Japan Life · Travel Guides

Tenno Shrine | Azalea Festival – May 12

This was our second year visiting the azalea festival, and again, it didn’t disappoint. We even went before the azaleas were in full bloom this year, and it is SO worth the short trip from base. Located maybe 3 minutes from Namiki gelato, it really makes for a great day trip for families or even single service members.

Here is the pin directly to the parking lot: 40.697251, 141.151309
(If you go on the weekends, typically there will be city workers directing traffic.)

Here is the pin directly to the main shrine:
12ー1 Tenno, Shichinohe, Kamikita District, Aomori 039-2525

Here is the pin to the small park with playground equipment & other couple shrines:
30 Shichinohe, Kamikita-gun, Aomori 039-2525

There is LOTS of open space for kids to run, just please be respectful as the shrines are a place of worship. We brought our two year old and 8 month old, no problem. But we do make sure to keep them quiet and not let them run right next to the shrines.


The azaleas bloom in mid to late May, and usually there is a pretty good update on when they are fully flowered posted on Out the Gate. Most of these photos from this past weekend are when the blooms are only around 50-60% bloomed. Last year we went at full bloom- both trips were absolutely beautiful.

From Spring 2018, when the azaleas were at full bloom.

The shrines right around the big hill of azaleas are absolutely beautiful too, and it is worth climbing the HUGE hill to the left of the main hill to see a couple different shrines.

 

Even at partial bloom, the flowers are gorgeous!

After parking, there will be a small walk to the hill that the majority of the azaleas are planted on. Before you reach this, there is a small road to your left that will lead to a couple other shrines- this is where the tiny azalea trees are sold, as well. If you go under the big arch and up the big hill, there is also a small playground area for the kids. There are water fountains, porta-potties, and plenty of room to sit out if you decided to have a picnic as well. I recommend you wear bug spray though, because last year the mosquitos were pretty bad. This year we didn’t notice them.

Nothing better than good friends that will wrangle your toddler.

Would be a very pretty place for a picnic, but this area is PRISTINE, so PLEASE make sure to clean up after yourself!

We kept Henry (2.5) to the smaller wooden playground, but there are a couple pieces of equipment for bigger kids, too.

From 2018, at full bloom.
From 2018, at full bloom.

Definitely a must-see during the Spring. We always hit up Namiki afterwards, and did this day too- but I have SO many photos from this day, that I will save that for another post. Stay tuned.

azalea pin.jpg

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Japan Life · Japan Life Updates · Misawa Guides · Our Life in Japan · Travel Guides

Cherry Blossom Guide – Misawa City, Aomori

My first cherry blossom season in Misawa was spent wandering about pretty aimlessly, trying to figure out where the best places to view cherry blossoms were. I stuck mostly to base, because I was really afraid of accidentally wandering somewhere that I wasn’t necessarily welcome. And don’t get me wrong there- the blossoms on base are totally worth driving around to see. They are so beautifully and strategically planted, and they are some of the trees that seem to bloom the soonest. As I have explored more of Misawa, I have found that very few places seem to be unwelcome to Americans, as long as you are respectful, clean up after yourself, and don’t let your kids run completely wild. On the contrary, the Japanese at the parks seem to absolutely adore respectful American kiddos.

Icho park last year, mid-week. (If you go on a weekday, or early in the morning, it is beautifully quiet here.)

Last year, I thought the only place to really see blooms was at the Statue of Liberty (Icho) Park. I missed out on some of the most gorgeous blooms, because I spent ALL my time there (also because I had mini sessions nonstop, which was AMAZING, but also so draining.) It definitely is one of the best. But I wish I would have known about all the available parks for blossom viewing within like 20 minutes of base, where to park, and where was the most kid-friendly.

My kiddos were sick this week, so I will be updating this post in the next couple days with more photos and more information about each park.
For now, here are some photos of VERY early blooms that I saw at a couple parks I have visited this week- which will be updated soon! (April 24 update.)


 Also, here are a few reminders for you about being kind to our Japanese hosts, please don’t take these tips lightly! They may be common sense to most, but I have seen them all happen, which is why I include them.

• Please don’t let your kids pick cherry blossoms or any flowers, for that matter (and don’t pick them yourself.) If you want ONE blossom for a photo or something, that is one thing. But these gorgeous blooms don’t last long, and it’s incredibly sad for me as a photographer to watch other kids stripping entire branches to throw them in the air for one photo, you know? Be smart, and realize that there are a lot of people trying to view these trees in a very tiny amount of time, and half the time a giant rain or winds will strip the branches, anyway. If you want blooms, pick up ones that have already fallen!

• If you go to a dog-friendly park, PICK UP AFTER THEM. Keep your dogs on a tight/close leash, don’t let them jump all over people. I’m a dog lover, but I am absolutely a supporter of keeping your dogs at home if they growl at people or easily escape a leash.

• Try to keep your kiddos under control. Parks are obviously for running and fun (I have a toddler, trust me, I get it,) but I have seen people be drilled in the head with soccer balls by American children at these parks. Realize that these are THE ONLY parks for local Japanese families, and we are visitors in THEIR country.


Lastly,
Komaki and Tateno are VERY close together and could easily be hit in the same day.
Swan and Icho Parks are also VERY close together.

Also, as a disclaimer- these are all Google Maps pins. I know sometimes the difference between Google Maps and Apple Maps can be huge.

1. Statue of Liberty Park (Icho/Oicho Park)

(40.610026, 141.439702)
TONS of blooms here. The entire park is covered. 

If you go early in the day, you can park in this lot that the pin takes you directly to. I have always been routed through a very tightly-packed residential area to find the park- it will seem like you are going the wrong way if you are routed this way too. This lot does fill up quickly though, so if it is filled, you will have to take a right out of the parking lot, and drive until you see a one-way street. This will take you to a loop that drives directly above the park (directly above the playgrounds.) When the actual parking lots are filled, overflow parking has always parked on the grass above the park on this loop. I personally do not park here unless I see a JN (non-Y plate) car already parked there, just to be sure it is okay.

• stroller friendly almost completely through, almost all of it is paved walkways
• great place for a picnic when it is not insanely busy
• HUGE State of Liberty
• playgrounds, swings
• completely open areas for kids to run
• giant roller slide
• dog friendly
• large and beautiful lake
• fishing friendly
• has restrooms

This is one of the very best parks to visit for lots and lots of cherry blossoms. There are even a few different kinds of blooms here.
That being said, it gets BUSY towards the end of the day, and especially towards the afternoon on the weekends. During full bloom, the place is sometimes PACKED. It’s sometimes hard to find a parking spot, and the parking in this park is a little squirrely sometimes. I recommend visiting Icho for SURE, but recommend going during the early morning, or on a weekday. (Sunrise in Icho is spectacular, you NEED to see it.)

2. Swan Park (Hachinohekitakyuryoshimoda Park)

(40.611883, 141.401523)
TONS of blooms here. The entire park is pretty much covered.

This is the one park I have not visited yet- I will update this description in a little more detail in the next few days. You can Google images, or search Misawa Asks for more info on this one. (Swans come out in the winter, so don’t expect to see them in the spring haha.)

NO DOGS ALLOWED
• large and beautiful lake
• playgrounds
• has restrooms

3. Train park (Central Park)

(40.683702, 141.370212)
Lots of blooms, small park but pretty heavy cherry blossom coverage 

This is a very small parking lot, and make sure that you do not park in the Library parking lot on the other side of the building. They are pretty clearly marked.
This one is a family favorite of ours- it has a huge stationary train that our toddler LOVES to walk through. Lots of playground equipment- but it does get relatively busy because it is such a small park, and it is right in the middle of town. The blossoms are gorgeous here, though! Great 5-10 min walk, or like a 1 minute drive from base.

• stroller friendly on the outside perimeter, but this one is so small you probably won’t need to bring strollers
• playground
•  walk-through train

4. Tateno Park

Main parking lot by scenic area- (40.6155691, 141.3323448)
Dirt lot by the playground side of the park-
(40.611648, 141.330215)
TONS of blooms here, and lots of different kinds of cherry blossoms. Do be aware that some trees bloom at different times, though- so all trees may not be in bloom at the same time

I personally park in the dirt lot by the lake (it is located directly next to a huge and beautiful shrine tucked into some pines. I am not 100% sure this is parking for the park, but it was closest to the park that I wanted to explore, and was not full- so I considered it safe to park there.)

• stroller friendly for the most part, some paths are not paved, but are smooth enough to navigate a stroller over
• playgrounds/play equipment, swings
NO DOGS ALLOWED
• large and beautiful lake
• tons of picnic areas/ grills available
• fishing friendly
• has restrooms

Lots of lower hanging branches here, and a VERY pretty picnic area in several places in the park.

I could be wrong about this park NOT being dog friendly, but I am almost certain I saw signs posted saying pets were not allowed. I will update if I find this to be incorrect.

I have only visited this park once, and have not gone to the half that is not right around the lake.
It was BEAUTIFUL when we visited, and would be perfect for a picnic. There are several tables, lots of places to sit down for a snack, and LOTS of places for kids to run. The place is absolutely huge, and if you have loud and crazy kids- I would say this or Train Park would be your best bet.

This park has 2-3 different areas to it, and it is the PERFECT spot for a picnic.

5. Komaki (Komakionsen Shibusawa Park / Hoshino Resort )

Train station side parking: (40.667054, 141.353918)
Hotel side parking:  (40.663124, 141.354045)
(I usually park at the hotel, then walk down to the other area near the train station.)
Less cherry blossoms, but enough to make it worth visiting- beautiful during literally any season/any month

• completely stroller friendly
• dog friendly
• foot onsen
• big red Japanese style bridge
• lots of Japanese style buildings & shrines
• large and beautiful lake

Buildings on the hotel’s side. The umbrellas were set up for a festival of some sort. There are often festivals held right on the lake.
Train station side, these gorgeous and HUGE white blooms appear before cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

Komaki is a little less kid-friendly in the fact that it is usually VERY quiet, and there aren’t open spaces for kids to run. When festivals are going on here, I would say it is much less quiet, though.
Komaki area has two small parks- one right by the train station, and one by the hotel and onsen. (The onsen is no longer open to non-hotel guests.)
The train station side of the park has a lot more open space, but is much smaller- if that makes sense- and generally has less people occupying it. There are also FAR less cherry blossoms on this side- if any. (I will update this with certainty when I return after full bloom in Misawa.)

Hotel side-
When you park in the parking lot that the pin takes you to, it is REALLY confusing the first time that you try to find the scenic area. You will park in the lot, and see a bunch of hotels & buildings. (If you pull up Google Maps, you will see a lake. If you simply navigate yourself to the lake, you will find the loop easily.)
If you don’t have Maps readily available, walk into the building area. You will take a right before the main building, and will walk past a couple parking lots on your right. Once you go under the arch, you have found the scenic loop, and the foot onsen is directly to your right, overlooking the lake.
Our kids love this park because they are pretty quiet and calm kiddos, and like to just take stroller walks. If you have children that are excessively rambunctious or like to run, I actually don’t recommend walking the loop with them, simply because Komaki isn’t a park, just a gorgeous paved loop around the hotel. The hotel is just kind enough to allow non-hotel guests in.
That being said, there are miniature ponies and horses that are very friendly, and the entire place is gorgeous and interesting for kids- just maybe not the best for toddlers or kiddos that can’t be relatively calm while outside.

The foot onsen is open to the public, but please be respectful and quiet when using it.

I would consider Komaki more of a scenic walk/ cultural experience vs. a park. Cherry blossoms are supposed to be gorgeous here when in full bloom, though.

There is also a small bamboo forest on the train station side. And there is always BBQ sauce on Henry’s shirt. Haha

I hope these recommendations help you some! Even if you don’t visit during cherry blossom season, these parks are our absolute favorites to spend time at in Misawa, and are the best to get your family outside of the gate for a day. Hope you enjoy them as much as we have!

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Japan Life · Japan Life Updates · Travel Guides

Hakkoda Mountain Snow Wall- April 14

This is just a super quick photo dump, and a super quick recommendation that you should GO SEE THIS SNOW WALL. Seriously, if you’re in Northern Japan, this is a must-see during the early Spring. I believe it usually opens around April 1st. I mean when else are you going to get to see like 20ft of snow on either side of your car?

Drew also loves the skiing on this mountain, but says he doesn’t recommend it for beginners, as there are tons of sulfur pits hidden in the mountain. (Had I known that I would have totally worried about him more while skiing- haha.)

We made it a fun day and just took the road all the way up to Aomori after seeing the wall. Got some ramen at a tiny ramen shop, and turned around to go home, all in one day. Around $30 for gas, and $10 for food, and it was a great and super cheap day date with the kids!
We stopped in Towada City for gas, as it has one of the only self-service pumps that I know of on the way. We also made sure to bring the kids lots to play with and stay occupied with, since the total drive time there and back was probably 4-5 hours after factoring in the fact that we went all the way up to Aomori.


We chose not to do the snow walk because we have an infant and a toddler, and it was still worth the drive to see. You are actually only supposed to do the walk if you are with a tour group, anyway.

We stopped at the rest area to take a couple photos and use the bathroom, shown on the right.
Busses from some of the tours. We didn’t bother doing the tour this year since the kids are young, but likely will next year when they are both bigger and walking.

The snow by the rest area was actually the tallest we saw anywhere.

Not a sight you see every day, haha.
On the way home from Aomori. We saw the wall, ate, and turned around back home all while it was still light outside. One of the easiest day trips we have done, and also one of the coolest.

Let it be known that Google Maps will immediately try to route you down back roads- most of which are still partially snow-covered. I know we saw several posts about getting turned around on various roads while trying to go here.
We tried to take highway 394, but were turned around about 25 minutes down it.

Instead, we took highway 4 to Towada, and then took highway 102 all the way around. It was a longer drive, but it was worth it to not get turned around a zillion times. It’s also a really pretty drive, so that’s a plus.

Then, as mentioned, we drove up to Aomori after stopping at the rest stop. Hit up a small ramen shop on the main retail strip, and headed back home. The ramen was excellent, and the husband-wife pair that hosted us were so incredibly kind. They catered to our silly, little kiddos so well. even giving Henry a HUGE brownie free of charge.

Definitely a trip worth taking, and a great one-day adventure.

Japan Life Updates · Misawa Guides

Morioka {Iwate, Japan} – January 4-5

Drew randomly mentioned leaving home for a little getaway this weekend, and if I’m being honest, I really was dreading going on Friday night. My husband is a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants kind of guy, while I’m a planner. I wanted to have our hotel and train tickets booked a week in advance, and when we didn’t, I assumed we weren’t going. Friday afternoon rolled around, and Drew simply came home from work and asked when we would be leaving.


That’s one of the greatest things about Drew- and just one reason I’m so glad I married him. With two kids under three, he doesn’t even think twice about loading everybody up on a train and taking a fun weekend trip in the dead of winter.

And I’m so glad he thinks like this.

Morioka is a gorgeous little town surrounded by mountains. The weather this weekend was PERFECT (upper 30’s) and we were able to have the kids outside for most of the weekend without worrying. I wore Ellie in my LilleBaby, and Henry rode around in his stroller.

Man, I’m telling you. Traveling with kids is really not nearly as hard as you think. I’m definitely exhausted after this weekend- but when you take the right steps to prepare for having little ones with you, traveling is so much better with them than it would have been alone.

We only spent two days in Morioka, and we visited a few different coffee shops and restaurants (I shared a bunch of them on my Insta Story highlights under the explore Japan tab) but two main things stuck out to me from the weekend.

If there are two things you need to do in Morioka, these are them:

Round 1

If you go to Morioka, especially if you have kids, you shouldn’t leave without visiting  here. Honestly this is where we spent the first half of the day on Saturday, and I could have spent the entire day there. In a nutshell, Round 1 is a massive indoor play arena, with SO many different games and activities to enjoy. It’s like an amped-up Chuck E Cheese that is also fun for adults.

It has like 6 or 7 stories of bowling, batting cages, soccer fields, ball pits, bounce houses, skating rinks, pool halls, and arcade games.

We spent 3 hours in there and could have spent a solid 3-4 more, since we only explored like two levels of the place.

On top of that, it was only $30 for Drew, Henry, Ellie, and me. Once you get your bracelet inside, every game and activity is completely free, and honestly it wasn’t that crowded at ALL. Talk about cheap fun for your kid, right?

There is all sorts of food there, and again in regular Japan fashion, you can buy beer right in the middle of the place. So funny to see the equivalent of an American Chuck E Cheese selling steel cups of beer.

There are lockers on the first floor that you can utilize for free, and since we walked from the train station, we also had Henry’s stroller. Japan is amazing in the fact that we just left his stroller on the first floor by the lockers for three hours, and it was completely untouched when we came back.

Wankosoba

I was SO confused at first when I started hearing about this soba restaurant. I assumed it was just like yakiniku or shabu shabu (which are both all-you-can-eat style restaurants.) In reality, this restaurant was more like a game.

We had somewhat of a language barrier at first- but in hindsight I much better understand how to do it.

The object of the game is to eat 100 bowls of soba. When you walk in, you will see the Japanese people sitting at the low tables, absolutely inhaling bowl after bowl after bowl of soba.

You will walk in, and take a seat at a low table. You are assigned one server who will be at your table for the duration of the meal. The server, as seen above, brings out around 20 bowls of soba at once. These are bite-sized bowls of noodles. As soon as your bowl is clear, they will pour more noodles into your bowl.

Most of the Japanese that we saw eating would swallow each bite of noodles whole, then immediately raise their bowl in the air for more.

You will continue having your bowl filled immediately until you place the lid on your bowl. Once you place your lid on, the game is over.

The object of the game is to hit 100 bowls.

Sounds easy, right? After all, those bowls are teenie, and each bowl is only like one bite of soba!

Wrong. Not a single one of us made it past 75 bowls. I ate a solid 65, and as soon as you hit that wall, you are so done. We made the mistake of buying the regular soba, while Clint chose right with buying the deluxe. When you buy deluxe, they pile your bowls on the table in front of you. With the regular, you have to just keep track of how many you have consumed by yourself. If we go again, we will absolutely choose the deluxe option.

Because we had the hardest time finding this place- it is directly across from the Morioka train station on the SECOND story! Message me on my Instagram account for the direct pin- but if you search Wankosoba, you should find it immediately!
So worth it, although we all almost died leaving that place with how full we all were.

A few random tips:

• If you have kids, I really think it’s worth it to pay the extra $10 for the “first class” Shinkansen tickets. Green car tickets are maybe $10 more per person, and they are SO worth it. Kids are free as lap children until age 3 on the trains almost everywhere in Japan, so we got the bigger, comfier seats, since we chose to have the kids sit on our laps. Henry fell asleep within 4 minutes of boarding.

• If you have kids and plan to stay in a hotel pretty much anywhere in Japan, get a double room. Honestly, even if you don’t have kids… get a double room. We stayed in the New City Hotel (not sponsored), and while it was very very nice, Japanese hotel rooms are TINY. Having two beds was a lifesaver, and allowed one kid to sleep in each bed with us. The last time we stayed in a hotel, we made the mistake of trying to fit into one “double” bed. Unfortunately double beds in Japan are somewhere in between a twin and a full sized American bed. Not quite what you need for two Americans (one of which was pregnant at the time) and a toddler, right?

Overall, it was a fabulous trip. Totally worth the bullet train tickets to not have to brave the snow, and totally worth a little walking to do a few fun things close to the train station! Easy with kiddos, and a blast for everyone involved!

 

Ellie · Japan Life Updates

Two, Three, and Four Months- Ellie

Two, three, and four month updates… Isn’t that title just the epitome of second children? I always swore I wouldn’t be this mom, but here I am, making one blog post update for three months. Oops. At least I have 14,000 photos of my kids on my phone.

So here is some photo dumping- mostly month four, but also a mix on months two and three.

Ellie girl is four months old!
Weight: 13 lbs, 3oz.
Eye Color: Pretty darn blue! I keep saying I’m not convinced they will stay blue, but I somewhat am now. Ask me again at 10 months, they will probably be brown by then.
Hair: A little thinner than before maybe, and a little lighter too! Don’t worry, mom’s hair is thinner too. #postpartumhairsucks
Size: 3-6 months

  • Ellie girl started sucking her thumb around 5-6 weeks old consistently, and is still doing it daily at 4 months.
  • She ONLY sleeps on her stomach. We lay her on her back to go to sleep, and it takes about 6 seconds for her to roll to her belly. If you lay her on her back when she’s already asleep, she will 100% wake up. She sleeps on her belly with her thumb in her mouth. I.e. don’t touch my kid’s hands. Ever. Ha. (I only somewhat kid there, they are ALWAYS in her mouth.)
  • Poor little lady has battled thrush since around 6 weeks old. Seems like every time we get rid of it, she passes it to me or I pass it back to her. I think we are finally near getting rid of it for good at 16 weeks though! She has been very cranky for a couple months now, and understandably so, because that thrush is brutal.
  • Ellie has pretty severe “stranger danger” and hates big crowds. We are working on it. She only loves her thumb and her mama, and she’s not sorry.
  • She loves car rides still, and almost always goes to sleep in the car.
  • Girlfriend rolled for the first time around 8 weeks, and both front to back and back to front around 11-12 weeks, and does both with ease now. She has been scooting around and rolling where she needs to go for several weeks. She mostly sits up on her elbows, and raises her legs completely off the ground. I’m guessing crawling will happen during month four.
  • Baby girl is getting some chunky legs, and I’m not mad about it. Chunky thighs and pretty eyes for life, right?
  • Ellie 100% prefers tummy time or to be sitting upright. She HATES being on her back.
  • I’m predicting she will walk by 8 months like her brother. (Which is both really cool, and terribly frightening. You don’t understand until you see an 8 month old walking upright with their tiny, squishy little heads…)
  • Ellie is more of a mean-mugger than anything. She smiles every once in a while, and definitely has her favorite people that she grins at, but she’s usually just quietly watching and listening.
  • When she laughs, she almost never smiles. It’s kind of the funniest sight ever.
  • The baby mullet has arrived. I’m hoping her hair grows fast. Her brother had already had a haircut by this time. Her hair is definitely much lighter than her brother’s was. I can’t wait for baby piggy tails, for real.
  • Baby girl had her second heart checkup. Unfortunately she still has a hole. Thank goodness though, it has not enlarged any- praise Jesus for that!
  • Henry acknowledges her more lately, and likes to drop things on her face while saying “here you gooooooo!”
  • Baby girl is about a week or two from consistently sitting up. She tripod sits with ease and unassisted sits frequently too. She LOVES to sit up and watch her brother.
  • Ellie loves Henry and me. That’s about it. She sometimes decides that she loves Drew too, but mostly she’s a mama’s girl. That’s okay, because Henry has decided he is 100% a daddy’s boy.

Our babies are sweet, beautiful, funny, kind, and darling little ones. They make life so fun, and it’s hard to believe Ellie is almost through her first year of life. I really can’t imagine what life was like before these two existed, and I’m pretty blessed for their existence.

Ellie · Japan Life Updates

One Month- Ellie

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Ellie Alice is 1 month old!
Weight: 9lbs 12oz
Eye color: Blue! Don’t let that fool you, Henry’s were blue/green until like 10 months.
Hair: Lots. Ha. Mullet status.
Size: Newborn. Some 3 month.

collage

  • Ellie takes a pacifier extremely well and likes to make obnoxiously loud noises with it if she’s hungry and does not want it. Henry now wants a paci all the time, and will take sister’s and fall asleep with it in his mouth.42397503_10156717643744525_7751075849289334784_o
  • Girlfriend only cries for two reasons: if she is hungry or if she has pooped. She will cry briefly if she has a big burp, and will burp like a man- but the hunger cries are the serious ones.
    Before we realized how serious she was about her food, we thought she was seriously hurt a couple times when she cried. For example, she let out a shriek in the sushi restaurant that made around six Japanese families turn to look at us with deep concern. Nope, I did not just pinch my infant. She has simply decided she needs milk… right here, right now. And she definitely gets it with her shrieks.
    42340515_10156717644014525_7771345724104507392_o
  • So yes, this little gal loves her milkies more than the air she breathes. Ellie latched immediately after birth- probably not even ten minutes after she was born- and nursed constantly for the first three days. My milk came in immediately, and due to her constant demand for a full belly, I also had to pump for some relief. So we now have a freezer stash of 280 ounces at 1 month old!
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  • Holds her head up 99% unassisted, and actually surpasses her brother’s crazy creepy head control that he also had at birth. She has not rolled at all though, and shows no interest in it so far- Henry had rolled both back to front and front to back by 4 weeks.
    42324516_10156717643899525_5155140101679874048_o
  • She doesn’t mind tummy time and actually prefers it. Chest naps are the best in her mind.
  • Ellie girl absolutely loves car rides like her brother did. She rarely cries in the car (unless she is hungry. She will always cry for food.)
The crazy hair and the beginnings of a killer mullet.
  • She is a champion sleeper, thank you Jesus. Wakes 1-2 times per night to nurse, be burped, and promptly returns back to sleep.
    42366816_10156717643924525_8490007788401983488_o
  • Ellie doesn’t like to be swaddled, but also doesn’t have a startle reflex, like at all. She can sleep in just a onesie and not wake herself.
  • Girlie doesn’t scratch at her face at all. She has never worn the little mittens.
    42342660_10156717643414525_1915128824979259392_o
  • Ellie’s hair has formed a baby mullet. Still lighter than her brother’s at birth.
  • She loves to stare, and crosses her eyes often.
    42369866_10156717643714525_243891959876288512_o
  • This month her sacral dimple and heart murmur were both cleared as being normal! Praise Jesus our girl is healthy!
  • Her eyelashes look longer than her brother’s were at birth… and Henry’s are LONG and DARK now. I’m remaining hopeful that she has those long eyelashes too!
  • Daddy left this month, and mom has been adjusting to two kiddos alone. So far they are both still alive, and I’ve even gone grocery shopping once.
    264A0856
  • Big brother calls her “I-E” (eye-ee) as of yesterday, and has finally started to notice her. He likes to walk up to her and pat her head, and will also bring her a music playing seahorse that she likes.
    He likes to cover her feet with a blanket and say “night night I-E!”To include a few Henry milestones in this post, his favorite phrases currently include:
    “Wow, look at that!”
    “Oooh, look at that!”
    “Wow, it’s a (vroom vroom, plane, car, cat)”
    This week he has learned virtually all of his colors and how to count to 5. Yes, in one week. “Blippi” is a genius and YouTube actually isn’t totally worthless.
    He sings several Blippi songs, and particularly likes the “airplane, airplane” song.

We are so richly blessed to have our healthy, sweet babies, and it is so fun being a family of 4!
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Ellie Alice is our beautiful, funny, sleepy, hungry little stinker. She is the sweetest and most calm little thing, and she is the absolute perfect addition to our family. I can’t imagine my life without both of my sweet babies.

Ellie · Japan Life Updates

Ellie’s Birth Story

It’s hard to believe we already have two babies. I never would have guessed at twenty-three that we would have two kids after only three and a half years of marriage, but I can’t imagine a better existence now that they are here.

I have always had lots of contractions through my two pregnancies, and often I physically progressed from these early contractions. I walked around for weeks with Henry at 5cm. When I was pregnant with him, my coworkers used to joke that I had been in labor for months before I actually delivered him. Doctors always tell me to prepare for premature babies with how my body starts labor so early, but alas, both of my kiddos have been considered “full-term.” Henry born at almost 43 weeks, Ellie born at 39 weeks and a day.

My sweet babies both sleeping a few hours after Ellie arrived.

Since I was induced with Henry and never went into active labor without medication, I have always thought that those contractions that I felt while walking around were as bad as they ever got. The only time my contractions became painful with his labor was after they hooked me up to my pitocin drip. Dear Lord, if you have labored naturally with pitocin, you are either crazy or a hero- possibly both. But I had decided this time around that I might not even know when I was in active labor, because my contractions were just never painful, even when I was having them 10 minutes apart for weeks and weeks before Ellie was born.

Boy, was I wrong.

My whole heart in one photo.

I woke up at 5:45am on August 25, and within three contractions I KNEW this baby was coming, and I knew she was coming fast. I had been checked the day before, and was dilated to 4cm but by the time I woke up I was confident I might even be complete and ready to push already.
Poor Drew had made prior plans that morning to help out a couple of his friends with a project, and he was about to leave the house to meet them when he had to call them. I am sure they heard me screaming at him to hurry up in the background. Ha.

I never told Drew that I hated him through labor, although I did tell the anesthesiologist that I loved him more than Drew. Oops. 

We dropped off Henry at our sweet friends’ house around 6:00am, and got checked in to the hospital by 6:30. They were fairly quick to check me, and upon arrival I was already dilated to an 8. They finally got my IV started probably around 7:00. (I say finally only because it felt like an eternity to me as I was still totally unmedicated at this point. My labor and delivery team was speedy and awesome.)
I was begging for an epidural from the moment I buzzed in at the labor and delivery unit, but knew they had to push a unit of fluids first.

You see, I watched the all birthing videos. I totally get it. It’s an empowering thing for women to labor as it happens naturally, and it is totally a thing to be proud of. I don’t deny that.
This just isn’t me. Not at ALL.

At our first hospital when we had Henry, we took every class they offered. Being brand new parents, we really wanted to be prepared. I watched two videos that stuck with me. Both were of women giving birth. One had opted for an epidural during her birth, the other was laboring completely unmedicated in a bathtub. Bathtub lady was clearly sweaty and miserable as I watched her moans turn to screams as she progressed into pushing. Epidural lady was eating a popsicle.

I wanted to be the popsicle lady.

Henry getting to know his new sister. For the first day he only growled at her and told her to “shhhhh, get down!” repeatedly.

So, with Henry, I felt two contractions after pitocin started, and immediately requested my epidural. My anesthesiologist happened to be down the hall, and came right in not even five minutes later. Within 4 total contractions, I couldn’t feel anything from my belly button down. And I had a grape popsicle, and a baby 4 hours later. What a glorious labor that was.

But I was also warned all through this pregnancy that Ellie may come much faster, as my first labor was fast for being a first- and especially fast for being an induction.

They weren’t wrong.
Actually, in hindsight, I didn’t even realize just how quickly things were happening until I saw all of the time stamps on my discharge papers a few days later.

So, they eventually got me set up with my IV around 7am. I was able to walk into the hospital at 6:00, but by 7:00, I was definitely feeling like I might just die on the spot. Shout out to my sweet nurses and doctors, you were all absolutely amazing, and I can’t think of a better team that I would have liked to have in the delivery room with us.

Laying there, I watched as the nurses quickly brought in table after table of medical tools, only around 30 minutes after I arrived at the hospital. It hit me pretty quickly that this little girl was definitely coming soon.
I remember looking at my med tech who was inserting my IV and asking him, “Um… so… I’m not going to get an epidural in time to push this kid out, am I?”
“Well ma’am, that is definitely a good possibility.”
My reply to that might have been a four-letter word.

After my IV was started and I got my bag of fluid pushed through, the anesthesiologist came to my room. By this time, I knew I was likely complete and ready to push, but I was dang determined to get that needle in my spine before that ever happened.

I held as still as humanly possible, and waited as they did their procedure. Both of my epidurals have been absolutely amazing. Basically no pain at all during the insertion, fast and quick, and no side effects afterwards.
Epidural was successfully places, I was checked again, and was absolutely ready to push. Unfortunately, I could still completely move my legs and the epidural had only slightly numbed me up to my shins. Perhaps it took the edge off a little bit, but I definitely felt every bit of this labor compared to the labor I had with Henry.
Nevertheless, I had delayed for as long as I could. It was time to push, and so I did.

My OBGYN that was with me from the very beginning of my pregnancy unfortunately moved about two weeks before my delivery, and the second OB that I had routinely seen for appointments as well also moved the week following the first one. Thus, I met my brand new OB when I was 10cm, and ready to push. He walked into my room, and I shook his hand probably a solid ten minutes before our baby girl arrived.
My water never broke on its own, so he broke it at 7:52am at 10cm. I pushed for what I felt was quite a while, but in reality, Ellie Alice was born at 7:58am.
So yep, I gave birth before my epidural even numbed me.
Yep, I was the woman that got an epidural at 9-10cm. (Most likely 10cm.)
Yep, I was the lady that screamed bloody murder and probably scared every other laboring woman in that unit, even though I only pushed 3 times.
Although I felt the labor and the pushing, it was quite nice to not have to deal with any of the painful following details.

It’s funny- in hindsight, I am still pro-epidural to the core of my being. I had a lot of friends ask me if I regretted getting it this time around since Ellie was born so shortly after I did. I guess my answer is yes and no.
Yes, I regret it only because I probably could have pushed 25-30 minutes earlier if I had not got it. I’m pretty confident I was at 10cm well before the anesthesiologist even came into the room, so I likely did prolong my labor by fighting the urge to push while I tried to wait. I sat there just trying to see if the numbness would creep up fast enough as my anesthesiologist pushed several doses to my IV. In hindsight though, my postpartum recovery was a million times better because my legs never became completely numb, so I was up and walking about 4 hours after Ellie was born. During my recovery with Henry, I was unable to walk for around 16 hours after delivery.
But also no, I don’t regret it, because I hate pain. Ha.
We were already pretty confident that we will not (intentionally) have any more biological babies after Ellie, and I am pretty set in that decision after experiencing a mostly unmedicated labor. Ellie makes me want to have another baby because she is such an angel, but pain that makes me barf uncontrollably and tell men that I don’t know that I love them more than my husband is just not for me.
Kudos to all of you women who labor for hours and hours and hours before your babies make their arrivals, and kudos to you women who push more than three times. My three times convinced me that my body might be splitting in half, and that I will never willingly do that again, so I am very confident y’all are the real MVPs.

Hospital attire for babies always cracks me up.

It’s amazing how as soon as you give your final push, and that little babe makes their entrance into the world, you are instantly relieved.

They laid the squishy and gross little girl on my belly, and suctioned out her mouth and nose as they did. We chose to do delayed cord clamping, meaning we waited until the cord stopped pulsating before messing with it, and so it was several minutes later before Drew cut the cord. (And somehow sprayed blood ALL over our med tech when he did. Poor guy. Ha.) Ellie latched immediately, and has been an absolute champ at nursing so far. She made the hours after delivery so incredibly easy.

Our poor med tech, covered in my blood. Haha.

It’s funny how I hated this entire pregnancy so much, and honestly didn’t feel super connected to Ellie for most of it. I was just so sick during the first trimester, and so tired during the third, and those two trimester’s symptoms each bled into the second, too. I was so busy during my entire pregnancy that I had a hard time connecting with my babe before she was born. Maybe that makes me a crappy mom to admit, but honestly pregnancy just isn’t something that I enjoy. I love my babies with every fiber of my being, and I am forever grateful that we have had no problems conceiving or carrying children, but that 9 months is pretty much hell for me.

But the second that that little girl was laid on my chest, my heart expanded more than I ever thought it could.

Ellie is the sweetest and most perfect little addition to our family, and our family feels so complete. Maybe this will change for me in a few years, but for right now, I can’t imagine life any different than it is right now.

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Welcome, my darling Ellie Alice! The world is so much better now that you are here.

Ellie · Japan Life Updates

5 Surprising Facts About Maternity Care in Japan

A few weeks ago after Ellie was born, I had the opportunity to talk to several different doctors, nurses, and translators through the process of getting Ellie’s heart checked out for her murmur. My interest was definitely sparked after my conversations, and ever since, I have been doing more reading on the differences between America and Japan in regards to birth and maternity care.

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It’s funny how as an American, I thought that the entire world functioned the same way that we do.
I thought that epidurals and pain relief were available everywhere.
I thought all women and babies were released from the hospital only a few hours or days after birth.
I thought that a “support person” was encouraged in basically all delivery rooms, and that all women usually chose to have their husbands present.
I really never gave a second thought to how the rest of the world functioned in regards to maternity and newborn care, at least until I lived in a part of the “rest of the world.”

Sitting in the Japanese pediatric cardiologist’s office, I had a pretty cool discussion with our translator. She began to ask questions about our birth experience, and told us how things were different in Japan. We gave birth at an Americanized hospital, so though our daughter was born in Japan, I had a birth experience just like I would have in the states.

The conversation between her and me started with a question that she asked.
“Did you have an epidural?” She asked me kindly.
“Ohhh, yes. But it didn’t even work in time, unfortunately.” I replied, likely with wide eyes. After all, my birth experience was still very fresh on my mind as it had only been two days since I delivered Ellie.
“So you felt everything?” She questioned.
“Yep!”
“That’s what women over here do- they don’t have epidurals!” She said as she smiled at my raised eyebrows.
“You mean they don’t have pain relief?” I asked with what I’m sure was even wider eyes.
“Nope, not at all.”

I had heard this rumor through the grapevine as I neared the end of my pregnancy, but wasn’t sure if it was totally true. So after coming home from Ellie’s appointment, I did some reading on the cultural aspects of birth in Japan. From what I read, Japan is slowly becoming more like America in the practices they have regarding birth, but there are still some very drastic differences. So here are 5 facts that I found fun and interesting about the differences between birthing and recovering in Japan vs. America.

1. Pain relief isn’t a thing in Japanese births.

As I said, many of my American friends told me that the Japanese do not readily use pain relief during birth, and the vast majority of information I read states the same. Most state that even the use of ibuprofen is often looked down upon. Traditional Buddhist beliefs within Japan state that women should receive the full experience of childbirth, pain and all, due to a few different factors. This is said to prepare the mom for what motherhood holds, and is supposed to help her bond better with her baby. Because traditional Japanese views regard patience and suffering as important life lessons, receiving a medicated birth is often looked down upon, especially by older generations. Pain is often said to be a major life “experience” and something that is to be felt, not masked.

2. Japanese insurance only provides a “lump sum” payment for the coverage of your delivery.

This payment is said by multiple sources that I found to be 420,000 yen, or approximately $4,000 USD. According to the Japan Times, the average cost of an uncomplicated delivery is around 500,000 yen, or a little less than $5,000 USD. Often though, uncomplicated births are completely covered by the lump sum allowance.
Typically women are expected to pay up front for their deliveries, and will be reimbursed at a later date by this lump sum. If a delivery is complicated, or a C-Section takes place, deliveries may cost thousands of dollars more, and the woman/her family are expected to foot the total bill.
Women are first required to report their pregnancy to their city upon its confirmation. They will then be provided with a handbook on their maternity and new baby’s care. Many hospital sites that I visited stated that all checkups must be paid for out of pocket, but that your city may have coupons covering the vast majority of an office’s services. These coupons can be found within your handbook.
In addition, if an epidural is asked for (this only happens in about 5% of all births) the cost of said epidural is usually completely uncovered by insurance. From the sources I read it is likely that an epidural will cost at least 100,000 yen, or a little less than $1,000 USD. Oddly enough though, many sources state that newborn and child care is often completely free and covered until the child reaches the age of 15.

3. Fathers are not often present in the delivery room.

At both hospitals we have delivered at, it was expected for Drew to be my “support person,” and he was actually involved in several aspects of my labor such as holding my legs during pushing, cutting our babies’ cords, or verbally encouraging me during contractions.
Many accounts of birth stories in Japan that I read stated that women often do not have their husbands in the delivery room with them at all, and that they were sometimes even encouraged to face the pain of birth bravely, and alone. Furthermore, women will often choose to deliver their babies in their hometowns, and often their husbands/the fathers will not travel with them for a variety of reasons. Many women leave two to three months before they are due, and return home months later with their newborn. This is not a strange occurrence, and most hospitals will not even blink at a woman arriving to deliver completely alone.

4. Babies typically do not stay in your room, they stay in the nursery.

The concept of “rooming in” with our baby was also a very startling concept to our translator. She stated that she thought that would be incredibly tiring for the mother, who had just given birth.
During my research, many sources stated that mothers are immediately encouraged to nurse their babies- sometimes for up to two hours straight after delivering- but as soon as the nursing session was over, most infants were required to stay in a nursery for the first three days of their life.
I have now delivered at two hospitals who do “total rooming in” meaning my babies have been with me from the second I gave birth to them until the second we left the hospital. Any procedure, any need to take the baby from the room- I have been fully allowed to come along for. In general, most sources stated that mothers and babies are almost fully separated for the first three days of life, with visits being allowed for nursing the newborn.
This could also be due to the sharing of recovery rooms, sometimes up to 4-5 patients per room, which seems to be a fairly normal practice in Japan. The Japanese view privacy and remaining polite very highly, so the absence of newborns from shared recovery rooms makes sense from a “let’s just keep to ourselves” standpoint. No crying babies means everyone in that room is able to sleep.

5. Postpartum care extends much longer than most American hospitals encourage or allow.

According to our translator, the minimum hospital stay for mothers after giving birth is one week from the time of delivery. She was actually absolutely shocked when we said that Ellie was only two days old and that I was discharged around 24 hours after giving birth. Our Ellie was in the hospital for a bit longer due to her heart, but I as her mother was completely released and allowed to simply stay in the room with her until she was as well.
The Japan times states that from their survey, at least 60 percent of women asked stated that their hospital stay was from five to eight days. Even when a woman gives birth at a birthing center or at home with a midwife, the typical range of care extends around five days. This seems to not be viewed as a sad or lazy thing, but rather a privilege that allows the mother to sleep, recover, and heal. During this time, mothers use the advice and help of doctors and nurses, and learn how to properly care for their infants.

Living overseas has broadly expanded my narrow mind in regards to so many aspects of my way of life, and the way the Japanese view the birthing process was seriously eye opening to me. It is funny how stepping foot out of America makes you realize how culturally different the rest of the world is from your tiny little “Americanized box.” If you have time some day, I encourage you to pick another country, and read about their birthing practices. Some of the things you will read will absolutely baffle you, both about the other country, and about how we do things in the United States. In the end, babies will be born every day all over the world. The beauty of birth absolutely remains the same across the world, the process may just look a little different from various sets of eyes.

 

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Citations from the reading/research I did:

“No Pain, No Gain. Maternity Culture in Japan” The Economist. October 20, 2016. https://www.economist.com/asia/2016/10/20/no-pain-no-gain

“Make Giving Birth Easier in Japan” Japan Times. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2017/12/03/commentary/japan-commentary/make-giving-birth-easier-japan/#.W4ke82QzaAw

“Pregnancy and Birth in Japan” Japan Times. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2015/06/03/issues/pregnancy-birth-japan-cultural-primer-foreign-mothers/#.W55icSN97-k

“Prenatal Care” Japan Healthcare Info. http://japanhealthinfo.com/pregnancy-and-childbirth/prenatal-care/

“Giving Birth in Japan” RCM. https://www.rcm.org.uk/news-views-and-analysis/analysis/giving-birth-in-japan

“Giving Birth In Japan” Japan Window. http://japanwindow.com/giving-birth-in-japan/

Japan Life Updates

Blueberry Farm July 30

I have been seeing posts from friends here in Japan forever about fruit picking in the area, but with regular pregnancy tiredness and the average toddlerhood sass, we just haven’t really left the house lately on days off. We braved the 82 degree heat today (all of you back home will scoff at me for that as you sit in 100 degree Missouri, I’m sure) and visited a nearby blueberry farm. We were absolutely not disappointed.

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We pulled up to a tiny farm, complete with several chickens, a greenhouse, some barn cats, and a small field of blueberries. As often is the case in Japan, we technically parked in the front yard of the Japanese family that owned the farm.
So far, our experience has proved that Japanese families run their businesses often out of one or two rooms of their own house, or their businesses are stationed directly on their personal property. Many have their business as the lowest level of their house, with their residence on the upper level.

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Henry wasn’t 100% sure about the bugs, grass, ants, and hundreds of tiny toddler-sized trees, but he warmed up quickly after tasting a few berries.

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As we entered the farm, the sweet Japanese lady at the front table explained to us how everything worked. Adult entry fees cost 500 yen, (equating to about $4.50) and all kids under 7 were free.

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35.5 week baby bump, blueberries included. Pardon my lack of eyes, we went mid-day and the sun isn’t nice to my already squinty face. 

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Most pick-yourself-farms know you will eat as you pick, but I have rarely had a farm ENCOURAGE me to eat all that I could. The Japanese woman bowed to us, motioned to the field, and said “Please PLEASE eat eat eat! As long as you want, eat eat eat!”
And that we did.

 

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At the end of your picking, you can choose to take your basket of berries up to the front and pay to take those berries home, too. Takeaway berries cost 100 yen per 100 grams, which is actually WAY cheaper than you can even find in grocery stores in the area. A pint of blueberries from the store often can cost you anywhere from $5-$7. I expected our two rather full baskets to cost us a pretty penny, but amazingly we only paid 1100 yen (about $9.90) for a HUGE bag full of fresh berries.

And of course all three of us left with full bellies, especially the littlest one of us.

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As we went up to pay, the sweet Japanese family all greeted Henry, and the workers who were renovating the family’s home even stopped their work to come interact with us as we paid for our berries. They first sent us with an extra to-go cup full of berries for Henry to eat on the way home, then proceeded to say “gift for you, gift for you!” We watched as they took our bag and scooped almost the exact amount that we had already  picked right into our bag- completely free. We paid $9.90 for a little over 4lbs of fresh blueberries!

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This was the first bag we picked, we went home with around 4x this many berries.
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Henry isn’t about the smiling life these days, apparently. #threenager at age two.
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Henry, munching on his gift from the Japanese family, quickly fell asleep on the way home. 

The kindness and hospitality of the Japanese will never cease to amaze me. Perhaps it is because we live closer to rural Japan than to any of the majorly crowded cities- but I am under the belief that this country has things down right. The slow, calm pace and sweet servanthood of every native you come in contact with will surely make you want to never leave the country.

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Apple, cherry, and raspberry picking has now been added to our bucket list for sure.