Deep Thoughts Family Military Kids

I’m Glad My Kids are Patriotic

I just got back from a long couple of weeks in the Philippines for work, and as usual it left me concerned about how my time away from my kids impacts them and our relationship.  It is always heartwarming to come home to their handmade signs and super tight hugs and kisses, which I guess means I am doing something right.

All of my other doubts aside, I know my kids are learning one thing that is incredibly important to me.  They are learning to be patriotic and have respect for the great symbols of our nation.

For those of you unfamiliar with military installations, there is music that plays every morning and every night.  I have seen different variations at the various bases I have lived at in terms of what music they play, but the national anthem is always a part of that music at some point during the day.  A fun addition here in Japan is that they also play the Japanese national anthem.  When the music plays you are supposed to stop walking or driving, and if outside stand with your hand over your heart much like you would at a sporting event.

This is our first time living on base so my kids were not super familiar with this tradition before we lived here, but I am proud to say they have learned quickly.

Just now my youngest was in the living room with my wife and I when the music started playing.  She immediately wanted to run outside, but we stopped her since she isn’t supposed to be running around while the music is playing.  Much to my happy surprise she said, “Fine, I put my hand on my heart.”  Technically she put her hand on her stomach, but we helped her find her heart and she stood there in the living room for a minute while the music played.

She is only almost three years old, but I am super proud of the fact that she is learning that respect already, even though I realize she doesn’t really know why she is doing it.  I am grateful for parents who taught me that respect at a young age as I think respect is one of the most important character traits we can develop.

Family Family Trips Japan Life

Matsumoto Castle Might be the Coolest Thing I Have Seen in Japan…So Far

My kids really need to work on their fighting stance.
My kids really need to work on their fighting stance.

It is a good thing that Crash Aunt is such a go getter when it comes to getting out and exploring this amazing country that we are living in.  I am pretty content to hang out and explore the local area, and by local area I mean my bed, my couch, and my backyard.  Fortunately, she really loves doing the research and finding cool places for us to explore.  To be totally honest, sometimes these places are not very exciting, and other times they are super cool.

Matsumoto Castle was definitely one of those super cool things.

The water was so incredibly still it was stunning.
The water was so incredibly still it was stunning.

The castle can be found in the city of Matsumoto which is pretty close to Nagano, where the Olympics were held in 1998 and is also on my list of places to visit.  It is a pretty small city with a number of tasty restaurants, and mostly small buildings that we have come to really enjoy as we travel around Japan.  The castle rises up above the rest of the city like the beacon that it was likely supposed to be with five stories for you to explore.

Young ninja in training.
Young ninja in training.

Even in the winter the grounds have a beautiful simplicity that is very much Japanese.  You can tell that they are meticulously maintained and provide a peaceful beauty that I have not really experienced in the states.  As you can see from the pictures, it is surrounded by a large moat that had a couple of swans swimming in it, and worked wonderfully as a reflection pond.

I love cultural locations that give my kid a better experience.
I love cultural locations that give my kid a better experience.

Inside the grounds of the castle our kids got to meet a ninja, a samurai, and a geisha that walk the grounds and keep it entertaining for the kids.  You are not allowed to wear street shoes in the castle so you have to put on slippers before climbing the stairs and exploring.  I was proud of all of my kids for climbing up the really steep stairs all the way to the top.

This is the "warrior passage" that is extra wide for the Samurai coming through in full battle armor.
This is the “warrior passage” that is extra wide for the Samurai coming through in full battle armor.

On each level of the castle they had plenty of signs explaining all of the different memorabilia they had there which was really nice because oftentimes it is only in Japanese.  The kids loved seeing all of the cool guns and swords and a samurai suit.  It was also really interesting to see how the castle had been adapted from the time when bows and arrows were used to the time when guns and rifles were utilized.

I think the samurai would lose against these three little monsters.
I think the samurai would lose against these three little monsters.

It is also crazy when you consider that the vast majority of the structure was made with wood, granted they are massively huge beams and supports, but it is still wood that kept this structure safe for so long.  As I mentioned before, they even let you climb all the way to the top and look out on what the ruler of the castle would have seen.  It was such an amazing experience to learn more about this fascinating culture.

The most amazing thing about this picture is that I am in pants.  Stay tuned for why in the next post.
The most amazing thing about this picture is that I am in pants. Stay tuned for why in the next post.

This is such a unique opportunity that we have to learn about another culture, and I am glad we are taking advantage of it.  At the same time, it makes me wonder what awesome experiences I was missing out on back in the states because I didn’t look hard enough.  I am convinced that there are fascinating things to expose your kids to if you just look hard enough.

Family Family Trips Japan Life

Japanese Zoos are Awesome…and There are a Lot of Them

I love that cheesy grin, and the red panda is cute too.
I love that cheesy grin, and the red panda is cute too.

One of our favorite places to visit no matter where we are in the world are zoos.  Animals are just awesome, and it is a rare opportunity to see them much closer than would normally be possible.  Sometimes you even get to see them do things that you would only ever see them do in a video, like the time CrashDad and I saw a giraffe giving birth at the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, UT.  The last time I checked, that giraffe still lived there which I always find special.

Koalas have always been on of my favorite animals, and they let you get real close at Tama Zoo.
Koalas have always been on of my favorite animals, and they let you get real close at Tama Zoo.

In many ways, Japanese zoos aren’t all that different from zoos in the states as they are mostly just animals in cages with some cooler habitats being built to make things a little more realistic.  There are a few animals that are unique to Japan that added a certain amount of special, but it is some of the other unique opportunities that make their zoos so cool.

In this instance we were visiting the Tama Zoo which is located about an hour or so Southwest of Tokyo.  Considering that most of the greater Tokyo area is essentially solid buildings it is incredible how much space this zoo actually included.  It was also a great workout as the zoo sits in a group of hills forcing you to go up and down as you walk through the zoo.  Those hills did provide for some extra views of the animals though, so it was worth it.

No orangutans to be seen, but the zoo had pictures of them climbing over the people.
No orangutans to be seen, but the zoo had pictures of them climbing over the people.

One of the cool things that they have set up is a cool rope bridge for the orangutans to climb across a portion of the zoo.  You can kind of see it from the pictures, but there are two different areas for the orangutans that are maybe quarter to half a mile apart that are connected by this overhead bridge where they can climb over the guests and make for a pretty cool experience.  Much to the dismay of Crash Aunt (orangutans are one of her favorite animals), none of the orangutans were out the day we were there, but I am sure we will be back more than once before we leave Japan.

The other cool experience that they have at the Tama Zoo is a chance to feed the lions.  This was not an opportunity to offload unruly children in support of the zoo, though we did tell the kids that was the plan, but it was a chance to see these majestic animals up close.

You can see the kids' excitement in their reflections.
You can see the kids’ excitement in their reflections.

The way it works is you get into a bus that has hooks on the outside by the windows where they put little pieces of meat.  You then drive out into the lion enclosure where they have platforms set up for the lions to come and eat the meat off the side of the bus.  As you can see this leads to some pretty up close and personal experiences with the lions.  They are amazingly powerful yet gentle looking creatures when you get close.  I’m not saying I want to snuggle with one in the wild, but it would be a little tempting.

One of the cool things I have noticed about Japanese culture is that they are very big on having experiences for their entertainment, not just mindlessly sitting in a venue.  That is why they have so many of these places too.  There are zoos and parks and playgrounds and shrines and various other amusement areas all over the place.  It would be nearly impossible to visit all of them.  They are also quite reasonably priced as it usually only costs us about $10 for the parents total, and the kids are almost always free.

The older I get, the more interested I am in experiences versus just stuff so I guess it is really no wonder that I would find this so enjoyable.  I really look forward to having even more of these experiences while we are here.

Daddy Blog Family From the Mouths of Crash Kids

The Joy of Children is Infectious

Happy Baby 2
Crash Kid #4 just walked into my office (also my bedroom for those keeping track at home) and was laughing totally uncontrollably. I’d never seen him have such uncontrollable laughter. In fact, I can’t remember any 3 year old laughing so much that he couldn’t control himself.
Happy Baby
It was awesome to watch, but I wondered what was so funny. I asked him why he was laughing so hard and he replied, “Momma…..She’s so Funny…” which then led to even more laughter. I guess the Crash Mom might want to consider a career in comedy.

Although, as he left the room, I realized that his laughter was so totally infectious. All I wanted to do after seeing him laugh was smile.
Happy Baby 3

Daddy Blog Family Family Trips Japan Life

Playing in the Shadow of a Volcano

It's amazing how cold it can get just a few thousand feet up.
It’s amazing how cold it can get just a few thousand feet up.

Tell me that this headline doesn’t sound like fun.  I know my kids were super excited to be around a volcano.

In all reality it seems like every mountain in the Pacific region is a volcano, or at least used to be, so we are almost always in the shadow of one volcano or another.  In this case though it was a very well known volcano known as Mt. Fuji.  At 12,388 feet it is the tallest mountain in Japan.  While it has not erupted since 1707, it is still an active volcano which many experts say is due for an eruption.

Being the daring adventurers that we are we decided to take a chance and go for a visit.

On our way to the mountain we stopped and visited a pretty awesome waterfall that is fed by the waters flowing off of Mt. Fuji.  It only required a short little hike for our family, and was stunningly beautiful.  Shiraito Falls has been a natural monument since 1936 and is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park.  It is just amazing to me how many natural wonders there are in this country.

The falls included about ten or so smaller waterfalls like the ones behind the family.
The falls included about ten or so smaller waterfalls like the ones behind the family.

After stopping at the waterfall we headed up the mountain to the fifth station on Mt. Fuji.  I guess I should explain what that means.  Mt. Fuji is divided into ten different stations starting at the base of the mountain and ending at the top.  These stations provide a number of different services like toilets, food, and even sleeping facilities for those wanting to take a more leisurely pace up the mountain.  You can drive all the way up to the fifth station (about 7500 feet) to start your hike, which is what most people do.  Unfortunately, climbing season is over so our journey to the summit will wait until next year, but it was still a great adventure.

I wasn’t so sure how great of a trip it would be as we reached the base as the sky was completely filled with clouds.  As we drove the approximately 22km up the mountain (yes you read that right 22km) we actually drove through two different cloud layers which was quite the experience for the wife and kids who had never done that before.  It is something we do all the time in the plane, but it generally happens pretty fast, so driving it was quite cool.

The view from above is almost always better than the view from below.
The view from above is almost always better than the view from below.

As we neared the fifth station I was afraid that we would be right in the middle of the cloud layer, but as luck would have it the whole thing opened up above us and Mt. Fuji stuck out in all of its glory.  We pulled into parking and got our first up close look at this amazing volcano.  On a clear day we can see Mt. Fuji from our house, but you really have to get up close to understand its majesty.  Equally stunning was the view out across the valley.

As I mentioned, we drove through two different cloud layers as we drove up, so there was very little to see in the valley, but that is what was so amazing about it.  The clouds themselves were simply beautiful.  After a few minutes I realized they I could see mountains peaking out above the clouds across the valley as well.  Those peaks were all above 10,000 feet and could not be held down by even the thickest of clouds.

There is something powerful about the shadow of a mountain.
There is something powerful about the shadow of a mountain.

There are a number of little shops at the fifth station which are very similar to what we have seen pretty much everywhere we go here.  Behind these shops is the Komitake Shrine which is a beautiful little structure and the site of the Kaizansai festival that is held yearly to celebrate the opening of the Mt. Fuji climbing season.

As we were standing on a platform near the shrine and looking out over the cloud deck I realized that we were literally standing in the shadow of the volcano and it was amazing.  I don’t think the picture here really does it justice, but it was incredible.  We have all stood in the shadow of a mountain before but I have never seen the shadow so distinctly as it laid itself out over the clouds.

Fuji SunsetI am super excited to climb to the summit next year, and this visit only made me more excited.  I really hope that my kids will be able to join me at some point as well.

Crazy Ideas Daddy Blog Family Food Holiday Stories

Our Restaurant Halloween Costumes

Last night we had a trunk or treat at church and so we got a chance to take a picture of all of us in our Halloween costumes. This year the kids thought it would be fun to do a restaurant theme. I think the idea started with Crash Kid #1 saying he wanted to be Jack for Halloween. It just ballooned from there and here’s the result:

Crash Dad – Creepy King from Burger King
Crash Mom – Cow from Chick-Fil-A
Crash Kid #1 – Jack from Jack in the Box
Crash Kid #2 – Wendy from Wendy’s
Crash Kid #3 – JD Pickle from Jason’s Deli
Crash Kid #4 – Fireman from Firehouse Subs

No, we didn’t all dress up as restaurant mascots as a ploy to get these restaurants to sponsor Crash Dad. Although, we definitely eat at all of these places, but probably eat at Jason’s Deli the most.

P.S. I love that my kids are all barefoot and that my daughter snuck her doll into the picture.

Career Family

Including Your Spouse in Your Career

Since I finished my MBA back in April I have tried to start reading more business related material because I hope it will help me someday, along with the fact that I also just find it incredibly interesting.  My brother-in-law has a lot of expertise in this area so while we were staying in Seattle with him and his family I asked for a few suggestions, and he gave me a great one.

The book is called The Goaland it was written by Eliyahu M. Goldratt.  This book is highly regarded in the business industry and provides tremendous insight for business professionals, but this is not a business blog so that is not what I wanted to talk about.  One of the most interesting aspects of this book is the insight it gives on how your family impacts your business life.  The book is actually written as a fictional story that provides lessons and insights rather than just a non-fiction textbook full of great ideas, which made it much more enjoyable to read, and also provided a human aspect to this business story.

In the story the main character is trying to save his failing plant while at the same time trying to salvage his failing marriage.  Even as he starts to turn his plant around his marriage only gets worse and it really looks like he will lose it all.  *Spoiler Alert*  However, he starts to repair his marriage by humbly communicating with his wife and trying to explain why he was doing what he was doing, and how he was genuinely trying to keep their marriage together.  As his wife sees the effort he is putting forth she opens the door for repairing their relationship and they are able to slowly rebuild it back to a more healthy state.

The part that really struck me is when she asks to be included in his business struggles so that she can support him.  This has honestly been something I have struggled with in the past because, like many people, my spouse knows very little about aviation in general, and flying in particular.  The vast majority of what she knows is only because she has been married to me for eight years.  When she asks me how my day went I often brush her off with simple phrases of, “It was just fine,” or “It was a pain, but it is just flying stuff.”  I am generally too lazy to take the time to explain the situation because it will take a little more work then if she had the same level of expertise as me.

After reading this book I have realized how completely selfish that is of me.  Crash Aunt wants to be a part of all of my life and not just my life at home.  She asks about work because she genuinely cares about who I am and realizes that everything I do contributes to what I do as a father and husband.  While I am still far from perfect at it, I have tried to start explaining a little more about what I do so that she will understand the context of my struggles and successes.

As I am writing this I am realizing how much better she has always been at this than me.  For about a year after our oldest was born I was the stay at home dad because honestly, she made more money than I did.  During that time she would come home and tell me all about what was going on at work.  The troubles with work itself, the crazy people she worked with, and the hilarious things that sometimes happened.  I didn’t have to be an expert in her field to understand what she was going through, I just had to know enough to support her and maybe more than anything, just be a listening ear.

In the month or so since finishing the book, and with my renewed effort to be more inclusive with what is going on at work, I feel like our relationship has improved some.  By no means were we anywhere near the terrible situation that was happening in the book, but I feel like we are getting closer little by little over time, and isn’t that exactly the way that it is supposed to happen?

Little by little we learn more about this person that we were so in love with that we wanted to spend the rest of eternity with them.  As we get to know them better we find things we don’t really like, and other things that make us love them even more, but as we travel through this journey called life together, we discover that a happy marriage has nothing to do with what the other person provides to us, but what we provide to them.

If we choose to seclude them from generally the largest part of our life, our career, then we are missing out on the love and support that we will inevitably need.  It does take more effort to include them, and there will still be areas that they won’t fully understand, but I am convinced that the extra effort we put in will pay dividends in ways that we never would have expected.

Daddy Blog Deep Thoughts Family Freedom

How Do You Talk To Kids About Hard Things?

You may see this picture of the squadron patch on Facebook to honor those who lost their lives today.  To those we lost, a toast...
This is a picture of the patch from the squadron that lost 6 of their own today with the black stripe in memorial.

I really do mean that as a question because I don’t know the answer.

In case you were wondering what brought on this somber topic, let me tell you.  I have no idea how much coverage it is getting in the states right now, but a C-130J crashed in Afghanistan this morning near the city of Jalalabad.  Many of the details are unclear at this time but it seems pretty clear from the reports that the entire crew of 6 lost their lives in the crash.

Now this would make me pause no matter what as every life that is lost in the defense of our country is special to me, but this one really strikes a lot closer to home for a number of reasons.  The most obvious reason is that I fly on the C-130, though an older model, and it is likely that I either know some of the crew, or at least have close friends that do.  The second reason is that I have been to the place where this happened multiple times while I was deployed.

Maybe the biggest reason this is striking me so hard is that this was the first time I have had to explain something like this to my kids, and I have no idea how to do it.  My wife actually told them about it before I got home, and who really knows how much they understand, but it is just something that I am finding challenging to think about, let alone explain to my kids.  They know that I fly airplanes and even that it is the C-130, which makes me super proud that they know what it is, and they even understand that it can be dangerous if I’m not careful.

When I deployed we were very clear with them about how daddy need to go away from home for a little while to try and help people who needed it.  It was hard on them but they were pretty tough most of the time.  Even with all of that, how do you explain to them that some other kids will never see their daddy again because of an accident doing the same job that you do every day?

Just to be clear I think it is important to talk about things like this because it is reality.  The nature of my work is a dangerous one, and there are inherent risks.  We do an amazing job mitigating those risks, but tragedies like this still happen.  If we allow our kids to live in a bubble where they think everything is flowers and fairies then I don’t think they will be able to deal with the tragedies that ultimately do happen.  On the other hand, we also don’t want to scare them to the point that they never want to take risks or make mistakes because then we are only selling them short of their full potential.

The more I think about this I don’t think there really is a good answer because every kid and every situation is different.  But what I do think is important is to talk to our kids when tragedies happen so that they aren’t just left to wonder.  It is not easy to deal with tragedy, but learning to cope is an essential life skill that can easily get overlooked if we don’t do our jobs as parents.

In closing I would ask you to take a moment to think about those who lost their lives today in defense of our freedoms.  If you are a religious person I am sure their families can use all of the prayers you can spare.  If you aren’t, take an extra moment to hug your family today because your ability to do so is exactly why so many of us do what we do.

To those we lost, a toast…

Daddy Blog Family Friends

DreamWorks’ Home is a Delightful Family Film

HomeI am not generally one to recommend specific movies in this type of setting because there are so many people that like specific things from movies it is hard to make such a generalized recommendation.  With that being said I simply must recommend the DreamWorks’ movie Home for a number of reasons.  I have seen this movie multiple times now, but for some reason as I watched it with my kids tonight it just seemed to hit home a little harder.

All of the typical reasons to like a movie are definitely prevalent here.  It is a fun family movie with some really creative writing and jokes, as well as a pretty fun soundtrack.  It is also has a pretty great cast including Steve Martin, Rhianna, Jennifer Lopez, and my personal favorite, Jim Parsons from the Big Bang Theory.  They all did a great job of bringing out the best in their characters that really accentuated the movie in ways that many animated movies simply do not.

With all of that being said, there is just a really great message that I enjoyed.  As I think about it, it may be because I am so far away from “Home” right now.  As a military member I have grown accustomed to being away from family and moving regularly.  I certainly empathized with the main character “Oh” as he tries to make friends on his new planet but finds that no one wants to be friends with him.  It can be really difficult moving often and having to constantly start over.

However, they simply nail it in the movie showing how adversity can bring even the most unlikely of characters together as friends.  It is often in the midst of this adversity that we find out not only “who your friends really are”, but also forge those bonds of friendship that can never be broken.  I have been blessed with a handful of people in my career that I truly cherish as friends.  We are not close together physically but I am grateful for the experiences that we have shared that brought us together.

I also really loved the message of the importance of families that is shared.  The world is increasingly diminishing the importance of families in not only entertainment but in everyday life.  Many people only communicate with their families through social media, texts, or emails.  Even with all of the amazing technology that we have these days that can allow us to connect on a personal level, we often choose to stay disconnected.  I will confess that I am just as guilty of this at times, and I need to do better because family is the most important thing in the world.

That family may consist of the parents and siblings you grew up with, close friends, or even the people you are deployed with overseas, but what is really important is that we build those family bonds so that we understand that we do genuinely belong and that people do care about us.  It is amazing the difference it can make in someone’s life just to know that someone cares.  It is that much more important when we are separated from family, just like “Tip” in the movie because it is that love and concern that will get us through seemingly insurmountable challenges and back to the ones we love.

The odds of our planet getting invaded by a group of aliens that peacefully move us all to live in Australia so that they can take over our homes is admittedly quite remote, but it is nevertheless important that we truly understand what is most valuable in life, and that is the people we love and care about.

Daddy Blog Family Japan Life Kid Milestones

Starting School in Another Country

These are the weeks that everyone posts their pictures of their kids starting school, and all the moms either talk about how they held back their tears, or had a party to celebrate, or both.  As excited as I am for my kids to get back to school, because I know how much they enjoy it, I’ve just never gotten super into it.

However, this year is a little different than in the past because we are now living in a different country.  As I mentioned in my last post my kids were dealing with a fair amount of stress because of the move, but just as I predicted, going back to school has already had a very good impact.

She makes the weirdest smiles when we have her pose.
She makes the weirdest smiles when we have her pose.

Crash Niece #1 is attending the school on base, which means for all intents and purposes it is just an American school.  There are some differences, but for the most part it is the same.  The big new thing for her is that she has a male teacher for the first time and I think it was a little intimidating at first.  Fortunately, he seems to be a great teacher that has already set her at ease by telling jokes and referring to himself as the “bald fat man.”  I look forward to watching her really grow as he has said he likes to push his kids, and that is exactly what I want.

I am generally anti-uniform, but man he is a cute little guy.
I am generally anti-uniform, but man he is a cute little guy.

Crash Nephew, on the other hand, is now attending a Japanese pre-school with mostly Japanese kids.  His teacher does speak English, but at our request she will not be using it often with him.  This is one of those rare opportunities to really immerse him in a different culture and allow him to grow in ways that you simply could not do in America.  To be honest I was more nervous than him the first couple of days because he has a tendency to just get super shy when he is in a new situation that he is uncertain about (I wonder where he gets that from?).

Fortunately, he is braver than his Dad and already seems to be comfortable in his new environment.  When Crash Aunt went to pick him up after the first day he said, “Mom, they all speak Spanish (not sure why he gets the two confused.  Maybe too much Diego?), but don’t worry Mom, I speak it too.”  Just to be clear he does not speak Japanese, but I was so proud of him for not being afraid and realizing that he can still be one of them.  It will be so fun to watch him actually learn Japanese this year.

No matter how old a kid is, or where they go to school, it is such an amazing time of their life.  As I think back on my school years elementary school was where I had the most fun, and where I really feel like I became the person that I am today.  I didn’t necessarily learn the most or anything like that, but I had some incredibly influential teachers that changed me forever.

Crash Dad and I shared one of those teachers by the name of Mrs. Woodson for fifth grade at Ellis Elementary in Arlington, Texas.  I recently came across her again on Facebook and was touched to see how many of her students were quick to credit her with many of the successes in their lives.  I know she is in my top five most influential teachers in my life and I am forever indebted to her for that.

So as we send our kids back to school this week and celebrate the freedom it affords us as parents, don’t forget the teachers whose work is just beginning this year and remember to give them the support they need and deserve.  You never know when your kid may have the teacher that will alter their life forever.