Wednesday, January 25, 2006

And Speaking of Baby Gear...

In regards to my earlier post, "Overwhelmed by Decisions," I just read a hilarious article on the internet that I thought was right on the money. If you are a parent or about to become one, I'm sure you can relate to some of what this father has to say. Just click here to begin reading. And enjoy...

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

My Worst Best Friends

These strange-looking contraptions are what we heat our house with in the winter. There is no central heating or air conditioning in Japanese homes. Nor is there insulation. So, not only is it cold outside, but inside as well. As a result, the Japanese have many options to heat their homes in the winter months. A general rule of thumb is that the more convienent and healthier heating methods are the most expensive and the nastiest most inconvenient ways are the cheapest. Let me introduce you to our heaters, my worst best friends.

The three heaters on the right are electric, but each generates heat differently. The itty-bitty one is a ceramic heater and it does a wonderful job of heating up the space about the size of a shoe box. (Of course that depends on if the shoe box was for a pair of Laura's dainty size 7's or for a pair of my size 13 bunian barges.) We use it in the toilet room. Yes, the toilet has its own little room which about the size of a coat closet. We rarely ever use this heater, however, because the toilet seat actually has a heater built into it. This is a very common feature amongst toilets of the Mongaloid descent.

The middle-sized heater has three older heat lamps and the use of one, two, or three lamps will determine how much heat it puts out. However, the knob that adjusts the heat and turns it on and off is missing. Probably, this is why it was given to us for free. So, I have to locate a pair of pliers to adjust the heat but I do have it plugged into a seperate cord that has its own on and off switch. We use this heater in the laundry/bathroom, but since we can't adjust the heat, it's set on the highest setting. This means that nearly every other day, we flip the breaker in the bathroom because it sucks up the wattage. In order to keep warm when you are drying yourself off after you get out of the shower, then, you have two options: 1) do the "IT"S FREEZING IN HERE" two-step or 2) dry off in the dark.

The third electric heater is called a "Heater Fan" because it's shaped like and rotates like a fan but is actually a heater. (This is the one that keeps my posterior warm in the butt-cold hours of the night -- no bun, I mean pun, intended.) It uses a new type of heating lamp that is shaped like a cow's face. The only constructive criticism that I would offer to the very pleasant people in the constructive criticism department at the maker's home office (which is not at all located or connected to the head office, nor the warehouse that packages the product, nor the plant where the parts are assembled) IS THAT the timer is only 3 hours long and I don't have to go to the bathroom that many times in the night, so it doesn't always keep my Campbell (actually, Starnes)-sized bottom warm in the butt-cold hours of the night. (WOW!!! There's alot of wind in that sentence.) This is the only heater that we purchased ourselves and that we can actually say that we own. We are very proud fans of this heater, which I have to turn back on everytime I go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Of course, the chivalrous man would allow his pregnant wife to use it on her side of the bed. This would make good sense, since she has to get up every 5 minutes to go potty because her bladder can't hold much more than a thimble, and she could maintain that the Heater Fan was always on. That of course would defeat its purpose of keeping my Campbell (actually, Starnes)-sized body pillows warm. Of course, I have no idea what running this heater all night is going to do for our electric bill. We do have another electric heater, which is also an air conditioner, but running this heater all night will assuredly double our electric bill.

The two heaters in the middle belong to the landlord, which he, in all of his responsible (there's a story there) generosity is so generously allowing us to use. They both use natural gas, but unfortunately, there are only three natural gas outlets throughout the entire house. These are great little heaters that really crank out the heat and we are very thankful for them. We use the small one in the bedroom (on my pregnant wife's side of the bed) while we are changing clothes or either preparing for joyful slumber or despondent awakening. We don't run it all night because while it is fairly safe, it still distributes some wonderful fumes into the room. So, every time we turn it on or off we have to open a window to allow all the cold air to eagerly rush back into the room while aromatic fumes linger for much longer than five minutes and my pregnant wife returns to a cold bedroom after her 1st trip to the heated toilet seat of Mongaloid descent.

The big heater is what we use in the LDK (living, dining, kitchen room). It totally cranks out the best heat of all our heaters, but for some reason it makes the LDK always smell like maple syrup, which is what Grade Double 13A Amber Super Sweet Sap Maple Syrup actually is, natural gas. Of course, everyone who's ever heated their home with Maple Syrup natural blue- flamed gas would know that natural gas, which is also what we cook with, is not as expensive as electricy when it comes to heating your 6-S-LDK home. Knowing this, you can imagine the tremendous relief we felt when last month's gas bill arrived the other day and it was only about $200.

And finally, the two heaters on the left are the cheapest to opperate. They burn the one thing that I absolutetly hate in Japan, kerosene. What can be said about kerosene, other than its fumes kill brain cells, which in turn makes you forget about so many things that I can't remember them all. It is the worst-smelling fuel in the world, except for perhaps the kind of natural gas which is a common feature of those of us that are of Starnes descent, that my wife doesn't appreciate whether she's pregnant or not. The blue heater is the only one of the two that I like because it's broken and doesn't work at all. It is currently serving a useful purpose as a decoration in the closet. The white one works great except for all the lights that don't stop blinking on the front of it, warning you of many dangers. This would be quite useful, if I could read the various and sundry Chinese characters on the front that say various and sundry things such as: Warning - Losing Brain Cells; In case of earthquake or Campbell-sized bunyan barges doing the Macarana, will shut off; Timed for pregnant women that fall asleep on the heated toilet seat in the shoe-boxed sized toilet closet; Time to immerse your hands in kerosone (which doesn't smell anything like maple syrup) as you once again fill up the kerosene canister which is the size of a pregnant woman's bladder; Warning - Evacuate the room, fill canister, or shut off - either way you're going to lose brain cells moron. AAHH!!! KEROSENE!!! We use this heater in the parts of the house we rarely use, such as the office, library, or the mother-in-law wing. When you heat with kerosene you have to leave a window open, which seems to be an oxymoron kind of thing to do. You can either do the IT'S FREEZING dance to stay warm, kill millions of brain cells (I can't remember how many I'm supposed to have but I know that I'd like to keep the ones I still have for as long as I can, I think), or leave a window cracked and heat the Northeasterly as it traverses to other regions of the Land of the Rising Freezing Cold Weather.

But of all the heaters in the house, my favorite one is this one. She doesn't cost much, except a few kisses and some flowers now and then. She doesn't kill brain cells, unless there are unproven side effects of drinking too much chai and eating too many brownies. Since she usually goes to bed before me she keeps the bed warm. She's easier to understand than the Japanese writing system. While she's not always easy to turn on, she definitely cranks out the heat. But the greatest thing about this heater is that she doesn't belong to anybody but me. I am her biggest fan and am so very proud that she is my BEST best friend.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Showered with Love

On Saturday, the ladies of the Taga Church of Christ threw a baby shower for me. Actually, it was a joint shower for myself and Roxanna, a friend of mine who is due next month. Although the snow kept some people from attending, a good time was had by all who did come. We played some fun games and had some yummy food. Charity read a few Scriptures and shared some thoughts on birth, children, and the "new birth" that we experience when we come to know Christ. Mrs. Saito and Tomoko prayed over the mothers-to-be. And Baby Campbell got a lot of wonderful gifts, including a spiffy car seat, some adorable clothes, and a beautiful handmade baby blanket from Charity, his buddy-to-be Freedom's mama.

A group photo

A beautiful spread

Kumiko and Shizuka are high school students who have been involved with English Bible classes at Taga church for some time now.

Mrs. Saito and Mrs. Okubo are holding pieces of yarn they cut to "guesstimate" how big around Roxanna and I are. Whoever was closest won a prize. Mrs. Okubo won for me!

Tomoko McLain and Tomoko Ishikawa (I like to call them "Tomoko squared") are tying a bib onto a balloon. Each of them gets to use only one hand. Try it -- it's harder than it looks!

Charity leads the devotional while Judith looks on.

Roxanna and I, opening presents

Daddy will like this outfit!

What a cute sweater!

Too small for me, but this hat will be perfect for Baby Campbell. It was knitted by Kara.

With squares of denim, courderoy, and plaid flannel, this is the perfect blanket for a little boy! Thanks, Charity!

Let It Snow!

We woke up on Saturday morning to SNOW -- big white flakes that came down all day and covered everything in a blanket of white. I just love how snow makes everything so pretty. It doesn't matter how dirty or ugly something is -- when it's covered with snow, it suddenly becomes clean and beautiful. Kind of like what the blood of Christ does to us and our sins. In his Communion talk on Sunday morning, Rusty focused on this parallel. It is a beautiful thought.

Our house and cars

Overlooking Hitachi Port near our house

The neighborhood shrine, just down the hill from our house

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Overwhelmed by Decisions

I have a sneaking suspicion that becoming a mother was somehow easier about 100 years ago, than it is today. Let me explain.

100 years ago, a woman got pregnant and had a baby. Usually at home. Attended by a midwife or a woman friend. Without drugs or other interventions. It really was that simple -- because there were no other alternatives. Today, we women of the 21st century have what has been termed "choices in childbirth." And, as we all know, choices create sides, which create debates, which create Guilt, which is apparently every modern mother's middle name (or so says Rosemary, a dear friend of my mother's).

So here are some of the "choices in childbirth" that mothers today are faced with. Hospital, birthing center, or (gasp) home-birth? Doctor, midwife, or both? Who else is present at the birth (husband, other family members, friends, etc.)? Lamaze, Bradley, or other childbirth method? Medicated or natural? Who catches the baby? Who cuts the cord? And the list goes on. . .

After the baby is born, there are even more decisions to make. I guess I should call these "choices after childbirth." Rooming-in or baby in the nursery? Feeding on demand or sticking to a feeding schedule? Breast, bottle, or a little of both? Disposable diapers or cloth? If baby is a boy, to circumcise or not to circumcise? Crib-sleep or co-sleep? "Attachment parenting" or "baby-wise" rigidity?

And this is not even to mention the monumental decision regarding baby's name. One website I was on this morning had over 11,000 names in its database. But, if you find out the sex of the baby beforehand (yet another decision to make), you can pretty much cut that number in half. Great -- only 5,500 names to choose from -- that helps a lot!

And don't even get me started on all the decisions about baby's room and baby's gear. Honestly, how much stuff does one little person require? I was asked to make a wish list for a baby shower that's being given for me this weekend. It was almost 2 pages long by the time I was finished! And even after you determine that you need something such as a stroller or a car seat, you have about a billion different makes and models to choose between, each with its own pros and cons. How does anyone manage to survive becoming a parent in our modern world and stay sane at the same time? Or is "sane parent" something of an oxymoron? In about 7 weeks, I guess I will find out for myself!

In the meantime, I am seriously considering taking the advice of a friend (thanks, Lj), and burning every single book I own on birth and parenting that was written by someone with a lot of initials after their name.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Current Noteworthy Events

1. Happy New Year! -- I can't believe it's already 2006! We rang in the New Year in a quiet way -- at home in our warm house with homemade eggnog and brownie sundaes. Who knows? Maybe this will become a family tradition.

2. Scrapbooking Marathon -- We spent four days of our second week of vacation working on our scrapbooks. Rusty finished his Pacific Rim 1997 scrapbook (except for the hard part -- journaling), and I continued plugging away on Japan (The First Tour). I am almost ready to begin "scrapping" the pictures of Rusty's family's visit to Japan in December, 2001. Okay, okay, so I'm a little behind!

3. Beach Walk -- We went for a walk along Kujihama Beach near our house one sunny and very cold morning. Can you believe we live within a 5-minute walk of all this beauty? It really is a lovely beach. I look forward to spending more time there this summer.

4. I Got Wheels! -- More like an international driver's license, that is. So, now I am driving. In Japan. On the left side of the road. At least the car I am driving is not a stick shift like the Camry I had in Mississippi. It was a little nerve-wracking being behind the wheel the first few times, but I have to admit it is great to be mobile again and not have to rely on Rusty and the public transportation system (reliable as they both may be) to get me where I need to go.

5. Precious Cargo -- The McLains returned from America on January 6th, bearing gifts from my family. A new digital camera, which my dad admitted was a gift given with an ulterior motive -- Nyanya and Babu want to see lots of pictures of their grandson! The children's book "Good Night Moon" for Baby Campbell, from his Uncle Josh, Aunt Julie, and Cousin Michaela (this book also happens to have been one of my favorites when I was a child). And, best of all, from my ever-thoughtful mom, two tins packed full of a variety of her homemade Christmas cookies. Savoring every bite of old favorites like Lemon Bars, Pecan Dainties, and Jamborees (just to name a few -- my amazing mother will sometimes bake up to 15 different kinds of cookies for Christmas) was the closest I think I felt to being "home for Christmas." Thanks, Mom -- you're the best!

6. Pizza and "Horsie" -- The McLains invited us over to their gorgeous new American-style house last Sunday evening. We made homemade pizza (yummy!) and discussed and prayed over possible options for our Sunday evening English Bible Classes (see #10, below). Rusty entertained the two youngest McLain girls, Erika and Kiara with a horse-back ride while we were waiting for the pizza to bake. (The next week, he went to visit the chiropractor!)

7. Ohisashiburi! (Long Time, No See!) -- This young lady, Yukako, was a student of mine when we taught English at the junior high schools in Mito. In the summer of 2004, while we were living in Mississippi, she came to visit us for three weeks. She is now living in Nagoya, but came home to Mito to visit her family and attend her "Coming-of-Age" ceremony (a city-wide ceremony held every January for all the young people who turned 20 years old at some point during that year). We met her for lunch last week and enjoyed catching up and hearing all about her life.

8. Youth Retreat -- We hosted a mini-retreat for the Christian youth in area churches at our house on Saturday night. The kids started the afternoon with 2 hours of karaoke. Then, they came to our house for a spaghetti supper, devotional, and games and other activities. Pictured is Crimsen (missionary from Sendai) teaching everyone how to do the Electric Slide (a country line-dance). Most of the kids stayed the night (some got more sleep than others), and the next morning, after a pancake breakfast, we all went to church in Taga together.

9. O-mochi Potluck -- Mochi is rice that has been pounded and then molded into balls. It is a traditional New Year's food in Japan. Taga church always has a special "O-mochi Potluck" in January. We all help make the mochi, and then we enjoy eating it during our potluck lunch. It was my first time to see how mochi is made, but I did not ask for a turn with the mallet as it is quite large and heavy and I was fairly certain the Japanese would disapprove of an 8-months pregnant woman swinging it around. How did I know this? I can't even move a chair or carry a bag of groceries to the car without some well-meaning Japanese person telling me to odaijini "take care of my health."

10. Home Bible Study Groups -- The decision was made to move our Sunday night English Bible classes out of the church building and into private homes, thus turning the program into more of a "home group" program with an evangelistic focus. We are excited about where this may lead. For now, we will have just one group and will rotate the meeting place each month. (Rusty and I are scheduled to host for the month of February.)

11. Changing Jobs -- I have begun my last week of work for World English Center. Next week, I will begin my new "job" as a stay-at-home wife and mom. Although I may start teaching a few classes again after the baby is born, I will be working on a very limited and part-time basis. I always thought I would be excited when I could finally stop working and just be a mommy, but now that the time is almost upon me, I find I am facing it with a certain amount of trepidation. For the first time since Rusty and I have been married, I will not be contributing financially to our family! I never expected to feel insecure about that, but I do. Luckily, Rusty is more than supportive of my new role as a homemaker, and I have resolved to be such a good little housewife that he will never want me to go back to work full-time!

12. The Countdown Begins -- We are now down to single digits in counting the weeks until Baby Campbell's arrival. I am 32 weeks as of the pictures below, with 8 more to go, and starting to feel like I've swallowed a watermelon! Along with the newest member of our family, we are also looking forward to the arrival of my parents on March 1st for a 2-week visit. As my mom said, "That baby better be on time or early!"