted cave in Lewisburg.  
       Vanessa went to the opera, it was better than expected.
       Mr. Flory and Mr Mabry's wife were in the opera.  

Oct 30 Joe's football is over.  The team was 3-4-1.  
       Joe had a good season, made some tackles, blocked well.
       They won their last game against Middletown Madison 6-0.
       Vanessa got second at district and qualified 
       for Regionals.  She got 31st at Troy.  So her season is over.
       We went to eat at Ryans to celebrate
       her success.  Now it is time for basketball and winter track. 
       Chad is back at Sinclair, he is working at grandpa Jacks - 
       helping him to fix the old house.  
       Chelsea is getting close to Becky in size.  
       Maybe by next spring she'll be the tallest female
       in the house.     

Nov 2  Joe got third place for most original costume at West Alex during Halloween.  
       He made his own paladin outfit.
       Used paper, glue, reflective tape to make a nice outfit complete with 
       gauntlets and belt.

Nov 11 Vanessa has a lot of options for college next year.  
       She is looking at Wright State, Wittenburg,
       and Lake Erie.  But a girl from Defiance called and asked 
       Vanessa to spend a weekend at their
       school. She had a good time, I stayed in an ancient room at a decrepit hotel.  
       Looked like the d├ęcor was from the 1950's.  
      Joe had his football banquet tonight. Joe is proud of his trophy; 
      he fell asleep with the
       trophy in his arms on the way home.  
      He wanted to take it to show and tell at school, but we were afraid
       that it would get broken.

Nov 14 Vanessa got a standing ovation at the awards banquet last night for the 
       great job she did at
       Cross Country this fall.  2nd in district, 4th in league, 
       and qualifying for regionals.  The boys
       on the CC team had secretly agreed to do it ahead of time. 
       When they stood and starting applauding -
       the whole auditorium joined in. Definitely a moment to remember.  
       She got her 4 year trophy and a nice plaque. 
       Joe is getting poor grades in school, so he is banned from watching cartoons.  
       Nick may be breaking
       things off with Vanessa.  Said he wanted to slow things down and
       'just be friends'.  Vanessa has 
       been calling John again these past few nights... 

Nov.27 Joe is banned from Toon Network and Nickedeon until his behavior and 
       grades improve.  If he gets another note
       sent home then, no computer either.  Chad is back home.  
       He and Brittany broke up.  April 
       is back in contact with him...  Vanessa is seeing John again, 
       but they are just friends.
       Took Chelsea and Joe to the Sports Center in Oxford, we played basketball and swam.  
       Vanessa is helping organize a dance to pay for a trip to New York. 
       She is going to visit Defiance College
       in a few months.  
12/12  Chad is in his work cycle with his automotive program at Sinclair.  
       He is getting close to the end of school.
       He is on track to graduate this spring.  
       His car broke down the other night and fortunately 
       a truck driver let him borrow his cell phone.  

       Vanessa just completed her college tests.  We are waiting for the results.
       I guess a lot of colleges are already filling up. So we are going to hustle
       and start narrowing down her choices.  She is going to Defiance in January.
       Then we need to schedule Wittenburg and Lake Erie College for visits.

       Chelsea started her basketball season.  She got off to a slow start with just
       3 points against Brookville, but got 11 points and 11 rebounds against Northridge (1 - 3 point shot).  
       She is really bugging me for a new Nintendo this Christmas.

       Joe is doing better in school.  Blocking out the cartoon channel had an impact.
       He had his first basketball practice last Saturday.  This year the YMCA is co-ed.
       When he got there, he was the only boy for the first 15-20 minutes.  He wanted 
       to leave - told Becky that he didn't want to play with a bunch of girls.  But 
       she got him to stay and a few boys finally showed up.  She said he was about
       average compared to the rest of the team.    

12/17  Vanessa is seeing a guy from Eaton, Thomas.  They both work
       at the Country Cafe. Chad has been seeing April again.  Joe got a lego tank at the
       Christmas party and worked the whole afternoon putting it together. 
        Also got a remote 
       control HumVee that he has been running around the house.  Chelsea is turning into
       quite the reader, has been reading a lot of books this fall. Her team got 2 wins
       this weekend against Dixie and Preble Shawnee.      

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Assyrians and ISIS

Listened to a podcast on history the other day and the host talked about ancient history this particular time.  As I listened I realized that history just repeats itself.  ISIS has to work a little harder to match the inhumanity and savagery of the Assyrians.  And ISIS would do well to look at what happened to the Assyrians when their state was finally defeated.  As the bible says as you sow so shall you reap.

The Assyrians were in power something like 1500 years BC.  They were viscous as they built and maintained their empire. Some examples include one Assyrian king who pickled the head of a defeated king and put it in a jar.  Then he took the wife of the defeated king as his own.  Another killed all the children of a defeated king in front of him and then gouged out his eyes so that this was the last thing that he ever saw.  Another time a Kings corpse was left out to picked clean by vultures, then his sons made to grind his bones into dust. Another time rebelling nobles were skinned and their skins left on the walls.Enemy Soldiers impaled on stakes.  And well this is just a sample - certainly a bloodthirsty folk. And very much like ISIS in their desire to instill fear in their subjects and enemies.

But today one does not hear much about the Assyrians.  An ancient Greek army retreating through the area of this former civilization reported vast abandoned cities that had been laid waste some time in the past. And the capital was razed to the ground - no trace was left. An alliance was formed and attacked the weakened Assyrians.  And as they gained ground they massacred the Assyrians as they had done to them over the years.  Finally the last Assyrian fortress fell and the empire was no more - ground to dust as they had done to that long dead king from long before. And as you can see they sowed hate and cruelty and in the end that is what they reaped.

So a day will come for ISIS when their enemies rally and bring down them down as well and as history repeats itself and it will - they will reap what they have sowed...

Friday, October 16, 2015

Why does the ride have to end.

A few weeks ago we took the grandkids to the Columbus zoo where they had a carousel.  It was an old one, over a hundred years old.  And I saw the young faces light up and smile and laugh as they whizzed by lap after lap. But then time was up and the engine slowed, the ride came to a stop and it was time to exit. And I am sure that they all wished that the ride lasted just a bit longer.

And for me, being a grandfather, I know that I am playing on the back 9.  That the 18th hole is getting closer and closer.  And at times I think about what I might miss. When will we put men on Mars, and more importantly will I be around to see it?  Computers have changed amazingly in 30 years, what will they be like in the next 30.  What new unexplored ideas and horizons will be explored?  And waxing philosophically, what sort of legacy will I leave behind?

It feels like life is like some sort of relay race.  Where a baton is passed to us.  And we hold it and hopefully don't drop it, or stumble during the race.  But rather pick up steam, gain momentum and pass it on the next leg of the race.  Where hopefully they do the same.  So you see to it that your leg of the race was a strong leg, not a weak one.

So I will be sad to see my leg of the race end.  But I am hopeful that when my race has ended that I will be able to see that baton passed on down and on down - maybe never seeing the finish line, but rather each doing their part to be sure that the baton never stumbles, never falls as they push further and further to new horizons - a never ending ride.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Preble County Meets Japan

Leaving Dayton was a bit of a slow start as the tsa wanted to check something suspicious in one of Becky's bags.  Turned out that Becky was doing a favor for a friend - she collects those smashed pennies where you put a penny and a quarter in the machine, crank the handle and a smashed penny with something stamped on it comes out.  She had heard Japan has these machines too.  So Becky had a roll of quarters and a roll of pennies.  That tagged Becky's bag for inspection.

After the TSA tore through the bag and satisfied themselves that Becky was not a currency smuggler, she repacked and we were on our way.  Later we found that this was partially true.  The machines exist in a few touristy spots in japan, but they use copper discs and you just put in a 50 yen coin.  I was skeptical - seemed odd that there would that there were that many American tourists in Japan that the machines would pay for themselves.

Chicago is where we caught the international flight, thankfully the gate was right next door to the flight we flew in on, so no dashing through the airport to get on the plane in time. The seats were uncomfortable, at least for a couple of old folks like us.  My hip hurt after a spell and I had to keep shifting myself around to stay comfortable,  Becky's back hurt and she was in the same boat as me.  We joked that we should just take sleeping pills and snooze blissfully on the return trip.

The flight itself wasn't bad.  Not much turbulance during the flight and we watched a few movies and I read a little. The landing was a bit much.  Apparently it was windy in Tokyo and we must have ran into some cross winds.  So the landing was a bit rough and we were thankful when we finally touched down.  The pilot actually apologized for the landing. 

Joe and his wife Sam met us at the airport.  It was a little over 2 hours to get to Joe's place. And we had to drive thru Tokyo to get there.  Some of the highways are numbered, and some of the signs have english subtitles, but if you can't read Japanese you have to rely on the GPS.  Which with tall buildings and tunnels - it adds to the level of difficulty of navigating if you lose your signal. Oh and did I mention that they drive on the opposite side of the road.  So Joe did all this on the wrong side of the road - at least according to us.  

We did pass by Disney at night which was really nice all lit up - as was the rest of the city.  We couldn't enjoy the the night view from the plane when we came in, gripping our arm rests in terror and all. 

The next day we spent at a local park.  Joe promised that the first week of April was the best time to see the cherry blossoms.  And he was right, they were all in full bloom that day.
There was a light breeze and we stopped on one of the streets on the base to check out the tree's and take a few pics.  It was like being in a gentle snow flurry with the petals falling from some of the tree's.  Sam picked up a handful from curb and threw them on Joe's back.   But was like being in a tunnel of cherry blossoms with all the tree's in bloom on each side of the street.  Very scenic and a lot of people were walking under the tree's and taking pics.

The city park was good sized and lots of people were there to see the tree's and flowers.
We had some ice cream - cherry flavored of course.  We were people watching and snapping pictures.  People love their dogs. The majority had little doggie coats on them, and some were even being pushed around in strollers, pampered pets indeed.

I think the land belonged to a famous person who had a farm,rice mill, and rice warehouse - which had all been restored. There were even a few rice paddies. Close to that was a huge open area where some people were flying kites, and around the perimeter were vendors selling treats, and most of the people were picnicking in the perimeter of this area.  Various gardens were scattered about the property and most were in bloom or close to blooming. So it was very colorful and springlike in the atmosphere, a fun way to spend the first day.

The next day was our trip to Kyoto to see the original Imperial palace and also the temples.  Looking at the map of Kyoto you can see a liberal sprinkling of temples and shrines about the city. So we easily could have spent a week there taking in the sights.  But the plan was to hit the highlights and then move on. 

Navigating the subways, railways, and buslines in an English speaking city is hard enough - figuring out schedules and which line to get on and whatnot. So add to the complexity of all the above - in Japanese, but Joe and Sam have done this before.  Thankfully in Japan they have a lot of English subtitles in their signage.  But we did have to make a few trips to the information booth when all else failed.  They have learned to allow extra time on their trips to allow for getting on a North bound bus instead of a South bound, etc. As always the kindness of strangers helping lost Americans is a blessing and the Japanese that we met were gracious and helpful.

The bullet train ride was surprisingly smooth.  From Tokyo to Kyoto the scenery whips by at a blazing speed.  Sort of like riding shotgun with a nascar driver.  And it's not like they run a bullet train once an hour - while we were there they going about every 10 minutes - so there is an assembly line of these speed demons tearing across the country side.

Maybe it was the rail line attracting the population, or maybe the country is just crowded period, but it felt like every place that you could put a house, there was a house.  There were some plots of ground for farming, but they were small and surrounded by houses. Now the steep hill sides and mountains were bare of houses, but the rest of the countryside we saw on that trip was crowded - at least for a country boy like me. And many of the mountains were pretty with cherry tree's randomly blooming all the way to the top.

It was cool and wet our entire stay in Kyoto - it was t-shirt and shorts weather the week before, but of course when we arrive the weather turns.  Still our stay was pleasant and we were lucky.  They only open the Imperial residences for a few weeks each year and so we got to see buildings and objects you ordinarily do not see.  Just seeing the grounds, gardens, and buildings were impressive enough.

We met a fellow in one of the small temple areas on the Imperial grounds.  Joe knows some basic Japanese and this fellow knew basic English. Together they were able to cobble together a conversation.  He was super friendly - turns he knows where Ohio is as he has a cousin in Michigan.  But we did not hold that against him.  I told him about catching Pike in Canada when we found out that we both liked fishing. Anyway it was fun to converse with him and find our commonalities.

We visited a building where a Shogun Leader lived along with his fellow warriors. And throughout the trip we had been utilizing wheelchairs for Becky in facilities where we could find them. She can get around, but not very well.  So as we are going around the living quarters, I keep hearing squeaks and chirps.  I am thinking that this wheelchair sure could use a little grease.  As it turns out they used what is called nightingale flooring, wood flooring that purposefully is made to chirp when walked on so that no one could sneak upon them at night.  I will have to google how they do that so that no ninja's sneak into our house.

 And the main temple that we wanted to visit had a festival that they timed to go along with cherry blossoms. So vendors were selling food and and woman dressed as geisha's as well as men who wore old style robes. It was like the Preble Country Pork Festival with an Asian twist.  Lots of vendors of all sorts - food, religious items, souvenirs, kids toys and the like.  The food was a bit different - one girl walked by that was eating a whole fish on a stick, another vendor had octopus, and so forth - a bit different by Western standards. 

We asked a passing geisha girl and her boyfriend if they would hold Ryker for a picture. Turns out the couple was from Thailand.  They both spoke fluent english and were in Japan studying for several months.  I felt like the dumb American - I speak only one language and my abilities with it are questionable.

The next day got an unexpected start.  We got to the subway station and Becky had to use the lavatory.  So Joe and I waited nearby and chatted while waiting.  Suddenly an alarm went off nearby.  A guard rushed by -"Wonder what all the ruckus is about?  Say, it couldn't be Mom could it?  No I wouldn't think so..."  And about that time a red faced Becky emerged.  Turns out that some toilets in Japan have multiple buttons - a spray of water like a bedoit (sp), perfume, and of course an emergency button - all written in Japanese and poor Becky selected the wrong one.

She was a good sport through it all and we got a good laugh about it later. We made to a temple complex where the theme was about foxes.  And there were thousands of orange wooden arches that went up the hillside. They straddled the path and made an orange caterpillar circling the hill. We did not do the full circuit but did an abbreviated trip.  A bride and groom having wedding pictures taken inside the Torii gates were on this leg.

We visited some small shrines, then a Buddhist temple.  One thing to mention - if you plan to visit temples in the orient, then wear slip shoes.  Most temples will not allow you to wear shoes inside.  So its a bit of a hassle. but an easy price to pay for admission. One of our most relaxing experiences was going to a Buddhist temple and in the middle was a garden with small tree’s and a pool.  It was a place of quiet and tranquility in the middle of this city. There was something inexplicable there that made you feel at peace with the world.

Our last night in Kyoto we ate at a restaurant about a block from the hotel.  Some of the restaurants have English descriptions in their menu’s, but many times we just pointed to a picture on the menu to place our orders.  The place we chose had both Japanese and Western style cuisine – so that each could order to their liking. Still we had communication problems and it took like 15 minutes to get our order in, much to the amusement of the two Australian women the next table over.

Then after all the ruckus, the waiter comes back and gives us English menu’s!  We could have saved 15 minutes if he had brought them out in the first place.  We then looked at the English descriptions of what we had ordered, it turns out that Joe ordered snake!  He promptly changed his order and we sat back and chatted with the Australian women.

Turns out that they were teachers that taught Japanese in their schools and they were there for a conference.  And by a remarkable coincidence the one women’s husband was in the Australian air force.  So she and Joe talked shop a little bit. They kept on telling Joe and Sam that they needed to move to Australia!  Sounds like they do pay their people better and the duty is not so hazardous.  And the one speaking with Joe could mimic the call of the kookaburra bird to the delight of Ryker.  We thought they pushed a bit too hard as to how Australia was so much better than the US, but we didn’t make much of it.  Any way it was a delightful evening.

The next side trip was to Shimodo – a town by the Pacific ocean.  We took a wrong turn and so we had to turn around.  We took the first exit and found that there was no ramp to get back on at the toll gate.  We looked at the map and saw that we  could drive forward and there was a ramp at that exit.  But the operator said that it had been shut down.  So you could get off the expressway in that area, but you couldn’t get back on.

We figured it was the redneck area in the mountains of Japan and they wanted to keep it  isolated from the rest of the country.  We actually saw our first rusty cars and actually saw a car on blocks in the front yard of one home.  So the area definitely was not the best socio-economically.  If you have ever driven to Cade’s Cove in Rocky Mountain National park that gives you an idea of the two lane road we had to take back to the next entrance for the expressway.  Plenty of curves, cliffs, high bridges, but Joe managed it all.  We even saw a highway sign to watch for monkeys!  Finally though, we were back on track.

As we were coming out of the mountains and getting closer to our destination, Joe pointed out a sign, “Hey look guys they named this bridge ahead the spiral bridge – whats up with that?”  We found out in about 10 seconds when we began descending on a real spiral bridge.  I was joking that I was getting dizzy from going in circles. It was almost like some kind of ride.  And Joe had to pump the brakes when we smelled them getting hot. 

But the trip was worth it as we drove by the jagged coastline to the beaches. Reminds of some of the pics that I have seen of some of the California coastline. Very beautiful to view and there were a couple of pull offs that we kept in mind for our trip back home to stop and get pictures.

And the Hotel was a very nice one, right on the beach – it had a beautiful view.  The rooms were bigger than in Kyoto and more western sized.  Joe said that the rooms and beds in Kyoto were ‘Ryker sized’ but here the beds and rooms were more proportioned to our size.  I think I mentioned before about vending machines are everywhere in Japan – our floor had vending machines for both pop and beer!  And the first floor had all this and also the hot coffee vending machines and finally one that did food – including some heated rice dishes and even hot French fries!

We visited a temple or two, but the highlight of the trip had to be the aquarium.  It was off season and kind of  drizzling off and on, so the place was not crowded.  When we pulled up I figured we would go thru it in an hour or two and be gone.  Boy was I wrong. It was like a smaller version of Sea World – less the killer whales. They had the shows timed very well so you could see the local dolphin show, then the seal act, the penguins (at the end of the show, they held up a penguin egg), the sea lion, the bottle nose dolphins, and watch the guy feed the fish in the big 50’ tall tank. The guy in the tank actually hugged a Moray eel, we all shuddered thinking he would lose a finger or something.  There has to be an easier way of making a living.  Of course there was some time to look at some of the fish, jelly fish, sea turtles, etc.  So we were there until early afternoon. 

Joe wanted to get some flip flops and we stopped at this sea side surf shop.  It had surf boards, wet suits, and the like. The owner was very nice and allowed us to park there to visit the shrine across the road by the sea. He and Joe had a conversion, again Joe knew some Japanese and the fellow knew some English and so they were to converse well enough.  We wanted to find a good local restaurant and he gave us a recommendation that we went to later that night.

But first up was the shrine by the ocean.  We walked across the road and visited the small temple that was right there, but you had to walk around a couple of buildings and there was a torii gate on a sloped rock rising from the beach.  Then there was a huge rope that went from that rock with the torii gate to a sea side clift about 50’ feet away.  It had to be symbolic, but we were not sure of the meaning. On the clift was a rock with inscriptions on it. 

For some reason Becky felt compelled to walk up the incline to cliff.  Mind you there was no safety fences or anything.  And she wanted to power walk up – almost dragging me along.  And Joe was telling her to slow the heck down and take her time.  It was a long fall if any of us took a wrong step. And the path up was narrow in a couple of places. We had to walk up a ledge to get to the cliff face. But it was a nice view once we arrived at the top and the opposite end of the cliff had a cave.  The tide was coming in and each wave boiled into the cave making all kinds of churning spray.

Last stop of the night was at the South Surf – a local restaurant, the one recommended by the shop owner.  It was a small place, but had an ambitious menu – Japanese, Italian, American, and Indian dishes.   We were skeptical – were they over reaching, trying to do too much?  We ordered a variety of things, each according to their taste and it was all good.  And the prices were reasonable. So we were impressed, even my Samurai Surfer beer tasted great. 

Oh, at some of the nicer Hotels in Japan they have hot spa’s.  Sort of a public bath.  And by bath, that means everyone goes naked – but at least there is segregation by the sexes.  They do have a shower area where you rinse off before going in the water.  So we figured when in Rome… 

Joe and I had the place ourselves when we first got there.  It was roomy area and the bath area was made of marble and there was hot water constantly running thru the bath which was like 10 feet wide and maybe 50 feet long.  About 15 minutes after we got in some more guys came in and I would imagine that there were 7 or 8 of us in there at one point. It was pretty warm so we had to sit on the sides to cool off and after about a half hour, we were cooked. But after a day of walking, it did help to relax tired muscles.

We compared notes with Becky and Sam, Joe’s wife.  On the women’s side there were a lot more patrons and not much modesty.  They were walking about openly.  I told them they should have taken pictures to verify this…  Also Sam said that they were ‘all A-cups with gorilla bushes.’  Well anyway we can say that we have been there and done that – went skinny dipping with the Japanese.

The pace of our explorations changed the second week, we went on shorter day trips in the area.  Sam and I went to the Tokyo fish market which bills itself as the largest in the world. Joe didn’t like seafood and Becky didn’t want to travel that day.  The market shuts down early, so we had to leave during rush hour to get there in time.  And we definitely felt like sardines during the trip.  Sometimes the subway cars are so full that at some stops the new riders turn their backs to the crowd and push backwards to force their way into the cars. You get very familiar with your travelling companions.

Sam was a magician with her smart phone.  It has the Tokyo subway and train system and so she mapped out our route and kept us on track as we had to change lines several times – again just like the roads, some of the info is in Japanese and some in English. So she has become quite the navigator while overseas.  Google maps is a great travelling companion.

By the port side, there are larger warehouses, but by the city are rows of narrow streets with all kinds of vendors.  Mostly fish and seafood of course, but also some small restaurants, and other types of food.  And to add to the chaos there is the occasional fork lift or motorcycle zipping by, so you have to be nimble of foot.  

About everything that could swim was found in the market.  Huge shrimp that you could almost saddle up and ride.  Ok, maybe not that big – but some were easily as long as your hand.  Every species of crab. Tons of fish of course, some of the vendors had tubs full. Octopus, squid, shellfish of all sorts. One display had a huge tuna head – bigger than a horses head, and on display were cuts of meat from that fish.  One of the cuts of meat was a huge chunk as big as a thanksgiving turkey – I was impressed.  

Well the goal was to get some seafood for Becky and prepare it for Becky.  Most seafood in restaurants is sushi but she did not want to try it. We found some decent sized shrimp, some crabs, and some salmon so that she could sample it.  Sam cooked it all up and we had a feast.  All was good – I would imagine that it was caught that morning and it tasted great.

Becky wanted to see the statue of the dog from the movie where the owner dies and the dog loyally shows up every day by the station waiting for an owner that will never return.  It was a popular attraction, there was a small crowd around it and you had to wait your turn if you wanted your photo by it.  That is also close to an intersection that is billed as the busiest in the world, well at least the busiest in Japan.  The sea of people walking by rivals what we saw on Time Square.

We stopped at a Brazilian Steakhouse for lunch that one of Joe's friends had told him about.  It had a very nice buffet for your salad and veggies.  Then the staff came around to your table with different types of beef, pork, chicken and would slice off a portion for you.  Quite the feast, we finally had to wave them off after we were all stuffed. Then they had a several desserts that you could indulge yourself with.

Our last full day there was the most demanding as far as walking.  Joe had warned us coming in that there would be a lot of walking and I am glad that we had the first week and a half to get us somewhat in shape for this last day trip.  First up was a giant bronze Buddha statue that was created like 750 years ago.  It survived a tidal wave – which must have been a giant one as the statue is up a good 150 feet (or more) from the sea. It has also survived massive earth quakes and there was also a fire which burned down the original temple.

Next Joe had done some research and there was an island (connected to the mainland by bridge) where they had built some shrines and temples inside the caves.  Now to reach the caves you had to climb up to the peak of the highest point of the island and back down again.  I am guessing it was like 200 feet tall.  But it was scenic and there was a smattering of statues and shrines sprinkled around the island.  So we could stop and rest at each one.  In other words, we did not have to make the round trip in one long sprint.

Again Ryker was a rock star, Joe and Sam got a new back pack carrier and I soon volunteered to carry him around for a bit to give Joe a rest.  I had a couple of people stop me for pics and I saw people out of the corner of my eye taking pics of me and Ryker several times. So I got a small taste of the Ryker effect - Japanese cannot get enough of light haired, blue eyed babies. 

The descent down to the caves was steep and twisted.  It took its toll on Becky, she had to stop several times to rest and catch her wind.  But the caves were interesting with ancient statutes and shrines within.  Hard to imagine that a lot of it has been there for hundreds of years. 

On our way out we were going downhill and all of a sudden Ryker started laughing, and laughing – he must have laughed for a good 5 minutes.  He seemed to be looking off to his left steadily, but we couldn’t spot anything that could be cause.  We kind of looked back in bewilderment and wondered if maybe some playful spirits may have somehow had him laughing with joy.

That night Joe took us to a nice restaurant close by the base, this was our last night in Japan.  In this one, you cook your own meat. There are actually burners built into the table with a small grill on top.  You order your raw meat and sides, then you cook your meat and then they have 3 types of sauces if you want to spice things up a bit.  I found that the food tasted very good.   And they didn’t gouge you on the beer – I ordered a $5 (ok 590 yen) beer and I got a $5 sized bottle – about twice the size of an average sized beer bottle.  It was a good way to end our visit.

Before I detail the trip home, some random observations of Japan.  There are many Western brands there.  7/11 and Lawson stores feel like they are on every corner.  And unlike here in the US where you have to be brave to eat a sandwich or a hot dog from a convenience store, the sandwiches and heated up foods actually taste good and have flavor.  Oh, yeah and they allow open containers there.  So you can go to a 7/11, buy a tall one, and walk down the street sipping on it.  Which Joe and I did a couple of times. I drank the main local brews – Kirin, Sapporo, and Ashahi and liked them all. 

We ate at a Frisches – but the menu is definitely oriental.  No hamburgers (they do have a hamburger patty with sauce on rice), but lots of curries and rice dishes. I liked it.  Denny’s is there (also has oriental menu), but Joe said that it isn’t good.  McDonalds was pretty much the same there as here. Saw KFC but did not stop in, but Joe says that it is popular.

I did eat some mystery meat on a stick (it tasted good)  and squid (so-so).  Ya gotta expand your horizon’s and not get stuck too deeply in a rut. Several times we were travelling by subway and wanted something to eat – you spotted something that looked edible in a vending machine or a small food stand and took your chances.

We felt safe where ever we went and the streets did seem to be pretty clean. I like the culture, a blend of oriental and western. On the subways the dress code for workers seems to be a dark suit and tie and the women wear dark dresses and heels.  So apparently it is very formal in the work place.  Oh and the subway trains are ghostly quiet as far as chatter – people are quiet out of respect for their fellow passengers is what Joe told us.  Now we did hear some noise, several of the trains had braking systems that sound like a distressed cat.  The first couple of times I heard it, I was looking around to see if someone had a cat on their lap and was twisting its tail.

There are enough Japanese that know English that you can find someone to help out. They do have some restrooms with squatters – oriental style toilets that are more or less a hole in the floor.  And you can find western style food, but obviously you are not going to find it everywhere.  I had to talk to Becky after the second day – we are wasting too much time trying to find the right food to eat and the right restroom, we just need to go native or we won’t be able see half the stuff we want to see.

The timing was right for the Cherry Blossoms.  The first week of April is the time to go.  By the time we left the blossoms were pretty much gone.  

Well now we are ready for the trip home.  Of course it was a tearful goodbye, Becky was happy to be going home but was going to miss the 3 of them.  I got a little misty eyed myself, we won't see Joe again until next summer. Sam and Ryker will be taking a trip stateside later this year, so we will be looking forward to seeing them.  The base runs a bus to the airport and there was room for us and although we had to pay a fee, it beat trying to catch trains or subways to get there.  The driver though went strictly by the speed limit.  And many stretches are 60, that is 60 kilometers per hour which is like 37 miles an hour.  Even 80 kph works out to about 50.  So the drive seemed to take forever.

We got thru the airport alright, went thru the exit process, and got on the airplane.  The trip went fairly well.  Still couldn’t hardly sleep, so we both arrived in Chicago exhausted.  We had to go thru the lines all over again. We were waiting in one line and a USDA lady with a beagle walks up to us and asks if we have any fruit.  Turns out that Becky got a banana from the stewardess to eat during the layover.  And the beagle alerted on that.  We turned in our contraband banana and were dismissed. 

Next up was the TSA.  We were herded into line – ‘go on down, down to the next one, keep going… yes go in line there.’  It was a line where we didn’t have to take out laptops, take off shoes for some reason. The guy says ‘don’t take anything off, don’t take anything out of your bag.’ OK fine, I think. But it was also a line where they ended up inspecting both of our bags and I had to have a pat down.  Thanks guy.

Becky had put a bottle of water in her bag and had forgotten about it.  So yet again we had been caught with contraband – I am sure that we are some list somewhere by now.  Not sure what the deal was with my bag, they went thru it quickly – it had the laptop, tablet, and camera in it. 

Next up was me – I had some change in my pocket that I had forgotten about.  So I had to have a pat down.  A female was running the station and apparently I needed a male for the pat down.  It took like 5 minutes of her hollering to finally get someone over.  And the guys feels my left pocket, the outside of my left leg and I am done – it took like 2 seconds.  No probing, so I felt a bit disappointed.  I was going to complain to his supervisor but I thought better of it.

We make our flight to Dayton and we were home sweet home.  Still recuperating from the jet lag of course. But it was great trip and well worth it.  Joe and Sam were excellent hosts, tour guides, and travelling companions.  We are hoping that Joe gets assigned to Europe next go round, maybe we have recovered from our jet lag by then!