Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Catching up with Christmas

Wow!  Where did the year go??!?  It took me a good chunk of time to blog about our big trip for the year to Vietnam and Thailand, and you're probably wondering what we've been up to since then!  The past couple of months sure have been a whirlwind - it seems like Matt and I haven't been out doing too many new things around Okinawa lately, but there has been a lot going on.  Let me catch you up...

In November, Matt took another dive course and became a Rescue Diver.  From what he told me of the class, it wasn't super easy, and he was tested on emergencies in and out of the water.  Becoming a Rescue Diver is something Matt has wanted to do for awhile now, so I'm glad he got the chance.  Since taking the course, he has also decided to work toward becoming a Dive Master and eventually, an actual Dive Instructor as a side job.  As I write this post, he is currently out assisting a new Open Water class as they have their first dives in the ocean - he's been doing this almost every weekend since starting this training - all as a part of working toward Dive Master.  He has also been busy many nights of the week lately, going to classroom and pool classes for the new divers as well.  He basically has to go back through all of his previous classes and assist until he knows the material and skills well enough to teach a class all on his own.  It is pretty much a self-paced training to get Dive Master, and once he gets that, he is able to work toward becoming Dive Instructor!

Later that month, we celebrated Thanksgiving.  Matt and I had a few single Marines from his shop who had nowhere else to go over for dinner and games.  The guys seemed to really enjoy themselves, and as much as I truly miss being with family on Thanksgiving Day, this type of celebration has become normal for us.  Even when we lived in California, Matt and I never came home for Thanksgiving as we were coming home the next month for Christmas.  We haven't been home for Thanksgiving in five years in fact.  Someday... ;)

Our table
We forgot to take a "before" photo, but here was the "after"... oh, did I mention that we had a 21 lb. turkey?
Shortly after Thanksgiving, I left my job at the bank after working there for almost two years.  I had started working as a teller just to get out of the house soon after our first Christmas in Okinawa.  I ended up getting a small promotion and moving to the back offices of the bank where I worked as an operations representative for the past 7 months.  One of my best friends who also used to work at the bank with me, Lyndsey, had gotten a job earlier this year at a home decor and furniture store on one of the bases called, Navy Fleet Gift Shop (or NFGS).  She loved it there, and I've always shopped there, but they never had any openings as their staff is only 4 main girls who run it.  Well, they had a sudden opening for their Buyer position, and because I love the store, get along well with the girls who work there, and have a love for and background in Interior Design, I was hired!  The NFGS is a not-for-profit store that gives all its proceeds to charities for the military and around Okinawa.  They also get all of their items they sell in the stores from countries around Asia, and my job as the Buyer is to take "buy trips" to those countries and shop for a week or so straight!  It's going to be a lot of work, but I know the job is going to be perfect for me, and I'm going to really enjoy it - and enjoy my last year and a half living in Okinawa!  I met some great people at the bank, but it really was the right time to move on and do something closer to my career field.  I already have two buy trips planned for early 2012 - Thailand in January and India in February!  I am really looking forward to the challenge and opportunities this job is going to bring!

Beautiful flowers my Community Bank co-workers got me on my last day

And then there was Christmas - more of a week for us than just a day!  We spent Christmas Eve basically lounging around the house, and then went to church in the evening for Christmas Eve service.  We ended the night by getting some Starbucks and heading back home where we opened our gifts to each other. 

Our living room on Christmas Eve
Christmas Ornament from last year when we were home in Chicago

Christmas morning, Matt and I had blueberry pancakes and opened a bunch of gifts from my family:



Later Christmas Day, we went over to our friends Nick and Amanda's house for a 3-course fondue dinner and dessert which was delicious and a ton of fun!  Our friend Lyndsey came over as well (her husband, Andrez, is deployed in Afghanistan right now) and she made a delicious baked brie appetizer that I love!  We also did a gift exchange and spent the night playing a couple of games that literally had us almost dying of laughter!  It's always hard to be away from family on Christmas, and we've never spent a Christmas with just friends before, but we have been really blessed with some amazing friends here in Okinawa, and it turned out to be one of my favorite Christmases - I can't wait for next year!  

Nick being dramatic with the tomatoes and Amanda pretending not to notice

Our cheese and tomato fondue appetizer

Brutus being silly

Matt and I

Chocolate dessert fondue.... Mmmmm!

Amanda, Lyndsey and I

The girls trying to lift me up LOL

Love these girls!

Our celebration didn't end there - we got some more gifts just a couple days later in the mail:

My main Christmas gift to Matt - his new welder

Gifts from Matt's parents

A lot has happened in the past few months, but we've had an amazing end to our year, and we are so excited about what is to come in 2012!  Thank you to all of our family and friends for making our Christmas wonderful even though we are far from home - you all mean so much to us!


Monday, December 19, 2011

Thailand Trip - Part 4

The last stop on our two-week journey was a little tropical paradise called Phuket - one of Thailand's islands. I had heard mixed reviews on this island in the past, but it really exceeded our expectations when we visited. The day we flew in to Phuket, I wanted to turn around and go back to beautiful Chiang Mai, because the weather was not nice at all! We flew in on a rainy, overcast, windy and not-so-warm day, and I was worried that this portion of our trip would be ruined. However, the rain subsided near the end of the day, and the following morning, it was a miraculous turn-around, and we had the most perfect weather you could imagine! We were really blessed with great weather this whole trip!

Phuket is a tiny island a little further south in Thailand, and it is one of a bunch of islands in the area. The hotel we stayed at was a cute little boutique hotel down south in Kata Beach called Sawasdee Village Resort & Spa. Even with the rainy weather as we arrived, it was obvious how beautiful the resort was. Tucked away and basically hidden from the street-front, the hotel was a maze of twisting pathways throughout what felt like a secret garden! We each had a room on the ground floor - hence the name "village" - there really wasn't one big building or anything like that. Although I enjoyed the actual rooms a little more at our Chiang Mai resort, the Sawasdee Village grounds and pool were gorgeous! There were plants, candles, swings everywhere! You really felt like you were in a garden! The pool was very pretty as well with a swim-up bar for drinks and food - I think this was my first hotel I've ever stayed at with a swim-up pool bar - I remember wanting to go to a hotel with a pool bar so bad even when I was just a kid! - so I was pretty excited:)

Entrance to the Sawasdee Village

Our room - huge bed with a mosquito net

Pathway that leads to the spa and restaurant - reminds me so much of being in a garden with all the plants, ponds, swings, stepping stones...

Pool Bar in the fancy Villa area of the resort

Our first full day in Phuket, we wanted to take the opportunity to go diving - I started off a little nervous, because I have only been diving in Okinawa.  However, the weather was amazing, the water was gorgeous and calm, and the dive company we went with was extremely professional, and I quickly began to enjoy the day.  We took a very nice dive boat out from Phuket to two islands to the South called Racha Noi and Racha Yai.  Although the trip was almost two hours just to get to the first island, it really didn't feel like that long of a ride.  The boat was decently large, and we had a lot of space to move around and a great view from the deck.  They also served us breakfast, lunch, dinner, and fresh pineapple and watermelon as a snack - all was delicious!  At this point in the trip, I had begun to develop a small sinus cold, and it actually felt really good to go out and get some fresh air on the boat while enjoying fresh fruit.  And being in salt water actually did wonders for me as well!  

View from up top on our dive boat

The water was bright turquoise and crystal clear at the same time

Below deck, our dive gear was loaded on and off, set up, taken apart, etc. by deck hands that did everything for us pretty much - it was a pretty relaxing day of diving!

Our first dive spot - Racha Noi Banana Bay

OMG this water looked fake!

LOVE it!

Here are a bunch of shots from our 3 dives of the day - we did two at Racha Noi and one last dive at Racha Yai:

Love the markings on this guy

Me, checking out some coral

Moray Eel


So many tiny fish!

Neon blue Crown of Thorns

Blue Spotted Sting Ray

Matt with some large concrete cubes they sunk to grow the reef

This was the Lion Fish hangout

They were some big Lion Fish!

Check out a few of our video clips from the dives - this one is us in a large school of Baby Barracuda:

Our second dive was a Drift Dive with a very strong current that just took us with it - you can see in this video clip how quickly we are moving through the water without even swimming!

More fish, shrimp, etc...

One of my favorites - a Cuttlefish we found - these are so cool, and they camouflage themselves!  You can see at the end when Matt moves in closer to it that it changes colors:

Incredible sunset on our way back to the port

For the rest of our time in Phuket, Matt and I just decided to relax around the island - here's us lounging at the pool and having some smoothies at the swim-up bar:

The most delicious coconut smoothie EVER

Kata Beach right near our hotel - paradise!!

In the afternoon, we went with our friends, Lyndsey and Andrez, up a mountain to see the Big Buddha that overlooks Phuket.  Instead of taking a taxi, the guys decided to drive us up on our rented scooters, which was interesting because of the curvy and steep ride up there!

Up at the top

Really amazing views down into the jungle and mountains of Phuket

On our ride back down, the sun began to set, and this was our view of the Big Buddha

Last night in Phuket - dinner with Lyndsey & Andrez

We had such an amazing trip!

Thanks for following along as I recapped our whole Vietnam and Thailand trip with you all - we are so thankful for these opportunities and the memories we've created!