Valentine’s in Kanazawa!

Well, to be specific Kanazawa & Shirakawa-go & Takayama

I know, these are currently just names of places in Japan that end with an ‘a’, but they’re also incredible tourist destinations with valuable history and places on the UNESCO National Heritage Sites list.

We had the chance to spend our 4-day weekend touring these locations which meant a trip on the famed bullet trains of Japan. We loved those…

 I mean, nothing better than having a reserved seat on the train.
Kanazawa was a beautiful old castle town that we explored extensively; unfortunately it was wet & rainy the whole time & I was a *little* paranoid about my camera getting damaged, so the pictures are minimal. We did get to visit the excellently restored Kanazawa castle that offered free tours in English (which we always take FULL advantage of) and this time we were graced with a guide who loved his job. He studied English in Washington for a few years & told us that he felt he’d never been able to fully express his gratitude for the help the American friends he’d made gave him, so upon his return he started a job as an English tour guide in an effort to indirectly repay the Americans for their gift to him. We were underserving recipients of this gracious action & we couldn’t be more grateful. I was humbled to receive the benefits of this ripple effect. What a wondrous work gratitude does on the heart.

We did a little shopping (at the Gap, but MOSTLY) at the open-air market that featured lots of fresh seafood and a shop where I got to try my first cup of sake
& found the perfect hostess gift for Chieko-san’s tea ceremony (that was amazing, btw, but I’ll blog about it later…gotta have cliff hangers because strategy).

 We wandered quite a bit here & got to visit a Noh Theatre Museum where I got to dress up like a Noh actor#timelapsesforthewin

After two nights in Kanazawa, we took a bus to the remote, mountain village of Shirakawa-go, famous for its thatch-roofed farmhouses, some of which are almost 300 hundred years old. That’s older than our COUNTRY, by the way. #respect.  We got to see it in the snow and I was enchanted. 
Fortunately for us, The Last Samurai was on the Japanese-content-version of Netflix in our hotel & we watched it the night before visiting. It was very moving & will instill in you a new, fresh respect (& maybe love?) for Japanese culture. That was my experience, but I…you know…live here. 
Either way, I recommend it. 
Tom Cruise. 
So…enough said. 

 Our first glimpse…
 Magical, isn’t it?

 I COULDN’T BELIEVE THIS SNOW-FORT WAS 300 YEARS OLD!!!
 (please tell me you knew I was kidding…)

 ughhhhhhhhh. Doesn’t this look just like the yard of your dreams? #curbappeal
 Village view from the mountain.
 Inside one of the farmhouses.
This is on the second floor.
 Did I mention that all of these were built WITHOUT NAILS?!
ok, so now you can be REALLY impressed…

 *swoon* I think I have a house-crush…you know, the feeling you get every time you watch Fixer Upper?

This crane is my attempt at “wildlife photography.”
I think I’m ready to break into the industry.

 I mean, have you even ever SEEN enough snow to make footprints without hitting the grass beneath?
(if you’re from above the Mason-Dixon line, 
please refrain from answering this rhetorical question silently at your computer/handheld device)

 We took the time to build this little guy at the top of the mountain.
I think we named him Parson Frederick Brown.
Oakie’s convinced it was something Japanese.
(which one of us sounds more credible??)
(HINT: ME.)

   Either way, we loved him.
 OOOOO, can you find me??


Oakie took this photo of our quintessential Japanese lunch of udon noodles.
#whatapro

Next up was Takayama, another remote, mountain town where we saw a lot of the mountain. 
Meaning, we hiked.
A lot.
It was awesome.
  I have quadriceps like tree trunks now…

 & we ran into one of THESE beauties, otherwise known as the Japanese serow

As I was thinking about how I would google it so I could describe it in my blog,

 I thought, “It sorta looked like a goat deer…”
Turns out that’s EXACTLY how the Japanese describe it too…

I am, like, SUCH a native.
 & Oakie is, like, SUCH a goat-deer whisperer…He fed it our snack nuts.

& then posed in this hero position fitting for someone of his woodsy stature…
I’d follow this woodsman anywhere…

We also got to see a classic Japanese rickshaw in action!
I”m linking you to this site because who better to tell us about rickshaws then Seinfeld?
(Side note, we recently exhausted the Camp Zama library’s supply of Seinfeld DVDs 
& THEY DON’T HAVE THE 9TH SEASON! We are now accepting donations…)
Overall, this was a fantastic trip that we will remember for years to come.
Oh my gosh, I sound like I’m 85…

In other random news:
Here are some odds & ends in our life…

A piece of art I got to make with my women’s bible study group…
T, look what I found in Japanese!!!!
Katie!!! Doesn’t this just make you happy? #taylorswift
Until next time,
love from Japan

China Town, Chieko-san & Skiing

I’ve all but given up on clever “post titles” so I came up with this great idea to just call them what I’m going to talk about in that post. Feel free to use this titling tidbit in your everyday life. You’re welcome.

China Town (chinatown?):
Whether it’s one word or two, it was basically like a visit to Mulan’s village…if she lived near a bunch of Hello Kitty stores. We made our way here with some friends we made on an MWR trip (seriously, these trips are our LIFE). Lindsey & Kevin are optometry students doing residency rotations here in Japan & Edgar was a friend coming to visit the Land of the Rising Sun for the first time. 

So, you’re thinking, “Ok, cool. Chinatown. I’ve been to one of those. You eat some dumplings and see more asian people than normal…” NO. Well…I mean, YES. But there’s MORE. It was Chinese New Year when we visited. The Year Of The Monkey (which you can see LOTS OF PICTURES of here.) And there was a massive celebration going on. Think “The Festival Scene In Mulan.” So yes, there were dragon puppets and loud drums and fireworks. It was everything I wanted Chinatown to be. I almost don’t want to go back until there’s another reason for dragon puppets to be everywhere so that I can believe Chinatown is ALWAYS like that.

At each storefront, the dragon would stop if they had a paper charm hanging from the door way. 
The dragon would dance around & enter the store to bless it in the new year.
Then it would jump up and take the paper in its mouth (pretty impressive).
Chieko-san
She is one of my dearest new friends in Japan & she has taken me under her wing to show me her country. So far we’ve been to an antique market in Tokyo:

 This lady’s face says it all as she leads the school band. 
#thatsideeyethough
 & the school band…
 & the school t-shirts…
WAIT A MINUTE.
That’s a US school.
Yes, there was a whole booth dedicated to USA t-shirts which were really just piles of old drama program t-shirts.
 These incredible pieces of art are actually home-shrines.
Made of wood, they looked like doll houses to me!

& This is the back of Chieko-san’s head as she shops for a tea tray. 
I know, I know.
We need a picture.
I’LL GET ONE, OK?

& these were my favourite things I saw there that day:
beautiful knobs for drawers, etc. 
#heartemoji

She recently took me & another friend, Ms. Judy, to a Hina Doll Exhibition in Tokyo.
It was fascinating to see the tradition passed down for three or four or seven HUNDRED years.
Hina dolls are bought or passed down as gifts for newborn baby girls.
They usually come in a set that includes an emperor, an empress, warriors, musicians, an old couple and occasionally some miniature household goods.
You can add any number of characters to this set if you have enough money…
They’re literally little dolls, but unfortunately, they’re not toys. 
They’re like good luck charms with each doll representing something the family hopes will come true for their daughter:
warriors- safety
musicians- joy
old couple- long marriage
We weren’t allowed to take any pictures inside the exhibition rooms, but the hotel it was housed in is quite famous in its own right because it has a “million dollar bathroom.”
That’s right. A bathroom renovation of $1,000,000.
So OF COURSE we visited it.

And I did snag one of this great display!
Those are all hand sewn dolls!

 That’s Ms. Judy in the red above.
(I swear, I’ll get a picture of all three of us)
& THERE WAS A BRIDGE OVER A CREEK IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BATHROOM.
 & #noshame I took a million dollar bathroom selfie…
 But then I found this one in my pictures from when we first moved here & I realised I can’t totally blame the bathroom selfie on the million dollar draw…
Sometimes, you just coordinate so well that you HAVE TO…
& next Chieko-san is having me & Ms. Judy over for a traditional tea ceremony TODAY.
I promise I will have a picture of the three of us (& all the tea ceremony things).
Skiiing
Oakie & I are what you call, people-who-ski/snowboard. NOT skiiers/snowboarders. There IS a difference.
However, there’s not a difference in how much fun you can have. We are PROFESSIONAL FUN-HAVERS.

I have an iMovie about it that I made myself…sooooooo…
To change it up, the pictures are in that! 

Enjoy!

I am exorbitantly proud of this video.
Hats off to all the people who do this for a living/a hobby that they think is fun.
whoa.

until next time,
love from japan

Strawberries, Sumo, & Castles in the Snow

Plus: otters, selfies, and funny texts from my friends.
BOY ARE YOU IN FOR A TREAT.
This is another photo-driven post, because they’re worth a thousand words & y’all would HATE MEEEEEE if I wrote all those words instead of just showing you the darn pictures.
So, for that, you are welcome.

First, the strawberries. 
There were at least 4 varieties in this massive green house, so even though it was cold outside, it was like a springtime strawberry field in that large plastic house. #somuchyum Also, it was all-you-can-eat NOT all-you-can-pick-and-take-home so there’s that small disappointment for the day…but also joy in the challenge to have a personal best in The Most Strawberries Eaten In One Sitting…which we did…duh.
 And, yes, I posed his hands like that… 

 This green house was super hipster with all their upcylced seating arranged around a pot belly stove. 
That seat he’s on? Pulled out of a bus. 
#whatastud
 Why is he wearing different clothes you ask?
Well, it’s definitely not because we signed up for TWO ENTIRELY SEPARATE STRAWBERRY PICKING TRIPS BECAUSE WE ARE CRAAAAAZY ABOUT STRAWBERRIES.
So just don’t even ask that. 
JUST STOP WITH ALL THE QUESTIONS.
 As you can see, my hand is in this picture…and those strawberries are as long as my pointer finger. wut.
This is like one of those game pictures: 
Can you find the strawberry in this picture?
Oh Oakie is pointing at it?
ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
He’s SUCH a cheater at games.
This adorable fluffy strawberry pin was a gift from a storekeeper who saw us wandering the streets looking for coffee (with me, this is a regular occurance…#allthecoffee). 
He had it pinned to his vest and now it’s hanging from our rearview mirror.
Like I said, WE ARE NOT STRAWBERRY FANATICS.

Next, the Sumo.
Here’s the thing about Sumo wrestling. Pictures DO NOT do it justice…like AT ALL. 
So there are videos too.
We watched about 60 matches and kept tabs of who chose the winning rakishi (wrestler) each time. 
I beat Oakie by 15 matches. I tell you, I am just FULL of the Holy Spirit.
Oh, and David & Hallie? These guys had NOTHIN’ on you two. #familydanceoff

This first video is an announcement of the players.
Get to know them because you will have NO IDEA WHO IS WHO once everything gets going.

                                                                //www.youtube.com/get_player

This next one is a good example of a quick fight.
Most of them were less than 10 seconds.
And this last one is my favourite.
Oakie totally called that it would be one worth video-ing & it was the only one where somebody got flipped so…kudos to Oakie.
It’s a bit longer, but gives a rough idea of the ritual they went through before each fight (a.k.a. throwing salt into the ring; the higher the toss, the stronger the challenge)
#kitchentips
This was by far some of the best, just plain fun we’ve had here.
Nothing like watching guys in thongs for a few hours to relax into your weekend.

And then the castles in the snow.
Because when you go tour the oldest standing castle in Japan, Matsomoto, it’s incredible; but when you go in the snow…its SNOW incredible. #georgiagirl 
(writing tip: any time you’re dealing with snow, just write about it using “snow” instead of “so” every time. People love that stuff.)

 OOOOH OOOOH here’s another game picture!
Can you spot me??
STOP SAYING, “HER GAMES ARE TOO EASY” IN YOUR MIND.
 BONUS: Ice sculptures.

Also, my husband is like SO dreamy…& photogenic…& generally eye-candy.

This man…I CANNOT EVEN.
I have a very slim file of “Acceptable Pictures To Use If We Need Couple Pictures.”
please pray for us.

And now a segment I call:
All The Stuff I Left Out Of My Other Blog Posts

like this video of a monkey riding another monkey from our day with the snow monkeys.
Or the fact that we went to an aquarium after strawberry picking one day & I got to see otters (no pictures waaahhhh), but my TICKET had an otter on it & I felt like I won a small lottery.
 And we saw a dolphin show with the Pacific Ocean in the background.
 And there was a seal riding a dolphin.
SO MANY ANIMALS PIGGY BACKING ON OTHER ANIMALS.
 GUYS. THEY’RE KISSING. dead.
 And a silhouette of a dolphing jumping that is 
EVERY SILHOUETTE OF A DOLPHIN JUMPING.
 And a school of fish that I just sat & watched for 30 minutes.
(why is it so fascinating?)

 And what about these high-fashion jellyfish?
#trendsetters
 See? 
I TOLD you he was photogenic.
#onlywhenheisnotlooking
And last, but not least:
Funny Texts From My Friends
Living in Japan has forced me to rely on text conversations for the majority of my keeping-in-touch. It’s not always the easiest to communicate, but it sure does get the job done. This rise in text frequency has resulted in a lot of laughter that it seemed only fair to share. iKatie is my sister, even though it ironically sounds like a robot name. Meghan is one of my best friends whom we lived next door to in Columbus. #100footjourney

P.S. I ONLY SAY OBVS IN TEXTS IRONICALLY.
so you can stop judging me now.
obvs.
Life in Japan is good.
Adventure is at the door and we NEVER turn away a guest.
If she comes for a visit, may I warn you she doesn’t always knock,
but she ALWAYS brings a hostess gift.

Snow. Monkeys.


Need I say more? 

What’s that you say?
This is a blog where I literally have to say more or it’s all over?
Well, in THAT case:

Y’all. We went to see snow monkeys. Macaques to be exactsssss… (oh, you would’ve made a better joke?? *cough* whatever *cough*…)

I could talk a lot about how cute they were or how they made me consider kidnapping the babies; about how doleful their little faces were (except for Mean Mug…you’ll meet him later); about how it was like a zoo except someone left the gate open and you snuck into the enclosure; about how Oakie TOUCHED TWO OF THEM AND I WAS SCARED FOR MY HIS LIFE; about how walking in the snow made me feel like a winter princess (which I’ve now decided should be called a Wintress because magic); about how I considered joining this tribe of primates whose whole life is eating & chilling in onsens (hot springs) & I strategised ways that they would accept me as one of their own; but I won’t spend an entire paragraph on all of that……………

I’l show you the pictures instead. 
First of all: This is what my house looked like a couple weeks back. 
I’ve NEVER lived anywhere with this much snow. 
#blessed
#takethatwhicheverwayyouwant
 Second of all: Here are all my artsy snow pictures.
humor me.

 Third of all: This is the walk we took to the monkeys. 
See what I mean about the Wintress thing??

I half expected to meet Mr. Tumnus while we were out & about.
It seemed just his sort of place…

 Also, don’t you kinda just wish you lived in this little place in the Japanese snow?
I know I sure do.
I daydreamed about it for a solid ten minutes.

OH. You’re just here for the snow monkeys so would I please just get to the point & leave you be in your monkey-lovin’ life?
Oh…oh yeah. Sure. 
My apologies for keeping you waiting.

And my personal favourite picture of the day: 
This completely unintentional action shot that I discovered when going through my pictures after the fact.
Aw guys, staaaahhhp. 
National Geographic is WAY out of my league.
 Doesn’t this just look like the most relaxing thing?
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah….

 GUYS. THEY’RE KISSING. dead.

 I watched this little guy for quite a while as he groomed an older monkey.
He was so diligent & hardworking andohmygoshthatspikyhairrrrrrr.

 And monkey feet. 
If this picture doesn’t just make you happy…

 This was the one I would’ve kidnapped…
Look at that crooked little smirk.
#allthehearts

 And monkey butts are funny, I don’t care WHO you are…

 They were WERKIN’ that camera.
That guy got the footage of a lifetime.

 These are Oakie’s feet.
THAT’S HOW CLOSE THESE MONKEYS WERE TO US.

And if that doesn’t seem scary to you, check out ol’ Mean Mug.
But then you see these babies & you totally forget how scared Mean Mug made you…
 Don’t you want to wear your mom as a coat sometimes??

 And my final shot of the day, this handsome guy.
So pensive. 
So snow-freckled.

 And then there’s this picture in the guest house, because OF COURSE the monkeys aren’t playing with iPhones when YOU’RE taking pictures.
UGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH.
But also, awwwwwwwwww.

Meet me back here next week for a glimpse at the outta-this-world Japanese strawberries we got to pick & a summary of our first Sumo wrestling experience (that I’m personally calling Our Launch Into a Lifelong Love of Sumo Wrestling/New Hobby Day).

all the love from me & the monkeys.


Japan How-To

From the sound of the title this might be a fun instruction manual on how to get around Japan once you’re here, but that is actually not the case.
This is an object lesson on how to get to Japan so we can hang out.
If you’re reading this blog, rest assured, I want you to come visit meeeeeeeee. Yes, even you who just thought to yourself, “She doesn’t even know I read her blog because I NEVER like it or comment…I’m GHOSTING her blog for pete’s sake!”
Oh, but I do.
Even you, ghosty friend.
Come. Visit. Meeeeeee.
Now, we’ve probably all been on Facebook in the last, oh I don’t know, 5 minutes, so we’ve all seen something like this:
This is Caroline.
Caroline notices that it’s raining outside.
Caroline doesn’t post on Facebook about it because Caroline knows her friends have eyes.
Caroline is smart.
Be like Caroline.
May I submit to you that there is a WAY better, truer version of this that ALL Y’ALL need to listen to? It goes like this:
This is Karen.
Karen was in Tokyo, Japan for a show she was in.
Karen knew Caroline was also in Japan so she set up a date to see her.
Karen is awesome & kind.
Be like Karen.
This is a true story that I want all of you to take very seriously.
You could be thinking, “Yeah, but I don’t have a job that takes me to Japan…”
My suggestion? Buy a plane ticket to Japan and then name that plane “job”. You now have a “job” that takes you to Japan. BOOM. Thought you had me stumped, eh?
But for real, when we first got to Japan (I’m talking, still-living-in-the-hotel) my friend Karen Estrada messaged me on Facebook letting me know that she was touring Japan with a Disney show based in Tokyo–you may have heard of it…Beauty & The Beast?
Anyway, Karen & I have known each other since I was about…nine. So about 17 years. She was a teacher of mine in the beginning & then I had the pleasure of being her right-hand-gal for the summer she was the Director of the Springer Theatre Academy. You could say, “We go waaaaaaaay back” which I’ve always wanted to say in real life so…let’s say that.
She offered us tickets to her show and we set up a time to meet for breakfast. This happened to be Christmas morning since we were both away from family for Christmas for the first time ever.  She took us to a western styled eatery & I had a waffle with a MOUNTAIN of whipped cream on it. I could’ve hiked that thing. She got to meet Oakie & we chatted about life & Japan & life in Japan & it was the loveliest way to spend my first Christmas here.
The next day we got to see her “play an anthropomorphic tea pot” (her words) a.k.a. Mrs. Potts in the coolest stage version of Beauty & the Beast I’ve ever seen. There were 7 of them decked out in gorgeous evening wear backed by the Tokyo Symphony as they sang & danced through the classic Disney tale. And then we got backstage passes & I felt like a big winner on a radio contest.  It was their final performance & the love & devotion was evident onstage & off. It was one of my favourite performances I’ve had the privilege to be in the audience for.
And this is actually the 2nd time I’ve happened to meet someone on the other side of the world. When traveling in Italy back in 2012, a friend, Christi, was planning to be in Rome for a mission trip the same weekend my study abroad group was visiting, so we met up for lunch. 
We had pizza in a piazza in Rome. 
It was literal magic. 
I think there was glitter present.
These stories have served two purposes:
1. They warmed my heart & made me happy.
2. You now have 2 perfect examples of how to happen to be on the same “other side of the world” as me.
So do that thing.
But don’t wait till you happen to be in Japan. Just wait till you happen to have enough pennies to buy that plane ticket & name that plane. We’ve got a guest room ready. And if you bring friends, we also have a pull-out couch that I’ve slept on (for testing purposes only & definitely not because we fell asleep watching Seinfeld DVDs…). While driving, I recently found myself thinking about something OTHER than not crashing my car, so I can now say that I can confidently drive you around on the left side of the road. And have you tried sushi & liked it? Good news: They have that here. Plus also, I’ve cooked, like, three amazing meals in the past week so WE DEFINITELY HAVE THE FOOD THING COVERED. And the mountains are gorgeous & the strawberries are in season this time of year & you can see Mt. Fuji in person & JUST LIKE COME ON ALREADY.
Now do me a favour & interpret that in a totally cool, invitational, non-needy kind of way. K great.
Karen & Christi are smart.

Be like Karen & Christi.

F.R.I.E.N.D.S.



Katie is, like, my funniest sister (sorry, but y’all know it’s true) & she sends me funny stuff all the time.
For example, here is a funny thing she sent me:
I’m not a bit  only slightly  just tell them that you’re TERRIBLY embarrassed to tell you how much I laughed at this…and still do every time I think about it…which is a LOT because I’m going through all 10 seasons right now. 
And lemme tell ya, it is not hard to figure out why this show was such a hit for so long and lives on in the hearts of fans via Netflix: 
They are living the dream. 
New York City.
High rise apartments.
Friends across the hall.
DOING LIFE TOGETHER.
It’s not always easy.
Maybe their job’s a joke, they’re broke, their love life’s DOA.
Maybe sometimes, it’s like they’re stuck in 2nd gear…when it hasn’t been their day, their week, their month, OR EVEN THEIR YEAR.
It will all be ok, because I’LL BE HERE FOR YOU (when the rain starts to fall)…ok, I’m done. I promise.
I mean, come on. Who doesn’t want this?? 
Only a heartless fool WITH NO HEART! Hence the term…heartless.

Friends are a God-given miracle wherein people who have absolutely NO obligation to spend time with you, DO…& they LIKE IT. & YOU like it. & you share life’s burdens & life’s joys & somehow the whole lot of it comes out more beautiful & fun & joyous than if they weren’t there.
Seriously, you should look into it.
10 out of 10.
I would recommend it to a friend.
Pun intended.
(disclaimer: I got this joke from Katie. I told you she was funny.)
Moving to Japan has provided some challenges, not the least of which was leaving the best group of friends I’ve had in my entire life. We were living the dream. 
Columbus, GA.
Cute, historic houses.
Friends next door & across the street & across the park.
DOING LIFE TOGETHER.
It wasn’t always easy.
Maybe our job’s a joke, JK. I won’t go through the song again…I trust you to do that on your own time. In fact, here’s the video if you need a reference.
BONUS: There are more words to this song. You’re welcome.
It was the sweetest season for friendship, outside of the formative years of sibling love, that I’ve experienced to date.
Enter ARMY. & MOVING. & GOING AWAY PARTIES. & GOODBYES.
Yes that is dessert sushi that Meghan made all by herself.
And those decorations? Yeah, all Kate.


And these pictures? All Geoff.

These friends y’all. These F.R.I.E.N.D.S.

Facetime works wonders & let me tell you, when Meghan & I discovered the verbal text option on iPhones (ok fine, it was Oakie), our virtual relationship reached the next level…but it’s just not the same.
& that’s hard for me.
I’m friend-spoiled & now I’m friend-starved & a little part of my heart stamps its foot at the injustice of it all.

BUT GOD. It doesn’t matter what comes before those words, because what comes after will always change everything.

This is a consistent fear of mine: That we’ll move somewhere & somehow manage to live there for an extended period of time ALL ALONE because we can’t find any friends
& NO ONE likes us
& we cry over delicious dinners at a table set for 6 when there are only two…
As I type this, I’m smirking at how silly it sounds, but when you’ve moved 7 times in the past 3 years, rational thinking doesn’t always make it back out of the moving boxes.
Honestly, I should know better.
When we showed up in Louisiana, we jumped into a church there & walked out with FRIENDS. Like, dinner-at-their-house-every-Sunday-night friends.
When we showed up in Columbus, we already knew people (duh), but we walked out with even more FRIENDS. Like, Hitchcock-marathon-up-till-4am, share-a-backyard friends.
I prayed before I left & prayed when I got here & then prayed some more that God would send friends.
Board-game-playing, dinner-sharing, (preferably) wine-drinking friends (no offense to the non-wine drinkers, of whom my husband numbers foremost & I married him, so obviously, I love you all…).

When we showed up in Japan, we were immediately embraced by our neighbours who invited us (PERFECT STRANGERS) over to their house for Thanksgiving & have continued to show us love & kindness up to & including Lauren reaching out to make sure I was personally invited to join the women’s Bible study on Camp Zama which has proved to be a huge source of encouragement to me.

I tell ya, when God wants to come through for me, He goes big.

We had begun attending a church when we first moved here & we loved spending our Sunday afternoon/evening meeting with other believers both foreign & local. But we travel a lot on the weekends to see stuff & I worried that we were damaging our chances at really getting to know people & build relationships.
In the course of 2 days, we had shared two meals with people from our church (Ramon’s family being one) & three young people we’d just met the week before: Akiko, Jesse & Donnie (if you guys are reading this, first of all, glad to see you at my blog & second of all, hey! you made the blog!)
These may all be new, fledgling friendships, but they hold the promise of hope.
New places are scary.
I’d be lying if the brave face of loving Japan withheld the truth of struggling through a huge transition, but friends? F.R.I.E.N.D.S. make this whole adventure a whole lot easier.
If you read this & thought, “Man. Friends sound super cool. I don’t have a whole lot of those & the ones I do have I never really see anymore.”
I’ve got super good news.
Stop what you’re doing & locate your phone.
If it’s in your hand, feel free to give me some feedback on how the mobile-version of this reads…
ANYWAY, once you find your phone find the contact info of someone you’re friends with or want to be friends with (c’mon, we’ve all got friend crushes. You know the ones where you’re like, “aw man, it’d be so cool to be their friend, but they’d never like meeeeee.”) & CALL THEM…OR TEXT THEM…OR SEND THEM A FACEBOOK MESSAGE.
Invite them to yo house.
And cook them some food.
And pour them some wine.
Play a game!
Have a list of 10 questions ready so you can get to know them better.
JUST DO SOMETHING TOGETHER.
If you click or connect & have fun then DO ALL OF THE THINGS OVER & OVER AGAIN.
If you don’t, chalk it up to experience & have another go with a different (potential) friend.
It’s that easy.

And if you’re reading this friendship tutorial & rolling your eyes, it’s obviously because you are already good at this & should feel very blessed & should maybe even consider inviting a loner to join your group.
We all need friends.
We all need f.r.i.e.n.d.s.
Have a friend.
Be a friend.
I give it a 10 out of 10.

P.S. As evidenced by Ross & Monica, family are friends too. So to all my family who just read this & felt slighted…you can stop that now.

Made In Taiwan…

GUYS. GUYS.

I WENT TO TAIWAN AND FOUND THIS & IT’S REALLY IMPORTANT TO ME:

It’s a cup…made in Taiwan.
I laughed. I cried. It was better than Cats.


So, this was a five-day, four-night, round island excursion that I realise was mostly fun for Oakie & I. 
Hearing about someone else’s “awesome trip” is only cool if there are funny stories & awesome pictures. 

With that in mind:

 Our 5-Day Trip In 50 Pictures or Fewer & As Many Funny Stories As I Remember

This was a bus tour that started in the northern most part of Taiwan (the capitol Taipei), took us down around the east side to the southernmost part and then back up the western side seeing historically important, geographically relevant highlights along the way. It was presented in Mandarin & English and was a mix of tourism & vacation. A total blast.

WARNING: I love hotels and these were über nice so I’ll have pictures of those. 
I apologise if that isn’t your cup of local Taiwanese tea. 
WHICH THEY HAD FOR FREE IN EVERY ROOM.

Day 1:  
Welcome to Taiwan, where the planes fly with the butterflies.

We were picked up from our hotel in the capitol of Taiwan, Taipei, after breakfast (where we found the vases from IKEA that we used in as our wedding table-centerpieces).


Pretty short day. 
Saw a buddhist temple:


Found a worker’s hat.
Put it on.

And traveled to Sun Moon Lake–a treasure of Taiwan that was one of the highlights of the whole trip.
Hotel was amazing.
Hot springs in your room.
Paper cranes on your bed.

View from our hotel, the Fleur de Chine:

 But in an effort to be transparent, 
if you looked the OTHER way, 
it was totally parking lot all the way…


And then they leave outfits in your room & Oakie convinces you that EVERYONE at the hotel is wearing theirs to dinner downstairs because HE SAW THEM and you ride the elevator down and the doors open to the dining room & everyone looks 
& no one. 
no. one. 
NO ONE 
is wearing their hotel outfit and you just let the doors close and ride back up…
and take this picture.


Day 2:
Sunrise walk down to Sun Moon Lake where you couldn’t see the sunrise because of the mountains & clouds, but it was beautiful anyway.


Then we made another stop at a buddhist temple with the “big buddha” and it was gorgeous.


And then on to Kaohsiung where we saw Love River & one of the famous Night Markets of Taiwan!

Normal Picture

 Oakie’s Normal Picture because he keeps snapping pictures just HOPING to catch me losing my mind in stop motion…

 I stood on a chair in the middle of the road to take this. #noshame
 I felt like we were on the Food Network…this won’t be the last time you hear that.

View from our hotel, the Grand Hi-Lai:
Day 3:
It actually got HOT on this portion of the trip where, 
in 1 day, 
we saw 3 different oceanic bodies of water:
The Taiwan Strait (between Taiwan & China)
& Bashi Channel (between Taiwan & the Philippines) 
& the Pacific Ocean between Taiwan and the YOU(S-A).
But FIRST, we stopped at a fruit stand in the south of Taiwan famous for their mangos.
This was the part where Oakie said, “We just got tourist trapped.”
Because we bought this:
I felt like we were on the Food Network.
DON’T I LOOK LIKE A FOOD NETWORK GIRL??
Aw, thanks, guys! I do. I really do.
P.S. Everyone in Taiwan puts cereal on their ice cream…& you know what?
I think they got it right.
#convert
Those oceans tho…
Oakie WILL GET in an ocean. 
Every. Time.

Next up, we visited an Wester Style lighthouse at the tip of the goose-beak peninsula in the southernmost part of Taiwan.
And there were SO MANY stray dogs there…
But when you saw their view, you understood the draw…
But they were totally illegal immigrants…I mean there was a SIGN.
I guess they didn’t understand the language…too far?
(also, Mary Lou, this kinda looks like maybe just Marty isn’t allowed…….)
And then the windy Pacific…seriously, these pictures DO NOT SHOW how windy it was…
I call this next collection: Mirror, Mirror (a.k.a. Earth & Sky; a.k.a. The Ups & Downs of Life)
View from our hotel, Hotel Royal Chihpen Spa:

Day 4:

This was a day of rocky coastlines & running so hard our sides hurt, just for the sake of seeing the beautiful (&, you know, making it back to the bus on time).

I call this picture A Preview of Cardio.
We ran those bad boys.
8 arches of stairs to get to the Imoto (Fairy) Islands.
If you’re looking at this & thinking, “It doesn’t look that bad, Caroline.”
JUST SHUT UP.
View of where we came from:

Oakie climbing. #classicOakie
I think this is perfect:
And then we went to a Buddhist temple in a cave & I took one of my favourite pictures:
Did y’all see the sunshine from America?
I mean, it was on the other side of the ocean, sooooooo….
I DIDN’T TAKE A PICTURE OF OUR HOTEL THIS NIGHT AND I’M SO SAD ABOUT IT.
So instead, here’s an awesome panorama:
& a picture of the aboriginal dance performance we got to see:
Day 5:
On our final day, we visited Taroko Gorge on the western side of Taiwan, where they mine marble, jade, star sapphire and lots of other semi-precious stones. 
We took a tour of the quarry and I learned that you can tell real jade from fake jade by holding it up to a light. Real jade is transparent. 
I’m now receiving all personal jade for appraisal/verification.
This place was GORGE-ous…
And we had to wear helmets, so WE were GORGE-ous.

 That is marble in the rough y’all…

And then this little girl posed…
So WE posed…
 Obviously…
At the risk of sounding self-aggrandizing, I HAVE to tell you the story of this little girl.
She was on our tour.
She is from China.
She is 4 and her name is Joseline (pronounced like Josephine).
She couldn’t speak English, but she was, like, minorly, obsessed with me.
She called me “pretty lady” in Mandarin and watched me/followed me for the first 2 days. By the 2nd day, her mom said she had asked if it was alright if she took a picture with me.

By Day 3, she had asked her mother if she could hug me:
By Days 4 & 5, we were BFFs. 
She always kept an eye out for me and we communicated on the bus with hand signals:
Sweet Joseline.
I will never forget her.
And with that, our tour ended.
A drive along the Pacific all the way back to Taipei.

An amazing trip through which I witnessed the glory of God in the rock faces of the cliffs and the friendly faces of the people we met on that bus. 
Jesus said we should be as the little children.
Maybe today, you unabashedly show someone how much you admire them.
(Maybe hold off on the random hugging unless everyone involved is okay with it…)
If we could all notice, recognise & appreciate the gifts around us for what they are, maybe we could all get a little bit closer to that child in us that Jesus doesn’t want us to forget.
Thank you, Joseline, for that lesson.
& thank you, Jesus, for Joseline.
P.S. I 100% lied about the 50 photos or less, but now that I came clean, it’s all good, right?
Guys?

Lions & Tigers & Pandas Oh My!

Yes. It’s true. I’m posting late. But you know what they say, “Sometimes you make a schedule for the thing & then you don’t do the thing by the schedule & then it’s late & you shrug your shoulders & do the thing late anyway.” 
So, you know, let that old, wise adage guide you today.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, we recently travelled to Taiwan on a 5-day Round Island excursion. It was both exactly what I expected and nothing I could’ve dreamed in a million years all in one. I can’t wait to tell you about it…next week.

Right now, there are just too many good things I have neglected to include that just tickle me. So without further ado, a segment I like to call: 
Too Many Good Things I Have Neglected To Include That Just Tickle Me 
(working title)

1. I mentioned our Headstart teachers a couple of time in one of my earlier posts, but did I mention that Mitsuo-san SANG FOR US & PLAYED A TRADITIONAL JAPANESE MUSICAL INSTRUMENT THAT HE TAUGHT HIMSELF HOW TO PLAY & I LISTENED & FELT A LOT OF THINGS & I THINK I LOVE HIM NOW?? I didn’t think so. 


Ahem. Here is a video so you can empathise/understand me/think I’m less crazy:
Mitsuo-san Sings. It’s a little long, but the very end shows a tiny snippet of his personality & it’s wonderful.

And here are the gingerbread men we made them as gifts. Except we made them ninjas and called them ninjabread men. Oakie’s idea. The man’s a genius, I tell ya. 


Also, Mitsuo-san wasn’t familiar with American gingerbread men so he just thought we made a cookie shaped like him. It was pointless to talk him out of believing it, so the magic lives on.

2. We are really into the tours the MWR (Military Something Something Recreation) offers so we’ve signed up for ALL of them. We’re planning to go see the snow monkeys in the hot springs this month as well as TWO strawberry picking events that include hiking and ice cream (so…duh). Oh, and we’re going to the 40th annual Sumo Wrestling Tournament in February and I still don’t know how to feel about it. I say all of this to explain that we recently went on one of these day-trip tours to Kyoto (the former capitol of Japan). 

Notice something with me here: Kyoto is the old capitol. Tokyo is the new capitol. Their names mean Western Capitol and Eastern Capitol, respectively. Also, their names of opposites of each other. HOW COOL IS THAT?! To- and Kyo- switch places. Kyoto. Tokyo. I love Japanese.

The trip to Kyoto included two Buddhist temples and one walk through an illuminated park. Here are some pictures as I tried to capture some of the magnitude of the experience. 

Ahem. Self-timer MASTERED. *self-timer self-five* #selfies

 Um, yes. That pavilion is covered in gold. 

Japanese tea & cake break.
 Tiny door celebration.

 Nighttime Illumination Walk


3. In Japanese, there’s an adage that hiccuping means you “stole an egg.” We learned this because (THANK GOODNESS) Oakie got the hiccups in front of Ramon (who took us to lunch again) & he laughed and asked if he stole an egg. I’ll never see hiccuping the same.

4. AND SPEAKING OF EGGS. The first time I bought eggs in Japan at the Commissary, I noticed they were locally sourced (cool by me, bro), but that the date on top was very close. Like only 3-4 days away. Thankfully, I was doing a lot of baking so I wasn’t too concerned about using them all before the date. Also, they sell them in quantities of 10 so even easier! However, Ramon told us that the date on the eggs isn’t an expiration date at all. It’s the date by which it’s safe to eat them raw (!!!). So just call me Gaston…

jk. jk. I haven’t eaten any raw yet…BUT I MIGHT.

5. I’ve mentioned before that I LOVE Japanese birthdays & apparently SO DO THEY. In fact, it’s a national holiday…if you’re the emperor. And guess who got invited to the party/public appearance & speech? 
That’s right. 
Everyone in Japan. 
So we went, because one does not simply ignore the emperor’s birthday. It was crazy. There were millions thousands (I cannot estimate crowds for the life of me. There could’ve been ten of us there. I wouldn’t know…) hundreds of people in this huge courtyard where he received his guests and we all got these cool party favours:

 And then there he was with his wife & daughters 
& he turned 82 & gave a two minute speech
& it was the quietest group of 90 million people I’ve ever heard.

Tokyo is a beautiful place to have a birthday party. Good call, Emperor.
Old & New right beside each other.

Plus, they even paint all the cranes festive colours for you 
& tour guides bring festive Follow-the-Leader equipment & sometimes they let you hold it for a minute while they do a headcount & you immediately start living out your dream of being tour guide one day.
As exciting as all this was, we were NOT invited to he slumber party afterwards….whatevs. We’re not even mad about it. 
He’s clearly on the next level of Big Deal & we’re new here so we understood.

                                                           The Part Where We Go To The Zoo
And then we were released to spend the rest of our day seeing the Tokyo Zoo & National Museum & Nature Museum…but let’s be real. Oakie & I spent all 5 free hours at the zoo. #worthit

 Because we got to see a PANDA! 
I‘d never seen one in real life (that I can recall so this was HUGE…I’m serious. That bear was so big.)
Also, someone please appreciate that this photo is in black & white…
 Also, check out THIS fantastic shot…………..that I saw on a poster outside. 

And also THIS panda
…gotcha. 
It’s really Oakie.
 If you know me well enough to know what my spirit animal/patronus is then you know that otters are very important to me & this cheeky little fellow was no different. 
I actually have, like, 47 pictures of him, but I spared you. 
You’re welcome.
He played with our hearts for a good ten minutes before finally travelling through the clear tube that put him outside the enclosure in a clear tub of water. 
He then swam the loop one time and went right back to the cage. 

And he looked right at me as if to say, “No. YOU’RE welcome.”


I call this next collection:
Good Picture Of The Kid

&
Good Picture Of The Tiger

This pretty birdy POSED for me. 
I swear.
Solid ten minutes on that branch just WORKING that camera.
Plus also roosters.
And Taco’s Asian Cousin

& last, but not least, our favourite exhibit.
The Ezo Sika Deer.

We had a chat.
It was magical.
Here is a video.
(loud one is me & the softer one is him)
Bonus Material:
And that’s all she wrote….
Next week.
You.
Me. 
Taiwan.

Interim Post

We are currently traveling through Taiwan on a brief holiday. Internet is hotel-dependent since our phones are Japan-exclusive so this is a bite-sized blog to hold you over till I can make a full-sized post in a few days. Because, obviously, you’ve been sitting by your phone just WAITING for me to post again…obviously. #delightfuldelusions

Here are the thingz: (thingz was originally a typo but then I liked it so now I’m three degrees cooler than I was before)

I have now been out of my home country for the longest amount of time yet. I’ve studied abroad twice for 5 weeks each, but as we complete our 6th week away this is the longest at one time. And we’re still two years away from Stateside Life. 
Some things I’ve realized about my Western Self:
1. I love red brick. It’s familiar and homey and almost completely missing from Asian architecture. Yes, I realize this is a resources issue and that red brick isn’t really “American” inherently, but it’s representative and I’m ok with that. 
2. I love yards. Big green, grassy, annoying-to-mow yards. I want to run in one…right now. 
3. I miss red hair…and blonde hair. And blue eyes. And green eyes. I know, it’s silly, but these brunette around here rule the roost and a “homogenous society” is starting to make more sense…
You can still take bad pictures on a good camera. And I don’t mean the blurred-is-kind-of-in-right-now-I-can-make-this-work kind of bad. I mean the kind where if you got three of four of these on a roll of film, you just wasted almost 20% of your money spent. 

“That was a tourist trap. We just got tourist trapped!” -Oakie (about the fresh fruit stand)

Classroom flashback: I feel possessive of seats that I’ve sat in one time. Like I walk back on the tour bus and see someone in “my” seat and I’m all ready to tell them there’s been a terrible mistake and THEY’VE TAKEN MY SEAT when Oakie reminds me we’re supposed to be rotating through the bus and all I can think is, “But I miss my friends!” #attachmentissues
Ok. That’s all I got. Byeeeee.