Saturday, January 3, 2015

First Day of Skiiing/Boarding

We're back! It's been many consecutive years that we've returned to our favorite snow destination and it's Niseko. Why? There's great powder snow, amazing restaurants, soothing onsens and most of all, the fun people we get to spend time with on our winter holiday. It makes all the difference to enjoy the snowy outdoors with others who enjoy the same.

We've reconnected with Dick and Miguel Brostrom yesterday on the slopes, along with Andrew. Yesterday, it snowed the entire day making the slopes soft and pillowy. Very few icy patches so no falls!  We returned to Boyoso (aka A Frame) to dine at our favorite lunch spot where I had a kani-don (boiled king crab on rice). It was as delicious as expected.
More friends arrive today so there will be more stories and adventures ahead.
Happy 50th Niseko and Happy 2015!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2015...Happy New Year!

January 1, 2015

In my lifetime, there have bee 46 New Year's celebrations and I'm grateful to experience today's. Oshogatsu is Japan's largest holiday and how fitting it is for us to travel to our most favorite destination... Niseko!

As the number of celebrations coincide directly with my age, I've come to truly appreciate the essence of life. In Niseko, life is simple, active and harmonious, which is not the norm in our daily lives. Each year, we get the opportunity to spend a couple weeks inhabiting the snow culture which consists of a series of comfortable rituals that energize the mind, body and spirit.

In the morning, we wake to eat a big, hot & hearty breakfast while checking the snow and wind conditions. Next, we head out the door bundled up in our thermals, down, boots, helmets, gloves, scarves and armed with either a snowboard or skis & poles. We ride up to the top of the mountain and descend down the various slopes until a late lunch where the group congregates to share tales of yard sales, aka crashes, and other adventures. Lunch in itelf, is atypical.  My stomach yearns for crab ramen, crab on rice or a tasty curry after the morning ski session.  The afternoon session lasts a couple more hours until the body's chill factor determines when it's ready to head back to the house and sit next to the fireplace with a cup of steaming hot tea.

Dinner is a culinary delight but prior to that, we satiate our aching muscles with a dip into a thermal onsen, one that is located outdoors so that our heads are sprinkled in snow flakes while our bodies remain precariously hot in the 40 C degree therapeutic bath. Horse mackerel, snow crab, sashimi, salmon, fresh vegetables and unique Japanese creations adorn our dinner plates until we walk out of the restaurant with our bellies full. When we return to the house, it's game, dice, board games before it's time for bed. The next day, it's a repeat. 

The best part of the day is not necessarily skiing, boarding or dining. It's the precious time we share with each other. For Russ and me, it's couple time and family time. Our wonderful group of friends who meet up in Niseko recognize the significance of simply enjoying each other's company by spending quality time on the slopes and in the house creating lasting memories.

Photos from this morning's flight...time to rest! Great to have our own rows.
A peak go Mt. Fuji in the distance.

Now at Narita Airport after eating some delicious ramen.

Friday, May 16, 2014


Blogging has its seasons and for the last year ~ since our last trip to Europe, the frequency of my blogs have waned considerably. It's not that I don't have topics on my mind or ideas to communicate, but it's overlooked as my days are filled with other things.

Last week, we had a nice date night at Restaurant 360 before we went to see the Mt. Carmel School Play, "The Little Mermaid". Up on the 8th floor, the restaurant revolves around the center axis, moving one rotation per hour. We had a nice glimpse of sunset over the Philippine Sea as we ate our burger and steak dinner.

The days turn into weeks and then to months. It's already mid May and the year is flashing by.  After our Christmas /New Year's holiday in Niseko, it's go-go-go with events and activities galore.

Russ returned to his youth volleyball coaching and clinics and I went on the quest to do the three triathlons in March-April.  Marriage Encounter is a huge part of our lives as we invest in couples who want to strengthen their marriages as we lead two separate home groups: Love Languages & Steps.
ME provides us equally with a sense of fulfillment in community. We feel loved and supported in this ministry and thoroughly enjoy the hours we invest into the lives of our couples & their families.

Spin classes have changed for me as I've started formally instructing in the last two months.  From student to teacher, I've learned to make classes that are challenging, fun and innovative, by watching the other instructors and learning from them.  Teaching is a wonderful way to learn as well. Each class is a lesson in itself on how to communicate to the members, music selection and introducing new moves.

DIY. I'll do another posting on DIY but I enjoy reusing things - from coffee grounds, citris peels, vegetable ends. In the last few months I've made:

  • vegetable broth. Take all the veggie ends that you normally discard into a plastic container and then boil in a quart of water to make your own sodium-free broth.
  • coffee grounds. Several uses - for the ashtray, outside plants & herbs, deep conditioning treatment mixed with coconut oil & conditioner.
  • citris peels. Save them & collect them in a jar and add regular white vinegar to make a citris cleaner or hair rinse. Let the peels soak in the jar for at least 2 weeks. No need to buy countertop cleaners again.
There's a lot more... but again, I'll introduce in other posts.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, April 4, 2014

XTERRA Guam Race Report

The 10th Annual XTERRA Guam Championships was my fitness resolution which I made and committed on January 1st while in Niseko, enjoying the fresh powder snow and sensational Japanese cuisine. I chose a concrete goal ~ an off road triathlon which would require me to swim 1.5km, mountain bike 30km and run 8km. It's been several years (at least 5) since I've completed a full triathlon due to my prolonged injuries from my shoulder and knee. It's been fantastic to get back into training shape with incremental improvements in the water and the bike.

 I ventured to Guam alone as Russ had to a work camping trip last weekend so I was a bit nervous about preparing for the race alone. Two days before the race, I got on the bike course, where the infamous red dirt covers at least 10km of the bike course through its hills and drops. 
Racing XTERRA is an adventure because we get to race alongside professional triathletes who are incredibly fast as well as kind.  Renata Bucher is a long-time friend who's visited Saipan about 10 times and we've also traveled to Switzerland to see her as well. XTERRA brings friends together from across the globe. By the way, Renata won XTERRA Philipinnes and XTERRA Guam!

 A race is not a race without proper nourishment. Paul, front right, made THE BEST pre-race meal with two delicious and healthy salads, plus grilled fish, chicken and steak. Yum! It was delicious and I'm sure it helped me feel good throughout the race.
 Last Saturday morning, I awoke at 4:30am to eat breakfast and drive 20 minutes to Port Authority Beach for the start of XTERRA Guam. I prepared all my bags and gear the night before and wanted to have a solid race where I could finish within a reasonable time.

 The swim was quite good ~ two laps of 750 meters and I surprised myself by finishing 39th out of 117. From the swim, I hopped onto my bike, prayed and managed to get through the tough technical sections. My bike shoe separated from the sole so the cleat was stuck to the pedal while I tried to get out of it. Unfortunately, my shoe did not cooperate which made for at least 5-6 big crashes on the dirt. Yes, there was blood and lots of bruises, but no major injuries ~ thankfully.
 The run portion was the last part and I ran/walked through the jungle/river course. For the infamous waterfall, I scooted down on my butt, wearing my bike gloves and waded through the chest high waters to eventually reach the finish line.
I smiled throughout the race because I was enjoying the moment. Yes, it was exhausting, tough and dirty, but it also was fun because I made it my goal to just finish. And, I did in 4 hours 43 minutes!
My good friends, Tyce and Renata were there at the finish.
 Here you can see how my bike shoe separated from the sole. The sole has a metal plate which connects to the pedal. Because it wouldn't disconnect, I couldn't get off my bike when I needed to stop. My solution... I just bought a new pair of bike shoes for the XTERRA Saipan race tomorrow.
 The Stewart's were my homestay hosts last weekend and they were so wonderful. What an amazing family! Thank you so much for allowing me to spend time there and enjoy the comforts and company of your beautiful home.

Tomorrow... XTERRA Saipan where Russ and I will both race in the Sports Division.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Nozawa Onsen Trip

It's been way too long since I've blogged. There must be a "season" for blogging and a season to remain silent. Life comes in waves of adventures and activity and we've enjoyed the first 2.5 months of 2014. Wow, it's gone by fast!

This year is special for us as we finally have good health in terms of healthy joints. For the last 10 years, one or both of us have suffered with bad hips, shoulders and knees. We're thankful that we've recovered and can fully enjoy our favorite winter sports: skiing and snowboarding.

For the first time, we decided to meet old PIC friends in Nozawa Onsen, a quaint village in northern Nagano for a ski trip. We landed in Narita, took the Narita Express to Tokyo Station and then the shinkansen to Nagano station, an express bus to Nozawa Onsen and finally a taxi to the Kamoshika Lodge, located just meters from the lifts.

Gardner had arranged the accommodation for us and we shared the Lodge with a few other groups, one being a famous New Zealand Band called Shapeshifter! They were performing that weekend in Hakuba for the Snow Splash.

 This was Russ' second trip to Nagano, but first on the shinansen. It took roughly 75 minutes from Tokyo... not bad.
 Upon arrival, we took a walking tour of the village and checked out the interesting snow sculptures.
 The weather was on the warm side so we didn't need to bundle up as we usually do in Niseko.
 Nozawa Onsen is completely different from Niseko and it has retained its authentic character.
 There are 13 public free onsens in the Village, run by the Village citizens. They're nice on the outside but very basic on the inside with two baths: super hot and excruciatingly burning hot water. There is also a water spigot to help cool down and that's it. No stool, no shampoo, hand-held shower or hairdryer. Our first night's experience was unique in that we thought we could relax in the onsen for an hour. Little did we know that we would hardly be able to stand the "Lukewarm" water which was 45degrees C. Our long soak in the onsen diminished into a 20 minute clean and go. I couldn't wash my hair as there was no hairdryer and I didn't want to walk around in the cold with wet hair. For the next onsen visits, we went to the Paid ones for 500-700 yen, well worth the price.
 We were fortunate to ski the first day under a blue-bird sky with Shoji & Chikako who traveled up from Chiba and Gardner from Chigasaki. We had all worked together in Saipan in the mid-90's.
 Jack Gao and pro skier Atsushi Yamada joined us on the slopes, too, on the second day. Atsushi was THE perfect ski instructor for Jack, who had never skied before. Jack's martial arts training and superior coordination led him to the top of the mountain! Great job!
 On the third day, it rained so we took a side trip to see the snow monkeys at the Jigukodani Park where the macaque monkeys go into the onsens on their own to relax and warm themselves. This monkey had such soulful eyes.
 Atsushi drove us there and took us on the tour which was fantastic. We've encountered monkeys in Bali, but they were much more aggressive and mean. These monkeys were quite the opposite. They didn't mind the attention and just enjoyed the environment, full of tourists.
 50 monkeys was the approximate number we saw at the park. They roam freely and the park rangers feed them barley, seeds and nuts.
 On Sat, our friends had departed so it was just the two of us skiing and snowboarding all day. The weather conditions improved slightly as it was a bit colder and some slight snow fell later in the day.
 That evening was the village's Holy Light's Festival and we toured the area and headed to the "Hikage" section of the hill.
 The villagers and tourists were out, drinking the free sake, watching the taiko drum performance, fireworks and skiers.
 One of the most interesting performances was the display of skiing from 1911 as depicted here with one paddle and for the lady, a kimono.
 Afterwards, we entered a pub which served delicious enoki mushrooms, bacon steaks and yuzu sake.
Sunday was another half ski day and then the journey back to Narita for our flight. All went smoothly and we vowed to return sometime again to experience more of Nozawa.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year! Hello 2014!

 2013 was a fantastic year with many blessings and we're always grateful for this Christmas/New Year's holiday in Niseko. It's now Day 12 and we're taking a New Year's rest day. Skiing and snowboarding here in this winter wonderland is full of adventure, thrills and laughter, both on and off the slopes.
 Our motley crew of 32 SWAT members gathered on the 27th for the annual White Elephant Gift Exchange. We ended up with unique gifts that we wore on the 28th to lunch at Hanazono. Next year's new rule will be: You have to Bedazzle your wearable gift.
 As MC, Russ entertained the crowd. I won the raccoon hat while Kathryn, in the background, won a Hawaiian mumu dress with red bells sewn on.
 Russ' new hips are great - he was able to land this cool jump through the trees the other day. The powder snow glides like silk underneath the board and skis.
 The focal point on the mountain on a clear day is Mt. Yotei in the foreground.  It's just as majestic as ever and we've been able to view it on several occasions.
Today is the first day of the New Year. We look forward to another fantastically blessed year to share memories with our families and friends. May this year be filled with laughter and joy for all of you!

Monday, December 23, 2013

It's Christmas time!

It's been way too long since I blogged. The last 3 months have been filled with projects: the Hell of the Marianas Century Cycle, Marriage Encounter Weekend and Steps, Love Languages programs and home renovation. But, a new chapter began on 12/20/13 with our annual holiday to NISEKO! The contractors finished painting the interior of our home just Wednesday and I erected the Christmas tree on Thursday night. Our dining room now has blue walls and ceiling.
 Our entryway is also painted a light blue only on one wall where the flame tree painting rests. This week, I got a tropical arrangement to match.
 The upstairs powder room now has bright, sunny yellow walls. It's not quite as evident in this photo.
 Here's the dining room in the daytime with the blue ceiling and blue back wall. I like the look!
The big arch wall is a "Tiffany" blue color that extends into our kitchen. It's a dramatic change, but a nice one as it adds much to our "old" kitchen.
One wall in our foyer is the same blue and I had the painters move the big Bali painting on that side.
Here's the kitchen which emphasizes the dark brown Cherry wood cabinets. We also got a new stainless steel refrigerator and moved the old one to the other house.
On Wednesday last week, I took Butty to his annual vet appointment. He didn't like it a bit and wanted to go home right away.
He got blood drawn and still tested positive for erlichia but is doing nicely.
We attended several Christmas parties before we left. This one was at the Hyatt for the Marianas Eye Institute party on Tuesday evening.
Russ and Dr. Khorram in their "matching" Christmas shirts!
This one was taken on Monday night at the Marriage Encounter Christmas Party at PIC.
On Sunday evening at the Marianas Medical Center party at PIC, Russ was the MC and dressed up as Buddy the Elf.
This was from the Marianas Medical Christmas Party.
So many parties... so little time!