Monday, October 5, 2015

Time for a new chapter...

I've been home for almost 2 months now, it's time to wrap up this expat blog.  I'm stopping with a nice round number, this is my 100th post.  I'm not sure if I'll start another blog to replace this one.  Let's just see what I wind up doing with myself.

I really believe that by doing this blog I get to write my own story.  The adventures that I'll remember are the ones I've written.  The way I'll remember is the way I've chosen to write it.  Because of that, having the proper ending to the story is important to me but also really difficult to do.  Nothing ruins a book or a movie faster than a lame ending.  I feel like this is my version of an indie movie where nothing is really quite resolved since I'm still living the adventure and even though I'm no longer living in Japan, that experience has forever impacted me as a person.

People always ask me if I'm glad I went to Japan.  Yes, yes and YES!  It was an awesome experience.  I learned so much and grew as a person.  I loved living in a foreign culture.  I got to experience so many things that I would not have been able to as a tourist and I feel that I have a much better understanding of Japanese culture because of it. 

With that being said, I'm so glad to be home.  It is a little odd being back.  Everything is the same but I'm quite different, and not just because I lived in Japan for a year but I also came home with a baby.  I have been trying to figure out how to set up my new life here and how I fit into the places and peoples lives that I left.  I think that is something difficult to do when you have a baby, but even more difficult when you have a baby when living abroad for a year.  I'm starting to find a routine and make a nitch for Wren and I.

Trying to explain how I feel is difficult.  The closest I can come to is the feeling after you just finish reading a really good series.  One with a ton of books that takes you long enough to read that you really feel like you know the characters and that they are friends.  The type you stay up until 3 o'clock in the morning to finish because you have to know how it ends.  When you are all done, you are happy that it all worked for them out but not sure what to do next.  That sweet but every so slightly bitter feeling where you miss the characters in you book.  That's kind-of how I feel.  Like Japan was just one crazy dream and I'm now back to my real life.

It's been a little difficult to stay connected to that experience but it is something I would really like to try to do.  Japan was too special and meaningful to let it fade away.  If I could go back in time and talk to myself when Jeff and I were discussing whether we should go or not I would definitely tell my younger self to go.

I hope to go back to Japan some day and show my daughter where she was born and teach her a little about where I lived for a year.  I would like to go back and see some of the people I left behind and dearly miss.  A piece of my heart will always be in Japan.  Sayonara!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

My untold story

Let me start this story by saying that it is very personal to me. It is not the most cheerful story but I feel that is important story to tell and is the real reason that Jeff and I went to Japan.

In September of 2013, Jeff and I decided to start trying to have a baby. By that point Jeff and I had been married for almost 11 years. We spent a long time thinking about our lives together before we made the decision to try to have a child. Because we had been married for so long most people assumed that we were not going to have kids. When I got pregnant the first month that we were trying we  were super excited. We felt like we had a fun secret that we were keeping to ourselves.

Keeping things a secret stopped being fun once I was feeling more of the side effects of pregnancy. Not telling people what was happening started feeling a little isolating.  I was tired and nauseous a lot. One of my employees was worried that I was dying of cancer and made me promise that I was not hiding a terminal illness.  I told very few people what was happening until Thanksgiving. At that point I was 11 weeks pregnant. We told our families over Thanksgiving weekend. They were shocked and happy and surprised.  It was nice to finally tell people.

The next week I had my 12 week check up.  When they did the ultrasound, the baby had no heartbeat. The doctor said that it looked like development stopped around week nine.  They recommended that I have a procedure done called a D &C to remove the dead baby since it did not seem to want to come out on its own.  They said they would call and schedule an appointment for the procedure.

Jeff and I were in such shock that neither of us cried and we both went to work after the doctor appointment.  We really weren't able to process what happened and what it meant.  I was able to get the D&C scheduled for the next day. I told my boss what had happened. He was one of the few people at work who knew I was pregnant. He almost cried when I told him. I just felt numb.

After the procedure and once we told family what had happened Jeff and I both said that we were OK but we really weren't. I can speak for myself and saying that I was really sad once I was able to process what had happened. Even though I did not lose someone that I knew, I felt the loss of a possible future. I took it much harder than I was willing to admit to myself. And I think it took me a long time to actually get sad so it was harder to recognize.  I just kept telling myself that I was fine even though I wasn't.  I didn't give myself permission to grieve and be sad.  That was a mistake.

Shortly after all of this happened my work and get a reorganization.  Part of that reorganization was a change in my role and similar roles in other departments. I know longer had my employees. They took away my work kids. After the loss of my baby it was more than I can handle. I took it very very personally even thought it was not personal.  I was mad and sad all the time.  But mostly, I felt alone and isolated. I didn't know how to answer simple questions like "how are you doing?".  You can just say "I'm feeling really depressed because I lost a pregnancy you didn't even know I had".  No one wants to hear that.  I felt like this huge thing happened to me but I couldn't talk about it.  I didn't know how.  I felt like I was pretending to be someone I was not just to get through the day.  It sucked.

Jeff and I went on a vacation to Chile.  Planning it gave us something positive to focus on and I felt really good while we were out of town.  Shortly after we came back I started struggling again.  I had a really bad day at work and said "F*** it!  Lets just pack up and leave the country.  I need a change.  Jeff, can you get a job in Japan?"  And Jeff started looking for jobs in Japan.

Even after we moved I felt like I couldn't talk about the failed pregnancy.  I was afraid it would jinx things or something.  I don't know.  Its not something people talk about.  I had a huge spike in my anxiety level every time I went to the doctor while I was pregnant until I saw the heartbeat on the ultrasound.  I don't think I really knew how much this affected me until after Wren was born healthy.  I can see it all in hindsite.

I guess i wanted to tell this story just in case someone reads it who had a similar experience and perhaps this will help them grieve or know it's OK to talk about it or maybe some one will read this who knows someone who lost a pregnancy will understand a little better what they are going through and that it is a hard thing to go through.  Way more difficult than I expected.

Anyhow.  My untold story has now been told.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

International travel with a 2 month old

I think I have already covered the importance of making sure you have a passport?  If you somehow missed that, go back two blogs.

You need many diapers.  More than will fit in a diaper bag.  Have a carry on bag with extra diapers, changes of clothes and anything you NEED when you get where you are going for the baby.  Fortunately we had everything we needed and packed a ton of diapers.  Wren hates to be wet.

The first flight was a short one, just a quick hop from Hiroshima to Seoul Korea.  Customs was quick and easy.  I was worried about my small cooler full of milk for Wren but they had no problems with it.  The next minor hurdle was the car seat.  We ordered the car seat from Germany (even though it's sold in the US, the shipping was cheaper).  For some reason, even though it has the certification to make it airline safe, it doesn't have the right sticker on it so everyone gets all weird about it.  The stewardesses took our car seat and insisted on trying to install it themselves and had us board just carrying the baby later.  They said it wouldn't work with their seats be cause they were trying to install it backwards.  Eventually they let Jeff install it and all was good.

Wren was great the whole flight.  She was a little hungry as we were boarding which was perfect.  I kept giving her small sips of milk from the bottle to keep her from totally loosing it as we were taxiing and as soon as we took off I let her drink as much as she wanted.  The swallowing helped her sinuses to equalize from the pressure change and so she had no problems at all.  I did a quick diaper change on the seat between Jeff and I and that worked well.  I woke her up right before landing and she polished off another bottle on the way down.  I don't think she cried at all the whole flight which was a huge success.

We had a long layover in Seoul.  The first order of business was for us to get our tickets fixes.  None of us were seated together which seemed like it would be a bit of a problem.  The only way to get the tickets fixed was to go to the boarding gate.  We went there but the previous flight was a different airline.  They couldn't help us but the 4 Korean ladies who were at the gate decided Wrens big blue eyes were the prettiest they've ever seen.  Jeff and I joke that now that we are home she is just another white baby while she was in Asia she was adored by everyone, lol!  After a long time the right people showed up at the gate and we got our tickets fixed.

Jeff and Wren in the Seoul Airport

Wren bundled up on the plane, it was cold

There was a little less confusion with the car seat but they still frowned at it.  We did the same routine for take off and all was good.  We made it until about half way through the 10-ish hour flight before things took a turn for the worse.  Right when everyone is sleeping, the lights are off and the plane is quiet, Wren woke up and was angry.  She used to get in to a state that we called fuss lock.  She is hungry so she is crying but you can't feed her until she calms down because she wont eat.  But she wont calm down because she is hungry.  You see where this is going?  So, Wren was screaming for all she was worth while the whole plane was trying to sleep.  I couldn't get her to stop.  I was so tired at this point because I hadn't slept more than a couple hours in the last 4 days that I was really having a hard time functioning. I was just about ready to start crying too when Jeff took Wren and got her to calm down.  It seemed like she was crying for ever, but it was only about 20 minutes.  Most people seemed to have headphones or ear plugs but I still felt awful.

The rest of the flight was without incident and the final leg, San Francisco to Boise was uneventful.  The flight was delayed about an hour and a half but that was the only point of interest.  Wren was pretty quiet.  I was a total sleep deprived Zombie at this point.  In Boise we collected our luggage but the box that had the bassinet was missing.  I just wanted to go home so bad and shower and sleep.  Jeff talked to the lost luggage guy and found our bag in San Francisco still.  It would be on the next flight to Boise.  So we took a cab and went home.

Wren is home.

I'm a little fuzzy on the details but I found towels in a box that we had left in the house and so we all managed to get clean.  There was also a quick trip to the grocery store to get something for dinner and some things to survive the next couple of days like plastic cups so we could drink water and things like that.

Since we didn't have a the bassinett yet, I made up a drawer as a baby bed.  It worked for one night.  I think she's too big for that drawer now.  Makes me realize how behind with this I am, oops!

Well, that gets us back to Boise.  I only have a couple more stories to tell then it's time to retire this blog.  I'm a bit sad it's coming to an end but I am no longer an expat in Japan!

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Hiroshima Airport garden - Sankeien

I'm sure Jeff and I aren't the only people to get stuck at the Hiroshima airport, otherwise why would they have a garden out there?  The airport is pretty isolated but there is a large, beautiful (but not very stroller friendly) garden.  Jeff, Wren and I checked it out on the way to dinner when we were stuck in Japan (see previous post if that statement confuses you).

There are a ton of steps so Jeff and I had to pick up the stroller in places and at other times we would just take turns walking down certain paths while the other person hung out with Wren in the stroller.  It was really lovely.  It was pretty hot and humid which might be why we had the place to ourselves.  No one else was there. 

Here are some of my favorite pictures, they are just from my phone but I think they still look okay.

To anyone with a long layover in Hiroshima or someone who just wants a little time outside before being stuck in a flying metal tube for several hours, I highly recommend taking a couple minutes to check out the garden.  It is about a 4 minute walk from the airport.  You can see the flight control tower from the garden which is an interesting juxtaposition of nature and man.  Unfortunately, with the lighting the picture I took of that did not really turn out. 

This was my last little bit of Japan.

As a side note, there is also a park out there that we walked through in the morning.  It had some tennis courts and fields and a nice walking path.  My favorite part was a little bridge across some water.  Here's the picture of that.

Monday, August 24, 2015

How to get stuck in Japan

Before you think I'm mean for posting this, Jeff agreed that it was too good of a story not to share.

Japanese people love their paperwork.  There was a ton of documents to organized after we had Wren and another huge pile to get a passport for her.  It's not surprising that there was another huge pile to leave the country.  Jeff and I had a deal that I'd organize everything and make sure it was easy to pack and we had the necessary gear for the baby if he took care of the paperwork.

When you travel with an infant, the amount of luggage you find yourself traveling with is HUGE.  We needed to take what ever we would need to get us through about three weeks in Boise before the rest of our stuff in Japan gets delivered.  We of course could buy stuff once we got here but it seemed silly to buy stuff we already had so we had a lot of luggage (A total of 10 bags.  One checked bag for me, one checked bag for Jeff, one checked bag of baby blankets and bedding, one checked box containing a small bassinet, a carry on bag with the laptops, a carry on bag full of Wren's clothes and extra diapers (you need a lot of diapers on a 24 hour travel day), the diaper bag, a small cooler with milk for the baby in it, and Jeff and I each had a small backpack with stuff to survive the flight.)  Oh yeah, and a stroller and a car seat with a baby in it.

So, there we are with our small mountain of luggage trying to check into the flight when Jeff turns to me and looks like he is going to through up.  When I asked what was wrong he explained that he didn't have Wren's passport.  He said he was about 99% sure it was still in the printer that the shippers packed up 2 days earlier, which was in a box on it's way to Boise somewhere...

We stepped out of line (with our heaps of luggage) and Jeff started making calls.  I couldn't help since my phone was deactivated for Japan 2 days earlier.  It was about 6:30 at night so getting a hold of people was difficult.  It became clear really quickly that we were not getting on the flight we had tickets for so we got that canceled. 

The next step was making sure we were not sleeping in the Airport.  This was a reasonable concern.  The next day was the Anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and most of the hotels in the area were booked.  We knew that Micron was having problems finding problems for people who were in town that week and several had to travel long distances to get hotel rooms.  Fortunately my Japanese teacher Ito-san had come to the airport to wish us save travels and say goodbye and she was able to make a couple of calls and get us a hotel right near the airport. 

By about 9:00 we were able to get to the hotel and check in.  Fortunately they still had room service available since all the restaurants had closed.  We had some food as Jeff continued to make calls late in to the night.  Our shipment was in Tokyo and it looked like our most realistic option to get home was to go to Osaka the next day and go to the embassy to get an emergency passport and then fly out of Osaka.  This meant taking a taxi (30 min) to the train station and taking the train to Osaka (2.5 hours with one transfer) and then another taxi to the embassy (30 min) all with a ton of luggage and a baby.  Things were looking pretty bad so we were trying to go through luggage to see what we could ditch at the hotel so we could actually get through the train stations.  Around midnight we gave up and went to bed but I don't think either of us slept much.

First thing in the morning Jeff was back on the phone talking to the embassy.  Things were looking better.  We could get an emergency passport in the same day if we could get to the embassy by 3:00PM.  This was great.  We talked to the hotel and got the room for a second night, then we didn't have to haul all our luggage with us, we could just go there and back again in one long day and fly out of Hiroshima.

We had a quick breakfast and were literally on our way out the door to head to the train station when Jeff got a call back from the shipping company.  Yes, the located our shipment in Tokyo and looked in the box that Jeff had told them contained the printer and found the passport!!!  We didn't need to go to Osaka, they would overnight us the passport, YAY!!!

Since there was nothing to do at that point but wait, we took a walk.

Obon, which is the biggest holiday of the year in Japan started the following Monday.  This was making it really difficult for us to get rebooked on a flight home.  They were saying they could get us on a flight on Sunday... it was Thursday and I really didn't want to stay that long in the hotel airport with a baby.

While Jeff was looking for other flight options, the shipping people called back and said that there was a problem with overnighting the passport.  They would have to either send it slower or faster.  They said we could get it that night at 8:00PM.  Sweet!  This meant that the morning flight which was the last one with availability was possible!!!  We could get home on Friday!

Everything was looking so much better by the time we went to dinner that night.  There is actually a very nice garden right next to the airport that we checked out on our way to dinner (yes, our last dinner in Japan was at the airport since it was really the only close restaurants besides an Italian place).  I'll post pics of the garden another day.  The passport showed up as expected and we got on our flights and made it home with only one small hitch...  The baby bassinet got misplaced when we transferred in San Francisco and did not make it to Boise.  We got it the following day but Wren spent her first night in her new home sleeping in a drawer.  More on traveling with a two month old later.  This thing has gotten long enough.  Makes me stressed just re-reading what we did, haha!

It's good to be home!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Monday, August 3, 2015

Elevators,where are you?

I have had a vague understanding that there was a limited number of elevators in public areas in Japan. This is become far more clear now that I have a baby and I am taking her in a stroller everywhere. I now know why most women in Japan wear their babies in a pack or a sling. It is ridiculously hard to find an elevator and strollers are a pain to get places with (but really handy when you want to not have a baby attached to you).  

Train stations are no exception. Some smaller train stations do not even have an elevator. I have found out that public buildings less than five stories tall are not required to be wheelchair accessible or to have an elevator.  

I spent a stupidly long amount of time looking for an elevator and the train station today. Because it took so long to find one I was in a hurry. In my haste, I got on the wrong train for the first time since living in Japan. Unfortunately, I was also not paying attention and it took me a long time to realize I was on the wrong train. Whoops!