Sendai Christmas

Sorry it has been so long since I posted. This was written in December, but apparently not posted...oops!

Today is my first day back at work, but I have been working all break. Luke and I spent our vacation time working on our next video game instead of traveling so that we could make money instead of spending it!

But we did take a mini break to go to Sendai for three days. We left on Christmas Eve and returned the day after Christmas. It was nice to get out and enjoy the city life for a little bit.

Found a great bagel place and had Mexican food for Christmas dinner! Yes, I am from Texas and missed that Mexican food! Pretty good.

A few other random pictures and a model at an underwear store...not too sure about her!

Gospel Town Christmas

I snowed pretty hard Saturday and into the night. Jo was not able to make it to church because she didn't feel comfortable driving in the snow but maybe she will make it next Sunday. The day was still very beautiful and by late morning some of the snow started to dive in huge lumps off the tall pine trees everywhere.

Parking lot at Gospel Town

The church was absolutely beautiful layered with a fresh blanket of crisp white snow.

The Choir sang and got the congregation motivated! They even had everyone sing in English for one verse of a Christmas carol (of course I cried!)

Then after we all ate a big Christmas meal (Japanese style) together.
I helped, while Luke took pictures!

Apparently this is the face I make if you call my name and catch me off guard!

An even more embarrassing face.

As food starts to fill the table we gather to eat. So many different kinds of food. Yes those are pigs in a blanket! I didn't get to eat one but just knowing someone made them put a big smile on my face. The food was exceptional.

And then we played a game, well Luke and I watched but...It was a cross between telephone and charades! Awesome and hilarious!

Winter Wonderland

I love snow! I love snow a lot! I love the way the air smells when winter has come. I love walking outside, feeling toasty warm in my jacket and the cold on my face as each snow flake hits it with a lazy kind of grace. I especially love listening to Christmas music as I enjoy the first real day of snow. I want to share with you what I saw today. I know many of you are dealing with typical winter weather, with tons and tons of snow. You either love it or hate it. But try and remember back to all those perfect winter days. Just the right amount of snow, you don't hate it yet, and remember how good it feels to be alive!

This was my view out of my living room window this morning. I had no idea that it was going to snow. As Luke was leaving for work and going out the door he called back, "Go look out the window!" In the distance you can see Ohira castle.

Outside our front door are some beautiful flowering bushes. I was surprised at how late they were blooming but you can still see buds forming in the left.

The empty rice fields across the street from our apartment.

Ohira Castle

Many trees still have berries and oranges on them.

The garden at the kindergarten

It's too bad this car is in the driveway. Every house has a beautiful garden. The architecture of the trees is breathtaking...then add snow...magnificent! The houses may not be pretty but who's lookin' at the houses!!!

Gospel Town

As Luke was discussing Christmas with Reiko, his adviser, the subject of Christianity came up. Luke told her that it is a Christian holiday. She wanted to know if he was a Christian and when he said yes she was interested. She had never met a Christian before. Kinda cool. So she looked up the church in Ohira for us and drove us last Sunday. We knew that there was a church some where but we had no idea how to find it or how to get to it once we did.

Reiko drove us there and when we got out and had met someone to take us in she said that she wasn't coming back to get us. We were both very confused but apparently she had already arranged for some one to bring us back.

The whole church area is called Gospel Town. It is composed of several buildings with a pond in the middle surrounded by flowered bushes. Both pastors (husband and wife) speak pretty good English but the services are in Japanese. Luke translated for me. A familiar song was played, Silent Night, of course in Japanese but as I sang along in Japanese I could hear Luke singing in English and then on the next verse he sang the Japanese and I sang the English. We both were so overwhelmed by the experience and the song. There were many tears of joy.

All of the buildings and furnishings within were imported from America. I believe the church has been there for 20 years or so.

The pastors have a pretty cool story. They both attended Baptist seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas! That is actually where they met. They were the only two Japanese people there and when they finally met, each thought the other had been Korean and were surprised that they were Japanese!

We did meet another American family who sat behind us. They live in Izumi, near Sendai. Very nice people. After the service everyone eats lunch together in one of the other buildings. It is a good chance to get to know other members of the church. As we were waiting for our ride back to our apartment (another hour and a half) we sat in on a bible study that meets to discuss the message from the morning.

It was a great day. I was invited to a tea the next day for the women of the church which I attended. That was also a great time. Getting to know the women of the community, share some pastries (who doesn't love that!) and work on my Japanese language skills!

This is the Cafe where the ladies gathered.

The pastor is on the left and the American woman is Adena and then her friend and her friend's two children. American furniture but we are still all sitting on the floor! I guess I never really noticed the difference in children who are raised with Christian parents and those that aren't in the US but here, in this culture, you can definitely tell. This brother and sister just loved each other and played endlessly. Full of joy and no worry. It was beautiful.

More women from the church. The lady on the left made the pastries, and also makes beautiful jewelry, so she and I are going to be good friends! I got the recipe for her meat pie already!

The kitchen in the Cafe. Everything in these buildings down to the cabinets were imported! The pastor said that we are welcome to come and use the big oven any time! Oh yeah!

Before training on Wednesday Luke and I went with Jo to the library to renew our books and I invited her to join us for church on Sunday. As it turns out she went to college for two years at a Christian college. Very interesting. But she has never been to church. This Sunday is all the Christmas festivities so this will be a great day to go to church. I can't wait!

Let's get physical!

On my last trip to the library Jo and I took a new way home. It was beautiful, through the mountains and past a gym. She asked me if I liked to go to the Training Center. I said it had been a while since Luke or I had been to a gym, college to be exact. But now we are members and have been three times! So glad we could find something to keep the rest of our muscles active. All that biking is great for the legs but not so much for the rest of the body. Working out is always more fun with friends! I will be sure to add pictures of us as we change.

Japanese Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time of celebration. To gather together friends and family, old and new. That is exactly what we did this year, thousands of miles away from our American families.

When Luke and I first got married I decided that I wanted to cook the Thanksgiving meal. Christmas was always spent traveling and I wanted to cook a meal for the whole family. This year was no exception. Being in Japan wasn't going to stop this girl from cooking a big traditional meal!

Thanksgiving, as you well know, falls on a Thursday and since the Japanese don't celebrate Thanksgiving (they have Monday off but don't actually do anything) we switched our dinner to Saturday night so that I could have some time to cook.

I spent most of the day like this, head down and cooking!

It took me a very long time to come up with the menu. I first thought of everything that I usually cook and then had to search the grocery store to be sure that I could find all of these ingredients! Quite a challenge.

The guest list was 9, more than I had cooked for before, but I was up to the challenge! Made my list, checked it...more than twice, and went shopping. When I was almost done with shopping I got a text from Luke saying that three of our guests would not be coming! Of course that didn't stop me from making food for 9! My friend Jo (the one taking me shopping) said that her family would eat lots! I was grateful.

My planned menu:
Deviled eggs
Luke's cozy stew
Thyme and lemon chicken legs(instead of turkey)
Amazing stuffing!
Cranberry sauce (if I could find cranberries!)
Green bean casserole
Chive mashed potatoes
Three-seed rolls
Cranberry Orange Cheesecake (of course I made a cheesecake!)

While shopping for ingredients, and a hand mixer, Luke finds a can of whole cranberry sauce in an import store! I am grateful!

The cheesecake I made with a chocolate crust. These Milenium cookies did the trick. They're like a Japanese Oreo (complete with Vanilla spelled Baunilha!) I find you can use any hard cookie to make the crust of a cheesecake!

Ok so I go a new hand mixer just for this occasion...but as I was mixing the cheesecake filling (first item of the day) the motor burnt out! I was very peeved. Here you can see me mixing by hand once again!

Then it was on to Deviled Eggs. I have never made these before, and I think after this adventure I will leave it up to someone else. Apparently very fresh eggs are hard to separate from the shell, so my mother told me as I was cursing at the eggs that morning. I got most of the out, gave up on some, but none were pretty!

While slaving over the eggs, my mother tells me I would be crazy to try and make the rolls from scratch, sans hand mixer, so I nix the rolls.

Chive mashed potatoes. Creamy and buttery. While washing the potatoes to put in the boiling water Luke looks at the mass of potatoes and we decide that I don't need to put in the whole 4 pounds. Yet when I got to the stage of adding the cream and butter I forgot that I didn't have 4 pounds of potatoes and added the full amount of cream and butter. They were VERY creamy potatoes, but loved just the same!

No pictures of the other menu items because I was too busy slaving, but I did manage to find corn meal at the import store to make the cornbread for the stuffing from scratch. In the time crunch the green beans were cut as well. As we were eating our chicken, I was describing what I usually do with the stuffing, that it was missing dried cranberries because they can't be found in Japan. Then I remember, the cranberry sauce! Crap. Luke says it's fine without it but I say, "We got this freaking cranberry sauce and we are going to eat it!" I quickly heat it up on the stove, add some cinnamon and we are in business!

All in all, it was a success.

The whole gang, with stuffed bellies! My friend Jo to my right and her daughter and son, and Mitch (another JET) to Luke's left.

New Hair Cut

Got my hair cut on Saturday! I love it! They give you a head, neck and back massage with aromatic oils on your scalp before they start the cutting. It was AWESOME!

The Best Fries EVER!

These are the best fries EVER if I do say so myself!

I discovered how to make these fries for Thanksgiving last year and have been making them ever since. It was a quick and easy treat that we would eat upon occasion in our apartment in Waukee. Now that we are in Japan, it is something that reminds me of home. I had been feeling a little blue and remembered that I could make these. We had all the ingredients! Now when I am feeling like I really miss America and being home, I whip up some of these delicious fries.

What food reminds you of home?

Frodo and Sam vs. the Volcano?

At long last I have been able to complete this post! I won't go into lengthy detail about where we were when because you probably already read the itinerary so I will just tell you about the interesting stuff. And of course pictures!

We had everything that we needed and were practically all packed up, just those few morning things that would need packed. Luke set off to bed and I was soon to follow. In the middle of the night, like 2 AM, I wake to the sounds of my husband puking his guts out in our living room into my one and only stock pot! We thought at first that it could be H1N1 because a child at school got it but it turned out to be something he had eaten for dinner. When we woke bright and early (ok not bright) Luke was feeling much better, just weak from having nothing inside him!

We packed everything up and headed on our bikes, gear on our back, to the Yakuba (Village Office) where we would store our bikes until we got back, and then to the bus stop.

We arrived at the brand new bus stop 35 minutes early so we would not miss the bus. I am standing on the side of the road, desperately searching in both directions for anything that looks like it could be a bus and I see one. It's going the wrong direction but heading up to where we dropped our bikes off. And then it came back the same way and off it goes. We wait, and wait. We wait for 25 minutes past when the bus should have been there and then I say we need to call someone! If we don't get to Sendai we are going to miss the next bus which we actually have reservations for! Turns out we were given the wrong location to wait for the bus, it was actually that other bus I had seen and we were supposed to catch it at the Yakuba! Yeah I know!

So after calling Reiko-San she picked us up and drove us into Sendai. She was headed that way, and she is awesome! We made it to the bus station in Sendai with 20 minutes to spare!

The almost 4 hour bus ride to Kisakata was beautiful. Luke and I weren't able to get seats next to each other but, like nerds, we text-ed each other during the trip. "oh look at this girl's purse next to me! It is so cute" "Look how beautiful!" "Did you see that giant set of fries attached to that McDonald's?" "Ocean!" Yeah, we are total nerds.

We got to town, found a camp site and got some food before setting up camp.

Our first tent together! Small and cozy. Sheltered by really tall pine trees and behind the trees...the ocean!

Luke getting in touch with his girlie Japanese side outside the Ramen shop. That's my husband alright!

The man who owns the Ramen shop invited us to bar-b-Q at a friend's house that night. After setting up the tent we head back to the Ramen shop to meet the owner to go to dinner. As we are walking across town we get the joy of seeing the sunset over the ocean. And I begin to get the worst migraine in history! But like a trooper I made it all the way to the friends house before having to lay on the floor under a blanket praying to throw up. After a long time...I don't really know how long, Luke had convinced them that I was well enough to go back to camp to sleep. They don't really understand that when you have a migraine the best thing is to sleep in a dark quiet place. But after a short sleep, when the alarm went off at 4:00, I felt great! We packed up camp and headed to the mountain.

Some of my favorite moments from climbing the mountain:

The beginning of the mountain trail....ahhh the bottom, nice and flat and paved with stairs.

A beautiful lookout a small distance up the mountain. I stopped here coming down as well to get some great pics.

Part way up a really steep climb Luke turns to me, both panting, and says, "Now I know how Frodo and Sam felt!" And I burst out laughing. My laughter could be heard up and down the trail and I fell over on the ground. One of the best hiking moments EVER!

At our lunch stop at the hidden lake. A husband and wife brought their 6 year old dog with them. He hiked all the way up, no problem. Here he is hiding in the flowers.

Lunch at the hidden lake.

Mt. Chokai was a volcano at one point and it blew its top off long ago and now it is a lake on top. Totally amazing. At lunch we could see the clouds start to come in off the ocean from the other side of the mountain. For more great pictures of this trip and others please visit my website Lindsey Harwath Photography.

A few things I learned while climbing this mountain: You may not notice the altitude difference until every Japanese person passes you without problem, I need to get better at this...6-year-old dogs and 4-year-old children climb faster than me, always bring more food (there was no grocery store that I saw in Kisakata) and water, it is not a race, enjoy it up and down, and you can never take too many pictures!

It took about four hours to get to the hidden lake and only a hour and a half to make it back down. We had an early dinner while waiting for the bus to take us back to Kisakata where we camped again at the same camp ground. Let me tell you I am not opposed to listening to the ocean while sleeping or waking. That was the best campground view. We positioned our tent so that out one door we could see the sunset over the ocean and out the other we could see the sunrise over the mountain! AWESOME!

The next morning we spent lounging on the beach and enjoying the ocean that we never get to see.

The Ocean, early morning, like 5:30. Yes it is that bright here in Japan that early. No daylight savings here folks.

Standing in the Ocean you can see Mt. Chokai and to the right in the pine trees is our camp site.

What a great trip and perhaps the best birthday ever!