Snorkeling in Oahu

This past Sunday was tragically our last day in Oahu (during my post med-school/pre-residency sabbatical, part 2 – Hawai’i), but before we were to leave, we had plans to dip into the ocean one last time, along with some snorkeling gear, guided by James’ long-time friend, Jeff!  I was ever so excited for this, as the last time I had snorkeled was with some kiddy-gear in the Kennedy pool back-in-the-day during my childhood (looking back, that was an awesome toy!).  We met up at Kahe Beach Park, selected by our snorkeling-savvy friend.  It’s strategically located adjacent to an electricity plant, from which flows a large pipe of clean, heated water, about 40 feet below the ocean’s surface, thus creating a unique ecosystem, harboring an abundant and diverse gathering of fish and other wildlife for many-a snorkelers and divers to enjoy alike!

 

As I prepared for the day, packing and plunging into my bathing suit, I recalled Jeff’s words, “you guys are ok with going over 40-foot drop-offs?” and “when we get out there, the important thing is to breathe normal, don’t freak out!”  …I was starting to freak out…  a little anyway.  I couldn’t help but think about what I always think about now-a-days when I go off and do something semi-adventurous/risky, what will happen to Andy if James and/or I die (lovely imagination we parents have…)?  Jeff’s wife, Christina, so graciously offered to watch the now 16 month-old Andy for us.  Fortunately Jeff and Christina are close family friends and have all the contact info for James’ family… and at least James has a living will… mine is still on the to-do list… oops… need to work on that, I thought to myself.

 

Looking over the ocean, you could see its surface, over the spot to which we were aiming to snorkel, a small ripple of turbulent water created by the gush of warm water spewing from the pipe below.  Kinda freaky…. but I trusted Jeff’s advice to go there and was also comforted by the number of others snorkeling and diving around the area.

 

After all of this anticipation plus what I think was 4 trips from our spot on the beach back to the car to retrieve Andy-snacks, diapers, and other forgotten or unanticipated items, we finally grabbed our gear and headed for sea.  Wait, no, I had to go to the bathroom one more time!  Jeff had us wipe the inside of our goggles with a special solution for the fog.  We rinsed everything off, then slipped on the flippers, next pulled on the goggles.  We made sure the goggles were nice and snug… Then we were off!  Finally!  I was somewhat nervous about setting out, as I knew there were shallow rocks and coral, but the flippers provided great foot protection to walk or stand on the coral if needed, the waves were very small, and the coral was not really very sharp if you are just walking on it anyways.  Soon we were cruising atop the water, looking down at the fishies!  As we were new to the practice, Jeff had James and I practice our snorkel “dives” a couple times before heading out to deeper waters.  Mildly distracted by our GoPro camera as we attempted to document the adventure, we were a bit slow at first, but in short time caught on to the breathing and swimming patterns we needed to use.  We didn’t even have to travel 20 feet seaward before we encountered tons of beautiful fish and coral.  I began to feel my fears melt away as I dove down, over and over, getting up-close and personal with some of the breath-takingly exquisitely vivid wild life.

Jeff pointed to the itty-bitty little bubble shaped sacks in the water, “these are, blah-blah-blah’s, tiny little harmless jellyfish,” he shared (he told us their name, but of course my brain has long since discarded that info).  As the swim progressed, I began to doubt his claim to total harmlessness, as I felt all over my body tiny little stinging zaps throughout my swim.  They weren’t anything to cry about, and left no mark, so I carried on, not worrying about it too much.  Later during the swim, Jeff did say that he was getting stung too, and admitted he had spied several other tiny jellies with their tiny stingers out and about (some other species that of course Jeff knew the name of and yes I instantly forgot it as well) most likely encountered in such high frequency due to the nearing of the next full moon.

 

We soon approached the great pipe.  From the water’s surface, we gazed down what Jeff had said was 40 feet to the bottom of the ocean.  Dotting it’s surface were several divers sauntering around.  I could feel the sudden change of water temperature and my fears came creeping back to stifle my child-like mermaid-mode-joy, as I now imagined the possibility of rip tides and other scary current-things.  We converged at the water’s surface, “you can really feel that gush of warm water!” James said.  “Yeah, it’s kinda freaky!” I chimed in.  Jeff nodded, “Some snorkelers will dive all the way down to entrance of that pipe, but I prefer to kind of keep my distance.”  I was relieved to hear this.

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giant outflow pipe from the electric plant

After maybe 60 seconds of discussion, we went back to take some pictures around the pipe only to find we had drifted nearly 30 feet from the pipe we were just looking over.  Oh boy.  But we swam back, took some pictures, took a minute to enjoyed the dense cloud of fish surrounding the entire area, and then headed south to look for sea turtles.  After maybe twenty more minutes of swimming and photographing around in the ocean with various beautiful golden, white, blue, and pink fishies, Jeff stopped to ask us if we thought we wanted to go on.  I responded to my motherly instincts, always tugging at me now, and said I was a little concerned about Andy, so we started to head back.

 

Those brief moments while we were kicking it back in were the fleeing moments of completely and total joy that I enjoyed during this swim, as I felt like I was really freed from all worry and could just savor everything.  I had already discarded the GoPro, so I didn’t have to worry about that, James and Jeff were no longer swimming off in separate directions that I had to keep track of, and Andy was soon to be back in my arms.  I savored the water rushing through my hair, the dawdling groups of fishies letting me join their little schools for a second, the speed and depth I could go with those powerful fins attached to my feet, and the clarity through which I could view everything!  I didn’t want it to end!  But at the same time by virtue it had to.  I can’t wait to go back again!

We never did bump into any sea turtles, unfortunately.  Jeff was much more dismayed at this, however, than I was, as the whole experience was awesome enough to write home about ;).  We followed up this glorious experience with some glorious sushi, and reluctantly said goodbye to our friends as we headed for our next flight: to Maui!

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Boot Camp and More…

I have officially not made a post in a long time! Couple months, I do believe! Well much has happened since I last wrote! So much in fact, I cannot fathom trying to write it all out! But I will try…

My last post was on the crazy haphazard adventures of James and Me in Japan! What a time that was! Upon returning from that vacation, I had two fleeting weeks to get ready for the event in my life that will be remembered as “the most fun I never want to have again!”… commissioned officer training (COT). This was a 5-week long intensive experience which I had to attend to fulfill the requirements of my scholarship program in the military, taking place at the hottest place on the planet at the hottest time in the year: July in Montgomery, AL. The worst part about it was that I had to be away from my dear hubby. 😦

I remember departing at the crack of dawn that Monday morning, intestines complaining to me, no, eating me from the insides due James’ and my very late date-night at the marvelous Mongolian BBQ. Because we ate so late, I was starved and then overate and then topped it all off with the biggest brownie sundae EVER, a result of good intentions to grab a quality meal before eating nonstop cafeteria food and the notorious system stopping MREs (“meals ready to eat”) for the ensuing 5 weeks.

Trying to get in as much quality time together 'fore the morn! (see the lil firefly up in the left corner!)

Trying to get in as much quality time together ‘fore the morn! (see the lil firefly up in the left corner!)

I had spent the entire day Sunday packing and that was after I thought I already had everything together! So we hustled to the car, to the airport, and I hugged my hubby goodbye a dozen times. I remember the intense fear of leaving him and how I looked back after passing through security to get one final wave, and then…he was gone. I just lost it – reduced to sobbing tears at the observance of his disappearance, it was almost unbearable. Alone in the terminal, I forced myself to collect strength has I headed for my departing plane. “I’m so blessed” I remember telling myself, “I need to remember that!”

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The trip was awkward and suspenseful. I knew the girl who was riding with me on the first leg of the journey – but we were not close – in the plane seating nor as fellow classmates. I did say hello to her as I headed for my seat, a few rows past hers. We talked during our layover, commiserating over the trials of preparing for COT. What were we supposed to bring? Or wear on our first day – the website said professional-comfortable?? Isn’t that an oxymoron?

In the back of my mind, I kept thinking there was something important that I didn’t pack, a little bit of paranoia, perhaps, setting in. Soon it was time to embark on our second and final leg of the journey. As we boarded, it became apparent that there were seemingly tons of fellow future COT classmates on this plane. The awkwardness continued as different people started striking up conversations about the Air Force and medical school/dental school and COT. I chose, instead of attempting to meet people, to sleep through the hour long plane ride.

At our destination, I started opening up and tried meeting and conversing with the crowd of maybe 30 or so other future COT attendees, waiting together for the shuttle bus to arrive. I didn’t want to take the shuttle bus yet, since I had been encouraged to not arrive too early, but I didn’t see any feasible alternatives! So we all boarded the bus not too long after our plane had landed. The girls sort of formed up, and sat and talked near one another on the bus. One girl was a dentist, another an ophthalmologist, one had just gotten married. We chatted away and giggling about what we were about to encounter immediately upon entering the training grounds. Don’t smile, they’ll eat you alive! Make sure you have your shirt tucked in! No sunglasses – better put those away…

Bus ride in... both excited and nervous!

Bus ride in… both excited and nervous!

We pulled up by this outdoor auditorium-type thing. The bus driver helped us unload our bags and then we approached this daunting gathering area where we could see there were these uniformed men in stiff black hats and very angry faces waiting for us, some manning a table in front of what looked like fellow future COT classmates standing stiffly with their feet, hands and heads, all in the same positions in this very disciplined line. There was a sign at the start of the side walk which some people later got yelled at for not reading – I think the group I was with looked at it for a second before proceeding down the sidewalk towards what was sure to be our doom. I eyed the man coming towards us, with the most unfriendly face I had ever seen.

“ON THE COUNT OF 10, I WANT TO SEE THOSE SHIRTS AND SHOE LACES TUCKED IN!” he belted at us ferociously.

He started quickly counting down as we frantically tried to shove shoe laces into shoes and shirts into pants as fast as we possibly could. It took me about 5 seconds – I was feeling pretty satisfied until the next thing out of his mouth was “STRIPES YOU BETTER GET THAT HAIR UP IN A PONY TAIL!!!” I quickly discovered “stripes” was a reference to me, since I was wearing a striped shirt. Great, so that’s my name for the day?

“NOW, STAND AT THE POSSITION OF ATTENTION!”

Thinking maybe it was something like marching band, I snapped my feet together and stood with a straight back and head, arms to my side. “FEET AT 45!” he added. What does that mean? “AND CUP THOSE HANDS!!!” Cup my hands?

The bereavement continued. First, we signed in and paid a registration fee, with every step of the process entailing a very specific set of instructions and swarm of insults if followed incorrectly. We had a short demonstration of how to march and pivot, standing directly under the Alabama noon-time sun. I was instantly, totally drenched. I think it took a couple more rounds of the instructors yelling at the group or singling out individuals before I finally understood that 45 was the number of degrees they wanted my feet to be at relative to each other and that cupping meant closing your hand into a fist. In line to register, I was singled out, this time to learn that I needed to swing my arm with my opposite leg as I marched, a task which was second nature only just moments before I stepped onto this campus!

Next, we were giving our dorm keys – there were 5 or so people in front of me getting screamed at for addressing the instructors incorrectly, fidgeting or scratching, not toeing the line perfectly with their “feet at 45,” or not looking perfectly straight ahead, I think I can speak for everyone in saying we were all walking on pins and needles. But when I got up to the line, I nailed the verbiage, remembering to say “Sir” before everything:

“What’s your name?” he said sternly.

“Sir, Bier,” I responded, looking straight ahead, but feeling very awkward doing so.

“How do you spell that?”

“Sir, B – I –E – R.”

I said it right! YAY! I thought I had just victoriously escaped his terrible furry as rambled off instructions and pointed me towards the next station, but as I turned to go I felt my ego crumble to the floor. “HEY!?! WHERE ARE YOU GOING?!” the instructor’s voice returned to its glass shattering shrieking level. “I HAVEN’T EVEN GIVEN YOU YOUR ROOM KEY YET AND YOU ARE ALREADY LEAVING IT PLACES! HOW DO YOU EXPECT ME TO TRUST YOU WITH IT NOW WHEN I KNOW HOW IRRESPONSIBLE YOU ARE?!!” I was flabbergasted, I was positive that among the items he had handed me was the room key yet clearly he had not given it to me. As he screamed and belittled me, I just wanted it to be over, I didn’t know what to do! But he didn’t spend long on me, and soon I was moving on, thankfully – because I almost started to cry!

But at the next station, I did much better! We were given our handbooks, which we were to carry with us always for the next 5 weeks. Along with the handbook, they gave us a lesson on “standardization.” About 5 of us were standing there, holding our newly procured books, stiffly at this new position we learned was called attention. First, our instructions were to write our names in the books with a pen that was placed in a row in front of us on a table. Second, after we had already picked up the pen to use them, we were told we had 5 seconds to put them back exactly as they had been before. As we scrambled to place the pens down and make them look the same, I saw that the girl next to me left her pen “clicked open,” so I instinctively reached over to fix it. This time, I stood out in a good way, and the instructor pointed it out, saying that one of our jobs for the next 5 weeks was to look out for our wingman. Looking back, I’m not surprised at how I decided to become the flight’s Standardization Officer!

For rest of the day, the sun kept blazing down on us, and we had a few more hoops to jump through before we could retreat to our dorms. I was so thankful when finally I could collapse on my bed – it was only 4 o’clock but it felt like the day had already been endless. We had nothing scheduled for the rest of the day except for a short meeting with our squadron commander. When I found out my roommate was Tia – a girl I was pretty good friends with from my school – I was ecstatic!

The ensuing weeks were a trial of sleep deprivation and stress from different angles. Our flight of 15 student doctors, one real doctor, 3 dentists, and one chaplain were scored weekly on “professionalism” which really mean properly phrasing things, saluting, and “warrior knowledge”/handbook knowledge, academics, based on three written tests which we had to pass, athletics, and we were constantly evaluated on individual leadership. We got a range of 4-5 hours of sleep on week days and Saturday night I usually got to catch up with about 7-8. Sitting in the huge lecture hall for hours on end was the worst – you knew you had it bad when you go to stand in the back of it to stay awake and yet still were falling asleep. Trying to take notes resulted in indecipherable scribbles up and down the page. I actually had a dream about trying to stay away while being pulled under a dark blanket of irresistible sleep!

Studying all day Saturday the weekend before one of our tests

Studying all day Saturday the weekend before one of our tests

Graduation day finally drew near, I was getting more emotional with each passing day. Finally it was graduation time and James was pulling onto the COT campus. Our flight was just about to have a small award ceremony as I dashed out the door in my Service Dress, phone in hand (a privilege saved just for that last week). I was looking up from it when suddenly I saw him rounding the corner and was overwhelmed with joy – SO HAPPY!!!! I was in his arms again – and totally breaking my “bearing” as I sobbed into his chest-I just missed him so much! We even exchanged a couple kisses which may or may not have been noticed by the Major standing near the door as we passed by to get to my flight room. The ceremony was beautiful, our flight commander said some lovely parting words, and even shed maybe a tear or two himself, which of course made me want to cry more, but I held it back! Next was the graduation parade and then we were off! Celebrating freedom!

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We made some fun pit stops along the way, stopping at Lookout Mountain, TN, to go ahead and look out over the mountain 😉 and then a bit down the road for some tasty ice cream and finally stopped for sushi for dinner – a meal I very much missed at COT!

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The next day we awoke early to go for a liberating journey kayaking down the Cumberland River, and because the water was kind of low and murky – we went for a dip afterwards in the Cumberland pool, where the sun came out making for a beautiful day! Finally we headed north and for our last stop we went to the famous Hofbrauhaus near Cincinnati, making sure to taste their bretzln, kase, and of course some bier, and walking along the Purple People Bridge to enjoy some city-scape sunset.

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The subsequent week flew by as I was now preparing for medical school to start back up and my big move into a new, mostly unfurnished apartment for the year. One solid week with my hubby and it was back to long distance relationshiping! The start of school hit me hard-I felt out of sink and it didn’t take long for me to feel burnt out all over again. But as the first round of tests blow by, I am again finding a study grove, and involving myself on campus and with fellow classmates a bit more than I was last year since I have much more free time in my schedule. Stressing over board exams (coming up in the spring) has already sprouted, but has also already taken a bit of a back seat as the tests I am taking now take priority! I got my belay certification at the rock climbing wall here on campus, and am in the OMM honors group so I get to help first year students develop their manipulation skills, which is awesome! I am also hoping to do a fun crazy wilderness medicine thing soon.

new bedroom before...

new bedroom before…

...after!

…and after!

James and I had our glorious 1 year anniversary and celebrated it by going on a fun wild camping and white water rafting trip down the Youghiogheny River of Ohiopyle, PA. Then we celebrated again by defrosting our cake from our wedding – which was preserved quite well – bringing back wonderful glorious memories and to top it all off, my bestest friend got engaged!!!!!! Simply dying of excitement!

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Recently, I was blessed to see a baby be born – the most miraculous thing I’ve ever witnessed!! Being just a student at my community clinical “experience,” I didn’t participate at all except to get asked questions about the umbilical cord that I got all wrong – oy, but oh my, what a thing to behold and everything went so smoothly – a new baby boy was born to the world, less than one week ago!

I’ve been studying neurology since starting school back up a month and a half ago, and of course that means I’ve been self-diagnosed with a dozen neurologic disorders by now. I think I have always had some kind of cerebellar issue because I am terribly uncoordinated!!! However, my difficulty speaking or coming up with the correct words when speaking may indicate a broca’s aphasia… More importantly, I may also have hippocampal problems, because I feel like I don’t have a long term semantic memory haha, oy.

Well I’m signing out now, I suppose I need to get back to the real world, but there, that was a short summary of the adventures I’ve had since my last blog, and I am already mourning the beautiful things I have left out! Like my brief trip to St. Joseph, MI, one of my favorite former homes and the home/gathering place of dear friends,

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…My brother’s graduation and crazy parties that ensued!

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…Slumber party/game night with my lil sis, yoga with my olda sis and Jillian Michaels (“get comfortable with BEING UNcomfortable!”), my and mammaw’s birthday gathering at my parent’s place where they made margaritas!!!!

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Not to mention at least a handful of golden stories from the long grueling and get fun and exciting days of COT! Of course then there is the hilarious tale to my best friend’s not-surprised-surprised engagement!

IMG_2989Well anyway, I did my best,… tschuss until next time!

Stuck in Japan

Well we are off. Finally!*
*note* this post is being posted about 1.5 weeks after it was written!

Why do I say finally? In the past, it has always been with heavy heart that I return from a trip abroad! I LOVE traveling! …Let me just start by saying…  It’s been such an insane time trying to get back.

On this trip, everything was very tentatively planned…and our plans for coming home from Japan somehow all went out the window. A few days ago, I wasn’t really sure if we were going to get back to the States at all for Father’s Day. Stuck we were, in Japan. But praise The Lord, we shall make it back for Father’s Day! At least if nothing else comes up. We are on our final leg of the flying part. State bound, with a 30 minute tram ride, a 3.5 hour bus ride, and a 15 minute car ride left to go. There are no tickets home after our 2 pm bus ride so in this instance, like many instances throughout the trip, if we don’t make it to that 2pm bus…we have no backup plan. So I pray we make it.

Why am I so concerned about a backup plan? Who needs a backup plan? Backup plans are important, turns out… Especially when flying space A… Especially when traveling during peak tourist season… In one such a case, if you can make a backup plan-do it! What happened? Why were we stuck in Japan? So, during our grand post-first-year-of-med-school  vacation to Seattle/Portland sometime amid family and friend visit time, we were lucky enough to nab a set of seats (and they were next the each other!) for $17.50 a pop over to Japan from the Seattle airport! Yay!!! Space A! Time to visit friends in Japan!

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And…  then … after our seven days of pleasant touring around the city of Tokyo, we tried to go home to the States the same way we had gotten to Japan: through Space Available. But then suddenly we found we couldn’t get back … uh oh. And guess what? We didn’t have a back up plan!

The first day we tried to go home, there were 3 flights with Space Available to the States; they all had lots and lots of open tentative seats.  It looked like our odds of getting home were so good we weren’t even worried about it. We woke up the morning of our wishful departure and packed our bags only to check the website right before leaving for the airport on base and find that all three flights had disappeared from the schedule over night. So we stayed at our friend’s house one night more to wait for our next chance. It came the next day: there were over 70 people trying to get on one plane to California with only five open seats. Needless to say we didn’t get on that one. The next two days drifted by as we waited at our hotel on base for our next chance at a practically free flight back to the states, but it never came. Flights appeared and disappeared from the projected schedule so often during that time, that we cycled continuously through the emotional roller coaster of hope and no hope in just the right sequence of events that we never did give in and buy the $1,000+/pc commercial airline tickets… until yesterday.

We are not at all sure what caused the incredibly consistent rescheduling and canceling of flights going back to the States, though we heard rumors of some plane maintenance issue being the root problem. James had been watching the flights for weeks previous to our trip and there had been so many consistent flights back from Japan that we didn’t even consider worrying about getting a flight home. I guess you could call it a false sense of security!

Yesterday morning, we woke hoping to sign up for the flight to going to Hawaii (not continental US, but close enough!). We slept in till 8, with the comfort of knowing the flight was on the schedule the night before only to wake up to find… the flight was cancelled. From there, everything was a frenzy. We fumbled about trying to decide… what to do? Give up on space A and buy a ticket and go? Now?

We tried to look at tickets for that day to Seattle and discovered it was too late to reserve tickets online! We tried the hotel phone to call a Japanese number with no luck. We both took quick showers, shoved everything in our bags and raced over to the lodge to check out and ask for a phone. The helpful lady there said we couldn’t use the hotel phones to call a 1-800 number from the base, it was too expensive; instead she suggested we use something like talkatone, a free app, to call the help line. Unfortunately, our accounts were both expired and it ate up yet more time for James to create a new account and finally make the call to the airport to ask about buying tickets.

It was more expensive to buy them so last minute – about $300 dollars more. (We probably should have just slowed down right about here and booked tickets for the next day.) But we so desperately wanted to get back home!  I told James to book it: a 2:30 flight; it last one out that day! We were nuts. It was already 10:15. I remember thinking to myself,

My phone estimates our train travel time is 2 hours and 15 minutes, and we have to be there 2 hours early. Ready. Set. Go!

We hiked out towards the train station, I was doing a half-jog, luggity-luggage behind me and all, James a few yards behind me, but I knew he would catch up (and he did). I checked my watch,

…already 15 minutes have passed and we haven’t even started our 2 hours and 15 minutes of train rides!

But as we exited the base gate there was hope-a fellow American Air Force family-a couple with two sweet kidlets driving a minivan offered us a ride! We gladly excepted, had a very lovely conversation, and thanked them profusely for their generosity. It saved us a lot of sweat under the hot Japan sun, however, the travel time ended up being the same or maybe just a bit faster than walking, as the traffic is so terrible in Japan!

The next problem we encountered was a big one: when we finally found an ATM to procure the critical yen we needed to buy our train tickets-our cards wouldn’t work. We concluded that our bank must have froze them because we had told them we were to have left Japan by yesterday!

Thinking wishfully, James and I stood, lost, in front of the self-service train ticket kiosk, flipping through all the touch screen options and staring awkwardly over at other customers – trying to see if there was anyway we could use a charge card to procure our train tickets. It seems futile. Another American-looking couple was heading our way. In desperation, I approached them,

“Excuse me, do you know if we can use credit cards on these ticket machines?”

The man looked as uncomfortable as I felt, or maybe it was just me. He said no, the kiosks only take yen, then offered to give us some yen in exchange for dollars. I told him in dismay that we didn’t have enough American dollars for what we needed … but I did have a checkbook! He looked soooo uncomfortable, “Sorry I don’t take checks from strangers.”

Biting back tears, I remember nodding to him, trying so hard to appear composed and understanding as they walked away, but the moment he turned around, I just totally lost it.

I feel so hopeless. We will miss the plane, the last one out today, AND we will have to pay for it on top of a new one for tomorrow! (It turns out, I was wrong about that last thought, but how was I to know? And all I knew was that we definitely didn’t have enough money in our account for that! But I was right about the first thought: securing yen without further delay to get on our train was our last hope for making it to the airport in time for our plane out that day!) I sobbed and James hugged me tightly. As he mopped up some tears falling from my cheek, he stayed calm. He asked, “What is your greatest fear right now?”

My answer: not getting home.

“We will get home,” he replied without hesitation. Despite my clouded perspective at the time, I knew he was right-why does faith shatter so easily?!? But I was so disheartened…

The couple I had approached had evidently stuck around long enough to overhear my nuclear meltdown; before James could wipe another tear from my eye, they were miraculously back! “Hey, we can give you some yen, you can just write us a check, how much do you need?” I was so happy I could have hugged him! At the same time I was in disbelief-how was this happening?

My hands were shaking as I wrote out the check. We thanked them over and over, James bought the train tickets, and we were on our way!

Hope renewed! However, on the trains, we encountered our next barrier: since the special rapid Chou line only runs at certain times, our second connection ended up being a plain old rapid Chou train… it took us about an hour instead of the estimated 36 minutes for that line.

We were running so late, but still held on to a smidgen of hope that we would at least arrive before the plane took off…that is until we reached the end of the city trains and arrived at the booth to buy our tickets for the final leg of our journey to the airport: as I had suspected-the train we wanted was a high speed train that only runs at certain times. The next one… was in 35 minutes…. Which meant it would arrive at the airport exactly 5 minutes before our plane took off. It was now officially hopeless.

James and I sat waiting for our train, about 35 bucks worth of yen left in our pockets. At least we were going to get to the airport and be one step closer to figuring out our way home. I didn’t care if we had to spend the night at the airport, we were going to get a ticket with a definite departure date, and that meant we were going to somehow make it to Portland for at least part of Father’s Day. Pulling out snacks from our stock of goods we had procured from the commissary, we made a lunch and reflected on the day’s chaos.

We had received so much wonderful help from others but it wasn’t quite enough to get us there on time! As we flew eastward on that high speed train, the cityscape transitioned to a more rural scene; the land opened up and rice patties rolled by, water beneath them sparkling in the sunshine.  I kept replaying the scene at the train station: where I broke down and James held me tight, what a comfort and a blessing! I knew we both felt like God was putting us through some kind of painful test, yet, I knew we were still so blessed and though we were not getting exactly what we wanted in our return trip to the States, He had continuously provided us with just enough to keep us going.

When we arrived at the airport it took a bit of walking but we found our way to the Korean Air airline departure check in. Perspectives adjusted, things were starting to look better already. Our credit card worked to buy new plane tickets for the next day, there was no fee for missing the plane we had reserved earlier that day (apparently because we never actually paid for the tickets), and we were able to secure a hotel not far from the airport at a reasonable price – airport shuttle service included! In regards to the ATM-rejected debit cards: we called our bank and found that the cards had never even been locked up-so I guess something must have been wrong with that ATM!

At this point, I was exhausted and had a throbbing migraine, I popped a Relpax and hustled off with James to take the shuttle to our hotel. It was a wacky little countryside Japanese hotel. We immediately noted the funny smells and the stiff little beds.

This pic makes it look larger than it is!

This pic makes it look larger than it is!

Thankfully, the window was able to be opened up nice and wide, our room had high speed internet AND, (I was especially excited to find) it was located a short walking distance from a convenience store. (Japanese convenience stores are the best!)

After what was AT LAST our FINAL Japanese dinner in Japan, acquired at about $10 from our hotel, we set out for a sunset stroll and for an adventure to investigate this convenience store in hopes to find ice cream.

Last Supper

Last Supper

Ghetto hotel!

Ghetto hotel!

MANGO HAAGEN DAZS SANDWICH!

MANGO HAAGEN DAZS SANDWICH!

BETTER than ice cream, we found the long sought Haagen Dazs mango ice cream sandwich, a delicacy which is cruelly pictured in larger-than-life advertisements posted across Tokyo regional trains far and wide.

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In addition, we procured a delicious cream role – another Japanese delicacy which is sold all over in Japanese bakeries. Throughout the trip I kept wanting to try one! However, the correct situation to do so never arose – until that night at the convenience store. And so, we jokingly concluded, this must have been why we had to stay one more night in Japan!

Walking back to our hotel in almost complete darkness, James added a few new mosquito bites to his repertoire of itchy welts, but the end of the sunset sky was so beautiful and the night air so refreshing!

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Making the best of our evening, we sat up in bed watching Mulan, which we found to be semi-culturally related to our encounters on this trip. 🙂

That morning we slept in, ate our delicious cream role (tasted kinda like a fancy Twinkie), and made it to the airport with time to spare. To our pleasant surprise, we were able to credit our flight to our Delta Skymiles accounts at check-in. 🙂 When we got passed security, we looked for ways to spend the last of our yen. We found a few fun “iconic” Japanese things to purchase: CC Lemon, a Japanese soft drink a friend had told James about,…

c_c__lemon …a variety of Kit Kat bars to take home (the Japanese and Kit Kats are kind of like the Germans and Ritter Sport – there are a zillion flavors!), …

We bought matcha, strawberry, and dark chocolate flavors! We think...

We bought matcha, strawberry, and dark chocolate flavors! We think…

…tuna and salmon sushi triangles to eat for lunch (this convenience store version of sushi could be found in stores all over – super good and easy to eat on-the-go, and I have no idea what they are really called ha ha), and a small piece of orange cake! triangle sushi Now we are finally headed home! Today shall be the longest day I will have ever experienced in my short almost 25 years of life: 40 hours long!

When I started, I said it’s been an insane time trying to get home; do you think that was a good evaluation?

Next stop: Seattle. So excited! Blessed! And not stuck in Japan anymore! 🙂

Two Worlds, One Day, Road Trip!

So a few weeks ago, I quit working as an associate at Panera in hopes to get some frivolous adventure time in before I start my long laborious hike to Nicaragua, which according to google maps will take about 1,055 hours (going an average of 4.9 km/hr) and therefore according to my calculations would take 150.7 days (hiking 7 hours/day)…

OK, I’m not really hiking to Nicaragua, at least not any time soon, maybe someday (never say never). It’s just that this sort of endeavor seems about as difficult in my mind, currently, as embarking on a journey through medical school, which is what I am ACTUALLY going to do here in just three little weeks from now!!!! … OK, so I wont be facing blistering desert winds and heats, wont have to figure out how to set up a tent in the wilderness and live off of dehydrated meals and a water filter for weeks and weeks and WEEKS and wont have to fend off tropical diseases and wild carnivorous animals..and I have no idea really what hiking to Nicaragua will be like – but I also have no idea what this medical school business will be about and they both seem kind of difficult, so, for story telling purposes,I figured the two are pretty much interchangeable. I …digress?

As I was saying, I wanted to take some time off to venture out and frolic before having to hike to Nicaragua. The very first thing I did … with my glorious free time, with my marvelous and suddenly abundant free time, time which is by FAR one of the world’s richest, most powerful, and dwindling resources … , was wake up, roll out of bed, go to church, have brunch with the fam during which I was half-zombied-out due to lack of sleep and missing my Mr. Darcy (aka, mwa fiance, James who went to UTAH?! … for work) , and then I spent the entire day building a website! I know that was really climatic, right!? Well, after I did that, I hopped in my car and drove 9 hours to visit my darling Kristen in Pennsylvania. HA! Now we’re talking! As I drove and through the first 6 hours of that drive, I couldn’t stop thinking how grand it was that I was doing it, I was seizing the adventure, breaking out of my comfort zone, bolting into new frontiers, one small step for man, but one giant leap…

Ok so I was sitting in an air conditioned Buick through a clear sunny summery day. But hey it was a 9 hour trek all on my own – I gave myself a little back-pat. By the time I got there it was late evening. I didn’t leave till around noon thirty: I kept finding things to do (as I so often do)! The rest of the trip was marvelous history, I had thoroughly transported myself to an entirely new world! I was immediately wooed by Pennsylvania, blanketed in misty mountains, thick green woods, and rolling open spaces. I drove up a narrow winding well paved road, about a third of the way up a mountainside to get to Kristen’s lovely cabin-esque home. Kristen and I, after a couple tight embraces, hurried words of excitement at our reunion, and a brief night’s sleep, took the early morning bus from Scranton to NYC – and we pranced all across town together like two unleashed hyperactive kiddlets at the zoo.

Couple of things we did still stand out in my memory:

The bus ride in was almost 2.5 hours long. During that time, of course, Kristen and I could do nothing but talk! After all, it had been a month or so since I watched her graduate and seven months since she watched me graduate – thus marking the ending of our glorious school attendance together! Thus, as we were chatting, we carried on in a perfectly blissful manor, oblivious to the world around us until we stopped to watch the bus driver turn around and send some words our way. He motioned with his hand to “lower” something – “the window shade?” we offered, unsure of his meaning. He shook his head, this time we could make out his words, “could you two quiet down?” OOoOOooOhhhh we both blushed a bit to ourselves, looked at each other, and with one look we lost it, both laughing at the ridiculousness of our situation! I haven’t been told to quiet down by a bus driver since…. high school? After some examination of the situation, we determined that it was the layout of the bus seats that allowed our voices to travel directly to the drivers ears, not the annoying, loud, and rambunctious nature of our conversation.

We hiked from Time Square to the Rockefeller Center – a tall fortified building in whose ground floor we found an amazing large DELICIOUS vanilla chocolate ganache filled macaroon. Next, we took ourselves over to The Ritz-Carlton, a most luxurious and elaborate hotel! We walked in up the front steps, totally incognito, with our slightly sweaty toristy tops, back-sacks, complete with hiking shorts and shoes. Not sure if what Kristen found by calling the hotel faculty was true, but according to her, just to get a tour of the place would have been several hundred dollars?! We found an exciting food court on the floor beneath all the fanciness. Artisan breads, gourmet cookie samples, and even Stumptown coffee (YAY Portland!) could be found! We ate the tuna fish that we packed on a whole grain role and mini olive loaf baguette! Of course I just haaaave to comment on the food!

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We toured around Central Park, where, to my delight, I found Balto and to our surprise, a bunch of really odd looking sheep.

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After getting only a little lost, we explored a little Italy – mamma mia, did I want to buy armfuls of scarves and earrings and my mouth watered for a taste of the three course meals advertised by both sign and the waiter-looking-gentlemen standing by them! Next: Chinatown-which was slightly sketchy feeling to me, comparatively… Next we took to ferry (fo freeeee!) to Stanton Island and NEXT we had dindin at this awesome little pub – where I got a delish grilled chicken Greek salad. It was just her and I – on our own, going according to our own fleeting fancies! I felt so free to run around and around and then… I was pooped.

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With tired legs, sweat-salty shirts and shorts, we finally resigned to depart from the bustling city. We thought we had left ourselves with more than enough time to get back to the bus station, but had trouble finding the right subway line to get there… This subline happened to be called the “one” line. I couldn’t help but pun it up, thinking to myself, oh how troublesome it can be to find THE ONE…especially the RIGHT ONE…he he he…everywhere we look, us girls just can’t find THE ONE! I nearly lost it when Kristen ran up to this random guy, “excuse me sir, we are really having trouble finding the one, do you think you could point us in the right direction?” One wantingly helpful gentleman pointed us towards what ended up being a closed entrance to the “one” – line. I snapped a quick pic of Kristen standing under the sign pointing, dismayed at our failure to get to the one, oh the pun, I just canNOT help myself!

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Well we finally did get to the one, which got us to our bus with only three minutes to spare! Still feeling pretty chatty, we sat closer towards the back of the bus on the ride home.

Race Weekend Extravaganza!

So today is the day! The big race day!! Thank goodness I’m not running!!! … Wahhahaha I’m not running *sniff*… As you can tell I’m slightly conflicted about how I feel about this…

At least I had my consolation bagel! If I wasn’t going to have to run, I was going to get my consolation delicious breakfast. Panera has their new season line out-that season line includes the pumpkin bagel, an all time favorite!! I swear I could gain endless weight eating an endless supply of Panera pumpkin bagels! I got to nab this bagel just before getting the ding dong song of wedding bells chiming out of my phone. It was my new-as of 3 weeks now-hubby, Jamesie. “Hey!” he rang in, “so this traffic for the race is really bad – could you drop us off?” Next thing I know, I’m packing up my medical homework, which i had only half heartedly started before his call, refilling my water bottle, and before I could top off my coffee mug, my phone is ringing again, he was there. I hopped in my car and sped off towards the base with my brother and James in tow, zooming past the miles of backed up traffic to get them as close to the start as possible. For a glimmering moment there, as I watched them scamper off towards the start line, I felt that twinge of jealousy, and I could almost feel my adrenaline rushing for them…

Where was I? Oh yes today’s the day-the big race day! I’ll be on the sidelines with my two beautiful sisters-I practiced my screaming cheering holler last night so I should be good to go!

Random interjecting thought here-when I got home last night, my dad told me to say hi to Gracey…twas splendid to pet her soft white coat, she was in moderately good spirits…

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We’re going to be streaming live – our first stop-downtown Fairborn-wherein our Mom, who is running her first marathon, at age 53, after a back surgery about 2 years go, will be crossing the 7 and 8 mile marks. She’ll be going past us first on one side of the road and again one mile later. The goals are to 1. Spot her 2. Get at least one good photo and 3. Hand off her peanutbutter cracker snack!

We just got her first passing and she’s looking strong-operation peanutbutter cracker hand off was slightly shaky but bottom line successful!

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Second passing went by with far more grace-the cracker offer was rejected but I snapped two awesome photos of Mom mid-stride, and a dude on the side lines acted quickly enough to snag up the camera as my younger sister, Mary, threw at him, and managed to get a quality photo of the three of us girls smiling next to Mom as she paused for a moment in her race. A very successful endeavor indeed! Next stop-seeing Johnny Boy and Jamesie finish the half! We have to get on base, park, and walk about a mile – I hope we don’t miss it!

We were in the car and I realized we weren’t going to make it to the finish line in time to see Jamesie! Anne, my older sister, parked the car and I said “see ya!” as I sprinted off to the finish line, trenching through the thick mud and weeds. After 8 minutes of jogging, lugging my heavy purse and jacket, I finally arrived at the final 200 yard dash of the race. I stood there wedged between other yelling fans, staring intently at the oncoming herd of runners. About 5 or 6 minutes later, THERE HE WAS!!! I saw him approaching and screamed his name. Earbuds in-he was totally oblivious. Keeping my holler up, I snapped a pic of him as he passed by, looking focused on the finish as he rounded the corner.

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I think the first words out of his mouth when I found him were, “I’m free!”

The next adventure, after meeting up with Jamesie, was to meet back up with Anne, Mary, and Dad. Dad had been at the finish for a while, having long ago completed his 10k. We were to cheer my brother, John, on, as he pulled in to his finish; this would be his first half marathon! It wasn’t too long after reuniting with the bunch of them, when Mary spied him from a distance, “I see him!” We prepared ourselves accordingly: Mary got the poster in position, Anne helped her with it, and I got my camera ready, struggling to find a better vantage point. Not finding one, I jumped on a thought, “Mary, get on my back!” Without further adieu, she was hoisted on high, mounted atop my shoulders, waving the poster.

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The camera man ran up to catch a clip of the action as we screamed and cheered John on. About two seconds into her sitting on my shoulders I started to feel the intervertebral discs scream at me… As the excitement built and John got closer I could just envision the squishing of everyone of my thoracic gelatinous nucleous pulposus discs-about to rupture and burst into the vertebral canal. This vivid imagery was NOT helping! The second our champion John ran by, I gave a final holler and then called out to James and Dad to assist in the dismount. Thankfully, I did not manage to pop any discs AND Dad some how snapped an awesome action shot of Johnny Boy on my phone!

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Johnny finished in somewhere around 2 hours and 30 minutes and James made just under 2 hours! Considering the training and likelihood of subsequent injury-they did pretty darn well! After this, we all took a moment of respite before standing once again back at the finish line, vigilant this time for mom…

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And it was Mary again to spy the runner, “THERE SHE IS!!!!” John and James angled their cameras in on the distant figure’s direction and used them to confirm: it was in fact Mom! She was joggin’ in, strong and steady. When she came across our way, bounding in past us at the 100 yard mark, we screamed and hollered at the top of our lungs, as she gave a triumphant wave! She continued her race down to the end past the finish line and there we gathered to meet up with her and revel in her victory and squeeze her in tight embrace!

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Proud of all my runners for the day, we walked/hobbled the mile back to the car as the sun began to peek out and stand out from the clouds.

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