Monday, October 29, 2012

Laboring in Japan—Baby –wise

This is the final installment of what it’s like being a pregnant foreigner in Japan.   The story begins here.  

Jon and I waited for labor to start from about week 38 onward.  We both knew it could come at any time, especially since our baby was getting so big. There were tell-tale signs that things were progressing, including two trips to the hospital with us thinking that things were starting, but baby was comfortable in there and didn’t actually want to come out.  In the last week, I was getting Braxton hicks contractions every night, and during our 39 week checkup, we set an induction date for Tues, Oct. 23rd.   This was two days before the due date.

The weekend before that, our city, Kokura had a big food festival.  Jon and I wandered about, taking photos, enjoying the warm sunny weather, seeing a robot serve ice cream, and eating.  I wanted to get lots of “last” photos of Jon and me as a family of only two before the big day.  

Monday night we went out to eat giant cheeseburgers and walked home in the rain.  One last night out, eating greasy food and taking a long walk in the cool weather before we’d have to worry about keeping a little baby warm and in bed at night.

Tuesday morning we slept in a bit and went to the hospital at 10:30.  I had an initial exam with two doctors, our personal doctor, Imai, who we had been meeting with the whole time, and one older doctor that we saw a few times in periphery and didn’t know very well.   Dr. Imai explained that the plan was for us to register, settle in our room, and she would give me three pills that would start to soften my cervix and get my body ready for labor.  We’d relax and I’d spend the night in the hospital, but labor wouldn’t actually begin until the next day when I would get an IV of pitocin to start contractions.   At this point, the older doctor joked that I’d probably just go into labor this afternoon without any help.  We asked, “really?”  Dr. Imai answered, “maybe….” doubtfully.  However, this is the same lady that told us for weeks the gender of our baby, prefaced with a “maybe.”  When Jon asked what percent she was sure of the gender, she said, “maybe 100%.”  So, maybe her “maybes” don’t mean maybe.

Jon and I had packed lots of things to do, a pack of cards, books, Japanese textbooks, and balloons to decorate the room.   I expected to be in the hospital about a week, between the extra day before labor and five days after, so Jon made the room look festive.  The nurses loved it.  I was the only lady in the maternity ward, so I had a private room, although the room farthest from the nurses station.   I don’t know if I was alone because Japan’s birth rate really is that low, or Oct. isn’t a popular time to have a baby, or because most women have their babies in specialized birthing clinics or all three, but even with so few patients, there were always about seven nurses working.

I took my three pills, beginning at about noon, and soon afterwards they hooked me up to a fetal monitor. 

They kept asking me if I felt anything and I kept saying, “No, I don’t feel anything.”  Well, apparently I was having contractions and they were getting slightly stronger and closer together.  After a while, if I concentrated, I could feel some slight pressure that I had previously thought was just the baby moving.  This labor thing was going to be easy!  The contractions got stronger and closer together and they hooked me up to the monitor about once every 90 minutes.   At first it was fine, Jon and I played some card games and started a game of scrabble, but after a while I really started dreading the monitor.  It was uncomfortable to lay flat on my back for so long, especially as the contractions had really started hurting.   As soon as they would take the moniter off, I’d get up and walk around, and though it didn’t lessen the contractions, it was much more comfortable.  Our doctor went home at around four or five and said she would come back if my labor continued.

Jon kept asking me what my pain level was out of a 10.  I had a hard time answering him because I didn’t know what a 10 was, so I kept low-balling my numbers…..”I don’t know a 3?”  45 minutes later, as I gasped and stopped talking for a particularly long contraction, I said, “4?  Maybe?”  Jon got a little frustrated with me and told me, “Now’s not the time to be tough!  You have to be honest and tell me if it hurts so we can tell the nurses!”  Little did we know my level of toughness…

 A little while later, I had an exam and I was dilated to 3 cm, so I walked from my room to the laboring room.   At this point (around 5:00) I started really feeling a lot of pain.   I had initially insisted on having an epidural, but these past few months had been reading more about them and had toyed around with the idea of going natural. 

I mean, I am a pretty tough person.  I’ve always been active and I’ve had my share of bumps and bruises and falls from horses, kicks from horses, bites from horses….a lot of horse induced pain, actually.  And what is pain, I mean, really?  It’s just in your head.  It can’t really be that bad.  My body would produce chemicals to help me deal with it.  Besides, I half-assed learning some breathing and relaxation techniques and this past month I’d been massaging and stretching out….

----------------------------------------------------spoiler alert---------------------------------------------
Labor is gross and here is where the descriptions get pretty graphic.  Please stop reading if you’re not interested in the particulars.

…my perineum, so I was pretty prepared to push this baby out like a champ.  Well, as it turns out I’M the baby and a chump to boot.   I don’t know what idiot impulse made me think I was so tough and impervious to pain.  I’ve never broken a major bone, I’ve barely had any stitches, I cried when I stubbed my toe just a few months ago, and I used to take medicine for MENSTRUAL pain, for God ’s sake.  I’m the epitome of a soft, sheltered, modern woman.

From 5 till 7, I kneeled or laid on the bed in the labor room.  At some point during those hours, my water broke, but I don’t have any recollection of that because I was pretty busy throwing up, crying, and asking Jon when the doctor was going to get there and give me the epidural.  During that time, I was out of my mind, and I only remember snippets here and there.   Jon rubbed my back and told me how great I was doing and that the doctors were on their way to the hospital and I’d get my epidural soon. 

At some point I moved (was moved? I don’t remember) to the actual delivery bed and the doctor tried to get me to roll up in a ball on my side so he could put the epidural in my spine.  Laying still on my side, rolled in a ball, dilated to 5 cm, I learned what a 10 feels like.   Now I know.

Jon distracted me by talking about our little T-Rex and how we were going to be a family soon.  He tried to get me talking to distract me, but I was distracted by the doctor explaining that he was going to inject a little local anesthesia before placing the epidural in my spine.  Are you kidding me?  Did he honestly think that I cared one shit about a huge needle going directly into my spine at this point?  Did he think I could even feel anything besides the contractions?  I cared more about the ten extra seconds it was taking him to fuss around with the local anesthesia, than any pain from getting that needle in.  

After the epidural was in and a few minutes passed, the pain started to subside and I immediately fell asleep.  It takes a lot out of you to be in pain and (so Jon tells me) scream and throw up for two hours.  I woke up a while later to hear Jon out in the hallway on the phone with our parents telling them that everything was going fine and that I was resting and he’d call again when the baby came.   Jon came back in and read to me from a baby book for a while and we took some photos until around 10 when it was time to push. 

Dr. Imai arrived at this point and I was dilated to 10 cm.  I thought it was pretty funny that the nurses were all wearing scrubs, masks, and hats, but both doctors had strolled in wearing their street clothes and simply put on gloves.  At this point, Jon was holding my hand by my side, there were about six nurses surrounding my bed and both doctors looking inside me. The epidural had worn off and I was feeling a lot of pain again and they told me to start pushing the baby out.  They said it might be a little harder than normal because the baby had twisted and wasn’t facing the optimal direction, but that everything would still be fine and start pushing!

I don’t think I did a very good job pushing the baby out.  I didn’t know which muscles to use to push right, I got discouraged because I didn’t think I was being effective, I didn’t push in the right intervals, and I didn’t push strong enough.   I tried, but it was really hard, the doctors kept telling me to push for longer intervals and then rest for longer intervals to be more effective, but I kept pushing for a short time and getting exhausted and resting, then trying to push again right away.  I tried to tune everyone out except Jon and only listen to what he was telling me to do, especially because the nurses were getting really annoying.  One kept shouting, “Last push!  Last push!” right in my ear, but she started shouting it after about 20 minutes and it would be 45 minutes before my actual last push, so that got old fast.

At one point I looked down and I was just struck by what an absurd spectacle this whole thing was.  The 6 nurses surrounding the bed, the two doctors in casual clothes, in fact, I could see an open pack of cigarettes in the older doctor’s front pocket right then. Imai was telling me, “As soon as possible, longer!”  Jon was translating it to mean, “Push as long as you can!!”  What was going on? I started getting confused again and I don’t remember very much more until I saw the doctor pulling out a long tube with a suction cup on one end of it.  I knew immediately what that was.  Jon noticed that I saw it and told me not to worry about anything except pushing, one last long push to get the baby out.  I focused on Jon’s face and pushed and didn’t stop until someone attacked me and knocked the wind out of me.

As I tried to get some breath back in me, I saw that Dr. Imai had jumped on a stool and was doing sharp, deep, compressions on my stomach.  They were so strong to completely make me lose my breath each time.  She was helping push the baby out from the top, two nurses were pulling on each side of my vagina to open it up wider, the other doctor was pulling on the baby’s head with the vacuum, and I was pushing as hard as I could and finally T-Rex came out, after about an hour of pushing.   I was scared at first because she didn’t cry for about a minute, but everything was fine and they plopped her on my chest after she let out a healthy scream.

I couldn’t believe it.  I just kept saying to Jon, “Jon!  Our baby.  Our baby, our baby.  Oh, she’s our baby, baby.”  I was so shocked by her.   I can see now how tiny she is, but at the time I just kept thinking how sturdy and big she was.  Had she really been inside of me just a minute ago?  Had I really pushed her outside of me? 

The doctors took her away and cleaned her up and did a few tests and Jon told me how good I did.  I had torn pretty badly, so they started stitching me up while Jon stayed with the baby.   Finally, I was sewn up and Jon and I could have some time with our baby.  At this point some nurse started explaining to Jon the schedule for the week, of baby’s shots, my checkups, classes on giving the baby a bath, etc.  If I could go back in time, this is the one thing I would change (besides pushing baby out more effectively).  I mean, our baby was an hour old and she thought the most important thing for us to do was talk about the schedule for three days later?  We should have shooed her away.

I had lost a lot of blood, and was still bleeding a lot, so I stayed in the labor room that night to be closer to the nurse’s station.  Jon stayed with me for a few more hours as we called our parents and finally it was time for him to go home around 3:00 or 4:00.  The next morning I was able to walk down to my room and it was pretty rough.  I was barely able to make it to my bed before fainting.   The night before the nurses had mentioned that it might not be healthy for me to feed our baby the next day because of the amount of blood I lost, so I was nervous that that would still be the case.  However, after breakfast and an hour more of rest, I was ready to walk down to the nursery and was able to feed our baby girl. 

Jon arrived at the hospital soon after and we spent the whole day together as a family of three.    

Monday, October 08, 2012

Baby Showers!

I can’t believe how lucky we are.  I thought that since Jon and I lived in Japan, we would miss out on the baby shower tradition.  I mean, Japanese people don’t do baby showers, and our families live about 6,000 miles away.  However, we were lucky enough that we got TWO baby showers! 

                                         Japan Baby Shower 

Last week, my friends threw me a surprise baby shower.  It was a complete success, both surprise-wise and in being a wonderful party-wise. 

On the day in question, Jon had been acting a little funny.  First of all, we were going to a friend's pasta party, and Jon wanted to go 2 hours early. Why? I don't know. Then, he got a text from our friend, Ikumi. That's fine, I was just surprised she didn't text me. Then, he wanted to fiddle with the camera for some reason and told me to walk ahead. Oh well.....

Hey. Why are my friends in there? Are they having a party? This isn't where the pasta party is supposed to be.....and why is everyone staring at me?  

Balloons? Streamers? Diaper Cake?      I'm not very quick on the uptake.  What?  A party?!!!

There was a baby carriage shaped cake with figs inside.

Here we are with our giant diaper cake.  The shower was over two weeks ago, and I still haven't taken apart the cake yet.  I'll have to soon, so we can actually use the diapers, but it's too beautiful.  It's been sitting in our living room looking pretty.  

For this game, everyone has to try to draw a baby on their plate. I led the drawing by telling them which baby part to draw in which order.  I made it very difficult.....

She's saying, "Your baby drawing isn't very good...." 

After the shower, Jon and I walked home together.  I was able to keep all the decorations, so I wore the balloons home like some sort of foreigner weirdo.   As though I don't get enough stares being a super-pregnant white lady in Japan......

Skype Baby Shower

Jon's family decided to throw us a Skype baby shower.  It was amazing!  They sent us all the presents ahead of time, and even sent us the decorations so that we could decorate our house to match the decorations at their house.   Here is our apartment, all set up for the shower.   (Recognize the diaper cake?) 

Here we are as the shower begins.  It was 10 am for us, but 8 pm for our family in WI.  We're having fruit, brownies, deviled eggs, and juice for snacks.  An unusual, but very satisfying breakfast. 

Jon is trying to guess the circumference of my belly.  I think he has way over-estimated here.  

The length he ended up choosing was much shorter....but still not very close!

We got this great baby bjorn as one of our presents, so Jon tried it on right away with what we hope will be baby's favorite stuffed animal.  The little elephant was the first thing we ever bought for baby, months and months ago.  I can't wait for Jon to carry this baby around.  My back is killing me!

Overall, I can't believe how lucky I am to have friends and family that will go to such efforts to help us celebrate and prepare for our little baby!  

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Pregnancy Issues Weeks 33-37

I’m currently at 37 weeks, and I feel huge.  I can’t sleep very well at night, I can’t eat very well, I can’t move around, and something (elbow, foot, head) is always digging into my ribs, stomach, or back.  There’s literally no room left in there for 3 more weeks of growth!  It’s getting harder to walk, too.  Whenever I stand up after I've been sitting for a while, my hips feel loose and I have to take a few wobbly steps before I can walk normally.  I’m starting to understand why some people drink castor oil and eat pineapple by the bucket load to try to get the labor process started early.  Not me though, I'm content to let baby stay in there as long as he/she wants though, because the longer she/he stays in there, the more paid maternity leave I get.  (No matter when the baby arrives, I'll go back to work January 15th.  However, if she/he stays till the due date of Oct. 25th, I won't have to take any unpaid leave.  However many days early he/she comes is how many unpaid vacation days I'll have to take.) 

I started maternity leave last week, and I think it’s a good thing.  I initially didn't want to take off a complete month before the due date, but that’s how things are done here.  In fact, leaving work 6 weeks before the due date is the law, and I needed to get a note from my doctor just so I could work an extra two weeks.  I didn't want to sit at home and be bored all day and I only get 70% of my wage on maternity leave, so I figured, why not work a couple extra weeks?  Well, although I feel fine physically, I think it’s best that I left.  My brain is super checked out.  I had to really push myself to keep caring about teaching English when all I wanted to do was read baby blogs or make lists of things we still needed to prepare for the baby. Also, I've been having pretty bad insomnia, sometimes I can’t sleep more than 3 or 4 hours a night for a few days in a row.  That was really hard while I was working, so I’m thankful that I can stay home now and I'm thankful that I live in a country where the government will pay for 3 months of maternity leave.

I’ve got lists and lists of things to do to keep me busy while I stay home.  At the top of the list is study Japanese.  I’ve got lots of baby related vocabulary that I need to learn so I’m not completely lost at the hospital.  My nurse and doctor can speak English, but I’ll be in the hospital for 5 days and none of the rest of the workers in the maternity ward speak English. I also need to study general Japanese because Jon and I signed up to take a Japanese test in December.  They only offer this test twice a year, so the timing isn’t ideal (hopefully we won’t be too sleepy from having a 6 week old when we go in to take our tests), but I think we’ll both do ok.  Other than study, I want to scrub all the corners of the house, finish getting everything ready for baby, and enjoy this last month of relaxing before baby arrives.

At our last checkup, I was happy to see that T-Rex’s growth is slowing down a bit.  If he/she had kept growing at the same rate, he/she would have been a 10 pound baby!  However, it looks like T-Rex will be around 8 pounds, which is very doable.  Also, when I had a pelvic exam today, the doctor and nurse were pretty shocked at just how far along I am.  Apparently, I’m already dilated 3 cm. Also, it seems that I have a nice wide open pelvis for having the baby.  He/she should be able to walk right out.  I guess that's my European body shape coming to the rescue.  Sometimes I see Japanese moms walking around and they have such teeny tiny hips, I can't believe a baby fit through them!

Anyhow, this past month, I've already gone into the hospital twice thinking that the baby was coming.  Both times I knew I wasn't in full-fledged labor, but I thought it might be starting and because it was too early for baby to come out, I went in the hospital to check it out and be safe.  If baby WAS trying to make an early appearance, they might be able to stop the labor if they catch it early. Both times, it turned out that I was fine, baby was fine, and nothing needed to be done.  However, I’m really grateful that we live in a country with such affordable health care.  Both of those extra visits weren't covered by my maternity insurance, so they warned me I’d have to pay out-of-pocket for the visits.  I had to pay about 25$ the first time and $2 the second time.  If Jon and I lived in the states, we’d have to think much more carefully about going in to the hospital and “better safe than sorry,” is a lot easier choice to make when you know it will only cost you a few bucks to set your mind at ease that the baby is healthy.

While at the last check-up, they gave us a list of things to bring to the hospital, and it was quite a list.   I had imagined packing a backpack, but I think I’ll need a full size suitcase!  I guess that’s what happens when you stay for five days instead of one or two as is standard in the states.  One of the things on the list that we won’t need to worry about is a little keepsake box for the umbilical cord.  In Japan, they keep the dried up cord stump as a memento for the baby.  I think they’d faint if I told them we plan to throw it away when it falls off because it’s gross.   

But, man, there are so many things about this whole labor thing that are just icky.  It reminds me of the 30 Rock episode when Tracy Jordan has a new baby and asks, “Why’s that baby all covered in goop?” and the doctor answers, “Because everything about this is disgusting!”  I’m excited to have our precious baby, and I'm amazed at the miracle of life, and I’m excited to be a mom and see Jon be a dad, and I’m a little surprised at how quickly we acclimated to talking about pretty icky things as we walk down the street--but still.....having babies can be kinda gross.  

Friday, August 31, 2012

Weeks 31-33 Traveling while Pregnant

Before we got pregnant, Jon and I had been planning a second anniversary trip this summer.  I wanted to hike Mt. Fuji, and Jon wanted to hike around Yakushima-island of 6,000 year old trees.  (We both would have gone to either one though, they both sound awesome.)  At the beginning of my pregnancy, I thought we could still do it.  I'm an active person and I've tried to stay that way throughout the pregnancy.  About a month ago, I conceded defeat and we planned a much more relaxing and reasonable anniversary trip to Osaka.  

Here are some vacation photos.    We took the Hankyu ferry there and back, so here's a photo of me and baby as the sun sets. 

This is a shirt Jon made for me, that will become even more appropriate as Halloween approaches.  It's very accurate, as T-Rex loves digging both feet into my ribs exactly as the shirt demonstrates. 
Here we are at a beautiful waterfall just outside of Osaka.  It was a pretty long walk, for a pregnant lady, but I got to soak my feet in the cold mountain water before we started back down, so I thought I was doing fine.  When I got home and took my clothes off, I noticed that I had gotten a terrible rash all over my ankles, calves, and stomach from the heat and exercise.  Also, my ankles no longer looked like ankles, but sausages instead.  I rested that night with my feet up and cranked the air conditioner and the next morning I was back to normal.  This cycle repeated itself for the rest of the trip.  Wake up feeling fine, rash free, and with defined ankles, and go to bed exhausted, rashy and ankle-free.   
I wasn't about to stay inside the hostel and miss out on any of our fun plans, like the zoo or Osaka castle though!  So, we just walked slowly and went inside air conditioned gift shops more often than we normally would. 

Finally, here we are on our way home from our trip, back on the ferry.  We bought each other Japanese style outfits as presents, and I think we look pretty sharp.  

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Baby’s getting big!! Pregnant in Japan weeks 26-30

 We've gone in for a few checkups now.  We go in every two weeks, so it feels like everything is moving faster and faster.  The day before our 26 week checkup, I mentioned to Jon that it felt like overnight T-Rex had gotten really heavy.  And lo and behold, during our 26 week checkup the ultrasound technician looked at T-Rex and said with big eyes, “Big Head!” Then, “Big body!”  Apparently T-Rex is pretty big for his/her age.  Four weeks big, according to the Japanese scale.  In fact, the ultrasound machine computed a new estimated due date of Sept. 26th, rather than Oct. 25th.

At 26 weeks, T-Rex weighed 1,100 grams.  This is a little strange because I haven’t gained all that much weight.  I’ve only gone from 71 Kilos to 74 kilos (a gain of about 6 ½ pounds).  I would have thought for the fetus to get big, I’d have to get big first.  I feel like I have been eating a lot more, but I guess T-Rex has been using all the calories herself/himself!  Once we got home from the hospital, I did some research online and found that American babies are generally a little bigger than Japanese babies.  Although T-Rex is still measuring large, by American standards, he/she is only two weeks big.   According to American measurements, T-Rex should be around 800 grams.   

We went in again at 28 weeks and I passed my glucose test and a different technician measured T-Rex again and found that he/she is only two weeks big.  I guess it’s all an estimate anyways. 

I’m starting to really feel this pregnancy now.  My belly is too big to ignore and everyone that sees me knows I’m pregnant.  I’ve started spilling food on my belly when we’re out picnicking or shutting the door on my belly when I’m trying to squeeze through a tight spot. I’m blazing hot at all times and I still feel a little nauseous from time to time, I think it’s made worse by the heat.  My back has started to hurt and it’s hard to get comfortable when I’m trying to sleep.  I have even started waking up around 6 every morning and taking a cool shower and going back to sleep.  I’ve started letting Jon carry everything for me and we walk a lot slower now.  Jon even asked me to stop riding my bike, though I feel perfectly balanced and fine. (I said I would.) I’m a lot more content to relax at home with the fan blowing on me as I watch the Olympics than I normally would be.  

We did go camping a few nights ago. (We wanted to be out of the city to watch the Perseid meteor shower.) Here's a picture of Jon and I and friends as we're headed to the beach.  It was great swimming in the ocean and relaxing on the beach--not so great that night, sunburned, itchy jelly fish stings and mosquito bites, sand in the tent, blazing heat even at midnight, hard ground.  I think I can safely say it was our last camping trip till next summer when T-Rex can come with us..outside of the womb. 

At the 30 week checkup, T-Rex measured 1,960 grams, about 4 pounds.  Still about two weeks big.  Something that’s odd about that is that the baby has gained about 800 grams in the past month and I’ve gained about 700.  I feel like I’m eating a lot more than when I wasn’t pregnant, and I’m definitely getting less exercise, but I guess that T-Rex really is using all those calories getting big.  I’m sure if I lived in the US, I would have gained a lot more, but the food I crave as a pregnant lady I can’t get here.  (Chef Boyardee raviolis and spaghetti-Os and burritos and Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food, and Arby’s Roast Beef, and ……..)  That’s all beside the fact that my husband is always encouraging me to eat healthy food for the baby instead of an ice cream cone and pickles for lunch.    Anyhow, the doctor says my weight gain is fine and T-Rex is obviously growing just fine, so I’m not too worried about it. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

T-Rex's Nursery

Japanese homes are known for being tiny.  In fact, our first apartment in Japan had one room with a “kitchen” (hot plate, sink, and a mini fridge) on one side, a short skinny bed on the other side, a veranda and a bathroom.  We fancied it up with a chair and hanging rack for our clothes and still had enough room to do whatever we wanted, as long as what we wanted to do was stand up straight or leave.  Our current place is much more livable, we have a kitchen (no quotation marks needed), a bathroom, a balcony, a small living room and a bedroom.  We love our little apartment, it’s got a great location, it’s a great price, and the neighborhood is quiet—so we don’t plan to move.  But then we started thinking about where the baby will sleep.  Hmmmmm… 

We decided to get a little baby basket to put by the bed--nursery completed!  But—what about all of baby’s stuff?  What about when baby gets too big for the basket?  We still need a nursery.   We decided to take a third of the closet and make it into baby’s room.  There’s a shelf at about waist height and we’ll put the changing table and clothes storage on top of that.  Once baby outgrows the basket, baby will sleep on his/her own baby sleeping pad under the shelf.  When I first suggested this idea to Jon, he was horrified, “What?  We can’t have baby sleep in the closet!”  But, there really isn’t anywhere else, unless we’re willing to have baby sleep in the bathtub or on the balcony.  The nice thing is that the closet has a sliding door that we can use while T-Rex is sleeping, it will block any light that we use as we get ready for bed (presumably at a later time than the baby), but it’s small enough that we will be able to hear T-Rex crying or fussing through it.  

<--  Before

I spent a lot of time surfing the internet to find ideas for decorating our little closet nursery and Jon and I talked a lot about what we wanted it to look like.  In the end we were able to decorate almost the entire closet corner with things we had around the house or that we bought at the hyakuyen shop (100 Yen shop, just like our dollar stores) for less than $US40.  It was a little tricky, because we want the room to be bright and colorful, but there aren’t any outlets for lights near it and we can’t paint the walls. 

We chose an outdoor, tree theme for the nursery.  We started with blue fabric to pin on the walls for the sky and bought brown, green, and yellow felt for creating a tree.   I started by cutting out the shape of the tree and branches and about a million leaves.

Then I ironed the blue fabric and glued the branches and leaves to it.

While I was doing this, Jon was cutting up a sleeping pad we had lying around the house.  In Japan, people sleep on the floor, and we used to sleep on a foam pad before I got pregnant and we decided to upgrade to a nice mattress.  (Best choice we every made.)   We tried to give it away, but everyone has these thin sleeping pads lying around their house, so it was just taking up space in the closet.  Jon cut two squares out of it, which would lay on top of one another.  He cut the center out of the top one, making a square donut shape—this will make a raised rim around where the baby lays when we change the diaper.  Then he covered the whole thing in a waterproof picnic print tablecloth.
Here I am sewing on the trunk and leaves using embroidery thread.  It took a really long time.

Finally, we put it all together in the baby closet.  We don’t have many baby clothes or anything yet, but what we have, we put in the shelves.  We have an Easter outfit, some baby kimonos, and a T-Shirt with a T-Rex on it. 
You can see from this angle that it leads into Jon’s side of closet.

Finally, I found a really colorful and cute bed that we’ll put right next to our bed.  I like it because it’s so bright.  Once baby grows out of it, he/she will get her own baby sleeping mat underneath the changing corner.  We’ll wait till baby is a few months old before we even start worrying about getting that ready. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

6 Awesome Olympic/Paralympic Events You’ve Never Bothered Watching

I love the Olympics, and what with these summer games in London being the last Olympics ever (tick-tock tick-tock Mayan calendar and December 21st 2012), I thought I’d share some of my favorite under-appreciated events.  Most viewers focus on the big ticket summer events-gymnastics, 100 meter dash, beach volleyball, Michael Phelps, etc.  But there are some real gems of sports hidden away that you've probably never seen and maybe never even heard of.  There are seriously exciting, and inspiring events that you'll be shocked don't get more coverage.  Well, I’m here to let you in on the best-kept Olympic secret: here are 6 Awesome Olympic Events you’ve Never Bothered Watching.

1 Modern Pentathlon

The idea for this event came from the story of a soldier during wartime, behind enemy lines, who is attempting to deliver a crucial message.  His horse is shot at some point; he fights off the enemy with his sword and pistol, races towards his destination (btw, he swims a river) and delivers the message safely.  So, the five events are, fencing, swimming, jumping (equestrian style), running and shooting.  
Running is my personal strong suit.

 The sport has changed a lot over the years, changing from a five day, men-only event, to a one day, men and women event that uses laser pistols.  Again, why don’t people watch this?  

Fun Fact: In the very first Modern Pentathlon, a little known guy, George S. Patton competed.   

In the pentathlon, the athletes have to be highly trained in these five VERY different skills, most of which are very popular with viewers, especially running and swimming.  Somehow, when you add them all together, suddenly no one cares anymore!

The first event is fencing.   The athletes get in a formation that allows them to all fight one other opponent at a time and then rotate to the next opponent quickly.  They fight each other for one minute, and then rotate.  They get points for stabbing the other person without getting stabbed in return.  (Finally, a sport I can understand!  Suck it, cricket.)

Next, they swim.  They swim 200 meters.  They try to swim very quickly.  Moving on. 

They ride!  You usually can’t bring your favorite pony to war, nor would you want to, right?  It’s the same here.  The Olympic organizers will provide unfamiliar horses and athletes draw lots to pick their horse.   They then have only 20 minutes to get to know their horse.

Yes. Exactly like that.

Then they ride and jump over at least 12 obstacles, losing points for being too slow, knocking down fence rails, falling off, or the horse refusing to jump.

Finally, the climax of the competition! It’s the combined event of Running and Shooting.  Competitors have to run 3000 meters (Almost 15 that not a helpful conversion?) and shoot 15 targets. They have unlimited ammo during this event and can shoot as many times as they want…it helps that they're shooting lasers now.   They shoot right away and then stop again at 1000 meters and 2000 meters to shoot 5 targets.  They can continue running once they’ve hit all the targets or 70 seconds passes.  The person with the most points from fencing, swimming, and riding gets to start first, and the person with the fewest points starts last.  This means that the winner of the entire competition is the person who crosses the finish line first!  

Is THAT how a race works?

2-Wheelchair Rugby

This is played during the less popular, but equally exciting Paralympics (August 29-Sept 9--watch them!).  It's played on a basketball court and the players must have a disability which affects both their legs and arms.  Wheelchair "contact" is allowed (meaning they ram each other's wheelchairs so hard that tipping over is common), and it's one of the very few Olympic/Paralympic sports where men and women compete together.  

"What?  What?"

3 – Handball

Handball is a mix of the best of soccer and basketball.  There are often 50 goals scored per 60 minute game, (didn’t get THAT from soccer) and handballplayers are allowed an unlimited number of "faults", which are considered good defense and disruptive to the attacking team's rhythm.  Another way to score a fault?  “Playing too passively.”  

Also, it seems to be one of the oldest sports, even making an appearance in Homer’s Odyssey, so you can feel smart as you watch it and point that out to the people you call your friends.

4-Athletic Steeplechase.  

This is a 3000 meter race with all sorts of barriers that you have run over or through.   Over the course of a full race, you'll jump over 28 "normal" barriers and 7 water jumps.  A water jump means that you have to jump into and run through water, not simply hop over a puddle.  A "normal" barrier is a 30-36 inch tall solid hurdle.  The barriers don't fall over like a hurdle would, in fact, you can step or jump on them if you want.  Because of the seven water jumps, everyone is soaking wet once the race finishes!  

This sport started with people racing from town to town, so of course they had to jump over things like stone fences, creeks, slow-moving sheep, and so forth.  

I feel like it's less like an Olympic event and more like an obstacle course you'd set up for your 12 year old sister's birthday party and then secretly want to play on yourself.  Is that just me?

5 – Paralympic Judo 

Judo is a sport for those viewers with short attention spans.  Each bout starts and ends within five minutes or less (except when they go into a 3 minute overtime).   These paralympic athletes have some level of visual impairment (there are three levels, one of which means completely blind) or are deaf.   The competitors begin the match with a grip on each other, so there's no time wasted as they circle and try to grab their opponents shirt.

The mats have different textures to help contestants keep track of where they are.  It’s fast, exciting, and powerful.  Also, I feel like I’m learning things I can use as I walk home at midnight.....when there's no moon and all the street lights are burned out.  

6 – Paralympic football 5-a-side  

5-a-side is one of the events in the upcoming Paralympic Games and it's based on soccer.  But wait!  It’s WAY more exciting than that, although, god  knows, it’s not hard to be more exciting than soccer.   This is soccer played on a smaller field with all athletes being visually impaired.   That’s right, no one can see each other, the ball, the goal or the boundaries.   How can it possibly be more exciting than soccer?

Although   and I cannot stress this enough—anything is more exciting than soccer.  

Are...are they playing now?

First of all, there aren’t any pauses when the ball goes out of bounds, because there are walls around the pitch, ergo, the ball doesn't go out of bounds. That means the action never stops!  
The ball makes noise as it moves, so the players can hear where it is and there is a sighted person behind the goal who can shout directions to the players.   Although, I suppose they COULD shout anything they wanted...  Oops, I lied earlier, not everyone playing is blind, the goalies can see, which means that making a goal is slightly harder than it would be otherwise. 

All the players wear blackout masks to ensure that no one gets an advantage by being slightly less visually impaired than their opponents.  This makes the game fair.  Although no one is doing anything about making the REST of life fair....

Once you get over the irony of watching people with visual impairments play a game they can’t see themselves, it’s a super exciting game. (Is that technically irony?)

No one knows anymore.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Hiraodai Cave

 The other day, Jon and I decided to visit Hiraodai Park.  Actually, I decided that we'd visit the park and I should probably say "demanded if I'm being totally honest.  I wanted to get out of the city and do something different.  Most weekends, we just relax around the house, which is fine, and something I normally encourage, especially since I've been pregnant, but something was pulling me towards this park.  It was probably the fact that it would be the one day this month that was sunny. (Rainy season and all that.)  I had seen on their website that they had caves you could explore and I was sold.  Once I had put my foot down and insisted we go there, I started getting a little nervous.  The only way to get there was to take 30 minute train ride and then a fairly expensive taxi ride.  I read the website a little more clearly and found out that you can't explore all of the caves, some sections were blocked off, and the cave pictures on the website actually looked pretty lame.  Jon initially wanted to sleep in on Sunday, but he gamely prepared coffee Saturday night so he'd be able to wake up and go on this trip with me.  So after all that I was a little nervous that it would turn out to be an expensive dud of a trip.    

However, we went on our way and took the train to the middle of nowhere.  Luckily there was one taxi waiting at the station with the driver sleeping inside.  The station attendant asked us if we were heading to Hiraodai and once we said we were, he asked another question that we didn't catch.  ("Are you going to ________, too?") We smiled and got in the taxi as the attendant shouted something at the taxi driver and we were on our way!  
The taxi driver wasn't inclined to chatting and took us directly to Senbutsu Cave.  (Thousand Buddhas Cave)   Later we realized that this was the question the station attendant had asked us that we hadn't understood.  Luckily we smiled and nodded because this was the best place he could have taken us as it was seriously awesome.  Here we are standing outside the cave.  It was a really warm day, but we could feel a cool breeze coming out from the cave. 

Here are some tiny moss and plants that grow in the cave.  They only grow where there are lamps are lighting our way, otherwise there aren't any noticeable plants or animals in the cave. 

The whole cave was cold and damp and there was water dripping on us the whole time.  Besides the fact that the flash on my camera is broken, the dripping water also dissuaded me from taking many photos.  I wish we would have brought our rain jackets.

Jon kept telling me to slow down and admire the rock formations.  I wanted to charge ahead and just fly through, but I'm glad he made us stop and smell the stalactites.

About halfway through the cave we started wading through water.  I'm glad we brought sandals. The water was freezing and occasionally we tried to climb up the walls to let our feet warm up a little bit. I felt like a real explorer.  I've been in caves before, but never caves this extensive.  Also, in other caves I've explored in, there are strict walkways and they ask you not to touch the walls or the stalactites.  In this cave, nothing was off-limits. 

After the cave, we walked around and admired the karst landscape.  It was a really beautiful and relaxing hike.  Between the cave and the karst, it was the most exercise I've gotten in about 3 months, and I felt great.  We decided to skip the taxi ride back to the train station and just walk down the mountain, but about halfway there a gruff old man stopped and offered us a ride in his van.