Friday, December 27, 2013

Palau

Many years ago, I read an article in National Geographic, or some such magazine, or perhaps it was a show I watched on Discovery or some such channel.  It told of an isolated lake on an island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean with jellyfish that, in the absence of predators, had evolved without stinging tentacles.  Because of this evolution, visitors to the island could snorkel in the lake - perhaps the only place on earth where one can safely swim with jellyfish!  It must have made an impression on me, because I have remembered it all these years.  I never imagined I would be in a position to actually visit that place.  Now here I am in Japan, and it turns out I am not so far from that tropical island chain.  We were reintroduced to the idea of visiting Palau by one of Mike's colleagues, and so we boarded a plane last Wednesday to take us to Palau and the Rock Islands.

First morning in Palau

Kayaking and snorkeling in Nikko Bay




The water in Milky Way is this beautiful, milky blue color because of the limestone clay beneath it.

Rumor has it that the clay is good for your skin.  Our boat driver dove down to scoop some into a bucket for us to try out.  He said that clay is the reason he always looks 19. :)

The main event: Jellyfish Lake!

It actually creeped me out a little.  I didn't like the feeling of brushing up against jellyfish as I swam.

The Drop-Off!  It's a real place!

"Hey, I know what that is!  Sandy Plankton told me!"

 You think I look good in snorkeling gear?  Well just wait until you see me...

with salt-water drenched riding in a speed boat hair!  

Mike took Bear scuba diving...

with black-tip sharks!

Mike also went diving by himself.

Palau isn't actually a beach destination, but the one beach on the main island is lovely.

Our final activity.  Beaver was nervous to shake flippers with the dolphin, but Bear was happy to get right down there.

So, along with the monkey onsen in Nagano, I have now visited two of what I refer to as "National Geographic Places".  Palau was great, but I actually felt a little tropiced out by the time we left, and I'm happy to be back in temperate (currently cold!) Japan. 

We love being able to take our kids on trips like this, but feeding Beaver is enough of a challenge at home.  He pretty much ate nothing but french fries all week.  Once I forced him to eat a piece of pineapple from our Hawaiian pizza.  ("Not cooked pineapple!  It tastes like ham!")  That may be the only bit of fruit he had the whole trip.  Thankfully, the hotel had french toast and scrambled eggs for breakfast, so at least he started the days off right.  I'm also glad to be back home where I feel like he is getting a bit of nourishment.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Merry Christmas!

It was an unusual Christmas for us this year, since we departed Palau at 3:00 am Christmas morning.  Christmas Eve we read the Christmas story and sang songs in our hotel room, and then went to bed about 9:00 for a couple hour nap before getting up to go to the airport at 12:30.  We arrived back home about noon.  At one point I had suggested emailing to see if Santa could come a day late, so the kids were happy to find that he had already made his delivery!


It was a lego ninjago Christmas at our house this year!  And Bear, who has always been a cuddler, got the sheepskin rug he has been coveting.  We spent the rest of the day doing not much of anything - except the boys built all their lego sets and Bear has already finished one of his books.  They must have been running on Christmas adrenaline and sugar, but Mike and I were pretty beat.  We had a great vacation, but we're glad to be back home!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thanksgiving Day, Thanksgiving Day! Oh what a wonderful, wonderful day!

Remember that song, my siblings?  Where did it come from?

It's been a whirlwind couple of months.  Mom and Dad were here for six wonderful weeks.  We feel like we barely scratched the surface of things to see and do in Japan, but they got a good taste of my life here, and that was what I wanted for them.  Mom kept a record of their visit that I'm not going to duplicate, but you can see all our adventures on their blog.  

Besides having Mom and Dad here, I was busy with preparation for the PTA food fair at the kids' school.  I helped coordinate the annual garage sale, which was huge project, but we pulled it off and made over 900,000 yen for the school.  Hooray!

Just after Mom and Dad left, we made a kind of spur-of-the-moment decision to invite people over for Thanksgiving dinner on the 30th.  Since it was rather late notice, I didn't really think everyone would be able to come, but they all accepted and suddenly I had a Thanksgiving dinner for 28 people to plan!  So, I spent all of last week shopping, cleaning, cooking, and preparing for Thanksgiving - except for Friday when I spent all day at the school serving a barbecue for a futsal (soccer) tournament.  I made my pumpkin pies Friday evening and wrote up my schedule for the next day.  With the help of our guests, everything came together nicely, and we had a lovely Thanksgiving, complete with the BYU/Notre Dame game playing in the background after dinner.  I didn't take any pictures of the food, but it was all absolutely delicious.  I even passed out the words to "Come Ye Thankful People, Come" and entreated my friends to humor me by singing it before our meal. 

I was perhaps overly proud of my centerpieces.  I took Mike and the kids with me around the neighborhood to poach branches from maple trees.  I planned to just have them alone in the glass vase, but they weren't staying put, so I added popcorn to hold them in place, and I think it turned out very autumn-like!

I decided it is high time I start investing in entertaining ware, so I bought table cloths, three serving platters, three serving spoons, and commercial grade, stainless steel cutlery to serve 36!  We should never need to buy plastic utensils again.

The extra maple leaves went in little vases on the kid tables, so none were wasted!

I neglected to take any pictures of our guests, but I was pleasantly surprised when I downloaded the pictures to find that Mike took some!

Bear must have ducked under the table when Mike showed up with the camera.



I thought that once Thanksgiving was over, I would be able to relax a little.  But now there are all sorts of Christmasy things that need to be done, plus a trip to Palau to prepare for, in the next 16 days!  So far all the time I thought I would have once Beaver started school has failed to materialize.

Still, it was a happy Thanksgiving, and I would be happy to do it again next year!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A couple of summer stories to remember

We spent a lovely week at Aspen Grove with Mike's family at the end of July.  The kids enjoyed their groups and their cousins, and Mike and I enjoyed being with our siblings and siblings-in-law.  Throughout the summer, whether with my family or Mike's, I often thought about how happy I am to be associated with such excellent people and I feel very blessed to have such good friends among my family members.  I got to know some of my sisters-in-law better, and it was an altogether wonderful week in the beautiful Wasatch mountains.

One afternoon Beaver and I were walking to our cabin.  Beaver was holding an imaginary suction-cup gun, which he was shooting at imaginary foes.  As we passed the restrooms, he suddenly realized that he needed to go to the bathroom, like RIGHT NOW!  I rushed him into the bathroom and hurried to open the stall door while Beaver did the potty dance.  In spite of his precarious situation, before he went in, he held out his hand and said, "Here, hold my gun!"

One night, at a location that shall remain anonymous, Mike was reading in bed with the light still on. I had drifted off to sleep when suddenly I heard a fluttering sound and opened my eyes to see a dark shape swoop through the room.  "Is that a moth?" I asked, in sleepy confusion.  Mike jumped up from the bed.  "A bat!" he said.  Being the wildlife biologist that I am, I promptly dove under the covers.  Mike quickly closed the bedroom door so it couldn't escape, opened the window and pulled out the screen.  He then used the screen to attempt to bat the bat out of the window.  All the while, I was cowering under the covers, but I could hear the bat fluttering about the room, and I even felt it land on the covers over my head a couple of times!
"Oh shoot!" Mike exclaimed.
"What?"
"Another one just flew in the window!"
Eventually, Mike succeeded in getting both bats safely outside.  The next evening, Beaver was in the bathtub and I was sitting on the bed, when, once again, a bat came swooping into the room.  I shrieked, jumped off the bed and ran out of the room, slamming the door.  Beaver of course asked what was wrong and I told him. "Cool!" he cried.  "I've never seen a bat before!"  I left him in the tub and went to find Mike to rescue me from the bat once again.  Bear came running after him, but Mike went in and shut the door.  This time the bat went right out, so maybe it was the same bat and it had learned from the night before.  The kids were devastated because they didn't get to see it.

I do feel badly that I didn't have Mike wait so they could see the bat.  Because you know, I'm a wildlife biologist and I want my kids to be able to see a live, wild bat.  Just as long as they keep the door closed and I am safe in the other room.

A few cousin pictures:

The troublesome trio

Julia's birthday picnic

Hike to First Falls

Ninjas!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Growing up!

I haven't mentioned yet that Beaver lost his first tooth while we were at Grandma & Grandpa N's house!


We had noticed that it was a little loose, and I was surprised, and even a little concerned, because Bear didn't lose a tooth until he was seven!  Beaver tripped one day and knocked it even more loose, and then he spent the day just wiggling and working on it, until, as we were driving in the car in the evening, he announced calmly, "Now my tooth came out Mommy."  Sure enough.

He got 50 cents from the tooth fairy, but the tooth fairy sort of forgot the tooth and left it on the base of the lamp in our bedroom.  Sorry Mom and Dad.  It's a little gross that Beaver's tooth is probably still sitting there.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

For your amusement:

A video of me coming down the stairs the day after I came down from Mt. Fuji
video

It's Wednesday today, and I am finally feeling almost back to normal!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Fuji-San

Before we left Japan for home leave, my friend Quinn and I made plans to hike Mt. Fuji when we returned after the summer.  I intended to spend the summer getting, or at least staying, in shape to be ready for the hike, but of course the reality of summer was that my exercise program was thrown completely off track.  Then, while at Aspen Grove, I tried to do the adult ropes course, but, to make a longish story short, I couldn't do it, and that further shook my confidence in my physical abilities.  That was the first instance I can think of when I actually didn't have the strength to do something that I wanted to do.  In addition, when Mike hiked Fuji a couple of years ago, he got pretty bad altitude sickness.  Even though I was keeping fairly active through the summer and even did a couple of hikes in Utah, these things combined to leave me feeling pretty nervous about climbing the mountain.  I was kind of hoping that when Quinn got home to Japan, she would have changed her mind, but instead she called me a couple of days before all fired up and ready to go.  So, Friday morning I left the house at 5:50 am to catch a train for Mt. Fuji.

Quinn's husband pretty much arranged the entire trip for us, which was very nice of him.  There are four trails that ascend Mt. Fuji, and we planned to hike the one nearest to Kobe.  This still required a two hour Shinkansen ride and a two hour bus ride, but the trip there went off without a hitch and we reached the Fujinomiya trailhead about 12:30.  We each bought a hiking stick that we could have stamped when we got to the top of the mountain and were on our way by 1:00.  There are several stations that you pass through to get up the mountain.  The trail starts at the 5th station, and when you reach the 10th station, you are at the top.  It's a little deceiving, though, because on our trail there was an old 7th station and a new 7th station, plus a 9.5 station.  We needed to reach the 9th station by 8:00 because we had a reservation to sleep in the hut there before completing our hike in the morning.  The popular way to hike Mt. Fuji is to arrive at the top early enough to watch the sunrise from the top of the mountain.

The Fujinomiya trail is the shortest route up Mt. Fuji at 5 km, but that means it is also the steepest.  The trail is mostly rock and gravel and not a whole lot of switchbacks.  It pretty much just goes straight up the mountain!  When we read 5 km, we thought, "Easy!  We can do 5K!"  5K straight up a mountain to 3000 meters when you've just come from sea level is a bit of a different story, though.  Still, we were getting along and making pretty good time.  The weather was lovely for hiking.  It was cloudy and misty, but the temperatures were so much cooler than the sweltering summer heat in Kobe, so we were happy as can be.  Around the 8th station, I think, it started raining, so we put the rain covers on our backpacks and put our rain jackets on, but I was still only wearing my t-shirt underneath and we were pretty comfortable.  The rain started falling a little harder, and just as we reached a sign that said "9th station - 200 meters", it really started coming down.  Not even just rain - it was sleet or hail or something and it was just pelting us.  I had some rain pants in my backpack, but I would have gotten drenched had I stopped to get them out, so we just put our heads down and went into survival mode.  By the time we reached the ninth station, our gloves and pants were soaked, but I was happy that my rain jacket proved itself totally waterproof!  It was so nice to arrive at the hut and know that we had reached our destination for the night and could relax and dry off.  We went inside, paid our 5000 yen, and were shown to our quarters.

We were sort of under the impression that we would have a private space to sleep on tatami mats.  We were quite wrong.  We were taken into a big hall with bunks on either side.  The bunks were each probably about 15 feet across with futons and quilts laying side by side across them and eight pillows lining the back wall.  We were shown to a bunk and assigned pillows 4 and 5.  You might be imagining a regular size standard pillow.  No.  The pillows were about 1 foot long and maybe 8 inches high.  Tiny pillows.  We had about a shoulder's width of sleeping space apiece.  We kind of looked at each other and were like, wow.  We started taking off our wet things and hanging them up on the various hooks around the bunk.  There was no space on the floor, so everything had to be hung.  The hall was rather chaotic, with people everywhere and the floor in between the bunks covered with slippers and backpacks.  "Do you think they separate the bunks by gender?" we wondered.  A few minutes later a man climbed up the ladder into our bunk.  He was with two young women, and on the other side of us were two women, so maybe they sort of separate by gender.  I went down the hall to the bathroom, opened the door, and was facing urinals with men standing in front of them doing their thing.  I quickly backed away.  Had I opened the wrong door?  There was no other door, though.  I saw another woman coming, so I stepped back to see what she would do.  She opened the bathroom door and walked in.  Okay.  I took a breath and followed, walking past the men at the urinals and around the corner to where the stalls were.  This was certainly turning out to be an unusual experience.

I was glad to be in dry clothes now, but I had gotten pretty chilled and was still shivering when I got back to our bunk.  I had been feeling slightly sick to my stomach most of the day - I think the result of drinking some too-sugary syrup with the canned mangoes I had for lunch - and now the altitude was perhaps affecting me a bit because I was feeling a little light-headed as well.  I hadn't been eating or drinking much because of the upset stomach, but I felt that after the hike I needed to eat something for dinner.  We went to the dining area and I forced myself to eat the curry bread I had brought along and a piece of cheese.  We returned to our bunk and I put on my thermals and my ski pants to sleep in.  I had a moment of feeling like there was no way I could sleep in this situation - on the hard floor with a too-thin futon and surrounded by strangers - but then I told myself to relax.  This is Japan, and when in Japan....you know, do as the Japanese do.  Lights out was at 8:00, and being Japan, everyone was in bed and quieting down by 7:45.  The girl next to me (I mean, right next to me!) was already asleep and snoring.  Quinn and I settled into our tiny sleeping space and spent a few minutes talking and chuckling.  Just like a strange slumber party.  I didn't sleep well, but I did sleep, so it wasn't as bad as I thought it might be.



Lights out was 8:00 pm, and lights on was 2:00 am!  Quinn and I had already decided that the trail was too steep and rocky to climb in the dark, so we gave up on being at the top for the sunrise and slept in until about 4:00.  I expected to wake up with sore muscles from hiking and stiff from sleeping on the ground, but I actually felt fine.  I wasn't a bit sore, and the upset stomach and light-headedness were gone.  We got back on the trail about 5:15.  I kept hoping all the way up that we would get a break as far as the incline of the trail, but the last 2 stretches were probably the steepest of all.  We did a fair amount of scrambling up and over rocks and took lots of breaks to breathe.  At 6:30 we reached to top!  Hooray!

The top of Mt. Fuji is not wilderness, by any means.  There is a post office, a shrine (where we got our hiking sticks stamped), and a hut selling cup noodles, hot drinks, and souvenirs.  We stayed long enough to take some pictures, call our husbands (yeah, you can get cell phone service up there, too!), and have a snack.  Then we headed back down the mountain.

As we climbed toward the top, there were several sections of trail that I thought, "Oh boy, this is going to be fun to go down."  Like, the whole trail from the 9th station.  I was beyond right.  It was brutal.  Quinn and I both agreed that the hike down was 10 times worse than the hike up.  My legs felt like jelly by the time we reached the bottom.  But we had done it!  And, as Quinn described it, we did it with our dignity still intact.  There was no bent over heaving or crying or moments of "I can't do this!"  If my dignity was still intact yesterday, though, today it is lying around me in shreds.  I have never been so sore in my life.  I can hardly walk.  Bear tried to sit on my lap this morning and I shrieked in pain.  And stairs!  Stairs are almost impossible.  I have to cling to the stair rail and lower myself gingerly down one step at a time.  This evening I managed to go up the stairs without touching the rail, but I gasped with pain all the way.  My family is quite amused by it.  Mike took a video so you can witness my anguish.  It seems that in addition to the treadmill, I need to add walking downhill to my exercise regime.

I've heard a saying in Japan that if you don't hike Mt. Fuji once, you are a fool.  And if you hike Mt. Fuji more than once, you are a fool.  It was sometimes awful, but mostly awesome.  It was beautiful in a sort of other-worldly way.  Quinn and I talked about if the views from the top were worth the hike, and it was pretty, but I have certainly seen more spectacular views in my life.  I'm really glad that I did it, though.  It is a truly Japanese experience - hiking with hundreds of people, staying in the mountain hut, and seeing the country from it's highest and most revered peak.  Generally you can't see the mountain in the summer because of the haze, but as we rode the bus back through the valley toward the train station, the clouds parted and we could see Mt. Fuji rising majestically behind us.  I felt a thrill of awe and excitement to see it there, and I drove away exhausted and anxious to get home, but with a smile on my face.                

At the trailhead

Hikers disappearing into the mist

The other-wordly landscape of Mt. Fuji


Made it to the top!


The view from above

And the view from below.  The picture totally does not do justice to how steep the trail was.

Quinn and I

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Wedding!

I'll get to Aspen Grove, but right now I'm jumping ahead to Jay and Leslie's wedding.  There was so much loveliness going on that day!

My lovely Mama and Auntie

My lovely brother and nephew

 My lovely sistahs (and auntie again)

My lovely son was happy Aunt Samantha happened to have a Nat Geo magazine for him to read while he waited for Jay and Leslie to come out of the temple.

Miss T's lovely fishy face.

When are they coming out?

The lovely couple!

While we were waiting outside, Beaver came up to me with a shy and slightly embarrassed little smile on his face and whispered in my ear (regarding Jay and Leslie), "Will they give kisses?"

Evidently the answer was yes.

My whole lovely family! (minus a few)

Leslie suddenly acquired several lovely nieces and nephews.

My lovely, uh, I mean manly, brothers

My lovely sis and my lovely self.

One final picture which I must add because it was such a significant moment.  Beaver ate strawberry shortcake at the wedding luncheon!  And liked it!  It may seem strange that I was so amazed by this, but if you know Beaver, it truly is amazing.  He loves strawberries - plain strawberries - but he almost never eats food that isn't familiar to him.  Even food that he likes, if it is served in a different way or mixed with other ingredients, he won't touch it.  I mean, he won't even try cookies other than chocolate chip.  I was sure that strawberries in a sauce, served on cake and with whipped cream on top, would be instantly rejected.  But he ate it up without pause and with no urging from anyone!  I could hardly believe it!  Bear, on the other hand, wouldn't try it.  It was, in fact, delicious strawberry shortcake, and I  wanted to eat Bear's but I thought I shouldn't be so greedy.

A lovely, lovely day!