Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas from Okinawa!

As our Christmas is coming to an end, and many of our friends' and families' is just beginning we thought we'd take the time to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah! We had a very relaxing day of opening presents, walking the dog, playing some dominoes, and cooking the non-traditional Christmas dinner of smoked ribs! Chris really should go into business because those ribs were gooooood! Here are some photos from the squadron Christmas party (that looks strikingly similar to pics a couple years ago when I wore a different black dress), a hike we went on on Christmas Eve, and our Christmas day feast! I hope everyone had as peaceful a Christmas as we did.




And a couple holiday videos with well wishes and pets with presents!
Our Christmas Eve Hike:

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Rana's first Christmas present:

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Less than 10 minutes later:

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Don't worry, kitty gets presents too!:

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VIDEO UPDATE

We had some requests for video of Rana and Oscar's first meeting. Well, it's finally ready! Here you go:

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These two are still not friends, but we're keeping our fingers crossed for someday!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Who Says You Can't Go Home Again?

Well, after a long blog break I am back! I just got back from a 3+ week trip to Florida and it was fantastic. My main reason for heading to the sunshine state was for my best friend Mary's wedding. However, since airfare is so high and the trip is so long I decided to extend my stay and get in as much family and friend time as I could. It was a good thing that I got to Florida a couple weeks before the wedding because I am not kidding when I say the jet lag kicked my butt for about 8 days! I would try to not nap during the day but would get so cranky that my family would tell me to go lay down.

The first big family event that took place was on 25 November when we celebrated my Grandma McSwain's 90th birthday. She is physically healthy, but suffers from dementia/Alzheimer's. Well, the whole family went to her assisted living home and used the private dining room to help her celebrate her 90 years with Sonny's BBQ and a Publix cake big enough to feed all of the home's residents. I think that the first 30 or 45 minutes she actually recognized a lot of us. She might not have known our names, but she at least knew we were family. It was a really nice evening.

The next event we shared with most Americans - Thanksgiving! We had a small family dinner at Monica's with her inlaws. It was very nice. Brian fried a turkey for the first time and I got to say frying turkey just makes it better - it was so delicious! Mom of course made her sweet rolls, Monica made a lot of stuff including the pumpkin pie and a delicious brie appetizer, her inlaws brought some dishes, and I brought Chris' mom's stuffing. It got rave reviews; it can really be a meal on its own. Everything was wonderful and it was nice to actually be with family (besides Chris of course) for a holiday.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving Mom and I headed to Cocoa Beach to run a half marathon on Sunday. We got there just in time to pick up our packets and head to the hotel. Once we checked in we watched the Gators absolutely destroy Florida State! Woohoo - what a great day! We woke up early Sunday and caught the shuttle to the race. It was a beautiful course with the Indian River on one side and absolutely gorgeous homes on the other side. The race started at 6 and it was already mid-60s with very high humidity. Besides a stitch in my side everything was going well and at the half way point we were on schedule to get a 2:05. Then at mile 7 my wheels fell off. I started getting nauseous and dry heaving. This forced me to walk a couple times and I also had to visit a port-a-potty. Talk about gross! Mom stuck with me through my pain until the end where she sprinted ahead finishing in just under 2:18 and I finished just over 2:18. This was by far my slowest half marthon, but I was pretty happy I gutted it out. Plus, we realized the added bonus the next day when we looked online at the results and realized that mom had gotten 3rd in her age group! She probably would have gotten second if we had stayed on pace. That has given her great motivation to keep training for a half in Gainesville in February.

The next week was pretty low key and I just hung around and helped Mary with wedding prep. Mom and I were in charge of the rehearsal dinner desserts and we really turned it out - if I do say so myself! We made pound cake, a brownie trifle, white chocolate cheesecake with a white chocolate brandy sauce, and tiramisu layer cake! They were all well received. Saturday, 6 December, was the big day and I went to Mary's in the morning to help another bridesmaid, Pam, create the bouquets. The day before we discovered that the florist didn't actually have the flowers that Mary had special ordered so it was a bit of a scramble, but the bouquets turned out great.

I returned at 4 (also the kick off time for the SEC Championship) to find out that Mary and I needed to be changed and made up so we could go with the photographer to get some couple pictures before the wedding. Sadly, there was to be no Gator game for me that afternoon. After the pictures we went to the Baughman Center on Lake Alice on the University of Florida campus for the wedding. Everything went very smoothly. Our friend Howard did great on the piano, nobody tripped, and Mary looked stunning when she entered the church. I actually teared up a little, but pulled it together because I know Mary would have kicked my butt if I she got to the front and I was crying. The ceremony went well and while the bridesmaids were trying to hold back laughter all of the boys were tearing up - at least the groom (Rob), the best man (Rob's brother Colin), and another groomsmen (Pete)! Man, what a bunch of softies! We exited just in time to hear the cheering coming from around campus as the Gators beat 'Bama and clinched a ticket to the Big Game! After more pictures we headed to the reception.

At the reception I immediately took advantage of the free wine and beer bar downing a couple white zinfandels in anticipation of the speech I was going to give. I absolutely hate public speaking and know that I was still shaking, despite the wine, but the speech went well and I was able to make Mary and her mom cry. The evening continued with some great music and a lot of dancing. Just before the bride and groom departed our good friend Eddie Eddie Leonard sang Ring of Fire with just the guests clapping to keep rhythm. It was an incredible moment and Mary teared up again. All in all it's my second favorite wedding ever - after mine of course!

At the beginning of the following week I drove up to the panhandle to see my friends from England that are now stationed at Hurlbert. I got to spend a lot of time with Jessica and her twin girls and also got to see Josefina and Stephanie (with her adorable, new son Luke) for a dinner one evening. It was so great to see all of them. It reminded me of how much I liked England and what a hard time I'm having making friends in Japan, but like Monica reminds me "you didn't really like England for the first 6 months either". So, I'm going to hang in there and know friends are just around the corner.

While I was in Gainesville I also got to see my friend from undergrad, Lisa. She's the most incredible woman ever and had an amazing 23 year old son to prove it. She's really a great person and I'm so happy she has found a job and a house that she absolutely loves - she really deserves it! I also got to see my best friend from middle school, Kristina. Talk about a blast from the past! We spent an afternoon together and it was like we haven't been apart for the last 20 years! It was just so easy and it's funny how much we have in common.

The Friday before I left Monica had Nick and Brittany (my niece and her husband) over and we had an early Christmas. It was so nice to have everyone together and Monica and Mom did a great job with the food! Monica's house and tree looked beautiful and it actually cooled down a little and felt like it could be Christmas - at least a Florida Christmas.

The next day, after Andrew's Reindeer Run, Mom, Monica, Andrew, and I headed to Crystal River to go swimming with the manatees! It was magical! The water was actually warmer than the air temp and with wetsuits it wasn't too bad. The manatees were amazing and we actually got to pet them! It was awesome! Plus, we got to see babies with the moms - too cute! We also swam back into Three Sisters Spring and it was stunning! We saw tons of different fishes and even one slider (that's a turtle to all my northern friends!). When we got back on the boat there was hot chocolate waiting - a perfect end to a perfect day.

I think that's about it for my trip home. I really squeezed in a lot! It was great to see everyone, but I was just as happy to see Chris and Rana at the airport!

There will be pictures posted soon! My grandma gave us a new camera for Christmas and I need to get it synced up with the computer (for those of you who know me you know that means I need to wait for Chris to have some time to get the camera and the computer talking!) We're headed to the squadron Christmas party tonight so I'm sure I'll have more to report soon. If I don't get to talk to you have a great Christmas and Hannukah! Our cards are going to be slightly delayed because of my travels, but I promise they are coming eventually!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

On the Road Again...

Thanks to everyone who has been keeping tabs on our blog. I just wanted to let you know there might be a little lull in posts because I'm headed to the states and it sounds like Chris is going to be kept very busy here. I'll get to be in Gainesville for my grandma's 90th birthday party, Thanksgiving, to run a half marathon with my mom, Mary's wedding, the SEC Championship Game (GO GATORS!), and my family is going to have an early Christmas while I'm there - sounds like a full trip! I'll be back in Japan mid-December and start posting again.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Hair Raising Adventure

Ok, ok, so it wasn't hair raising like the Sixth Sense, but definitely a little frightening. On Friday I got my first haircut in Japan - from a real Japanese person. You're probably thinking, "what's the big deal?" So, I will tell you my 3 reasons it was a big deal: 1. I only know how to say yes, thank you, and excuse me in Japanese, 2. Japanese people don't tend to have curly/unruly hair, and 3. I am overly capable of getting a bad haircut when I am able to communicate to the hairdresser in my primary language. However, I overcame my hesitation when I looked in the mirror and noticed that I resembled a chia pet.

I tried to get a wife from the squadron to do it, but she has sold all her equipment and is out of the biz. So, I started reading reviews online and there seemed to be a concensus that Mr. Miyagi at Cocok's (pronounced Cocoa's) was the person to go to if you have curly hair. I know - when I heard the name I immediately thought of Karate Kid too (wax on, wax off Daniel-san). My confidence went up when I called to make the reservation and the receptionist spoke very good English.

I got there on Friday and was not seated long when I realized Mr. Miyagi speaks no English - zero, zip, nada! At the beginning of your appointment they do give you a translator to tell him what you want. It just so happens that on the day of the haircut my hair wasn't actually as big as usual so I tried to explain to the translator that my hair is usually curly. In response to this she said, "you want palm? you want palm?" I had no idea what she was talking about until she asked one final time and made a spiral motion with her finger. She wanted to know if I wanted a PERM! I really had to stop myself from walking out as I flashbacked to my aunt Wanda giving me 2 perms in 24 hours when I was about 12 - don't ask why because I definitely didn't need more curl; you just never say no to Wanda! So after I said no perm, the first translator left and sent in another one.

The second one seemed to be getting the message across to Mr. Miyagi, but I still wasn't overly confident since I could not understand anything that they were saying!! She asked if I wanted bangs, which I politely refused and then asked me if I brought pictures. Now my American hairdressers always told me to not bring in magazine pictures because you never knew what kind of hair the models had and if your hair would do the same thing. Well, in Japan it's a good idea to bring pictures so they at least get a rough idea of what you want. I had an older picture of me that Mr. Miyagi went off.

The end result is a haircut that I would give an 8 out of 10. For me that is a complete success!! It would have been a 10 if I had known how to tell him to round it more - it's just a little too square. Overall, I am very happy and I'm sure when I go to the states in a week I'll have lots of pictures taken at Mary's wedding and I'll post some.

I hope everyone has a great week and HOW 'BOUT THEM GATORS?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Konnichi wa Oscar!

Well, with the help of Sandy and Karna, Oscar has made the journey from England to Japan! Our little family is now complete. You would not believe the paperwork that goes into transporting a cat - and it was supposedly easy since it was from a rabies free to rabies free country! He was originally supposed to fly out last week, but with a mix up in paperwork he was delayed by a week. Because of these delays and new paperwork, Oscar's quick check up by the vet turned into 4 vet trips (thank you Sandy and Karna!). Sandy also took a day off work and Karna used her Veteran's Day holiday to drive Oscar to the airport and get him started on his trip. We figure with the time it took Sandy to get to the airport, the flights and layovers, me taking him to the base vet to check him in, and then driving home the poor cat was in the crate for about 44 hours! You can bet by the time he got out he was ready for some love - maybe we should lock him in a box more often!

We gave him a few hours to adjust and then introduced him to his new little sister, Rana. That meeting did not go so well. Oscar just wants to be left alone and Rana just wants to play - it was a bad combination. Rana definitely took the brunt of the encounter and came away with a bloody ear and a busted blood vessel in her eye! Even with all that she refuses to leave Oscar alone - maybe she's not as smart as we thought. We did take some video of their first meeting, but Chris took the camera with him so we'll have to upload it later. Poor Rana's tail is going a million miles a minute the whole time - please, please be my friend, she says! She is so sweet. I think in a week or so Oscar will at least tolerate her without drawing blood - keep your fingers crossed! So, a BIG domo arigato to Sandy and Karna!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Tour of the Stewart House

Hey everyone!

Here's a video clip of our house. Please come see it in person! I miss everyone!


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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Rana

So, since Chris is away and we're waiting on our cat, Oscar, to make it here from England, I thought I'd show off our newest baby, Rana. I know there have already been pictures of her, but this blog will be completely dedicated to her.

As far as we know Rana is 6 months old. We told ourselves we were going to get an adult mutt on the small side of medium with short fur. The only requirement we met was the short fur part. She's definitely a puppy, with the size of her feet it appears that she'll be pretty big, and the older she gets the more people think she could be a pure German Short Hair Pointer. I loved her picture when I saw it on the adoption site, but tried to avoid looking because she was a puppy. Then Chris saw the picture and said, "Her tail's a blur she's wagging it so fast. We've got to get that dog." So as soon as we landed in Japan we emailed Rana's foster mom and set up a meeting. We were done after that. She was too cute to pass up and we fell in love with her immediately.

After 2 months we are still convinced we made the right choice. Rana is precious, sweet, and smart. She doesn't have very good dog etiquette yet - she wants to jump and play on any dog she meets instead of doing the polite thing and sniffing and getting sniffed - but I'm sure we'll be able to train some manners into her. She learned sit, paw, and waiting for her food very quickly. Plus, she hasn't had an accident in a long time (knock on wood).

I'm attaching some videos so you can see just how cute she is. Make sure you have your speakers turned on for the narration, but please ignore the cutesy baby voice I use in some of them - Rana brings out the sap in me.

This first video is Rana meeting her new squeaky duck:

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This next one shows how smart Rana is. She could do this dinner trick within her first 2 weeks with us.

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This last clip shows off Rana's tricks, kind of...

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Check out the Pictures of Our Travels folder in the next few days for some Rana still shots.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Beach Adventure

So, this past Thursday Rana and I met up with Rachel (Rana's foster mom) and Sylvi and Mira (Rana's foster sisters) for a walk on the beach up in Yomitan. It was an absolutely gorgeous day and we went at low tide so we'd be able to walk farther. Rana couldn't have been happier with this week's adventure because she absolutely loves annoying other dogs!
The beach near Yomitan is a really cool mix of sand and shells, rock outcroppings, cliffs, and caves. There are even some tombs built right into the sides of the cliff walls and from the flowers and candles left there it looks like they still get visited. Because it was low tide there were some incredible tidal pools. We saw tons of fishes, sea urchins, sea stars, sea cucumbers, and crabs.




The dogs were having a blast. Mira loves chasing the birds, while Rana and Sylvi just liked running and wrestling and of course cooling off in the ocean. They all get along really well and it took away some of my guilt for not getting another dog for Rana to play with. I know she'd love to have someone around to play with all the time, but while we're in an apartment I can't even imagine having 2 dogs all the time! It would be craziness and probably lead to me getting cranky. I think that will change when we move into a house some day and I can just throw them out in the backyard.
Well, we're all having a great time - the sun is shining, the dogs are getting some energy out, and Rachel is easy to talk to - when I go and pull my infamous Cape of Good Hope stunt out of my bag. For all of you who don't know, while in South Africa this summer we went to the Cape of Good Hope where I immediately preceded to slip on some rocks and come directly down on my elbow. Chris says it's the only time he's seen me cry from physical pain, but I did save the camera from getting smashed! So, on the beach at Yomitan I didn't smash my elbow, but I did slip on some algae covered rocks scraping my right leg, taking a chunk out of my 4th toe and splitting my big toe nail down the middle about a third of the way before slamming my knee into a rock. Man did that hurt! However, I again managed to save the camera! I think it's all my years of field work - 'Must save the equipment! Sacrifice yourself!' All I could think of was, 'Mom and I just paid a big entry fee to do a half marathon when I go back to Florida. This better not screw it up!' And I don't think it will. I laid off the workouts for a couple days and tomorrow I plan on getting in my long run. I'm sure it will all be fine.

After a slightly more tentative walk back to Rachel's house she made us an incredible lunch of grilled pizza! She has a "No Knead Pizza Dough" recipe that she swears by and now I do to. It was delicious! While we lunched we kept the salty,wet dogs at bay in her backyard and as you can see by the pictures they were not happy with this type of abuse. Well, the pizza was delicious, the conversation was easy and unforced, and the beach was beautiful. All in all I'd say it was a pretty good day! Plus, all that running and wrestling tuckered Rana out so we both got a good night's sleep!


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Long time no write!

I know, I know I've been slacking on keeping the blog up to date. I'd like to say it's because I've made so many friends and am now doing so much stuff that I just don't have time to write, but that would be a lie. However, I am doing more.

I did miss one week's adventure because I was planning on visiting the zoo and it rained all day, but I did get to the zoo the following week. Sorry for the lack of pictures. I took the camera with me and after I took my first shot the camera turned off because I hadn't charged the battery - doh! I might have to go back just for pictures because there was lots to see!

Before going to the zoo I had read quite a few reviews online and wasn't really expecting a lot. Most people who reviewed the Okinawa Zoo (it really has a much longer name that I can't remember) complained that the enclosures were too small. I really didn't think it was that bad. Besides the lions and tigers' cages I thought most animals got an acceptable amount of room. It might not be as good as the larger American zoos, but it was definitely comparable to any local or community zoo I've been to in the states. Plus, it was extremely clean and the animals seemed well cared for. Some of the animals they have are lions, tigers, lots of different monkeys, cool birds, native horses, a bear, koala bears, a lot of snakes and lizards, a half dozen different crocodiles and alligators (gave me the willies), elephants, giraffes, hippos, and lots more. Plus, you can get a close up look of the HUGE fruit bats that you can see flying around the island - very cool! It is also very kid oriented. There is a petting zoo and rides. The zoo is beautifully landscaped and offers some really incredible views out to the ocean. The entrance fee is only $5 and for an additional $2 you can go to their Discovery Museum. This is definitely intended for kids and is fantastic. I know I didn't get everything out of it because 1. I'm too old and 2. I don't speak/read Japanese. I didn't see any English translations, but all of the employees seemed very nice and patient. One even walked me through a couple activities. It was well worth the 2 bucks.
Stay tuned for the next adventure!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Breakthrough! Woohoo!

So, it finally happened! I've met exercise partners! YAY! And it all happened because I joined the swim team. On Saturday the swim team had a fundraiser for the kids' side of the group, to raise money for them to get to international swim meets. Chris and I weren't going to volunteer, we thought we'd just drop off some of the world's best chocolate chip cookies and high tail it out of there. But being the punctual people we are, we were some of the first to arrive so we decided to stick around until more help showed up. Chris was the grill master serving up some tastey hotdogs while I worked the bake sale part of it. Well, while I was at the table another volunteer was talking to a lady who said 'I have to plan an 8 mile run for tomorrow.' The longer I'm a military spouse the bolder I get because I interrupted her and said, 'Excuse me, is there some kind of running club on the island because I haven't been able to find one?' And Tiffany said, 'We're not really a club, just a group of women who get together and run on a Sunday morning.' It sounded perfect, so she told me the time and place they were meeting and I agreed to see her the next morning.

Well, a little later in the morning a new volunteer, Kathleen, showed up and she mentioned biking earlier that morning. Chris had gone out biking earlier that morning and while on the way back from base with his bike in his van he saw 3 ladies biking. So, at a red light he rolls down the window and says,'Hey ladies! Just wondering if you let new people bike with you because my wife is looking for people to ride with'. Well, the lady said yes, but the light changed before any real details could be exchanged. It just so happens that the lady on the bike was Kathleen! Small world, huh? So, now I have a group to bike with - as soon as I get my bike!

I met the running group at 5:30 am Sunday for an 8 mile run. I was slightly apprehensive since I hadn't really been doing anything over 5, but figured with group support I'd make it. The group only had 5 this time (Tiffany says that sometimes it's as many as 24!). I started off with another Amy and we were very similar in pace, but she turned around early because of shin pain. There was no way I could catch up with the 2 front runners so I dropped back with Nadine and we ran the rest together. It was a nice, comfortable run and it was the farthest Nadine has ever run! Plus, while running I mentioned ultimate frisbee and Nadine is friends with the guy who runs ultimate here in Okinawa! So, in 2 days I went from having no connections to having running partners, a bike group, and an in on the ultimate! Woohoo!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Stewart Weekend

We got a bit of a late start Saturday because I made Chris cinnamon rolls for the first time in a long time. After our sugary feast we made our way to a local produce market and fish market. The produce on base can be really pricey (over $5/lb of bell peppers) and isn't always that fresh. So, we checked out a produce market recommended by Rana's foster mom, Rachel, and we weren't disappointed. It's nice getting locally grown produce because you know it's fresh and you're lessening your carbon footprint when your food doesn't have to travel as far, but in this case it is also way cheaper! We loaded up on peppers, onions, bananas, apples, and pineapple! Everything so far has been delicious!

After stocking up on fruit and veggies we headed to the sea port to check out the fish market. Basically, you can't get fish any fresher. They sell whatever they caught that morning so you know it's fresh. We got a big chunk of tuna that Chris cut into steaks, rubbed with a blackened mix and grilled for dinner. It might be the best fish we've ever eaten! It was delicious!


Saturday afternoon the family headed out for a little kayaking. We don't have our "real" kayak yet - it's being shipped from our long term storage in Corpus Christi - but we have an inflatable one that I gave to Chris for his birthday years ago that we thought we'd try out. We assumed that since Rana loves the water so much she'd love kayaking. Boy, were we wrong! We got to the beach and our little web-toed baby ran right into the water, but once we put her into the boat she panicked. For a while Chris would paddle while I tried to keep Rana calm up front, but then she decided the back looked better so I got a turn to paddle. I think our whole kayaking venture lasted 10-15 minutes - Rana just wasn't happy! It was pretty wavy so we're hoping she'll like it more on a calm day. Even though she didn't like the kayak, she sure looks cute in her life jacket!

Sunday morning we got up and took the dog for a nice long walk. One of the unique things about Okinawa are the vending machines. It's not that they are overly strange, but there are just so many of them! In our three and a half mile walk we have 36 vending machines selling drinks and 5 selling cigarettes. They do have sodas, including Coke Zero and Mountain Dew, but the majority of their drinks are iced coffees and teas. You can definitely get your caffeine fix here. The other thing you will see lots of our tombs. There are family tombs where they put their ancestors' cremated remains. During part of their mourning/burial ritual they pass the non-cremated bones from one family member to the next with chopsticks to then put in the urn. That ritual is why when you're out to eat you never ever pass food with chopsticks - it is considered very disrespectful to the dead. After our family walk we came home and watched the Gators absolutely whip LSU's butt!

Sunday afternoon we headed to Naha (the biggest city/district on Okinawa) to participate in the world's largest tug of war. Chris did a great job getting us there. To avoid traffic we parked at the airport and took the monorail into the city. The monorail was very easy to use. Unlike the Metro in Paris and the Tube in London, the monorail is clean and air conditioned! I had heard some scary stories that they herd you on to the monorail until you're packed in like cattle, but it really wasn't bad. On the way back to the car there were tons of people getting on. There were actually people at the monorail doors that would only allow a certain number of people on. It was a little crowded, but nothing like when I rode the Metro with Mary and we had to get way too personal with strangers! Plus, it appears that the Japanese wear deodorant, unlike some countries we've been to.

So these folks are serious about their tug of war. I don't know how long the rope is, but it's as tall as my chest when it's sitting on the ground. There are smaller ropes hanging off that people grab on to for pulling. Traditionally, the tug of war was between the farmers and the fishermen. Whoever won was believed to be destined to have a more bountiful year. Now it's just kind of a free-for-all. I think there were definitely as many Americans as there were Japanese (there are at least 5 bases on this little island). Chris and I were able to grab on to the rope and give a tug, but there was definite potential for a trampling. I got some pretty good video if you want to watch -
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It was really a festival-like atmosphere with balloons, school kids playing traditional Okinawan drums, and greasy, yummy food. We split a dish that we couldn't identify but that looked delicious. We were not disappointed. We think it had egg, maybe potato, cabbage, maybe some pickled ginger, and a couple kind of sauces. Maybe it's an Okinawan omelet?! Check out the rest of the pictures from the weekend at the 'Pictures of Our Travels' link on the left!


Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Scariest Adventure Yet!

So, I decided to switch things up a bit this week. Instead of going somewhere new for my adventure I decided to try something new. As you read this blog you will understand why there are no accompanying pictures.

I tried to couple my quest with getting to know people with my desire to stay fit and went out for the swim team. The adventure began with the drive. Swim practice is at Camp Foster, a Marine base. This was by far the longest, most traffic-filled drive I've done since we got to the island and I had to do it in reverse in the dark on the way home. I'm definitely getting more comfortable with the driving.

Now back to the swimming. Luckily, there are no tryouts to get on this team. You just come out and you're on the team. Now, the website says you can come out for competition, to meet people, or just have fun. Doesn't that sound good? I can now say that I didn't really get to meet anybody. There was one lady running the practice and the only other participants were 4 young, male, enlisted Marines. They were nice enough, but I'm pretty sure we're not going to be hanging out.

I can also report that there wasn't really a whole lot of fun involved, but it was an incredible work out and I walked out of the pool feeing pretty proud and accomplished. You warm up from 5-5:30. This alone scared me since when Chris and I go swim laps we're in the pool for under 40 minutes for our entire workout. At 5:30 the real pain begins. There are 3 levels - blue=fastest, white=medium, and red=slowest. Everyone is swimming for the same amount of time, but for different distances. For example, everyone might get 10 minutes, but the blue have to swim 700m, white swims 500m, and red swims 300m. Well, I could do about half the medium drills and had to drop to the red level for the other half. Including warm up, I swam over a mile and a half last night!

The team practices 4 times a week, but I'm only planning on 2 times a week so I can keep up my other activities. Chris and I are both planning on doing some triathlons and I really think this will help. Who knows - maybe there will be another woman there next week!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Amy and Rana go to Zakimi Castle


In an effort to force myself out of the house my goal of going to one new place a week continues. This past Thursday Rana and I made our way to Zakimi Castle. It's further away than the gardens, but we made it there and back with no problem. We had driven past it before when going to Rana's foster family so it wasn't completely new, but still the furthest I've driven on my own since being here.

So, to say that Zakimi is a castle is perhaps a slight exaggeration. It is more accurately the site of castle ruins. It's still pretty cool though. The site is surrounded by pine trees and currently those trees are full of cicadas just screaming their little bug hearts out. I didn't see a single one, but man were they loud. Chris and I have heard them on our evening walks with Rana, but the ones here were almost deafening. I've read that these are the cicadas that only come out every 17 years so they're trying to mate for all their worth.


The castle wasn't very crowded but there were some Japanese kids there on a school trip. I'd say about 75% of the kids were afraid of Rana while the others wanted to pet her. She is all about getting some loving and after being corrected at the beginning was quite good about not jumping up. Most of the boys were playing baseball - it's huge here- while most of the girls were playing a king of jumping/rhythm game. Two girls would stand about 8 feet apart facing each other with a stretchy rope around the outsides of their ankles while the other girls would jump in and out of the rectangle that was formed. It reminded me of a game we played in elementary school P.E. that our teacher told us was from Hawaii. I was surprised at how few of the children spoke English. I really did think that the younger kids would be learning English in school, but I guess not. I am getting pretty good at charades though!

Zakimi was a castle built in the early 15th century. There were lots of castles built in Japan between the 12th and 15th centuries so this time was known as the Gusuku (castle) Era. The remains are still pretty intact and you can see that it would have made a pretty effective stronghold because the walls were at least 8-10 feet thick. The area surrounding it is a really nicely landscaped park and gives you beautiful views of the East China Sea.

Our favorite part of the outing took place on our walk back to the parking lot. We found a little ice cream cafe that had a window to order from which meant I could get a treat without leaving the dog outside. I got a scoop of mango ice cream and it was delicious - it tasted a little more peachy/apricoty, but it was smooth and cold on a hot day. Rana talked me in to sharing and she agrees that is was quite tasty.

I still need to come up with next week's adventure, but there are plenty of options for me here in Okinawa.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Leaving Comments

I adjusted the settings on the blog and now anyone can leave comments, so you don't need an account to comment on one of our posts. Thanks to Sandy for pointing it out, I didn't know you needed an account to leave comments. Feel free to say hello!

My First Bike Ride


Hey everybody!
Today I entered the world of cycling with a few friends of mine who I met out here in Japan. I got my new bike in the mail last week and with the help of my friend Sam we got it all put together and adjusted. The frame is aluminum with carbon fork and seat stays, carbon crank and Shimano Ultegra components (don't worry I'm not sure what all that means either, but I'm told it's a pretty sweet bike). Anyway, there's a group of people that ride on Saturday mornings around the base and I met up with them for three laps around the flightline for a grand total of 26 miles or so. We kept a pretty good pace with an average of about 18mph. It didn't really feel that taxing to me, but my rear still has to get used to the seat. Hopefully I'll be able to sit down tomorrow. The weather today was beautiful and Amy and I are now on our way to a squadron Luau. It should be pretty fun. I'm looking into some triathlons in the future, but haven't picked one out just yet. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Internet and Phone!


Our internet was turned on today so we can stop stealing our neighbors wireless connection. That means the Vonage phone number is up and running so feel free to give us a call. Keep in mind the time difference. This clock can tell you what time it is here. Talk to you soon!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Adventures of Amy (and Rana)

So, I'm going to come clean and admit that I've been moping for the past week or so. Pretty much as soon as Chris had to go back to work I went into full time mope mode. At first I could blame it on the fact that we only had one car and if Chris was on base I was pretty much stuck at home, but then Chris got his van and for almost a week while he went to work I still didn't venture out. But, that is all changing now! I gave myself a good talking to and a good kick in the rear and am committing to going somewhere new at least once a week. This might be a new beach, restaurant, store, whatever. As long as I get myself out of the apartment. No more "woe is me" and no more being scared of getting lost when trying to find things. Ok, I'm still a little scared of getting lost, but I'm not going to let that hold me back.

So, my first adventure I played it a little safe and headed to the Southeast Botanical Garden Okinawa. It's only about 5K from the house and I had seen signs before so I was fairly confident I wouldn't get too lost and I didn't. Rana and I got there safe and sound and boy were we in for a treat. The botanical garden is absolutely gorgeous! All around Okinawa there's lots of green and trees because the weather makes it so things are constantly growing, but the garden was amazing. I don't think I've been anywhere that was so perfectly manicured. As we were walking through the word that kept running through my head was lush. I mean we are living on a tropical island so I should have expected it, but everything was just so...lush. They had over 40 species of palm trees, tons of hibiscuses (hibisci?), bouganvilla, lilies, and some fantastic water features.

It was a very hot day and Rana was all too happy to check out the water features. I'm doubting that this was really allowed, but I was totally willing to play the dumb American if it meant that she could cool down a little. The first time was no biggie because it was just a shallow fountain area that she could jump in and out of. The second one, however, proved to be a bit more tricky. There was a long, rectangular pool that was just covered in water lettuce. I thought Rana was just going to take a quick drink, but I should have known better because she jumped right in. Unfortunately the walls were straight up and down so here I am with the big digital camera around my neck, carrying a backpack and fishing my little frog dog out of the pool. Luckily noone was around so we just pretended like nothing happened.

Most of the time I let Rana choose our path because she's pretty smart about heading for the shade. With this random method of travel I'm not sure if I saw everything but everything I did see was fantastic. I think my favorite part was this pond that had to be at least an acre and it was just full of lotus. It's not blooming right now, but the leaves were still beautiful and green and the brown, honey-comb like seed holders were really cool. There were lots of boardwalks criss-crossing the pond and lots of picnic areas that were great for resting a pooped pup.

We spent about two and a half hours exploring before heading for home. The only thing I would do different the next time (and I know there will be at least one next time Mom) is take some bug spray. The mosquitoes were pretty fierce, but not bad enough to take away from the fun of the day. Of course you know I took way too many pictures so after I sort through them I'll post some. It shouldn't be more than a day or two. Stay tuned for more adventures with me, possibly Rana, and maybe I'll make a friend some day to take along as well. You never know...

Monday, September 22, 2008

What a weekend...

Well, this weekend was a doozy. We went from doing nothing last weekend because of the nasty weather to having multiple activities each weekend day. It was nice to feel busy again.

We started Friday night by going out to dinner with some folks from Chris' squadron - Cassie, Rob, Sam and Lily, and another couple who just arrived to the island. We went to a place called Sushi Zen and it was incredible! It caters to Americans so it was nice to actually have a menu in English. Other places might have an English menu, but that usually consists of a lot of pictures and maybe a word or two in English that may or may not help you understand what you're ordering. After living in England everything seems cheap here - even sushi. Chris and I were able to get a ridiculous amount of sushi and a glass of wine each for about fifty bucks. That might have fed one of us in the UK. The best part though was the sushi. It is so fresh here. My favorite was the Odyssey roll, which had shrimp tempura and cream cheese inside and avocado outside - just a little bit of heaven! We made a pretty early night of it and headed home after eating to let little Rana out.

Saturday was a big day for all of us, especially Rana. Saturday morning there was a 5K Fun Run/Walk with the profits going to OAARS, the organization that we adopted Rana from. Rana had an absolute blast being around all the other dogs, especially her foster sisters! It makes us think we should get another dog so she'll have someone to play with, but right now we just love her so much we don't want to share her with anyone else. The run was one lap around Camp Torii, a nearby Army base. It was a pretty route with one long, gradual hill at the end. Chris wound up winning the whole event while I was happy to make it all the way around with Rana. I thought we'd be able to run at least part of it, but after all the excitement of playing with other dogs before the race Rana flopped down on the dewy grass about 100 yards into the race. She did not want to get up. After getting her up she flopped down again about 20 yards down the road and I knew then that we wouldn't be running this race. However, I was able to coax her into walking the whole thing. She did quite well once we had her walking with her foster sisters - Mira and Sylvy. It was funny because Chris and I have walked her further than a 5K, but on this day she was pooped from playing. Amazingly, she perked up right after the walk and wrestled with some other dogs, got some great treats form the local girl scouts, and a bath in a kiddie pool. After that we went home and all took a little nap.

Saturday afternoon was what Chris had been waiting for...His van was ready to be picked up! Woohoo! It's a little van made by Suzuki with 660cc and 3 cylinders. It is super cute (probably not how Chris wants it described) and it does have AC! Chris plans on adding a roof rack, but other than that it is good to go.

Saturday evening we headed to Rachel and Todd's (Rana's foster parents) for a going away party for their upstairs neighbors - AJ and Erin. Rana was invited and got to play for hours with her sisters. She had a great time. I was already excited about the party because it was my first opportunity to bake in a couple months. I made caramel bars and they were a big hit - woohoo! We didn't really know anyone besides Todd and Rachel, but after about an hour we warmed up and really started enjoying oursleves. It was a nice combination of military and civilian folks. Plus, noone worked in Chris' squadron so he wasn't sucked into talking about work. It was a very nice night.

Sunday we got up, walked the dog, and headed to Malibu Beach for a beach clean up. We volunteered with an organization (O.C.E.A.N.) that not only does beach clean ups, but also goes into classrooms to teach environmental education. Hopefully, I'll get to volunteer with them more. It was pretty amazing how much stuff is on a beach to pick up - and at first glance the beach didn't even look dirty. We did a section of the beach for about an hour and a half and then sorted all the trash into categories so Edo and Naoko could take down data. It felt good to be doing something and everyone there was very nice - although half the people didn't speak any English. :) I really need some Japanese lessons.

After the clean up we went snorkeling. The water felt perfect and was very clear. We weren't really in a spot known for its snorkeling, but there were still hundreds of fish - clown fish, moors, butterfly fish, spade fish, trumpet fish, etc. It was pretty awesome. We did discover that we both could use a new mask. Mine was super ghetto and was being held together by 2 hair bands and the loop off the key ring - Chris was super McGuyver on it!

We came home, took a quick shower and then headed out the door for a guy from Chris' squadron, Too Short, birthday party. He was having it at a park on base and he was working hard at his own birthday making some of the best chicken ever! He made some jerk chicken and then had some with secret ingredients that he called Black Magic. Whatever it was, it was delicious! He was a super nice guy, despite being an Ohio State fan! :)

After the party the squadron was playing some ultimate frisbee. We wound up having enough for teams (7 vs 7) and overall it was pretty fun. I was fairly disappointed that not a single other female played, but what can you do. And there's always the problem of boys thinking girls can't play so I got looked off a lot, but I'm sure the boys will wisen up eventually.

I think that's finally it. Man did we do a lot. I'm going to go ahead and post this now. I'll have Chris show me how to post the pictures when he gets home from work so make sure to check back in for pics of Rana, the beach, Chris' van, etc. Oh yeah, our internet should be installed on 30 September and then I'll be able to communicate a little easier. Have a great week everyone!



P.S. Check out some more pictures in the Pictures of Our Travels Link on the left side of the page!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Getting Comfy

Hey everyone! I thought I'd give a go at this blogging thing. So far the move is going amazingly smooth. The movers with our household goods said they'd be here between 8 and 10 and when we rolled up at 745 they were waiting for us. It took them less than 2 hours to unpack and move everything upstairs, as well as unwrap everything, unpack a ton of stuff - including the kitchen stuff, and put together our beds. The unwrapping was a big relief because I don't know what we would have done with all that garbage! They were the best moving crew we've ever had. The rest of the day Chris and I spent unpacking and organizing. It looks like everything is going to have a home. We were a little worried since we dont have outdoor storage, but I think it will be a-ok.
After spending the day working we decided to go and get at least our dry goods (we still didn't have a fridge yet) from base. Little did we know that there is a typhoon warning in effect so everybody and their grandma was at the commissary stocking up. It was absolute madness. So far we're not too worried about the storm because we're about as far inland as you can get and we've heard the Japanese really know how to build buildings that stand up to some crazy weather.
The best part of the day is that we went and picked up Rana. She is a sweet dog, but boy did we see her playing rough with her foster sisters, including a very patient cat. I have a feeling Oscar will not be putting up with this little puppy chow, but putting her in her place very quickly. :)She's curled up sleeping right now and she is just precious. I'm taking lots of pictures, but haven't uploaded them yet -soon, I promise.
Today (Thursday) we've been continuing with the organization and also got our borrowed appliances delivered from base today. We got a brand new fridge and oven and a slightly used washer and dryer. They all look great and we're looking forward to doing some grocery shopping so we can make our first dinner tonight! Now we're just waiting on our couch and loveseat to be delivered and we'll be all set. They should be here in the next 2 hours. Once they're in place we'll be able to start the decorating part. With these nice wood floors we're going to have to buy some rugs to get a little color in the room - right now all our wood furniture kind of blends in to the floor. There will definitely be some decorated apartment pictures posted soon (if I manage to take pictures of anything besides Rana).

Monday, September 8, 2008

Move-in day and my new bike

Tomorrow is move in day at our new home. As a result there will be no phone or internet setup for possibly up to 2 weeks. I'm sure we will be cheacking email on the base almost daily, so drop a line if you need us to call you. We'll try to upload some pictures when the house is all settled in.
In other news I bought a new bike from bikesdirect.com. After consulting with a few bike experts that I know I was convinced that I was getting a great deal and a great bike for commuting and competing with. I'm going to start riding with a group here locally when it arrives (if I can keep up) and hopefully I'll be able to compete in some triathlons this fall/winter as it doesn't really ever get that cold. I'm hoping to add my rides to my running log which you can link to from this page (there is a summary at the bottom of the page). We'll keep you posted on everything else.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Pictures of our empty Apartment

Hey folks!

If anyone wants to see where we'll be moving to next Wednesday, there are pictures on Picassa Web. Just click on our "Pictures of our Travels" link on the left of this page.

New Car...Check!




After driving all over the island looking at dozens of car lots we ended up going back to the first one we looked at that is right outside of the gate called Johnny's. Johnny had a real nice 1998 Toyota Raum. They don't have them in the states, but it looked like a good buy and Amy liked it. Johnny offers a one year warranty so if the car goes up in a big ball of fire in the next month, we can bring it back to him. And we don't have to worry about the JCI (a big inspection that is due every two years) for the next two years. So we have a house, one car, a dog, a new couch and loveseat, and the rest of our stuff is going to be delivered the day we move in. We should be fully setup by the end of the week. Today we have a big squadron BBQ to go to that is supposed to include a slip n slide for the grownups. I'll be ready.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

It's a GIRL!!!!

Yesterday our girl was brought to the base for us to meet. After just a few short minutes we knew she was right for us. As soon as we move into our new place she will be coming home with us so we can spoil her. In the mean time we have a dog bed to buy. We decided to name her Rana pronounced "Rayna" which is the genus of frogs including the spotted leopard frog. As you can see she's pretty spotted herself. She should get to be about 40-50 pounds based on the size of her feet. Look at that FACE!!!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

New House....Check!

After being on the ground in Okinawa for 2 days we have secured a place to live. It looks like we will be moving in on the 10th of September. Arriving on what turned out to be a 4 day weekend didn't really give us any benefits. Luckily the locals work nearly every day. The process is setup well. When you go to the housing office you fill out one form that has your rank and what kind of house you want, number of bedrooms and if you have pets etc. They then fax that form to every housing agent that they have listed. Then about 10 housing agents call you and offer to come and pick you up and show you around to different places. We are still looking around for cars. The island has some of the coolest cars I've ever seen, but the few dealerships we went to are a little pricey. We'll crack that nut soon enough. SO the new place. When we saw it we loved it right away. Three bedroom 2 bath with a large master suite. American appliances and a large balcony that overlooks the airfield and the ocean beyond. Wood floors throughout, and more storage space then you can imagine. Even a walk-in closet! And it was one of only two houses that had a dishwasher. The owner wanted 350,000 yen for the rent (about $3500/mo) but my cap is only 210,000. We were able to negotiate (well, our agent did) down to $220,000/mo so I will have to pay about $100/mo out of pocket. The place is so close to the base however that I will be able to bike to work, and the money we will save in gas, and the time spent not in traffic will be well worth it. Anyway, Amy already setup and appointment to see our potential new dog. She has been on the Okinawa Animal Rescue website for a while. So it looks like we may have a dog before we have a car, but whatever. We won't be able to get our license to drive until Tuesday. The squadron is supposed to have a get-together Sunday so we should get to meet some people then. More later.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Seeing family and prepaing for the longest travel day EVER!

You know, the 10 hour flight from England didn't seem that bad. It actually turned into a 12 hour flight because we had to divert into Cheyenne for fuel due to the thunderstorms over DIA. That was a first for me. I thought this poor woman with two kids, one of which had puked all over the place about half way through the flight, was going to lose her mind when she heard the news. That just made me more relaxed. As long as someone is about to lose it, then I don't have to. But someone should always be on the edge of flipping out. It's like a position on a sports team. Some has to be there. We eventually made it to Phoenix and Amy and I were able to enjoy the company of my Dad and step-mom and eventually my brother and his family. It was an exhausting leg, but well worth all of it. From there we headed off to Gainesville to visit my better half's family. It's weird for me to have spent 5 years living in Gainesville only to not really know anyone that lives there anymore. I guess that is the joy of the college town. Out with the old and in with the new. We were rained out of almost everything except shopping. And shop we did. Amy's mom was a little frustrated that I could tear through a Ross Dress for Less in 5 minutes and determine that there was nothing there for me. I guess I'm a common size, and since I don't wear South Pole or FuBu there just wasn't that much selection. From there up to the Panhandle where we stayed at the finest hotel in Crestview. Sorry mom, I just can't take the smoke anymore. It was nice to see the people of the south again and be glad that I'm not still hanging around there anymore. Don't get me wrong, they're nice people, but whoa....WHOA. Scary. We made our escape after a nice dinner with some old friends at McGuires in Destin during the eye of Tropical Storm Fay which was not really more than a breezy rain shower. Now we're just relaxing in Phoenix again until Wednesday when we start the long journey to the Far East (which is actually west of here). FLY birdy FLY!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Big Trip

So much has happened since I dominated the gym in April. Amy and I took the vacation of a lifetime down in South Africa. After a short 9 hours on Qatar Airways (I highly recommend the airline) we arrived in Johannesburg at 6am. We quickly drove out of that city (very high crime rate) and headed for Kruger National Park. There we stayed in the finest 5 star hut you have ever seen. The 'hut” was probably around 700 square feet with glass walls on one side so you could look out on the bush where wild animals lived just outside your door. The resort had a chef and they kept us on a perfect routine of activity-eat-nap repeat. I didn't want to leave this place at all. Game drives were conducted every morning and evening. We saw elephants, cape buffalo, hyenas, warthogs, rhinos, yellow billed hornsby's (think Zazu from the Lion King), impala, kudu, lions, zebras, and probably some others that I can't think of right now. Our game driver Johnson and the spotter Reyfus were the coolest people we met. From there we went on a South African road trip covering almost the entire eastern coast a total of 24 hours of driving split up into 4 days. The terrain was very diverse and looked like everything from desert to jungle to mountains. We even slipped a little Bungee jumping into the trip. Very scary...I'm too old for that. We ended up in Cape Town where we met up with some friends of our friends that we traveled with. Glennes became our Cape Town guide and showed us around the area. We saw the Cape of Good Hope and Boulder Beach which has a small population of penguins that are only located there. We came home with a few souvenirs and about 1500 pictures that we took. The best of them have been loaded onto picasaweb where you can view them. Good Times!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Power lifter

Today was a good day at the gym. It was packed as it usually is on Monday morning, and two other guys worked in on the bench press with me and I was the "heavy lifter" of the three of us. That is definitely a first.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Christmas Party Slide Show


video


Here is a video from our squadron christmas party. It shows some of the places we've been and what we've done. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

AC school and BIG news....

Well I completed Little Rock's AC school portion and made it home just in time for thanksgiving. Amy and I had a HUGE gathering and squeezed 24 people into our house for the big meal. It was excellent. I found out in December that I got a school slot for Kirtland AFB starting January 8th for the second half of AC school. I was extremely happy because that meant I didn't have to upgrade in house, which can take as long as a year or more. So right now I'm dragging along in AC school flying about once a week trying to get done. In theory I still only have two more flights and a checkride, but when you only fly once per week, and half the time you don't get completed due to weather or maintenance, those two flights can be an eternity. I am hoping to be home by April fools day. I'll keep holding on to that glimmer of a hope for another week or so. Then I will be a full blown Aircraft Commander and able to lead my own crew into battle (sounds exciting doesn't it?).
In other news, all of my hard work has paid off, and I fooled the squadron into giving me the honors of being the Company Grade Officer (CGO) of the year. A pretty big deal in itself. After that I competed at the group level, and won the same award for the group. I don't really think I deserve it, but it will give a HUGE boost to my career. Just call me General....okay maybe not :)
In BIG BIG news I received my next assignment from my commander. After turning down the opportunity to extend and stay in England for another year, they awarded me with an even better opportunity to live in Japan for the next three years. After reseraching realestate in Florida for the last year and a half, you can image my surprise when I heard. Amy and I talked it over, and we are both now very excited to be going. Adventure, here we come! We will be living in Okinawa and stationed at Kadena AB. SO all of you that are reading, come on out and VISIT! Okinawa is supposed to have a subtropical climate and the pictures I have seen look AMAZING. Downsides will be anther small house (possible smaller) more importantly, another small kitchen, and Amy will have to go another three years without a full time job. An idea I think she is starting to get used to. Upsides will be the amazing experience, the incredible travel opportunities, I'll still be getting Cost of Living Allowance (an extra $1000 per month) and the great TDY's (for me at least). We will be heading out that way this August. As the time gets closer, we'll have to see if I wil be able to makea stop in the US along the way to visit with some folks before we go. Getting back from Japan will be more challenging than getting back from England. Most importantly of all, Amy found the pet rescue website in Okinawa so we can get a dog (maybe two) when we arrive. Crazy Times!