Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Parco della Pace: Pizza, sausage and tiled sinks

You may remember my friend Cortney from the dress painting thing... she's the Problem Solver. She's got a spouse named Ted. And Ted likes to try new restaurants. He's the New Restaurant Finder. And he recently found a new restaurant on TripAdvisor. Well, it was new to us, no new in general. If you like pizza, french fries, chicken wings, sausage and wine, this is your place.

Parco della Pace, which translates to Peace Park in Italian, is, in fact, near Peace Park in Hiroshima. Plan on it taking about an hour to an hour and half to drive there from Iwakuni, depending on traffic. Parking is about 400 yen an hour in the parking structure behind the restaurant. We went on a Saturday evening, and called ahead to make reservations, it was recommend that when you call ahead for reservations, you have someone who speaks Japanese do it for you. Luckily, most of us have access to a Japanese friend or ITT on base. Here is the business card and English menu (yes, there is an English menu! And the staff did speak fairly good English once we were there):

You can see we brought our children. Which was fine. It was fun for the whole family, but it is a small restaurant... we took up about a third of it, so keep that in mind if you're thinking of taking a large group there.

But it is totally worth going. The food was delicious. So was the wine.

The pizza is baked in this stone kiln from Naples...

And I loved that the oven tile matched the tile in the bathroom sink.

The kids were just thrilled to get Coke and ginger ale in bottles. Ah, cheap thrills.

So, the consensus in our group was that Parco della Pace deserved its Tripadvisor 5-star rating. I invite you to check the place out... just make reservations in Japanese first.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

House Hacks at the Daiso

I have blogged before about how fabulous Daisos (think Japanese dollar stores, only WAY better than American dollar stores) are, but sometimes you see all the goodness under those bright florescent lights and you end up spending a lot of money for some stuff you have no idea what to do with. If you'd like to read about the various times I have used a Daiso, just type Daiso in to the white box in the upper left of this page. All the posts will pop up.

And then you find that you need solutions for Japanese-living problems you never knew you had. I call these house hacks. For example, how do you hang curtains? Curtains are especially important because, after all, this is the Land of the Rising Sun and I am a night owl. I have no interest in rising with the sun. But all there were in my mid-rise apartment were these loop things on a sliding track. Um... what? That was not working for the curtains I already own. Instead of forking out a few thousand yen on new curtains, you may want to try the hooked clothespin hack.

Or the actual Japanese curtain hooks hack:

These both can usually be found in the wooden crafts section of the store. You will need two to four packs, depending on which window/sliding glass door you are hanging curtains on. Still, 440 yen is much cheaper than buying new Japanese curtains. But, regardless of the hack you use, plan on your curtains to be about 6 inches too short... even the ones you buy in Japan. Clearly a man designed the midrises because it is nearly impossible to find affordable curtains that fit properly.

Of course, the Japanese shower curtain rods are hung about two inches too high, so the end of the shower curtain blows in to the bathroom when the shower is on, drenching the floor. By using o-rings to string your shower curtain, the curtain edge will catch on the tiled lip of the shower floor and your floors will remain dry. Well, at least drier.

The o-rings come in various sizes, but the orange pack, or 50mm, works best for this... these are found in the stationery section.

Who decided it was a good idea to put a frosted window in the door separating the master bedroom from the master bathroom? Every time the spouse had to get up for work and I was sleeping late, I got bombarded with a stream of bright light at o'dark thirty in the morning. Fantastic, since I don;t fall back to sleep easily. A couple of short tension rods (called tension poles at the Daiso), a scrap of dark fabric and a sewing kit (all of these are at the Daiso) and you have a blackout panel for that stupid window. Just be sure to measure the window height accurately and then add about four inches for the pocket for the pole to slip through.

Did you know that some of the moldings around your kitchen are metal? Probably a fire safety thing, but actually very useful for organization. Magnetic Color Life containers come in all sorts of colors. This one is near our landline phone.

I got tired of little MIO juice mix bottles being left all over my kitchen counters or falling off of the shelves in my pantry... magnetic canisters with windows help keep them out of my way... and hold up photos on my fridge... I love items that can multitask.  ;)

These are usually found in the stationery section, near the o-rings.

In Iwakuni there are four Daisos that I know of, and then a Seria (same thing, just a different company), which is near Nafco. Below is a map of the Daiso locations... I just typed "daiso" in to Google maps. The top left is known as the Fresta (or Cazl Mall) Daiso; the top right is adjacent the Iwakuni train station; the red circle at the bottom is on the second floor of the Fuji shopping area (think Jan Jaka restaurant); and there is the pink Daiso across the street, which is the grey circle near the red circle on the map. Happy house hacking!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Bihoku Hillside Park Illumination: A Shiny Winter Tradition

For the third time since living in Japan, my family visited the Bihoku Hillside Park's winter illumination display. If you are looking for something that people of all ages will enjoy during the holiday season, I highly recommend this. It takes about 2 hours to get there, but most of it is highway driving. It costs roughly 3,500 yen one way for tolls (you'll take the Sanyo to the Chugoku toward Miyoshi). If you get there before the sun sets, there is an amazing playground children of all ages (even adults) will love. You can read more about that in my blog post from a couple of years ago. If you want to spend the day there, I recommend heading out around noon, and either taking food with you or buying it at a rest area along the way. There is one small noodle/curry cafe at the park, but it can get crowded. Let your kids run loose on the huge playground and then stay for an hour or two after dark, enjoying the lights.

The illumination is usually just for the month of December and the first few days of January. Lights at the park turn on at 5:30 p.m. and the park is open until 9 p.m. The night photography opportunities are fun and plentiful. Admission is 410 yen for adults and 80 yen for kids who are elementary school and junior high school aged. Parking is 310 yen per car. Websites with info: and

My son wanted a photo of himself getting "impaled" by the big arrow...

These next three was me having way too much fun swiveling my camera on the tripod during a long exposure...

OK, back to "normal" night photography...

The displays each year are different, so this can be a fun annual family tradition without seeing the same things over and over. Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

A Tale of 12 Dresses (and 1 amazing friendship) Part 4: The Lighting

This is the final of four blog posts about my adventures with 12 wedding dresses and a group of fabulous friends. Please read the first installments of this story, if you haven't already. This post will make a lot more sense if you do.

Throughout the planning of these events, all of the Awesome Wives have heard some version of the following:

"Don't you feel guilty about destroying those dresses?! They are so beautiful!"

"You're gonna do WHAT to them?! What a waste! You should sell them on eBay... you'd make a ton of money!"

"OMG, that sounds like so much fun! I wish I could do that!"

So here are my personal responses to these statements... meaning I speak for myself, not necessarily sharing the same opinions as my friends. Although, I think they might agree...

"Don't you feel guilty about destroying those dresses?! They are so beautiful!"

No. No, I do not. For a couple of reasons. 1) If we weren't meant to do this, we never would have found twelve $9 wedding dresses. Serendipity stepped in and made it possible for us to have these wonderful memories this fall. And 2) These dresses have seen more use and love than my own wedding dress has. I wore my wedding dress two days, for my wedding and a separate reception later, and now it is in storage in Florida somewhere, probably growing mold (because military storage is not known to be of superior quality and it has been more than 3 years since I have seen my stuff). And before that, it was in a guest room closet, just hanging out. This new dress, I wore it for three actual events. I renewed my wedding vows in it, I danced in it, I laughed in it, and as you will see in a moment, I walked the streets of Hiroshima in it. The 39-year-old me loves this wedding dress as much as the 23-year-old me loved my actual wedding dress. There was no waste, fraud or abuse, I promise you.

"You're gonna do WHAT to them?! What a waste! You should sell them on eBay... you'd make a ton of money!"

Guess what? Life is not all about money. Trust me, I like money. I like to have enough money so that I can afford to go on fun adventures, and I can have a working iPhone and DSLR camera so I can record my adventures to reminisce about later. But these dresses were not about making money. They were about making memories. I wouldn't trade these memories for a few hundred bucks on eBay. And maybe I can still sell my dress. Someone might want a painted up wedding dress. You never know.

"OMG, that sounds like so much fun! I wish I could do that!"

OMG, it WAS a lot of fun. I enjoyed the planning, the fighting and the photos afterward. I love having the memories of KC's face plant (I wish I had a still image but I don't!), Shelagh's trying to stay as clean as possible because she had an event with her kids afterwards,

 and the painted handprints in inappropriate places on our dresses.

And guess what... with a little work and planning, you CAN do this too. Grab some friends and comb thrift stores for a few weeks or months. Hire a photographer to get some great photos (I happen to know one...). I got really lucky in that my friends all had good cameras and I knew how to set them up for the best shots. I've taught my husband and kids photography skills... my 13-year-old took the video, by the way. I had great luck finding dresses, and you might, too. Or, if you're really brave (and maybe practical) use your actual wedding dress. Trust me, I doubt your daughter will want to wear it.

You will have a blast in your dress... and never want the fun to end. Unfortunately, two of us were moving back to the States this month, so we had to have as many activities as possible in a short amount of time. Ashleigh left Japan the first week of December and Carolyn left a week later. I now have two pieces of my heart in Texas and California. This coming year will be a rough one... another 6 of us are scheduled to leave Iwakuni in 2016, going not only all over the States, but maybe all over the world. You never know where the military wind will blow you next.

So, as to not leave this blog post in a bummer of a mood, I leave you with the following images. Each December, the city of Hiroshima (about an hour from Iwakuni) has a huge light display called Dreamination. On Dec. 1 seven of us dressed up in our paint-splattered dresses, took the train to Hiroshima, went to a nice Italian dinner and toured the lights. Yes, we got a lot of funny looks. Yes, we were asked to take pictures with a lot of people. Yes, we are probably up on some random blogs and Facebook pages. Yes, we had fun. Yes, we get enough attention at home, but a little more can't hurt, right? Of course not! Everyone should be a rock star for a day! When locals who spoke English asked us why were dressed up this way, they didn't understand our story when we tried to tell them the truth. It is so far out of the Japanese norm. So, we made up a story that seemed to be better understood: We were a touring rock band called The Angry Brides. Amanda was lead vocalist. Teresa's on drums. I play the cowbell. Unlike the true story, that one got a lot of nods and smiles. Maybe it's time to start a band...

Yes, my hair is dyed this way right now... I call it The Peacock.
Walking the streets of Iwakuni, heading for the train station

Comfortable shoes are a must... long hems cover up footwear anyway!

Starbucks run!
The locals liked us. :)

Much love to my friends who made these memories possible.