Monday, November 26, 2012

Discontinuation of Weekly Current Events Videos

With the winter coming I have decided to discontinue the weekly current events video. There are various reasons for this but one of them is because with the weather being much cooler with winter here both myself and Rusty enjoy getting out and doing fun things rather than staying cooped up in the house like we usually are during the summers.

With our adventures getting us up and out of the house it can be strenuous to follow all of the current events stories to ensure that we bring you a video each week. It can also be difficult to bring a variety of stories with many of the things that are going on right now.

The plan is to continue to bring the current events stories to you just rather than bringing a weekly video you will get a video whenever it is relevant or as the news happens. I also think that this will be a better way to get the important news stories out to you as they happen rather than wait until Monday of every week.

At this time we will continue to also do Fan Mail Friday as well as the JVLOG on Wednesday. You can also certainly expect various other videos throughout the week to include vlogs about where I have gone as well as just plane old video of the sites and sounds I experience when I'm out and about.

Thank you so much for your understanding!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Just Like A Horror Movie


Ok, I don't usually do posts like this but this one I simply could not keep to myself. Today one of our little adventures took us to a neighborhood in a northern section of Okinawa. The goal was to find a particular path and climb to the top of the area. We had marked out the route and were able to find the neighborhood easily. It's funny of the hundreds of times we have driven past this area we have never seen the unique (at least to Okinawa) houses in this neighborhood.

It was like stepping back into New England, particularly New Hampshire. The houses had the distinct look with the distinct style of what you might see in various parts of the New England states. We soon found the path that we were looking for and parked along the side of the road in an open area.

Once we got to the top of the wooden stairs which made up the almost too perfect path leading up to benches and clear grassy areas it became clear that this neighborhood reminded me of something I was all too familiar with. A Stephen King novel. Ok I realize that sounds a bit over the top but everything in this neighborhood just seemed too perfect. The houses were perfect. Some of them even had wide open yards which is very strange for Okinawa. Then there was this path which led up to what can only be described as a viewing area over the neighborhood.

From the benches overlooking the neighborhood it was quite. So quiet even that you could clearly hear the music playing from one of the houses or maybe shops. It almost felt like a scene out of a zombie movie where everything is quite and there is no sign of life aside from that radio and what had been left behind.

Of course this could not have been further from the truth. Being that it was a Sunday many people were out and about doing this and that as well as spending time with family and friends but that doesn't make for a good story does it. Either way it was a very interesting little place to stop by and take some photos of. I imagine that it is also a very pleasant place to live.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Okinawa Kids Clothing Swap

There's no way around it, kids grow like weeds. One day you're cuffing their pants because they drag on the ground and the next they are 2 inches too short. Sometimes clothes have barely been worn before it's time to get rid of them because they simply don't fit any more. Wouldn't it be great if there was a way you could somehow put those clothes to good use? Well, it turns out that a group of people had the same thought and created the Okinawa Kids Clothing Swap.

[caption id="attachment_775" align="aligncenter" width="480"] Founded by Annastasia McPherson and joined by Sarah Cardio.
Current coordinators are Kristina Trujillo, Kristy Wells, Elaine Wang, and Courtney Walinski.[/caption]


What exactly is the Okinawa Kids Clothing Swap? In a nutshell it's an event that happens every 3 months where you can bring the clothes that your kids no longer have use for and swap with others who have done the same. Great idea right? Top it off with some super organized individuals who run the group and you have yourself a really great program.

It all started in April of 2009 when a military spouse who was stationed here in Okinawa put together the swap. At the time the group consisted of only about 12 people who met to swap clothes on Camp Foster. This, however, quickly grew to the large event that it is today and consequentially needed to move to a larger venue to accommodate all of the interest.

"How do I get started?" 

Before you run into your closet and pull out everything that you would like to bring to the next clothing swap there are some things that you'll need to know. First of all you're going to have to go over to the Okinawa Kids Clothing Swap Yahoo Group and register as a member which you can do by clicking hereThis page has boatloads of information for you to read and to get you on the right track to participating in the next swap. You can also check out the Okinawa Kids Clothing Swap Facebook Fan Page  where you can not only get links to important information but communicate with others who are participating in the swap. I myself have check out the Facebook page and WOW! The great people over at Okinawa Kids Clothing Swap also would like to stress that if you have any questions ASK AWAY! They do a great job of giving you all the information you need.

Once you are registered it's time to get all of your clothes prepared for the event. I spoke with the coordinators over at the Okinawa Kids Clothing Swap who explained that this is the most important thing for participants to do before bring clothes to the swap. Premie/newborn through children's large clothing is accepted (sorry they do not accept juniors). You're going to have to sort and label clothing by gender, size and include your last name on each bag. You must double-check for stains, holes, excessive wear, and make sure that all buttons and/or zippers work. It is also asked that you do your best to bring only clothes which are in "like new" or "gently used" condition. Not only will this ensure that the standard of the swapped clothes is high but it also assists the volunteers from having to do unnecessary work.  Once this is done clothes are then dropped off at Kadena Elementary school, in the cafeteria, Friday before the swap (5-6PM) and Saturday morning before the swap (8-11AM). It is kindly requested that those with more than 50 items drop off clothes before 10AM and that those who participate bring no more than 100 items total.

"What can I expect at one of these swaps?"

[caption id="attachment_776" align="alignright" width="300"] This is no little swap. There are LOTS of clothes to pick from![/caption]

After you have dropped off your clothes you are free to leave and return at 12:30 to sign in and receive a credit total for the items you have brought to be swapped. This is done all by volunteers who sort and count your clothes as well as double-check to ensure that clothes meet their "gently used" standards. They will then fill out a form with your name and the total count of items accepted. If your item is not accepted because it does not meet the "gently used" standards you can choose to receive your item back or have it put into a "free" pile. For those of you who are first time swappers and might wonder why what you brought was not accepted the great people of Okinawa Kids Clothing Swap have thought of that. They will give you your items back and show you why they were not accepted.

The swap itself starts at 1pm at which time some announcements are made and then swappers can check out what items are available. Clothing is separated on tables by gender and size which makes things very easy for swappers. The event itself is quite fast paced and by 2:30PM most of the swappers have already checked out. 90 MINUTES! That pretty much means that there is no leisurely browsing once the event gets started so you should probably know exactly what you are looking for!

You can use all your credits at one time or you have the option of having unused credits carry over for 2 future swaps after which they will expire. Once you choose your items you can then go a check out where volunteers will count the items and record the number of items taken. Then that's it! You can go on your merry way and continue on with your day.

Volunteers are always needed!

These types of events and organizations are great but it's no secret that they don't run themselves. The Okinawa Kids Clothing Swap is 100% volunteer run and organized. This is part of the reason that the event is free to those who want to participate. They also welcome any donations of resources to help keep the event going strong! One of the ways that can help is to volunteer some of your time. Here's that the Okinawa Kids Clothing Swap told us about what it's like to volunteer for a swap:
We will have 3 shifts this swap. Friday late afternoon, Saturday morning, and Saturday afternoon. Friday will be a 2 hour shift for unloading of the stored swap clothes and setup. Saturday morning will be a 4 hour shift from 0800-1200 for clothing checkin, reviewing, and placing on tables. Saturday afternoon will be a 4 hour shift from 1200-1600, and will run the check out tables and assist in filtering out expired clothing, counting items for record keeping, and packing left over clothes back up into our space bag totes.

And just because you're volunteering doesn't mean that there aren't perks:
All swap-participating volunteers receive 10 PREPICKS! This means that if you volunteer, you must be present at 1215 at the swap location to go pick out 10 items to take home before the swap opens. You get FIRST PICKS of all the new swap items, 10 of them, (as long as you have 10 credits to use). This is our way of saying THANK YOU for volunteering and helping to keep our swap running free and smoothly as a service to all military families on Okinawa. We will provide a letter of appreciation and a certificate if needed for your volunteer service hours.

If you are interested in volunteering you can contact the Okinawa Kids Clothing Swap through Facebook.

My thoughts: 

At first glance I loved the idea of the Okinawa Kids Clothing Swap but it honestly wasn't until I took some time to read more into it and talk with the folks over there that it really started to shine. Looking at some of the online resources and seeing the amount of effort and work that has gone into that alone was great but then to hear how much the volunteers put into this and how many people participate really sold me on how great this is which is why I wanted to highlight Okinawa Kids Clothing Swap for those of you who might be reading this blog.

I would also like to add a special thanks to the people over at the Okinawa Kids Clothing Swap who assisted me by answering my questions. You guys are doing a great thing over there so keep up the great work!

Unfortunately I was unable to post this before the last event which happened this month (November 2012), however that give those of you who are interested in participating in the next swap plenty of time to get prepared and read all of the necessary information.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Okinawa's Mountains

When I was living back in the United States there were times when my family would take weekend trips to New Hampshire. To be completely honest these trips were not much fun for me because we would rent a little house or cabin and basically conduct life as we would at home only we would be in New Hampshire. There's not much vacation happening when you're doing the dishes and going grocery shopping just in a different place you know?

Anyway, the one thing that I did enjoy about those trips (aside from mini gold at Hobo Rail Road) was the mountains and particularly this one time when we stayed at this place where there was a stream near the, what I want to refer to as, mini food court.

Of course I am no longer in the United States and therefore I no longer travel to New Hampshire but I have found myself some beautiful mountains here in Okinawa.

Okinawa is very mountainous although in some areas it does not seem so because of the development of cities. However, if you want to see mountains during your time here in Okinawa you're going to want to head north. There are mountains not far beyond Kadena but if you want to really get into the mountain ranges you're going to want to head all the way to Route 70 or Route 2.

I will admit that making the trip up to Route 70 or Route 2 is long. Even if you so choose to take the expressway you are going to find yourself driving for the better part of the day and as you approach Route 7 and Route 2 you will find yourself away from what you are familiar with in the south central parts of the island so I highly recommend that you bring yourself some snacks or even lunch. Also you are going to need a full tank of gas and I also recommend bringing some yen in the event that you need to top off at a station that does not take credit cards.

Once you arrive in the northern part of the island you have a few options. The first is to drive through the various cities and towns which is a great way to see the ocean on one side and the mountains on the other. The second is not for the faint of heart and involves taking the mountain roads. I have driven through the city roads hundreds of times, all of which were worth the drive but this time it was time for more of an adventure.

We started off in Ogimi Village which is known for being where many of Okinawa's oldest people live. Here people live well into their 100's and have very active lives. A bit of exploring and intuition lead us up some mountain roads. As we traveled on we ended up in an area which is protected because of the amount of endangered species which inhabit the area.

We continued to press on until we found ourselves on one of many small overgrown mountain roads. This is one of Okinawa's least visited places which is no wonder because the roads are very small and not clearly marked.

As you move through the narrow roads you will find yourself using extreme caution. At times the road is less than one car's width with special sections of the roads designed to let oncoming traffic pass. There are also areas where extreme caution is needed because of the cliffside right off the road's median. These are not the only dangers. You might also find yourself in the midst of some residual damage from past storms. During our trip we encountered many landslides. Two of these landslides came down from the cliffside above taking up the entire road. One had actually damaged the road as the earth below crumbled away.


As we progressed towards the end of our trip we finally found ourselves in the middle of the mountains. Here it is so quite that you can hear the water trickling in a stream below. There are no other people who travel these roads and you are so far away from society that you can not hear anything but the sounds of nature and silence.

As amazing as this trip was for my husband and I this is not a trip for everyone. If you intend on making this type of trip there are some very important things that you should keep in mind. These roads are very far away from assistance of any kind. There is also very little cell phone reception and during the entire trip we were unable to utilize and GPS on either cell phone that we had with us. For this reason I would highly recommend that you take with you a vehicle that is in good repair and/or have supplies that you might need (like a spare tire) to ensure you can take care of any situations that may arise. Finally bring yourself some snacks and drinks because you will be far away from any shops or restaurants. Also again use extreme caution. These roads are dangerous and require your complete and undivided attention while driving. Be safe and as always enjoy your trip. 


Tuesday, November 13, 2012



Protection and Awareness of Endangered Species in Okinawa

I have always said that living in Okinawa is like living in a museum because of the value for nature, history and culture. This weekend I had the opportunity to visit one of these places and I thought that you might enjoy seeing some photos.

Northern Okinawa is home to some very interesting people and critters. Those who live in this part of the island are known for living longer than anyone else on the world. The critters, however, are in need of protection as they are endangered. While driving on one of the roads through Ogimi I found a curious little area and so we pulled in to take a look.

There were various stones which showed the pictures as well a featured a bit of information about the animals which are protected in the area. There were also various other signs which offer information regarding how the animals are protected and the areas where they can be found.

Around the area was a fence which seems to be designed to keep out mongoose who are a predator in this area. The fence is lined with images of the animals created by children.

The fence continues along a large area with only a few openings. I will have more information about these openings later. Places like this are simple quite little areas, but they are nice to enjoy when passing by.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Landslides: A real danger in some parts of Okinawa

Landslides are one of Okinawa's dangers especially during typhoon season and the rainy seasons. Today during a trip to the northern part of Okinawa I found myself encountering a great deal of damage from recent landslides and I thought that it might be a good idea to give you the chance to take a look at what you should be looking out for during the seasons when there is heavy rain. There is not too much to say about the landslides themselves other than the fact that they are dangerous and you should be aware of your surroundings especially if you are traveling along mountain roads during the rainy seasons.








Sunday, November 11, 2012

A look back: Typhoon Season 2012

This typhoon season has been an interesting one. There were a good number of typhoons compared to what we are used to and they were pretty intense including one which came from the west which is never really good.

I have taken some of the videos that I posted during the storms and put them here so that you can take a quick look back.


Family Friendly Hiking Locations

With the winter almost here in Okinawa I have been preparing for some wintertime hiking in the mountains of Northern Okinawa. I made a comment on my Facebook page and received  a comment from a viewer which stated:
Hey if I know of any good hiking routes let me know. It would be something that my family could all do together and stay fit while doing it.

I could have answered this question in a few different ways but the one that I figure is the easiest is to get the information out there is to simply link to a blog post so here we are. Below I will link and tell you a little bit about some of the locations that I have been hiking recently which are what I would consider family friendly.

Yamada Hiking Trails 

What You Need To Know: 

- This is not a stroller friendly hiking location. 

- There are lots of steep stairs and slick ground to include coral and mud.

- There is no shortage of large bugs like spiders and potentially snakes depending on the time of year. 

- Supervision of children under 10 highly recommended. 

Sueyoshi Park 

What You Need To Know: 

- Some of the trails are stroller friendly, other's aren't. 

- This is an UP HILL LOCATION so be ready for some intense climbing even if it is on pavement. 


Aha Dam 

What You Need To Know: 

- Stroller Friendly 

- Perfect For Family Fun 

Hiji Falls 

What You Need To Know: 

- This is not a stroller friendly location.

- Lots of stairs and lots of up hill 

Ginowan Bypass 

What You Need To Know: 

- This location is stroller friendly and perfect for families. 

- Beautiful view 

- Places to eat and use the rest room along the way 

Kakazu Ridge Park 

What You Need To Know: 

- Exploring the park itself is not stroller friendly. 

- Lots of stairs. 



Friday, November 9, 2012

How To Make Goya Chanpuru

One of Okinawa's most common traditional dishes is Goya Chanpuru. Although this dish is "traditional" that doesn't mean it is hard to make, in fact it's super simple. 

What You'll Need: 

          - Goya (Also known in the US as bitter melon)

          - Eggs

          - Tofu

          - Pork (This can be any type of pork you would like although it should be very thinly sliced and not too lean.)

          - Soy Sauce

What's not necessary but I recommend: 

          - Shredded Carrots

          - Sake (A dash of this will possibly make your chanpuru sauce taste more like the packaged stuff I get.)

IMPORTANT NOTE: The amount of ingredients you use in this dish is not important. Some people like more eggs than tofu or more tofu than eggs. You can add a lot of pork or just a little. Either way it's up to you. The one thing I will note, however, is that the soy sauce should only be minimal. You should barely be able to taste it.

STEP 1: Prepare the Goya 

After washing the goya cut it in half length wise. As you can see in the photo I prefer to cut off the tapered ends first as it makes the goya easier to work with.

STEP 2: Remove the Inside

Once you have cut your goya in half it's time to remove the spongy white insides. The best way to do this is to use a spoon. Your goal is to remove as much of the white spongy stuff you can. The more you remove, the less bitter the goya will be.

STEP 3: Slice and Soak the Goya 

Although it might seem simple this is the most important step in order to ensure that you have a good chanpuru experience. The goya should be sliced into U shapes. Your goal should be to slice them as thinly as possible. This time I used a slicer which gave me very nice thin slices quickly. If you choose not to use a slicer ensure that your slices are as thin as possible. The thinner they are the quicker the goya cooks and therefore you will precent having crunchy goya pieces when you're eating. The thin pieces of goya will also make this dish easier to eat for those who have not tried it before. Once you have sliced the goya you're going to want to soak it. The soaking will allow the goya to lose some of it's bitterness. I choose to soak and drain my goya multiple times until the water drains clear where as others choose to soak their goya with some salt.

STEP 4: Start to Fry

Once everything is sliced and diced it's time to head over to the frying pan. The first thing for you to put into the frying pan is your pork. As I mentioned above thinly sliced pork which is not too lean is the best because it offers more flavor to the dish, it can be broken apart easily and not too chewy.

DID YOU KNOW: Pork is a very important part of the Okinawan Diet? 

Once the pork is about 90% cooked it's time to put in the goya.

It's important to ensure that the goya is completely drained so that you do not have any unnecessary fluids in your chanpuru. Toss the goya around until it starts to become cooked.  Much like other veggies goya will cook down and lose some of it's color once it's been fully cooked.

 The next step is to add in your tofu. There are many types of tofu that you can put in your chanpuru. Usually I put in fresh local tofu but because this one was on sale for 88yen I got this one today.

You can cube your tofu or make it the consistency of scrambled eggs. I like when it is the way that the tofu distributes throughout the dish when it is the consistency of scrambled eggs so I use hashi to mix it up a bit.

Once it's mixed around in the pan you can see how the tofu evenly disperses throughout. At this time you're also going to want to add in the sauce. I had packets of sauce that I get from my local grocery store, however, you can use sake (or coking sake) and soy sauce.

Finally we add in the eggs. Just go ahead and put them in there and mix them around. Once it's mixed around and the yolks have been broken down cover the dish and let simmer for a short time until the eggs become firm.

Now officially you're done, but there are many other restaurants that will add in some carrots so I have some carrots which I picked up from the store already shredded which I add in just before the dish is done cooking.

Now that the carrots are cooked that's it, you're done. For me the next step is putting the food into containers and into the fridge. It will keep for a couple of days so it's a good meal to make and then pack for lunch. When it comes to the taste the dish is yummy and natural tasting BUT not for everyone. The goya is bitter, like eating the rind of a watermelon almost but the mix of flavors makes it really good. Goya is also a very healthy food which is a main part of the diet here in Okinawa especially during the summer. Some people even grow it in their own yards.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Orion Presents New Beer


Orion (pronounced Oh-ree-ohn) is a beer which is made here in Okinawa. Each year they produce a variety of different cans with images of Okinawa as well as a special sakura blend in the winter. This year, however, they have come up with a new beer known as "Mugi No Shuzuku". This beer is said to have a strong taste of malt and has the highest malt content of all Orion products giving it a distinctive taste as well as an aroma of hops which is similar to American beers.

The product is 5% alcohol which is modest for alcoholic beverages here in Japan and is targeting those who drink regularly at home. We picked some up to give it a try and we'll have to get back to you on what we think.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Taste of Home: Ice Hockey

Did you know that you can play ice hockey here in Okinawa? I spoke with Blake who plays with the Okinawa Sniperz. He gave me all the information you need to know if you want to get involved with playing ice hockey here in Okinawa. Here's the interview.

ONK: Is this a league or simply a group of people who get together with a common interest?

Blake: It is not technically a league though there are 5 teams that play here on Okinawa in addition to a youth team.  We are the Okinawa Sniperz and the other teams are all Japanese, of which one is for females attending Ryukyu University.  We usually play 1-2 games a month against these teams, and once a year the rink puts on a Haebaru Town hockey tournament.

ONK:  Are there any requirements? (i.e. you must be 18 to play, can women play, is certain gear required)

Blake: To come out and skate you will need full gear even though we are primarily a no checking group, there is contact.  There is no age/gender/skill requirements though if you are under 18 years old you must wear a full face mask.  If you are above 18 it is up to you.

ONK:  Other than personal gear is there any cost involved? (i.e. Membership fees, cost to skate at rink)

Blake: Everytime you skate you must pay 2,500¥. Additionally if you are not SOFA status you are required to pay an annual insurance fee prior to stepping on the ice for the first time.  This fee is roughly 2,000¥.

ONK:  Is there a POC or email contact I can include if people are interested in more information?

Blake: Please use myself as the POC.  Blake Ferngren and my email.

ONK:  How would you describe the experience playing with this group? Competitive? Fun? Learning experience?

Blake: We are a team comprised of all skill levels and ages.  During games we of course are competitive but on our regular Monday night practices it's a just a bunch of people that love to play hockey.  We divide whoever shows up in half and play pick up hockey for roughly 90 minutes.