Monday, November 30, 2009

Tree Time

Now that Thanksgiving has passed, and we're heading into December (can you believe its here already?? I mean, we were just snorkeling in the last post!), it is now time for me to start decorating the house. An odd fact about me: although I'm an Interior Designer, I'm not too into decorating my house for holidays! Maybe that will change as I get older, but the past 2 1/2 years that Matt and I have lived together, I haven't done much in the holiday decor department, unfortunately. In fact, this year is the first year we will even have a Christmas tree! I think we've never bothered putting one up before, because each year we go home to Chicago for the holidays and live with our parents. By the time we came back to our house in California, Christmas would be over. However, because we just moved to Japan in September, this is going to (sadly) be the first year both Matt and I have ever been away from home for Christmas. I already know that this holiday season is going to be really hard for the both of us - especially me. When there's no snow on the ground, you're away from your family, all the Christmas songs you hear are being sung in high-pitched Japanese voices, and you're still going swimming in the ocean on weekends, its a little hard to get in that "Christmas Spirit", if you know what I mean. I decided to make the best of the situation and actually put up our very first tree this year, and I really enjoyed unpacking all of the sentimental ornaments we've received over the past 4 years from family that we've never been able to use until now. After I put on some old Christmas tunes my sister and I used to listen to while decorating the tree each year with our mom, I even thought I saw some snow falling outside the window at one point - there wasn't, but I like to pretend:) And, I only got sad once during the whole tree decorating, but I think it was because I had listened to "Hard Candy Christmas" by Dolly Parton a few too many times in a row.

Anyway, rewind to right before I put up the tree. I had just cleaned the house and remembered that some of our family and friends had asked us awhile back right when we moved in to post some pictures of the house once we got all of our furniture in and set up. Well, I sort of forgot about it until this day, and decided to take advantage of the clean house and go one step further - a video tour of our building/inside our house so that everyone could feel like they've been here! As I talk about in the video, the house isn't complete (we're still looking for a few tables and office furniture, etc.) and I think that is why I haven't put up any photos of it yet. Also, keep in mind that I was dressed for a day of putting up a Christmas tree, NOT a night out on the town, so ignore the bum clothes and hair, please! :) The videos were too large to post on the blog, so I had to upload them to YouTube. Click the links below to open YouTube in a new window, and if you are not able to view them for any reason, please write a comment below and let me know so I can fix it (I put a type of privacy setting on the videos so only so many people can view them).

House Tour Part 2 (sorry about the wind near the end!):
And I couldn't go into all that detail about putting up our tree without showing some pics:

Now, if only I had a pet to dress up in a cute holiday outfit - I'd be set!


Thanksgiving Weekend Snorkeling

Although being away from home for Thanksgiving is never quite the same, we definitely made the best of it and spent the weekend with a bunch of good friends that we've made out here in Okinawa so far. Sometimes I forget that Thanksgiving is just an American holiday (The Pilgrims, Plymouth Rock...) and that they don't really celebrate it here in Japan. The holiday weekend started off on Thursday with a huge meal over at our friend's The Angelines' house right down the street from us. There was a ton of food, a bunch of people from Matt's shop, and we had a blast playing Wii all night.

Friday morning we got up early to have breakfast with our friends, Lucas and Amber, before going for some snorkeling. We took them to Kadena Marina where we had been snorkeling once before - only difference? This time we had our underwater camera with us! Of course, the visibility wasn't as clear as the first time we went, but we still saw some really neat things (including an octopus!) and got some cool shots.

Matt's self-photo

Amber and I trying to walk over the rocks to get to the reef on the other side

Blue Starfish - these are everywhere & are about twice as large as my hand

Check out this video Matt took under the water (sorry its a little choppy - I think Matt was trying to get our attention):

An awesome shell that Lucas found - it still had something living in it

Amber & Lucas under the water


Crown-of-Thorns Starfish - dangerous to humans and deadly to coral - and it was moving pretty fast for a starfish, too!

After a day of snorkeling, we all took a trip down to Naha City for some dinner, and had a fun time just walking down Kokusai Dori. Here are a few photos from the night:

Amber & I with a cat on the street that does tricks (and by "tricks" I mean, he gets up on a chair)

All in all, we had an interesting, yet fun, first Thanksgiving here in Okinawa, and Matt and I are incredibly thankful for so many things God has blessed us with: eachother, the United States that we have the privilege to be free citizens of, our families and friends back home, our food and money, the chance to experience life in a foreign country, and our new Okinawa family that we have out here. We hope everyone else had an amazing Thanksgiving this year as well - we miss you all!


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Cocok's with a Silent "K"

I've been hearing about the infamous Cocok's (pronounced Co-Co's) ever since arriving on the island - which has now been about 2 1/2 months! What have I heard? Only that its supposed to be the best nail salon on the island, and its located just about 15 minutes from our house. I absolutely love pedicures, but even in California, I hardly let myself indulge in them, so it shouldn't come as a shock that I almost went 3 months (a quarter of a year for goodness sake!) without paying a visit to Cocok's.

My friend Amber had been there a couple times before and suggested we make a day out of it, and I loved the idea - I was in need of some "girl time" as well as super excited to check out such a popular new place! Amber and I got some lunch, did some shopping, and then headed over to Cocok's for our appointment. The salon is located on the second level of a little building right along the Sunabe Sea Wall, overlooking the East China Sea. This is coincidentally the very location Matt and I had just completed our dive certification the other day:)

Inside, Cocok's felt like a little tiki hut with wicker and bamboo decor. It was smaller than I expected for how much I had heard about the place, but it also felt very cozy and relaxing - a little bit like you were in your own little private cabana looking out over the ocean. We were greeted and immediately served some delicious iced tea that was refilled throughout our visit. The chairs were not the classic "pedicure stations", but over sized comfy lounge chairs. The girls recline you, cover your lap with a blanket, and hand you books of nail art to make your selection from. There were pages upon pages of nail art to choose from - we were bookmarking our favorites, but it was almost impossible to narrow them down to one! The nice thing is that you aren't rushed at all - we got to take our time making our decisions while getting our nails cleaned up and our feet and legs massaged with our choice of scented oil. The massage was the BEST and lasted about 30 minutes!

After showing my technician which design I wanted, she went to work, using nail polish, acrylic paint, and a teeny tiny paint brush to create the intricate designs - it was actually hand-made art right there on my toes! They were incredibly steady-handed and talented.

After it was all said and done, the entire pedicure and nail art took about 1 1/2 hours and cost 3900 yen. Considering everything you get with the experience, including the quality of their work and how long the designs have been known to last on your toes, I think it was well worth it. I am now a tried-and-true fan of Cocok's with a silent "k"!

Mine and Amber's nails

Close-up of my nail art


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Under the Sea

This past week has been one of the most difficult, yet rewarding, I've probably ever experienced. Being that I have a fear of deep water, going underwater, being without air, and I'm also claustrophobic, I don't need to explain how terrifying scuba diving seemed to me. Well, I could put it off no longer - Matt really wanted both of us to get scuba certified together, so we signed up for a week long class that began last Sunday at our local scuba place, Tsunami Scuba. After all, our goal is to make the most of Japan while we're here, and Okinawa in particular has some of the best scuba diving and coral reefs in the world.

We alternated between classroom and pool dives all week. I aced the quiz's and tests we took in classroom (Matt did as well), but I knew going into the actual diving portion that I might have some reservations. While I'm admitting I may have had a few freak-outs in the pool portion and didn't even want to continue the class at one point because of my fear, I finished out the week being able to do each skill that was required of me - even if it did take me a little longer than the other students. Side Note: all of the other students were male Marines - just thought I'd mention that:) Matt, of course, was an immediate pro at all of the skills, and he is naturally comfortable in and under the water. Some of the skills we had to learn included: completely flooding and then clearing your mask under water, sharing air with your buddy after yours is turned off under water, taking your scuba equipment off and putting it back on under water, navigating with a compass under water, and performing a CESA (Controlled Emergency Swimming Ascent).

After a week of exhausting classroom sessions and pool dives (we were out in the pool from about 6:30 to 11:00 at night!), we were required to do 4 actual ocean dives to get our certification. Although I was especially nervous about the ocean, I decided to continue on, because (with Matt's support) I had come so far and already conquered so many of my fears. The ocean conditions here have been bad lately, and the class that went the week before us didn't get to do their ocean dives last weekend, so they were joining us this weekend. Although we were pretty sure both Saturday and Sunday would be poor conditions again and dives would not take place, that wasn't so. Saturday, conditions were a little rough, but we met at 6:30 in the morning and ended up going out to the location of the day: Kadena North, which is a spot located just a little north of Kadena Marina where we keep our Jet-Skis. Our class got to dive first, and although the entry and exit at this location was pretty rough with waves and rocks, the actual dive portion was exciting and fun! I forgot all about my fears while at the bottom looking at the gorgeous coral and fish. Since it was our first real ocean dive, we only went about 25 feet down and just looked around. The conditions were getting worse, so we were only able to go out once that day. The good news is that we recently received our underwater camera case in the mail and were able to take it on this first dive with us. This wasn't our most interesting dive, and the visibility wasn't the best either (because of the overhead waves), but we were so excited to try it out that we just had to bring it along! Here are a few photos and videos from the day:

Me putting together my scuba gear at the site

Matt under water

A cool photo that Matt took of his bubbles rising to the surface

Me under water

Me telling our instructor how much air I had left

A few video clips:

We ended up going to a new spot (the Sunabe Sea Wall) on Sunday for the final 3 dives, and the conditions were much calmer. This location also had a chain along the ocean floor that you could grab onto and it would help you make your way out to the ledge. The only downside was that we had to wait for the other class while they were diving, and all that exercise was exhausting! We were the first class to dive and the last class to dive for the day, and by the time we were finished, we had been out there for 11 hours (6:30 am - 5:30 pm)! On each dive, we tested on skills that we had learned in the pool as well as went exploring. The last dive was the absolute BEST experience! We were able to bring food out to feed the fish (it was literally a storm of tropical fish surrounding us - SO cool!), and we also dropped down to about 60 feet and explored the gorgeous reef where we saw more amazing fish, clams, sea snakes and what we described as a "field" of colorful coral and plants - we even saw Nemo in his sea anemone:) After all is said and done, I'm glad I got scuba certified, and I'm glad Matt and I got to do it together. I don't care that I had trouble in the beginning, because I know how many issues I was personally able to overcome. I wish our instructor had let us bring the camera on this dive at the Sunabe Sea Wall (we saw SO much more and had better visibility), but I guess there's always next time!


Friday, November 13, 2009

Marine Corps Ball '09

Veteran's Day has passed, Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and the leaves on the trees are starting to change colors (at least they would be if we lived somewhere in the Midwest) and that can only mean one thing: it's Marine Corps Birthday Ball time once again! November 10th was the US Marine Corp's 234th birthday, and we got to celebrate in style last weekend with Matt's unit (MACS-4). This was the 5th Ball we've attended, and maybe we're a little spoiled - we're used to large banquet halls at fancy hotels in the heart of downtown San Diego. What I didn't realize (I guess I just never got to thinking about it) was that our Marine Corps Balls would now be confined to an on-base location during our time in Okinawa. Instead of being out in town in a hotel or other banquet facility, everyone's Balls would be taking place on one of the US bases here. That being said, I didn't expect much this year. However, I was pleasantly surprised!

Ours was located at the Officer's Club on Camp Foster (only a 10 minute ride from our house). Another perk was that we got to have it on a Saturday, which I didn't think was unusual until I started realizing how many other balls were taking place during the week. We got lucky, I guess! Beside being about half the size of the gi-normous (yep, gi-normous) ballrooms we are used to, everything was just as nice, if not better than in San Diego! The food was very tasty, the ceremony wasn't too long, we were able to see everything that was going on, the drinks weren't as expensive, the music was actually GREAT... oh, and did I mention I've NEVER seen such a large cake in my life?!? Since we are still new to the island and don't have too many friends yet, I wasn't sure how much fun I'd have this year, but that was better than expected as well!

Our new friends Lucas & Amber

Shop photo

One of my favorite parts of the evening was actually the Guest of Honor's speech. He made some really great points about life in the Marine Corps and how Marines and Marine families stand out among civilians as well as the other branches, which were SO true... maybe I'm a little biased:) A few of my favorite quotes from the night:

"To many civilian couples, the trauma of their day, decade or their lifetimes might be moving to another apartment. It might be moving to another state. But to Marine families, we take it in stride when we get orders to strange, remote islands in the Pacific. With the clothes on their back, a few pieces of luggage, no housing assignment, no driver's licence, no automobiles, and you just get on a plane and you go." (How true this is!)

"I can tell if you're a Marine...

...if you use the term "Good to Go" repetitively
...if half of your wardrobe was purchased from the Shopette
...if you actually think Motrin cures something."

"I can tell if you're a Marine spouse...

...if you learn about important events either minutes before they happen or days after they've already occurred
...if your Marine has PT gear dating all the way back to boot camp and freaks out if you attempt to throw anything away
...if your Marine complains that you have too many shoes, yet this same Marine has at least 15 pairs of identical combat boots and STILL eyes the latest ones when he walks into cash sales."

Sorry if that didn't make sense to some of you reading this blog (I know I don't usually bust out the military lingo), but let me just clarify - this guy was right on! Matt DOES still have clothes that he wore in boot camp (5 years ago!) and won't let me get rid of anything...even if it's literally falling apart! And I'm sure you can guess what he thinks of my growing shoe collection!

Hope you enjoyed the pics - 'till next time:) Happy Birthday Marines!

-Your FAVORITE Marine Corps couple:)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cape Manzamo and Pineapple Park

This week was a 1-day work week for Matt because of Veteran's Day landing right in the middle of it, so we got to take a day trip further north on the island than we'd been before. We weren't really sure where we were going or what we were planning on doing - we basically just started driving. It was a slightly rainy morning, but seemed to clear up as soon as we started on our trip - that was nice:) Using the Google Map Ap on our Iphones, we knew that we were driving along the west coast of the island toward a town called Nago. You wouldn't think driving around would be much fun, but living in a foreign country, I'm realizing that you will usually always see something new, interesting or beautiful if you do. Just seeing different buildings, stores, beaches, restaurants, bridges, etc. from what we see every day right around our house is fun.

Check out this map of Okinawa - you can see how far we drove to get to Nago compared to the size of the entire island

On our drive

Some neat houses we saw on the drive

We drove along the coast for awhile, seeing a few new Japanese beaches, and large hotels and resorts started to become more frequent as we went further north. From what I gathered, Nago seems to be one of the more "resort-y" areas with some gorgeous looking resorts that we saw along the drive. The Nago area is a mix of tropical ocean views to your left and dense jungle with vegitated mountains to your right - a cool mix! The first place we stopped off at was a cliff overlooking beautiful Cape Manzamo. There were a lot of other visitors there site-seeing as well, but we were the only Americans.

The furthest we got on our little road trip that day was the central part of Nago, which took us about 1 1/2 hours to reach. This may sound far, but the roads here are small and speed limits are very slow, so we really only went about 30 miles I think. The last place we stopped before we turned around and headed home was a magical land called Pineapple Park... Actually, it was just a little park where they are seriously ALL about pineapples. None of the workers at the park spoke English, so Matt and I wandered around the pinapple patch not knowing where we were going. As it turns out, you aren't really supposed to be walking around the patch as we were. They have pinapple cars that drive themselves and give you a tour. After much wandering around, we eventually found the place where you boarded the cars and started the tour. We also did some Pineapple Wine tasting - not just wine, but Pineapple Champagne, Pineapple Cake, Pineapple Chocolate and fresh pineapple tasting as well. It was a goofy place (best way I can describe it), but we ended up having a fun time!

Me at the entry to Pineapple Park
Baby pineapples

Matt makes snail friends everywhere he goes it seems

This is what our pineapple car looked like

Check out this video of us taking the pineapple patch tour:

Pineapple sampling

Pineapple Wine tasting

We bought some of this Pineapple Chocolate

Again with the pigs... the Japanese love their pigs

Side note: We ended up taking the Okinawa Expressway (for the first time) to get back home. That is our only expressway here (as far as I know), and it only took about 40 minutes to get home from Nago when we used it.

Favorite quote of the day? "Do you know what Pineapple stands for? It stands for pine and apple." (Who knew?!?)