Monday, November 26, 2012

Tenaciously Remembered takes off!

Some of the albums I had for sale at the Iwakuni Holiday Craft Fair
Saturday was a big day for me... it was my first Iwakuni Holiday Craft Fair. I couldn't sleep the night before... I had too many things running through my head. Did I remember to pack scissors and Scotch tape? Did I make enough albums? Were they the right themes? Was anyone going to show up to the fair? What if the weather was bad? What of the weather was good? Seriously... not even Advil PM could calm my brain that night.

I had created albums for weeks in preparation for the show. I had also taken on some marketing and advertising responsibilities for the show about 10 days before the event. I had a lot of eggs in this basket and the last thing I needed to do was trip and fall...

But everything went wonderfully. The Iwakuni community seems to like my work and I sold about half my inventory, which, in reality, was a lot. The Japanese-inspired albums, as you may have guessed, were very popular with the Americans on base, but the Japanese nationals who shopped loved the holiday books. It was nice to know I had a little something for everyone.

Some of the Japanese-inspired albums I had available.
I also previewed my first scrapbooking class in Iwakuni. Here is the project we're going to create on Dec. 4:

You can learn more about my Iwakuni crafting by visiting my web site: Tenaciously Remembered. Hopefully this is just the beginning of this little venture. I've already gotten some special orders... one of my favorite being this baby book for a baby girl named London. It's girly, yet travel-inspired, as was requested by the customer (my friend, Rachel). The photos don't really do it justice. For those of you who like to keep track of stuff like this, it's mostly created from Basic Grey's Sugared line that came out years ago. I'm finally starting to whittle away at my stash! :)

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Date with Doctor Fish...

On Friday I enjoyed a second cultural trip to the island of Miyajima, where, several weeks ago, I visited the famous Shinto Shrine located there and made maple leaf cakes. This time, we were scheduled to burn designs in to rice scoops and then enjoy some free time on the island. While I am getting to know a number of the people who also travel on these trips regularly, this time I had my friend, Yolanda, (you may remember her from the Hiroshima trip) along with me.

Our trusty tour guide, Akie, had us travel to the Miyajima ferry by tour bus this time, not public transportation, which seemed faster. Once we arrived on the island, it was time to get crafty with yet another hot tool. It seems like the crafts we make usually require some sort of flame or exceptionally hot tool: The Glass Village was an open flame to melt the end of the muddler closed; baking maple cakes required cooking them over an open flame; now, I;m required to use an electric wood-burning stamp to decorate my rice paddle. Clearly, the Japanese are not as worried about being sued by a clumsy or stupid tourist as Americans are. It's refreshing.

Learning the history of Miyajima rice scoops
Decorating my scoop
Yolanda decorating hers.
I went with a double-sided design. Spring cherry blossoms on one side...
... fall maple leaves on the other.
After we burnt our rice scoops, it was free time! Yolanda and I ate at a local restaurant and then did some shopping (sorry, can't talk about it here... it was Christmas shopping and I know potential recipients read this blog!). But the highlight of our trip: Our date with the Doctor Fish! You may have heard about this pedicure-like procedure where small fish nibble at your feet. We've been wanting to try it, and Akie had shown us a flier on the way to Miyajima, so we figured we would give it a shot.

First of all, the place was incredibly hard to find. We kept looking for the Doctor Fish sign, which turned out to be a poster in the window of a restaurant. Yes. In a restaurant. Yolanda took the lead and headed to the back of the restaurant, where she saw a makeshift pond made out of PVC pipe and what looked like a plastic tarp. For 500 yen each, we would get 10 minutes of fish therapy. While the dozen or so Japanese around us ate lunch. And when I say "around us" I mean within 1 to 6 yards of us, depending on which part of the TINY restaurant they were sitting in. Chalking this up as part of our Japanese adventure, we took off our shoes and, as instructed by the fish wrangler/restaurant chef, put our feet in to the water at the same time. Let the nibbling commence!

Random Japanese tourists being entertained by us who didn't mind behind photographed, obviously.
My feet are very ticklish, but the nibbles were very light, so the tickling was something I could handle. For some reason, the fish liked my feet more than Yolanda's and especially enjoyed my right ankle. I teased Yolanda that they must like white meat. :)  Yolanda's reaction was to squeal for the first minute or so. "I can"t believe fish are eating my feet!" Neither could the Japanese around us, who gathered around, fascinated, to watch and laugh. Of course, I have no idea what they were saying, but I swear I heard the words "Stupid Americans." Just kidding.

These little fish are especially popular in Turkey, where they live naturally, and most often help the symptoms of psoriasis. My feet did feel smoother and refreshed, so there may be something to these Doctor Fish.

And a follow up to my trip to Fureai Park in Yuu: My pottery was glazed and sent to us. Here it is in it's green glory:

Monday, November 12, 2012

An unexpected guest speaker was the highlight of the ball for me...

Photo taken by my friend Rachel
Every year U.S. Marines across the globe gather on or around November 10th to celebrate the birth of the Corps. I have only missed two balls since meeting Rodney, both times when he was deployed overseas. Usually the events are held in a relatively local hotel with a ballroom that can accommodate 500-plus Marines and their dates. Because of the logistics and, ahem, debauchery, that takes place during this celebration, USMC Iwakuni balls are held three different nights in the base gym. Flashbacks of high school Homecoming dances is where my mind went when I heard about the ball locale this summer when we arrived, but really, I have to admit, aside from the uncovered folding tables and chairs, you could hardly tell that sweaty men play basketball in the same space 350 days a year. In true Marine Corps style, camouflaged  netting adorned the walls to hide the basketball goals, but with the dim lighting, it mostly looked like textured walls (see the background in the photo above.)

Unlike other balls we have been to, especially that in the gorgeous Destin, Florida, the audio-visuals were fabulous. Usually we can;t see or hear the commandant's annual message to the Marines (pre-recorded and mass produced), but with the six screens and excellent sound system, that was not a problem this year. In fact, the lighting system was hung by the ceiling on a star-shaped frame and the disco ball was actually a 3-foot-tall Marine Corps emblem. I heard several (drunk) marines shout, "That's the best disco ball EVER!" I'd have to say I agree.

This is the best I could do with my iPhone. It really doesn't do the disco ball justice.
The dance floor after the ceremony and dinner.
I'm sure its some sort of fashion faux pas, but I wore the same dress to this year;s ball as I did at last year's ball. There was only one other couple present who was at the ball with us last year, and they did not remember my dress. Plus, I love the dress and, since I go it in the states, I was pretty sure no one else would have the same one. Here are photos of Rodney and I:

Photo courtesy of Will Guthrie ;)

At our assigned table. Photo courtesy of Rachel.
There are a number of traditions you can count on when attending a Marine Corps birthday ball:

1) There will be a pageant of uniforms showcasing the styles and weapons through history.
2) There is a huge birthday cake, and symbolically, one piece is cut and shared by the oldest and youngest active duty Marines present.
3) There is an empty table, set to the side of the stage, with a black table cloth and an inverted place setting as a tribute to fallen Marines.
4) There is a guest speaker of some merit, usually a retired, high-ranking Marine.

Let's go through these traditions one at a time...

1) Yes, there was a pageant of uniforms, but I did not get photos because my iPhone wouldn't take any decent ones. If you are interested in seeing what I am talking about, this YouTube video does a pretty good job.

2) Yes, there was a huge birthday cake, and yes, the oldest (born in 1962) and youngest (born in 1993) shared the first piece.

The cake
The oldest and youngest Marines present.
3) Yes, there was the empty table, but, again, I do not have a photo to share. I assure you that it is a sobering sight, especially for a military spouse.

4) Yes, there was a guest speaker. First, the commanding officer of the base, Col. Stewart (seen below on the left) said a few words. Then he introduced the guest speaker, who was not the typical retired U.S. Marine I was expecting. Mr. Masayuki Matsumuro (on the right in the photo below) was actually a member of the Japanese Navy Air Fleet during World War II.

During the cake ceremony
Col. Stewart
Mr. Matsumuro
 Mr. Matsumuro's story is a wonderful one, especially as I try to understand how the Japanese can be so forgiving of Americans' decimating two of their largest cities with nuclear bombs, killing hundreds of thousands of people and injuring even more. Don't get me wrong: Imperial Japan attacked us first, but as terrible as that attack was, it did not have nearly as profound an effect on the world as did the two atomic bombs the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

Mr. Matsumuro, a funny and compelling speaker, helped me to understand. He was born in Hiroshima in 1929 and joined the Japanese Navy Air Fleet in 1944, at the age of 15. He served in the Special Attack Corps, where less than 10 percent of pilots were expected to survive the war. In fact, Mr. Matsumuro was visiting his home town of Hiroshima in early August 1945, saying his final good-byes to his family before he headed out on his first mission. His train left to take him back to his base at 6 a.m. the morning the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima at 8:15 a.m. While he, obviously, survived, he lost his home and every member of his family that day. In his speech, Mr. Matsumuro said that he developed a deep hatred for America that day, and who could blame him?

Yet, today, he is a huge advocate of the Japanese-American alliance and friendship. Why? Because of the actions of a single American soldier. Shortly after the war ended, Mr. Matsumuro went back and finished high school and went on to continue his studies at the specialized Osaka Foreign Affairs School. Meanwhile, he met his future wife, and, one day, they were traveling together on a train when they encountered a drunk American soldier. The soldier started harassing Mr. Matsumuro's fiancee. When the soldier got off at a stop, Mr. Matsumuro followed him and pushed him in to a canal. Mr. Matsumuro was subsequently arrested. He said, at the time, he was surprised that he got an attorney, decent treatment and a fair trial. In post-war Japan, whatever Americans said was what was considered the truth. In fact, the soldier who had started the trouble was present at the trial to present his side of the story. Mr. Matsumuro was shocked when the soldier told the truth about his behavior to the court, setting Mr. Matsumuro free. In his speech, Mr. Matsumuro said that the honesty of the U.S. soldier completely changed his mind about Americans and the future of the two countries' alliance. In fact, shortly afterward, he traveled to the states and graduated from Cal State Sacramento with a bachelor's degree in geography, returning to Japan in 1953, where he had an incredibly successful career in business.

In his speech, Mr. Matsumuro said that he and the unnamed American soldier remained friends until the soldier's death a few years ago. In fact, the soldier sponsored Mr. Matsumuro's children when they attended college in the soldier's home state of Texas.

Mr. Matsumuro's story is one that I have taken to heart. It is evidence that just one ordinary person can make an impact on the future of something so much larger. I am reminded that every time I leave my house, and especially the base, that I represent America, and my behavior determines if the Japanese see the best or worst of my country. Mr. Matsumuro saw both, but chose to remember the best. I really hope that others on base remember that, too.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The week-long attempt to get "home" ...

My farewell to my family began on Oct. 30 and lasted for six days, although I did not know it would be that long at the time. To see me off, my Mom scheduled a family dinner to celebrate my birthday a few weeks early, since I could be physically present for the... presents. And cake. Cheesecake, my favorite. This particular cheese cake had four flavors, and I wanted to try them all. Since it was my birthday party, and I can do what I want to, I asked my mom to give me a sampling of each. So, she did. I got my half out of the middle.

For those of you helping me to stay motivated on my diet, I have  lost 25 pounds, so I continued to lose weight on my trip, being good as far as diet and exercise went, but not perfect, so I could enjoy what my travels had to offer. Like cheesecake.

Some more birthday party photos:
Reading a card while my nephew, Brandon, and grandmother, Ginia, look on.
Making a birthday wish while my mother informs my niece, Cheyenne, that the  "happy happy" is not for her.
Protecting my candles from Cheyenne, who was insisting that she blow out my candles for me.
After the party, it was time to pack my two bags - one of which I had purchased the day before to accommodate the gifts and hard-to-find items I had acquired during my stay. My flight out of Orange County airport was at 6:45 a.m., so my alarm went off early the next morning.

Halloween was a day of travel for me. I flew back to Seattle to try and catch the Space A flight back to Iwakuni. Of course, there was no guarantee that there would be space available for me, but I was hoping - and planning - for the best. I arrived in Seattle at about 2 p.m., but would not know if I would be on the Space A flight until 5:30 a.m. the next morning. So, luckily, I have a high school friend and relatives in Seattle to hang out with. I didn't get to see my high school friend - after all, it was Halloween and she has three boys who, I am sure, were eager to collect as much candy as they could. But I did get to spend the evening with my aunt Judy and cousin Matt, as well as their spouses, Jay and Angie. They live in the Tacoma area. After leaving my bags at the fabulous USO in Seattle, Judy and Matt picked me up from SeaTac airport and took me out to Gig Harbor and Fox Island. The autumn leaves made the area just gorgeous. In fact, I was so busy  talking and looking around that I forgot to take pictures. Whoops. But I did get a photo of the sign from the restaurant where we ate in Gig Harbor. By the way, the fish and chips are excellent.

After the visit with my relatives, I took a shuttle back to the airport, where I took a shower and attempted to sleep. There is a bunk room with 12 bunks, but when there are 250 people trying to board the same plane the next morning, a bunk was hard to come by. I found a place on a comfy couch to sleep for about an hour, and then managed to acquire a bunk for another two hours of sleep. But this was not exactly restful sleep. One of the volunteers working that night did not have an "indoor voice," apparently. I kept getting woken up by a raspy, high-pitched, shouty, mild Southern drawl that was a lot like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. Now, please don't get me wrong: The fact that these people volunteer at all hours of the night and day is simply amazing and wonderful. I just wish that some people wouldn't be scheduled for the night shift.

At 4:15 a.m. I dragged myself from my borrowed bunk, had a bowl of cereal, since that was was available, and gathered up my two suitcases for the short walk downstairs to the meeting place for those of us planning to fly Space A (read this post if you haven't heard of Space A before. Things will make a lot more sense). I was a Category 4 out of six categories, so it is always pretty iffy as to whether I will travel or not. At 5:20 a.m., someone from the Space A office gave us a pre-announcement announcement: Someone will be here to announce those who made the cut for Space A in a few minutes. At this point my heart began pounding. The entire trip thus far had gone so smoothly, no late flights, no major or minor snafus, no jet lag... it had been perfect. But now I was ready to get home to my family. I was tired, sick of dragging luggage around and missed my three boys. But perfect had run out.

At 5:36 a.m., the Space A people announced that they had 12 seats available. My heart beat even faster and I Skype messaged the spouse that I was incredibly nervous - this had been the part of the trip I had been worrying about weeks before I actually left for the states. He tried to calm me down from 5,000 miles away. Names were read, starting with Categories 1, 2 and 3. And that's as far as it went. They didn't even get to Category 4 people before they ran out of seats. My beating heart sunk, my frustration and exhaustion made their presence known. I started crying and couldn't see my iPhone well enough to Skype message Rodney to let him know I wouldn't be coming home today after all.

I wandered to a waiting area a slumped in to a chair. What does a grown woman of 35 do when she is heart-breakingly disappointed and tired? She calls her Mommy. And wakes up her Mommy, who is never awake at 5:45 a.m., but quickly got online to research flight options. One-way flights to Japan that day were $2,000 or more. Incredibly cost-prohibitive. Moving overseas, despite the money the government gives you to move, is expensive, especially when you buy two cars in two months. Our savings account was showing signs of wear and tear, so an expensive plane ticket was out.

Mom suggested I simply fly back to Orange County to regroup and form a plan. While I had open invitations to stay in Seattle with both my family and my high school friend, going back to my parents' house would allow me to spend more time with them, and my 91-year-old grandmother. I paid $300 for a one-way ticket back to Orange County, the same route I had taken two weeks early, but the round-trip ticket had only cost $200. This trip to the states was turning out to be a very expensive inexpensive trip.

While I focused on returning to the OC, Mom was online looking for a cheaper plane ticket. She found one that left five days later for $1,000. And she loaned me the money to pay for it so I didn't have to cancel Christmas this year. What would a girl do without her Mommy?

So, despite my disappointment, and those of my boys back in Iwakuni, the silver lining was that I got to spend more time with my family and see more friends while I waited to catch my next plane. At least this time my seat was guaranteed. But the weather was not.

Early, but not as early as my flight a week before, on Wednesday, Nov. 7, my father, once again, took me to the Orange County airport. I was flying to San Francisco to catch my flight to Tokyo. It was here that I realized that my military ID was missing. My military ID is essential for my life in Japan and it was no where to be found. I believe I lost it in the melee that was my attempted Seattle departure, but I can't be sure. All I know is that I tore my carry-on luggage apart and didn't find it. Excellent - something more to stress out about. I had made it through security screening and to the gate when an announcement was made that our flight would be delayed three hours due to fog in the Bay Area. Not good for me: I was going to miss my connection to Japan. Awesome.

My Dad happened to call to ask if I had found my ID and let him know, no I hadn't but there was even better news: I was delayed yet again. I seriously haven't heard my father that angry at the fates, like, ever. Don't worry, Dad, I'll survive this, too.

Then there was an announcement that we'd be able to leave sooner. And then another one announcing an even sooner departure. I might make it after all! Yessss!

Um, no. My plane arrived 10 minutes after the Tokyo flight left, according to my mother, who was tracking my flights online. Of course, there was not a knowledgeable United Airlines employee anywhere around to help me confirm what my mother saw on, or whatever she was using. One employee sent me to the International terminal to find "customer service" which I could not find, despite the fact that I walked the entire international terminal, losing about 20 minutes. I found out later that there is not customer service desk, but a ticketing queue somewhere. An International terminal employee sent me back to domestic flights. I finally encountered a United ticket counter, where I was told I was not a Premier member, so I had to go stand in yet another ticketing line. Frustration reared its ugly head and I started crying again. Thank you, United at SFO for making a frustrating situation even worse with your crappy customer service. (BTW, the customer service in OC was amazing... there was one woman there who calmly and patiently dealt with each and every passenger with a connecting flight, doing the best she could to reserve seats on later flights, etc. Her work was an art form. I wish I had thought to get her name so I could email United about her).

Finally, at a special ticketing counter where I could talk to a real ticketing agent, I was officially informed that I had missed my flight and the next one wouldn't be for 23 more hours. Because my delay was due to weather, I would not be comped anything. Awesome. My luggage was at SFO, but it would take 2-3 hours to get it out of the International baggage area, so I was advised to just leave it there. Awesomer. No clean clothes and limited to the toiletries I had in my purse and at whatever hotel I could find. The USO was out because I had lost my military ID. I got a phone number for a service that finds you a nearby hotel and spent $100 for less-than-stellar accommodations at the Citi Garden Hotel. Incredibly noisy at night, with intermittent Wifi access I had paid $7 for, and a lack of hot water in the morning. The good news was that the room appeared to be clean, but I wasn't going to take a black light to it. Ignorance is bliss.

So, I could have stayed in my hotel room and been bitter, pissed off and bored. But after I Skyped my husband and mother about yet another delay in my arrival, I decided to take public transportation (a notion I would NEVER have considered prior to my adventures in Japan) and go be bitter and pissed off at Fisherman;s Wharf, where I could drown my sorrows in a margarita and some sourdough bread. At this point, my attitude was "F!ck the diet, just give me some damn carbs!"

I grabbed the Route 292 city bus a block from my hotel and met some very "interesting", but very helpful, locals. They collectively told me where to get off the bus to catch the F trolley car to the Wharf, directions I invariably followed. When I got to where the F trolley stop was supposed to be, I couldn't find the stop, so I asked a security guard for the Orpheum Theatre, who was incredibly helpful, and ointed to the stop 100 feet away in the middle of the road.

Of course, you need exact change to ride the trolley car, which is $2, round trip. All I had was a $5 bill, so I offered it to the driver. At this point, I was hungry, bitter and pissed off. I was willing to donate the extra $3 just to have a seat. He told me to sit down and just to pay the $2 on my way back. I assured him I absolutely would. But fate would intervene, for the better this time, and an unknown stranger paid for my fare. At a stop, the bus driver rushed back and told me, so I did not even have a chance to thank the Good Samaritan.
My "free" trolley ticket.
 At my mother's recommendation, I at at the Boudin Sourdough factory, which was delicious.

The factory has a window that overlooks The Embarcadero. The sourdough crocodile and turtles were fun. 
The view of Alcatraz from my dinner table window.
There were tributes to the World Series champs all over town.
 Once I was no longer hungry, bitter or pissed off (relatively speaking) I headed back to the hotel, taking the F trolley to the BART (subway train) station and taking the BART to the airport. I then caught the hotel's free shuttle bus to the hotel. I had experienced nearly all of the public transportation San Francisco had to offer. After Skyping the family again, washing my underclothes in the hotel sink and hanging them to dry, I crawled in to bed to try and catch some sleep. But strange mechanical sounds and noisy neighbors woke me up about every hour, so it wasn't very restful sleep.

The next morning I got up in plenty of time to catch my flight to Japan - I was not taking any chances on making my attempt to get home to Japan any longer! Aside from an inconsiderate person seated in front of me on the 10-hour flight who insisted on keeping the back of her seat reclined as far back as it could go the entire flight, the flights to Hiroshima were uneventful. None of them were late, delayed or paused for mechanical checks. I made it home at 10 p.m. Friday, Japanese time, so I did not have much of a Friday. But I was willing to sacrifice TGIF to finally be home - and just in time for the Marine Corps Ball on Saturday!

The plane that finally got me back to Japan.

Monday, November 05, 2012

I'm dreaming of a white Expo....

Packing for this adventure stateside was challenging., I wanted to pack "light": Just one suitcase, weighing under 50 pounds. I knew my Mom would have no problem with me doing laundry, but I needed to pack for climates ranging from an unseasonably warm 90-plus degrees in SoCal, to a possible early snowstorm in mile-high Denver. Layering was my best option, so I had camisoles, knit tops, sweatshirts, sweaters and, so I fit in in the Centennial State, a black North Face jacket the spouse had given me for Christmas five years ago. At the time, being a SoCal girl who did not ski or enjoy other winter sports, I had no idea what North Face was, so the significance of the gift was lost on me. He still has not allowed me to live it down.

So Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 24, I met scrappy pal, Jenn and her husband, Bill, at their home in the high desert of California to join them for the 15-hour trek across the western United States to see scrappy pal Kathi and attend the Scrapbook Expo near her home in Denver. This trip was the whole reason for my travels from Japan, as this was a trip planned 18 months before, prior to my knowledge that I would be living overseas. But, not one to disappoint myself or others if I can avoid it, I wasn't about to let a small thing like the Pacific Ocean ruin our plans. Jenn and I opted for the longer, yet cheaper option of driving from SoCal to Colorado, which would include our traveling through the states of California, Nevada, Arizona (very briefly), Utah and Colorado. Kathi, and her husband, Casey, were with us via Facebook and text, warning us of a snow storm passing through the area we were planning to drive through. Having lived in SoCal for years, Kathi was very nervous about the snow for us, she and Casey urging us to pack food, blankets and chains in the Honda Civic we were driving in to the wild white yonder. She messages updates to us about every 15 minutes, giving us the blow-by-blow of the freaky fall storm and it's current trajectory. Kathi's nervousness soon began to rub off on Jenn, who, in the high desert, encounters some snow, but not the promised 8 inches overnight forecasted by the Colorado weather "experts." Having lived in Illinois and Flagstaff, Ariz., I, along with level-headed Bill, remained calm. If worse came to worse, we could pull over at a hotel and sleep until the storm passed or the snow melted. We started the 15-hour drive at 7 p.m., planning to drive through the night and miss the storm by several hours.

About an hour and half in to the trip, about 40 miles south of Las Vegas, Kathi's texts were becoming more frequent, about every 7 minutes, warning us of the potential storm hazard we might encounter 12 hours from now. The warnings, of course, were appreciated, and I do not mean to make light of a caring friend. But, I do mean to make light of a caring friend with an unlimited texting plan. So, after one of these updates, I decided to have some fun with my overwrought friend. I texted back: "6 inches of snow in Las Vegas. Whole town shut down. Need to find alt route."

Of course, it was a balmy 65 degrees in Vegas, with no cloud in sight, much less cold, fluffy white stuff. I  just wanted to see what was going to happen to the texts. Kathi texted back immediately, OMG-ing and assuring us that her husband was Googling for a work around and that we should drive safely. That's when Jenn and I officially started LOLing. True to Kathi's word, within five minutes, Casey called us with an alternative route around the fictitiously snowed-in Vegas. Once I stopped laughing and wiped the tears from my face, I informed him of my rouse. He reminded me that I was staying at his house for four nights and that he and Kathi preferred to get even rather than mad. Duly noted for future reference.

The drive, fortunately was incredibly uneventful. Bill and Jenn took turns driving, not allowing me touch the wheel. They said it was because I had traveled far enough, but I am wondering if they did not have faith in my ability to drive on the correct side of the road and obey the miles per hour speed limit signs. But that was OK. I was able to snap these photos along the way:

Somewhere west of Vail, Colo.

Icicles near the Vail, Colo., Starbucks (and GNC). I have never been a  Starbucks regular... until this trip. Having a Japanese iPhone means I do not have access to a data network in the states, so I jumped from one WiFi to another, mostly Starbucks, McDonald's and Wendy's. I don;t drink coffee, but I do drink black iced tea... not shaken.

Between Vail and Denver

Snow flurries
We arrived in Denver Thursday around noon and had the rest of the day to relax, shop and eat. And eat we did! Kathi and Casey were amazing hosts and Casey's cooking was fabulous! Kathi's Jell-o shots weren't bad either, but I digress...

As mentioned, the whole point of my trip to the states was to attend the Scrapbook Expo in Denver, where I did plenty of shopping to feed my hobby from half a world away. Scrapbooking supplies are not easy to find in Japan, so the Expo on Friday was a great place to see what was new in the industry and to get great deals on all the necessary scrappy items. Once we were done shopping, it was time for class!

Jenn, Kathi and me in class.

The album project we did in class.
Friday night was spend organizing Kathi's scraproom, which was a bit overwhelming for her to work in. But we got it in to functional work space so she could get started on her daughter's high school album. I am perfect for this job because I have to reorganize my scraproom at least every three to four years, thanks to military moves! And my hosts' margarita bribes were pretty motivating, as well!

Saturday, our gracious hosts allowed us to be tourists and took us to the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, about an hour and half south from where Kathi lived. We visited the Visitor's Center first, and learned about a dinosaur species found locally and ... scat.

In case you were wondering, the top one is from a coyote, the bottom pile is from a mule deer.
The unusually-shaped rock formations are what make this free public park notable and technical rock climbers, hikers and mountain bikers make use of the park frequently. Our group of five chose a simple 1-mile "hike" around several of the named formations.

View from the Visitor's Center
Welcome message and map

North Gateway Rock

Kissing Camels
Earlier in 2012, Colorado Springs suffered a terrible fire started by arson. They still have not found the responsible party, although they are actively searching:

Proof I was there with the ladies!
More proof.
"Holding up" Balancing Rock

On the way back to Denver, we played tourist again, with Kathi and Casey taking us to Denver's 16th Street Mall. This tower was lit up in purple in honor of 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway who was abducted and murdered earlier in October. 

Saturday night was our last one in Colorado. After thanking our hosts profusely, we left at noon on Sunday to head back to sunny California. the way home, since we passed through Utah in the dark, Jenn thought she would pay homage to the state on the way home with these beautiful photos:

I got home and in to my bed at my parents' house at 3 a.m., waking up in time for a noon lunch date with a friend from high school without being too tired. Again Jenn and Bill would not let me drive (Their loss... I think I have great driving skills... ), so I worked on an online certification course I am taking, stopping at a Starbucks in St. George, Utah to upload my assignment... multitasking people, multitasking.

Thank you, Jenn, Kathi, Bill and Casey, for a fabulous time!