Thursday, January 29, 2009

Idea File: How to Use Leftover Food Scraps

I'm starting what I think may become a regular series known as the "idea file." Ever find an idea while reading a magazine in the doctor's office? Or you see a commercial on television late at night that reminds you of something you need to do 2 weeks from now? Or you're out with friends and someone mentions a great book you want to read or store you want to go to and suddenly you're afraid you'll forget it? That's what my idea file is for - to help me remember those flashes of inspiration so that I can come back to them later. Hopefully these little tidbits might help some of you as well!

Today I heard an idea on the Splendid Table's "How to Eat Supper" podcast. (Yes I'm just catching up on a series of podcasts that originally aired starting in the spring of 2008. Hot tip: Podcasts are perfect for a stranded foreigner with no satellite television and therefore nothing to watch in English especially if you have plenty of time to ride the trains and listen to audio podcasts of your beloved English language!). The discussion was in part about how Americans toss lots of leftover scraps that many other cultures would eat or cook with in ways we don't often think to do in the U.S. Now, if you're composting you're already "greening things up." But at our small urban townhome in Seattle, we haven't worked out the details of composting yet (although the city will now collect our kitchen scraps with our yard waste which seems like a step in the right direction) and as result this idea is an eco-friendly way for us to make the most of what we have.

Anyway, let's say you can't or don't compost. What are doing with all those chicken bones, beef bones, carrot and potato peelings, tops of celery stalks, ends of onions etc.? You could just toss them in the garbage. But the host, Lynne Rossetto Kasper suggests tossing everything into freezer bags instead. Store them in the freezer until you're ready to make stocks or broths. In the past, we've tried to immediately whip up the broth the next morning which frankly wasn't always that convenient and multiple ingredients might be missing. Using this idea enables you to have the makings of a quick vegetable or chicken broth when it's convenient AND when you've got lots of good scraps on hand to "sweeten the pot" so to speak.

Likewise, have an apple, peach or apricot sitting around that's starting to wilt? Make a fruit sauce with some hot water, a little sugar, and cinnamon or vanilla and you've got a perfect ice cream topping that you can store in the freezer. What a great way to use those foods which might otherwise go right into the garbage! And what a time saver!!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

One Year of Mothering

This weekend we celebrated Peanut's first birthday. I still can't quite believe she's here. She was born quietly at 11:59PM. I had an amazing doctor and staff. My husband was with me every step of the way and my mother was there quietly on-hand to help if we needed anything. The next few weeks and months are something of a blur; I realize that now. It seems like everyone says they'll stop and smell the roses more so to speak, as their children get older. I'd always heard that and tried to appreciate each moment as I was in it, but with little sleep and no end in sight, it was hard in the first few months.

I've learned a lot from the first year; to name a few:

No matter how much you hate a song, it may be the one and only song that will put your child to sleep. If I never hear "This Old Man" again I'd be happy.

It's possible to put a diaper on without removing a little one's tights entirely. The one-legged strip has proven to be a real sanity and time saver.

Just when you think you've got it all down, children like to shake things up and change it all around.

Snuggles are precious and increasingly hard to come by as they get older.

No matter how hard you try to remember the exact feeling of that precious little tiny bundle in your arms, you'll most likely only be able to recall the current weight/heft of your child right now.

Showers and "me-time" are to be treasured.

There will always be someone who thinks you're "doing it wrong" as a parent (or that you could be doing it better or should be doing it differently). They may tell you this directly or may simply imply it, so you'll have to learn to trust yourself as a parent to know what's right for your family.

What have you learned about parenting?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Beautiful Mess gave me an award and meme. The honorees of this award are to: A) first list 10 honest things about yourself - and make it interesting, even if you have to dig deep! B) pass the award on to 7 bloggers that you feel embody the spirit of the Honest Scrap.

1) I am great at starting projects and terrible at finishing them. For a long time I liked to believe I was good at follow through, but now I’m trying to own up to the fact that when it comes to hobbies I just get lazy or distracted and move on. Also, I’m obnoxiously late with sending out holiday cards. You may get one from me, but it will likely be after the fact. I hate admitting this about myself.

2) I was 2 weeks away from proposing to my husband when he beat me to it and proposed to me. Our 5 year anniversary was approaching and I decided I'd just propose to him then and see what he said (I figured he couldn't refuse me!), but he surprised me by proposing just before Christmas instead.

3) I enjoy living in Japan right now and I'm glad that we're here so that our daughter can experience living with an extended family nearby. BUT, as much as I love my husband's family most of the time, I'm sad that it's not MY family we're living in close proximity to.

4) I'm a fairly shy person and sometimes have a hard time making the effort to extend invitations and “put myself out there” to make new friends, but I work hard at it because I like having friends. However, I often feel that my desire for friendship is greater than that of others who seem to already have a set group of friends and deep roots that don't include me.

5) I used to sing a lot - multiple choirs in high school etc. I gave it up in college though because the director of the college chorale was clueless. He wasn't half as good as my high school director and I couldn't stand being around someone who thought he was G*d's gift to music when I was certain I could direct better than he could.

6) I worry that one or both of my parents will die before they reach a ripe old age (say 80+ years old). Since they're already in their mid and late 60's that's not all that far off. I'd really like for them to be around for at least another 30 years!

7) A person very close to me was in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend and I still feel guilty that I didn’t see it until after the fact.

8) I’ve been a feminist for as long as I can remember. This quote from Rebecca West pretty much sums it up for me, “ I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” This makes #7 especially hard to live with.

9) There’s a part of me that’s a little sad that I had an epidural when my daughter was born. I’m not at all opposed to pain killers during childbirth; I think everyone should have lots of options and I’m not about to judge. At the time, I was so happy just to have my baby that I didn't really care how it happened. Upon reflection I think I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t have the confidence in myself and my husband that we could work together to cope with and manage the pain. I think I’m stronger physically than I let myself believe I am.

10) I occasionally binge on romance novels – many of them quite trashy. This isn’t a fact that I share with people. I read a lot of other stuff too and I prefer to discuss my other reading habits with people rather than be judged for reading romance. This is ironic because a mentor of mine (a woman who earned a PhD while raising FOUR children) was the one who told me about how she binged on romance novels as the ultimate escape. I still respected her even after she told me this tidbit about herself and I followed her lead!

As for tagging 7 others, I'll toss out a list with the understanding that lots of people don't want to do another meme....And if you're not tagged, I've left a couple of slots open - go for it!

Sakura Flavored
Best of Three Worlds
Sunny in Seattle
Baby Smiling in Back Seat

Monday, January 19, 2009

Show and tell

Mel is hosting Show and Tell again this weekend. I've never had anything I wanted to show, but I've enjoyed seeing what others post about and finally, finally it's my turn! I've got something!

I've mentioned before that I'm taking a weekly calligraphy class. My instructor is a wonderful, calm and patient man who is retired and is doing this strictly for the fun of it. He's a friend of the family and I'm incredibly grateful to him. He teaches me entirely in Japanese. This cannot be an easy thing for him since my Japanese is, well, a work in progress. As such, I'm sure it's difficult for him to convey some ideas to me, although the "watch what I do" technique has worked quite well for us thus far. And it surely helps that I'm getting one-on-one instruction.

That's the telling, now on to the showing. My work is on the left and my instructor's work is on the right. I still need quite a bit of practice but this is my best work from my class the other day:

Updated to add: I've been asked about what the words mean. Good question! It's actually part of a larger phrase. Thus, on it's own, this segment doesn't really mean anything. However, it's my understanding that starting from the top right and reading counter-clockwise the characters individually read as: world, taste, usual and gate. As is the case with reading these characters in Japanese, sometimes you combine two words and get a third (often related) new word. Oddly enough, in my Japanese class I find it easier to read than write the Kanji I study, while in calligraphy class I find it easier to write than to read. I'm all a-jumble!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

And so it begins again....

If you've ever spent a year or more trying to start a family, you surely know where I'm going with this already. My sister-in-law who is coincidentally (10 years younger than I am) thought she might be pregnant last weekend. This is the same sister-in-law who suddenly found herself pregnant 24 months ago at the tender age of 23, not even graduated from college yet, not married yet, and therefore having to rush the wedding because the whole concept of having children outside of "wedlock" is still fairly stigmatized here in Japan (or at least that's my husband's assessment of things in this part of Japan). Whatever. She's a sweet girl. She and her husband make wonderful parents, don't get me wrong. And frankly, 23 years old isn't that young in the grand scheme of things. But when they first announced their "oops" pregnancy Gboy and I had been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant for the previous 8 months. This is not the kind of news that a woman facing the possibility of infertility really wants to hear - that someone barely having their shit together, and without even trying can get pregnant by mistake.

And now, just as I'm starting to think about what it would mean to try to get pregnant again, just as I'm starting to accept that we might have another long haul in front of us once again (have I mentioned that I don't even have a reason to believe that I'm capable of getting pregnant just yet?), she thinks she's pregnant. Basically she had to get a weaker dose of prescription medicine for her cough last week because she thought she might be pregnant. This suggests to me some active trying for a second pregnancy since her period wasn't even late yet and she was worried about taking strong medicine while possibly pregnant. The period arrived pretty much on time it seems, therefore no baby this time around.

But I'm already bracing myself for the news of what is now her impeding pregnancy. I'm sure she'll be pregnant before this summer which means we'll still be here in Japan and will likely see her face to face. Does this make me a pessimist? I can't even believe I'm having to deal with all the dark feelings this stirs up. I don't want to, but it seems inevitable at this point.

I had hoped that having my daughter would be enough to make me happy and not feel the stings of infertility as sharply. And yet, I feel once again like it's a race to the finish and the universe is one more working against us. Could the fact that my 35th birthday is in April and I'll cross the line over to "advanced maternal age" have anything to do with it? Surely. I need an attitude adjustment. And maybe some cupcakes.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Mama it is!

I had such amazing responses to my last post! What expertise you all have! And kind words of support too! I feel infinitely better and have decided that "mama" it is.

Peanut hears lots and lots of the word "manma" used around here by all manner of family and friends. But she hears "mama" a lot from me too. The only way she and I will learn to communicate in English is if we just keep at it. I know she understands me when I say, "Come here" and she does, or "Hand me your bear" and she hands me the stuffed bear instead of the lamb or the doll. Following this principle, I'll just keep assuming that she understands me and is responding to me appropriately. I love this attitude since it gives me what I want and need and allows her the opportunity to continue expanding her language skills.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bilingual first words

Here's an interesting dilemma. My daughter is saying what sounds like "mama" a lot. Only in Japanese, "manma" means food or eating in a kind of baby-talk. She uses the word to clearly indicate to us when she's hungry. But she also says something that sounds very similar (perhaps exactly the same) when pointing at me from time to time. The thing is, they are technically different in Japanese but it's hard for anyone here to distinguish Peanut's use of the word, is it actually mama or manma?

The dilemma is that I'm happy(!) she's communicating her desire to eat. I'm happy she's communicating at all! She's been doing this since she was maybe 10 1/2 months old. Cool! But I'm torn because it makes her identification of me harder to attribute based on her language at this early age. In the U.S. there would be no mistaking this sound for anything other than a reference to mommy. But here, I can't tell if she's pointing to me because she's hungry (she's still nursing after all) or if it's even intentional when she says mama.

I'm not sure how clear this all is; if you don't speak Japanese and can't hear the subtle difference it's very hard to convey. But the gist of this all is that I'm a little disappointed that I don't have that warm fuzzy feeling of hearing her call me by name. And to complicate things further, she's saying lots of things in Japanese - she's got at least 3 or 4 other words that she says in Japanese. I'm surprised to admit that I'm a little disappointed that more of her vocabulary isn't English. Silly isn't it? When Peanut is only 11 months old and her vocabulary will only expand with time.

But there you have it. Raising a bilingual baby is a wonderful thing and I'm not sorry for one minute that we're doing so, it's just...unsettling on occasion as well. Perhaps it's because we live in Japan right now and there are so very few English speakers around us. I think maybe there's an irrational part of me that's afraid that she won't speak English well enough to understand me. That's really, really silly I know, but I think being out of my element a little has me off-balance a bit. Because I don't think I'd give it a second thought if she spoke nothing but Japanese for the first few years as long as we were living in the U.S.


Monday, January 12, 2009

President Obama's Big Day

Since the inauguration will be broadcast live at something insane like 1:30 a.m. Osaka time (okay it's insane if you have an infant and are grateful for 6 hours of sleep at night) I don't think I'll be staying up to watch it. However! I missed any and all Election Day festivities here in Osaka so I'm thinking it's time to do it up big! I'm thinking of cake. Or pancakes for breakfast (living on the edge Osaka style!). Maybe some balloons?

I'm desperate for ideas of ways or places to celebrate in or around Osaka. Thoughts?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

If you think being a mom is tough....

...consider that becoming a mom can be as tough or tougher. That's what Melissa Ford has been blogging about for quite a while. I haven't had much time to do anything exciting this week, but I've reading about what she's up to and, well it's a lot. When Gboy and I were waiting (not so patiently) to get pregnant, I stumbled upon her webpage and found lots of support and kind words there. She's an amazing connector. She facilitates a compassionate and welcoming community of men and women from all different walks of life struggling to create their family in whatever way makes sense for them. She's an advocate. She's an amazing writer who is funny and thoughtful and provocative and sensitive and about a million other things. She's got a lot on her plate these days and I'd like to help spread the word.

First there's her blog, it's been nominate for a 2009 Weblog Award. Please consider stopping by and voting for her if you haven't already. I'm guessing she supports thousands of people who have experienced pregnancy loss(es), infertility, the pain of a failed adoption, and those still anxiously waiting for their families to grow.

Second there's her book. It's due to be released in June 2009. Feel free to pre-order it today for yourself or someone you care about.

Finally, if you haven't seen her webpage, just pop on over for a visit for a wealth of information and links to other cool blogs to check out. She's in the midst of publishing the Creme de la Creme - the best posts from 2008 for infertility, loss, and adoption blogs. You won't believe the kind of stuff you can find there!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Chilling effect on breastfeeding

breastfeeding Pictures, Images and PhotosIn case you haven't heard, Facebook has been removing pictures of women breastfeeding - deeming them "obscene". For more of the details, check this out.

PhD in Parenting has a great post with arguments for why it should allow people to post pictures of breastfeeding. Rather than retread any of that ground, I'll add a perspective that I haven't heard much of in this debate yet. Numerous folks in this debate have talked about "normalizing" breastfeeding. Don't know what that really means? I offer myself up as a classic example.

When I started breastfeeding, I was a little intimidated. I didn't know how long I'd breastfeed, but figured 6 months was a good goal. I didn't really know anyone who had breastfed for longer than that; my own mom used formula in the 1970's for me and my sister and while hugely supportive of my efforts had no advice to give. So I didn't really have any role models. Since I've always been a shy person, I figured that baring my breasts (even a little) in public would be a big disincentive to breastfeeding.

But you know what? After a rough start to breastfeeding, my daughter and I hit our stride at week 6. I surprised myself by exclusively breastfeeding her for 6 months. She'll turn one year old in a couple of weeks and even though I'd revised my goal to think about weaning at 12 months, my daughter doesn't seem anywhere near ready and as the one year mark approaches, neither am I.

And here's the thing about this whole Facebook debate. I think Facebook's actions have a chilling effect. I mean, to someone like me who never really considered "extended breastfeeding," let along breastfeeding for one year, all of this talk about how breastfeeding images are akin to obscenity shakes me up. Makes me wonder what the general public will think when they see me feeding me daughter. Don't get me wrong, I'm not about to stop FEEDING my daughter just because someone doesn't like it (my inhibitions about feeding in public disappeared months ago). However, if all this talk about nudity and obscenity rattles me, I wonder how many other women are affected in some way. How many women make their decision to (dis)continue breastfeeding based on what they think the public perception is because intentionally or not, Facebook has linked breastfeeding and obscenity? I understand that Facebook is a private entity and as such has the right to make policies about use, but I wonder if this is the kind of lasting and social impact Facebook wants to have?

What's the alternative? The alternative is that a powerful social networking tool allows women from all over the world to share and support one another as they work to provide for a basic need for their children. The alternative is that Facebook supports breastfeeding by *not* labelling it as obscene and thereby supports doctors from all over the world who advocate breastfeeding.

Image from Positivemom on Photobucket

Monday, January 5, 2009

Back from beyond...

Back from a weekend at Hamanaka. I couldn't even tell you where we were for sure. I truly need to learn my geography here! What I do know is that the resort was lovely and amazing. The weather was very windy, but otherwise quite lovely (especially for enjoying the scenery and onsen!) while we were there. The whole family trekked over there after New Year's Day. My BIL and his wife and kids, along with my FIL and MIL all caravanned with us from Osaka while my SIL, her husband and son headed there from Tokyo. Our group included four kids under the age of 2 1/2 years old. On the one hand, they entertained each other at times which was great. On the other, this made for a lot of childcare work for all adults involved!

Peanut enjoyed her first plunge in the "big bath" quite a lot. I'm a pretty modest and shy person in general, especially when I'm in the U.S. But after being introduced to the Japanese onsen, I've discovered that I have no real qualms about sharing a public bath with a bunch of women. There's something quite convivial about the experience, and frankly it makes washing a small child much easier when you've got a lot of experienced mothers helping out! I'm still afraid of making some social faux pas (using the wrong soap for instance, or not rinsing at the proper time etc.). However, as a relatively new mom (when does that title wear off?) I feel that the relaxation from enjoying a nice spa day like that is well worth any potential embarrassment!

Here is Peanut enjoying some of the scenery:

Back to regular life and the start of 2009!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Best Books 2008 or "What Did I Have the Time to Read?"

It's always hard for me to name my favorite books - rather like identifying the favored child -. while you may think of them that way, it just feels disloyal or wrong to say it out loud. Still, I did have some standouts in this last year and at this time of year I always find myself reflecting on what I did (and didn't) read over the course of the year. At a time when I didn't think I'd be able to read much at all (what with having a newborn and all) I still managed to read close to 50 books this year, fewer than my usual (especially when you consider quite a few of them were children's picture books leaving even fewer adult novels). Here are the standouts:

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Non-fiction that inspired me to think more about our food and food sources. It even inspired me to try making my own cheese which wasn't nearly as hard as I thought!

Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells us About the Mind
by Alison Gopnik, Andrew Meltzoff and Patricia Kuhl
I just found the research from these scientists to be fascinating. I'd never given much thought to language acquisition, but now that we're raising Peanut in a bilingual household, some of the relevant information was especially interesting to me. But beyond that, there's a lot of interesting stuff about how babies learn EVERYTHING.

Young Adult (As a YA librarian, I spent a lot of my time reading YA fiction. Hence the disproportionate number of YA titles!)
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
A coming of age story that reads a lot like "adult" fiction. How would your life be different if you had a special "grace" - the ability to kill?

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson
This novel addresses what it means to be human and tackles medical ethics as well - powerful ideas!

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
Filled with references to music I never listened to much, the story manages to be heart-pounding and driven by the beat of the music and thrum of hormones and attraction.

Good as Lily by Derek Kirk Kim
Original graphic novel in which the protagonist learns from herself - her younger and older "selves" that is.

Children's Picture Books
Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange
A great book for kids in elementary school (not just the wee ones), based on the author's experiences of the African-American community when she was child, filled with amazing illustrations by Kadir Nelson and poetry the likes of this:
"politics as necessary as collards
music even in our dreams"

Currently on the pile to kick off 2009:
The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz
The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz

And your favorite books from 2008?