On The Shelf

In an earlier life, I used to read constantly. Some people might mind a 30-minute subway commute but I never did; it was a perfect opportunity to settle into a book and decompress. Since moving and marrying and getting obsessed with the travel blog world and, oh yeah, having a child, I read a bit less. But I still read quite a bit and since I have a short attention span I’m reading several books at once. Some might call that flighty. I call it good time management. Here’s what’s on the table:

Growing Up Global: Raising Children to Be At Home in the World. This seemed like required reading for the parents of a burgeoning traveler. Since Maggie will have two passports (a red and a blue) and three continents down before the age of two, I requested it for my birthday. So far I’d recommend it to anyone who is concerned with raising a globally aware, internationally conscious child, but I haven’t finished it so I recommend it with reservation. Who knows, the last pages could suck.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Like any good yuppie, I’m trying to become more aware of food sources, fuel lines, the economics of agribusiness, and how to ethically consume nutrients. Though Tom has a ton of Michael Pollan books around, this seemed like a better introduction to the genre and less likely to give me an eating disorder than In Defense of Food. It’s a pretty, lyrical, and informative read and it has me excited about the prospect of moving to English farming country and basing our meals and shopping around the associated seasons–something that is possible but appallingly difficult and expensive to do in import-dependent Hawaii.

Sorrow Floats. The second of Tim Sandin’s GroVont trilogy, preceded by Skipped Parts and followed by Social Blunders. Edgy humor-slash-despair in a road trip redemption story. This is maybe the tenth time I’ve read it; I always re-read favorite books every year or two. Partly it’s to help with the brain decompression (I don’t know, some people play solitaire on the computer) but a lot of it feels like taking up with an old friend. You find things you missed before.

Eyewitness Travel: Portugal. So, here’s something freakin’ awesome: thanks to this year’s Passports With Purpose fundraiser and our donations, we won a 3-night stay in a luxury hotel in Lisbon and we have to use it in 2011. Luckily, we’ll be living in England by this spring AND only living 45 minutes from a RyanAir terminal. We’ll do a short backpacking trip with Maggie, similar to Japan in style but shorter in length (maybe 5-7 days). Live it up in the city, budget in the country. Also, I’m 1/4 Portuguese (it’s true! I inherited none of the coloring but all of the love of white wine and seafood) so I am pumped to finally visit.

Just finished: The Unschooling Handbook, Teach Me To Do It Myself: Montessori Activities for You and Your Child, Learning All The Time, and The Shining. One of those things is not like the other. Also, as you might have guessed, we’ve come to a decision regarding homeschooling (or as the Brits call it, home-education). We’re going to do it, and we’re going to do it for as long as it works. Hopefully that’s a long time, but if it becomes apparent that the child(ren) would be better served in a traditional learning environment we are receptive to that need. We also see that as the ideal way to continue our travel-heavy schedules in an affordable way without depending on the price-jacked, crowd-heavy school vacation times. Tom is designing a comprehensive U.S. History syllabus, starting with collegiate-level depth and working his way back down to elementary grade levels. He also feels confident based on his teaching assistant experience and economics training that he can do the same with macroeconomics, international relations, and quantitative analysis/statistics. I adore his enthusiasm, but in the meantime I’m working on colors and shapes.

So…now you know. Just one more bit of information for my mental competency hearing. Anyway, what are you reading? Any recommendations?

P.S. The mouse was caught. Sorry, mousie.

23 Below

You never used to say much.

Granted, at a few weeks old, you couldn’t really speak. We had a good time projecting our thoughts on to you, though. No expression went unexamined; each grunt was analyzed or voiced over for maximum comedic effect…or sometimes just to fill the silence.

There was a lot of silence that winter.  For everyone in your life, there was a lot of thinking and lots of change.  For the three months that I stayed in Maine in 2008, it felt like there was another forty inches of snow dumped onto the Portland area each week, sticking us inside under deepening layers of insulation to face each other and ourselves.  The air was always full of electrifying stormy potential, waiting to release itself on the earth.

Your parents are pretty cool and given the option, I don’t think they would have brought you into the world in January in Maine.  But as I will tell Maggie when she comes of age to (AHEM) receive gentlemen callers, babies tend to come when they want.  And you’re a winter boy through and through. This past Christmas while Maggie, my Hawaiian kama’aina, begged to be indoors and naked in front of a heater, you happily donned gloves and strolled outside with your grandmother and bounced along.

You have a lot to say now.

You’re actually pretty hilarious; your verbal acuity is stunning for someone your age.  And you see things…a lot of things.  Your observational skills are incredible, honed as sharp as a scalpel.  As funny as it is now, it’s a bit eerie.  Truth be told, it’s going to be scary when you get a little older.  I’m torn between wanting to see everything you see and wanting to hang back.  You see, I know you’re going to show the adults in your life the things that they don’t want to see.  For better or for worse, you are going to be a force of reality, as grounded as the earth below you and clear and cutting as the winter air.

That’s what happens to winter babies.  Your birthday straddles the line between Capricorn and Aquarius (seriously, forget the new Zodiac) and is in the undeniable thicket of winter.  The deep-winter babies like you power through and cut through plans and preconceptions and expectations; like a storm, you change plans and ideas and minds.  And ready or not, a blizzard is going to force you to stay in and think about things…and you’re always better for having done so.  You can’t lie to yourself when it’s fifteen below and you can see your breath in the air against the window; when you’re willing to dig, you can find yourself in the quiet earth under the snow.

That’s where you’ll always be to me…somewhere between air and earth, clear and sparkling and beautiful.

Happy birthday, Owen.  Auntie loves you.

Passport to the Annoying Zone

Telegram from Obvious Land: there’s a lot of work to do when you move.

I’m sure moving under any conditions is stressful and heartburn-causing, but a move supervised by the bureaucracy of the federal government? Takes a stomach lined with cast iron, my friends. Last week’s mission was full physicals for Tom and me; I am proud to report that years of being bad influences on each other have not resulted in visible damage. I did note that my blood pressure and resting heart rate dropped substantially from my appointment the week prior when I had my poor beleaguered nose examined. This is more than likely due to the fact that for my physical I had a babysitter for Maggie and thus did not have to listen to her howl.

The hoop for this week is new passport applications for Maggie and me. It seems ridiculous since we already have tourist passports and we aren’t doing anything in a diplomatic capacity. Indeed, I’ve looked into stroller aerobics, continuing Maggie’s Spanish lessons, and baby ballet…so, pretty much what we do here, except clad in cozy sweaters. Nothing at all that contributes to the economy or the betterment of society. But the government has spoken, so we had to go for new passport photos.

This time around I knew better and did my hair for these shots: washed, fluffed, and flat-ironed with liberal applications of shine lacquer serums and frizz-tamer. Maggie, for her part, submitted to a vigorous hair-brushing and obeyed my request to not get any visible head injuries while crashing around on the playground. Unfortunately she’s also at the height of her stranger-danger period, and a friendly woman with a huge camera asking her to smile was apparently just too much to bear. So I did what mothers have done since time immemorial: I went first and pretended that getting a passport photo taken was the absolute apex of my existence and I had not, in 27 years, known a purer or deeper joy than I was experiencing right now having my photo taken. When THAT didn’t work I told her that we all had jobs to do, and her job was to hold still and look at the camera. Between the two approaches we got a surly but usable shot. She’s going to look reeeeeeeal friendly at Customs.

The only other moderate crisis is that Bank of America sent our car title to the state of Maryland and after hashing it out with a woman who sounded like an extra from “The Wire,” we had to pay $20 and pray that the MVA would send it to us in a timely (re: in time to ship our car to the UK) fashion. Thankfully they did, but I still don’t understand why, when all of our other paperwork reflected our Hawaiian address, they sent the title to our old apartment in Maryland. But it all worked out, so there’s that…hon.

On the homefront, there were roughly 100 sugar ants crawling around Maggie’s bureau trying to get into the drawers. Turns out there was a bib that was put away that had been washed, but still had a trace of lunch on it. After I recovered from the initial horror, everything got emptied, rubbed down, and boiled.

The mouse is still around. We saw it last night and now we think we know it’s favored access points. If they weren’t in places Maggie could reach, I would snap that sucker with a Victory trap and have done with it (and by that I mean I would have Tom set the trap and dispose of it himself while I hid) but that doesn’t seem to be an option. We can make it work with sticky traps in the meantime, or so I fervently hope. This is completely disgusting.

Other than that…things are okay.

Dry

Today I tackled a project that’s been building and creeping ever since we moved in almost three years ago: my closet.  Cold weather clothes, office professional clothes, clothes that are now two sizes too big…everything had been lumped and piled together.  Going through some of it was easy: above a certain size, it automatically went into the donation pile.

Then I got to a box of well-used, well-worn, enormous clothes that for practical reasons I absolutely cannot part with: the maternity clothes.

I had a relatively nice maternity wardrobe, mostly because I took advantage of summer clearance sales and bargain prices to stock up for a Hawaiian pregnancy.  It’s casual, and if my next pregnancy is during the winter I’m definitely going to have to get a few cold-weather pieces (even layered, a dozen tanks and tees can only provide so much warmth).  I carefully folded everything with a stretchy midsection and put it in a separate box that I labeled “baby-mama clothes.”

And after a brief hesitation, I gathered the six nursing tank tops and a few nursing shirts and put them in the box too.

We had a good run, Maggie and I.  The CDC tells me that nationwide, only 14% of moms are still breastfeeding exclusively at six months. (Link opens PDF file, FYI.)  I wouldn’t even venture to guess how many breastfeed at all at 21 months.  We haven’t quite finished yet; Maggie nurses first thing in the morning and most days, that’s all she wants.  It’s been many weeks since she’s asked to nurse at night before bed.  While traveling in new environments and on airplanes she nurses two or three times for comfort and security.  Same goes if she’s feeling sick.  On these occasions, I’m happy to provide.  But in the normal course of our at-home routine, it’s just once in the morning and I usually offer before she asks.

I’ve always taken the attitude that Maggie knows when she needs to nurse better than I do.  It’s always been given freely and on demand. The demands were always fairly adorable, too, since Maggie has a little trouble with her Rs: “Nuss?” But the demand isn’t there anymore. She’s stopped asking, or if she asks around snack or mealtimes and I remind her she has solid food around, her little legs start pumping to run for her chair at the table before I have a chance to put her down.  The mornings aren’t very extensive, either–maybe five minutes, tops, before she starts her morning list of questions: “Pancakes? Yogurt? Stwawbewwies? Oh-KAY! Playground? Weeda book? Oh-KAY!”

Who wants to nurse when you can eat $4 organic whole-fat yogurt?  I cringe at the smell and the price tag, but Maggie eats it like it’s being outlawed tomorrow. With such tasty treats (In the afternoons: “A speshiul tweat? Speshiul tweat? Cookie?” “No. Fruit.” “…Speshiul cookie tweat?” “Fruit.”) about, who has time to cuddle with Mama?

We had a hard go of it with biting when her top teeth came in; it was harder still when we went to DC last March and she had to face her first major illness in a new place.  Every 45 minutes we nursed through that fever, her mouth like a burning coal and her little forehead wet with my exhausted tears.  But we stuck it out.  I won’t miss those times a bit, but as part of the whole I will never regret it.  It was all worth it.  From beginning to end, it was hard…but worth it.

She’s not done yet, my former milk fiend.  I suspect we’ll make it to and probably a bit past the two-year mark.  But I feel in my heart that this particular journey is almost over–a river that will terminate in a dry desert bed before we move on to the next steps.  Those shirts will come out of the box again for another baby, of that I have no doubt.  But not for Maggie; not ever again.  It’s a good thing, done on her terms and no one else’s, and in time I’ll appreciate “having my body back” (whatever that means when you have a toddler using you as a jungle gym).

But tonight I’m going to give myself permission to be a little sad before I put a final tape seal on that box.

Shining in the east beyond them far

“They looked up and saw a star
Shining in the east beyond them far,
And to the earth it gave great light,
And so it continued both day and night.” — The First Noel

The I-95 corridor in the Northeast is not the most scenic part of America. All you need to confirm this is another viewing of the opening credits to “The Sopranos.”  But it’s that theme music I hear when I drive north from Logan Airport in Boston to my hometown in Maine; the pounding bass and northeastern urban industry mingling in my head. New England is sometimes ugly, sometimes beautiful, but it’s always home.  It’s never more like home to me than in the winter, that brutal season covered by hard, unforgiving glitter.

For a while, it was too hard for me to visit Boston.  It was the city that held my first choice college, the city that I had always thought I would live in after college; it’s where many of my closest friends live now and my family lives just hours away.  To me, Boston is simply another fig on Plath’s fabled tree.  I knew that because of where we would have to live for his job, to be with Tom meant shutting the door on that life.  To have the life I wanted with the man I love, I took the figs I wanted with both hands and dug in. There are no regrets.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t think about that life, a winter’s life in a brittle gray land lit by a fragile sun. It comes up less often than it did, and I’ve grown up a little more and know that it wouldn’t be the best fit for us. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t think about it or long for it still.

Mom, grandparents and uncles. I have NONE of their coloring.

This year, after three years away, I made my way back home for Christmas.  The short version of the story is that we decided to surprise my Maine relatives with a last-minute, out-of-the-blue trip home.  We are practical people with money, almost to a fault, but spending the cash on this trip felt different.  We felt the push to go back and finally a voice rang out in my head: “If you leap, the net will appear. The money will take care of itself. Go. Go home.  Go.”

We did; when Tom saw how driven I was he put aside his qualms and immediately worked out a budget and a plan so we wouldn’t have to dip too deeply. It meant giving up the last trip around the islands we had planned, a significantly cheaper venture; he gave it up without a word of complaint. We cashed in my United coupons, we shuffled around flyer miles to pay for the rental car.  And damned if that net didn’t appear; it did.  Within 48 hours, an old client I had given up on contacted me and promptly paid the last of the money owed to me, a figure that covered the tickets plus another $900.  Leap, and the net will appear.

Save for my parents and Tom’s dad so they could arrange to come up from Florida to see us, we told no one. Not my sister, not my cousins, no one at all. When we walked through the door on Christmas Eve, into a warm house already filling with the customary throng of people, my Nana saw us without actually seeing us. Then the look of recognition transformed her face and she dropped a banker’s box full of Moe’s Italian Sandwiches on the floor.  My grandfather cried.  Later they said that in their years on Earth, there were only a few times that they had been totally taken by surprise like that.  I was kind of proud.

There was lobster for Christmas dinner.

For the first time, we saw our beautiful nephew’s face on Christmas day.

And in their matching Christmas sweaters, no less.

For the first time, Maggie saw snow…and went sledding.

She hated the first run, tolerated the second, and then begged for more.

And for the first time since my wedding day, four Decembers ago on the coast of Maine, I saw the sun rising over my home.

The holidays are for magic…and surprises.  We had those and more.

Leap…and the net will appear.

Commencing Countdown, Engines On

Futzing around the internets this weekend, as I am wont to do, I discovered that Time and Date has a custom countdown page.  Awesome, thought I, not pausing to consider that naturally high-strung people like me should not be given access to countdowns because it exacerbates our tendency to fret. I wonder how many days we have until we leave Hawaii?

FORTY SIX DAYS

*SWOON*

I’m not sure which part of my body hit the ground first, my jaw or the back of my head in a dead faint, but it made a very loud *thud* when I hit and when I came to, it was to a vision of this:

This is a UK electrical plug. You’ll note it is rather different from our own US plugs, and not just on the surface: the UK runs their electricity at a significantly higher voltage than the US.  Anything larger than my hair dryer requires conversions, transformers, or adaptors so you don’t get hit with any of the disasters ranging from total destruction of the appliance to a raging house fire. Because my mind is operated by a crack addict gerbil in a greased wheel, I started taking immediate mental stock of all the things that we own with plugs and categorized them into two groups: Over $30 and Under $30.

Under $30 includes the cheap IKEA lamps, the alarm clocks, the toaster (which has no settings except light, a Pop-Tart logo, and dark), and my various hair styling tools.  In a sort of reverse-Logan’s Run ruling, I decided that everything Under $30 was replaceable in the UK and must go.

That left a number of very expensive electronics to which I am rather attached that I had to deal with, and because I am ADHD and tightly wound, I had to HYPER FOCUS ON THEM RIGHT NOW NO NOT LATER…hey, shiny!  So I started furiously Googling and determined we’d need a ridiculously expensive transformer in order to power our rather new 40″ television and a slight less ridiculously expensive set to power our laptops (further research tells me I have made more out of the laptop issue than I need to, which, NO KIDDING), crock pot, and my blessed Kitchen Aid mixer (which is pink and awesome).  This sparked the following outburst, blindsiding Tom after a rather nice lunch:

“You…you’re just looking up pubs! And planning a trip to Portugal!  You’re just running around figuring out what to drink first and I AM TRYING TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO PLUG THINGS INTO THE WALL.”

No no, lads, he was here first. Don’t crowd me all at once.

This continued on until this evening, when I finally chose a few converters, transformers, and adaptors and laid out my exceptional plan for UK electrical domination. My brilliant understanding of the types of equipment needed and what it would all do shone like a beacon of light and reason and understanding.

Tom: “I told you a few weeks ago–we get two transformers free from the base.”

That’s a few hours I’ll never get back, because he MOST CERTAINLY DID NOT TELL ME THAT.  Thus I poured a glass of wine and began plotting revenge scenarios: I wouldn’t share my continental European transformer (left over from my study abroad days) when we went to the continent. He could power his laptop with farts, for all I cared. I would ban him from the Family iPad we plan to purchase and make it the Ovaries-Only iPad (which is, if you think about nomenclature, grotesquely apt). I would make him watch Eat, Pray, Love.

After a few moments I got over it and did so with a laugh, but while this was all going on today I got into a rather heated debate with several of my friends about bedding.  I wish I were kidding.  However, our sheets are old.  They were not especially high-quality to begin with and from repeated washings and sun exposure through our bedroom window, almost worn through in places.  I suggested buying some now and Tom said no, best to wait and see what kind of decor we have in our UK rental.  I agreed; we’ve seen some horrific wallpaper and mauve wall-to-wall carpeting, but if an ugly master suite is the only drawback to an otherwise nice rental, we’ll deal by getting coordinating sheets so I won’t spend the next three years saying “Damn, this room is ugly AND the sheets clash!” It’ll just be “Damn, this room is ugly!”

Unfortunately I made mention of this in a social media setting and didn’t elaborate any of those points and I spent much of the day trying to convince people that I AM NOT THE CRAZY ONE HERE.  Why WOULDN’T you match your sheets to your wall/floor decor?!  I failed to state that we were getting a new duvet and when I elaborated THAT point I had to convince Megan that I was not, in fact, a 60-year old grandmother and that young people do have duvet covers.  Ultimately, I feel like I convinced everyone that I wasn’t crazy (at least, not for this specific reason) and that there was value to matching your sheets (to which I include the duvet) to the rest of your bedroom interior, but not until I was called crazy and also possibly a future Von Trapp-curtain-clothes-matching-child dresser.  I felt like I was taking crazy pills, but not actually crazy; it is inconceivable to me that people of means willingly live in ugly rooms.  I can’t control a rental with mauve carpeting, but I can damn sure see that I don’t buy red sheets to exacerbate the issue.  Your home is your sanctuary, your hidey-hole from all the other freaks who aren’t freaky like you’re a freak, so why wouldn’t you see that it met your exact tastes?

It’s possible I’m under-medicated, but I maintain that God doesn’t like ugly, and never mind that we’re humanists/agnostics.

So…it was a long day, perpetuated by two tempests in VERY small teapots.  Mostly all in good fun, but it did bring to light my tendency to seize on the most ridiculous, minute details and blow them up in my mind until they achieve Illiad-level epic status.  It’s no good for anyone except the people who haven’t un-followed me in any of my social media accounts, who I suspect are just waiting to see what is going to trigger my final breakdown.

I’m pretty sure it’s going to be something that has electrical prongs or a thread count.

Some garlic, grapefruit, and a nasal bulb walk into a bar…

One of the wonderful things about travel is that it exposes you to all sorts of things and people.  This is great, except from an immunological perspective: being exposed to all those people means that you in turn are exposed to their cooties. And when you have a toddler running about, especially one who demands “keeee-ses!” multiple times a day (not that I mind, it is heart-melting), you’ve already got a lot of cooties around anyway.  So it came to pass that my wee diapered Petri dish and I headed into the holidays with a bit of congestion and a minor case of the sniffles.

I got the sense that the trip to Maine would be difficult health-wise as we were driving to the airport in Honolulu. Passing by Waipahu and through the valley, I realized that my ears weren’t clearing as we went down the hill. Crap. This boded ill for the flight. Sure enough, the descents on both legs of the flight left me in incredible pain–the second didn’t clear for a full 48 hours.  It didn’t matter how much Emergen-C I drank, how many salads I had, or how much vitamin D I took. After six days in the dry, wintry air of Maine and another 13-hour travel day, the first days of 2011 saw me felled by the worst head cold I’ve had since we moved to Hawaii–one that morphed into infected sinuses almost immediately.

Rendered almost completely out of commission and being the good little millennial that I am, I crowdsourced solutions for my sinus pain on Facebook.  Suggested remedies included grapefruit extract, juicing raw garlic, teas, and coconut oil. No problem, I thought. I can do all that fairly easily; I have all that stuff at the house!

First up was the garlic remedy: “take the juice of some raw garlic and use an eyedropper to put it up my nose. Hold nose shut for 5 minutes so it can take effect.”  Now, I know a thing or two about remedies, and I actually wrote an article that says RAW GARLIC MAY STING. Did I remember this? No. Pity.

And sweet lady of blessed garlic bulbs, that is completely correct. It stings. It hurts. I screamed like I had not screamed since I was trying to birth an 8 pound infant and scared Maggie so badly she dropped to the floor and hid under Blankie. Forget holding the nose shut for 5 minutes. I ran for the bathroom, beet-red and pouring water from my instantly bloodshot-looking eyes, to try to get something cool in my sinuses.  To call it a scourging would be putting it mildly. But the thing is, it worked. As soon as the sting passed, I felt better–but only for a bit.

Since I lacked the emotional fortitude to climb back on the garlic horse, I went to the next step: grapefruit extract in a neti pot.  Grapefruit extract has phenomenal bacteria-killing properties, so strong that I keep some on hand to add to my laundry to disinfect Maggie’s diapers. Since I didn’t have a neti pot, I used an infant aspirator bulb as had been recommended to me by my surgeon after I had my sinus surgery in 1998 (I’m a sufferer from way back). But grapefruit extract is bitter, bitter, bitter as…a bitter bitter thing that’s bitter. And the other issue is that if your sinuses aren’t clear, that water may very well drain into your ears.  What’s worse is that  also might become inflamed, fail to drain and then pressurize and expand, and create a double ear infection.

If you’re REALLY lucky…you’ll feel a sharp pain, a bit of blood and yuck flowing out of your ear, and determine you’ve ended up with a ruptured eardrum.

Lucky me.

I’ve been doing that kind of sinus cleansing for almost twelve years, and that’s the first time this has happened to me. After spending the remainder of the day rocking myself and praying for ear drainage (having almost totally forgotten my poor nose), I was ready to attack again after dinner.  The final thing on the list was coconut oil, but that was mostly a preventative.  The benefits of coconut oil are disputed but I’ve seen the antibacterial properties myself in dealing with Maggie and skin conditions, so I figured the advice to take a tablespoon or two to let it work an internal flush was sound.  Also, it didn’t involve me putting anything liquid or plant-like up my nose. Win!

About 45 minutes later, I was on the couch Googling “does coconut oil cause nausea” and what do you know? IT SURE DOES. If you aren’t used to taking it, you have to build up your dosage…and plopping two tablespoons in your lemon tea is like going from 0-100 in twenty seconds.

I went to bed shortly after, both ears throbbing and one ruptured, nose plugged shut, lungs rattling, and stomach flip-flopping like it was sitting on a wobble board. If 2011 wants me bedridden, I thought, then bedridden I shall be.

The good news is that the combined treatments and about 10 hours of sleep left me feeling like an entirely new person the next morning.  I still saw a doctor and had a prescription for antibiotics filled, but I haven’t felt the need to take them. Everything seems to have cleared on its own.  I seriously doubt that the way I went about it was a good or sane strategy, and my left ear still kinda aches, but the abject misery I found myself in has passed.

Travel sometimes kicks my ass. And I just keep going back for more.

Koyasan

Travel with a toddler is an exercise in forced perspective. I fondly recall the freewheeling whims and spontaneous explorations of my single days, which invariably ended in me being hopelessly lost and walking toward the tallest identifiable landmark. This was usually a recipe for fun (getting lost and stumbling on a protest in Barcelona comes to mind) but it was not efficient. It’s easy to glamorize those days, but then I remember that married, committed, and responsible me has the resources to share a meal of Kobe steak with my husband.

Let that be your travel lesson of the day: an appetizer of raw Kobe carpaccio to whet one’s appetite for the steak to follow works like gangbusters to help one accept the consequences of adult choices.  It also causes you to mumble things like “Margaret, I have never laid a hand on you and I consider corporal punishment to be the basest, most vile form of bullying. But if you throw a $300 steak on the floor, so help me, you will fly back to Honolulu via the tip of my boot.” I digress, but it was delicious.

All this leads into the point of today’s story: forced to consider the logistics of traveling with a toddler, I really, really was not sure I wanted to go to Koyasan.

The guidebook sounded romantic and promising: a remote and sacred center for a sect of Buddhism tucked into the mountains.  Autumn’s full splendor would be on display, peppering the monasteries with bursts of flaming fall color.  There was an enormous and ornate cemetery that would almost certainly be shrouded in ethereal mists. And then, the fine print: it would take two (or three, if we read the transfers wrong, and we did) regular trains, a funicular cable car, and a bus to get there from Nara…and we would have to hope that the bus station would have lockers big enough to store our backpacks, as we would be moving on to Osaka that night.

But Tom really wanted to go, so I said “Well…we’ll never get this chance again. I trust you.” Everyone out there who knows me well just gasped and clutched their collective pearls; to say that I’m a control freak is the understatement of the century. It’s silly, and I should know better than to worry, because Koyasan was my favorite part of Japan.

The baby helped.

This little munchkin was 8 weeks old, in town with his family for a blessing ceremony.  Astonishingly, his family and older sister were more excited to see blonde, shaggy, American Maggie than we were to see a newborn decked out in his Year of the Tiger finery.

The foliage was pretty sweet, too.  It was the vibrancy that we had hoped for in Kamikochi without the pesky issue of being soaked to the skin.

But the cemetery was the real highlight.  The town buses ran hourly and we tried desperately to figure out what the schedule was and could not, so we gave up and walked into town for lunch.  On the way, we saw the bus we needed and jumped on the opportunity, thus resigning ourselves to a meal of bus station Pringles a few hours later (having saved all our healthy rations for Maggie).

The monuments ran from the tasteful…

To the odd…

To the REALLY odd (side note: I would like to revise my original “Cremated and buried in a Chock Full O Nuts can” burial plan to “enormous rocket monument”) …

And back to odd yet tasteful.

Fortunately, we pantomimed just enough at the bus station to upgrade our tickets to the express instead of the local into Osaka.  Alas, we still had to descend in the funicular.  Check out the grade on this:

AAAAAAAAGH STEEEEEEEP!  It was freaky.

Koyasan wasn’t quite the ethereal experience we had envisioned; you can’t be a major center for anything religious and not attract a crowd of respect-payers and onlookers.  But there was a peacefulness and serenity there, and even though we only stayed for a few hours it was an intensely fulfilling way to spend our last full day in Japan.