Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hey Soul Sister

So it dawned on me that I think the reason I am struggling to start recapping China is that I have some business to take care of first. Before any of China will make sense, I have to introduce my dear friend April. Now anyone who will make the long haul from the US to Guam just to see us earns the designation "dear friend." But April became that long before. To be sure, we are an unlikely friendship. There is so much about our life paths that is drastically different. For one, April is 20 years older than I am and has a daughter only five years younger than me. My resume has an MA somewhere on it (she sat with my parents in the audience of my graduation) while her credentials and wisdom stem from a rich diversity of life experiences. Oh, and I don't know if you noticed, but she's black and I am white. On paper, we don't really fit the traditional mold of friendship. And yet there is some unexplainable reason why she was hand-picked to enter my life when and how she did... "at The Cross," as she likes to say.

I first met April when I started my new job at the Red Cross in San Diego. I was the PR person and she was the outreach coordinator on our development team. Our computer stations were side by side. I was a newly married navy wife of a junior office and her husband was a retired navy chief. As I maneuvered my new role as a military spouse and young professional, April quickly became a voice of wisdom and experience where my same early-twenties-something friends couldn't be. She coached me on speaking engagements and relationships and office politics (of which there were plenty). She knew San Diego really well, tipping me off to salons and grocery stores and restaurants I should try. Oh, and she had a crazy knack for attracting free stuff, which was a huge asset, not only to our fundraising team, but also to our social lives!

April managed to get us free tickets to absolutely everything. We went to Broadway shows, Padres games (behind the dugout), Chargers games, and concerts... all without paying a dime. Since her job was to be out in the community, she was always getting invited to fancy dinners, art shows, sporting events, and interesting speakers that we accompanied her to see. We had a blast, and somehow the money for the organization kept rolling in because April is an amazing salesperson. "I could sell ice to an Eskimo," she likes to say (and she totally could!).

One of the first days I met April, she handed me a stack of 100 poems she had written that she wanted to publish into a book one day. Spoken word poetry is a gift of hers. Three years later, I spent a summer working to help her edit her poems into one complete volume called Utter Magic, which she self-published and, against all odds, has sold over 1,000 copies. It was a glorious team effort that I enjoyed every minute of working on, even after reading each poem for what seemed like the hundredth time. Every time I finished another draft, I felt inspired to write my own poems, to hear my own voice, to express myself in a powerful way like she does. At times I have turned to April's poems when my own words were not adequate.

April has some sort of unexplainable supernatural psychic abilities. There are a zillion crazy things that have happened... dreams, meditations, premonitions... too many to brush off as yet another amazing coincidence. One example was that April gave me a journal for my 24th birthday present. I went home that night and wrote about how wonderful my birthday was and how blessed I was to have so many amazing people in my life. The very next day I got a phone call that my grandmother was in the hospital... and the prognosis was not good. Over the next weeks and months I poured my heart out between the pages of that journal as I wrestled with saying goodbye to her amid Nick's upcoming graduation, orders to move, orders to stay, grad school decisions, new bosses, and friends moving away. It was a crazy time, and somehow April knew I'd need a place to write my way through all the changes. (This came full circle in China, by the way, when we learned that your animal year... 12th, 24th, 36th, etc., is not one of good fortune, which is why the Chinese are on guard and lean on extra sources of luck and well being that year).

If none of this has convinced you that April is an awesome person to know, then just watch this YouTube video of her dancing on the Ellen Show.

She was asked to come up on stage and warm up the audience. She had no idea they were filming and would actually air her performance on the show minutes later! It has almost 35,000 hits on YouTube, and my favorite part is the first comment from a total stranger, rated with 159 votes, "For some reason I want her to be my best friend." I love reading that and feeling so proud that for me, she already is.

So good a friend, in fact, that she flew all the way out to Guam, and at her request, we went to China together. China had been on her vision board for the past seven years. She didn't have a specific reason or know why, and she'd never traveled that far from home before. I told her if she came out that I would go with her. Everything came together very easily... amazing airfare, the tour package, dates & timing, etc. And so we went.

But before we left, I took her on a tour of the island so she could experience our beautiful paradise home.

 Inarajan Pools - April's happy place
 Asan Beach Overlook
 Snorkeling at Gab Gab

We had a blast! And yet, the real adventure was just beginning...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Fresh Factor: No-Brainer Avocados

I am in that writer bind where I have more stories and pictures to share than I have capacity to organize them. So instead of China, here's a Fresh Factor filler. On Avocados :) China coming soon... I hope!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day 2012

After spending the past week with my dear friend April on Guam and in China, I have so many thoughts and pictures and stories I want to share with you. But before I do that, I want to recognize this incredibly important holiday we find ourselves in the middle of... Memorial Day.

This weekend is important to me personally for a number of reasons. Exactly 11 years ago, I stood before a crowd of thousands in Houston, TX to deliver the Valedictorian address I prepared for my high school classmates. I had a brand new super hot boyfriend (named Nick!) I had been dating less than a week. We had no idea at that point what the future would hold, but we knew enough to trust the future would be good.

Exactly 7 years ago this weekend, that boyfriend (turned fiance!) walked across a stage and shook hands with President George H.W. Bush as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy. It was a glorious day for all of us who had witnessed four years of collective hard work from him and his classmates. And it meant Nick and I were officially in the Two Percent Club. Academy legend has it that only two percent of the couples who are together at Induction Day are still together at Commissioning Day four years later. You better believe that is one milestone I will be forever proud of.

Five years ago on Memorial Day weekend, the world as I knew it changed forever when my grandmother Bea lost her short but intense journey with pancreatic cancer. I got the difficult phone call from my mom in Florida. Even though I'd had a chance to say goodbye in person and knew her departure was imminent, I was devastated. No one in my personal inner circle had been taken so permanently before that day. I could not imagine walking an earth where she no longer did. I trudged forward so hurt, lost, and aching. My little heart just didn't know what to do. Nothing had changed in my day to day life across the country, and yet, it seemed everything was different. We went to her memorial service in Florida a week later and, as tears streamed down our faces, we sung our hearts out to Eternal Father Strong to Save, also known as the Navy Hymn, which she had personally requested be sung that day.

Despite all these powerful Memorial Day memories and the fact that this weekend comes every year, I consider this to be only my second true Memorial Day. I say that because this time last year was the first time I had ever personally witnessed the suffering of friends who, unlike me, never had a chance to say goodbye to their loved ones. I guess that's why Memorial Day feels so different now. There are names and faces of those who never returned, and of those who returned but were never the same. Those who were once so familiar are now but a memory. My heart aches for their families and the insurmountable adjustments they were forced to make having to walk this earth, one step and one breath at a time, learning how to live here without their hero.

And so this Memorial Day weekend, amid the sorrow I find a strange sense of joy in taking a long pause to honor and remember those for whom the echo of taps still resonates. Today we dedicated the flowers at our church to brothers Brendan Looney and Clay Hunt. In their honor and the honor of our nation's other valiant souls, I joined in as the soprano in a four-part a capella harmony of Eternal Father Strong to Save. I so appreciate my grandmother's dying wish of having that song played at her service. Somehow it helps me to weave together the intense emotions of grief too many families must be feeling with the notes that plea for God's protection for those still serving.

Having just returned from a country that is most certainly not free, where the opinions and ideas on this very blog are completely inaccessible, this year I find myself all the more grateful to live in the land of the free, the home of the brave. Unfortunately freedom has come at a tremendous cost, which is why the rituals of remembrance are so important for every American to participate in, in any way whether big or small.

Just last month our Philippines service team visited the American Cemetery in Manila, home to 35,000 burial sites of American and Allied troops from WWII. Many of the remains, marked with a cross, are of soldiers and sailors whose names are "known but to God." As I looked out over the rows of crosses planted in pristine fields of bright green grass, I couldn't help but be overwhelmed by the physical demonstration of sacrifice before my eyes. In a moment of hopelessness, I turned to my journal wondering how to make sense of all these lives lost, all these families in pain. What can I possibly do to make this better?

I thought of all those eyes looking down on me from upper realms. I thought, what might they want from me, from us?

"Live so my sacrifice is worth it," I heard them say.

I believe there are simple but intentional things all Americans can do to serve our country that don't involve joining the military. We can serve by seeking out quality American made products instead of cheap bargains made in China, every penny a vote toward American jobs and a stronger economy. We can serve by actively helping out our fellow military and veteran families, the 1% of Americans who have been personally affected by 11 years at war. We can serve by choosing to strive for our personal best at home, at our jobs, in our relationships, for our environment. We can stay healthy and remove burdens from our healthcare systems. We can stay out of trouble and remove burdens from our criminal justice sectors. We can support nonprofits and volunteer and pick up trash and recycle. There are so many ways to incorporate serving and bettering our country into our everyday lives.

Make no mistake. The onus is on you and on me to shun complacency and take action. I believe Travis Manion has stated this best: "If not me, then who?"

Oh hear us when we cry to Thee for those in peril on the sea.

The notes of the Navy Hymn ring in my soul today. Once again I feel those valiant eyes looking down upon us. It is our job, dear friends, to live in such a way that makes their sacrifice worth it. It is a tall order, but none so encompassing as what each of them has already given... everything.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Paleo Link Farm

Portobella Pizzas... our favorite Friday night dinner
So this post is primarily for, ahem, me. But maybe there's something for you here too. During these last eight months of Paleo cooking, I have discovered some awesome Paleo recipes (and some not so awesome recipes). Most of them came from searches I did for the ingredients I had on hand or a recipe I wanted to try paleocized (my mom came up with that word). I've had a number of friends ask me for recipes recently, so I figured it was time to finally compile these all into somewhere a little more formal than my Firefox history. So if you are Paleo, or just trying to cut out processed foods, try them! They are all awesome (for real... I did not post any recipes that are not awesome).

Also, I will continue to update this page as I get more awesome recipes, so this may be a good one for paleo friends to bookmark. Cheers!

Ready for "Spaghetti" hey hey hey
Spaghetti Squash Casserole -This recipe by Eat, Play, Paleo is definitely part of our weekly rotation. I love it because you can really use whatever veggies you have in the fridge. I use Paul Newman's Marinara to glue everything together. The sauce isn't exactly paleo since it has sugar, but it's pretty close. Makes delicious lunch leftovers the next day (unless you live with a food monster who severely inhibits the prospect of having leftovers).

Budget Friendly Balsamic Mustard Chicken and Oven Roasted Veggies - This is an Everyday Paleo recipe that is pretty good, but even better is the side dish... brussel sprouts and bacon were just made for each other.

Stuffed Peppers - You won't miss the rice and the cheese in this one! I discovered this when I was trying to figure out how to use the ground bison I bought at the commissary. You could definitely use ground anything, but the mix of ground sausage and ground bison is really satisfying.

I also have combined some of the ingredients from the stuffed peppers into the spaghetti squash casserole (pine nuts... yum!).

"Spaghetti" in Creamy Tomato Sauce -  Another one of Sarah Frogoso's recipes. She definitely has a knack for this kind of cooking. This one's particularly quick to whip up if you use sausage that's already cooked.

Porbobello Mushroom and Sausage Pizzas - This is not the exact recipe I make (from a magazine), but it's close. I de-stem and clean the mushrooms, brush the base with olive oil and minced garlic, top with a spoonful of marinara, and load the pizza face with pepperoni, sausage bits, tomatoes, peppers, etc. I sprinkle a dash of dried oregano, basil, and crushed red pepper (for Mr. Spicy). As you can see from the picture above (compared to the one at the recipe link), our version has way more veggies and way less cheese. I bake the pizzas at 400 for 15 minutes (I don't prebake the mushrooms before loading them with toppings). I make 8 pizzas for the two of us and cross my fingers we have leftovers. It's rare.

Pork Tenderloin with Cilantro Pesto - This recipe is definitely more involved, but the pesto is really awesome. The leftovers are great as a dressing for salads and meats.

Paleo Tacos with Cabbage Slaw - I'm not a big fan of using lettuce to replace a tortilla, but the recipe here tastes really good. When we do Mexican, we usually just make fajitas like usual (meat, seasoning, peppers, onions & mushrooms) but toss the cooked ingredients in a bowl and eat it with a fork. Put enough guacamole on there and you won't miss the tortilla.

Lemony Herb Grilled Tuna - Okay yes, I am posting one of my own recipes here... it's pretty basic. We eat a lot of seafood since we can get fish so fresh. Pair any grilled or baked fish with a mango salsa (alas my fave recipe is not online, it's from my favorite cookbook) and you've got a meal that's not just healthy, it's also dinner party worthy.

Pork and Pepper Stir Fry - Swap out the brown sugar in the marinade with a little honey. I used dried ginger since that's all I had and it was delish.

Paleo Mediterranean Chicken 

Marinaded Grilled Chicken - 10 different marinade recipes on this link

Crockpot Recipes
I use the crockpot at least once a week because of weeknight meetings at church. I am very picky about my crockpot recipes because I do not like how so many of the dishes come out tasting like stew. Ew. These are a few that have made the cut and are now officially on repeat.

Salsa Pork Chops - This is one of Nick's favorites! Super easy and makes the house smell amazing.

Crock Pot Super Garlic Chicken Legs - In my opinion, the best Paleo recipes are the ones that are not Paleo but just happen to be. This one is no exception. The chicken falls off the bone.

Mesquite BBQ Pork Tenderloin - This one's great because pork tenderloin comes frozen here, so I can keep it in the freezer until I need it, thaw it the night before, and it gets me through one more day of not having to go to the store :)

Slow Cooked Chili - This one has beans. And cheese. The paleo police would argue it's not paleo... but close enough.

Apple and Bacon Stuffed Pork Chops - Care of Paleo Parents

Spicy Shrimp in Coconut Milk - Aaaamazing!! And so easy :) I used one can of rotel + habaneros and one fresh tomato to make the base a little spicier. YUM!!

Link to homemade salad dressings

Side Dishes
Sweet Potato Casserole - I made this at Christmas and it was amazing.

Brussel Spouts and Bacon - From the chicken recipe above. Awesome side dish. Use any leftover bacon in your breakfast scramble the next day.

Roasted Veggies - Also good with a splash of balsamic vinegar added just before baking. Anything goes here... peppers, onions, sweet potatoes, zucchini, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash of all varieties. If it's a veggie, roast it.

Broccoli or Zucchini Fritters - These. Are. Incredible. Love this blog PaleOMG.

We mostly eat egg whites with a meat (steak or sausage) and a bunch of veggies scrambled in. My friend Jen blogs a lot of her paleo recipes and has some GREAT breakfast choices, especially if you are just getting started.

How to Do Breakfast Paleo Style (+ helpful tips) - This is a great place to start! Jen has a lot of good coaching for people who are new to paleo.

Breakfast Scramble with Salsa 

Omelet Muffins - These egg cupcakes are super simple to make and easy to grab in the mornings.

Egg and Sausage Bake - We have been making this casserole recipe from the Unrefined Kitchen weekly for breakfast.  Nick loves it because he doesn't have to cook in the mornings.

Snacks and Desserts
Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies - Bakergal went through the trouble of trying six different Paleo chocolate chip cookie recipes. Once she found her favorite, she made FIFTEEN different batches trying to perfect the ingredient ratio. What results are some of the most delicious cookies you will ever eat, paleo or not. Trust me. Substitution recommendation: I didn't have macadamia nut oil for a while and I used coconut oil and they were still awesome. I also use Bob Red Mill's almond flour since it's what we have, even though the recipe specifically says not to.

Paleo Avocado Veggie Dip - Great for dipping cut up cucumbers, pepper strips, and carrot sticks. Tastes like guacamole, but smoother so it stays on your veggie a lot easier. Your guests won't even notice the lack of crackers/chips if you set out a plate of this.

Paleo Pumpkin Muffins - I always double this recipe. Doubled it makes 18 muffins, so I freeze a dozen of them and pull them out as needed. They are ready to eat after about 30 minutes at room temp. These are delish and totally fill that craving for something doughy. 

Paleo Pumpkin Pie - Not only does this taste fantastic, it is super simple to whip together. Pumpkin is no longer just for fall. We don't have fall anyways, so yeah...

Nutty Cookies - Another Everyday Paleo recipe (just buy the book!) that's been on repeat since October. These things are sooo good, and awesome to have ready to grab before leaving the house, much like you might a granola bar (which I am now aware have tons of sugar and preservatives... ick).

Perfect Paleo Vanilla Cake - I made this Pretty in Primal for Bible study this week and non-paleo people said it was really good! It's a little spongy because of the egg, but served with fruit or a coconut milk-based topping and it's, well, perfect :)

Paleo Berry Crumble - Delish! We totally cheat and serve this with vanilla ice cream :)

Paleo Apple Cinnamon Streusel Muffins - delish! Great comfort treats on fall and winter days.

Any favorite paleo recipes to share? Link to them in the comments please. Awesome recipes only!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

We are the Church

 "Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." 1 Cor. 12:27

Growing up, I remember as early as second grade singing a hymn that went very simply:

I am the church
You are the church
We are the church together
All who follow Jesus
All around the world
Yes, we're the church together!

The whole point of the song, as the verses continue, is that church is not merely a building. Rather, the church references the people involved. It doesn't matter where they come together, it's the different spiritual gifts that combine to create a community, an extended family led by God the father, saved by Christ the son, unified in faith by the Holy Spirit.

"Who's the king of the jungle?"
Despite being a church member for the past 20 years or so, the words of this hymn have never rung so true as during the past five months. Our beloved leader, Pastor Jeff, departed in December after being the pastor on Guam for 9 years, leaving our church here to be run by a shell of a staff (including moi) and a team of exceptionally dedicated volunteers (everyone else). In retaliation for him leaving, I am posting the goofiest picture of him I can find (thank you gorilla-motions song from jungle-themed Vacation Bible School).

Throughout this period of transition as we seek our new pastor, the pendulum of our abilities as a church people has swung back and forth in my mind. I have stood in awe of the Sunday morning services our church has put together. I have teared up listening to the sermons written by inspired lay pastors who somehow create time during their workweeks as lawyers, active duty military, university professors, and businessmen to listen to God's message in the scriptures and relate it so personally to the interworkings of our lives. I savor every doughy morsel of homemade communion bread, prepared lovingly and unceremoniously each week by a navy spouse. I belt out the harmonies to familiar hymns and worship songs that make my soul feel renewed, energized and at home. I memorize Bible verses alongside our youth during Confirmation and Sunday School. I marvel at all we are able to accomplish with our spiritual gifts as the body of Christ.

Oh, how I wish this were the end of the post! (insert long, dramatic sigh...)

Other times I get a glimpse of why God needed to take things into his own hands and come down into this painfully fallen world to show even his most devoted followers the Way (while we were still sinners...). Try as we might, we have so many flaws. Sometimes our Sunday services seem so disjointed, they can be painful to sit through. And as a former public speaking coach, it's all I can do not to boastfully extend free consulting services (!) to some of the volunteer speakers. Sometimes the music... it just doesn't come together. The hymns are boring or unmelodious and even the worship leaders hit their share of wrong notes (I can say this because I myself am completely guilty!). We leave long, awkward pauses in places that used to flow so smoothly. Some Sundays it seems like the only thing we do right is pass the peace.

As a people, we have all of the gifts to create flawless church services as we reliably did just a few months ago, but we are now painfully aware of how valuable it was to have a leader to organize us all. Metaphorically, it's like taking a peek of the disaster our lives would quickly become without the Holy Spirit's persistent guidance and direction. Our new pastor can't get here soon enough!

Nitpick as I might about the ins and outs of the weekly service (and under the circumstances I try really hard not to!), it has been during this same transition time that our team of 19 church members (out of a congregation of 190 - that's 10%!) went out into the world to care for those in need at an orphanage in Manila (and it took three church-supported fundraisers to get us there). Every Tuesday morning I meet with a group of a dozen or so women for intensive Bible studies on topics as far reaching as Roman history to the apocalypse to meditation. My faith (and my understanding of God) has grown tremendously from being part of this group of spiritual leaders. That's in addition to at least two other Bible studies going on churchwide throughout the week. And you may recall our church created a mural of the entire world from paint and supplies and time donated by our members (and a special visitor) in just five days.

Putting the books of the Bible in order
In two weeks on Pentecost, nine of our youth will stand before the congregation and become confirmed adult members, having memorized the Apostles Creed, the 10 Commandments, the books of the Bible (in order!), the Lord's Prayer, the 23rd Psalm, and a dozen other verses of scripture. Thanks to the program's leadership by a church member who stepped in, their ability to explain the tenets and sacraments of the Christian faith is almost mind-boggling. The current members of our youth group are transforming into the future leaders of the church... and the world... right before our very eyes. Despite our tendency to run around like lost sheep at times, the things our church... the people... have been able to accomplish without a pastor seems, at times, supernatural.

"In this world you will have trouble,
But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:3
I believe it's that brush with the supernatural that keeps us, the fallen church, coming back in faith. I think back to this time last year, suffering through pneumonia and facing the funerals of two grandparents days apart on the other side of the world.  I didn't know if it would be physically possible to get there in time. Pastor Jeff encouraged me to go be with my family. My Bible study prayed for my health, my decision, and the ensuing travel. Hours later, the Space-A flight schedules aligned almost, well, supernaturally and carried me from Guam straight into the arms of my sister on the West Coast. She accompanied me the rest of the journey to Florida, where I was reunited with my extended family, and later that week with Nick's extended family in New Jersey. Both memorial services were held in churches. Surrounded by people. Being present among so many people I love in the midst of our pain and celebration was so healing. And healing was exactly what we broken people needed as the permanent eternal change (as well as the temporary earthly change) began to take hold of our hearts.

I am so aware now more than ever about the role the church body plays in our lives, our community, and our world. I am grateful for the members of our church who continue to give and teach and pray even when, at times, it seems we are running on fumes. Somehow (supernaturally, perhaps) we keep on, not only running, but staying the course. And I have the utmost faith that this rickety era in our church's inability to conduct perfect services will one day be something its members look back and laugh about with our awesome new pastor. "Remember that Sunday when there were two sermons? Hahaha!" (Yes, this really happened.)

It's times like this that I must so faithfully remember... or rather, am so painfully reminded... that I am the church... you are the church....

And for better or for worse, we are the church together. May God help us all. That, after all, may just be the whole point.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

For my family... Remembering Shoopa and MomMom this week... forever in our hearts.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Nick's Island!

There have been so many times I have asked Nick to write a guest post about all the awesome stuff he does out here (yes, in addition to the stuff I write about that we do together), but he's always declined... until now! His brother Matt came out last month (right between my Manila and San Diego trips). I was a little travel weary so I opted out of many of their exhausting adventures. But it was great to have Matt out here. Enjoy Nick's Island! I certainly do :)


So, for once, I am going to hijack Peytsisland and try my hand at blogging.  In mid April, my younger brother Matt made his way out to Guam from Austin, TX.  Back in December, I decided to burn a few frequent flier miles on Matt’s ticket as a Christmas present. Okay, so it was more than a few… but that’s okay because I flew almost 200K miles last year.  We both worked it out to get some time off from work, and proceeded to make the absolute most of our five days together. 

I feel like Peyton and I lead a fairly active lifestyle, and a weekend that contains scuba diving, hiking, snorkeling, golf, and a couple of workouts is more of the norm than the exception.  That being said, I think that the universe was completely unprepared for the whirlwind that occurred when the Roberts boys got together and had five days of free reign on Guam. 

Day 1
The first morning, Matt and I went scuba diving at Gab Gab.  While Matt didn’t complete a formal certification course, he did read the instruction book on the way out.  In the same way, I am not a certified instructor, but I did feel very comfortable with both of our abilities and competence  levels.  We discussed all of the aspects of diving and then I had him setup his gear.  We got in the water and did some skills work.  He did everything as instructed and totally rocked the skills portion, so we ventured out a bit further and dove along a wall at about 35 feet.  On his first dive ever, Matt came face to face with a green sea turtle, had total control of his buoyancy, and surfaced after 50 minutes with 800 psi of air remaining in his tank.  For you non-divers out there, that is quite impressive for a first timer.  

In the afternoon of day one, Peyton joined us to snorkel the entire 1.5 mile length of the Callahan Bank breakwater on the ocean side of Apra Harbor.

Matt was obsessed with these sea cucumbers. 
It just so happened that one of the usual neighborhood parties was going on the first night.  Due to the unique situation of living on a tiny island, everyone is pretty much always available to hang out, BBQ, and have a few drinks.  Matt made me laugh when he said, “this is just like college, except that everyone has a nice house, money, and there is plenty of more expensive beer.”

DAY 2: Day 2 began with a hike to Pagat caves.  

After Pagat, we headed out to the impressive ocean cliffs on the Northeast side of the island.

 After leaving Pagat caves, we headed to Talafofo caves for some spelunking in larger caverns.  For some perspective, yes, that is Matt climbing down a rope in the middle of the frame.

After leaving Talafofo caves, we drove around the South side of the island with an obligatory stop at the old Spanish fort.

Followed by a hike to the top of Guam’s highest point, Mount Lam Lam.

DAY 3: Day three consisted of paddle boarding and swimming in and around the cliffs and caves of the Orote peninsula.
Cave free diving.  Look ma, no tanks.

Cliff jumping!  Like a good big brother, I went first to make sure it was safe.  Actually, I went first to get this picture, otherwise I would definitely have sent Matt first.

 Paddle boarding along the awesome cliffs.
After paddling for a few hours, we pulled onto a tropical beach to rest for a few minutes.  While beachcombing, I noticed something metal and slightly out of place protruding about an inch from the sand.  I gently dug up some of the sand around the object in question to discover these WWII vintage Japanese hand grenades.   Having worked around explosives, I wasn’t too nervous.  I mean, if 70 years of being battered by the sun, sea, and occasional typhoon hadn’t set them off, I didn’t think that some careful excavation would.  Regardless, we didn’t take them home as a souvenir. 

Following a few minutes of rest, we headed North to Gun Beach for an afternoon dive. 
This picture cracks me up.  Matt gave an enthusiastic double “okay” when I showed him that we were at 101 feet.
Still obsessed with sea cucumbers…
After the dive, we just had to cram one more thing in the day, so we went snorkeling at the Fish Eye marine park.

DAY 4: Another dive in the morning.  This time at Gab Gab II where Matt got to feed the Giant Trevally with a package of pepperoni.  We saw two more sea turtles, bringing the total to four turtles in three dives!  To put this in context, for the first four months and about 20 dives that Peyt and I did on Guam, we didn’t see a single sea turtle…  

After diving, we headed up to Haputo for some more hiking and snorkeling.

DAY 5:

On our final day, Matt and I did the Xterra off road triathlon mountain biking course on the backside of Nimitz hill.  15 miles of rough and rugged terrain in the heat and humidity.  I think that I almost killed Matt with this one, but he pushed through like a trooper.


I pulled a screen capture off of my helmet cam video of one of Matt’s wipeouts that I got on film. 

 Over the handlebars he goes.  Ouch!           

After mountain biking, we crammed in one more dive.  This time to a Japanese WWII seaplane that lies upside down in about 90 feet of water.  The visibility wasn’t very good, so I didn’t bother to snap a pic.


  Our final activity was a short hike to a crashed WWII Corsair fighter about a mile from our house.

So, like I said, we crammed about as much as humanly possible into 5 days of exploring on land, water, and underwater.  It was far and away the best quality time that my brother and I had spent together in over ten years and I am so glad that we had the opportunity to make it happen. 

 Thanks Nick for being my first guest post! And thanks Matt for coming out to see us. Hope you have recovered from the nonstop adventuring :)

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Fresh Factor: Farm Fresh Eggs!

I had fresh eggs for breakfast this morning. It is remarkable how much more delicious they are. And kind of awesome knowing what a happy life the chickens are leading here on Guam running around together in a big backyard. Many thanks to Mike for the gift of freshness. Read more about chickens and eggs in our Q&A at the Guam Guide.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Space-A Tips and Tricks

In addition to all the favorite people I wanted to see, one of the underlying factors that helped me finally decide to go to California for Nikki’s wedding was the timing during the last two weeks of April… just after spring breaks were wrapping up but well before summer vacation. In other words, a potential sweet spot for space-A opportunities. It didn’t work out to Space-A off Guam, but luckily I had reserved a miles flight that would get me to Hawaii in time to catch the commercial ticket I booked to and from the States. Basically, if you can get to Hawaii without paying for it, you save about $750 each way. And yes, my friends, that is mostly why we Guammies go to the trouble to fly spontaneously (because it can, indeed, be trouble).

On this most recent (and most favorite!) Space-Adventure, I flew out of San Francisco Monday morning. My friend Ashley (from San Diego AND Guam) who now lives in Hawaii picked me up from the Honolulu airport. We had lunch together, got caught up, then she dropped me off at the Hickam terminal 45 minutes before a roll call to Guam, my first of about six opportunities in the upcoming 72 hours. I signed up for the upcoming flight that had 10 seats available. I was the first person to be awarded a seat in the roll call, and the first of only two total passengers who wanted on. Like clockwork, we loaded up in a van, headed to the plane, boarded, and got the somewhat scary safety briefing (they like to tell you every detail about evacuation procedures, how to self-administer oxygen, what the alarm bell means, when to brace for impact… yeah).

As I was getting comfortable on my row of red cargo mesh seats deep in the dark pit of the windowless cabin, sinking down into my book waiting for the blind liftoff, one of the crew came over and asked, “Hi Ma’am, would you like to sit in the cockpit for takeoff?” Uhhh, YES PLEASE!! So I followed him up to the front of the plane, strapped in to the jump seat between the pilot and copilot, and a pair of headphones plopped around my ears. The crewmember explained the procedures to start up the engines, the functions of the seemingly thousands of gauges and meters in front of me, and the discussions the pilots were having with air traffic control.

We waited for our turn to go, taxied onto the runway behind a Fed Ex plane (Hickam and Honolulu International share a runway), and waited for the “all clears.” We had a fantastic view of Waikiki and Diamondhead Crater in front of us and were surrounded by crystal blue water on all sides of the peninsular runway. Then I heard, “Punch it!” The pilot threw some levers around and off we went!  We climbed into the sky at a rate of 3,000 vertical feet per minute (I figured out how to read the gauges). The pilots taught me how to use the microphone on the headsets so I could ask really important questions like, “So what do you do for the remaining 8 hours?” (nap, read magazines) and “Has the captain turned off the fasten seatbelt sign yet?” (Yes…)

 Forget first class...

Shortly after the cockpit takeoff, a crewmember offered me a bunk BED and a blanket. So yes, I flew across the Pacific warm and toasty in a bed for $4.55. This, my friends, is why Space-A rocks! (sometimes...)

All in all it was a really fun memory for what will likely be my LAST Space-A flight from Hawaii back to Guam… weird! In the next few weeks that sweet spot Space-A timing window will disappear down as summer break ensues, and with only four months left on Guam, there aren’t any more trips back and forth in the foreseeable future. It has been so awesome having Space-A in my back pocket for getting to and from the mainland. I’ve saved a ton of money, got to travel much more comfortably, and had some pretty neat experiences along the way. So thank you, Air Force!

For those who have Space-A in your future, I leave you with some valuable and practical travel tips… some I’m just passing along and others I learned the hard way. Here goes!

Space-A Philosophy
  • Do NOT depend on Space-A as your way to get somewhere on a deadline. Always have backup funds or miles to get you where you need to go. It is entirely possible to spend as much on hotels and rental cars when you are “stuck” as the original flight to get home would have. So definitely have a sensible back-up ready to go.
  • Do NOT take Space-A flight changes personally! The fact that you are trying to get back in time for dinner, a wedding, youth group, or your friend’s going away party has absolutely zero percent to do with landing gear malfunctioning, fuel sensors going haywire, or flights not taking off from their previous destination yet. The flights don’t care what your social plans are, so don’t attach your emotions, happy or sad, to the flights. There’s no crying in Space-A! Adopt this philosophy and Space-A becomes much more of an ally. (This, sadly, was one of the tips I learned the hard way… whoops!).
  • The only thing that doesn’t change is change itself. So do yourself a favor and just expect the flight you are on will change. It will change after you make it through roll call. After you check your bag. After you buckle your seatbelt on the flight. Even after you take off! Our code for Nick knowing if he needs to pick me up from the Air Force base is if he hasn’t heard from me within four hours of the last time I called him. After four hours (halfway through the 8-hour flight), there is no longer the chance of us turning back to where we took off from. Hopefully :)
Tips for Taking Off
  • If you qualify, get an EML order from the administration department of your sponsor’s command. This can bump you up in category (if you live OCONUS) or qualify you to travel without your sponsor (if they are deployed). Request the letter about three months before you intend to conclude travel. About eight weeks before you intend to travel, head to the terminal you intend to fly out of and sign up. Peyt's Island Super Secret Tip: You can also email some of the terminals (like Hickam), and they will back-date your sign-up to when you sent the email. Print out a copy of the email you sent with the date and time on it and bring it with you. Just in case, don’t delete it from your sent emails list.
  • Check flight schedules – Most terminals list flights in a phone message recording 72 hours out. More recently, many AMC passenger terminals are offering flight schedules on Facebook! This has made a world of difference getting to eye flights at a glance instead of having to wait through the long and wordy recordings. Hickam's Facebook Page
  • Guam people – If you know someone who lives on Andersen AFB and has MCV for cable, they get a channel that lists the exact same flight info that is listed at the terminal, including the type aircraft assigned for the mission you are looking at. Most who have this fun benefit are happy to share the info (Thanks Breen!).
  • Learn your military aircraft. Then you’ll know why to get excited about C-17’s, C-40’s and KC-135’s and why to not get your hopes up about C5’s (they are notorious for breaking down and getting pushed back a few days). And why to cringe a little if a C-130 is the only thing smoking east (they are loud and slow and freezing). has a great listing of all the aircraft types. They have a ton of other useful info about each base's amenities and accessibility.
  • Learn the Space-A calendar. Major holidays and summer break are a total long shot. In that case, it's better to buy a ticket and save yourself the trouble. I've heard of people on Guam taking a month to get out of here after school let out. That's a really long time to be in limbo.
Essential space-A pack list:
cool pants hansel
  • Warm clothes, blankets, hand-warmers, hats, scarves, multiple pairs of wool socks… get the idea? It doesn’t matter if you are hopping from a tropical island on the Equator to a tropical island in the tropics. You can count on Space-A flights to feel like you are traversing Antarctica on the way. I have a lightweight fleece zip-up sleeping bag I usually travel with. It’s handy on military and red-eye commercial flights (and often at my final destination too since I tend to freeze easily).
  • Layers galore! If you have convertible pants (yes, the really fashionable zip-off-into-shorts kind), this is the place to rock them. It’s the most practical way to transition from sweaty 100-degree runway sweatshop to 40 degree Arctic Circle in-the-sky. Plus the good ones (like these North Face ones) are made out of quick-dry material, so you won’t freeze sitting in sweated-through jeans for 8 hours.
  • Close-toed shoes. This isn't a suggestion, it's one of the rules. They won't even let you accept a seat if you come to roll call wearing sandals.
  • In-flight entertainment & accessories: If you bring books and magazines, bring a headlamp in case the flight is dark. (Flashlights are annoying because you have to hold them and the book). If you have noise-cancelling headphones, they are totally worth the extra space they take up. Ear protection is provided by the flight crew, but watching movies on your laptop is a whole lot more pleasant without engine feed cutting in or having to crank the volume up all the way.
  • Sleep kit: Regardless of whether I am Space-A-ing or not, I always travel with a small bag containing an eye mask, ear plugs, Ambien, and a blow-up pillow. I can pretty much sleep anywhere, anytime with that concoction.  If you know you are going to be flying overnight or into the early morning, you may want to consider bringing a small blow-up sleeping pad. They are a pain to lug with you once you get to your destination, but well worth it to be able to sprawl out and make a nest in the middle of the often-open cargo space.
  • Don't get stuck with this for 8 hours!
  • Food! While you can (and should!) buy a boxed lunch for $4.55 (this is the only cost of the flight), be aware that the box lunch contains Oreos, chips, crackers, a soda, a Rice Crispy Treat, and a lousy excuse for a sandwich. While this is a terrific menu if you are in middle school, if you’re like me you might start to crave real food after six hours of snacking (especially when you still have three more hours to go). Pick up Subway or a big salad on the way to the terminal and bag up some fresh veggie sticks. The planes have water coolers where you can fill up a water bottle (so add one of those to the pack list too). Some have hot water, so a few teabags and your travel mug aren’t a bad idea either.
Essential Space-A etiquette:
  • Be extra appreciative and super friendly to all members of the crew. (The curmudgeon old vet who grumbled about the obnoxious extra long safety briefing didn’t get asked to sit in the cockpit during takeoff, now did he?). Always remember it is completely optional for these crews to decide whether or not to accept Space-A passengers. The mere fact that we exist means extra work for them… lugging our heavy bags up the steps, making room for us, and keeping us happy and safe during the flight. And they are saving us a TON of dinero (literally thousands!). So get your thank you’s and your smiles ready. Perhaps you too will get offered a bed in the sky :)
  • Be on the look-out for Space-A friends. One thing I’ve noticed about fellow Space-A passengers is how quickly we realize how much we have in common. We all have common threads of military service or dependent-hood running through our stories of why we're traveling, and we all have the same goal (getting from A to B by spending as little as possible). I’ve seen people land everything from rides to the airport, cars to drive around, and even free places to stay, all as a result of friendly conversation at the terminal and some mutual (inevitable) changes in Space-A schedules. I once shared a cab with a carload of people from Kaheohe Bay to Hickam. Nice paying $15 each instead of $60 since we stuck together on that one.
  • Be a listening ear for the veterans you run into. Space-A (free travel!) is one of their greatest retirement benefits, and many of the vets I have run into are traveling solo. They tend to have some pretty amazing stories and are often just looking for someone to share them with. On my flight to Alaska last January, I sat by a sweet old Vietnam vet who had flown to Alaska to spread his wife’s ashes after she had just passed away from cancer. He figured he could escape winter for a month on Guam at a friend’s house and was on his way back to Alaska to say his last goodbyes to his wife's family before heading home to Oklahoma to start his new life without her. Our rapport actually came in handy when I got to Alaska and, as a Space-A first-timer, wasn’t sure what to do next. He showed me how to call a cab that had base access and how to get to the lodge down the road (which I thankfully didn't need because of my Space-A angels). That’s the thing about the vets… they’ve all done this a zillion times, so definitely worth listening to them :)
  • Oh, and along those lines, if you are traveling solo, try to help out the moms traveling with kids! Even something simple like offering to watch their bags during trips to the ladies room or offering to order food can make a big difference to those whose arms are full.
Feel free to add additional tips and pack list items! I’d love to hear the clever ways you have made the A in Space-A stand for Awesome :) Happy Space-A-ing, and good luck!