Wednesday, March 30, 2011

You Belong with Me

Thank you Taylor Swift for the inspiration for this blog post…..”After aaaall this time, how could you not know babyeeee you belong with me?”

Despite all the recent happenings in Japan, I have been able to get some "R and R" (as the military puts it) in the good ol' US of A with my hubby. I have gotten to spend more time with my husband since returning to the States (even with him working every day) than we have been able to since his first deployment in August! A couple of weeks in San Diego and now a couple more in Hawaii! I am feeling tremendously blessed! (A special thanks to my very generous Aunt Sharon and Uncle Pat who graciously sent me to Hawaii, just so I could spend some extra time with my hubby! This makes my heart happy beyond words....time with Nick is so rare and my family is too kind!)

Beautiful day in Coronado (the area where the Naval base is located, just on the outskirts of SD)

Even though I wanted to “wait it out” in Japan, Nick insisted I be with him in the States…thank goodness I followed his advice, “You belong with me” he said.

And though it was a long trek back to the States, Beretta too is here and happy! (Thank you everyone for your concerns for her! I have one of the BEST friends ever, who faithfully held strong to her word to, "not leave Japan without Beretta." She deserves a medal...Nick and I are forever grateful to her!) Nick might have wanted me by his side, but it has been B who has been there by mine all those months Nick was deployed, and again during all the earth shakes! So despite the fact that she is, "just a dog" to some, she is my buddy and quite honestly Nick and my first "child!" "You belong with me"...

Beretta sitting on my clothes while I was trying to pack…making me feel guilty by giving me those sad eyes...if I could, I would have put her in my suitcase and taken her with me!

While in California we were able to see several friends…military friends who we've met along the way, college friends who we were able to catch up with and even one of Nick's best friends from high school! We were so thankful for the time to visit with old friends!

Mexican food with several of our “Navy friends”… (Rebekah’s baby did not like being held by Nick…he wanted the food!) The restaurant was called Ponce’s, I especially liked this place because they were doing a fundraiser for Japan! My kind of place! The following Sunday (a day they are normally closed) they were doing a special opening and all proceeds were going to the Tsunami Relief (even the employees were working for free!).

Nick's family lives in California too, so a couple drives up to Tustin and Thousand Oaks during our stay in SD, allowed for good quality time with the fam!

And oh the food....Nick and I were in a food coma the entire time we were in Cali! We love Asian food, but boy had we missed our American fav's!

Eating at In and Out Burger….so delicious! A must try – “animal style” they aren’t on the menu, and might clog your arteries, but sooooo worth it!

Nothing says America like warm apple pie and coffee (Coffee Shop on Orange Avenue in Coronado…a cute little diner where the waitresses wear uniquely handmade aprons and there’s music playing from an old fashioned juke box)

A place recommended to us by many….the suggestions were correct, it was fantastic food and beer!

BBQ! There are 2 kinds of food, this Texas girl craves most – Tex Mex and BBQ! Nick knew I was in need of a BBQ fix, so he researched the best BBQ in the area… the result = Phil’s BBQ! They are known for their “award winning ribs” which is exactly what Nick and I ordered! OH MY! Delicious! The line was wrapped around the building, that’s how good this stuff was!

Who needs a shopping cart when you have a baby stroller? Better yet, who needs a crib when you can snuggle in a large pile of clothes?

The best thing I did while in San Diego (besides eat amazing food) was to shop shop shop with my friend Rebekah Butterfield! We had fun catching up - with each other and with what the boutiques had to offer! I left Japan in such a frantic state, packing was the last thing on my mind. I simply threw a few things into 2 carry-on’s…when come to find out, those few items were supposed to last me for a couple of months or longer…needless to say, retail therapy was calling my name! And SD is the perfect place to shop! The store selections are endless. I was in shopping heaven! The best part – American sizes!!!

An added bonus, my time in California fell on a very important date for Nick and I. We were able to be together on the anniversary of our very first date…Nick and I have been together for 7 years! Dinner in Huntington Beach with Nick’s parents seemed celebratory enough. On our last night in Cali, before we were to head off to Hawaii, Nick and I toasted to the 7 years together and to the many more to come.
(First date, 7 years ago...Naval Ball)
Though I hated leaving, I am glad to be home, if not for a little while. But Japan is always on my mind and the people there are constantly in my prayers.

US loves Japan…good thing, cause so do I!
You belong with me…

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Parting is such Sweet Sorrow

Japan, I might have left but I have not lost hope.

It is true, I left Japan...I felt the tension start to drain from me as I touched down on US soil yesterday morning. Unfortunately, I am not fully joyous, I left with a sad heart for the people of Japan whom I have come to admire, respect and in the current situation - feel sorrow for.

(Side note...I have tried to write this post several times and each time given up frustrated because I simply could not find the right words to describe the chaos)

Sleep deprived and stressed I made the decision to push on with Nick and my plans (plans that we had made over a month before the Earthquake) for me to Space A out of Japan and spend a couple weeks with him in the States. Space available flights (or Space A as we call them) are scheduled military flights that us dependents can try to get a spot on if we are lucky! There is no guarantee, but if you get a spot on a Space A flight, you pay around $30 for a flight! Hello? That's a steal!

The plan was for me to hopefully get on the flight that landed in Seattle and then take a commercial flight from Seattle to San Diego (again I had booked the commercial flight a couple weeks ago). But in the aftermath of "The Big Shake" I was on the fritz...was it safe enough for me to drive out to the air base that was over an hour away from our house with the gas being rationed and me not having a full tank? Was it silly for me to take that chance and drive all that way in the crazy traffic....traffic due to the stopping of trains and power outages, even though there wasn't a guarantee I would even get on a flight? Was I willing to leave the comforts of my home that I had been bunkered down in for days? (ever since the announcement was made to "stay inside" due to exposure to the radiation) And most importantly, if things got worse, was I ok with leaving my dog behind??? Most of those answers were a definite NO for me! I really was content with "sticking it out" like my fellow Japanese.

However, Wednesday morning I got a call from my parents telling me, "enough was enough" and it was, "time to come home"! In addition to the countless calls from Nick begging me to come see him.... I gave up and threw in the towel and decided to go to San Diego.

I dropped off Beretta with a friend who, like me, planned to "stick it out" until she was told otherwise. Besides, I was only going to hang out with Nick for a couple weeks and then I would be back too (so I thought)....and I kept telling myself, if I don't get a spot on the plane, then "it's not meant to be" of my favorite games to play!

Well, I did get a spot...whew!!!!...(again, so I thought)...but right as I was getting the confirmation that yes, "Brittany Holman you are next on the list" I got a very bad call from my friend who was watching my dog. "Britt, have you heard?" she said. "Heard what?".....
Apparently, I was supposed to get on that flight and get out of Japan...but at that moment the commander of our base made the decision to evacuate all dependents as well!

My first thought was, "Really? How did it come to this?"

My friend informed me that they were in fact now evacuating dependents on our base and she was leaving. The important question then became what did I need to do with Beretta? Forego my $30 ticket back to America, to my husband's arms that I so desperately had needed for the last month and more specifically the last week? Especially when that would mean I would be paying thousands to fly out otherwise, not to mention fighting the traffic and people in the Tokyo airport! My friends who have done just that have informed me of the hundreds upon hundreds of people SLEEPING at the airport! People who don't have tickets, but are there at the airport waiting on something to become available so they can get out!!!

"Absolutely not!" My husband said! "I want you on that plane now!

So, I boarded the plane for the US...with a nervous stomach, praying fervently that Beretta was ok and all my military family would get out safe.
I called my friend one last time, making sure she had everything she needed to get my dog out of Japan... Luckily I had had a feeling something like this would happen before I left and so I, "just in case" had left my friend with Beretta's travel kennel - complete with all the information taped to the outside and ready for departure, all her paperwork and everything else necessary for evacuating...but who knew that it would really come to that???

I landed in Seattle feeling a mixture of relief and dread..."Thank you Jesus, I am back home! But Dear Lord please watch over my Navy family and my poochaloo!"

From there, I made my scheduled flight from Seattle to San Francisco, and then San Fran to San Diego where Nick picked me up and we were finally reunited after a month of separation!

I am here but still a bit anxious...trying to catch up on sleep that just won't come. After days of hourly earthquakes, stressing over a million things, (radiation, gas and water rations, power outages, what to do with my dog, how I was going to get to Nick...etc, etc.!) and then traveling cross-country and put into a completely opposite time zone - my mind and body just don't know what to do! As my mom put it, I am "numb"!

They still haven't evacuated all the rest of the dependents on our base in Japan. (Meaning my dog is still there) I am continually checking emails with updates on their status, but it has been a rollercoaster for them! They were told over 48 hours ago to pack and get ready to evacuate...but are still waiting! The peace and patience they are having to endure is beyond words. "Lord please be with my military family still in Japan!"

The Lord is good and I feel tremendously blessed, but part of me feels like a traitor, like I fled the scene and left my passé to fend for themselves.

Before I left, I worried about petty things such as what I should pack in my very small suitcase, not knowing when I would return to Japan…all the while those poor Japanese in Northern Japan are worrying if they will survive the week!

But the Japanese haven't lost hope and so neither have I! They are a rare culture of people, people who I admire and am drawn to. In a time of crisis there were no riots, no crazy mobs, the people were calm and patient. ALL of my students emailed me or called me in the aftermath of the disaster to make sure I was ok! Me!?! Students who have no other country to escape to like I do...who have ALL their family in Japan and not just their dog and husband...these are people who in the middle of the chaos wanted to make sure their American friend was ok, a couple of them even offering me to come and stay with them! My one student who's daughter lives in the heart of Sendai - the area where the tsunami hit - emailed me to make sure I was ok, even though she has her own worries....her daughter is without food, water, electricity, gas AND is stranded! Those are the people I feel I have abandoned...they are not jumping ship and I took the first life boat outta there!

Please continue to pray for the people of Japan…
We are weak but HE is STRONG!!!”

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Calmness in the middle of Chaos

Be still and know that I am God

“The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.” Psalm 46:11

Yes it is easy to get freaked out and panicked in the midst of disaster. And yes, I have had my moments. It is scary not knowing what will happen next! Seeing the news, hearing the updates, and even worse – reading the negatives on peoples Facebooks (ugh!) can really take it’s toll on the nerves!

This little snack (Jell-O chocolate pudding) always brings a smile to my face...tonight was no different! And so it seems, "Happy is still legal in all 50 States AND Japan!"

Things aren’t that bad on this side of Japan where I live….

We have been told to conserve electricity and that there will be rolling black outs, due to the power plant that caught fire. But to loose a little electricity is a small sacrifice to pay in relation to what the Japanese are facing in Northern Japan. I can read a book by candle light, snuggle up in my bed with my pup to keep warm, and eat sandwiches instead of hot food! Those poor people in Sendai have none of these luxuries we have here!

Tonight we did in fact have our first power outage, but it only lasted 2 hours and I was able to have a glass of wine and read a book on my kindle! Not bad, not bad at all!

The Japanese are handling this situation so amazingly! There are updates every hour, and announcements heard throughout the cities. (Though they are in Japanese, so I have no clue what they are saying!) They have stopped the trains in order to restore power and have closed most stores and restaurants as well. Those still open have turned off their outside lights and any other excess power!

Also, the third reactor at Fukushima (North of Tokyo) exploded today, leaving radiation blowing into our air. But the Japanese are doing everything they can to prevent the people from harm.

We have been told to stay indoors and keep our windows and vents closed. But right now, the radiation samples in our area are “EXTREMELY low” and less than “the radiation of a chest x-ray. We aren’t in danger, just being pre-cautious!

In addition, there are still aftershock earthquakes, which shake the houses leaving everyone shaken up! There is talk of “another big one” which often follow an earthquake the magnitude of the 8.9 we received just 4 days ago. Who knows if or when this will occur…I just know, when the little ones rumble, I am left wondering, “is this it? Is this one going to stop in a few seconds or get worse? As I am typing this, what felt like 6 separate but almost consecutive earth quakes have happened (just to put it into perspective what we are experiencing here) …each one lasting only a minute or two, but feeling like they will go on forever! Dear Lord hear our prayer! Please make it stop! Please make it stop! I say over and over again as I clutch my dog, who’s heart is racing wildly!

Why are you so fearful, you of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea. And there was a great calm.”

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Shopping and Shaking

I headed out to Thailand on Wednesday morning on a "buy trip" with 2 other girls from Ichiban Collectables, the store I work for here in Japan. "Thailand!!! Whoohoo!" We were super thrilled to be taking a mini-shopping trip, even if it was for work! A girl's dream...getting paid to shop, AND in a foreign country!!!

Thailand was on my list of countries I wanted to visit during our three year tour here in Japan...what I didn't know was that during the few days I spent away from Japan, I would be avoiding the largest earthquake in Japan's history!

After two days of price negotiations, converting dollars to Baht and Baht back to dollars, spending all our "buy" money and literally stuffing our suit cases past maximum capacity, the Ichiban girls and I were exhausted and ready to head home...we got back to our hotel in Chiang Mai and were able to check our phones for the first time all day. "What???" The news was turned on and shrieks were let out, as we were informed of the natural disaster that had taken it's toll hours earlier in a country we call home!

The news was broadcasting horrifying pictures of the scenes from the 8.9 earthquake and resulting tsunami that hit Japan on March 11th. Airports were closed, trains were stopped, traffic was backed up and we were to board our plane and head back to Japan in a little over 15 hours!

I should have been relieved that I wasn't in Japan during the heavy earth shaking, but I felt unsettled at the unknown of what I would be going home to and nervous at the possibility of not making it there!

They did in fact open the airports back up and we made it home without any difficulty, but standing in the airport with the dozens of other Japanese trying to get home, we watched the news and I couldn’t help but get emotional!

News reporters were arriving in Japan at the same time as us...we didn't see Ann Curry in person, but had to take a picture of her sign anyways!

I finally made it home last night around 1AM – tired, alone and dreading what I would see inside my house. I called my mom and made her talk to me while I did a walk-through and assessed the damage! I might have been a bit more paranoid than the average person about this, but everyone else I knew had their husbands’ home with them and hadn’t just experienced a break-in! And that was exactly what it felt like…walking into a house that had been vandalized in my absence, only this time it was due to a violent shaking of the earth!

Even though most of the devastation is 150 miles North of Tokyo, and we live just South of Tokyo, the 8.9 shook the ground enough to do damage everywhere!!!

Doors had been flung open, things toppled out of closets, pictures on the floor, glass broken and the oddest of it all was that my sink was on and running full blast! (Something had fallen and flipped the nozzle on) However, the damage was minimal compared to those in Sendai where the tsunami hit, the streets were flooded, houses were swept away and people were trapped and killed by rushing water!

All the picture frames fell from their shelves and my jewelry was scattered on the floor!

One of my Japanese students emailed me to say she was too depressed to study English with me this month because her “daughter can’t get water and so she is going to die”…a bold statement, but true to the panic that the Japanese are feeling right now!

The news will tell you of the devastation…the destroyed cities, floods, death toll, fires, and the nuclear power plant that is leaking. Plus there are aftershock earthquakes that happen every few hours, making it hard not to panic that another big one will happen again!

But things could have been worse… this earthquake was bigger than the last 2 major earthquakes in Japan and yet the damage is far less!

In 1923, a 7.9 earthquake hit the Tokyo area (where we currently live) and there were over 100,000 people killed! Again in 1995 a major earthquake hit Kobe and killed 6,000. Looking at those numbers, I feel blessed that things weren’t as grim as they could have been!

Relief efforts are in full swing as well! Though Nick's in the States for training, his squadron, in addition to many other personnel on base here are doing search and rescue missions and providing supplies to the victims in Northern Japan!

They aren't out of the woods yet, but are on the road to recovery. Japan is resilient and has dealt with such devastation before; I have no doubt they will get through it again!