Friday, February 27, 2009

Photo Tag

Alrighty, Charity tagged me for this. Here are the rules:
1) Choose the 4th folder where you store your pictures on your computer.
2) Select the 4th picture in the folder.
3) Explain the picture.
4) Tag 4 people to do the same.~No cheating (cropping, editing, etc.)

I've got to say, I really wanted to cheat on this and put up a good photo. Those of you who know me know I take thousands of pictures in the attempt to get a couple of good ones. This is obviously a practice shot. This is from the day Chris and I volunteered at a marathon in Albuquerque. We were stationed near a bridge and when we looked over there were just hundreds of fish going nuts. It wasn't like a petting zoo where you throw food in the water and they come to the surface. Noone was throwing food in; I think it was some sort of mating ritual. I was trying to get a picture of the fish so one of my biologist friends could identify it for me, but I never got a clear enough shot. Too bad the assignment wasn't for the 12th picture or something because this folder has great shots of the hot air balloons that took off at the start of the race. Oh well...

So, if you follow this blog I'm tagging you (that's really just the Bertsches and Kristina). Sad I know, but the other people I know on blogger have already been tagged.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

It's official...Rana is a BIG dog!

When we first got Rana in September she weighed in at 17 pounds and we were told she would top out at 35-40. We should have known by the size of her monstrous feet that that was a big time underestimate. It wouldn't have mattered if they had said she's going to weigh 100 pounds because we fell in love with her spots instantly. She has now more than tripled in size, weighing in at 52 pounds. Plus, we're guesstimating that she won't be a year until May so she has plenty of growing time left! Despite how big she has gotten she loves to cram herself into the cat bed (luckily Oscar never showed interest in it) even though there are bigger dog beds around the house. When she first gets in she can almost fit, but within minutes she is spilling out. Here are some pics when we first got her, her cat bed, and how big she is now: The first picture is from the day we met her at our billeting room. The second picture is her looking tiny on the billeting room bed. When we first got her, she and her hedgehog could fit in the cat bed.
One month later, in October, she was already starting to spill out:

And by November she was really just laying on top of it:Now, after having her for almost 6 months she's not only too big for the cat bed, but for her kennel as well! Don't call the ASPCA on me though, I'm shopping around for a new one.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Volunteering for the Okinawa Marathon

In an attempt to stay busy while Chris is away I answered a call for volunteers for the Okinawa Marathon that I saw in a base paper a few weeks ago. The Okinawa Marathon is the only marathon in Japan that runs partly through a military base - apparently this is a big deal. There are a couple big marathons on Okinawa and this one is considered the toughest. By the time the runners reached us they were about 18.5 miles into their 26.2 mile goal. Even though it is only February it was already shorts weather for the spectators; it was probably in the mid-70s by the time the runners reached us. Luckily for the runners, the humidity didn't really crank up on the island until the following day.
I'm not sure if these 2 wound up winning, but they both had a big lead when they passed us at the 30km point. I've spectated at marathons before and I've got to say these runners looked even tinier than folks I've seen at other races. The leading lady was especially small. I swear I could fold her up and put her in my pocket.
All of the Japanese people seemed really happy to have us cheering them on. I think it was a very nice goodwill/relationship building effort. My favorite part was when we would get a line of people high-fiving us. A lot of the people would say thank you or arrigato for every person whose hand they hit. The little Japanese women would barely touch your hand, but they would seem so excited about it. Some of the ladies would even do a little head bow as they high-fived you. Here's a little video clip of the high fives:

I was out there for about 4 hours - until the sweep car came through. I've got to tell you I was pretty tired after that. It was pathetic - here are people running 26.2 miles and I'm getting tired just cheering them on. I did make a stand though and when other volunteers opted to sit and cheer I stood the whole time. It really seemed like the least I could do. It's hard to believe that just 8 months ago I ran the Edinburgh Marathon. Man, can you get out of shape fast! However, the ladies running club that I've mentioned in earlier blogs is getting back together to train for 10 weeks for a half marathon. Sounds like fun!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

One step closer...

Well, I think I've finally done everything I can do to make this job go through. Now I just sit and wait for the background check to come back. They say that can take anywhere from 2-4 weeks. I guess that's good though if you're a parent - you wouldn't just want anyone working with your kids. So, for this job that pays about half of what I used to make doing fish surveys I had to:
-Go to HRO and pick up an application (you wouldn't want this to be too convenient and be able to do it online)

-Fill out the 8 page application. Most of this info is on my resume, but a resume isn't good enough and since there's no electronic copy it all has to be hand written. The HRO secretary then types it all in.

-Call Alachua County records and get a copy of my high school transcripts because my college transcripts or a copy of my diploma would not suffice (and since I had to get them mailed to me while we were waiting for them to arrive I had to go to the legal office and swear an affidavit that I had indeed graduated from high school)

-Get people to fill out references for me stating that they had no reason to believe that I was disloyal to the United States of America

-Interview for the job

-Go back to HRO and sign my rights away so they can do a background check

-Pick up pre-employment paperwork and fill out all 16 pages. This included listing everywhere we lived for the last 7 years, as well as contact info for people who knew us at each location (this was especially fun to come up with during the time Chris was pilot training). Also, my last 7 years of employment, including unemployed dates. Luckily Chris is allowed to vouch for me that I was in fact unemployed. And the toughest part was listing any foreign country I've been to in the last 7 years. We traveled a lot living in England so this was a doozie! I got my passport out, but my dates were a little funny.

-After filling these forms out at home I then had to go to HRO and type them into their computer.

-Pass a Food Handler's exam

-And finally, today I got fingerprinted!

I think it will all be worth it though and hope the background check comes back soon! Still keeping those fingers crossed.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Newcomer's Tour

So today, roughly 6 months after getting to the island, I finally took the Newcomer's Tour offered for free on base. It was fantastic! They provided the bus and all the information and all you had to bring was some yen for lunch and souvenirs. We started at the Zukimi Castle (which I've already blogged about), then went to the Yomitan Pottery Village, the Onna Glass Factory, the Onna Station for lunch, and then to Ryuku Mura to watch some traditional Japanese dancing. Here are some pictures and video clips of today's events:

The 3 images on the left are funeral urns. The picture near left is a wall at Zukimi Castle - the oldest castle on Okinawa.

The far left are Shisa Dogs from the Pottery Village. The near left is the climbing kiln. There are multiple fires along the slope of the kiln, the hottest being the one closest to the bottom. They only light the kilns 4 times/year, but when they do the temperatures reach between 700 and 1200 degrees F.

Here I am with the owner of the Onna Glass Factory and some of his company's products. Look how hot the glass is when he's working with it. This factory uses all recycled glass and the hardest colors to do are pink and red so they're the most expensive.

The above left is a bento box. Japanese Moms will spend hours making their kids a healthy, compact, fun lunch. Whenever I see school groups out on field trips I always see them with their cute hats - usually yellow or red. The above right picture is the workers and wood oven used to make incredible desserts at Onna Station. I had soba noodles (Okinawan soba is different from anywhere else because of the way they make the noodles) and a stuffed steamed dumpling. I know it looks a little gross, but the stuffing was made with mashed sweet potatoes and sweet beans and then sprinkled with bran flakes for good measure. It was yummy!

Here are some of the traditional dancers at Ryuku Mura. The dances were very entertaining. I have some good video, but the website isn't letting me upload right now so make sure to check back to see them in motion!

Here are some friends I made while on the tour! But seriously, I did hang out with a lady named Hannah who seems nice and has no kids. We exchanged numbers so hopefully we'll get together and do something!

Another week, another lunch

The lunch lady group I normally lunch with has taken a short break while the main organizers have friends and family in town. So last week I went out to lunch with Jessi again. We went to a place that is right outside one of the Kadena gates. This means that along with the picture menu you get a few English words thrown in as well. So, this week I was pretty confident that I was going to be eating beef. However, looking at the picture menu I thought I'd be getting a little pasta with it, but was happily surprised when it came out with french fries (don't worry mom - I only ate 8 and put the rest to the side!). I like that on Okinawa you get a set meal. Mine came with rice (of course) and miso soup. Jessi's pork came with rice, soup, a gelatinous, nutty tasting dish that Jessi liked, and some seaweed. Everything was delicious - my beef was really tender and Jessi's pork was breaded in something they call Pankow (spelling?) that is so good. Most people I know who have the Pankow say they'll never go back to regular bread crumbs again.
Rana was jealous of me going out to lunch so decided to make a special meal of her own - chicken soup! Just look at that face - looks like trouble, doesn't it?
Well, I'm off to do the newcomer's tour so I should be posting again soon! Have a great Wednesday!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Whale Watching...sort of

So, Sunday I went whale watching with Jessi and her husband Neil. One month old baby Kenny was there, but you wouldn't know it because I swear he didn't make a peep all day! That's my kind of baby. Well, for those of you who know me you know that boats and I often don't mix, but I really wanted to see some whales so I was willing to give it a go. In preparation for the boat I took the improved version of generic Dramamine (that's all they had at the BX - believe me, I'm willing to pay top dollar for no puking medicine). Well, I didn't get sick, but I didn't feel great either. Plus, this new and improved non-drowsy formula made me so sleepy that I literally had to take a 30 minute nap during our 3 hour tour (insert Gilligan's Island song here). It was a very gray day (which seems unusual for Okinawa), but it wasn't overly wavy - just enough to get a good rocking motion when we slowed down.
Honestly going into it I was expecting more. I was thinking National Geographic pictures and whales breaching the water's surface. Now, don't get me wrong. We saw whales, but it was more the water blowing from the spout, some backs just breaking the surface, and once we did get to see a whale's tail. The gray weather combined with the blue gray water and gray whales resulted in absolutely zero pictures!
However, after the whale watching we drove around Naha and found Kokusai Street. This is a big shopping district and where a lot of the festivals happen (it's where we saw the tug of war festival). In our search for Kokusai we found a covered street market that was a huge maze that I thought was way cooler than Kokusai Street, mostly because there were far fewer Americans. We wandered around, took pictures of signs and things that got lost in translation, and eventually ate lunch at Hotto Motto. This is a fast food place and I'll tell you it was a real struggle to find something on the picture menu that wasn't fried. What I ate tasted kind of like stir fry and was decent for fast food. We also checked out a Pachinko place (think slots), but left pretty quickly because it was so loud and smokey. From what I understand you aren't allowed to gamble for money in Japan so the machine spits out tokens or marble-looking things and then you trade these in for prizes. I took a little video clip so you could see how loud it gets, but the video isn't that great because you're not allowed to record in a Pachinko place.

So, here are some pictures of things I thought were cool or funny while in Naha:

The place we parked our car was a triple decker parking lot, but instead of ramps that led you into your spot it was kind of like bunk beds. The garage man drove the car into the big blue elevator thing(picture on the right), made it go up, and then drove you car off into its space.

Close to the place we had lunch we saw people making tatami mats. These are found in traditional Japanese houses. Most traditional houses actually have a tatami room.

Like a lot of young Americans, young Japanese like to trick out their cars.

Japanese doesn't have the letter R so it often gets changed over to an L in translations and vice versa. If you look close this shirt says "Flesh Orange Juice". Mmmmm...yummy!

The cool covered shopping are we found, one of the souvenir shops in the shopping area, and a whole lot of Shisa dogs! I think almost a quarter of the store was dedicated to the Shisa.

I keep wondering why Okinawans live so long and maybe it's their love of fruits and veggies. Stuffed animals of pineapple, bitter melon, and their local purple sweet potato are all very popular. I can't say I've seen an American kid hauling around their stuffed okra doll.

This was at an icecream store. Check out the ta-tas on that heifer!

I took this picture mostly for Chris because he likes cool vehicles. It's the modern, Japanese rickshaw.

I've got no idea what this sign says, but boy does that baby look angry!

I hope you enjoyed this journey and I'll write again soon! I miss you all!