Wednesday, January 30, 2013

No Superbowl Pajama Party

I was convinced this baby was going to come early. And then I was convinced every day last week that she was on her way. Instead we've finished off the Downton Abbey series and the freezer is more than stocked (Cincinnati chili, black bean soup, spinach and cheese nuggets, chicken burritos, chicken and rice soup, lasagna, and mini-meatloaves for a small army). We've tried spicy Korean food, Indian food, Mexican food, and tonight we had some spicy Buffalo wings. We live on the 7th floor of our high-rise building and try to walk down to the first floor and back to our apartment in the morning and in the evening, doing a squat on each floor. This kid is comfortable in there.

Despite our efforts, it looks like Jason is not going to get the Superbowl pajama party he was planning with his daughter next Monday morning (Sunday night US time). At least not in the comfort of our apartment and maybe not in his pajamas. Even if she arrives tomorrow, we will probably stay in the hospital for the 5-6 nights recommended by our hospital. Five to 6 nights - yes, you read that right. That is the standard in Japan for a normal delivery. It's longer for a c-section or other complicated situations.

Like so many other pregnancy experiences here, I've been interested in the the cultural reactions towards this feature of Japanese medical care depending on whether one is American or Japanese. When I tell family or American friends, I get a shocked "one week!" response. Usually this is accompanied by the look of a caged animal frantically searching for the trap door. When I speak to Japanese friends (either in the US or in Japan), they respond with a dreamy, "And you'll get a whole week in the hospital...," as if they are checking into an exclusive spa.

I have no idea what we will think about the experience. Perhaps somewhere in the middle. Since it is our first child and our families are not here, we are inclined to stay closer to the full amount of time. I think we will appreciate the extra care and assistance. Even friends who desperately wanted out of the hospital after even two days in the US have expressed how challenging that initial transition was after arriving home. I'm sure staying only delays that inevitability, but perhaps we'll be at least a bit more rested. God know we have enough food in the freezer to not have to worry about cooking for a while, so that will also be helpful. And Jason's parents just sent me my favorite cereal so I've got snacks covered too. Really, kid, anytime you want to come is just fine with us.

So what will we do for five to six days? It sounds like they assist with any number of things in that week - helping to establish breast-feeding, teaching you how to bathe, diaper, and even massage the baby, along with other baby care activities, and generally just trying to allow the mother to sleep and physically recover. Beyond that, I have no idea. Without any experience of this in the US, I have no basis for comparison. I assume US hospitals provide similar assistance, though obviously in a shorter amount of time. I can imagine the days getting a bit long and we may not stay the full amount of time, but it's looking like Jason might be (hopefully!) watching the Super Bowl at the hospital. Now that will be an interesting cultural experience for the hospital's midwife staff!

Shin Yokohama Raumen Museum

"Raumen" Musuem: A Must for Ramen Lovers

Aside from Ramen lovers like myself, a standalone trip to Yokohama to visit the Shin Yokohama Raumen Museum might be hard to justify. After all, there are countless shrines, temples, museums and other sites that have greater cultural and historic significance in greater Tokyo-Yokohama area. But one of the great pleasures of an extended stay in a country is to be able linger over a place of lesser historic significance, but which is a great cultural touchstone like the Raumen Museum.

What is Ramen?
When most Americans hear ramen they immediately think about their destitute college days and eating instant ramen purchased for about a $.25 and eaten in the dorm in lieu of pizza. And while instant ramen is, in fact, a Japanese creation and is covered in detail at the Shin Yokohama Raumen musuem, the instant ramen of your improvised early adulthood bears little resemblance to a proper bowl of ramen from a good ramen-ya (ramen shop) in Japan.  

Though gradually gaining steam over the last few years as a culinary delight in some cities in the US, such as New York and Washington, DC, ramen has been close to an obsession in Japan for the last few decades and started gaining in popularity in the 1950s when cheap wheat from the US became available in Japan and ramen noodles became more widely available.  And though the noodle itself originally comes from China, bowls of Ramen are so much a part of Japanese cuisine that most regions have their own specialties.  Kyushu in the south is particularly known for tonkotsu (pork bone) based broth while Hokkaido in the north is particularly known for miso flavored broth. 

Another aspect of ramen that considerably adds to it's appeal is the variety of toppings that accompany the noodles and the broth. Typical ramen toppings include sliced pork (chashu), green onions, nori (seaweed), and bean sprouts. Often kamaboko (fish cake) is added, and in most cases you have the option of adding corn, which is very typical in Hokkaido, or a soy marinated hard boiled egg.  It might seem like a lot, but for me it's about the best medley of savory-salty goodness that one can find anywhere.
Hokkaido Style Ramen from Shinagawa Ramen-ya

A Ramen"Museum"?

Well, if putting seven different ramen shops under one large roof and giving folks the option of buying smaller sizes so they could try multiple types of ramen in same afternoon needs further justification for you, then the appeal might very well be lost.  But the truth is, the museum is more of a food themed fun park than a museum.  And the ticket to the best rides can be found outside each of the ramen-yas where you purchase your ramen ride from the ticket vending machines and then proceed inside for your culinary excitement.  There are, in fact, some informational displays discussing ramen, but mostly the history absorbed by osmosis, chopsticks and ramen spoon.  In addition, on the afternoon we visited there was a clown performance to keep the children preoccupied while the adults soaked in the atmosphere from the recreated 1950s-Showa Era Tokyo neighborihood and pondered their next choice.  Maybe Shio, or perhaps Miso.  Nah,  Tonkatsu, no Shoyu.  

One bit of advice: make sure you go with plenty of time to spare and on an empty stomach.  

Showa Era Recreated  Tokyo Neighborhood from 1950s. 

Showa Era Storefront
One of the Ramen Shops at Museum with Ramen Ticket Vending Machine Outside
Fresh Ramen Noodles for Purchase at Raumen Museum

Monday, January 28, 2013

Suitengu Shrine

While we wait for this baby to join us, we've been staying busy with short outings to keep me walking and active.

I've wanted to visit Suitengu Shrine since learning about it via the Tokyo Pregnancy Group this past summer. The shrine is located in the Ningyocho ("Doll Town") neighborhood of Tokyo. Simply visiting this neighborhood was worth the effort. It is a small taste of old Tokyo that is getting harder to find. There are traditional shops selling Japanese sweets, rice crackers, and other non-food crafts. More than a few restaurants have been in operation for generations. We enjoyed an udon place for lunch and, once the baby arrives, look forward to trying another udon place called Taniya, which I later learned is particularly well-known in Tokyo.

"Suitengu" is written on the paper lantern above me.
Today, however, the focus was Suitengu, which is a Shinto shrine dedicated to conception, safe childbirth and childrearing. Most women visit this shrine in their 5th month of pregnancy and particularly on  the "dog day" of the their 5th month. Dog days occur every 12 days and I've heard that Suitengu is unbelievably crowded on those days. Why dogs?  Since dogs have large litters with relative ease, they represent safety and ease in childbirth. Next to the main shrine, there is a well-rubbed statue of a dog with her puppy.

Rubbing the dog's belly for an easy delivery.
My only disappointment was that there was no English information at the shrine, which is surprising given it's popularity. I knew a bit about it from other sources, but would have enjoyed understanding more. In addition to praying, you can make a reservation beforehand to participate in a short blessing in a private section of the temple. You can also purchase amulets and a piece of cloth that you wear in a belly band or cloth that women routinely wear from the 5th month on. It seems that you only wear the special cloth next to your belly for one day, and then after the baby is born, you use it for swaddling the baby or for other purposes. The shrine had a poster with some ideas on it, but I couldn't understand everything.

Tokyo Urban Baby is planning to do a video post on Suitengu shrine in the coming months. I'll try to remember to post it since it should provide a good overview.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Anytime, Anywhere Bum Cleaner

You might be expecting a post about baby wipes. Oh, no, this is a post about Japanese portable toilet technology. Is there a more powerful intersection of Japanese strengths than portable and toilet technologies? I think not.

Any visitor to Japan in at least the last 20 years has encountered the washlet toilet. With the press of a button, you can wash and dry yourself. You can vary the pressure, the direction of the spray, and you can even press another button to play flushing sounds or music to provide a bit more privacy in public bathrooms. On each visit to Japan since my first in 1997, these toilets have become ever more widespread. We even have one in our apartment, but without the privacy noise function.

So what to do when nature calls in an uncivilized establishment lacking the washlet toilet? Japanese innovation has you covered.

Introducing the anytime, anywhere, clean yo' hiney portable washlet wand:

The top lines translate as "anytime, anywhere, keep your behind clean"
Get yours now at the Bic Camera store, BI level, for a little more than $100.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mama Taxi

Many people have asked how we plan to get to the hospital in Tokyo. Although we have had an offer to take us and bring us home, we plan to use a new "mama taxi" service for the big day or, possibly, the big night. Since leaving the hospital is a bit more predictable, we plan to take advantage of this person's kind offer to bring us home.

This past fall, Nihon Kotsu taxi company started a new service for expecting mothers. You pre-register your due date, phone number, primary address, and your hospital. You can also register a second phone number and address.

Photo from a recent Japan Times article on this new service (see link)
We registered online via the Japanese website a while back, but it recently occurred to me to see if Kotsu's English language line was connected to this service. It turned out to be a good check of the system and my accurate registration.

When I called the English language line, the operator read my address to me, confirming that I could use that phone number.  She also doublechecked that I did not need the taxi that had been automatically requested when the system recognized my number. Since I was not in labor, she cancelled the taxi. I was pretty impressed with the reliability of the service.

We subsequently called a second time to take a taxi for a routine medical visit. Again, we confirmed that I was not in labor, but the taxi was at our door within 5 minutes. In fact, the driver buzzed our apartment before we even managed to get out the door.  Since then, we've avoided calling the English language line, but it's great to know it works.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

You Can't Fix Gaijin, Part 2

A recent conversation while taking out the trash:
Jason (pointing to sign on the wall hanging above a box of rope and scissors):  What does this sign say? 
Jennifer: It more or less says, "Please freely use the rope. After you are done, please return it." 
Jason:  It doesn't say anything about please return the missing tools? 
Jennifer: (puzzled look, followed by uncontrollable laughter)
A conversation from several months ago:
Jennifer:  Where did these tools come from?  (pointing to tools inside TV stand) 
Jason:  Oh, someone left them in the reycling room and I thought they would come in handy.

As Jason says, "You can't fix gaijin"

To be fair, trash disposal in Japan is very complicated and most of the items left in our recycling room appear to be free for the taking.

Trash is generally incinerated in Japan, so burnable items are separated non-burnable items, recycling is commonplace and larger items/electronic items may be assessed a disposal fee. When we moved in, we were given at least 6 copies of bilingual instructions on how to separate and dispose of everything from paper and plastic waste to CD cases, clothing, furniture, and so on. Despite all of these instructions, we're still unsure of what to do with aluminum foil. We've decided it's burnable.

Here are some photos demonstrating the triage process for trash disposal in our building.

Trash Room:
Plastic bags, plastic wrapping in blue bins
Normal, small burnable waste in metal chutes

Recycling Room:
Separate cans from glass bottles
Recycling Room:
Plastic bottles into blue bins, pile for cardboard boxes
Electronics go in far corner, and random household items along wall

Disposal of household trash is tedious, but a simple trip to McDonald's or Starbucks will leave you befuddled.

Drain liquids and ice in metal bowl
Dispose of plastic bits
Dispose of paper and food waste

How can consuming a cup of coffee and maybe a donut require so many different bins?

Monday, January 21, 2013

January 2013 Grand Sumo Tournament

This past Sunday was the opening of the 2013 Sumo season. Though I have watched some on TV on TV (NHK) from time to time, I had never been to a live match before. Though an expensive ticket, it seemed like a must while in Japan.  To ensure the experience was complete, we sprang for Masu-Seki "seats", which, of course were not seats at all.  Masu Seki are are small sections with 4 cushions separated from other sections by a metal frame. And though it is technically possible to seat 4 people in these areas,  it wouldn't recommend it.  As you can see from the picture below, they are perhaps ideal for two people.  On this day we had three.

But thanks to my friend Justin and my colleague at NIDS Tomikawa-san, I was able to learn a great deal about this intriguing sport called Sumo, which is perhaps the most Japanese of all sports.The day begins very early with the doors opening up at 830 and the first matches for the lower divisions taking place in the morning. However, most people, including myself, didn't arrive till the afternoon.  Even at 1 pm when I arrived, the crowd was very sparse.  But by the time  the Makuuchi division (the top division) took to the dohyō (土俵) (ring), the arena was filled up with people digging into their bento boxes and washing it down with beer and sake.

The climax was, of course, when the two Yokozuna took the ring to face their opponents.  The hope being that one of them will lose their match, and then pandemonium breaks loose and people thrown their seat cushions into the dohyō. Alas, both Yokozuna won their matches, much to the delight of the operators of the arena, who admonished spectators to not throw their seat cushions in advance of the matches.

To complete experience, Justin, Tomikawa-san, and I ended the night by visiting one of the Chanko Nabe restaurants near the Kokugikan Sumo Stadium in Tokyo.  This is the traditional meal is a Japanese stew of various types of meat, fish, tofu and vegetables and is used by sumo wrestlers to achieve their fighting weight.  Hence my term for it, Chunky Nabe.

Opening Ceremony for the Makuuchi Division (Top Division)

Masu Seki: Spaciously Seating for 2 in 4 Person Booth

Post Match Chanko Nabe Restaurant (aka Chunky Nabe)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Mastering the Furikomi

Although my Japanese is coming along, there are certain conveniences that I don't utilize because the language barrier seems too intimidating. Until today, the furikomi (or bank to bank transfer) was one of these conveniences. This is a secure and convenient method of payment to both businesses and individuals. You can do it directly from the ATM, but our bank does not provide this option in English. Please understand if I feel a bit insecure about sending money from our bank account somewhere into the electronic ether and hope it ends up at the right destination when the button I'm pushing could well be to "initiate rocket launch."

Today I conquered one of my Japanese fears and initiated a furikomi transfer. I found a bundle of nice-looking, lightly used and unused summer baby clothes on craigslist for about $15, but I did not want to spend nearly 2 hours round trip to pick them up. After finding a very helpful guide on the excellent, but soon to be defunct Surviving in Japan blog, I gave it a try. The seller gave me the relevant details to safely transfer to her account, I went to the ATM, put in the details in Japanese, and with a $3 interbank surcharge later, it will wind up in her account. I did confirm with a staffperson that I had selected the right bank and was not initiating a rocket launch. Next the seller will take the items to the convenience store and send them via cash on delivery. She anticipates that delivery will cost only a few dollars and will probably arrive tomorrow or Friday. Both the surcharge and delivery are small prices to pay for the convenience of a 2 minute transaction. It's also good practice to use this in advance of buying more expensive items or trying to sell our items before we leave in September.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Abenomics and who is Abe?

I've wanted to do a post about the recent elections and the very different debates occurring on economic  policy in Japan. The more conservative of the two main parties, the Liberal Democratic Party, recently regained power. They are advocating for more short-term stimulus spending and pressure on the Bank of Japan for unlimited quantitative easing to boost inflation and weaken the yen. Neither option seems very conservative from an American perspective, but it is inaccurate to view Japanese politics through an American Republican versus Democratic lens.

Fortunately, the Washington Post Wonkblog put together a handy story on these topics. It's a decent overview, if you are interested.

The budget plans are interesting to me, since that's part of what I am being paid to learn. Here's the relevant text:

"Details are sparse at this point, but we know that the plan will total ¥10.3 trillion, or $116 billion, not including local and private-sector contributions, which bring the total to ¥20.2 trillion, or $227 billion. The federal measures include ¥3.8 trillion ($43 billion) for disaster relief as part of the ongoing earthquake/Fukushima recovery, ¥3.1 trillion ($34.7 billion) for child care, medical care and aid to local areas, and ¥100 billion ($1.13 billion) in increased defense spending."

In 2009, the Japanese public threw the bums out and gave the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) a shot at governance. This past December, they threw the DPJ bums out and the LDP took over the lower chamber and, therefore, the prime minister's office. Now PM Abe is looking ahead to the upper chamber elections this coming summer and hopes to regain power there.

The LDP is more hawkish on military issues than the DPJ, and I'm not quite sure where Japanese public opinion is on that issue, especially in light of recent tensions with China. But they are really fed up with two decades of poor economic performance, a not very rosy future outlook, and the DPJ's poor performance at the helm. On the other hand, they don't seem very enthusiastic about the LDP either.

I'm not an economist, but my view is that Abe's policies will juice the economy enough between now and summer to win the upper chamber. On the other hand, these seem to be short-term cyclical solutions to Japan's long-term structural problems. Both of these policies can, and very likely will, have short-term positive effects, but at some point Japan has to address its long-term challenges. Sound like a familiar story?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

I speak appliance-ese!

I mentioned a while back that our appliances speak to us, but that we don't often understand them. Yes, I've been studying Japanese for a while, but I cut myself some slack for not understanding robotic Japanese.

I long ago figured out "the hot water entering the bathtub has started" and "the hot water entering the bathtub has finished." Other messages have been more difficult.

One night while simultaneously filling the tub and washing dishes, I was thrilled to suddenly understand "the hot water level is getting low," allowing me to conserve before running out. We also have a little monitor in the kitchen that allows us to check the remaining level of hot water. Useful after hearing the message so we can plan when to start a load of laundry

Most recently, while baking, I finally understood that the oven/microwave was telling me "preheating will take about X minutes." Brilliant!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Sushi, Onsen and Other Unexpected Pregnancy Customs

Following a recent NYT story regarding the very low use of epidurals in Japan (3% in Japan versus about 50% in the US), a friend asked about the differences in pregnancy advice in Japan. 

The most surprising things are that sushi and onsen (natural hot spring baths) are generally considered ok. None of the medical professionals I have spoken with in Japan have advised against these things (3 Japanese doctors, 1 British doctor, 1 American nurse with 20 years of labor and delivery practice in Japan). Both of these are no-nos in the US.  To quote a friend, “asking if you can eat sushi or enjoy a bath is like asking if you can even be pregnant in Japan.”

Standards for handling raw fish, and possibly food safety standards in general, are higher than in the US. While I wouldn’t eat convenience store/grocery store sushi and I have not sought it out, I have eaten it when it has been served to me from a source I would consider high-quality. Jason and I were amused when a Japanese couple invited us out to dinner and they pre-picked the sushi course dinner. Not just sushi, but multiple courses of it. They knew I was pregnant and they also have children, but I doubt it occurred to them that US medical advice would be to avoid it. In all fairness, while sushi is more common here,  the sushi course dinner probably featured less raw fish than you might order at a Japanese restaurant in the US. Portions are simply smaller and there is a greater focus on presentation, quality, and a variety of dishes, including cooked dishes.

Due to rising levels of mercury in large fish, there are similar recommendations to limit consumption of certain kinds of fish, whether cooked or raw. 

Onsen and bathing
One person after another, Japanese families take a hot bath every single night. During my language homestay, my hosts would take a hot bath even after returning home from dinner at 11 pm in the middle of a summer heat wave. Another friend mentioned that her very traditional parents do not like to travel overseas because people take showers in the bathtub and they cannot relax in the bath knowing that other people have had their dirty bodies in the tub (you always wash first while outside of the tub). And they can’t imagine not enjoying their hot bath every night. Family trips and company retreats often center around destination trips to famous onsen towns and a good Japanese inn always features a hot spring bath. All of this is to point out that bathing as relaxation is a very important part of Japanese culture.

Again, none of the medical professionals have advised against bathing. In fact, my doctor recently recommended that I increase the amount of time I spend in the bath because of pelvic pain. My reaction, and seconded by Japanese friends, has been to approach it with common sense. Since we can preset our tub, we fill it at a reasonable temperature. If I go to an onsen where the temperatures are hotter, I get in briefly and then sit on the edge of the tub soaking my legs. If mama is relaxed, baby is relaxed, ne?

Other food issues
I have not been told to avoid other foods. While available here, cold cuts and soft cheeses (recommended against in the US) are not part of a regular Japanese diet. I have not specifically asked about it since we rarely encounter either.

On the other hand, there are old-wives tales about eating “warm” winter vegetables (carrots, squash, etc.) and avoiding “cold” summer vegetables and certain fruits (tomatoes, etc.). This is not medical advice in Japan, just advice from women of a certain age, along with admonishments to keep your belly warm. The American nurse mentioned that these preferences may stem from traditional Chinese medicine, where keeping the belly warm through certain foods and wraps is thought to improve organ function.

Oddly enough, I’ve developed an aversion to uncooked tomatoes and kabocha squash (Japanese pumpkin) is one of my favorites. On the other hand, I eat fruit constantly.  

Caffeine and alcohol
Medical advice is consistent with the US, but Japanese women seem to be more diligent in avoiding both. A coffee-loving American friend, who gave birth in Hong Kong, tells a story that she had to stop visiting a friend who began to insist beforehand that she only have non-caffeinated beverages. Perhaps stricter avoidance of caffeine during pregnancy is more common throughout Asia.

Japanese women receive paid prenatal and postnatal leave. They receive 6 weeks at 67% of leave before the baby is due and 8 weeks after. Following the 8 weeks after birth, either the mother or the father can continue maternity or paternity leave for up to one year at 50% pay. Since I'm covered by American employment law during the fellowship, I do not receive these particular benefits.

As a result of this policy and other cultural norms, women simply do not work as late into pregnancy as their American counterparts. I recently decided to leave work at 38 weeks due to pelvic/hip problems and both the British doctor (sort of our second opinion/family doctor) and my Japanese Ob/Gyn seemed surprised that I would even still consider working at this stage.

Just before I stopped working, I learned that a staff member was already on maternity leave. Her baby is due in June! This is not uncommon here where women leave work much earlier and tend to not return to work. Surveys of women suggest they generally want to return, but there are various cultural and practical barriers. As a result, women's labor force participation is much lower in Japan than in other comparable nations. It seems there must be a better balance between the scant time most American women take off and the difficulties of returning to the workforce in Japan. While these are ultimately personal decisions, these choices are surely shaped by both cultural preferences and public/corporate policies.

If you've read this list and think some things sound crazy or even medically negligent, keep in mind that Japan has excellent maternal and infant health outcomes. Japan usually ranks first with the lowest rates of infant mortality, whereas the US lags behind most other industrialized nations. Perhaps those outcomes are related to better diets and more active lifestyles (obesity is not a problem here). Perhaps they are related to women leaving work earlier and being able to focus on a healthy pregnancy. Perhaps they are related to other factors like lower levels of poverty. But these statistics suggest that I am receiving good medical care and not to overly worry about these differences. Most importantly, having this experience here has forced both of us to think more critically about the sometimes conflicting and ever-changing guidance for pregnancy, childbirth and beyond and be more willing to trust our own instincts. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Motion Activated Escalator

So coming from DC, where the metro system is plagued with problems keeping its escalators running, I was amazed to find an outdoor, motion activated escalator that worked. I have heard that these exist in the US, and the technology isn't that complicated, but to see it put into action is impressive. In DC we have motion activated escalators-that is to say, you walk up them! One thing that Japan stands out in is the constant strive to make improvements, even if small, and the constant care they take of most everything. Which is why you can have escalators that work and public bathrooms that are clean! And after a night out at the Izakaya, it is always a relief to have a bathroom on hand at the train station, provided you have time as you run to catch the last train of the night at midnight!!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

TMI Pregnancy Post

If you cringe while reading this post, you can't say I didn't warn you in the title.

I have been fortunate to have a very good pregnancy and I hope that it continues in my final weeks. We've asked a lot of this kid while we moved to one of the largest cities in the world, started short-term fellowships, sorted out medical care and too many other details, and tried to enjoy being in Japan as much as possible. Additionally, I spent 6 weeks of my first trimester without Jason, living with complete strangers while participating in a mandatory language immersion training. To their credit, the Yokoyamas took wonderful care of me and were a great, fun-loving couple. It didn't hurt either that Teruko had studied nutrition in college and was a fabulous and healthy cook.

So I've been fortunate. From that perspective, I am annoyed by the Hollywood image of pregnant women previously implanted in my brain. You know, pregnant women are crazy, crying emotional volcanoes who suffer from one malady to another until the baby finally arrives in in some overly dramatic fashion with lots of screaming and flailing. While good for entertainment, these stereotypes unnecessarily scare us about what to expect.

Pregnancy has not been a 9-month freak show. Mostly, I've been intrigued by the physical changes and thankful that I've had more good days than bad. However, there are a handful of things that have surprised me.

Obsession with both ends of my digestive system
Heartburn and constipation have been my two constant pregnancy companions. Thankfully, my predecessor left a Costco-sized bottle of pregnancy-friendly Tums behind in the apartment. It should just last me until the end.

And I've never been so obsessed with bowel movements. If I go for a day or two without one, I break out the prunes. I had relatively little morning sickness, but I was so constipated at one point that I threw up after drinking some juice on an uncomfortably "full" stomach. Since then, I've been a bit obsessive about staying ahead of it.

Personally, I think my newfound appreciation of poop is fortuitous since it will soon define our lives.

The love bug
Going back to that Hollywood image, I expected crying jags or irrational outbursts. No doubt, the first trimester was emotionally rough, but we had a lot going on. I would be more worried if I hadn't cried or been terrified when learning that I was pregnant a mere 45 days before moving to Japan for a one-year work assignment. While we wanted to have kids, I thought it would take a little more time. Then suddenly, I was returning unworn suits and heels and buying stretchy pants (which are the most amazing, comfortable thing ever!).

But the two main emotions I've had since those early weeks have been occasional heightened irritability and the love bug. Most days, I just feel normal, but sometimes I can tell that I am not fit for company and I try hard to bite my tongue. But there are many days when the happy hormones kick in and the world simply seems wrapped in a warm, embracing rainbow and everything is beautiful and right. I think Jason will be relieved when I am no longer googly-eyed gazing at him.

Of course I make googly-eyes at this handsome guy.

Interesting Google Searches
Just because I've had a good pregnancy doesn't mean I haven't noticed weird things. I've entered any number of google searches beginning with some strange symptom and ending with "and pregnancy":  ear ringing and pregnancy, weird rash on legs and pregnancy, excessive ear wax and pregnancy, probability of baby exploding from my bum and pregnancy. I haven't actually searched for the last one yet, but I'm very tempted to in these final days.

Questionable purchases
This has increased in these final weeks. Definitely driven by irrationality. We have lots of basics and I am sure that we are in good shape. But when I go to a baby store or look on Amazon, I become convinced that I will never be able to go to a store again (or at least not for 2 weeks) and what will we do without this-amazing-life-changing-how-did-people-ever-raise-babies-without-this product. My most recent questionable purchase: a fart wand for babies called the "Windi." I saw it on Amazon and was 100% convinced that we had to have this item. This is how people get rich. They market items to first-time parents. Especially first-time moms living in in a foreign country.

PS Jason didn't see this blog post before I put it up. I take 100% responsibility for these contents.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


We both have the week off, so we're preparing and nesting. I've been cooking and filling the freezer. Though to be honest, we have a number of surprisingly good, relatively healthy prepared food options within minutes of our apartment (an advantage of living in a place where people work really long hours). But I still have the impulse to cook and freeze.

And Jason has been busy with various daddy duties, including putting together this small bassinet from Grandma Rose. Since we're only here until September, we're trying not to go overboard with items that have to be shipped back. I like that it can be used as a bassinet, then lowered once she's able to pull herself up, and finally just as a small play yard. It doesn't take up much room and can be easily moved from the living room into the bed room. Thanks Grandma!