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!