Sunday, December 28, 2008

I *heart* your music

You know things have changed when "date night" means the two of you are sitting around in your pajamas making "mix tapes" (okay playlists) of your favorite songs: His Heavy Metal Music, Her Happy Going to Class Music, Songs to Put Peanut to Sleep, Songs to Calm Peanut's Hysterical Crying in the Car (she hates riding in the car most days). This is exactly what our evening last night looked like and honestly, it was silly but a lot of fun.

We reminisced about our shared memories of songs, compared notes about our different experiences with the same song from the times in our lives before we knew each other, and even shared stories about songs that have personal meaning to one or the other of us. Along the way we uncovered songs and albums we both had forgotten we owned. We didn't go out, (no babysitter) and we didn't spend a lot of money (yippee for saving!) but we had a really special time together and before I knew it, 2 1/2 hours had gone by and it was WAY past my bedtime.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas - a mixed bag

We had a roast chicken with stuffing and sweet potatoes for our Christmas Eve dinner. We even had a bottle of champagne! Things were shaping up nicely. Then it took a turn into the unusual. We couldn't very well have dinner without my in-laws since we all live together, so we had told them we'd be having an American style Christmas dinner. I decided that sacrificing my Thanksgiving (i.e. not having one at all) was one thing, but not having any kind of Christmas dinner was another. Having purchased the chicken we figured they could join us and suck it up if they didn't like the side dishes (chicken is an easy sell at least). My MIL was happy to join in, FIL was pretty noncommittal and unenthusiastic but along for the ride which is standard. No problems!

Then my in-laws decided to invite the neighbor couple for dinner as well. Now I'm nervous that we won't have enough food. My MIL offers to make some vegetables and I say "Great!" I don't really think that Japanese style vegetables will necessarily "complement" our food, but they won't clash terribly and I don't want folks to go hungry. Then I hear the couple will bring fugu (a type of fish). Okay by me especially since I know they'll all eat it - me I'm only interested in my chicken! Later in the day my husband casually mentions that we'll also be having nabe. Huh. Turns out that the fugu they brought is actually a whole package deal - fish, vegetables, noodles etc. This means we're now drowning in food and I'm finding it hard to decline the bowls full of fish etc. that are being dished out my way.

On the one hand, it was nice and festive to have a few extra folks around. On the other hand, it's really difficult for me to get things the way that I like them. I'm constantly feeling like there is no ability for people to compromise and just have American food for one meal, despite the fact that I'm expected to eat Japanese food (and nothing but Japanese food) every meal of every day. Granted, we might not have had enough food last night since I didn't know when we went shopping that we'd be feeding 6 people instead of 4, so the additional food may have been needed, but I kind of doubt it. Rather than mope about it though, I'm trying to look at it as a real "international" exchange. We had an "East meets West" Christmas Eve dinner!

I do wish that we'd had a bit more time to ourselves. I was hoping that Peanut and I would get to spend some time with Gboy, but he ended up entertaining the guests last night so I had to read her "Twas the Night Before Christmas" by myself. This morning we did give her a few small gifts before the accountant arrived to spend the rest of the morning here with Gboy thus leaving Peanut and I on our own. Not ideal, but I'm trying to focus on the fact that at least he's here with us and maybe we can find something fun for the 3 of us to do today. Since Christmas isn't a big holiday here in Japan, everything should be open right?

Updated to add: I really should stop whining, things could be so much worse. Take this for example.... Ugh. What a way to spend the holidays.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Santa found us!

Or rather, we found him in the Kintetsu at Tennoji. I am pleased to report that Peanut had her first meet and greet with Santa and like children everywhere, she took one look at him up close and began to wail! I laughed and sat down next to Santa hoping to calm her just long enough so that we could get a few pictures. We got probably half a dozen shots on our camera along with a small Polaroid thanks to the Kintetsu staff. Santa looked jolly and was as sweet as I remember him even though it's been years since we chatted. I nearly cried - that's how happy I was to see him and to have Peanut start making her own Christmas memories.

Also, we had a blast at the AFWJ Kansai area Christmas party yesterday. The hostess had a lovely tree, mulled wine, tasty foods, holiday music and there was even a carol sing with the kids! Peanut LOVED the music. She danced, shook the jingle bells and generally made merry with a bunch of the other children. The holiday spirit filled that room to the rafters and I couldn't be more grateful for the opportunity to share in it. I came away with a much needed attitude adjustment let me tell you! Thanks AFWJ ladies!

And now, I can't wait for tomorrow! I don't expect that at 11 months Peanut has a clue about what's going on, but we'll have a few small new toys for her to unwrap and play with tomorrow morning. Tonight we'll be celebrating with a roast chicken dinner (including stuffing!) to be followed by copious amounts of rum (!) balls. Yes, they're not much to look at but they pack a punch and I was excited to be "baking" even if it was no-bake goodies. I am feeling quite merry and hope that you are too.

Monday, December 22, 2008

It's a roller coaster of holidays around here

On the upside, I had TURKEY yesterday. I went to a Christmas party with actual holiday music, a tree, and a turkey. And I got to meet a bunch of really fun people!!! Can't beat that this time of year. It gave me a real lift in my spirits and I basked in that glow for hours.

Now I'm trying to stay upbeat, but it's hard. I'd LOVE to bake some cookies on this cold rainy day, but honestly, we're back to the problems of 1) no mixer (creaming butter and sugar by hand is time consuming but possible though so okay) 2) no butter (I'd have to go to the store) 3) no rack in the oven so it will take me twice as long to bake the recipe on a single layer with no baking sheet....By the time I do all this, Peanut will be awake and baking will be impossible. Meanwhile my parents are visiting with my sister and brother-in-law right now. They're doing puzzles, baking cookies, watching Christmas movies and generally doing all the things that I'd really like to be doing. *sigh* I'd love to write about anything else besides how bad I feel for myself, but it's hard for me right now.

Thankfully, I've got an AFWJ Christmas party tomorrow. Did I forget to mention that I joined AFWJ?!! Thank heavens I did! I have no idea what I'll take to the party since I can't begin to imagine what to bake/cook in this kitchen without my favorite ingredients or tools, but at this point, I'm just excited to have the opportunity for one more dose of Christmas cheer!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Where is Santa?

We're going to spend the next few days looking for Santa Claus. Just the other day it dawned on me that this is really and truly Peanut's first Christmas. You only get one "first". And I have dozens, nay surely there are hundreds, of Christmas pictures from my childhood. Pictures of the beautiful tree with gifts under it. Pictures of the decorations around the house. Pictures of the delicious holiday dinner. Pictures of me with Santa. Pictures of lots of people filling the house to eat cookies and drink egg nog. And I'd like for Peanut to have some of those pictures and memories. Only it's difficult when no one in her family here in Japan celebrates Christmas, and my husband is only sorta into it, and Santa Claus is much harder to find than he is in the U.S.

Needless to say, when I realized this, and thought, "Gosh it would be nice to have a picture of Peanut with Santa" I made it my mission to find her a Santa Claus. In the next few days I have a couple of good leads and I've decided since I don't have any family to entertain for this holiday, I'm not having a party, etc. this will be my mission. Updates will surely follow...

One of my favorites for the holiday is a recipe similar to this one for candy cane cookies. I confess I've never actually used any peppermint flavoring on or in them. I just *love* almond flavoring and have relied on that and the beautiful color and shape to make them festive and delicious. But having read the optional note at the bottom about chocolate and crushed peppermints, I'm thinking that's the wave of the future!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Message from the breasts

We would like to thank you for working it out. We've been doing our best to provide for Peanut, working hard day and night for nearly 11 months. We survived the blistering in those first few weeks, but just barely. Thank goodness you saw that lactation consultant who, bless her heart, recommended nipple shields. Things finally got easier and we took it all in stride until those first two teeth. Blisters again?! But that didn't last long and hey, it's been smooth sailing until - FOUR new teeth all at once?! Isn't that a recipe for disaster?! We're all for Peanut learning to use those teeth, but please, not on us. The scraping and irritating luckily lasted for no more than a week. Now, ahhhhh. Back to the bliss of regular feedings with no trauma.

Thanks to Kellymom and Breastfeeding123 for the support. Also thanks to those fabulous lactation consultants back in Seattle. Did you even know how lucky you were to be there and be surrounded by such amazing people? We probably would have given up at week 2 if they hadn't helped us. And if we'd stopped we'd be missing out on a pretty special experience. Cool.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Timing is everything

Here's the thing. When we first told friends that we were relocating to Japan for a while, bunches of people said, "Great! We've been thinking about a vacation and we've always wanted to go to Japan and wouldn't it be cool to hang out with you there?! We'll come visit you!" And then one by one, the babies started showing up. Two couples got pregnant and one couple is on the waiting list for an adoption and suddenly a trip to Japan is off the table. Don't get me wrong, I'm TOTALLY happy for them and I'm just a wee bit sad that we won't be having visitors.

What really gets me down is that it reminds me of when we were trying to start a family. If you don't know the history already (and I guess you wouldn't) it's here. To make a long story short, it took us a while to get Peanut and we're not even sure it will happen again much as we'd like two peanuts in our home. Peanut's first birthday will be in the end of January and although I always envisioned having a couple of kids spaced a couple of years apart, all this recent talk of babies has me sweating it a little. I'm afraid that if we don't hop on the bandwagon (or at least try to) sooner rather than later that it might not happen at all.

I figured the anxiety and doubt would come back after the pregnancy glow and then the subsequent newborn phases wore off. Sure enough. Could I be happy with just Peanut? Definitely. She is a miracle and I adore her, but in some ways that's just more motivation for us to find her a sibling. Peanut LOVES other babies and people in general. She's incredibly social and active and I think she'd do really well with a sibling. *sigh*

Infertility sucks.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The postman always rings AT LEAST twice

I had an idea. I was going to blog about....something. That idea is now nothing but a faint memory. Once the doorbell rang (for the THIRD time today) I completely lost my train of thought. And here's the thing: the doorbell is always ringing. I mean, on average I'd say the doorbell rings at least once a day, but maybe more and today is certainly not atypical. I'm not sure that in the U.S. I ever heard the doorbell ring so much in my entire life. In the U.S. delivery people often leave packages on your doorstep and go. I'm not sure how the Japanese culture continues to function if everything is dependent on someone answering the door at home and often in the middle of the day. And what amazes me is that it's not just the post office and other private parcel delivery services, but it's the water distributor with this month's box of bottled water, or the egg man with 3 dozen eggs or the fish guy... I'm amazed at the steady stream of deliveries and the frequency with which I see delivery trucks in our little neighborhood.

Anyway, you'll have to trust me when I say that my original idea for a post was clever/funny/interesting and surely thought-provoking. But I have no idea what it was about.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Johnny Mathis Lives On

Yesterday as I stood outside a small department store in Matsubara while waiting for my bus, I heard a Johnny Mathis Christmas song piped over loudspeakers. At first I was stunned. To begin with, he was singing one of the religious Christmas carols, I already forget which one it was, but honestly hearing any religious Christmas music strikes me as funny here in Japan where Christians appear to be easily outnumbered by those practicing Buddhism or Shintoism. Then I became almost hysterical as I heard Rosemary Clooney singing another Christmas tune. It was as though someone had unearthed an album of "classic American Christmas melodies" and started playing it because, "Hey, it's Christmas!" Now I'm no expert but I suspect that the appropriation of other cultures and especially the "fun" aspects of other cultures is fairly widespread. Take for example all the folks in the U.S. who think it's "cool" to get a Japanese or Chinese symbol tattooed on their body with little idea of what it might really mean or how to read it or pronounce it. Still, these instances make me shake my head and wonder just how it all came to be.

And personally, hearing that classic American stand-by took me back to my childhood days, made me smile and had me humming all the way home.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Cup of Joe?

Wow. Who knew that finding decaf coffee in Japan could be so difficult? I mean, I guess I should have had some inkling what with this being a place where tea ceremonies are valued cultural experiences. I love tea, don't get me wrong. But it's coffee that I crave. I spent 8 years living in Seattle and I think I may actually have some coffee in my bloodstream.

The wrinkle is this - while breastfeeding, I've been trying to limit the amount of caffeine I ingest. On at least one occasion, I had an espresso beverage when Peanut was younger and we had 3 very long nights. I'm not positive it was the coffee, but I figured it can't hurt to switch to decaf and keep the potential factors for long nights to a minimum. Mothering is challenging enough without the sleep deprivation. And in the U.S. (especially Seattle) it's easy to find all kinds of delicious decaf alternatives. In October we arrived in Japan and I was merrily thinking life would continue on the same path we've been following, at least with regard to my warm beverage consumption. Only it turns out that Japan IS drinking coffee but it's a lot of "regular" coffee and almost no decaf coffee.

I love this bit from the UCC brand website about their future in coffee production in Japan: "Moving forward, we are committed to anticipating consumer wants and needs, devising new ideas for more pleasurable lifestyles accented with coffee, and promoting the further spread of "Good Coffee Smile". I would like some Good Coffee Smile please! But my good coffee smile should be slightly less caffeinated.

We've tried every grocery store and big name department store we can think of to no avail. Hence, every few weeks, someone in our family has been trekking to Tennoji or Namba to find a Starbucks which thankfully(!!) sells decaf coffee.

It's only now as I sit here writing this that it occurs to me to try the Foreign Buyer's Club. Why didn't I think of this before?!

I may have to check out the UCC Coffee Museum one of these days...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Chestnut holiday cookies

The VIRTUAL KITCHEN is hopping these days! Not the actual kitchen as I still have no baking sheets and haven't resolved how to bake cookies 12 or fewer at a time. I'm used to baking at least two dozen at a time. My sense of scale is off now that I have such a little oven. As I'm sure I've mentioned, I'm thinking I should start with some no-bake items first. However, this is one recipe that's going in my file for future reference. I figure if we decide to stay here in Osaka on a more long-term basis the upgraded oven is my number one priority. After that, I can bake all I want! Oh, and I need a hand mixer at least, stand mixer at best. Call me lazy. I like to think of it as "dedicated to the art and craft of baking".

In the meantime, hopefully this recipe is inspiration to someone. These cookies from Martha Stewart take advantage of one of my favorite ingredients often found here in Japan - chestnuts!
Butter Cookie Sandwiches with Chestnut Cream
Note: The recipe says 6 semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped. Several bakers have indicated that this seems to be 6 squares of semisweet chocolate (by American standards). Best of luck translating that for your own cooking pleasure.

The recipe for the chestnut cream is on a separate link - it's big so you might decide to scale it down. On the other hand, you might decide to make the Chestnut Cake with Chocolate-Armagnac Glaze in order to use up the cream. What a sacrifice!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A little R & R

Things have been heavenly here for a couple of days. Sure my Japanese class is kicking my butt. (I have a lot of studying to do before Tuesday's final exam! That's what I get for joining mid-term and trying to keep up!) And sure I've been busy with about a dozen other things. But Peanut is feeling better than ever and I'm loving every minute of it.

She and I decorated the Christmas tree together. Lately, she's into handing things to people; this makes her the perfect assistant. I have no illusions that this will last. Instead, I took full advantage of this phase while I could! And truly, this activity put me in the Christmas spirit and brought tears to my eyes. I have such fond memories of all the years that I decorated the tree with my parents and my sister and I'm looking forward to sharing that with MY daughter for many years to come.

For the past couple of days, Peanut is also really into snuggling and what my husband likes to call "goro goro." We bought a new "hot carpet" and she adores rolling around on it. She never spent much time rolling around on the floor before. As soon as she figured out she could roll over she wanted to crawl and now she's walking and crawling everything and I usually feel like the lifeguard on duty rather than the mom (which sometimes stresses me out and wears me down). Needless to say I'm *thrilled* to finally be getting to spend a little R&R time with her. Hanging out, snuggling, rolling around on the carpet, laughing and truly enjoying each other's company. Last week by comparison was miserable and this is totally refreshing.

Oh, and one more fun treat. Peanut isn't really speaking any "words" per se although she's VERY vocal (my in-laws are constantly amazed at how loud she is compared to their other grand kids) and she says lots of syllables. Anyway, we're prepared for the fact that she might have slightly slower than average development in the speaking area as we are raising her with both English and Japanese and have learned that's pretty typical and nothing to worry about. We've also spent the last 4 months or so teaching her a few basic signs from American Sign Language. The other night, I asked her if she was ready for her bath and after saying the word (without signing it) three or four times, she burst into a smile and started signing back to me "bath". I just about fell over! She has since repeated this performance and my husband has witnessed it too - it's not just in my imagination. Now we're hoping to teach her the signs for her two favorite foods: banana and apple. I'm constantly amazed at how these little beings grow and develop and start walking and communicating...Makes all the tough moments worthwhile!

Life is good.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ganache just sounds luscious!

The VIRTUAL KITCHEN is hopping once again.

I love the way these chocolate thumbprint cookies look. To me, the word ganache by itself(!) sounds luscious. Even better - this recipe is from Cooking Light a favorite publication of mine. What a great way to indulge a little with less guilt! Here's a recipe I just might have to test for myself. In the meantime, maybe someone else will bake these and share their photos? Can you tell I have a sweet tooth and am willing to live vicariously through others in order to indulge it?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Driving along

The other day, I went out driving here in Japan for the first time ever. Gboy says that I, "drive too much on your side of the road." Well then. Who knew all those years of practicing to drive to the right of the line would be for naught? His point is well taken. We're in a fairly "suburban-ish" or rural area outside of Osaka (okay not rural like his aunts and uncles who live outside of Fukuoka - that's rural) but still. Having been in downtown Osaka I can tell you we aren't even close to that kind of urban living. The roads here are very narrow and often barely wide enough for two cars (pretty typical for Japan I guess). As such, if no one else is coming your way, standard practice is to drive in the middle of the road. Must learn to do this! Also, must try to use directional signals instead of windshield wipers to let other drivers know where I'm going. (Being from the US, I see them as being on the "wrong" side of the steering column over here!)

Having lived in Seattle for the last 8 years, and having been a single-car family for about 6 years during that time, I really came to depend on public transportation and did very little driving. This means that I am in some ways learning how to drive all over again. And at this point, while driving may occasionally be a necessary evil, I can honestly say I'd prefer to stick to the buses and trains whenever possible!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Who doesn't love a little PB and chocolate?

I am a fiend for peanut butter and chocolate especially when mixed together. As soon as I saw this recipe I knew I'd have to try it. I even managed to find some peanut butter here in Japan, meaning these may actually come to fruition! You must look at the photo included with the recipe - mouthwatering!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Mini Sandwiches

Thursday, December 4, 2008

What's up doc?

We spent 3 1/2 hours at the hospital with Peanut yesterday. She'd been spitting up copious amounts of fluid as well as vomiting on and off for a couple of days. The doctor we visited on day 2 gave us a referral to visit the hospital. He thought there might be some condition involving the development of the stomach lining/muscles which could be triggering all this.

At the hospital after a brief physical exam they told us they'd do an enema so that they could check the contents of her bowels. They were specifically interested in checking for viruses. I'm still unclear as to why since we told them she'd been vaccinated against rotavirus. The hospital staff indicated this was the worst offender on the list of possible candidates. Apparently if it was rotavirus, they'd tell us so that we could tell others who have kids around us or our daughter.

But I'm now more than a little annoyed because they were worried when she didn't immediately have a bowel movement and they wanted to stimulate her bowels more. My mother's intuition told me that if they'd all just wait patiently it would happen. But the medical staff seemed to think that this was just not normal (despite the fact that I kept saying, "She's tired, her body doesn't work this way when tired.") Eventually we ended up with, as I predicted, a diaper disaster the likes of which I have never seen before. I was covered, she was covered, it was shooting across the room. I kid you not. Needless to say I'm thankful we'd brought changes of clothes just in case. And in the middle of it all, poor little Peanut is moaning and crying.

Still, I'm pissed off that we were told we should have this test and I still don't know why. As I said, if it was discovered to be viral, as they suspected, they didn't have any advice for us other than to wait it out and use some anti-vomiting medicine. And we'd TOLD them she had her rotavirus vaccination so it couldn't be that. What were they were looking for that would necessitate such discomfort? They told us after the fact that they could only test for something like 2 of the 5 most common viruses. The ultrasound they then did (because she wasn't having a bowel movement right away - must be a blockage!) required that she be sedated. She's been asleep since yesterday morning, almost 14 hours of the last 18. And when she was awake, she could barely sit up, let alone crawl or stagger around. The ultrasound found nothing wrong and for that I should be grateful. However, I'm confused as to why all these procedures had to happen as they did. Perhaps I should be more trusting of the system. I understand that this hospital is supposed to have highly regarded pediatricians. But the language barrier makes me wary.

When they gave us anti-vomiting medicine, I didn't ask questions about what was in it. I've heard of such medicine and just let that one pass. But then they gave us "stomach improving" medicine. I asked what it specifically does and the doctor said, "Oh, very difficult to explain" and left it at that. He could simply have told my husband what the product was and generally how it operates. This may be an oversimplified version, but frankly, I don't think the concept is all THAT difficult to understand. Particularly since the doctor could have explained the whole thing in Japanese to my Japanese husband without a language barrier complicating things.

I don't know if this is typical of medical practitioners here, but I worry as I know that my husband's grandparents weren't told about their own medical conditions by their doctor. This may be an outdated medical practice (withholding information from the patient and telling only their family members of the true diagnosis). However, I worry about the doctor-patient relationship now that it's my daughter's health on the line. She was MISERABLE yesterday as they poked and prodded her and I'm thinking now that much of what happened was unnecessary and I'm having guilt that I didn't push back harder. I tried to ask questions of my husband to clarify what was going on, and he had some answers, but looking back on it, I'm not sure they were sufficient.

Maybe I just need to lighten up and enjoy the medical care and be thankful nothing serious was wrong. I can do that up to point. But then maybe I need to make peace with the fact that we're in Japan and our family doctor isn't here. Advice about medicine and doctors in Japan welcome!!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

More on egg nog and other things....

Things are crazy here. I started Japanese class today - yay!

Peanut has been spitting up and vomiting over the course of the day. We're a little worried that she's unwell. May be a trip to the doctor's office in our near future. Booo.

In the meantime, from the VIRTUAL KITCHEN:
Egg Nog Thumbprints
This isn't exactly the recipe I've used in the past (mine included pecans but the recipe is in the U.S. somewhere!) however it's a close approximation. The idea is to imitate the flavor without using actual egg nog. The filling makes them the best!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Welcome to the Virtual Kitchen!

To celebrate the upcoming Christmas holiday, I'd like to share one of my favorite holiday traditions - baking! When I was growing up, we spent a lot of time baking cookies and breads around the holidays. Various members of my family were part of this tradition and the baking has become a long-standing tradition that I hate to lose, especially because the sharing of the cookies was half the fun! However, in light of the tiny oven, lack of kitchen appliances, etc. that I am faced with this year, the baking will be kept to a minimum for sure, if it happens at all.

I was saddened by this prospect, especially as my Thanksgiving was less than stellar. Suddenly though, I was inspired. Why not create a "virtual kitchen" in which I could share my finds, ideas, and desires with whatever readers might stumble this way? Perhaps someone with an oven will execute one of these recipes and tell me how heavenly the end result tastes. Alternatively you might let me know if the recipe needs tweaking so that when I can bake more (hopefully next year!) I'll know what to do to improve the recipe.

Thus, in the spirit of the season then, I present you with the VIRTUAL KITCHEN.

Today I'm cooking up:
Egg Nog Sparkle Cookies
I'm a sucker for egg nog. I never drink a lot of egg nog, but I love that one glass each year. This sounds like a perfect way to use that excess egg nog.

In a word: Me

Eva tagged me for this meme and since we've got company today this is the quick and dirty version of the one-word meme:

Where is your cell phone? America
Where is your significant other? Kitchen
Your hair color? Brown
Your mother? Funny
Your father? Sweet
Your favorite thing? Family
Your dream last night? None
Your goal? Joy
The room you’re in? Bedroom
Your hobby? Reading
Your fear? Snakes
Where do you want to be in six years? Comfortable
Where were you last night? Home
What you’re not? Fighter
One of your wish-list items? Oven
Where you grew up? Schenectady
The last thing you did? Bath
What are you wearing? Pajamas
Your TV? Off
Your pet? Zeek
Your computer? Essential
Your mood? Upbeat
Missing someone? Everyone
Your car? None
Something you’re not wearing? Swimsuit
Favorite store? Bookstore
Your summer? Hot
Love someone? Absolutely
Your favorite color? Purple
When is the last time you laughed? Tonight
Last time you cried? Weekend

Friday, November 28, 2008

Is is the power of multi-tasking that I'm missing?

Seriously. How do they do it? How do work-at-home moms get ANY work done? My 10 month old is a crawler, climber, put-everything-in-her-mouth, touch-everything-that's-dangerous kind of kid. She is rarely content to sit in one place for longer than 5 minutes. 15 minutes is a marathon for her. And when you factor in that we live with our in-laws in a 1970's style home in Japan, the danger factor seems to be multiplied (watch her on the raised steps near the front door! no baby gates large enough to fit the staircase available locally! sliding doors to smoosh little fingers! ...and of course the fact that her grandparents continue to live life pretty much as they did before an infant joined the household so there are pens everywhere, small rubber bands on the floor, you name it - the list goes on) . We've tried to baby-proof as much as possible to limit the damage. Thankfully, the design of the house while a nightmare for actually using electronics (Where's the nearest outlet? Okay, never mind, just give me ANY electrical outlet!), is great for babies.

And yet. No matter what we do, the obstacles exist. I'm convinced Peanut will kill herself if I turn my back for more than a few moments at a time. Having to constantly watch her when she's awake makes it nearly impossible for me to get anything else done. The other challenge, as I mentioned, is her limited attention span when I'm around. According to my MIL, Peanut can and has entertained herself for long stretches of time on the few occasions we've gone out and left her in charge.

Hmmmm. So we have two problems. First off, when I'm around I feel terribly guilty if I'm not actively engaging with Peanut. The second problem is that even if I didn't have the guilt, her short-attention span and resulting fussiness or danger seeking behavior (I'm thrilled she can entertain herself but wish she wasn't such a daredevil) would probably curtail my time doing anything else regardless.

I can put her in a carrier and wear her while I do the laundry perhaps. But she gets squirmy fast and that doesn't seem to very viable for the long term. I'm amazed at how many stories I have read of women working from home while caring for infants. Do they all secretly (or not so secretly) have childcare support? Am I missing out on the legions of baby-sitters and nannies? Am I truly that inept at multi-tasking? Perhaps it will get slightly easier as Peanut moves into toddler-hood? Or is it just that I'm too paranoid and guilty????

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Remedial Japanese

Yesterday Gboy and I went to the YMCA where I took an assessment test in order to determine where I best fit in their Japanese language classes. The program has six levels. Step 1 is for beginners with zero Japanese language skills while step 6 is supposed to be advanced enough that after completion one could attain a Level 1 or 2 on the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test. I'm not looking for that kind of proficiency - just some day-to-day survival skills!

We walked in and inquired at the front desk or I should say, my husband inquired. The nice lady asked me if I had studied Japanese before, and although I was pretty sure I knew what she was asking of me, I suddenly started to panic. I think the testing anxiety had already started to affect me. As much as I would have liked to think my skills were still fairly close to an intermediate level, the inquiry at the front desk should have been a red flag.

Nevertheless, onward we went. The administrator gave me my test materials along with several pencils, an eraser and a pencil sharpener. How thorough! She asked if I could read hiragana and katakana since the test is written in a combination of both. I confidently assured her I could. She escorted me to a testing room and explained the test to me. I had one hour to work on the test. After she left I started reading the first question.

I was stumped right from the start. The farther into the test I went the more comical it became. Do they have remedial Japanese? I struggled through the test for an hour. At the end of the hour I had finished only half of the exam; I began to think we had wasted an hour and I could simply have told them to start me at Step 1 as I clearly need a LOT of help! And as I looked at the test I realized THIS is why I'm struggling - everyone around me is speaking THIS Japanese and I have something else entirely worked out in my brain!! I walked out laughing and thinking I could slink away while they scored my test. Maybe they'd just call me on the phone to tell me how pathetic I am.

I wasn't to get off that easy though. The administrator planned to score my test right away. Gboy and I went to the lobby and sat down to wait. I laughed as I explained to him how difficult the exam had been. After the administrator scored my test she told me that I'm actually somewhere around a Step 2. Since they're in the middle of a term right now. I'm all set up to attend next week's Step 2 class to see if that is a good fit for me; if it's not I can always enter the Step 1 class and ramp up more gradually. And if that doesn't work, I'm sure there's remedial help somewhere right?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sushi for Thanksgiving anyone?

Thanksgiving is fast approaching and I just haven't been able to get my act together. This means we'll probably be skipping the traditional Thanksgiving dinner while we're in Japan. I'm not sure that it's worth it to try to prepare a traditional American Thanksgiving meal. Instead, I'm contemplating ways in which to share the holiday with my in-laws. How can I inform them about what the holiday means in the U.S. and more specifically what it means to me? And this isn't just for the benefit of my in-laws. Having a daughter has made me re-think holidays and family traditions. What holidays do we observe and what traditions do we honor?

Coming from different backgrounds and cultures, it's no surprise that my husband and I have different opinions about how (or if) to celebrate various holidays. Up until now, we've operated under the philosophy that if it's important to one of us, it's worth having the both of us honor the holiday. For example, I never particularly celebrated New Year's Eve or New Year's Day until my husband shared some of the Japanese traditions with me. After several years of celebrating this holiday with his family, I decided it was worthwhile for us to find a way to celebrate it in our own way when we couldn't travel to Japan a couple of years ago. I ordered the お節料理 (osechi-ryôri). We purchased a pre-made version of the traditional Japanese New Year's breakfast and celebrated in style at home. My husband appreciated that I initiated this idea and that we started our own family tradition of sorts.

Now that we're in Japan, I'm struggling with how to institute or maintain the family traditions that I have often associated with holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Not only do I long for the familiarity of traditions when I'm away from home, but I think that lasting impact of sharing traditions with our daughter will be significant. And frankly, I think that once we grow up and move away from our families of origin, it's harder to maintain that sense of continuity and tradition no matter where we go whether it's 20 miles from home, or 2,000. Even when we lived in Seattle, I struggled with how much to do and what to do to make the holidays come alive. Having started a family gives new life and importance to this mission. I have some ideas of what I'd like to do to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas (I'm focused on the immediate future for now!), but I'd love to hear from others. What kind of old family traditions have you carried over and instituted in your own families? Are there new traditions that you've started, especially once you've moved away from your families of origin? Have you found any creative ways to maintain a tradition despite the challenges posed by living in a new location (i.e. difficulties finding foods or supplies/resources in your new home)?

Monday, November 24, 2008


The germs have now affected Peanut in such a way that she spent an hour vomiting and evacuating her system of most food and fluid. Fun times here. This is the culmination of a crappy week with all 3 of us being sick. It's comical really. Just when you think things couldn't get worse...they do. Last night after two days of her not really wanting to eat or nap (or least not doing those things without a lot of fussing first), I put Peanut to bed early because she had fallen asleep an hour before her usual bedtime. And after days of the creeping crud, rivers of snot, etc. I figured that was a good thing; she could sleep it off. That's what I thought until 40 minutes later when I heard the cough which I know, from one prior and very unfortunate incident, heralds her puking in bed. Ugh. Thankfully, after an hour, her system seemed to have purged whatever it needed to be rid of and she was able to sleep for the rest of the night.

She's been a really healthy kid for 10 months. Other than the one prior vomiting incident, this is the only illness she's ever had, but it's been a whopper for sure.

In closing, I guess you know you're a mom when you've been projectile-vomited upon and you don't even care because all you want is for your baby to feel better.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Little slice of life

Gboy decided to do some work on the wireless router here in the house. Anyone who has ever lived with a techie or computer geek knows what this means. He has spent several hours over the course of the last couple of days checking the router software, moving LAN cables around, plugging things in, unplugging things and generally wreaking havoc on those of us who are unsuspecting internet users. He seems to think the issue is resolved satisfactorily, however, it is not optimal and we'll likely be headed to the store later today for more equipment that could, in theory, fix things to his liking.

Peanut seems quite unwilling to take her morning nap today. And she was awake and crying for an hour very early this morning (i.e. 4am). Yesterday she napped pretty well, but didn't seem to want to eat anything we had to offer her. Her top two teeth have broken through the skin but I wonder if this general fussiness is related to her cold or some ongoing teething issues. This behavior is not like her at all. She's currently crying in her crib (terrible mom that I am) because I need 5 minutes to myself this morning.

Shiritori is quite a fun game and I have a humorous anecdote to share, but it will have to wait as the crying is now escalating to inconsolable screaming....

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Lifelong learning

When I was younger, learning languages seemed to come pretty naturally to me. I picked up French in middle and high school without a problem. Then I added Spanish to my course load while I was in high school, and continued with it in college. I'd say I achieved proficiency if not fluency in Spanish and still had quite a bit of the French rattling around in the brain even a number of years post college. Then, when I was about 26, I was inspired by my boyfriend at the time (now my husband), to tackle Japanese. We had recently relocated to Seattle and I was unemployed. I figured I could take some classes while looking for a job. I attended for 6 sessions (each 6 weeks long). It went really well. I enjoyed the lessons and learned a lot. Ultimately, I reached the point where there weren't enough students at the intermediate level to continue with the lessons unless it was strictly on a private instruction basis. Naturally, this became costly and I decided I'd achieved enough at the time; I could get by when alone with my mother-in-law for example. I could do some shopping on my own. I didn't always have to have Gboy with me.

Now things are different. Living in Japan means I need a much more extensive knowledge base. Also, I learned a lot of Tokyo and textbook Japanese, but that seems to differ (quite often!) from the dialect in Osaka where we live. And frankly, it's been a number of years since I took those lessons. I've lost some of my language skills since then. Furthermore, it's been hard to brush up and do self-study when I've got childcare duties. Inevitably, my daughter's needs come first and the Japanese falls by the wayside.

This past weekend I decided it was time to make a change. I'm going to look into enrolling in lessons. Meanwhile, my mother-in-law, an elementary school teacher, has offered to help me study at night. We started the other night. She recruited my husband and father-in-law too. We played shiritori. I couldn't believe even my FIL joined in, but I'm glad he did because we had a blast. My MIL's English is pretty good - probably quite good. My FIL has little to no English skills. Not only did the game give me a chance to learn a bunch of Japanese words, but they got to learn a bunch of words in English (this makes Gboy very happy - he likes the reciprocation). All in all, I'd say my language skills are about to take off again and I'm thrilled!

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Down but not quite out

I hate this time of year - when the germs creep in and everyone gets sick. Gboy came down with something at the end of last week. This is the 3rd illness he's had since Peanut was born. I think he's probably had 5 illnesses in the 8 years that I knew him prior to our daughter's birth. I'm not sure if he's just exhausted, but he seems far more susceptible since we've had her. And who is in charge of childcare while he's laid up? Yours truly. Because he doesn't want to expose Peanut to any sickness, he refuses to touch her and avoids her at all costs when he's sick.

The first time he was sick for half a week, Peanut was one and half months old. My husband had to make a 5 day trip to Japan for his grandmother's funeral and I was alone with the baby. My mother had stayed with us for the first 5 or 6 six weeks of my daughter's life (thank you Mom!) so this was a rude awakening for me. I wasn't used to being on my own and suddenly I was entirely alone for 5 days, (his sudden departure came approximately one week after my mom left). Even when Gboy returned he left me to tend to Peanut by myself for another 4 days or so because he came back with a cold. It was brutal. The next time he got sick, I ended up getting sick right after he did. But his recovery time was much more prolonged, so even when he started helping out it again, it was on a part-time basis and more out of necessity because I was beyond standing up for a couple of days.

Now, he's been sick again. And I've been unable to post or do much else besides trying to keep Peanut from killing herself while she climbs on EVERYTHING in sight. I am convinced she is a future Olympic athlete - gymnast, rock climber, you name it. I've battled vertigo and nasty cold of some kind for the last several days, but as I see it, mothers don't get a day off. (Personally I don't really think fathers do either, but I can't quite convince him of that since he's certain he's doing Peanut a favor by not giving her germs.) I love my husband and he is uber-helpful when he's well. But when he's it's tough.

Although we're staying with my in-laws, they're rarely around and I don't get much childcare support from them, so once again, it's all on me. And tonight they're having friends over for dinner and somehow this involves Gboy cooking. He's a great cook and normally I'm very thankful for his talents in the kitchen, but right now, I'm wishing he didn't have to dedicate several hours to cooking; I'd so much rather he take on childcare so that I could rest. *sigh* How do people with more than one child do it? Most days I feel like I'm barely able to manage my one!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What are the sounds in your neighborhood?

With Mr. Rogers echoing in my brain, I've been thinking lately about where we live now. Daily, I'm reminded that I live in a new place. Each time the town plays the five o'clock song (I'm told it's to call the kids home). Or when the satsuma imo man drives by with the megaphone on his truck singing Satsumaaaa IIIImo, not unlike the American ice cream man. Then there's the trucks that drive around announcing their collection of old appliances and electronics for garbage haul-away. And periodically someone drives by with announcements about politicians or political issues. These are all constant reminders to me that I'm in a new place. Before living here, I had become accustomed to living in a city near the ocean and lakes and we could hear hydroplanes all the time, an occasional tugboat or barge. Since we lived in a big city there were always plenty of helicopters (both medical, news crews and law enforcement). My parents visited once and my mother mistook the choppers for snow plows because although we'd never get snow in that city, she was used to snow plows all the time where she lived. Needless to say, each time I hear a new sound, I'm reminded that we're in a new place and while the sounds may be different, they create a symphony to which I'll become accustomed and will soon be a part of everyday life. What sounds do you miss when you're in a new place?

Finding your foods

I've noticed a trend in many expatriate blogs. Food. For those of us who have left our familiar homes behind, finding "our food" becomes critical. Not only do we seem to experiment with everything local to find new favorites, but we long for the old foods too. Inevitably it seems that what emerges is a blend; foods that have been created or modified to suit the old palate with the new environment. In my own experience, this has manifested itself as kabocha pumpkin muffins rather than the standard American variety of pumpkin. I've also found that using ham in pasta sauce tastes great and given the ready availability of ham in Japan, I've switched from ground beef and bolognese sauce to ham sauce. The additional challenge with which I'm faced, is that I'm not a proficient reader in Japan yet. I can generally read hiragana and katakana, but my kanji reading is limited. This means that reading websites or Japanese cookbooks is still a stretch for me. Thus, while I can read and then tweak recipes originally in English, the reverse isn't true for Japanese recipes. Which just means that my foods and cooking are works in progress.

Favorite recipes you'd like to share? Or sources of favorite recipes?

Book clubs

I've never really been in a formal book club. I did try an online book group once but it felt very disjointed and not particularly interesting. It basically entailed a lot of people saying they liked or didn't like a book/character/plot. While I was a library science student, I learned a little about book clubs and why many of them fail. I understand now that most successful book clubs have a good facilitator and guidelines for the group; open-ended questions are what prompt the group to keep digging into the book and help the discussion thrive. In the future, these are things I'll bear in mind should I decide to join or start a book group.

But here's another approach. Some of my girlfriends and I formed a loose kind of book group and it was a lot of fun. We read and discussed a few books like The Lovely Bones and The Poisonwood Bible. We'd often share a meal while discussing the books, making the whole "meeting" even more convivial. I've even heard of book groups that incorporate foods from the books they're reading (perhaps more work than it's worth, but it could be fun!). However, our little book group faced it's own challenges since it was hard to keep everyone motivated to read the same book and naturally life would conspire to keep everyone from reading regularly. Still, it was fun while it lasted and I miss it. Now I find this. If you can put aside the commercial promotion aspect of this web series, this is the kind of book club I'd like to be join! Not only does this kind of club have good books and fun friends, but it's an mini- escape from those we love. Enough time away to appreciate going back to them and to reconnect with our inner selves. How refreshing!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Personal space

Our daughter, Peanut, is pretty darn cute if you ask me. But apparently I'm not the only one who thinks this. When we go out, we often get swarmed by people, especially old ladies wanting to see her and very often, wanting to touch her. "Kawaii ne!" So cute. We hear this a lot. At first it didn't bother me very much, but as we approach cold and flu season, I'm less blase about having people touch her face and hands. And the fact that Gboy has noticed this and is feeling a little perturbed is an indication of how much it's happening (he tends to not be the most observant person about these things). I should also mention that we're currently combating a rash on her face - source indeterminate. Doctor's recommendation of Cortaid-like cream seems to be working, but I don't think having people pet Peanut's face will help matters.

As a result, my husband and I have been talking to a few people here in Osaka lately. We're trying to assess the source of problem. Do people find her especially cute because she's biracial? Many people do tell us this. But some people have told us that the touching thing (again especially from the old ladies) is prevalent in Osaka vs. other parts of Japan. So maybe it's just a local and cultural custom that we're up against. Either way, we're unsure of how to deal with it.

In the U.S. some old ladies (although fewer than we've encountered here) wanted to stop and admire Peanut, but they never touched her. I would have had a hard time asking people not to touch her, but I probably would have developed a backbone as winter approaches and the germ count seems to increase. For some reason though, I find it awkward to try to figure out how to tell people here to please not touch her. I get that she's something of a novelty around here (we're in a more rural, outlying part of Osaka) but don't know why that means everyone should feel entitled to touch her.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A glimpse of Seattle

Lulu "tagged" me for a meme with photos. The idea is to share the 6th photo from the 6th folder. I had no idea what I'd find on this computer as I don't typically store that many photos on my laptop but instead keep most of them on an external hard-drive. I'm a scrapbooker at heart (although I haven't done a lick of scrapbooking since the birth of my daughter) and I'm terrified of losing any prints!
Still, I found some photos and this is the 6th photo from the 6th folder:

The view if from my friend's house in Seattle looking out over Lake Union (yes that's the Space the Needle). This was taken in August of 2007 and captures the feel of a typical summer day in Seattle. Blue skies and warm weather but it never gets humid and rarely gets too hot. It's perfect!

Monday, November 10, 2008


It's been raining and cold for the last couple of days and frankly that's my excuse for not posting yesterday - my fingers were frozen. Needless to say it seems like autumn is moving in to stay. When the weather turns like this, I usually want to put on old comfy clothes, soothing music and make chili. Instead, here in Japan at my in-laws' house where we have no central heating, I've hauled out the long underwear (silk thank you LLBean!), extra sweaters, thick socks and I'm wearing them all simultaneously. We also decided it was time to upgrade the comforter we use on the bed, meaning we needed something warmer. Yesterday we managed to find a goose-down comforter, a fleece comforter cover, and a winter jacket for the Peanut. I figured we all need to keep warm in as many ways as possible! Mission accomplished.

The irony here is that I hate the cold and one of the factors prompting me to move away from upstate NY years ago was the cold weather. Here in Osaka I don't anticipate snowstorms and blizzards like we used to have in NY which means I won't have to battle the elements outdoors. However, I'm still adapting to living in a house that has separate climates indoors and where I'm likely to need my gloves in several rooms in the house. Have I mentioned I don't like to be cold - at all?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

I'm red today

You Are a Red Crayon

Your world is colored with bright, vivid, wild colors.

You have a deep, complex personality - and you are always expressing something about yourself.

Bold and dominant, you are a natural leader. You have an energy that is intense... and sometimes overwhelming.

Your reaction to everything tends to be strong. You are the master of love-hate relationships.

Your color wheel opposite is green. Green people are way too mellow to understand what drives your energy.

What Color Crayon Are You?

Interesting although perhaps not all accurate. For example, I wouldn't say that I'm the "master of love-hate relationships". I see a lot of gray in the world, and the idea of such strong contrasts isn't really my style. I also can't think of too many people who would describe me as intense. I may have a complex personality, but have no way of judging that objectively as I suppose. Interestingly enough, this description reminds me of many of the descriptions of Aries personalities that I have read over the years. I've never felt that those descriptions accurately summed up my personality either. If you want to know what kind of person I am, the Myers-Briggs measure is probably closest; I'm an ISFJ.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Dawn of a new day

I've been thinking about the election in the U.S. and what it means to me and more specifically to my daughter. Peanut is Asian-American. Her father is Japanese, her mother is a Caucasian American. I don't know how Peanut will identify herself as she grows older. We're hoping to give her lots of opportunities over the years to live in both Japan and the U.S. and to learn a lot about both cultures. We've even given her two names, one that is Japanese and one that is more Western. We really want her to be able to define herself. I understand that others will always label her in some way based on what they see when they look at her or what they think they know about her, but I like to believe that if she can define herself first, what others say to her (especially if it's ignorant) won't matter as much.

To me, the election of a man of color, a biracial person no less, creates a world of opportunities for young people in the U.S. and for that I am grateful. I confess I am a fan of Mr. Obama and perhaps that makes me more likely to see only the good and to be overly optimistic. But as a new mama, it's a wonderful feeling to be optimistic about the future of my country, and to think that there might be global implications as well. In fact, I can't help but think that Obama's election represents something even more important when viewed through the lens of Japan where the racial and ethnic diversity of the nation isn't really the strong suit. In some ways the uniformity within the culture can be seen as a strength resulting in more efficient and unified approaches to problem solving. However, I like to think that giving Peanut the opportunity to see two cultures and societies with such different compositions in terms of race and ethnicity will only make her a better global citizen.

Plenty of people will describe Election Day 2008 with far more thoughtful analysis I'm sure. Personally, I'm just glad my daughter is seeing the dawn of a new day.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Sweets for the sweet

The other day Gboy and I were out and about doing some errands when he had a craving for some cheesecake. Specifically, he wanted cheesecake from Florence. My husband doesn't have a sweet tooth like I do, but he loves this particular patisserie and now that we're in Japan for a while it seems he's planning to take advantage of our close proximity to make numerous visits. Oh twist my arm already. On Saturday we headed to Florence with my mother-in-law and my daughter in tow. As we approached I could see quite a few people standing around outside and wondered if this was in fact the line for this little bakery which, while they do a steady business, never seems to have more than a handful of customers at one time. Here we were, looking at a line at least 20 people deep. Sure enough, it was their post-Halloween, November 1st clearance sale and all pastries and cakes were 50% off. We debated whether or not to stand in line for what was sure to be at least 30 minutes, and decided to take a stab at it. After we waited and waited and waited, we made it to the front of the line to order exorbitant amounts of goodies. I wish I had thought to take a picture of the many luscious desserts we purchased, but trust me when I say they looked amazing. I'm not sure I would claim this as my favorite pastry shop in the Osaka area; I'd need much more in-depth research before going that far. However, they make many wonderful and tasty treats and for 50% off the wait was worth it!

Anyone with suggestions of especially good pastry shops in Osaka? I'm also very interested in your ideas for delicious chocolate in Osaka - chocolate cake, cookies, sweets etc. I'm not such a fan of the low cocoa/cacao unsweetened (or differently sweetened?) chocolate that seems to be predominant here in Japan.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Sports day

On Monday I went to my first 運動会 (undoukai). For those of you who don't know what that is, it's a sports festival of sorts. My 2 1/2 year old nephew was participating in the "pull a donut off a string" event. The rules theoretically require you to use your mouth and teeth only - not your hands, but can you imagine a bunch of 2-year-olds doing this? Hysterics ensued. Actually, the hysterics started before the kids even made it to the donuts because they had to run the length of an admittedly small gym just to get to the bar with the suspended donuts. My nephew took about 3 steps before deciding he had no interest in going any further. This meant that my brother-in-law had to pick up my nephew and carry him, kicking and screaming, to the other end of the gym, whereupon he was then enticed by yummy donut-ness into trying to obtain a donut (hands and all).

We didn't stay for all of the events and festivities, but I did get to see the 3-year-olds singing a little song and holding hands in a circle. And then the 4-years-olds busted out all over the place with bells on their wrists and a piece of choreography that was so lengthy I couldn't believe they could all remember it. They were like a precision dance team AND they even included spirit fingers!!

As I watched the day's events, and recalled my husband's fond descriptions of all his own childhood undoukai experiences, I started to believe we need something like this in the U.S. In a country fighting obesity and a lack of physical activity, wouldn't this be a great solution? OK, sans the donuts. But still. I was never the most *ahem* athletic kid. I was more of the klutzy and bookish kid. I didn't care for organized sports like soccer or basketball or floor hockey. But I loved gymnastics days and dancing (not the square dancing we had to do in elementary school - who thought that was a good idea when kids that age are worried about cooties?) and I loved games. We often played some version of tag in elementary school. Our gym teacher had all kids of variations on the theme but it generally involved all of us running around and screaming like banshees and although I never much cared for physical activity per se, I always loved the games we played in gym class. Fifth grade was the last time I remember really enjoying a lot of "sports" and activity. But if you had given me music, choreography, bells, games, different kinds of activities? I'm sure I would have loved it.

I don't know why gym class in the U.S. has often been so focused on organized sports. I don't think gym class ever taught me much. I'm much more active now than I ever was in middle or high school. But I choose to do the things I enjoy. I dance (I've taken hip hop classes and line dancing too), I walk (sometimes in the woods and often in the city), I do yoga, Pilate's, and all kinds of aerobics - whatever inspires me. I'm never going to be mistaken for a jock, but I do manage to get pretty close to the recommended amount of physical activity each week. And I bet I'd kick a*$ at an undoukai now.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day - U.S.

When I was young, Election Day was a special day in our house. My parents never discussed politics much around me and my sister, but they always let us know it was voting day. They'd usually vote in the evening after work. I remember watching them leave the house to walk the 3 blocks to my elementary school where they would vote. They would hold hands as they headed out the door to vote together. As a result, I always saw voting as a civic duty, but more importantly, as something pleasurable to do. Their attitude as they headed off to vote was never one that said, "What a chore," or "Now we have to pick the least offensive of two terrible candidates." My parents weren't political activists either. They were average Americans exercising their right to vote. I grew up believing that it is worth your time to vote; I grew up believing in the power of the people to make change by casting ballots.

I have very strong opinions about who should be the next President, but this post isn't about my political beliefs. This is about what you believe and whether or not you'll take the time to let others know that you have a voice and an opinion. Will you stand up and have your vote counted? If you haven't already cast your ballot, please do. And if you need any further convincing about what a privilege it is to be able to vote or just how easy Americans have it when it comes to voting, watch Secret Ballot.

Monday, November 3, 2008

An ideal world

For me, this embodies the way in which I wish all parents and caregivers could feel about their children and the future. It's inspirational. And if you're like me, it will bring a tear to your eye...

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A little on reading digitally

Before we made the big move to Japan, I bought myself a Kindle from Amazon. Frankly, I was starting to panic over my potential loss of reading material. You see, by training, I'm a youth services librarian. Specifically my interest has been teens/young adults, although with an infant of my own now I'm increasingly interested in books for the wee ones as well! The point is, I tried to envision myself living in Japan and finding a reliable source of good young adult novels and just couldn't see it happening. I figured if I did manage to find a good source of paperback novels then that would be a bonus, but I wasn't coming over here with no access to the latest and hottest YA books.

I spent hours researching the Kindle. If you've never seen one in person, they are very light, and easy to read. I even looked for a bunch of sample titles that I thought I might be interested in reading and found that maybe 50% of them were available in a Kindle format. I thought this would be the perfect solution for me the traveler and avid reader that I am. Besides, I saw the purchase as an investment in my own professional development while I'm currently not actively working in my profession.

The hitch is that since I've been using the thing, the results of my title searches show that on average about 20% of what I'm looking for is available on Kindle. I have no idea what my old list looked like. Twit that I am, I forgot to write down the names of the titles I had originally discovered. This means that I am now religiously visiting Amazon's website and clicking those buttons to "tell the publisher I'd like to read this on Kindle." Keep your fingers crossed for me that this technology will take off and we'll see more digital books especially for young adults.

By the way, if you haven't read any YA fiction lately and are remotely interested in science fiction or medical thrillers, I highly recommend The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson. I'd bet large sums of money (if I had such money to bet) that this book will be an award winner and may in fact win numerous awards.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Pumpkin muffins (!) and other food

Baking is relaxing for me, and comforting as well. I decided early on in my stay here that I wanted to bake. Because so many aspects of the baking process would be unfamiliar to me, I thought I should start with a small manageable project. After locating muffin tins (actually I think they are ぷりん tins) along with baking soda and baking powder, I felt ready to tackle some pumpkin muffins. Kabocha is plentiful here at the house as my father-in-law is growing so much of it that we eat it in some fashion with nearly every meal. Luckily I also brought my pumpkin pie spice with me and I was able to replicate GirlJapan's recommended recipe. They were absolutely delicious! While a little on the sweet side for my taste, my mother-in-law swears she loved it. I had to laugh as I was making them because the oven is so small by American standards that it reminds me of an Easy Bake Oven on steroids. However, I am sure it cooks by convection as those muffins were done in no time. Hooray!

Now I just need to replace some of the spices here in the house. My attempt at a chicken tikka masala the other night was slightly less successful. I didn't realize we have no coriander in the house and after some investigating we found out that my mother-in-law's stash of garam masala is easily over five years old. The spices clearly lacked their *zing* when we tasted the final product. The long and short of it is that I'm learning to use the kitchen and tools in it, and we're slowly finding the supplies we like in the grocery stores. Back in the US, Gboy and I both shared the cooking responsibilities. He likes to cook lots of Japanese food and a little Italian now and then. He is also a master of steaks and homemade sausages. I, on the other hand, like to toy with other flavors - Mexican (or at least Southwestern), Thai, Indian, Mediterranean, etc. As a result, those are the things I know best how to cook and I really enjoy having a wide palette of foods and flavors. I'm willing to adapt to living in Japan, but I don't really want to learn to cook exclusively Japanese foods. I enjoy lots of other foods as well. Luckily, as I said, we're slowly finding the foods we like and are toying with new recipes. It's a delicious adventure! 

Thursday, October 23, 2008


I miss having more time to myself. Time to read. Time to browse the internet. Time to listen to one hour-long program on the radio, uninterrupted. And I feel guilty for wanting all those things because I love my daughter; I ADORE her. I think I'm still adjusting to life with an infant. Having said all of that, I think this helps explain why I'm loving having the opportunity to go to a 習字 class (that's calligraphy if my dictionary is serving me well). I get almost one hour of time all to myself while my husband baby-sits. And when I'm listening to the instructor or concentrating on my own work, it's almost like a meditation. My yoga practice fell by the wayside when I was pregnant and since I had my daughter I've been struggling with some muscle and joint issues making yoga uncomfortable to practice. Finding this as a substitute may not only prove to be a great source of "me-time," but I think it will be a wonderful opportunity for me to have some time for relaxation and, with any luck, will give me even more insight into the culture here in Japan. I'm not the most creative person in the world, but I'm generally quite good at following directions, thus, I think this style of class and "art" really suits me and I can't wait for more.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A picking we will go

We went out on a chestnut picking mission today. Gboy and I loaded Peanut into the car and FIL drove. We headed up into the mountains and passed places for digging our own sweet potatoes and picking our own mikkan. I figured if I wanted to do either of those things, I'd just walk one minute down the road to the family farm. I was on a mission to find chestnuts. After about 30 minutes of driving we located the kuri u-pick place. We stopped the car and my husband got out and asked about the chestnuts. The owner of the place told us we were too late. The prime picking time is early October and as far as he knew, no other places had any chestnuts left on their trees either. ARGH. Luckily as we headed back down the main road, my FIL slammed on the brakes and excitedly gestured toward the tree on the side of the road. He had recognized it as a chestnut tree. Sure enough, when we got out of the car and looked over guard rail down onto the tree, we could see that the tree even had some nuts still on it - not many but a few. Then, when we looked on the ground below, we could see piles of them, looking like little fuzzy Tribbles. It was actually private property we were overlooking, meaning we were unable to pick any of them to take home, but it was rewarding nonetheless.

I asked when we first arrived in Japan on Oct 4th and was told by my in-laws that it was still too early to go pick chestnuts and we should definitely wait for at least a week or two. Finally they figured it was okay to go. And now all the chestnuts are gone.

On the one hand, I'm pleased that we had a nice drive, and did eventually see the chestnuts I went to find. On the other hand, I'm annoyed - with myself for not pressing harder to just GO and with my in-laws for being misinformed. I see this as further evidence of why I must stop trying to be quite so polite and accommodating all the time. I could have very politely asserted that I wanted to go last week and maybe we would have had some chestnuts after all! Regardless, for future reference we now know that early October is best!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

300 Lemons

My father-in-law has something of a green thumb and he likes to experiment with growing new fruits and vegetables. Several years ago he planted a lemon tree or two and over the last couple of years, he has added some more. Now he has a total of five lemon trees and apparently they are all about to bear fruit for the first time. His best estimate is that we will end up with close to 300 lemons. Any ideas on how to make use of LOTS of lemons all at once? I'm thinking of juicing and zesting some of them in order to freeze a bunch of the juice and zest for future use. Additionally, lemonade is one option, but I'm looking for recipes or ideas for using quite a few lemons all at once.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mont Blanc = French for "delicious chestnut"?

This post reminded me of all the wonderful and delicious chestnut treats that I've eaten in Japan over the years. We've visited frequently during the winter months and often around New Year's which is when I'm sure the chestnuts are plentiful. I am enamored of the Mont Blanc. I had never tried this delicacy until I visited Japan. Why do we not have more of these in the U.S.?! We even have songs about "chestnuts roasting on an open fire," etc. but still they are hard to come by and rarely sold or cooked with in the U.S. (at least in my experience). Since I'm learning to be something of a foodie as I get older, and I have a major sweet tooth, this is something I'd say I've investigated quite a bit! In fact, this is a photo I took almost 4 years ago. I just love how soft and luscious that chestnut topping looks.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Multi-generation living

Not only are we adapting to living in a new city (okay, new to me and to my daughter), but we're adjusting to living with an extended family. The family isn't all that big when you consider it's just Gboy's mother and father with whom we're living. But we've moved into their house and I'm now having to learn how to live with the equivalent of roommates, in what is essentially someone else's turf. Never mind the in-law issues that are present.

Thankfully I don't think we have many "issues" but there is no discounting the fact that I feel a little judged (or maybe scrutinized is a better word) when I'm around them. I think I'd feel this way even if they were American (i.e. we weren't from different cultures) but the language and culture differences certainly don't make it any easier. I find myself often wanting to say, "I'm only doing this because...." or "In the U.S. this is how lots of people do this...." or "Drinking 3 beers is totally fine for me even though I'm still breast-feeding some." But my Japanese isn't that good yet (and it just seems easier to not have ANY beer than to try to explain why the half a beer I might really have isn't a problem given the circumstances *sigh*). And the weird thing is that I think my in-laws really do like me and they've never said anything that leads me to believe they question my skills as a mother, but I'm still learning to live with the differences here, and on top of that I'm learning to live with roommates again. It's sort of like living in a fishbowl and it's been a while since I've had roommates in such a tight-ish space. Lucky for me, we (Gboy, me and Peanut) all get a little space of our own on the second floor, removed enough from my in-laws that I feel we all get some of our own space.

Update: After reading this post from an awesome blogger that I follow, I am reminded of all the wonderful things that come from having lots of family under one roof. And for that, I'm immensely grateful. I firmly believe in silver linings and Mel has shown me, perhaps unintentionally, the silver lining here.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Back from the break: Culture shock

I think it's fair to say that no matter how times I've visited Japan, I'm still experiencing some culture shock now that we've actually landed here in Japan for a long-term stay. We've been here for almost 2 weeks now. I realize that adapting to life here for the next 8 months or so will take some time and patience and I think I have both in spades, but this kind of big lifestyle change is never easy. I'm finding the need to write about my feelings and experiences; multiple changes all at once can be overwhelming. I hope this blog will enable me to reflect on my stay here and perhaps even connect with others in similar life experiences - other moms, other expatriates, others in intercultural marriages, etc.

Please feel free to comment or email me. I'd love to hear your thoughts on kids, travel, living overseas, how to organize that junk drawer that inevitably develops, favorite chocolate chip cookie recipes, you name it!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Seriously, the last post wasn't meant to be terribly whiny or self-indulgent. But I am trying to be honest about my feelings and to engage (at least with myself) in a dialogue that I don't think we as women honestly engage in very often. I understand it's a loaded question: what are you? I think most of us feel obligated to answer with either SAHM or working mom as though you can't be a little of both, or as if most of us don't do both in some way. I also think that many women feel guilt inherent in either choice and that tends to cloud our discussions. I know I have a hard time seeing my own feelings clearly and that's part of the reason for using this space to write about all the changes in my life - this being just one major change for me.

The fact of the matter is that I'm in my early thirties and have long had a professional career before becoming a parent and thus I'm having to shift my own image of myself to incorporate this new facet of my identity. It's one I've longed for and yet now that it's here...well we all know that change, even desirable change can be stressful. Factor in the sleep deprivation and it's no cake walk that's for sure.

Without being active in my profession I find myself wondering if that's still a valid way to define myself. Can I tell people I'm a "non-practicing" librarian? If I can't does that mean I'm therefore a stay-at-home mom? It's not that I think that's a bad thing, it's just not how I envisioned myself for the long term, and I don't feel that it's a choice I've made in the same way that some women have chosen that avenue in their lives after desiring that for themselves for a long time. All of these questions tumble around in my head, and I am hoping to find some slices of enlightenment in Amy Richard's book "Opting-In: Having a Child Without Sacrificing Yourself". I'm only about 30 pages into the book and I like where she's headed with it. She doesn't seem to advocating for either label ("SAHM" or "working mom") for women and I like that. I don't think the choice is easy for any of us.

Monday, July 28, 2008

I'm a SAHM?!

When my husband and I first thought about having kids, we naively assumed things would go according to plan. I'd have the baby during my last year in graduate school, maybe the summer after graduating. I'd be home with the baby while attending classes or during that summer post-graduation, and then I'd head out into the work world with new degree in hand. Only that's not how it worked. It took us considerably longer than we anticipated to get pregnant and by the time we did, I'd decided I wasn't in a hurry to get back to work. Much as I loved my new career path, I wanted to cherish this time with my first baby. But honestly, I still figured I'd go back to work sometime in the baby's first year.

And then life continued to flow somewhat against our plan. Things happened in my husband's family. Big changes. More on that later, but suffice it to say, we're heading to Japan to stay with his family this fall, winter and spring. It seems as though I won't be working in my profession anytime in the near future. Or at least not in any way that I can visualize right now. This means that I'm a stay-at-home-mom right now.

Each and every day I find myself wondering what that means for me and how I can be the best mom I can without sacrificing myself too much either. Because it didn't take long for me to figure out that full-time mothering may not be my strong suit. I may be great at it for 3/4 of the day, but for that other 1/4 all I want to do is have a glass or two of wine, read the blogs I follow, read whatever book(s) I'm currently in the middle of, and generally do things all for me. I constantly struggle to stay present with my daughter rather than resenting her for keeping me from my latest book. After all, I DO adore her, but being with her 24 hours a day is a LOT of time and is more of a challenge than I anticipated and I really miss my work and colleagues. These thoughts mostly just make me feel guilty...

I'll likely re-visit this later but right now, she's napping and I'm going to read!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Note to self: music

Be sure to introduce all kinds of music to Peanut:

Classical - check
Jazz - check
Classic rock - check
Country - check
Oldies - check

All the experts say babies respond joyfully to the music they like. Nothing much so far. Until yesterday.

Madonna and Justin Timberlake "4 minutes" totally thrilled Peanut.
Maybe it was my mad hip hop dancing skills, not sure.* Requires further research.

But seriously? Madonna and JT?! Of all the music I've played you Peanut? Okay, I was a Madonna fan in the old days, but you're too young to know that. And I admit that the beat is pretty catchy, but I almost can't help but object just on principle. I'm not even sure what that principle is. And since I want Peanut to have an appreciation for all kinds of music, I guess we'll just let this one slide and try to save the world through dance!

*The only sprain injury that I ever sustained was when I was in high school. I was *ahem* dancing around my house and fell on my own ankle thus spraining it. Just to be clear, I wasn't even attempting some fancy Lord of the Dance kind of jig or anything; I was literally messing around/hopping around my house and fell like a ton of bricks.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

My date(s) stood me up

The other night, Gboy and I had plans to go to dinner with approximately 8 other new parents. This dinner was organized through a social networking type website. And maybe this was the problem. Perhaps we expected too much of these virtual relationships and connections, because we were the ONLY ones who showed up. I've never been stood up by so many people all at once! And while a part of me sees the humor in this situation, and frankly Gboy and Peanut and I had a great time regardless, a part of me was really disappointed.

Your see we're not from this area originally and we're still working on building a support system and network of friends - particularly a network of people who are relatively new parents like we are. I would have thought that others might have the same goal in mind. After all, parenting isn't easy on a good day, but if you don't have support I think it's even harder. So I'm left wondering if we're really the only ones who don't have an extensive support network of other new parents? Or maybe we're just the only ones who are courtesy enough to show up where we say we'll be. I've noticed that's something of a problem around here - people over-commit or something and very often they don't show up for events that they said they'd be attending. For all I know this was a problem when we lived back on the East Coast, but the way I remember it was that people there would just say "No I can't make it" rather than pretending they'd try.

Regardless of why it happened, it leaves me a little disappointed since I'm feeling a little lonely on some days. Luckily we do have one parent group that we joined which seems to be pretty reliable. The same members show up week after week and for that I'm grateful. Because without it, without them, I'm not sure where we'd be.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Just a spot of cleaning...

Gulp. Totally forgot the babysitter is coming tonight. My husband, henceforth known as Coffeeboy Gboy (because of his love for all those games!), and I haven't had a date in weeks. It's time for some alone time. Plus we've both been dying to see a movie. We're neither of us movie snobs. We're escapists. Give us pretty much any action/adventure flick and we're happy. As a result, you can imagine that we drool over most of the summer blockbusters. Lowbrow entertainment that's what we're after. Only I forgot the babysitter is coming tonight and I don't want her to think that we actually force our child to live in squalor. Okay, maybe we don't live in squalor, but since Peanut (we didn't actually name her Peanut but I'm starting to worry she may think that's her name since we call her that all the time!)came into our lives the amount of cleaning around here has plummeted. I know it's a common occurrence with the addition of small children to a household, but that doesn't change the fact that I just spent an hour cleaning the house in order to impress the babysitter. *sigh* I hope she remembers to check the stove top. I really gave it a good scrubbing.

As if.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Travel horror stories?

Two orders of business before I get started:

1. It may be a bit strange to start a blog with a writing-prompt challenge, but I'm still trying to shake off the dust and just jump in with the writing and I figured this was the perfect way to force fingers to keyboard.

2. No cute graphic today as either my use of the HTML provided or Blogger isn't functioning properly. I TOLD you I was out of practice! But this post was inspired by Absolutely Bananas (who designed said cute graphic) - check her out for more.
Update: *sigh* I figured it out. Sleep deprivation is a formidable foe!

I've been trying to think of travel horror stories and can honestly, and thankfully, say that I haven't had many as an adult. There was the time we spent 3 hours on the tarmac before our plane even took off for the 10+ hour flight to Japan. That wasn't a walk in the park, but hardly counts as a horror.

No. I think my most horrific travel story reaches back to my early childhood; I couldn't have been more than 7 or 8 years old. My family had gone on a camping trip. I remember waking up very early in the morning after a dream consisting of all the foods I would normally love to eat: ice cream sundaes, whipped cream, cakes, etc. but I felt sick when I woke up. At first I thought my brain had been tricked into thinking that I had over-indulged as a result of the dream, and then I realized I truly was sick. I somehow managed to drag myself to the public restroom (we were at a campground obviously) where I proceeded to toss my cookies quite literally. Ick. Being sick to your stomach is bad enough, add in a public restroom and we've hit a new low. I dragged myself back to my sleeping back and tried to go back to sleep but I felt too awful to sleep.

We were de-camping that day and heading for home. Normally I would have been expected to help with packing everything up but as soon as my mother woke up and realized what was going on, she parked me in a lawn chair and told me not to move. Needless to say the 6+ hour car ride home was not pleasant. I just wanted it all to be over so that I could lay down in my bed and rest. To this day I can't eat those multi-colored flavored marshmallows; that's what we were toasting around the campfire the night before I got so ill. (*shudders*)

Bear with me...

I'm trying to get my head wrapped around how to set-up and start my blog. I've done some blogging in the past, but I'm out of practice. (HTML what? CSS - oops never got to that...) Living with an infant (6 months old) makes sneaking even a moment for myself that much harder. Thus, I've decided just to jump in and try writing something, anything, to get the ball rolling. I suspect I'll need this space a lot of the next year or so with big changes coming down the line. For now, I'm up and running!