Sunday, February 27, 2011


At dinner on my 28th birthday. First birthday with Nick since I turned 23!
Despite Nick's suggestion, I will not be spending this post discussing the top 27 things about being 27. Or by listing the top one thing of each of my 27 years (year 1: eating, year 2: talking, year 3: potty training, etc.). He insists it would get more interesting if I kept going.

But on many levels, I do think 27 has been a defining year in a number of ways. I have always joked that the actual definition of being an adult is having the old person trifecta: 1) a spouse, 2) a baby, and 3) a mortgage. Despite still having just one of the three boxes checked, I feel like I could now add a catchall 4th option: Any of the above three and/or you are 27 years old. I feel like, more than in other years, my 27th year was filled with milestones and life lessons that were clearly telling me I've crossed to the other side, regardless of what my own criteria may have been.  And once on the other side, the lessons seem to strike harder and sink deeper. So rather than recap the year, as I did at new years, I thought I'd touch on some of the new understandings I have.

A picture from the birthday golf round!
One of the things I've learned this year is how important it is to try new things. When Nick started dragging me to the driving range right before he deployed in 2009, I was reluctant. I mean, seriously, golf is for dads and grandmothers, right? And I certainly wasn't any good. But I figured at least it will be a way to spend time with Nick, so I borrowed some clubs and went. Last April when we scooped up his grandmother's clubs in New Jersey, I suddenly found myself with my own golf property, and I built on that to develop a new identity as a golfer, or if that's a stretch, someone who plays golf. This may sound oversimplified, but I think a lot of the reasons people don't try new things is they simply can't picture themselves as a runner or a SCUBA diver or a painter or a triathlete. I feel like once I "owned" the identity of being a golfer, I found myself dressing the part (golf skirt!) and looking forward to playing---even by myself---and relishing in the milestones: my first par, my first birdie, and yesterday (on my birthday, mind you!), my first time to score an even 100 (so close to my goal of shooting in the 90s!). There have been some ugly, ugly strokes and putts along the way. But I have a new hobby that I love, something I can do to meet new friends or even hang out with my dad. And hopefully, like MomMom, I can keep it up well into my 80s.

Another round of lessons, sadly, has been in my understanding of tragedies. I have touched on this a number of times in my recent reflections, of Khalil Gibran's ruminations about the interconnectedness of joy and sorrow. That our experience with sorrow increases our experiences with joy. That's all well and good, however, it doesn't prevent fatal accidents of brave heroes serving overseas. And it doesn't cure stage-four cancer among even the most joyful of believers. I have always known (in my head) that believing in God does not keep tragedy from affecting your life. But I feel like this year, I came to really know that. After watching dear friends go through unexplainable, devastating tragedies losing people they love---even tiny babies---way too soon, my only reaction at the end of the day is to take a deep breath... in... out... and accept that I don't have the answers. Life is mysterious. God is even more mysterious. And joys and tragedies will make their way onto our doorstep at random or like clockwork throughout our time on this planet. And at the end of the year, I can still choose to be joyful living in the mystery, especially after just a few moments ago looking at a photo album of a friend who endured three miscarriages in the past few years... a friend who now holds her precious miracle in her arms :)

Flying solo at a church potluck (I won the potato contest!)
And finally, the move to Guam is certainly a biggie in the growing up category. From the very beginning, watching the moving van pull up to our home in Coronado, I felt myself looking around wondering where the adults were who were going to oversee the movers and inventory all of our things as they disappear into shelters of cardboard and tape. I found myself with a clipboard in my hand and, yup, it was me. I suppose I've always been pretty self-sufficient, independent, etc. But that first day after Nick left and I was on Guam "by myself" for the first time, I definitely had to give myself a pep talk. You can do this. You can make this place your home. You can find meaningful ways to fill your time here. You can keep your relationships back home and find great new friends here too. So that's what I did, or at least have attempted to do. And it's not just for the sake of keeping the blog upbeat that I say I love it here. I really do. And I have come to appreciate what a gift of time and purpose it is for me to be here with Nick for these two years.

Me and Jane... I mean, Mom
All this growing up and yet, one more lesson this year is how nice it is to still be somebody's baby. For the previous five years living and working in various parts of the U.S., I had my mom listed as "Jane" in my cell phone. So whenever I needed work advice or wanted to catch up about things back home, I'd call Jane. In our first 48 hours on Guam, I got my new cell phone here. And she was the first phone number I punched in to call (partly because she's got one of the only numbers I still have memorized!). But when I went to save her number, she became "Mom" again, and always will be. Having all these new mom friends has made me so aware of the fact that birthdays are milestones as much (or more even) for our parents as for us. So, can't let the day pass without a little thank you :)

And on that note of thank you, thanks to all of you who make such an effort to keep in touch. For those who read regularly, for those who read sporadically, for those who don't read but call or email, for those who send me mail because you know it feels like summer camp when I get mail here, and for all of you who used my birthday as an opportunity to remind me I'm not as far away as I think... thank you! Keeping in touch truly is the best birthday gift of all. I look forward to hearing from you all more throughout my tenure at twenty-eight. And hey, the way the post office works around here, pretty sure my birthday will be continuing at the mailbox every day for the next few weeks or so! Woohoo!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Boonie Stompin

At Tarzan Water Hole
I have had a fantastic time being back on Guam these past few weeks. While I had an amazing time in the States and got to see so many people I missed, I also gained a renewed understanding of the opportunity we have living in such a unique, exotic place. Combined with the fact that we only have about 18 months left here, I have had great motivation to get out and make it happen.

I find I am happiest on Guam when I am doing the best Guam has to offer. One of those things I have done a lot of the past few weeks is hiking, or "Boonie Stompin" as we like to call it here.  Every Thursday, the outdoor recreation center takes a group of people on a scheduled hike. I have started making a point of leaving Thursdays free so I can go on as many of these as possible. You basically show up and get on a van and they drive you to the trail head and lead you to the destination, usually a waterfall or cave or ocean view. Having all the logistics taken care of makes the hikes really enjoyable.

Muddy trail, Exhibit A
The hikes are pretty rustic. I use the word "trail" loosely because oftentimes it seems like there is no trail--or that there are 13 trails and you have to choose the right one despite the fact that none of them are marked and all of them look the same, but only one takes you to the right place. I have heard many a Guam horror story about people getting lost on hikes here because they find their way there but can't find their way back to the car. The good thing is, you can only be lost in the jungle for so long before running into a road or the ocean. Thank goodness for that.

Sometimes the downpours create bonus waterfalls along the way. As in, what was previously the trail is now a waterfall.

Muddy me+shoes about to jump in the ocean to clean off

By the end of these hikes, you are usually covered in muddy red clay with streaks of sweaty bug spray and sunscreen residue dripping down all of your limbs. And usually it rains at some point, so you often get home soaking wet. Showering is actually step 2. Step 1 involves rinsing off with the hose before you can even step foot into the house. After the hose, shoes go in the washing machine and outside to dry.

So why deal with the bug bites, the sword grass, the downpours, the hot sun, the mud, the drippy sweat, and the potential to run into snakes? Well, some incredible viewpoints for one:

Sigua Falls
Taguan Point
Lower Sigua
Mt Lam Lam
 It's also a great way to discover new places and things...
Heading into Pagat Caves
Rock bridge into the ocean
New terrain & vegetation
Plus a chance to meet new friends :)

All in all, totally worth those muddy shoes!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Love Around the World

My first order of business back on Guam was planning and coordinating a Valentine's banquet at my church. The banquet was a fundraiser for the mission trip I am planning to Manila this summer for 10 youth and 7 adults. We will be spending the week working in an orphanage and teaching English to small kids there. Given the international focus, our theme for the evening was "Love Around the World." I arrived on Guam with 11 days until the dinner and immediately hit the ground running.

On our 8-hour drive from Pensacola to Houston, my mom gave me some great fundraising ideas. I am so lucky to have one of the best strategists in my corner. The first task was to create some Valentine-type raffle prizes to entice people at church on Sunday. That way, anyone could take part in the raffle (and adding to the pot) even if they weren't coming to the banquet.  I put together a few wine baskets, picnic sets, and tea baskets, mostly with stuff from around the house that I never used. And one lady at church who sells Mary Kay put in a gift certificate. All in all, a pretty good showing. We raised well over $100 through raffle ticket sales.

We ended up having about 36 people attend the dinner. Once everyone was seated, I led everyone in an icebreaker that involved going around the room and finding your "match." Each lady was given a card with a word on it in another language. That word translated to love in some language. The men were given cards with corresponding languages and everyone had to wander around the room until they found the word for love that corresponded with their language. Matches introduced each other to their spouses and we went around the room sharing names and enlightening each other on the word Love in other languages. The winner of the game was the pair that ended up with "mahal kita" which means "I love you" in Tagalog, the language of the Philippines.

Next up was food! The youth who are going on the trip were our servers for the evening. They had a great time taking and fulfilling orders and delivering requests. Each table had a menu, a trip fact sheet, and a love offering envelope. We decorated each table with heart confetti my friend Kate helped me create. Along with candles, decor included vases of fresh herbs from my garden and flowers from the jungle. That's the great thing about Guam. If you see flowers growing on the side of the road, they're free for the taking. They will grow back in no time!

One of the big hits during the evening was the very simple appetizer I made ahead of time: toasted bread and homemade herb butter. I had several people ask me for the herb butter recipe. It's so simple. Mix a few cloves of garlic together with handfuls of various fresh herbs and blend them into a butter spread. For this batch, I used parsley, sage, rosemary and Thai basil (we don't have thyme or I would use that just to be lyrical). All mixed together, the butter it turns a little green, but the flavors are incredible.

Our first course was salad. We decided to get away from the boring lettuce tomato number and opted for spinach salad with mandarin oranges, dried cranberries and feta cheese with raspberry vinaigrette. While guests ate, we entertained them with jokes and door prizes. We were also providing childcare that night, so while the parents were mingling, we had the kids complete a Valentine's Day mad lib. We read it to the adults while they were eating. Lots of laughs from this no cost entertainment!

 Speaking of entertainment, we were so fortunate to be able to provide live music! We have some musically talented youth who pulled their band together for the evening and prepared some fabulous songs. They even changed their typically punk music style to be appropriate to our audience. A week before the guitarist asked me if Eric Clapton's "You Look Wonderful Tonight" would be a good song for the evening, since one of the other band members suggested it and he'd never heard of it before. And here we have it, reason #293 my job makes me feel old.

The evening's main meal was capellini with seasoned meatballs, smothered in marinara and garnished with fresh basil sprigs. So, yes, it's a fancy way of spelling out that classic church spaghetti dinner, but the details made it seem just a little fancier.

To get more bang for our buck, we asked parents to contribute goodies for our Chocolate Extravaganza dessert bar. Delish!

While our guests ate their main course, I took the evening up a notch and did a short message to everyone about how important this mission trip was to our youth. Of course, I tied in the whole love theme from Valentine's Day and the banquet. But I also did something a little bold and read from my journal. The passage I chose was from when I was 17 years old participating in a mission trip in Texas and experienced Christ in a very real way for the first time:

"After this week, I have never felt so close to God. I have never known what the word close meant until now. God right now has taken over and he's filling me with these wonderful thoughts of what it's like to be His. His arm is around my shoulder and He's smiling at me because He's accomplished His goal."

It's been ten years since I wrote those words and I still remember that moment and that evening in great detail. I've used my journal before to connect to youth. It's one thing to hear churchy stuff preached by someone twice your age. It's another thing to hear that person's exact words and thoughts from when they were your age. I always get nervous reading from my journal, but I also believe there's a lot of power behind these messages. So I clear my voice, take a deep breath, and go for it.

Me & Doug, the other youth director & chef
Shortly after my message, we collected a love offering from those in the crowd while they stuffed their faces with chocolate and listened to the youth band play some great songs. The other youth director, Doug, and I waited until after the evening was over and everything cleaned up to sit down and count our winnings from the night. Last year this banquet raised just over $300. I was hoping to raise that number to $500 and my secret stretch goal was to get it to $765 - the cost of one youth to go on the trip. I was completely floored when we totaled it up and it came to $948! And over the course of the weekend, an anonymous donor put in the extra $52 to raise it to the even $1,000 mark. Pretty amazing for one night of fellowship among a group this small!

Pastor Jeff & I decked out in red
I was on Cloud 9 all weekend, writing thank you notes and just plain glowing from the fabulous success the dinner was. It wasn't the dollar amount, per se, that had me so excited. It was the confirmation from our congregation that they feel like this trip is important, and worth all the work we are putting into the preparations. I was also excited because there are some youth who simply will not be able to go on this trip unless we raise all of the money for them to go. It seemed like a lofty goal when I first set out, but so far I have nothing but nods from all directions that this trip is a go. What made me feel most special was when personal friends of mine, even a friend here on Guam who has nothing to do with our church, made a donation for the dinner.... just because it was something that mattered to me and seemed like a worthy cause. Thank you, friends :)

Aaaah young love
Follow-up from the dinner has been fantastic. I certainly enjoyed the opportunity to flex my event planning muscles. But my favorite piece of feedback so far was from one of the parents of a youth who was originally signed up for the trip but ran into a conflict with summer travel. Her mom said after hearing my journal entry, she and her husband both agreed they would do everything they could to try to make their daughter's schedule work so she could go on the trip with us. They didn't want her to miss out on that kind of opportunity. I am thrilled, since I don't want her to miss out either!

I had the opportunity to take part in many service trips when I was growing up. Even in my adult years, it has been those weeks out of my normal, everyday life spent serving others in a faraway land that helped me realize how privileged my life is and how little others have. As we prepare for this trip between now and June, it is my prayer that our youth will come to understand a little more how God works in this world. And I hope that this understanding will be transformed into creativity, compassion, and love. And there we have it: Love around the world :)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Happy Birthday CH-T!

I just wanted to celebrate my sister Courtney today (the 15th) as she turns the big three-zero!  The celebration started with a surprise getaway to Boston with her fiance Ben this past Valentine's weekend, and it continues with Court taking a CH-T day off work to do whatever she wants all day long. Sounds like a genius formula for an awesome and memorable birthday.  I just wish I could be there to celebrate!

Part of me wants to go on and on about how I can't believe I have a 30 year-old sister. But when I think of all Courtney has done in her twenties, it's actually kind of hard to believe she's only just now turning 30! Courtney started her twenties president of our sorority at Florida, graduated, got an awesome job in Houston, bailed out for London (where she got employee of the month her first month working there!), backpacked across Europe (and went to the Olympics in Greece!) scammed the system (legally, people) to get work visas in London for five years, including getting her Master's there. She met her fiance Ben in the process of doing her Master's thesis about online dating (more genius), just in time to bring him to our wedding so he could meet the whole crazy family at once :)

Along the way, she has traveled like crazy (Malta, Egypt, Hong Kong, Australia, Spain, Jamaica & 3X to New Zealand, to name a few!). Plus she has done an amazing job of coming back to the States for friends' weddings, family gatherings and Gator football games. I was so glad when she and Ben moved to San Francisco, just up the PCH from us. Finally we were in the same time zone and only an hour flight away. She landed a rockstar job doing something she was a front runner on: video conferencing. She had all of us using Skype before most people our side of the pond had heard of it.

Most important to me, she has managed to stay involved in my life despite the fact that we have lived 7 to 8 time zones apart for most of the last ten years. We have partied together at weddings and football games. We have wept together at funerals (and sad movies, who am I kidding). We have grieved together in letters to each other. And we have celebrated each other's accomplishments and milestones, sometimes even in person (engagement!!). She was the perfect maid of honor at our wedding, and now I am thrilled to have that same honor as she and Ben tie the knot in the near future at a fabulous location!

So Court, on your birthday, just wanted to thank you for being such an awesome big sister. You set the stage for me to challenge myself to try more new things and go more places in this life. And what kind of a little sister would I be if I didn't point out that for the next 11 days, you are 30 and I am only 27. Then again, a little voice is creeping in my head urging me to say, "Don't count the candles, just enjoy the glow." And as you begin this next fabulous decade of travel and adventure and friendships and marriage, just know I'll be there cheering you on every step of the way. Love you, big sis... and happy birthday!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Shine bright, Firefly. Shine bright.

I just wanted to take a moment to lift up a beautiful person. Someone who has inspired me over the last six months I have been following her journey. Someone who has shown unbelievable faith in an incomprehensibly difficult situation. Someone who is currently making the transition out of this world and into the next.

Sarah Chidgey Hughes is an acquaintance of mine but a close friends of several of my close friends in Texas. We all graduated high school together the same year but she lived in San Antonio at the time. I've crossed paths with her on church trips, youth group stuff, and weddings over the years. In August I was shocked to get the news from my friend Annie, her roommate for three years after college, that Sarah was unexpectedly diagnosed with a very aggressive stage 4 cancer. At the time of diagnosis, the doctors said it would take a miracle to save her.

Sarah started a video blog to keep friends and family informed about her cancer journey. She had to leave her beloved teaching job very suddenly at the beginning of the school year. She and her then fiance Eric had a spur-of-the-moment wedding in August, three months before their planned November date, so she would have hair for her wedding pictures. And then she began the unbelievably difficult process of chemo treatments, blood transfusions, surgeries, and radiation. Despite the best possible treatment options at one of the world's best cancer hospitals, this particular kind of cancer was a different kind of animal. A few weeks ago Sarah lost feeling in her legs because the cancer had invaded her spinal column. Additional tests confirmed the chemo had been unable to slow or stop the cancer growth. They recently made the difficult choice to stop treatments so Sarah could enjoy what life was left before her.

Throughout this journey, Sarah has filled her blog with beautiful video posts and writings about trusting in the Lord's care. She has bravely continued to encourage her readers in their struggles and their personal relationships with God, even while she fought a chronically painful physical battle. She has led devotionals. She has enjoyed the simple things in life. And she has wept when the pain and uncertainty were just too much.

I just checked Sarah's blog and got the unfortunate news from her husband Eric that Sarah will be heading home soon. I just wanted to lift her up today in prayer for comfort and peace as her body begins the difficult process of shutting down in preparation for transition into a new creation. It is times like these I am so grateful for the Lord's comforting promise to His people that we will be in a better place one day if we only believe. Without that hope, the thought of losing this beautiful young soul so early would be unbearable.

To those of us who have prayed along the way, it might seem as if Sarah's miracle never came. So many prayers have been lifted up by so many people asking for more time with her, for less pain, for healing. But as I mentioned in my recent post about all these new babies making their way into the world, I am reminded by my own reflections that life is the miracle. And in this case, Sarah is the miracle. And as far as all of the things I don't understand, like why such a beautiful person... and why so young, I am reminded that we are living in the mystery. The answers are not for me to know.

Sarah closes out each of her blog posts with a short phrase, "Shine bright, Firefly. Shine bright. Just some thoughts." In one of her posts, she explains that it came from a friend who prayed for her and immediately received a vision of a firefly along with this phrase. No question Sarah has been a light in this world to the many she has met and the thousands who have read her blog (which is called "Just Some Thoughts").

One thing I try to avoid, as you may have noticed, is pretending like everything is all happy and carefree when maybe it isn't. I don't like to dwell on sorrowful things, but I think they are worth reflecting on because sorrow and joy are one in the same. One does not exist without the other. So rather than skip on to the next story about youth group news or hiking or whatever else, I felt inspired to write about Sarah today hoping you would be blessed by this beautiful life just as I have... and that maybe you would join me in saying a prayer as she makes a soft landing here very soon.

Thank you, sweet Sarah, for being a light in this dark world. You will be missed by so many. Shine bright, Firefly. Shine bright. Just some thoughts.
Amy, Annie, me, Sarah

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

Revelation 21:4

Sarah's blog:

Sunday, February 13, 2011

All the Pregger Ladies

To say there are a lot of new mothers in my life is somewhat of an understatement. Because of all of the new life coming into the world, I have been envisioning a post dedicated to all of my pregger and new mom friends. At my Bible study in San Diego, I insisted on taking the above picture with this blog post in mind (although I was promptly accused of just wanting to look really skinny by standing next to these nine-monthers). No seriously, I just wanted to honor my dear friends at this life-changing time with a blog post!

On my three-week trip back home, I saw six, yes SIX pregnant friends who were more than halfway through. Five of them were going to be first-time moms. And four of these gorgeous, glowing women had their babies within a week after I had a chance to visit with them. So unfortunately I didn't get to meet any of the babies, but I did get a quality last visit with these future mommies while they had their hands free!

So I will start with Mallory (above, right). Mallory lives in Coronado a block from where we used to call home. She's in my Bible study and my wine group (or, well, sparkling pomegranate group). After more than a few painful bumps in the road to mommyhood, we are all so thrilled that baby Norah came into the world safe and sound, even though it was about a week after her due date and a week after I left town. In fact, while I was in Hawaii living in complete uncertainty of when I would get to Space-A back to Guam, Mallory was simultaneously experiencing the complete unknown about when her daughter would enter the world. There was a whole lot of waiting going on. I can't wait to meet little Stinker Moffit one day. I will have to give her a hard time about arriving so darn late. Although Norah did win the race and make it to the world before I made it back to Guam :)

Next up is Sarah. I became friends with Sarah a few years ago when her then boyfriend Neal was deployed the same six months that Nick was. After getting married and buying a house, Sarah joined our Bible study and was a great friend to have when our husbands were again deployed for the same two and then six months back to back. Of all the mommies, Sarah was the only one adventurous enough to wait until delivery to find out the sex of the baby. Unfortunately that joyous moment was overtaken by a delivery emergency that brought their sweet little guy (yes, a boy!) into the NICU for a few scary first days. I am SO relieved and joyful to have gotten the news that he is healthy and at home and the bonus news that Neal was able to be there for all of it. Welcome to this crazy world, Caleb! So glad our prayers were answered!

Looks like Sara Lee has a little somethin cooking in the oven. Sara is one of my best friends from high school. She announced her pregnancy at our going away party in Houston before we moved to Guam. I remember being so excited but also so bummed that I was going to miss the entire thing. Luckily she kept me super in the loop on every exciting and hilarious moment on her blog (which was actually what gave me the idea to start Peyt's Island, so props to Sara). Sara's little girl was measuring Texas size, so they decided to do a scheduled C-section a week before the due date. Savanna came out at 8 lbs., 9 oz and is an absolutely gorgeous newborn. In fact, Sara wrote one of the most beautiful blog posts I've ever read, so if you have a minute and want to read something beautiful, click here. Careful, though... it might make you want to have babies yourself (thanks, Sara... thanks).

I think of all of the babies, I am most excited to find out what this one looks like. Huy's husband Ben is a blond surfer-looking guy and they are having a little boy named Jackson in April. I am so curious to find out who he's going to most resemble and what features he will take from each parent. There is a lot of uncertainty right now with Ben's deployment schedule, so we just have to remain hopeful that he will be there for the birth. I had lunch with Huy on my last day in San Diego. Not long before we were going to have to go our separate ways, she put my hand on her belly and I felt Jackson give a good solid boot. I completely lost my composure at that point thinking of all I would be missing (which I thought was ridiculous... aren't the pregnant people supposed to be the emotional ones?). I felt like I was the one who should be throwing her a shower and bringing over dinners that first week. It really sunk in how far away Guam is and how much I want to move back to San Diego when our time there is done. So excited for you Huya and Ben!

Moving right along, Debi is the only family member to make the list currently, and she's also the only repeat momma. Debi is Nick's mom's cousin, though she's so young and fun, we have always just considered her our cousin. She has a daughter Madi that Nick and I absolutely adore and since she lived in north San Diego County for most of the years we were in Coronado, they were the only family within an hour's or even a day's drive of us. She lives in the Bay Area now and is currently expecting TWINS!!! The two little guys (yes, boys!) will make their appearance in March some time. I am beyond thrilled that they will all be moving back to San Diego soon so we will have family nearby again when we're back in SoCal. 

The super surprise visit of all was with Ashley, my sorority sister from college, in Alaska. I had no idea I was going to be there and, in fact, when I first went on her Facebook page to message her about possibly being in her backyard, her status update was about having ongoing contractions (whoa there!). I knew she was getting close and when I talked to her she said, "I may be at the hospital, but you are welcome to stay here." Crazy timing! But no, I didn't get to meet Jeffrey. He came a week later. But chances are I will get to meet him soon since Ashley and Robbie are moving to Hawaii next month! Oh, and I would like to add that Jeffrey was named after one of Robbie's pilot friends from his squadron whose plane crashed out there in November :( They all adored him and so when the time came to choose a name, they knew exactly who they wanted their little boy to be like. Such a wonderful tribute in the time of such sadness.

 And finally, back on Guam, we have Kate. I took this picture in Saipan when she just started showing (we made her pose). Now starting her third trimester, she's just a tiny bit bigger than in this picture. Her husband Ben went to the Naval Academy with Nick and they also went through training together and now work together out here in Guam. Of all the friends, Kate is the one whose pregnancy I have been able to be part of week to week and I have learned a lot from her (including some really scary and disturbing things... THANKS). But I've learned a lot nonetheless. Sadly, Kate is heading back to the States in just a few weeks so she can leave here early enough to travel safely. Ben is getting out of the navy about the time their daughter Sloan will be born in Charleston. Kate has had one of the most adventurous pregnancies I have ever heard of. She's continued to swim, snorkel & hike (even today!) throughout all of it and she's traveled like crazy. She went with us to Saipan at 12 weeks, then to Thailand at 20-something weeks, then New Zealand. She'll be traveling halfway around the world at the 7-month mark. She's been an awesome friend out here these first six months and I'm definitely going to miss her. And of all of them, she's the only one whose shower I get to go to. Definitely not going to miss it!

Reflecting on all of this, it's so interesting to see how many different stories have emerged from each one of these expecting friends. It just goes to show how unique each life is with its circumstances, parents, name choices, and the uncontrollable. In contrast to all of this joy, I feel compelled to mention a dear friend I saw on my trip who earlier last year found out at 15 weeks the devastating news that her baby would be born without any kidneys. Turns out he had a rare, unexplainable disease called Potters Syndrome, which affects the development of vital organs. After making the difficult decision to carry him to term, he lived only 30 minutes after he was born before his little heart gave out. Just long enough to be hugged and kissed by his parents and baptized into the Lord's care. Hearing the sad story about Deagan has made me better appreciate what each of my friends has gone through on their journey to become mothers. So much of it is chance, luck, uncertainty, prayer. And I now realize it truly is a miracle when a new life enters the world and takes a breath here. That's why I feel so compelled to celebrate these stories and each of these new lives today, especially Deagan's.

Okay, if you're like me, you are probably overwhelmed with all of this baby talk. Congratulations to all the new mommies out there! Oh, and if anyone is wondering, Nick and I are still on track to wait until we are not in the land of scuba diving and sashimi-grade everything, so I will save you the trouble of asking! Oh, and just as I had finished telling Nick about all the January babies that were born, I checked my email and found out about another one. Amy & David in Denver in August! And so, the baby train continues... choo choo!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

An Unexpected Aloha :)

Landing in Hawaii
So the reason I had to skip out of San Diego faster than I was originally planning is that I was suddenly faced with an amazing opportunity for my journey back to Guam. All along I knew I'd have to fly through Hawaii, since that's the best place, geographically speaking, to catch a flight back to Guam from the States. Well, knowing what I now know about how Space-A works (super flaky!), I started poking around for the commercial options that would at least get me to Hawaii, which would cut out one huge leg of uncertainty, leaving me only the flight to Guam from there. I checked out flights and couldn't believe there was one in my time range that was about the same price as my flight from San Fran to San Diego (I know, right? to Hawaii!). And the super duper bonus of it all is that it would put me landing in Honolulu while Nick was there for a conference. Hello Hawaii rendezvous!

I got in on a Tuesday afternoon and hung out in the hotel room while Nick finished up his conference. We went out to eat in Waikiki that night and the next day, our only full day together, we packed in everything amazing Hawaii has to offer: golf and surfing! We started our day on the golf course. Nick had enough notice to bring some of my clubs out with him, so it was awesome to play the course with my own weapons. It wasn't my best score overall, but I did get a birdie that day! Had a perfect tee-off on a par 3 followed by a perfect putt. It was only my second birdie ever, so I was pretty excited :)

 Speaking of birdies, one thing I was very aware of throughout my entire trip back to the States was the presence of birds everywhere I went. You have probably heard the stories about the non-indigenous brown tree snake that wreaked havoc on Guam. Well, one of the reasons its effects were so terrifying is that it killed all of the native bird populations. It took going back to Coronado, Florida, and even suburban Houston to realize that pleasant chirping that accompanies our everyday lives just doesn't exist on Guam. (And now that I'm back here reflecting on this, I realize it is sooooo quiet yere). The birds in Hawaii seemed extra musical and were quite beautiful. I am sad for Guam that the stupid snakes ate all the pretty birds.

 After a painfully long (five hours!) round of golf, we packed up our clubs and headed to Waikiki Beach for some surfing. I was a bit hesitant, since I never really got the hang of surfing in San Diego despite trying it a few times (and taking a lesson in Costa Rica). So I was somewhat relieved to find out there was hardly any surf and it was completely flat the whole way paddling out (phew!). Of course, this also made for few opportunities to actually catch a wave, but considering the waves were breaking on a shallow reef (at low tide, mind you), I was okay with that. I gave it a go for about an hour and then paddled in while Nick kept surfing.
 After surfing, we hung out on the beach and watched the sun go down for about an hour. Even though we live a mile from several beautiful beaches on Guam, Nick and I aren't really beach people. As in, we never just go to the beach and lay there in the sand. Every time we do, though, I always catch myself wondering, why don't we do this more often?? It was so relaxing and since it's not nearly as humid as Guam, it was the perfect temperature. Hawaii seems to be the perfect blend of things we love about California (surfing & drier air) and things we love about Guam (beautiful island, gorgeous landscape, fewer people).

 Like Guam, Hawaii also had its share of Japanese tourists. Nick and I watched this group of Japanese girls take pictures of themselves for over an hour. They must have taken over a thousand pictures of various ways to incorporate the setting sun. In this one, they are lining up one girl who looks like the sun is resting in her palm, while the other girl is holding it up at eye level. They were remarkably entertaining, so much so I had to take a picture. And they say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, so I'll have to admit, they had some pretty clever ideas. Here's my rendition of swallowing the sun:
(Someone later pointed out, it doesn't look like I'm eating the sun so much as it looks like I am breathing a fireball. Roar!)

View from Gary & Tina's patio @sunset = Awesome
We got together for dinner that night with our friends Gary & Tina. Tina holds the place of fame in my life for being the first navy wife I was ever friends with. As in, I met her at a function in San Diego when Nick had six weeks left of training. At that point we had orders to Virginia Beach (along with grad school acceptance and a job for me), so when the opportunity unexpectedly arose for us to stay in San Diego, I was really unsure of what to do. Tina was the natural person for me to call, and I still remember her words, "West Coast is the best coast!" She was so enthusiastic about San Diego and about how much better the teams were for family life (since many of the trainings are within a few hours' drive away whereas the East Coast guys have to travel farther to get to the same training sites). I don't know day for day if I actually saw Nick more because of our choice to stay West Coast, but it seemed like a good enough reason for me, especially combined with the fact that we really loved Coronado. I really wish I had taken a picture of them!
With only half a day left in Hawaii together before beginning the journey home, Nick and I got up the next morning and drove to the North Shore. The Volcom Pipe Pro surfing contest was going on at Bonsai Beach. We got to catch some of the surfing, which was absolutely amazing to watch. Not only were the waves absolutely perfect, the surfers were so fearless. Especially after being reminded the day before how hard surfing is, I was extra impressed getting to watch the pros. It was our first time to see an official contest like this and I'm pretty sure we could have stayed all day if we didn't have flights to catch.
Hard to tell, but there were consistently 20-foot waves!

We did a couple more essential stops on the North Shore. Behold Waimea Bay

And the North Shore shrimp trucks!!

Yum! Although it was hard to be too impressed about $13 for 12 shrimp when I just came from Pensacola where it was $3/pound. Yeah, sorry Hawaii, but Pensacola still wins in that department.

The Long Way Home
"Aloha" is a funny word, in that it means both hello and goodbye at the same time. It's quite a fitting description of what happened on my Space-A journey home (foreshadowing, check!). With our short but awesome Hawaii vacation at an end, Nick dropped me off at the Hickam Air Force Base terminal. Amazingly enough, there was a flight with 56 empty seats leaving Hawaii for Guam at 3pm that afternoon, which aligned perfectly with the fact that Nick's commercial flight back was at 3pm too. We could conceivably arrive in Guam at the same time! I got my boarding pass, checked my bag, and waited as they called us through security to the holding area. And then we waited. And waited. And waited. And finally we got the news. The C5 we were going out on had a door malfunction, and the door wasn't closing properly in the area where all the seats were located. So of the 22 people trying to get to Guam, only 8 were able to go, since they could sit with the crew. I did not make the cut. You know what they say about things that are too good to be true... yup, it was.

So, Tina and Gary scooped me up and I spent the night at their place and would catch the flight going out the next day. The next day came and that flight got pushed to... the next day. So I used my bonus day in Hawaii wisely, going for a run in Waikiki, reading a book in the park, and getting together with a friend of mine from Annapolis that I had not seen in over five years. Melissa was in my Bible study there and though we'd only loosely kept in touch through Facebook, I was reminded of why I love my Bible study friendships so much.

While I have been so lucky to find amazing girlfriends everywhere, the thing about Bible study friendships is that you get to know someone faster and on a deeper level because we share so much about our lives in our attempt to understand the Bible and our purpose here. Since I'd last seen Melissa, we had both gotten married and moved to tropical islands, and she now had an adorable baby boy, Siah, who was six months and two weeks old. And even though so much had changed, we were able to pick up right where we left off. We had lunch together and seeing her made me so grateful for all the friends in my life.

The next day Gary and Tina dropped me off at the terminal again and things were looking very promising. There were three flights out to Guam before noon. Score! The first opportunity passed me by. There were 8 other people with higher priority levels than me. The second flight ended up not taking anyone. Hmmm.... So the third flight had 15 seats and I was #5 on the list. At that point, it seemed like a sure thing! So we went through the whole process again. Got boarding passes, checked bags, this time we got on a bus, drove out to the KC-135, got on and took off. At this point, I texted Nick, "See you tonight!"

And after ten minutes in the air, just as I was envisioning laying my head down on my own pillow in my own bed for the first time in three weeks, there was a horrible loud noise. Now, I am not a leery traveler. I know too many pilot friends who have assured me that turbulence is "just wind" and military flights are so safe and blah blah blah. So I tend to not worry on planes. Can't do anything anyway, right? Next thing you know, we've stopped ascending and are descending, several people are scampering around the plane, and the rumors start. Turns out the landing gear wouldn't go up properly (the loud noise), so we would need to make an emergency landing back at Hickam. An hour of circling later, we finally landed (we had to dump enough fuel so we weren't too heavy to land safely). And just like that, after an entire day trying to get out, I was right back where I started.

Fire trucks bracing for our emergency landing - scary!
Got my bags and called Melissa, who came to get me. (Okay, so I left out the part where I had a bit of a meltdown and called Nick nearly begging to fly home commercial despite the $700 or 40,000 miles it would cost... the whole emergency landing thing definitely freaked me out). After confirming I had a guaranteed seat on this plane once it did fly out, I decided to stick to my original plan. I mean, I had a comfy place to stay with friends, didn't need to be back for a few more days, and I was in Hawaii for goodness sakes. Poor me, right?

The extra 36 hours in Hawaii hanging out with Melissa and Siah were so much fun! We mostly hung out at her place, which was a quarter mile up the road from the stadium where the Pro Bowl was going on (coincidence as to why the flight was delayed???). I went on a run and saw all the tailgating starting. She took me to Target for a last fix before my Guam time would begin again. The flight got bumped back from 4pm to 3am, but we found out just in time to grab stuff to make pizza and cupcakes and we spent the evening watching a chick flick together and catching up even more. As far as I'm concerned, looking back, I am so glad I got to stay a little longer. Her husband is deployed, so I wasn't crowding them, and I think she enjoyed my company too. So, even with all the craziness, it all worked out just fine. It usually does :)

Melissa dropped me off at the terminal at 3a.m. to try this Space-A thing a third time. Third time was a charm! Had no issues getting out, the plane took off no problem. In fact, the one issue we did have (the pilot overshot the runway) was on the Guam side. So, just like I took off in Hawaii twice, we also landed in Guam twice. AWESOME. So it will probably be a while before I try my luck at Space-A again, but it did the job, getting me safely to and from America for the bargain price of $4.25 (the price of a box lunch).

Reflecting on the trip, I am so, so grateful to have been able to make new memories with so many friends and family. And while I was sad to leave everyone, it has also made me appreciate my life on Guam now that I am back. We hit our 6-month Guammiversary while I was gone, which means potentially only 18 months left here. I fully intend to get the most out of it, and can't wait to pick up writing about Peyt's Island again soon!