Friday, December 31, 2010

The 2010 Top Ten

Last sunset of 2009. At least the ocean view and palm trees haven't changed!
As someone who keeps a journal, I am a big believer in self-reflection. So as one year ends and a new one begins, it's always nice to remember the significant days, seasons, and moments of the past 365 days. In a year that started off with an Iraq deployment, and brought us through an unexpectedly early international move, and saw both Nick and I through significant job changes, there's no shortage of opportunities for reflection. So that said, I've decided to give you the top ten most significant events/days/moments from this past year, in pictures :)

#10: Teeing Off with MomMom's Clubs
While 2010 was not the first time I had ever swung a club, it was certainly the year Nick and I became "golfers" (I use that designation lightly because as of, well, today, I have yet to break 100). This year when Nick and I headed east to reunite with his family after deployment, I was given an extremely generous offer to take his grandmother's clubs back to San Diego. After playing well into her 80s, MomMom decided her golf days were over. I am so proud to use her clubs and hope I too can keep up this game well into my 80s... and hopefully one day score in the 80s!

#9: Peyton Roberts, Youth Director
Sure, I was pretty involved with my youth group in high school, but I never saw myself becoming a youth director. I got into volunteering with the youth at my church in Coronado and through a strange course of events found myself somehow in charge of the whole program (?) as 2009 ended. Seeing it as my volunteer role, I never expected to show up on Guam and immediately get offered a job doing something I loved doing for free. I am so excited about next year when my big project will be taking our youth to Manila for a weeklong mission trip. Let the fundraising begin!

#8: Nick's Grand Canyon Run
So usually I hog Peyt's Island just for me, but this particular day of Nick's is so awesome, I just have to include it. Before Nick and I ever took our first glimpse of the Grand Canyon, Nick had already put it on his life list that he would run across it some day. After backpacking across it in August 2009, he left on deployment intent on making it happen. When he came back from Iraq, he decided to go for it and continued training even after breaking his hand during a Crossfit workout. On May 26th, Nick ran the 24.2 miles (and over 10,000 feet of elevation change) from the North Rim to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in five hours and one minute. It was a proud moment to be there as he finished the run and crossed this huge goal off his bucket list.

#7: A Little Propeller Action
While one of the hardest days of 2010 was coming back in from our last voyage on our beloved sailboat, our decision to bring a zodiak to Guam has well made up for the loss. Propeller has allowed Nick and I to get off the island and explore the harder to get to reefs and dive sites. Even more fun is taking friends (and more recently, family!) with us. Instead of using the dive operators, we aren't tied down to a schedule or itinerary. We can explore wherever we want, whenever we want. In essence, Propeller has given us complete freedom out here.

#6: Peyt's Island
Never thought I'd start a blog or be a "blogger." In fact, I hate the word blog, and I hate saying, "You should read my blog." That said, this has been such a fun way to keep in touch with everyone since making the big move across the pond. I have absolutely loved all of your comments, emails, messages, and phone calls in response to these posts. I know no one is sitting at home hitting "refresh" to see if I've posted anything new, but it does make the 8,000-mile distance seem a little smaller knowing some of you are thinking of us. And frankly, I'm pretty shocked to see it's at 5,000 hits in five months. So, thanks for joining me here!
#5: Going Away Parties
Moving Day is always a tough one, but the one silver lining is when it's preceded by some awesome going away parties. We orchestrated one for ourselves on Gator Beach in Coronado on July 3rd and were thrilled that so many people were able to come, many even from out of town who we hadn't seen in several years (thanks Kevin & Tom, Courtney & Ben!).

Later that week we traveled to Houston to say goodbye to friends and family there and were completely surprised to find ourselves at, well, a surprise party organized by Nick's mom and dad and a few clever friends of ours. Great to see everyone in our two hometowns before heading so far away.

#4: Friends and Sailing
If I were to pick out a single favorite day of five years living in San Diego, this beautiful Saturday in May could well be it. It's not my #1 most significant of the year because nothing changed on this day, as things did in the top three to follow. But the fact that some of my favorite people were able to join me doing my favorite thing (sailing!) is what made it so perfect. My girlfriends met at our sailboat that afternoon and together, five of us cruised around San Diego Bay for three glorious hours eating gourmet chocolate and cheeses while sipping sparkling red wine in the sunshine. Toward the end, Nick and one of the other husbands showed up in Propeller to take pictures. As my friend Amy recently said, "I just wish we could go back to that day when everything was as it should be." How I wish we could too. So much has changed since then, but that day will forever be perfect in my mind.

#3: A Thanksgiving Proposal
There's so much to love about this picture! First of all, I am in New Zealand... with my sister... on Thanksgiving... at sunset... the hour that Ben asked her to marry her! It doesn't get any better than that! Well, except for the fact that it means there's a wedding on the horizen. Woohoo!

Photo by photography

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Few Christmas Reminders

Walking out of the house for church this morning in a skirt, sleeveless shirt, and flip flops, it was hard to believe it's Christmas week. Sure, I haven't exactly had a lot of white Christmases the last few years, but I've at least been somewhere chilly enough to pull out a sweater, and certainly socks! So given the fact that we're still surrounded by palm trees, sunshine, and beach days, we're finding we have to be a little more creative with making it feel like Christmas around here.

One of the ways we've created Christmas ambiance is by putting lights on our house. Living in dorms and apartments the last 10 years, there was no way to decorate an outdoor space. So for this first Christmas in a house of our own, Christmas lights went up and are so much fun to plug in every night as a reminder that Christmas is coming.

We got a little creative with our outdoor decor. Back in September, Nick brought home some hand-carved wooden masks from the Philippines. I was a little hesitant to hang them up because they are massive (about 5 or 6 feet long each). But he'd already dragged them all this way and they certainly weren't going in our bedroom (scary!), so front of the house won. We decided these guys needed to get into the Christmas spirit as well, so the Three Stooges scored some Santa hats.

Another great reminder of Christmas is the full-size Douglas fir in our living room (pictured above). We've never had the space or the reason to get an actual Christmas tree before, so this is our first together. Consequently, we didn't have a tree topper, so St. Nick improvised by digging in the nearby golf closet, and then reaching for a drill in the tool closet. Viola! Behold, our golf tree, and all the beautiful presents I can't wait to open! (am I too old to be this excited about presents?)

One of the main reasons we decided to go for a big tree this year is because we are hosting our first Christmas! Nick's mom and stepdad flew out last week to spend two weeks with us out here. Russ got SCUBA certified before coming out, so he and Nick have been diving together, while Diane and I have been shopping and snorkeling quite a bit. They are loving the vacation atmosphere our tropical island has to offer, and we are loving having family here. That's one major ingredient to Christmas we are so grateful for this year. Of course, you can expect to hear more about their visit here soon :)

Finally, one other great Christmas reminder appeared this morning when the children and youth from our church did their annual Christmas program. Through poorly memorized lines, questionable (though highly amusing!) acting, and reminiscent Bible verses, they told the Christmas story in between favorite familiar Christmas carols our congregation sang along to. It was a great reminder of the true reason for Christmas, that we don't have to have snow or sweaters or trees or presents to appreciate the real reason to celebrate. The world was a dark place of sorrow and loss until Hope came down from heaven to bring the world what it needed most: Love. Abundant, merciful, everlasting love. Love that lasts an eternity. Love that even conquers death.
I'm not completely sure why, but I often make a point of not preaching my Christian beliefs to the people in my life. I suppose deep down, I believe a person has to experience God for themselves to really understand why His message is so powerful. But inspired by today's service, I'm going to go out on a limb and simply encourage whoever is reading this to do what you can to go to a Christmas Eve service this year. Anyone can go, many of them are candlelit, and nearly every church has one (check the interweb, people!). Regardless of what you believe or don't, I am certain you will find it a worthwhile experience.

Nick hugging his Mom at the Guam airport upon their arrival!
Many of you will recall that this time last year, Nick and I were spending our first Christmas apart in the 8 years we'd been together. Thanks to dear friends in San Diego, I had a surprisingly wonderful Christmas despite that big change, but it makes the fact that he is home so special this year. And considering this, and the fact that we are 8,000 miles away from the rest of our family and friends, I am extra mindful this year of the sad fact that not everyone will be so lucky to be with the ones they love this Christmas. For those whom this is the case, it is my prayer that you are able to find joy in remembering somebody out there loves you... and peace in knowing you'll be with that person again one day. That hope, dear friends, after all, is what the Christmas miracle is all about. And no matter what time of year it is, it's always nice to be reminded of that.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Around Cocos Island

I took this picture on our descent into Guam from Fiji. It is the only time I have landed in Guam coming from this direction during the daylight, so it was great to get to see this part of the island from above. Turns out this place is even more beautiful from the sky. The above picture is a southern-facing view of the southwestern tip of Guam. The small strip of land that emerges in the upper right is called Cocos Island. It's a popular tourist destination for busloads of Japanese snorkelers and you can only get there by boat.

Switching gears, Nick's command Christmas party was on Thursday night. We had a lovely time catching up with friends, many of whom are heading off island for the holidays soon. As part of the celebration, their very generous CO surprised everyone with Friday off from work, which we decided to take advantage of and take ol Propeller down to the boat ramp at Cocos Island to see what we could see. 

In hindsight I wish I'd taken more pictures of the surroundings on our boat ride out there. The view of Guam from Cocos Island is one of the prettiest I have seen of this place. I've inserted a filler picture, also taken from the flight from Fiji, so you can get an idea of how beautifully rugged and green this rural part of the island is. I'm sure it won't be our last time down there, so I'll be sure to take more next time.

The surf heading out was pretty gnarly. There was a swell in that week (Nick and friends had taken advantage and actually gone surfing the day before). As our boat rocked up and down each approaching wave, I found myself feeling like I was in a very different place than our usual flat lagoon rides. At one point we found ourselves at the bottom of a 7-foot wave, and while it wasn't about to break on us, I decided this probably would not be a good place to take Nick's mom while she's out here for Christmas.

Once on the other side of Cocos Island, we anchored the boat for some snorkeling. The currents were pretty rough so we didn't stay out too long (Nick was seasick!). Not to mention, this is the area of Guam where bull sharks have been spotted before (yikes!). But, in trying out the new camera some more, we did get these beauties. And by "we" I mean Nick. He takes about 99% of our awesome underwater pictures. The only thing we missed was the squid floating nearby. They were too skiddish to have their picture taken.

This giant clam was about the size of a volleyball. They are usually the size of a baseball.

 After snorkeling, we headed north up the southwest coast. We've explored most of this part of the island before but not this southern tip. I was mentally shifting gears to my youth group commitment that night and thought it was about time to go in. But Nick wanted to check out one more bay, the next cove up. So glad we did! Awaiting us in Cetti Bay was a pod of spinner dolphins. They were so graceful and beautiful in the water. So glad we didn't miss this!
After we left the dolphins, we ran into a couple of flying fish on our way back to the boat ramp! No pictures, but it was fun to see them soar along beside the boat, at the same speed going the same direction as us for a while. That's it for our latest trip off the rock... how appropriate that it was to yet another island.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Blue Hole & American Tanker Remix

 Nick and I dove the Blue Hole and American Tanker on Sunday after church with two friends Caitlin & Colin. These are dives I have written about before the first time we did them, but we did the dives again with a new flash system Nick is trying out for our underwater camera. We are pretty impressed with the photo quality so thought I'd share the pictures with you.
 Okay, so yes, I look a few fries short of a Happy Meal in this picture, but the point is this was taken about 100 feet down and it is SO clear! Now if I could just figure out how to get that goofy look off my face.
 Usually a picture taken from this far away at 50 feet down would be spotty and faded. Not anymore!

 Caitlin and I found ourselves surrounded by some very brave fish. We're guessing the Japanese tourist boats must come here and feed the fish because these things were not shy. I had never seen the two-prong tail fish before. Maybe Nick or Caitlin will pipe in with a comment and tell us what they are.
 This eel was massive - about the circumference of a cantaloupe!

 Caitlin and Colin in front of the American Tanker flag. They are moving off Guam next month (boo!) so we decided to pack in some of the best Guam dive spots into one afternoon. I am going to miss my golfing, diving, hiking buddy. For any Virginia Beach friends reading this, I've got another one coming your way in February :)
 This is Nick's new favorite underwater stunt - removing his mask and regulator and taking a regular looking photo. It makes my eyes water just looking at his eyes open in the salt water. He says it doesn't bother him that much...

Another gorgeous afternoon diving off the boat with friends. Logged my 36th dive and I am now just over an hour away from reaching 24 hours under water!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Honeymoon #5: New Zealand

Greetings from the other side of Honeymoon #5! I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I am so excited to finally share with you the stories and pictures of New Zealand, which was an absolutely fabulous vacation for so many reasons. For starters, we had the pleasure of meeting up with family who live so far away. We got to try delicious new food and wine and were reunited with delicacies already forgotten about in our four months on Guam (like fresh produce). We drove through beautiful farmlands, hillside villages, surf towns, mountains, forests, deserts, and sea cliffs. We explored the innards of caves, the heights of volcanic landscapes, the serenity of the coastline, and the familiarity of the blue sea. We sailed, golfed, walked, ate, drank, slept, drove, flew, floated, and tramped (that's Kiwi for "hiked") our way through some fo the most vibrant green, blue, and even red landscapes my eyes have ever seen.

Looking back, it's hard to choose a favorite day. Nick's was on our 22.2 km (14-mile) traverse of the Tangariro Alpine Crossing in Tangariro National Park smack in the middle of the North Island.  We began the hike by climbing up and up next to a massive active volcano (that last errupted in 1995) until we flattened out and walked across a lava field flanked by snow drifts. Climbing to the summit gave us views of nearly all of the North Island and its beautiful countryside.

The volcanic crater was hot red while the crater lakes contrasted the gray ashy rock with an icy green.

Our hike down brought vistas of blue Lake Taupo amid fields of bright yellow flowers and green crops.
Our last steps of the perfectly sunny journey were through the cool shade of a thick forest. The diversity of views on the hike much mimmicked those of our drive across New Zealand. Packed into one day, this hike was truly memorable, especially sharing the experience with my favorite husband and my favorite sister!

It's hard to compare a day like that with the others that stand out so much in their own way. There was our first day together with Courtney and Ben when Ben's mom treated us all to the Auckland food and wine festival. Sampling gourmet cheeses, local wines, and regional beer favorites, we soon realized what a perfect first day this was--a chance to taste everything and discover some quick NZ favorites without having to do all the driving from one farm or winery to the next. While most people in New Zealand bemoan Auckland for having nothing worthwhile to do, we had a fabulous start to our trip there. The "City of Sails" came through with a crisp, sunny day for strolling the inner harbor surrounded by impressive yachts below the pinnacle Auckland Sky Tower.
Then there were side trips, like our tour of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, where we floated and waded through freezing cave water surrounded by rocks and bioluminscent fly larvae (more romantically referred to as glowworms). There aren't many places in the world where you can have an experience like this. All in all, pretty awesome, especially when factoring in Nick's Village People rendition of the wetsuits they provided.

It was a day made especially lovely by our side trip to surf town Raglan on our way home. It was too windy for surfing, but the bay coastlines surrounding the cute town made a perfect setting for a run and an outdoor workout (someone has to keep his workout schedule). It was so refreshing to exercise outside without drowning in sweat as one might do in, say, Guam. The views were breathtaking and the Raglan Bakery unexpectedly provided one of our favorite meals for the week.

In terms of New Zealand experiences, my favorite day was spent sailing and hiking at Abel Tasman National Park. We boarded the catamaran in non-existent winds on a perfectly sunny Saturday. After 30 minutes of motoring, I heard that all too familiar sound of a sail on its freedom ride up to the top of the mast. And as the lull of the motor silenced and the fresh Tasman breeze took over, I couldn't help but feel right at home, even in the waters of a new place in a hemisphere I've never crossed into before.

It was a relatively short two-hour sail, but alongside the pulses of the bay, I was caught in a wave of emotions ranging from the sadness of having left behind our own sailboat in San Diego to the ecstacy of being back on the water, fueled by the winds of a breathtaking sea, coasting carefree through the sunshine. I've never felt so at home while so far away from home.

The rest of the day involved a 12km hike back down the coast we had sailed up. The bay and island vistas were even more spectacular from the heights of the coast track hillsides, and our walk was interrupted by quirky bird sounds and photo stops to capture the beautiful flowers and giant fern palms.

I should probably end this post here, but I haven't even mentioned some of the other highlights, like playing golf on a gorgeously groomed oceanside course we had all to ourselves in the late Friday afternoon sunshine.
Or before golf, the hop in the Cessna we took from Wellington on the North Island to Nelson on the South Island. The views of the Marlborough Sound were extraordinary from the air, and the water color once we got to Nelson was that old familiar "vacation blue."

Or before that, relaxing and catching up with Courtney while soaking in the hot springs overlooking steamy blue Lake Rotarua (while Nick worked out at a nearby gym).

Sunday beach stroll on Rabbit Island.

Then there's the picnic Nick and I did on the beach at Rabbit Island our last day there, right before we stopped off at a winery (which seemed more numerous in these hills than Starbucks is in Seattle). There really were so many highlights from this relatively short trip. New Zealand is a truly amazing place in every possible way.

Traditional last pic of the honeymoon, frowning of course
After a one-night stopover in Fiji on our way back to Guam, our fifth honeymoon came to an end (Fiji is way too much like Guam to bother blogging about). New Zealand was so good to us throughout our stay, providing abundant sunshine to illuminate its colors while offering fair winds and cool nights reminiscent of San Diego. At the end of it all we reflected on a trip where the travel was easy and the food was delicious. You can't ask for more than that out of a honeymoon. And even though it may be too soon, I can't help but wonder where #6 will take us. Only time will tell.