Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Letter 2011

Family and Friends,
This has been an interesting year for the Minear Family, so I guess I’ll start from the beginning. In February, we took a trip to the city of Sapporo for the Sapporo Snow Festival. We took an overnight ferry to get there because Sapporo is on a different island than Misawa, the ferry ride
was a lot of fun and we are very thankful that some friends went in on a private room with us so we could get a good amount of sleep on the way there and back. In Sapporo, we saw HUGE snow
sculptures of all kinds, buildings and people and animals. We ate dinner at the Sapporo Brewery and Annelise really enjoyed the lamb and learned to ‘Kampai’, which is ‘cheers’ in Japanese. We were also able to tour a chocolate factory and drank the best hot chocolate in the world.

Then came March. March 3rd, I had the wonderful opportunity to celebrate Girls’ Day with a
local group of Japanese women; that day was one of the best I’ve spent in Misawa. On March 10th, I filled up the car with gas because I was running on fumes. On March 11th, we experienced a 9.0 earthquake and the Japanese coastline was devastated by a tsunami. Because we lost all power, we didn’t even know how devastating the tsunami was or anything about the nuclear issues in Fukushima until the next day. We were only without power for 2 days, but I was very glad that the gas tank was full since gasoline was rationed for a week or two. John worked long hours getting maps and up-to-date images to the rescue crews while I comforted Annelise during the hundreds of aftershocks. We accepted the military’s offer to leave Japan for a little while and
went to Texas at the end of March. While Annelise and I were in the States, John went on a couple of cleanup missions in the local area. When we returned to Japan, Annelise and I helped put together backpacks full of school supplies for the children of Otsuchi.

The main reason that Annelise and I left Japan was that the earthquake and subsequent aftershocks scared her. She crawled into my lap during each one and woke up when we had them at night. Even a bumpy car ride made her cry and I knew she needed some time to get past her fears. Spending time with family really helped, and it took some of the stress off of me, as well. We were also able to see my sisters during their pregnancies, which was a wonderful bonus. We hosted a baby shower for Dianna and Melisa at the beginning of May
and then headed back to Misawa.

This year, John was finally able to go to the Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival with us and we had a lot of fun. The castle grounds are so beautiful when the trees and gardens are in bloom! For
Mothers’ Day, John sent me on a day trip with friends to paint kokeshi dolls, it was so much fun! I even took Annelise back to paint her own in July! In June, Annelise welcomed her first cousin, MacKenzie Marie. Melisa and Trent’s little girl is so adorable and she loves to talk to us on Skype, she smiles every time she sees us! July brought me my first godchild, Cooper Scott. He is Dianna and Kyle’s son and has me completely charmed.

August brought Annelise and me back to the States while John went to Alaska. Cooper and MacKenzie were baptized in our church back home and we loved spending two weeks with them
and the whole family. Annelise loved holding her babies and feeding MacKenzie a bottle, she’s going to be a great big sister one day. After two weeks in Texas, we traveled up north, to Indiana. We had the best time hanging out with family, eating yummy food, and
getting some shopping done. Annelise got to play with her cousin Olivia when we were in Lafayette and renamed her cousin Claire, calling her Yaya, when we were in Indianapolis.

In September, we were almost back to normal, but then October brought the Officers’ Spouses’ Club’s annual Far East Bazaar. I was on the bazaar committee and spent three days in a hangar full of amazing items. At the end of the weekend, my feet hurt and our bank account was a
little bit lighter, but the club raised over $30,000 to be given out in the local community.

John and I went out with friends in October to celebrate my birthday with some karaoke, and Annelise dressed up as Jessie from Toy Story for Halloween while John and I were Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head. November brought a family trip to Tokyo, where we visited DisneyLand and DisneySea for a couple of days. We had a blast and got to meet a number of Disney Characters, including Princess Aurora, Minnie Mouse, and Princess Ariel. We made the trip over Thanksgiving and Annelise’s third birthday, she had a blast and loves to tell people about the trip. She wore her Jessie costume one day and a Cinderella costume the next and everyone at the
parks thought she looked adorable.

Now that December is here, we’re finally relaxing after a crazy year. John had an inspection at work this month that ate up a week out of every month this year while they prepared. Thankfully, his office did well and we’re done with that for a while. We’re planning a quiet Christmas at home before ramping up for the new year. We have several friends arriving here over the next few months, which eases the pain of some of our closest friends moving

When we moved to Misawa, we thought we’d be leaving in January of 2012, but we have extended our stay by six months. We will be done with our tour here this summer and should be finding out about our new assignment in the next couple of months. We have absolutely loved our time here and are so grateful for the chance to live in this amazing country. The people are so wonderful and their culture contains much to be admired. We haven’t always enjoyed living so far from ‘home’ or how long it takes items to arrive in the base stores, but we have made many wonderful memories and dear friends.

We’re sorry that more of you couldn’t visit us in Japan, but we understand how much money and time it takes to come here. There are a number of things left on our ‘to-do’ list that will remain undone, like a visit to Kyoto and Hiroshima, me climbing Mt Fuji, and seeing some of the southern islands, but overall we feel that we experienced some of the best that Japan has to offer. We plan on spending the rest of our time here enjoying one last Winter and Spring, building snowmen, skiing (for John), watching the trees and gardens bloom, and spending plenty of time at the beach. We can’t wait to see what life has in store for us this next year!

Merry Christmas!!
John, Angela, and Annelise

Friday, April 8, 2011


I know this is almost 2 months late, I'm lazy and then we had an earthquake. When we moved to Misawa, all we heard about were cherry blossoms and the Sapporo Snow Festival. We got to Misawa too late that first year to get tickets to the snow festival and John was deployed last year, so this year I was ready the day tickets went on sale and I told John that I'd go without him if need be. We booked a trip through the base that included an overnight ferry trip there and back, plus one night in a hotel in Sapporo. (We live on Honshu island and Sapporo is on Hokkaido, an island to our North.) Our friends David and Yazmin ended up getting on the same trip so we were able to book a room with them on the ferries so we didn't have to sleep in the 'cattle pen' with everyone else. We left on a Sunday evening and rode on a bus to Hachinohe, where we boarded the ferry. John, David and Yazmin were kind enough to wander the boat while I got Annelise to sleep and we woke up just in time to see the ferry pulling up to the dock on Hokkaido. We were bussed to a hotel for breakfast, which was a pretty typical Japanese breakfast. So of course, I didn't eat much there, I'm not really one for fish or rice for breakfast. Thankfully, I had packed some snacks so we were prepared for a breakfast of our own on the bus. Then we took the bus to Otaru, a city on the northwestern side of the island. Otaru was a beautiful, snow-covered city and is known for music boxes and blown glass. The snow was a little crazy there, we collected over an inch on Annelise's stroller in a matter of 10 or 15 minutes. She fell asleep while we browsed around the city and I found a beautiful vase in a glass shop that matches a vase that John bought for me a while back. We were VERY tempted to buy some amazing cheesecake, but we knew that there were many other yummy treats ahead. We stopped at a small food stand with a heated tent where we could sit and ate potatoes on a stick, some sort of yummy fried potato/cheese concoction, and a curry dumpling thingy. We also had delicious hot chocolate and lavender ice cream!! I actually got a cone that had lavender, milk, and melon flavors, while David got one with 2 extra flavors. My favorite was the lavender and the melon was my least favorite. Then we got back on the bus and went to Sapporo to check into the hotel. Our hotel was in a great location, only a block or two from the ice sculptures, one more block from Mister Donut, and very close to an underground mall that we could walk through to get to the snow sculptures. That afternoon, we ate at Mister Donut (it's just so delicious there!) and looked at the ice sculptures, then we went to the Sapporo Bier Garten for a delicious dinner of lamb, seafood, and veggies with all you can drink beer or soda. We really enjoyed the food and Annelise learned how to toast in Japanese, saying 'Kampai!' and clinking her sippy cup with the tour guide's mug of beer over and over again. After we got back from the beer garden, we met up with a few people that we had made friends with on our bus and speed-walked through the underground mall to get to Odori Park to see the snow sculptures lit up at night. We only had 20 minutes or so before they turned the lights out, so we rushed through so we could see all of them. I was in awe of those sculptures, they were GIGANTIC!! Each sculpture was the size of a good-sized building, with a stage in front for various musical performances. There were also a ton of smaller sculptures, including recognizable characters (both Japanese and American), a baseball player (possibly Sammy Sosa), and a Nobel Prize winner. On Tuesday morning (Tuesday already?), we ate breakfast at our hotel; it was a much more Americanized meal and we all left with our bellies full. We then hopped on the subway to a chocolate factory that was on the other side of town. When we got out of the subway station, we had nowhere to go so I stopped a large group of people to ask (in my very limited Japanese) where the factory was. Earlier in the trip I had told John and the Arroyos to remember that just because someone is white, they may not be American/speak English because this is an internationally renowned festival. I had to eat my own words when I found out that the man I was trying to speak Japanese to was from Hong Kong and currently lives in Canada!! Thankfully, he spoke both Japanese and English and was leading a tour group from Hong Kong who was also trying to find the chocolate factory, so we followed them the few blocks to the factory. Now, this was not a Hershey's-style factory, they don't make candy. They make adorable little Japanese desserts and cookies and we got to look in on the assembly line and the history of chocolate-making. We also each received a sample of the signature cookie, Shiroi Koibito. A Shiroi Koibito is two thin cookies with a thin chocolate filling; kind of like a Milano, but better. We were all tired and hungry by that time, so we went to the cafe inside the factory for delicious desserts and THE BEST HOT CHOCOLATE EVER. EVER. We bought a tin of cookies and two little cans of hot chocolate to take home with us, we've been rationing the cookies and neither one of us is allowed to have one unless the other has one too. That's how good they are. And the hot chocolate has ruined me for all other hot chocolate. Before we went back to the subway station, we stopped at another gift shop attached to the factory and mailed post cards to ourselves and a few other people. Once we got back on the Subway, we basically collapsed and rested in anticipation of checking out the snow sculptures again. The sculptures were amazing at night, but they were even better during the day because it was easier to see some of the details. We took our time that day and had a lot of fun taking pictures and being silly, then we shopped a little for souvenirs and ate ramen before getting back on the bus for the trip home. The ramen was delicious, it was actually my first time eating actual ramen in Japan. I know, I've lived there for over 2 years, but we just don't go out to eat very often and John is gone so much, plus Annelise is just now at the age where she can eat something like ramen so I don't have to worry about bringing extra food for her. We got back to the hotel just in time to get on the bus and the ferry trip back to Hachinohe was a little more difficult than the trip over because Annelise did NOT want to go to sleep. All in all, we had a great trip. I'm glad that David and Yazmin were able to go with us. I didn't get as many family pictures as I would have liked because Annelise napped at awkward times, and I didn't find a kokeshi doll that (to me) represented Sapporo, but we made some great memories and checked and important trip off of our list. Now it's time to gear up for our second try at Fuji and a possible trip to Hawaii in the fall!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Christmas and such...

We had an amazing Christmas here in Misawa. We went to Mass on Christmas Eve and then skipped out on a party that some friends were throwing because we were tired and had to set up Annelise's toy from her aunts and uncles. She got a climb n slide from them that she LOVES, it's in the house right now because of all of the snow outside, but we're looking forward to moving it outdoors in a few months. Annelise also received a kitchen from Santa, it's nice to have something to occupy her while I cook dinner or check my e-mail. My parents gave her some play food and a play cookie set, she loves them and is always offering us cookies. I have to check her pants pockets for wooden cookies before I put them in the wash, but I'm so excited that she's at an age where she actually plays with her toys. Annelise got lots of other cool stuff, including a Magna Doodle that she brings to us asking us to write the ABCBs. She knows all of her letters now by sight, although she still has trouble singing the alphabet. We've started working on colors and lower case letters and we're still working on counting.

John and I got some really cool gifts, as well. He got some very nice Japanese whiskey, a new hiking backpack, and The Pacific on Blu Ray, and I got a Wii Fit, some attachments for my Kitchenaid mixer, and some great movies. Then came the gift cards... it's difficult for our families to get all of our gifts purchased and mailed to us in time so some of them send us Amazon gift cards or money. We used the money to help pay for our trip to Sapporo next month (it's also our anniversary gift to each other) and the gift cards to buy Wii accessories!

On Christmas Day we had some friends over for lunch, I made roast and rolls while our friends brought mashed potatoes and dessert. Then we went over to see some other friends and spent the evening relaxing. John took leave during the week between Christmas and New Year's, it was really nice to spend some time as a family and get things done around the house. Then on New Year's we went over to a friend's house and watched a Japanese countdown. We toasted with champagne and sparkling cider while Annelise slept upstairs and we had a great time chatting with everyone. We're very lucky to have so many good friends.

We were planning on buying a video game system this Spring after we pay off John's truck, but God had something else in mind when I won a Wii at the squadron Christmas party! John was in Alabama and had to miss the super-fun party, but he was pretty excited to come home to a Wii. We've bought a number of games and accessories for it and are pretty set except for Rock Band/Band Hero, which we'll buy in a few months. We really enjoy playing each other in bowling, wakeboarding and other games, I'm a sore winner and am always very excited when I beat John's scores. He has much better hand-eye coordination than I do, so it feels pretty good to kick his butt at something every now and then. We also use the Wii Fit to get in some exercise, it's way too cold and snowy for my liking and I don't go to the gym anymore so the Fit is really helpful. John also has a great time playing Call of Duty as a way to zone out after a long day at work.

We've been having fun with cooking lately, the attachments for my stand mixer allow me to grind my own beef and it's amazing how good freshly ground beef tastes! We don't even buy ground beef anymore, we just buy inexpensive cuts of beef and grind a few pounds a week to use in dinners. Last night I also made pizza from scratch for the first time. I used whole wheat flour and made my own dough, then topped it with pesto, chicken leftover from the night before, and some mozzarella cheese that I grated in the food processor. It takes a little longer to do all of this yourself, but the resulting pizza is soooo worth it! We're slowly moving the more processed foods out of our house in favor of things that we make ourselves, although I draw the line at milling my own flour or growing my own veggies. I am just not good at growing things so I'll keep buying locally grown produce and maybe join a co-op when we get back to the States.

Now we're dealing with lots of snow and gearing up for our trip to Sapporo for the ice festival. Sapporo is on the island to the North of us and is famous for the ice festival, so we'll take an overnight ferry there and back and spend a couple of days exploring the city. We booked our trip through the base, so there's some structure to it and we'll have a tour guide along. Also, two of our friends are coming with us so we're really excited. :)

And I guess that's that. I've finally got us updated. Even though I still haven't posted anything about Annelise turning 2. I think I'm in denial that she's actually 2 and I can't bring myself to talk about it much. I just can't believe how much my little girl has grown up!