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As our time here on island is getting closer to the end we have made it a quest to enjoy all the things we will miss. Torii station beach and pool is definitely on the top of our list. The torii pool just reopened after a remodel facelift and we have been there every weekend. It is a great pool for the kids to practice their swimming skills and it is great for mommy because there is plenty of shade. Not too mention that it is really close to daddy’s work so we can meet for a little swim and then dinner.

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Torii beach is one of the best beaches on island. It is a sandy beach with minimal coral in the water so no little hurt feet while playing. The sand is more crushed coral so it doesn’t make sandcastles but you can build moats and tide pools really well. Torii beach also has a wonderful water slide that my kids love to use over and over. Did I mention that there is shade for me too! You can rent chairs and a umbrella for a nominal fee for the entire day.

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We had to fly in and out of Osaka for our Kyoto vacation. Might as well use our time wisely and spend a day or two in Osaka to see the sites and go to Universal Studios. The kids thought Universal was the highlight of the vacation. Harry Potter World and Snoopy’s Great Race were the kids favorite areas of the park. We rode the JAWS ride (in Japanese!) and I got to remember and see the fear first-hand when BeeGee hid her face in my lap and would not look up till it was over. We also got to see the 50th anniversary parade and dance in the streets with all the characters. It was a blast! Matter of fact, BeeGee said on the way back to the hotel after we spent the entire day at Universal, “Wow, that was a blast! Thank you Mom.” I am so happy that we took the opportunity to let the kids be kids away from site-seeing temples and foreign foods. Unfortunately, I have no pictures to show because I just couldn’t fathom lugging my big DSLR through universal.

We stayed at another airbnb apartment. This one was a little older but more spacious inside. Our view was a little less desirable. It turned out, we were right next to a highway. But thankfully due to solid construction, you couldn’t hear the traffic from inside the apartment.DSC_4385DSC_4387

The first night we headed to Dotonburi Canal for yummy thai food. The night life down on the canal got busier and busier as the night went on.DSC_4367DSC_4376DSC_4379

The next day we headed to Osaka Castle. The walls and moat around the castle were impressive. This is the guard house at the corner of the castle grounds.DSC_4388DSC_4392DSC_4393

On the walk to the castle the kids stopped for a quick photo opportunity with the pretty flowering bushes. Bee Gee enjoyed getting pics of all the flowers through out our vacation.DSC_4395

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My handsome men taking a quick break at the base of the castle. The breeze was nice and cooler.DSC_4410

View from the top of the castle.DSC_4418DSC_4427DSC_4430

Playground break.DSC_4447DSC_4448

This is what I had for lunch – taco rice with a soft runny egg on top. It was delicious and I enjoyed the fresh salad greens.DSC_4453

BeeGee had a sweet lunch with pancakes, ice cream and strawberries. Sometimes it is fun to let them indulge.DSC_4454

Dudeo had a healthier, sweet lunch of fresh fruit, pancakes and ice cream.DSC_4456

Osaka’s Museum of Modern Art DSC_4459DSC_4460DSC_4465

Parkour enthusiasts. Of course Dad started and the kids followed. DSC_4478

Another little neighborhood of Osaka called Shinsekai. It used to be a not-so-safe or clean area of Osaka. But the past decades it has become a tourist spot where you can eat the local cuisine and play. It is supposedly designed after New York Times Square and Paris. I didn’t see the connection.DSC_4485DSC_4487

This old fashioned subway train was the last photo of our trip. We had a great time in Kyoto and Osaka. The kids got along great and were extra kind to each other. These are the times I hope my children will remember and remember them fondly. We are truly blessed. Not many can say they traveled the world at age 6 and 8.  DSC_4491

Our Kyoto vacation continues with visiting the monkeys at Iwatayama Monkey Park on Mt. Arashiyama. With a short walk from the train station, a small fee and a little hike up the mountain you can be surrounded by wild macaque monkeys. The kids had fun feeding them. What was very interesting is the people that want to feed the monkeys would enter a building and buy banana pieces and then feed the monkeys through the wire fencing. I am assuming it keeps the monkeys from attacking or stealing the food from the tourists.DSC_3983DSC_3988DSC_3994DSC_3996DSC_4004DSC_4007DSC_4019DSC_4029DSC_4038DSC_4074DSC_4081DSC_4090

After our time with the monkeys we walked a scenic path to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. This is a very popular, well photographed area. A short distance in a bamboo forest that feels more architectural and zen like. The bamboo provided a shady and cooler place that I welcomed.

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BeeGee wanted me to get a photo of her throwing sakura petals up in the air. As I was preparing the camera she threw the petals in disgust. She claimed there was a bug crawling in the pile of petals which freaked her out. Needless to say she didn’t pick them up again. DSC_4157DSC_4158DSC_4159

On our walk back to the train station, we stopped to have Sakura (cherry blossom) ice cream. My eldest did not like the flavor, a cross between floral and green tea. Not my favorite but I sacrificed for him and ate it. DSC_4160DSC_4165

Here are the kiddos playing at the park near the apartment. We went home to take a little siesta before heading out and searching out more pretty cherry blossoms.

 

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This photo is specifically for my mom. Mom would you believe these adorable bird fence posts line the entrance to parks! This one was propped up against a stump. Super cute and I thought of you.DSC_4260DSC_4263

The family walked the serene and peaceful Philosopher’s Walk. A long path lined with flowers and cherry blossoms. DSC_4270DSC_4273DSC_4288DSC_4314

On our last morning in Kyoto, we walked to the kaleidoscope museum which we were not allowed to take photos of and then headed to the Nishiki Market.

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BeeGee wanted to get a snack while we were walking through the Nishiki Market. I was surprised when she chose to buy the “Candied Octopus with Stuffed Quail Egg on a Stick.” And she ate it too! I took a small nibble of a tentacle and can safely say that it was not a snack I would choose!DSC_4337DSC_4340DSC_4343DSC_4345DSC_4349DSC_4350DSC_4354DSC_4363

 

Our family took a little trip to Kyoto during spring break. It was a perfect time to go and see the cherry blossoms. Truthfully, I was not expecting to be impressed. I have seen cherry blossoms at the tidal basin in D.C. I have seen cherry blossoms here on Okinawa. So I expected to be underwhelmed but boy was I wrong. Kyoto is beautiful. The cherry blossoms were everywhere. We were catching the tail end of them so it was hit or miss whether you would see them in the trees or on the ground. I enjoyed them all ways.

We rented a airbnb apartment close to a subway station. It was great to walk through the streets of Kyoto and see how they live. My husband and I were so surprised at how exceptionally quiet Kyoto is for a city.

The view from our apartment. We were on the 5th floor. DSC_3723DSC_3724

Walking through the neighborhood headed to the metro station we would pass a park. Their parks are dirt yards with some play equipment. The kids welcomed the playtime in the morning and late afternoon.DSC_3729

I love the character of the streets. Every house would have a bicycle out front. Biking is the way to go here. DSC_3732DSC_3736

Nice classic VW in place of a bicycle. I wonder if they even drive it.DSC_3829

 

Our first site-seeing destination was the Kinkaku-ji Temple (a.k.a “Temple of the Golden Pavilion”). The gold Zen Buddhist Temple is very pretty especially when it reflects off the water and is one of the most popular temples in Kyoto. What you don’t see in my pics is the million other people there trying to photograph this beautiful temple. The crowds were a little overwhelming. DSC_3749DSC_3759DSC_3769DSC_3770

The kids waiting on a platform for the train to come.DSC_3842DSC_3845

Kyoto Station is one of the busiest places in Kyoto. It is known as one of the largest buildings in the country. It is a 15-story building filled with tons of shopping, a movie theater, a hotel and many eating establishments. We ate a ramen lunch set on the 11th floor.DSC_3783DSC_3795

We went to the top of the station to see the skyline. DSC_3809DSC_3821DSC_3826DSC_3828 DSC_3853

Our next site-seeing adventure was going to see the 10,000 Torii Gates called Fushimi Inari-Taisha. Each Torii Gate was donated by a Japanese business because Inari has been seen as the patron of business.  Everywhere you turn a torii gate is present. It takes a total of 2 hours to hike up the mountain.DSC_3854DSC_3855DSC_3924DSC_3916DSC_3919

Thanks to the hordes of people, my family and I took a little side path to explore. On our path we were able to see how some of the farmers have made lean-to structures to house some of their tools. DSC_3863DSC_3866DSC_3873DSC_3879DSC_3885DSC_3902

DSC_3939DSC_3943Another little park to stop and play at for a few moments. Nice break from the walking.DSC_3949DSC_3951

Headed to the Gion district. The oldest district where the authentic Geisha’s live and work. I tried to snap a few pictures of the Geisha’s but was unsuccessful. They were too fast for me and my camera. You will see the streets lined with women in their kimonos. I am not sure why many women dress so formal to site-see but it is clear that they are tourists. DSC_3959DSC_3973DSC_3964DSC_3969

 

 

It’s spring break here and we just returned from a trip to Kyoto (post to come). The first day at home and the kids found boredom. So quickly, really?! But to my surprise it didn’t last long. They actually found their own entertainment that did not involve the iPad or TV. The oldest walked in from outside and said, “Mom, can we pick mulberries and make it into mulberry juice?” Our backyard (a.k.a butterfly park) is scattered with mulberry trees. It didn’t take them long to gather the things they needed to start picking once I said yes. After the picking, we moved to the kitchen to wash the mulberries, squeeze them into liquid, cook the liquid on the stove (just in case!) and then mix it with water and a little bit of sugar. The kids and I agreed that it needed something more. So we squeezed lime into the juice which made it taste really good. Almost similar to lemonade. Next both kids decided to sell it at a lemonade stand. The mulberry juice did not make enough so we turned it into mulberry lemonade by mixing it with lemonade. Almost a 1 to 1 ratio. Onto the economics aspect of this spring break activity. What a great teaching moment which I happily referred to my lovely husband. He is such a wonderful teacher. As he helped them plan out their venture, I found scrap wood (which I’ve needed to get rid of) for them to make the signs. By the time they headed down to the street corner the weather turned windy and cloudy. No way would that stop the kids. They were so excited and ready to market their fresh drinks. Wowzers! Was I surprised when they came home less than 2 hours later. After expenses which was $4.72, they made a whopping $37.73. Amazing.

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One happy customer that happens to be a friend of my son. DSC_4542

We are many many miles from home. On a daily basis I think of our family back in the states and miss them incredibly. Although we are so far away, we got to feel HOME this weekend with our friends. Matt is one of my husband’s childhood buddies. They grew up in the same town and went to the same high school. They joined different branches of the military after college. Coincidentally, we were stationed in D.C. at the same time as Matt. We met Katie when they started dating there. I remember vividly Matt saying he “met the ONE.” Years later we reunited while we both were stationed in Tampa. A year after that, about the same time, we both announced we were moving to Okinawa, Japan. The saying “It’s a small world” is so true especially between these home town friends in different branches of service.

Hanging out and grilling in the backyard of Matt and Katie’s was a very nice break from reality. It felt like we were home. Our kids played in the run-off drain while the grown-ups talked. The fire pit that Matt built was put to good use as the sun went down. The kids were super excited when Katie broke out the skewers and marshmallows. It was a nice relaxing evening with our longtime friends far from HOME.

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The boys got super excited when the marshmallows came out.

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This beautiful, sunny morning the family packed up the car and headed to a nearby beach to play. The big kid wanted to play on his paddle board and the little kids just wanted to play in the sand. When we arrived, I settled myself under an umbrella while the kids played in the sand. Daddy got out the paddle board and allowed the kids to play on it by the shore to get comfortable. Once they were ready, he took each child out on the board with him. I stayed behind, snapped some photos and enjoyed the ocean breeze. Torii beach is a great quiet beach located on, the army base, Torii Station. It is rarely busy and with the umbrella and beach chair rental, it is one of my favorites for a daytime activity. The ocean water is still a little cold to get fully immersed, so when my son came back very wet and freezing, I immediately dug out the towels to cover him up.

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Buddy created a fort which he was able then to attack innocent bystanders like myself when he wanted to. DSC_3551DSC_3552DSC_3572DSC_3499

As BeeGee and I were walking home from dropping off big brother at school, she stopped to pick a flower. Picking flowers has become a morning ritual for her. Thankfully, since we live on a military base, the flowers do not belong to anyone. However, once we get back to the states I will have to remind her that the flowers in people’s yards are theirs and are not for our picking! Anyway, as she picked the flower and put it behind her ear. She asked if I would take pictures of her when we get home. Of course!! Little did I know she would spend 20 minutes asking for this pose and that pose. Asking for location changes and so forth. It turned out to be a mini photoshoot that she dictated entirely. I did not complain one bit. I enjoy taking pictures of my little girl. She won’t be little for very much longer. *Sniff *SniffDSC_2765DSC_2764DSC_2779DSC_2788DSC_2795

One weekend afternoon, my hubby suggested that our family attend a Okinawa Traditional Bullfight. I did not know what to expect. Was the environment clean or dirty, indoors or out? Would there be violence or showmanship? So we drove up about 30 minutes to Ishikawa, Uruma-shi multi-purpose dome to watch.

It turns out the arena is in a open-air, covered dome. Large enough to hold a good size group but the day we went there weren’t many there. The weather in the shade was a little chilly with a strong wind (70 degrees) which could have deterred people from attending. Prior to the bullfighting, there was local entertainment. A warrior dancer and then a shisha dog came out and danced around the arena teasing the spectators.

Once the bullfighting began the audience became quieter. Overall I can say I didn’t enjoy the event. I felt a little wrong watching these poor beasts fight each other out of their natural instinctual behavior. I felt that the trainers/owners seemed more like animals themselves than the animals they were commanding. They stood near their bull yelling Japanese commands at them trying to incite them into attacking harder. It seems all rather disturbing. Some bulls were not into it and would walk away from the fight as it was beginning. I was encouraged to see if the bull stopped or didn’t want to fight the match would be over and they weren’t forced to fight. Attending this bullfight was a small glimpse into a 100 year tradition for the Okinawans. The people that filled the stands were a rather large mix of different socio-economic classes and ages.

Our kids had more fun eating the mochi that they gave us when we entered the arena and playing on the stadium seating.

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We unexpectedly ran into our friends, Bernie and Joan. Bernie poses with the kids before the fight.DSC_2816DSC_2824DSC_2819DSC_2828DSC_2843DSC_2836

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For most baseball leagues the season probably just begun but for us the spring season ended a few weeks ago. Our spring season began in January and it was a very cold, wet season. The kids didn’t get enough field time due to the rain. Unfortunately, they ended up playing games in place of practice. I caught myself saying at the end, “What?! It’s over. Already?” I love watching my kids play baseball. This was the first time playing for BeeGee. She started in 5-6 T-ball and seemed to love it. Dude was in the last year of coach pitch and really loved stealing bases and hitting home runs. I look forward to sitting on the bleachers and watching the fall season in the states.

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After the Batu Caves, and another 4 hour van ride later, we pulled into the seaside resort town of Penang, Malaysia. We used airbnb.com again and stayed in an 6-bedroom house in Georgetown. The house was spacious enough that our room had it’s own bathroom! hip-hip-hooray! The living area was open to the outside, only closed off by an iron gate and the roof was covered by corrugated plastic. Which we were thankful for during the hard rain. Since the house was open air, only the bedrooms were air-conditioned, but there were no screens, only wooden slats to keep the cool air in, and the insects/rodents, and heat out. Because of that, all the beds had mosquito netting around them. Even though we all used them, some of us still woke with bites. And if you know me, you know that I am mosquito-phobic.

 

View from our front porch. ~Photo by Stephanie Monroe._MG_0052

One side of the living area. ~Photo by Stephanie Monroe._MG_0054

The main living area. ~Photo by Stephanie Monroe._MG_0049DSC_2114DSC_2120

The streets of Georgetown were amazing, a little on the grungy side but with tons of culture, food, and history. The food was delicious and well worth the trip alone. We literally walked Penang so we could eat. Our day activities revolved around food. I wish I had taken the time to photograph some of the food instead of eating it. One of the most delicious things that I was able to try was the tea. They make tea the old fashioned way, by “pulling” the tea. They mix condensed sweetened milk, tea, and spices together, the tea puller heats the tea and pours it from one container to another to mix it thoroughly. Then it is poured into a plastic bag with a straw for you to drink.

View of our street. DSC_2159DSC_2141DSC_2134

The boys finding what ever electronics they can play with while waiting on us to finish eating. DSC_2130DSC_2124

Pulling tea. A must try if you can. DSC_2171DSC_2172DSC_2169DSC_2179Some type of religious parade going by as we ate our delicious curry meal.DSC_2111

We visited the Kek Lok Si Buddhist Temple. The temple is an important pilgrimage for people in Hong Kong, Singapore, and the Philippines. The climb was packed with people. It was hot and humid and most of our little ones were not digging it. Poor BeeGee had the stomach bug and made it half way up before the bathroom called. We realized based on everyone’s disposition (mine included) that it was best to claim defeat and head back down the mountain.

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On our way to dinner, we decided to take a trishaw. A three wheeled bike. Poor BeeGee was still not feeling so well.  DSC_2156DSC_2158DSC_2160

Dinner at a open air food court. ~Photo by Stephanie Monroe._MG_0003One of the food stalls prepping area. ~Photo by Stephanie Monroe._MG_0004

 

We flew from Penang directly into Singapore. Met up with Monroe’s the next day to play at Legoland. It was a rainy day. So I did not bring my DSLR camera but snapped a few pics with my phone. The kids had a great time exploring Legoland in Johor.

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The kids road the water ride over and over again. They were already soaked from the rainy conditions, so what is a little more wetness. ~Photo by Stephanie Monroe._MG_0091_MG_0087~Photo by Stephanie Monroe._MG_0084

 

 

On Christmas Eve, we all jumped into a passenger van with a driver and headed to Kuala Lumpur. It was a long drive but thankfully hiring a driver was the right decision. We all were able to relax, nap and see the country from the window. Also, hiring a driver made going through customs at the border relatively painless.

Racked out. ~Photo by Stephanie Monroe._MG_0397

We arrived in Kuala Lumpur at our airbnb house. It was a spacious house with a few unique ammenities. The bathroom was upstairs and outside on the porch. The shower and toilet were enclosed separately with accordion doors and the sink/mirror were open to the view of a little cafe next door and the alleyway. The kitchen (covered but open air) also had a bathroom with a shower over the toilet and a dip bath. A dip bath is where there is a large drum-like container full of water and a large ladle that you can dip into the water to pour over yourself. Needless to say, none of us used that.

Once we all settled in, we ventured out to find some dinner. This was Christmas eve, no traditional holiday foods for us though. We found a marketplace with tons of food options. Our dinner consisted of squid, venison, vegetables, rice, chicken, iced tea, and so much more!

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Me outside our airbnb house. ~ Photo by Stephanie Monroe._MG_0401

Living room. ~ Photo by Stephanie Monroe._MG_0432

Kitchen. ~ Photo by Stephanie Monroe._MG_0434

Walking the street looking for our Christmas Eve meal. ~ Photo by Stephanie Monroe._MG_0402DSC_1891DSC_1882DSC_1885DSC_1887

After dinner, we walked what seemed like an eternity to get to a church that was having a Christmas Eve mass. Unfortunately, the website did not have correct times, when we finally arrived we realized that we were 3 hours early. So back to the house we went. On the walk home, I took a picture of the Kuala Lumpur tower.DSC_1905

We woke up on Christmas Morning in KL. The kids each had a small gift from Santa to open, and a note letting us know that Santa had left the rest of our gifts in our homes under our trees to open when we returned! The women that managed the house rental served us breakfast. WOW! It was so yummy. We had a traditional Malay breakfast of curry, eggs, roti (similar to naan), roti with sugar and butter, and fresh juice. I think Roti prata has become one of my new favorites.

Stephanie stayed at the house with her oldest daughter who picked up a nasty stomach bug while the rest of us headed out to Petronas Twin Towers to see the city from a different elevation. The towers are 452 Metres tall. Each tower weighs equivalent to 42,857 Elephants.

 

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After that it was time to eat again! Do you see a trend?! I travel to eat. Kuala Lumpur is the perfect place for a meld of ethnic cuisines. My hubby’s favorite city so far! The great city offers authentic Indian, Thai, Malay, and Chinese foods. I’m in love. Stephanie and I both agree that the simple wonton soup that we had at a outdoor restaurant was by far the best we ever had. I am salivating as I think about it.

DSC_2028DSC_2049DSC_2054We look a little haggard from the heat and walking all day but it is nice to have photos of me and my man. ~Photo by Stephanie Monroe._MG_0469

This is the delicious wonton soup. ~ Photo by Stephanie Monroe._MG_0470

After dinner we were heading back to the house and cut through the back of the restaurant area. OH MY! The smell was atrocious. Sorry Stephanie for posting this but I swear it captures the way I felt exactly.DSC_2064

The next day we hired a driver and van to take us to Penang, Malaysia. On the way we stopped at the Batu Caves to see one of the most popular hindu shrines outside of India. To reach the main cave and shrine, visitors must climb up a steep 272 steps. It was a hike in the heat.

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