Thursday, April 24, 2014

My two lips can't say enough about the tulips...

I had heard about the "tulip farm near Hiroshima" a few times this spring, but I finally found some solid information about it and its whereabouts on the Iwakuni Explorer website. Heeding the authors' advice/storytelling, I wanted to avoid the peak of the tulip bloom at the Sera Kogen tulip farm in Hiroshima prefecture... not because I did not want to see the whole place abloom, but because I wanted to avoid the thousands of vacationing Japanese that would be there all at the same time. The tulips bloom in full during Japan's Golden Week, a 7-day time period full of Japanese national holidays between April 29 and May 5, when many schools and businesses are closed, so families travel.

Looking at my hectic baseball season schedule and the weather, it looked like April 22, also known as Earth Day and my Dad's birthday, would be the best time to go for me. So, figuring it would be more fun to go with others than by myself, I invited some ladies along for the ride: four MCAS Iwakuni spouses and my Japanese friend, Chie. Here we are, looking good at the farm:

Thank you for these three photos, Chie!
It took us about two hours to get there, and about 5,000 yen round trip on the Sanyo (you get off at the Hiroshima Airport exit and drive for another hour or so - it took us about two hours to get there, and that was with getting lost twice... it was nice having someone who spoke Japanese with us... Chie had to ask for directions once. Just keep in mind that when Japanese signs say to turn, they don;t mean right away usually. Wait a few meters). We did stop at the rest stop closest to the airport exit one the way there and on the way back... some of us have had children and our bladders aren't what they once were. And there were no men to grumble about having to stop... so we did. And since we stopped, we got some coffee/tea/pastries so we could stop to use the bathroom later and repeat the process. Yay for road trips!

As for the farm, the website reported that the tulips were 30-40 percent bloomed. I'd say closer to 30 than 40, but it was still beautiful, with hardly anyone around, so we were able to capture some great photos with very few people milling around in the background. And the section that has dozens of different and usually varieties was almost completely bloomed.

Also, bring some extra yen with you. For 100 yen each (about $1) you can dig up tulip bulbs of your choice in a particular field (please don't start digging just anywhere if you go!). The field is located behind the first field on the left as you enter the park. You will see this:

and you will be handed a plastic bag, wrapped around a digging stick:

And then you can select the bulbs you want. There are directions for care in Japanese, but you can find the same info by Googling "tulip care." Basically, if you let the leaves die on their own, you can save the bulbs for next year. Plant them in October or November.

And before I show you my favorite tulip photos, here is a performer who was there... at this time he was balancing on a board, which was balancing on a cylinder, which was balancing on a bench and throwing some knives. You can see from the photo below that I kept my distance.

So, here you go, tulip lovers... some eye candy for you. If the variety was labeled in the fields, then I included the name with the photo:


Leen Van der Mark
Monte Orange
Banja Luka 


Candy Prince
The red ones are Largo
Marie Jo 
Super Parrot 
Sunshine Club

The only blonde on a bus full of Japanese... and a horse that couldn't believe it either...

This photo and the similar one below were taken by my friend. Thank you, Chie!
I've now gone on several cultural adaptation bus tours, and a handful of MCAS Iwakuni base travel agency bus tours through ITT... and now I can add a Japanese bus tour to my traveling resume - thanks to my friend, Chie. When it comes to traveling, Chie is a Japanese version of me... she loves to travel and see new things, but her husband... not so much. So we left the husbands and kids at home and headed off to see the Tsuwano Archery Festival on our own.

Well, not really on our own. We actually went on a Japanese tour bus hosted by a Japanese travel company, Bocho, which Chie booked... because she is the one who speaks Japanese. :) On a huge bus full of people bound for Tsuwano that morning, I was the only person who was not Japanese. But that definitely did not stop me from having a good time! Besides, I was going to see some guys shoot arrows from the back of a horse. My spouse may think he's a bow hunter, but these guys practice an ancient art that takes the cake!

So, of course, the bus picked up tourists from three different areas on its way to the festival: East Hiroshima, west Hiroshima and Iwakuni. Iwakuni was the last stop. Chie and I were two of the last people to board the bus... and that meant all of the questioning brown eyes (actually, the Japanese call them black and find it curious that we call purple, injured eyes black, but I digress) were on me as we made our way to our seats... which were in the second to the last row of the bus, of course. As I smiled and nodded to ALL of the passengers as I walked back, trying not to hit anyone with my Big OK backpack or my Big OK butt, that AFN public service announcement commercial kept playing in my head: "Remember that you are an ambassador... this may be their first impression of the Marine Corps... do not start an international incident by losing your balance and crushing one of these little Japanese ladies with your Big OK body..." Actually, that last part isn't in the commercial. I added that myself. No pressure, no pressure.

Fortunately, we made it to our seats without incident, although there was some whispering. If Chie could hear what they said, she didn't fill me in. Oh, well, who cares? Little did they know but they were going to be stars in a blog post! Ha! In true Jessica fashion, I really did want to go back to the front of the bus and get a picture of everyone looking at me strangely, but I didn't think that would be so great for foreign relations. SOFA status does have its limitations sometimes. ;)

But truly, the bus inhabitants turned out to be very friendly and kind. It was about a three hour bus ride to Tsuwano, but first we stopped at a shrine famous for its weeping-willow-like cherry blossom trees. Of course, there was a light rain and a few days past the peak cherry blossom blooming season, but I could still see how the path to the Tokusa Shrine would have been gorgeous a week earlier.

After the weeping cherry blossom path, it was time for lunch. The 6,000 yen (about $60) bus tour included lunch... and we're not talking a sandwich and a juice box, either. All of this food was mine:

Everything was tasty... except for the Japanese pickled horseradish (hidden under the bowl of tempura, with my rice in the second food photo) and the wasabe (the green hot, nasty stuff in with my pink noodles). The Japanese ladies at my table found my opinions of the food amusing. Of course, I did not make huge disgusted noises or anything... again, I have to limit my international incidents, but they asked what I thought of each thing, and I was happy to comply honestly, but with tact. Unfortunately their knowledge of English was limited, my Japanese even more limited, and Chie was seated at a different table because we decided to hit the bathroom before finding seats for lunch and the only two remaining were at different tables. But, I did manage to tell my table mates where I was from and the foods that I liked. They were able to tell me that what I did not like (the horseradish) by looking it up on a translator app. There was a lot of fun laughter at all of our attempts to communicate and I appreciated the fact that they were interested and didn't simply ignore my presence.

I almost forgot to get a picture of the place we went... the photo below was taken from my seat on the bus. The restaurant was on the second floor of the building on the right, by the back end of the bus. The bottom floor was a gift shop with a lot of fun things, like sweets, washi paper things, dishes and more! I dropped some yen in that place!

Off to see some bows, arrows and horses!

The bus traveled for a short time to the Washibara Shrine, the only remaining location for the 600-year-old Yabusame ritual, or archery from horseback (ya is arrow, uma is horse and base means tame... I know this because Chie was kind enough to translate two pages of information about the festival  ahead of time and present it to me on the bus... thank you!). The archers wear heavy traditional robes, carry a bow and have a quiver of "whistling" arrows. I did not hear any whistling, but there was a solid pfffffttt before the thunk when the arrow hit the target.

Before the demonstration began, and right after it ended, the archers and horses are paraded in front of us. The boy riding behind the master archer is his son, who is apprenticing to learn the archery skill. The object for the rider is, as the horse gallops by the target, to release the arrow with the accuracy and force needed to splinter the 50cm square wooden target. The shattered pieces are then sold as good luck charms. There are three targets to try and hit in one run... the white horse was the fastest we were told. I believe it because I couldn't get a good shot of him and his rider as they blazed past.

A worker puts the target in place.

Of course, it rained the entire half-hour the presentation went on, and it was tough to not only dodge all of the people who were there to see it, but their umbrellas. I also had to try and keep my camera dry with my own umbrella. I did my best to get a few good shots:

I swear this horse stared at me every time he ran by. Look at the photos below and judge for yourself.

See? These were three different runs. He looked a little bit like the people on the bus when I boarded that morning. Maybe he hadn't see a Big OK blonde before, either.

I had a great time on the tour and was pleased and disappointed that it wasn't much different from the American bus tours I have been on while living in Iwakuni. The only big differences were that lunch was included, and that the travel schedule to not include stopping at rest stops that had Starbucks. Apparently Starbucks isn;t as necessary for Japanese folks as it is for Americans. Chie and I have plans to go to on another bus tour in June to a Hydrangea Flower Festival. I can't wait! And this time, I'll try to sneak a picture of the bus inhabitants looking at me strangely. ;)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

I'm playing by my own career rules and you can, too...

Doesn't that post title sound like some kind of cheesy ad that pops up on your screen as you're browsing a lifestyle web page? But it made you click, right? One of the many little tricks we've shared at an IHBO meeting. Don't know what the IHBO is? You might want to... keep reading...

Little did I know at the time, but when I married my active duty military spouse, my career plans became secondary to... just about everything. Being career-minded, goal oriented, and sporting a bachelor's degree, I wrestled with the inevitable for a decade before finally realizing that I needed to find a source of income that did not require me to live somewhere any longer than three years. Sure, I worked at plenty of companies, and while I received glowing reviews from my employers, and displayed leadership skills, I was never given a promotion. Either I wasn't with the company long enough for the opportunity to present itself, or the employer would (incorrectly) assume that it would be smarter for them to invest in someone who "would be around longer." Oddly enough I outlasted every employee in my department at my last job... except for one, who was my boss. And only one other employee had an active duty spouse. The rest were "natives." Be careful about assuming, people...

Scrabooking instructor
But since most employers do assume, my career path has been less than direct. It looks like I can't hold a job because of the moves I must make for my husband's career. Or, especially when I was younger, prospective employers didn't believe how much experience I actually had. They assumed (there's that word again) that I had padded my resume. When, actually, I just asked for more work and opportunities to learn more. If you hadn't guessed by now, I don't like to be bored and if I am required to be somewhere for eight hours, I'd rather be busy.

My jobs have always been in some form of communications, from reporter and photojournalist, to advertising and marketing representatives/consultants/whatever-title-they-wanted-to-give-me-except-manager-because-then-they-would-have-to-pay-me-more. Later, I would own a crafting business I founded, only to sell it for a loss when the economy tanked in 2009 and, I yet again, had to move.

Some of this may resonate with other military spouses. Depending on their career paths and training, they may also have to get certified in different states (which can take months or years), and/or make sure they get the continued education they need to maintain their American certifications... in Japan or Europe. All while they are juggling kids, the household and the curveballs life tosses their way - like their active duty spouse being deployed for months, or sent across the country for weeks to attend one of the inevitable "trainings" that he or she has to do for either their job or their rank. But, of course, employers also assume that these military "single parents" will be less reliable because of the absence of their spouse. I find that to be hilarious. I've found that dependable people are dependable regardless of their home life. You can't get the lazy broad with an accountant husband and a mother-in-law in residence to be on time to anything if she doesn't want to. Trust me, I've witnessed it.

Marketing Rep
So, as I am sure you can sense, I have a bit of bitterness about the opportunities I would have loved to have had when it came to my career. I watched my husband get promoted four times over the past 13 years. I am so proud of him and he deserved each one. But those are HIS successes (I'll save the blog post on wives who wear their husbands' ranks for another day). Being who I am, right or wrong, I couldn't help but look at my own career and how I've never been promoted. I've changed jobs, I've been given more responsibility - without more pay, of course - but I have never been promoted and it breaks my goal-oriented heart.

Well, it DID break my goal-oriented heart - for about a decade. Which was about 10 years too long. Instead, I decided to play by my own rules... which is what I'm better at anyway.

About three years ago, I decided to change my goals. I had to readjust so that it was no longer about becoming a manger at some company that wouldn't allow me to telecommute from wherever we got stationed next. I didn't want to be at the mercy of someone else's "assumptions." I had to "think different" (sorry, Apple haters, but I love the premise of that company's story and philosophy) and think bigger. Forget about being a manger. My goal was to do something I loved, and make some money doing it. I'd lead by example.

I took stock of what I liked to do, and what I thought I was good at: scrapbooking, crafting, photography, reading, writing, teaching, problem solving, learning, organizing, leading. And, now, I'm doing them all.

Thanks to the spouse's G.I. Bill, I was able to earn a master's degree in Strategic Communication and Leadership from the University of West Florida in Pensacola, FL, for free. I did this while my husband was stationed at NAS Pensacola, graduating two months before we moved here to Japan. I took a full course load (9 graduate school credit hours a semester, which was three or four classes) worked at a marketing job, was a graduate teaching assistant (which means I taught public speaking to freshmen and sophomores) and still managed to get to most of my sons' baseball games. I even occasionally slept. Everything is a trade-off though: I also gained 50 pounds. Yikes.

I'm a master! ;)
But two years of this insanity was about to pay off. While jobs may come and go, I would always have an advanced degree on my resume, not to mention the knowledge I gained while completing the coursework.

Graduate teaching assistant
When we moved to Japan almost two years ago, that's when I really started being able to "think different." I am now able to live a life I love to wake up to.

Hours after completing my final project required for a masters degree, UWF offered me a position as an adjunct instructor online. So I now teach Global Communication to college seniors, which I love doing. I wish I could be in the classroom, and I wish I could pursue my doctoral degree, but that's just not possible right now. And instead of seeing it as a career goal unfulfilled, I am seeing it as something to maybe do later, when the time is right. The time is right for other endeavors right now.

Tenaciously Remembered
Once I settled in to the Iwakuni community, I dusted off my crafting skills, as well as my bachelor's degree in photojournalism and business. I now own two home-based businesses, Tenaciously Remembered, with which I teach crafting classes and make hand-made scrapbooks and gifts, and Jessica Guthrie Photography... which is pretty self-explanatory. I take pictures and try to make them great ones. I also teach photography classes. With both, I am able to make my own schedule (which does sometimes require me to accommodate my clients' schedules, but, again, it's my choice) so that I can have time off whenever I want to go explore Japan, volunteer as a LINKS mentor, go to my kids' baseball games, sleep in for a few more hours, etc. Oh, and I was able to focus on losing that 50 pounds. But I not only had to be self-motivated to lose weight, but to build my businesses, too. My businesses will only do as well as the effort I put in to them. Kind of like diets.

Jessica Guthrie Photography
And as a military spouse who moves around a lot, this is where I need to "think different," and I encourage other spouses to do the same. There are a lot of discouraged people coming to Iwakuni, people who are quitting good jobs to move. I had to quit two jobs when I moved. Bummer. But it was going to be awhile before I could be a manager in either place. Good point. So I became my own "manager." I made my own goals and definitions of success. And, as a military spouse, or as someone whose career plays second fiddle to a higher priority in your life, your definition of success is probably going to need to change, adapt and overcome. You may not be able to find a nursing job in Iwakuni... actually more than likely you won't. But, what are your interests and specialties? Can you train to be a doula? Can you become a nutritionist? A life coach? Can you counsel parents on disciplining their kids? (Please?) If you are a licensed teacher, you may not be able to find a job at the schools right away. There are a lot of opportunities to teach English to the Japanese. Or, maybe you can tutor students, teach painting classes or be an instructor for an online university. I hate to use a cliche', but think outside of the box. Google some phrases that pertain to your skills and interests. You may be surprised about what jobs are out there that you may not have thought of.

If you are having a hard time thinking of a business idea, then yes, there are the catalog party companies for jewelry, containers, toys, crafting, fitness, makeup... if you're female, you've probably ordered from one of these, or have already been a consultant for one. I don't advocate doing the direct sales thing to get rich, or even have a full-time-job income. The only people who get rich selling Tupperware/Avon/Princess House/whatever-other-company-has-parties-and-a-catalog are the people who started the company to begin with, and now have every single consultant beating the streets for sales providing them their paycheck. Or, the rich people are the dream story you hear from your upline and read about inside the front cover of the company catalog: the 0.5 percent of company consultants who have made parties and sales their life, are incredibly driven, and, well, let's face it, are pushing their products 24/7. They are the ones who you see at the supermarket and then you try to turn your cart down another aisle quickly. You hide before they can ask you to join their team or have a party because you haven't had one for them this month yet and there's a new hostess special she knows you're gonna love. And the reason I know this is because I sold Princess House (it's like Tupperware, only glass instead of plastic) for about two years. I learned a lot, "earned" a lot of free or half-price items that still grace my kitchen, but I never got rich. I wasn't pushy enough at the supermarket. I didn't want to be avoided. However, I do think that being a consultant for one of these companies teaches you a lot about people, sales and marketing yourself, but as a long-term career, it very rarely works, even for those with the best intentions.

I also decided that if I had to be a pushy, driven consultant, it was going to be for my own business, not someone else's.

But starting a business aboard MCAS Iwakuni wasn't as simple as creating a Facebook page and sharing the link on Iwakuni Classifieds. There's a little more that goes in to having a business here; some of it can be complicated, and very little of it is well advertised or explained. So, I set out to solve that problem and founded the Iwakuni Home-based Business Organization (IHBO) in October 2012. It's a group of active duty military, military spouses and other SOFA-status people who also happen to have some kind of business that they own. You can see some of them here. We are not affiliated with the base or the government. We are here to help other business owners navigate the SJA paperwork, follow the marketing rules the base has so they don't get in to trouble, and understand what customer service in a small community entails (Rule #1... don't bad-mouth your competition... this is a very small community and it will probably not bode well for you in the long run). We also host business expos on base a couple of times a year, and have meetings about once a month to network, share ideas (like blog post titles that are catchy) and pool resources. You can find out more about the IHBO, learn how to join the group, and get some info on starting the SJA process here.

I know this post is long and without pretty pictures, but if I have helped some spouses find inspiration and/or avoid the pitfalls I've stumbled in to at some point, then it's done its job. And if you're staring to "think different" about your career path, then perfect. I can't wait to see what you come up with. Live the life you can't wait to wake up to.