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When I started telling friends and relatives that I was pregnant with Lauren, a number of them told me I should start taking prenatal vitamins immediately. Everything I read impelled me to do the same thing; in fact, almost everything I referenced assumed that anyone trying to get pregnant was already taking vitamins, particularly vitamins chock-full of folic acid. It all made it sound like any baby born to a mother who didn’t take prenatal vitamins was destined to develop some kind of birth defect.
I held off on buying any vitamins until after we saw Dr. Shoji, mainly because I didn’t really have any idea what to look for, and we’d hoped that he would steer us in the right direction. When I asked him about vitamins I should take, he shrugged and said, “They’re not necessary. If you’re eating a healthy diet, you and baby are getting everything you need.”
His extremely relaxed response surprised me, considering how adamant all the American literature had been about it. But vitamins were clearly not at the main front of Japanese prenatal care. After the appointment, Geordie and I went to a drugstore, just to see what kind of vitamin options there were. We found nothing marketed especially for pregnant women, nothing in the way of “prenatal care.” When Geordie asked one of the employees about it, she pointed out the folic acid supplements but explained that there were no specific vitamins for pregnant women. We ended up getting a general women’s vitamin that had folic acid in it. Later in the pregnancy, I switched to one that had a high amount of DHA, the better for baby’s brain development. None of the doctors I saw in Japan ever asked me about the vitamins or supplements I was taking.
Fast forward to now. One of the first questions the midwife asked me at my first prenatal appointment was what vitamins and supplements I was taking. I was not surprised by the question, but I was a little taken aback by how insistent she was about what I was taking.
I’d started taking prenatal vitamins in late December, once we’d decided that we’d be trying for a baby in the spring. I wasn’t convinced of the necessity,but I figured it wouldn’t hurt. By the time I got the positive pregnancy test, the bottle was nearly empty, and I’d found that the vitamins were contributing to my nausea – supposedly because of the iron. I switched to a gummy vitamin that did not contain iron, along with a calcium supplement since the gummies didn’t have that either.
The midwife didn’t seem overly impressed with my choices. She suggested I look into an iron supplement. She suggested what type of calcium supplement I should take. She suggested a “plant-based” vitamin. She was adamant that, no matter what I took, I should be sure it had the full amount of folic acid.
We talked more about vitamins and supplements than we did about actual nutrition through diet.
I found it mildly irritating.
One of the things the head midwife mentioned at the open house was that they tried to reserve medicine as a last resort. Geordie kind of rolled his eyes at the mention of homeopathic treatments, but I figured that would be standard procedure for an establishment that focused on natural pregnancy and childbirth. Not that I’m into homeopathy, but I’m not in the habit of automatically reaching for pills when I’m not well. I’ve never been that bad off, fortunately.
Even though I do take my prenatal vitamins, I’m not convinced that they’re necessary. Well, maybe right now, while my stomach deals with all of these hormones and aversions and cravings – but I intend to eat as balanced and healthy a diet as I can. Not just during this pregnancy, but indefinitely. I don’t want to be reliant on vitamins for my nutrition. If I find myself needing more iron in my diet, I don’t want a supplement to be my crutch – I know what foods to reach for when I need iron. I want to put my trust in natural foods. I still believe what Dr. Shoji said: baby will get everything it needs from a healthy, natural diet.
Reading through American pregnancy books during my last pregnancy, I often felt that they were trying to convince me that babies aren’t born healthy on their own, that they need medical care, doctors, and vitamins to make it through their ten months in the uterus. Everything seems to offer assurance: follow these rules, and baby will be healthy. What can go wrong?
Well, we know how I feel about that. I took the vitamins, I had regular prenatal care, I carefully watched what I ate to make sure I wasn’t ingesting anything “dangerous,” I took the best care of myself and was blessed enough to have a partner who did his best to make sure that I did just that. None of it kept my daughter from dying. I don’t think any of it caused Lauren to die either, but the truth is that perfect prenatal care isn’t a guarantee.
The truth is that even the perfect pregnancy can end in heartbreak.
I’m not looking for the perfect pregnancy. I’m looking to keep my baby healthy, to bring home a happy child, a living child. Much of it is out of my hands – this early in the pregnancy, anything can happen, and there’s not much I can do to stop it. I know that. I’ll keep doing my best. But I’m not going to delude myself into believing that following all the rules will lead to a happy ending.
So, this is what I will do: I will live as healthy a lifestyle as I can. I will eat unprocessed foods as often as I can, I will eat as healthy as possible. I will take my vitamins in moderation. I will not obsess. I will follow my instincts. I will listen to advice and do what I feel I need to do. I will not follow blindly, nor will I take anything for granted. I will not believe in guarantees.
I will take care of myself and our baby as best I can. That is what I have control over. I’ll take that.
I miss a lot of things about Japan, but in late March and early April, I really miss the cherry blossoms.
I also really miss all the sakura-flavored treats that can be found, in abundance. I could really go for a sakura frappuccino from Starbucks right about now. Oh, man, were those good.
It’s hard to find any kind of sakura flavoring in the States. I’ve looked. Many times. I’ve had other people look for me. The closest thing I had to any kind of sakura flavoring was some sakura sugar that I’ve had for who-knows-how-long. I know I bought it near Mt. Fuji, so I’m thinking I got it when Geordie and I took our New Year’s road trip in the winter of 2010/2011. In other words, I’ve had it for a long time.
And I decided it was about time to use it.
I actually couldn’t find any sakura-flavored cupcake recipes online. There are plenty of cherry-flavored cakes, but sakura isn’t the same as plain old cherry. I mean, I like cherries, but they’re not like sakura at all. It’s impossible to explain how sakura tastes. Very similar to how it smells, but then, it’s hard to explain that too.
It smells like spring.
It smells like . . . hope and magic and beauty.
It smells like sakura. That’s the best I can say about it.
What I found was cupcakes flavored with lavender sugar – the recipe is here at Not Quite Nigella. Interestingly enough, it is a recipe from Nigella Lawson.
I simply replaced the lavender sugar with my sakura sugar. The only problem was that I didn’t have enough of the sakura sugar. I had to supplement it with regular sugar. The proportions turned out to be about three-quarters sakura sugar to one-quarter regular sugar. I hoped it was enough to keep the sakura flavor prominent.
It was not.
There was the barest hint of sakura flavor to this cupcake. The barest. It was harder to detect with the frosting (I used the remainder of my vanilla bean frosting), but even by itself, the cake had such a subtle sakura flavor. It was hard to tell if I was really tasting sakura or just remembering what it tasted like.
Despite that, it did taste good. The cake had a very delicate crumb, light and spongy. I’m sure it’s quite tasty with the lavender sugar! And naturally, the frosting continues to be terrific. I can’t begrudge this cupcake its flavor. It’s fine. It’s a good cupcake. It’s a tasty cupcake. It’s just isn’t the cupcake I wanted.
Not what I wanted, but nobody complained. Geordie brought none of them home, though he wasn’t sure if anybody had actually tasted the sakura. Oh, well. Perhaps I’ll be able to try again in the future.
I like Mondays. I might even go so far as to say I love them. Not as much as I love Fridays, because you just can’t beat a Friday, but I do really like Mondays.
This hasn’t always been the case. But then, it’s been about five years since my work week started on Monday, so that’s why. In Japan, my work week started on Tuesday; later, when I started working for Nova, my work week started on Friday. And I hated Saturdays, but that was because they were always my busiest days. No, for the most part, I loved Monday, because everybody else was at work, and I could go and do my shopping in peace. I could go to a mall, and it’d be so peaceful and quiet. I could go to a horseback-riding lesson, and there’d be only two other people in the class. If I avoided rush hour, the trains would be quiet and mostly empty. I came to appreciate Mondays. They really aren’t so bad if they’re not the first day of the work week.
Obviously, things are a little bit different now. Technically, Mondays are kinda like the first day of the work week for me because they are for Geordie (who definitely has it worse than me because he actually has to go and deal with people). I hate getting up at 5:45 on Monday morning, and I don’t like that I have to say goodbye to Geordie for a whole nine hours. But I do enjoy the work that Monday brings me.
I have found that I love to do the grocery shopping. I go at 8am, apparently a time of day when nobody else wants to go grocery shopping. I get that most people think it’s a chore, but I really do enjoy it. And I take my time getting it done, just to be sure I get everything I need, just the way I want. It can take anywhere from 60-90 minutes, and I enjoy it no matter how long it takes. It gives me such a feeling of accomplishment, and I don’t even mean that in terms of saving money. I don’t shop to save money (although I certainly try to save what I can); I shop to buy food that is both tasty and nutritious. I just happen to find food incredibly interesting.
This habit of strolling through a grocery store and checking out the foods developed in Japan, I think. Japanese grocery stores are fascinating. Even after I’d lived there a couple of years, I could still easily spend an hour in a grocery store while shopping for a handful of items. It’s not like Japanese grocery stores are all that different from American (they’re not), but there’s just something so . . . interesting about them. The only time I hated going grocery shopping in Japan was when it was raining and I knew I’d have to walk home/ride a bicycle home in the rain.
So, yeah, my favorite part of the week? Grocery shopping. I look forward to it every Monday. And if a trip to Whole Foods is required – even better! It’s a 30-minute drive, so I don’t go every week, but I love to go all the same. Man, that place is so much fun! Actually, much like Japanese groceries, it has that sense of novelty and adventure to it. Discovering new and unusual foods is fun. It’s just too bad that I can’t bring it all home with me. But at least it gives me ideas for things to try in the future.
And that’s about it for today. Just a little ramble about why I, personally, like Mondays.
In closing, here is a picture of a kitten sleeping on Geordie’s laptop.