Monday, June 23, 2008

Happy Birthday Jeff! (and bonus points for me!)

After the past few months that Jeff has had, I wanted to buy him a good birthday gift. I mean, a really, really good birthday gift. We're usually pretty frugal with gifts, sticking to things like books, CDs, clothing... but this year I wanted something superior. It didn't take long for me to figure out what.

As you may or may not know, Jeff got into photography when we were in Japan. And he's proved himself a natural (if you don't believe me, check his Flickr account - the small pics on the left). He's always going on about all the equipment he would love to buy, and I'm always saying, yes, yes, let's work on a secure paycheck first! But the truth is, I'd love for him to get his hands on all these toys, cause I really believe in him and his photography. When Jeff is working on his pictures, he comes alive and shows me what it means to have God give you the desires of your heart. The passion is obvious. And I can't help but feel touched and proud all at the same time.

I'm pretty clueless when it comes to the necessary gadgets. I admit, I fall into the trap of only half listening when he excitedly tells me about all the lenses etc. he has researched online. And what little information I catch tends to fly out the other ear rather quickly.

But one thing I've known for a while is that Jeff needs a tripod. And two Sundays before his birthday, I decided that's what I was going to buy. The next day I got Larissa to drive me out to Henry's, where I felt very much like the absent-minded wife who has no clue what she's doing and can easily be persuaded to buy the most expensive, rip-off gimmick out there. But I tried really hard to listen and compare and think of what Jeff would really like to have. Oh, and I at least remembered what kind of camera he owns... Konica Minolta, right? ;)

After some time, I decided on the Manfrotto 190XPROB. I hesitated, thinking maybe I should go for its bigger brother, the 055XPROB, but decided against it. I mean, these things are so fancy, you have to buy the top part (ballhead) separately! So then I had to choose one of those things. All the ones on display looked too big, awkward, and gimmicky. I told the salesguy so. He then admitted that he prefers to use a much simpler Manfrotto ballhead that was displayed in a not so prominent spot. I took a look and thought, "Perfect. That looks like what Jeff would use." I dove in, made the purchases, and took it all home. I was pretty proud of myself, thinking I'd give Jeff the surprise of his life.

That Thursday, a week before Jeff's birthday, he came home late from a meeting, telling me all about how before the meeting he had stopped in at a used camera store. Then he went into great detail about the tripod and ballhead he had looked at, and how amazing they were. Based on the prices he listed, I was pretty sure that they were the same as what I had bought (yay!) In my most nonchalant manner, I asked, "So, what make was the tripod?" Okay, admittedly, it may not have been so nonchalant. I had just finished enjoying a glass of wine and was finding it hard to hide my excitement.

Jeff looked suspiciously at me. "Why?" he asked. "Have you been doing some research?"

I not-so-casually shrugged my shoulders. "Maybe. Your birthday is coming up, you know."

And then the not-so-well-put-together veneer broke, and the crooked smile appeared, closely followed by a little giggle.

"You're terrible at keeping a secret," said Jeff. "What did you buy me?"

And so, I wrecked a perfectly good birthday surprise. But no matter. Jeff got to get his birthday gift a week early, and I got to find out that I had chosen his gift well. Very well. And at 11:00 at night, I got to watch him excitedly set up his new toy, pull out his camera, test all the different heights and angles. He looked like a little boy again, and went on, describing to me the importance of being able to do this and do that, and angle it this way and that way.

And once again, it all went in one ear and swiftly out the other.

Here's the birthday boy, the day after his birthday, about to cut into the cake that I made. Yes mom, I can bake cakes! :)

Josh and Karen joined us, and we all got into the festivities... but only Jeff was required to wear a birthday hat...

Although Kaiya seemed to like it too...

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Yay for 5 Months!

  Kaiya's five months old today. We celebrated by ducking in and out of the rain while walking to the Early Years Center at the Y. Doesn't she look so big-girlish wearing this little blouse? Now if only she'd grow herself some hair...hmmmm.....
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Monday, June 16, 2008

First Father's Day

  It seems fitting that on the weekend of Jeff's first Father's Day, we noticed how much Kaiya seems to be falling in love with him. Mommy just isn't that exciting. And that's okay. I mean, we stare at each other every day of the week. But Daddy, now, he's the man. You should see her flirt with him! On Friday, he held her on his lap after coming home from work. Jeff was trying to tell me about his day, but I was being seriously distracted by Kaiya's flirting. She was staring up at her dad and doing everything possible to get his attention: smiling, cooing, blowing bubbles, letting out little squeals. It was just too much. Too cute!
  Jeff's favourite time of day on the weekends is the mornings. That's when he goes in to Kaiya's room to get her for her first feed. She's hilarious. She's been sticking her feet straight up in the air and playing with her toes. Usually, she's kicked off her blanket (we just can't seem to keep that thing on her), and she greets her dad with a big, huge smile. It seems I'm the only one around here who's not a morning person!
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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Saturday Night Snapshot

Sometimes our neighbourhood makes me really sad.

Tonight at 10:30 I got a craving for an ice cream sandwich, so I decided to walk to 7-11.

Along the way, I passed by a house where two girls were standing on the front porch, blaring some rap music. They were calling to some guys who were parked in two separate cars in front of the house. "Come sit on the porch with us," they pleaded. The guys were fine specimens. Big baggy basketball shirts, shorts hung low, tatooed arms, baseball caps on sideways. They muttered something about the girls' "ghetto" music, and the girls played their part and acted pissed. Everyone gave me a good look over as I walked passed. I made sure to hold my head a little higher as if to say, "you're not intimidating me."

Then I got to the 7-11. There was a family sitting on the curb. Young mother with a toddler in a stroller, another one running around the parking lot (and getting yelled at for it), and another one obviously in the belly. And she was smoking. Did I mention it was 10:30 at night?

I got the ice cream sandwich and Jeff's Drumstick and headed home. As I passed by the party house, the guys were still hanging out in and around their cars, the music was still blaring, but only one girl was on the porch. And as I passed, I saw that she was sitting on the porch floor, bottle feeding her baby.

A lot of days this doesn't affect me. I see the teen moms all the time, walking their strollers, yelling at their kids, joking coarsely with their boyfriends. But somehow this really bothered me tonight. I thought of sweet Kaiya, sleeping in her crib at home, and about how those babies are the same as her. The same innocence, the same desire to be held and loved. And I thought of what Robyn has said to me, about how so many kids out there don't get the basic love and care that we shower all over Kaiya every day.

And it broke my heart.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

My Virtual World

I was talking to Beth yesterday and she mentioned the Jolly Jumper licking incident. Geez, I say it like it was one incident, when in fact it has happened every single time I have put Kaiya in that thing!

Anyhow, I paused and said, "Did I tell you about that, or did you read about it on the blog?"

"I read about it on the blog," she said.

You know, it's really weird to be blogging and having the people I see on a weekly basis reading it. Especially when they don't comment on it. (Ahem). But really, this blog was initially set up as a document of our travel and cultural adventures. It was really fun to "broadcast" all my random thoughts all the way from Ota, Gunma. But it's a little unnerving when the people you see every day are also the main people reading your blog.

I start to think, "Is my blog persona the same as my face-to-face persona?" Oh good Lord, that "face-to-face" expression brings back jarring flashbacks of hours spent in front of the computer writing my thesis. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek! But, back to the point (yes, my daughter is sleeping again... I'm spoiled) I like to think that my blogging persona is a little more fun and a little more interesting. Being a shy person, I often have the unfortunate incapability of expressing Little Kathy to Big World. Especially when more in-your-face people (ie. JEFF) exist around me. So it's comforting to know that I always have a creative outlet for what's really going on inside. And no one to interrupt me!

Along the same lines, I have recently re-joined Facebook. With much trepidation. I don't really like the concept of Facebook. And to be perfectly honest, the only reason I joined it is so that I can receive notifications every time Emma's Closet has a 50% off sale. You just can't go wrong receiving 50% off at a consignment shop! But I can't seem to avoid feeling a bit like I'm back in highschool and everyone is more popular than I am. Yes, at this point, I only have 14 friends. I'm working on it, folks, I'm working on it. Give the girl time.

Anywayssssssss... when I joined Facebook, one friend, who lives in the same city as I do, said, "Oh good, now we can keep in touch better!" And I thought, "Hmmmm... you know my phone number, you know my email, and you know where I live..." These are strange times we are living in. Indeed. But I guess that's how it goes. We have so many options available to us, so we can all choose our personal poison, so to speak. There are friends I contact via phone, others I contact via email, and now, strangely to me (but not to them), others I mainly contact via Facebook.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, I prefer email. My gmail account is best. I'm not really a phone person. In fact, horror of horrors, I often just let it ring. And you can't say that I'm avoiding you because we're too cheap to pay for call display!

Oh, and I like blog comments, too. ;)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Who Are the People in Your Neighbourhood?

I kind of hope my mom doesn't read this. If you do mom, don't worry. Really. We love our neighbourhood. At the very least, it gives us some GREAT blogging material to work with.



Last night, at about 1:40am, Jeff and I were awakened by screaming. A woman's bloodcurdling scream: "STOP IT! STOP IT! LEAVE ME ALONE!!" This was concerning, to say the least. Jeff stood at the window for a moment, became puzzled at the scene, and went downstairs.

"Be careful," I muttered.

After some time spent standing on the porch in solidarity with our neighbour, who was also standing on his porch, Jeff came back inside.

"Stupid woman," he said and rolled back into bed.

It turns out the woman was not being chased, assaulted, beaten, robbed, _________________ (fill in blank of choice). No, no, in fact, she was alone. Alone, and walking down the middle of George Street. Screaming. Yet she was with it enough to notice the men standing on their porches and to mutter, "It's okay. I'm by myself."

When Jeff told his principal at school about it today, she said, "Oh ya, I've seen that in this neighbourhood before. Must've been coming off a crack high.... What kind of neighbourhood are you living in?

I'm starting to think this needs to become the George Street blog. Because as of late, life on George Street has begun to merit its own blog. Let's see what has happened... oh yes, the night we forgot to lock our car doors and the gum was stolen from our car... the gum! Obviously we keep nothing of value there... the night our car was tagged... the day I watched a drug deal happen less than 2 meters in front of me and Kaiya in her stroller. But don't worry, I'm pretty sure it was "only" pot. The guys stopped in the laneway next to our house to smoke it. Oh yes, and the other day when neighbour Sue and neighbour Dave screamed out of their kitchen window at a kid who was trying to steal a bike from our backyard. And we were home. And it wasn't even dark. And then, last night.

Altogether now: "The crackhead is a person in my neighbourhood, in my neighbourhood, in my neighbourhood, oh the crackhead..."

Oh, sacrilege!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Reverse Culture Shock... Grab a coffee; it's a long one

I'm not sure exactly why, but I want to reflect a little on our last two years. I found myself lying awake in bed the other night, mentally composing this entry. And whenever that happens, I know it's time to write. Here goes...

Shortly before we left Japan, I got in touch with an old Brock friend who was working at the Japanese consulate in Toronto. She had gone on the
JET Programme a few years earlier, a program(?) that I highly recommend for new university grads who want an amazing cross-cultural experience. I went on it for a year after completing a 3-year degree at Brock. It was the year before Jeff and I got married, and as most of you know, it changed my life. It made me fall in love with Japan, for one thing, a country I had hardly known anything about just a short time before. And of course, it made me fall in love with a lifestyle of travel. A love that has made life and life choices considerably more complex since that time!

Anywho... back to the point (my daughter is sleeping, and I am, for once, blissfully enjoying some much needed non-interrupted thought!)

So when I got in touch with Tanya, she emailed me and said, "I know you've probably heard lots about reverse culture shock, but I wanted to warn you that on average, it takes a good 2 years to feel fully adjusted again." Wow! said I. Two years?! That's crazy! I had anticipated a rough go, but two years just seemed like a bit much.

We arrived back in Canada on May 15, 2006. I have to admit, I don't really like looking back to those first few months. They were full of apprehension, boredom, restlessness, and anxiety about the future. I mourned the loss of what we had had in Japan. We knew that even if we went back, it would not be the same as what we had experienced. Different city, different apartment, different jobs, different friends... different car! That special time was done. I hung on to the memories and the old friendships too tightly, refusing to let them go. We had had such an amazing experience, and I just didn't know how to move on. I feel a bit embarrassed at how tightly I hung on. But I guess that's just the kind of person I am.

The two "activities" that sustained me the first year back were working out at Fitness Alive, and teaching ESL at Niagara College. I'd go to Fitness Alive, tune into the music, and sweat, sweat, sweat away the frustrations. I'd go to Niagara College and focus on my students and my marking, instead of all the inner rumblings. Without these two distractions, life would have been much more difficult to hack. Church was not its former place of security, as I had to balance out my newly-embraced Eastern ideals with still-cherished-but-slightly-confused Western frameworks. And many friendships required a certain measure of renegotiation, as we struggled to find common ground. We thank our friends for their patience.

When May 15, 2007 came around, I marked the day. I thought about it the whole week leading up to it, and on May 15, I let out an audible sigh. I knew the worst was over, and it could only get better. And it did. Last May was a time of celebration. I had successfully completed a tough semester. We found out that we were (finally!) pregnant. We went to Winnipeg to celebrate with Nathan and Maria as they got married.

The funny thing is, I'm not sure that the "two-year" timeframe was true for us. May 15, 2008 came and went without any of the fanfare of the previous year. No sigh of relief, no real difference in feeling or attitude. Admittedly, we've had a few more things to occupy our minds, namely, KAIYA. But still, I would have to say that the bulk of our readjustment took place in the first year back. There are still parts about Canada that we bristle at with frustration. Like the lack of public transit, the obsession with big vehicles, the Fourth Ave. stretch of ridiculously timed lights and car-reliant strip malls. The "Christmas" season that begins November 1st. Hmmm... I better not get started. But I don't know that I'd relegate that to culture shock. We may simply be more aware of certain things now that we know what life is like in the absence, or presence, of those things.

I don't even long for that life like I used to. My last major "Japan craving" came shortly after Kaiya's birth. I really wanted to visit Japan as a family this summer to show her off. But I knew we couldn't afford the trip, and I slowly let go of the idea once again. And although I want to live overseas again (and again and again), the destination no longer HAS to be Japan. I'm open to other destinations... mind you, it's not like I'll kick and scream if we end up back there... ;)

For now, the travel side of our lives is on pause. I'd say we've settled quite nicely into Canadian life. I'm once again enjoying swimming pools, cold beers on the patio, sunsets across expansive skies. Life has resumed its routine. And we've found our place back in it. However, I'm not sure the "bug" will ever go away.

Was the struggle worth it? Absolutely. Would I do it again? No question. Even with kids? The more, the merrier. Life abroad may not always be the easy road or the conventional road, but it's my road of choice. Nothing makes me feel more excited and alive than cross-cultural living. I can't think of a better gift to share with my daughter. I look forward to our next adventure, whenever it may come.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Delicious Jolly Jumpers

We've started to notice that Kaiya loves bouncing. She rewards us with her elusive giggle every time Jeff bounces her around in the air. However, this bouncing quickly becomes very tiring. She hasn't earned the nickname "Little Buddha" for nothing! At four months, she was already over 17 pounds. Yikes!

So on Saturday we went out and bought our little princess a Jolly Jumper. As a baby, I spent many happy hours in that wonderful contraption. And with Kaiya's new-found love for bouncing, we thought the timing was right.

Unfortunately, Kaiya has absolutely no interest in putting weight on her legs. You can hold her up and put her feet on a flat surface, and she will just hang there with her big, chubby jelly legs. So I think we were also secretly hoping that this would help her discover her land legs, so to speak.

Hmmm... no such luck. Yesterday I put her in it for the second time and, once again, she just kind of stood there and stared at me.

Kind of like so:

So then I tried bouncing her. First I held the Jolly Jumper itself and bounced her. She liked that. A lot. She got that awesome huge-open-wide mouth that sort of resembles a smile, but isn't really at all. Classic Kaiya. You would have loved it, Nathan. Then I tried to get her to make the connection by grabbing her feet and legs and moving them around to make her bounce. She appeared interested, but not quite as thrilled.

Then, I had to leave the room for a second, and when I came back, wondering at the silence, I found her licking her Jolly Jumper. I kid you not. She was licking the straps of her Jolly Jumper.

The proof:

Oh dear Kaiya, not really the brightest bulb in the box, are we? (Is it wrong to make fun of your helpless 4-month old?) Perhaps it's yet a bit early for all this jolly jumping...
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