Thursday, June 30, 2011

Happiness and Personal Growth

Hello folks,

Here is a sappy and idealistic post, as indicated by the title, so prepare yourself for cheesy "believe in yourself" rhetoric if you choose to read on! If you are not interested in my excessively introspective navel gazing, please just skip to the bottom and click on the link for several good laughs and a little bit of perspective!

I was writing a message to a friend from Ohio U a few days ago and I realized how happy I am and how lucky I feel about our lives. I feel like I am exactly where I want to be and where I should be both literally and figuratively in my life. Sometimes life is hard and it is never perfect, but I am content with my attitude and the decisions I have made. No life is without setbacks and obstacles, but I think that the circumstances of your life are not as important as how you view the world and the way you choose to cope with difficulties. I think the challenges we face make us better people and teach us important lessons about ourselves, life, and love.

I truly do believe that you shape your own reality and that true happiness comes from inside you, not from any outside stimulus whether that be a place, a person, or a job. Your experience of the sunset or a joke is where the happiness actually comes from. Your ideas about the world around you influence your perception. Think about the sunset for a minute. To a pair of people sitting outside watching it, one may experience happiness because of the beautiful colors and shared experience of viewing it. The other person may be very sad to view the same sunset because it signifies the end of a wonderful weekend and they have a lot of unfinished business piled up waiting for them at work the next day. The two people are looking at the same sunset, but they are experiencing it differently because of the way they process information in their heads.

For a personal example, it is difficult being so far away from my family (both nuclear and extended) since we have been so close my entire life, especially since I will be going through this pregnancy on the other side of the world from my best support system. The thing is, I would make the same decisions again because I think this is the best thing for us to do. The positive outcome of the 3 year separation from my loved ones is a respect and appreciation for how special, wonderful, and unique my family is, and the knowledge that I will never take them for granted and will cherish them for the rest of my life. When I think of all the wonderful opportunities we have been offered here in Japan, the friends we have made, the way our relationship has grown and matured, and the adventures we have had, I would not have changed a single thing. I am not merely passing time until the baby comes or we get back to the US to start school or careers, I am living my life to the fullest every day and loving the person I am becoming.

Jonathan and I were talking about our ideas about this pregnancy and the things we hoped/hope to do during the 9 months I am with child, and I confessed some interesting things. I have been reading mommy blogs and watching pregnancy shows on the internet, and it is very validating to see that I am not alone in feeling some of the things I feel and worrying about others. For example, I read a blog by a woman 9 months pregnant who runs a vegetarian restaurant in the UK. She had all these ideas about the superfoods she would eat and the way she would exercise and stay active (the previous year she had run a half marathon and planned to continue running), but none of it worked out. She was too sick to eat 99 percent of the food she ate previously, and just the thought of going outside in the heat to run made her nauseous. I totally identified with that! I feel like we try to put healthy, delicious food into our bodies and I had my mom mail me yoga tapes that I could do in all 3 trimesters, but I feel so terrible I cannot eat anything and the thought of doing anything more strenuous than walking to the car to drive to work makes me queasy.

I told Jonathan, (paraphrased) "I am glad that I don't have enough energy (from lack of food and normal pregnancy-related fatigue) to worry about being a bad mom. I just feel like I am doing what I have to in order to survive and that is it." He told me that was ridiculous, I am not a bad mom and it is not my fault that I cannot do some things for the baby that I wanted to. The truth is, I don't feel like a bad mom not because I don't have energy to feel like one, but because I don't waste my energy on negative emotions. I am doing the best that I can and even though it is not ideal, I am proud of myself for being happy and excited about the changes happening in our life. I know I complain about the morning sickness on this blog a lot, but this first hurdle is the hardest thing I have gone through in my life (and it is only the beginning of the journey!). I no longer enjoy something that I always have (food), and I am experiencing a lot of hormonal and physical changes right now that I know will culminate in an epic and probably very painful and exhausting birthing experience. Despite the hardship, Jonathan and I are ecstatic about this child and the amazing new paths our life will take us down in the coming decades.

All that said, the reason I got on to post today is this video. You absolutely have to watch it. It is from the Bloomington Ted Talks, and this guy (Shawn Achor) is funny, engaging, and very interesting. He is a Harvard professor who talks about happiness, human potential, and positive psychology. If you don't have 15 minutes to spare, just watch the first 2 minutes and you will have something to smile about the rest of the day.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Night at Eiheiji

Hello all!

Whew it is pretty darn hot over here. The temperature in the staff room at my JHS is 90 (32C) and the humidity is high. Apparently we will not be turning on the A/C until someone passes out. I hope that someone is not the pregnant ALT sweltering at her desk. On the plus side, it is exam week, so the students are busy studying quietly for their big tests Thursday and Friday so I do not have to go to class and be the one to pass out.

Now it is time for that promised post about my overnight at Eiheiji Temple in northern Fukui. Yay! I have had a very busy month with trips all over the prefecture and the Car Rally which I co-planned with the amazing Grainne this past weekend (25th and 26th). On the 10th I went up to the Tojimbo area (3 hrs northeast of Ohi) for a fabulous birthday party where I got to hang out with Grainne, Hillary, Madeline (it was her birthday), and many other awesome people for a good portion of the evening. On the 18th I went to Eiheiji Temple to do an overnight stay at one of the largest and most famous zen temples in Japan. Eihieji is about 10km east of Fukui city, so it took us about 2.5 hours to get there.

Eiheiji temple is also a monastery which hosts over 200 monks. Jonathan and I visited Eiheiji and got an English tour of the buildings and grounds our first fall in Japan (2009). The founder of Soto Zen Buddhism, Dogen, founded Eiheiji in the 1200s, but due to multiple fires, the oldest building in the complex was built in the 1700s. There are rows of 600 year old trees planted by the 5th head monk (abbot). The place is just breathtakingly serene and beautiful. The grounds and buildings inspire quiet contemplation and seem to ooze patience and a great sense of calm.

We (over 20 foreign English teachers) arrived at the front gates around 1:15 and the overnight stay officially began at 2:00. We got little ribbons that notified the monks that we are overnight guests and allowed to wander around the meditation halls and sleeping areas that normal guests of the temple are not allowed to enter. We watched an informative movie, were able to wander the grounds on our own, were given the opportunity to take a bath, and then had dinner.

Dinner was very fancy, not the traditional monk fare. We received several courses of vegan food (zen monks do not eat meat or any animal products) that looked quite good, but my stomach was not happy with them. There were a lot of pickled foods and very pungent flavors like mushroom and miso. I struggled to eat as much as I could, but had quite a bit left over. After dinner, I told the head monk that I am pregnant and my nausea prevents me from being able to eat as much as I normally would. He seemed genuinely happy to hear that I was pregnant and apologized about the portion size. It is so Japanese to apologize for something that a) he did not know about and b) is in no way his fault! I apologized for not telling him beforehand and asked for a half portion at breakfast. I did not tell the temple I was pregnant before coming because I did not know if they would forbid me from staying overnight because of my 'condition.' You know, the whole 'It is easier to ask forgiveness than permission' thing. I figured if I waited until I had been there until 7 they would not make me leave. It turned out to not be a problem at all.

After dinner we had a bit of free time and then and hour to ask questions about anything. We asked about meditation (zazen), the history of the temple, what the monks lives are like, how Japanese Buddhism is different from other types of Buddhism, and what the point of meditation really is (according to our guide there is no goal at all!) I learned a lot about the temple and got to see how Japanese culture influences Zen Buddhism, and how Zen Buddhism influences Japanese culture.

After the Q&A period, we did 15 minutes of meditation. I was shocked that it was so short. I guess in the past the foreigners had difficulty sitting for very long so they decided to make it a short session. Lights out were at 9pm, but some girls in our room stayed up until 10:30 or so. We were woken up by a bell at 3:40am. Our first meditation session of the day was at 4:20, and this one was about 20 minutes. To give you some perspective on how much easier it was for us than it is for the monks, they meditate for 1 hour in the morning and 2 hours at night! We did 35 minuted total. I enjoyed the evening session, but I thought I was gonna puke during the morning session (dang morning sickness!). I got through it without having to walk out, but only just barely.

After the morning meditation, we went to the morning service. We offered some incense up to a painting of Dogen (the founder), and then listened to the monks chant for 15 minutes or so. Then we left for the tour. The tour was pretty cool, we got access to some restricted areas and saw some really cool things. I did not bring my camera so I don't have photos of the special back rooms, but they looked a bit like the normal rooms that are open to the public. One funny thing happened on the tour, though. When we were walking down some treacherous stairs, the head monk calls up, 'Laura-san, please hold on to the rail!' He wanted to make sure the pregnant lady did not tumble down the stairs, so he asked someone at the front of the group what my name was so I knew that he wanted me specifically to be extra careful. Isn't that sweet?

After the tour was breakfast. Breakfast was the last thing on our schedule before we were allowed to go. I was not feeling so well at breakfast time was approaching. I had eaten some crackers and cheerios earlier in the monrning in an attempt to settle my stomach, but to no avail. So I spent some quality time in the bathroom as everyone walked down to breakfast. When I exited the bathroom I saw that there were 2 monks waiting for me to escort me to the dining room. I was pleased to see that we got to take the elevator instead of having to go down 3 flights of stairs to meet up with everyone. Breakfast has lots of boiled vegetables, soup, and pickled things again. Even though I got a half portion I did not finish everything (again), but there was only a little left over.

After breakfast we left Eiheiji, got Starbucks, and Grainne and I did a bunch of work for the Car Rally. Everyone was exhausted from the long drive and getting up so early on Sunday morning, but it was an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience that I am so happy to have participated in!

Here are some photos. They are small because I got them off my phone. We have better pictures of Eiheiji around here somewhere...

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Milk Was a Bad Choice

It is so hot here now! It is supposed to be in the 30s all week (Celsius, people! That means 85-95 degrees Fahrenheit). On Friday, Jonathan packed me a milk box for lunch, but it got warm sitting in my desk all day despite the ice pack he put in with it. The results were not pretty. Now I really know how Ron Burgundy felt on that fateful day.

The Anchorman on milk

In other news, the 2011 Car Rally was this weekend. Grainne, Jonathan, and I have been working hard planning this thing for a long time and we are glad to be done with it. Everyone had a great time and nobody got arrested or died, so I count this year as highly successful! We are exhausted from all the work we put in, and I don't plan on traveling any further than Obama this weekend.

Tomorrow will be the start of my 14th week (by the American method of counting) and I am noticing a definite baby bump. I can feel my uterus now. The baby is the size of a peach, and we can't wait to see it on the ultrasound next month. My next visit is on the 15th, and this time Jonathan will be able to come in and see the fetus in realtime on the ultrasound.

Well that is all for now. Take care and stay cool!

Laura (and Jonathan!)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Hello all!

*Some pictures are uploaded to a photobucket account! There is a link to the right -->*

This past week was full of celebrations! First off, my wonderful cousin Amanda got engaged to her childhood sweetheart Josh. Next was Father's Day on Sunday, so Jonathan and I both skype called our spectacular dads. Monday was our 2 year anniversary, which will be properly celebrated at a later date when we have a bit more free time. Tuesday marked the beginning of summer and the end of my 3rd month of pregnancy by Japanese calculations (one more week to go in the US). There were/are lots of birthdays around this time of year as well.

So! Congratulations! Happy Birthday! Happy Father's Day! Happy Beginning of Summer! Woo hoo this morning sickness stuff is almost over (I hope)!

We told some of the JHS students that I am pregnant on Monday. They were studying the grammar "I'm happy/sad to hear that." So one of the teachers told me I could let them know about the baby and see if they used the correct grammar. It was pretty funny because the girls all freaked out when I told them I went to the doctor and saw a picture of my baby and pointed to my stomach. The boys acted confused and surprised. Then when the JTE asked them to respond properly a couple of wise guys said "I'm sad to hear that." This particular JTE is always thinking on her feet, and when the boys said that, she came back with, "Oh, I see. Your dream for the future was to marry Laura-sensei. So you are sad to hear she is married and having a baby." For the most part, the boys looked embarrassed and said "Oh, I made a mistake! I'm happy to hear that." But one guy said, "Yeah that's right. I am sad to hear that." Everyone cracked up.

Tuesday was a truly horrible day for morning sickness. I had to leave 2 classes to rush to the restroom. The female teachers were asking me all day if I was ok, and I just smiled. Although I have been miserable, I can feel that my womb has grown. It feels bigger (my books say it is the size of a large grapefruit), but it is too early to feel the baby moving around yet. I should not be able to feel the little guy/girl moving around for at least another month, and we won't know if it is a boy or girl until week 20 (2 months from now). Sorry everyone, I am not capable of giving you that information until the doctor gives it to me! The baby is the size of a "ripe plum" according to my books. That means it is 2.5 inches from head to tail (there is no tail that is just an expression).

I have a new ultrasound pic I will load soon. Also, I want to tell you all about the overnight stay I did on Saturday at Eiheiji, a zen temple/monastery. But I will leave that for a later post since this one is getting long. We are organizing the 2011 Car Rally, which is like a scavenger hunt in automobiles. 12 teams will come down south on Saturday morning (6/25) and complete tasks at 4 checkpoints, answer silly questions, and take ridiculous photos all day long. We will be having a huge after-party and giving out prizes in the evening at a cabin in the woods where most people will be staying overnight. So I have been a bit busy doing preparation for this event with Jonathan and Grainne.

Love you all!
Laura (and Jonathan!)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Morning Sickness

Morning sickness is inappropriately named. It should be called "All day and night long sickness where you feel nauseaous or are puking all the time." I guess that name is a little awkward, but at least the meaning is clear. In Japanese morning sickness is called 悪阻(つわり) "tsuwari." The first character means 'bad' or 'evil.' The second character means 'obstruct,' 'prevent,' 'thwart,' or 'impede.' I think it means that my unborn child is nefariously preventing me from enjoying food. Feel free to post your literal English translation for "tsuwari" in the comments section.

The topic of this post is the misery I am experiencing right now. Stupid hormones! The baby is not big enough for me to feel him/her moving around and being awesome, so the only physical evidence that I am pregnant is the "sick-to-my-stomach" feeling I have and my complete lack of desire for sustenance. Plus the whole no period thing. Also the fact that although I have lost 10 pounds since becoming pregnant (the whole not being able to eat thing), my stomach and chest are definitely getting bigger. Apparently this is good for my baby because if I lose weight all the toxins stored in the fat in my body are cleansed from my system when my body is forced to use that fat for energy. There are other theories for why women have morning sickness, but you can just google "morning sickness" or better yet type it into wikipedia to find out more.

Japanese people just tell me that morning sickness is a sign that my baby is healthy and that I should do my best to endure the next few weeks. I am willing to endure anything if it means that our child will be healthy, but I don't have to be happy about it. I have been pretty whiny recently since the puking is getting worse than it has been, but Jonathan is being a real champ about it and he is willing to buy anything I want in the hopes that I will be able to eat it (recently we have found success with hard boiled eggs, cashews, and orange juice).

Warning : I will talk about vomiting in the following paragraph so skip it if you have a delicate constitution!

I have found that any food I have puked up I have been unable to eat again. Notable examples include peanut butter sandwiches (peanut butter sticks to your throat coming back up as much as going down), bitter orange-like fruit and by extension all relatives of the orange, oatmeal, and a tiny cup of artificially flavored (coffee flavor) shaved ice with some ice cream in it. Here's a tip: don't eat anything that is largely comprised of artificial coloring if you may be feeling nauseous because it is really gross coming back up and is probably not supposed to be eaten anyway judging by how gross it looks in the toilet. Whew! Puking rant over!

So I guess things are going well for us now. I have a doctor's appointment after work today, and we might get a video with sound of the little dude's heartbeat, which would be awesome. I am surviving work, although it is awkward when you are puking at a squatter (Japanese style toilet that is like a urinal on the ground instead of on the wall) when a co-worker comes in. Then all the ladies in the office give you pitying looks all day and whisper "Are you ok?" Then they tell you about someone else they know who is pregnant now and say, "頑張ってローラさん!" Which roughly translates to "You can do it, Laura!" or "Hang in there, Laura!"

Well, that is all for today, folks! Love you and miss you all!
Laura (and Jonathan!)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

On Welfare in Japan

Hey folks,

So I have an interesting week 10 baby update for you. We're now on welfare! Yay! In Japan when a lady becomes knocked-up, her doctor gives her a form to take to the social welfare office. On Monday, 6/6, Jonathan and I went to the social welfare office to register our pregnancy. At the welfare office, the lady turns in the form and gets a book called the 母子手帳 (boshi techo) which means mother-and-child handbook. The mother and her doctor fill out this book with info about the pregnancy, subsequent delivery, and the child's health and immunizations until he or she turns 6 (years old, not months).

In the back of the book are coupons for free doctor's visits. Pregnant women have to go to the doctor a lot! I will be making at least 14 doctor's visits over the next 7 months, and I have 14 coupons in my book. Score! I have to go to the doctor once every 4 weeks during the first 23 weeks of pregnancy, then once every 2 weeks from weeks 24-35, then every week from 36 on. This is pretty standard in America as well, I believe. But it seems like a lot of doctor's visits to me.

Anywho, I am pretty happy about not having to pay for all of these doctor's visits. We had to pay for the first 2 visits before we got the book, but the total of both visits was under $100, and I got ultrasounds both times. BTW, we went to the doctor on Friday 6/3 and I have one baby growing in the incubator. Also, I got to see the little dude's heartbeat which was pretty awesome.

One last thing about the boshi techo. They could not find a bilingual one for me, so they gave me the Japanese language one and then an English translation of an old version from 2003. I was a little disappointed about this, but I don't think my town has ever had an English speaking mother. I know that none of the past 15 ALTs have had babies before, and I assumed that things would be a little more difficult for me, but I was hoping to get a bilingual book.

The lovely welfare office workers ordered a recent bilingual boshi techo for me and sent it in the mail. I believe we got it on Thursday, 6/9. I was pretty pleased about this. Also, they hand-wrote a nice note congratulating me on my pregnancy and thanking me for my patience as they obtained a new version of the handbook for me. Isn't that sweet?!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Ultrasound Pics

Week 6 (top)
Week 9 (bottom)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

June Update!

Hello folks, it has been a while since we last posted.

We have made some lifestyle changes that will result in exciting new blogging topics, so our June resolution is to update this blog more. And also post pictures. Also the content will be more personal and private than before, so prepare yourselves for the inner workings of our lives!

So our big news is... We are having a baby! Yay! We are only 10 weeks along now (11 weeks on the American scale) so we are still worried and nervous about the pregnancy. I prefer not to stress about things that are out of my control, but that also means that my brain is not really recognizing that we are pregnant yet in case we were to lose the baby. I have had no real motivation to read my pregnancy book or make any baby plans in case something terrible were to happen. Luckily I have Jonathan to read his daddy book and make me eat fruit and take my vitamins. He is the best pregnancy partner ever, and I am so lucky that he is not losing his mind like I am. I hope that I can relax and enjoy the baby once my first trimester is over. Here we have a little problem...

In the US, the first trimester is weeks 1 through 12 or 13. In Japan, the first trimester is weeks 0 through 15! It is an extra 3 or 4 weeks. That gives me 3 or 4 more weeks to worry! Also a Japanese pregnancy is 10 months not 9 months. lol How is this possible? Are Japanese women pregnant longer than American women? No. In both countries a pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks. In the US, we use 9 calendar months to mark the passage of time. In Japan, they measure pregnancy in lunar months. That means that each "month" is exactly 4 weeks or 28 days. So if you divide 40 by 4 you get 10 "months". Since I live in Japan, I will be having the baby in Japan, and I will be going to the doctor here 14 times over the next 7 months, I am going to use the Japanese scale to measure my pregnancy. If you get confused, just post a comment and ask me to clarify.

I will post ultrasound pics and some info about Japanese social welfare (all of my doctor's visits are free!) next time so stay tuned!

Laura (and Jonathan!)