On this hallowed eve…

Ahhh….turning 51 tomorrow.  What can I say?  My celebrity pals have been all over it.   Brad Pitt sent me a pair of mittens that he knitted himself (or so he says…).  Beyoncé dedicated a song to me at her last concert (or so she says…I wasn’t there.  Her concerts are past my bedtime) and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said that the first touchdown pass that he throws in tonight’s Super Bowl will be for me (he always says crap like that…).   Anyway…celebrity notables aside, here’s what’s on my mind as I turn 51:

  • You know that you’re getting older when the gifts that you receive become more and more about comfort and “socks” are mentioned as your number one item.  Instead my beloved bride bought me a really nice chair to sit my dainty derriere into whilst I sit in front of the computer, making funny for you folks.  Nicely played Connie Sue.
  • Failure isn’t fatal.  If I had come to this realization forty years earlier I can’t help but think just how different this life would be.  In high school I would have danced my ass off at homecoming and prom.  Ass….OFF.  I would have shot the ball constantly in basketball.  You can’t score if you don’t shoot.  I probably would have started down a different career path.  It’s not that I don’t like what I do now, it’s just maybe these talents would have been better suited elsewhere.  At the age of 51…its probably too late to try something different.  Everyday I’m around many young people. I encourage them. I let them know that while I am their boss and hold them accountable for their actions that they are valuable and there’s no such thing as a “perfect life”.  That todays culture doesn’t put enough importance on being: honest, trustworthy, friendly, moral, having a good work ethic and playing nice with others.  That you don’t have to agree with everyone. That life is oftentimes a grind of the boring and mundane.  That it’s up to you to make it happen for you.  And while I’m at it…making work fun and stable for those under my watch.  I really appreciate those tried and true stalwarts of my work day.

Failing...?

Failing…?

  • Are you like me?  Old enough to remember the days when you had to buy a rock groups whole album just to get the ONE song that you really liked?  Albums were like ten bucks or more, and unless the group was really good you had just paid ten dollars for one song.  That’s why I think ITunes is the bees knees.  $1.29 for one song.  Just a couplea clicks and its downloaded into your computer.  A few more clicks and its burned onto a blank DVD-R for the CD player in my old Chevy truck.  Quick survey…who has AC/DC AND the Statler Brothers in their ITunes library?  Anyone…?  Anyone…?  Just…me?  Figures.  The Class of 57 is GOLD people.  GOLD.
  • Yes, I will be getting back into the gym.  Officiating basketball doesn’t really keep a guy fit or build the upper body.  Goals set.  Failure looms.  Let’s see what happens.
  • At this age I’m probably more apt to call a spade a spade, a drama queen a drama queen and walk away from idiots rather than waste my time and energy.
  • I traveled to four different countries this past year.  Headed to Europe this year.  I’m pumped.  I’m also pumped to take a two-day road trip, camera in tow,  of the back roads of my beloved home state…Iowa.  I might even make it a three-day trip.

Hanging Lake is stunningly beautiful....but when your daughter asks you to do a pano selfie you jump ALL OVER IT!!

Hanging Lake is stunningly beautiful….but when your daughter asks you to do a pano selfie you jump ALL OVER IT!!

Rooms next to the river.  Nuff said

Rooms next to the river. Nuff said

  • I haven’t gotten any post-season officiating assignments.  There’s still time, I suppose, but I’m skeptical.  It’s a bitter pill to swallow when you do your best, get a glowing evaluation from a state clinician at a big time game, love the sport and work on it daily to get better only to be on the outside looking in…left out of the tournament.  I had a great season, nothing can diminish that.  I’m a good official, and so are the guys on our crew…but it wasn’t meant to be this season.  Failure isn’t fatal, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lesson to learn from it.  I just don’t know what that lesson is, yet.  I’ll have all off-season to mull it over.  All.  EightMonths. 

It could be a long offseason....

It could be a long offseason….

  • I’ll be published!!  A magazine contacted me about writing an article for them.  Dead serious!  I signed a contract and am getting paid to write.  I had my right-brained wife (who’s real anal about being smart…cause she is…) proof-read the article prior to submission.  She had me add a couple dozen comma’s and apostrophes.  Nuff said.
  • It’s a time of transition.  My old classmates are becoming grandparents.  Those big-haired, sexy vixens from the early nineteen eighties are now grannies…and are totally rocking it!!  I love seeing them with their grandkids on Facebook.  It’s also a time when some of my older friends are retiring.  What.  The.  Hell?!  I can’t have friends that old…can I?  Good for them.  AARP has been blowing up my phone trying to get me into their stable of older celebrities.  I’m not buying…for now.

Ooo...touch tone phones?!  Why didn't you SAY so?

Ooo…touch tone phones?! Why didn’t you SAY so?

  • This next year I’ll try to shore up some long time friendships that have gotten on the cool side of luke-warm.  You may never know what kind of journey someone’s on until you park their ass on a bar stool and buy them a beer, or three.

Thanks to all of you for your friendship, for reading along and commenting.  I count myself truly blessed to have each of you in my life.  God bless.

R

 

 

2016 Ripley year in review

The highlights and lowlights of 2016 (make yourself comfortable….I might go on a rant)

February…I was assigned three post-season basketball games, a personal high for me.  It’ll be a tough number to beat but every night on the court I try not to suck.  So far….so good.  I used to get butterflies before each game, hours before tip.  Nowadays I get a little nervous, but only to get the game started and start having fun.

April…I took a cruise in the Caribbean with my best buddy.  It was a banner year of travel for yours truly.  Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico and Japan.  Some of my favorite photos of the year were taken during this cruise.  Dave’s my wingman.  Has been since August of 1984.

KICKIN' ASS SINCE 1984

KICKIN’ ASS SINCE 1984

The Tequila Kid and The Ripper

The Tequila Kid and The Ripper

June….a family vacation to Colorado.  All five of us.  Again…lots of fun, great food and a few memorable photos.

Hurricane Pass

Hurricane Pass

We were all over those rapids like a hobo on a ham sandwich

We were all over those rapids like a hobo on a ham sandwich

August…the unexpected death of a young friend.  I miss him.  I was working yesterday when a young man wearing a hoodie turned towards me asked a question, he looked like my friend.  It took me aback.  His death has affected the way that I manage our young employees.  I can’t say that its a better way of managing, but more aware of what’s at stake.  Over the course of 27 years I’ve known five employees who’ve taken their own lives.  I’ve never come to a reasonable answer for any one of them.  As I said before…I miss him.

2016...With our friends daughter, Lilly. She'll never know...

2016…With our friends daughter, Lilly. She’ll never know how great of a person Jordan was.

 

August…..they flew the coop!!  Our two youngest daughters left…in a big way.  One to Germany.  The other to Japan.  Our closest daughter is in Miami…1500 miles away.  My wife and I are all alone.

September….we’ve lived in this neighborhood since 2002.  We’ve been the “new” neighbors for almost 15 years to our next door neighbors.  With Pat and Ed moving into an assisted living apartment and our other neighbor moving to a nearby town…Connie and I are now “old” neighbors.  The young couple living next to us put up a privacy fence and don’t let me pet their dog (of all things…?) but at least Jerry and Claire seem more like our kind.  Nice…wave if they see you…stop and talk.

October...at my workplace, I started posting videos on our stores Facebook page with the charge of “engage our customers”.  Many of the videos that I see on Facebook for our company are…professional though fairly bland, in my opinion.  What I did was become Rowdy Rich.  I  started putting stuff out there with the idea of trying to catch our customers attention with #1…a gimmick (me wearing a pig nose for National Pork Month or something else) and #2…a great price on something that our customers may want.  Its resulted in folks enjoying our Facebook videos but as far as driving us towards a sizable sales increase, don’t hold your breath.

November….I traveled to Japan to visit our daughter Karalee.  Its a long-ass flight…dead serious, but quite an adventure…and I totally enjoyed myself.

At some falls in a gorge with Karalee

At some falls in a gorge with Karalee

December…I read my Facebook “Year in Review”.  Can’t say that I liked it, so I didn’t post it.  What I did find interesting is that I “liked” 5300 times.  REALLY?!  Am I that promiscuous with the “like” button?!  Broken down daily…that’s like 15 “likes” a day.  I was wondering if I was being too liberal with it, then I realized that I was being totally stupid because I’m always going to “like” or react to dog and cat videos, beautiful sunrise/sunset photos, memes that are probably inappropriate and a friend of mine posted her Facebook in review and she had over 10,000 “likes” (BTW…she rarely posts, what she does post isn’t funny and she’s a fairly quiet person….so if anyone has a problem it’s her….not me, cause I’m normal).

Connie left me alone for the holidays.  Dead serious.  For the last week I’ve been totally alone.  Christmas Eve…alone.  Christmas morning…alone.  Thank God my brother and his wife had me over for Christmas dinner (where I was fed like a King!!).  Before you get the tar warmed up and feathers ready, she’s visiting our two daughters.  One in Germany and one in Japan, with a quick visit to Sweden where she’s touring where her ancestors lived, not to mention the moose burgers she ate and wine she’s been drinking…all the while “missing you sweetheart!!”  That old ruse!!  Someone needs to start a business where you can rent a pet for the duration of your wife’s vacation.  Her absence would be greatly eased with either a puppy or kitten greeting me every nightDead serious. 

My boss had a baby.  So I’m trying to do my job and hers.  I can’t really half-ass either and get away with it…so I’ve been going into work on my days off for a few hours and working.  I’ve worked 25 hours in two days so far this week!  Its okay…I’m just getting a little grumpy towards the end of my work day…especially with no puppy or kitten or wife to greet me at home.  Also…since its Christmas break there’s no basketball games to officiate to work off my stress.  Honestly…that brings me down as well.

I’m part of Big Brothers/Big Sisters, an organization that pairs at-risk kids with mentors.   I’m a Big Brother to a 14 year-old young man.  I try to be a good influence on him, take him to movies, dinner, games, try to teach him life-skills, etc.  We’ve been together for 2+ years.  Recently his mother (and him) won’t respond to me taking him out like we used to do.  I’ve been trying for two months with nothing happening.  If his mother does reply she says that “he’ll get back to you”.  I understand that he’s 14, probably doesn’t think replying to my texts are a big deal…but I wonder if we’re “done”.  It kind of made me mad, at first, but perhaps I was only to be a part of his life for these past two years and that’s his journey, not mine.  Our case worker is reaching out to him…but I have a feeling that its “over”.  If it is…I’d be sad.  He doesn’t have a good male role model (not that I’m a Boy Scout by any measure….) in his life.  His friends are shoplifting and such, I told his mother that. He might be done with me.   I’ll just wait and see.

Ripley's...jumping for joy

Ripley’s…jumping for joy

I hope that your year was a great one.  Take care and thanks for coming along.

God bless…

R

 

The trip home…

My trip back to good old America started with me being dropped off in Miyazaki for my overnight stay prior to my flight out the following morning.  Miyazaki’s a large city and I readily looked forward to an afternoon to walking around and exploring the sights nearest my hotel.  It was a Sunday so not a lot was going on but there was still plenty to take in.  Firstly…I loved it.  It’s not too often that a middle-aged guy like me anticipates an afternoon of just walking around and looking.  I didn’t have my interpreter with me (our daughter Karalee) so finding my way back to my hotel after walking quite a ways from it would be my biggest challenge.  I had booked my room through Travelocity.com and was pleasantly surprised how nice it was for only $58 a night (The Sky Tower Hotel).  Here are some of the local sights that I found interesting.

McDonalds Halloween Witch's Fries.  Purple sweet potato and chocolate sauce OR pumpkin and chocolate sauce.  I didn't try any.  What I did find out was that McDonalds makes the same bland burgers for the Japanese as they do for us in the States.

McDonalds Halloween Witch’s Fries. Purple sweet potato and chocolate sauce OR pumpkin and chocolate sauce. I didn’t try any. What I did find out was that McDonalds makes the same bland burgers for the Japanese as they do for us in the States.

The "thing" in the refrigerator was a bottle of water.  Did you know that beer cans in Japan have braille on them?  True story!

The “thing” in the refrigerator was a bottle of water. Did you know that beer cans in Japan have braille on them? True story!

A traffic light.  This hat-wearing dude is EVERYWHERE in Japan...

A traffic light. This hat-wearing dude is EVERYWHERE in Japan…

No need to get spooked.  There's only a mafia hitman standing behind you as you wait for the light to turn green

No need to get spooked. There’s only a mafia hitman standing behind you as you wait for the light to turn green

...and now he's stealing your bike...

…and now he’s stealing your bike…

A rare photograph of the fedora-capped stranger behind me.  I tried to alert the proper authorities...in vain.

A rare photograph of the fedora-capped stranger behind me. I tried to alert the proper authorities…in vain.

So I walked around for a few hours, into the late afternoon, up and down streets and avenues packed with all kinds of shops.

The Colonel's kind of a big deal in Japan...

The Colonel’s kind of a big deal in Japan…

I found, of all places, a “Celtic Sport Pub” where I had a delicious American Blue Moon bottle of beer…for close to $9.  Regardless of its high price it tasted awesome.  I headed back towards my hotel where I contemplated eating in their hotel restaurant.  I hedged thinking that I didn’t fly halfway across the world not to take a chance at a local place.  I chose a place and took a seat.  Thank goodness that the menu had photos and between me and my server my selection was made without any international incidents occurring.

...uh...yeah...the deep fat-fried thing stuffed with...cheese?

…uh…yeah…the deep fat-fried thing stuffed with…cheese?

…and….

Delicous-ness!!  Basically a fried pork cutlet, prawn, soup and rice.

Delicious-ness!! Basically a fried pork cutlet, prawn, soup and rice.

Tommy Lee Jones is the spokesman for Boss Coffee in Japan.  Dead serious.

Tommy Lee Jones is the spokesman for Boss Coffee in Japan. Dead serious.  He looks none too happy about it.

Fast forward to the next morning.  I had set up a taxi ride to the airport in the morning.  That went great.  Once arriving at the airport the ticket counter couldn’t “find” me.  Literally…they had my passport and couldn’t find me on the 11 o’clock flight to Tokyo…and the lack of them understanding English and me Japanese didn’t help.  We were about ten minutes into this dilemma when I said “listen…I gotta be on that flight.  I’ll buy a ticket and settle up with Travelocity.com when I get home”.  The third of the three ticket counter ladies just smiled at me and continued typing away.  Sweat beads ran down my back…it was warm and I was stressed.  Finally one of the ladies asked if I had kept my old ticket stub from when I had arrived.  CHA-CHING!!  I had kept it!!  I gave it to her and literally (LITERALLY) two minutes later I was walking away with my new ticket.

Fast forward again…I landed in Tokyo’s Haneda airport on time.  I had to transfer to Tokyo’s other international airport via a shuttle bus.  I had somewhere like six hours before my flight to Chicago boarded.  PLENTY of time (or so I thought).  I hustled to the shuttle bus ticket area and found…CHAOS.  Okay…not chaos…but an alarmingly large selection of transportation venues.  I was kind of “oh…sh*t…” (ever been there?  Not a good state of mind…am I right?)  Anyway…if you believe in God (like I do) you’ll like this.  I saw an airport employee, a young 20-something, walking towards me.  I got her attention, without looking like a crazed middle-aged American, and asked her where I could buy a shuttle bus ticket to Narita.  Get this…she was friendly, she took me to a ticket kiosk, changed its screen to read English, helped me buy the right ticket then led me to the bus stop and put me in the right line (mind you…there’s many buses coming and going by the minute).  She was an Angel.  Dead serious.  My wait for the bus was like two minutes before I was boarded and heading the right way.

Second Angel.  As we began our drive to Narita airport, which I thought would be a twenty minute ride, I struck up a conversation with a guy who I was pretty sure would understand English, Thomas.  Thomas is black.  There aren’t many black people in Japan, like he was the only one in Japan at the time.  Anyway…I asked Thomas how long the ride was.  He replied “an hour and a half.”  Holy cow!!  I hadn’t planned for this at all.  In my rush to find a ticket counter and thinking that the ride would be a short one I didn’t buy or bring something on the bus to drink, and I was parched!  Get this…Thomas not only calmed me down (I’m a little high-strung when traveling…) he gave me his unopened bottle of apple juice (I’m not a big fan of apple juice BUT this one tasted wonderful!!) and gave me a great person to talk and listen to during the ride and told me which stop to get off at once at Narita.  Thomas was great.  He’s Methodist by the way.

Once I found my gate I had a couple of hours to kill.  I was flying back in economy…not quite the business class that I had hoped for…but I was going home.  The plane would take off at 6 PM Tokyo time with a 3 PM landing in Chicago.

So long Japan!   Its been fun.  Let's do it again soon.

So long Japan! Its been fun. Let’s do it again soon.

I used to be a nervous-nelly on flights.  Twitching at every little chime, buzz or sound.  Not anymore.  Old Rich Ripley is a world-traveler.  I write.  I read.  I have a few drinks.  I watch TV.  Flying over an ocean…? No problem.  Forty minutes into our flight we had turbulence.  I mean real-live roller coaster, people shouting, plane shaking, pilot telling the flight attendants “ATTENDANTS GET TO YOUR SEATS”.  It was scary.  I thought to myself “this is the way that Hollywood portrays the moments before a plane crash.”  Surprisingly enough…I didn’t get overly concerned, but enough to have an impromptu chat with the Lord concerning aforementioned flight over said ocean.  The turbulence only lasted a few minutes…but long enough to leave a lasting impression.

We reached Chicago unscathed.  I had to really hustle to make it from my “big jet” gate to my little old “regional jet gate”.  I had less than 70 minutes to find my way through customs and on towards my new gate…which I didn’t know where it was…yet.

After clearing customs (when you’re a bigshot like me, they’re just happy to have me back in the States…you feel me?) I was starting to find my bearings as to where I needed to go next.  I saw a couple of the flight crew from my flight walking next to me.  I made a remark about the turbulence that we had experienced, had a nice laugh and I asked them if I could go out the door that they were exiting by…..and my next Angels were there.  They asked me what gate I was flying out from and once they heard that they replied “we’re walking right past it.  Come along with us!”  Dear Lord…these two attendants made the fifteen minute jaunt through a major international airport, onto a shuttle train, through security and right to my gate back to Iowa so easy.  I mean it…our Good and Gracious Lord made coming home so easy.  From the girl in Tokyo to Thomas on the shuttle to these two attendants walking me to my gate after working an eleven hour flight…just AWESOME.

My flight back to Cedar Rapids from Chicago is barely thirty minutes long.  I look down on the lights of Chicago fading to the east as the darkened farm fields of rural Illinois and Iowa slip under us.  I see the Mississippi River, the moon reflecting on it…it won’t be long now.  A combine illuminates the corn rows ever so slightly before taking them it.  Its funny what a person recognizes, if even from thousands of feet in the air above it.  I see a farm houses stretched down rural roads every so often…shining like little warm mercury-lit beacons…like bread crumbs left along a trail…guiding this Iowan back home.  We land, the cool early November air washes over me in the jet-bridge.  Dear God…what a journey.  Thank you for carrying me home.

Thank you for coming along with me.

God bless,

R

 

The locals LOVE me in Japan

My days in Japan would usually begin at 2 AM, not because I wanted them to only because my sleep schedule was messed up.  Japan is fourteen hours ahead of Iowa time, so ideally it’d be four in the afternoon back home.  I’d wake up, check my emails then roll over and try to sleep until five.  Eventually I’d get up. make a cup of coffee, put in my ear buds, get dressed for the day then sit and catch up on what was going on back home via the internet.  Our daughter has a small apartment so I’m sure that even though I was trying to be quiet I sounded like a bear rummaging through a steel trash can in the middle of the night to Karalee as the walls in her apartment are quite thin.  After I got the hang of shopping at their local grocery store I started buying maple rolls for the next days breakfast.  I’ll say this about Japanese sweet rolls…they’re not nearly as sweet and sugary as ours, but still tasty.   Our trips to the grocery store were one of my favorite things to do, seeing as how I’ve been in that business for close to thirty years.

 

They use a lot of English in their signage in Japan.

They use a lot of English in their signage in Japan.

We didn't visit this store, but you get the idea.

We didn’t visit this store, but you get the idea.

 

Once the sun rose I’d set out on a walk around town.  There was a high school nearby so I’d stop by there and watch the team practice.  They’d practice for several hours each day Monday through Friday, Saturday all day then on Sunday they played a game.  Naturally, being the nosy person that I am, I invited myself to the game…where I stood out like a sore thumb.  One thing that really impressed me about the boys is their absolute hustle.  These kids really busted their butts…doing everything.  After five innings they grabbed rakes and groomed the infield while the host team parents came out into the crowd and served us hot tea and snacks…for free.  Another thing that I noticed is that no one complained about anything during the game.  Nothing…in fact I didn’t hear anything from the parents, cheering or yelling (must be an American thing to yell stuff at the umpire….) I’ve found that the Japanese were abundantly courteous, polite and friendly.  Our American culture could take a few cues from them on that front.

Practice...practice...practice

Practice…practice…practice

The players of the host team rake the infield during a break in the fifth inning.

The players of the host team rake the infield during a break in the fifth inning.

...and there's always that one Mom who wears a crazy hat to the game

…and there’s always that one Mom who wears a crazy hat to the game

At some falls in a gorge with Karalee

At some falls in a gorge with Karalee

 

Menu at a noodle house. Believe it or not...I did a fairly good job at using chopsticks by the end of my trip!

Menu at a noodle house. Believe it or not…I did a fairly good job at using chopsticks by the end of my trip!

I liken this bowl of noodles to a big bowl of chicken noodle soup...with a seaweed thing in it. I didn't care for the seaweed thing so much...true story.

I liken this bowl of noodles to a big bowl of chicken noodle soup…with a seaweed thing in it. I didn’t care for the seaweed thing so much…true story.

I found this small bakery during one of my morning walks. Japan celebrates Christmas, not religiously by more socially

I found this small bakery during one of my morning walks. Japan celebrates Christmas, not religiously but more socially

Inside the bakery. They do a really good job of displaying their goods.

Inside the bakery. They do a really good job of displaying their goods. Language barrier aside…I selected some sweets and continued on.

HEY!! You only get ONE wedding here...so make the most of it. (I love Japanese advertising)

HEY!! You only get ONE wedding here…so make the most of it. (I love Japanese advertising)

My lunch from a 7-11. Noodles in a buttery sauce topped with thinly sliced ham. Delicous!

My lunch from a 7-11. Noodles in a buttery sauce topped with thinly sliced ham. Delicious!!

Road construction signs. "Merge right...wait, no..okay..NOW?!"

Road construction signs. “Merge right…wait, no…okay…NOW?!”

My time is Japan is drawing to a close.  I had a bit of an adventure coming home.  Coming up next time:

  • A night alone in a big city.  Beer me bartender.
  • Colonel Sanders and I.
  • You say toilet.  I say bidet.
  • They can’t find me in their system at the airport
  • How do I find a shuttle ride in Tokyo?
  • Who’s going to help this old man? (Me.  Its me that needed the help)
  • Taxi!!
  • Did someone say “TURBULANCE?!?!?!
  • McDonald’s in Japan (my unbiased opinion)
  • Beer me young lady.
  • Tommy Lee Jones is two-timing us Americans!!

Until next time, God bless and thanks for coming along.

R

 

The Ripman’s in Japan….dead serious…I am

Todays blog isn’t necessarily a blow-by-blow, in order of sequence kind of read.  Rather its more of a “we’re hitting the highlights” of a few days worth of adventures.  To bring those of you who didn’t read my previous blog I’m now in Japan visiting our daughter Karalee who teaches English.   My first day in Japan was kind of low key.  A trip to a kind of large grocery store that sold everything from groceries to clothing to fish hooks to appliances to bicycles (which for a nerd like me who works in a grocery store…was a blast!), a trip to Udo Shrine, new food experiences, morning walks around town and a few road trips.

A Shrine that we visited right outside the town that Karalee lives.

A Shrine that we visited right outside the town that Karalee lives.

This is a large bottle of Japanese liquor. I love the label!!

This is a large bottle of Japanese liquor. I love the label!!  He looks like my buddy Joel Duffy!!

While waiting for Karalee to get ready for the days activities I kick back and take in an infomercial about the Japanese boy-band Crazy Five.  So yeah…

We got a little off the beaten path and had to pull over to get our bearings and saw this vending machine that sold beer.  NICE!!

We got a little off the beaten path and had to pull over to get our bearings and saw this vending machine that sold beer. NICE!!

I’d usually wake up every morning at 5, or three in the afternoon Iowa time. Karalee’s apartment is small with thin walls.  I’d do my best to be quiet, putting in my earbuds and catching up with world and local events back home on my phone.  Its pretty neat that you can stay in touch with loved ones almost instantly even though you’re on the other side of the world. Eventually the sun would rise, I’d get dressed, make my coffee and would head outside for a walk through the neighboring streets.  These were some of my favorite times…just me, my camera and who knows what’s going to happen.

Karalee insisted that I use this cup.  Meh...could be worse...

Karalee insisted that I use this cup. Meh…could be worse…

For all of your funeral needs call my friends at Funeral Home Tensho.  Fast and friendly....they'll get 'er done!!

For all of your funeral needs call my friends at Funeral Home Tensho. Fast and friendly….they’ll get ‘er done!!

Japanese signs use quite a bit of English on them, or at least enough to get their point across.  I’d venture a guess that the average American could figure out what most of the signs meant.

A sign in an over-grown lot between two homes.  I bet it reads "Will build to suit"

A sign in an over-grown lot between two homes. I bet it reads “Will build to suit”

Rice fields or small gardens were tucked into practically every lot that didn't have a building on it.

Rice fields or small gardens were tucked into practically every lot that didn’t have a building on it.

At the entrance of Udo Shrine was this sign warning of vicious monkeys.  Apparently Americans aren't the only ones who try to get too close to wild animals.

At the entrance of Udo Shrine was this sign warning of vicious monkeys. Apparently in no mood to cuddle….I leave them alone.

Udo shrine is built into a cave facing the ocean.  Its breath-takingly beautiful!!

Udo shrine is built into a cave facing the ocean. Its breath-takingly beautiful!!

The stairway leading into the cave

The stairway leading into the cave

Huge rock formation washed smooth by eons of waves smoothing its face

Huge rock formation washed smooth by eons of waves smoothing its face

Karalee striking a glamerous poise

Karalee striking a “glamorous” poise

Looking tough with twist cones...

Looking tough with twist cones…

Along the coast there were some guys surfing…and some stunningly beautiful scenery.  My videos do NOT do it justice.

Having supper at a jazz club with Hayley from Austriala.

Having supper at a jazz club with Hayley from Australia.

I wanted to try new and different foods.  To get out of my comfort-zone so to speak.  I don’t have the kind of stomach that allows for anything too crazy but I really enjoyed this restaurants food.  Gyoza (deep fried pot stickers…my favorite), potato cheese Mochi and (for lack of a better description….fried chicken meat with tartar sauce on it (not too shabby).  I pretty much tried whatever looked good and came away from it just fine.  Dietary indemnity isn’t something that comes easily to me, but only one thing put a momentary standstill in our plans in that regard.  Another noteworthy difference between Japan and America, their convenience stores sell a lot of great food.  Dead serious, I ate at them at least once a day.  Lawson Stations and 7-11’s rock, and they don’t sell gas, or much pop (and definitely no fountain pop).

Google Maps work over in Japan much like they do in America...taking us to this vacant lot in the middle of nowhere when we were supposed to be at a restaurant in town.

Google Maps work over in Japan much like they do in America…taking us to this vacant lot in the middle of nowhere when we were supposed to be at a restaurant in town.

Beautiful mountain scenery on one of our trips

Beautiful mountain scenery on one of our trips

Mountains...lots of mountains in Japan

Mountains…lots of mountains in Japan

Karalee chauffeured me around the area, in one instance driving us an hour and a half to the coast.  Beautiful mountains, deep gorges and mountain rivers were the eye candy of the day.  If you had told me seven years ago when I was teaching Karalee to how to drive that she’d one day be driving me around the mountains of Japan, through tunnels and over high bridges it’d have blown my mind.

….and I did some modeling while in Japan…just to make a little extra coin while I was there.  True story…

Me...

Me…

There’s still more to come later this week!!  Thanks for coming along.  Take care and God bless!

R

 

 

Sleep deprived is where its at!!

If you had told me just a few months ago that I’d be traveling to Japan this November I’d have thought you were crazy.  Not only is Japan a country that I wasn’t interested in its also a long-ass ways away from Iowa.  But…when your middle daughter (whom you love dearly) moves to Japan to take a job you find that your interest in all things Japanese rises significantly.  Karalee, our middle daughter, teaches English in a school in southern Japan.  Fortunately I can afford the time off and expense of travel to visit her. (remember all of those games that I referee…?  Yeah…some of that money went to this trip)

I decided to make this trip a couple of months ago.  My wife, Connie, wouldn’t be joining me since she was working and also had a trip planned in December to visit Karalee.  With the help of our daughters we planned out what I had to do, when I needed to do it and where I’d end up.  Without their help and expertise I don’t know if I would have been able to make this trip as easily as I did.  Granted…there were some well-place angels along my journey who pointed me in the right direction, and for them, I’m very grateful.

I left Iowa before six in the morning on the 31st, flying first to Denver then onto Los Angles.  I fly stand-by quite a bit.  What that means is that if there’s a seat left empty on the plane, yours truly is in line to buy that empty seat at a reduced price.  There’s no guarantee that I’ll even get a seat on the flight, but there’s a chance I might.  I’ve been left behind before, multiple times if the flight fills up. The bigger the plane, the better the chance to get on.  On the 31st there was a seat in Business class left if I wanted to pay the higher price for it (more than Economy, less than face).  I hadn’t ever flown Business Class before and it was a 12 hour flight to Tokyo so I asked for and got it.  It was over-the-top SWEET!!  My own space.  A totally reclining seat.  Bose noise-muffling earphones.  A top of the line menu (I had the salmon and a hot fudge sundae).  Alcohol, nuff said.  Midnight snack bar. A larger TV monitor.  A better selection of “free” movies and TV shows!!  I was like a kid in a candy store!!  Our flight attendant was Carter…and he was the bomb.  “Another bourbon Mister Ripley?”  Why yes Carter…that’d be excellent.

5489 miles til we land heh? I guess I've got time...

5489 miles til we land heh? I guess I’ve got time…

...for some nuts and adult beverage...

…for some nuts and an adult beverage…

..and an excellent meal. I had the salmon. The whole meal was wonderful

..and an excellent meal. I had the salmon. The whole meal was wonderful

The hot fudge sundae was the bomb!

The hot fudge sundae was the bomb!

The whole experience was wonderful.  I knew that I’d have time to kill during the flight because (wait for it….) I can’t sleep on planes.  Tried it, won’t work.  I always hear someone coughing, or the toilet flushing or a chime or something.  I can’t sleep.  So I was especially excited about the upgraded entertainment options.  After I watched Star Trek 2 I opted for a Melissa McCarthy comedy.

Who doesn't find this funny...? Anyone?

Who doesn’t find this funny…? Anyone?

I watched TV show after TV show.  Read.  Wrote in my journal.  Laid my seat down.  Tossed.  Turned.  Read some more.  Raided the midnight snack island (my take was six lady-finger sandwiches and a handful of delicious cookies).  Anyway…no sleep.  Even in the comfort of Business Class yours truly cannot sleep, but the guy next to me fell asleep shortly after taking off.  I resent him for this. 

Tokyo?! Its getting all real up in here people!!

Tokyo?! Its getting all real up in here people!!

Eventually….we get close to Japan and they serve us breakfast.  It doesn’t feel right eating breakfast when you haven’t slept and you’ve traveled fourteen hours INTO the future.  Towards the end of this day I figure that I stayed awake almost 29 hours straight. (I would NOT recommend it)  At Tokyo I breeze through customs (they’re thrilled to see me, who wouldn’t want to bask in the warm glow of my presence…?) and try to locate the ANA ticket counter for my connecting flight to Miyazaki where Karalee lives.  After several false starts and stops (mostly stops) one of the lady’s at the ANA luggage counter gives me easy to follow directions to the their ticket counter.  I need to stop here and say that the Japanese folks that I ran into were always very polite and courteous, my whole trip.  The ticket counter ladies found my Travelocity reservation and got me my ticket, then referred me to the shuttle that would take me to the correct terminal.  I breezed through a Japanese security check point then onto a shuttle bus where I struck up a nice conversation with two Germans from Munich.  Great guys, too bad we didn’t have time for a beer, but I had to find my gate.

I found my gate!!! I think. Hold on...what's that say...?

I found my gate!!! I think. Hold on…what’s that say…?

Fortunately the sign above rotated between English and Japanese every few seconds and the gates were easily found.

These were all over Japan. Earthquake bars? For the handicapped? Just in case you have a strong stream and need to brace yourself? Not willing to find out...I don't use them...

These were all over Japan. Earthquake bars? For the handicapped? Just in case you have a strong stream and need to brace yourself? Not willing to find out…I don’t use them…

I was feeling kind of sick now…just not right, so I walked around the terminal until I found a place where the food looked good.  I viewed their menu board and hoped that I could make enough sense to them so that I’d get some food.  The young man behind the counter beckoned me over and showed me a menu with photos of the food.   I just pointed to a sandwich and drink and hoped for the best.  It was delicious.  I’m sure that there’s a Japanese word for these sandwiches but in American lexicon it was a cold cut sandwich with avocados and egg salad on it served on a delicate sweet bread.  As soon as I stood up the young man returned and picked up my tray and thanked me (I think…he was smiling and nodding).  Regardless…my first real experience interacting with the locals.  Speaking of locals…they turned out in large numbers to see me off to Miyazaki!!

Its a PACKED HOUSE to see me in Tokyo!! PACKED!!

Its a PACKED HOUSE to see me in Tokyo!! PACKED!!

Once boarded on my flight departing Tokyo we waited…and waited.  Not too long…but a busy night at Tokyo’s International Airport in Haneda.

There's at least two planes behind us out there in the dark...

There’s at least two planes behind us out there in the dark…

My flight to Miyazaki went well, only taking a little over an hour and a half.

Sweet Jesus!! Finally here and headed to Karalee's apartment. Thank you Lord!!

Sweet Jesus!! Finally here and headed to Karalee’s apartment. Thank you Lord!!

Karalee was waiting for me at the airport.  I was so tired and thank goodness everything went well.  One thing that really played with my head is that in Japan they drive on the opposite side of the roads, that combined with going through some mountains, twisting and curving our way there…left me a little weirded out.  Not by her driving….just the whole being sleep deprived and seeing someone in a big truck in what I thought was our lane coming right at us.  Ah…good times being too tired to be totally scared out of my mind.  Once at her apartment I shower and hit the sack.  Too tired to roll over I fall asleep with my body halfway off the mattress that’s laid on the floor for me.  Karalee snaps a photo and sends it to Connie letting her know that I’ve arrived safely…even if I look like I’ve been murdered on her living room floor.  A fun week ensues.  Come along if you like, we won’t be talking politics.  That’s my promise to you.

God bless!

R

 

 

fast

I knew that this day was coming, this storm…so to speak.  I’ve known about it since January when our youngest daughter, Macy, sat down next to me on the couch as I watched a game on TV and ate supper.  “How have you been?” was her question.  My stomach sank.  I reached for the remote and shut off the TV.  I placed my plate, half-finished, on the end table.  I looked at her and replied “what’s wrong?”  You see, our daughters don’t just ask those kinds of questions.  At least not yet.  She was moving to Germany in the summer to become an Au Pair for a German couple, taking care of their kids, for a year.  After the year she’d start attending a university in Berlin and resume her studies while getting a job.  Germany has free college.  She’s fairly good at speaking German.  My guess is that she’s going to get a lot better.  I asked her if this was an “idea” or a “done deal”.  Her reply “95% done deal”.  My stomach sank further while my heart rose into my throat.

Our middle daughter, Karalee, was due to graduate in May.  She got a job in Japan. Literally, within three weeks during the coming summer we’d lose two daughters to two countries.  4,545 miles and 6,371 miles away respectively.  The storm…was gaining strength.  I could see it in the distance.  It wasn’t going away.  It had been building since the day of their birth I suppose.  Since their first step.  Since their first defiant toddler tantrum.  Since swimming lessons, learning to ride a bike, driving a car and so on and so forth.  Its been a steady and relentless learning curve to try and conquer new things.  Scary things, except this time around I’m the one who’s scared…scared for them and maybe, just maybe…scared for me.

We’ve been temporary empty-nesters for two years with both daughters living half an hour away while attending college.  If they needed us we could be there in a short time (they never did..).  What’s my role now?  How am I to be defined?  Too young to be old.  Too old to be young.  Not wanting to be hip. Not wanting to be stodgy.  The salt is overtaking the pepper atop my head.  Do I try to be that old guy who wears denim shorts, black knee-high dress socks and sandals with a fanny pack when I go out?  Maybe try wearing a tie-dye shirt and grow a pony tail?  No one told me how to do this.  I’m serious when I write this.  What’s my role now?  My wife can only withstand so much of me before she shoots me the stink-eye.  I’m not always a delight to be around. (true story)

They’ve moved into good countries, not third world places.  I can’t imagine how parents with kids in the military feel when their kids are put in harms way in a bad part of the world.

That storm kept coming.  It brought tension, the silent type.  I told them that they could come back home if things didn’t work out.  That life sometimes hands you failure that you can learn from, but life continues to go onward.  I told them that I was proud of them, loved them and to be safe.  To trust their inner voice.   That trust is earned, not given freely to strangers or folks that you just met.  I don’t know if any of it sank in.  I was young once too, bullet-proof and foolhardy.

The day of the storm arrived.  Our last child would be flying from our home.  The storm wasn’t made of lightning, thunder nor rain but of questions, uncertainty, an emptiness in our lives, a hole in our heart.  An awkward vacuum left in the place of parenting up close and personal.  Each of our daughters, all three, have plans.  They made them themselves.  They’re theirs to live and fulfill, regardless of our feelings as parents…and for that I’m thankful.  They’re good people.  I’m proud of them.

Karalee's flight to her new home in Japan, from Chicago

Karalee’s flight to her new home in Japan, from Chicago

Macy's flight from Chicago to London before heading to Berlin.

Macy’s flight from Chicago to London before heading to Berlin.

On my phone. I can see what the weather is like where they're at except for New Liberty. Home town gets a place on the phone too.

On my phone I can see what the weather is like where they’re at except for New Liberty. My home town gets a place on the phone too.

From this....

From this….

...to this. It went by fast.

…to this

At the airport.  Silence speaks volumes.  Exuberance verses apprehension.  Exciting future verses the tedium of daily routine.  Throats tight.  Goodbyes whispered.  Eyes misty.  Silent walk to the parking lot as nearby jets rev their engines.  Quiet car ride to an empty house.  Prayers sent.  This storm, is it over or just beginning?  Trips to be planned.  Reunions in the future.  I wish that I had paid a little more attention to parenting while it was happening and savored those moments.  It went by fast.

R