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Sunday, December 7

Peace on Earth… or at least in my Little World

My life is the harmonious synchronizations of feedings, diapers, playtime and many, many hours clocked just staring at or smelling the baby. And frankly, I have little interest in making it more than that at this time. Already my itty bitty wee son is growing out of his second stage of clothes… all too quickly for me…. and I refuse to miss a minute of it. However, in the interest of keeping my own journal log of my time here in Japan, it was sincerely time for an update.

The first thing I need to talk about was my wonderful saint of a mom. Not that it was hard to convince her to come all the way to Japan to be with her daughter and new grandchild, but I am so very blessed that she could and did make the journey. She was here for two and a half weeks. It simply wasn’t long enough. I can’t tell you how many times I would have cracked with initial breastfeeding and health problems if she hadn’t been here. Don’t get me wrong in thinking that I dismiss all the hard work that Kimono Hubby did, but we all need our mommies some times. She sat up with me through those many midnight feedings so KH could get his sleep and continue to earn us a buck or two. She cooked all of our meals. Cleaned my house. Did our laundry. And kissed my head and told me it was all okay when I cried because I just didn’t think I was doing good enough in my mothering efforts for my little man. Those first days… I questioned everything I did. I just want the perfect start for him. So particularly when the breastfeeding failed, I beat myself up pretty hard. I’m over it now, but it was thanks to the never-ending patience of my mom that I got there as quick as I did. We may not have done much while she was here, only doctor’s appointments, one small shopping trip to the base and one small shopping trip into the town of Kamakura, but it meant the world just to have her here for every second. She helped ease me back into the real world… back into driving… with my little baby… oh, the horror and fear I felt at that one at first. When she left, I avoided the room she slept in for several days just because it hurt so much to not see her things there. This living overseas far from home… a true blessing and a curse.

Since mom left, the munchkin and I do get out quite a bit. We run errands, go out for lunches with friends and are easing back into our work with Ikebana International. We still visit the hospital frequently. So frequently in face that the nurses at our most frequented desk no longer ask for my ID. The OB/GYN and Urology desks are co-located. Wouldn’t you know that only a month after our son arrives and we are finally cleared to not go back to the hospital for a whole month, I would end up in the ER late one night with yet another kidney stone. The ER doctor actually laughed when he reviewed my chart and noted that I was there for the same thing, at the very same time the year before, and saw that same ER doctor. Well, aren’t I just the damned luckiest? Pftt. Now I’m facing yet another surgical removal in a week unless I can pass the monster in the next week. Folks, it’s looking like surgery. Double pftt. The good thing is that I am on a virtually constant Percocet haze. The bad thing is that I am on a virtually constant Percocet haze. Yes, I’m sick of the drugs that I have now been taking for two months, since the munchkin’s birth, and they have reverted to giving me migraines if I don’t take them. I can’t wait to be drug free and stone free in the next weeks!

But we did have a good Thanksgiving day! Since my due date was only a week and a half before, we had made plans early to have dinner at our friend’s house. I guess I could have cooked since the babes was almost two months old, but I was pretty happy with the decision to stick with someone else doing the 14 hour cooking marathon. I made my family’s stuffing and KH’s family’s stuffing and brought it with us. Yes, both are very different. Mine is the traditional bread and sage kind of thing and his is a Portuguese stuffing. It kind of disgusts me to make it (well… only one ingredient does… ground gizzards… gag), but it is mighty tasty.

Now we are preparing for the next holiday, Christmas. The Japanese have had their usual gaudy decorations up since the middle of November now. They just don’t get it, but I love that about them. Their interpretation will actually be quite missed when we move back to the states and only get that boring green and red blahness. I kid. Unfortunately, I am way behind my usual Christmas pace at this time of year and have had to resort to ordering some gifts online instead of spending hours scouring Japanese streets looking for the perfect gift to send back home. We did decorate our own tiny tree with its usual Japanese garishness and put up our Christmas tenugi (printed Japanese towels) and Christmas obi (wrap for kimono wearing used as decoration). Life is as it should be.

And now I am off for my favorite daily activity… staring at the baby while he coos back to me. It may not be news to you, but it’s simply the world to me.

Monday, November 3

Where Were We?

Let’s see… what could be new around here. Oh yeah! Did I forget to mention that I had a baby? The early tests were right… a little boy… 6 lbs 6 oz and 19 ½ inches long. Please meet our little Kimono Munchkin!

So there was quite a story about the delivery. I told every one about that old wives tale… easy pregnancy, hard delivery… and - oh my! - was it right! In the interest of saving time on at least the delivery part of what we have been up to around here, I am going to use the email I sent to my girlfriends a few days after it all went down. So you heard! Kimono Munchkin has indeed arrived. And in a flurry of activity in my usual style. :) Things did NOT go smoothly! While on bed rest, they were trying to hold out of inducing me until at least week 37, but with preeclampsia, things go downhill mighty quickly as I have proven. We went to one of the regular tri weekly appts (Tues) and were almost admitted. My blood pressure finally came down from over 160/110 so the doctor decided to let me go home even though I was positive for the protein part of the problem. Extreme bedrest he said and he would see me in three days after I did an at home 24 hour urinalysis. I did it that night and KH took it to the hospital Thurs morning. He got a call at 10 am while at work with a nurse telling him to "her protein test came back. High is 300 and she is at 1400, so yeah, well, go ahead and pick her up and bring her in and we will start inducing her. Everything is already set up and ready to go." He said "what?????" Which was my reaction too in a more vocal way. But he came home, while I washed my hair (no way I was going into the hospital and sitting there for hours upon hours with greasy hair) and threw in my last minute items into the hospital bag. KH left work, got here and we drove in, all the while kind of laughing that we weren't more nervous at this obvious bad turn of events. I think we were getting pretty numb to it about this point. We get there, I am rushed into a room and gown and stuck right in bed. The first dose of Cytotec was given immediately and it did... abso-freaking-lutely nothing. It was about 11 am. They told me I had a long haul ahead of me... that it could be almost two days before the birth happened. And I wasn't allowed to eat. If someone had told me that before I drove in to the hospital, I would have gorged something in because I was damn hungry by that evening. I told KH it was no problem to eat lunch in front of me, because I wasn't dying then and thought that - at most - it would be 24 hours. Then around 4 pm, he whips out a Snickers bar and I almost bit his arm off trying to get at it. He reminded me that I had said it was ok. I told him that was five hours ago and it was no longer damn well okay. The doctor finally caved and gave me jello and chicken broth before I could bite anyone else that came near me. I deluded myself into believing it was a meal and calmed down a little.

Around 6 pm, a second dose of the Cytotec was given. For the longest time, nothing still happened. Then around 10 pm, the nurses kept coming in and waking me to ask if I was having contractions. Remember I am only at 36 weeks and 3 days so a contraction to me was only some tightening in the gut that could get uncomfortable, but I wouldn't have called it necessarily painful. I told the nurse " no... no contractions... but I have this awful cramping down low and it makes me want to cry." The nurse had to explain that that was indeed a contraction. I felt like an idiot. Oh well. Moving on because I had other things to worry about. At this point, the midwife and nurses offered me some pain killers because it was way too early for the epidural. I hadn't dilated AT ALL. And they had to make that happen before they could push labor much further. I really didn't want to take anything like that, but after encouragement from KH (who I think told me to go for it because he was suffering watching me be in so much pain) and the midwife, I agreed to morphine. Relief! For awhile.

The night went pretty much the same way... contractions... more morphine. Around 7 am, the doctor and surgeon came in and told me that there was a possibility that a C section was going to be the course. I still wasn't dilating at all and my blood pressure was sky rocketing again. So far, no one told us that this was affecting the baby in any way. It all seemed okay. Then came 8 am on Friday morning. The next thing we know, the doctor is running in and the nurse is throwing scrubs at KH telling him to get dressed and fast. In that last hour, the baby had started to have complications from the contractions pushing him into an unwilling lower body. His heart rate was dipping and fast. Now I freaked the hell out. Even on morphine, there was panic in my voice and eyes... and it looked even worse on KH's face. KH had been on the phone with his mom while all of this was happening and she kept going with the questions, obviously concerned about the present course. I told him to hang the hell up now, which he did with an abrupt "gotta go" and click. Within minutes, I am being wheeled down the hall into the operating room. I keep telling KH I love him and he can barely respond, but I'm telling you... I have never seen his face look like that. He had to stay behind at the doors and I remember looking back at him sitting there and being scared to death. They gave me some type of epidural, but not the one that stays in your back. After that was done, they brought KH into the room... making it about 20 people in this room. I was apparently one of the great training cases at Yokosuka Naval Hospital that they have had in some time. There were always more people in my room during my appointments than necessary. Lucky damn me. KH stood at my head during surgery. I was in and out of consciousness because of the epidural and morphine so what seemed like 5 minutes was really about an hour. Twice I had some heart dips of my own and got two shots of epinephrine. At the point where they were getting ready to pull KM out, the anesthesiologist told KH to stand up. He did... just in time to see them pull the tiny munchkin out. I was awake at this point and told KH to go with the baby... I could see that he was torn as to where to go. It took a few moments before I heard the first cry... the longest moments of my life. Then KH was there next to him, but where I could see him too, filling me in with commentary like "10 fingers and 10 toes!" KH went with him for his first bath. I got more drugs and passed out.

The next time I was awake, I was in the room with my husband and baby. It had been about 2 1/2 hours since the birth. Even though I had been in and out and kept telling people that I wanted to breastfeed, that would be my first opportunity. I finally got to hold him. To all of you moms... you were so very right. On everything.

The hospital visit was great and things were going really well, so I was released a day early. Looking back now I know that we should have stayed the correct length of time. The first three nights were impossible. I only discovered on the 5th day of his life that I wasn't 'supplying' like I should be. Born at 6 lbs 3 oz, down to 5 lbs 12 oz at discharge (still normal), but first doctor's appt on Tuesday put him at 5 lbs 6 oz. The percent of the drop was the concern and forced me to supplement with some formula. I had to. It broke my heart. I had spent days in pain trying to breastfeed (I won't go into the details, but it wasn't going well and it wasn't because of my size), doing it for about an hour every hour and a half. If you calculate that, I didn't sleep at all basically, but was willing to do it because it is supposed to be the best thing for him. I cried constantly because of how much he cried. And then that first drink of formula and he quieted. Only then did KH and I realize what the problem was. I was starving him. Unintentionally, but definitely it was my problem. I had either talked to the lactation consultants two times a day or been in to see them. Nothing helped. Nothing still is helping. I had quit at one point earlier this week, only to calm down and decide one a new course of action... not what the lactation people are telling me, but it seems to be working for me, the baby and everyone involved.

Now the best part... instead of crying and fighting with gimp boobs, I get to sit around a lot and just hold and stare at him. I get to listen to his little coos. I get to be in awe of the entire experience. Seriously moms... so right. I am so in love.

We had another appt yesterday because of his lowering weight and he is back up 2 oz. So I am winning this battle. I probably won't be breastfeeding very long because it just isn't working out. I'm not hating myself anymore because of that decision. Too much wasted energy. I just have way better things to do.

That was about a week ago. Since then, some things have gotten better (surgical healing) and some things have gotten worse (breastfeeding… damn it all to hell… and more possibly bad news). I was persistent with the breastfeeding even though I knew it wasn’t going well. I just supplemented with formula so the kid wasn’t starving. I even called the lactation consultants again after I swore them off, but that still didn’t help. Then KM finally called the game on me. He went on a nursing strike because he just wasn’t getting enough and the hours I put into it a day for what little my gimps would give me just wasn’t worth torturing either of us any longer. He got two weeks of breastfeeding. A long, hard two weeks. I will never think poorly of someone who doesn’t want to do this course. It was probably the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. There is absolutely no joke in there as I say that.

And then there was the news that KH re-delivered to me at the end of last week. I was talking about a possible number two. It seems in my drug induced haze at the hospital I had completely whipped one conversation out of my head. I don’t want to discuss details here, but there is a good possibility that this will be my one and only… at least that birthed myself. KH says there is always adoption if we want a second. The news shook me pretty hard, but I have had time to recover. And most importantly, I have one beautiful, perfect little boy. Whop could ask for anything more?

Wednesday, October 15

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

While eagle eye Kimono command remains thoroughly on top of the situation, things have gone from somewhat stable to taking nose dives with each passing week. I am now considered fully preeclamptic and on strict bed rest, which means that I have only a few moments each day to sit and type. This entry alone has taken me a week to put together. Gah.

The Good –

Six ultrasounds in 11 days means I get extra peaks at the critter inside and get to know the exact weight of this kid on an almost daily basis. We are at 5 lbs 15 ounces currently.

Seven non stress tests means I am ensured that, despite the deteriorating situation, the critter is still hanging in there pretty well.

Kimono Hubby’s grocery shopping trip was great for giving us both a big laugh. For example… a bag of rice was on the list. I was talking the 5 lb bag that last me several months. He bought the 20 lb bag. That rice will take us much more than a year to eat and that’s if I cook rice every day. Plus, he doubled the weekly grocery bill… from approximately $90 to $170. I have no idea how he managed this feat. I still giggle when I think about it. And, of course I am just damn grateful he even did it! Can’t wait for his next adventure.

Kimono Hubby has learned to cook several of my dishes and even surprised me with one of his own… chourizo and peppers. Yum!

Kimono Hubby has earned newfound respect regarding what I do around this house. He cleaned his first bathroom since we married four and a half years ago this weekend. I had to direct the operation from bed.

I read the entire four book Twilight saga by Stephenie Meyers in just five days. Of course, I have also dreamt about vampires every night since then… including that I was having one who bit me at his birth.

I have learned just how many friends I do have here in Japan as they have trooped through my hospital room and bedroom in the past weeks with everything from food, to magazines and books, to laptops and movies. One even comes to wash my dishes and help clean my house to ease the burden on KH.

My mommy is on her way in a week. She upped her trip by several weeks so, as she said, she can help us through this. I think it is really because she is going to try to swaddle the kiddo up and sneak him out of the country before I get even more attached.

There is no doubt I will be delivering early. Way early. So I won’t have to lay around with this massive body too much longer.

The Bad –

There is no NICU unit at the Yokosuka Naval Hospital. So even though I will be delivering early, I need to hang in there as long as possible or else the baby will be sent to a Japanese hospital, altering my entire birth plan in a course that I am trying not to even think about just yet. Just know that it is a much different system from American hospitals.

My insomnia is worse than ever because of all the worrying compounded by the pain and stiffness of bed rest. At least I have time to sleep during the day.

Doctors appointments are now taking an average of over three hours at each visit. I go at least twice a week, and four times last week including the overnight stay.

My insane blood pressures (combined with other factors, of course) have gotten me one overnight stay at the hospital in the past 11 days.

Although I was stable for a four day spell, those same problems almost kept me there last night too.

My latest blood pressures while on medication were over 160/110 (I won’t give an exact number because I can hardly face it). Meds have since been upped.

Preeclampsia makes you feel like you have the flu. It also makes me extremely dizzy and gives constant headaches. If I don’t hang on to something when I do get up for bathroom breaks, I am likely to fall right back down onto my widening tush.

Six ultrasounds in 11 days also tells me that my amniotic fluid is low, then improves, and then dips lower yet again.

The protein level in my body is now into the dangerous range. This makes them give me repeated 24 urinalysises. They suck. End of discussion.

The constant bed rest has allowed me to discover that my sacrum is bent in towards my cervix. I discovered this as an intense stinging pain started radiating down my leg last week. I can no only lay in one position for no more than an hour before either/or going numb or tearing up.

Induction is the next course, but considering I am not even slightly dilated, it is going to be a hell of a course should I go there at this early 36 week stage.

The Just Plain Ugly –

Preeclampsia means swelling… which means immense weight gain. My once rather cute pregnant body has become horribly disfigured, particularly in my face, hands and feet. There will not be a single picture taken from here on out. I am not exaggerating… I’m 50 pounds up with this condition. Gross. I cry when I see myself in a mirror.

Showering has become an issue. Without someone here, I’m just not supposed to do it. Plus, when I do, I sky rocket my blood pressure, dizziness and headaches. These days… I’m sporting a greasy do and I just can’t give a damn. Hot.

Twice I have flat out bawled in front of the doctor. Once when he discovered my deformed sacrum and pushed on it… from inside. And the second when he told me how low the amniotic fluid had gotten. I thought it was my fault. It wasn’t, but it didn’t stop me from blaming myself.

The Best –

The beloved critter is hanging in there well with all things considered; and I will do anything to make it stay that way. I’m mostly in good spirits, despite my irritability with laying around in pain and discomfort. And my husband has reached rock star status in my eyes.

And now I must announce that there will be a long hiatus for the remaining part of the pregnancy program.
The good news is that the next post will be all about this lovely little boy we brought into the world! Till then… thank you for all the kind comments and emails since my last post! I'm sorry that I have not been able to respond to all, but please know how very, very much they were appreciated.

PS - I have no idea what is up with the fonts in Blogger right now and I can't sit here trying to figure it out. Sorry. Please disregard that Blogger is being a bitch.

Thursday, October 2

Things Are Getting Positively Stagnant Around Here

Boy-oh-boy… if you thought things were getting lame around the Kimono household, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

So last week, I presented myself to the good folks at Yokosuka Naval Hospital’s Labor and Delivery. At the end of the appointment, the doctor indicated that I was being upped to weekly appointments… “to keep an eye on things.” I balked. I mean, with seven weeks to go at that point, it just seemed a little absurd. But I am not one to disregard orders. Usually. *ahem*

Keeping with the program, I returned for my appointment yesterday. This time, the Kimono commander joined me to make sure that I spilled all the beans and not just the finer points I felt were worthwhile for sharing.

As you are probably guessing, things didn’t go well. With six weeks left to go, I have not been put on bed rest, per say, but I have been seriously restricted in activities. After checking my protein and sugar levels, multiple blood pressure checks (done manually after the absurdly high numbers they were initially getting from the machine), being hooked up to the fetal monitor to check the baby’s heart rate and fetal movements, and even an impromptu ultrasound (the baby is about 4 pounds 11 ounces right now!)… it has been deemed that I am pretty much on my way to preeclampsia. As the doctor put it, you don’t have it yet, but you will likely have it soon and definitely before you make it across the finish line. These were truly not the encouraging words I was expecting to hear.

I asked if I had done something wrong that caused this. Thankfully, that isn’t the case. It seems that it affects 5-8% of all pregnancies and they don’t really know for sure why it happens. It could be that I had some undiagnosed problems with my blood pressure before the pregnancy that are exacerbated with the strain that pregnancy puts on a woman’s body. And then it could be something else entirely.

So what is it exactly? Well… high blood pressures, sudden weight gain, changes in vision, headaches, swelling… pretty much all of which I have. According to the Preeclampsia Foundation website, it is “a rapidly progressive condition” that affects both myself and my poor bambino. While I am staying relatively calm about all of this because the doctor is being so watchful, reading statements like this off that website do establish frequent freak-out lapses: “Globally, preeclampsia and other hypertensive disorders of pregnancy are a leading cause of maternal and infant illness and death. By conservative estimates, these disorders are responsible for 76,000 maternal and 500,000 infant deaths each year.” I do hope those statistics include third world countries where the care is lacking more than in civilized societies. The Mayo Clinic website has a lot of information on this too, with many of the same comments. On both, words like “seizures,” “brain, liver and kidney damage” and “placental abruption” are going to stick with me until the end.

What can be done about it? Well, since I technically don’t have it yet, I am remaining on the excessively monitored list. I know have to drive my cookies in to the hospital biweekly for checks. And… small bonus… I get another ultrasound next week to continue monitoring the critter closely and make sure he is not being adversely affected by momma’s problems. If, or I should probably say when, my symptoms continue to impede the path to improvement, I will have to go on some sort of medication to bring it down. The whole medicine thing, well, I have felt really bad about it. I really did want to do this pregnancy as drug free as possible and yet I am constantly encouraged to take this or that to get things back in order. It pains me because I fear that something will adversely affect my precious little boy. Then, if I don’t do something, that could hurt him just as well. Ugh.

There is one more thing I have to do. And that is just stay the hell at home. Anyone who knows me well, know that this ‘sit still’ thing has never been my strong point. I’m an antsy kinda gal! I like to move it, move it! My specific instructions rule out not only any more substituting, but also even trips to the grocery store, mall or any other shopping facility. That’s too long for me to be on my feet apparently. My longest walks are to be from upstairs to downstairs or from the car to the door of a restaurant. Before we even left the hospital, Kimono Hubby had snatched the grocery list out of my hands to do it himself tonight. God help us… you never know what he will interpret from my list and bring home with him.

Don’t get me wrong… I will do anything to deliver this baby healthily into the world, which will keep me following the doctor’s orders. But it does pain me that it has come to this. That’s six weeks of pretty much only going to the doctor’s and lying around the house.

So, if you thought I was really letting my lameness show in my lack of fun outings lately, it is about to get worse around here. I hope you will stick with me! I swear I will get back out and about in Japan… in, oh, say six weeks… plus a few more for recovery time on the opposite end.

So much for having a to-date textbook pregnancy.

Wednesday, October 1

Japanese Peculiarities #6

One of the things I love best about being here in Japan is the lack of crime. Or should I say surface crime. I know I have talked about this before, somewhere in my ramblings, but let me fire off a few examples. It is perfectly safe here for a woman to walk down a dark and empty street alone and still feel secure in knowing that a rapist isn’t hiding in that alley. It is perfectly safe for tiny elementary kids to walk home by themselves, catching the train home all alone, and know that no one will snag them calling for an AMBER alert. You can park your bike in front of a store, either forget to or just don’t chain it, and know that it will still be waiting for you right where you left it. I have even gotten so lax as to walk around with my purse unzipped or use a purse that doesn’t even have a closure of sorts and know that sticky fingers won’t be pilfering my wallet. Of course, all this is the great part about a relatively crime free society, but it does make me lose some of the past American street smarts I had, which isn’t entirely a good thing. Because, I certainly am not going to be living here forever.

And to be honest… there are parts of Japan that are less safe. Tokyo is a major metropolitan city with plenty of influences from outside cultures. You can still feel pretty secure there, but it pays to not walk around like a blundering idiot with blinders on.

And a bit more honesty, there is plenty of crime under the surface. But since I am not a cop, this crime and violence isn’t readily apparent to people like myself. Certainly no place is entirely crime free and I am well aware that there are these ‘hidden’ crimes happening on a daily basis even here in Japan. Frankly, I’m just glad that it is indeed mostly under the surface and stalking me from behind every corner like pretty much most of the streets in a city like, say, New York City.

Where am I going with all of this? Well, the other day I was driving home and caught a great picture of a beer and alcohol delivery truck. Now, back home, this truck would be enclosed and, most assuredly, it would be securely locked. But in Japan… it’s just not necessary. Here is this open-bed truck loaded to the gills with beer, sake and various other libations and the only thing securing it is a few stretchy ropes! Can you imagine parking this truck on a street in NYC? That thing would be cleaned out before the delivery guy walked out of the store of his first daily delivery! Here… just wouldn’t happen.

Who wouldn’t like a country where an ever important commodity like alcohol is perfectly safe without placing it in a heavily secured bank truck?

Wednesday, September 24

Shopping Apparently Kills… At Least the Fun in Life

Defying direct orders from the Kimono household command, I got off the couch and headed out yesterday to the Daiei shopping mall. I had a few last minute additions I needed to get for several boxes I am shipping back to the states. Lo and behold, I should have listened to command for several reasons. First, it was the worst possible day to leave house as it turned out to be some Japanese holiday called shubun no hi (or Autumn Equinox Day). My many Japanese resource books (that I didn’t consult prior to heading out obviously) said that this is a national holiday where the Japanese typically visit the graves of their ancestors to pay their respects, but I swear to you that where most of them really went was the mall to play the impromptu party bingo game that had been set up for the big day. The roads there… backlogged and slow. The parking lot… packed. The lines… longer than I have ever seen before (but not as bad as Christmas lines, thank the Lord). The stores… full… especially of the younger set. Just maneuvering my big ole girth around the narrow aisles in each store was a major issue that even my gently stated “summimasens” couldn’t help with. To add insult to injury, I didn’t find half of what I was looking for and had to make a lot of compromises.

If just the pure torture of dealing with the whatnot of the holiday wasn’t enough, my little soiree into the real world cost me even more. I mentioned my blood pressure was being uncooperative in yesterday’s post? Well, before I even got out of bed this morning, I started taking it again only to discover that it was slowly rising. I knew if I waited to tell command, he would rip me a new one, so I instantly called OB/GYN. Who then told me to call Labor and Delivery. Who then passed me to a nurse that insisted that I drive my butt in there within the hour or else they would call back again and again until I showed. I pulled on the first dirty outfit I found on the floor, shoved my contacts in and squished make-up on in an not-so-nice fashion and was on my way. All is well. I guess. For now, we are just going to call it chronic pregnancy high blood pressure and not give it any bigger names just yet. I now get to go back and see my friendly doctors much more frequently than the planned trips every four weeks. And I get to do one horrible test that I haven’t had to do since last September when I spent time with my buddy-ole-pal-ole-friend, my ex kidney stone.

Perhaps it serves me right. Perhaps I should have listened to Kimono command. I blame lack of acceptable programming for not being able to keep my butt on the couch. Because it certainly can’t be my own headstrong ways.

Monday, September 22

A Little Work, a Little Baby, and a Little Culture

Life has been all about checking things of the baby-do list, work and Ikebana International lately.

Let’s start with work. Substituting started for me Friday a week and a half ago, and I have since worked every damn day. Good for the bank account that will soon not see my extra pennies. Bad for the swollen ankles that I have developed which refuse to deflate. This is actually why I am home today and not running around, as KH insisted on putting on me on forced bed rest. He keeps saying something about snausage feet and high blood pressure, while he keeps shoving the cuff back onto my arm. I assure you that I am taking care of myself, but I just hate all this ‘rest’! There are things to do and surely the only person who could possibly do them right is myself. As the past years have gone, I have been keeping my work hours at the high school level. This being my third school year there, I know the kids pretty darn well and I must say that I am enjoying them more than ever this year. I have a theory on that, though. I think it is because I see an end in sight to working at all that I am so thoroughly enjoying my time with them. Or it could be that I just haven’t been with too many smack-worthy freshmen this year; they seem to be a much improved crop. Whatever it is, it’s been great. There has also been some amusement with the older kids about the whole pregnancy thing. Only a few knew at the end of last school year, so many are quite surprised when this much larger version of me walked in the door. When they throw out the “you’re pregnant!” comments, I have been known to respond with the “no, I just got really fat over the summer!” Please don’t think I am cruel now! I tell the truth only moments later, but that first reaction is a riot. I even had a freshmen interrupt my lecture the other day just to determine for sure that my wide girth is pregnancy and not just that I am some monster junk food consumer. Once they know, they always have questions. Surprisingly, the boys tend to be the most curious.

Then the baby-do list. It has been quite a success lately… just shy of complete! Aside from missing only one dresser at this point (it being somewhere between here and California) and not being able to buy a rocker for the life of me in Japan, the nursery is pretty much done. Even our bassinet, which a dear friend back home bought for us as a gift, but had multiple aggravations getting it shipped here, has arrived and will be put together tomorrow. I packed for the hospital, all except for a little slip of paper that has six last minute items to add to the bag. We’re going to try to figure out the car seat this weekend and get that installed properly in the car. Beyond that, it’s pretty much wait for the arrival of the main attraction! As of today, that would be only seven weeks away. Yes, I know I am early on some of this stuff, but you just never know what the critter inside is going to decide on the early, late or just on time factor. Since I am a bit anal, I just would rather be safe than sorry. For all of those that have enjoyed the laughter you get from pictorial updates, there will be one taken tonight once KH returns home just for your continued amusement. Patience please. Update: Photographic evidence of the 'big' happening has now been added.

And there has indeed been culture-taking-in lately! The new season of Ikebana International is now fully underway, keeping me busy, busy, busy! I’m back on the Board for the second year in the same position, Publicity, which has kept me attached to my computer in free hours instead of on the couch with my feet above my head. Our first program was on Thursday and it was a great start! Held at the Daibutsu den’s private residence in Kamakura, we had the Ambassador’s Wife from Mozambique, Madam Maria Cuna Antonio, come and speak to the group about life and culture in her country. While Mozambique had never before been on my list of places that I wanted to visit, it has since been added. Madam regaled us with stories about daily life in her country, complete with funny stories about chickens, a fashion show of the typical dress that women wear (with the models including her daughter), a native fruit to try, and then homemade snacks and sweets which she and her staff had gotten up at 4:00 that morning to personally prepare for us. After the program, the Japanese ladies shuffled out, but I took this time to go talk with Madam one on one. She is an unbelievably warm, open, intelligent, well-traveled and articulate woman, who shared many stories about her travels, her family and her work… all in English which is obviously not her preferred Portuguese or African language. At the end of our conversation, she even provided me with her business card, along with the wish that I come to her Embassy home in Tokyo and have lunch some day. This made me not only feel a bit like a rock star, but also quite proud that I didn't do any major damage with my incessantly flapping gums, which could have potentially started some international incident. The only sad part of the day is that I had forgotten my camera, so the friend that was with me was the only one who got pictures of us. She will be sending them to me at some point and I will add them here, but for now, I unfortunately have nothing to show you. What can I say? I’m a slacker these days. And I totally chalk it all up to pregnancy brain.

Once my feet recover to a somewhat normal state (note: the picture is what I see of my feet IF I bend over far enough to check them out) and my husband allows me to get off the couch, I’m going to try to get out a bit more often and enjoy these last few weeks as non-parents. The heat is slowly dying down which helps, but in place of that has been some rain and even a quick little typhoon the other day. Speaking of weather anomalies, did anyone else in this area feel that earthquake on Saturday? It was the closest one I’ve known about to date, happening in Chiba, not even an hour’s drive north and registering a moderate 5.7 on the Richter scale. No major structural damage in the area, but it did indeed shake the baby awake.

Wednesday, September 10

A Love Letter to Home

I must admit to being a bit bummed these past days. I attribute it to a combination of the never-ending cough, my codeine-induced state-of-mind and pregnancy hormones. Looking at my life from the outside, you might think that I don’t have much to complain about. If you are thinking that, you are indeed somewhat right. We live well; we travel frequently; I don’t have to work if I don’t want to; and we are expecting the biggest miracle of our lives in a few weeks. All of this is certainly true, but there remains one gripe I have had since day one of living this far away from home… my friends and family are just not here with me. They are over 6,000 miles and one big ocean away.

Sure, modern technology allows me to call, email or connect with them in many ways, but there are actually many problems with this caused by any number of little things… time zones, email response waiting times, cell phones, expense of regular phones, fickle Skype... Frankly, I really miss just picking up the phone and calling my best friends and my family. The immediate satisfaction of being able to reach someone you really need them can never be overrated in my book. Thankfully, I have lovely friends and family that tell me that no time is a bad time to call them. I know they would be there, but to call them would only add to my misery, worsening whatever mope-y reason I was originally reaching out to them for. So I refrain from calling.

I actually had come to grips with this better as we moved through these past two plus years. There was less of a need to call because I truly felt less lonely. But then another heavy PCS season hit (people moving to new locations for those that don’t know military lingo). And I lost my closest friend here who moved to a seaside village in France. I certainly can’t blame her, but it didn’t make it easier. Again, chalk this up to a major dose of pregnancy hormones, coming down to the home stretch and feeling a little... well?... alone.

But then whenever I get sad, I love being blessed with a shimmer from a surprise silver lining, just when I am needing it the most.

Do you know where it keeps coming from? Those exact friends that I miss being able to easily pick up the phone and call back home.

This week it came from friends in Norfolk who sent us bibs, blankets and burp clothes. Last week, it was a Hawaiian outfit, lotions and blanket from a friend in Washington. A few weeks before it was a highchair, bowls, plates, spoons and another blanket from friends in DC. And there have been many, many more. It isn’t the gift that is the silver lining, although I adore each and every one. It is the fact that with each arriving package, I have been reminded that the friendship and love between us has not been lost or lessened by those thousands of miles and big, blue ocean between us.

I still wish I could grab the phone, call them up and tell them this just so they could hear in my voice how much their thoughtfulness and, more importantly, they themselves mean to me. Instead, I will tell the internet and hope that my love and appreciation is conveyed back to them through the hearts and minds of the random people that might read this. Oh yeah, and I’ll send a thank you card too. I’m not an ingrate.

Bless you for your love and caring. Always.

Sunday, September 7

Sweating, Coughing, and I’m a Snoozing

While I don’t want this to become a pregnancy blog or mommy blog, not that they are bad, but just not what I set out to do, I just don’t have much else to report these days. My touring around has been curbed unless I can go by car, which really hinders exploring for two major reasons… outrageously expensive or no parking and the fact that I have no idea on street directions. Frankly, if I don’t take the train in Japan, I just don’t go. How odd to only know your way around a country through the train network. And, in the case that you are wondering why I am skipping on the train… well, it is still damn hot here. Still in the upper 80s to 90s and there is a definite humidity that still clouds the air. With my lungs being shoved somewhere inbetween my shoulder blades these days, I just don’t have the lung capacity for all that walking in such heat. I truly can’t wait for October when the weather is about perfect for me.

Because of these things, weekends are pretty lame around the Kimono house. My dear husband does keep me entertained, but we are talking more low key like dinner out at one of our favorite places here in Zushi (like the water wheel soba place we hit this weekend… I can’t read the name as you can tell) and then a movie back at home.

There was one wonderful thing that did happen this weekend within our very own walls… KH put up the crib! While this may be nothing to you, it meant a huge deal to me. It means that I no longer look at an entirely empty room. There is now a crib decorated with quilted nautical bedding in a pattern using navy blue, sky blue and white. There is a mobile, and a diaper stacker filled with tiny diapers from the diaper cake my amazing sister-in-law had put together for my shower back in June. Oh, and all the tiny stuffed animals he has received as gifts so far… lots of teddy bears and frogs and one goofy looking goose… are tucked into the corners. I must admit that since the crib has been constructed, I go into that room and stare around even more than I did when it was just one closet filled to the gills with boxes and tiny clothes. I simply can’t believe that nine weeks from now, we are adding to this family the most precious gift we as humans can give ourselves… a darling little boy. I realize I should probably be past this my-mind-is-blown stage, but it seems to be sticking around much longer than I expected.

I did apparently give myself one other little gift this weekend. You may recall my mention of downing Robitussin every 4 hours, six times a day for the past week and a half. Well, it wasn’t working on the cough and seemed to be getting worse… as in moving towards the maybe you have walking pneumonia or something equally horrifying to a preggo girl. Not being one for doctor’s or wanting to be one of those worry wart people, I kept refusing to call. That is, until KH got mad enough to really give me a reaming. After hacking through three phone calls with the hospital, the charge nurse finally couldn’t stand the sound of it anymore and squeezed me in on Friday for an appointment with the doctor. I have tried so hard to make this a medicine free pregnancy, even though there are some things that are considered safe. It still worries me. But frankly, there are times when you just gotta do, what you gotta do. What I deemed lethal in my mind (those previous routine Robitussin shots and the very rare Tylenol) was nothing compared to what the doctor prescribed. I can’t even bring myself to mention everything he put me on, but I can assure you that I thoroughly researched each and every one before I consumed one pill or spoon full. Only one problem, I must have waited too long to get help. In the wee hours of Saturday morning, I was waking every hour (even on codeine) for a good coughing session that now leant me these sharp pains. Unbearable pains. Again, I didn’t do much about it for the day, other than double over clutching at my stomach with each cough and take a glance at what the trusty internet said about it. Apparently KH did too, because by Sunday, he was once again all over me to call the hospital. Did you know how easy it is to break a rib from severe coughing when you are pregnant? Something about no room for lungs, baby, ribs, yada yada yada. By afternoon, I was back on the phone and received a diagnosis for costal chondritis. Seriously thinking they were making it up, I again took to the internet. Apparently it is real. And painful. And there isn’t too damn much that can be done about it. Tylenol and those hot sticky pads. Of which I have done neither. At this point, I’m just hoping I can conquer the cough and finally move on with my life.

So what was my point? Oh yeah, we haven’t done crap lately in regards to getting out there and experiencing something noteworthy to talk about. I feel bad taking my hack out and about into Japan, land of masks, of which I don’t ever see myself using unless we are hit with some biochemical crisis like you see in the movies. Plus, it’s hot. So instead, I am feeding my blog with this drivel.

Okay. You got me. I’m just lame these days. Gah.

Wednesday, September 3

Bye Bye Beach Bars

Considering that I am not much on the party scene these days, it makes it really low key on holiday weekends for the KH and I. Not that I don’t try still! Which is exactly why I pushed to head to the beach bars for their last open weekend, coinciding with the American Labor Day holiday.

I know I talked about these bars somewhere last summer. Basically, they open the first weekend in July and close the last weekend in August. Only two short months of fun, sun and drinks on the beach. This is incredibly depressing when summer weather here continues until at least mid October. We can’t figure out why they would close down when there is still plenty of revenue to bring in. It’s the same thing with pools… why close them after Labor Day when the temperatures are still soaring into the 90s for another month or so? They build these wonderful bars, all with some sort of great theme, only to rip them down in two short months! Of course, this is just one more thing I will never understand about the Japanese way. So quit trying, I say.

We headed down early on Saturday night so we could watch the sun set while we had a good meal and KH had a few beers. After strolling up and down the beach checking out each place, we settled on the next to busiest (the first being a Mexican-themed place full of drunk and half dressed Japanese and Americans, which I felt was just rubbing the ‘no drink’ thing in my face a little too much), a thatch-roofed, Reggae-themed bar with a band playing in their sandy manmade alcove. After a little confusion on the where and how to order, we pulled up chairs… that I might add were definitely meant for hips that weren’t spreading in preparation for childbirth… but once I was snuggly down in, I was left in the perfect spot to take in both the ocean and the strange mix of Marley sung in Japanese Engrish.

It didn’t take long before the crowd in the Reggae bar livened up to its competitors further down the beach. Something about the sun setting and it being the last big weekend for beach bars made for the perfect party. Though for some of us, we’re simply all about being the early bird these days. After another stroll up and down the beach, splashing in the usual minimal surf of evening tides on Zushi beach, I was ready to head back home… back to my stretchy pants and quiet time with my husband. We’re trying to get that as much as we can before it all changes just ten short weeks from now.

It may have been one of our most laid back holiday weekends of all time, but it was also one of the best. Quiet, together and filled with love.

I hope yours was the perfect Labor Day weekend too.

Thursday, August 28

Critter Talk

Have you ever felt that the only way you can get through your life is if you keep everything very compartmentalized? I feel this way pretty much all the time. I can’t stand when I am focusing on one thing and get someone (usually my darling husband) trying to shove four hundred other things into my mind at the exactly the same time. That doesn’t mean I can’t handle a lot going on at once. I work really well under pressue actually. It just means that each thing has its time and place to be dealt with. Within one frame, say work time, now 400 things can come up to do with specifically my job, but just don’t try to throw in life things at the same time I am in my work box or I will seriously spin. Perhaps what I am saying is that I have a lot of obsessively compulsive ways that people may or may not realize and I often pretend aren’t there. My family definitely sees it, but the rest of you… you probably have missed it. Great! That’s exactly what I want.

It’s really all about focus. I want to focus on what is directly in front of me. And I don’t like to play a lot of guessing games with everything else that I might have going on until each thing’s number actually comes up. What has got me in a tizzy, you think? Well, many things actually. But all those things have had to be shut out, after a polite conversation with my husband to simply NOT talk to me about where we will move to next year until it is time to talk about it… like next year. Until then, I’ve got other things soaking in way too much gravy off my plate.

This summer has been a lot of compartmentalizing. We took the trip home early on, so my entire focus was on that. Then I focused on the family visit here. Now we are past that and I need to focus on the next big thing… this baby thing. Anyone that knows about my obsessive tendencies would be shocked to know that I haven’t really done much about this whole baby thing other than let it brew. I just couldn’t focus on all those baby needs until I had the time to truly focus. And do it right. Because I think I kind of forget sometimes that this is… well… BIG. It must sound ludicrous to say that and you are probably thinking… that girl seriously has no right to have a baby if she only just realized that a baby is DAMN big now. I swear I thought about it before… once or twice. But now I am less than 11 weeks out and holy hell… there is a lot to do all of a sudden.

My friend just got engaged. I sent her a planner to help get her started. Why isn’t there a baby planner – one that tells you when to conceive in life, when to buy the furniture, when to make a birthing plan and when to start on number two? I feel gypped. I digress.

The past week has been all about the ‘baby do’ list. I washed loads and loads of little boy clothes, up until the 6 month range, hoping it was a decent head start in the never-ending washing process ahead of me. We have a three bedroom house which has a master bedroom, a guest room and the third contains our computer room. Obviously this wouldn’t do with a kid on the way, so now we have a guest room/computer room and one very empty room which some would call a nursery… if it actually had anything in it. I did check on the furniture order just to see where all of that was at, and particularly if the Navy Exchange ever even ordered it. Lo and behold, they did. It has all shipped… at varying times. We’ll still be lucky if a dresser shows up before the baby. Fingers and toes remain crossed. And the crib… well, we also still haven’t picked that up from our friend (it wasn’t right compartmentalization time before now), which means it also hasn’t been sanded or painted. It remains on the ‘baby do’ list, now getting shoved to the dad side of those to-do’s because the procrastination since we entered into the baby finish line phase three weeks ago has not been mine.

I also started taking classes. Together, we finally re-upped our CPR certification. Can you believe it is now 30 compressions to 2 breaths?? And doing it pregnant… dang… do you get out of breath. Not to mention the struggles to get off the damn floor afterwards. I also took a breastfeeding class. Found it completely useless. I could have read everything from a book and gotten more out of it. Plus, I swear they lied. I asked about that painful stage and was, with Heath Ledger mental/Joker-like smiles plastered on their faces, informed that there was simply no such stage. Not what my mom friends are saying. I tend to believe the truth to come from the lips of friends and not what these La Leche League cronies were selling. I’m still doing it. I just wanted to hear the truth from a professional or two and not what someone thinks I want to hear. We have two more classes to go, of which KH will be joining me. He is thrilled to be going to Labor and You and Baby Basics in the next few weeks. He is even more thrilled about the Bootcamp for Dads class I signed him up for, of which he will be going on his own. If I am going to push this thing out, the man needs to feel some pain too in the whole process.

We actually also met a real doctor at the Navy Hospital. I was just glad to know that they really had them and it wasn’t some urban military base myth.

Left to do… find perfect homecoming outfit, pack for the hospital, figure out how the car seat fits into the Japa Capa, actually put some furniture in the room… when I get some that is, find a Japanese hospital that does the 4D ultrasound and who understands me enough to make an appointment, buy a scary looking breast pump, find a rocking chair in Japan (damn near an impossibility I’ve so far discovered), and continue to update the baby book of which I seem to be falling behind. I’m sure there are other to-do’s left, of which I will most assuredly remember at about 3:00 a.m. some morning, bringing me back into freak out mode that it’s only a little over 10 weeks away.

And the actual baby, you ask? All is very good there. He’s getting bigger and in position. He kicks like a fiend as felt by me and by anyone who has patience and cold hands they want to put on my belly will tell you. And his kicks… they rival Jeff Reed’s performance in the preseason game against the Vikings this past weekend. I truly love the feeling of his rolls and jabs and kicks, with the exception of at about 4 am when my insomnia is in full force and I desperate to fall back asleep. I swear he kicks harder then than at any other time of his active day, although I have discovered that my newly added, nightly Robitussin cocktail ritual is keeping him quieter than usual. Well, except for last night when around 2:00 a.m., I decided to re-dose in bed, in the dark, with a teaspoon so I wouldn’t wake KH for the first time in over a month. That was, until I spilled half the bottle across my stomach and legs, watching it seep into the mattress padding, at about which time I proceeded to swear up a storm while frantically wiping the red stickiness from between my legs with my nightgown. With all that going on, the critter riled up quickly to join his mom at the party.

For those that keep asking, here is a picture of me. 29 weeks and counting. Please don’t laugh too heartily… unless I am fully out of earshot.

And note that my very offensive sunflower tattoo is becoming more of a vine than the little tangle it used to be. The Japanese would so not be pleased.

Tuesday, August 26

The Work of Some Truly Creative Artists

Weeks ago now I went to an Ikebana exhibit at the Takashimaya department store in Yokohama. My invitation and tickets came from two women in my Kozan class who were going to have their own arrangement there. There’s one thing I know that is very important here and that is supporting fellow students, particularly at an event that was as large as this one was. The arrangements shown here were created by my friends, Nagasaki san and Gomi san. Not the best picture sadly, but I can assure you that these two have created some of my favorite arrangements in class.

There was one thing quite different about this exhibition than the many I have been to in the past… the Kozan school was very well represented. It isn’t that the school I study is so small, although it definitely isn’t one of the largest, but it just seems to go largely unnoticed or unknown… in my humble knowledge of the art form. The usual schools also well represented – Sogetsu (a more modern school), Ikenobo (a more traditional, elegantly simple school), etc – but it was the large amount of Kozan that impressed me. Even more surprising was my immediate knowledge of these schools. You see, the tags are all written in Japanese that tell me what the school and the artists name was and yet, I still knew on many of them before my Japanese friends with me translated a stitch of what was on the announcement card. Somehow, in my two years of study, and more importantly, plain old interest, I have gotten to know Ikebana much better than I thought. I really do have something to take home from my time here in Japan that was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

I did post some pictures from the exhibit in the sidebar Flickr link, if you are interested. I wouldn’t say that some were my favorites, but some caught my eye and I couldn’t leave without getting a picture of the expressed creativity.

This last picture is from an amateur that you all know. It is my arrangement from class this week. Not quite up to par with the creativity of the exhibit, but I’m sharing anyway.

Friday, August 15

Stunning, Sobering… Hiroshima

Making a trip in Japan can be both easy and tricky at the same time. When we moved here, we knew that it was an expensive country, yet still the sticker shock of some trips never fails to surprise us. But in the spirit of living in a foreign country, we would be stupid to not take advantage of all of the amazing places to visit here. We’ve hit most of the major places… like Tokyo which is very close to us, as well as some more distant locations like Sapporo, Kyoto, Takayama (me – not KH), Okinawa (KH – not me) that have required either airfare or bullet train costs. On both of our lists though was Hiroshima, of which we just recently visited. To keep the travel costs as low as possible and still see everything we want, we try to save these trips for times when guests are in town who might like to see the same thing. It’s worked out pretty well for them and for us, because we aren’t revisiting sites we have been to and can therefore use that money on our list of must see places around Asia. With Kimono Hubby’s family in town, it seemed the perfect opportunity to book us to head to the southern part of Japan and take in their mix of modern and ancient history in the Hiroshima area.

Shinkansen tickets were purchased and we were off to Hiroshima on the first of August. Anyone who is big on their history (read: geek like me) will know that this is an exceptionally special time of year to visit Hiroshima. The atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima occurred on August 6th, 1945 at 8:15 in the morning. We were just days away from that date, when the whole town is preparing for the huge Peace Memorial Ceremony, an honorarium to the victims from that horrific day as well as Japan’s continuing attempt to pray for the realization of a lasting world peace, where nuclear weapons are no longer created or needed. I am not going to get into what I think about that day or whose side I am on. Doing so does nothing to help the victims of Hiroshima or to help the world continue with the move forward. But I will forever be altered after my few days in Hiroshima.

After a four hour trip on the shinkansen, we arrived early in the afternoon, checked into the beautiful Righa Royal Hotel where our rooms looked over the Hiroshima Castle and its grounds. It took us only moments to drop our belongings and head out for the first stop on our tour, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. While I am not usually one for touring museums when I am in a foreign country, unless they are full of art work, this was one place that I was absolutely insistent on going to and was willing to go on my own if needed. Fortunately, the family was willing to go along with it, with my husband and mom-in-law even as gung ho as I was. Our hotel was only a few minutes walk, but since we weren’t sure of the area just yet, we snatched a cab that drove us over to it. This wasn’t a bad idea since the temperatures in Hiroshima was even more excruciating than they were in our area.

We paid our entrance fee and also picked up the English headsets that were available and started through the museum. It is actually two separate buildings, connected by a bridgeway. The first part, the Eastern bulding, was filled with the history of Hiroshima, including a bit of feudal times, prewar activities in the area, war time itself as it became a military city and then eventually, that fateful August day. A reconstruction of the domed top of the building, now know as the A-Bomb Dome , dwarfs the three floors in the Eastern hall. On the lower floor next to the dome lies two reconstructions surrounded by televisions showing scenes from that day… central Hiroshima prior to the bomb and Hiroshima directly afterwards. What you see on the first are tiny buildings meandering in every direction around the rivers. On the second, you literally see nothing but flattened earth. The realization that the place you now stand on was once part of this nothing is enough to shake your entire being. When we finished with this building, I honestly wondered what could possibly fill a whole second building. Even though you had seen the destruction in wide view, my mind was still not ready to embrace the fact that the second building would be far worse to view.

Have you ever visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.? I have been there many times in the years that I lived there. I never made it through without silent tears streaking my cheeks. The Holocaust was certainly a horrific blot on our modern history and the museum tells the story well. But they have nothing over the story that Hiroshima had to tell. Perhaps it is because I am an American and know my country’s sole role on Hiroshima’s significant day. I am sure that is part of it. Even maybe a large part of it. But it was sheer, unadulterated emotion from the deepest part of my soul that conveyed to everyone around me as I made my way through the main building.

I couldn’t help but continue to press play on the headset at every stop, even though I was positive at everyone of the over 50 exhibits that I didn’t want to hear what was to be told. At one exhibit, it was all I could do to stand there and hold myself upright while the tears streamed down. If I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders when standing in absolute safety, how can I even begin to imagine the true depth of what the victims felt that day. Shock, horror, unbelieving, not understanding… pain… both mental and physical unstoppable pain. These people didn’t even know the truth about what had happened to them. Even now, almost two weeks later, I am still trying to block out what I saw. And I didn’t live it.

I was the last to emerge from the museum. The entire family was sitting there waiting for me. I couldn’t look at them. I couldn’t speak. And I’m pretty sure that at least my mom-in-law was feeling the same way I was. All she could say to me was how she wanted to tell everyone in there how sorry she was. My God. Aren’t we all?

Heavy hearted, we made our way out to the streets to head back to the hotel. We all needed a mental break after that. It was a quiet trip back, each person lost in their own grief-stricken thoughts. Even rejoining one another for dinner proved to be a quiet affair, with a quick tonkatsu meal in the mall food court just next door. After dinner, I called it a night to rest my weary, swollen feet… and to think. The rest went for a little walk in the slightly cooler night air.

By the time the sun came up, the mood had again lightened. Again, I say we will never forget, but this was a vacation of sorts, not meant for continuing dreary thoughts. After a buffet breakfast, we set off on Hiroshima’s street cars to the island of Miyajima. Surely if you have ever seen pictures of Japan, you have seen this island. It is named as being in the top three scenic places in Japan and the picture of its large red torii gate standing alone in a bay is well known to marketers. At the end of the street car line, we hopped on a ferry to bring us across the short waterway to the island. It was another brutally hot day, broken only slight by an occasional breeze along the water. On the island, deer roam freely, even surprising me by being out on this particular scorcher. They are quite friendly, but signs remind the daily tourists not to feed them. One such lady was apparently not capable of following the rules, because we saw her running away from a huge herd that swarmed her after she apparently fed one or two. I swear she was an American too, which only makes me shake my head harder.

After capturing about a hundred photos of the torii gate, stopping to dip our toes into the ocean (where as I held onto Kimono Hubby to take that dip from a slippery step, his mom came to join me, almost tossing all three of us into the water for an instant) we moved on towards the most popular shrine on the island, Itsukushima Shrine. It is also known to be a ‘floating’ shrine because it looks like it rests on top of the water when the tide is in. We were a bit late for the full high tide, so many water areas were already seeing themselves emptied, but it didn’t take anything away from the beauty. We continued our stroll out of the shrine and into the tight, little roadways surrounded by souvenir shops. One such little shop sold snow cones. With two big shoppers in the group that got a little behind us, KH, his mom and myself plopped ourselves down for this icy treat. That small break was enough to get us through the streets ahead of us, streets that have preserved a feeling of classically Edo-era Japan. And a tiny meal at one restaurant, where I had to go back to my days of pointing at the plastic food in the window, helped too. There is a five story pagoda along the walk too, but the hill that led up to it was just too demanding looking for any of us hot and weary travelers. I would have suffered to do it and see the pavilion and pagoda at the top, but I certainly wasn’t going to bear that misery alone. Instead, we all slowly began the walk back to the ferry and streetcar beyond. We met one very friendly (read: very drunk) Japanese man who told us over and over again with his chu-hi stinking, smoldering breath how he only speaks English remembered from junior high. Smooshed between him and KH, who entertained this man with a long chat, I tried hard not to be rude as I turned my face away from the reek. I might add that not a single person in our family was willing to switch me places on the 50 minute ride back. Rude. I’ll pay you all back for that one. Anyway, a break from the burning afternoon sun was in our immediate future, not to mention an icy cold shower and hopefully some clean underwear, so I endured.

Little did I realize, but the group was not quite ready for that shower. Instead, we got off one stop sooner and took a long walk around the Peace Memorial Park. The museum is located on the southern part of these grounds, but we had not yet actually seen the part with the statues and the A Bomb Dome, which sit at the upper end closest to where we were. As we came upon it, we began to hear beautiful singing from somewhere in the park. Later, we came to realize that they were practicing for the ceremony now only three days away. The sole woman’s voice accompanied by a small orchestra added to the solemn quality of the park. Past the Dome, we made our way past many monuments including the Flame of Peace and the Pond of Peace until we finally stood in front of the Cenotaph that perfectly frames the monuments in its arch. A tour group stood there as silent as if we were inside the museum, everyone lost in their personal reflections, bringing back to me the realities of why we came to visit this particular Japanese city. The message this city is trying to relay is not lost on me. The damage done by the atomic bomb is too terrible for anyone to perpetrate or endure. I can fully understand the Japanese belief now so deeply rooted in their hearts and minds that tells them that nuclear weapons and mankind cannot coexist indefinitely. My study of history allows me to understand why it stands that way today, but at the same time, I still want to hope and pray that the world can find a better way to maintain the balance… for humanity’s sake.

Now, I have mentioned this before in my blogging, but it seems that everywhere in Japan is known for some kind of famous food. Hiroshima was no different. It just happens to be known for one of my favorites… okonomiyaki. Every time our houseguests tried to get us to tell them what it was, we described it as a pancake with stuff in it. This description was definitely not suitable to them, and even had them more than a little wary of trying it. But, like the museum, I didn’t pay all that money to come to Hiroshima to skip on this point. At the front desk, I spoke at length with the concierge to find the place that was right for us… no sitting on the floor (not for our fellow travelers who may not be able to ever get back up from that position), not too far away that we couldn’t walk back with the little energy the sun hadn’t taken from us early and it had to be indicative of the best of Hiroshima. They actually had a map of spots, and the concierge was all to helpful to call and see how busy each place was and if they took reservations. As we hopped into cabs, I know our guests were not looking forward to what lay ahead for them. When we got to the tiny shop hidden away on and even tinier street, we were asked to wait as the place was quite full. We were provided with menus in English, which did absolutely nothing to waylay their fears. Setting aside their anxieties though, two of them did settle on one of the items and the other decided to just skip dinner and pray she would find something Western later. When seats for five became available, we were ushered in to a large table that we shared with many other groups. I did the ordering, hoping to streamline the process for the Japanese waitress who was giving us all kinds of baffled eyes. It took a second waitress to confirm my order, but they went to work on it. The place is called Mitchan. Servers line up in front of a long bar with their orders, while a line of cooks behind the bar prepares the okonomiyaki. Each cook has his own job in the process, passing the pancake on to the next as he goes. Essentially what went into this one (they are all a slightly bit different) was soba noodles, egg, cabbage, special sauce, pork and then additions such as shrimp or squid. Once it is served to you, you can add extra sauce and mayonnaise to it. The Japanese really are big fans of mayo, and are making one out of me too with putting it on so many things. It may not have looked overly appetizing, but our two guests managed to chow theirs down pretty well, leaving little to nothing behind, proving once again that looks shouldn’t influence taste! It was honestly so delicious. And filling. The lengthy walk back to the hotel was necessary to start digesting all that food… well and to find a KFC along the way for our last guest who had still not yet eaten a dinner.

Our last day in Hiroshima, we awoke to another… surprise… hot and sunny day. This time we had planned on making the short walk over to the Hiroshima Castle. This castle is the reason why Hiroshima was chosen as the first bomb site. The Japanese military had determined that the historical site made a perfect hiding place for their headquarters. Little did they know that the American military couldn’t have cared less for its history, only for its current use. Like with everything, the castle is a 1958 replica, but it is well done and worth the visit. It contains a museum inside about ancient Japan, which moves through decades and facets of live as you move up through the five floors. Did I mention that there was little to no air conditioning inside? Apparently, they were sticking to the original design when this puppy was rebuilt. Man, it was hot. Only once you made it to the very top floor where the windows and doors were wide open did you get a nice cool breeze from outside to bring your body heat back down about twenty degrees. After resting at the top, we realized that it was getting close to the time when we would need to catch our train. One last lunch in Hiroshima, more western after we had tortured them with ‘the new’ the night before, and we were back on the shinkansen heading north and home.

Despite the sweltering time of year to visit a city in the south surrounded by mountains, I really can’t even begin to describe how happy I am that we finally made that trip. Every bit of it was as perfect as it could be. Okay, no… not the heat… but everything else. Most of all, I am grateful to see a place that I had studied so extensively while working on my degree. I am sure I probably bored my fellow travelers with my constant tidbits, but I just couldn’t hide my excitement for being there and for learning more by actually seeing a significant part of shared Japanese and American history. I felt like I was one of Hersey’s characters as I roamed down streets overlooking the waterways. I felt pain. And I felt hope. And isn’t that exactly what they had hoped for.