No curve was too sharp for them and their bicycle. No puddle was deep enough to stop them. -- Friends by Helme Hein

27 December, 2009

Ski Trip to Hakuba

The mountains outside Nagano received over 40 cm of snow in one night, an early Christmas present for the Japanese Alps ski resorts. On a tip that we should travel in Japan before the Japanese go on holiday leading up New Years, we took off for the Hakuba Happo One ski resort to get away from the city (I've noticed a trend in all our vacations...get us out of the city!).

Our friend Scottish John joined us and gave me some relief from the pressure of trying to master skiing quick enough to go down the hill with James. He's fearless on his board and I am barely more than a beginner on a pair of skis. I spent one day practicing some turns, but was too wrecked to try again the next day, or not so willing to shell out another $90 to fall on my arse.

The Japanese Alps are breathtaking. They seem to extend forever across the valley and your eye just can't take it all in, or understand their vastness. The snow was deep and heavy at times and the sun shone brightly most of the time we were there. And even better, the resort was nearly empty! Having the chance to practice my beginner skills without the risk of snowboards ramming me in the back is invaluable.

The 1998 Olympic ski jump was outside our hotel, but it was hard to believe this sleepy little town was once bustling with Olympic prospects.

Each night we had great food, from Korean BBQ (yakiniku) to tofu, edamame, fresh fish and warm sake. We had laughs, great conversation and enjoyed the peacefulness of the stars in the sky and the crisp air at night. The resort is very popular with Australians and Kiwis coming to enjoy the Japanese powder and we met some interesting characters, including Zero the Doberman, who joined us at the bar.

We're back at home now. It's a bit warmer in Tokyo than when we left. Since we traveled on Christmas Day, we are going to celebrate today with fondue after calling family and friends over Skype. The wonders of the internet allow us to watch our nieces and nephews open gifts from across the globe.

Even though we feel so fortunate to be able to celebrate in our own style where ever we are in the world, we always feel a bit sad on the big day when we realize that Christmas is for being together, and we are so far away.

25 December, 2009

So this is Christmas...and what have we done?

Our neighbor's sign says it graciously...

Our poor sweet little tree says it comically...

But the smile on Santa-San's face says it best...
Merry Christmas!

A Sunny Day in Shinjuku

By the 3rd day of being cooped up in the house at the start of our winter break, we were ready to break free. The weather in Tokyo has been so miserably cold, but the blue skies beckon you to go outside, despite the wind chill factor on your bicycle.

We went to the Nikon Plaza to get James' camera repaired and were greeted with this view of the city from the 28th floor of the L tower in Shinjuku.

This is just one of 15 shots I took to create a panoramic view of the city, all of which look extremely similar to this one. This gray soup never quits. The smog was particularly bad this day...although it's not always this visible.

A street in Kabukicho, Tokyo's red light district, hours before the streets become crowded with thousands of salary men and office workers entertaining clients after hours.

Ladies, which one of these men would you like to chat with, have pour you drinks and tell you how beautiful and smart you are? For an entry fee of 5000 Yen ($50), you can take your pick!

James in the great divide...

04 December, 2009

Go Ducks!

From James's classroom:
The girls cheered when the Ducks won...time differences make it difficult to enjoy the game with beer and nachos.

02 December, 2009

Coco Farms Harvest Festival

In early November we were blessed with another sunny day and the chance to train it out to Ashikaga to Coco Farms and their annual harvest festival. Coco Farms is one of the top producing Japanese wineries, a big name in a growing business, and is unique because it is run almost exclusively by autistic workers. You can read more about it here, but it's an inspiring story and the winery produces some really nice wines.

The hill is steep, about a 35 degree angle and was packed with drunk Japanese soaking up the sun.

Charity, Craig, Mich, Ashley and I enjoyed wine, goat cheese and crackers in the vineyard.

On the train back home we cracked the bottle of sparkling grape juice.

An Ode to Oregon

I don't think most people want to honeymoon in their home state, but we couldn't wait to be on the open road in Oregon with nothing but the trees, mountains and coast as our destination. We spent a day in Portland with friends at the Kennedy School, then drove to the coast to get some fresh air.

A sunny day at the Oregon coast is a rare treat any time of the year, but to have 2 blue sky, warm weather days in November was unbelievable.

The view of Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock from our hotel room, complete with steam shower, jetted tub with views, and the most comfortable tempurpedic bed I've ever slept in (*the claim that you can set a wine glass on the bed and jump on it at the same time without the wine spilling is true, we tested it)

It felt like the clouds parted, the sea went out to Japan and the birds came to feast. The day was meant for us.

At least 300 starfish were attached to the rocks around Haystack Rock. In all the rainy days I spent at the Oregon Coast growing up, I've only seen 2 or 3 starfish until this day.

James is also one to never let a honeymoon get in the way of writing university papers...

In Portland, we enjoyed a casual movie while we waited for our room at the Jupiter Hotel to open at midnight.

On our way to Bend, stopped at Detroit Lake. Another view of James working on his honeymoon. We loved the Prius for our roadtrip--comfortable and smooth. Too bad it had California plates.

a riverside break in the mountains

Since we've been back in Japan we've celebrated our marriage with the nuns, our fellow teachers and friends. We feel so blessed to start our lives together in a way that was filled with love, warmth and support.

A Toast to Family & Friends

Oh how good they tasted...

I'm sure that I heard from others about the overwhelming feeling of love that is present at their weddings, but I never fully understood it until we were married. We both were amazed with the outpouring of love from people who came to McMinnville from all corners of our lives--from Oregon to Switzerland to Bosnia to Japan and all across the US--our cheeks hurt from smiling and laughing so much.

we welcomed old cousins and new cousins

elves ran around...

men joked

friends gabbed

the guest book was decorated

college friends and 2 new tykes celebrated

*thanks to Shawn we have these pictures and an awesome guestbook

people drank

family reunited

cute creatures dashed about

toasts were made, people were roasted

tears were shed

and, I hope, people had fun.

a parting shot of the cupcakes that were so delicious