Wednesday, November 23, 2011

a thankful heart

If I had to vote for a favorite holiday, it would be Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is about wearing jeans to the table. (If your family made you dress up, I'm so, so sorry.) It's about thanking God for what you've been given and most likely take for granted. It's about seeing family you haven't seen in a while. It's hugs in the hallway when you first walk in the door. It's the smell and promise of an amazing meal. It's a parade and a nap in the afternoon. It's eating turkey for WEEKS on end.


If you know me, I'm all about these things. All. About. Them.

You don't show someone you're grateful for them with a gift. Show them you love and appreciate them by bringing over that side dish. I'm down with that. 


Thanksgiving doesn't come with high expectations. No one's worried about having just the right outfit, making the best impression, who they're going to kiss at midnight, or if they'll get flowers or jewelry. Thanksgiving doesn't require breaking the bank, weeks of planning, or an elaborate vacation.


I love Thanksgiving because it's genuine. It's low-key. It's about family and friends and God. It's about remembering how precious our time here is and how blessed we are to be able to enjoy it.

Sure, it might involve road trips and you need to plan what to make. That's minimal compared to what you get out of Thanksgiving. 


The heart of Thanksgiving happens during the meal and after. Everyone eats and enjoys themselves. Hearts and stomachs are full.



You can't beat that. You just can't.
  
This morning, my first thoughts were thankful ones.

I'm thankful to have woken up to my husband's voice. Phone calls while he's gone are the best ever. I am so, so thankful for him.


I'm thankful for Annie. I am especially thankful that she has recently learned the beauty of sleeping in.


I am thankful for my family and friends back home. I am lucky to have such spectacular people to miss.


I am thankful I have sweet Okinawa friends to share today with.

I'm thankful that even though things don't always work out the way I plan, I have a God that loves me and makes sure things always work out okay.

Lastly, I am sincerely thankful that I don't have to bring the turkey.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, y'all. God bless. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Cape Hedo

Cape Hedo was the kind of trip that I won't forget in a long time. Our trek north came at a very opportune time for me.

  Growing up on the east coast (with a brief stint in Illinois), I've been lucky enough to enjoy all four seasons every year - with fall being my favorite season of all.  To say I've been a bit mopey over the severe lack of fall in Okinawa is like saying Lady Gaga is a bit eccentric. I had a laundry list of gripes. I was bummed about buying pumpkins at the Commissary instead of going to a pumpkin patch. I am really missing out on Starbucks' Pumpkin Spice Lattes. I hate that it is nowhere near sweater and boot weather at the end of October. In short, I have not been a joy to be around lately. 

  Going up north never fails to set me straight. Northern Okinawa is less populated. It's lush and wild and scenic. We set out for Cape Hedo in the afternoon. Cape Hedo is the northernmost point in Okinawa. It faces the South China Sea on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other.  We spent the day soaking in the sun and scenery and taking pictures. We even stopped at a nearby beach on the way home to search for sea glass.

   The trip up north was a simple one, but it was exactly what I needed to see to be able to appreciate that although I'm lacking some of the comforts and familiarities of home, I am lucky enough to have been given a chance to experience things most people don't. 

The drive up. Can't hate views like that.

Shrines on the side of the road.

Pretty sweet life in the passenger seat

Finally at Cape Hedo!

Cape Hedo in all its glory


Waves crashing against the Cape.

Beautiful water below

Beautiful

Perfect

I don't always understand why the Japanese do things a certain way. Therefore, seeing Super Chicken at the top of the Cape just made me laugh. After a little bit of research, I found out the monument is meant to honor the friendship between Kunigami Village (where Cape Hedo is) and Yoronjima (an island you can see from the shore).

We traveled up a narrow, winding road off to the side of the parking area. At the top, there was a HUGE kuina bird. They're considered an endangered animal here. There were so many roadside signs for them that I was a bit sad we didn't actually see one. At any rate, you could climb inside and get a view of Cape Hedo from the bird, but we passed on that.

We stopped at this little beach on the way home to hunt for sea glass.

Happiness :)

Perfect ending to a perfect trip.





 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Kobe: Days Three and Four

We spent our third day in Kobe touring around Chinatown, nearby temples, shopping districts, and mapping out our dinner plans for the evening. I'm not particularly proud to admit that I spent most of Chinatown stuffing my face and therefore only have one picture of it. Chinatown was a burst of color, music, smell, and amazing food. The fat kid in me was rejoicing!



The temples and their surrounding gardens are beautiful, peaceful, and quiet. We toured them dutifully, but not much was in English - so most of it was lost on us.




This is a Torii - a Japanese gate and they symbolize the passing from sacred to profane. You find them mostly at shrines and sacred places. You can also walk under one to go into the Kadena BX. I guess that is sort of sacred.




As mature and cultured as I was trying VERY hard to be, I still laughed out loud at this.

That's one big Buddha!



I will also grudgingly admit to the fact that I was THRILLED about the prospect of shopping later that day. I had done some research and learned that they had American brands in Kobe. I had every intention of boosting the Japanese economy. Alas, what I forgot is that I'm slightly taller, rounder, curvier, etc than the average Japanese woman. I did find a Gap AND a Banana Republic but since I'm neither 5'2 or size 0 - 2, nothing in the store would even come close to fitting. I didn't even bother trying to shove my size 10 feet into any of the darling flats. I left defeated. Later on, we passed by all the high end designers and stumbled upon my husband's favorite: Eddie Bauer. I tried warning him against getting too excited. What do you know, they had clothes big enough to fit Americans. We got a few things just for the sake of being able to say we shopped at Eddie Bauer over the weekend...and didn't pay for shipping. :) We ended up finding L.L. Bean and Land's End too! So cool!

Hoorah!

We wound down the evening with fancy drinks at our hotel and dinner out at a Swiss restaurant in town. (Again, you can find ANY kind of food in Kobe. Love it!) It was a great end to a great day!

Cool reflection!


The next morning, we decided to squeeze in a tour of the Arima Hot Springs before heading back to Okinawa. With all our luggage, we toured the area. I think seeing steam rise from the sewers was the creepiest experience I've ever had! We enjoyed some local snacks and headed to IKEA and the airport. (IKEA was so overcrowded that it ended up being a bust - no pictures of that, sorry!)





Lastly, at the airport, I finally snagged a picture of the infamous Pokemon plane that I arrived (almost a year ago!) in Japan in. I just had to share! Isn't it fantastic?




We loved spending time exploring Kobe. It was the perfect way to celebrate one amazing year of marriage. :)

Kobe: Day Two

My first full day in Kobe was action packed. We started the day off on a rather somber note. We went to a The Earthquake Museum in the middle of the city. I didn't know much about the earthquake - I was in the 5th grade when it happened and can safely say that my major concerns in life were along the lines of not freezing to death in an Illinois winter.

    What I didn't know, I learned pretty fast. On January 17, 1995 at 0546 there was a 6.8 magnitude earthquake.  In about 20 seconds, it completely devastated the city and the lives of its citizens. Over 6,000 people lost their lives. Since I've grown up primarily on the East Coast, I'm not that familiar with earthquakes. Japan has a lot of them. Okinawa has had a few since I've been here. I've never actually felt one, but I don't ever really want to.

    There isn't any photography allowed in the actual museum and, for the sake of my blog, I really wish there were. The beginning of the tour starts with a movie that was completely in Japanese. While I didn't understand all the dialogue, the video footage was overwhelming. After the video, we toured through and were happily greeted by tour guides eager to practice their English. We walked through rooms of relics and personal stories - able to read them with the help of a translator. The second half of the museum was my favorite. It detailed Kobe's efforts to rebuild and repair. We watched demonstrations of securing buildings through better framework and how the city came together during it's time of need. It was a very humbling, very moving museum.

We took a few pictures of the outside of the museum:








Our next stop was Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum. You can't go to Japan and NOT have sake (Unless you're underage, I suppose.) and so it felt a little silly to be celebrating our anniversary, traveling through Japan, and NOT going to the Sake Brewery Museum.  It was fascinating to watch the steps involved in the making of sake and we did get free samples at the end! We ended up bringing a little sake home with us.







After the museum, we rested for a bit, enjoyed some dinner and then headed to the Port. The Port Tower was my favorite excursion. We rode the elevator up and enjoyed some AMAZING views of the city!




terrifying! 







 The Port is hopping at nighttime! It's beautiful and full of interesting new foods, people, and things to see. My all time favorite thing was the giraffes. For about 200 yen, I fufilled my lifelong dream of riding a giraffe off into the sunset (err...around the outdoor shopping center) and have picture proof. I could go on and on about my love of all things giraffe, but I'd probably sound a lot like this guy.




What does a dream come true look like, you ask?




After a long, eventful day, we were so excited to head back to our hotel. Here's a few photographs from our walk back:


Another giraffe on the way back to the hotel. Kobe, I dig it.







How can you not fall a little bit in love with Kobe?