"Our most ancient metaphor says life is a journey. Memoir is travel writing, then, notes taken along the way, telling how things looked and what thoughts occurred. . . .This is the traveler who goes on foot, living the journey, taking on mountains, enduring deserts, marveling at the lush green places...as a pilgrim, seeking, wondering." -Patricia Hampl

July 29, 2009

Some of the Week's Top Conversations

With the City of Rochester electrical inspector:

Me: Would you like to use the side door? It's closer to the basement.
Him: NO thanks. Best part of my day--walking through air-conditioned houses.
Me: This house isn't air-conditioned.
Him: Best part of my day--walking around cool basements.

With Melissa, the Texan AT&T representative helping me figure out international calling rates for the upcoming sojourn:

Me: My husband and I will be traveling with a baby to Japan in August. Can you help us figure out how we can use our cellphones when we're separated there, and if we can send photos to people in the States?
Her: Oh, you're going to Japan! Awesome! I love babies and I looooove Jackie Chan!
Me: Um, okay. So...
Her: Doesn't Jackie just strike you as a really down-to-earth guy? HA! I said 'strike you'! Isn't that hilarious? Do you think you'll see him in Japan?
Me: Ummm, no. I think he's Chinese and lives in L.A.?
Her: Oh, right. Anyway I don't really like kung-fu, but he's really funny in that Rush Hour Movie? The one with Chris Tucker? Oh, I'd love to meet Jackie Chan!
Me: Yes, mhmm. Can we please discuss international calling plans? I don't have much time before my baby wakes up...
Her: Awwwwwwwwww! Did I tell you that I just loooove babies? Well, okay. Let me get you some information. [A brief and need I say, uninformative, dialogue here about calling plans.]
Me: O.k. Thanks for your time.
Her: You take care of that baby now, and say hi to Jackie for me!

With Bob, the 70-year-old man working on our front porch:

Bob: I got run over this morning.
Me: Oh my god! Were you on foot or in your car?
Bob: NO! I mean I got hammered.
Me: You got drunk?
Bob: Sheesh, Monica, listen to me. I got clobbered!
Me: Should I be worried about you, Bob?
Bob: Aw, not really. I just need to stick to my own age group when I play handball at the J.

July 28, 2009

A Gaikokujin Prepares for the Land of the Rising, Hot Sun

The reaction, when I tell someone that my husband and I are taking our soon-to-be - seven-month-old daughter to Japan next month, has typically been something like these:

"Well, you're very brave!"
"With a baby! How...adventurous!"

I know many of you think it's absolutely nuts to be visiting a foreign country with a baby, especially since I don't speak Japanese nor have any idea about infrastructure, nor about reading Japanese maps (apparently buildings don't have street addresses--more on that later), or have a clue where we'll be, specifically.

Here's what Japan has going for it: it has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, the people are very friendly, and apart from the "salary men" commutes in the morning and late-night, getting between here and there should be relatively simple.

And here are the drawbacks: it is going to be hot. Not hot like "whew, it's really hot today," and not hot like "it's a great day for the beach." Japan in August is supposed to be the equivalent of stepping into a steam room, thick with condensation, while wearing a dive suit. According to Mindy, a friend of a friend whose expertise on Japan has been invaluable, "It's going to be far beyond anything you may have experienced anywhere short of, say, Florida." Uh-oh. Apparently, even the Japanese avoid sightseeing in their own country in August because the heat is so mind-numbing. Silly gaikokujins (outsiders)! I already hear the locals laughing at us. You should have been here to see the cherry blossoms!

When I traveled solo in India, I had only myself to blame when I'd find myself off the map, stuck to my clothes, bothered to the point of incensed. Any travel junkie is happiest off the map: here the adventure begins. Except when I'm stuck to my clothes. I want someone to come honking up in a nice, air-conditioned little car, and whisk me off. Just off--because no matter where I'm going, it will be cooler than where I was just standing. When I'm lost, I'm okay. When I'm lost and I'm hot, I'm a hot mess.

I don't do well in moist heat. I get cranky. (Side note: apologies to all of you who think the weather this summer has been so nasty. I, for one, love the chilly summer rain, and a temperature that flirts with 75 degrees is just fine by me.) I try to imagine what it might be like when we're trying to get from one place to another in, say, Osaka, and we're dripping sweat, and a little lost, and maybe hungry, and--oh yeah--there's a 16-lb. baby on one of us (we've been encouraged not to take a stroller since between train stations and temples, there are hundreds of stairs to climb with hundreds of other people). It's a perfect storm for miscommunication, short tempers, and Not Fun.

So I'm trying very hard to mentally prepare myself for this exact scenario, because it is only the above that I dread. I've asked Mindy where people go for air conditioned respites, and it looks as though we'll be spending a lot of time inside shopping malls and convenience stores. Devi may remember nothing of our trip save for the goofy, colorful vending machines I plan on making friends with.

Here are some of Mindy's other suggestions:

1. To avoid heat rash and prickly heat for you and the baby, I suggest taking baby powder with you and applying liberally to all family members.

2. Its' also a good idea to pack or purchase several small washcloths. There are several reasons for this. One is that few public restrooms have paper towels or anything to dry your hands. For this reason, Japanese people almost always carry a small washcloth and/or handkerchief with them. Also, you will need it to wipe the sweat running down your face 90% of the time.

3. All Japanese convenience stores sell a product called powder sheets. Imagine a wet wipe that dries immediately and leaves a soothing, invisible film of talc on your skin. Buy a bunch -- they are a lifesaver!! Biore makes them but almost any other brand will be okay too.

4. When sightseeing outdoors, carrying a large bandana or cotton scarf with you. From time to time, wet it in cool water from the purification pavilions in front of temples and shrines or from drinking fountains, wring it thoroughly and tie it around your neck. It really helps to keep your body temperature down.

5. Remember to stop and rest often, drink lots of water. Since it's summer, there will be lots of little snow-cone (in Japanese, "kaki-goori") stands around -- those are helpful and the ice will cool your body. Also, drinking HOT tea helps to cool your system down even though it may seem anti-intuitive.

Kakigoori (shaved ice flavored with sweet syrup or snow cone) is a popular summer snack. It seems everywhere has a version of it. In Japan it comes in green tea flavor with an azuki (sweet red bean) topping. Some condensed sweetened milk also can be added on top. Fruit flavors like strawberry and melon are also popular. Look for signs or small flags featuring a red kanji on a white field with a wave pattern.

Must remember to put washcloths and cotton bandanas on our packing list. The positive side here, I suppose, is that we'll become connoisseurs of the kakigoori and hopefully, experts in Japanese tea. We may get lost, but we'll leave a lovely trail of talc behind us.

July 23, 2009

Cooking for a Person Without Teeth

As the maternity leave winds down and I hit the school books once again (my dad used to say, just make sure they don't hit you back), I find I'm making some more trips to our public market and scooping up some more fresh veggies and fruit than I'm used to bringing home: now, I'm cooking for three. It was much easier to eat for two than to cook for three, but it is rather fun and ala Betty- Crocker-meets-Diane-Keaton-in-that-baby-movie-ish. So there's a food processor: you pretty much use it for everything a six-month-old can eat, from sweet potatoes to peaches. This is a Big Girl Food Processor, though, so if I really were to fill it with enough veg/fruit, I'd have, like, three years worth of food in my freezer.

Yes, my freezer.

There's this thing you do with the ice cube trays (note--if my brother is reading this, he's rolling his eyes right about now): you cook the foods, blend or food process them until they're mushy versions of what they once were, let them cool a little, and then *pop* into the trays which you *pop* into the freezer. When the little cubes of food have frozen, you *pop* them out of the trays and into baggies. Voila! Meals a'plenty for at least a couple of weeks.

Except my *pop*ping technique needs some tweaking. What should take me an hour or so to do really takes all day, mainly because the amazing and hyper-organized (lest I forget, culinarily talented) woman who wrote Super Baby Foods didn't mention how to cook all of your baby's foods for the month in one fell swoop without having to change her, feed her, or entertain her. Perhaps these are jobs for daddy on a calm Sunday afternoon while I'm in the kitchen, but our weekends have been spent traveling. No kitchen time there! Luckily (in a weird way), Devi prefers her oatmeal come from a store-bought box than momma's homemade stuff. Here's a clip to prove it.

Oh, sure, she opens wide for the good stuff, like yogurt, but I may have to get a sitter in the next few weeks to seriously refine my babyfood-making technique. And if you ask my brother, there's always aisle 5B at Wegmans...

July 09, 2009

Devi Meets Ba

Ba, Sejal's grandmother, plays with Dev; Sejal's mother in the background says, "You change everyone's lives around you! You make everyone happy." I couldn't have said it better myself. Enjoy!