Saturday, June 30

Can't wait for August 2, 2013!

There are countless wedding themed blogs, magazines, and books out there that have written posts, articles, and chapters on why couples should consider getting engagement photos taken. 

After getting ours taken in Old Town Chicago - on the last day of our undergrad college experience and just a month after getting engaged - I can condense the other blogs/magazines/books down to one piece of advice: Their worth is priceless!
 Getting the photos taken is such an awesome memory to have together, both the experience and the finished product afterwards!!

Once the slight stress of figuring out what to wear, where to have the photos taken, which photographer you are going to pick, what kind of photos are you looking for...etc, etc, all said and done - the best part is that its all part of the adventure and special time of being engaged and getting ready for happily ever after!

[Read how he proposed here: The Proposal]

A full album with more photos can be found here: Our Engagement Session
All photo credit goes to Modern Image Studios

Wednesday, June 27

Work it out.

Move to St. Louis - check.
Start work as an intern by spending the week at camp with my new church - check.
Welcome BBQ - check.

Get internet set-up in my apartment [thanks in big part to my awesome fiancé sitting on the phone with AT&T many a time] - check.
Trying to get my modem for my internet all up and running - more time consuming than one would think!

First day of work in the office? CHECK.

The start of my first day in the office as an intern

As I start my new job, especially when this past week it involved spending time simply building relationships full time for a week, I can't help but consider the word "work". Right now, it is part of so many different parts of my life: Spiritually, daily, continually, emotionally, physically....these are all things in my life that involve the word 'work' in some way.

I WORK out. Being back from camp, not moving, not overseas...etc, now means I have zero excuses to develop a new workout routine here :) Just got back from the gym literally a few minutes ago, and it felt great honestly to spend time and energy working out. Tomorrow morning - EARLY - I am going to  head over to the gym and probably get my butt kicked at a spinning class! [2 ladies from staff at church, and another friend are going to be there too, we are all so brave!] I think it will be a lot of least as fun as anything can be at 5:30 in the morning. [don't over think that time for those of you who know what I'm like in the morning please!]

Another way 'work' is in my life is that I now get to say I am going to WORK. Best part about this? (besides no more classes for right now) is that what I get to do is not just a job. My work, is focused on serving & loving others...right now especially, a lot of my 'work' is forming and building new relationships.

God is WORKING to continue to teach, shape, and mold my faith. I LOVE that some of the ways He is doing this happen as part of my 'work' day...I am currently reading Richard Foster's book Prayer - talk about a spiritual 'work out'!! [cheesy sounding? maybe. valid? yes.]

A few non-WORK things I have gotten a chance to do since getting back from camp include:

  • getting my library card!
  • a trip to The Muny which is an awesome outdoor theater here in St. Louis, a family from church took me with them to see Throughly Modern Millie this past weekend. We had a picnic beforehand and then enjoyed the show :) 
Getting ready for the show at The Muny
  • a grocery store outing, which was slightly intimidating because I have spent the last 4 years learning the layout of the grocery store by Concordia and almost had that down - now I am back to square #1 here haha
While all of the above may not sound like the greatest adventures or anything, its fun to get to explore the area I now call home! :)

This upcoming weekend I will post Adam & my engagement photos!! AHHH :) 

Monday, June 18

New Beginnings

Kirkwood, MO - Home Sweet Home

As of last Tuesday evening, I officially became a resident of the lovely St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood, and as of this past weekend, I officially became the DCE Intern of Concordia Lutheran Church! 

Lots to share about all of the new beginnings going on - but FIRST...I can't wait any longer to share some of our engagement photos!!!!!!

Engagement Session: Sneak Peak

We took our engagement photos in a part of downtown Chicago known as Old Town during our last week of school in May. Our photos were finished while we were in Japan and with so much going on - there as barely been time to share how excited we are about having our photos finished!! Still lots to share - so here is a sneak peak of our engagement session :)

Photo credit: Modern Image Studios

Will share more later on, promise :)

Back to Kirkwood...

Here is how my move went down:

Step #1: Pack up all my stuff [which I left in Chicago while we were in Japan], drive down to St. Louis - with the help of Adam, my Mom, and two of my younger brothers

Step #2: Have AWESOME people & staff from my new church help my family & I move all of my boxes and belonging up to my apartment [which is on the 4th floor of my building...whew!]

Step #3: Explore some of Kirkwood & St. Louis [much needed breaks from unpacking/setting up my apartment]

Step #4: Date night with Adam :)

Step #5: Get inducted at all of my church's services over the weekend [wonderful to have Adam, some of his family & mine all here to share the excitement with me]

Step #6: Start being an intern!!! Going to camp all week with my church - will share adventures from my week upon our return this weekend!

Pictures from my new St. Louis life...

Packing for the move - Ted Drewes visit - Stop by the Seminary

Date night - cooking my first dinner in my new apartment!
Getting all set up :)

Grant's Farm & The St. Louis Zoo

First weekend at church!
Family :)

Thursday, June 14

Getting home.

Monday - June 11th

Whew. After such an awesome time with Allison & John these last few weeks, getting ready to leave on Monday morning was definitely something we were all trying to avoid. John had to head into work for the day so he would be unable to take us all the way to the airport with Allison - therefore at 6:45am we were all up to say our goodbyes to him! 

After saying goodbye to John, breakfast and working out was next on the list - none of which managed to actually delay our leaving - so after double extra checking that we had everything it was finally time to head off to the airport. One of Allison's friends helped to drive us and all of our luggage and we made our last drive off of base and through Naha. Had a little mix up as we were trying to check bags & get our boarding passes, the ticket counter told us that our itinerary did not match up with the tickets the computer was showing we had - our itinerary said we were supposed to leave Los Angeles at 12:51 PM, there's was saying the flight wasn't actually until 12:51 AM - the language barrier did not help this get figured out any faster, but eventually we had our bags checked and tickets in hand. This delay [plus traffic getting to the airport] by that point added up to a very quick goodbye to Allison at the airport. Goodbye is always the worst, BUT we still couldn't be more thankful we had been able to spend time visiting!!

The flight from Okinawa to Tokyo was fairly un-eventful, getting into Tokyo proved to be easy as well. Once we got on our plane that we would be taking from Tokyo to Los Angeles we were all pretty excited - lots of fun amenities - more leg room than our flight over, huge TV screens, fun remotes for each person [seat-to-seat texting between the tvs], and we were all sitting next to each other [the flight over we were sitting Adam & I in a row in front of everyone else]. My favorite part of the flight was the after dinner mini-Haagen Daas ice cream that EACH person got - AWESOME!

Eventually we landed in Los Angeles - kind of surreal to all of the sudden be back in the US - all of the signs were in English - woohoo! Our flight from Tokyo got into the airport a little bit late so when we got off of the plane we were given express passes to help us get through immigration/customs as quickly as possible. Even with passes the lines were still kind of long, but we all got through with no problems - we headed to grab our bags, got them re-scanned and re-checked - then it was time to find our last gate. 

Let's just say gate finding was easier said then done. We managed to go to the wrong terminal AND airline a couple of times - which eventually resulted in us missing our last flight. Our itinerary said we were flying US Airways [or so we thought] which meant we originally had to take a bus from terminal 4 to terminal 1. We got all the way to terminal 1 when we learned that our itinerary - in smaller font - under US Airways said we were actually flying a branch of United - which was in Terminal 7 - which meant waiting for the bus to drive us to the LAST terminal of the airport. This chain of events was followed by an hour spent at the United ticket counter getting our flight figured out, getting put on a plane that was scheduled for take-off at 10pm LA time, getting into Chicago at 4am central time, going through security, killing time for the afternoon, napping, Adam & his mom getting us on an earlier flight [YAY!]. 

Our 'earlier' flight got delayed a couple of times, our gate changed, but finally at 8pm LA time we were boarding our last flight. Many times we had the discussion about how we would rather have all this mix up getting home AFTER we had seen John & Allison - than when we were on our way out!

The last flight was mostly uneventful - we did have a passenger pass out around 1am - Adam's Dad was sitting close by and after the flight attendants had paged the plane to see if any doctors/nurses/EMTs were on board [there were none] - his Dad sat with the guy while the flight attendants gave him oxygen/water/food for the rest of the flight. 2am - landed in Chicago! Went to hunt down our bags which had arrived earlier at 7pm with the flight we had originally been scheduled on. Grabbed a taxi - head to get our cars from Concordia [where we had parked them while we had been gone]. Probably because we were all EXHAUSTED - but we ended up leaving 2 pieces of luggage in the taxi, which we didn't realize until we had our cars packed up to leave and the taxi was long gone. Quickly drove back out to the airport and thankfully the cab was still there [I guess he didn't have too many other places to be at 3:30 in the morning]. 

Now it was time for the last goodbyes of this trip - Adam & I were headed to a hotel to meet up with my Mom & 2 of my younger brothers [My move to St. Louis at this point was literally hours away from beginning] and Mr. & Mrs. Rodriguez and Andrew were headed home to Seymour, IN. 

Adam & I got to the hotel with my family at 4:30am - showered and in bed by 5am. The rest of our Japan crew got into Seymour at around 8:30am - bed was asap after that!

I hope you are not half as exhausted reading all of that craziness as we were in the middle of it - even writing it all out now I am still kinda shocked at everything that ensued on our return trip! 

Currently, I am typing this post from my NEW home - Kirkwood, MO - I am still working on getting internet set up, so no pictures from the end of our trip on here BUT if you haven't seen them yet, here is a link to a photo album of most of the pictures from our trip:

Japan pictures!

The "Japan" link at the top of my blog has all of the posts from our trip linked in order in case you missed any :) 

Can't wait to share about my move to St. Louis! God is great & we are all blessed!!! 

Sunday, June 10

Our Last Weekend on Island

Saturday - June 9th [continued] per my last post - we spent our Saturday night here combining a very Japanese activity with a very Marine one. We have been talking about getting sushi all week, so I was super excited to finally get to go and have some! John & Allison took us to one of their favorite sushi places here on the island - the Okinawa Kami Sushi Bar - we sat again at the traditional Japanese tables [which means taking our shoes off and sitting on the floor]. Since sushi was a new thing for most of the family, we left the ordering up to John & Allison. They ordered a TON of different types of sushi rolls - including one that the waiter finished making using a blow torch once it was out at the table [a Norwegian roll]. Despite some reservations about sushi in general, whether or not it would be filling or even edible, a good time was had by all and the sushi [in my opinion] was AMAZING. The company wasn't so bad either ;)

[Also: we have really stepped up our chopstick skills since getting here - Andrew has probably picked up using them the fastest/most naturally, he is kinda awesome at using chopsticks, the rest of us kinda get by so we can eat, now that its the end of the week we just drop stuff less!]

After dinner, John & Allison had gotten tickets for us to go to a concert at the the Okinawa Cultural Center and see the The III Marine Expeditionary Force [MEF] Band - Friendship Summer Concert. Quite full from dinner, we headed over to the concert - the cultural center is a building we have been driving past all week and the outside is super cool so we were looking forward to both the concert & getting to see the inside of the building. 

The concert was spectacular. Selections of music included everything from pieces by John Philip Sousa to the Bohemian Rhapsody by Freddie Mercury. The band and it's conductors & Drum Major were incredibly talented and entertaining! We saw a little bit of everything, they even started one piece with a bagpipes player. Before intermission one of the conductors introduced the band and shared with us that some of the members have been on island anywhere from arriving there THAT DAY to a couple of years. The youngest band member was 18! The concert ended with a standing ovation from the audience and the band then marched out into the audience to play Stars & Stripes. 

Our concert adventure was followed by a trip to get some ice cream to end our evening - Blue Seal Ice Cream is EVERYWHERE here and there is one somewhat close to where John & Allison live so we stopped in. One flavor they had available was called "Momo" which was some kind of peach ice cream - some of us tried that - Andrew tried to order oreos on top of his ice cream, thinking they would come as a crushed topping - we all got a little laugh when his ice cream came out with two whole oreos stuck on the top! 

5k + beach + BIG sushi dinner + concert + ice cream = BEDTIME. 

Sunday - June 10th

As of Sunday we had officially been on island for over a week! Woohoo! First thing in the morning we headed to Okinawa Lutheran Church again for just their English service this time. Very cool to see the Lutheran church in another country!

After church, we stopped by Kadena - the largest US air force base - for a quick tour and to visit some of their stores on base. Kadena was really cool to see, we have been driving past it since getting on the island and the Rodriguez's have close family friends who were stationed here on the island at Kadena at one point so it was also neat to see a part of their life when they had been in Okinawa!

Since Sunday was our last full day together and we needed to start preparing to leave - all of our activities were fairly low key - after Kadena we went to SEGA - something Andrew was really looking forward too. SEGA is kind of like Chuck E Cheese/Dave & Busters on steroids!! Very loud, but lots of fun! Some of the games were kind of tough to figure out since all of the signs & instructions were in Japanese but that was all part of the experience :)

The boys figured this game out just fine :)

The rest of the afternoon was spent packing, doing laundry, grocery store run...just general preparations for our upcoming flights home & John and Allison's week ahead. 

We enjoyed watching a movie, cooking, eating, and spending time together - including a marathon game of catchphrase which lasted until we were all too tired to figure out how to describe some of even the most simple words!

Monday  - June 11th

Today had a bittersweet start with saying our goodbyes to John before he had to leave for work this morning. We have only a few hours left here with Allison before it will be time to pack up the car and head to the airport and being our journey back to the states. What a wonderful blessing to get to see Allison & John and for them to share what their life here in Okinawa is like!! They have been such gracious hosts as we have taken over their apartment for the last week - and its been fun to see them enjoy married life together so much :)

As we head back to the states, again, please continue to keep our safe travels in your prayers - I know we are all looking forward to sharing about our trip in person with many of you upon our return! 

Saturday, June 9

We ran a race!

Friday - June 8th

Nakaguasuku was the name of the game for our morning! Very large, sprawling castle ruins here on the island. Okinawa used to be its own country under the Ryukyu Kingdom - whose castle leftovers we spent the morning exploring. This was also cool because we could see both sides of the island - the Pacific Ocean side AND the East China Sea side from the top of the ruins. Crazy thing we learned at the castle was that the parts of the stone walls still remaining are currently being restored literally stone by stone. As walls are taken down to be rebuilt, the stones are numbered so that they can be replaced EXACTLY as they were taken down. We 
all agreed none of us would want that job!

As we were leaving Nakaguasuku, 1st bonus of the day: we learned that John was given the afternoon off from work so he would be able to join our adventures for the day earlier than we had originally thought he would! So we promptly left the castle ruins and headed to run a few quick errands and meet up with John. We grabbed lunch and then it was time to head to the much anticipated [at least for me!] Kokusai Street - which is downtown in the city of Naha [south on the island]

...Kokusai Street may have been more of an adventure than Allison & John had originally thought it would be...7 people [5 of which had never been there before] ended up taking around 4 hours to visit all of the different stores and markets to be found. 2nd bonus of the day: We made a McDonalds pit stop, the quality of the french fries and coca-colas being served, at least on Kokusai Street, was up to par!
Back to the four hour part - we were all quite shopped out and walked out I think. It was a warm Okinawa day, and while many of the stores had air conditioning, there were also many that did not. Excited about our purchases, it was then DEFINITELY time for dinner. 

We have been looking forward to trying a curry place that John & Allison love called Cocos, so it did not take much deciding that it was a good night for a visit.

I'm happy to report it was just as tasty as they had advertised! You pick your dish and then pick what level of spice you want in your curry sauce on a scale of 1-10. Level 1 anyone would be able to eat - even if you don't particularly like spicy/hot food. Once you get past Level 1 however things heat up rather quickly. The restaurant will not let a customer order a hotter sauce than 5 if they have never done so before. No one from our group ordered higher than a 4. 3rd bonus of the day: Origami activity bucket at dinner!

Saturday - June 9th

As I write this, it is currently late Saturday afternoon here in Japan. So far today we have:

#1. Run a 5K on Futenma [another base here on the island]
Quite a hot morning & a hilly course but a successful start to the day nonetheless :)

After our race! :)

#2. Headed back to the beach [tried to snorkel but the water was really rough today]

#3...and now we are all getting ready for the night ahead [we are going out for sushi & a Marine Corps Band Concert]...which is why I have a little time/energy to write about our last day or so! 

[Much love to all of our family & friends stateside & everywhere else!]

Thursday, June 7

Let's go to the beach!

Still going strong here in Japan! The weather has been progressively getting better [aka sunnier] since we have gotten on the island. Here are our adventures from the last two days:

Wednesday - June 6th

Adventure #1: Ocean Expo Park & The Churaumi Aquarium

On our way to the aquarium we of course drove past more beautiful sights here on the island and stopped for lunch at a very traditional Japanese soba restaurant. [which meant taking our shoes off before sitting down, low tables, and of course chopsticks!] No clue what we all ordered for the most part, so pictures on the menu were helpful and the food ended up being delicious :)

Driving and lunch adventures of the day!

The aquarium itself was by far awesome beyond words!! The structure of the aquarium itself and the location is breathtaking. It took a while to get through the aquarium, mainly because all of the fish were so colorful and interesting to see! We stayed at one of the tanks during a feeding time and it seemed that the number of fish in the tank tripled once the food came out. After going through a few more exhibits - including one with fish that literally glowed in the dark - we got to THE tank! This tank, known as the Kuroshio Tank, is literally one of the largest in the world and easily the most amazing and beautiful to see! We spent a good long while at this tank mesmerized by all of the gigantic animals inside. After the Kuroshio Tank we visited the shark tank, and then headed to the dolphin show. Dolphin show = SWEETTTT! Despite the fact that the entire show was in Japanese it was easily one of the best dolphin shows any of us had ever seen - the fact that it was overlooking the water didn't hurt either :) The Ocean Expo Park had its own beach [go figure!] so after the dolphin show, we stopped by the sea turtle tanks and the manatee tanks, and spent the next hour or so relaxing at the beach before heading back down the island to go home.

Unbelievable = everything at this aquarium! [This group of pictures is courtesy of Allison, her camera took much nicer pictures of the tanks here than mine did]
Crazy beautiful! [these are back to my camera]

Thursday - June 7th

Adventure #2: BEACH DAY at Torii Beach

Between the typhoon and a lot of overcast days that followed, we had not quite made it to the beach on a sunny yet. Had several trips to the beach that involved rain and/or many dark clouds and water conditions that did not allow for swimming...which meant yesterday's beach trip was much anticipated and very exciting to have accomplished :)

The water conditions allowed for the boys to spend a good amount of the morning snorkeling and Allison & I ventured out in a kayak. [We quickly found out how NOT to steer a kayak, and not so quickly figured out how to paddle somewhat straight - we may have spent a lot of time going in circles!]

We had lunch on the beach, Andrew & Mrs. Rodriguez tested out the water slide, and we all enjoyed reading/napping/relaxing throughout the day!

Beach day :)
The rest of our day after the beach was low-key as well. We visited a local fish market to pick up fresh salmon for dinner, once John got home we all worked out either at the gym or running, and then it was time to enjoy the salmon from the market. One word = DELICIOUS. 

So that pretty much brings up to our today [Currently Friday morning here]. Planned adventures for the day include: Fukeshen Gardens, Nakaguasuku [castle ruins here where you can see both sides of the island from the top], and Kokusai street [aka shopping!]. 

Tuesday, June 5

Adam & The Snake.

For whatever reason, I am currently up [its 5am on Wednesday morning here] and motivated to blog about our day yesterday. So since this post will only have one day of adventure I will make an effort to maybe shorten your reading! Still tons of pictures though don't worry :)

Tuesday - June 5

Okinawa World

Yesterday morning is when the typhoon officially rolled through, so we all were up early to watch the high winds and heavy rain sweep through, then most of us went back to bed for a little so overall we ended up having a fairly leisurely start to our day. [Grits, eggs, and toast for breakfast!! Yum!]

Our big adventure for the day was a trip to Okinawa World - this [like Nago Pineapple Park] is a place John & Allison had not gone before, but was recommended by many of their friends here who have also had family in town. The description from their website it probably the most helpful in explaining what Okinawa World is [By theme park, they mean the park had an overall theme to it - not American theme park with roller coasters]: 

"Okinawa World is Okinawa Prefecture's foremost theme park and presents the local history, culture and nature all in one location. The parks main attraction is Gyokusendo. 5000meter long cave that was formed approximately 300,000 years ago, it offers today a 890-meter promenade to the public. Next-door is the Habu Park, a center that has no secrets about Okinawa's venomous snake. There is also a scenic village of old time Okinawa and workshops that allow experiencing Okinawa's traditional industrial heritage and local folk craft such as glass blowing and pottery. "

Many, many beautiful and interesting things to see and experience here!! Below are pictures from their Tropical Garden, their traditional craft village, and the huge cool tree in the center is at the entrance to their cave.

Some beautiful things we saw at Okinawa World!

Some more cool things [Clockwise from top L: Adam measured up next to a snake, inside of the entrance to the cave, glass blown art, Japanese fortunes, glass blowing, Adam with Habu sake - a type of alcohol - in the making, more glass art, and their on site brewery]

We had fun exploring the different things Okinawa World had - even encountering a variety of unique signs/things that you don't see everyday in the states. Ladies - the bottom left picture is instructions for the WOMEN'S toilets here... 
Check out the sushi Spam we found & Andrew even ordered some delicious french fries while we were there!

In the crafting village there were many different artisans - one of which was slightly more modern - a photographer! We took a break from exploring Okinawa World to have some fun dressing up in traditional Japanese outfits :)

Looking pretty great :)

It was a little overcast yesterday - but nice enough that we were leisurely walking through Okinawa World - Adam even found a little down time to keep reading his book (Debbie, if you are reading this, please be proud!!)

Rockstar DCE!
Last, but not least, an explanation of the title of this post - Adam & The Snake.

When we entered Okinawa World, one of the first areas to go through it their Habu Park - basically snake central 101. The Habu is a type of snake found here in Japan - and on the island of Okinawa, they have tons of other kinds of snakes here as we learned touring through their museum and past tanks literally full of live snakes. Now to appreciate this overall it is important to understand that saying Adam is TERRIFIED of snakes does not begin to cover his feelings of disgust, hatred, and fear towards these animals - they are not his favorites. But being a trooper, he was walking through Habu Park and even went with us to the snake show they had! The show was interesting because it was all in Japanese so we only vaguely knew what was going on the entire time the lady was presenting. They had a laminated sheet in English with a general explanation of what was going on - but that only got us so far! After seeing a variety of live snakes get tossed around on stage and a race between a mongoose and a snake - the show was basically over. After the show ended, we then had the 'opportunity' to get our photo taken with a large python. This event easily turned into the most hilarious and priceless part of our day - we were all practically crying we were laughing so hard...I will let the pictures speak for themselves :)
Again *DISCLAIMER* Adam really really does not like snakes x 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000...

We were both shaking after this photo op, but seriously I still die laughing looking at these photos :)

Everyone else had a slightly more low-key snake holding experience:

After all of the Okinawa World adventures - we headed home to grab our stuff for the beach. We spend the late afternoon reading on the beach before coming home for dinner & a few games of Apples to Apples before we all headed off to bed.

Today's plan: Going to the Ocean Expo Park - which features the Churaumi Aquarium!