Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday...cause that's my fun day


What a wonderful Sunday. We slept in until almost 7 and then I accompanied Chris for his run on my bike. It was definitely warm out, but luckily there was some cloud cover and a breeze. Here's my sweetie pumping up my tires:
Despite it being almost October it is still warm here in Oki so we're trying to get on the water before the weather changes. It won't get cold here, just too chilly to be in the water. Today we decided to combine some fun time with some dog training. We're working hard with Rana and she's definitely getting better. She is much better on a leash and I really look forward to when the training starts involving distractions. That is where Rana needs help. She is just convinced that every person, dog, cat, whatever wants to be her friend and is determined to get over to where they are. I have got to be able to control her better. Anyway, today we were practicing getting her in the kayak. She loves the water, but is not so sure about the unsteadiness of the kayak. We practiced on shore first, then moved out to the water with me holding the kayak, and eventually built up to a 10 minute paddle where I paddled and Chris secured Rana. Trust me, I got the easy end of that bargain.
Chris is now busy making a fantastic chili for dinner. What a great day.
So, here's a little recap of last week when I went to Yokota Air Base near Tokyo. I was leaving on Sunday morning so I had to drop Rana off at Camp Canine on Saturday afternoon. Apparently she did very well, besides not wanting to get out of the wading pool. What can I say? She's a water dog and it's hot here! With Rana out of the house, Oscar was free to come out and party it up. He got some extra love and got to play with toys that are usually kept hidden because Rana eats them. Here's sweet kitty:
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And his new favorite place to hide out:
(under the dog's feeding station)
Getting to Yokota was a real treat. We left Kadena at 6am to head to the airport. All went well and we landed at Haneda in Tokyo at 10:30 and the fun started. Nobody picked us up at the airport. My travel partner, Sarah, and I both called our bosses. Someone was definitely supposed to be there so we waited 2.5 hours searching every terminal just in case there was a mix up. Nobody ever came. So, we needed to figure out how to get to Yokota on our own. We discovered that there was no shuttle between this airport and the base and that the bus to the city outside the base doesn't run on Sundays. So we had to take a bus to Narita (the other Tokyo airport) and then take a shuttle from there to the base (a 3 hour ride). The final result being that instead of getting to base around noon we got there at 7:30pm. It was a long, frustrating travel day.
Luckily, the training made up for it. The trainers that came from Arizon's 4-H were awesome! They were enthusiastic, engaging, and about 90% of the training was hands-on. We learned new ice breakers, crafts, science experiments, how to set up 4-H clubs, and more. It was a lot of fun and it was very interesting to see Yokota's Youth Center. Here's a cute project we did, Veggie Vehicle Derby:
All of the training was great and we ended on a high note with a dinner at a local restaurant. Still frames won't do this restaurant justice so have a little looksie:
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You take whatever meat and veggies you want back to your table and grill it yourself. It is a really fun experience. I only made it through one of these octopuses, it is just too chewy for my tastes.

I guess that raps up the week. Next weekend Chris' mom and one of her friends are coming for a visit. I am so excited to get our first guests! Anyone else who wants a free place to stay in Okinawa, email us to make your reservations.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

When the cat is away...

As most of you know, Chris is gone yet again. This year might be the one where he has spent the least amount of time at home. It's starting to get old. I like having a partner. Plus, when he goes away I get bored and go shopping. Those who know me know that I am not really a shopper. My mom had to drag me to the mall and once there I would find a chair to sit in until she and Monica were ready to leave. Add that to the fact that I can be quite frugal and me and shopping sprees don't usually mesh. I don't know what it is about Chris being gone, but it makes me want to spend money. Maybe it's some subconscious payback for him leaving. I know he has no choice and consciously I'm not mad at him, but who knows what goes on in the deep recesses of this brain. Crazy runs in the family.
So, you're asking, what did I buy? Well, I went to the BX to get a pair of running shoes and a book to take with me on my trip to Yokota. Here's what I came home with:
That's right, 2 pairs of running shoes, 2 books, and a magazine. Oops. AND the shoes weren't even on sale! I just heard my mom gasp. Let me reassure you though mom, they were still a good deal. Some of you are thinking "So what? That doesn't seem like a lot." Well, what it doesn't show are my online purchases of bathing suits, bike shorts, bike jerseys , and some stuff from my nephew Dylan for a fundraiser. I swear they are all necessities.
The rest of this blog will be a little random. Earlier this week I tried dragon fruit for the first time.
It was really good - a little like kiwi, but the flavor wasn't as strong. It also comes in a version where the fruit is as bright pink as the peel. My English student, Takako, seemed very apologetic that she was only giving me a white one, but I thought it was delicious.
Those of you on Facebook recently saw this picture of Rana:
Well, Oscar believes that turnabout is fair play:
He loves sleeping in Rana's bed, but doesn't like getting caught doing it.
Not only does Rana like the cat bed, but she loves sleeping under our bed.
Here are some fantastically cute pictures of Rana in a bandana her Aunt Monica sent her:
I love that little, spotted face!
These last couple shots are from Chris' deployment earlier this year. I can't remember if I've already posted them (and I'm too lazy to search through old posts), but I came across them and they really made me laugh.
They don't even look like Chris. In the group photo, Chris is the one on the left with the bullet-proof vest on.
I'm heading to Yokota (the Air Base on mainland) next week for some 4-H training for work. Hopefully, I'll get some good stuff to post about. Have a great weekend and GO GATORS!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Where Life Meets Art

One of the perks of working at the Youth Center is leading the art sessions every Wednesday. Sometimes I have a hard time coming up with ideas, but this week I thought we'd do mosaics using dried beans and pasta. I love the results!

I can totally see the resemblance.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day Weekend


I know this will come as a shock, but Chris was actually home for a long weekend! Crazy, but true. Since we were together we started the weekend off right by having a date night on Friday. I'll give you readers fair warning that the first part of this blog is just a showcase of how friggin' cute we are while the last part will showcase how lucky we are to live on a paradise island. If you're not in the mood for cuteness or mild gloating, stop reading now!

For our date night we decided to try a restaurant that we had heard good things about. It's a seafood restaurant with a Hawaiian theme called Sam's by the Sea. The food was delicious!
We started with drinks. Chris was sans alcohol while mine had the fun mixed in and came served in a shisa dog.
We got free shrimp cocktails and they came out in these cool glasses with dry ice for a smoking effect.
All meals come with fantastic curry soup and an assortment of homemade breads.
I got the macadamia encrusted mahi mahi with basil fettuccine, vegetables, a sweet coconut sauce, and ube. Chris got a garlic tenderloin. Those aren't cornflakes on top, but garlic chips. Both meals were delicious.
We were stuffed so we decided to take home the mile high coconut pie. The filling was a little dense, but the homemade crust was flaky and delicious!
On Saturday we had dinner at our friend Brandon's house, stopped by a party, and then continued on to a second party. I know, we were surprisingly the social butterflies. Sorry I don't have pictures. The second party was a birthday celebration for our friend JD. His wife and her friends our Filipino and when the "bamboo network" (their words, not mine) get together you know there's going to be some good food. I'm hoping they're willing to share some recipes.
Sunday was a fantastic lazy day of watching a LOT of college football. Unfortunately, the Gator game wasn't broadcast but we did listen to good ol' Mick Hubert on the radio. After lounging around we went to dinner with Patti and Dennis at Curcuma.
A fantastic, eclectic place way out on the southeast side of the island. It has a great mix of Asian foods. I got Thai and Chris got Indian. It was ridiculous portion sizes and all delicious. After dinner we got a little crazy with the Awamori (sake):
Just kidding - I was just playing around in the gift shop. This place also had incredible views, gardens to explore, and a small museum.
Monday we kept thinking that Chris was going to get called in to work so we didn't plan much, but in the afternoon we loaded up the dog and headed for the beach.
This adorable face is why Rana gets away with things, but we're putting an end to that and have a trainer coming Wednesday. She's not bad, just gets crazy around other dogs. She would play 24/7 if she had the opportunity.
Here are some of our beach treasures:
On our way home from the beach we stopped at the port to pick up some fresh tuna. Rana was very concerned to see her dad walk away from the van.
The fresh tuna was delicious. We took our inspiration from Sam's and encrusted it with macadamia nuts, parmesan, and spices! It might have been better than the restaurant's!
That about wraps things up. I hope everyone had a great weekend!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Tokyo


Alrighty, finally time for the rest of the report on my trip to Tokyo. Tiffany and I were part of a tour through MCCS (the travel agent on Marine bases). Our fee included airfare, hotel, transport to Mt. Fuji, and a guide who was there for any questions we came up with. We stayed at the New Sanno (a Navy run hotel) and since I didn't take any pictures of it let me just say that it was fantastic! The lobby is huge and opulent. The rooms are a little small, but nicely decorated and very clean. The best part though was the staff. We asked the concierge a number of questions and for recommendations and they always came up with an answer for us, gave us some maps, or called and made us reservations. We also loved the staff in the hotel's Emporium restaurant. They went out of their way to make sure we got everything we needed.
Once we landed and checked in our room, the first order of business was some lunch.
Luckily for us there was a great bakery around the corner from the hotel. I got a shrimp and avocado sandwich on the best bread I've had in a long time, a yogurt with raspberry topping, and that little ball is a pumpkin pie pastry. It was delicious! It didn't really taste like pumpkin, more like sweet potato, but the pastry was flaky and the whole thing melted in my mouth. I don't know why there is so much French influence, but Tokyo definitely rivals Paris for the number of French bakeries. They were everywhere and the ones we sampled were all incredible.
After lunch and a quick rundown on the Tokyo subway from our guide we were off to explore. Our first order of business was to buy Cirque de Soleil tickets. We had tried in Okinawa and had struck out. We asked the concierge and she said we could go to Family Mart or Lawsons (convenience stores) and buy them there. The first Lawsons tried finding them in the computer with no luck, the second Lawsons tried but said they were sold out, and we thought our luck was up. Then we stumbled on a Family Mart and the heavens smiled down upon us.
This was the employee who got us our tickets. I think he thought us a little strange wanting his picture, but after failing 5 times to get the tickets we were pretty giddy.

To top it off, in the same plaza as the Family Mart there was a Coldstone Creamery! Woohoo!

It was delicious and I would have gone back every day if we had the time.
After the tickets and the ice cream we started a long walk in search of the Meiji Shrine. After looking at many maps and asking many people we eventually made it. It's in the heart of the city, but is a huge oasis that gets you away from it all. Each tree that was planted was formally blessed in honor of the Emperor.

After hiking around all day we were hungry and went to a Mexican restaurant near the hotel that had been recommended to us, La Jolla. It was excellent.

We made it an early evening and slept in the next day. Tiffany and I regularly get up around 4:30 for swim practice or bootcamp circuit so sleeping in until 6:00 was a real luxury. To start the day off right we had a great run at a neighborhood park.

Even though it was early there were tons of people at the park - lots of walkers, dog owners, a group of adults doing double dutch, and a man playing a wooden recorder. It was a great run and very peaceful.
After asking the concierge for a recommendation we rushed off to participate in a traditional formal tea ceremony. The ceremony was located in a small house that was over 100 years old and Tiffany and I were the only participants.
You start off with sweets because the tea that will follow is not sweetened at all.
Both sweets were good, but the yellow one on the right was pure sugar and just melted in your mouth.

After the sweets our host, Takako, prepared the tea.
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There are many rules to drinking the tea. The bowl you are given will have a special pattern painted on one side of the bowl. You are to drink from the opposite side of the pattern. After you take the first sip, you turn the bowl 90 degrees and then take 3 sips. The last drink you take from the bowl should make a sound (you need to slurp).
I would like to go on record as saying that matcha (green tea) is absolutely gross! The tea is thick and frothy (not what I was expecting from tea) and is extremely bitter. It almost has an oceany - maybe seaweed or fish- flavor to it. I thought I was done when I drank the three sips, but then Takako said how when we reached the bottom we had to make sound. At that point I just focused on choking it down without appearing too impolite.
Here's the matcha powder:
When sweetened, let's say in an ice cream, matcha is quite nice, but without the sugar I'm going to have to pass.
The tea house was in a beautiful garden, another secluded get away in a very busy city.


The bamboo was huge!
After the tea ceremony and looking around the garden we took the subway out to Tokyo Disney to catch the Cirque de Soleil show.
That's not a performer, just an usher, but I loved the costume. You're not allowed to take pictures in the theater so this is all I've got. However, if you haven't see Cirque, you've got to go! It's magical. There's music and singing, but very few words, but somehow it doesn't need it. There are men with lassos, women falling from the sky on ribbons, tight rope walkers, trapeze artists, people jumping out of the floor, amazing costumes, fantastic props, and incredible lighting. It makes for an unforgettable two hours. We were seated very close and some of the people on the high wire and on the ribbons made me extremely nervous. The ladies came down right over our heads - absolutely incredible!

After the show we went to an incredible garlic restaurant and shared some fantastic dishes.
This is the spicy avocado and tomato salad, the eggplant (both of our favorites), and we also ate a garlic pasta. We were happy we both ate there otherwise we'd be stinking each other out!
The next day we got up early and headed to the fish market. Please excuse the blurriness of the pictures - no flashes were allowed.
There was a tuna auction. The tuna are literally 4-5 feet long and we were told they weigh over 200 pounds. It was pretty incredible. At 5:30 the fish market is a happening place.

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After the fish markets we relaxed, ate breakfast, and then headed out to Asakusa. It is an area with a temple, pagodas, and a huge outdoor shopping area.
At the market we watched a man make ningyo yaki. It's a sweet that has the ube (purple sweet potato) in the middle and is made in cast iron molds.
The one on the left is shaped like a giant lantern while the one on the right is shaped like a pagoda located next to the temple. They were delicious - sweet, but not too sweet.

The Asakusa area is very touristy and we saw lots of rickshaws:
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There were also lots of people all over Tokyo, not just in Asakusa, wearing kimonos. It was very cool to see the mix of traditional and modern.

After visiting the market and temple we decided to take a river cruise back towards the hotel.
We were told that the cruise was in both English and Japanese. That was a lie. We didn't understand a single word, but it was a cool, relaxing way to head back. Plus, the end point was a beautiful park.

We didn't spend a lot of time in the park though because we were both hungry and headed to the first restaurant we came across. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that with all that good Japanese food around we ate at a T.G.I.Fridays. But really it was a must. I was starting to break out my cranky pants because I was so hungry and I'm not ready for Tiffany to see that side of me. Plus, these onion rings we split were amazing!
We again had an early night since we were meeting in the lobby at 2:45 to head out for Mt. Fuji. The morning after Mt. Fuji, before we headed to the airport, we both got massages from a blind Japanese man. Sorry I don't have pictures of that, but it was a great massage. I think that about wraps it up, but at some point I might do another post of cool/weird/funny signs, people, and things we saw on our trip.