Oct 31, 2006


A Noodle Adventure


To see more photos of my tour with Junko, click here

While mom was off in another part of the city having her own cultural experience (more on that later) with her workshop group, I hired a private guide to show me the lesser-known sights of the city. We met in the hotel lobby and I asked her to take me to the places in Tokyo I might not get to on my own. So we began by boarding the subway and going to the last stop on the Ginza line, Asakusa. There we visited a shrine where I learned about Raccoon Dogs (supposedly, praying to these dogs helps to protect against theft), and saw a small shrine dedicated the children who have died. Then we walked the neighborhood and over to the Senso-ji shrine, which is a large place. There you inhale some incense to help keep you healthy, you wash your hands and mouth to purify, and then you go make an offering and a prayer at the shrine. The shrine is dedicated to easing human suffering. So I sent out a prayer for my good friend April who is definitely suffering from her bad case of Pancreatic Cancer.

After the shrine, we walked the neighborhood and then hopped the subway for another shrine. This one was for pregnant women – you go there in pregnancy to pray for a healthy and safe delivery of the baby. So, that’s what I did. Rang the bell twice and did my bows and sent out a prayer for a safe and healthy delivery of the baby. Japanese women then bring their baby back 30 days after birth to thank the gods and get a prayer for the baby. SO while we were there, many Japanese families were there, al dressed up, with tiny babies in little outfits, waiting to give thanks and have a special prayer said in the baby’s name. It was neat to be in such a mama-centered spot!

I mentioned to Junko, my tour guide that I was interested in going to a noodle shop but was a bit intimidated by the whole thing. So after the pregnancy shrine, we went to a really delicious Udon noodle shop in that neighborhood. Not a foreigner in sight – all Japanese people, the menu didn’t even have photos – just Japanese writing…it was a place I would have never gone into on my own. Junko explained that there was a lunch special for about $8 which included Udon noodle bowl, Tempura shrimp, Rice and tea. We ordered and it was the most amazing bowl of noodle soup I have ever had. Delicious! I asked her abut the noodles…were the handmade by this shop? She asked the owner and he explained in Japanese (she translated) that they were handmade -- rolled out, finely sliced and then wrapped around a stretcher to make them longer and thinner. Then they were dried and then used the next day in the noodle shop.

After the noodle shop, we walked to another subway stop. It seems like Tokyo has a subway stop about every three blocks or so. This time we headed to Mitsukoshi, the traditional Japanese Department store – first we went in the basement (Department store basements here in Tokyo are mega food courts full of amazing things) and tried some chocolate samples, then we headed upstairs and outside and across the street where I saw the number one seaweed shop in Tokyo (A seaweed boutique if you will) and we wondered into a Japanese cutlery store where I got to learn all about Japanese cutlery (and why Japanese knives are the best in the world) and the proper technique for sharpening knives. The craftsman in the store spent almost 25 minutes explaining knife sharpening techniques to me, which I happily videotaped and absorbed because Mike and I are always uncertain about the best way to sharpen our knives. After the knife store, it was getting late and my feet were aching, so we headed back to the hotel.

Once I got back and immediately went to take a swim (I am loving the pool here). At the pool, I made another interesting observation/ discovery…none of the Japanese people that I have seen in the pool have actually been swimming…they all seem to just be running in the pool, or doing some kind of aerobic workout. For the most part, during the week I have spent at the pool, I have been one of the only swimmers who were actually intent on swimming in the pool. This discovery and realization suddenly makes the swimming pool scene in “Lost in Translation” all the more meaningful to me – no one in Japan seems to actually swim in the pool, but they do all kinds of aerobic workouts. It’s quite hilarious to see too.

A sudden realization:
Yesterday, before the tour I went to have a leisurely breakfast in the hotel restaurant. I was sitting there reading the paper, drinking coffee, looking out on the city, eating yummy foods at a fancy place and all the sudden I realized that my days of having this kind of civilized, leisurely breakfast are soon to be over. I actually got teary eyed. I know I will have it sometime, but this probably one of the last breakfasts I will have alone, in a fancy restaurant until a good time after the baby comes. I took a deep breath so that I could really savor the moment. Then I vowed to make tomorrow’s (Wednesday – my last day without mom) breakfast really count. So this morning, I head down to breakfast all “ready” to enjoy my “last supper” alone in this gorgeous place. I sit down and am immediately accosted by the voice of some stupid southern, middle aged, good old boy wearing khakis and a baseball cap who is talking too loud about how drunk he got last night and how hot the girls were that he met, and blah, blah…it got and raunchier and raunchier. There went my peaceful serene last breakfast. Lesson learned: Be in the moment when its there. If you try to recreate something or delay an experience, you might miss it all together.

Across town, at the training center, my mom was having her own adventure. First, she forgot to bring her business cards – a major ordeal and faux pas here, which she solved by totally avoiding the people she knew would give her their cards. So she spent 3 days ducking into hallways so she wouldn’t have to explain that she forgot her business cards (they were with me at the Hyatt). On top of that they were serving grossly gelatinous foods for lunch and dinner so she didn’t eat much and the shower in her room there was absolutely impossible to figure out, so she took only baths. She arrived back at the Park Hyatt a few hours ago, and immediately had two beers in a row. Whew! She’s done! Hooray! Now we can play some more together. Tomorrow we are off to Kyoto. Posted by Picasa

Oct 29, 2006


So today was quite an adventure -- I took the subway from Shinjuku to Harajuku, which was quite a feat in and of itself. When I finally arrived, I couldn't believe how crowded it was. This is teeny-bop-ville. This is also the place where the kids dress up in wierd costumes.

In addition to this big bear, I saw a Japanese Elvis, a bunch of goth kids and then just a bunch of wierd unclassifiable people dressed in animal costumes, or like baby dolls.
Dont know what these guys are supposed to be, but this look is par-for-the-course at Harajuku!

More interesting costumes.... Posted by Picasa

Sunday morning

Today it is Sunday and is a rainy and gloomy morning. Mom is off to start her workshop this afternoon and I am probably going to venture to Harajuku which is where all the young kids dressed up in Kubuki and Anime costumes hang out on Sundays and pose for the cameras. Tomorrow I will tour the historic sights (since mom is already done on previous trips I will do it while she is working) with a guide that the hotel found for me. Tuesday I have no plans yet, and Wednesday we leave for Kyoto which we are both really excited about!

Overall impressions so far? Tokyo is one of the cleanest cities I have ever been to. The subway system is amazing – expansive and relatively easy to figure out if you are willing to be adventurous and make mistakes. The food is really good too – I actually haven’t had all that much Japanese food because there is food of every variety available and unlike other foreign countries, the food in Tokyo is good and true to form in almost every single place you go. I even had a Margherita pizza to rival Bertuccis! The streets are also pretty easy to figure out, unlike say, Bangkok where everything is windy and nothing is written in English. The few times I was getting my bearings; Japanese people came up to me and offered to help me find my way. The other thing is that because I am tall, blond and light skinned, I obviously stick out as foreigner, so I don’t feel nervous about trying to be “cool” or to act like I know what I am doing or saying like I would in say, France or Germany. I don’t look anything like a Japanese person, I definitely don’t speak the language well at all (just hello, goodbye, please and thank you) so I don’t even try too hard to “fit in” like I might in European countries, and I think that makes for a much more relaxed experience. The Japanese are also incredibly helpful and polite in a way that Europeans just are not.

Pregnancy Report: Month 7 begins!


I am officially 24 weeks along as of today.

At this point, the baby is almost completely formed, and is beginning to deposit brown fat on his or her body. S/he weighs in at 1 lb 5 ounces (595 grams) and 30 cms or 11.8 inches total length! During pregnancy week 24 and beyond the baby’s central nervous system continues to develop, as do baby’s lungs.

The baby has been moving around a ton lately especially around dinner time and late at night. In addition to feeling the baby moving all around inside, I am also starting to be able to see the baby's movements on the outside of my belly. It is very cool. What elseis going on...Well, I have a sore back, achy feet and well its hard to find a comfy sleeping position, but that's all typical pregnancy stuff, and I dont want to sound ike an old geezer! Seriously, all is going really well so I am not going to dwell on the minor negative stuff...after all, pregnancy is a temporary condition after all! Prenatal yoga, lots of walking, and swimming are really helping me to manage the minor discomforts.

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Oct 28, 2006

Ginza lights

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Yesterday, Saturday, we visited two places – walked our neighborhood some more and looked in various stores and Takashima Times Square (a big shopping center near the train station with a huge Japanese crafts store inside) and then at night we went to the Ginza district, where we had dinner at a fabulous Vegetarian Indian restaurant.

Ginza itself is hard to describe – its daylight there at 9pm because of the neon lights and lighting displays built into the buildings – they are really amazing. It is like being in an architect’s dream of redoing Las Vegas with tasteful lighting and modern buildings or something.
The architecture in Ginza is positively inspiring and very modern, in a really delicious way.

The pool ritual

So the trip is halfway over already and I am just beginning to feel normal finally.
The jet lag was a bitch to kick. Over the past few days we have taken it easy. Venturing to breakfast then to the gym or pool, then out for a while, then back for naps, then out again then to bed.

The pool is a funny thing. It’s the cleanest pool ever, probably because you go through the following procedure to get in it:
1) Change into swimsuit and come to pool in your robe (it is somewhat awkward to be roaming the hotel halls in a bathrobe and slippers, but whatever)
2) Check in at desk. Then you are escorted to elevator told what button to push (there is only one button on elevator, but still they tell you) Arrive upstairs and go through a series of glass sliding doors.
3) Check in at next desk. Greeted again and given a towel, then instructed to take of slippers and walk to drop off your robe in walled in pool area.
4) Take off your slippers, and step down into pool entry area where you wade your feet through a warm pool of foot cleaning water. You head to a chair to disrobe then are instructed to go back and shower at what looks like a decontamination chamber along the wall.
5) Showering ritual: There are 3 handheld showers in a row, followed by 3 face showers (I though they were water fountains, boy was I wrong), followed by 3 water fountains.
6) Then you must put on your cap and goggles
7) Congratulations you are ready to swim! Posted by Picasa

Roppongi Hills

We took the subway (quite another adventure) to one really interesting mixed use development called Roppongi Hills. It reminded me somewhat of that old shopping center area in Kansas City, only on steroids. This place is like a mega-developer’s dream come true. The architecture is all different to make it look like it evolved over time, and it’s full of shops, restaurants, cinema, museums, gardens, you name it! The most fascinating thing about it was that it was all foot-traffic accessible. The Highways and streets surrounding it were integrated in such a way that it felt natural. Almost everyone arriving or departing was using the subway – I didn’t see many parking lots, and it didn’t seem like a place you would drive to if you lived in Tokyo – ii would be too much trouble I think.
We left the development and walked the neighborhoods surrounding Roppongi Hills which had delightful little neighborhood streets and smaller boutique shops – and it was delightful. We stopped at a few stores and had lunch, then headed back to the development to catch the subway. On our way back we stopped in a children’s store and spotted one of the fancy foreign strollers that mike’s been eyeing, the Quinny Buzz – the one not sold in the US…so mom and I got to try it out and look at it up close (we thought it was pretty cool). I thought I might see more interesting Japanese kids clothes, but so far (and we have looked) we’ve been kind of disappointed. Almost everything is imported and expensive. There just isn’t as much cute clothing for babies as you might have thought. Paper is another thing all together though – the selection of stationery here is unbelievable and I have already spent about $100 on papers from various shops. Posted by Picasa

View from our room

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The hotel room

The very comfy beds in our hotel... Posted by Picasa

First Days in Tokyo

Day 1: Long flight on Japan Air. Very nice seats in Executive Class. Not enough food (in my pregnant opinion). Arrived here around 4 pm on Wednesday afternoon and took limo Bus to hotel which took another two hours. Arrived at our very zen hotel room at the Park Hyatt Tokyo about 7:30 pm. Took hot baths and dressed to go down to very cool lobby bar for snacks. The bar reminded me a little of the pyramid club -- only the views of Tokyo are way more spectacular! Its like the NY Skyline but 12 times larger and longer. First "funny different thing" observation is that Japanese are very concerned with having warm butts and clean genitals -- have now encountered 3 toilets with a full range of controls on the seat...heated seats, an air filter machine that kicks on when you sit down (its either that or a noise machine intended to mask embarrassing noises) and then a whole push-button bidet system and dryer system that puts the Europeans to shame! For more about these toilets and to see photos, click here.

Day 2: Slept the whole night through, Woke up and had a delicious breakfast. The views from every place in this hotel are spectacular, so we looked out on Tokyo as we ate from a gorgeous American style buffet. Afterwards we went out for a walk and checked out a bunch of electronics stores (overwhelming, but cool) and watch stores (mom bought a watch) and then a paper store, where I spent $30 on cards. Then we stopped to eat lunch at a tempura place --where we couldn't understand anything...thank goodness for pictures on the menu, except that "oh no!" all the pictures were of tempura batter food, so we had no idea what was actually under the batter on anything. We basically just pointed to two meals and took a chance..I have no idea what I actually had (mom got pork) but it tasted pretty darn good. Also got my first taste of *real* miso -- yum! The lunch was delicious and about $20 total. We did a bit more shopping (browsing) then we came back to our room -- mom is resting, I am also going to nap, and then we'll probably hit the gym. The gym is amazing...the views from the treadmills are absolutely the best in the whole hotel....all glass walls, all the fitness equipment looks out at the Tokyo skyline, and since there aren't a ton of skyscrapers close by, the views are very clear and broad. The pool and spa is also gorgeous and I cant wait to get in it. Good thing I brought my swim cap though -- its mandatory and you have to rent one if you didn't bring one, and they seem to be rather strict about it.
Here I am on our first day in Tokyo. This is taken from a pedestrian crossing in the Shinjuku neighborhood, which is where we are staying. Posted by Picasa

Oct 23, 2006

Off to Tokyo

So I am off to Tokyo and was reminded today to blog while I am there, which I will try my best to do. I am staying at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo for most of the trip - which is the same hotel where they filmed the movie Lost in Translation. I am most excited for the fabulous pool they have, as I have not been swimming as much as I would like (downfall of this city -- no good indoor pools) and I look forward to some floating and swimming to get rid of the jet lag!

In other news...well the biggest news is that Mike's brother Bryan is leaving the army this week. Its amazing to think that this smart West Point grad is nervous about his future out of the Army, but I think he's maybe a bit nervous. We're so proud of him for making the very tough decision to leave and try something else, and we just know he is going to have a terrific new adventure in his family life and work.

Not much else to report. There seems to be a baby boom happening -- quite a few of the other childless couples we are close friends with have announced pregnancies (Woody& Deb, Christopher & Emily, a few select others who are not ready to be named) so its fun to think there will be so many "first kids" our kid's age....we didnt expect it, but its nice to think that some of our closest city friends are doing the same thing we are doing.

I went to a baby shower for my cousin-in-law Lisa McGrath on Sunday -- and it was a surprisingly easy way to quickly catch up with Lisa while she's visiting from California. I probably wont be seeing her or Scott or their new baby until 2007 sometime, and its amazing to think she will soon (December) be a mom. She looks great -- the yoga has obviously paid off!
But talking with her got me a little nervous...realizing that "holy crap we are going to need a few things ourselves" and "February is right around the corner" so I went home feeling kind of stressed about baby products. Then I was reminded that small infants really need only a few things -- clothes, blankets, diapers, breasts, and loving caring parents. All the other stuff is just icing. It made me feel better to think that way, especially since I am not into clutter. We've already gotten some great things secondhand, we've got a crib, and we've got a good list of "essentials" started, so I guess when I get back, we'll start prioritizing and acquiring the other stuff.

off to Tokyo!

Oct 17, 2006

October update

On Columbus Day, our good friends Matt and Jen delivered a healthy, bouncing, baby boy named Jay. He is scrumptious. They are in love!

On October 13th, we celebrated our 5th anniversary. We went down to Washington, DC for the weekend (which is where we fell for one another) and spent a delightful weekend hanging out, walking around, and eating the most delicious food! If you ever the chance to try Asia Nora, its the most amazing dining experience.

Otherwise, life is good -- Mike's brother Bryan and his family are leaving the military and moving back to this area in November to start a new chapter of their lives.

I head to Tokyo early next week with my mom.

My prenatal appointments have been great -- the baby is healthy, growing and it should be a good time to take a trip! The belly is getting bigger.

Mike and I are planning to go away around Thanksgiving for a last hurrah parents-only vacation before the baby comes.

Not much to report.

Oct 10, 2006

Cute baby shirts and cool baby links

These adorable t-shirts are proto-types that my sister-in-law-to-be picked up for us from someone in her building. They are totally the cutest little toddler shirts. I can't wait to put mcdunn jr. in them.

Some other cool links to check out:
Check out this cool fetal growth website - so you can check out baby growth and potential future growth.....

Check out these adorable things called "cranky pants" courtesy of the daddytypes blog.

More than you ever wanted to know about Cloth Diapers can be found here.

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Oct 5, 2006

The Crib

So we arent even really sure if we will need a crib...(yes, we might indeed co-sleep with baby mcdunn, and we do know other families who have been totally crib-less and it worked out fine, their kids are normal and sweet) but since we reserve the right to do whatever the heck we want, and whatever works for us...then let's just say for now that we're keeping all of our options open...

So with that in mind, we went and bought a fancy, modern, fully yuppiefied crib...and every time I look at it, I wish it were my bed. Its gorgeous. I am jealous. Would we have bought said crib if it was not 60% off the retail value because it was a floor model at Design Within Reach? No never. We would have a crib from Ikea. But we got lucky because it was indeed 60% off, and so. we caved in to our mutual love of modern design and sustainably harvested wood and deassembled it right in the store and carted it away to come live in South Philly with us. In case you are wondering, its the Austin Crib by a company named DucDuc. For the time being, it lives in a pile on the third floor. We have no nursery picked out, and plan to have baby Mcdunn sleeping in our bed or our room for at least the first few months, so we aren't worrying about making a nursery. It just seems premature at this point....We have a HUGE bedroom (which used to be two rooms) and it just doesn't make sense not to share it with our new little creature until that scheme doesnt work anymore...

...So now we just need a mattress and sheets, a rocker, some cloth diapers, a carseat and some other small things, and we will be all set. Posted by Picasa

Oct 1, 2006

20 Weeks -- Halfway there and what you never wanted to know about stroller shopping

Karin's belly at 20 weeks.

Took our first visit to a baby store yesterday. Went to Norman's in South Philadelphia mostly just to look at Rockers and Strollers.
Saw some gliders that were really comfy (not terribly aesthetically pleasing, but comfy) and then decided to look for a recycled one -- (mean's we're going to try to buy one from Craig's List instead of ordering a new one) -- and then we'll just get a nice new cushion made for it in a cool fabric.

....Then we got to the stroller section and....ugh! How are we ever going to choose? We don't really anticipate needing a stroller right away -- strollers in city markets are sometimes more of a pain then just carrying the baby, so we do plan to invest in a nice moby wrap so we can carry the baby around town and keep him or her close to us (and keep our hands free) but we know that a stroller will be great for the grandparents and great for long walks, so we are starting to indoctrinate ourselves into the world of strollers...

First, we eliminated a few things: I know I don't want anything to do with the whole infant car seat carrier/stroller snap-in business mostly because it seems to be an item built for people who use cars all the time, and we just don't use our car more than once a week or so. Also, I just kind of object to anything made to last only through the first 6-8 months of a baby's life and then requiring another upgrade to some other car seat and stroller contraption....that kind of thing seems like a total racquet created by the baby industrial complex.

So, not wanting to invest in a snap-and-go infant carrier system (thankfully) rules out about 20% of the stroller choices. We also don't need a stroller for two (thankfully), so that rules out another 10% of the choices. From what is left, we whittled it down even further with our additional requirements: We want something lightweight enough to take up and down subway stairs and in and out of the house without breaking a sweat, and something that folds and unfolds without a book of translations. It would be ideal to find something tall enough for the two of us so that we don't get back cramps walking the baby, and with wheels that can handle urban sidewalks. We'd like something that will grow with our kid. And finally, we want something where the wheelbase isnt so wide that we cant get through the Italian market with it.
So there you go...we had a great list of requirements and thought we'd have no problem making a choice... and so we hit the stroller section full of optimism. And, we left...deflated. Having kind-of-liked only one out of 40 strollers there, we felt we had more searching to do. So when we got home, Mike went online, and discovered there is an online stroller design revolution happening. And that's when "Engineering Mike" took over and started finding expensive and foreign stroller choices galore. We've got to go find these strollers and test them out, but he managed to locate a bunch of new options:
  • The McLaren Volo (Saw it at Norman's...not perfect, but lightweight and popular with urban parents we know)
  • A Phil & Ted's three wheel stroller (US brand, kind of neat looking - about $400)
  • The Micralite (a cool origami looking thing imported from UK, about $400)
  • The Quinny Buzz (Some foreign stroller Mike would have to travel to Canada to get, making it -I assume- very expensive instead of just kinda expensive)
  • The Bugaboo Gecko (the yuppie factor on this one kind turns me off - they are seen everywhere in NYC)
  • The Stokke Xplory (Yikes, this one is a lot of $$$!!! About $900! Could any stroller be worth that much money?)
So after all of that and the talk of Mike going to Canada to locate the Quinny, I decided that Mike's officially in charge of choosing the stroller. Basically, as long as its easy to fold and unfold, doesnt weigh more than 25-30 pounds and it doesnt have teddy bears or bunnies printed all over it, I am on board.

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The lovely couple of the week...

My brother Patrick and his fiance Lilliana last night at dinner. Lilliana's lovely mom Diana came into town from Texas to meet us all this weekend. We all had dinner at La Locanda Del Ghittone in Old City. They shared that they're planning an October 2007 wedding in Mexico...Puerta Vallarta area. I cant wait!!! Posted by Picasa

A la Famiglia

More of the dinner at La Locanda Del Ghittone. That's Diana (far left), Monica (my mom) and Jim (my dad) talking wedding plans and doing the all-important family bonding. Posted by Picasa