Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Guam Guide

I have taken a break from the Fresh Factor the past few weeks and have instead been writing up a lot of the knowledge I have compiled about this place... all of which will become useless to us in about eight weeks (crazy!). Glad I have The Guam Guide as a forum to put all of this out there so it can go somewhere useful before we take off.

And my personal favorite...

Can't believe my underwater modeling career is coming to an end soon...

Moving to Guam? - Check out The Guam Guide's Facebook page for current events and news about things going on around the island. When we moved to island two years ago there was no comprehensive listing of everything going on. Now there's one website that compiles everything and even reveals some of the island's best kept secrets. The perfect place for newcomers to start!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My Week as Aunt Peyt!

This picture absolutely cracks me up! So last post I mentioned that I went to Japan again to see my friends. I had an absolutely fantastic time. During my last visit, I stayed with Mary and Annika out in town. Well this time, I stayed with Kristi and her two boys William and Ryan on base. Before I showed up, Kristi and I were Skyping to figure out the last-minute details of my visit (I mean, I suppose every part of the visit was last-minute). Kristi leaned the laptop down toward the boys and said, "Do you want to say hi to Aunt Peyton?" 

Aunt Peyton?! I totally forgot that somehow over the years we had earned the status of being Uncle Nick and Auntie Peyt. Maybe it's because we moved into the same apartment complex as Kristi and Ben when Will was just three months old (he was so tiny! and loud!). Maybe it's because I took the plunge and went to visit Kristi and crew in Hawaii when they moved there a few years later and got to see Will as he morphed from a toddler into a little boy. Maybe it's because we were among the first sets of friends to get to hold Ryan after he made his entrance in Coronado in the weeks before Nick and I moved to Guam and Kristi and family moved to Japan. I really don't remember when...

I guess somewhere along the way through all of these twists and turns, we surpassed the boundaries of typical friendship. We know about and have met many of each other's close friends from back home. We are well versed in the stories of each others' often crazy family dynamics. We spent many a night together a block apart in Coronado passing the time over a glass of wine and American Idol night while our guys were on their first deployments of our marriages, coincidentally both in the Philippines at the same time. Somewhere along the way, I suppose Kristi and I transcended friendship and became more like family. 

I had so much fun during my week as Aunt Peyton! We took the boys to a museum, to the pool, played Legos, played Uno, watched movies, read books, and went to the park. I loved getting to know the first grade graduate William (who we have called Will for his entire life up until now... FYI, Will is a "stupid" name, so he only answers to William). He loves science and building things and has a really creative imagination. He knows how to read (how did that happen?) and often starts sentences with, "Aunt Peyton, did you know...?" filling me in on his latest bits of fascinating animal or space trivia he learned in school.

Our rocket launch site has a mission control station, sea patrol, and air power. Don't mess with us.

Then there's Ryan, who I only just briefly met for a few weeks in Coronado before we all moved across the Pacific just weeks apart. Last time I saw him, Kristi's new friends were trying to pacify him in the Exersaucer while her long lost household goods arrived in Japan. This picture is from September 2010. Now Ryan looks like this...

Someone has grown :)
And has some pretty gorgeous golden curls... 
and is absolutely two in every possible way :)
On one of our more daring, adventurous days together, Kristi and I braved the trains and took the boys to the Children's Museum at the Shonandai Cultural Center. They had a great time playing musical instruments and running around in the giant-sized garden.
Once again, Japan comes through with utter cuteness.
My little buddy
 Infinite Williams in the hall of mirrors  

Looks like the museum was a complete success!

After a few rounds of train transfers, we arrived at Landmark Tower in Yokohama. Kristi wanted to take me up to the observation deck on the 69th floor for views of Tokyo and beyond. After two separate trips to the Tokyo metropolitan area and countless train rides, I finally had a good perspective of Tokyo and Mt. Fuji and all the places I had been during both visits. Japan didn't seem nearly as crazy after seeing it all sprawled out in front of me in every direction.

 As we came down the 69 floors on the super-speedy elevator, Kristi said, "I'm really proud of myself." I said, "Oh yeah, why is that?" She said, "This is the first time since the earthquake I have been able to do something like this."  Ooooooh... holy crap, yeah I forgot about that whole giant part of my friends' Japan experience. The massive earthquake of March 2011. Props to Kristi for overcoming a completely legitimate hesitation in order to show me a spectacular view. That's friendship :)
 All in all, it was a really fun day with Kristi and her boys. 
And best of all, we survived, two year old and trains and all! 

One of my other favorite parts of the trip was seeing all the crazy food options there are in Japan. We ate lots of amazingly fresh seafood all week long. I had the pleasure of cooking for Kristi, too! Don't worry I didn't cook this...

And I didn't make Kristi eat any crazy or gross paleo snacks:
(don't worry, I didn't eat these either!)

Our stay-at-home dinners looked more like this :) 

I seriously can't get enough of Japanese grocery stores. Stepping foot in them and seeing all the variety and all the freshness is one thing that does make me excited to leave Guam. Freshness and choices!

All in all, transforming into Aunt Peyton for a week was pretty fantastic. Thank you Kristi, William and Ryan for sharing your home with me and treating me like family. Crazy that the next chapter continues for both of us in just a few months... on the Atlantic side. Kristi & crew will be in Washington, D.C. by the end of the year, right up the road from us. So glad my friends, my pseudo-family, will be just a three-hour drive away (on a freeway that allows speeds of more than 35 mph!). See you soon!!! Arigato gozaimasu!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Hello Japan Friends!

With Nick out of town for two weeks of conferences in Hawaii, I decided to leave my calendar wide open in the off chance a flight opened up on Space-A for me to meet up with him. As luck would have it, a Friday afternoon flight was heading straight there, so I packed up my bathing suits and sundresses, closed up the house, and drove to the terminal crossing my fingers.

I arrived to find out that the flight was no longer traveling east and instead was heading west to Okinawa, Japan. Bummer! My dreams of spending the weekend at the Ko Olina resort were quickly squashed. Luckily I have played the Space-A game before, so I was not at all surprised and only mildly disappointed.

Coronado neighbor turned traveling buddy!
With a whole unscheduled week ahead of me, I sat down in the terminal to check out some options. I had a Facebook message from my friend Kristi, my former neighbor in Coronado who now lives in Japan. She was writing to tell me how excited she is that we are both going to be on the East Coast in a few months. I replied on a whim and said something like, "Hey, can I come visit you... like tomorrow?"

A few hours later when I got home, I lugged my disappointing Hawaii bags back into the house and checked for her reply, which was simply, "Come on!!" I was going to be sensible and fly out two days later, but was met with the news that Kristi had already lined up a babysitter for Sunday night to go to a lantern festival in Tokyo. Yeah, I need to go to that, I thought. So at 10pm I booked a flight to leave the next morning. I repacked my bags, found a last-minute ride to the airport, and just like that was off to Japan!

First Japan visit in 2010!
While this trip wasn't technically on the calendar, it wasn't a completely whimsical decision to go either. I went to visit my friends Mary and Kristi back in September 2010 when I first moved to Guam (a trip that was also booked with less than a week's notice... sorry Japan friends!). Nick was away on his first long work trip, and my friends in Japan were smack in the middle of their first foreign deployment. The unexpected visitor (me!) was a welcome distraction while their husbands were away, and I got to see Japan, my first glimpse of Asia.

Japan's very own Tofu Fox!
Looking back, I remember that the nuances of traveling there were completely overwhelming at the time. Despite being a comfortable traveler (or so I thought), I had no concept how my friend Mary was navigating the crazy, confusing network of trains in a language that didn't even use a recognizable alphabet. Everything from the food to the transportation to the customs seemed so foreign.

As our overseas tour is coming to a close, it has been on my radar to slip in one final visit there to see my friends and to do a few more exciting things in Japan (which, conveniently is only a three-hour flight and one time zone change away!). My friend Mary has been blogging about her adventures and discoveries for the past few months as the Tofu Fox. It made me realize that there was a lot I missed on my first trip simply from being in a fog of misunderstanding. I wanted to visit Japan within the context of the many other fascinating countries I have traveled to so I could better appreciate how truly unique and extraordinary of a place it is.

Two years later, I had a very different experience in Japan. I felt like I could actually get around the city on my own if I needed to, and rather than spend the moments in my brain fretting over the city's complexities, I now had the space to focus on its captivating intricacies. Everything there is so beautifully decorated and delicately presented. A small part of me is envious that my friends have been able to live somewhere so different, so elegant for their overseas tour... while I was sloshing around in a muddy jungle.

And with that, here are some pictures from my first couple of days in Japan!

Lantern festival in Tokyo
 I wish I knew what the lanterns are for aside from beautiful beach decor.
Have some crazy architecture
And some really awkward train signs! 
Like Singapore, Tokyo loves its order and its signs.

Hi friends!! Meeting up with Mary and Annika and kiddos on Omotesando-dori 
for a day of shopping and lunching and shrines!

Japan has lots of fun surprises... like an energy drink that shoots out of a cooler. 
Nice catch Kristi!

So great to see this little guy... I have known Will since he was three months old. Now (somehow) he is about to start second grade!
And last time I saw Bean he was six months old. Now he is covered in ice cream and wants to get out of his stroller :)

Sights along the gorgeous wooded stroll to Meiji Shrine

We arrived during a wedding procession! What luck!!

I love the sea of tourists that formed a little paparazzi pod on the left, including Mary :) She got much better pictures than I did with her fancy camera and front row seat. See them and read more about the weddings we saw that day and the shrine on Mary's post here.

Entrance way at Meiji Shrine
Hi friends! So great to see everyone!
We unknowingly went to this area on a very eventful Monday. It was a school holiday, and there was a massive protest as the nuclear power plants began reopening in the previous weeks. We later learned there were over 170,000 people present for the protest. It was hands down the most polite and orderly protest I have ever seen (that's Japan!).
A few people crossing the street
The fabulous outfits were everywhere. The Japanese are always dressed to the nines, but this particular ensemble caught my eye. So chic!

And, oh yes, there was Zara :)

The same Zara we stopped by almost two years ago... 
 look how much Annika-chan has grown!

I think it's safe to say we've all grown quite a bit in these past two years abroad. My friends in Japan are also wrapping up their overseas tours, and I'm crossing my fingers that Mary's family will join Kristi's in being our neighbors on that side of the world too. So grateful for Kristi and Mary for hosting me during two wonderful trips to Japan. Definitely goes to show that you never know where the friendships of this small Navy world will take you... and if you're lucky, maybe even twice.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Our Second Guamiversary

The calendar has somehow already rolled around again to the middle of July, meaning Nick and I have officially called Guam home for two years now! Each year on our Guamiversary, I have reread the very first post I wrote on Peyt's Island, First 24 Hours in "Paradise". Especially now as Nick and I are beginning to create our exit plan, it's fun to read those first impressions and to marvel at all of the things I didn't know then that are so much a part of me now. 

Our two years on Guam have far surpassed my expectations. Our initial hopes for choosing to go there was to spend more time together, to escape deployment (that was my goal, at least!), to take a few trips, and to do a lot of diving. On the diving front, Nick and I just got our Rescue Diver certification cards in the mail... (so I guess now we are certified to rescue each other). I was asked to write up a review of my Top 12 Best Dives on Guam for the Guam Guide, making great use of the many awesome photos Nick has taken over the past few years. I so love that the walls of our home are decorated in these breathtaking images of fascinating underwater creatures. Each colorful image has a back story of a time and place that only Nick and I know about when we see it. They are pieces of creation that the two of us discovered together in our own underwater fantasyland.

In terms of traveling... let me just say holy crap! I am so amazed at all of the incredible places in this part of the world we have been able to see, both separately and together. When we first moved to Guam, the only places I for sure had to go were Japan, Palau, and The Philippines. Tokyo ended up being my very first trip, and coincidentally where I am writing you from right now (yes, I got to go back!). Palau turned out to be my all-time favorite place of anywhere I have ever been any time ever (yes, it was that awesome). And the Philippines originally made the list because that's where I thought Nick would be going for work trips. Well, that changed as soon as he started his new job (he was assigned to India, the Maldives and Sri Lanka), and it turns out The Philippines is where I ended up going for trips with my job. Many of you know my experience in Manila and the road to get there proved to be a far more life changing experience than I ever imagined. In addition to my top 3 destinations list, I have also been able to explore countries I couldn't even have located on a map before, like Singapore and Saipan. I hiked the Great Wall of China and even touched down in North Korea (thankfully only for a few minutes!). 

In addition to traveling, Guam has afforded us the opportunity to have some incredible visits with friends and family that never would have been possible in the States. Both my dad and Nick's stepdad got SCUBA certified so they could dive with us here! My sister and I painted an entire mural together! Nick's brother got a passport and did his first overseas flight ever to come see us! We've had another handful of close friends come our way to see this place for themselves (thank you Annie, Jenny, April, Mary & Annika!). Each visit has been so special, so meaningful. It has brought so much joy to Nick and me to share the island with a familiar face and know we have stories to tell about this place together once we are Stateside again. 

While at our core we are very much the same people we were when we arrived here two years ago, it is remarkable how much we have grown in these 24 months. Together we have faced some of the highest highs (skydiving! babies in Manila!) and the lowest lows (pneumonia, unexpected tragedies and family funerals). Both categories have challenged our faith and forced us to redefine who we are and what lies ahead for us.

I could go on and on about the many ways our story has been richly blessed and shaped these past two years. But at the end of the day, at the end of that list, the most wonderful part of Guam for me has been the irreplaceable time that Nick and I have spent together, just being us. Whether it was taking the boat out on an adventure to discover new diveable seas, or hiking through the jungle to explore caves and climb mountains, or a lazy Sunday afternoon playing golf after church... Guam has been the perfect setting for us to spend our free time in wreckless escape. In May Nick and I hit the eleven-year mark of life spent together, although few of those eleven years were actually spent together. I am so grateful that during very much of these past two years (often for months at a time!) we were able to return at the end of the day to share space under the same roof at the same dinner table. It may have taken moving to the other side of the world to make it happen, but I would travel twice that far again if that's what it would take to recreate this sanctuary. 

Pop quiz... what does this sunset cloud look like??
When the winds of change breezed through last year, they diverted our eyes not back to where we came from, but on to a new arena to begin a new chapter. We know not what the future holds for us in Virginia Beach, but I'm not worrying about that now. There will be time for that later, just as there is a season for everything. But right now, this is the season to savor... our home... our island... our days spent together. I am certain that on the other side of our two years in Guam we will be blessed with even more moments of joy and triumph together. But I know there will always be a special place in my heart for this precious time of exploration and contentment and togetherness. All made possible by this little place I so precisely on our first day called paradise.

Paradise, indeed :)