I have never wanted a year to come to an end as much as I have 2014. To help keep our minds occupied during the final weeks of 2014, Matt and I decided a while back to do some traveling. We spent a very relaxing Christmas in sunny Florida at my parent’s condo and then immediately jumped on a few different planes and headed for Japan to visit Matt’s brother and his family. Since Isabelle’s absence was in the back of my mind even more prominently during the holidays, I was worried that I would not appreciate the trips as much. However, both trips were a ton of fun and kept my mind occupied and distracted from the crack in my heart.
We had a very relaxing trip to Florida and enjoyed spending time with my family. The weather was warm and the sun was out most of the time. We spent time riding bikes, reading by the pool, kayaking, working out, eating delicious food, shopping at the outlets, and of course participating in the annual family ThanksChristGivingMas Tournament. Due to an early lead after Putt Putt Golf, my dad managed to then maintain his lead and won the tournament this year… in case you were wondering. Here is a picture of him standing on the counter showing off the trophy.
Although Isabelle was on my mind, I was comforted by the small gestures my family made to acknowledge and honor her short life. My mom had a small picture of her in our room. A stocking was hung for her, and her name was brought up in conversations. These gestures meant a lot to me and helped Christmas to be slightly less painful. Although my heart hurt, I was still able to enjoy myself. Here are a few pictures:
Our trip to Japan was exhausting but so much fun! After a five hour visit to our house after our Florida trip, we drove almost three hours to another neighboring city and departed for the airport four hours after getting there. Three plane rides and an hour car ride later, we arrived in Iwakuni where Matt’s brother and his family are stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. Below are a few pictures from our visit and yes, those adorable blonde children are my niece and nephew.
From top to bottom: Frank (Matt’s brother) and Jamie, Matt and Me, my adorable niece and nephew, Atomic Bomb Dome, quote at the entrance to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, some of Sadako’s paper cranes, several photos from Miyajima Island where we visited the Daishoin Shrine, the Torii Gate on Miyajima Island, Iwakuni Castle, Matt and Charlie, downtown Hiroshima, the Kintai Bridge, and another adorable picture of my niece and nephew.
I absolutely loved exploring the Japanese culture. Everyone was incredibly welcoming, and everything was so clean. Everywhere we went, we were welcomed with a smile, and I didn’t see a single piece of trash on the ground the entire visit. Trashcans are rare, and they recycle everything. You are expected to keep up with your own trash, and people actually do. Also, no one locks their bikes because no one steals bikes. We Americans could learn a thing or two from the Japanese.
And their food – it is so amazing and healthy! Eating authentic Japanese sushi was fun. Although, I would not recommend fish liver – it looked a lot better than it actually tasted. We enjoyed udon noodles on several occasions and chowed down on the most authentic Indian food that I have ever had. Yum! Don’t judge me, but I may have had left over curry and cheese naan for breakfast the next day.
A few of my favorite shopping highlights were going to a Japanese “recycle shop” (thift store), the diaso (dollar store), two different Japanese grocery stores, Hondori Street in Hiroshima, and an underground shopping area in Hiroshima. It was interesting to compare these stores to their American counterparts.
Also, the country of Japan itself is very beautiful. It is incredibly mountainous and green. I can only imagine how amazing it is when the Cherry Blossoms bloom in the spring. While there, we were blessed with a bit of snow, which made our trip to Miyajima Island particularly pretty.
Although I had a blast hanging out with family and learned so much while exploring Japan, there is one key lesson that continues to resonate with me. Never before had I felt like I stood out. I mean, really stood out. However, my brown curls and cluelessness regarding the Japanese language made me feel like that person who forgot to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day. It is hard to explain the feeling of being completely lost and clueless regarding cultural traditions and a language, unless you have traveled outside of our country before – particularly to a culture so different from America. Until this trip, I had not. It has taught me compassion and to be much more aware of those around me. It has reminded me to treat everyone with respect and to never assume that people should “know better.” Thank you, Japan, for being hospitable and allowing us to explore your rich culture for a week. We enjoyed your history, shrines, temples, landscape, food, people, shopping, language, and traditions.
Our Christmas break is now over. We spent the first day back recovering from the jet lag, doing laundry, cleaning the house, and getting back to our daily routine before returning to work this week. Our two-week escape was a nice break from the reality of the last five months. The only difference is that now it is a new year and a fresh beginning. Since 2015 can’t possibly be worse than last year, I am looking with hope toward the next 359 days. God bless you all and have a wonderful New Year!