Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Highlights from 2015

Is there anything more American than giving your hard earned money to Disney?
I started this blog 11 years ago this month when I was planning on moving to Japan to teach English.  It was a blog about getting to Japan for about a year and then a blog about living in Japan for only a few months.  In the years since I've lived in Orlando, Takaoka, Saipan, Orlando again, Vienna, and now Washington, DC.  At one time I had thousands of readers every day, but that has trickled down to a few hundred (by comparison I get between 3,000 - 30,000 Twitter readers every day).  Yet, for some reason, some of my readers are still there (thanks, Mom).  I still get lots of traffic for my old blogs Famous Chamorro People and Buying a Car in Saipan, but most readers are checking out my recent writing -- which I admit is mostly pictures these days.  Of the 40 blogs I published this year (compared to 489 blogs in 2009!), Early Shark Conservation Has Been an Astounding Success, Running Again, Vacation, and Typhoon Ink were the most popular.

Over the years I've done a look back towards the end of December.  I didn't do it last year, or the year before, but here you go, a few highlights from 2015:

I swam with sharks (again)
Somehow I landed in a career where I get to do really cool things. It was purely by accident. Everyday I worry that they're going to find out and make me put my science degree to work doing what I was meant to be doing: paperwork. Earlier this year during a mission to Bimini in The Bahamas at a meeting where Richard Branson encouraged some Caribbean elected officials to protect sharks, I got to go swimming with my first great hammerhead shark. It scared the hell out of me -- at first. Imagine a giant swimming cow with rows of sharp needle-like teeth moving slowly towards you with mouth open. It's frightening at first, until you realize it's just a cow. Being in the water with living sharks continues to be one of the greatest thrills of my life.

I got a new job
The five years I spent in shark conservation were amazing. I had professional success, gained experience working in the Caribbean for the first time, and made contacts and friends all over the world. Just this year we saw the completion of the Micronesia Regional Shark Sanctuary and new shark policies in the Cayman Islands, Turks & Caicos, Saba, and Bonaire. And we defended policies in the CNMI, as well as California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, and Washington. My time in the shark world came to an end this year when I rejoined Pew's Global Ocean Legacy Campaign, the team I worked with when we created the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. In the few months that I've been on this new team we've seen the advancement of some of the world's largest marine protected areas in Palau, Chile, and New Zealand.

We bought a condo
You're not a true grown up until you have the crushing debt of a mortgage. About this time last year, on a whim I filled out an online form to see if my bank would pre-approve me for a home loan. I was shocked to see how much they were willing to loan me. Our rent was set to make another huge leap when our lease expired in the summer, so Edz and I decided to start the search for a new home. We considered three basic variables when we looked at homes: size, safety, and distance to work. We could afford only two of them. I argued for size and safety and thought we could get a nice two or three bedroom outside of the city. Edz wanted safety and distance to work, and she won, so we put in an offer on a one bedroom condo in Southwest Washington. The seller did not accept our offer. Neither did the second. Our offer on the third home was $60,000 over the asking price, yet we still lost out to another buyer. The offer on the fourth home was accepted and on July 15 we signed a mountain of paperwork and turned over about half a year's salary in exchange for the keys to our new home.

We paid off the car
While not as big a deal as having a new income and new mortgage to suck you dry, we paid off the loan on our car this year. That car is the biggest and most expensive thing I own (the bank owns the condo). Now that I don't have to make payments, my plan is to run it into the ground and not buy a new car for as long as possible. This includes not making life choices that will require the purchase of a minivan.

I ran a marathon
I ran the Disney Marathon in January and the Washington, DC Rock N' Roll Half Marathon in March. I did not recover well from either. Between the marathon and the half I only trained for 3 days. And I don't think I trained more than 10 days after that race -- although I ran the Orlando Turkey Trot in November and the Saipan Christmas Island Relay in December. I'm ending the year fatter, but not at my fattest. Weight loss is going to have to be a resolution for the new year.

We traveled a lot
Edz rung in the new year with family in the Philippines, while I was in Buffalo with the Ruszalas. Work took me (in no particular order) to The Bahamas, Turks & Caicos Islands, Saba, Sint Maarten (and Saint Martin!), Fiji, Chile, Samoa, Saipan, Guam, Curacao, Bonaire, Grenada, Puerto Rico, and the Federated States of Micronesia. Edz tagged along on three trips, plus we went to Florida for Thanksgiving.

Edz is almost a US citizen
Edz received her 10 year US green card this year and applied for US citizenship. She's finished with the biometrics and we're waiting for the government to schedule her interview, which she studies for every day. What's in the interview, you ask? There are a list of 100 questions and she'll be asked 10. She has to answer six of them correctly. Then she has three chances to write a sentence in English and three chances to read a sentence in English. She has to do each correctly only once. After that they'll schedule her naturalization ceremony. If you're reading this, you're invited! Stay tuned for details.

I started a new network of island conservationists
As part of my new job I've started a learning and networking group of conservationists from 8 Pacific countries called The Island Voices. It's the new Shark Defenders. Or Beautify CNMI. I'm going to get to work with these amazing people to advocate for the creation of new marine protected areas and to reduce pollution in our oceans.

We spent Thanksgiving as a family for the first time
Most of my immediate family members (except for Tiana!) spent Thanksgiving together for the first time since the kids started getting married. This was Edz' first Thanksgiving with my family and she survived it with minimal scarring. During our week in Florida the brothers ran a 5K. Edz and I also spent a day at the Disney Hollywood Studios.

I made new friends, and reconnected with old ones
I've kept myself busy these last few years and haven't always made time to spend with friends and family. I made more time for them this year. It was great ringing in the New Year with Brad, Kathy, the kids, and the family in New York. I saw a lot of Kevin and Mom this year. I went to Florida three times and they came up to Washington, DC the week we bought the condo. Speaking of the condo, sitting on the porch and drinking beer in the late afternoon with whoever will come over (but especially Ian) is just about the best thing ever. We saw Brian and Joelin four times this year, including a fun night at Universal Studios in Florida. The Filipino mafia remains strong. We visited Vince, Lynn, Necole, and Lucy on the Eastern Shore twice, Aileen and the kids at Jolibee in Virginia Beach twice, and Mike and Maricel came for cherry blossoms -- and later in the year we saw them in Saipan. And then in late December I had my longest visit to Saipan since I got married (there was also a short trip in July). I rode around in Uncle John's Jeep and I spent hours with Cinta, Gus, Laurie, Ike, Horiguchi, the Ruszalas, and saw Star Wars with the McKagans, Dearys, Goodridges, Ernests, Hasselbacks, and Matsumotos.

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