Tuesday, October 26, 2010

8 years ago today....

Wow, how time flies! Yes, today is our 8th wedding anniversary! So, I decided to post a few pics from that special day... please excuse the poor quality... this was before the age of digital, so these are just scanned copies of key kodak moments. :) Here's an engagement pic...
And I want to share something special my Mom did for us TODAY! She is always very good about sending e-cards on special days, but this morning, we received a poem (written by her) instead! It's actually a wonderful summary of our life together, so please enjoy...

Ode to Julie & Brian
On the event of their 8th Wedding Anniversary

You’ve been married eight years, that’s a fact,
But your story began long before that.
In 1998 you traveled to SNU --
Two freshmen, unaware what was in store for you.

You became friends along with many others, it’s true.
But as years went by, something special grew between you.
As your parents, gradually we became aware
That love was blossoming – it was in the air!

Mission trips, airplane rides, HeartPal, and summer romance;
On to Homecoming, Christmas, then a ring, and exciting plans.
We were thrilled to be a part of a Hill Country wedding,
With relatives, friends, good wishes, and God’s blessing.
(D wanted me to mention $$$, but I didn’t.

Then the honeymoon -- romantic, exotic and faraway –
Ahhh, Mexico…the beaches… a hurricane… a hospital stay?!?
But you recovered, and home to OKC you did trek,
To live; play house; and decide, “What next?!”

Not to Kansas City, but to Guam you did fly,
Following a calling you could not deny.
A beautiful island – what a place to call home!
Parents and siblings soon followed – no matter how far you’ve roamed! ;-)

Through jobs, responsibilities, and challenges you grew,
As love and commitment to each other grew right along, too.
One year became two, and two became three –
Until once again, God said, “Follow me.”

Saying good-bye to church family and your cherished island home
Involved tears and promises; a piece of your hearts now gone.
But our hearts are big and can always embrace
New friends, new “family,” no matter the place.

With struggles and laughter, Manila now became
Full of love, challenges, another degree after each name.
But not before your family did increase;
Justin joined the family – our joys never cease!

And again, the question, “What is our next plan?”
God said, “Don’t fret – it’s all in my hand.”
So amazingly, it took everyone by surprise!
To Okinawa you flew – more tears, more good-byes.

But so quickly you adapted, home is now Japan –
Friends and “family” are scattered over many more lands.
And then, to add icing to the proverbial cake –
Noah came along – how much joy can we take?!

And so you arrive at anniversary number eight –
Hasn’t the adventure really been great!!
With you we celebrate the past, and even more,
We can’t wait to see the future God has in store!

We love you, celebrate with you, and wish you all the best!!! Can’t wait to see
what will unfold in the next 8 years!

Love, Mom & Dad

Friday, October 08, 2010

We passed!!!!!

Yes, we now are the proud owners of official Japanese driver's licenses!!! Thanks SO much for your prayers! We were both nervous going into the test early this morning... we both said many times that we didn't expect to pass the first time, this was just another good practice and time to see what they really want. But we did our best and miraculously, we passed! Oh, and the reason we look kind of goofy in the pictures is that in Japan, you're not supposed to smile for pictures like this... we're still trying to overcome this instinct and the result always ends up being a goofy expression. ;)
After we passed we had to do some more paperwork and go to different stations in the driver's license bureau before we were finished. The greatest part was that all the officials smiled and congratulated us when we presented our 'passing' paperwork... maybe it was great because it's not always usual to see such spontaneous, warm reactions in extremely formal and polite Japanese culture... or maybe it was great because sometimes you just need a little encouragement that, as a foreigner, you did something right, and it's one small step closer to connecting with our new home.
This seems to be the last 'big' thing we needed to do to really 'settle' as official residents in Japan... we have visas, health insurance, a car and car insurance, city registration, and now driver's licenses... last step - learn to speak (and read and write and understand) Japanese... our next lifelong adventure. :)

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The next adventure...

We've lived overseas for almost 7 1/2 years now, and if you didn't know, life in another country can sometimes be quite different from the country you grew up in... it's definitely wonderful and exciting, but different. So I've come to think of everything that happens as adventures. In the Philippines, we had quite an adventure obtaining our student visas and getting Justin's passport. In fact, anything that had to do with the immigration office in Manila is remembered by the LONG train and jeepney rides to get there, the LONG hours of waiting in lines, and the MANY trips we had to take back and forth until we finally got everything... and then we had to renew our visas every few months. :) But we were always overwhelmed by Filipino hospitality and everyone's love for Justin that it's easy to forget the stress of those moments a few years ago.

In Japan, we've had no stress at all with our visas or with Noah's passport, so I almost don't even remember the details of those adventures. However, we are in the middle of quite an adventure right now... obtaining our Japanese Driver's Licenses. In Guam, we just went to the office, paid some money, and exchanged our stateside licenses for a Guam license. I never got a license in the Philippines because we didn't have a car, but Brian got his fairly easily with a friend's help to guide him through the half day process.

Well, when we moved to Okinawa, we came with an international driver's license, but that doesn't really mean much. We just went to a Triple A office in the states, paid money, took a picture, and were given the license. So the Japan government knows that this is not the most official kind of documentation and they prefer us to obtain a Japanese Driver's License while we live here. So first we had to prove that we already have a valid license from our home country... I won't bore you with the details of how hard this seemingly easy step was for us to complete, but praise God, after a few months of negotiating and fed-exing papers from Guam, we were approved to begin the process. So first we had to take a written test... everyone said it was super easy, and it was pretty easy, but there were a few trick questions, so I did get a little nervous as we waited for our results... but we did pass the written test. I mean, come on, we've been driving for 15 years now... we should be able to pass a test about driving, right?

Well, the next and final step is not so easy. We have to take a driving test. And it takes most foreigners 6-8 times of taking the driving test before they pass it! AND it costs more money every time you take it! We've been hearing about this from other missionaries and foreign workers ever since we arrived, so we've been trying to glean as much helpful information as we can so we don't have to take the test so many times. But our first driving test is tomorrow morning, so please pray!
So, you may be wondering why it's so difficult to pass a simple driving test. Here's a picture of the course:
It looks fairly simple... just a few curves, turns, stops, general stuff. But it's all about what the test-giver (I don't know what they're called... instructors, judges?) is looking for. For example, you must check around the car for any people or things that may be in the way before you open the door. And of course you must look up and down the road before you open the door to make sure the way is clear... and all of this must be very exaggerated so the instructor can see you do this. The test is not given out on normal roads; it's on a course at the driver's license office. We've heard so many horror stories of how many times it took people to pass, make sure you use very exaggerated motions, don't go too fast, don't go too slow, etc., so a few days ago, we went to a driving school to spend time with a driving instructor on a practice course... and what an adventure that was!

First of all, we couldn't find a school close by that claimed to have any English speaking instructors. So our amazing Japanese friend Shuichi went with us. Shuichi is 70 years old and has been a member of Keystone church since it started. He has helped us with EVERYTHING since we moved here - visas, passport, insurance, car buying, translating our mail, etc. I really don't know how we could have settled into life in Japan without him... so once again, he came to our rescue and accompanied us to the driving school to ride with us and translate during our practice sessions.

I (Julie) went first while Brian hung out with Noah and studied notes from other foreigners about how to perform on the driving test. Things started out fairly normal, but the first obstacle was remembering specific sequences of things... adjust the rearview mirror, put your foot on the brake, then turn the key in the ignition, then put the car in 'drive', then release the parking brake, then check your mirrors, look over your shoulder, turn on your blinker, look over your shoulder again, and slowly ease into the road... or something like that. I was so concerned about checking mirrors and blindspots I think I actually did it too much. Then there are many little things to remember like turn on your blinker 30 meters before you need to turn, pump the brake a few times as you go around a curve, pull close to the curb before you make a turn, and many other things that seem like not a big deal until you're in the middle of a driving test and you act like you've never driven before because you're so nervous about forgetting something or messing up... not that we would know what that feels like. ;) And to top it all off, Shuichi is sitting in the back seat translating all the little things we're doing wrong... if nothing else, this experience will keep us humble. ;)

So, here are some of my favorite memories of the practice day...
1. Our instructor knew some English words, so he didn't always rely on Shuichi to tell us what to do... there is not an "L" sound in Japanese, so when he said 'blinker' it sounded like 'winker'... It's a very small course, and you're supposed to turn on your blinker 30 meters before every turn, so that means your blinker is on a lot... so all I heard for the better part of an hour was, "winker, winker, winker!"
2. The S-curve... you have to drive through a 'crank curve' and an 'S curve'. If your tires touch the curb at all during these curves, you automatically fail. I think I had to drive through the S curve about 15 times before I did it right... and all I could do was laugh. I'm sure that's not what the driver expected, but I just had to laugh... and poor Shuichi kept translating all the instructor's attempts to explain to me how to do it, so when I finally did it the right way, Shuichi just clapped from the backseat. It was hilarious.
3. So I laughed when I got stressed, no surprise. Brian reacted a little differently... he got so stressed about trying to remember all the tips and sequences, he ran a red light in the middle of the course, and then both the instructor and Shuichi were telling him what to do. ;)
4. There were many other funny moments but when we were both finished with our practice session, I said to Shuichi, "So, was Brian better than me?" And he replied, "No comment." Then about 5 minutes later he said, "Julie, maybe you should come back and practice again another day."

Well, it's a slightly stressful adventure, but Brian and I have already laughed about this experience so much, it's carrying us through a very busy and overwhelming week... all we have to do is say "turn on your winker", and any stress just melts away.

So, tomorrow morning, we will have our first attempt at passing the driving test. It would be great to pass it tomorrow; we really don't have time to do this all the time. So, if you think of us, say a prayer, and we'll let you know the results of our current adventure... and don't forget to turn on your winker! ;)

Friday, October 01, 2010


How long does it take to 'feel at home' in a new place? For some it may be when all the boxes are unpacked. For others it might be when all the pictures are finally on the walls. Well, our boxes have been unpacked for quite a while now, but we still don't have all the pictures on the walls. However it seems we're finally starting to get into some rhythms, and that definitely helps with 'settling in' and 'feeling at home'....

Noah is now 3 months old and growing bigger and developing his personality every day... as you can see in the above picture. We just said goodbye to Brian's parents, so now all the grandparents have met him in person and visited our new home (will post a blog about these visits soon... and TONS of pictures :) ).

We survived our first PCS season at church... 'permanent change of station' for those of us non-military folk. Our church loses about 1/3 of the congregation every year due to rotation schedules in the military, so we're no longer surprised when a new friend has to suddenly leave in a couple months... but it's still definitely hard to say goodbye. Justin now says the phrase "on a plane to America" at least a few times a week in reference to friends that have left or are about to leave.

Brian has been taking formal Japanese language lessons for about a month, but he has been studying on his own ever since we arrived. I (Julie) will start a beginner's Japanese class this month. All we can say is please PRAY, PRAY, PRAY! :) It's essential for us to learn Japanese, so we need to stay motivated!

Justin is amazing us with his growing imagination and verbal skills. He started a mother's day out program in September and LOVES his 'new school', as he calls it... here are a few pics from the first day...

Can't wait to go!

walking with Daddy to his classroom

hanging out with his friend, Taylor, from our church who is in his class!

So now we have about a week to catch our breath before we go back to the Philippines for a friend's wedding and then enter the holiday season... tons of fun events to look forward to and new memories to be made! We're so blessed to be here in Okinawa and we felt at home so soon after we arrived... but it's funny to think about going to Manila in a couple weeks because it still kind of seems like 'home.' But I think God has blessed us with so many amazing friends and reminders of how he has changed us in every place we've lived that they will all still feel like 'home' in a way.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Entering the obento world...the obsession begins!

In a few weeks Justin will start attending a 'Mother's Day Out' program three mornings a week at an Episcopal church on Okinawa. We're so excited for the opportunity for him to have some social time with new friends, and I (Julie) will have a few hours to work at the church and study Japanese. He needs to take a lunch, so a couple weeks ago, I started thinking about what that means for our morning preparations, food shopping list, and things like that. Then I thought about getting him a lunch box and realized I had no idea where we would find one... and I had never seen one here that resembled what kids in America use. Then I put my brain back on and remembered we live in Japan and children here use obento (Japanese lunch box).
A bento box is a small container, usually plastic, where lunch is prepared in a most intricate fashion. I have steered clear of them so far because the ones I have seen look so amazing I was sure that Japanese mothers must spend hours preparing them for their children every day, and while I love my children to death, I'm just not 'that kind of mom'.... ;) But, thanks to the wonderful internet, I started doing some research and through some fabulous blogs about bento making, I learned that it's not so difficult, and maybe even I could prepare a bento lunch for my son.... because I have no choice... this is what we do in Japan. :)
So, one of the first things I did was purchase a cookbook about bento boxes for children:
Kawaii means cute in Japanese... and these bento boxes are amazing! But, what I really like about the cookbook is that it has very easy recipes and simple instructions for some of the artistic food designs... I don't think I'll try too many of those, but they are so fun to look at!

So, the next step is to start purchasing bento gear. Apparently bento boxes have become extremely popular all around the world, so there are many internet sites where you can find TONS of bento gear for quite a variety of prices. Thankfully, we live in Japan (!) and are privy to something WONDERFUL called 100 yen stores... kind of like dollar stores in the states, but WAY better. So our 100 yen stores have great bento gear, and you're not spending a fortune on it. So, here's what I bought... and let me tell you, there are many more things out there... I felt like I was really holding back!

These are the bento boxes I got for myself and Brian... oh yeah, this is not just for Justin anymore, it's a family affair! Ours are two-tiered, and we got chopstick cases to match.

These are Justin's .... I'm sure just the first of many... kawaii!!!
This is the bag that Justin's bento box will go in when he goes to school:
And Justin's utensils and case... of course they have cute matching chopsticks, but we'll save those for maybe next year... ;)

Now we get to the fun stuff... even though I think the boxes are pretty fantastic just as they are. It's important for the various food in a bento not to touch each other, so you can get cute little containers for your different food items. There are TONS of things you can get to make shapes, faces, etc. to try to get your kids to eat different foods. I'm sure it also sometimes becomes a competition of who has the coolest looking food, but we're not anywhere near that yet. Here's what we are starting out with:
Then there are little plastic sheets that also serve as dividers:
Oh, and these fun little 'picks' for finger foods:
You can get really detailed with the food in your bento... must be at least 5 colors; equal portions of carbs, protein, veggies; only a certain number of calories, and many others... but right now, I'm just happy if it's filled with food that Justin will eat. :)

So, today I decided to start practicing. I got out all my stuff and made Justin's lunch, but when he saw me making it, he wanted to eat it right away. Since part of my experiment is to see what the food I make will taste like when it's room temperature at lunch time, we had to come up with a compromise, so he was served breakfast in a bento.... just for today. :)

He did pretty well with breakfast, but thankfully lunch came soon. Justin was extremely excited to eat his lunch. He was with me when I purchased our bento gear and has been talking about 'taking lunches to my new school' ever since. Here's his reaction when he opened his obento today:
My first bento!!! Not a great picture, but it's rice, grapes, cucumber, and hotdog...some of Justin's favorite foods, and I'm thrilled that they stayed in their containers and places.
And the most important part... Justin had tons of fun eating it... maybe a little too much fun. He was kind of distracted by the whole novelty of the event, but he'll get used to it. How cool is it that he will get used to eating lunch like this?
Anyway, we are having fun with our new adventure and my new obsession. Oh, and this is what Noah did during our Saturday experiment:
I'm sure there will be more stories about our bento box adventures. If you want to know more about it, go to www.justbento.com. It's a great sight with TONS of information. Happy bento making! :)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Our Japanese Rice Cooker

I remember that we got a small rice cooker/vegetable steamer for our wedding (almost 8 years ago!) and I thought, "what is that for? Why do you need something special to cook rice in?" Isn't funny how things change?
Soon after that we moved to Guam, where most people have rice for every meal... and most people have rice cookers. So we bought a simple rice cooker and used it every now and then. A simple rice cooker means it just has one button... you put the rice and water in it, push the button, and 20-30 minutes later, you have cooked rice.
When we moved to the Philippines, we started to eat rice even more than we had in Guam. We still had a simple rice cooker, but we started to notice that all our friends from Japan and Korea brought rice cookers with them to the Philippines... and they weren't just 'one-button' rice cookers... they were fancy with lots of buttons. We knew that rice and how it is cooked was very important to our friends, but we still didn't understand why it was important to bring a rice cooker, when you could buy them in the Philippines.
Well, now we live in Japan, and eat even more rice than we did in the Philippines....and as we began to set up our home here, we noticed that stores have MANY rice cookers for sale... multiple aisles are given for rice cookers, ranging in price from $50 - $800!!! We asked some Japanese friends to explain what is so special about these rice cookers.... and then we decided we needed one for our family. We were going to save up for one for Christmas, but Julie's parents surprised us by giving us money for a rice cooker for our birthdays! Thanks Mom and Dad!

So, a couple weeks ago we went with our Japanese friends to buy our rice cooker. We needed help navigating the more than 30 rice cookers available in just one store! And here is our beautiful rice cooker:
Now, you will notice there is a menu... we have many options now for how we want our rice cooked, including settings for white rice, quick cook white rice, sushi rice, rice with other ingredients, rice porridge, super sticky rice, brown rice, and cake... that's right! You can make a cake in your rice cooker!!! It also has a timer, so I can put my rice and water in the cooker any time during the day, and set the time for 6:00 pm... my rice will be ready precisely at 6:00! It will also keep rice warm and ready to eat for at least 12 hours... so you can cook rice in the morning and eat fresh rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner... isn't that wonderful? ;)
Our parents already thought we were a little weird when we last visited their homes and ask that they have lots of rice on hand for our 'Asian' son who LOVES rice and asks to eat it very often. We also asked (well, probably demanded) that they stay away from any instant or microwaveable rice because "it's not real, and Justin wouldn't like it!" Well, we've reached a new level now in our love of rice... time will only tell if we become 'rice snobs' and start to really notice differences in rice like our Japanese and Korean friends. But for now, we're just loving our new rice cooker.. and I really do think the rice tastes better! ;) Oishi des!

Kuya Justin

So when we talk with people these days, one of the most common questions we hear is, "How is Justin doing?" We are happy to report that he LOVES being a kuya (tagalog word for older brother).
At first he just stared at him....

Then he decided it was fun to sit next to him and laugh at the cute noises he makes.

Then he decided it's okay to hold him sometimes... and give him kisses every night at bedtime. :)

And sometimes they just like to hang out together.

He LOVES helping Daddy give Noah baths.

And most of all, he loves the funny things Noah does. :)

Brian probably won't be happy about me posting this, but Justin did something pretty funny a couple weeks ago that made me realize how much his life has changed since Noah entered the picture... When I went to pick him up from the nursery at church one Sunday, the nursery workers were laughing and laughing... they told me he had been playing with a baby doll, pretending to 'feed' it... the same way he sees Mommy feed Noah! So his father quickly made a strict rule about emphasizing Justin only feeds Noah with a bottle... and Justin has adapted his language accordingly, but we'll see if there are any more funny stories from the church nursery. ;)

Justin has also become a LOT more verbal in the last couple months... he's always been pretty verbal, but now we hear complete sentences more regularly. :) As Justin hears new words, he likes to insert them into his vocabulary quite frequently until he learns something else that takes its place. One of his latest words is 'little'.... he adds the word 'little' in front of everything... my little car, my little truck, I hurt my little knee, etc. But one of my favorites is when I'm with Noah and he hears me say, "Uh oh." Justin then says, "Mommy, did Noah spit up? Just a little?" "Yes." "Oh, okay." ;D

Both our boys are growing so quickly... now that we have a little baby in the house, Justin seems huge! But when he's around all his older friends at church, I'm reminded that he is still two years old, but he's loving life sooooo much... we are quite blessed!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Noah David is here!

We are happy to announce that Noah David Woolery is here! Noah arrived the morning of June 22, 9.1 pounds, 19.7 inches.

Everyone is doing great - Julie and Noah came home from the hospital on Friday and are recovering well, especially since Grandma Jill (Julie's mom) is here to help take care of everything. Big brother Justin is handling the transition very well... probably because Grandma Jill is here. :) He is very excited about 'Baby Noah' and loves to hold his hand and show him all his toys. And Brian is surviving and didn't even miss a Sunday of preaching. :)

So maybe now that Noah is here, we'll actually be more consistent in our blogging... well, it's a good goal anyways. ;) For the next few weeks we are just focusing on spending time with family. Julie's Dad will come on Saturday, so we're excited to show family around our new island and see some things we haven't even seen yet. Thank you SO much for your prayers! More pictures and stories to come soon...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A beautiful day in Okinawa

Today was such a gorgeous day, so I thought I would share some highlights. It's been unusually cold and rainy ever since we arrived in Okinawa, so I'm appreciating the sunshine more than ever, and today was simply wonderful. I'm planning on trying to finish 'getting settled' in our place this week while Brian's gone, so hopefully I will be posting pictures of our apartment soon... but here are a few from today.

The view from our apartment balcony... yes, that's the ocean. :)

a very happy Justin on his tricycle

After our naps this afternoon, Justin and I went on a little adventure. There is a marvelous bakery not far from our house that sells scones... we've heard how wonderful they are, and today we experienced the deliciousness for ourselves. :)
Justin showing off his scone - oishi!

One thing (among many) that we LOVE about Japan is that you can find wonderful parks everywhere! We are constantly amazed at how often we see little and big parks just everywhere. These are some pics from a park that Justin and I discovered today right next to the amazing scone bakery... did I mention this is in walking distance from our house?! :)
Justin patiently waiting his turn to slide :)
Justin exploring at the top of another slide

Handsome boy! :)

Keystone Mission Team

Brian was privileged today to join 12 others from our church on a mission trip to Manila, Philippines! They will be there for one week working in a squatter community across the street from the seminary where we lived and were students the last 3 1/2 years. It is so exciting that our church is doing this and that Brian got to go... this was something God led some our laypeople to do, and we're just blessed to be part of it. God provided in phenomenal ways for our team to go, so please keep them in your prayers as they begin what will be a life-changing experience!

This is a picture of them with their families before we went to the airport this morning. And of course, I'm just extremely jealous that Brian gets to 'go home' for a week... but I'm sure Justin and I will find many things to do to keep ourselves busy while he's gone. Thanks always for your prayers! :)