Thursday, August 19, 2010

second hurdle...

The second big hurdle was my driver's license. It's actually been an ongoing problem and everytime we thought it was taken care of another surprise would be waiting.

This story starts from when I was young. When I was 12 I was rollerskating outside and when I was finished I couldn't get the laces undone so I skated into the basement to ask for help from my dad. I slippped and fell on my butt, passed out and had a seizure. My parents took me to the hospital where they checked me out and said I was fine. Mom was concerned because there was another episode when I was 2 or 3 where I had fallen down a few stairs and had a seizure so we went to our family doctor and they administered some other tests but nothing was found so we let it drop. When I was 14 and we were on vacation in Indiana, I had a really bad ear infection. Mom took me to a doctor there and I was sitting on the table after he had finished looking in my ears and suddenly I passed out. None of these episodes lasted very long but because there was an accident (falling down stairs, slipping on the concrete, ear infection) the doctors thought it was all related. Again they couldn't find anything wrong with me.

I went through high school without any other incident. When I was 20 I had a bad cold and I remember passing out in the bathroom but there was no seizure that time. Then I got married at 23 and within a year I had two more episodes. These were more random, there was no accident or injury of any kind. The first one happened after we had been out all morning, came home in the late afternoon and had a nap. The phone rang around 5:30pm and I got up to answer it. It was my MIL and I remember calling Chikara and when he came around the corner I was out cold on the floor. My MIL hung up and called my parents and Chikara called 911. Everyone arrived around the same time but I was already awake. We went to the emergency room and again, they checked me out but could find nothing wrong. We went to our doctor the next week and she basically laughed at our concerns and said I was young and nothing was wrong with me. We switched doctors.

After the second episode we went to the doctor but we got a similar response so we just let it drop. Within a year we were thinking about trying to get pregnant and Chikara wanted me to try one more time to make sure there was nothing wrong before we started trying. We went to yet another doctor and he was very nice and listened. He said it sounded like nothing was specifically wrong but since we were concerned he would ask a colleague of his who was a neurologist and if she thought it was worth pursuing he would give us a referral. She did want to see us so we went, repeated my history again, underwent some more tests (EEG, MRI) and then she gave us a definitive answer. I had a mild form of epilepsy, but I would only have a seizure if two of three situations coincided. If I had low blood sugar (like right before a meal), hadn't slept well or had an adrenalin rush and I bonked myself I would most likely have a seizure. I didn't need to take medicine for it.

You might be wondering at this point what any of this has to do with my driver's license and this is where these two stories intersect. The neurologist said that anyone who has a seizure has to report it to the DMV and you can't drive for a year in case you have a seizure while driving. Within a year if you haven't had a seizure then your doctor fills out a medical release form and the DMV will reinstate your license. The neurologist told me all of this but because it had been a year since my last siezure she would file both forms for me so there was nothing for me to do. She also told us it was fine for us to try and have a baby. We felt good about all the information we had received and especially Chikara's fears were relieved.

So I went on driving as I had since I was 16 and in 2001 we moved to Japan. Chikara also got his driver's license in the States so when we moved he went down to the DMV-equivalent here and switched his license over to a Japanese license. It was a hassle and he had to take the driving test three times before he passed but within a month it was all taken care of. To this day I'm still not sure why I didn't switch my license at the same time. I know I was 3 months pregnant and Emi was 8 months old but I should've just done it then. But we didn't own a car and I didn't know how to go anywhere so Chikara just drove us around. After we'd been in Japan for 3 years we bought our house and bought a car. I got an International Driver's License and drove with that for a couple of years. At one point I realized my American driver's license was going to expire so on the next trip back home I went down to the DMV to renew it. I was shocked to find out that my license was on medical suspense from 1999. Shocked!

There was nothing I could do about it on that trip so I made plans to take care of it on the next trip home. My mother called our old family doctor who agreed to see me and I had his office fill out the medical release forms. The DMV accepted them and my license was reinstated but I still had to take the written and driving tests again. I spent all of my 2005 vacation working on it but on the very last day I passed the driving test and received my new license. Yeah! On the drive back up to Canada by coincidence we ended up at the same rest area as my parents and when I showed them my license I felt like I was 16 again! I passed! I passed! It was a great feeling.

I came back to Osaka with my license and a new International Driver's License and my only goal was to switch to a Japanese license. Chikara started researching and that's when surprise number two came up. In order to switch the license you had to have lived in the country of issue for 90 days from the issue date. At that point I only had one day alltogether. Then I found out I was pregnant with Natsuki and we had to put this issue aside. Natsuki was born and we went back home again and I got another International DL and we came back and now I had amassed 15 days in the US. Honestly I didn't know what to do at this point and there were a lot of other things going on. Emi started elementary school and I just had my hands full so I just pushed the license issue to the end of the list and decided to work on it when some new info came up.

Time went by and then Gina got her Japanese DL so I e-mailed her and asked for some information and she told me that she and her husband had found that you didn't need 90 days in a row but it could be spread out over time. By then I'd been home one more time so I had around 50 days and we had another trip coming up so we just decided to hold out until we had 90 days and then we would go for it. The other option was going to driving school but that cost $3000 and would take a few months and that just wasn't possible with two young kids at home.

This year after our trip to Arizona I sat down with my passports to see how many days I had amassed and I realized that when we flew to Canada and then went into the States they didn't stamp my passport. I checked Chikara's passport and they only stamped coming into the States and not going out. There was no way to prove anything but even then I only had 85 days. pooh...

Then in July, I borrowed my friend's car to go to the hospital for my hyperthyroidism because Chikara needed our car because of his torn Achilles Heel (see how things snowball) and as I was pulling out of her driveway I noticed an old guy on a bicycle way down the street. I pulled out a bit and checked both ways and was about to turn when I noticed that the umbrella he was holding was blown by the wind in front of his eyes. As I watched he started to lose control of his bicycle while still trying to get control of his umbrella and because I wasn't used to my friend's car I couldn't back out of the way and even though there was tons of room to go around me he slammed right into the hood of her car. Fortunately I was stopped and he wasn't going very fast but he still fell down and scratched my friend's car. He got up and was apologizing and I was asking if he was OK. I wasn't sure what to do next but he asked me what we should do about the scratch on my car. I ran back and called my friend and she said it was fine because there were scratches all over and he apologized and rode away.

Everything turned out OK since the guy never reported the accident and our friends didn't care but this prompted Chikara to worry and he thought we should just go and try and switch my license. I was upset because it's easy to say but could make my life really difficult in the middle of everything else we're going through and I needed him to understand that. After many discussions and a little crying on my part he finally called the DMV here and talked to a really nice lady and she said we could come and ask for "advice" instead of actually applying and they would let me know.

So we did that and after a lot of questions and paperwork they decided to accept my license on the basis that it wasn't "renewed" it was "reinstated" according to some records I had requested. All of a sudden I'm taking the written test and signing stuff and then I was allowed to schedule my driving test, the last hurdle in a marathon of hurdles to get my license.

Gina wrote about it on her blog but basically the test (like all things in Japan) is not so much about your driving skill but about your skill at taking their driving test. They are looking for really picky things that no real driver does on an actual road. But I knew this and I'm prepared mentally and have memorized the course. I wake up really early last Friday morning and Chikara drops me off the DMV and before the doors open I walk through the course mentally going through every move. Then I go in and wait in the line, turn in my paper, pay the fee to rent their car and go to another room. I wait and then my name is called and I'm given a number. I watch the other foreign drivers take their test and no one is passing which makes me nervous. Then my number is called and I go downstairs and wait. When the car comes back the guy before me is next and I get to ride in the back and watch. Beside the guy before me in front is a proctor and beside me in the backseat is another proctor. He starts the test and I have no idea how he's doing. Both of the proctors are marking things but the guy makes it to the end and I get out and I can see they're telling him he passed. So what I saw was a good test.

Then it's my turn and I'm the last one so there's no one riding in the back and watching me. The front proctor calls my name and I go look under the front of the car and then under the back. I look both ways before opening the door and I sit down. I hand the proctor my forms and I put my bag in the back seat. I say my name and birthday and he shows me a few things about the car and the test begins. I adjust the seat and the mirrors, put on my seatbelt and start the car. I release the parking brake, look back on both sides, put the car in drive and pull out. The first time I use the brakes (right before entering the course) I realize they are very sensitive and this throws me off. I'm trying to do all I prepared for and not stop too jerky (jerkily?) and I get past the first corner, second corner, streetlight and to the next stop and the proctor stops me and tells me to go back to the beginning. He tells me that my braking is too soft (even though I completely stopped and counted to three) and that I'm not pulling to the side of the lane before turning. I am embaressed at this point but I know getting mad or asking questions is not going to help so I get out and go make another appointment for the following Wednesday and go home. Chikara commiserates with me and the girls can't figure out why I failed. Emi even gets mad on my behalf but that led to a good conversation about life.

From Friday to Wednesday the driving course keeps appearing in my dreams. No matter where my dream starts it ends on the driving course and even that never ends well. I'm not freaking out but the fact that I failed once and could still fail again is always in the back of my mind. There are so many things going on in these few weeks but if I can pass the test within my summer vacation then I don't have to fit it in with the girl's school schedules and my class schedule.

On Friday we go camping with our friends until Saturday. On Sunday we go to church and we host a somen party in the evening for church families (at the church not my house thankfully) and Monday we try to relax but we have to prepare for the church's childrens camp that we're leading. My sleep schedule goes all wonky and I start getting dizzy periodically but I figure if I can hold out for one more week then everything will calm down. Tuesday ends up being a work at home day but we go out in the evening for a bit since it is the last day of Chikara's summer vacation from work. I go to bed at 10:30 but I can't get to sleep. I have my alarm set for 6:30 so I can take a shower (just in case there's a need to take a picture) but 12am rolls around and I'm still not asleep, 1am comes and I'm tossing and turning. I did finally fall asleep but I didn't hear my alarm in the morning. Fortunately Chikara wakes me up with time to spare and I quickly get ready and he drops me off at the DMV to try again.

I do the whole thing again except this time I'm #7 out of 8 and the first three people pass! The next lady is called and then I'm called to go downstairs and wait. #4 doesn't pass and #5 comes back after the second turn. Then I sit in the back while #6 takes her test. She turns out to be an unbelievably awful driver. I was actually scared to be in the car and I was happy when they told her she'd lost too many points to be able to pass so she would have to go back to the start. I was soooo happy to get out of that car.

Then it's my turn. I do the whole check under the car thing and get in the car. I pass my forms to the guy (different guy than Friday) and say my name. He asks me to look front so he can confirm I'm wearing contacts. Then I start the test. I'm prepared to do some heavy braking this time so I pull out onto the course never going above 20km/h so it won't be too jerky. I make the first corner, lane change, the second corner, the street light, the third, fourth and fifth corner, lane change, street light again, turn into the S curve area, make the curve easily, turn two more times, head into the crank turn area, stop once to back up just in case, but make it through and then a few more turns and lane changes and I'm back to the start. I'm holding my breath but he says I pass!

After he makes sure I know where I'm supposed to go next (appreciate the thoroughness but not the condescension), I'm out of the car and done with the last hurdle. It takes until 3:30pm to complete the final steps like signing forms, secret codes and picture taking but I walked out holding my license and a real weight was lifted off my shoulders. I didn't realized how worried I was that I could be stopped by police and *have* to deal with this whole thing. I think not knowing how it would go but know it was complicated stopped me from just starting the process.

But there you go. Second hurdle. Done.

jumping the first hurdle...

Last Monday Chikara had a surprise day off. I needed to go to the shopping mall near us to make some appointments and get a few things. The mall is only 10 minutes away and even though our car overheats easily, up until now that distance doesn't cause any problems. I hopped in the car after Sakura and Natsuki were down for their nap and arrived without incident (and without A/C). I got all my errands finished and headed back home. There was a little bit of traffic and I had to wait at one red light but by the time I got home there was smoke coming out of the engine! I guess if we had nowhere to go then it wouldn't be a problem but we had two camps coming up and we needed to be able to drive at least an hour away safely. I walked into the house and told Chikara what had happened.

We started to brainstorm about possible solutions. We can't borrow a car from a friend during those times, it's too expensive to rent, we could see if we can pay to fix our car but it's only a stopgap measure, or we could buy a new car. Fortunately Chikara's job is buying cars at auction and selling them to other countries. We decided that Chikara would go in the morning and have our car looked at and at the same time we started looking at what cars were up for auction the next day. We lucked out that there was an auction going on in Kobe and we had to go to Kobe the next day for my doctor's appointment. If we could find a good car in our price range, we could conceivably pick it up and drive it right away. It would solve a lot of our problems.

So Chikara started researching cars that were available and showing them to me. After awhile the cars started to blur together in my head. Prices, colors, auction houses, car names were all swirling around in my head. Needless to say there were a few arguments and misunderstandings and after all that we didn't see anything we liked on Monday. At this point I wasn't sure what to do. Tuesday morning Chikara took our Odysey to Autobacs (car place!) and they said that the radiator is leaking fluid and the radiator fan isn't moving. They could fix our car for our $800 but we had already decided that if it was going to cost that much we would rather just look for a new car. The guy topped off the water in the radiator (?) and Chikara got back home around 10:30.

We had to leave for Kobe at 12:30 in order to make it in time for my doctor's appointment so Chikara started searching for cars again. Around 11:30 he showed me a car that was available at the Kobe auction that I liked the look of. The more he told me, the more I liked it and the more he researched about the car, the more he liked it! Again, I should mention that we had planned to do all of this in October when we had more time and money but after a few discussions on Monday we decided to try and get a car for about $2000 that would last us for a year and then we could try again to get a car that really met our needs. At this point we needed a car that seated all of us, had air conditioning and could fit two guitars in the trunk. This car met all of those needs. We debated for a few minutes, Chikara looked around to see if there was anything better and by 12 we had pressed the button and bought it! I was really relieved to have made that decision.

We left for Kobe as planned and we got stuck in traffic. We told our Odysey that it only had to take us as far as the hospital and we prayed that we would make it that far. At one point I was thinking just to abandon it on the side of the road and take a taxi. There was smoke coming out of the engine and to help the engine cool down we had the heater on full blast. The kids were so hot, especially Natsuki in her carseat, so I sat in the back with them and we talked and told jokes to pass the time. We were very happy when we made it to the hospital, parked that car and gave it a much needed rest.

I went into the hospital with the girls and Chikara took a taxi to the car auction place which turned out to be conveniently close to the hospital. I had hoped that Chikara would make it back in time for my appointment but there were a few hiccups at the auction place so my doctor agreed to wait until he could make it back. We saw the doctor (more on that later), Chikara asked a ton of questions, we paid and took the girls out to see our new (to us) car. The girls were so excited and we were just relieved to have made it to this point in the day!

One more wandering drive led us to a gas station to fill up the car and we got our first surprise. The engine is 3500cc's so the gas tank is bigger. It cost us $100 to fill up the tank! Yikes! With both cars we drove to Chikara's company to drop off our Odysey. It was a tedious drive with lots of lights and slow drivers (with an impromptu stop for dinner) but again the Odysey made it without breaking down and we were grateful to be able to clean it out and leave it parked there!

At this point it was 8:30pm and Chikara thought we should stop in to see the owner of his company. They live across the street from the company building but they are moving back to New Zealand next week and we thought this would be a good opportunity to say good-bye. They have four daughters like us and my girls love playing with them. We tried to call but there was no answer so we literally walked up and rang the doorbell! They are very gracious people and invited us in for some dessert. We chatted for about an hour and by this time we were pretty tired so I asked my girls to go to the bathroom before we left. Ten minutes later Misaki was the only one who hadn't used the bathroom so I rounded her up and told her to go. We were standing in the hallway and she opened the wrong door, closed it and went down the hallway a bit to the right door. She had accidentally opened the door to a storage closet and I had glimpsed a KitchenAid mixer. They had just finished telling us they couldn't bring any of their electrical appliances because the voltage is different and here I was looking at a KitchenAid mixer. Normally I would never ask but I knew the owner's wife would have no problem saying no to me so I asked if she was taking her KitchenAid with her. She asked me if I wanted it, I said are you sure (!) and she said she would lend it to me for the next five years until she comes back. So...


Chikara was a little shocked and offended that I had asked for her KitchenAid but she said she was glad someone who would really appreciate it would be using it. So I brought it home and the girls and I made delicious cookies the next day! We piled in our new car and drove home in comfortable silence and were very happy to get into our beds.

It's been 10 days since we bought our car and we keep discovering cool things about it. It has a rearview camera so you can see behind you when backing up. This has been awesome especially since it's a little wider than our Odysey so an even tighter fit getting into our garage. It has seat warmers which will be nice in the winter. The sliding doors are automatic so you can press a button to open them or just pull the handle and it slides open (awesome when I went grocery shopping). It has captain's chairs in the center aisle and fits three in the back seat. I went back there to try it out and there was a lot of leg room and the seat was very comfortable. The trunk is huge! The only drawback so far is the added gas expense so I'm keeping track to see how much more we end up spending and then we can decide if we'll sell it next year or keep it. We don't have to do the car inspection until next August so that has given us a little breathing room. With all that we only paid $2200 after fees and taxes so we are pretty happy.

It's a Honda LaGreat and has some relation to an Odysey which is nice because all the buttons are in the same place on the console! It has 135,500 kilometers on it but the guy who owned it before took very good care of it so it should last until next August if not longer. Mostly I'm just hoping it lasts through the hot summer!!!

So one of the problems of 2010 has been dealt with. One hurdle has been jumped. I'm praying everything else resolves as quickly.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

remember me?


I was reading through my blog looking for something I had written about the girls and it was so much fun! I had forgotten some of the cute things the girls had said and a few of the parenting struggles we'd gone through. As I was reading I realized that I should keep up this "recordkeeping" in some shape or form. I was cleaning out our loft and I came across my baby book. My mom wrote a lot about my first year and then after that for birthday or other events she would write little snippets of what I was like at that age. I'm sure my youngest brother would be shocked to learn that "it was heartwarming to see how much Sarah takes care of Joel". I know I was! So even though it may be of no interest to anyone but me and my family I am going to try and continue to write about our lives.

2010 has proved to be a more interesting year than I anticipated in all sorts of ways.

January- recuperating from the holidays
February - a bad throat infection for me, another febrile seizure for Natsuki
March - went to visit my brother and his family in Arizona for Spring Break, got another throat infection
April - school starts (Emi - 4th grade, Misaki - 3rd grade, Sakura - kindergarten), my doctor runs some tests and discovers that I have hyperthyroidism (my dad had this when he was about my age), Natsuki gets chicken pox
May - Golden Week (awesome!), get a reaction to the first medicine for hyperthyroidism, Natsuki figures out how to use the toilet!
June - Chikara tears his Achilles Tendon playing basketball and has to have surgery to repair it, Natsuki has another febrile seizure this time because we all contracted Hand Foot Mouth Disease! She also is completely potty-train, even wearing panties at night. Yeah!
July - I have an allergic reaction to the second medicine for hyperthyroidism, Chikara continues physical therapy for his leg and fortunately is still able to go to work since it is his left leg that was injured, also I had a minor car accident while borrowing my friend's car
August - found out that the DMV will accept my driver's license (long story) so I'm on the way to getting my Japanese driver's license. Just a driving test left to pass! To top it all off, our car starts acting weird and now it overheats if we use the A/C.

So that's the first part of 2010 in a nutshell. Amazingly even in the middle of the craziness God really protected us. For example, we were informed that it would cost around $2000 (after insurance) for Chikara's surgery but it ended up costing only $500. Phew! Also the guy on the bicycle that ran into me when I was completely stopped in my friend's car never made a claim. Double phew! Through everything I find the most exhausting part was just all the thinking and planning and coming up with answers for every possible scenario. Also, usually I'm pretty healthy but with the hyperthyroidism, although not severe, still made me tired and the allergic reactions were a huge distraction. But we made it this far in one piece and the kids have been very helpful. So glad we didn't have to take care of a baby through all of this!

We still have a few hurdles in front of us. We will be going to the my doctor on Tuesday. There are no more types of medicine to treat my hyperthyroidism so the next step is using radioactive iodine to kill off part of my thyroid and if that doesn't work then I'll have to have surgery to remove part of it. We'll see what happens on Tuesday. Also, our car is acting weird so instead of buying a new car in October like we planned we'll have to do it now. I hate making rush decisions so I'm praying that we find the perfect car for us quickly. Lastly, I need to pass the driving test to get a Japanese driver's license within August. We're just too busy from September for me to be going over there all the time. For those of you who don't know, the driving tests in Japan are killer. There is just a certain way they want you to drive the course and if you don't do it exactly right then the tester just sends you back to the beginning without an explanation. Fingers crossed that everything goes well on the 13th.

What else can I say? I have been very thankful for my friends during this time and of course my family supporting us through the phone!

Please enjoy these pictures of  us...

November 2009 - Our First Trip to Disneyland

March 2010 - Most of my family together in Arizona!

August 2010 - The girls in their yukatas for a summer festival

Well, that's it for now.