Oh, hey Internet! Happy Independence Day! And also, we bought a house!
A townhouse, to be exact. (The townhouse that I referred to in the days of our house hunting as "the counter space house". Miles of countertop, you guys. It is glorious.) That was the housing arrangement I referred to that was supposed to be sorted out as of June 15, which of course became June 22 thanks to closing delays. Which of course caused me all kinds of anxiety and sturm und drang regarding my need to get unpacked before Baby Hiccup makes her debut, but which turned out really pretty ok.
We moved in on the 23rd with all of the luggage we brought from Okinawa, our express shipment (the military lets you send a limited amount of stuff in a separate, faster shipment - ours was linens, kitchen basics, cleaning supplies, and some of Raj's more vital medical books), and a whole lot of baby stuff from my shower in Texas and the many, many hand-me-downs we acquired there. Plus our Craig's List purchases.
Back before we bought the house, we started asking friends with actual grown up furniture about where a person shops for such things, given that we'd mostly shopped on Craig's List in the past. Then we went to actual furniture stores, but we didn't order anything yet because you can't make big purchases until you close on a house or it could affect the loan approval. Except then it was going to take a few weeks for the furniture to come after we'd closed, so that wasn't good. And we thought about how any nice furniture we buy will just get beat up in the next several moves that we'll continue to do until Raj is out of the Navy. Also, it started to become clear just how much furniture we were talking about. Not only did we need to furnish a nursery, we also sold most of the other furniture we owned before moving to Japan since we wouldn't be able to take it with us due to the Navy's weight restrictions. Meaning we now had a four bedroom house with an eat in kitchen and separate dining room and very, very little to put in any of it.
So we turned to Craig's List. We'd gotten a changing table from friends and found a free nice crib on Craig's List. We did spring for a brand new dresser for Hiccup, via IKEA, which Raj got to put together. And we got ourselves a brand new dresser, night stands, and bed frame via Wayfair, which Raj will get to put together once they arrive. The sellers of our house offered us their king size bed and a recliner for $75, which we took them up on, thus ending our debate on whether to chance buying a king size bed because it might not fit into any of the next three houses. We managed to cram a Craig's List kitchen table and six chairs into the back of our small SUV, but Raj had to rent a U-Haul to pick up the dining room table and eight chairs and sectional couch we also bought from Craig's List. The idea is that at some point, we will actually purchase brand new living room furniture and the sectional will go to the finished but currently empty basement. But for now, we're enjoying it. Our couch-related priority was that it be a napping couch, unlike our small and scratchy government couch in Okinawa. On this one we can both nap end to end! Ask me how I know!
Our big shipment of stuff from Okinawa arrived on the 24th and we've been unpacking ever since. Still, we are not remotely photo ready yet. We're still waiting on our third and final shipment, which is the furniture we did put into storage in Pensacola, which will include our old queen size bedroom set that will go in the guest room. And our old full size guest bed that will go in the second guest room/yoga studio. And some assorted tables, plus our Christmas tree and Raj's shopvac and table saw and who can even remember what else? All of that should be arriving this Thursday, so if Hiccup will give us through next weekend, we should be pretty well set up before she arrives. I've even started cooking some things to freeze for after she joins us. The carseat is installed, my bag is packed, and the pack and play is set up in our room. Baby clothes are washed and we're stocked up on diapers and wipes.
Whether there will be house pictures before there are baby pictures remains to be seen. Either way, watch this space.
I'm 36 weeks pregnant today! Here's a look at our nursery preparations:
Why yes, that is a garage. Our friends' garage, to be exact, as we still have no house. We do have an infant seat which isn't installed in the car yet since it'd be nice to be able to fold the seat down to move all of this stuff over to the house once we have it. Which was supposed to be yesterday. And is now next week. Tentatively. We were supposed to get an update this morning and it's now 2pm. I am making every effort not to lose my shit, though Raj could tell you I am having varying levels of success there. Depends on what day it is, what news we're getting, and how hot I am. Because these days I am VERY hot. While we are very, very fortunate to have our friends' house to stay in, unfortunately their AC went out right when it got very hot outside here in greater DC. Our friends are both away, but were able to call in a repairman who I met here and it turned out to be a quick fix. So now the house is what I consider comfortable and Raj considers freezing cold.
Nesting efforts to date have included getting a crib and nursery chair from Craig's List and sanding another friend's changing table so Raj can paint it white this weekend. We bought the car seat and have some more shower gifts and hand me downs with us. The movers have all of our remaining baby stuff. In order to reassure myself that we at least have some clothes in small sizes, should Baby Hiccup arrive before we're moved in, I spent a morning sorting all of our gift and hand me down clothes by size.
Yeah, she'll have something to wear. In addition to the clothes in bins, the cardboard box there is everything 12 months and up. We also have some clothes from my shower in Okinawa and a box of hand me downs from my neighbor there that are with the rest of our Okinawa shipment. I'm pretty sure Hiccup has more clothes than we do. Once I get an extra bin to contain the overflow 6-9 month clothes, hers will also be far more organized than ours, which are now all over our friends' basement, our suitcases having long since exploded everywhere.
It turns out that sitting here, obsessively refreshing my email inbox is not causing the house update email to show up (Who'd have thought?!?) so I suppose I could start some laundry and maybe work on corralling my clothes in anticipation of ever moving them out of here. All the while continuing to remind Hiccup that she is not to even think of showing up early. One more month, Baby Girl. Mama needs time to unpack.
Not in Okinawa. We had a going away there at Blue Seal, a local ice cream place, where we and about twelve friends took on the Big Mountain, which is somewhere around 30 scoops of ice cream, plus Corn Flakes, which for some reason are part of most ice cream concoctions there.
It was a nice, low-key send off with most of our favorite Oki friends in attendance. While we'll miss our friends there (and beach proximity) we were more than ready to head back to the US. On our way to DC, we stopped off in Seattle for a couple of days to visit family and friends. It was sunny and beautiful the whole time we were there.
Then we flew to DC where it was cool and rainy all the time. This made house-hunting something of a challenge for me in particular since lace and tie shoes present a challenge for me these days so I spent a fair amount of time with cold feet in wet TOMS for ease of on and off when going into for sale or rental homes. On the rental homes note, holy cow did we see some terrible rentals. Folks: if you have renters who have completely destroyed your property, fix it first, then show it. The worst offender was a three bedroom townhouse which appeared to have five or six twentysomething guys living in it. The owner had said over the phone that he'd have it ready for move-in three days after the guys moved out. Except when his cousin showed it to us, even she seemed shocked about the burn hole in the kitchen floor, irreparably stained carpet, and what appeared to be punch holes in the walls. Several of the guys were home and Raj heard one say he'd never cleaned in the two years he'd lived there.
All I'm going to say for now is that we appear to have our housing figured out. If I announce anything before we're actually moved in, Raj will accuse me of jinxing it. I'm not willing to take any chances since I'm anxious enough to get settled, which won't take place until around the middle of June, assuming all goes according to plan.
We already had plans to come to Texas for a visit and a baby shower here. Given that we'd already found housing, Raj checked in at the hospital and went on leave, and I had my first DC prenatal appointment, there wasn't any rush for us to get back. So we're on an extended trip. I'll be spending two and a half weeks here, while Raj spends a week in the middle with his family in New Mexico before rejoining me here for our road trip back to DC in my dad's SUV which we inherited. And which will be packed full of baby stuff, courtesy of our shower and lots of hand-me-downs. We'll take the drive slowly and stop off for a couple of days in the middle to visit friends in Tennessee. The nurse practitioner advised me that I'd need to get out every three to four hours to walk around. This should really be no problem at all since I can't typically go more than an hour or two without peeing anyway.
On the pregnancy note, I can say that I'm still feeling good, heartburn aside. Baby Hiccup does seem to have developed an escape plan, involving punching and kicking her way out through my abdomen. She mostly reserves these attempts for right around the time I lay down to go to sleep. Aside from martial arts, her main hobby is getting the hiccups several times per day. She does have an actual name now, which we've decided to keep a surprise until her arrival. You can all rest assured though that Hiccup will not appear on her birth certificate.
Now I have to get in the shower so I can head out for more delicious food while pretending the next obstetrics appointment weigh-in will never come.
This week is spring break in Okinawa (WOOO!) and I'm taking care of my neighbors' dog while they are off in sunny Hawaii. Meanwhile, here it rains every day. On and off all day and night. Woo.
Anyway, the dog in question, Willie, is the world's most mellow lab mix. (I am told much of this mellowing has happened with age. As a pup, Willie had a small addiction to chewing up, you know, everything.) When we go for walks, a bird can be directly in front of us and Willie doesn't care. Cats? Other dogs? Other dogs barking at him? Willie does. not. care.
Things Willie cares about: Sniffing things. Peeing on those things. Ear scratches.
So he does care if there's a person approaching when we're out walking because people = potential love for Willie. He picked up some teenage girls the other day who just HAD to come and pet him because he's the cuuuuutest ever! I think maybe my friends should rent him out to single Marines for use as a wingman.
We were coming around past my house yesterday when Spiderman and two of his friends came running over and asked if they could pet him. (Yeah, I live directly across from Spiderman. NBD. He is significantly shorter than you might expect.) (Also, if you should ask, as Raj once did, why he isn't wearing his Spiderman suit, his mom will give you the look of DO NOT MENTION THE SUIT death.) Spiderman and his associates had a few questions pertaining to Willie.
Does he love people?
One thing Raj and I agreed on from the beginning: no IVF. If we were unable to get pregnant on our own, we'd adopt. It was something we both wanted to do anyway, preferably for our second child after having our first, so if we had to move it up, it wouldn't be that big of a deal.
A year and a half into trying and failing to get pregnant, we started the process. We planned to adopt from India. It had gotten more challenging for foreigners to adopt since, fortunately, adoption had been growing in popularity within the country. First priority goes to Indian citizens in India, then Indian citizens abroad (Non-Resident Indians, or NRI), then to holders of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) status. That title is a little bit misleading in that a person does not have to be a current citizen of India to qualify for OCI status. If you've ever been a citizen or have a parent or grandparent who has been a citizen of India, you qualify. Foreigners outside these categories can only apply to adopt older children and/or children with serious medical issues like HIV or Down Syndrome. Based on my research, many, if not most, American adoption agencies do not work with couples wanting to adopt from India who do not have NRI or OCI status. Fortunately, Raj qualified since his dad had been an Indian citizen. We chose an agency and began the paperwork, starting with collecting our many, many addresses (Raj's through carefully kept records, mine through tax returns and one "What was the address of that apartment we lived in?" email to a former roommate) so we could do the paperwork to be cleared through the child abuse registry in every state we'd ever lived in. We found a social worker who lives in Malaysia, but travels to Okinawa regularly to do home studies for couples here. We scheduled the home study for when she was already coming so we could split the cost of her travel with other families she'd be visiting. Raj went on an exercise and I went back to the States to visit, carrying with me all of the paperwork that would need to go to an Indian consulate for the OCI application. When I called there with one small question before submitting everything, it came up somehow that Raj is in the military. Foreign military members are not eligible for OCI status. (I assume this is because the status confers a permanent visa for the holder.) We couldn't get the OCI. No OCI, no adoption from India. We canceled the home study.
I talked with a friend who had done domestic infant adoption in Texas. The further we'd gotten into the adoption process from India, the sadder I became about the idea of never having a baby. As far as I remember now, about the youngest we could expect from India would be an 18 month-old, but more likely he or she would be at least two years old. So domestic infant adoption sounded like it could be a good alternative. Raj and I talked it over when we were both back in Okinawa. While we were both interested in pursuing it, we realized that doing so from Okinawa was far from ideal. The process can move quite quickly. The friend I'd talked to had gotten a call that a birth mother had chosen them while said mother was in labor. They were able to rush to the hospital and take their daughter home with them a couple of days later. For us, such a scenario would involve thousands of dollars on last minute flights, the possibility that Raj wouldn't be able to get off work come along, and then if all went according to plan, me stuck in the States with the baby while I waited for a passport and whatever other paperwork would be required to leave the country with a baby who wouldn't yet be considered permanently ours, then at least one more flight back around the world to finalize the adoption. Worse, of course, the possibility that we/I would have flown 20 hours for a false alarm, a birth mother who changed her mind. The process can also move slowly, which would mean paying for and going through a home study here only to have to start all over with a new one when we got to the States. So we decided to wait on domestic infant adoption until we were living in the US again.
That meant over a year of no movement on adoption. I'd started being seen at the hospital on base for infertility eight months prior. They offer very limited fertility resources and it's challenging to get appointments since OB/GYN here is understaffed and the many, MANY pregnant women on island have priority. It was usually at least a month between appointments plus lag time for lab results and then another long wait to schedule whatever was next. My prolactin was slightly elevated, so I had an MRI of my brain to check for a prolactinoma. I also had a hysterosalpingogram (HSG) which checks for blockages of the tubes. Both tests came back normal, which sounds like good news, except it meant there were still no answers about why I couldn't get pregnant, no identified problem to be solved. Nine months after my first appointment, I was finally prescribed Clomid, which we hoped would be our answer. Five unsuccessful cycles later, all we knew was that my progesterone levels were still below normal, even with the Clomid. We'd reached the end of what the base hospital offered. Anything further would require us to go to an off base fertility clinic.
I'd joined a Facebook group for women dealing with infertility in Okinawa and knew there was at the time only one clinic seeing Americans. They seemed, based on what the women in the group were posting, to have a high success rate. After returning from our trip to the States last June, we went for our first visit. We thought we'd just be filling out paperwork and getting into the system since they say to go on cycle days 1-3 and I was already closer to day 9. I had bloodwork, we saw the doctor for a couple of minutes, were told to go next door, and I had my first of many ultrasounds. I was about to ovulate, so we scheduled our first IUI (intrauterine insemination) for the following morning. July 4. A week later, I flew home to see my dad again just before he died. The IUI didn't work and we missed the next cycle while I stayed in Texas for a month. We did a second IUI after I got back that was also unsuccessful. Even with the Clomid, I was only producing one follicle, which gave us very little chance of success. Either we moved on to IVF or we stopped.
We had eight months left before leaving Okinawa and knew the adoption process would take at least a year, if not two or more, from the time we got started. We were coming up on two years of trying to get pregnant. We agreed to the IVF.
The next cycle, my hormones weren't good enough to try, so we waited another four weeks. The day before we left for a long weekend in Taiwan, I went for bloodwork. The translator called back that afternoon - my hormones were good enough and I could come and get my first injection and pick up the rest if I could get back there in time before they closed. I picked everything up, along with a note of explanation from my doctor, in case airport security gave us a hard time about the syringes, and we started ten days of Raj giving me a shot every morning. We were told to do them in my arms, just below the shoulder, and they became more painful each day as my arms got more sore. Still, I was grateful that Raj was willing and able to do them so I didn't have to go to the clinic every day or do them myself. I went back for an ultrasound, where we got the dispiriting news that despite the hyper stimulation of my ovaries, the ultrasound showed only two follicles. At most we could expect to have two eggs retrieved. The doctor suggested we proceed anyway since he didn't believe I'd produce more if we tried again the next cycle. We scheduled the retrieval and left with more shots to keep me from ovulating in the mean time, giving my two follicles a chance to grow bigger.
I was nervous going into the retrieval, partly because I didn't know what to expect from the procedure itself, but mostly because there seemed a good chance that we might not end up with any eggs. If we did, there was a still a good chance that we might not end up with any successfully fertilized embryos. Then we'd have to start all over. After I came out of the anesthesia, we met with the doctor. It turned out that four additional follicles had been hidden from the ultrasound and he was able to retrieve all six eggs. It was our first piece of good news in two years. We'd wait a long two days to find out how many, if any, of the eggs fertilized. Four did. The next day, we transferred two. Then we waited.
Raj convinced me to wait for blood test day, rather than testing at home. So ten days after the transfer, he met me at the clinic and we nervously waited to be called. The doctor, looking at my chart on his desk instead of at us, said something about looking like I'd just implanted. We looked over at Janie, the translator, who said, "It's positive!"
We were happy, of course. OF COURSE. But it wasn't the movie moment (or even YouTube moment) of happy tears, huge smiles, hugs and kisses. We were cautiously happy. It worked. I was finally, finally pregnant. But I was also 38 and pregnant through IVF, both of which translate to elevated risk of miscarriage. Here we were, pregnant and still trying not to get our hopes up. We told very, very few people and asked them not to tell anyone else. It was early November.
Ten days later, we had an ultrasound and saw one yolk sac. Ten days after that, another ultrasound showed a speck of an embryo with a heartbeat. We took the ultrasound pictures off the fridge before hosting Thanksgiving. Our final appointment at the fertility clinic was early in December. I took homemade cookies for the staff in a Christmas tin, along with a thank you note that I kept separate at first, just in case the ultrasound went bad and the cookies ended up being a Christmas gift instead of a Thank You for Getting Us Knocked Up gift. But again, the ultrasound looked good and no other shoe dropped.
At our first appointment on base, when I was just short of 10 weeks, we had another good ultrasound (though our squirmy baby much more closely resembled a seal than a human) and we heard a strong heartbeat at my 15 week appointment. (I cannot confirm or deny whether fear of missed miscarriage led me ask Raj to give me an after hours ultrasound at the clinic where he works in between these appointments.)
My anatomy scan was scheduled for 18 weeks. I got to see the maternal fetal medicine specialist for it, due to my age. This was the appointment we'd really been waiting for. While in Pensacola, we lived with another couple who found out at their anatomy scan that what had appeared up to that point to be a healthy pregnancy would very likely, and eventually did, end in stillbirth. Having lived through that experience with them gave us front row seats to the worst case scenario. Such was my nervous energy that I accidentally arrived at the hospital 30 minutes early.
The doctor walked us through the results of the quad screen blood tests I'd already done, which showed very low risk of chromosomal abnormalities. The ultrasound revealed that our baby was probably a girl, though she couldn't say for sure and everything looked good...except for a cyst on our baby's brain. These do happen in healthy babies and go away on their own, but are considered a soft marker for Trisomy 18. The quad screen had estimated a risk of 1/10,000 for Trisomy 18 and the ultrasound didn't show any other markers, but still. It wasn't the unqualified "Looks good!" we'd been hoping for. I went the next day for yet another blood draw (I honestly couldn't begin to give you an estimate of how many blood samples I've given in the past two years - thank goodness I'm not afraid of needles). They'd isolate the baby's DNA from my blood and could tell us with 99% accuracy whether she had any chromosomal disorders. Also whether she was actually a she.
Three weeks later, we got the all clear results. That's when, at 22 weeks pregnant, we finally announced here and on Facebook. I think it's also when we both finally let out the last bit of breath we'd been holding all this time. I'm at 25 weeks now, past the point at which our girl could potentially survive on the outside, though we of course hope she decides to stay put for another good long while.
April 24-30 will be National Infertility Awareness Week and I feel like sharing our story is one small contribution I can make to helping people who haven't dealt with infertility understand the struggle and helping those who know infertility all too well feel a little bit less alone.
Many of you will already be intimately familiar with what I'm about to describe here, namely the smorgasbord of physical delights that accompany pregnancy. It's a magical time.
Nausea - Everyone likes to point out that "morning sickness" is a misnomer because it can happen any time of the day. I, for one, felt pretty good first thing in the morning. It was just late morning through bedtime that I was completely miserable. While morning sickness typically fires up around week 6 or 7, my digestive system decided to be an overachiever and get things going before I even officially knew I was pregnant. Which might have been a hot tip, had I not had the very same nausea while remaining unpregnant the month before. Things that helped somewhat were ginger ale, peppermint candies, and lemon drops. I.e. sugar, sugar, sugar. And these things got very old and still didn't enable me to eat a lot beyond peanut butter on Saltines. Thanks to Emily Oster's Expecting Better, I learned about taking Unisom and B6, which I did with the blessing of the nurse at my OB/GYN intake appointment. One Unisom at bedtime, 100mg of B6 in the morning. I was certainly not 100%, but much better able to function and eat things that were not peanut butter on Saltines. While I did have some nausea regressions after, this mostly went away by week 14.
Food Cravings - My first bonafide pregnancy craving was for lunch meat. I wanted to buy a pack of deli turkey and eat it by the handful. Guess what you're not supposed to eat when you're pregnant. Very smart, my body. Once I had some protein, that craving passed. The one that stuck around for a while was spaghetti. Now, Raj and I have been off grains at home for most of the past year, but even when I did used to make pasta, it was never spaghetti. But for a while there, it was all I wanted. The craving could also be satisfied by ramen, other pasta, or basically any bread. So long, paleo-ish lifestyle. The constant need for carbs has thankfully subsided now.
Food Aversions - You know what's inconvenient? Discovering two days after Thanksgiving when you have quite a lot of your 18 pound turkey left in the fridge that you can no longer tolerate even the thought of eating turkey. Most meat was pretty dicey there for a while and seafood was entirely out of the question. I was also not wild about the thought of many vegetables. I discovered that bell peppers were no longer my friend the day of the surprise party I threw Raj for the fifteenth anniversary of his Navy commissioning. I'd spent several hours of the day before chopping onions and bell peppers for fajitas to serve 30 people and then was unable to eat any of them.
Fatigue - This has improved to where, rather than wanting to nap all day every day, I now just really can't keep my eyes open every day around 4pm. This is also the time of day when my next-door neighbor (with whom we share a wall) takes her daughter out to play with all the other kids out front, leaving her dog inside to bark nonstop for an hour or two until they come back inside. I am not exaggerating. I typically give up on napping and just crash by around 9pm.
Frequent Urination - I was promised Second Trimester Magic, wherein the first trimester extra-fluid need to pee four times per night would have ended and the third trimester baby-is-lounging-on-my-bladder need to pee four times per night would not yet have started. LIES. I get up to pee four times per night. And go roughly every hour of the day. And cannot run more than five feet without feeling like I need to pee.
Constipation - This pregnancy will also be known as That Time Lori Traveled With A Ziplock Bag of Fiber One Cereal. I really did take a bunch of it to Hokkaido and would bring it down to the hotel breakfast buffet every morning because it was (and continues to be) very necessary.
Heartburn - I now have strong feelings regarding the various flavors of Tums. Assorted Fruit is way better than Wild Berry, though if I get two yellows together out of the Assorted Fruit, I will throw one back for a different color.
Sudden Ravenous Hunger - When Raj and I were in Sapporo, we were hanging out in our hotel room when I mentioned that I was getting hungry. Raj asked if I wanted a snack, but we were headed out to the German Christmas market, so I said no, I could wait until we got there. Yeah, by the time we got there, not that much later, I was in full on toddler meltdown regarding my need for FOOD NOW. He (after getting me food) gently asked whether in the future he could tell me that I needed to have a snack. I agreed, though the need hasn't arisen since I now know that, in addition to breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I must have my 10am and 4pm snacks. And I carry pumpkin seeds or cashews in case of snacking emergencies.
Mood Swings - Ok, so there was the hangry episode above and one day when a rude lady working at the hospital and somebody cutting me off in the parking lot both made me want to cry. And I do get choked up more easily by very sweet things I see on TV or Facebook. In general though, I would say I haven't had a lot of mood swings. You would have to ask Raj to get the real answer. Just make sure I'm not in earshot if you're looking for the unvarnished truth. Raj is neither stupid nor new to this marriage thing.
Pregnancy Brain - When you're as absentminded as I was to begin with, there is just no way of knowing whether it's gotten worse without actually forgetting my own first name.
Hot Flashes - I've always run cold, but in the first trimester, I was a furnace. Raj kept to the far side of the bed, lest I slow-roast him in my sleep. This seems to have mostly worn off.
Nosebleeds - Errday. Mostly when I'm trying to leave the house or right when I want to lie down to go to sleep. Awesome.
Random Hiccups - I've always had a random single hiccup here or there, maybe once a month or so. Since getting pregnant, I have several per day, one or two at a time, and they are LOUD. To the extent that we've been calling the baby Hiccup since quite early on. They seem to be getting ever more frequent. I'm a little bit concerned about how much of my time I'll be spending hiccuping by mid-July.
Weird Swelling Issues - So far, my rings and shoes still fit. What I was unprepared for was the way that extra fluid causes other problems like extra nasal congestion, carpal tunnel syndrome, and vision changes. The day after trimming the trees out front, I was basically unable to grip with my right hand. And I'm pretty much only able to comfortably wear my contacts for an hour or two at a time.
Migraines - The experts tell you to take a hot shower and lie down in a dark room. Maybe take a Tylenol if you get the green light from your health care provider. Ok, let me drive a nail into your left eye and let's see how much good a shower does you. I never imagined that, given all the delicious food and beverages a person has to give up when pregnant, what I'd miss by far the most would be Advil. After knocking on all the wood, I will tell you that I haven't had a bad one in a couple of weeks now. I'd read that these are common from weeks 12-20, which gave me hope that they would indeed end. So far, so good since around then (though mine did get going before 10 weeks.)
(Mostly) Clear Skin - There have to be a few good things, right? My skin, except for one giant cystic zit that appeared just in time to be in all of our Hokkaido trip photos, has been really good all this time. Usually breakouts, like migraines, are hormonal for me so I'd have expected them to go hand in hand. Given the choice, I'd have taken acne over migraines, but at least it's not both. I do, however, have a few little red spots on my neck, chest, and arms that weren't there before. And my first ever skin tag. Per Zero to Forty, both of these are normal weird pregnancy things.
Shampoo Model Hair - Well, fine, Pantene has not come calling. But I did pretty well quit shedding which means my hair looks much thicker than its normal fine self. I am very thankful that this symptom came along in time for the months of the year when it's cool and less-humid enough in Okinawa for me to actually wear my hair down.
Baby Kicks - Best symptom ever. Early ultrasounds showed Hiccup to be in constant motion and the way that I started feeling kicks around week 16, quite early for a first time mom, and the strength of them (Butterfly wings? No.) suggest this has not changed. She seems to be practicing martial arts, especially in the early morning hours.
Nesting - AHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! In order to nest, you have to live somewhere. Once we move to the other side of the world and find a house to either buy or rent, I may have an opportunity to unpack before giving birth. Possibly. Baby Hiccup's cardboard box themed nursery will likely not be featured on Pinterest.
What wonders are yet to come in the next 18ish weeks? Who knows? Ok, probably a lot of you do. I'm just not sure if I want to or if it's better to save some surprises.
With Raj's good looks and my tolerance for lactose, I hope.
For those of you not up on your Steel Magnolias references, here's what we posted on Facebook:
In 6 1/2 years together, Raj and I have had lots of adventures exploring 17 states and 10 countries. But our greatest adventure of all begins this July...
Yes, just like Shelby Eatenton Latcherie said, "It's in July." Though our yankee doodle sweetheart will hopefully be born later than the third of July. If there's one thing your mama can teach you, baby girl, it's that it's rude to show up early. Your father can teach you how to sleep anywhere, anytime, through any noise or distraction. Please, oh please, learn this from him.
Thank you, Internet, for your kind words and support while we waited and worked toward finally becoming parents. We couldn't be happier.
Now that we're solidly into February, it feels like time to finally write about Christmas. We spent ours in Sapporo, where it snowed like crazy on Christmas Day.
It was my first white Christmas in many, many years and also very beautiful. Especially when viewed from indoors. We spent the morning at the Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art, enjoying both the artwork and this view from their second floor. For our next stop, we chose Sapporo Factory, which is a mall inside the former Sapporo Beer factory. Partly because it was indoors, but mostly because they had a 3-D Imax theater showing Star Wars in English (with Japanese subtitles). Sure, we'd already seen it once in Okinawa, but not in 3-D or Imax.
Then we decided to get a snack in the atrium, where people were all lined up around the tree and the upper floor balconies around it. Because it turned out this tree had a light show timed to music every hour, which we got to watch over hot chocolate.
Now we come to the Japanesiest part of this Christmas story: fried chicken. Specifically, the traditional Christmas KFC meal. The way it was explained to me was that Americans living in Japan, unable to get turkey for Christmas dinner, would often have chicken instead. Some marketing genius from KFC turned this into the idea that the traditional American Christmas dinner is not only chicken, but specifically fried chicken from KFC. While most Japanese people aren't Christians and Christmas isn't a national holiday, clearly (as indicated by the tree) Japanese people enjoy the trappings of the holiday. They order their KFC Christmas meals (including cake and champagne) in advance. We thought maybe this had been exaggerated. So around dinnertime on Christmas, we rolled up to the Sapporo Station KFC to place our order.
There was a long line, but no big deal, we weren't that hungry. Yeah, that long line was to put in the order which could be picked up two hours later. By then, we were committed to the Japanese KFC Christmas experience, so we ordered, hung out in a coffee shop in the station, picked up our chicken and took it back to the hotel.
We shared one regular meal, rather than get the whole Christmas extravaganza. Why does the biscuit have a hole in the middle? Who knows?
We finished off the day with card games. We've been playing a lot of Phase 10 for a while, which had gotten kind of boring. But lately we started to mix it up with what we call Choose Your Own Adventure Phase 10, in which instead of completing the phases in order (two sets of 3; set of 3, run of 4; set of 4, run of 4; run of 7; etc.) you get to first look at your cards and then choose which phase you will attempt each hand. It adds an element of strategy. We also played one or two games of Set. I know it was only one or two, because while it's fun to play, it's also kind of brain-melting.
Our current favorite game though (which we did not take along, due to its relative bulkiness) is one I got Raj for Christmas, along with Set and Cathedral. It is Campaign Manager 2008.
You wouldn't actually have to know anything about politics at all to play this game, but I'm sure being political nerds makes it more fun for us. You play as either the campaign manager for McCain or Obama (I find that playing as the candidate you didn't want to win makes it less upsetting to lose the game) and attempt to win swing states by strategically playing your cards. We used to pretty evenly split who won this game, but Raj has adopted a new strategy and is now routinely crushing me. I'm catching on though and hopefully can mount a comeback at some not too distant point.
So there you have our last Christmas in Japan and (since we spent the first one on base and the second flying to Vietnam) by far our Japanesiest.
I always thought being a travel writer would be the ideal job. And maybe it would, but I'm left wondering whether I could really do it, given how terrible I've been since we got here about telling you guys about our travels around Asia. When we moved here I thought blogging would be so easy because I'd have so much Asian stuff to talk about! And I do! But for some reason, I don't.
So here is one attempt to make it up to you, by telling you about our recent trip to Hokkaido, the northernmost island of mainland Japan.
Raj gets a week off over Christmas and has wanted, since we got here, to go skiing in Hokkaido. Since we are (officially now!) moving back to the DC area sometime this spring or summer, this winter was our last chance. We flew from Okinawa straight up to Sapporo, then got on a bus at the airport for the two hour drive to Rusutsu, where we'd stay at a ski resort for the first three nights. Our first stop there was to buy Raj a pair of snow boots. Because basically as soon as we stepped into the Okinawa airport, the soles of Raj's very old and well-used hiking boots pretty much detached. He flew to Hokkaido with boots looking like this, courtesy of some tape we got from the ANA baggage counter.
Klassy as always. Anyway, Raj got some boots and since it was 7:30 and I'd been ravenous for a while, we went to find a restaurant. The Italian restaurant had an hour wait, which was just not possible for me, so we went to the Oktoberfest buffet next door. German food? No. American/Japanese/Chinese. And since the whole resort was 1980s-tastic, an animatronic band like at Chuck E. Cheese. They only played two songs, both polka, in what I can only assume was an attempt by the owners to get people to stop eating and leave sooner in order to escape those two songs. I didn't get a picture there, but you can get the idea from this photo of the similar band in the middle of the fast food area that was similarly motivating with its two bluegrass songs.
Fun fact: just inserting this picture was enough to get one of their two songs back on repeat in my head (nothing could be finer than to be in Caroliner in the morrrrrrrning) so that's pretty terrific. We really just sat there long enough to wait for and then eat our pizza, which had where you'd expect slices of mozzarella, squares of cream cheese. And you know, it was pretty good.
Plus there was skiing!
Photo by Raj
Also hot chocolate and reading pretty much all of The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing in the warmth. I'll let you guess which one of us chose that activity over snow sports on certain days.
After three days, we headed back into Sapporo to spend the rest of the week there. Sapporo is best known for the Ice Festival that happens in February (we'd have liked to go, but Raj never knows with much notice whether he has to go to an exercise in Thailand at the same time) and for Sapporo Beer. Also for being really, insanely cold. I was pretty worried about that last part, but it didn't end up being too bad. I mean, not too bad while wearing long underwear, Heattech socks, boots, jeans, sweater, TurboDown coat, and (faux)fur-lined hat and mittens. Given all of those layers, I did not even find it unpleasant to be outside.
It turned out that they had a German Christmas market in the park where the ice festival takes place, which we certainly did get in on. You guys, the butter pretzel didn't have butter on it. It was filled with butter. FILLED. God bless Germans and/or Japanese people for coming up with that.
We also had sausage, sauerkraut, potato pancakes, and hot apple cider. And saw Japanese Santa and pretty Christmas lights.
Sapporo-specific cuisine includes what is known as Genghis Khan lamb barbecue, which a person can do at Sapporo Bier Garten
and for seafood ramen. There's a famous ramen alley which we visited. All the shops look pretty much alike, so we went to the one that advertised "Anthony Bourdain came to the here"
We also went to some museums. There's a beer museum ending in beer tasting and the winter sports museum where you can simulate ski-jumping, bobsledding, cross-country ski racing, figure skating turns, and playing hockey goalie.
You can also ride a lift to the top of the ski jump used in the 1972 Olympics. Looking down from the top is quite terrifying.
There is also a preserved colonial village from the late 1800s when Japan colonized Hokkaido (previously populated by native people known as Ainu) to keep Russia from taking it. Nearby is the Hokkaido Museum, which includes an exhibit on the habitat and animals of Hokkaido. Which includes this bench.
We did visit one more museum, but that was on Christmas Day, which I think can be its own post. Given that I ever get around to writing it.
As always, in no particular order:
Sunny and 70s in late November
A trip to northern Japan over Christmas where the snow and cold will make it feel so much more Christmassy
And where Raj will finally get to ski in the famous Hokkaido powder
A new super-warm coat to keep me from freezing to death there
Farmers market flowers
The base library, keeping me in free reading material
Pinterest, keeping me in book recommendations (and recipes and everything else)
Including a few recent favorite recipes: potsticker meatballs (you guys, they really do taste just like the inside of a dumpling, which is to say YUM), baked General Tso's chicken, pork tenderloin with pan sauce (amazingly good), grilled ginger sesame chicken chopped salad (or be lazy like me and after marinading the chicken in the fridge, throw it in the crock pot for a few hours and shred it), and slow cooker stuffed pepper soup.
Eggnog flavored coffee creamer, getting me through until there's actual eggnog at the commissary
Terrible holiday movies on Hallmark Channel
Trips in the past year to Cambodia and Vietnam, mainland Japan, and Taiwan
A new Star Wars movie! Which will hopefully not be a huge disappointment.
Saturday morning yoga class with Raj and the ability to laugh at our collective inability to hold certain balance poses (many balance poses) (most balance poses)
Lots of time with Raj this year, traveling, kayaking, exploring, playing cards, cooking and hanging out
My thoughtful, supportive, handsome and funny husband
Big things to come in the next year, including (most likely) a move back to the States
Less than a month now until we find out where we're going next
The small Thanksgiving potluck with neighbors that has turned into around 30 people gathering in our yard - I think it's going to be a good mix of people and is also shaping up to be an excellent spread of food
Good friends here and all over the world
Nearly 38 years with the best dad I could have possibly asked for
My mom is healthy and has a new little friend, Rosie, to keep her company
All the rest of my family and the chance to see them more often once we leave Japan
The years we've had here to experience Okinawa and travel around Asia, meet new friends, and start our married life
Good health and access to great doctors (and nurses and one especially helpful translator) and all the benefits of modern medicine
Ok, Internet, your turn. What are you thankful for this year?
A little while ago, Jenn informed me about a stupid teen trend of leaving strategic spots un-sunscreened in order to get intentional sunburns in cool shapes. This meant that my accidental white glove sunburn made me not only accidentally ridiculous, but also accidentally trendy.
Well, internet, I have done it again. Which is to say that yet again, I have tripped over my own metaphorical feet and landed in another big pile of stupid trendiness.
Are you aware of the ombre hair trend? This is where people dye their hair so that it goes from darkest near the roots to lightest at the tips. Like so:
This is a particularly egregious example. In many cases, it ends up looking like the woman just didn't get around to getting her roots done for a year or two. I think it mostly looks pretty stupid.
You see where this is going, don't you?
I spend a few hours per week outside on walk/runs with my neighbor Stephanie and friend Michelle. In order to prevent sunburn and keep my hair from being in my face, I wear a baseball-style running hat. I put my hair in a ponytail or half-bun sticking out the back.
The part that sticks out of the hat got highlighted by the sun. The rest didn't. I have accidental stupid ombre hair.
If you're thinking based on that picture, it doesn't even look like a person could tell, please note that my hair stylist noticed on her own and thought I'd intentionally dyed it myself.
I suppose I could render this moot by giving in to the increasing presence of grays and just highlighting all of it. I just haven't been great in the past about maintaining highlights, so I'd probably just end up with a much more expensive version of the ridiculous dark roots that I currently have.
At least my stupid trendy sunburn is already gone. Until next time. One assumes.
Your highs and lows for the month
Let's start with the lows, shall we? Then we can end on a positive note.
1. I remain stubbornly un-knocked-up.
2. Last Wednesday was my dad's birthday, which was tough. It seems to get a little bit more real all the time that he's gone. I know it needs to happen, but it's always hard. I used to bake a blackberry pie for him when we were together on his birthday or Father's Day, so I decided I'd make one this year too. There aren't ever fresh blackberries here, so I used frozen ones that I didn't properly thaw first. The result was the by far ugliest pie I've ever made. Here's the thing though: no one could have possibly cared less about the appearance of a pie (or any dessert) than my dad did. As long as it tasted good, that was all that mattered. And my ugly pie was delicious. I think he'd have been pleased.
1. We went to Taipei with our friends James and Shilpa.
They are also enthusiastic eaters and we spent the bulk of the four days eating. Taipei is perfect for this. Soup dumplings! Street food! So many steamed buns! And all of our favorite...crablets. They are tiny crabs, fried whole and eaten like popcorn. They are perfect with beer. If I ever open a bar, these will be the bar snack.
While the food and sightseeing were great, mostly it was really nice to get out of Okinawa and spend some time together and with friends.
2. We went to the Marine Corps Birthday Ball and a Halloween party. Getting all dressed up was kind of the highlight of both.
(Raj is the Iron Chef. That's an apron that the Fe sign is pinned to.)
3. Except for his final research project, Raj is finished with grad school, meaning he's had more free time to hang out. For his birthday back in March, I made him an Okinawa To Do List with all of the things to do and see on the island. (I refuse to call it a bucket list. A bucket list is things to do before you kick the bucket. I intend to outlive our departure from Okinawa.) This way when we have a free day on a weekend, we can consult the list rather than engage in a game of "I dunno, what do you want to do?" We'd started checking things off right away, but then got busy and hadn't gotten around to anything in months. This Sunday, we went to the Cape Zanpa lighthouse and Zakimi Castle. It's good to be back to local adventuring.
4. I tried three new recipes all in one week that all went straight to my Favorite Recipes board on Pinterest. They are...
Grilled Ginger Sesame Chicken Chopped Salad - Except I didn't so much grill the chicken as leave it in the marinade in the fridge for 24 hours, then dump it (with the marinade) in the crock pot for four hours on high. Then I shredded it and tossed it with the salad.
Pork Tenderloin with Pan Sauce - We kind of couldn't get over how good this was.
Baked General Tso's Chicken - Because we're still palee-ish, we had this with steamed broccoli instead of rice. It was nicely spicy as written.
You should try them!
What are your goals for the next 30 days?
1. Finally finish All the Light We Cannot See for my book club. It's very well written, but I'm having a hard time getting through it.
2. Do not eat the Halloween candy before the trick-or-treaters arrive. (I bought a bag of Skittles and Starbursts in an effort to keep myself out of it. Because let's be honest, if I'd bought the bag of Kit Kats, Whoppers, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and Hershey bars I was considering, there would be only Hershey bars left by Saturday.)
3. Get in good enough shape to run the 5k color run I'm registered for on November 21st in a respectable amount of time. Yep, I've let myself get far enough out of shape to have to worry about getting through a 5k.
4. Host a successful Thanksgiving potluck with the neighbors.
5. Do not overeat (too egregiously) at said Thanksgiving potluck.
6. See the new James Bond movie. Sounds like Daniel Craig isn't especially thrilled to still be James Bond, but I'll be glad to watch him all the same.
7. Figure out what to get Raj for Christmas and our anniversary. When you live in the middle of the Pacific, holiday shipping deadlines sneak up on you.
8. Finish going through stuff to pull out things to donate. Then donate all the things. We both did clothes already and there's a towering pile of cast-offs taking up half the guest room.
9. Resume gainful employment? Hopefully?
Conversely, write about something that's kicking ass right now.
You know what's kicking ass right now? Marriage.
Marriage has turned out to be exactly what I hoped it would - a partnership that makes the rest of life better and easier. We have fun together and take care of each other. We're both compromisers by nature, which I think makes things a lot easier. We're not natural communicators, but we are learning.
These days, we're getting to eat dinner together every night. That's pretty great. We have our routines and our schtick and our Sunday night questions. (How did you feel loved this week? What does next week look like for you? How can I support you next week?) When we're in town we go to yoga together on Saturday mornings and when we're traveling, we play cards in airports.
Marriage has turned out to be a soft place to land and a home I never want to leave. And that? Kicks ass.
Write about an area in your life that you'd like to improve
It may not come as a surprise that an area where I'd like to improve is in my writing output. It's been how long since my past post of this 30 day writing challenge? I can't say I'm getting very much writing done outside of this website either, despite having the time to do it. It's been a tough year and I'm feeling kind of depleted. It's hard to manage much creative output when you yourself are running on empty. I was hoping this writing challenge would be a good kickstart and in many ways it has. Even though it looks like it'll take me at least two months to finish, it'll still be a whole lot more posts than I've managed to put up in any two months over the past few years. What it hasn't done is get me back into a creative mindset where I am looking at everything I see and hear as potential inspiration. One thing I know I'm doing right is reading a lot. Maybe right now is a time for filling up. Then, as Anne Lamott says, "Butt in chair." You know, just do it. For now, I have four more challenge posts to come.
Think of any word. Search it on Google Images. Write something inspired by the 11th image.
After much deliberation, I chose the word waiting. The 11th image was this one, which was labeled something to do with a cat waiting for the mail. Looks more to me like a cat using the mail slot as a conveniently located window, but I guess then it doesn't really go with the theme.
These days, we're sort of in limbo while we wait to find out where we're going next, when we'll leave here, whether I'll get pregnant, and how all of these factors affect my job prospects. We won't leave here for at least five months (likely more like seven or eight) so there's plenty of living to be done in the meantime. But it's hard not to want to focus on what's next. What might be next. What we hope is next. We're spending far too much time on Zillow looking at houses that will only sell before we even know if we're actually moving to the city in which they're located.
And I have roughly as much power over these things as that cat does over when the mail comes. Which is fine. Such is life as a military spouse. It's really not that I want to control everything. It's just that I need to remind myself that life here in Okinawa goes on and I can't and don't want to wish these months away. We've got a long list of things left to see and do in Okinawa and the surrounding islands, as well as a couple of off-island trips planned.
These Okinawa years haven't turned out quite as planned, but what ever does? These have not been years of gainful and meaningful employment for me. But I did get my master's degree and will return to the US a better teacher. We haven't managed to expand our family, but we have taken advantage of the time we've had together as a family of two, whether traveling around Asia or hanging out at home. Whenever we get wherever we're going, time to hang out together will be in very short supply.
Life for as long as Raj stays in the military (so at least another ten years) is going to look like this - knowing that we'll only be where we are, Raj doing what he's doing, for two or three years. Even aside from the military transitions though, I think it's human nature to focus on the next stage. After I graduate, when I get a better job, after we're married, when we have kids, once the kids are in school, after we buy a house, once/when/after...
So as much as possible, I remind myself to turn away from the mail slot of what might be, to live in the present. It's ok to look forward to things, but not as a substitute for appreciating all the good things about life here and now. No matter what's next, there are really good things here and now.
Write about a lesson you've learned the hard way
Oh man, I really should have saved that thing about putting your contacts in before putting on sunscreen for this post. Because if there's one lesson I've learned the hard way over and over and over, it is that one. Also, if you've already chopped garlic before putting in your contacts, then you, my friend, are wearing your glasses for the rest of the day. Trust me.
But I guess maybe I've learned lessons that don't have to do with burning the lenses off my eyes with my own contaminated fingers. Here are a few:
Horizontal stripes may be in, but not all stripes are for everyone. Tread carefully.
No cap sleeves for broad-shouldered girls.
Pasty people should wear hats in the sun, especially when they have fine hair. Scalp sunburn is a thing.
When you're klutzy, "hike" and "look around" are mutually exclusive activities. Pick one.
Also, when chopping food, a sharper knife is safer.
When you do cut yourself while chopping, wrap a paper towel around it, apply pressure, hold the hand above your head, and (given sufficient practice with this routine) continue chopping with the other hand.
If you're absentminded, find a way to tie something you're likely to forget to something you're unlikely to forget. For instance, put anything you might need to take with you in your purse the instant you think of it. Or keep your medicine next to the coffee because you may forget a lot of things, but you do not forget to make coffee! (Though sometimes you forget that you've made coffee, which is different. Still, take the meds when making the coffee, just in case.)
Your glasses need to either be on your face or in the one specific assigned location for them. All else is madness.
Once you get into decent physical shape, make sure to keep it up. Because getting out of shape is easy and quick and then you're starting all over. Every single time.
When traveling, throw in a couple extra Ziplock bags. I've never wished I hadn't and have often been thankful I did.
You don't like Peeps very much. (This one is for me. Every few years I forget and buy some and then discover anew that I don't like them very much. Which does not stop me from finishing them. SAVE THOSE CALORIES, SELF.)
You can soothe a cough and sore throat by sipping plain water as hot as you can stand it. No, really. It helps. Everyone is going to want you to add honey and/or lemon and/or tea, but I am telling you, you don't really need them.
That's as far as my medical expertise goes. You really don't want to consult a doctor's spouse with your medical questions unless he or she is also a medical professional. The rest of us aren't much good to you. (Unless you want tips on cooking for someone with long and unpredictable hours. Then we can tell you that the crock pot is your friend.)
If your husband is bigger and stronger than you are, poking him will only end in you getting tickled. Just kidding. I never learn that one.
Got any hard-won wisdom for us, Internet?