Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rainy Days

Last week was ridiculously rainy. I love the way the rain smells and sounds, but I had one hyper puppy on my hands and wasn't a big fan of taking him for leisurely walks in the rain or oppressive humidity.

I've seen kids fishing in the ditch outside our house for these crab-like creatures (anyone have a name?), so I thought they carried on with their lives far from mine where I wouldn't have to worry about them. 

One rainy night, I opened the door to coerce Eddie outside and this creature was waiting for us:'

Nice claw there, big guy.
Longer than my fingers!

Do you think he's missing a pincher?
They aren't scary or poisonous like the massive Huntsman spiders we were seeing during the rainy period, but definitely outside my realm of normalcy from growing up outside Detroit. I didn't kill him or shoo him away, but when I went back outside in the morning, he had disappeared.

Have you ever encountered this crustacean on your doorstep? Do you know his name? Any idea why I keep finding crab parts all over the road (i.e. in Eddie's mouth) by the ditch? Are people eating them?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Hiking Seven Falls

Here in Iwakuni, I have the opportunity to hear really great "small world" stories. I was jealous that I would never get to bump into someone from my past on a military installation because no one in Michigan besides my husband is affiliated with the military (I'm exaggerating, but not very much). Strangely enough, just today I saw our scuba instructor from Okinawa on base! I'm in the club now!

Our hiking trip began with another such "small world" story. Joe saw Kristen, a former classmate at the Naval Academy, at the Officer's Club ("O-Club") on base and we all had a few drinks together. Kristen is a great person; really fun to talk to and very accomplished. She built her own wooden kayak, lives in Guam, and flies helicopters in the Navy! We got to chatting about our bucket lists for traveling in Japan and Seven Falls came up. We had been planning to go for a while, but laziness was trumping adventure. Kristen said she really wanted to go and I locked in the plan for Joe and myself. We decided to go the next morning!

It takes around two hours to get to Seven Falls from Iwakuni and it's not too hard to find. We got directions in English from the ITT (Information, Tours, and Travel) office and headed out with Eddie in tow. He is a fantastic car dog, by the way! Very calm and cuddly. The hike itself was challenging but having a tiny puppy to set the pace helped keep our muscles cool. We took lots of pictures on the hike, check out some below:
"What is that!? Joe, take a picture!"
Just when you think you're getting used to Japan, you see a white dog with ears dyed hot pink on the side of the road.
Luring Eddie along the trail.
Walking Eddie along the path
One of the picture perfect falls
What a refreshing lagoon!
Family Portrait
Ryubi Falls
We were getting pretty high up at this point
Kristen climbed down to clear leaves off the information plaque
Five-fingers ad!
Eddie loves waterfalls.

Didn't quite get the jump shot on time, but cool picture anyway
"I don't want to stop for pictures. Onward, please!"

Pitch black cave we went through to get up the mountain
Strolling along a manicured path
Cave ahead!
The view was definitely worth it!
Another angle from the top

Gorgeous tree surviving at the top of the mountain

Picnic in the sun
Chacos ad :)

 Click play for a video from the top of the mountain. MEGA BONUS: Watch Eddie fly :)

Trying not to smash Eddie on the way down the mountain
THIS is the way down? A ladder?!
Problem solved. Pup in a bag!
Off they go! I was dying of laughter but headed down after Kristen. She said Eddie calmed down after he saw me come after him.
So there is an abbreviated trip to Seven Falls! Not pictured: me sliding down the side of the mountain on my butt after losing my footing, getting my first skinned knee of the last 15 years, or the hoards of normally politely indifferent Japanese crying out "KAWAII!" upon sight of Eddie. 

It was a beautiful day for a hike! I can't wait to go again in the fall when the leaves are changing colors. Love it. 

And of course, Eddie's first staircase ascent:

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years

It's hard to believe that it's already been a decade since the attacks on the World Trade Center. I know I'm incredibly fortunate to not have lost anyone close to me in the attacks, but I felt very removed from the entire experience the rest of the country seemed to be experiencing.

People always say you remember exactly where you were when you heard the news, and it goes for me too. I was in tenth grade sitting in my technical drafting class and Mr. Olson had the TV on as usual. We all looked up at the TV and saw the plumes of smoke and I remember Mr. Olson singling me out and saying, "That looks like a pretty big deal, right, Heather?" I was pretty much a mute in that class because Mr. Olson always twisted whatever I said into some kind of sexist lesson to the otherwise male class, so I just nodded my head and went back to work.

I had never heard of the World Trade Center, didn't know anyone in New York, and didn't take it as a given that an attack by a few terrorists that horrifically killed 3,000 people would go on to kill over a million more people in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next decade. Say what you will about bringing the country together, but I'm disappointed with the way our country handled the aftermath of the attack. 

I hope that if there is ever another senseless act of violence like what we experienced ten years ago, our leaders will have the wisdom to weigh the costs of blood and treasure when we plan our military response. This war has taken loved ones from families and ruined our international financial standing. For me, being a nation at war hits home because my husband serves in the military. For most, the idea of being at war crosses their minds a few times a month when video from a faraway desert crosses the news channels. I hope that this ten-year milestone not only has people remembering those who died in the attacks, but also those who serve in combat zones at this very minute.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Labor Day Weekend

A beautiful morning in Iwakuni
It's been a long time since Joe got time off work without any plans and very few work-related interruptions. I can't say it was all fun and games because being a Marine is a 24/7 job. Joe is always there to help his unit whether I like it or not ;)

We decided to spend the weekend relaxing at our house and bonding with our puppy. Eddie is growing so fast and learning really quickly too. He is almost completely house trained but needs work in the Biting Hands and Eating Everything departments. 

A few notable things we did on our lazy weekend:

1. Our first Pachinko experience! We were walking around the Yellow Brick Road area after an awesome Indian dinner at Shiva and decided to check out movies at the Japanese theater. They were all in Japanese, so we spontaneously decided to check out the Pachinko Lian along the mainstreet. We threw some money away on a pinball-style gambling game, but it was fun to play together. I wouldn't recommend pachinko or slots, but I'm also not a gambler. These casinos are notoriously run by Yakuza (Japanese gangs), so that's another excuse to stay away. 

Failing hard at Pachinko
2. The debut of our long-awaited XBox Media Center (XBMC) set up. We have lots of TV shows and movies from friends who have left Iwakuni, but we were just using Joe's laptop to play everything. We now have a dedicated ASRock home theater PC so we can flip through shows without any commercials! I'm working on getting Ubuntu drivers for the computer so we don't need external speakers, but it's mostly a finished product. Joe even programmed the bluetooth remote, so it's just like a DVD player but more awesome.

An unintentionally moody shot of our alcoholic nerdiverse.
3. A trip with Eddie to the Kintai Bridge. We brought along our Indian leftovers and had an evening picnic for three along the riverbank. Eddie naturally helped us make new friends along the way, since he's the most popular guy in Iwakuni. 

Captain Joe thinks Eddie is a parrot
Keep the enthusiasm to a minimum, please
Eddie, Joe, and an Iwakuni samurai

Hanging out with Eddie at the Kintai Bridge
Gorgeous shot of the bridge by Joe
The bridge is lit beautifully at night
The lanterns along the walking path are one of the prettiest parts of the Kintai area.

4. Last Sunday we checked out the Sunday Brunch Buffet in the ballroom. They have an omelet station, crêpe station, fresh salads, every breakfast food imaginable, and unlimited mimosas. It's a pretty good deal for around $15, so maybe we'll go again when we learn to stop eating before we are about to burst.

See? Not TOO much going on. We are looking forward to this weekend and hoping to take a trip to Seven Falls. It's about a two hour drive and we've heard it's beautiful. I've also heard good things about Japanese rest areas, so hopefully the pup will not go insane being in the car. 

Today is also the one week mark since Joe's promotion to Captain! In the Marine Corps, it's customary to host a Wet Down party where you invest the difference between paychecks in booze and all your friends get to celebrate your new job with you at a bar. The party is called a "Wet Down" because officers were once thrown in the sea as part of the promotion celebration. Hopefully we can get the word out fast enough to celebrate this weekend!

Sunday, September 4, 2011


My new friend Kimberly took me to meet her Japanese friends at a great restaurant in Miyajima. Joe and I went to Miyajima Island once before, and discovered Bluebird Cafe in the midst of my cafe withdrawal crisis. It's a tiny place with a cozy second floor full of windows. On this trip, we were just stopping for a quick "frapresso" for the train ride home, so we stayed on the first floor. We discovered that there is a friendly cat that lives inside! Adorable.

Here is a quick snapshot of the immediate entrance of the cafe:

Talk about an efficient work space! Everything is prepared in a tiny corner of what looks like a deconstructed mail truck. The young owner is incredibly friendly, speaks great English, and has a selection of international goodies to take home as well. Kimberly found Belgian chocolate cookies to take home, but I fell into choice paralysis after seeing all the tasty delights. No fear though, there will definitely be a next time!

A Very Special Evening in Iwakuni

Our anniversary celebration took us to Bluebird Restaurant in downtown Iwakuni. It was tucked away in an alley, so it's a good thing Joe was looking at the Iwakuni Foodie page for hints! We were the only people in the restaurant the entire time, so that was a little awkward. We also got off to a rough start because we always forget to carry a significant amount of yen on us. Credit cards and ATMs are not nearly as ubiquitous as they are in the US. I really dislike carrying and handling cash, so this is a major cultural hurdle for me! 

Before I digress any further, let me say the food was outstanding! The decor inside reminds me of an old diner in northern Michigan - naugahyde upholstery, floral patterns from the 70s, etc... - but the cuisine was unexpectedly good. 

I used to feel really uncomfortable taking pictures of food, but now I like that it gives me an extra moment or two to appreciate the plating. I also like it because I can go back after the meal and savor the pictures all over again. 

Without further ado, check out our anniversary meal. Two years of marriage are best celebrated with a delicious Japanese steak, if you were wondering.

Prosciutto, shrimp on a buttery lemon slice, quiche, and a seafood (?) roll with mint leaf
Pumpkin (actually squash) and corn soup with croutons and decorative cream swirl
Wedge of bread with flaky top and a bacon cheddar roll
 Spring salad with peeled tomato, smoked salmon, and a lemon wedge alongside mixed veggies in a gelatin mold.

Shrimp croquette in phyllo dough diamond with a rich white sauce
Best steak of my life. Medium rare.
Top: Cake with unexpected fresh peach slices in the frosting. Bottom: Melon sorbet, halved fig, sesame ice cream
The older man and woman who run Bluebird Restaurant also made sure our evening had a splash of white wine for me, beer for Joe, and organic Jamaican coffee with dessert to send us home. On our way out the door, they also presented us with sesame cookies. We were so surprised by the hospitality and would love to go back again. 

The experience also made me extra thankful that we don't have any food sensitivities. We ordered from the fixed price menu and simply hoped that we would like everything offered to us. Luckily, we did!