Saturday, April 30, 2011

Saturday Morning Scene: Glitzy Ginza

I'm linking up with Katie at Loves of Life for this week's Saturday Morning Scene. 

Technically, this post will feature our Saturday afternoon, but since afternoon Tokyo time is actually early morning in the US, I think I can cheat just this once!

We were invited to an art exhibit featuring landscapes by Yoshio, our new friend Yuko's uncle.

Some members of our small group decided to meet for lunch and then go to the gallery to show our support.  Philip and I have been sick this week, but we felt we had recovered enough this morning to venture out.  We took the subway to Ginza, one of the most luxurious shopping and entertainment areas in Tokyo.  Many upscale western brands, such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel, as well as more accessible ones, like H&M, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Gap, are concentrated there.   Ginza is also known for its emphasis on the arts.

Our group got a private room at a Japanese restaurant known for their oyakodon, or chicken, egg, and rice bowl.  I ate my oyakodon VERY quickly and did not get photos at the restaurant, because Matthias loudly refused to sit on our laps, so Philip and I took turns eating, while the other walked circles around the restaurant.  As my parents always say, the boy needs to move it, move it.  Philip's quote of the day was "you know, I used to chew before I was a parent."  Sad, but true.  (And we wouldn't trade it for the world!)

After lunch, we walked to the gallery, and admired Yoshio's gorgeous European and Japanese landscapes rendered in watercolors, charcoal, oils, and mixed media.  We also met Yoshio and his wife, who doted on Matthias. The exhibit was small, perfect for the attention span of a six-month-old.  We didn't take pictures of the art, because we were concerned it would be impolite, but we did get a shot of Matthias and his buddy S, the same sweetie that accompanied us on last week's infamous mommy date.

Non-chewing aside, it was a great afternoon!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Earthquake Experience: Part 3

To read the first two parts of the story click here: Part 1 Part 2

We slept restlessly the night after the earthquake, waking up with several aftershocks.  Some shook us awake, and some made us feel as if we were rocking gently on a boat.  The next day, we watched the news coverage on TV and were astounded at the the extent of the damage in the Northeast and the mounting death toll.  We prayed that many would be rescued from the rubble.  We heard about the first explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and wondered what impact it would have on the people and facilities there, as well as our life in Tokyo.  We watched correspondents in Tokyo give their reports right through the same aftershocks we were feeling, which was a very surreal experience.  The Japanese news had more extensive footage and a more intimate view of the events, but we could not understand the commentary, so we switched back and forth between English and Japanese stations.  Despite the number of English speaking expatriates in Tokyo, there was very little local news or information available in English, which made us feel isolated and unsure of whether we were missing out on vital instructions. We have lived in proximity to several major hurricanes in the the US, and we recognize now how much we relied on the news in those situations.

We decided to tear ourselves away from the TV and computer and get something done, so we worked on organizing and decorating our apartment.  Because of Matthias's difficult sleeping patterns and Philip's long work days, we had made slow progress with putting away all our belongings that arrived from the states a few weeks before.  When I had the chance to reflect on it, I realized how ironic our weekend projects seemed.  We had just gone through a very stressful experience, and watched others going through an infinitely more stressful and devastating one, yet instead of talking about wanting to leave Japan, we were hanging our pictures and putting our baby's blankets and toys away.  Somehow God has given us peace about what we experienced and we began to feel a sense of purpose that had been lacking until that weekend. We (especially I) struggled with a good deal of anxiety the day (and many days) after the earthquake, but we kept feeling reassured that God had a plan for us in Tokyo.

We wondered how long it would take to get the trains back online, whether Philip would return to work on Monday, and whether food and other important resources would become scarce.  We heard news reports about empty shelves in grocery stores.  Later in the evening, Philip went to the store to check things out. He reported that although there were many empty shelves and some basic foods, such as milk, rice, and bread were gone, he was not concerned about a food shortage at the time.

After sleeping somewhat better Saturday night, we woke up Sunday to more bad news from Fukushima, questions of how far radiation might spread in a worse-case scenario, and concerns regarding the power supply to our region.  Again, we tried to stay busy and pray for those still missing and injured, and those working in the nuclear facility and living close to the danger zone.  Because I hadn't left the house on Saturday, I had the impression that the streets would be empty. In the afternoon, we took a walk before church, and I found it reassuring to see that people were out and about, and that grocery shelves were filling back up.  We took a few photos of the normal looking streets and the always amusing advertising:

People were shopping, eating out, and just strolling.

Pancakes shaped like...people.  But "made of happy."

Many stores in Tokyo have love and peace themes.

We went to church, and found the service to be so full of hope and true joy even in the wake of such a disaster that we were greatly encouraged to be a part of Tokyo Baptist Church.  At the end of the service, our Pastor announced that Tepco, our electricity provider, had reported that rolling blackouts would be necessary to conserve power because of the damage to the nuclear reactors.  The schedule and extent of the blackouts was to be determined, and so again we felt unsure of what to expect.  Philip did receive word that he was to return to work on Monday and that the trains were running at a reduced schedule, but that the blackouts may affect the office and/or the trains.  We went to bed with limited information, unsure of how much our comforting routines would be impacted.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Matthias's First Easter

We had a really nice Easter Sunday.  After a very late night, Matthias surprised us and took a great morning nap, allowing us to enjoy a quiet breakfast on the balcony.  (In case you were wondering, this breakfast included donuts - chocolate ones!)  After he woke up, we started getting ready for church.  I realized that the cute Ralph Lauren polo onesie I snagged at the outlets for his first Easter was already too small.  The little munchkin is so chubby!  Since it was a warm day, I opted to dress him in his navy blue romper and the adorable newsboy cap I bought him the day we found out he was a boy.  We headed to church, where a wonderful Easter cantata had been prepared.  The choir sparkled in sequined robes, the teens danced in brightly-colored costumes, and actors in first century garb portrayed Jesus' disciples.  Our pastor Dennis Folds, delivered the sermon as Thomas, known as the doubtful disciple.  The service was joyful, energetic, and uplifting.  It was a bit over the top, just as celebrating the resurrection of Jesus should be!  I really wish I had gotten a few photos, but we left the camera in the stroller, which had to be stowed away because the auditorium was packed.  I did get a shot of the front of the church:

After the service, we stopped at a park near the church to take pictures.  We were excited to see that a few cherry blossom trees still had their beautiful blooms!  The wind blew my hair and dress all over the place and we forgot our tripod, but we still got some great shots:

And some outtakes:

Matthias decided to put a death grip on Mommy's necklace!

Forget these pictures, I just want to eat my blanket!

See! It's yummy!
Mom, who is that guy?

I hope you all had a wonderful Easter!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earthquake Experience: Part 2

Last week I began writing about the March 11th earthquake.  If you missed it, you can read it here.

Philip told me that the shaking had been strong at his office and that he realized how serious it was when his Japanese co-workers demonstrated intense fear.  The office had been evacuated to a middle school, but the ironic thing was that the team had to walk through alley ways between shaking buildings to get to "safety."  He heard that the trains would likely be shut down and that he might need to walk home.  We discussed where I had gone during the quake and decided it had been a good choice, one I would make again if we had another major tremor.  We exchanged "I love yous" as we always do when we say goodbye on the phone, but with the aftershocks, I knew I wouldn't really rest easy until he got home.  I updated Facebook and emailed our families to let them know that we were both ok, in case they happened to be up and watching the news.

For the rest of the day, I kept Matthias within arm's reach at all times, usually strapped to me in his beloved Baby Bjorn.  I removed all hard items from the tops of shelves and furniture and made sure all cabinets were closed.  It's strange how benign-looking, beloved items can become dangerous in an emergency.  As I read and watched the news, I began to realize how ill-prepared we had been had the earthquake had been worse in Tokyo.  I pulled out the earthquake information we had received from our relocation consultants and gathered supplies that we had on hand, just in case Matthias and I needed to make a quick exit.  I filled a bag with our backup disposable diapers and wipes, some non-perishable food, our important paperwork, blankets and clothes for M, and Nalgene bottles filled with water.  I filled the remainder of our water bottles and sat them in different places around the apartment.  I hoped that those affected by the quake and tsunami had been better prepared than we had been, that they had food and supplies for their babies.  I kept thinking of and praying for the families that had been separated and held Matthias even closer.  I wanted to talk to someone, but didn't want to wake up our families in the middle of the night.

We continued to have aftershocks, and each time, I wondered if they would get worse, whether I should go to our "safe spot," but I stayed calm.  It is amazing how being a mom brings greater cause for anxiety on one hand, but more reasons to stay calm on the other.  I tried to do mundane tasks like laundry and cleaning to stay busy as I waited to hear again from Philip.  I was ravenously hungry, as I always seem to be after a stressful event.

Later in the evening, I received a text from Philip telling me he was walking home 31 km (over 19 miles) from Kamiooka.  Later I was able to get a call through to him and found out he was with three of his co-workers, including Tanaka-san, his kind Japanese friend.  I was glad to know he was with someone who spoke Japanese and knew his way around.  Philip said that traffic was at a standstill and that the trains were suspended.  Thousands, or more likely millions, of people were making their way home on foot.  He told me they had tried to buy bikes, but there were none to be had.  He continued to text me to tell me his progress and I would find each location on the map.  I kept updating Facebook with news from Philip and with details about the quake and tsunami as I learned them.  Dozens of friends and family members wrote, checked on us, and prayed for Philip's safe return.  Finally it was late enough to call home, and I talked with my relieved mom and mom-in-law.  Unfortunately, my mom found out about the quake (via a phone call from a friend) before she heard from me, but quickly found out that I was ok.  My mom-in-law got my message before she heard the news.  My dear friend and college roommate called and wonderfully distracted me for the remainder of the time until Philip got home.

Philip got home after midnight, and I was so happy to see him!  He was exhausted and sore, but completely safe and I was very thankful.  He had walked over 17 miles in his dress clothes and shoes before getting on one of the few trains back in service.  He jokes now that he should do a testimonial commercial for his Bruno Magli shoes, fancy ones we snagged for a bargain at Nordstrom Rack back in VA.  After lots of hugs, a little stress eating, sharing about our days, and updating loved ones, we slipped into bed for a restless night's sleep.

To be continued...

A Mommy Date!

On Wednesday, Matthias and I joined our friend Cat and her sweet baby S on a lunch date.  It was my first mommy date since moving to Tokyo and I was very excited.  We walked over the ridiculously steep pedestrian bridge to Shibuya (Tokyo is not very stroller/wheelchair friendly, but that's another post) and met our friends at Shibuya Mark City, a hotel, restaurant, and shopping complex.

The steep pedestrian stairway and ramp.  It takes all my strength to maintain control on the stroller going down, and going up is quite the workout.  You'd have to be a paralympian to control a wheelchair on such a grade!

A glimpse of Shibuya's famous intersection, or "scramble crossing."  When it's crowded, there are thousands of people crossing at the same time.

I planned on taking pictures during lunch expressly for this blog post, but Matthias had other plans.  He kept Mommy's hands VERY full.  We chose to get Chinese food and can I just tell you how hard it is to eat with chopsticks while holding an octopus infant?   Even though Cat is Chinese and I am proficient with chopsticks, we ended up asking for forks, because S was nursing and Matthias was wiggling, fussing, finger-painting with my food, and otherwise causing a ruckus.  Thankfully, it was past peak lunch time and the restaurant was almost empty.  Also, the host, server, and cooks loved babies, and kept distracting Matthias just when he was ready for a major meltdown.  Overall, we only lost one sock and splashed one sweater in the fray, so I'd say it was a success!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Matthias This Monday

Matthias is getting so big!  I am in shock that my baby is growing SO fast.  Cliché, I know, but it seems only the other day he looked like this:
4 days old - just over 7 pounds - newborn-sized sleeper - sleeping like an angel

And now, he looks like this:

5 3/4 months old-18 pounds-9 month sleeper-lying still for a rare moment!
This one better represents his personality! 

He is long and chubby and learning so many new things each day.  For example, today he started saying the "d" sound during one of his babbling sessions and he pushed up on almost straight arms while on his tummy.  He wants to propel himself so badly.  I can just see his mind puzzling over how he can get from point A to point B as he "swims" in place on his tummy.   It is such an amazing gift to have the opportunity to watch him grow day by day.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sakura, Strolling, and Shopping

We have thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful cherry blossoms, or sakura, that have graced Japan this spring.

Like millions of other Tokyo residents, we have spent afternoons and evenings walking along streets and waterways lined with the ethereal blooms.

This Sunday, we decided to take a walk to Gotanda (about 2.5 miles away) and check out a baby store called Akachan Honpo.  We could have taken the train, but the weather was comfortable, so we decided to walk there along the Meguro River where the cherry blossoms are past peak, but still gorgeous.

During sakura season, people enjoy eating under the cherry blossoms, a picnicking tradition called hanami.  In this grass-starved city, we have seen groups of people feasting on blankets laid on sidewalks, closed streets and empty flower beds, having the time of their lives.  Here are a couple hanami parties we witnessed on our walk:

When we arrived at Akachan Honpo, we were on a mission to find a "johnny jump-up" or "jumperoo" type toy for Matthias to burn up some of his incredible energy.  I was hoping to find a simple one that would attach to the doorway or ceiling, and avoid getting anything huge and bright-colored that would take up lots of floor space.  Unfortunately for my decorating and parenting tastes, this sensory overload-inducing, plastic monstrosity was the only thing we found.

And of course, Matthias absolutely loved it and went to town bouncing.  We didn't buy it, because we would have to get such a large box delivered rather than carrying it all the way home, so there was no advantage to buying it on the spot. However, I think Philip was tempted to lug the thing home, just to see if it helped the little guy sleep.  I'm still determined to find a better option online, but I keep remembering how much he laughed and bounced with glee, then stared and smiled at the ugly thing every time we passed by it on our search for new clothes for his ever growing body.  My little M gets to me every time!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Saturday Scene - Tokyo Edition

I am so excited to link up with Katie at Loves of Life for our Saturday Morning Scene!
Saturday Morning Scene

We woke up late this morning after an exhausting week and a late night with Matthias.  Philip said those three little words I love to hear on a weekend morning..."I'm getting donuts."  And since we live in the middle of a sprawling metropolis and don't own cars, Philip hopped on his trusty bike and headed off to get some deliciousness!

One of the things that surprised me about Tokyo was the number of French-themed bakeries and patisseries scattered around town.  We get our bread (and sometimes our baked goods) at this little spot.

Chez Lui

Mmm...donuts!  Many baked goods in Japan are green because they are made with green tea.

I'm sure it was difficult for Philip to stay focused with all the yumminess here!

My hunky guy bringing home the bacon donuts!
When Philip came home, I was just finishing giving Matthias his "breakfast."  Philip put together a lovely meal highlighting delicious cinnamon donuts and we headed out to our balcony, because the weather was absolutely GORGEOUS.

The breakfast and the baby are so NOM-able!

Adoring my sweet boy.

Come to Mama!

Looks like he enjoyed his breakfast.

Pretty soon he'll be wanting to share my donut.
Like so many moments these days, our blissful little time was suddenly interrupted by an aftershock.  My chair started quivering and my coffee sloshed in my mug.  This aftershock wasn't very big, but each one is a reminder of what happened in Tohoku and what could happen here in Tokyo.  We have to cling to the words of Psalm 62:1-2 (NIV): Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him.  Truly He is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

Friday, April 15, 2011

I'm alive, I promise!

Well, I've been a bad, bad blogger.  But I have really good excuses, including:

Teething:  Let's just say that if teething were a competitive sport, Matthias would be a world class athlete.  Poor guy.  Sleep has been elusive for all of us and I have lived in survival mode many days, feeling productive if I fit in eating and showering, let alone blogging.  Except one week of bliss in mid-March, the little dude has been hurting.  I just wish those little teeth would "come on down," Price is Right style...

His favorite teether...our fingers!

Perfectionism:  I am so perfectionistic and I have struggled with the following bogus thoughts: 1) Because I have such a large gap between posts, the blog is "ruined,"  2) Each post has to be comprehensive or exhaustive, and 3) I need a really cool layout or design that requires significant time and training to create.  I am learning to get past those feelings, and just share my thoughts and experiences a little at a time in this much needed creative outlet.

The 2011 Tohoku Earthquake: Our world was shaken, literally and figuratively, on March 11th.  Even though the impact on us was miniscule in comparison to those suffering tremendous loss in the Northeast, the earthquake and its aftermath have had a major effect on our life.  I kept trying to blog about it, but had such a hard time summarizing it during a naptime, that I just gave up.  But I need to share about it.  So, I will try to share a bit at a time each Friday, because I don't want to forget what I felt or what I learned.

Map showing effects of Japanese earthquake

Here's a bit of what I experienced five Fridays ago:

Part 1

I had just changed M's diaper, when I thought someone was banging very loudly on the door.  Which was weird, because guests and delivery people have to be beeped in and I wasn't expecting anyone.  It also sounded suddenly windy outside.  As the noise continued, the apartment began to shake and rock.  I thought, "an earthquake," scooped up Matthias, and tried to recall what I had read about how to react.  Oh yes, we should get under a table.  I looked as our dining room table, which has a center pedestal rather than legs.  It was wobbling around and looked anything but secure.  I looked around at all the objects that might fall over on us, including pieces of furniture, books, picture frames, and candlesticks.  I thought about getting under couch cushions, another suggestion from our Japan guide, but then I thought about the fact that we have an emergency escape hatch (kind of like a fire escape) in the balcony off our bedroom and a fire retardant door that can be closed to protect against a spreading fire, which can be common after a quake.  So I decided to make a move for the bedroom as the shaking kept getting worse.  I had to work hard to stay steady on my feet.  I walked/ran as fast as I could into the bedroom and huddled between the two walls in the entry way, hoping that I chose the right spot in case things got really bad. 
 The shaking just kept going and my heart was racing, but Matthias just smiled and giggled in my arms.  It was amazing to me how he could feel completely unconcerned in such a moment.  I couldn't believe the furniture was still standing with such a forceful shaking.  

After a few minutes that seemed like hours, the shaking stopped.  I thanked God that we were ok and began to wonder how big of a quake it had been.  I figured that it had felt much worse to me, a earthquake novice, than it had felt to my Japanese neighbors.  It wasn't until I heard the magnitude later on that I knew how serious it had been.  I looked around the apartment to see if we had any damage, and we had none besides several items that fell down and a few gashes in the floor caused by those items.  Our building is new and has many features that minimize damage, from the way its foundation and walls are built, to the fact that we have special locks on the cabinets that engage during a tremor to prevent a rainstorm of dishes and plates.  I wondered if it had been worse or better for Philip, who works closer to the coast.  I tried to call his cell phone from mine, but the call failed.  I tried his office line, but got no answer.  I was really worried that things had been worse on his side of town.  I kept trying with no avail, but did my best to stay calm for M's sake.  The front desk staff at our apartment came over the intercom to tell us that the earthquake had been centered off the Miyagi prefecture and that the maintenance staff would begin checking our building for damage.  We had a few aftershocks while I waited to hear from Philip, including one major one that caused our framed photos to sway violently on their hanging wires. I checked the news online and realized that the quake had indeed been massive and had caused a major tsunami.  After about 45 minutes, I got a call on our Vonage phone from Philip, who was calling me via Skype on his co-worker's iPhone.  Thank God for technology!  I breathed so much easier knowing he was ok, but felt tremendous survivor's guilt knowing that thousands of people may never get that call.