Saturday, April 23, 2011

I Found Nemo! (And Much, Much More!)

Em was kind enough to let me go out alone on my SCUBA trip. We had talked of going to one of the pontoons and taking turns, me SCUBA, her snorkle, me SCUBA, her...
But the day before she decided she'd lounge and browse around Cairns. (Speaking of browsers...did you know the Internet browser "Firefox" is named after a real animal--the firefox or Red Panda?!? It is now my favorite animal!!!!)

Anyway, after much research and going back and forth between dive tours/company's I took the advice from the life guard on Green Island and went with Silverswift. They do 3 dives. I was only planning to do 2 but it was only $12 more to add the third and I was feeling good after the 2nd dive. All the companies have different reefs and many different sites at each reef to choose from, depending on conditions.

We did one dive at Milln Reef, Fish Town site and then went to Flynn Reef and dove at Gordon’s Mooring and Tracy's. The first dive was a little tough as I had a large underwater camera with me. I hadn't been diving since 2004 but everything came back to me right away, including the difficulty keeping a neutral buoyancy. To do this you have to put in the right amount of air into your buoyancy control device or BC.  I kept putting too much in and then taking too much out, plus the deeper you go the more the air compresses giving you less buoyancy. This wasted too much air and cut my first dive a little short. This combined with one hand trying to not let go of the expensive camera I hired (rented) gave me some added awkwardness.

*Insert: It is not easy taking underwater photos. The fish don't tend to hold still, even the lumbering sea turtles drift away at a pace making it hard to photograph. Then when you do have a subject that doesn't leave, like Nemo, he darts around and as I try to take the picture I begin to either sink or rise (remember the buoyancy problem). As if that isn't hard enough, I was constantly trying not to land on, bump into, or disturb the fragile coral.

On to the dives:

The first one was cool just to be under the water again. I don't remember this one as well as I was focused on remembering how to dive and what not.  There had been a recent HUGE cyclone that had come through the area and destroyed a lot of the hard coral. I remember seeing tons of staghorn coral broken off and littering the sea floor.

Kinda sad. It was still amazing though. The first dive's highlight was the blue spotted sting ray. I saw a white and black stick and wondered what it was.
I then followed its to 2 bumps and then saw the outline of ray just under the sand. Totally awesome, one of the things I really wanted to see  (the others being Nemo (clown fish) and a shark, never found a shark =(.) The first dive was quickly over (fastest 33 minutes ever!) Who knew 200 bar could go so quickly?

The second dive started off great with an immediate sighting of a green sea turtle. Then we found Nemo, or at least his one stripped cousin. (I did see the real Nemo variety while snorkeling on Tuesday).

This dive went much better for me, I was much more graceful with my camera and buoyancy and extended my dive by 4 minutes.
I loved seeing the pink anemone fish (Nemo).  The photography guy said it is a cliche' for a professional to photograph them, but they all do and just don't talk about it.
They are so pretty and are set against a beautiful back ground. I found a "field" of this anemone and thought it was beautiful.
As the dive master was about to take us one way I spotted another turtle hiding down in some rocks and swam over to visit.
He soon noticed me and began his slow and effortless withdrawal. All the other divers then came over to see him too. This one is a hawksbill sea turtle. Very pretty and very large. About 3x the size of the green sea turtle.

Another cool thing about this dive was the coral "swim-throughs". One was a tube we swam through and another a pretty canyon. This maori wrasse swam through with me, he's about half my size. It was so cool to look up and see the surface through these coral walls.

The third dive got even better. There seemed to be a lot more fish and the coral was even prettier here. One of the best parts was the unbelievable landscape. This area had a lot of pretty corals and colorful fish. We saw some more turtles and another Nemo cousin residence. Our goal on this dive was to find a reef shark but we never did. Bummer but still probably my favorite dive. This site also had a lot of these giant boulder corals. These stand alone from the rest of the coral shelves and are massive--20 feet with corals domes. They take about a hundred years to form. Other coral varieties were growing on them too.
 After my last dive I went back out with my snorkel and explored some more. I'm glad I did because I realized how much better SCUBA was, it was easier to swim under the water instead of on top, I got more salt water in my mouth with the snorkel and it is awesome to be able to just stay below the water.

Here are some of my other favorite pictures:

(Another of my favorites sights were these pretty which hard coral bushes. They had about a hundred tiny blue fish and sometimes some larger black and white stripped ones which would swim out like a cloud and then dart back in, over and over. They proved very difficult to photograph though.

One that I was very excited to see (this one is small but I saw some huge ones too) was the brain coral, such a cool pattern! 

It was a great day of diving! 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sumo-A battle of Wedgies

Max and I went on a trip to Tokyo to see the Sumo Tournament. We rode down on a tour bus on Sunday. He started out throwing up on the bus twice before we left the city limits, but did fine on the rest of the 8 hour ride. Though he was real angry that I wouldn't let him get ice cream at each of the rest stops! He did get some the next day at the tournament. We got to Tokyo and went on a walk to see The Temple. Being Sunday it was closed but he enjoyed seeing it and I again felt a great sense of peace just standing on the corner in front of the temple gates. We then went and found some dinner, Max- McDonalds and me Subway, yes I am getting tired of trying to find food for Max and sometimes myself to eat in Japan, kinda wanted to have some american food around but didn't want to take the Subway to Outback (Tokyo actually has a few american options).
We spent the rest of the evening in the hotel reading and we watched a conference talk of President Monson for our spiritual dinner.

Monday was the tournament. Our tour, through the Misawa Travel Agency, took us to the Edo-Tokyo Museum and the Sumo venue which are neighboring buildings. The good Sumo wrestlers don't fight til later in the afternoon so we spent the a few hours at the museum first. They had free museum guides and she was great. If you can make the history of Tokyo, (how it started out as a little town in the 1600s called Edo and then grew through the powerful influenced of the Tokugawa Shoguns into a thriving city which became know as Tokyo as the Emporer Meji allowed the Western influence to enter the Japanese culture), interesting to a 9 year old and a 33 year old, then you are a fabulous tour guide. It was fun. It took you through scale models of what Edo looked like and had some life size building replicas and so on and then took you into the transition from Edo to Tokyo. 

After the Museum we headed to the Kokugikan, the Tokyo Sumo Arena. We ate lunch and watched the lesser Sumo guys while we ate lunch. We enjoyed it a lot. It was fascinating stuff with a lot of ceremony. Each match takes about 5 minutes and the wrestling part is about 5 seconds. It rivals baseball for excitement. I definitely got into it and cheered. There were a lot of good matches and  a few that lasted less then a second as one wrestler would move out of the way as they lept for each other causing the other to fall on the ground. (One wins by forcing the opponent out of the ring or to touch the ground with any body part.) There are numerous moves one can do by grabbing their loin cloth, thus making a "Battle of Wedgies." Sam thinks they are all immodest. After an exciting final match, where the guy who was undefeated almost lost but pulled off a great victory, we headed back to the hotel for dinner, where Max forwent his hot dog and had two salads!, then went swimming.

I turned my reading light out around 10:30 and later heard Max exclaim, "Wow. It's 12:30!" as he turned his off. He had tried to finish Harry Potter Book 5 but just couldn't pull it off. The next morning was comical. I could barely get him out of the room to go the breakfast buffet, his favorite thing in the world. After one bite of french toast and two bits of pineapple he took the room key and left me eating my yummy scrambled eggs and potatoes. I returned to find him back in bed, which is where he was when I left at 9:30 for the Temple, leaving him with some Filipino hotel babysitter, and where he was when I came back at 12:30.

I eventually forced him back out into Tokyo and we visited the Sensoji Temple, dated back to 1600's.

 Max finally got his souvenir samurai swords, he's been wanting for 2.5 years. After this we took a variety of subways and monorail to get to Odaiba island, a man made island where one can find Joypolis (the spelling still bugs me I want it to be Joyopolis), an indoor Sega themepark.

Max loved it. There was a giant half pipe where you were strapped to a giant skate board and could try 360's. Max screamed the whole time, awesome. At the end of the evening I started feeling sick and Max had to go on the last ride by himself. Outside, despite a growing sense of queasiness, I stopped to take some pictures of the beautiful night scene of the Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo skyline.

Then I looked around for a garbage can and barely made it to one before I throw up. Let me tell you, I did not like having the Tokyo subway system between me and the hotel with my queasy feelings. I made it eventually, only having to hover above a squatty potty in the subway station for a minute before my body thought it was ridiculous to attempt that one!

We eventually made it back to Misawa the next day and we glad to see Em and the other 3 boys again. It was a fabulous trip with Max. He is such a good kid. It was nice to share this trip with him.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Oirase Gorge and Lake Towada Cycling Tour

My friend Merrill and I have been wanting to bike around Lake Towada all summer and finally did yesterday.

Our ride was about 34.4 miles. 3 miles of the Gorge and then the rest around the lake. Around the lake started out with 6 miles of accent of a never ending hill. It kept teasing us with brief down slopes followed by endless switch backs. That was even fun. After the 2 hours of accent we descended in about 20 minutes! That was really fun. There was only on turn I almost didn't make. The views were amazing, the air clean and crisp on a perfect autumn morning. After the quick 8 miles descent the rest was ups and downs around the shoreline.

This little stretch was one of the nicest: a long straight decent with a slight breeze causing a few leaves to fall as we road through this beautiful forest. 
This is one of the most beautiful peaceful places on earth. The lake itself is serene and perfect, but combined with the gorgeous gorge with it many stunning waterfalls...the combination is heavenly!

Lake Towada (十和田湖 Towada-ko?) is the largest crater lake in Honshū island, Japan. Located on the border between Aomori and Akita prefectures, it lies 400 meters (1,800 ft) above sea level and is 327.0m (1,073 ft) depth, and is drained by the Oirase river. With a surface area of 61.1 km², Towada is Japan's 12th largest lake, its bright blue color is due to its great depth. The lake is roughly circular, with two peninsulas extending from its southern shore approximately one-third into the center of the lake.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fit to Fight...almost...well now I am

 Em has been asking me to do a blog about how the Air Force PT (physical training) test is done. (Some of my Army friends would laugh and ask if the AF really has a PT test...but they wouldn't really be funny.) So, we have to test two times a year unless we pass with a 90% or higher. They have recently changed the rules of engagement (ROEs) making the test harder. There have subsequently been a lot of people getting kicked out of the AF.

The PT test is composed of measuring height, weight and waist. Only your body's waist measurement (20 pts) factors into the score.
Next comes push-ups (10 pts) and sit-ups (10 pts). As many as possible in 1 minute.
Then, the final and biggest part of test is the 1.5 mile run (60 pts). There are also, new July 1, minimums for each category as well as a max for the points:
Run: 14:00 minutes (9:34 max)
Waist: 39.0 inches (32.5 max)
Push-ups: 27 (57 max)
Sit-ups: 39 (54 max)

There you have it in a nut shell, the AF PT test. The testing has become much more strict over the past two years. The testers are notorious for not counting your push ups unless your arms are precisely 90 degrees and your body straight. Some people do tons of push ups but have 20 or so not count.

Flash back to 1 July: I take my annual PT test. I max out the run (9:28), the sit ups (60), the waist (31 inches), and then ... I get 25 push-ups with 3 not counted. I got stuck on the way up on 26 and then collapsed. Now if you add these up I get an amazing 94.5%!!!!!!! Well it would be awesome until you realize that 25 push ups doesn't meet the minimum and then I become the AF's first person to fail the new PT test standards (remember 1 July is when they started the minimum.)

So I had to go to the "Be Fit" class to learn about eating healthy and how to run faster. Hmmm not really the problem. Even the Group Commander (very important person, head of all the hospital people) took a personal interest since I am such an odd ball failing with a 94.5%. Em said "I have failed a lot of tests in my life, but never with a 94%!" I have also become the butt of A LOT of jokes. I.E. After winning the Australia Trip Sgt Laffitte (the most constant of those making fun of me) said, "I guess push ups wasn't one of the events!" No, it wasn't!!!!

So I started working harder on my push-ups. Started doing bench presses and triceps dips and butterflies but really for a month never felt any difference and felt even weaker on my push-ups. My friend Merrill and I started doing the 100 Push Up program. Still after weeks of doing this I didn't feel much improvement. Then after about 7 weeks, repeating weeks 4 and 5 of the program twice, I thought I could do over 30.

Fast forward to today.
I tested again: run-9:33,
and wait for it...
42 push-ups!!!!!

98.6%!!! and I passed. I feel a huge burden lifted. I guess working out does actually work!

These shorts are hot! not! (that "not" is in honor of Shawn Spencer's efforts on Psych to revive the term "not." said the Liar.)

I'd like to thank all those who helped make this possible:

Emily-for believing in me
Col T-for for making me not want to let him down
Ryan-my OB and work out partner for 2 weeks
Merrill-my push up partner
Janeen-my personal trainer and healthy eating coach and Duathlon nemesis
Wes-my pilot
Nice PT Testing lady-who counted all of my push-ups

No Thanks to:

TSgt Laffitte
and all the other people who think they are funny and kinda were!

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Tribe Has Spoken!

So get this...yesterday I saw an email advertising an event at The Club (each base has an enlisted and an officer's club, or a combined "collocated" club). It was a meet and great with some of the Survivor All-Stars!

Em and I are moderate to big Survivor fans; in fact I had just been looking into the application process to get on the show but gave up.  The event was for tonight from 5-7 and they were going to choose random people to compete in a "Survivor Challenge".  I wanted to attend and told Em to get a babysitter.

Then at lunch Em ran into some of the "Stars" signing autographs at the BX (Base Exchange or the equivilant of Mervyns meets Walmart) and called me very excited saying she put her arm around James and got to chat with Russell and  Sandra.  (Winner of last season.)

But then she couldn't find a babysitter. That combined with me being very tired, (all four boys woke up and came into our room at various times last night) led me to not feel up to going by myself (no kids allowed at event). BUT, my fabulous and selfless wife encouraged me to go without her saying it was a "once in a lifetime experience."  This is true.  Thank you, Hon!

So I popped over to have some light hors d'oeuvres hoping to meet some of them.  I did just that and got to talk to Ami Cusack ( Survivor: Vanuatu and Survivor: Micronesia).      
She was quite nice, personable, fun to talk with, pretty and I got to get some behind the scenes questions about Survivor answered.

As I ate my snacks, they did the drawing for the competition and I got chosen.

This is how it worked:  They picked two teams: an enlisted team and an officer team. Each team competed in a challenge with the last person to finish being eliminated and not moving on to the next round until one person from each team is left to compete in the final challenge.

First Challenge: Drinking giant pixie sticks the fastest.

Second: Using the pixie stick as a straw to pick up ping pong balls and carry them across the ballroom floor and drop them into a bag.  Repeat.

Next challenge: Race around a bunch of tires with some weird plastic cups under your feet with strings connected that you hold to help move your feet.

Next: While paired up with a Survivor All-Star race around the same tires while stepping into them with your foot at the same time as your partner.  My partner was Russell Swan (a very nice guy, Em says!) (Survivor: Samoa)

Next: A nasty one!!! A couple of scoops of squid guts had to be eaten. (My strategy quickly changed from trying to eat it all at once, (cue immediate gag reflex) to eating smaller bites on the count of three, (this worked once) to holding it in my mouth until the other guy gave up and threw up: making me one of two finalists!!! (I can still taste it and smell it.)

For the final challenge I had to peddle a large tricycle with Ami on the back. I was blind-folded and Ami was my guide. She led me around the tires where our handle bars got bent-losing precious time- but we corrected them and sped on.

Ami then directed me through a maze where I kept going left and then left until I spilled out of the maze passing the other guy.

Back onto the trike, Ami expertly led me around the ballroom to the final obstacles. I tore through the combat crawl sustaining multiple rug burns and losing my flip flops but ultimately emerged the winner!!!

And guess what?

 I am going (with Em) to 

And to think that I almost laid down at home and went to sleep.  Em had no idea that any of this was happening and when I walked in with giant check/coupon for the trip she was completely dumb founded and still doesn't believe I really did win.

What an awesome night!


And most of all...

Monday, August 23, 2010


Last year we went to the Nebuta parade, in Aomori City, during the day. This year we wanted to see how amazing they would look in the dark, lit up. They were amazing. The people are so energetic and happy. Despite it being so crowded everyone seems to enjoy it. The boys were all dressed in their festival Jimbae.

Em took a little girl for her mom since she was struggling to see over us and 3 other rows. We were with the Balls at a street corner. At each corner they stop the floats and then quickly spin them around.
 Nebuta is our favorite festival! (Too bad it was blisteringly hot.)

There are many theories about the origin of the Nebuta Festival. One is that it originated with the subjugation of rebels in the Aomori district by "General TAMURAMARO" in the early 800's. He had his army create large creatures, called "Nebuta", to frighten the enemy. Another theory is that the Nebuta Festival was a development of the "TANABATA" festival in China. One of the customs during this festival was "TORO" floating. A "TORO" is a wooden frame box wrapped with Japanese paper. The Japanese light a candle inside the "TORO" and put it out to float on the river or the sea. The purpose for doing this is to purify themselves and send the evil spirits out to sea. "TORO" floating is still one of the most impressive and beautiful sights during the summer nights of the Japanese festivals. On the final night, "TORO" floating is accompanied by a large display of colorful fireworks. This is said to be the origin of the Nebuta Festival. Gradually these floats grew in size, as did the festivities, until they are the large size they are now. Today the Nebuta floats are made of a wood base, carefully covered with this same Japanese paper, beautifully colored, and lighted from the inside with hundreds of light bulbs. In early August the colorful floats are pulled through the streets accompanied by people dancing in native Nebuta costumes, playing tunes on flutes and drums. Many Aomori citizens are involved in the building of these beautiful floats. The Nebuta designers create their designs patterned after historical people or themes. They begin developing themes immediately after the previous year's festivities come to a close. Consequently, it takes the entire year, first in the development, then in the construction of the Nebuta float.