Friday, October 31, 2008

Finally In Japan!!

We have arrived! 11 Months of preparation, anxiety, excitedness, research, and work has culminated into a smooth and successful arrival for our family. We have been here for a smidgen over 24 hours and it is difficult for me to put into words our experience. Fatigue has set in and it is all running together, so I'll start at the beginning.

We arrived at the airport in Virginia on schedule. Checking in at the counter took about 20-25 mins. because the pets had to be checked in and all of our luggage and passports had to be checked. We went through security very quickly with no issues. The first flight from Norfolk to D.C. went as planned except for Dolly losing her stomach. When we arrived in DC we were able to clean her up and requested that she continue to Narita as a carryon with me. I thought she needed close watching because of how sick she was on the first flight.

This is the inside of the United 777. There was 5 seats in the middle and 2 on each side. We each had our own monitor in the back of the seat in front of us. We flew economy plus and there was plenty of room for all of us in the seats and for leg room.

They were showing 8 different current movies during the flight. You could pick which one you wanted to watch or you could listen to music or watch a map of the flight.

The map was really neat because they also showed you screens that had our mileage and speed and outside temperature.

We actually flew right by the North Pole and then down over Siberia! I asked Bryan if he wanted to talk to Santa! He said, "No, he's mad because I'm going to Japan instead of the North Pole." The coldest the outside air was shown was -77F. I was so shocked that the plane could go through that cold of weather. The trip was 7240 miles long. We arrived near the North Pole at 3347 miles into the trip. Our high speed was approx. 700 mph.

The food was relatively good. Our first meal was beef brisket w/ mushroom gravy, mashed potatoes, veggies, oatmeal cookie and a roll. They also were offering chicken curry. Our middle of the trip snack was chinese noodles which we ate with chopsticks. The last meal you could have a hot ham and cheese on a pretzel roll or veggie lasagna. They gave you o.j., yogurt, and a jelly shortbread cookie with it.

We were very, very happy to land in Japan. 14 hours of flying is no FUN. But it was tolerable. The first thing we all did was use the restroom! And to our delight we encountered our first FANCY Japanese toilets. They have buttons for bidet, spray, music and something else ? that I don't remember. I had been warned already about the spray--it goes to your bum! They are warmed toilet seats too. Very interesting.

I was so worried about going through customs, immigration and animal quarantine processes. The first thing we did was fill out an immigration form and presented it to the immigration official. They were polite but very serious. We had no issues. They stamped our passports. I still haven't had a chance to look at the first stamp in my passport! We then went down 4 escalators and looked for our luggage. They had all our luggage and our cat altogether!! There was a gentleman standing there waiting for us. I don't know how they did that!! Everyone else from our flight was already processed and gone when we got there. I guess they didn't stop to play with the toilets!

Here's a picture of all our luggage and animals. Over to the right you can see the customs officials waiting to check you through. Once we had our luggage, we proceeded to the animal quarantine desk. After much looking over of documents, they stamped a bunch of papers gave me a sheet that said we had no further quarantine and gave me a slip to give to the customs to let them know the pets could go with us. They also gave me a sheet that has to be completed by the Army Vet at Camp Zama. They were very nice and spoke very shyly in broken english. I was so relieved I had completed all the paperwork accurately.
Then we went through the customs counter, which was odd. They didn't even check anything. We filled out a form and they said go ahead. Once you pass through customs, you arrive at the airport exit. It was a very efficient airport. I was amazed.
A very kind command sponsor showed up with our Japanese driver to pick us up in a large van. There was just enough room for all of our luggage and all of us. The driver drove VERY FAST through Tokyo and Yokohama to get us to Zama. We arrived at Zama much faster than we thought we would. I think it took about 2 hours to get there from the airport. The kennel manager met us at the kennel to check in the pets. I was very, very sad to leave my babies there. It was very clean and large kennels, but after everything else they had already been through that day, I was angry with myself and felt like they were being tortured. The lady there assured me they would be just fine.
We hopped back in the van to head to Atsugi. The highways were a blur to me due to exhaustion. We were all amazed about everyone driving on the wrong sides of the road. It didn't take long to go from Zama to Atsugi. We arrived at the gate and our sponsor requested the driver stop at the McDonald's so we could get some dinner. The McDonald's was very nice and very clean, modern. The employees were all Japanese. They were very polite and very efficient. We hopped back in the van to get to the hotel which was 1 1/2 blocks away. We arrived at the hotel, checked in at the desk and scampered to our rooms on the first floor.
Hmmm....I'm still forming my opinion about the Navy Lodge. It IS old and musty. There are spiders trying to get me...... It is mostly very clean. The staff is very polite and friendly and helpful. It is just okay for now. I do appreciate the deep bathtub and the internet service. The boys are in an adjoining room. The command ombudsman left us flowers, milk, juice, fruit, pb and jelly, bread and some other things. That was so NICE!!
We were pooped. As I was putting some clothes away, my husband started snoring. The boys went to bed quick too. I have gotten a stupid cold. I woke up at 2:00 a.m. Japan time and started crying about everything. I did so good not crying before we left and it all caught up to me. I feel good today.
We woke up early and made some more phone calls to family and friends. We walked over to McD's and had some breakfast then walked 1 more block and purchased some basics at the commissary. We came back and was putting the groceries away when the command sponsor arrived and announced that my hubby had to leave to go to the ship next week. We were SHOCKED! They weren't supposed to do that at all. He wasn't supposed to leave until next year. He won't be out too long, thank goodness. Brian went with her to see if they could change their minds. Didn't work but he did have two more days added to be here. After that, we went and checked into the housing office. They have added us to the on-base waiting list. We are number 19 on the list. She thinks maybe about a year we have to live off base. Then we talked to the off-base housing counselor and signed up for a tour of the area for next Wed. She also gave us a really nice map of the area.
The command ombudsman picked us up and took us back to Zama to check on the pets. Dolly was estatic to see me. I didn't think I would get her to calm down. She wanted to be held. The cat was happy to see us too! They both are doing very well in the kennel and I feel a little better today about it. I miss them very much. I can't wait to get them back.
After that, we returned to Atsugi. Brian and I went to the exchange and back to the commissary while the boys went bowling. We purchased a new computer monitor for Bryan's computer and some more substantial groceries that we had forgotten earlier. It's amazing what you forget when you start with nothing. When I made dinner tonight, I realized I didn't have salt and pepper. OOOPS.
It is now 8:30 p.m. Japan time and the boys are all asleep. Brian is snoring, go figure! So, I will close for now and try to get some sleep myself. Tomorrow is Saturday and we are supposed to go to the Smashmouth concert at 11:30 a.m. I need to spend the next few days really enjoying my husband before he leaves me for awhile. I won't think about that today though..... Tomorrow is Another Day.......

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Quick Jaunt to Atlantic City

Brian and I made a quick trip to Atlantic City for two days for some R & R. We had a super-terrific, relaxing time. It was so nice to put all of the stress away for a little while. Brian hit a jackpot for $450 and was very happy! Also, his Tampa Bay and my Steelers both won, so that was awesome!!

Now it's back to our preparations. I will try to post one more time before we leave for Japan! 8 days left!!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

3 Pack-Outs Complete!! Hooray!

We have an empty house!! Wow! So weird!

I'm going to try and sum up for your how our 3 different pack-outs went. I know you are all asking why 3?

1. Express Shipment: As I talked about 2 posts ago, you can have 1000 lbs that is due to arrive no more than 30 days after it is sent. Ours was picked up on October 6th, so it should arrive no later than Nov. 6th. However, they will not deliver it to you when you are staying in a hotel. We probably won't have an apt/house for at least 30 days. Once we have the lease signed, we can arrange for the movers to bring the shipment to us. Because it is the first things we will use, they are very important items. The basics and lots of clothes. We called the movers to get the actual weight. It was 440 lbs. That amazed me, because it seemed like a lot more. If you are going to send an express shipment, make sure you have the necessities first, then go ahead and add as many boxes of clothes as you can. I could have sent much more of my kitchen stuff too!

2. Long-Term Storage: Wow! We won't see the 2206 lbs we sent to long term storage for 3 YEARS. My husband says that I'll feel like it's Christmas when I get it all back. We also thought that we would say, "What is all this stuff?". There is a lot of items you don't need in Japan. I ended up storing a whole lot of Pics/Mirrors/Decor. I figured that I would want to have some local things to put up. I also wanted to be able to purchase a lot of items in Japan to bring back. I think the largest purchase I will make is a china cabinet, we'll see.... Putting all of this into storage was a little traumatic for me. I was sad to see some of the things go and know that I won't see them for so long. It was also nerve racking to wonder if they will get damaged or not. The packers were very considerate and efficient so I'm hoping not much will be damaged. We left 1 thing out that was supposed to go to storage. I found it as soon as the truck left. Even though I had most of my stuff grouped, I missed 1 small table. Make sure you put anything on the periphery of a room out in the middle so you don't forget!!

3. Regular HHG Shipment (HHG=HouseHold Goods): This is your bulk shipment. All the furniture/mattresses/and everything else that wasn't stored, expressed or carried in your suitcase goes in this shipment. They have to have it at your destination within 60 days. I scheduled this shipment last so that I would know that anything left in the house would be thrown/given out or go in our suitcase. We did very well with getting rid of any throwout/give aways long before they came to get our long term. I have an empty house after this shipment. We kept out the blow up mattresses and the sleeping bags. They will go to Mom's. We kept old sets of sheets to use for a couple of days, then they will be thrown out. I also kept the rattiest towels so we could throw them out. I kept out our most worn t shirts and shorts and stuff to use to paint and clean the house, and out they will go!! We are now living out of our suitcases for the next 45-60 days or so. That's a lot of fun, NOT!

We decided to hand carry all our important paperwork (That's one Large carry-on just for that), 3 laptop computers, 4 FULL cd/dvd cases, a router, a modem, plugs, cameras, ipod, 2 PSP's, 2 PS2's, XBox 360, and lots of clothes and personal items. Good thing we get TWO 70 lb. suitcases each, plus a carry-on, plus a personal item. To add to that, we also have two PETS!! I have no idea how we are to get around at the airports??? HA!

I have an empty house. Brian has already torn out the carpet that is getting replaced. It seems so HUGE. Now I have lots and lots of heavy cleaning to do starting with all the baseboards in the house. I'll be glad to get it all done!

11 Days left!!

Monday, October 13, 2008

American Rover Birthday

What a weekend! My Dad and StepMom came to visit for the weekend! My Bryan's birthday is at the beginning of Nov. Since we will already be in Japan, we surprised him early. We all went on the American Rover Tall Ship for his birthday. It is a 2 hour cruise around the Norfolk Harbor.

We had lunch at Chili's at MacArthur Mall first then wandered over to Waterside to buy the tickets. It is a very reasonably priced cruise. $16 for adults and $10 for children 12 and under. Bryan's best friend Jerry also joined us! Their favorite part was walking all over the ship and going below deck. They had a wandering musician who sang and played guitar. He sang Bryan Happy Birthday!

The boys had a good time at Waterside sliding down the railings. Bryan's Grandma Linda bought him a digital camera for his birthday so he was happily taking pictures. On Sunday, we went bowling and MOM beat everyone the first game. It was my highest score ever at 178! Bryan won the second game so he was very excited to have beat Grandpa!

We all went for a nice meal afterwards to Buffalo Wild Wing. It was yummy and lots of fun with everyone watching the football games.

Thanks to my parents for a wonderful weekend! Now I am busy, busy, busy getting ready for the movers coming tomorrow to pick up our long-term storage. UGH!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Ready, Set, GO!

We are at the beginning of October! I leave at the end of October! Wow! Yikes! I am at the point that I lay awake at night trying to think if I have forgotten anything. It's a crazy time for us. Busy, Busy, Busy.

We have people calling and coming to look at the house because it is up for rent. Yesterday we had 10 mins. to run around straightening so we could leave for someone to look. That was fun, NOT!

Mom is settled in her apartment now. She seems very comfortable with it now. I am glad that she found a place that she likes. She says her neighbors are very nice.

We had a little snafu with our DLA request. My hubby was in school and had to go to the school admin to do the paperwork. They sent it over to PSD and because they didn't have the page 2 copy with the request, PSD employees denied the request. Hubby had to go complain and they fixed it and we should receive DLA soon. For all of you Non-Navy folks, this is Dislocation Allowance. It's basically a free check to help with any moving expenses that aren't specific. It's a little over $2K. So we are glad to receive it. There have been so many expenses that we didn't expect. We've bought electric blankets, suitcases, pet carriers, extra glasses and contacts, clothes early all kinds of stuff. Not to mention that we lost $3K on my 4Runner. So it is nice that the Navy recognizes that there are a lot of expenses that we run into to make the move.

I finally heard from the ARmy Vet that they received the correct FAVN form for the pets. This means that everything SHOULD go smoothly for my animals when we arrive in Japan. They have one more appt to get a health certificate before we leave.

Michael had his braces off and has one more appt with the orthodontist to make sure his retainer is working properly. Then we will be done with that! He went to the eye doctor yesterday and picked out a new pair of glasses and purchased a year's worth of contacts. We just have to go pick them up when they get them in.

My Dad comes to visit on the 11th and My BFF comes to visit on the 22nd. I can't wait!!

They are picking up our express shipment on Monday. The express shipment can be 1000 pounds. You want to put items in it that you will need right away when you get into your housing. They won't give it to you while you are at the hotel. As soon as we find a place to rent off of base (because no base housing will be available for at least a year) they will deliver it. So we have 1 set of plates, bowls, pans, silverware, etc in there. We have 1 set of sheets for each person, 1 set of towels, washcloths, etc. We also sent an electric skillet, a can opener, electric blankets, and comforters, anything that will make our lives easier before we get our full shipment. What I had to remember is that these are also things that I now have to do without until we get to Japan and into housing. This is mind boggling, truly.

The lady from the moving company that is taking our long term storage came two days ago. Yes, we have 3 different moving companies for the 3 different shipments. Isn't that great! Anyway, she was really nice. She had a little palm pilot type of thing that she entered estimates per room of what we are storing for 3 years. We had estimated that 4000 lbs was going. When she finished she said we were at 3000 lbs and that was a generous estimate. So we're happy that we were under our estimate. We get a total of 11000 pounds. You add the 3 shipments together. 1ooo for express, 3000 for storage. That leaves 7000 lbs that we can take to Japan in our regular shipment. We don't want to have 7000 because we want to buy things in Japan and bring them back. We probably have about 5000 pounds we are taking. So that would be 6000 lbs actually in Japan. Which means on the way back we can have the difference in purchases. On the way back they don't count the 3000 lbs that is in storage. So do you think I can buy 6000 lbs worth of stuff in Japan? Absolutely I can.

I have heard that they have amazing furniture and goods there. They have a huge market twice a year that you can go and purchase items from all over Japan. I can't wait!!