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 -

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.