Sunday, January 29, 2012

Winter Workout Woes: Be Gone!

This week's post is devoted to winter exercise. Not because I do it all that often, or because I'm super fit from doing it, or because I really enjoy it. But because it keeps me warm even in this:

Not in the now-my-blood-is-pumping way you might think though.

In this way:
Pretty face, I know ;)
And in this way:

Yes, these two cozy warm items are the direct result of my attempt at diligent exercise. A few months ago, my motivation for exercise blew away with all of the fall leaves. I knew I was going to need some incentives to stay healthy during the long winter. James and I figure that our health is one thing that we are willing to spend a little of our miscellaneous budget on, so we set up a reward system.

Can you see the stars?
The system works a bit differently for us, according to our needs and schedule, but for me, I get a star sticker for each day that I get up at 5:20, exercise for 30 minutes, and drink a liter of water. If I fail to do one or more of those things, no star for the day. When I reach a certain number of stars, I splurge on things like a blanket, green olives, boots, etc. I never thought of myself as extrinsically motivated, but this system has worked so well for me that I guess it must be true.

In addition to keeping me warm, winter exercise has also been good because it has forced me to be creative with the way I keep fit. It's not like Hawaii where I could go for a barefoot run on the beach any time day or night. Nope, jogging outside in below-freezing weather at 5:30 in the morning is not an option in my eyes. That means that my yoga mat and YouTube have become my best friends. I have found two channels on YouTube that work really well for me. If you are having a hard time with winter exercise, check them out: Yogatic and Pop Pilates. I also went to a Zumba class for the first time this week with a teacher from one of my schools. Totally cured me of all my winter blues! It was the most fun I have had working out in a really long time.

Anyway, enough of the winter workout saga. I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking for this week.

This was a mochi-making party that the international association put on. Mochi is rice pounded into a really smooth sticky paste. We ate it with sweet bean paste. Very yummy!

A Relief Society activity. We decorated candy jars and hooks.

One of my favorite classes. It was my last day with these girls because they are third year high school students and they don't come to school in February. They will graduate in March. I will miss them a lot!

More third year students who will graduate soon. For our last day, we played Funglish - thanks to the Bobsie for an awesome Christmas present!

This week, James was in charge of a date night activity. We went for a romantic walk in the snow and ended up at a quaint little restaurant where we ate this heavenly mud pie brownie and ice cream. Great date night activity :)

Yeah, James was pretty stoked about his brownie :)
 Well, that's about it for us. Hope everyone out there had a great week. Stay warm!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Moving to the Caribbean...

Today was a particularly busy week. We have been very blessed for me to get so many different jobs. I am now working about 28 hours a week (which I am actually limited to due to my visa status as a dependent). I also thought that I would only be working until February/March and then have to find more things to take up my time. However, I have been asked by the technical college I work at to continue until August when we are planning on returning to the States.

I know that 28 hours doesn't sound like a lot, but when you add in travel time, I feel like I am working a 40 hour work week. This week we had the privilege of having the missionaries over for dinner, going to the missionaries' weekly English conversation class, and volunteering at a nearby orphanage.

We have both volunteered to be liaisons between the orphanage and a non-profit organization called Smile Kids Japan. Although we haven't had too many opportunities to be heavily involved, we got to spend a couple hours with the elementary-aged kids yesterday playing various games and teaching English. We talked about Hawaii, sang the ABC's (we brought a ukulele from Hawaii and play that at our schools), played steal the bacon, and a few other games. We had a blast, and it seems like the kids had a lot of fun too; I think that's why they were laughing. :) One of the guys that works there drove us back to the train station on the way home and said that the kids don't get to run around too much in the winter time because of all the snow.

Here are a few pictures for the other highlights of the week. Enjoy!
Sue made Alfredo pasta again and it turned out soooo creamy and yummy!

This is Japanese nato which is fermented soy beans. It is supposedly one of the most healthy things you can eat. We bought it for the first time since coming to Japan so that Emily could try it. A lot of people complain about the smell, taste, texture, etc. however, Sue didn't seem to mind it at all. I encourage anyone that comes to Japan to at least try Nato.  It supposedly helps you speak and understand Japanese better. ;)

The Relief Society finally got around to their first party of the New Year. Emily made some toffee to take over and people seemed to enjoy it. I wish they didn't like it so much so that I would get to eat more. 
Before I finish this post, I wanted to comment a little bit about what Emily said in the last post. I really do think that she will get into at least one of the graduate programs she has chosen, but if perchance she doesn't, it wouldn't be all that bad. I think if she didn't get in, we would end up going somewhere in the Caribbean where Emily could spend time with the warm weather, beaches, and sunshine, and I could get a little more international experience. It would work out great for both of us. If that happened, heck, I would even let her shave her head if she wanted to. Although it's not likely Sue won't get into one of the programs she's applying for, it would be awesome to move to the Caribbean at some point. Love you all lots!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Would-Be Bucket List

I am now officially a graduate school applicant! Yes, that means one application down, two to go. A small accomplishment, but I feel it is worth celebrating. And celebrate we did...with ice cream and cookies.

James heard a horror story this week (and was thoughtful enough to share it with me, the applicant) about a young man who applied to his top graduate programs and was rejected from all three. After hearing the story, I turned to James with a horrified look on my face, and he quickly reassured me, "But I'm sure it won't happen to you!" Ha! Anything could happen, crazy kid. Just hopefully not that.

But it got me thinking: What if I don't get accepted to any of these schools?

At first, the thought was dreadful. I've been looking forward to grad school for months, even years, now. I finally know what I want to study and I feel passionate about it. This is a perfect, maybe the only perfect, time of life to go. We have absolutely no backup plan if I don't get accepted. None. Zip.

Is that really a bad thing, though?

Think...what would you do with an entire year of your life if you didn't have any plans? If it were me, I would make a year's bucket list. Mine would look something like this:

This year, I will:
*NEVER go to a place with temperatures below 70F
*Run a marathon
*Befriend someone who is lonely
*Spend a large chunk of the year at the beach of some Caribbean island
*Open a tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant
*Take Latin dance lessons with James
*Discover a mushroom dish that I actually like
*Learn, really learn, Spanish
*NOT wear shoes any more than is absolutely necessary
*Buzz my hair. I've always wanted to do that!

Well, that reassures me that if I don't get accepted to grad school, I'll still have a stellar year next year. This blog post has been therapeutic for me.

And you know what? Some of these things are pretty worthy goals. They might make it to my real bucket list.

Just not the hair one...James would have a fit :)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Yummy Food!

Emily went back to work this week, but luckily, I still don't have real work until Wednesday. Yay! What have I been doing all week you ask? Between some awesome meals by Emily and shoveling snow, I have actually been doing some career preparation. I don't want to bore anyone with too much detail, but I have been looking for a while into a career with the U.S. Department of State. Sound boring? Well, Emily and I love to travel, love different cultures, and love foreign languages. Coming to Japan has been a test to see how well we would do living abroad, and I think we pass. Although the Japanese language can be difficult at times, the culture and living style has been pretty easy to adjust to. The cool jobs I have researched in the U.S. Department of State have been to become an foreign service officer (FSO) or to work for the US Agency of International Development (USAID). In either case, we would get to live abroad and travel all around the world working in US Embassies. Sounds pretty exciting right? We think so! If you are interested in learning more about my research and preparation, keep reading. If you don't really care, then skip the next two paragraphs and go right onto the pictures; they will do the rest of this week's talking.

First of all, every time I read stuff about the Foreign Service and USAID, I get so excited and giddy, it's not even funny. FSO's are the people that run the US Embassies and Consulates all around the world. They are split into five different tracks: consular, economic, management, political, and public diplomacy. They each have their different functions, and FSO's stay in one track their entire career. After reading through descriptions of each, I found out that my organizational/get things done attitude would fit really well in the management track. As a part of that track, I would essentially be one of the people that helps all the other Embassy workers do their jobs and make sure that the Embassy functions smoothly. It may not sound as exciting to some of you, but I think that it would be fun to be part of a team that is pushing for better international relations. To become an FSO, it can take anywhere from nine months to two years. I would have to pass the Foreign Service Officer Test (a standardized test specifically for FSO's), write some personal narratives which are also reviewed by a committee, do an all day personal interview, pass medical and security clearances, and lastly sit before a committee that tells me if I am suitable for the kind of work that I would be doing. Pretty intense huh?

On the other side, working for USAID would also be really awesome. I have been intrigued by international development work and thought it would be so cool to do it with the U.S. Department of State. There are many different types of officers within USAID as well, but the one that stands out as most interesting to me is the project/program development officer. Although I am still having a difficult time figuring out what the specifics of the job would be, it just sounds awesome being able to develop projects that have such a big impact on lives around the world. To get a job with USAID, I have heard that I would need to get a graduate degree and have some international experience in a 3rd world country. It seems easier to explain than the FSO process, but takes a lot longer. I do plan on going to graduate school anyways to get a master's in public administration (MPA), but it would be hard at this point to get some good experience in a 3rd world country given that we will probably be starting a family in the next few years. Again, nothing is set in stone, and these are just a couple options that I have explored. I would love to hear any comments that any of you have in regards to these jobs and thoughts.
Shepard's Pie... yummy! Some people might not think it's that great... I'm not saying that Japanese food is bad, I mean, I love Japanese food!!! But, when you eat only Japanese food, you get cravings for food like this. :) We also had chicken alfredo this week... yummy!
This is Emily's bulletin board at school for the month of January. 
This is some soy bean hummus that Emily made. I want to say that it's yummy, but I haven't actually tried it yet.
Emily has been having fun with some of her free time playing with the sewing machine she is borrowing from our friend Chizuko. She made these cute pajama bottoms, a.k.a. "happy pants."
We hope that everyone has a great week! We love to hear from you guys and keep you in our prayers always!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

My First New Year's Kiss

Happy New Year, friends and family! 

We have had a great and very lazy New Year's weekend (six days off work - I love Japanese holidays!). Apparently New Year's is the biggest holiday in Japan, but it was so quiet here that you would never know it. There was one exciting thing that happened, though. I got my very first New Year's kiss! Yeah, I know it's pathetic, but I feel that this statement requires some explanation...

...take a journey with me back into the archives of James and Emily's New Year's History...

2011:  Laie, Hawaii. Let me preface this entry by saying that last year was the final year that fireworks were legal on Oahu. That said, it was also the year that James and I each received an iPod Touch for Christmas. In the Sinkovic house, James was busy expanding his vocabulary by playing Boggle on his new iPod, and I was busy...being asleep. Midnight came and went, and I woke up at about 12:15 to the sound of Laie exploding and James shaking me awake, saying "Sue, wake up. Happy New Year! It's time to drink Dr. Pepper!" Thus began the Annual New Year's Eve Dr. Pepper Belching Contest. The fireworks continued until about 5:00 the next morning, but I zonked again after I chugged my soda (and won the contest). So no New Year's Eve kiss that year. Maybe a 12:15 kiss, but it's not the same thing...

2010: Lindon, Utah. James and I were at that awkward stage of pre-dating life where we liked each other, but our relationship wasn't "official" yet. James had already asked me to be his girlfriend and I had already told him no. (Not sure why he chose to stick around, but I'm sure glad he did!) He was visiting his brother in Utah and decided to spend New Year's Eve with me. We were on our way to a friend's house for the New Year's countdown, but ran into a few problems on the way. The number one problem was called my license plate light was broken. The number two problem was called a cop pulled me over. The number three problem was called I didn't have my driver's license with me. When the cop pulled me over he looked in the car and said, "Did you know that your license plate light was out?" I told him no. He then leaned over and motioned to James and asked, "Is this your boyfriend?" I sputtered for a few minutes, debating whether or not I should explain the whole complicated relationship to the nice officer or not, and finally just settled with a half-mumbled, "Um, yes?" I blushed as James looked at me with a big smile and raised eyebrows. The officer told James, "Well, you make sure this young lady gets that light fixed, ok?!" James agreed and we drove back to my house to get my license so we didn't run into any more trouble on the way. Unfortunately, that meant that we had to welcome in the New Year while driving to the friend's house, and everyone knows it's not safe to kiss and drive, so there was no New Year's kiss that year either. 

So I am very happy to report that my handsome hubby (who is now officially my boyfriend forever), gave me a big smooch right at midnight on New Year's Eve. We happened to be at a friend's house playing games and I yelled, right out loud in their house, "Wow! My first New Year's kiss!" It was rather embarrassing, and James had to quickly explain my excitement.

We did finish the night off with the Second Annual Dr. Pepper Belching Contest, the one day a year where belching is legalized in our house. I remain the undefeated Belching Queen. Here is a short clip leading up to the moment. Sorry I couldn't catch the champion belch on camera. You will just have to trust that it was a good one.

And a few pictures of the fun winter weather that we have been having here.

My walk to school. Looks dangerous, huh? It is. My bruised knee can attest to that.

This tree just looked so vicious to me!

Our beautiful castle covered with snow

This is a most amazing fruit box sent by Uncle Peter and Auntie Linda. I've always heard about people sending fruit boxes for New Year's, but I've never actually been the lucky recipient of one. Now I know why it is such a popular gift! Fresh fruit, all at the perfect ready-to-eat stage, in the middle of a very cold winter is amazing! Does wonders for my soul. 

Ok, this is my new designer handbag...aka my old t-shirt that had a hole in the armpit (why do my shirts always do that?!). I promised Anna (my beautiful baby sister) that I would make her an Asian-style dress for her birthday. The bag project was my pre-practice stage. Next is pajama pants. Then the dress. I'll keep you posted. Now that I know how to thread a sewing machine (not an easy feat!), there will be no stopping me!
And one more tidbit of random information: I finally narrowed my grad school choices down to three. Drum roll please...University of Oregon, Portland State University, and University of Denver. So now I enter the fun stage of trying to get three applications together. It is such a relief to have narrowed next year's fate down to two states...unless, of course, I don't get accepted. But that is another basket of cherries?...or bucket of eggs?...oh! can of worms, right? know what I mean! :)

Anyway, Happy New Year!