December 31, 2007

Twofer: Tentative First Steps & A Merry First Christmas

“One Small Step for Lady E, One Giant Leap for Babykind?”
This is my usual overzealous way of letting you all know our baby has taken her first tentative steps. As parents, it is a developmental milestone that absolutely must be celebrated and lauded in the Rising Daughter blog because our Lady E. -- almost one year old -- has really started her journey to toddlerhood.

Walking…OK, careening and stumbling…is just one part of the funny array of things she is doing these days. For a few weeks now, Elena has been crawling around the apartment with increasing velocity and sense of purpose. Like her Mom and Dad, she gets frustrated when she can’t do something NOW, RIGHT NOW…patience is not something we seem to have in abundance. We could tell she was eager to get upright as soon as possible. She quickly progressed from hyper-crawling to rocketing around the apartment with her Miffy walker, with its telltale ‘dingely-dongely’ milk truck sound. It was literally music to my ears.

Naomi informs me she really took her first step in the late afternoon of December 24th. So there you have it: Walking Woman on Christmas Eve!
Christmas 2007
The next day, we were lucky to have some friends over for Christmas dinner. Celebrating Christmas in Japan is both wonderful and somewhat hollow at the same time. Christmas decorations go up in stores nationwide in late November and everyone looks forward to it for the usual reasons. When Japanese society embraces something foreign, they do it with great panache and attention is paid to the smallest of details to make sure it is near perfect. So, the holiday season comes with beautiful packaging, but there is still something intangible that is missing. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein describing Oakland, “there is no there there.” Not being a Christian country, this atmosphere is completely understandable. You just have to make your own soul food for Christmas.

Which is what we did: we had our friends over for a traditional Christmas dinner. We invited longtime friends James, Yuko (and their boys) and Mike and his wife over for a feast, good cheer, plenty of booze, even a few presents. We also arranged for a visit from Santa’s Helper to drop off a few presents for the kids. Naomi and I had a great time in the company of friends. We plan to have others over soon, when they aren’t working…hinto..SDM-san.
Given this festive occasion and the number of gifts and blessings we’ve received in 2007, it seems we were all good boys and girls this year. Christmas was fantastic. While I miss all of you out there reading this, particularly this time of year, we were very fortunate to share this important day with people who are important to us. And we skyped the ones who couldn’t be here in person!

From Lady E. and us, to all of you, happy New Year. May 2008 bring you continued health, hilarity and happiness.

Since it is New Year’s Eve, I’ll close with a quote from P. J. O'Rourke, one of my favorite writers: It is better to spend money like there's no tomorrow than to spend tonight like there's no money.

December 14, 2007

Changing of the Appliances

It is mid-December here in Hiroshima, when autumn leaves have left the tree branches, baseball season is decidedly over and the sting of oncoming winter is acute at night and early morning. It's basically pretty damn bleak, and without the brief uplift in one's spirits that accompanies the first snowfall.

The annual Changing of the Appliances tradition also marks this time of year. It's an ancient Japanese custom that stretches back to the Gasheeter Era of Emperor Needmorecloze. Since I have been resident in Hiroshima for over a decade now, I have acclimated to local conditions and customs in order to fit in…well, as much as I can. The electric and kerosene heaters are now out, cleaned and made ready for action.
Za Electric Heater a.k.a. "Yen Eater"

Please bear in mind that most houses in Japan do not have central heating. Instead, gas, oil and electric heaters and air conditioners are used to heat single rooms. This makes it a little more challenging to keep a consistent room temperature throughout our apartment. It also adds a challenging element to make the whole place safe from Lady E.

Za Kerosene Heater --"Mr. Stinky"

I also got a nasty surprise the other day…we got a visit from a nice lady from the power company, who inquired as to why our electricity use seemed high. I’ve been using the electric heater more than usual this year because it has less residual smell than the kerosene one. But, we got a 20,000 yen (about $200) bill for one month of electricity use—about four times the usual.
...We are using the kerosene heater more now.

November 22, 2007

Weekend Morning Strolls

For a few months now, I have been escorting Lady E. on early morning strolls on Saturdays and Sundays. So, yeah, I just push her around with the baby stroller. At first, we started this to escape the heat during summer and give Naomi a break in the morning on weekends. But fall is almost over now, so we bundle up and I bring a mug of coffee to fuel the adventure. It’s actually quite nice to explore the neighborhood where I have been living for 10 years in greater detail; I am still discovering small, narrow roads and pathways between houses in the older sections of the area. The small hills that frame this part of town also keep through-traffic to manageable level, so we can roam around safely. Elena seems to like the thrumming vibrations of the stroller's wheels -- maybe, to her, a sound not unlike that of traveling by car – and looking around. She’s a fine spelunking companion and I also relish the time spent together.
The other thing I like about these walks is that local people, upon seeing a cute little baby, seem to lose their general inhibitions about speaking with me. Is it a male thing or being a foreigner….I don’t know, but I can say with confidence that having a small baby with me seems like a license to speak with random people who would normally never think of engaging me in conversation. And that’s nice. Am I a more sensitive, honest and responsible gaijin now that I have Lady E. in hand? Nah—same old prick as always. Yet normally shy and reticent people now open up, giggle and goo-goo with abandon. Being a Dad confers sudden sainthood?

October 31, 2007

“Pumpkinhead” & A Trip to the Zoo

It’s Halloween tonight and Elena celebrated not with a costume -- she is still too young for that -- but with some pumpkin-colored food that Naomi prepared and delivered with a smile. As you can see, Lady E. seems to enjoying it.
She also had her first real haircut this week, and now boasts a Joan of Arc coiffure. Ooh la la. Lately, we have taken to calling her Pumpkinhead as a nickname for one reason or another.

Last week we took Elena on her first trip to the zoo with some friends. Blue skies, a crisp wind that complemented the bright sunshine just so—perfect conditions for the inaugural visit, featuring the kids’ petting zoo. Naomi seemed to enjoy it more than Lady E. (see photo), who occasionally burst into adorable tears at the sight of new animals. Then she slept for the latter half of the day. The adults had plenty of fun, too.

That’s all for now. I am trying to figure out how to embed some video into the blogsite. If I succeed, I will post some live action video for Lady E.’s legion of fans. Stay tuned.

October 13, 2007

Double Vision?

Chip off the old block
Spitting image
Takes after (her mom/dad)
Choose whichever idiom you like: the proof is in the pudding. That is to say, Elena seems to look like me more than ever. A few years ago, I showed my wife a bunch of old childhood photos my mom had mailed to us. I took another peek at them recently and, yes, the father-daughter resemblance is pretty close. No surprise there, but Naomi sometimes jokes that Elena is proof that she has been a loyal wife. Looking at the photos, well, it is beyond dispute.
Note that Lady E. has a far cooler K.D. Lang hair thing going on in her photo which adds to her baby funkitude. In contrast, my haircut seems vaguely Creedence Clearwater Revival-esque.To my chagrin, my hairstyle hasn't changed since 1970, either. (I am jealous that Elena has that great George Clinton-approved summer dress in the photo on the right.)

One major physical difference between us that I noted when changing diapers is Elena’s err…posterior area. She has a Mongolian blue spot on her cute little bum which is definitely one of her mother’s genetic gifts. Mongolian blue spots are birthmarks that look like bruises and are very common among East Asians and aboriginal peoples in North America, but named after Mongolians. They are harmless and usually disappear by age three to five. Here’s an example below (for the record, this is not Lady E.’s bum. The photo is borrowed from another website).

The point of this: while Elena may look like me, there is still a lot of Naomi mixed into her DNA bouillabaisse. She also has her Mom’s beautiful Asian eyes and general temperament (heh heh).

September 23, 2007

Lady E. Needs Rehab

In my last post, I wrote that I had ingested some cheap Cabernet (thanks LWS) and mulled over the injustices of life, but promised that in my next post I would return to a light tone.

It was not to be: I found out this week that Lady E. has a drinking problem.

Note North Korean dictator hairstyle-- a sure sign of a problem.

The other day, our daughter apparently had a hard day at the office and, to forget her infant troubles for a few hours, took to the bottle for solace. Naturally, when I found out that she was using booze to help ease the strain of her daily baby grind, I knew we had to stage an intervention right away:
“Imbibing wine because you’re concerned about coronary heart disease at eight months old is a rationalization for your self-destructive behavior,” I said. “Your bon vivant lifestyle has to end.”

Elena explained that she considered her drinking “only a constitutional” and that “all the other kiddies were doing it, too.”

Stern and concerned father that I am, I rejected her excuses and, as her punishment, confined her to the apartment until she was able to stand upright, walk unassisted and control her own bowels.

(Disclaimer: For those not inclined to satire, our baby daughter did NOT drink wine. This post is intended only as humor and a contrivance.)

September 11, 2007

Sending Out Some Love

Recently, a heartrending event has brought sorrow to some friends back home. Why do tragedies happen to good people? It is an age-old query rife with nods toward the divine, and I certainly have no original questions, insights, or answers. But one tends to search one’s soul and ponder core beliefs when these subjects appear late at night in your head and won’t go away. Cheap Cabernet Sauvignon is usually the instigator of this thinking, and soon becomes the remedy to soften the sting.

I’m very grateful for the blessings I’ve had so far and I wish to share a little of my good fortune with friends who have suffered an awful hardship. I personally believe that sharing these thoughts in a public space such as the Internet emits something positive that just might help in some way. In the absence of something tangible…if nothing else, a little love in the collective consciousness can’t be a bad thing. So, from my family to another which is hurting, we send our love.
One more thing: today marks six years to the day since 9-11. I was here in Hiroshima, alone at the office late at night, making international calls to the US, when suddenly the Internet went down and the phone lines were all tied up. What the $#!*/@?, I thought. A security guard came around and mentioned the horrific news from the States. So, for me, 9-11 is an annual reminder that a normal day can take a terrible turn very quickly. So, dear readers, every now and then, rejoice in normal, boring days where nothing happens and pee off the porch, be happily banal.
I think I’ll have another glass of that Chilean Cabernet now…and promise more mirth in the next post. Thanks for your patience.

August 29, 2007

Cookie Monster Revisited

A friend from my college days -- a reader of Rising Daughter-- recently sent an email to alert me to the Mattel recalls of over 20 million toys made in China. Since recalls and safety are something I touch on professionally, I immediately checked out the details of the Cookie Monster's paint to make sure our electronic buddy was still safe for Elena. She gnaws on pretty much everything now and her safety, of course, is paramount. She really still loves the Cookie Monster (as you can see below), so I was happy to see we would not have to separate them! Thanks again for the great present, Mom!

I do feel that Cookie Monster will soon leave us, though. Lady E. is gaining upper body strength and a wee smidgen of motor control over her arms and hands, and I suspect that Cookie Monster’s head and body will soon be involuntarily separated by Elena, a.k.a. Mlle. Guillotine:
Liberté, Egalité, and bye-bye Cook-é!!

Elena now has two teeth. And she is starting furtive attempts at crawling. But I can’t get her to sit still long enough to snap a photo!

Here is another photo of the family BBQ from a couple of weeks ago. We got it from Seo-san, and this time, I'm in it!

The kinfolk said, Chris, move away from there. They said, “Hiroshima is the place you oughta be.” So in ’96 I got on a plane and moved there hastily.
Hiroshima, that is. Sushi sold, no movie stars.

August 18, 2007

The Lady’s Summer Debut: Obon Holiday Family BBQ

It’s mid-August, and in western Japan, that means a time of stifling heat and humidity, chirping cicadas flitting about in the trees, lush rice fields, extravagant fireworks displays seen by throngs of people and which dazzle the eyes and ears…all anchored by the long Obon holiday. Obon is a Japanese Buddhist holiday to honor the spirits of one’s deceased ancestors that has evolved into a prime family reunion time across Japan. Picture it as Thanksgiving, Christmas and a visit to a loved one’s grave all rolled into one week-long holiday.

During this year’s Obon vacation, we took Lady E. to meet her relatives on Naomi’s side when everyone was visiting the family homestead, which is in the countryside not too far from Hiroshima. Many of them she met for the first time, including her great-grandma. It is fair to say Elena was the belle of the ball, or the queen bee of the BBQ, if you will.

We ate typical BBQ fare, lots of scallops and veggies and, perhaps, a little more meat than usual because I was there—we North Americans have the image of inveterate carnivores which my Japanese relatives love to indulge. At the end of this feast, Yukari showed Seto-san the proper way to make Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki.

It’s also a time to catch up with what other people are doing; we’re all so busy such occasions to get together are rare. So it was a fine time of eating, drinking, gabbing and trying to stay out of the blistering sun (it was about 35 degrees or 96 degrees Fahrenheit). As the afternoon wore on, everyone went out to the family gravestones – which are located on the family land near the riverside – and paid their respects. Then, those who came from out of town went into Hiroshima to catch a Hiroshima Carp baseball game at the stadium downtown.

It’s a little early to introduce Elena to baseball (although I am looking forward to that day!) so we opted to head home in the evening. Our poor little Laputa labored to get us home because we had the air conditioner on full blast.

July 29, 2007

A few words from our sponsor

Some feedback from a reader of the blog has noted the lack of photos of yours truly. Well, it’s not because I am shy, as anyone who reads this blog knows very well! It’s simply that someone has to take the photos, hence the lack of mugshots of me. Plus, the star of the show is Lady E., not her decrepit old papa.
However, my 38th birthday was in late July, and just today a good friend of mine (who will be named --MMP) gave me a photo from exactly ten years ago. Here it is:
Title: “Jack Lord Hair & drunk as a monkey in Thailand or Laos…not sure which—1997”
I decided to post a current photo to compare how I have weathered the past ten years living in Japan. Hmm.
“Title: Food for Thought.”

Dual Citizenship: The Paperwork Trail
How do we get dual citizenship for our little girl? It’s a mountain of paperwork, a labor of love, and a slew of expletives all rolled into a month-long cavalcade of translation and finger-crossing. But, at the end of it all, last week we received Lady E’s passport from my country and, soon, we will receive one from the land of her birth. So we’ll soon have a dual citizen in our household. And that fact, my friends, is fantastic because we want to open up as many opportunities as possible for our little girl in the future. Two nationalities=double the fun, as far as I am concerned. Thanks to SDM for expediting the process for us in H-town.

I hope everyone reading this is having a wonderful summer of fun in the sun.

July 16, 2007

Six Months Old

Last weekend Elena turned six months old. We decided to take her out of Hiroshima on her first real trip out of the city, and drove up to the Japan Sea coast to a cottage we’d rented for a day. A nice, relaxing time for the whole family ensued. I was really into the whole Cosby Show family vibe going on--with not a trace of irony for once. We also had a cake (see below). Elena was asleep when we sang happy birthday to her, but that didn’t stop us from doing it.

Before returning the next day, I took the initiative and dipped our wriggling daughter’s left foot into the seawater. This is my tradition to mark an auspicious occasion or place. Turns out that Lady E. didn’t like it very much and promptly started wailing. But…plenty of time in the future for her to get used to the invigorating ocean spray and the salty water embrace! She is, after all, only six months old.

Lennon and McCartney said it best:
They say it's your birthday
We're gonna have a good time
I'm glad it's your birthday
Happy birthday to you.

Sweet 6-month old, our Lady E.

July 7, 2007

Lady E’s Limousine Part II: Zero Emissions Vehicle

Lady E. believes in 'being green'. As one of the youngest people currently inhabiting the planet, she believes in preserving the Earth's bounty for future generations. And she demands both style and functionality in her eco-friendly transportation, a.k.a. “Baby Car.” That's why we chose the Combi Do!Kids5 MMVII Edition as our little monarch's green limousine.

* 0-2 miles per hour in about 10 seconds.
* Unlimited mileage (*parental powertrain not included in list price)
* Zero percent CO2 emissions.
* Folding sunroof and safety belt as factory installed options.

All the other kids crave this limited edition sports appearance package (pictured above right) with tactile plastic feetbars featuring cute crinkly-sounding stuff and infant attention-grabbing, bright squeezy stuff. [Big white happy face thingy is a tuner aftermarket part.]

Lady E. demands the best for herself as well as for the planet. And that means eco-friendly transport for our earth-friendly little munchkin.

4x4 special edition only available in Japan for rice paddy offroading.

June 27, 2007

Rising Brother

Despite Lady E. being the center of our universe for the past 5.5 months, occasionally there are posts that aren’t focused exclusively on her. This is one of them!
This time, it’s about another person who is especially important to me--my brother, Stephen. He's been a part of my universe for 17.6 years now.

Stephen graduates from high school today. Even though he has been growing up far from where I live, our mom has been very diligent in keeping me up to speed on his development. She is never shy in describing many of the small details of what he is doing, all of which point to what a wonderful young man he has become. I just want him to know –and anyone else reading this— that I am very proud of him and wish him the best as he moves on to the next stage of his life. As he graduates to a new academic pursuit, and upgrades to college student V1.0, Naomi, Lady E. and I wish him every success and we look forward to seeing him again in person. Hopefully in a nice warm place at Christmas.(Hint, hint)

It’s an exciting time, Steve, my rising brother. Enjoy it. Suck up the gravy! And congratulations from all of us over here in Sushiland.

Addendum (July): the Real McCoy...

June 18, 2007

Rock and Roll

At 5.5 months old, my daughter is as nimble as Iggy Pop. She jumps up, squirms with abandon whenever we put her in a horizontal position, stamps her feet (albeit with support from yours truly) and twists her body in rapid motions with evident glee. She has amazing levels of energy and memorable facial expressions. She works the crowd with an innate Vaudevillian streak that clearly comes from her mother, not me. (ahem)

Lady E. babbles a lot these days—“eeee ah ooooh.” yeeeeah!

And then screams at 10 decibels.
Just like Iggy Pop.

She drools without shame.
(Maybe) Just like Iggy Pop.

She likes being The Passenger…in our car and viewing new places with rapt fascination.

She puts unbelievable amounts of energy into everything she does.
Just like Iggy Pop.

But she doesn’t do stage dives. At least, not yet, because we keep a careful eye on her when we’re changing diapers.

In short, Lady E. is healthy, happy, highly entertaining and developing rapidly. She is the light of our lives :)

Lust for life--both of 'em!

May 31, 2007

Lady E’s Limousine Part I

Our vehicle of choice, the Laputa: its size…’unpretentious’ and endearingly squat. Its 64 horsepower performance… grudging and temperamental. Its ride quality…uncompromisingly standard. But it’s a mini-SUV on steroids!

Squeeze into the driver’s seat, turn the ignition key, and listen to the high-pitched squeal of 660ccs of pure turbocharged power. That is when you realize that this menace of the road really is…Lady E’s Limousine. It’s a tiny little car that is a perfect fit for our tiny little boss.

We bought it in September 2006 when Naomi was still pregnant, knowing that a vehicle would be invaluable when our child came into the world. Prior to that, we had only owned a motorcycle and a 50cc scooter—too “good with money” to maintain a car, rebels without a clue. The contrarian instinct in me cherishes the fact that our Laputa actually has an engine displacement that is smaller than my motorcycle. (Another reason I chose this vehicle was its boffo meaning in Spanish. Maybe there is a frustrated comic somewhere naming Japanese cars?)

"The Unpimpable Ride"

Anyway, our freewheelin’ two-wheel lifestyle has ended, but we aren’t in the soccer mom demographic yet because the cargo capacity of the Laputa permits onboard loading of only our beloved daughter’s baby seat and the necessary baby maintenance gear we need to hit the road. My expertise in packing and logistics has benefited significantly from this!

Now we have this little micro-mini to ferry Elena around and have some fun. It’s basically one of the most economical four-wheel drive rides going, has great gas mileage and thus is eco-guilt-free, and despite its frugal nature we love it. Having a small car affords the kind of mobility we need—given the geographical limitations of Japan, we have no desire for a grand touring vehicle.
Unless we hatch a sibling for Lady E…. !

May 15, 2007

My Baby Just Cares For Me: Lady E & Music

I confess that I lifted Billy Holliday’s famous moniker when I gave Elena the nickname “Lady E.” The reasons: not only does Elena command my attention and devotion, thanks to her regal bearing and A-list celebrity status in our household, I also happen to love music. I like to expose her to different kinds of music because I think it’s healthy and fun. This is not in the vein of forcing your toddler to listen-to-Mozart-to-develop-her-brain-functions early kind of hyper-kinetic parenting; nope, it’s a simple great music=happy mood=happy baby kind of thinking. She’ll face enough pressure later in life, why start when she is an infant?
So, this morning it was “Tangerine” from Led Zeppelin III and a small dose of “Sinnerman” from Nina Simone (another original ‘lady’ I dream that E. might emulate in some way). I’ve read that there is a biopic about Nina Simone in the works now and, before the inevitable ‘Nina boom’ to come, I want to expose my daughter to the estimable Ms. Simone’s vibe. And Pearl Jam…check out “Wishlist” from the Yield CD and tell me that it isn’t a beautiful piece of rock 'n roll: “I wish I was a messenger and all the news was good. I was a full moon shining off a Camaro’s hood.” Sweet Americana. And don’t even get me started about the Cowboy Junkies entire catalog

Music is a way for us to expose our child to one of the finer things inherent to being alive --great music-- and makes the hours I spend standing up in our living room with our squealing four month-old all the sweeter. She can make fun of my musical taste in about 12 years or so.

May 5, 2007

The Crystal Meth of New Fatherhood... watching your daughter's reflexive smiles as she slowly wakes up, eyeballs fluttering, regains consciousness in stages, and embarks on a brand new day. These minor scenes -- repeated hundreds of millions of times the world over every morning -- are enough to make even a confirmed cynic like me feel an innocent’s unblinking delight in all the new scenes encountered in a new day. Complementing this innate satisfaction is the sensation of weightier concerns, like global warming, genocide and omnipresent general nastiness, receding to a dim hum in the background as a result of my groggy little Lady E.'s smile.

Rhetorical question: if this is one of the intoxicants of parenting, why doesn't it render people incapable of doing shitty things to others, even temporarily? I feel like Bill Bixby when I transform from an aggressive imperialist carnivore to an idealistic utopian striver in the space of a few seconds under the gaze of my rising daughter.

The effect does fade and I inevitably revert to my usual self, but, overall, I think becoming a dad has made me a better human.

April 30, 2007

Baby Massage!! and a visit from some of my co-workers

Naomi and I are big fans of massages and recently we had the opportunity to learn about the art of infant massage. (This resulted in a series of extremely cute photos. I will, however, refrain from posting too many of them.) The instructor was a well-intentioned, very nice and very nouveau hippy-ish lady who has been instructing new parents on how to massage their new babies at the hospital where Naomi gave birth. She showed us a variety of techniques and explained the theory behind infant massage, i.e. that touch promotes brain growth, digestion and a host of other benefits.
Lady E’s initial reaction to Naomi’s massaging was an endearing look of bewilderment. After awhile, though, and many extremely loud cries later, we figured out she doesn’t like her back rubbed. It must be “a toddler thing” because both her parents are huge fans of getting a massage. Anyway, we decided to take the slow exposure route. Naomi is still adjusting her massage regimen and we are keeping at it because it’s an interesting concept, albeit not easy with a squirming little person. Lady E. seems to be coming around to the idea, though. When she’s in her thirties, no doubt she will long for a Thai massage, just like her parents do now. Everyday.

One of the many pleasures I have in the course of doing my job is the presence of my co-workers, many of whom are female. Of course, as a confirmed “oya abaka” (best translated as “extremely doting parent”) I bore the hell out of other staffers at my office with photos, what-I-consider-interesting baby stories and the URL for this blog! Lucky for us, Elena manages to charm them with her magical drooling powers. Anyway, a few of them came over recently for a grin and grip session with Lady E.

Thanks for coming to visit, ladies, for two reasons: 1) We are always pleased to have visitors come and say hi and meet our lilttle rugrat and 2) it gives me a chance to brag about Naomi’s kickass debut as a mother and show off the amazing progress our beloved bundle of joy is making. Elena is now 16 weeks old as of this writing, and has vowed to kick the booze and smokes for health reasons.

Viva la revolution!

April 12, 2007

Hip-Hop Cookie Monster

When my mom came to visit in March, among other gifts she brought a blue Yum Yum Talking Cookie Monster. Elena just seems to love the sounds that come out when you pry open its mouth:
" YUM…."
"Burp, excuse me…" etcetera.

We use Cookie Monster at crisis points to calm Lady E. down or divert her attention from screaming when the usual countermeasures are not effective. Its magical powers work like a charm nearly every time. Plus, sometimes Elena seems to really respond to it, making for entertaining gobbledygook conversations between the three-month old tiny person and the little blue Sesame Street toy.
One twist I enjoy is to add an element of my own brand of nonsensical fun to the mix. Specifically, the toy’s audio voice is activated when the Cookie Monster’s mouth is opened and two contact points inside are separated. So I figured out a way to have the elements briefly connect, making the words come out super-fast and resulting in Rain Man-esque rapid fire speech:
“So-so-so-soft. de-de-de-de-deli-sha-sha-sha-ous.”
“Ek-ek-ek-ek-ek-cu-cu-cu-cuse me.”

This never ceases to entertain me. So the Hip-Hop Cookie Monster actually amuses TWO infants in our household.

Snoop Dogg meets the Cookie Monster? Maybe if I figure out a way to upload audio files you can get a taste of this infant funk. It may seem trivial to you, dear reader, but for us, well, it keeps me laughing and my rising daughter delighted.

Later, b----es!

March 23, 2007

Ottawa Invades!

Parents and Younger Brother Visit Hiroshima in March

Nothing like the birth of their first grandchild to lure my folks to Hiroshima for a vacation! It was a given that my folks would eventually venture from the Great White North to the Land of the Rising Sun. I've been living in Japan for well over ten years now but it took the birth of our beloved little rugrat to finally attract my mom and brother to Japan. Added bonus: it was Stephen's first trip outside North America. The fear of sushi and other bizarre raw foods, crowds, bullet trains, and an indecipherable language spoken by a comparatively undemonstrative people were all overcome by an undeniable urge to see Lady E.

Grandparents have inherent visiting rights with their grandkids--even if the grandchild lives thousands of miles away. Their first visit with their granddaughter turned out as you might expect: a wonderful - occasionally comical - week of many events packed together as we roamed the countryside wreaking gajin havoc and then spending evenings with the star of the show...Elena! The flavor of the time I spent with my family is best described as a nice sake spiced up with a twist of Ottawa lime.

From March 9-17 the four of us (wife and baby wisely stayed at home) enthusiastically roamed around the local tourist sites, with yours truly as erstwhile driver, guide, interpreter and forager of palatable food. It was interesting to have come full-circle, in that my 'rents were now semi-dependent on me, rather than the other way around. (Some karmic payback for all the innumerable things they did for me when I was a little kid?) Logistics were expedited by a Mazda MPV - a crimson red people mover - that I borrowed from a generous friend to cart them around. Our practical little 660cc supermini keicar clearly wasn't up to the job, even if we mounted my brother on the hood (he's a rather tall 17-year old monster now). So, for five glorious days during their visit, I reveled in our sarcastic-verging-on-caustic conversations, reminisces of trips taken together in the past, and absorbing the World According to Gail and Richard. Déjà vu all over again. It was just plain splendid.

We also had two visits with my wife's family, both very successful. Given that my in-laws spoke but a few choice words of English and my folks gamely mangled the pronunciation of their survival–level nihongo (Japanese), it was up to Naomi and me to facilitate any dialogue and exchange of gifts to locate a social valley that could traverse the Cultural Himalayas. (Yikes--what a convoluted metaphor.)

But that extra duty can offer an element of control. Let me give an example. My mother-in-law is a gifted artist and she gave my folks a beautiful painting of the Miyajima shrine that she had made as a remembrance of their trip. When the in-laws came to see my folks off at the train station the day they were returning to Canada, my mom mentioned how lovely the picture was and jokingly directed me to tell my mother-in-law that she loved the Kintaikyo bridge area and would she paint that too? Ha ha. I could already see Naomi's mom dutifully trudging off to Iwakuni to paint it in response to the 'joke' so we averted the problem through selective interpretation. It's an underappreciated art form in the realm of cultural differences. Overall, though, everyone put their best foot forward and the vibe was decidedly positive.

It's difficult to sum up so many events in a few words, so I'll simply note a few key words and provide you, dear reader, with the hyperlinks if you're interested in seeing what my family saw: Mitaki Temple, Miyajima, A-Bomb Dome and Peace Park, Kintaikyo Bridge, Kurashiki, a Japanese tea ceremony kindly performed by my wonderful Japanese teacher (Mrs. H.), Kousanji Temple and the Hill of Hope and the Yamato Museum. Google ahoy!
Thanks to my parents and brother for coming, to my family in Japan for their understanding, to my friends for supporting us so much, and to the Mazda MPV for not crashing. I know my family had an unforgettable visit. So did I.

March 19, 2007

New Parents: He Said/She Said

She said: I feel like a cow.

He said: I feel like an ATM.

-Dad, Mom and Stephen are visiting now, so I will regale you with The Tales of the 'Rents next time.

-I found out tonight that Lady E. really gets into Jimi Hendrix's Voodoo Child, but isn't so partial to Foxy Lady. Go figure.

March 4, 2007

Three Anecdotes

Hi ya'll! Three anecdotes from this week.

Number One
Naomi and Elena are back home full time with me at our apartment! Our mini nuclear family unit is now together again. It's been an eventful week, as all three of us have had to get used to our new living conditions. Naomi has been such a trooper: the Ultimate New Mom. The days and, yes, the long nights, of her doing everything in her power to make things comfortable and pleasant for our daughter have been a revelation of her inner strength. The lithium also helps us cope (again-a joke). This brings me to some slightly rambling late night musings I knocked out the other night at about 0500 when I couldn't go back to sleep after rocking a sleep-averse Elena for a few hours in the still of the night.

Number Two: Sleep Deprivation Blues, Part I
Wailing, squirming tiny acrobat
my little ice cream maker.
Her neck weak and rotating; prompts my wife’s whimper.

Black hole to our energy,
from which we feel joy to give willingly. Our true happiness-
your tiny grins appear, and nothing else matters
from little grimaces bubble up huge bellows of "feed me, now, man!"
Ignored at your own peril.

Sleep-dep ain't gettin' us down, no sir,
but is wearing on the enamel
of sanity.

Baby books say it's temporary,
my dulled senses say it's...zzzzzz....months and months to go.
Mind knows its both.

Sleep-dep blues/molasses in your spirit.
Like waiting for school term to end, knowing summer vacation is coming.
Honest, visceral, delightful first months of infant mayhem.

Number Three: The Snuggly Bellybutton Fart Story
As a new dad, I have honed a few quasi-Vaudevillian techniques to try to distract my little one while she is wailing at 100 decibels for her bottle or for me to change her diaper. One is to furtively stick my nose into her belly button and snort to tickle her belly, with the bonus in wintertime of having the chilly end of my nose shocking her slightly and knocking her concentration off whatever it was that had been annoying her. It's the cunning 'snuggly bellybutton' tactic and it usually works. But our cute little sprog got wise to the ruse and took her revenge.

I was flying solo for a few hours with Elena (or, as I occasionally call her, H.R.H. Lady 'E') the other day, when Naomi was out running errands. Well, as a two-month old infant, she has some bowel control issues, and after some small heart-tugging sobs I thought that maybe she had soiled her diaper. So I attempted the 'snuggly-bellybutton' maneuver to calm her down. Before I could get her nappy off, she blew a stomach deflating, eyebrow-singeing fart of such noxious odor that I
1) recoiled in abject terror and
2) knew immediately that she possessed the family pedigree of cranking out pant-splitters at inopportune times.
And wasn't she looking at me with a little infant smirk of triumph? And relief. Also utter and overwhelming satisfaction.
The score is now Elena 1, Dad 0.
Of course, I now exercise more caution when employing the 'snuggly bellybutton' move.

February 24, 2007

What's in a Name?

Naomi and I began a protracted consultation on baby names many months before Elena was born. I soon realized that I should have paid more attention to bargaining tactics when I was taking organizational behavior classes in college, because my wife is a determined – but reasonable —negotiator. Midway through the process we both chose three names for a baby boy or a baby girl. As we neared Naomi's due date, on Christmas Eve we sat down at one of our favorite cafés and, while enjoying some very nice Blue Mountain coffee and dessert, hammered out the "agreement in principle." In fact, we only clinched a deal for a girl's name; if we'd had a boy, we might still be negotiating! It was actually quite a fun experience to sound out my wife's thoughts on the meaning of names and the trends these days for kids' names in Japan.

Choosing our baby's name.
More and more Japanese people have been tying the knot with foreigners in recent years in so-called international marriages. There has been a parallel growth in the number of websites and books with lists of kids' names that seem natural both in Japan and in other countries. Some bicultural couples opt to go "fully foreigner" while others choose traditional Japanese names for their kids. Like many people, we decided we'd like to have the best of both cultures. I think we managed to do this with 'Elena', a name we both really like and we hope represents her character--at least the character she displayed after a week of life! Some of the variables involved in the selection of her name were: sound, our hopes and dreams for the baby, and the meaning of the kanji characters we chose for her name in Japanese (there are lots to choose from for each syllable). I have also put up her ‘meimei’ naming scroll because I like the vivid colors and the calligraphy. I test marketed her first name among some acquaintances to see their reaction before we made it official, and it was very positive. The kanji characters for Elena, E-re-na [恵礼奈], have distinct meanings. 'E' means a blessing, 'rei' is taken to mean courtesy/appreciation and 'na' comes from the first character of the city of Nara, which was Japan's first capital in ancient times and now venerated as one of its cultural gems.

As for Margaret, I pulled that one out of the air: it just sounded right to me. We used a methodical process for her first name and, as it turned out, a very whimsical way of discovering her middle name. Sometimes I feel it is right to trust my instincts, and Naomi liked it as well.

Naomi Still at her Parents' Home
Japanese tradition is such that, if possible, a new mother stays with her own Mom for the first month or two after giving birth because of the support and helping hand a grandma can provide when needed. It also means the new dad is left alone at home to work and live by himself for awhile. This brings about mixed blessings. For me, the apartment is quiet and cold when I get home after work, but I can do whatever I want...hence this blog. On weekends, I run errands, prep the house for their return and then go and visit my wife and baby. I managed to convince Naomi to leave Elena for a few hours and go on a "date" with me to a restaurant in late January; it was her first time after the birth to venture outside her folks' place for reasons other than just buying diapers and such. The weather has been quite warm this year and we've had sunny weekends, which is a great morale booster for us. The good news is that after six weeks with her parents, Naomi and Elena are finally coming home to our apartment today. Now the fun really begins.

Last words: I hope this post explains why there aren't many shots of all three of us together yet. Due to the hue and cry from the rabid fans of this blog, I will plunk one 'happy new dad' shot here, even though it's from early January. And, yes, soon there will be more of the three of us.

Thanks for reading. Comments ahoy!

February 12, 2007

Rising Daughter Joins the World Party

Well, as you can tell from the title of the blog, we were blessed with a beautiful baby girl on Saturday, January 6, 2007. We decided to name her Elena Margaret. In a future post I will tackle the drawn-out naming process. It's double the fun in a bicultural marriage.

Anyway, I'm still catching up with things since the birth of our daughter. I did manage to crank out a birth announcement email to co-workers, family and friends. It's now been a month since she was born and we have a few hundred photos to share with you. Kidding. But I am enamored of the various facial expressions that our daughter has already shared with us. For an infant, she has an amazing ability to connote complex, adult emotions. See the following photos posted below to figure out which photo corresponds to the right emotion:
Exhaustion / Apathy / Ennui / Anger / Linda Blair Impression / Indignation / Cuteness / Unbelievable Cuteness / Contentment / Curiosity

Until next time...