Sunday, May 6, 2012

Spring is Finally Springing at Misawa!

So, as usual, it has been way too long since we last wrote.  Our intentions are good, and we mean to update the blog every week or two, but somehow we get overcome by events…and there are a lot of events.  We last wrote an update near the end of February, so we will give you a quick recap of what has occurred between now and then, AND we will try to write more frequent updates.

Anyone who has followed Megan on Facebook knows that this has truly been an endless winter.  We ended up with 222.9 inches of measurable snowfall, which is the third most in the last 50 years, and only about 25 inches shy of the all-time record.  To put it in perspective, Anchorage, Alaska broke their snow fall record this year with 133”…about 90” less than we had.  But is seems that spring has sprung and shoveling for the year should be over.

Our last snowstorm in late March!

Our back patio...there was only about 3 feet of space between the snow on the ground and the snow hanging off the awning.
At the end of February, we got to arrange a field trip for Delaney’s class to go and visit the base Post Office.  Since the Post Office is part of the Comm Squadron, she thought it was pretty cool that she got to take all of her classmates to her dad’s work.  The postal airmen did a great job and let all the kids “send a letter” to their parents, and they had letters waiting for all the kids on the mail truck…overall it was a successful field trip. 

On March 6th, Megan got to meet with officials from the Department of Defense Schools as part of the Parent Teacher Organization.  She also was invited to attend a spouse’s forum with Mrs. North, the wife of General Gary North, the Commander of Pacific Air Forces.

Riley and Callan had a week of Terra Nova testing in March – this is the equivalent of state testing for the DoD schools.  Since it has taken us so long to write a blog update, we have since gotten their scores back, and they both did just fine…we are definitely happy with both of their schools.

Basketball season for all three of the girls ended in mid-March, but they jumped right into spring sports.  At the end of basketball season, Riley was selected to play on a Misawa team for girls her age to play against a Japanese girls team.  They ended up playing two games against the Japanese team, and while they did not win, it was definitely a unique experience.  For the spring, Riley and Callan are playing volleyball, and since Delaney was not old enough for that, she wanted to sign up for flag football – so she did!  Riley and Callan ended up on the same volleyball team which makes practices very convenient, they have played 5 games so far and continue to improve every week.  Delany started football practice a couple weeks ago when it finally got warm enough, but her first game got rained out.
Laney getting ready to dunk!

Callan showing off her moves.

Warmin up for the game.

Laney and Coach Quynn at the "Banquet"
Riley playing 'D' against the Japanese team...she towered over them, but they were pretty fast!

US and Japanese teams!

On March 21st, Riley was inducted into the National Junior Honor Society.  She did not initially want to apply, but we twisted her arm a little bit, and she put her all into the application and was accepted.  She was very happy, and we are very proud of her.
NJHS certificate!

Riley with the NJHS adviser and the Principal

On March 25th, Jeff got to go bowling with officers from the Japanese Air Self Defense Force (JASDF).  There were about 8-10 from his group, and just as many from the JASDF.  It was great to meet their counterpart commanders from another country and spend a little time bonding American style – even though bowling appears to be really big in Japan as well.

Some of you may have seen pictures for the new paint job on Jeff’s  COMM ROCKS van.  One of the airmen in the squadron came to him with some ideas for making the van more noticeable, they went back and forth on a few ideas, but ultimately Jeff let him paint the van, and it is definitely more noticeable (and the talk of Misawa).  It is great seeing many people smile and laugh when we drive by.
The new and greatly improved COMM ROCKS Van!

Jeff also participated in the squadron's "Mustache March" contest...Megan loved the new look (NOT) was a looooong month!

Spring break was the week after Easter, unfortunately we could not take a vacation because the 35th Comm Squadron had a couple of big projects going on that week.  We had a fun Easter morning with the girls, followed by church and an Easter egg hunt in the neighborhood.  Callan and Delaney signed up for a week long class at the Arts and Crafts center, and Riley (& Megan) enjoyed sleeping in and having a little less hectic schedule.  The Mission Support Group commanders held a couple events throughout the week; we had a crud tournament one night (if you don’t know what this is, Google it…it is a little hard to explain), and a poker tournament on another night.
The standard picture on the stairs!

Callan found her basket in a closet.

Delaney's was in the dryer - CRAZY Easter Bunny!

Neighborhood kids...there are just a few, and these are only the younger ones.

Playing Crud!

MSG at the Kanpai Lounge!

Proud to be...MSG!

On April 14th, Jeff and Megan attended “Taste of the World” which was a professional cooking demonstration and 7+ course meal, with different wines paired for each course.  The food and wine was absolutely amazing, and other than there being way too much food, we thoroughly enjoyed the evening…the “Drunken Strawberry Cake” for dessert was probably the best course…MMMMM MMMM good!

April 21st was the annual Misawa beach clean-up.  We took the girls down to the shore, and with roughly 1000 people from Misawa and just as many local residents we cleaned up the port and beach.  By the end we filled a couple of tractor trailer size trucks with debris.  A lot of it was still left over from the March 2011 tsunami, and a lot of it had just accumulated during storms over the winter.  We had a Japanese/American barbecue afterwards, and finished just in time to get to another volleyball game.
Getting ready to clean up!

Fun, fun, fun!

On April 25th we were very sad to find out that Jeff’s Grandmother had passed away.  She lived a very full life to the ripe old age of 89.  She never lost her sense of humor, and right up until the last time they saw each other, Jeff would kid her about being an old lady.  We have many great memories, and are very blessed that the girls got to know her and will also have some memories with her…not to mention all the wonderful recipes (pumpkin cookies, apple pie/sauce, mustard, homemade macaroni and cheese, tuna casserole, etc.) a few of which we have learned how to make.  She will be very missed, but remembered fondly, and reunited with many people who love her as much as we did.
Frances June (Kohl) Phillips
April 29th we drove up to a beach about 30km north of Misawa along the Pacific shore and collected shells and sand dollars.  There were literally hundreds of sand dollars, but a lot of them were pieces or broken…we only kept the whole ones that we found, and came away with about 30.  The one thing all the beach combers hunt for is the glass floats that the fishermen use.   We have yet to find any of those, but hopefully we are getting closer.

HUGE shells!

Money, money, money...or sand dollars $$$

20'+ long bamboo fishing pole we found on the beach!

Megan’s Pampered Chef business has been much busier over the last couple months, she has had several parties, and has even more scheduled!   Additionally, we have stayed busy with numerous change of commands, promotion ceremonies, retirements, graduations, and many other events.

Hopefully, this catches everyone up and we can stay on top all the events we have coming up.  On the near horizon, is the end of school for the girls, Jeff has a trip to Ohio coming up for a two week class (during which he gets to become a godfather to Cameron Kreisel and attend his grandmother’s memorial service), and hopefully a trip to Mt. Fuji sometime over the summer.

That is all for now from the Phillips-5 Japanese Adventure!

Monday, February 20, 2012

January and February Gone in a Flash... it has been way too long since we wrote, but we have been very busy, so we have a lot of fun stories and pictures from our adventure to share with our family and friends.  The last time we wrote was the day after New Year's, and we had mentioned a busy holiday schedule, which has not slowed down much at all.

The weekend after New years, we helped a friend (Corey Jewell) celebrate his 40th birthday with a surprise party at the Misawa Ski Lodge.  Megan helped Corey's wife Tracy with a lot of the planning and set up...we ordered some cakes from the same Comm Rocker spouse (Nicole Gall) that made Delaney's birthday cake.  Even though the cakes were Pittsburgh Steeler themed, they looked great.  Then Megan and Tracy made an early morning trip to the Shoppette and bought way too much beer for the party...they got a lot of odd looks buying beer early in the morning, but that is not necessarily out of the norm for Megan...haha!  All in all the party went great, and there was some late night sledding at the ski lodge.

Tracy and Corey Jewell

Jeff spent the next couple of weeks trying to get the Comm Rocks Van to pass the Japanese Compliance Inspection.  It started with a pre-inspection to find out that the van needed about $500 in mechanical repairs and some body work to replace a portion of the front fender, in addition to the $500 inspection fee.  We got a referral for a body shop off base and the owner did the work for 25,000 yen (~$325) and had it done in 3-days.  We took it back to have the body work inspected and were told the rear fender needed repair as back to body shop for another 20,000 yen repair.  A few days later the mechanical repairs were done and the van had a new inspection sticker and should be able to be passed on to the next commander.  Fortunately the van was free and the inspection is good for 2-years.

Basketball is in full swing for the girls, so we have been busy with practices and games.  All three are playing, and their practices are all on different nights...Mon, Tues, and Wed, with games on Saturday.  We had to miss two of the first three games due to trips we had planned ahead of time, but we should make the rest of the games for this short 8-week season.  Riley and Callan have both improved a lot; the league is co-ed which is a first for them, but they are holding their own.  Delaney even scored her first basket this past weekend.

Callan on the court...more to come of the other hoopsters!

The last week of January came with lots of events to attend.  It started with a Chiefs Induction Ceremony to honor Misawa's three newest Chief Master Sergeant selects.  Jeff and the Comm Squadron Chief (Frank Harman) sponsored a couple of airmen to attend the ceremony which offered a chance for them to mentor a couple of the younger troops.

The next event, on Friday 27 January, was the retirement ceremony and farewell party for the 35th Fighter Wing Command Chief...Russ Hastings, who retired after 30 years of service.  The official ceremony was Friday afternoon, and the party, with another 70's & 80's theme was Friday night at the club.  The party was a great time, but we had to leave early as we had to wake up at the crack of dawn for an overnight ski trip the next morning.

On January 28th we celebrated Callan's 10th birthday with a ski trip to Naqua Shirakmi.  Located at the north side of Mt. Shunpou Iwaki, NAQUA Shirakami is guaranteed to have consistent snowfall and excellent conditions. The Sea of Japan and Tsugaru Plain can be seen from the top of the gondola, at an altitude of 921m. There are a variety of courses with a total vertical drop of 545m, the longest course is 3.4km. First thing in the morning, the corduroy grooming of the slopes and the snow glistening on the beech trees make all the courses a true spectacle.  We had a very early 0530 wake up call, and left Misawa on the tour bus at 0630.  After a 2 1/2 hour bus ride, we arrived at the resort and got all checked in.  Our first stop was the 'Kids Park' where we did a little sledding at the base of the mountain.  Next we had lunch in the room - PB&J sandwiches from home; then Megan, Riley, Callan, and Delaney headed off to a 2-hour ski lesson.  Jeff took advantage of the 'free time' and hit the slopes.  At the end of their lesson, the instructor decided that Megan, Callan, and Delaney were ready to head up the mountain...Riley on the other hand was pretty sure that skiing is not her thing.  Fortunately, Jeff ran into the girls at the top of the mountain and skied down with them.  All of them did fine; Callan and Delaney absolutely loved it...Megan...not so much, but she made it down successfully.  At that point, Megan headed in with Riley, and Jeff, Callan, and Delaney made a few more runs.  That night we had dinner at the resort, after which Megan and the girls hit the Onsen (Japanese hot bath), and Jeff went back out for some night skiing.  The next morning we had a very interesting Japanese breakfast...lots of vegetables, fish, and undercooked eggs...but there was a few 'western style' items so that we had a little something for the girls to eat.  Megan made one more attempt, and Jeff, Callan, and Delaney skied for a few hours before getting on the bus back to Misawa...overall it was a very fun trip and we have a couple more skiers in the family.  The fresh powder in N. Japan is incredible...possibly some of the best skiing in the world.

Rest area on the way to the ski resort.

Megan and Callan in the locker room after their lesson.

Callan and Riley kissing what they named "the butt lamp" in our hotel room.

Delaney watching a Japanese game show in her hotel robe...she hopes to be a contestant one day.
Megan and Delaney on the lift.
View from the quad lift...fresh powder on nearly every run.
Callan, Megan, and Delaney the the top of the hill.
Jeff, Delaney, and Callan at the top of the hill.
Headed to the lift for another run.
Megan's favorite part of the trip...the heated toilet seat.

A couple days after we got back, we had a huge snow storm...the night of Jan 31/Feb 1 we had over 20 inches, and with ~50 knot winds overnight there were some drifts over 3 feet deep.  The base ended up going to minimum manning and school was closed, which is a rarity for Misawa.  Jeff spent all morning digging out the house and cars, fortunately our neighbor, Corey, came by with a snow blower which helped immensely.  After the house was cleared out, we had to shovel out the noon, most of the buildings were clear with the exception of the Post Office.  We gathered all the Comm Rockers that were available and dug out the entire post office loading dock in about an hour.  At one point we had 45+ people shoveling...a great display of teamwork!

Right outside our front door at the height of the storm.

Our back patio...which is under cover...after the storm.
Our front walk under 3 feet of snow.

Clearing a path.
Almost 29"

The cars got plowed in...that was fun to dig out.
Thank goodness for neighbors and snow blowers.

On February 3rd we attended Misawa's Colonel promotion party to celebrate the two Colonel selects.

Since we were out of town for Callan’s b-day, we had a party for her on February 4th.  She chose to have a bowling party, and had about 10 of her friends for an afternoon of bowling.  We had another cake made by Nicole Gall; it was Callan's favorite color of orange with lots, of smiley faces and peace symbols on it.
Birthday girl bowling with her friends.

Callan and Heidi.

Callan and Taryn.

Pizza and cake.

Riley and Seth.

Making good use of the free stickers.
Since the Superbowl was early Monday morning for us, the wing allowed for minimum manning during the game.  So to kick-off the festivities, we hosted a Superbowl poker party on Sunday night...we had about 8 of the other commanders, and some spouses show up, and we played until 1:30 in the morning.  We got up bright and early the next the girls off to school...then headed to the club to watch the game.  It was tough to crack open a beer that early in the morning, but someone had to do it.
Callan decorating superbowl cupcakes.

Megan's Superbowl cake.

Dwayne, Raye-June, Leo, and Barney watching the game at the club.

 On Wednesday, 8 February, we took off for our big Sapporo trip to attend the snow and ice festival.  The 63rd Sapporo Snow Festival, one of Japan's largest winter events, attracts a growing number of visitors from Japan and abroad every year.   Every winter, about two million people come to Sapporo to see the hundreds of beautiful snow statues and ice sculptures which line Odori Park,the grounds at Community Dome Tsudome, and the main street in Susukino.  For seven days in February,these statues and sculptures (both large and small) turn Sapporo into a winter dreamland of crystal-like ice and white snow.  The festival was on Hokkaido, the island north of ours.  We took a bus to a port in Hachinoe, followed by an 8 hour ferry ride, and another 1 1/2 hour bus ride to get to Sapporo.  The night we arrived, we had dinner at the Sapporo beer garden...dinner included all you could eat and all the beer you could drink.  We had heaping plates of raw seafood (squid, salmon, shrimp, and huge scallops) and lamb that we cooked on grills at our table.  After dinner, we got checked in at our hotel, then headed out on the town to see the ice sculptures lit up at night.  The next day we took a bus ride about an hour further north to a town called Otaru.  It is a small town with lots of glass shops and a huge music box store.  The music box befits this city of history and romance. Otaru Orgel Emporium is Japan's largest shop specializing in music-boxes. Hundreds of models are on display, both large and small, including early 19th century antiques for sale.    Music boxes ranged in price from 1,000 yen to over 5 million yen.  On the way back to Sapporo, we stopped at a chocolate factory.  The chocolate factory has an incredibly corny, but fun, tour building up to a view of the actual chocolate making floor, and ending with a random toy museum. Also there are two restaurants, a souvenir store, and an hourly robot show complete with annoying music.  Famous for its white chocolate, which is sold under the brand "White Lovers" (白い恋人 shiroi koibito), and is only available in Hokkaido. There is also a cake buffet available at the restaurant on the top floor for "¥1,500" but reservations must be made 3 days in advance.  After that we headed to Odori park to check out the snow sculptures...Sapporo's most famous park, it is in the center of town and is considered to be a symbol of Sapporo.  Although quite narrow, the park is quite long, stretching over fifteen blocks across downtown Sapporo. Filled with numerous flowers, trees, and fountains, during the summer and hundreds of snow sculptures during the winter, Odori Park provides a welcome respite from the maddening crowds of the surrounding city.  In addition to the sculptures, there was a snowboard jump set up in the park with a jumping competition going on.  We walked around for a couple of hours before the cold got to us, then headed back to the hotel.  We had dinner that night at CoCo's curry restaurant across the street...we tried to find a place to eat in the famous Ramen Alley, but none of the restaurants were big enough or had enough seats for the five of us.  The next day, we had a 'free day' to explore Sapporo...we chose to take the subway up to the Tsudome and check out the enormous ice park/playground they had set up.  We rode in a raft behind a snowmobile and hit the ice slides a few times.  After a few hours out in the cold we went to Starbucks for coffee, chai tea latte, and hot chocolate, and then back to the hotel to warm up for a while.  For dinner we hit the underground shopping area which runs for numerous blocks under the city.  We found a french cafe' and had sandwiches and desert.  We walked the shopping area for a while which was a site in itself at rush hour as literally thousands of people make their way around under the city to avoid the cold.  The next morning we got up early and endured the 12 hour trip back to Honshu island and Misawa.  The ferry ride back was even longer against the current, but the girls kept themselves entertained and were great...I forgot to mention that the ride on the ferry is in a big room on a carpeted seats.  Some other interesting facts about Sapporo - the temperature hovered around zero the whole time we were there, and even colder with the wind and at night.  Sapporo was the home of the 1972 winter Olympics, but unfortunately we did not get to see any of the facilities that remain.  Overall it was a once in a lifetime trip and a great experience for the Phillips-5.
Ferry accommodations...made for a long 9 hours.
Leaving port at Hachinoe.
Arriving at the beer garden.
Lots of food.

Ferris wheel on top of a very tall building.

Looking for a new home.
Fresh seafood frozen inside the ice sculpture.

An ice bar...we might just stay here a while.  They have really cold beer.
Only in Japan..."Party Ice in a cup"

Ice car.

Walking the streets of Otaru town.

Music box store.
We ran into some Japanese girl scouts and they wanted to practice their english on us, and get a picture with the girls.
Callan fit right in...other than the blond hair.

Nothing like ice cream on a freezing cold day.
Otaru's finest brew.

Jeff and the guard at the chocolate factory.
Starting our chocolate tour.
At Odori park.

Snowboard jumping.
Under the ocean sculpture.

Girl soccer player.

Touching the top of the Taj Mahal ice sculpture.
I will not tell a lie.

The girls wanted to buy a super suit to become super heroes.
Dinner at CoCo's.
Sapporo at night...very similar to Times Square on a smaller scale.

Getting ready for snow rafting.

It was a very cold ride.
Riley trying to stay warm.
The ice slides.
Warming up at Starbucks.
The subway stop near our hotel.
Hello dinner.
Great trip.

Jeff had lots of work to catch up on after his first four days of leave in 7 months, and Megan also had a very busy week following our trip.  On Thursday, Megan and the other Mission Support Group spouses put on a Murder at the Abbey Manor Masquerade Ball for the Misawa Officer's Spouses Club.  Megan was in charge of the music and the game, and the night turned out to be a fun event for the spouses.  Then on Saturday, 18 February, there was the first Misawa Spouses Dining-in.  The event was open to all the spouses on Misawa (male and female).  Each squadron picked a book and created a themed table and costumes related to the book.  The Comm Rocker spouses chose Dr. Seuss's "I Am Not Going to Get Up Today" and they got to wear their pajamas to the dining in.  There were lots of really creative themes and tables and the spouses seemed to have a blast.  Megan and Tiffany Evans (the 35 CS deputy spouse) had to present a limerick and ingredients for the grog bowl to the head table...their limerick (created by Lt. Valentine) was:

Some of you may look at us and mock
but we are cozy in our flannel and socks
with pineapple juice poured
you are going to be floored
and always remember Comm Rocks!

We had 7 spouses at the comm table, and they are already talking about next time.
MSG spouse at the murder mystery.
Comm table at the dining in.
Tiffany and Megan preparing their offering to the grog.
Megan returns from being assessed at the grog.
MSG spouses...again.
Rules of the grog.

That same night, Jeff got to go out to dinner with the 5th Air Force commander and vice commander at Houryu restaurant right outside the main gate.  Then he and several of the other commanders showed up at the end of the dining-in to make sure all the spouses that hit the grog a little too hard made it home safely and to help clean up.

So, as you can see we have had an incredibly busy Jan/Feb, but we are loving life at Misawa.  Jeff has decided that time is going by way too fast as we have been here almost 8 months already.  That is all for now, hope to hear from you all soon!