A Day at the Onsen.

My sister came from Norway last week to visit the baby and I in Japan while Dave was on the road to South Korea. We squeezed in as much quality time, sightseeing, and eating as we could into 6 short days.

On her first, and in all likelihood last, trip to Japan I wanted to show Alley local spots that she would always remember. Like the hole in the wall where we ate ramen or the grocery store where she finally understood what made me vomit on my first week here. And finally, the hot spring, or onsen, where we got naked with a bunch of strangers.

It’s not like I’ve never been naked in public before. The nuclear family we were raised in wasn’t exactly on a commune, but nudity wasn’t a big deal and prudes we are not. And my previous experiences abroad have shown me that, by in large, Americans are quite unique in the world in our simultaneous obsessions with sex/nudity/sexualizing everything AND modesty/chastity/body shame. We are a confused people.

Taking a naked sauna with your husband and any countless number of Germans of both genders one thing. But for some reason it was something totally different when we headed to Yashio Onsen in Nikko National Park. I’m fine with being naked. I’m fine with being naked with my sister. My baby sees me naked all the time, but I was a little worried because…well…she has a bit of a breast fixation. Generally, when I don’t want her to think it’s snack time, I have to keep the ladies covered.

We arrived at the onsen after on a few *ahem* minor issues with navigation by my sister. Let’s just say she didn’t get her sense of direction from me or my dad. We got our tickets, took off our shoes and headed into the locker room. And lockers can mean baskets, meaning we trust people not to steal our underpants. What a country!

When you enter the spa area, you queue up for a shower. In Japan it’s common to shower sitting on a stool (which I did not kn0w when I arrived here, making me very confused initially by the mirror at crotch level in our shower at home), and at the spa this is how it’s done. You sit down on a stool with a hole in the middle, presumably to let water flow through, just after some other lady removed her own naked butt from the same stool. It all seems kind of wrong but…when in Nikko, do as the Nikkoans! After you scrub yourself VIGOROUSLY, you’re set to go. There is an outdoor hot spring in a bowl of boulders, an indoor spa with jets, a long, still indoor spa, a dry sauna, a wet sauna (to me this means steam room?) and an outdoor courtyard where you can cool down. Nude.

The onsen is said to have healing properties for body aches, joint pain, and is even considered a treatment for some chronic illnesses. I don’t know about all that, but my sister’s mysterious leg pain was cured after our soak in the volcanic waters. However, she also believed the multivitamin my mom was giving her for years was a sleeping pill (and it really did put her to sleep), so we have to assume she is very susceptible to the placebo effect.

Overall the experience was really, really enjoyable. The water was really warm, but not really hot unless you got close to where it was entering the spa. The baby is generally a fan of water (especially when heated to a temperature of her liking) but she really went BANANAS for the hot spring. She was squealing, kicking her legs like a little frog and splashing. Splashing a lot. Which probably would have annoyed the mostly older ladies in our company, but seriously this baby is so cute. Smiling away, loving life with her big blue eyes and her little bum so cute in the nylon pink and purple swim diaper…it was kawaiiiiiiiiii kawaiiiiiiiiiii all over that spa. She was so overwhelmingly absorbed in all the sights and sounds of the room and the thrill of being in a tub of water she never even considered trying to grab a snack from my top half. Thank goodness.

Music on Monday: Tightrope (Wondamix)

When listening to this song you should picture me dancing badly but madly around my kitchen, most likely in a bathrobe, possibly with a sippy cup of wine. Go ahead, get that image set. Got it? Ok then.

I’m always a sucker for music that can make me move while making me think. I love Janelle Monae’s 60s soul, her pop accessibility, her creativity and her committment to that tuxedo. She’s different and true to herself in a really quirky way that still leaves room for her actual, true, amazing talent to shine through. Like a Lady Gaga type of intensity about creativity, but without all the costumes. Also, she is a super serious sci-fi nerd (me too me too me too!) who believes in and advocates for time travel. In fact, her alter ego Cindi Mayweather from the year 2719 is an android. HOW COOL IS THAT!?

M.o.M. Past:

Sarah Harmer

Timbaland ft. The Hives

Rene and Jeremy

Elvis Perkins in Dearland

Brendan Benson

The White Stripes

Nothing Quite Like

Watching your sister and your daughter read together, falling more in love all the time.

Seeing them ‘play’ together while my sister sleeps through my baby’s finger up her nose. Let’s blame the jet-lag combined with her inheritance of my dad’s ability to sleep deeply under any circumstance.

And realizing their shared affection for (faux)fur stoles.

Watching your sister’s adventurous spirit at the sushi restaurant turn into a battle against vomiting at the table.

Having to cut your sister off at karaoke because she has a little too much enthusiasm for screaming ballads at the top of her voice.

We had an amazing time together this week. Just me, my sister, and my daughter, a really rare chance to be just the three of us. Thanks, Al, for traveling all the way from Norway to Japan and back. We love you.

Music on Monday: Icky Thump

I love the White Stripes. I love the rock feeling and the hard edge and how they are so obviously having while making music. I love to RUN RUN RUN as hard as I possible can to their music. And I’ve found that when we blast any White Stripes in the car the baby bobs her head in time to the thumping of the drums. Oh my stars I love that child.

‘Icky Thump’ became a favorite as soon as the album of the same name was released. After I figured out what ‘Icky Thump’ meant I was more in love with this song than ever. Still working on integrating the phrase into my daily vocab though. A little tricky but possibly a good replacement for son of a youknowwhat or motherefffffers as I try to clean up my language for the sake of my impressionable child. Hopefully she’s impressionabe enough to pick up on these lyrics:

White Americans, what?
Nothing better to do?
Why don’t you kick yourself out
You’re an immigrant too?

Who’s using who?
What should we do?
Well, you can’t be a pimp
And a prostitue too.

Ahhhhh commentary on immigration policy in song with a rousing round of ‘Lalalalalalalalala.’ I’m in love.

If I were going to be in a band, it would either be a total bluegrass gang of beards and peasants skirts, or it would be the White Stripes. And it almost seems possible, because as untouchable as Jack White’s guitar can seem at times to a mere non-musically inclined mortal like myself, something about the simplicity of Meg White’s drums makes you think you just might be able to do that. Oh but wait a second you aren’t even nearly cool enough. Nevermind. Drum on Meg White.

M.o.M. Past:

Sarah Harmer

Timbaland ft. The Hives

Rene and Jeremy

Elvis Perkins in Dearland

Brendan Benson

47 Weeks

One year ago I was 35 weeks pregnant, feeling great, a life inside my body, comfortable with knowing how much I didn’t know. Today I have a 47 week old baby, a person, a personality, a life in my hands as she tries to roll like a ninja off the couch.

Hard to believe in that belly, that bump, that bulge I loved so much lived this person, all curled up, waiting to keep me awake at least once per night for 11 consecutive months. The joys of it all are hard to describe.

Music on Monday: Tiny Spark

Brendan Benson is a Michigan native who pumped out this jam in 2002, at which point Dave and I started scream-singing it at the top of our lungs. My sister-in-law Jubonka burned it onto a CD for us (remember when burning CDs replaced making mixed tapes and now there is NOTHING but playlists which are useless because you can’t pass them out to your friends decorated in stickers!?)  and it’s been a favorite ever since.

Remember when you first fell in love and every single song seems to have lyrics describing you and your new beau? Having the baby had a similar effect on us. Suddenly every song about love described our feelings. This song especially had the heart and the life and the joy that seems like the opening number to the musical about our baby’s life. She is our Tiny Spark.

Try to understand

That an oyster can only make a pearl

From a grain of sand

But from what I don’t know makes a girl?

Apparently some Hollywood types agree with the message of this song, since it’s been used in both Along Came Polly and some Robin Williams movie about fatherhood that no one watched. If you haven’t heard it before, you’re welcome for letting you know it exists. If you have, you’re welcome for giving you an excuse to listen to it on this Monday.

M.o.M. Past:

Sarah Harmer

Timbaland ft. The Hives

Rene and Jeremy

Elvis Perkins in Dearland

Dress Like A Mom

I dress like a mom, and that’s a good thing!

After a summer hiatus, I’m back with a contribution on Ain’t No Mom Jeans. Check me out there, along with all the other awesome posts that will help keep you from feeling frumpy.

Note of importance: you don’t have to be a mom to appreciate the tips, just a woman with a normal, flawed body and a desire to feel and look good!

With baby and her new Japanese BFF!

Salute The Sun

My yoga practice isn’t what it once was. I do it when I can, where I can, which often means a baby weaving in and out of my arms and legs, using me as pull-up bar, pounding on my face, screaming happily and drooling crazily. It’s all very zen.

No more incense (fire hazard) or moving meditation (must be on alert) or extended time relaxing in savasana (or in any position anywhere at any time)…but change is part of life and if yoga has taught me one thing (besides the fact that I am capable of a headstand thankyouvermuch) it’s to accept each moment for what it is, to really be in the present. So that’s what we do.

Music On Monday: Throw It On Me

If you have a hard time picturing an iPod that contains about a million Sarah Harmer songs also containing this Timbaland number, then you don’t know me very well. While the credit leads with Timbaland and ‘features’ the Hives, one listen lets you know who really carries this song. Hint: not Timbaland, never spelled Timberland.

I’m a big fan of the Hives and the energy their music gives me, but the addition of some ALWAYS SO DAMN CATCHY HOW DOES HE DO THAT Timbaland effects and this thing is gold for any run or workout that needs a boost. As we must do with some music, I urge you not to delve too deeply into the details and ask yourself ‘why would Lane recommend a song which uses “titties” in the lyrics?’ Sometimes we just need the beat, and a strongly worded letter to Timbaland can absolve you of any feminist guilt you might be feeling after you air-drum your way through this song. Also, I do like shaking my ass. There, I said it.

Bottom line: if you’re trying to get up a hill/over a hump/to the finish line of something involving sweat and burn, this song needs to be on your playlist.

Social Working It Out

Once in a while, usually after at least one bottle of red wine, you get in one of those ‘let’s reflect on our lives before we get incoherent’ conversations. And someone asks ‘do you have any regrets?’ And you are supposed to say something like: Oh no no no, no regrets, life is a river on which we float while learning lessons and I don’t regret anything and blah blah something.’ Which is mostly how I feel. It’s of course true that each decision we make, big and small, leads to the next. A butterfly and the hurricane, a drop in the pond. I get it.

But some things, while I like where they led me, are a little less awesome. So if I’m honest, I can say that in some respects I regret getting my MSW. Being such a fan of learning, it does pain me to say that any form of education wasn’t worthwhile, but when I’m paying my student loans each month those pangs of the r-word really do hit hard. Maybe in a few years that piece of paper will come in handy, but so far it has mostly shown me what I don’t want to do instead of helping me narrow in on what I do want to do. And for that lesson, I think I overpaid. With interest.

The thing is, as much as I want to be able to list those two years as my regret, I can’t. Instead I consider my monthly loan payments as the fee I’m paying for two of the best friends I ever could have found. And for that privilege, I’m getting a bargain. A steal of a deal.

At the beginning of our MSW program we had some kind of orientation thing. I’m not really sure, I blocked it out. Point is, all the students were gathered in one place which was the perfect opportunity for me to scope out the new friend prospects. And let me just tell you, the pickings were slim. I’m not saying that I can for sure tell whether someone would be a good friend for me just from looking at them, that would be totally superficial and horrible! Discriminatory even! I wouldn’t dream of such a thing! Etc.

Let me just say this: Men with ponytails who are older than my dad generally don’t fit the bill. Anyone taking NOTES at a welcome orientation, not going to work. People who are dropping F-bombs or shedding tears as they tell me their life story 3 seconds after we met…no thanks.

So when I saw Bernadette and Raquel in that crowd I was like BINGO bitches, like it or not you are about to be my friends for at least 4 semesters. Longer if you’re lucky. They looked about as interested in this welcome wagon bullcrud as I was. They weren’t wearing pants up to their armpits or down past their bum crack. I think I saw Bernadette roll her eyes when someone mentioned ‘efficacy’ or ‘research methods’. Raquel had that look that says ‘when is the lunch and is that shit free?’ and a love affair began.

The next two years were roller coaster years in terms of life changes and soul-searching, but as Bernadette, Raquel and I became closer grad school became at least tolerable. We ruled that program like vaguely ethnic triplets with a love of cheap drinks and heavy sarcasm. Sometimes an awesome foursome was made when our girl Lua would join us and help us take things up a notch, most importantly by dubbing us ‘The Switchblade Sistas.’ It’s highly possible or even probable that people (or one certain professor in particular) found us really annoying, but we found ourselves awesome so it all worked out.

The thing about an intense, time-limited, insular situation like grad school (or a hockey season) is that it creates friendships based on shared experiences to help with survival. Which is great. But those friendships don’t always translate into ‘real’ life beyond the specific situation which brought you together. When we left grad school, we went separate ways. Raquel left the state. I left the country. Bernadette became a mother. Life kept happening, we kept changing, time went forward as it tends to do.

Six years after graduating, despite the best efforts of life circumstances to make us too busy to keep up, we are still friends. And in many ways, closer than ever. While grad school brought us together, it isn’t even really something we talk about now, and Raquel is the only one practicing social work (and kicking-ass, I might add).

Without these girls I’d probably need a therapist, adding another bill to the pile. Without these girls Vesper would need to find her own half-Chinese, half-Mexican feminist badass mothers to be role models. Those are NOT easy to find. Without these two I’d be sad more than I am and happy less often.

Regrets in life? I have none.