Sunday, December 19, 2010

Back in Korea

Well, so much for my goal of writing once a week this year. That lasted for a few months, anyway, but I'm not even close to 52 entries for the year. It would help if I had any time to type with two hands these days, but I'm usually holding a baby with one hand. This morning Keegan and I both got up really early because the baby is asleep and we were so anxious to have some time to ourselves!

It's been a good week for Sophie. She and I have readjusted to Korean time and are in a good routine. Sophie has blossomed in the past few weeks into such a big girl! Her sitting ability has improved by leaps and bounds even over the past several days, and she is now basically sitting unsupported, although she does occasionally topple and bonk her head and howl. She now likes to sit up in the bathtub, which makes Mommy really nervous since she's still a little wobbly.

Sitting in the tub, with a mohawk no less.

She's also started making raspberry sounds and an occasional "b." It's so funny hearing her make those new noises.

Less tangibly, she seems to be more interested in the world around her. The other day I put her in the Moby wrap and did some chores around the house, and she watched quietly and intently the whole time. The funniest part was when I swept the floor. As I swept on one side, she would turn her head to see the broom, and then when I switched hands she would swivel around to see the other side. Nothing gets past Sophie! Keegan wants me to add that Sophie is "super grabby, like an octopus." It's true! She wants to get her hands on anything that Mommy and Daddy are interested in, including food, silverware, magazines, or anything within her reach when we're carrying her like hair, earrings, glasses, ears, etc.

We've enjoyed seeing some of the changes to Geoje that took place while we were gone. The biggest is that the bridge-tunnel to Busan officially opened on Tuesday. The bridge and the associated highway on northern Geoje have made a big difference to us. We can get right on the highway across the street from our apartment building and zip right past Okpo on our way to the shipyard or to Home Plus. It cuts about ten minutes off the drive, which is wonderful for Keegan since he drives that way every single day. It also cuts about an hour off of driving time to Busan, depending on traffic. Sophie and I tried out the new road on the way to Home Plus on Tuesday and enjoyed it very much. On Wednesday, we went out for a walk in the afternoon and discovered a new coffee shop down by the beach in Deokpo. My friend Mijung was having coffee there and invited us in to join her. It was a pleasant surprise to have coffee with a friend and to find this nice little coffee shop a two-minute walk from the house! On Thursday, our neighbor Sojung came over with her two-month-old Anna-Lynn, who has grown so much! She enjoyed trying out some of Sophie's toys and Sophie enjoyed grabbing at her with her octopus-like appendages.

Sophie eyeing Anna-Lynn's wrist rattle enviously.

Friday we went out for coffee with Sandra and Leandra and Leandra's family visiting from Brazil. Saturday morning we got to visit our Ukrainian friends Daniel and Marina and their two kids, Eli and Mia. Mia is just three weeks old now, and Eli is almost two. It was amazing to see how tiny Mia is and to think about what Sophie will look like and be like when she is two. Eli learned the English words for construction equipment during the construction of the highway near our apartment, and he spent much of the visit trying valiantly to spit out "bulldozer." Daniel and Marina seemed calm and confident and relaxed considering that they had just doubled their number of offspring.

That's about the shape of our week so far. We've been keeping busy! Today we plan to take a trip to Home Plus to buy some baby-proofing supplies, since Sophie seems to be on the cusp of at least a limited amount of mobility.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sophie Update

I just finished writing an e-mail to my parents about their granddaughter and thought it would be good to share with the rest of the world:

Sitting here trying to catch up on e-mail while Sophie sleeps. Earlier this week I was despairing that I couldn't get her to take any naps and then the past few days she has gone down between 10 and 11 and slept for almost three hours! It's really nice to have the free time during the day. It's hard to entertain a baby all day when there aren't long breaks for sleep!

We are having a busy week this week. Yesterday we went to visit the wife of one of Keegan's co-workers, who lives in our building with her five-month-old daughter. Anyway, today is Sophie's second photo session at the photo studio, and tomorrow we are going to have coffee with friends in the afternoon. On Saturday we'll go to the ABS company picnic for a while in the afternoon, and on Sunday my friend Alana is having a first birthday party for her son. I am really looking forward to that! Poor Sophie will be exhausted by the end of the weekend! We've started using Mondays as a day to relax and get back on schedule after having Daddy home all weekend.

Sophie is developing like crazy. She is getting better and better with her hands and isn't happy unless she's grabbing something or chewing on her hands. She is also wiggling around during floor time like crazy, and yesterday she ALMOST rolled all the way from back to front. She is a pro at rolling onto her side from her back. Also yesterday she started really trying to sit up more when I had her reclined on my bent legs, so I think she is starting to work on the first step toward real sitting. She is such a curious girl! Laura said she has great head control, so I have started wearing her in various baby carriers facing forward, and she LOVES it. She's doing pretty well in the stroller for short walks in the evenings. She has interacted with the cats a few times - she is much more interested in them now that her vision is a little better. She has gently patted the cats with her little hands, and the cats have shown remarkable forbearance with her flailing arms and legs. Speaking of flailing limbs, Sophie also LOVES bath time. She has learned how to splash by kicking her legs, and she finds that delightful. She just smiles and smiles the whole time she is in the tub. She's not all that happy with getting dressed afterward, though. Can't say that I blame her - it's always cold making that transition. Yuck.

So that's the quick and dirty update on our little girl. She amazes me every day.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sophie's First Day at the Beach!

This morning we took Sophie to the beach for the first time. We hung out in a tent on the beach to keep everyone out of the sun, and we briefly dipped Sophie's feet and legs into the ocean. We also took a nice walk up and down the beach. Sophie seemed to enjoy the water more than I thought she would. The car ride maybe not so much....but we'll keep working on that. When we got home, she had completely worn herself out and took a three-hour nap. Here is a photo of Sophie and her Dad on the beach:

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Cats and the Baby

A lot of people ask us how the cats have reacted to having a new member of the family. They have done great! The first day that we brought Sophie home from the hospital, I sat with her on the couch, and Pepper approached to sniff her head. He sniffed her little hairy melon very, very intently and then his tail bushed out and he jumped off the couch in a hurry. Who knows what he thought! Since then, both cats have tentatively approached Sophie to sniff her many times, but they have not really interacted with her much. She doesn't seem to pay much attention to them, and they, though wary of her flailing limbs during play time, don't pay much attention to her.

Sophie's paraphernalia, however, is a different story. Both cats have thoroughly explored many of Sophie's toys and blankets, and they love to sleep in the drawer underneath her crib. Unfortunately, this means that most of the "clean" blankets and bedding I keep there will need to be washed before I use them because they are covered in cat hair. But our pampered felines love sleeping in the little cave formed by the bed skirt, and it's harmless enough. Keegan likes to joke that Sophie will grow up with real monsters under her bed. Monsters that are always hungry!

Of course, the cats suffered a bit at first from the disruption of their usual routine and especially because they are necessarily getting less attention now. They are very clingy at night, when we leave our door open so that we can hear the baby. And sometimes we want to kill them because they yowl at us for attention while we are trying to rock the baby to sleep. Chili has overcome her wariness of Keegan and begs him shamelessly for all-over body rubs whenever she has the chance. Both cats have developed the annoying habit of leaping onto the back of our office chair while I am sitting in it and nursing, and they make me feel like the chair is going to tip over (it isn't). But overall, I think everyone is adjusting quite well. To sum up, here's a video of Pepper enjoying a perk of living with a new baby:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Through the Early Parenthood Wringer - But Still Alive!

Wow, it's been a long time since I've posted anything on the blog! Most of the time I spend in front of the computer these days is while I'm nursing Sophie, so I only have one hand to type with. Now she's taking a nap, so I have a few minutes to type with two hands and let you all know how things are going!

Another reason it's been hard for me to update the blog is because I haven't been sure what to say. I want to be able to post about how rosy and beautiful it is to have become a parent, but I also want to be honest about our experience. There have been rosy and beautiful moments, yes, but for the first two months a lot more dark, scary, or just plain frustrating moments. The combination of my type-A personality, crazy hormonal changes, a "high-need" baby, and the myriad inconveniences of being a foreigner in Korea have made the past two months or so a very, very difficult time for Keegan and I. I hope it's been a comfortable and happy time for Sophie, though!

When I think about how Sophie has changed in the past two months, I keep thinking that the biggest changes have been not in our little one but in us. We've had to learn that we are not in control of our days anymore! While I sit and nurse Sophie, I think about my plans for the next stretch of time between feedings. I think things like "Well, she looks sleepy. I'll put her down for a nap and then clean the kitchen." And then she finishes eating, pops her eyes open, and grins at me mischievously, and I know that I'll be carrying her or playing with her or going for a walk rather than doing any housework. I had lots of ideas about how to calm a baby or how she should sleep that just don't work for our child. It drives me crazy that she doesn't like to be worn in the sling around the house and that she doesn't sleep well in her bassinet, but it's not up to me. I have had to learn that she sleeps well in her swing and that she likes to sit in a seat and watch me rather than be worn around the house. There are times when she refuses to breastfeed because we have waited to long to get situated, and there is nothing I can do until I've calmed her down, even though I know that she'd feel much better if she'd just close her screaming mouth and start drinking. I guess this is all part of learning that our child, while dependent on us for everything she needs, has a mind of her own and can't be forced into our preconceived ideas of what babies want and need.

Anyway, things are slowly but surely getting easier. It's easier to tell when Sophie is tired and wants to sleep for a bit and easier to tell when she is hungry. She cries a lot less and "talks" and smiles a lot more. When she is hungry, she has a funny, insistent sing-songy screech. It's the warning that we need to start getting things in place for the feeding. When she is tired, she will scream and refuse to eat until she is swaddled and comfortable. Now that she is less likely to have a screaming fit, I am getting more confident about taking her out in public. I am even thinking about meeting some friends for lunch at a restaurant this Wednesday - wish us luck!

Here's a short video from a recent bedtime bath:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My Birth Story

It's hard to believe that Sophia Joy is already 18 days old! She was born on July 3 at 1:37 p.m., weighing 3.82 kilograms and measuring 50 centimeters long. Here is the story of her birth:

On Friday, July 2, Keegan and I went to our 40-week prenatal visit. The doctor did an ultrasound and estimated the baby’s weight at nearly four kilograms. She had not “dropped” lower into my pelvis, and I hadn’t been experiencing any Braxton-Hicks contractions. The doctor was eager to induce labor because of the baby’s size, but Keegan and I requested one more week to wait for the baby to come on her own. Everyone was on edge about whether she would make her appearance before induction became necessary! Keegan and I went out to eat after the appointment at our favorite Chinese restaurant, and we saw two of the maternity clinic nurses there. Then we came home and fell asleep exhausted. The last thing we expected was that our baby would be born the next day!

On Saturday morning, I woke up around 2:30 a.m. to go to the bathroom and then had trouble getting back to sleep. Eventually, I got up and went into the guest room to read for a while. While I was up, I went to the bathroom again and noticed that I was bleeding very slightly. I thought that might be a sign that something was happening, but I wasn't sure. At around 5:15 I was still feeling awake but decided to go back to bed. Oddly, Keegan was awake also, and we started chatting. He was spooning me and my huge belly when suddenly we both felt a “pop” somewhere inside me. We both startled and wondered what it was – it didn’t feel like a normal baby kick or punch. Shortly afterward I got up to go to the bathroom and saw what I thought must be my "bloody show." Now I was certain that something was happening, but I wasn’t sure that labor was beginning. Still, Keegan and I got up and decided to have some breakfast. He made ratatouille omelets, while I frantically consulted my pregnancy books about what the bloody show should look like.

As we ate, I began to feel some pain in my back, like lower back achiness. It was mild, but it was coming on and then fading again at regular intervals. I was sure it was labor and that I was feeling it in my back because the baby was turned sideways in the uterus instead of face-down. Keegan started a log sheet for when the contractions started. They were coming about three minutes apart but were very mild. I didn’t have to stop what I was doing at all when I felt one, just putting my hands on my back and rubbing a little bit felt good. We puttered around the house for a while, getting together some last minute items for the hospital, doing dishes, and making sure the cats were fed. During this time, I had to go to the bathroom often, and each time a lot of fluid was coming out. I wondered if my water had broken and it was amniotic fluid. Hard to say, since it was a totally new experience. Finally, I decided it was time to call Dr. Lee, which I did around 7:30 a.m. He told me to come in to the clinic. We arrived there around 8 a.m.

The third floor of the clinic is the labor, delivery, and recovery floor. We made our way to the front desk where I sat on a couch while Keegan gamely tried to communicate with the nurses to get the necessary paperwork filled out. The nurses were very upset because they told us that we needed 40 “baby pads” (i.e. diapers) for the baby. Well, I had brought a few diapers, but not very many because I assumed they would be provided by the hospital. Why didn’t they tell us beforehand what we needed to bring? Minorly annoyed, I was led back into a labor room where I was asked to change into a hospital gown and lie down for fetal monitoring. As soon as I lay down, I noticed that my regular back contractions felt less regular and less painful. I was a little nervous about that and about the fact that Keegan wasn’t with me. While I lay on the bed with the monitoring machine, another woman came in to lie on the bed next to mine. I found out later that her baby was breech, and she was preparing for a c-section. With nothing else to do, I watched as she was shaved and given an enema. I was glad to avoid both of those procedures. At last, Dr. Lee came in to give me an internal exam. He told me that my water had broken and that I was about two centimeters dilated. He expressed concern that the contractions recorded on the fetal monitor were mild and irregular and told me that he wanted to augment my labor with oxytocin because my water had broken and the longer you wait after your water breaks, the greater the chance of infection. I told him that we really, really wanted to avoid oxytocin, and he asked me what time my water broke. I told him. He said that he felt he could give me four hours after my water broke for my labor to kick in strongly and that he would check me again one hour later, after performing a cesarean at 9:30.

After that, I was moved to a recovery room to wait and get my labor moving. Keegan came in to join me, and we got down to business with all of our natural birth techniques. I put my iPod on a portable stereo and turned on my birth playlist (lots of Simon and Garfunkel, with some Belle and Sebastian and other quiet favorites). I read up on good positions for back labor and spent all of my time walking to encourage the baby to drop lower. My contractions began to get stronger, so I asked Keegan to rub my back during them, while I got down on my knees and leaned on the bed. Keegan’s firm touch helped a lot with the pain. Besides being more intense, the contractions were coming every two to three minutes, so I was sure we were making progress.

We were moved to the VIP room (the largest, private recovery room) at a little before 9:30. Soon after, a nurse came in to start an IV with antibiotics, to ward off any infection because my water had already broken. The IV wasn’t that bad, but it did make it harder to walk around, especially since the pole kept running into the chandeliers in the overly-decorated VIP room. Next, I was asked to lie on my back again for the fetal monitoring. Without the constant motion of walking and the aid of gravity, my contractions once again slowed up, although they were now quite uncomfortable since I didn’t have the ability to move or have Keegan rub my back during them. Dr. Lee looked at the results of the monitoring and told me that my contractions were not any stronger. I told him that they had been getting more intense and that they were closer together, but he didn’t seem to give much credence to anything but the results of the monitoring. The pelvic exam revealed that I was still two centimeters dilated, although I was 80% effaced. Dr. Lee insisted that we start an oxytocin drip in my IV. I was both terrified, because I had heard that contractions are much stronger on oxytocin and disappointed, because I had really hoped to avoid any drugs during delivery. But I was in Dr. Lee’s care, and I had stated my case, so we agreed to the next step.

We moved yet again to another labor room where a nurse started the oxytocin at a very low level in my IV bag. Keegan gave me a hug, and I cried a little bit, and then we got on with the business of labor. I continued to pace around the room and tow my IV pole around. The contractions were getting really painful. I tried hugging Keegan, hanging onto his hands, and leaning over a table, but eventually we figured out that the best position was to get on my knees on the bed and hang onto the elevated headboard while moving my hips around. I started groaning and yelling about the pain, while Keegan faithfully rubbed my back and offered words of encouragement. During this stage, I felt very alone because we didn’t see any doctors or nurses, and I was anxious to know where I was in the process. I felt a desperate need to know how much longer I would be in this much pain. A nurse came in to up my dose of oxytocin, and I felt scared that they were raising the dose without checking how the first amount was affecting me. At one point, I felt like I might throw up, and I asked Keegan to grab a small plastic basin that I had seen in the bathroom in case I needed it. When a few nurses finally came in, they were very concerned about why the basin was on the bed instead of in the bathroom, and they were upset because the way I was hanging onto the bed during contractions was pulling on my IV tube. I couldn’t understand why anyone would be concerned with such mundane things when such huge pains were washing over me at such regular intervals!

At last, a nurse came in with a fetal monitor. By now, lying on my back was pure agony – it’s probably the worst thing you can do when you’re having back labor. I was gripping Keegan’s hands for all I was worth and yelling to beat the band. The nurse did another internal exam and told me that I was six centimeters dilated. I felt so disappointed: so much pain and still four centimeters to go! I started asking whether it was still possible to get an epidural. The nurses said they would consult the anesthesiologist. Meanwhile, I was able to get back into my more comfortable position on my hands and knees. I immediately felt better, although the contractions were coming closer together than ever. I really wanted a drink of water, but by the time I could get myself together after a contraction to ask Keegan for it, the next contraction was on me. All I could think about was that I would get some drugs and then I would have a break and could drink something. I just needed that mental encouragement that the pain was going to stop.

The next part of the experience is a bit blurry for me because I think I was in “transition,” which is the most difficult stage of labor for most women. I know Dr. Lee came in and told me that an epidural was not recommended for back labor. He offered a narcotic injection (Demerol) to take the edge off the pain. I agreed. Very shortly after receiving the injection in my butt, I started feeling the urge to push. For a long time, I thought what I felt was the urge to go to the bathroom, but finally I realized that I needed to push the baby out! Pushing was such a relief! I could almost immediately feel a burning sensation, and I knew that meant the baby was moving into the birth canal. I was so happy and excited. Nurses started coming into the room to encourage me to breathe deeply and push. They wanted me to lie in a semi-sitting position and pull my legs back along my hips, like a frog. One nurse even sat on the bed with me, put the soles of her feet against mine, and helped me to push against her. I liked that a lot and wished she had stayed longer. One poor nurse had to catheterize me briefly to remove the urine I had in my bladder – she definitely got yelled at, because I was afraid of how much it would hurt. The catheter did sting a little, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought.

When some of the hubbub died down, Keegan and I tried pushing while squatting. It did feel good, but it was hard for me to move back into the reclining position to rest between contractions. I was scared of moving because I could feel the baby was in a new position, and it just felt funny, like if I laid the wrong way, I could squish her somehow.

Finally, the nurses told me that after two more pushes they would take me to the delivery room. They brought in a wheelchair for me. I was petrified of getting off the bed and sitting on the chair, but I managed. They wheeled me across the hall, and I climbed gingerly onto the delivery table. I put my legs into the stirrups, and they strapped my legs down around the knees, which made me nervous because I had gotten used to pushing with my legs bent a lot more. I asked Dr. Lee if I could change positions, but he asked me to try it like this first, and it really wasn’t so bad. The nurses put these huge surgical drape booties over my feet – they went all the way up to my thighs. There were four or five nurses in the delivery room, with Dr. Lee in the place of honor. The nurse who usually assists Dr. Lee and who helped me at all of my prenatal visits was at my head encouraging me. I was so happy to be so close to delivering the baby. I noticed that the ceiling of the delivery room was painted blue with clouds, which I thought was a nice, calming touch. Every time I had a contraction, the nurses and Dr. Lee told me to push for a good long time. I felt like they were my cheering squad at the end of a race.

After a few minutes, Keegan came into the room wearing scrubs. Much hilarity ensued as one of the nurses tried to help Keegan get a sticky latex glove on over his sweaty palms. It took several tries, and lightened the mood a bit until my next contraction started. Dr. Lee told me that the baby’s head was large, and he wanted to perform an episiotomy. I told him to do whatever he thought was necessary to get the baby out – at that point, all I wanted was to reach the finish line and see my baby girl! After the cuts were made, everyone told me to give one last, strong push, and I gave it my all. I could hear Sophie crying, I felt a painful sting as her shoulders came out, and suddenly I could see a little human, upside-down, blue-gray, and covered in poop. The pushing part of the labor and the emergence of my baby girl was the most amazing, exhilarating thing I have ever seen. I couldn’t believe that I had done it or that this tiny bluish, bloody creature was the girl who had been poking and prodding me from inside for all these months.

After the birth, the placenta came out without any trouble, and then Dr. Lee spent what seemed like an eternity stitching me up. I was cranky because I just wanted to see and hold my baby. Keegan got some pictures of the nurses weighing her and stamping her footprints into my pregnancy diary. They did bring her over to lie next to me on the delivery table for a moment, but I didn’t get to hold her until a bit later. It’s traditional for babies born in the Korean hospital to sit in an incubator for four hours after birth, so it was quite a push for us to do something different. We succeeded in negotiating a fifteen-minute session with her before she was taken away. I was able to introduce Sophie to the breast, and she did latch on and start suckling for a little bit, so we were very happy about that. After only a couple hours and several requests, Sophie was out of the incubator, washed up, and back in our arms. We spent both days in the hospital rooming in with our girl, and I think it was the best decision we made – we had a head start in caring for our baby before we left the relative safety of the hospital. Of course, we had no idea that the challenges of parenting were just beginning….but that’s a whole new story.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Fun Weekend

Still waiting on Baby. I have been spending way too much time hanging around brooding about when she will come, so it was a welcome relief this weekend to have our friends Nathan and Eliza visit from Mokpo (on the west coast of Korea) and distract me. On Friday night, we went to a crab restaurant with Keegan's co-worker Fred. He had invited lots of his friends out for a crab dinner because his parents were in town for a brief visit. The crab was really delicious, and it was fun to see everyone. We met up with Nate and Eliza after dinner for ice cream and then headed downstairs to play poker with some Deokpo neighbors. Eliza and I wanted to participate in the proceedings but weren't sure how the guys would feel about Team Pregnant Lady. Fortunately, they were very accommodating. We actually made a good team since Eliza's willingness to gamble nicely balances out my aversion to risk-taking. Next time, though, I doubt they'll let us beginners play together. It was a late night, but I still had trouble falling asleep, and we all slept in late on Saturday morning.

Considering how late we woke up on Saturday, we managed to cram a surprising amount into the day. After a big breakfast, I somehow succeeded in convincing everyone to join me in the pouring rain for my doctor-mandated daily walk. It was actually a beautiful day in the valley where I usually walk because the rice paddies are so green and lush, and the mountains were misty. But we did get very wet! By the time we finished our walk, we were all starving, so we started on a mammoth egg salad for sandwiches, and I made some banana bread while we were boiling the eggs. We all wanted to take naps after lunch, but instead we almost immediately started thinking about dinner. Eliza made a big vegetarian shepherd's pie (with lentils instead of meat - yum!), and the guys huddled over the grill in the rain barbecuing pork ribs. By the time all this was finished, it was nearly 10 p.m.! That worked out well for everyone, though, because the Korea - Uruguay world cup game started at 11. I was totally zonked and decided to go to bed instead.

On Sunday, we were lucky enough to have our friends stay with us for the whole day. We spent some time with the Ryan family, who are going to take care of Nate and Eliza's beloved dog while they are in the U.S. next month. The guys decided to spend the afternoon brewing beer at Joe's apartment, and Eliza and I spent the afternoon in town having lunch and coffee. Then we came home for a pizza dinner and and early bedtime. It was such a relaxing weekend, clearly full of food and also good conversation. I just wish that our friends lived closer to us than 3 1/2 hours away!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Prenatal Yoga

One of my new activities these days is attending prenatal yoga classes at the maternity clinic. We meet twice a week on Monday and Wednesday afternoons, and it's been an interesting experience. I am the only foreigner in the class, which is, of course, conducted in Korean, so it is a good chance for me to practice my Korean listening skills and get familiar with body-part vocabulary. I've learned the words for ankle and thigh and to recognize the words for inhale and exhale, as well as getting lots of practice with left and right! I also have learned how to ask when someone's baby is due and to say that "The baby is moving." Still, it is definitely a challenge to communicate with the other students in the class, and it's sometimes frustrating not to be able to join in conversations about pregnancy and impending parenthood.

The class is held on the third floor of the clinic, in the postpartum care center. The center is a place for new moms to stay for a little extra time (up to two weeks) after their babies are born. The babies can stay in the nursery, and the moms can take classes on breastfeeding, infant massage, and postnatal yoga. I think it's nice that there is this option for new mothers to get some support, especially if their families are not nearby to help out during the first weeks of motherhood. I have heard that it is a pretty expensive option, though. The rooms are kept very warm, which I have heard is common practice for households with new babies, although it makes things a bit uncomfortable for our yoga class. We sweat up a storm, even though we are mostly only doing gentle stretching. All of the moms in the postpartum care center wear matching flannel flowered pajamas that are very pretty, but I can imagine that they are sweating up a storm, too. Because the postpartum center nursery adjoins the yoga room, we can often hear the babies crying, and sometimes the shade on the nursery window is up and we can look at the adorable Korean newborns.

The class always begins with us doing some stretches while we sit cross-legged on the floor, and then progresses to more difficult exercises with our legs outstretched or lying on our backs. There is a lot of giggling amongst the class as we try to bend our bodies into various poses while our enormous bellies get in the way. A few times, we have been asked to partner up, much to the mortification of whoever is partnered with me. Although most of the girls are shy about talking to me, as I am shy about talking to them, they are all friendly and smile when we inevitably meet in the bathroom downstairs after the class. At the end of each class, a nurse brings out a box full of chilled apple juice boxed drinks, which I look forward to like crazy while I sweat away in the hot classroom. I plan to continue going to yoga class until the baby comes. Who knows? Maybe I'll run into some of my classmates on the other side of the third floor, in the delivery and recovery area.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Latest Photos

Thought you all might enjoy a few photos of recent events:

A few of the baby shower guests: Sandra (thanks for organizing things!), Jennie, Ellen, Mina, Kayoko, and Joy. Leandra is behind the camera.

Proud mama-to-be at 37 weeks.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Baby Fair and Baby Shower

Baby, baby, baby. It's difficult to imagine that I will be even more obsessed with Baby when she finally arrives in three weeks or so. Seems like all of our activities these days are somehow related to pregnancy and the upcoming birth!

This past weekend Keegan and I met our friends Nathan and Eliza in Busan to attend a Baby Fair at the convention center there. We met them at the Lotte Hotel around 10 and took the subway to the fair. Once we got inside, we were quickly overwhelmed with the sheer variety and number of baby-related products being peddled. Nate and Eliza were interested in car seats and strollers, and Keegan and I found ourselves drawn to the toy and book booths. We did pick out a few English language books, including our new favorite, William Steig's The Amazing Bone. We oohed and ahhed over some very fun and unusual wooden toys, and both couples bought plastic baby bathtubs, which are a bit bulky to ship from the U.S. There were definitely some items at the fair that were different from what we'd expect to find at a similar event in the U.S. For one thing, many of the book booths were very focused on English language learning and advertised expensive packages containing scads of books and CDs to help children learn English. Our daughter is certainly lucky to be growing up in a household with two native English speakers! We also saw some Korean-style cribs meant for keeping baby comfortable on the floor. They were like giant, cushioned pens, with soft padded bottoms and walls. I thought that they looked like a good bed for me to sleep in as long as I curled my legs up. They were like cozy nests. Does their appeal for me mean that I am "nesting"?

After we finished up at the baby fair, we took a quick break at the hotel and then headed back out for dinner at my favorite Italian restaurant, Cine de Chef at the Shinsegae shopping mall. Everyone had a great time choosing something to order from the impressive menu, and it was fun to relax with friends at a classy restaurant. The only slightly odd touch was the ABBA video playing on the big screen over the bar. Why is ABBA so popular in Korea?

On Sunday, Keegan and I headed back to Costco, where we found a few more baby items and stocked up on salmon fillets, which are our new favorite dinner staple. We also got a ginormous beach towel to go with our beach chairs from last time, so we had better have good beach-y weather this weekend!

In other baby-related news, today I had a baby shower with my friends here in Korea. Several invitees were not feeling well and couldn't come, which made me sad, but it was wonderful to see everyone who could be there and to sample all the delicious foods that everyone brought. I have been pestering my friend Joy for weeks to make her world-class potato salad, so I was happy to enjoy it at last this afternoon, along with lots of sweets, and an amazing tomato-cheese quiche. My Korean teacher/friend Jennie made some amazing kim-bap (Korean-style sushi). Everyone was so generous and picked out adorable clothes for Baby, including a bunch of Korean kimono type shirts that are apparently all the rage these days. Baby was kicking a lot while I opened my gifts, and I surmised that she wanted out to try on all her adorable new outfits! Only three more weeks to go, unless she decides to show up a bit early...or late.

I am still feeling very well, although I am tired like never before, possibly as a consequence of getting up so often to go to the bathroom at night. I am dreaming like crazy, and even though I can't always remember everything in the morning, I think I am in the middle of a different dream every time I wake up. Not too many of them have been baby related, although I did have one dream in which Laura was teaching me how to breastfeed by demonstration, and I told her "Ok, stop, now I want to do it!" Guess I'm ready for my more experienced friends to pass the torch. Anyway, we have a doctor's appointment tomorrow evening, so I am hoping that Dr. Lee can give me an idea of whether the pre-labor ball has started rolling yet. I know that the baby's arrival is one of the most unpredictable HUGE events I'll ever have to deal with, and it is driving me crazy. Apparently, fatigue and uncertainty make me prone to rambling, so I'll stop there. I hope I'll have more news to report tomorrow after our doctor's visit.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Campaign Season

Apparently, there will be local elections in Korea on June 2. I think the elections are mostly for city and province-level officials. There has been a growing amount of campaign activity on Geoje for the past few weeks. It started with banners and posters around town featuring the faces of the local candidates, but it's escalated into antics that are much more interesting. For one thing, there are campaign trucks everywhere with huge loudspeakers on them, blasting campaign songs. The songs are pretty catchy, in what I like to call the "Korean polka" genre. Sometimes they feature the name of the candidate, although of course it's hard for me to understand what else they're singing about. The trucks often sit at major intersections in the towns on the island, but they also drive around into the smaller villages like ours. Sometimes, they arrive blaring music at uncivilized hours of the morning. I can't understand how this tactic is supposed to make people think favorably about the candidate in question. My Korean teacher told me that many people call the police to complain that the trucks are disturbing their studying or their babies' sleeping.

Another campaign tactic involves campaign representatives lining up along the roads, again usually at major intersections, wearing sashes and matching t-shirts and dancing or chanting slogans. One particularly memorable display involved a campaign rep wearing a Superman costume, complete with fake muscles and a mask that was a cut-out of the candidate's face. He was posing and flexing his fake muscles for all the stopped cars at the intersection to admire.

I have also seen a few campaign reps out in our neck of the woods with a garbage bag and some metal tongs, apparently out to collect garbage from along the road. Now this is a campaign tactic I could really get behind! There is such a garbage problem here because there are no public trash cans in areas like beaches or parks. If one of the candidates had a plan to improve that situation, I would find that much more convincing than catchy campaign tunes or Superman costumes. Not that I can vote, or evaluate campaign platforms in Korean. But that's my two cents, Geoje candidates!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

May Is a Glorious Month!

The weather here in Geoje has finally begun to warm a little, which is a welcome change. This past week on one of my walks, I saw that the local farmers have begun to plant the rice paddies. I love the orderly rows of bright green sprouts and look forward to the summer months when the rice plants get a bit bigger and everything looks so much prettier. The trees all have their leaves now, and azaleas are in full bloom everywhere. Now that things are nicer outside, more and more of our neighbors can be found out in the grassy area in front of our building, playing with their kids or grilling out with friends. It makes a big difference to me to see the neighbors around and have a chance to chat - it feels much less lonely here. The grill parties are bound to pick up this summer now that Keegan and several of his co-workers have contributed a new grill, fashioned from a 55-gallon oil drum. We tried it out last night, and it was quite a success!

Our friends Mark and Chang Mi show off the result of the grill project. It looks much nicer now with a new coat of black paint, a smokestack, and a handle for the lid, but I don't have an updated picture.

Keegan and I had a really nice weekend together last weekend in Gyeongju, the first capital of a united Korea during the Silla dynasty. It was a cool place. Apparently, they have some kind of crazy architectural code in the area that requires all of the gas stations to be built in the style of traditional houses, with fancy tile roofs. There are tons of temples and historical sites to see, including some large grassy mounds that cover the tombs of kings from the Silla dynasty. There were glorious azaleas everywhere and lots of lanterns at the temples in preparation for Buddha's birthday later this month.

Keegan rings the temple bell at Seogeuram Grotto in Gyeongju.

We had a chance to take lots of pictures, eat some new and different Korean dishes (and some old favorites), and just relax. We stopped at Costco in Busan on the way home and bought two beach chairs to take to the beach this summer. You have no idea how hard such chairs are to find around here and how happy I am to have somewhere to sit at the beach.

I continue to grow bigger and bigger, and so does Baby.

Ellen and the belly at 33 weeks

This week we had another doctor's appointment, and all is well. The baby is estimated to be about 2.2 kilograms (4.85 pounds) now, so she is growing quite a bit. I can feel her all the time and see her little feet pressing out against my belly. I've been doing prenatal yoga at the maternity clinic and have met a whole classful of Korean pregnant women, some of whom are due only a few weeks after me in July. I also have gotten to know a Korean woman who lives in our apartment building and is married to one of Keegan's co-workers. She has been riding to the class with me and sharing her pregnancy stories. She is about 20 weeks along now, and she is also having a girl. It's nice to know some more people who are having babies here.

Keegan is unfortunately in Houston this week for training for work. I drove him to the airport yesterday morning, and this morning he checked in on Skype to let me know that he had arrived safe and sound. He has a whole list of little things to pick up in the U.S. and plans to meet up with a high school friend of his, so I hope he will enjoy his time there. Everyone here has been so sympathetic that he is out of town while I am so pregnant, so I am enjoying the recognition of my plight. Seriously, though, I am doing quite well and looking forward to several evenings of Gray's Anatomy and extra time to work on some projects before the baby comes. The week will go by fast, and I'll be on my way back to Busan to pick Keegan up in no time.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

First Birthday Party

Keegan and I had a new Korean cultural experience today when we went to a first birthday party for the daughter of one of Keegan's co-workers at the shipyard. We were the only foreigners there, so we tried to be on our best behavior and fit in, although of course we didn't. We were the only ones to bring a gift, and we brought a really cute blue sweatsuit because Keegan had thought that the child was a boy. Oops. Fortunately, I don't think blue and pink are so rigidly defined as boy and girl colors in Korea, so maybe we can play that one off.

When we arrived at the banquet hall, they had a table set up outside the door with some adorable photo studio pictures of the little girl, mostly wearing silly hats with ears on them. We are so going to subject our daughter to this type of photography because it will help her to have a connection to her birth country someday when she looks at the embarrassing photos we took of her. Also on the table were a number of little glass cups, each labeled with a different object, such as "pencil," "money," "string," or "golf ball." These cups had to do with a ceremony that is typical at Korean first birthday parties called doljabi. During the ceremony, the baby is given a choice of several different objects, and the one that she picks determines what her future will be. For example, if she picks up the pencil, she will be a scholar. If she chooses the money, she will be wealthy. If she chooses the string, she will have a long life. The cups on the table were chances for the guests to bet on what the baby would pick. Each guest got a ticket and then put his or her numbered ticket stub into the cup labeled with the object he or she wanted to bet on. I chose the pencil, and Keegan bet on the microphone.

Inside the banquet room, there was an elaborate display set up in front of all the tables, featuring a three-layered cake with a swordlike knife hanging over it, huge pink dolphin balloons, and lots of flowers and candles. Each table had a small grill on it, and all the guests helped themselves to the buffet, where we could pick from several kinds of raw meat and seafood to cook on our grills, as well as a lot of side dishes and fruit and salad.

After lunch, an announcer came to the front of the room and introduced Mr. Kim and his wife and little girl. The little girl was adorable and was wearing a really flashy long white dress with all kinds of gold trim on it. The stood at the front of the room and lit a big candle on top of the cake. The candle was shaped like a lotus flower and blazed with quite a large flame. We all sang "Happy Birthday" (in Korean), and then Mr. Kim blew out the candle. Afterwards, Mom and Dad cut the cake together with the huge, swordlike knife, and then the emcee asked someone to get up and give a toast. Well, it turned out that Keegan was the one everyone wanted to say a few words. Talk about a surprise! Fortunately, Keegan handled the situation with his typical grace and charm, and he received a gift of two scented candles for his effort. After a few more toasts, the emcee led the guests in some other little games, which were lost on us, although I think one may have involved guessing the number of teeth the baby had (can one-year-olds have eight teeth already?). Finally it was time for the doljabi ceremony.

The emcee brought out a tray with several objects laid out on it, and guests were invited to contribute some money to lay out for the baby as well. All during the build up to the ceremony the little girl was reaching towards the tray for the objects, and when the big moment came, she picked up the pencil! Afterwards, they asked her to pick a second object (for daddy, I guess), and she chose the golf ball. Since these were precisely the objects her parents had wanted her to pick, Keegan and I suspected that some "training" had gone on before the big day. The whole ceremony was really cute.

As soon as the festivities were over, everyone headed out with characteristic Korean efficiency. We all received a small party favor, which consisted of a pretty glass plate and a pair of chopsticks. I thought it was a very nice party, and I enjoyed seeing a new Korean tradition.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

30 Week Update

I haven't written much about my pregnancy for a while, and 30 weeks seems like a good landmark at which to post some of my impressions and thoughts. Today also happens to be the official seven-month mark!

I'll start with how I've been feeling. I've definitely grown a lot in the past few months, and I really look and feel pregnant. My tremendous weight gain started at 14 weeks and didn't really slow down until about 26 weeks or so, and then it held steady for a few weeks. I was worried, but it looks like the upward trend has begun again this week. As of this morning, I've put on almost 9 kilograms total (just shy of 20 pounds), and I am starting to feel it. I am walking slower (although I don't think I'm waddling yet) and getting tired more easily. Fortunately, though, swimming still feels wonderful. I plan to continue doing that as long as I can still squeeze myself into my maternity swimsuit (not always easy when you are wet and being stared at by a sizable contingent of Korean ladies). Even when I am not walking or swimming, I am sometimes a little short of breath and occasionally have little dizzy spells, but nothing serious or scary. It is much harder to get comfortable on the couch while watching TV (lots of pillows help), but I am happy to report that I've been sleeping like a rock. I'm not as hungry as I was through most of the first and second trimesters, and I tend to fill up fast, especially at dinner time.

The baby is very well-developed at this point and is mostly putting on finishing touches. Her lungs have developed to the point that she might be able to breathe on her own if she was born now, although we don't want to put that to the test. The big work she is doing now is gaining body fat to keep her warm and developing her brain to prepare her to absorb all the new sensory experiences she'll be having in a few months. At our last appointment, Dr. Lee told us that she weighs about 1.5 kilograms (3.3 pounds), which is right on target. She continues to move around a lot, and I am continually surprised at how far up my abdomen I can feel her now. In fact, just this morning I felt her pushing gently (thank goodness) almost right below my ribs on my right side. I haven't noticed any real patterns in the times that she's awake and moving around, although I think I am slightly more likely to feel her in the late afternoon and evening. It seems like she'll spend a few days really kicking and pushing strongly and then a few days where she's more mellow. I wonder if she's turning around to face inside on those days that I can't feel her as well. I've also felt what I think are hiccups, sometimes more than once a day. That's good because it could mean that she's exercising her diaphragm in preparation for breathing.

Mentally, Keegan and I have been focusing a lot on the birth. I am reading everything I can get my hands on about the birthing process, and I'm planning to put together a list of things for Keegan to read too so that he'll know what to expect. We'll be touring the birthing center and asking Dr. Lee a lot of questions at our next appointment next week. I think that talking to him will really help me to be less anxious about the birth because I'll hopefully know more what to expect from the hospital and what their standard procedures are. Now I feel very positive and excited about the birth - I can't wait to meet my baby, and I am excited about facing the physical challenges of labor. My major anxiety is over communicating with the Korean staff at the hospital and about any requests that we have that might be out of the Korean norms (like keeping the baby with us rather than have her go to an incubator for hours and hours after the birth). Like I said, I hope the talk with Dr. Lee next week will help me feel less anxious about those things. It also helps to know that Keegan will be there to back me up.

I think the nursery is pretty well prepared at this point. One of my friends just offered us a high chair, so now there's really nothing left on our baby supply list except for diapers! The nursery is packed full of baby things, and this week I managed to clean out the linen closet and make a tiny bit more space to hang any pretty dresses our little girl acquires. I'll take some more photos and post them once we neaten up a few last odds and ends and get the rest of the pictures we have up on the walls.

That's pretty much the long and short of it. Stay tuned for more adventures and ultrasound pictures!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Highlights from the Trip Home

Well, we are back from our annual vacation in the U.S. As you can see, I took a little vacation from blogging, too. But, it's back to "work" for me, so I'll try to get back on the once a week schedule again. And first, I'll post a little summary of our trip.

Week 1: I left for the U.S. on March 10. Unfortunately a rogue snow storm caused the cancellation of my morning flight from Busan, so I had to stay overnight and try again the next morning. I am now very familiar with the Busan airport's routines from 5:30 - 7:00 a.m.

Snow on Geoje! As seen from our apartment window. Keegan took this, as I was in the midst of airline hell in Busan.

One of the first things I did when I arrived home was to visit Chrissy (my cousin) and her husband Ryan in Asheville, NC. I have heard such great things about Asheville, and I was curious to see it for myself. It's great! We had a good time eating at all kinds of wonderful restaurants (Mexican! Pizza! Vegetarian!) and taking a trolley tour of the town. Chrissy and I hit a consignment shop, and I picked up all kinds of maternity clothes for summer, as well as an adorable baby bathing suit. Chrissy and Ryan were very understanding of my jet lag and my inability to stay awake if we stayed still for too long in the evenings.

Seeing my parents and Dude and Laura and Jamie and Emily, and meeting Emily's youngest son Jonah, were more highlights of my first week at home.

Week 2: The highlight of my second week at home was my Blessingway in Lynchburg. A Blessingway is a celebration of motherhood that is a little like a baby shower, but more focused on loving support than on gifts. Emily made me a cake shaped like a pregnant torso (complete with strawberry nipples), and I got to wear a flower crown and soak my feet.

Blessingway food, including Emily's pregnant lady cake.

Each of the guests brought two beads for me to make into a necklace that I can wear during my labor, and everyone also brought a favorite childhood book for Baby's library.

Wearing my bead necklace.

I felt so special and so happy to share my pregnancy with all of these important people in my life.

Week 3: During the third week at home, I met Keegan in Costa Rica to visit our friend Solson, who lives in Heredia close to San Jose. We had a wonderful time catching up with Solson and relaxing at his house. His sweet dog Bonita was definitely a highlight for me - she happily accepted hours of petting and frequently rested her chin endearingly on my knee, which was adorable. Solson was a wonderful tour guide and took us all over the place, but I definitely loved our afternoon at the beach the best. The water was so warm!

At Esterillos Beach in Costa Rica!

On the same day that we went to the beach, we also visited a jungly national park where we saw howler monkeys! I had been dying to see monkeys, so I was thrilled. They were huge, and there was no missing them swinging through the vines and branches high above us, just like in a nature documentary. It was impossible to get good pictures, but the memory is enough for me.

Week 4: Back in Charlottesville, we celebrated Sue's birthday with a big dinner at the Boar's Head Inn. A lot of the family was there, and it was wonderful to have everyone together. The next day was my baby shower, which was beautiful. Grandma, Sue, Holly, and Mandy really put together some great food and stunning decorations, and we couldn't have asked for a prettier spring day. It was nice to see a lot of the people I had met at my wedding shower and engagement party, and we received an enormous bounty of baby gear and adorable clothes.

At the baby shower, with a beautiful blanket knitted by Nana (aka Sue).

It's been a lot of fun to unpack everything in the nursery.

Week 5 brought a chance for a brief visit with my parents and one last chance to see everyone at Jamie's wedding on the weekend. Catching up with friends at the rehearsal dinner and seeing how beautiful and happy Jamie looked on her wedding day were real highlights.

Jamie and Colin are married!

After the wedding we had more time to chat with Chrissy and Ryan over pizza, and on Sunday we took a wonderful walk on the bike path with Emily and Tony. On Sunday afternoon we had a few precious hours to spend with my parents and Dude the black beast, and afterward we had dessert with Sue and Steve back in Charlottesville. The trip definitely ended too soon, as always, and I know Keegan especially would have liked more time, but overall it was a wonderful visit, and we feel refreshed and much more prepared for Baby, at least in terms of Stuff. Whether we're prepared for Parenthood remains to be seen.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Kyoto, Part 2

I can’t believe that I am already embarking on my next adventure before I’ve even finished updating about the trip to Japan. I figured a 14-hour plane ride is as good a time as any to spend some time writing, so I’ve got my laptop out as we fly over the Pacific on our way back to the United States.

When I stopped last, we had just finished our first full day in Kyoto. We both woke up considerably more tired on Saturday morning, so we had a bit of a slow start. Eventually, though, we managed to find a new café for breakfast and then make our way to the subway station for a trip to the Arashiyama district, on the west side of the city. The subway station was a bit baffling since the automated ticket machines at the station we were in were all in Japanese. But we persevered and eventually determined that as long as you put your money in first thing, it’s not too hard to figure out. From the subway, we took a private rail line to Arashiyama. The rail line was clearly designed for tourists, and we got an English map and guide to all the stops and the attractions once we got there. On our guide, we saw that there was a “foot spa” at the final train station, so that gave us something to look forward to after a day of walking around.

The first place that we went after we arrived was a temple called Tenryu-ji, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The temple buildings were not particularly ornate, but the garden surrounding them was really beautiful, especially because we could see snow on the mountains in the background. A few cherry blossom trees and a few trees with delicate yellow blossoms were beginning to bloom in the gardens, and we felt lucky to see the combination of snow and the start of spring. It helped that the weather had finally cleared up and was gloriously sunny and at least a little bit warmer. Another feature of the temple grounds was a gorgeous, thick bamboo grove, which we oohed and ahhed at appropriately.

Finished with the temple, we headed back towards the train station to find lunch. We ended up in a small, nondescript Japanese restaurant where the menus were only in Japanese, with no pictures. The waitress didn’t bat an eye and just motioned us outside to the window display of the available dishes rendered in plastic. There, we could point to what we wanted. We both had udon soup again.

After lunch, we headed to a nearby park close to the river. The street along the river was really beautiful, wide and lined with restaurants and shops and rickshaws with pushy drivers offering tours. In the park, we ascended a fairly steep hill (my pregnant body was not very cooperative – I was really huffing and puffing!) and came to a lookout that revealed a stunning view of the river valley, complete with old-fashioned small boats carrying tourists. We emerged from the park into a huge, really impressive bamboo grove, of which the temple garden grove had only been a small part. Near the grove, we marveled at a small bamboo storage yard and then bought a bamboo wind chime at a little shop full of cool knick-knacks made from bamboo. Keegan later said that he really enjoyed this little excursion out of the touristy parts of the city and into the quiet natural area.

The Lonely Planet recommended another temple that was a fair distance from the bamboo grove, so we set off to find it. To get there, we walked through some quiet residential streets and enjoyed looking at the yards and gardens. Finally, we neared our destination, which was actually a very small convent, I think. The temple/convent was called Gio-ji, and it had a really amazing atmosphere. It made me think of a lush emerald, tucked away on the side of the mountain. Once we passed through the first gate, we were in a little microcosm of velvety green moss, slender bamboo, and blowsy white peonies. It didn’t take long to see everything there was to see at this tiny temple, but the first impression was definitely striking.

By the time we left the temple, we were both dragging a bit, so we decided it was time for another ice cream break. We stopped at a coffee shop where we ordered, once again, from the window display. Keegan had pancakes, which he had developed a hankering for after seeing the plastic ones on display at yesterday’s café, and I had an ice cream sundae that could only be described as an architectural masterpiece, involving lots of fresh fruit and chocolate sauce. Just as the day before we had enjoyed watching koi in their pond, on Saturday we watched little green birds in the trees outside the window, where the owners of the coffee shop had put tiny dishes of seed and water. The birds were so colorful and interesting that passersby on the street also stopped to watch, and we felt lucky that we had chosen such a pleasant location for our snack.

Finally back at the train station, it was time for our relaxing footbath. I had expected cushy chairs with individual foot spas, like at the beauty salon, but instead there was a large hot water spa with two big tables in it. The customers sat around the edge of the tub and could have coffee or tea at the tables. It was very difficult to take our feet out of the warm water and continue on our way. Fortunately, the train was toasty warm, and we both had a chance to soak in the tub for a bit before our dinner at an Indian restaurant in Gion. Once again, we had no trouble falling asleep after the day’s adventures.

On Sunday we planned a trip out of Kyoto to the smaller city of Himeji, where I had read that there was a very impressive Japanese castle called Himeji Castle. We had a bit of trouble figuring out which train to take, and we ended up with tickets on the super-fast bullet train. Everyone should experience a ride on the bullet train at least once. This one really impressed us because it took us back through Osaka, where we had come from on Thursday, but in half the time of driving. I could definitely get used to that!

Himeji was a city clearly bending over backwards to please the tourists who came to visit the castle, but also clearly not as established as a tourist destination as Kyoto. It was a fairly short walk from the train station to the castle, down a very broad street lined with nondescript stores and businesses. The castle itself was huge and commanding, on a hill overlooking the street. We couldn’t stop taking pictures of it as we approached. Inside the castle walls, we looked at a side residence mostly for the castle’s women. It was completely unfurnished and very plain, quite a difference from the meticulously designed temples and gardens we had been visiting. A sign nearby informed us that “This is indeed the best castle in Japan.” We were happy to be reminded. Inside the main building of the castle we saw displays on castle life. Everything was very spartan and clearly designed for defense and withstanding siege. There were a lot of very steep wooden stairs to climb. The view from the top of the castle was nice, but since the castle itself is the focus of sightseeing in Himeji, not incredible.

After enjoying the castle and taking a million pictures, we got lunch at another noodle shop. This one had really, really long homemade noodles. My noodles came covered in very thin, dry flakes of some unfamiliar composition (fish?) that waved around alluringly in the steam from the hot broth. When I stirred them into the soup they took on a meaty texture that was very tasty. I will have to remember to ask my Japanese friend about what those were.

After lunch we visited Himeji’s other main attraction, a series of tranquil gardens next to the castle. Keegan was a good sport and enjoyed the koi ponds and the bonsai-style cherry blossoms on display, but the gardens were typical of gardens viewed in the winter: I couldn’t stop thinking how pretty they’d be once everything was in bloom. Our Sunday ice cream snack was eaten on the walk back to the train station. I tried a black sesame and soy milk swirl, and Keegan had green tea with vanilla.

Back in Kyoto, we hungry travelers stopped at the first place that caught our eye. There were very few customers there, we were a little off the beaten path, and the proprietors seemed thrilled that we had chosen their place of business for our dinner. I tried yu-tofu, an elaborate dish involving skin skimmed off the top of fermenting tofu, boiled in a paper cone of soy milk over a flame, and then dipped in a sesame/soy type sauce. Keegan tried “kaiseki,” which is a Japanese haute cuisine that Kyoto is famous for, focusing on a number of small dishes presented elegantly. I read that real kaiseki restaurants can be quite formal and daunting for foreigners, so I suspect that this was “tourist kaiseki,” but we enjoyed it anyway. When we left the restaurant, our waitress attempted to communicate with me in Japanese, but it was an unsuccessful interaction. She pointed out my height and then gestured at my nose and gave me a packet of oil-absorbing wipes. I really don’t think she intended to insult me, but geez.

Back in our room, I felt the baby kicking like crazy, so I made Keegan put his hand on my tummy. Sure enough, he felt her kick several times and then felt her roll underneath his palm. I was so happy that he was able to participate, especially on Valentine’s Day. I’ll always remember that.

Monday morning, and the last day of our trip (are you glad to be coming to the end of this marathon?). We awoke to a chilly rain and decided to pace ourselves rather slowly during the day. After another delicious rice ball breakfast, we headed to a temple that Kayoko had recommended, called Sanjesangdo. Inside were 1,000 golden Buddha statues, as well as a number of statues of other deities and spirits. It was amazing to see the hordes of statues and fun to look at the interesting characters portrayed, but it was hard to get a good sense of the scale of the place from inside. Behind the statues was a display about archery contests that used to be held along the length of the temple’s porch. There were all kinds of contests, including one to see how many arrows a person could shoot within a given amount of time.

In the afternoon, we tried to visit the steam locomotive museum, but found out it was closed on Mondays. We went to the post office and spent some time working out how to access our bank account so we could pay the hotel bill. It was altogether a somewhat disappointing day, with the combination of the gray weather and the closed museum and the logistical hassles, so I will not dwell on it for long. We did have a nice dinner in a restaurant on a historic street in Gion, and we saw what I think may have been an honest-to-goodness geisha as we wandered the beautiful streets after dinner. So the day did get somewhat redeemed in the evening, and we had an upbeat end to our trip. There was so much we didn’t see, though. Guess that’s just a reason to go back again someday.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Kyoto Travelogue at Long Last

It's been two weeks since we returned from our trip to Kyoto, and I am on the couch with my laptop, water bottle and frozen yogurt, ready to post a long update about our journey. Hope you enjoy it. I have gotten about two-thirds of our pictures up on Flickr and hope to get the rest up before I leave for the U.S. next week.

Keegan and I left for Japan on a windy, rainy morning, feeling quite sorry for ourselves that the weather was so bad. We flew from Busan on Asiana Airlines, which really impressed us. The plane seemed roomy and comfortable, the food was decent, and we were heartily entertained by, I'm embarrassed to say, America's Funniest Home Videos during our one-hour flight. We landed at the Kansai International Airport. We were met at the gate by our shuttle bus driver, who took us on the 90-minute drive to Kyoto. He was a friendly guy and a careful driver, which we appreciated. As we drove through Kyoto, he pointed out the Gion district and then began to wind through increasingly beautiful streets, lined with traditional buildings. Eventually, we turned onto a cobblestone street where we had to stop and walk because the street was blocked off to all but pedestrian traffic. We couldn't believe that our hotel was in such a beautiful area!

We stayed at the Rikiya ryokan, where an elderly Japanese woman greeted us, showed us around our room, and served us some tea. The elderly woman's somewhat less elderly daughter welcomed us with a few words of English, but it was plain that both women's English ability was limited. The room was huge, with a sitting area and a sleeping room, and we had a wonderful view towards the Kiyumizu Temple close by.

We were hungry, so we headed out in spite of the rain and quickly found a warm and welcoming noodle shop, where we each tried a steaming bowl of udon noodles. Mine had tofu and egg and was delicious. After our lunch, we strolled around the Gion area, which, fortunately for us, has many covered sidewalks that protected us from the rain. We enjoyed peering into the many souvenir shops along the way. Then we ventured out into the rain to explore the Maruyamacho Park, which was beautiful even viewed from beneath our umbrellas. After our rainy walk, Keegan enjoyed a hot bath in our funny, cube-shaped bathtub, while I read for a while. Then we headed out to dinner. We found a great little place across the street from the colorful entrance to the Yasaka-jinja shrine. We ate in front of the window with a gorgeous view and were very happy to be eating Japanese food and sitting in the warm, dry indoors.

On Friday morning we ate breakfast at a cafe recommended by the ryokan. We followed the route they recommended to get to the main street where the cafe was, and we later discovered that our uneventful walk to breakfast was on a street that the Lonely Planet calls "perhaps the most beautiful street in Kyoto." It was indeed quite nice, paved with cobblestones and lined with lots of traditional houses. Each house had an elegant doorway flanked by meticulously cared-for plants and flowers. Our breakfast at the cafe was delicious, especially the toast, which was sliced about 2 inches thick and slathered with butter. Yum.

It was sprinkling in the morning, but as we embarked on the Lonely Planet walking tour we had planned for the day, the rain began to let up, and we did actually see the sun a bit. We started with the Kiyumizu Temple, which was spectacular. The temple is known for one aspect of its architecture: its giant veranda supported by huge wooden columns several stories high. I can't imagine how they built such a place in 798, when the temple was originally constructed, but it was impressive. We saw a number of Japanese women and one couple dressed in colorful kimono as they visited the temple and suspected that they had dressed up to get particularly special souvenir photos of their trip to Kyoto. I took some special souvenir photos of them, too. We also saw "the famous love stone," which is actually two stones, placed 18 meters apart. You are supposed to walk between the stones with your eyes closed, and if you successfully make it to the second stone, then you will find love. Keegan was successful, but I veered way off to the left and ended up running into another, apparently unromantic, rock. Keegan found this hilarious.

After some time at the temple, we headed back into town down a hilly street lined with souvenir shops. I saw some beautiful handbags that caught my interest, but couldn't find anything that was the right size, the right material, and the right price. Maybe next time. Our walking tour led us down street after street lined with old-fashioned buildings and fairly classy souvenir shops. The neighborhood reminded me of Insadong in Seoul, with older buildings and more expensive items for sale. Worn out from shopping, we took a detour back to Thursday's noodle shop and tried two different varieties of udon noodles for lunch. Then it was back on the trail to visit the temple across the street from our ryokan, called Kodai-ji temple. This temple had really beautiful grounds, complete with an impressively dense bamboo grove. It was so wonderful to spend the day walking around surrounded by so much elegance and beauty - definitely a welcome break from dear Okpo.

After the second temple I was dragging a bit, so we decided to stop for some ice cream. The little cafe we stopped in had a big koi pond and splendid garden outside the window, and the fish entertained us while we ate. We also saw two women in full geisha costume on the street outside the cafe. I managed to take some pictures of them through the door. Later on in the trip, we passed a nearby shop where you can pay to dress up as a geisha (with make-up and everything) and then walk around the neighborhood and have your picture taken. So I suspect that was what these women were doing. They were stunning.

After our ice cream break, we continued to walk along the walking tour path, but by this time it was so late that the temples were closing. We took some pictures of the exteriors and strolled all the way to the Heian Shrine, past several museums and a gorgeous, modern public library. We walked back along the Kamo-gawa River, which turned out to be a good choice because when we arrived back in the Gion district, we stumbled on another of the most beautiful streets in Kyoto. This one runs along a little canal and is lined with traditional buildings, cherry trees just beginning to blossom, and graceful lanterns glowing in the twilight. We were enchanted. We also were excited to spot a tempura restaurant that promised to be a fabulous spot for dinner. We returned there after our nightly bath/reading time and had another delicious dinner, with plenty of fried vegetables and seafood, miso soup, and sake for Keegan. Needless to say, neither of us had trouble falling asleep in our little futons on the floor of the ryokan.

To be continued...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Nursery Update

Here are some pictures of the nursery now that the furniture has been moved in (thank you, Matt and Jacki!). We still have a few things to buy and a few decorating items to install, but the basic layout is ready.

Door with cute sign. The little fox is actually meant to go in your car with your cell phone number on it in case your car needs to be moved, but it will make a nice ______'s Room sign once we pick a name.

Growth chart and cute trash can

Glider and changing table/dresser. The cats love the glider. We want to buy a nice standing lamp to go next to the glider.

Crib - obviously a bit low right now, but Keegan is going to adjust the height after a trip to the hardware store. We really need some colorful sheets!

Monday, February 22, 2010

News from the Doctor's Office

I am still intending to update about our trip, but first here's the update from our doctor's visit on Saturday. We thought we would be extra savvy this time and get there right when the office opens at 9:30, but when we arrived at 9:25, the office was already open and bustling with people. Still, we were third in line to see Dr. Lee, and I think our wait time was a little shorter than usual. Since we don't have to go through the hassle of making appointments (and then STILL waiting in the waiting room), I try not to mind the waiting too much.

Dr. Lee told us that this month he would do an ultrasound "from brain to toes" and that it would take a little extra time. He started with the baby's head and brain, both of which look good and are exactly the right size for 21 weeks. He also measured the baby's arms and legs, which both measured at exactly the right size for 22 weeks. Since we are at 21 weeks now, the doctor remarked on how long our baby's limbs are. Guess my assessment of the gangly ultrasound from a few weeks ago was right on. Dr. Lee checked the baby's lip for a cleft lip and her spine and pronounced both to look normal with no visible defects. He asked whether he had told us the sex already, and when I reminded him that he had told us it was a girl, he replied "Well, there is no change." So now we can be even more sure that we will have a daughter in July!

We had a chance to count the baby's fingers (10) and look at her feet, but it wasn't very easy to count her toes, so we'll do that next time.

Baby's hands, with fingers marked by arrows. I think she is World's Earliest Waver. So precocious.

Baby's blurry feet

In the abdomen, we could see Baby's heart beating, and the doctor pointed out her kidneys and stomach. Her stomach was full of amniotic fluid, which she has been swallowing for a tiny amount of nourishment and to practice her swallowing skills. When he zoomed in on the heart, we could see all four chambers and watch the valves open and close. Pretty cool! Unfortunately, the CD with the ultrasound video on it is scratched, so I am trying to figure out how to recover as much of the video as possible.

Overall, the baby is now about 440 grams (around a pound) and about 22-23 cm long (8.5-9 inches). Dr. Lee pointed out the baby's position to us with the ultrasound transducer: her head is down low on my left, her body stretching out to my right, with her feet up high to the left of my belly button. I can't believe how much room she's taking up already! Good thing there's still plenty of room to expand.

Baby's head. On the right, you can see a slight profile with one eye and the nose. On the left, Baby is facing the "camera" straight on, with one Terminator-esque eye (she kicked me when I wrote that) glaring out with the death ray.

Baby's face is squished into the lower right corner of the frame. You can see her forehead, eyes and nose pretty clearly. I think the bubbly stuff to the left of Baby's face is the umbilical cord.

In other baby news, we were able to move our hand-me-down nursery furniture into the nursery this weekend (pictures coming as soon as I get things a little more orderly in there). I also spent all afternoon Sunday trying on clothes to discover what still fits and what I still need. I was heartened to find many attractive options left for me if the weather would just warm up a tiiiiny bit. I also rediscovered several elastic-waisted skirts that should continue to be winners for a while. Hooray! Still, I am looking forward to finding some new things when I'm home next month.