Sunday, December 28, 2008


Every day I think "I should put that on my blog" and then the day and night passes and I completely forget what it was that I was going to write about. Senility is setting in too rapidly! After a night dealing with a boy who was determined to empty the contents of his stomach in any way possible (more than once, less than 5 times) my brain is still not working quite as well as it should be, but here is a brief summary of our Christmas....
The day started out with great excitement over Santa's stockings (note to self: always put the same number of presents in each stocking - the children count!) then we opened one present each from under the tree before heading to kindergarten to help out at the Christmas party. The children had fun singing and meeting Santa and then decorated all the chocolate muffins that we had made the day before.
Home by lunch time (well my son wasn't) so we prepared Christmas dinner and then all sat around opening presents after my son came home at 3pm. It was a good way to do it in the end as we were all quite relaxed and there was plenty of time to really enjoy all the presents etc. The big present for the year was a Wii console with Wii fit.... the children had been asking for one for ages and we finally relented. As it turns out the adults have been enjoying their fair share of fun with it too! Mum was in tears last night as she tried to do the ski slalom... in the end she did better when she gave up in a fit of giggles and sat on the sofa and let the skier continue on a straight path!
I hope you all had a great Christmas. Hopefully I will catch up on some other events here soon, but for now.... it's time to see if I can get my son off the floor..... I am not a good nurse!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas preparations

Tomorrow is Christmas. The children went to bed extra early in the hope that Christmas will come early. However this year Christmas is going to be a little strange. My son still has kindergarten and it is their Christmas party and he doesn't want to miss it. 6 mothers came to my house today to make 80 small Christmas cakes (well actually chocolate muffins) and ice lots of gingerbread cookies. One of the mothers approached me a few days ago with the idea of making a gingerbread house for the children.... so I spent yesterday doing that and then they iced the cookies to go with it. Here's hoping the roof doesn't fall off before tomorrow and that the children actually like it! Christmas will be celebrated in the afternoon and evening here - if the turkey thaws out in time and if we find some veges to go with it!
In other news my mother participated in her first ever game of ten pin bowling and we went and visited my favorite quiet temple, Futagoji (well it was quiet when my children weren't with us!).
Apologies to all those who have sent me e-mails lately that I haven't responded to. I promise to reply soon... when tomorrow is over! Merry Christmas!!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Concert finally over

This week has been dominated by the annual kindergarten concert. Rehearsals on Wednesday, final costume preparations during the following days and the actual concert on Sunday. All seemed to go to plan with no major problems and the kids all came away saying they wish they could do it all over again. I'm not sure that the parents and teachers would be so keen... Anyway, I managed to not trip over my shoelaces or throw up all over the audience when I had to do my stupid speech and my son did a wonderful job singing, dancing and acting. It was good to have Mum here to see it and also to know that it was the final concert that my children will be participating in!
Other highlights of the week include going to Uncle Tom's extended tree house - pretty impressive building! and spending some nice quiet time with Mutsumi wandering along the beach. Mum has been very cooperative - being dragged to kindergarten classes, shopping malls and today to the aquarium - in the freezing cold!
The chickens have also been well behaved lately, although the cooler weather is resulting in a few less eggs each day. My son is now very brave when it comes to carrying the chickens back into their house at night, but my daughter is a little more reserved.... she was brave enough to pat one of them today.... maybe by next year she will be slinging one over her shoulder and into the hen house!
For anyone who is really bored this is the video of my son's dance. The play was about 30 minutes long so I won't bother downloading that one!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Eagle has landed safely

On Tuesday my mother made her way to us all by herself from Osaka via 3 different trains. That is quite a feat in itself (it must have been the great instructions I wrote for her) and today she completed another great feat in the "foreigner conquers Japan" test. She managed to slurp her way through a bowl of soba noodles - not only managing to get them from the plate into the bowl of dipping sauce, but then also got them from the dipping sauce bowl into her mouth! There were claps all around the restaurant as they removed the drop cloths from around the walls that mysteriously go up when they see a foreigner come into the restaurant.
In other news, the chickens only laid 2 eggs today, but according to my chicken bible most chickens lay on a 25 hour cycle - which means every day they lay one hour later (for those of you who are not good at maths) and then if it gets to the late afternoon they will hold it in till the morning. This cycle fits with the current chickens which means that we might be back to 4 or 5 eggs tomorrow. Either that or the sunlight hours have now dropped too low and they are going to stop laying till spring. All I can say is that they definitely like worms... or anything that looks like worms - shoe laces, ties from my sons trousers (that was a bit dangerous... ) etc.
Time for some revolving sushi..... nothing like visitors for an excuse to eat out!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Final Page

It has been just over 2 years since our first guests came to stay at Kiora Cottage and since then we have had around 128 guests (not counting repeat visitors) from at least 12 countries. It has been a great opportunity for the children to learn communication skills and have a lot of fun with a lot of different people. The visitors book is a great way to remember all of our visitors and it now has only one page left in it. Of course family visits are the best and tonight (fingers crossed) my mother should be here to enjoy the cottage for the first time too. She missed a connection from Amsterdam yesterday so is running a day late, but all going well she should be on the train to Usa right now. It is fitting that she will be our last guest for 2008 and that we will be able to start a new visitors book from 2009. We are looking forward to many more visitors and many more great memories!
Today I let the chickens out for the first time after they laid their eggs (still 5 each day at the moment) and they are enjoying wandering around their new mud pit... Now I just need to work out how to get them back in there this evening so the foxes and stoats don't get them... Hopefully Mum will be there by then and can help do some shooing!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Three days and 14 eggs

As predicted life here seems to be revolving around chickens at the moment. Yesterday we worked until after dark to put up a net to allow the chickens to run around outside for part of the day. My dreams of having them just wander around freely have been squashed by fears over "bird influenza" and the need to have the whole area covered in, but at least this way they will have a reasonable area to fossick around in and I will be able to change their water without having to try and keep them in their shed. They are definitely well trained to humans and come racing as soon as you arrive - even trying to say hello out of their nesting boxes at any chance they have. This makes it a little problematic for the children to do the egg collecting at the moment, but I'm sure they will get used to the little pecks on their hands soon! So far there have been 14 eggs over the 3 days that we have had them. Only one hen didn't lay on the middle day and they had all laid by 9am this morning - all in the same box!
As far as naming goes the children have so far decided on Lily, Rose, Jude and Gill with one more name up for grabs. Mind you they seem to change their minds every hour. The biggest problem with naming is that no matter how much I look at them I can't tell any of them apart at all. Maybe when they are finally able to wander around outside a bit I might have more luck!

Friday, December 12, 2008


At about 6:30 last night our neighbour arrived in the dark with three big paper bags filled with our new chickens. He works at a high school and they had been raising them, but now were willing to let them go. Apparently they started laying eggs in about November, but at breakfast time this morning I spent a lot of time explaining to the children that they had been through a lot of stress last night and that because the daylight hours are getting less and less that we probably wouldn't get any eggs until next spring - I didn't want to get their (and my) hopes up too much. And then... my son and I went to check that they were actually eating etc. and discovered not just one egg, but three eggs (we have 5 chickens) and not only that... they were all laid in the nesting boxes not all over the floor! Not bad considering they have only been in their home for just over 12 hours! I already love my chickens!
But now I really need to prepare for today's kindergarten class so I can come home quickly and hang out with the chickens again!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Peace day and MORE chicken house progress

On Monday I went to my daughter's school again to watch her class do a "play" related to the destruction caused by war. Again I was impressed by the Japanese attitude towards the peace process. December the 7th, 1941 was the day when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor so this day was set aside for peace education at the school. The principal started the morning be explaining that in times of war people's kindness and rationality go out the window and that although other countries did some terrible things to Japan, Japan also did some really bad things to other countries. She then went on to explain a little about the bombing that Japan did at Pearl Harbor. Good unbiased education (in this area anyway!).
In other news... our chickens are due to arrive tomorrow night. My husband had the day off work today and I think the chicken house itself is almost ready for its new occupants (if my children are willing to give up their new play house!). We won't get the surrounding fence made till the weekend so they will need to spend a few days cooped up getting used to their new house before they can have a wander around their new garden.
My job today was to finish off the nesting boxes and somehow make a roof over them to keep the rain out... I don't think I made too bad a job in the end. It is an adjustable roof so we can lift it up while getting the eggs out - provided they lay some!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Snow and chicken house progress

Yesterday my husband got up early and started to get ready for finishing the chicken house only to discover that it was snowing and snowing some more! It was the biggest dumping of snow we have had for a long time and the kids loved playing in it, making snowmen and making ice creams from it (which they proceeded to eat covered in condensed milk!). It really was beautiful powder snow and despite a nice day today there is still a bit lying around the place. Mike, you could still make it for a quick snow fight if you were fast!
I spent the day doing things that I would never do in New Zealand like racing outside in the snow to pick the green tomatoes so I could make Christmas mince and making a steamed Christmas Pudding ready for Christmas. Living here definitely makes you appreciate the things you can just go and buy in the shops in New Zealand!
Today the improved weather meant that some more progress was made on the chicken house. I swear it is going to be the strongest, straightest chicken house in the history of the world! Mind you I was in charge of the door and the nesting boxes so those parts may not quite make the grade. Lucky for me we couldn't catch many bee swarms this year so the excess of bee hives my husband made while we were in New Zealand became perfect nesting boxes! One or two more days work and it should be complete - which is fortunate as the chickens are due to arrive on Thursday!
PS - both Emily and Masaki decided they wanted to practice their typing skills and write some more on their blogs this weekend (chances are it was a one off!), but if anyone wants to see what they wrote and some extra snow pictures please click on the links at the side of this page.

Friday, December 05, 2008

PTA fun

This week seems to have been dominated by PTA events at both school and kindergarten. Yesterday was "observation day" at my daughter's school where we could go and watch their normal class then we got to listen to a concert followed by a quick class meeting with the teacher and other mothers. I spent most of the afternoon amusing myself by counting the number of people with black hair (yes, we live in Japan) - it was far quicker to count the number with black hair than it was to count those with brown hair. In fact there was only one mother in the whole room that had black hair.... I guess a lot of stereotypes are being challenged this year!
Today was kindergarten PTA and it was the day where we had to take along the costumes we have made for the end of year concert and make sure that they didn't fall down etc. when the children danced in them. This year's challenge was a "fisherman" with a ponytail and a prince... fortunately there were enough clothes from previous years that I didn't have to make too much. Now all I have to do is hope that it doesn't all fall to pieces before the concert on the 21st!
Add Image

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The trouble with Japan is....

Anyone who lives a long way away from their families is/was probably facing the same problem as I was last night - how do you get your Christmas presents delivered safely to the other side of the world in time for Christmas? The answer to the "in time" bit is that you should be a lot more organised than me and have all your Christmas presents ready for your father to take back with him when he comes to visit in October.... (maybe next year). But when that fails just hope that the Japanese postal system is as efficient as usual and that they will arrive on time. Of course I have to keep my fingers crossed a little more as I always end up sending them the cheap SAL way... (Surface Air Lifted for those who are not familiar with cheap ways of sending things... it means that they put it on the plane whenever there is room and therefore can't guarantee the speed - never had a problem so far....).
The second part of the problem is always how to send the presents "safely" - ie the packaging. This year I decided to attempt to solve this problem while also trying to save the world through recycling and also incorporate the Chinese Zodiac. That's right... I used milk cartons (next year is the year of the bull.. okay, so they don't produce milk, but their mothers did) and plastic drink bottles. A word to anyone who may receive one of these presents... this is the wrapping... so don't take it out until Christmas day - if you can find you way into it that is!
Perhaps we could have a "recycling wrapping" competition.... anybody got an idea of how to use
six million margarine and yoghurt containers???

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Surviving winter in rural Japanese classrooms

I always know when I haven't been updated my blog often enough by the fact that I have to re-enter my log in details (which I have just done) and by the hints that come from family members (usually a sister who has nothing better to do at "work" than check every one's blogs!). So apologies yet again for not writing more lately.....
Yesterday I spent the entire day trying to clean up the house a bit so that I could hang up the Christmas decorations so they wouldn't just blend into the background of junk lying around all over the place. Yesterday the children also woke up early excited about opening their first present in the advent calendar Like last year the excitement kind of wore off quickly when they were rewarded with toothbrushes rather than the chocolate they were imagining. Today they were back to being happy though with two round chocolates... Little do they know that this year I have outdone myself and not only are there toothbrushes, toothpaste, chopsticks, straws (don't ask) in there, but there are also knickers and socks! Nothing like practical presents to start the Christmas celebrations!
Along with the Christmas preparations, December also represents the first of the cold months here in Japan. Frosts are regular now and although the days are really warm the nights are getting really cold. Because we have a wood burner this cold doesn't worry us too much, but going to school and teaching is a different matter! The room in the photo is my "English Classroom" that I get to use when I am teaching at one of the schools. As you can see we have no desks or chairs so that we can play lots of games and really get the kids moving around. If you look very closely you will also see that there is no warm radiator system running the length of the classroom to keep us warm. In fact there is no heating in this classroom at all - which is reasonably typical at country schools in Japan. Often they will bring out a kerosene "stove" later in the year, but for now all the students cram over to the side closest to the window in an attempt to warm themselves in the sun. Fortunately Japan has developed some other ways to keep warm in these situations, the most common is wearing your jacket all day - inside and out. Hats and gloves are also common.... Another great invention is the "hand warmer". For those that don't know about these it is a little pack of "something" that when you shake up and down a few times it causes some kind of chemical reaction (as you can see I really know the details of these things very well) that makes the contents heat up and stay hot for about 24 hours. Most of the children have them in their pockets and whenever the cold gets too much for them they just hold them for a bit and warm up their fingers. They now also have ones that are designed for putting in your shoes, ones with adhesive bits for sticking on your back etc. Great things - except when they burst in your trousers... which is what happened to one boy in class the other day! A big mess to clean up and a bit of scratching for the rest of the day.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Chicken house beginning

Construction has finally begun on our chicken house and I never want to see a level again in my life! When we arrived back from New Zealand in April we (or probably me more than anyone) had big plans of making a chicken coop within one month. It is now November and we finally have half of one!
In Japan they talk a lot about personalities being linked to your blood type. My husband and I (along with our children) are all type O. According to one website that means that we are all: agreeable, sociable and optimistic as well as vain, rude and dominant. Correct on many counts! So, I guess you are wondering what any of that has to do with making a chicken house... If Japanese ways of thinking regarding blood types are correct then my husband and I should go about things in basically the same way..... which is one reason why I don't think much of Japanese theories regarding blood types! With regard to building things I am very much a "make it up as you go along and don't worry about planning" type of person and my husband is the exact opposite... everything has to be drawn to scale before you can even think about picking up a hammer and hours and hours of thought has to go into all the possible problems that could occur before anything is actually begun - resulting in very little actually being done! During construction I figure as long as it stands up it is fine (slap four poles into the ground, throw some chicken wire around it and voila - a chicken house!), but my husband has to have everything completely level and therefore spends hours fiddling with things until they are perfect. I'm sorry, but I really don't think the chickens will care if their coop is not exactly straight! As I just said to my brother "I don't know how many times I stomped off and pulled out some weeds viciously this afternoon!"
It also didn't help that it was the big mountain climbing day today so there were hundreds of people climbing the mountain behind our house and offering advice about the construction process (the garden is right opposite the mountain car park). Anyway, in summary the chicken house is now half completed and it is very straight. Here's hoping we have some more fine weather next weekend so we can finish it off and get some chickens in there before the year 2011!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Matchbox car

I have a new car. It is only for a few days while my car is getting fixed (I love the Japanese custom of giving you a car free of charge to use while you are having repairs done), but it is giving me the chance to experience one of Japan's wonders.... the "Kei car". "Kei" literally means "light" and it is definitely that! I feel a little like I am sitting directly on the ground and as my daughter has discovered - she is taller than it is.... she is only 8 years old!
Kei cars are subject to lower taxes than regular cars and can be distinguished by their yellow number plates. According to wikipedia people couldn't afford big cars and the taxes that they required after world war two so to promote the growth of the car industry, as well as to offer an alternative delivery method to small business and shop owners, kei car standards were created. Although over the years the size restrictions of kei cars has changed it is currently... maximum length - 3.4m, maximum width - 1.48m, maximum height 2m, maximum displacement 660cc.
Initially I was very impressed when I went to fill it up with petrol and the total bill only came to 2,000 yen (when I fill mine it always costs more than 7,000 yen), but after driving it around today I discovered that it also uses quarter of a tank on the way to work and back!
I guess after driving my box for a few days I will be happy to have my big beast of a car back.....

Monday, November 17, 2008


Oops - I started this entry a few days ago and completely forgot about it... As I think I mentioned in my last entry, life has been a little crazy around here for the last week or so. In summary... Tuesday morning - teaching at school followed by a meeting till 3:30pm. Tuesday night we had 7 guests to eat and 4 guests to stay. Wednesday morning - fed the guests staying then raced to school for the first of 2 days of English demonstration lessons before racing the kids to swimming. "Featured" in the newspaper with one of the classes - got very frustrated by the write up as it looks like I was the main feature of the class where as in truth the Japanese home room teachers did all the preparation, planning, directing etc. and I was just there to support them. Just another grizzle......
On Thursday I survived all the demonstration classes and meetings afterwards about them then taught at a kindergarten on Friday before driving 2 hours to do a "talk" with a group of older people in Hita from 7pm. 2 hours of talking and then another 2 hours home (you do the time calculations) and I was ready for my weekend! Saturday morning I taught English then Saturday night we went to a basketball game because my son was doing marching as part of the half time entertainment. My children have only ever been to two basketball games, but as my daughter said... Mum, no matter where in the world we are the team we are supporting loses.... Oita isn't exactly the strongest basketball team in Japan!
Sunday was a day of rest! As was Monday.... and Tuesday afternoon..... sorry a bit of a boring report, but as the weather cools down (snow is forecast for today) there should be more inside hours typing away and catching up properly with things here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Half time report

Before I left to go and teach at school at 9am this morning I had already made muffins, a banana cake, made a huge pot of curry, fed two guests breakfast, had a shower and managed to eat some breakfast myself too. I finally got home at about 3:30pm after having a meeting straight after school and we now have 7 guests for dinner tonight (as well as our family) - fortunately only 4 of them are staying the night!
The principal at school also begged me today to do a workshop tomorrow for about 20 teachers who are coming to view the class from hell - who the school has wisely decided is just too hellish to be an example for their school... the teachers have already been invited so they needed a quick solution. Yippee - I can hardly wait!
Anyway, this season is pretty good for having guests as meals can be huge pots of vegetables (last night...) and huge pots of curry (tonight) and most guests leave full, warm and happy! Last night's guests were from America and joined the hiking/cycling tour today. They were great - happy to help with the cutting of the vegetables, the entertaining of the children etc. They even helped to clean up our liquor cupboard a bit! They are staying again tonight with the additional extras so hopefully it will be a reasonably relaxing night before another early start tomorrow. On that note I'd better go and make some big salads... fortunately there are plenty of veges in the garden!