Sunday, January 29, 2006

Resume Caffeine Consumption

Back in May 2005, I stopped consuming caffeine. Occasionally I do this since I don't like the dependency my body develops on the caffeine and how absurdly expensive Starbucks is. Plus, consuming caffeine can reduce fertility. If my well-orchestrated, spreadsheet-based plan to get pregnant was going to work, I wanted everything going in my favor.

If you have ever traveled to Europe, or anywhere else where you have to change time-zones, you realize pretty quickly that life is better with caffeine. So, when Dan and I went to Italy and Austria in September (at about 3 months pregnant), it was time to believe the pro-caffeine propaganda that is published by sympathizers of the coffee and soda pop industry. "...current research has shown that a moderate intake of caffeine won't do any harm to developing fetus. Moderate intake would equal approximately 3 cups of coffee per day (300-400mg of caffeine)."

Given the foreign trip and the clear, un-biased research about caffeine, we created the rule, "Caffeine in foreign countries doesn't count." We proceeded to tour this nifty cafe in Graz, Austria:

Here is the pre-caffeine picture of Dan inside the cafe:

Caffeine consumption in Graz led us to tour some exciting places, including the now-unnamed "Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadium"

It also gave us the energy to tour a very interesting sculpture garden...

The Cell
Jump, Dan!
(The sculpture is 7' tall.)
What is everybody pointing at?

Angela as Sculpture

Dan in Peril!


The Tree Hugger

Our caffeine consumption did not end in Graz, the second largest city in Austria with the third most exciting tourist attractions in Styria. But continued to Vienna where we found a more traditional venue for caffeine consumption:

Once again, here is the pre-caffeine picture of Dan inside the cafe:

And here we are happily touring around Vienna:
Yes, my shirt says, "Knocked Up." This is the advertisement for a happy, caffeinated, touring pregnant woman. And also the advertisement for a happy, connected to a wireless connection, touring Dan.

After our Italy/Austria trip, we returned to the United States and I returned to my decaffeinated state of being. Remember our rule, "Caffeine in foreign countries doesn't count." Little did I know, I would soon make an international move.

In November when we moved to Japan, we went to Starbucks the first day we were here. I dutifully ordered a decaf latte (lattes have calcium). Turns out, they don't offer decaf espresso. So, they made me a decaf coffee. The problem was that it was a french-press sort of coffee, the beans were too finely ground, and it took forever to get. Once again we invoked the rule, "Caffeine in foreign countries doesn't count." The Japanese are just starting to become aware of decaffeinated coffees. Of course, the attitude, "Coffee? Without caffeine? That's crazy!" kind of makes sense.

Every once in a while, I find some good decaf coffee. My favorite is the freshly brewed stuff they have at Tony Roma's. It is very, very good. But most of the time, I just try to limit my intake to a coffee drink every other day. Sometimes I can even avoid the temptation to get the fat-filled mocha with whipped cream and just stick with the latte.

Besides Starbucks, there are other coffee places nearby. The closest Starbucks to us is in Iidabashi station (one of the 3 closest train stations to us). However, between here and there, there are at least 4 different cafes. We have visited many of them, including Cafe Veloce, Cafe de Crie, and Precious Coffee Moments.

We thought that "Precious Coffee Moments" was kind of a strange name for a cafe. But, as their sign says, they have been around since 1933. Who can argue with that.

Dan seems to enjoy the place. Here he is enjoying his very own "Precious Coffee Moment"

Saturday, January 28, 2006

We Want Snow!!

If you are able to view the above link, you may wonder what ostriches have to do with snow in Japan. We don't know either, but obviously they have trouble getting around without it. There were commercials and posters everywhere explaining that these ostriches wanted snow. And finally, last weekend...

We Got Snow!!

This is the view from our balcony on Saturday morning. It was really coming down. Taking this picture was a cold experience.

So what did we do since it was snowing quite heavily? We put on our water proof hiking boots and our warm winter coats and we went to the Shinjuku-Garden park. And yes, we were not alone. Other people decided to go to the park too. You can see three of them here. Ok, so there weren't large crowds. Most people at the park were doing the same thing we were, enjoying the snow and taking pictures.

We Enjoyed the Snow!!

I made a Snow Angel-a. As I am not terribly graceful when it comes to getting up from the ground, it ended up with some boot prints in it.

I made a large snow ball. The snow was perfect for packing. Of course, when Dan turned his back on me to take his next picture, I threw it at him and oddly actually hit him in the top of the head with it.

The snow was very heavy on the trees and still coming down.

Of course, we wanted to give you an accurate picture of how deep the snow was. So we tried to measure it with a quarter. It promptly disappeared into a quarter-sized snow hole.

So our next plan was to clear out part of the snow to show the depth of it in a clearer way.

We believe that this picture more accurately depicts the depth of the snow as compared to a typical American quarter.

The Shinjuku-Garden park is beautiful in every season. When Rich was here, he visited in the fall. We saw his pictures and were inspired to visit in the fall also. Here is what it looks like during fall and winter:

Yes, that is the Tokyo version of the Empire State Building.

If you decide to visit us, yes, we will take you to this park. They have 2 traditional Japanese tea houses where you can experience a tea ceremony.

After Wanting the Snow, Getting the Snow, and Enjoying the Snow, what did we do next? We went to Disney Land! Ok, well actually we first went to Babies R Us, then we went to Disney Land. At Babies R Us, a helpful sales woman showed and explained to us, in Japanese, how to use a Baby Bjorn. We were impressed and said we would buy it. However, they didn't have any L sizes. Plus, we have a bunch of Babies R Us gift cards that we will use on-line to acquire said L size Baby Bjorn. Deuce said she will bring it to us if we order it. Yea!

Then we went to Tokyo Disney Land which was 2 stops away from the train stop closest to Babies R Us. So far, in all of Dan's work rotations, we have lived in Los Angeles (near Disney Land), in Florida (near Disney World), and in Tokyo (near Tokyo Disney Land). But have we gone to the amusement park? Have we gotten the "Small World After All" song stuck in our heads? No. But we have gone to the "free" part or the "Downtown Disney" part of the experience. In Los Angeles we met Lee for dinner. In Florida we went to dinner a couple of times. In Tokyo Disney Land, we wandered around Ikspiari. Perhaps we are not adventurous when it comes to Disney-related adventures. Perhaps we want to make sure that we don't get sucked in and end up buying our kid silly Disney-related stuff.

All in all, our snowy day worked out pretty well. It was a bit cold walking from the train station to Babies R Us, but we stopped for dinner at a garlic restaurant (very very tasty). We also stopped at a diner for coffee and desert on the walk back.

What is the weather like now here? Don't worry, if you are planning on visiting us, the snow is now gone and it feels like Michigan during the January thaw. I think that Tokyo only gets snow once a year. At least the ostriches were happy for a day or two.

We were happy!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Mmmm... Cheese

As you know, I am hopelessly addicted to cheese. Not those fancy, smelly, moldy cheeses (although Kevin says all cheese is mold), but normal, firm, tasty cheese. I like mild cheddar. I even enjoy sharp cheddar these days. My favorite cheese is colby jack cheese. Occasionally I will even eat and enjoy soft, fresh mozzarella. This is good especially as part of bruschetta (without vinegar, of course). So, when we found out we were moving to Japan, one of my first questions to Dan was, "Do they have cheese in Japan?"

Of course, they do have cheese in Japan. Perhaps not the variety and specific types that I want everywhere. It seems to be impossible to find cottage cheese here. We finally found ricotta to make lasagne. However, the typical cheese that you will find in the store, in the form of red cheddar, is about 2 ounces big. This greatly disappointed me. How was I going to keep up my daily consumption of calcium if I had to buy individual, expensive 2 ounce cheeses all the time? It's not like I enjoy the slightly different taste of Japanese milk even
when I can find milk that I know is pasturized. And I am also picky about yogurt (surprise, I know).

My cheese quest lasted about 6 weeks. I asked some of the women (other foreigners who are pregnant with their first child) who I had lunch with. They gave some helpful suggestions and could relate to my search for the 1 kilogram block of cheese. Then, at our Bible Study the first night we went, Michele (from Brazil) told us about a 24 hour bulk food store that is near
one of the train stations near us (Iidabashi). So right after we got done with the study (about midnight since the next day was a holiday and we were socializing too much at Denny's), Dan and I went to Hanamasa. It was awesome! Ok, it wasn't your giant Costco, but they did have select items in large sizes. The broccoli was reasonably priced, there were huge slabs of meat. However, the most important part was that we hit the motherlode! There was a kilogram of red cheddar cheese. And it only cost about 1000 yen (about $10). Obviously we bought some. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the sensible metric system, we are including the following picture of the kilogram of cheese. As a point of comparison, we have included a standard American quarter along with it.