23 October 2013

Alaska Adventures, Part 2

One of the first things I did while in Alaska was casually explore the Fairbanks area. This included hitting up the free Alaska historic theme park, which was okay.  It's a good thing it was such a nice day, and the fact that it was free helped.

At least I got to ride a giant salmon.  That's always a win, isn't it?

Like I mentioned in Part 1, Aaron and I were able to spend a day together in Fairbanks, so I thought this was the perfect opportunity to sneak in the obligatory pixelated Aaron.

I'd love to have this art.

The Tanana Valley Farmer's Market was great. So many beautiful vegetables and local crafts!  I suppose that since they only have a few months of decent weather, the 19 hours or so of sunlight really make up for it.

And of course Denali.  I talked about that a little in the last post, but it was gorgeous!!!

It was crazy, the weather would be awesome one minute, and then we'd drive a few miles and it would be freezing and windy.  And then a few miles later, totally fine.

This was pretty neat.  Inside of the Eielson Visitor center, about 66 miles into Denali National Park, was this image on the window to show you were the 2 peaks of Denali (Mt. McKinley) would be if you could see them.  Only 30% of the time you are able to see the mountain, and obviously the day we went was super overcast.  There were markers on the floor for you to stand on based on your height.

In order to preserve and protect the natural resources of the park, you have to take a shuttle bus if you'd like to go any more than about 20 miles in.  That was totally fine with me, since the view would totally distract me of this interesting road.

Oh, you know, just napping on a bear.

The last day I spent in Denali, I was pretty beat.  I took it easy going for a few short hikes and then walking through the woods to the dog sled demonstrations.  It was pretty interesting to learn about the dogs and the importance of them in the park.  During the winter, the sled dogs are the only way for the park rangers to patrol the land.  A few of the more friendly dogs were chained outside and were more than happy to be pet and cuddled with the visitors.

Later that day I was picked up directly from the park by the cool college kids that work at the Denali Mountain Morning Hostel. I stayed in a womens only room in the octagon log cabin fit with our own private giant bathroom.  Seriously, it had this enormous tile and stainless steel shower, and it was quite refreshing to stay in there as long as I wanted to with the door locked.  My last hostel had quarter/min showers because they had to truck water into the location.  I settled down, reorganized my gear and walked across the street to this great little everything-homemade restaurant where I got a huge plate of fish and chips, a local beer, and just relaxed.  I was in no rush, and when the woman carded me for my beer, she must have spotted my military ID card, because she brought me over their last piece of strawberry rubarb pie (which I had previously inquired about but then declined), thanked my husband for his military service, apologized for the wait (I wasn't aware of one) and said the pie was on the house.  I was stuffed so I brought it back to the hostel and ate it later that night, and it was delicious.  Also, when I told thanked Aaron later for the free pie, he was extremely jealous that he had not yet been given free pie for being in the military, but I have for being married to him.  Oh the benefits of a military spouse!

The next morning I caught a ride back to the park from the hostel folks again.  I didn't have time to go for any hikes so I explored the bookshop and museum, and tried to stay out of the rain until my train came.  I was SO excited about this part of my trip.  I was originally going to cheap it out and take a bus from Denali to Anchorage (about 7 hours - $60) and instead decided on the more adventurous route of the Alaska Railroad (about 8 hours - $156).  It was even better because they were able to provide me with a military discount of 20% off! Sweet!  I wasn't counting on it because not all places (especially in Alaska) give military discounts to spouses.

Taking the Alaska Railroad - Denali Star was worth EVERY.SINGLE.PENNY.  It was so much fun and relaxing and the sights were amazing!  I paid for the cheaper class, Adventure class rather than GoldStar Service.  The main differences between the two were price, seats (all seats in GoldStar had a domed roof), and GoldStar got priority restaurant seating.  I'm glad I chose Adventure class and saved $100.  There weren't many people on the train, and even in Adventure class, there was a domed section that you could take turns sitting in.  My assigned seat was just below that, so I could see that barely anyone was utilizing it, so I sat their almost the whole time.  My assigned seat reclined a ton, so I was able to zonk out comfortably for a bit.  I also opted not to eat at the restaurant, but grab a beer and a snack from the cafe/snack bar.

For nearly 8 hours, I had views like the one below.  There's no way a bus on a highway would have this good of a view.

This is one of my favorite pictures I took on the trip.  In between every train car was open doors, so you could stand with the wind in your face and some fresh air.  I hung out here a lot.

See what I mean? Gorgeous!

Outside the train.

Well, this is still only a week into my Alaska trip, so there's much more to come!  Keep a look out for my next post!

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08 September 2013

Alaska Adventures, Part 1

Where in the World is Kacey?!?!

I've spent the last few weeks in Alaska and haven't had full access to computers, and while I could blog from my phone or public computers, I'm not willing to do that - not while I'm busy having fun at least.  Sometimes this blog has to wait for me to catch up.  I'd apologize, but I'm not really sorry about it.  I'm still 'on the road' so you're going to have to put up with some instagram photos until I have time to edit and do a full months recap.

So Aaron had to go to central Alaska for a while with work stuff, and I was able to utilize Space-A to get to Alaska.  *Warning - Bragging Ahead!* Not only was I able to score a free flight to Alaska from Japan, but it just happened to be on the plane that Aaron flies.  AND Aaron happened to be on that flight also.  He wasn't flying that day, but we were able to hang out in the back together for the trip over.

Freaking. Awesome. Right?!

I couldn't pass this trip up.  Ever since I could remember I've wanted to visit Alaska.  I don't even know why a 7 year old would want to go to Alaska, but I did.  Free flight to one of my dream location? Yes please!  Aaron was going to be working constantly for numerous weeks, so I planned to do my own traveling and exploring.  One of us should have fun, right?  Sure!  I went at the same time he did with the intentions of traveling solo and if he happened to have a day or two off, we could spend some time together.

I ended up staying at an AMAZING hostel in Fairbanks, Alaska.  It's called Sven's Base Camp Hostel and I highly recommend this if you need a relaxing, laid back and fun place to stay.  Everyone was great here and I LOVED my tent cabin (The Lynx).  I had the whole thing to myself most of the nights I stayed.
I pretty much did everything there was to do in Fairbanks.  Four days was more than enough to become a tour guide, which I didn't become, but probably could have.  My second day in town Aaron was able to meet up with me to explore.  We hit up a museum, downtown, and my favorite thing to do in a new town, go to a farmers market!  We had a delicious lunch of street tacos and elk sausage and then hit up Hot Licks (hehe) for some homemade Alaskan Blueberry Ice Cream.  Aaron had to catch the last bus back to where he was staying, and I headed to the Fairbanks State Fair.  It was actually pretty decent.  I was educated on the Eskimo Olympic games and traditions, listened to music, looked at Alaskan crafty things and ate deep fried pizza.  

I met a bunch of great people from all over the world at the hostel: Finland, Iceland, Barcelona, Australia, Montana, etc.  I also met Chris and Jimmy who are a couple of awesome dudes currently riding their motorcycles over 24,000 miles, through 17 countries (Alaska to Argentina), and using these 6 months of their lives to raise awareness and money for Cure for Life Foundation.  Check out their site, Heads in the Clouds Wheels on the Ground to follow their adventure and find out more information.  Bad-ass to say the least.

I spent another day in Fairbanks running some errands, getting my stuff together, making traveling plans, and sleeping in.  I explored the area a bit more, and took a 15 hour bus tour to the Arctic Circle.  Worth. Every. Penny.
I had originally thought to rent a car, but decided not to for a few reasons.  The ONLY road north to the Arctic Circle (198 miles north of Fairbanks) and Prudhoe Bay (500 miles north of Fairbanks) is the Dalton Highway.  Also known as the "Haul Road", this is the road you might know from the show Ice Road Truckers.  Yup, that same road.  The ONLY reason this road exists and still exists is to build the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and support the Prudhoe Bay oil fields.  Due to the conditions of the road, regular rental cars are banned from this highway (true story: I had to sign something saying I wouldn't take my rental on this road).  There are just a few companies that will rent vehicles specifically for this trip north.  Just to explain how dangerous this road could be, these rentals include: a CB radio, numerous spare tires, first aid kid, a car maintenance kit, etc.  In the winter they also include a Satellite phone, warmth kit, studded tired, engine block heater, etc.  Asides from a rental fee of $200-$300 per day, I would be driving by myself (not usually an issue, but here...ehhh...) and basically have to pay attention to the road 120%, not being able to enjoy the area and it would take forever.

So I went through Northern Alaska Tour Company and paid $189 for a 15 hour bus tour.  I was a little hesitant because, lets face it, that's a freaking long time on a bus not knowing if your tour guide is going to be annoying or your fellow visitors obnoxious.  Look at me, being all positive and stuff.  But like I said, it was worth EVERY PENNY.  Not only was our tour guide the best tour guide ever in the history of tours.  (Seriously, I'm writing the company a letter about how great she was), but the information she provided about Alaska, the Pipeline, and the highway was PRICELESS.  It would have been a pretty freaking boring trip by myself, and I wouldn't have known about anything I was viewing.  We learned about the Alaskan gold rush, Alaskan natives, the pipeline (which I became much more interested in than I ever expected), oil production and the tundra.  Seriously. Worth every penny.

After actually physically crossing the Arctic Circle, we stopped on the side of the road for some blueberry picking and to dig a hole 8" deep so we could feel the permafrost.  I don't know why I was surprised to put my hand in the dirt and hit a block of ice (well, frozen ground) so close to the surface. I mean, I've learned about the permafrost in school since I was little.  It was just a whole different experience actually seeing and feeling it first hand (pun totally intended).  I guess I always learned better in labs.

The final morning I was there, I picked up our rental car to go get Aaron and head down to Denali National Park.  Driving on the other side of the road in Japan seems so normal to me now, I was a little nervous to drive back in the states. Not to mention I was able to go really, REALLY fast.  70mph fast, which is so much faster than in Okinawa. ZOOOM!!!

Aaron and I spent the day together in Denali, taking the bus 4 hours into the park to Eielson Visitor Center.  You can only take a private vehicle a couple of miles into the park and then buses the rest of the way.  We were hoping on seeing Mt. McKinley aka Denali, but weren't successful.  On any given day, there is only a 30% chance of being able to view the mountain due to the crazy weather there.  Below is a picture taken at Eielson.  If we were able to see Denali, it would be towards the top right of the shot.

Regardless, it was a fun and beautiful day.  We didn't see much wildlife, but up in Alaska you're able to see nearly anything just on the side of the road.  Because of Aaron's work schedule, we were only able to spend a day in the park with each other and then grab some dinner.  It was totally worth it though, since that was the last day we were able to see each other for 3 weeks.  I would definitely like to visit here together again to explore deeper into the wilderness and do some backpacking and camping.

Denali was awesome even though I only saw a small percentage of it.  Like I said, I'd love to go back.  I have so many photos I want to share with you, but it's going to be a little bit longer before I get a chance to organize and sort through them.  At least you get the idea of what I've been up to.  By the time I left Denali, I was only day 8 into my trip, so I have lots more to share.

Check back soon!!!

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24 August 2013

July 2013 Monthly Recap

Oh Man! I just realized now, nearly a month later that this never posted for you guys!  Ahhh!!! I've been recently traveling a bit, which I'll catch you up on for the August Recap, but for now, enjoy July's!

The longer we are here the faster time seems to be going.  This month was almost strangely speedy though.  I started volunteering more often, including an entire week (part-time) of organizing storage for the new USO Okinawa branch office.  It was sort of heaven for me, sorting through office supplies and putting them in order.  Although I only worked half days, by the time I drove back and forth to the other base and then did my normal daily errands and chores, the day was done!!!  No time for the beach...pffft!!! I haven't posted here at all this month, but check over at Kacey's Kitchen where I've been doing an "Eating Japan" series of everything we've been shoving in our faces...oink oink!  Now, onto the recap!

Let's start off with a smiling face... How she lays like this with her legs only an inch off the ground, I'll never understand.

I can't get enough of the beach.  Kassie, Maylee and I explored some islands on the eastern side of Okinawa and found what I think is my new favorite hidden beach.  Don't go there.  It's really horrible.

Aaron's parents sent us a Betsy Ross flag just in time for Fourth of July.  It actually looked really nice in this huge window.  Plus, Aaron is a direct descendant of Betsy Ross, so we definitely have to represent the family!  True story.

Have I mentioned you can get really cheap and really good massages here?  I'm talking $30 per hour.  Crazzzy!  This may or may not be my first one here.  But, it was my first Lomilomi, which is a Hawaiian massage.  Kacey approved for sure.

We signed up for library memberships and received this awesome pin.  Libraries remind me of a dream I had where I said "Read more books motherfuckers", and ever since, I have really wanted to make that saying a t-shirt.  You heard it here first.

Aaron finally got certified and we were able to go diving together a couple of weeks ago.  We did two dives and had tons of fun.  I forgot how hungry and tired diving makes you.  We went right off the Sunabe Seawall.  Although people dive there all the time and say how nice it is, I couldn't believe HOW nice it was. At one people I was floating around at about 45 feet and actually thought to myself "Wow, I feel like I'm swimming in a sea of coral!".  Geez.  Dumbass. Ha!!!

On our way back from returning our rental gear, we stopped for mango shaved ice at a stand run by two older gentlemen.  I pass them all the time and have never stopped before.  It's going to be hard to drive past WITHOUT stopping from now on.  Shaved ice is a huge thing here, it's like snowcone but a MILLION times better.  It's light and fluffy and they layer the toppings.  You can even get them with azuki beans (red beans)!

Breakfast is awesome and brunch with champagne and friends is even better.  A few of us in the neighborhood have been taking turns with brunch on the weekends, which is one of the most brilliant ideas EVER.  I made baked caprese egg bites one day.  My turn to host next!

 Not the most exciting picture, but it's so nice that Italian tomato chicken (which I think is supposed to be Chicken Parmesan) comes with peace!

We like to torture the cat.  On this particular day, I dressed her in the shirt I was brought home from the hospital in.  She just laid there, defeated. Muahaha!
Did I ever mention how I love going to the beach.  Another exploration day lead to Aaron and I laying in the sun on Ikei Island.  When it got too hot we floated around in the 86°F ocean.  It was rough I tell you. So. Freaking. Rough.

Penis cookies.  I'm not even going to go there...my parents read this blog.

This book was recommended to me, and I finally got around to checking it out at the bookstore.  This book is beautiful, and has so many fresh Japanese basics.  It would fit lovely in my kitchen if anyone wants to buy it for me.

I've been desperately needing a hair cut, and although a few years ago I swore off dying my hair to go all natural, I couldn't help feel like I needed a change.  I received a ton of in-town stylish recommendations and eventually made my decision based on closing my eyes and pointing to the list and made my appointment at Earth.  Armed with multiple photos and a list of English=Japanese hair style terms, I decided to go all out.  I paid extra for a higher level stylist, opted for highlights, and chose a deep conditioning treatment.  A few people came over to talk with me about options and what I wanted done, they wrote everything up and reviewed the price with me to make sure I was okay with it.  I thought that was awesome. No surprises!!!  I showed my inspiration photos and then told the colorist that he was free to use his judgement, which seemed to take him by surprise but was very happy about.  The only thing I told the stylist was "lots of LONG layers" and I want to keep my hair very long.  After 5 HOURS in the chair (not an exaggeration), multiple glasses of iced tea, my butt was sore, but I left a happy girl.  I originally requested a subtle ombre coloring, so when I took the picture below, I was a little concerned because I had foil all the way to my scalp.... But being as flexible as I am with my hair (I really don't care), I was curious what he decided to do.

The colorist was awesome, we talked quite a bit, his English was pretty good, and I tried to speak in as much Japanese as possible, which I'm sure I butchered because they were really amused with it.  We also taught each other some words in our respective languages.  I felt like a tool being a little nervous to speak with him so much, but it got easier as the hours passed.  Gotta take advantage of speaking the language when I can!  So I was happy with the color, but I was BLOWN away (hehe) buy the stylist.  This was BY FAR the best hair cut I've ever had in my life.  Even though he was really tall, he ended up kneeling most of the time to cut the back of my hair.  He was a wizard with scissors I tell you.  He really did keep my length, which you can see on the picture on the right (I was headed to bed when I took that picture) and thinned my hair so much I swear I lost 10lbs.  I have really thick hair, and was so impressed with the way he thinned it out with scissors (not a razor), that it really showed off the layers and actually makes my hair manageable.  The picture on the right shows the color a little bit more, although it's another weird photo - I'm sure you'll see better pictures in the upcoming posts.  I have highlights on top also, but those are a little more subtle then the ones underneath, which I love.  People say there are better places to go, but I'm going to have a hard time leaving this stylist.

KayCee, Kaylee and I did a last minute beach trip to catch the sunset the other day.  Seriously, anywhere you go here the view is beautiful.

I feel like these might be floating around the US somewhere, but either way, I found them interesting.  So...it's  basically a $1.00 (¥100) converter for smaller batteries when you need a larger one.  I feel like it would melt my gadget, but if you've tried it, let me know.

I had the pleasure of dog sitting ANOTHER lab.  This is Millie, and it's not just her brown coat that reminds me so much of Bosco, but her personality as well.  She thinks shes a human and she'll do anything for your love.  Unfortunately she hurt her leg at some point, so we weren't able to play as much as we would have liked, but she did get some human cuddle time in, with both me and the elephant.

Lauryn and I dubbed this entire day amazing before it was even 1pm.  After walking the dogs we headed off to do some paddleboarding in the East China Sea at Torii Beach.  This was my first time and it definitely showed.  The ocean was a little choppy (for beginners) once we got out there, but I was able to stand up a few times and we had fun just paddling around on our knees as well.  After baking in the sun for about an hour we decided to return them ($5 an hour) and float around in the water just enjoying the day.  I couldn't believe how many different muscles it took to stay balanced, pros make it look so easy! We later grabbed some gyros at Sunabe Gyro's (I got goat, she got falafel) and sat on the seawall enjoying our delicious grub.  Picture of my view below.  It was just a really good relaxing day all around.

At the end of the month we sponsored a new guy moving to the island and joining Aaron's squadron.  We were pretty excited about this.  The new guy seemed pretty cool based on the emails and phone calls we exchanged, and we were happy we could help someone out.  At a minimum, the base requests that you pick up the new person, book lodging for them, and show them around.  When you take into consideration that no one has a car or even a drivers license when they first get here, there is lots of relying on complete strangers for help.  Seeing that we only arrived in February, our lack of freedom was fresh in our minds and we were determined to be awesome sponsors! Anyway, the new guy ended up being really cool and laid back and I'd like to think we helped him get settled in a little and have some fun.

While waiting at the airport, I had to get some shots with the mascot.  He's so happy sitting in an airport all day!

Last but not least, fancy turtle!  While browsing a pet store, I stumbled upon the store turtle.  I'm not sure where he/she was going all dressed up like that, but it was a pretty huge and cool dude.

Again, sorry for not realizing this post hadn't actually post.  In just a few days, we'll be recapping August!  Woo Woo!!!

So tell me, what have you been up to?
Do you have a blog with monthly recaps?  If so, leave me the link and I'll share them with the world!!

Click here for all of the past monthly recaps.

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02 July 2013

June 2013 Monthly Recap

I feel like I've been getting busier and busier, which makes me really glad I started this monthly recap.  Although it doesn't cover everything we've done, it's a good little summary if I haven't gotten a lot of posts in throughout the month.  Aaron has stayed busy with work, and we've gotten a lot done around the house.  We've I gotten a lot more plants, which is a chore in itself to maintain all of them, but they make me happy.  We've also been doing a bunch of wood working projects which I'll share at some point.  We made our own end-grain checker pattern cutting board, our own 6 foot long floating shelf, and a console table behind our couch.  It's finally starting to feel cozy here.  Below are some other things that have been keeping us busy.

One of the bases here held a flightline fair with lots of planes on display for sofa status folks and locals to climb in, take pictures, and ask questions about the planes that are stationed here.  I finally got an up close and personal tour of Aarons tanker.  In typical Kacey style, I climbed all over everything had to get a picture of me in the pilot seat pretending to fly and then laying in the boom pod.  While he worked the fair, I climbed in and out of every osprey, helo, and cargo I could.  More pictures in a future post.  It was pretty neat to see all the locals wanting to learn about everything and how grateful they were that we are here.  

This next picture blows my mind every time I think about it. I've known Aaron nearly 16 years or so, and never EVER once have I seen him eat a pancake like this before now.  Hell, I've never seen anyone eat a pancake like this.  He hollowed it out and poured syrup completely in it.  By the way, these were the best pancakes ever....brown butter is the secret!!!

People ask us a lot of there are weird bugs or rodents here.  From my experience, I'd say not really.  We experienced tons of bugs in Florida, and here I would just say that there are A LOT more of them.  EVERYWHERE.  There's definitely a larger variety of spiders.  And then there's this guy who's been hanging out on our recycle bin for a while.

I dropped a friend off at the airport a few weeks ago and decided to take advantage of my trip south.  I got lost and found some new neighborhoods, and then headed to the Itoman Farmers Market which is now my favorite market to go to here, but a trek from our house. There is one huge building of fruit and produce, one building of fish, one building of restaurants and gift things, a garden center, and a handful of food stands.  I bought myself a couple of the largest oysters I've ever seen, they were shucked and wrapped up in ice for me to go.  I drove down to the southern most cape of the island and ate my oysters on the cliffs with this view.  How is this even my life?!?!?! Seriously...it's just a normal Wednesday.

While I personally didn't care to see the headliner American pop band that played here last weekend, I was curious about the turnout and how the base put on this type of all day music festival.  It was pretty freaking professional, I was impressed. And I couldn't believe how many people there there. It was insane to see that many people on base, never mind that many Americans in one place in Japan.  I couldn't get enough of the sunset, and left shortly after it set.

I've been trying to get some volunteer hours under my belt, and am still in the process of applying through different places.  I'm officially a volunteer with the USO - which just reminded me that I need to pick up my volunteer appreciation certificate!!! Earlier this month I volunteered at 6am to set up a tent and grills and whip up hundreds of pancakes for the runners of a 5k.  It was a lot of fun and everyone was super nice, so I've already signed up for future events.

I was really excited that I got to dog-sit for 2 labs for a few days. It made me miss Bosco a whole bunch, but it felt good to be appreciated by a Labrador for a while.  Those of you with labs know exactly what I mean.

We spent a hot day up north and hiked Hiji Falls.  Bring lots of water, there are 5 million stairs.

Spelling gone wrong.  Cantion = caution and an undocumented wraning = warning.

We've got bullfighting here in Okinawa, and it's a little different that what you probably think.  This time, there are bulls fighting each other.  The first one to chicken out and turn to run away loses.  Trainers are there to encourage the bulls to stay mad and against one another.  It was really awesome to go to a local event like this.  I'd like to do a post on it soon.

Oh! Here's a picture of me going wood shopping.  This is for our console table.  Do you have any idea how awkward it is to put a 10 ft board in a itsy-bitsy car (that is NOT 10ft long) all by yourself in the tiniest parking space ever while chasing down your lumber cart as the wind whips it around the parking lot?  It's awkward.  I'm surprised no one stopped me with it sticking out the window.

One of the most exciting this I did this month happened just this past Sunday.  We went deep sea fishing with  some friends about 3 hours off the coast of Okinawa.  Our boat of 10 people caught about 70 fish, mostly Yellowfin Tuna and Skipjack Tuna.  This is one of the smaller tunas, on average they were 2-2.5 feet long.  Someone on the boat caught a 70lb tuna on a drift line and a 3.5ft wahoo while trolling.  It was a crazy long day, being on the boat for about 11 hours, but it was so much fun and I'm such a happy girl seeing all of the fish in my freezer.  Oh man, the amount of raw tuna we've consumed the past few days is probably criminal.  So amazing.

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