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Monday, November 30, 2009

I can't believe . . .

this is it. Our last month in Japan. Holy crap.

I should be boxing more books to sell, using up this mountain of scrapbooking paper, sorting clothes, bagging up plastics and non-burnables for their respective pick-up days. But the weather has been so disgustingly beautiful that Hannah and I have taken to spending entire days at the park. Can you blame us?

I'm keeping a mental list of the things I'll miss, some of which cause a pain so deep I can't say them out loud. Can't admit that they'll be gone from my life, possibly forever. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we begin to truly love and appreciate a place when it's time to say goodbye? I'm torn. Between homes. Between lifestyles. Between the people and things I love. Between families. Between continents.

I'll spend this month savoring. Capturing. Thanking. I know it'll never be enough. My offerings never are, but the essence of this culture is humble gratitude. As I soak up one more month of the Rising Sun and bow my head to this beautiful land and its people, I hope I might also absorb the values I had hoped for Hannah to learn here. Japan wasn't in the plan. None of this was. But I'm glad it happened.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Shameless Plug

Meet Jeff. I met Jeff when I was a junior in high school band and a nice, quiet freshman dude bumped me to 3rd chair in the trombone section. Jeff likes music. Jeff likes music I like. Aside from introducing me to heart-melting bands like "you, you're awesome," Jeff also reminded me that Animal Collective's new EP is coming out in December (HELLO?!?! Where have I been?! OH. Japan). That's all I want for Christmas. No really. I can't carry anything else in my luggage. Anyway, you should check out Jeff's music blog. He posts something incredible just about every day, which is why you should check out Jeff's blog.

Please check out Jeff's blog.

Done.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Momiji

Miwako said the particular type of maple outside our house is called "baby's hand." I like that.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Still here

Just not HERE. I'm decompressing after the whirlwind that was our Thanksgiving party. 15 adults and 5 children - the most people I've ever hosted. I'm told I kept my cool pretty well, but to be honest I hardly remember a thing. It was like there was some gooey glaze over my perception and awareness. I don't know if I was completely present. I've been feeling this a lot lately - a sense of absenteeism and infinite sleepiness. The days following the party have been one big nap after another, broken up by reading and leftover-pie breaks. I tell myself it's temporary - that I've earned the right to indulge. Why do I feel so guilty then?

I packed a big box of books to take to the meeting tomorrow. Time to start selling off the junk. I can't believe Kansas is a little more than a month away.

I'll be back.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Blahg

I've have writer's blogk. Not even the blogs I've been planning to write (coffee, rocks and Docs) are coming to me. Nothing. I just had the most intense nap EVER, and I've been trying to wake up these past 2 hours. No amount of coffee and Hannah demanding to be firmly planted on my hip while I make her lunch has shaken me out of it, which makes me think I might be getting sick again. Perfect.

I could use some inspiration right about now. What would YOU like me to write? Give me anything. Any writing assignment. I'll do it. I work better under pressure.

In the mean time I'll read Clash of Kings while you enjoy these.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Semi-sweet

It's cold in my house. Let me rephrase that. It's the same temperature inside my house as it is outside my house. Now, I know I've lamented Japan winters on my blog before, but hear me out. It's see your breath when you wake up in the morning cold. It's shower gel too viscous to use cold. It's don't bother putting the milk away and don't defrost that turkey in your kitchen because it'll just stay frozen cold. I'm typing with fingerless gloves on my hands. If I weren't, I'd be typing with fingerless hands, and instead of hearing me bitch about the cold (again) you'd be reading dxzdjkeb .;zx iex aa,mj nxmn,aw qp9834 aldokiewjker89n 4lrekj 0984ndn 2, which now that I think of it might not be a bad alternative. I think you catch my draft. Sorry. Couldn't resist.

Thanksgiving is coming, and with it another gathering of teachers desperate for a small taste of home. Cranberries, pumpkin pie and a turkey. That's all we want. I'm conflicted by the small fortune and gallons of fuel this meal will cost, but I'm setting aside my "ethics" and politics for something I believe is more important - love. I've seen a lot of people despair in this foreign environment. Some are no longer with us, but a few are still here, and during the holidays especially I want them to feel as comfortable and at-home as possible. I want them to know that Japan can be a good experience if you put in a little effort and optimism. This country has taught me creativity and resourcefulness in cooking, gardening, traveling and raising my child. So what if there are no SweetTarts or Tostitos in Japan? I'm better off without them. I realize the irony of this message after my rant about the cold and my implied distaste for Japan's non-insulated houses. After almost 3 years I'm still not above whining about my own discomfort. But I've had it pretty good here, and I owe that to the optimistic people in my life - Megumi, Miwako, Hans. They've not only helped me survive my first overseas living experience, they've helped me thrive. I've traveled all of Shikoku, eaten hand-picked strawberries, sung in concerts, moved into a house with a piano, and created the most beautiful brown-eyed curly-locked souvenir a woman could ask for. Yeah, I've had it pretty good. I have much to be thankful for, and much to give to others. I don't care if my paying-it-forward goes unrecognized (and most of it does). Giving is as much a selfish act as it is altruistic. I love to give, and I give to love.

But I digress. Before I'd woken up and discovered just how cold it had turned in this house, Hans in his infinite optimism already had the kerosene heater puttering away downstairs. Strangely the smell of gasoline in the living room didn't propel me into battle with homesickness like I thought it would. In fact it brought back some rather warm memories of moving into this house with the help of our friends Courtney and Chris - the guys retrieving furniture from our outgrown apartment while Courtney and I fired up the heater and donned an extra pair of socks before diving into the labyrinthine piles of boxes scattered in the kitchen. Memories of Katie, Travis, Kasen and Kayla visiting from Korea and sleeping like sardines in our futon-bedecked tatami room. Memories of Hannah crawling across these ice-cold wooden floors in her snowsuit. Memories of her taking her first few steps to the enthusiastic praise and encouragement of her cousins. In our frenzied preparations for returning to the states it occurs to me that Japan is Hannah's home, and Kansas is foreign to her. So are frozen dinners, Chuck E Cheese, Saturday morning cartoons and the ubiquitous pop-icon Hannah Montana (ask me if my daughter is named after her and see what it gets you). A part of me kind of wishes it would stay that way, for her sake. But now, of all times, I need my home. And no amount of foreign import stores will change that. The goodbyes have already begun. They began when this season's first bag of rice was harvested. I don't really know how to feel about that right now. I don't think I'll know for a long, long time.

It's open all the curtains to let the sunshine heat your house cold.

What a bittersweet life this is turning out to be. I'm truly thankful for it all.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sick baby, sick mama: A Tough Alliance

Being stuck in a house with a sick child for a week was bound to break my as-of-late superhero immune system sooner or later. Hannah is my kryptonite and I am fallen. The house is littered with dirty tissues and tea-dreg crusted mugs. While the humidifier releases comforting clouds of steam I'm drawing pictures of palm trees on foggy windows and hacking up colorful globules of slain white blood cells that would give Slimer a reason to be proud. My mom used to say "If there weren't so much, I'd swear it was yer brains!" There are pains and annoyances I can tolerate. Backache? Meh. Headache? Sucks, but I can deal. Labor pains? I'm fascinatingly stoic. But give me a stuffy nose at night and I'm reduced to a sobbing heap of panic and despair. Hannah, on the other hand, has a disgusting amount of energy despite her sneezing and hacking, and the only way I can keep her entertained is by inflating an entire package of balloons with the few molecules of oxygen left in my brain, and toss them in her general direction. I imagine the time when one of these balloons pops and a nebula of germy spores explodes in her face giving the cold back to her and continuing this mucousy cycle. But for now she's happy, gaily tossing balloons in her crib, fishing them out, then tossing them back in. If only I could handle sickness with such exuberance, happily sweeping snot and hair from my face in the same gesture. I need sunshine. And soup. And jump ropes. Yeah, jump ropes.

Binky Battle Epilogue

She mocks.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Because I can't write like this . . .

A Veterans Day prayer written by English teacher Chris Jensen (LTC retired) for the boys of Rockhurst Catholic High in Kansas City, Missouri:

Veterans’ Day Prayer
Matthew 20:1-15

Today is Veteran’s Day, a federal holiday signed into law by President Eisenhower in 1954. At the time, he was making official a day already special to veterans; it was the anniversary of the cease-fire that ended World War I. The cease-fire began at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year 1918.

Long before 1918, the term “eleventh hour” meant a deadline barely met. How many of us have finished something important at the 11th hour? The expression comes from Matthew’s gospel, that story about workers hired at the eleventh hour, who received the same pay as workers who had started first thing in the morning.

In November of 1918, Allied and Axis generals were at the end of three sleepless days, arguing in a railroad car over an agreement to end four years of war, 20 million killed, and another 20 million wounded. The generals reached their agreement at 5 am, November 11th; they decided on a cease-fire that would go into effect at 11 am. Their choice of 11 am suggests their feeling that time was running out.

After a war that was so wasteful and so exhausting, hopes were high that people had learned a lesson, would never again engage in warfare. Some began to call it “The War to End All Wars.” Yet 90 years later, we still send soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen to distant lands where they fight on our behalf in yet another of the long line of wars since World War One. We call it the price of freedom, but, especially today, it’s a price paid mostly by others. We express our gratitude to those who pay the price for us, even if our own sin helped send them to a war that maims or kills them. And our gratitude, what is it? A pat on the back, a “thank you,” a check to the IRS, a purchase from the DAV, a flag hung out for display?

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit:

Heavenly father, on this Veteran’s Day, put us to work. The hour is late, and others, our veterans, have labored all morning. Teach us to live responsibly, not selfishly, not wastefully; teach us to treat our fellows as we want them to treat us, so that fewer will be sent to buy our freedom with lives and limbs. Teach us to be truly grateful for their sacrifices: to thank them with helpful deeds. We come to you, Father, at the eleventh hour, hoping to share in the labor of your kingdom. May those veterans who have come before us rest now in your loving and eternal peace.

Amen.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Binky Battle

It's quite simple . . .

When the baby's on the nipple and her appetite is triple,
And the mama in pajamas don't have time to take a piddle,
Then the binky and the bottle start to look a great deal better
Than the triple nipple-feedings in the middle of the rabble.

THEN
When the baby starts to toddle with the bottle and the binky
And she babbles (while she waddles with her dolly) indistinctly,
Then the stinky binky needs to join the bottle in the rubble
That her baffling babbling patter won't bewilder and befuddle.

BUT
The baby isn't fickle, in fact she's rather tricky
And she hides her sticky binkies places Mama never thinkies.
In bins and beds and blankies, baby hides them with a winky
And pulls them out and waves them on her teeny tiny pinky.

And puts Mama in a pickle, for she knows it's so much better
To break the binky habit lest the orthodontists get her.
But the binky junkie prattles, battling battered, fettered Mama
At bedtime, earning tickles amid startling binkied giggles.

But the battle turns quite bitter and the baby turns much redder
When her rinky-dinky binky stash gets shrinkier and deader.
And because the toddling stink has Mama wrapped around her finger,
She gets plastic crippling nipples plus a private bedtime singer.

Hat's Off

Dear Hannah,

I love your hair. It's messy and cute. But dearest little girl, it gets in your eyes, which I love even more than your hair. I don't want to cut your hair. Every curl on your head is dear to me. But if you keep fighting every headband, hairtie and hat that goes on your head in my vain efforts to unveil your brown sugar eyes, I'm going to cave and take a pair of scissors to your bouncy locks, and then I'm going to be sad. Sad because my baby just received her first haircut. Sad because I can't stop your hair from growing, or your feet for that matter. Sad because none of us are getting any younger. Seriously, can you give me a break?

Love,

Mommy

Friday, November 6, 2009

Digressions and blah blah blah

This is going to be messy, and I don't care. I try to write about things that matter to me and might matter to the people who read this blog, but the creative, literary part of me has felt so constipated by I-don't-know-what that I feel as though I'm spinning my wheels and filling this space with shredded bits of rubber and clouds of smoke. So babble I must, and let the chips fall where they may. I don't know whether to talk about Hannah's milestones, document my travels and discoveries, catalog my ventures in vegetarian cooking, or pontificate on my apophatic religious beliefs. I've done all but the latter, purposely avoiding it for fear of offending others and exposing myself as a vitriolic nay-sayer who hasn't learned the first thing about faith and self-discovery in her 25 meager years. To be honest I really don't know what to say any more except that I feel like a failure in every aspect of my life but motherhood - and I've only been at that for a year and a half. Do you ever look at the person you were a year ago? Five years ago? Ten? - and say to yourself man was I an idiot. I'm so glad I'm not THAT person any more. Now how about this: do you ever look at the person you were yesterday and say the same thing?

I'm not looking for sympathy - the solicited "Oh Suzie, you're not a failure." I know I'm not. I just feel that way today. Seriously, WTF am I doing with my life? Where am I going? Who am I really, and who am I trying to be/become? Healthy questions all, but the dissatisfaction I feel in my answers is unnerving. I played the piano today. Scott Joplin. I haven't played in weeks, my excuse being the little baby fingers that wander onto the keyboard whenever I sit down at the bench. She pulls on my elbow during a particularly troubling arpeggio and I throw my hands up in frustration and look down to see the two biggest, shiniest, saddest brown eyes in the universe looking up at me with a betrayal that makes me want to rip my beating heart from my chest and lay it at her feet. I pick up this tiny reflection of myself and set her in my lap, and we play and sing her favorite songs together in perfect pitch.

Keekal Keekal kitty tar,
Howa wadee watee are!
Ah-pa ba dee watoo high,
Yikee daiky iida tai . . .

And somehow, even though I still can't play the C section of the Maple Leaf Rag up to tempo, I'm satisfied. And I remain satisfied until I get an afternoon to myself and gleefully plan my day and think about all the profound things I'm going to write and books I'm going to read . . . and then I crash on my bed and fall asleep because I'm just EXHAUSTED. I wake up feeling like I've been hit by a train, and by then it's already time to pick Hannah up from the sitter's and be a mom again. Wait, hold the phone. Something's wrong here. Be a mom AGAIN? You're always a mom, sister. That doesn't stop when you have the house to yourself with a glass of wine in your hand and all you can think of doing is organizing the past three months of photos you took of your beautiful daughter. Always a mom. That's who you are. And why is that something to be ashamed of? Why do I lower my eyes and drop my voice when people ask "what do you do?" I cook three times a day because I don't want my daughter to eat processed food. I go to the park so she can run in the wind and taste dirt. I teach her important phrases like "kiss please" and "I'm stinky." I make cardboard-cutout refrigerator magnets with pictures of fruits and animals. I sing lullabies and read Dr. Seuss. I step in poop and clean behind ears, brush teeth and pick rice grains out of the carpet. I play Mozart one-handed, a squirming prodigy sitting in my lap. Mother Teresa said "We can do no great things, only small things with great love." I'm no Mama T, but I am Hannah's Mama, and I know that every small thing I do with great love is for the sake of this small, sweet child . . . and that, to me, is great.

On a completely unrelated note, I am absolute bollocks at letter-writing, phone-calling, thank-you-card giving, and good-friend being. What is wrong with me? After a particularly self-absorbed session of the lamentations woe is me and I hate my life the other day, I sifted through a plastic tub of memories - ticket stubs, tourist maps and mile-high piles of notes, letters and hand-drawn pictures that say I love you Suzie. You're the best. Thank you so much. Congratulations. You are beautiful. I also came across this pile:


. . . of well-intended letters and thank-you cards that I've written over the past 2 and a half years - two of which, I'm ashamed to say, are addressed to the same person. I've had a pile like this in every place I've lived, collecting dust and earning "ungrateful" points at an alarming interest rate. The next time you see my mother, just mention "wedding thank you cards" and she'll probably have one tucked away in her purse for you - hand written and signed "Love, Suzie" September 2004. Dang! She found my stash! See I WRITE them, I just forget to GIVE them. Forgetfulness can easily turn to neglectfulness though, and like a bulging diaper that's long in need of a change, I need to do some house cleaning in the gratitude department. I think if I lived my life and treated my relationships with an ounce of the grace the people in those mountains of notes and letters have given me, I might be in better shape right now. A lesson that will repeat throughout my life until it's learned.

So what comes next, you might ask?
What'll happen on the other side of the Pacific? I. Don't. Know. I'm terrified of the unknown right now. Maybe that's what's consuming all of my creativity . . . filling in the blanks. I feel like I owe my music another chance when I get back, but I still can't reconcile a completely selfish graduate degree with the economy I'm entering. My talents, few as they are, don't translate well into the professional world. And so I spin my wheels some more.

I'm sorry for this vomitous mess. It was that or another youtube video. I'm sure you understand.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Monday, November 2, 2009

Here she is . . .

Playing with severed heads and whatnot. That last photo was the only one I could get with her hood on (if you shift your attention from our forced smiles you can see the death grip we both have on that hood). She would have nothing to do with this costume business, as evidenced by the black facepaint smeared all over her face and hands (I tried reapplying her nose during every diaper change and before I could get the makeup back in the bag she'd already rubbed it off). Oh, Halloween with babies . . .


The party actually went relatively smoothly. There were no surprises other than a lower-than-expected turnout, and our rendition of "The Spooky Old Tree" was an unexpected success. You can pull off just about anything with a ladder, a park bench, some cardboard and under-pressure imagination. I would say I'm a little sad about this being my last gem school Halloween party, but I think three in one lifetime will more than fulfill my masochistic needs. The teachers (who, it is thought by some, have an unlimited supply of physical and creative energy) along with the Japanese staff are the brains, advertisement, entertainment and physical labor behind this arduous task each year. They did a phenomenal job and deserve all the credit I know they won't receive.