I was a Horse Girl

I have always love animals. All of them. Lizards? Cool mini dinosaurs. Snakes? Awesome danger noodles. Deer? Scared skinny puppies with antlers. Horses, giant doofy dogs. I was the kid that would sit for hours in the neighbors back field quietly watching fawns with their mother in the hopes of them ignoring me and coming closer. It worked. I was thrilled.

My earliest childhood was spent in the small suburbs of Cleveland. The only animals I saw on the regular were our two smelly but lovable Labs (OK one was an asshole who bit the neighbor’s kid but, the dog had effed up ears and a thyroid problem and we told the girl to not touch her because she was sensitive but, she did anyway so really, she kinda asked for it) and the occasional the neighbor’s cat and her seemingly endless litters of kittens. Our house was 900 square feet at best and our back yard was roughly the length of a 76′ Blazer and a 74′ Chevy Pickup Truck parked nose to tale and width of a 84′ aluminum swing set. I knew it wasn’t adequate for anything but the two lumbering dogs we currently had but, I asked for a pony for my birthday and Christmas every year anyway. I vaguely remember for what I think might have been a gift for my 5th or 6th birthday driving for what seemed like forever to a dusty horse farm to get to sit on a pony while a girl led me around for like 30 minutes. It was 30 minutes of pure unadulterated joy for me. On the ride home, my snarky ass sister grumbled that she was so glad she rode 2 hours to watch me sit on a pony and get led around in the heat for a half hour just like at the fair. I didn’t care. I was hooked. That 30 minutes of slow plodding around in a circle didn’t quench my thirst for riding it fed the fire.

When I was nine, my parents bought their first any only home in what my sister hatefully referred to as, “middle of nowhere”. I had to agree. It was a small ranch that was built in the late 60’s and still had all the original wallpaper and appliances but, it sat on 5 acres most of which were wooded or swampy and when the wind was right it smelled like cow shit from the dairy farm less than a mile away behind our property. We were culture shocked to say the least. There were no side walks and instead of places being blocks away they were miles, plural. My shock didn’t last long though. We had been there maybe a month when I realized, “Hey, there are HORSE farms all over this place,” and started with incessant pleading to take me to at least to try and ride. It took almost a year before they caved and asked around where they could take me for lessons. Big mistake, HUGE.

I was ten when I walked into that small ten stall barn and smelled the mix of conditioned leather, molasses, manure and horse sweat to have my first lesson. They fitted me with a helmet covered in black velvet and handed me the reins of a a small Morgan cross pony name Lady and had me walk her to the ring. My mother stood just outside the rail watching and knew from the stupid grin that stretched across my face that it was over. I was hooked and there was no going back. That first lesson I remember completely. There were 3 other kids most younger than me and apparently had plenty more experience but, I was a sponge that only had to be told once how or what to do. The woman that would become my trainer told my mom after the hour was up that I was a natural. That I had kept up with the other students that had been riding for months at that point. She told my mother the minimal gear I would need to comfortably ride and they made arrangements for me to come once a week every week for an hour group lesson with another group of kids closer to my age and a little more advanced in their skills to push me a little harder than the group I rode with that day. I could have died from happiness.

We went the next day to get me appropriate boots. I saw the look on my mother’s face when she looked around the small tack shop my trainer had recommended and the pricing of all the equipment. Even then, I knew we weren’t rich. I knew that riding boots, even the cheap rubber ones that cost $100 were a lot for my parents. But I was 10 years old and selfish like most children are at that age and WANTED this, bad. And I got it.

Weeks passed and I went from walking and trotting to cantering and jumping small cross poles in record time. In less than a year I was jumping small oxers, competing in beginners walk trot shows winning ribbons, doing hunter paces, and my trainer even took me on a few fox hunts. My parents paid for it how ever they could. Even they recognized that not only did it fill me with joy but, I was diligent. I worked hard at it and I was good because of it.

Once a week wasn’t enough though. I wanted more. I begged my parents to buy me a horse or pay for more lessons a week. As much as they would have loved too, we just really could not afford it so, my mother approached my trainer who was also the owner of the barn, and asked how I could EARN extra riding time. My trainer seeing my love and want to do whatever it took to get on a horse as often as possible seized that opportunity and said I could work around the barn for extra time. So my entire weekends were spent dropped off at dawn where I worked all morning and afternoon cleaning tack, scrubbing water buckets, throwing hay, sweeping floors, grooming school ponies and tacking them up for beginners lessons, teaching beginners how to groom and tack before their lessons started, mucking stalls, feeding, turning out, I even spent days working at a summer camp where she owned ponies… you name it eventually I worked my way up to doing it. And sometime before dinner, my trainer Sandy, would tell me what school horse or if I was lucky one of her personal horses could use a ride and tell me to have at it. For one bliss filled hour I got to lope around a ring on that horse. By the time I was in middle school, I was a fixture there at that place.

Sandy was an eccentric lady. She was harsh. She never sugar coated anything, ever. She didn’t hand out praise often and when she did, it was well earned. She made me a rider. She often bought horses in with the sole purpose of getting them in a little better shape to sell them. Some of them she bought just because how they looked; like they had potential. I was usually the guinea pig she plopped on them to see what they were like. Some were beautiful fluid beasts that weren’t at the barn long. Others bucked me around the ring until I was told “Just jump off!!” and dove into the sand to tuck and roll away. Each one made me a better rider capable of adjusting to different sizes, temperaments, and paces.

There was one horse, a mare named Stacy, that I remember riding so clearly. She had just come into the barn a week or so before and no one had ridden her yet. She was given time to adjust and relax in her new surroundings. She was a lithe dark bay mare thoroughbred that was meant to be a race house but just didn’t have the mentality for it. She was sweet and calm with big doe eyes and long delicate legs. It was summer time and I spent at least 5 days a week at the barn all day long. That afternoon after I had done all my daily tasks, Sandy told me to groom and tack her up to ride her and she was going to see what she could do. Sandy ended up giving me a free hour long lesson as she put this new mare though her paces. At one point she asked me to lengthen her stride trotting and moments later shouted out “Beautiful!” I beamed. Coming from that lady she might as well told me I was perfection on a horse. When my mom picked me up later that night, Sandy told her about me riding Stacy and how she was not an easy ride but, how I had made he look easy. She told my mom if I kept riding like that, I could be a serious contender in the Hunter Show ring. I could have skipped home across clouds. I rode Stacy every lesson after that for a month. Then one morning I was told someone was coming that afternoon to look at her. I groomed her to shine and cleaned my tack to match. I rode her for the woman that showed up later and must have impressed her because she bought the mare that same day. I wish I could say I wasn’t sad, but I was. It was a lesson though I had already learned ten times over though with previous ponies and horses. There would be others. I often asked my parents to buy this one or that one for me when I knew they weren’t expensive but, the answer was always no and I was OK with that. I still got to ride and really, that was all that mattered to me.

There was one time that I came almost close to getting my own horse. I was 12 and a girl I took lessons with’s parent’s were looking for a horse to buy her. Sandy brought in the flashy chestnut paint with 2 blue eyes. His show name was some french word that I can’t remember but, his barn name was Champ. I fucking LOVED this horse even though I didn’t get to ride him but once.

We were at a small unrated show at the local large farm. I was showing grudgingly in walk trot cross poles on a school pony that was for sale even though in my lessons I was jumping courses up to 3′ but, shows were exponentially more expensive above walk trot classes so there I remained. Plus, I was essentially helping to sell the pony I was one but, I didn’t care. What really mattered to me was that I was just there, riding. I didn’t need to compete and win ribbons to validate myself. I was there for the love of it. The girl, Katie, that had been looking at buying Champ, was a sweet freckle faced red head that was 2 or 3 years younger than me that I genuinely liked. We took lessons together and were friendly in big sister, little sister kind of way. This was a show she was bringing Champ to to test out how he was in that setting. Her parents buying him was all but a done deal… Until she got on him in that big arena with all the people and loud noises and lights. His nostrils flared, his eyes went wide and with a snort, they were off. Katie panicked and fell right off over his hind end. I was on my easy peasy schooling pony already and galloped off to catch the runaway riderless horse that I loved.

As I trotted back over with Champ in tow, I heard Sandy tell the now sobbing Katie she had to get back on. Katie refused. She, and her parents were done with Champ, I could tell. I was crestfallen. Gone were my hopes of riding him for Sandy in between Katie’s lessons to keep him fit and ready for her. Gone was my secret hope that I’d be the one they’d ask to ride him while they went on their many vacations.

Then oddly, Sandy sighed, knowing what I also knew and also not wanted to appear harsh in public (she would have forced the girl on the horse in private, she was ruthless in the ring at home) and said, “Christan, swap saddles. Katie is riding Suzy-Q. She needs to get back on and she doesn’t want to ride Champ so, you are. Gleefully, right there in the practice ring, I swapped our saddles and got Katie up comfortably on my steady, boring school pony. I held onto Champ while Sandy had Katie trot around a few times to calm her nerves, quiet her crying and get her confidence back. She had ridden Suzy countless times before and knew the pony well. Her relief at the familiarity was visible.

Meanwhile, Sandy turned her attention to me while Katie stood to the side on snoozing Suzy with her parents and mine. I hopped on Champ and the minute I was in the saddle, this horse had my heart. Nostrils flared, eyes wide, we were off before I had my foot in the second stirrup. I smiled like a manic because I loved a horse that loved to run. If they were a lazy mule that I had to constantly urge on, I was bored. I like the wind in my face. It was like flying. It took me less than half the ring to take him in hand and get him to a nice even canter, snorting with each stride. Sandy had me doing ground work; circles with lead changes, serpentines and transitions. Then she had me try a few small jumps. Then she raised them. Then she had me do a short course. Then she raised them again. And again. It was easy for me. I did this practically every day on a different horse everyday. This time there were just a bunch of people around and the ring was bigger. I didn’t know it at the time but, all the people in the practice ring had stopped to watch the scrawny blond child with big glasses ride the shit out of that flashy spooked horse. I was just doing what I loved.

My mother actually saw a patient from the doctor she worked for at that show. Her name was Helen and she was a small fun lady with short spiky hair whose stocky horse’s name ironically was Suzy. She was chatting with my mom when all this went down. Later my mother told her that she said she couldn’t believe how I rode that horse. My mom laughed and said, “Yeah, she’s never been on him before now. She likes the crazy ones.” My mom had no idea how impressed that lady was.

I rode Champ that day in walk/trot/cross poles, because that’s what Katie and I had both signed up for. He was already lathered for our extensive warm up when I walked him into the ring still snorting and twitchy. Keeping him at a trot after cantering balls to the wall around a course that I later found out was 3′-6″ tall mostly was… a challenge but, I did it. I was given a 4th place ribbon. When the woman that was announcing and presenting the ribbons handed me mine she quietly said, “You, my dear, need to ride that guy in a course with much bigger jumps next time and you’ll take the blue for sure”.

I knew better than to ask my parents to buy me Champ. We couldn’t afford that kind of cost upfront let alone the month cost of keeping him even if I worked to help pay for it. Several people approached my trainer that day asking about Champ. One was my father. Even he loved that crazy eyed spooky beast. Sandy gave him first chance to buy and offered him a smoking deal because she liked me, he still had to ultimately say no though. Someone else bought him. They never even rode him, their decision, I was told, mainly based on seeing me ride him that day. My heart broke a little more and I never saw him again. My mom told me later how my dad had contemplated trying to buy him for me. That meant enough.

I went to different trainers. Changed disciplines from the even beauty of Hunters to  faced paced, break-neck turns of the Jumper circuit. I rode some crazy horses and eventually found a quarter horse named Beastly AKA Beast to lease my junior year of high school. He had grown fat and out of shape, almost sway backed, since his owner had gone to college. She loved that horse and I don’t think she really wanted to let someone else ride him but, she knew he needed the exercise and she needed someone to help off set his cost of living while she was at college. I loved that horse. I hope she knows I loved him like he was my own. He was unfaltering. You could throw a kick ball at his trotting legs and he didn’t even bat an eyelash as the rubber ball careened around him. He liked soda and would try and steal my bottle of Mountain Dew from my hand to drink them. He would eat anything. I was standing by his temp stall at a horse show once after competing eating a snack bar hotdog not paying attention and he stole it right out of my hand and ate it like some kind of weird cannibal horse. We started slow, taking our time working off his chubby belly and strengthening his back muscles back up to make sure he was fit for jumping and the strain of it. By the time he was back in fighting condition, he had learned my weaknesses and exploited them mercilessly. If he was done with me being in charge he’d wait until just the right moment and duck he shoulder and stop just short of a jump or turn sending me sailing over his head if I wasn’t paying close enough attention. My trainer Stef started calling me crash. Beast taught me to how fall without getting hurt. Sometimes when he sensed that I was just a little too comfortable, he’d take off at breakneck speed just to keep me on my toes. I rode him exclusively for almost 2 years before I left for college. His owner ultimately ended up selling him to at really sweet woman at our barn. She bought him for her husband to occasionally take on trail rides with her. I was told he was well loved buy his new owners. Trails were always where Beast really shined brightest. I think it was a perfect and happy ending to his career really.

After that, riding fell to the wayside for me. College took precedence. Then I dropped out. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing or what I wanted to do. My last trainer who was only a few years older than me, had become my friend while she taught me and remained so. When she heard I was back home and some shiftless lay about trying to figure out life, she told me the trainer she was now a rider for needed a groom and I got the job. I spent almost a year physically toiling aways for that man. I didn’t particularly like him but, I loved my friend who was the pro-rider for him, I loved the 30 some horses I took care of and I even really liked the owners of the horses. But, I was grossly under paid and I got burnt out physically.  I enrolled at a small remote branch of a local university and quit shortly after. That was my last real time spent around horses. Riding, while it was my passion and true love for years, is expensive. Hunting on horse back used to be known as the sport of Kings. I’d like to think it’s because every little thing you need to do it cost a small fortune. I have missed it everyday since the last time I sat on a horse. I remember all my experiences so fondly, even the bad ones. Sometimes especially the bad ones. Like when I my first trainer had trusted me, a 13 year old girl, to do some of the turn outs while she was gone for a few days in the summer with the understanding I would ride X, Y and Z horse only those days as payment for my help. During a summer rain storm when the barn adult barn had wasn’t there, I was trying to bring in a horse that I was NOT supposed to handle but, because a tree branch had knocked down a portion of fence of the pasture he was in I had to. The sweet boy was so good for me as I brought him across the parking lot until a tarp covering straw broke loose and flapped in his face and he literally yanked my arm out of the socket. He walked quietly to his stall while I sobbed holding his lead with one hand as my left hung oddly sagging at my side. The there was only one other girl there to ride her horse who was a year older than me. She started crying when I made her yank my arm back into place. It was a terrible idea and I almost passed out and may have heaved a little. I then threatened t kick her ass if she told anyone. I was afraid my mother would let me go to the barn alone anymore and my trainer wouldn’t trust me do do anything with her horses without her being around. I was young and stupid and my left should still occasionally clicks and pops funny to this day. I have no regrets. Not so fun fact, my first trainer when on to MURDER her husband. The last I had heard she was in prison for it. She plead self defense but, apparently lost the case and was convicted. I tried doing a search online for details and couldn’t find any so, I don’t know if it’s true or not. It had been over a decade and a half since I had been to her farm so I was far removed at that point.

About 3 years ago, I went with a friend to take her little daughter to her riding lesson in Virginia. As I walked in the barn and that familiar leather, cedar, sweat and manure smell hit me, it was like coming home. Tears streamed down my face as I laughed and apologized. I tried to explain but, it’s hard to put into words that feeling to someone that hasn’t had it. The young girls working there gave me knowing looks though as they directed the 5 year olds to which pony would be theirs that morning. I knew I had missed it but, until that moment I hadn’t realized how much. Maybe one day when I don’t have the debt I do from school and have a little extra cash, i’ll buy a failed track horse to just be a fun project that I lope around fields for fun with. Nothing could make me smile more than that idea.

I could write a novel on my experience riding. The joy it brought me. The sense of accomplishment and confidence it instilled in me. I was a gawky, scrawny, nerdy child with braces and glasses that could barely dribble a basket ball and couldn’t run a race successfully if my life depended on it but, if you put me on any horse, I could ride the hell out of it no matter what kind of wild eyed beast or flea bitten nag it might be. If you put me on a horse, I sat a little taller and felt more pride than I had ever felt before or since for that matter. For those brief moments in my life, astride an animal easily ten times my size, I was in charge and a force to be reckoned with.

God, I miss everything about it.

 

It’s Raining On Demo Day

Some days are awesome, filled with adventure and excitement for whats to come. Today is not one of those days. This morning I woke up to a headache. Not a bad one, just one of those subtle throbs that’s juuuuust enough to make you want to pull the covers over your head and remain in the cocoon of your bed… indefinitely. But, I didn’t. I can’t be that big of a slacker ass loser. I have to at least pretend to be productive since I still don’t have a job. 4 months without a paycheck, but who’s keeping track, right? My bank, that’s who is keeping fucking track.

After I’ve made a cup of coffee I sat down to check all my emails and to look over the job sites that I visit every 2 or 3 days to check for new listings that I might be at least qualified for. Low and below I’ve been informed that while my “self evaluation showed that I met minimum qualifications required, I was not referred to the hiring manager” for an Administrative Assistant job that I applied for. So I guess that a decade of experience in Strategic Planning and Project Management isn’t enough for me to get an admin job with the Federal Government. Perhaps if I get my MBA, they one day will let me answer a phone but lets be realistic, probably not.

As I forcefully sent that email notification to the trash my fitness tracker beeped at me and told me it was time to stand up. I actually said out load to my wrist, “I will fucking murder you.” in a menacing tone. Literally I felt murdery. Yes, that’s a real word, because I say it is. This tune was what inside my brain sounded like:

Then my sweet, annoying, demanding, drooling cat kept crawling on me. Meowing at me. Forcefully head-butting my hands as I tried to type through job searches, rubbing saliva covered jowls on my forearms. Bless his heart for wanting to show his murdery (still a real word, don’t even argue with me today) mom attention. Not wanting to be a dick to an innocent geriatric cat, I figured I should probably sit at the kitchen table like a fucking adult to type rather than slouched in the corner of the couch anyway, and moved. The. Cat. Followed. Me. He sat at my feet, meowing. Then that didn’t work he stood on his hind end with his front paws on my thighs meowing.  Then he jumped on my lap, lost balance, clawed the hell out of me and fell. So I had to pull another chair over right next to mine so he cold sit by me. And because I am murdery (fight me about that word, I dare you) today, I’m irritated by his love. Which makes me feel bad, because who gets mad about an innocent animal loving them?

puddy
Exhibit A – Furry jerk insisting on being next to me at all times, except with the Sailor is home, then I am dead to him.

So, I’m sitting at the table with my stupid loving cat finally situated and I have no interest in looking for a job because that’s just going to depress me further. So, I open the blinds to the little balcony and see that it’s grey and rainy, which makes me happy and also explains my mild head throb. I friggen love this kind of weather. Expecting to get blasted by a humid inferno, I tentatively cracked the balcony door to find, it’s almost cool outside so, I leave the door cracked. But, the sound of cars driving on wet pavement, the slight smell of ozone and the grey sky makes me think of home and now I’m weepy and battling homesickness.

Just as I’ve almost given into getting back in bed and reading my book for the entire day, my phone buzzes. I have a notification from my menstrual tracker app. Side note: Listen, I can’t take oral BC anymore thanks to the Big C, which used to be my way of knowing when Aunt Flow’s train was due to arrive.  Once that went bye bye, I could never remember to write down when to expect to be surfing the crimson wave again so I could always be prepared and not taken by surprise in public. So, I downloaded the Flo app and wa-la, my phone just tells me like it does with everything else in my life. Anyway, Flo sends me a notification that sometime in the next 24 hours or so, my uterus will begin to violently tear down it’s own walls, pissed-off that it has decorated a womb-nursery for a spawn only to be told, “Not this time buddy,” and it will all go to waste yet again.

And it all becomes clear to me. This isn’t me being murdery, this is my uterus being a angry that I haven’t gone forth and been fruitful, wasting all her work on redecorating for the hope of a cellular minion taking up shop there. She’s beginning her hormonal temper tantrum in preparation of demo’ing my internal nursery. Now I know I can just eat a bag of Salt and Vinegar Chips and a few (dozen) donuts and I’ll feel better. You’d think after 15 years of this happening every fucking month I’d have a clue by now.

I’m Having a Party

Me: The Sailor is going state side today for a week so, I’ll be solo here.

Friend: Oh, any big plans?

Me: I’m having a party.

Friend: Aw, you’ve met some friends then? Yay!

Me: Ha ha ha ha. Yeah, me and the cats with a oversized bottle of Rose. Woo! Par-tay!

Friend: Aw, I’m sorry.

Me: Why?

Friend: Aren’t you lonely all by yourself?

Me: Uh, I’m not all by myself, I have the cats. And it’s only a week. Besides, I’m cleaning the house all nice so I can lay around surrounded by all my throw pillows, watching whatever the hell I want on TV, knitting, with my fancy scented candles burning, not wearing pants in a clean house… I literally might have a dance party in my fluffy socks in the ugliest pajamas that I own. Or I might take a hot bath for 3 hours. My options are endless.

Friend: Ooooookkkkkkaaaaayyyyyy

 

My Throw Pillows

The Sailor and I were watching “The Intern” starring Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway. There is a scene where the widower, Ben, that De Niro plays takes in a young fellow intern into his home to loan him a room after his parents kick him out while he finds his first apartment. As he gives the young man a tour, the young man sees his perfect made bed with decorative throw pillows and comments, “I like that you do the throw pillow thing” and Ben replies, “I was married for a very long time…” and nods kind of sadly…

Me: *Sitting, cocooned by all my feathery throw pillows…* Babe, after I die will you keep all my throw pillows around?

Sailor: Ha, no.

Me: BABE!!

Sailor: Well I mean maybe as fire starters for my bonfires…

#ShitTheSailorSays

A Pox Upon My Face

I have always struggled with my skin. For as long as I can remember I was always treating one or another break out. When I was 21 it was at its worst and my dermatologist and I both agreed to give Acutane a try. Yeah, the stuff that if you get knocked up while you’re taking it makes your baby have crazy deformities. It’s no joke. At the time there was no generic either. My initial dosage started at $800 a month and by the end of the 6 months I was up to $1200 a month… and I didn’t have insurance. I paid it. Happily. I was desperate. The battle continued after that but, the Actuane helped tremendously. Oral birth control reined in the few break outs that continued after that. Unfortunately good old breast cancer put the ixnay on that since I’m never again allowed to take any oral medication that contains any kind of hormones. So that battle was lost but, the war continues.

Living in southern Virginia, I had found a cleansing and topical treatment routine that was working… mostly. It was good enough I wasn’t self conscious and I was happy with the results. But, everything effects my skin; mood, water intake, diet, exercise, weather, stress, regional allergies, seasonal allergies, washing with city water vs well water, time of the month, time of the year, Zeus coughs on Mount Olympus and I get a cystic volcano on my cheek…  So when we began our journey first up to Ohio, I knew I’d have a new but, temporary battle. My parents’ well water messes with my skin. It used to be naturally SUPER soft and have a bunch of iron in it. It used to wreck my skin. Since those years of me living there though, they have gotten a water softener so, I held out hope that would help. False. Well, it isn’t as bad as it used to be and we were only there for a week so I had come prepared with various washes, scrubs, creams and lotions to combat the inevitable flux. One week of driving in the RV only stopping to sleep in the RV at rest stops was another one. I was prepared for that too. I mean, I did my best using facial wipes and being the crazy lady doing a full face wash routine in the rest stop bathroom that has a push and hold faucet but, whatever. It’s that or look like Acne Amy by the end of the trip. Our month in Tacoma was the final US travel hurdle. Usually my skin mostly likes the WA weather and my allergies are less exhausting there. It’s just a couple reasons I love the Pacific Northwest. So a couple of tweaks to the usual daily facial routine and I was OK.

Japan, I was clueless on. I had no idea on how my skin would react. I assumed the first couple weeks would be a shit show. Unfortunately a shit show on my face is not easy to hide. Using makeup to camouflage the trouble spots gets tricky when it’s 100 degrees with 90% humidity. AKA it melts right the hell off within minutes of walking out of the air conditioning. Le sigh.

We’ve been in Yokosuka now for over a month and a half. 99% of that time I’ve looked like I have chicken pox, no joke. My face and my neck are ANGRY with this place. I’m assuming it’s a combination of sweating ALL THE TIME, changes from AC to heat to AC, base water, stress (hi, have I mentioned I’m still unemployed? I need a job please) and diet changes. Plus lets face it, I never can seem to drink enough dang water. So, I started researching. Digging into how Japanese women (and men) keep their faces looking porcelain. First I found, they are just graced with beautiful skin genetics. Which I’m jealous of frankly because obviously, I am not that blessed. What else I found is that Japanese women don’t mess around when it comes to taking care of their skin and hair. They follow a double cleansing process that has no less than 6 but up to 12 steps. No joke. And their products are geared towards that. Most beauty blogs and articles state that cleansing your face at the end of the day should take approximately the same amount of time as applying your makeup… Dude. Applying a full face of make up, not even a formal event style, just a, “hey we are going out to dinner for some burgers with friends and I want to look fab,” takes at least 30 minutes. I mean, for me longer because I have all my splotches and spots from breakouts to camouflage. This statement alone has left me reeling. OBVIOUSLY I am failing in the eyes of my Japanese sisters when it comes to the first and most crucial aspect of my night-night face routine. This nightly process lead to a simpler less intense morning process not surprisingly.

So, here is what I have gathered the in Japan is the norm for  facial routines.

Morning

  1. Cream Cleanse
  2. Lotion/Essence
  3. Serum
  4. Moisturizer
  5. Eye Gel
  6. SPF

Night

  1. Oil Cleanse
  2. Foaming Cleanse
  3. Exfoliation
  4. Lotion/Essence
  5. Mask
  6. Serum
  7. Massage
  8. Moisturizer
  9. Eye cream
  10. Spot treatments

Yep. If you’re keeping tally, that 3 types of cleansers a day. My Japanese beauty enthusiasts are not. Messing. Around. I can’t say I am surprised though. I mean, I spent 6 months getting to be a certified Esthetician. I used to give people expensive facials for a living. And really, while the order might be ever so slightly different and the US terms are slightly different, it’s conceptually the same. Basically Japanese women give themselves full facials every night.

Armed with this new knowledge I took a little walk over the the Exchange to check out the little beauty section to see what I could find that would be a US equivalent to the descriptions in all the articles on Japanese facial routines. I still have a few products that fit the bill in certain steps like a foam cleanser and a cream cleanser, exfoliation etc. I was basically looking for an oil cleanser, a lotion, a light day moisturizer (I have a neutrogena one that is almost empty) and a pimple patch spot treatment. And I found… not much. Whomp whomp. They had one oil cleanser and it was mostly coconut oil which I already know makes me break out BAD, like possible allergy type rash and pimples. There were no real products that fit the description of the Japanese lotions. Even the traditional US toners were limited. I already have Clinique Lotion 3 which is a clarifying toner. I like it. It works. It’s expensive. I planned to continue to use it after cleansing but, before the lotion. I also hoped to find a nice Japanese alternative since I hadn’t found a decent dupe in the US for it. No pimple patch covers (they sounded so promising in the articles and blogs!) They had my usual Neutrogena day moisturizer but, meh, since they didn’t have the other items I just was over it.

Back home I started an intense search on must try products. I read blogs, reviews and articles. What I found is the beauty of this J-beauty (yeah, that’s what fancy beauty bloggers and writers call it) process is that while there are a lot of products obviously, the process, the ritual itself, was what seemed to be important rather than the fanciest most expensive products. OK, I can really get behind this. I found amazing reviews for products like SK-II Essence and Albion Skin Conditioner Essential but, I certainly don’t have over $100 for one product. So I narrowed my search down to just drugstore products. Thankfully I found that Japan has a plethora of these that are highly rated and most had received coveted Cosme awards which is similar to the Allure and Elle beauty awards that we see on products in the US. I also found that Japan, as a whole, takes regulation of ingredients in their products and claims made on what a product does very seriously. So if a product claims to lighten age spots, you can rest assured that it has really truly proven to do just that. It’s that exact reason why you don’t see a ton of creams and lotions claiming to reverse aging like you do in the states… because they just don’t have products that they feel REALLY actually “reverse” aging.

After several hours of of going down the rabbit hole of J-Beauty blogs, reviews, announcements, reddit boards and lists, I had over 2 pages worth of possible products to try. My lists were nice and organized by type and I had even snapped screen shots of what the packaging looked like since I obviously can’t read Japanese and was concerned the Japanese drugstore might only have kanji signage. I even looked up the best drug stores for beauty products. Basically I am all set to adventure out into town for a little shopping trip. The drug store, Matsumoto Kiyoshi, that I want to try and hit up is about an hour and a half walk which sounds far, but really isn’t.  The Sailor has agreed to walk with me so stay tuned for that adventure!

 

The Last Thing

Looking for a new job is stressful. It’s even more stressful when you are currently unemployed in a foreign country and only have a limited amount of savings to keep you afloat. Let’s not even discuss the chaos of unpacking and trying to organize a lifetime of items in a new space that is over twice the size of any place you’ve ever lived. My skin has broken out. I hardly sleep at all. Or I sleep for 12, 13, 14 plus hours and can barely function. I’ve scratched holes in my scalp without even realizing it. My stomach can decide on a whim to not like whatever I’ve eaten and gurgle in turmoil. It will even out. Things will fall into place in their own time. Everyone says so but, they are saying it to someone with anxiety and probably a little OCD if the truth were to be told. So, I scratch and run to the bathroom and try and take Zzzquil or set alarms for early in the morning to force exhaustion the next day. And I job search online. I fill out web questionnaires that take an hour and supposedly rate my ethics and math skills. I cross my fingers and hope that I’m not too over qualified or too under qualifed.

I found a list of jobs I wouldn’t hate and are within walking distance of my house which really are my only criteria. Some of them needed to have forms printed, filled out in blue ink and scanned back in. No problem. I have a printer. Sadly in the 2 months in transit the brand new black ink cartridge decided to go kaput which with my sweet cheap printer means that it won’t print or do anything. While frustrating, I’m not really surprised. I’m lucky that the store that happens to carry ink on base is right across the street so, I just walked over. I contemplated getting the 4 pack that included the 3 color cartridges as well but, as mentioned before, I have a cash flow problem, so $12 and one black ink cartridge later I was home. By now it was dinner time so I called it good for the day.

After a great night of falling asleep at 4am and waking at 6, 7:30 and finally the last time at 9:30am I just gave up and got up. I made coffee. I checked my email. I skipped breakfast because my stomach felt angry, like it might or might not be filled with napalm. After a few good deep sips of glorious caffeinated beverage, I decided to install my ink. My stellar printer LOVES to struggle with printing when a new cartridge gets swapped in. Two hours later of cleaning the printer heads and check and re checking the vertical and horizontal alignment it was in the last step of cleaning the printer heads one last time when and error message popped up and let me know that all three of the motherfucking color cartridges are empty. Fuck it. It was past lunch time and since I hadn’t eaten in the morning, I was hungry. As I warmed up my left over risotto my stomach gurgled and twisted and sent me running to the bathroom before the 2 minutes on the microwave could even run out.

I ate my risotto at barely above room temperature while staring at our new very disorganized entertainment cabinet with all of our DVDs stacked up next to it and cords hanging out the front doors. Rather than angrily walking in the hot windy  drizzling day to the store for more ink, I set to the task of organizing the entertainment stand. I cleared everything out, reworked wire locations, and organized the DVDs that we still have cases for; organized and neat, stacked and sorted. It helped relieve some of the irritation of the ink being lame. I sat down to re-set up my Echo so I could be super lazy and ask Alexa for the weather especially now during typhoon season. It’s tricky setting up a device for a foreign location where you now live but, you’re address is has a technically US zip code. Some googling, and trial and error I got Alexa connected to the new WiFi and answering “What is the weather?” and telling me the weather close enough to where we actually are and not Norfolk or a random US west coast city.

Pleased with myself, I plopped down on my couch to start the job search back up with a plan to hit up the library later in the day to print out all the necessary forms and make copious copies of them. As I picked up my laptop, I heard a pop and felt my glasses shift… So weird. As I reached up to take my glasses off to look at them, they wobbled strangely and bloop, the lens plopped out into my lap. My black frames miraculously just cracked in half at the side. Not even at the bend or hinge, just a random ass spot popped.  Granted I think I paid a whopping $15 for the frames so they weren’t exactly top of the line but, dang. I just got them maybe 5 months ago. Obviously you really do get what you pay for.

It was one more thing today, just one more thing and it was the last one. The last damn thing. So, now I’m just sitting on the couch eating cheese mindlessly watching whatever happens to be on. I’ll just try again tomorrow but, today? Today is obviously done.

Tipsy on a Tuesday Afternoon

When the Sailor sent me an email from Puerto Rico where he was for over 2 months for relief work after hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria saying, “WE GOT ORDERS TO JAPAN,” I was ecstatic. WE were ecstatic. What an adventure! A tropical island, completely different culture with a long complex and interesting history and we would be right on Tokyo Bay. We both immediately talked about climbing Mount Fuji, seeing the historic cities with their shrines and temples and listing all the surround countries that suddenly became long weekend trips. We were like little kids talking about summer camp. But no one really warns you about the process of moving over seas and what it entails so let me enlighten you. IT FUCKING SUCKS!

It sucks if you don’t have a perfect health history (check) and if you have pets that you can’t (or in my case re-home – check) and I can not even imagine it with children. It gets infinitely more frustrating and draining with each seemingly mundane aspect of your life. You think you have an idea of packers coming into your house and wrapping up all your stuff and taking it away… for 2+ months and living out of duffle bags. Eating on paper plates and plastic flatware with dollar store pots and pans in an empty house. Going to work and coming home to an air mattress and 2 lawn chairs. Then it happens and you realize, “Ummmm, this feels shitty,” because suddenly your home is empty and doesn’t really feel like home.

You think you understand that you’ll have so many days to relax, travel and visit your family and friends before boarding a very long flight but, suddenly 30 days of leave to do all that blows by and your standing at an airport waving goodbye. Funny, though no one ever really talks about flights getting delayed or canceled and having t frantically call your ride back at 3am to come lug you, your 4 giant duffle bags and 2 yowling scared shitless cats BACK to your family’s house again. Yeah, that happens. More frequently than I was aware. Then 24 hours later you do the same choked tearful goodbyes to the same family.

Then suddenly you’re watching a stranger wheel your two pets away to be loaded into the belly of a plane where they will be for the next 12+ hours and you cry some more because, they don’t friggen know. You know they don’t know and there isn’t anyway to tell an animal, “It’s fine. You’ll be fine. It will be over in no time.” You can barely explain that to a small child. You just see their sad little furry faces wide-eyed from the back of their cage looking at you like, “So this is how it ends” and your heart breaks because you haven’t slept in almost 36 hours because your original flight yesterday was delayed for 24 hours and you’re stressed and nervous. And the little girl whose dog is riding on the same cart with your cats is crying saying, “It’s ok boy. You’ll be OK. I love you. I’ll be waiting for you Japan.” And it’s just too much so, you cry too. Yeah, that was me.

No one warns you that as soon as you get here, all you’re going to do is run all over the damn base; apply for housing, immediately choose from a list of houses sight unseen or immediately know you want to live off base, then you’re on your own, 72 hours to report your pets entry onto base because they are under temporary quarantine, schedule a quarantine appointment to have the 12 hour quarantine lifted, get a Japanese phone, get a mail box, go to a week long area briefing, make an appointment to have your household goods delivered, make an appointment for a pre-move in inspection of your new home… It’s constant. It’s unrelenting. And you walk everywhere because you don’t have a car and it’s hotter than than Hades and more humid than his balls. Even if you did have a car, you couldn’t drive it because they drive on the left side of the road here (or if your egocentric, the “wrong side”) and all the traffic signs are in Japanese.

So you get your house. For us, since it was our first time in Japan and our first time living abroad, we chose base housing. Well, Kyle chose our house. Without me. I was salty for about 30 seconds. Then I didn’t give a shit because I just didn’t want to have to live in the Navy Lodge (aka Hotel on base) for months. When he went to the housing office early one morning to see what he had to do to request housing, they directed him to a house brief. After they told him he had to choose base housing or off base housing. Off base housing had another briefing. If he chose base housing then they had a list of base homes available right now for him to choose from. If he didn’t choose right then, the next guy from the briefing in rank got a choice and when he brought me back with him the list would be shorter. The next guy in line that the Sailor just happened to out rank smiled. He knew what he was choosing if the Sailor passed to come ask me. So he chose and a high-rise called Satsuki Heights became our new home for 3 years. Sight. Un. Seen.

Then you have a choice, pay to continue to stay in the hotel until your household goods are delivered, pay to rent furniture and shit to live in your new place until your stuff is delivered or move into an empty home and rough it on the floor until your shit arrives. One guess what we chose.

So you’ve made it this far. All your appointments are made, and you’ve begun attending the week long area briefing classes that basically spends the first 3 days telling you about the base, and reminding you that you’re living on a military installation so, ya know, don’t do stupid shit like talk about ships and what they are doing  and when. Oh and don’t get in fights at the bars or drive at all if you’ve had even one drink because the Japanese blood alcohol limit is .03% which is the rough equivalent of smelling a decent beer. During this time, they give you a sweet photocopy booklet to study for a written driving exam. Yes. It’s a booklet with all the new laws of how to drive on the left side of the road and what all the traffic signs mean. The translation is a little sketchy so the descriptions are… well, I was really glad for the pictures that accompanied the descriptions. On your final day of briefing you take the written exam if you want to get your SOFA license. BTW, SOFA is just a fancy acronym for status of forces agreement. Basically it’s just a host country (in our case Japan) agreeing that us foreigner living here for military purposes can get a quick license if we already have a US license, pass a set of simple tests proving we can handle the subtle differences (among maaaaany other things). There are 50 questions on the written and you need an 80% to pass. Here at Yokosuka they gave an incentive to really study. If you got 100% you get first choice of schedule availability for the driving exam. The Sailor assured me that he’d get a 100%. Needless to say, I was one of 6 that got 100% and he didn’t. HA! I haven’t taken the driving exam yet. I’m sure that will be complete fuckery. I’ll let you know how it goes.

If you’ve made it thus far without losing your shit, bravo. Sadly, thats about to change. Because now comes the delivery of your household goods. The Japanese movers are polite, nice, patient and effective as fuck. No matter how awesome they are thought, they can’t fix what the US packers and movers drop kicked across the country and on to a container ship. Some of your shit will get broken. If you’re lucky it will be a cheap clothes drying rack or small bowl that had seen better days anyway. If you’re unlucky your grandfather clock will be jacked up bad enough you don’t know how to fix it and the corner of your flat screen 3D TV will be broken off among other things. Yeah, it will make you mad. You will silently rage and if you’re like me you’ll shut down and take a nap on the couch surrounded by chaos. Then when the movers are done and you look around at all your stuff and wonder how in the hell you fit this much crap into a one bedroom apartment back home, you’ll crack open a delicious Coca Cola, chug a few swallows then tip in a shot or two of Sailor Jerry straight into the can and sit down to spew your woes of the last several weeks out online.

And that’s how I ended up tipsy on a Tuesday afternoon.