Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Do I have a brain?

Sometimes I really question my sanity (some of you are probably questioning my use of the word "sometimes"...). This morning a group of mothers from the kindergarten my children used to go to arrived at 8:30am to make over 70 cakes for the kindergarten Christmas party tomorrow. No, we no longer go there, but we are the only person within a 50km radius that has an oven! We got them finished and the mothers out the door by 11:30am, just in time to stuff a dozen boiled eggs, cut a chocolate fudge cake and race out the door to have a joint lunch with my son's kindergarten class from last year. It was great to see them all running around for a couple of hours outside while the mothers sat around eating and chatting!
We finally got home at about 4pm - in time for a quick blob out in front of TV before getting tea ready and getting the kids into bed. And then comes the stupid part..... I decided that although I can never seem to get my mother online at the same time to get her new Christmas pudding recipe I just had to make a steamed Christmas pudding... so I did..... but of course it needs to steam for at least 3 and a half hours.... and I have just put it on to steam... on top of the fire.... and it is already 8:30pm.... you can do the maths! All I can say is that it had better be worth it. Meg and Nathan - I don't care how much you hate steam pud you can smile and nod and eat at least one mouthful!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas number 1

Yet again I have failed to write about half the things that have been happening lately.... and of course now I have forgotten what we have done. Sorry!
The weekend was a busy one - we woke up to the first real snow on Saturday morning, but it had all melted away by lunch time. On Saturday night we had 6 friends come for dinner, three of whom stayed overnight. It was great to have some good conversation and a practice run for Christmas dinner! I had bought 2 turkeys this year - not really sure why... just thought they might come in handy and they are really cheap at Costco so I cooked up one and they all had fun trying to carve it! They even managed to eat enough of it that we only have left overs for one or two meals. After dinner our new craze - find the differences books were well studied and proved frustrating for some.
On Sunday morning we left the guests to themselves to have a quiet time talking in the cottage and went to the end of year concert at the kindergarten that my children used to go to. It was great to be able to watch the children without worrying about having to go and get my own children changed, worry about if their costumes were going to fall off half way through their dance etc.
Today I have no "work" so have been enjoying making desserts for Christmas. I think I have put on about a kilogram just licking the spoon! So far we have white chocolate icecream, chocolate and mint icecream, chocolate mousse, passionfruit marshmallows... and I still have a few days to make some more!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Open Home

Today we lost half our privacy... Unfortunately I didn't realise exactly how much of the forest between us and the road was going to be destroyed so didn't manage to get a "before" photo, but the after is pretty sad! Until now we haven't really been able to see any other houses from our back yard/deck and the road has been pretty much blocked out by huge trees. And then today they cut them ALL down.... I wandered onto the deck and the neighbour waved excitedly from the road above just to show that we are now visible to the world. Everyone thinks it is great. I beg to differ! I am hoping that they were the trees which are used to grow shitake mushrooms that had got a bit too big - if this is the case then they are likely to grow back relatively fast, but not to the size they were this morning. It looks like they will be just left to rot on the ground.... why they cut them down I really have no idea... but I do know that I will have to be a little more careful about remembering to bring all my clothes to the shower!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Spreading the Joy

On Friday night I took Nathan and Megan to an amazing Japanese drumming concert in Oita. The group is based in Oita prefecture and is called Tao. They do a lot of touring around the world and if they are ever in your city I HIGHLY recommend you go and see them. It is hard to describe what is so wonderful about drumming, but to me I just sit there completely in awe of their ability to not just stay in time with the others while drumming at amazingly high speed, but to be able to drum with the energy needed for such long lengths of time. They even did the Maori Haka! The website is worth a look, but doesn't compare to the real thing!

I didn't opt to take the children with us, but managed to bring them a bit of excitement this afternoon when I showed them the video letters that Santa had sent them! This is an amazing idea that I stole of "Kuri" - yes, I do read your blog often, just never quite get around to commenting!
Anyway, if anyone wants to see if my children (and me...) have been good or bad this year check out the following video letters!
My children were SO excited when they watched them today - nothing like bringing joy to the world at this cold time of year!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The problem with lying....

Our community consists of elderly widowed women, a few elderly couples and... us! One of the elderly women used to cry when she talked to me because she was so appreciative of us staying in the area and bringing up our children here. Her own children have lived in the "big city" for years and are never likely to return to live in the area. She hates it when we go back to New Zealand for holidays because the area is so quiet - she even seems to enjoy hearing us having our very loud "discussions". Recently she has taken to bringing us her "speciality". I am not exactly sure what it is - kind of like a VERY fat pancake. Unfortunately I made the mistake of saying thank you and that the children thought it was delicious once..... and have since received one almost every week for the last month or so. The problem is it is not delicious! In fact it is more like a hard frisbee that my son almost got blisters trying to cut with his spoon the other night.... I have started warming it up, cutting it in half and smothering it in raspberry jam and then either soaking it in milk or making custard. It is then edible... just! I think next time (I know there will be a next time!) I will try making it into tiramisu or perhaps tempt the chickens with it by soaking it overnight in hot water! I guess I will never learn to tell the truth when it comes to pleasing old ladies!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Juggling the easy way

I can't believe I am actually posting a second entry within 24 hours! Yesterday this week looked like a logistical nightmare. In my diary for this week we had 5 girls arriving today for 2 nights, the children's PTA day at school today, English lessons at 2 schools and one kindergarten, piano lessons, swimming lessons, gymnastics, outdoor education programs to teach, drumming concerts to go to, a Christmas party at school on Sunday as well as a cultural festival to go to at a different school on Sunday etc. etc. My husband took today off so we could somehow deal with the junior high school girls and the school PTA overlap, and make some loud grunting noises about the classes etc.
Then yesterday the 20 sharped knives I was juggling turned into 5 nice soft balls... all by the "cancellation" of our junior high school students. There was a message on my answer phone yesterday when I came home from a morning of teaching, going to the post office (not a "quick" trip here!) and some stocking up at the supermarket for the girls visit to say "2 of the 5 girls in your group will no longer be coming because they have the flu. Another 2 of the girls are absent from school today and although they have not been diagnosed with the flu they are sick, but are still really keen to come so a decision will be made in the morning whether they are allowed to come or not. The final girl in the group is best friends with all the other sick girls so is likely to break out into a fever the minute she steps through your door". As much as I'd love to say that I am a professional and put my business first I put my foot down and told them last night that we weren't very impressed about the situation and didn't feel like risking our children by exposing them to the girls.... I'm sure my children will eventually get the flu - although the school seems to be still under control for now, I just don't feel like putting them directly in a mixing bowl for the sake of a few yen. A phone call this morning confirmed that someone else was able to take them so after dropping the kids at school I went and got my haircut! A far better way to spend the morning than getting the cottage ready for the girls and searching out all my masks!

Monday, December 07, 2009

Climbing "our" mountain again

On Sunday we climbed the mountain in our backyard for probably the last time this year. Megan and Nathan wanted to climb (well Nathan did ....) and the kids are always keen to take people up. My son talked constantly all the way up about where they dropped something three years ago and found it again on the way down, which stone they tripped over 2 years ago, which tree fell down in which typhoon etc. etc. They have been climbing the mountain since they were 3 or 4 years old so are now great guides! I haven't climbed it very much recently so did more huffing and puffing up the 529m than anyone else, but despite the strong winds at our house there were great views from the top and I don't have sore legs... yet!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

More random gifts

I don't think I will ever get used to the completely random gifts I get given in Japan. Earlier in the week we went to look at a new car for me - my current one is about to die and because it is over 13 years old the government will give a reasonable subsidy if we buy a brand new one before March. We are still very much just looking and thinking, but as we were leaving we were given bags of gifts - not the usual tissues and green tea, but potatoes and spring onions! Why a car sales yard would give away potatoes and spring onions is beyond me, but I guess I should be grateful that they are things that can actually be used. I hate to think what they might give us if we actually decide to sign on the dotted line.....

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Another group down... one to go

Sometimes the logistics of having a group of students to stay as well as continuing on with my children's daily activities is almost too much to cope with, but the latest group seemed to time things perfectly and we had a great 3 days. They arrived on Sunday afternoon so my husband was able to help out a bit more and had the fire built when we got home so they could munch on some yummy baked sweet potatoes and toast some marshmallows. I always try to do at least one new "activity" when students are here - for my own sanity!
As usual everything was a "first" and they were keen to try anything, got excited over things like pulling a daikon, laughed in all the right places and cried when they had to get on the bus to go home. Another successful trip! The chickens got a bit of a battering, but they all laid perfectly so perhaps they enjoy the attention of being lifted up by screeching girls....
Just one more group next week and then a break from Junior High students for a few months.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Too far behind!

Out of sheer laziness I have got myself way behind in posting the daily "happenings" here. There have actually been some really interesting things happening lately and I have thought many times about how I was going to word the blog entry for each interesting happening.... only then I decide to sit and read just one more chapter of my book in the wonderful autumn sun, or treat myself to a movie after working in the "big city" and my fingers just never seem to connect with the keyboard! For today here are a few pictures from a friend's visit last weekend. They stayed the night and it was great to catch up with them and meet their boy for the first time. My children are getting better at playing with small children and although they enjoy their company they have finally stopped asking me to get them another younger brother or sister!
During their visit I was once again reminded of the common Japanese way of putting children to bed - let them run wild for as long as they like and make comments like "you have brushed your teeth so you can fall over out of exhaustion anytime now". Granted they were staying in a different house, but by 11pm the one and a half year old was still doing a grand job of staying wide awake... my children had already been in bed for well over 2 hours!
Tomorrow another group of junior high girls arrive for 2 nights - they are one of the groups that were postponed due to the swine flu outbreaks. Here's hoping the first outbreak doesn't happen at my children's school while they are here.... so far there have only been 2 children in the whole school who have caught it and that was well over a week ago so things are looking hopeful (which means I have probably jinxed the whole school and they will all be sick within a week!). Fingers crossed there are no more outbreaks and fingers crossed my fingers actually make it to the keyboard a little more this week.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Latest obsession

Last night I discovered another great homepage with some wonderful paper crafts.... and have since made lots of them! Our favorite one so far is the paper theatre. Both children have started to make stories and hopefully on a rainy day they will make their own backdrops etc. and continue to make some new stories. If anyone wants to fill in a few hours... the homepage is called "The Toymaker" and the templates are all designed to print straight onto A4 pages. For those living in Japan the A4 white cardboard (I buy the packets of 18 sheets) in the 100 yen shop is perfect! Have fun....

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Chocolate muffins

The days seem to be racing away lately with nothing of great interest happening. I feel like I have been doing too much "teaching" at schools and kindergartens lately, but the bank is enjoying a little more input than usual so I shouldn't complain. Of course as the temperatures drop the complaints increase a little though - especially as none of the schools I have been teaching at have had their "heating" (I use that term lightly!) on. One school told me that the temperature has to drop below 10 degrees before they can light their stove..... it must have been about 10.1 degrees the day I was there!
Yesterday I was asked for some photos of the chocolate muffins I had made with some students who came to stay, but unfortunately didn't have any so was forced to make some more... all of which I ended up taking to school to bribe the teachers to put the heating on!
If anyone wants a simple, delicious, no fail chocolate muffin recipe then this one is for you! (NB New Zealand measurements are used - 1 cup = 250ml)
  1. Sift together: 1 and 3/4 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 cup caster sugar, 1/4 cup cocoa.
  2. Melt 100 grams butter and add 1 egg, 1 cup yoghurt, 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Mix well.
  3. Combine the two mixtures and combine till the flour is just dampened, not smooth.
  4. Divide into 12 greased muffin tins (or whatever size you want...) and bake for 10-12 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius or until centres spring back when pressed lightly.
    NB: you can sprinkle with chocolate chips before baking if you want... I always do!
  5. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Half-hearted garden update

I had planned to go around the garden and give a full update of what is going on right now, but the cold wind combined with a trip to a local festival etc. put a stop to that and I only really got around to taking photos of things that I was walking very close to or was actually picking for dinner. I also couldn't remember how to add music to the slide show so you will have to watch it in silence... perhaps tomorrow I will update it properly with extra photos and some music to brighten your day! Until then here is a small preview of a little of what is going on in the garden right now....

Friday, November 13, 2009

Seed exchange

Thank you for all your comments regarding my daughter's "moral education". For now I think it will just be left alone as she is not worried about it and chances are my evil looks at her teacher every time I go to the school to teach the older classes has been a bit of a warning to her. However, if anything similar happens again I will not be able to hold my tongue.... Casey, I had seen the program you mentioned and was very impressed - for anyone who hasn't seen it there is a very good program about a teacher in Japan dealing with a class in Kanazawa - I wish he was at our school! The link is

The other day I was in the garden planting seeds. I have very few obsessions in life, but seeds seem to be one of them! I have packets and packets of seeds which I know will never germinate as they are too old, but I throw them in the ground anyway. I have packets of seeds that I really don't know what they are, if they are appropriate for my area, or what to do with them if they actually germinate and grow properly, but I plant them anyway! I have some real favorites that despite the differences in climate I have managed to get to grow well here. But at times I think I am in a bit of a rut and end up turning into one of the old Japanese women around here - planting exactly the same things every year at exactly the same time of year. Of course my things are a little different to what the Japanese women are planting, but the process is the same. This year I have done reasonably well at cleaning out my boxes of seeds (yes, that is plural!) and thought that it might be interesting to do a seed swap with anyone is interested - to get a bit of variety into my garden. Of course there are many logistical problems with this due to customs laws etc. in different countries, different seasons in different hemispheres etc. but my basic idea is that anyone in any country would send a packet of their favorite seeds, with instructions for growing (if the packet is in any language other than English) and one favorite recipe that they use for the final product to the other members of the swap group and then they would receive one packet of seeds from each member in return. If anyone is interested please contact me at jotomooka (@) and give me your e-mail address, postal address, general size of garden (planter boxes on balconies, small, big, very big!) and any seeds that you really DON'T want.... I'll leave it open for a week then send you the list of people interested for you to send seeds to.
If the stupid rain will stop I'll try to get out and take some photos tomorrow of the current state of the garden.... in between shuffling kids to gymnastics and swimming!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

School rant

I apologise in advance to anyone who comes to my blog to read about Japanese gardening, raising chickens and other exciting things like that. Today I want to rant about school so anyone not interested please come back again... I promise I will be back to my normal "nice" photos etc. soon!
Two things have happened at school lately that have left me with big question marks. The first is related to an annual event run at school where the children are introduced to people in wheelchairs, with disabilities etc. and are able to experience what it is like for these people to deal with daily life. On Wednesday a blind man came to talk with his guide dog. I went and listened and it was really interesting. Some of the children were blindfolded and led around by the dog and all had a wonderful experience. Last year all the children were able to experience what it is like to be in a wheelchair and how difficult it is to get around. There is a lot of emphasis on not being prejudiced against people who are "different", which finally brings me to my point (sorry, I'm feeling a bit long winded today!). There is one child in my son's class whose grandmother always comes to all the school related events etc. in place of his mother. I have always assumed that the mother is not living in the area or is deceased. It wasn't till I saw her for the first time at the sports day that I realised she is actually in a wheelchair - which makes it impossible for her to attend anything at school. Why? Because despite all the "education" on making everything accessible to everyone the schools in Japan are all at least two, generally three stories high. The only rooms on the ground floor of most of the schools are the staff rooms, the sick room and perhaps a meeting room. All classrooms are at least one floor up with absolutely no access for wheelchairs. Modern schools may be better, but definitely not here! This means that although we all get a chance to see our children in their classrooms doing their daily things, talk as a group of mothers with the teacher about how things are going etc., this one boy's mother will never have the chance. I often wonder if the school has thought about this and offered to do classes downstairs on the "open days", offered to bring the class meetings downstairs to allow her to attend etc. To be honest I don't know enough about the situation to do any stirring yet, but hopefully next time I see the grandmother I will be able to ask a little about the situation and offer to talk to the school about how the mother could become more involved. Perhaps I am way off track and the mother has no interest... I doubt it though.
The second thing that has happened lately that has me shaking my head about "moral education" here is in my daughter's class. There has been some "bullying" going on and my daughter has been led into it a bit by the ringleader. The teacher has gotten on to it and she has been required to write an essay about her behaviour etc. I have no problems with that. Although she didn't really do the majority of it she was involved in excluding two of the five girls in her class from some activities etc. and when I found out about it she got such an earful from me that I doubt she will be doing it again in the near future! I have no problem with them being kept back after school to write essays. What I do have a problem with is the next step the teacher took. The day after it was all discussed at school I got the following message from her teacher (direct translation...) :
"Today I got the students to perform a role play during first period relating to what happened yesterday. There were different roles for everyone in the role play - someone who was a bully, someone being bullied etc. I wanted the children to get the feeling for how it feels in each situation so they would think a little more about their behaviour in the future. However, during the role play I made the rule that when a person lost at janken (rock, paper, scissors) the other person was able to slap them with three fingers (I later discovered that in fact it was only my daughter who was to be slapped if she lost...) and one of the students took it a little too far and really hit your daughter very hard - causing her to cry. I made the children think about why your daughter was crying and what part they played in the incident. I aimed to teach the children how to think about other children, however for your daughter it was perhaps a slightly bad experience. I put a bandage on it and it isn't red anymore, but it does seem to hurt a little. I'm sorry, but could you please keep an eye on her at home."

I have no problem with role plays... in fact I think they are an excellent way to get a point across sometimes. I just have a slight problem with the teacher encouraging children to actually hit each other during them - even if it is with only 3 fingers. I have always thought she is a twit, but this has just confirmed it! Roll on April when hopefully she will move on to another school. Congratulations on anyone who has made it this far. It felt good to have a rant for a change!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Scarecrow watching and shopping

This time it is definitely not my fault that I haven't updated for a while.... it is definitely Nathan and Megan's fault. More about that later!
First of all... congratulations Ruthie - you were indeed correct. The contents of the mystery bag given to me very secretly was in fact a packet of 10 eggs - just what I really needed considering we had given away 60 that week. I can see how some of you may have been thrown off track by the secret nature of the bag, and to be honest it threw me off a bit too - perhaps they are really "special" eggs that are only allowed to be given to the Emperor. I wouldn't know - I still haven't opened them! Anyway, Ruthie - you win the prize so I'll get your address off Katie and get something to you as soon as I can. Thanks for playing....
Back to why I blame Nathan and Megan for my absence. Firstly they lent me the 5th series of a New Zealand drama/comedy called Outrageous Fortune. Far too many episodes on one DVD and all that end with scenes where you really just need to watch one more episode to see what happens.
Secondly they forced me to take them to Fukuoka to go shopping at the big warehouse shop, Costco in the weekend. Fortunately my 2 weeks of no shopping were over so I could fill up the trolley - despite not "needing" anything! The two weeks of no shopping passed very quickly and if it weren't for the trip to Fukuoka I probably could have continued on for at least another week or two. There were only 2 times the no-shopping rule was broken - once to buy some 4 slices of ham and 2 mini hamburgers for the children's bento for their school outing and once when my husband forced me to agree to allow him to buy hamburgers from a shop one and a half hours away to bring home for dinner.
On the way to Fukuoka we stopped at the scarecrows in Yamakuni. This year that had done a wonderful job again and it was difficult to see who were the real scarecrows and who were the tourists! There are more than 500 scarecrows dotted around the place and the display is on till the end of November for anyone passing through. Lots of fun and no commercialisation!
On Saturday I joined in the "panicking population" and the minute my son got a fever over 38 degrees my husband rushed him off to the hospital to be checked for swine flu. Although no one at their school is infected yet, the schools in the surrounding towns all seem to be closed as a precaution etc. Fortunately the test was negative and he was back and ready for action on Sunday. To be honest it would almost be a relief if they did get it and then we could stop worrying, but I just don't want to be the first in the school.... My husband took note of my comments in the past about Japanese medicine and when the doctor asked if he would like powder or tablets for my 6 year old son he quickly replied tablets (knowing how much I hate the powder). The only problem is that the powder actually tastes okay and the kids can take it by themselves. The tablets taste absolutely disgusting and the kids can't swallow them... So a trip to the convenience store to buy some lollies to practice swallowing with and some crushing them up with some jam resulted in a little success, but then the bag of tablets being conveniently lost.... next time I wonder if he will offer to take the kids to the doctor or not!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Holy cow!

It made me laugh when I read Megan and Heather's guess that the principal gave me sweet potatoes. The answer wasn't correct, but I would have been just as disappointed if I had been given a bag of sweet pototoes right now..... especially after today's activity. I decided that as next week's junior high school group has ALSO been postponed that I needed to dig up the rest of the sweet potatoes (sorry Keiko, I completely forgot that you wanted to help... maybe next year!). The first sweet potato I dug today turned out to be an absolute whopper! It isn't as big as the World's biggest sweet potato - that honor goes to a Lebanese farmer Khalil Semhat who grew an 11.3kg sweet potato in 2008, but it is pretty huge - 2.8kg. The smaller sweet potato in the photo is a fairly standard sized sweet potato....
In honor of the big sweet potato here is one of my latest recipes to try and get rid of some of the mountains that we have....
Sweet potato and apple cake
1. Mix together 100ml oil, 1 egg, 2 tablespoons milk, a little vanilla essence and 120g sugar. (I also add about 100ml of yoghurt...)
2. Cut one medium sweet potato and half an apple (NB - Japanese size, so probably one whole New Zealand apple!) into small cubes and coat lightly with flour.
3. Sift 200g flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder and 1 teaspoon salt into the oil/egg/milk mixture and mix.
4. Add the sweet potatoes and apples and mix again.
5. Put into a square cake tin lined with baking paper (relatively small) and bake for about 35 minutes at 180 degrees celcius.
6. Eat!

As for the quiz... still no correct answers. Final hint and final chance to be in to win... last week I gave away/sold 60 of the thing in question, but still had plenty for us....

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Hints and Hiking home

Until April 1992 all public Japanese primary and secondary school students had a 6 day school week. From April 1992 one Saturday a month become a holiday and in April 1995 two Saturdays a month became holidays. In April 2002 the 6 day week was completely abandoned and a 5 day week started. Recently there have been some murmurs about the need to bring back at least a partial 6 day week system as the teachers are finding it difficult to cover the whole curriculum in one year.
Today my children finished school at 1:40pm because the teachers were having a meeting. This happens reasonably regularly, and school always finishes at 2:30pm on Wednesdays here so the teachers can have their weekly meeting. I have absolutely no idea why they need so many meetings and why they can't do them after school finishes - having sat through a few of the meetings they seem fairly pointless and very repetitive. It would seem logical to me to cut out a few of these interruptions to the school day and actually do some TEACHING during those times rather than even think about bringing back school on Saturdays. I could go on for hours about how many other ways I think they could get more hours in the classroom, but I think I'll leave that for my first book!
Back on track.... because the children finished at 1:40pm today we decided to walk home from school - a mere 5.7 km or so. Fortunately my son decided he couldn't really be bothered doing it all so we drove about about 2km down the road and walked home from there. If it wasn't for all the really noisy trucks passing us and blowing out their horrible fumes on the way it would have been a really nice walk. We discovered a few new things, had some funny conversations and even sang some songs. For some reason my children are currently obsessed with Manhattan Transfer... if I have to hear "The boy from New York City" one more time I think I am going to go crazy - I completely blame my husband!

Thank you for attempting to guess the contents of the bag from the school principal. Still no correct guesses yet, but some funny ones all the same! The contents were not really very exciting, but have put me in a dilemma as to whether I tell her that I REALLY don't need the contents to prevent her giving them to me again (this happens to be the second time I have received them) or whether I continue on with my now very well perfected "smile and nod" routine and just keep accepting them. Hint..... I probably would have been very grateful for them a year ago. Size - in a normal plastic shopping bag - but not filling too much of it.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


On Monday I was doing some teaching at my children's school and when I arrived the principal took me aside and whispered that she would like to see me before I left. During my 2 classes I kept wondering what it was that she wanted to tell me in secret - it was very much a secret rendevous that she seemed to have in mind. Then after I had finished teaching and finished eating the school coffee-lady's lunch (she seemed to be away for the day) I approached the principal and said I was going home. She shuffled me into her office, shut the door, snuck over to her desk and produced a bag which she secretly handed to me and whispered that I should take it home. I was a little perplexed, but thanked her all the same. When I got to the car and out of sight of the school I opened the mystery bag.... and.... I challenge you to guess what was inside the mystery bag that was obviously not meant to be shown to anyone else in the school - a special gift just for me. I'll send a prize to the first person who can guess correctly - one way to get people to comment I guess!

Saturday, October 31, 2009


Like many countries Japanese businesses know a good thing when they see it and Halloween goods, foods etc. have really taken off in the last few years. The 100 yen shop is stacked full of costume items, decorations etc., the cake shops are full of Halloween themed cakes and the supermarkets have displays of food with Halloween themes. Today we got to take part in two different Halloween events. The first was a Halloween party complete with a trick or treating walk. It was run by a Canadian friend for his English school students and was a lot of fun. The community got involved by handing out the candy etc. and the kids all had a great time.
The second Halloween event for the day was at the flower shop where the children were able to make a Halloween flower arrangement for free if they were in costume. My son wasn't in costume but was given a cape and wig and managed to pose long enough for a photo before ripping it off. When we arrived there was a group of older women in wonderful costumes having a great time. They have no idea what Halloween is all about, but it didn't seem to be very important. Good to see people having a great time!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Time for communicating

SmileyCentral.comToday I went to a sports college to help a friend with her class by talking about the differences between Japan and New Zealand sports/exercise systems. Considering New Zealand has recently been quoted as being the third fattest nation I didn't really want to push too much of the success of the New Zealand efforts, but one thing I always do discuss is the Japanese club activities system and how little time it leaves for families to spend time together (I know I have written about this before...but it is one of my pet gripes). Anyway, to prove my point I asked the group to think about their time in junior high school and raise their hand if they spent at least half a day a week with their family doing something together (not something special, just being in the same room and talking etc.). Not one person in the class raised their hand. Okay, then how about every 2nd week.... again not one hand. Right how about once a month - surely you spent time with family members at least once a month... not one hand! The stakes were raised to 6 months and three out of the 20 students raised their hand. Once a year... we were up to 10 people. Finally, once in the three years of junior high school.. still only 10 people. Just to make sure they weren't just too lazy to raise their hands I asked how many people in the room had NOT spent ONE day (or half day) doing SOMETHING with their family during their THREE years at junior high school. The result - 10 hands were raised. To be honest I found that a bit scary, especially as they didn't seem to think there was anything wrong with that..... here's hoping that if that did happen to happen with my children that they would at least feel a little sad about it!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


When you give some money and get some food in return does it mean that you are "shopping"? If so then yesterday my goal of not doing any food shopping for two weeks has already been broken. However in this case we didn't choose what food we were given and given the choice we wouldn't have bought what we were given - so I am thinking that perhaps it wasn't really shopping at all.
What it was was my husband going to a wake and then a funeral for the father of one of his co-workers. For those who don't know, Japan has this wonderful way of keeping the economy going by giving gifts to anyone who goes anywhere - including funerals! Of course in order to get these gifts you have to put some money in a pretty envelope and present it to the family. This time we got a packet of dried shitake mushrooms at the wake and some green tea and pretty envelopes to put more money in at the funeral. Not what I would have chosen, but I guess they will come in useful during our no-shopping fortnight.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Piano concert - again!

I am pretty sure that I never got around to uploading last year's piano concert videos, so I am determined to use this rainy day to at least do this year's videos before they get lost in the bag of video tapes with no labels. The concert was on Saturday and there were only 10 children in it so it was nice and fast and we had a great support team there to see the kids play - thanks Megan, Nathan and Yukari for coming along. The kids were really proud to have you there!
Anyway for anyone interested here are this year's videos....

Sunday, October 25, 2009

2 Week Challenge

It is raining! I know most people don't get very excited about this, but we have had so little rain lately that the garden is starting to crack and planting anything without putting the sprinkler on full time has been basically impossible. Of course my husband's family are not so excited about the rain as they are in the middle of rice harvesting (hopefully a blog about that a little later on...), but I am more than impressed. I'm hoping it will continue all night and till about lunch time tomorrow so the garden gets a real watering and I get to stay inside tomorrow morning. I have spent most of my free time lately trying to get the vegetable garden under control and so far it seems to be working. If it does stop raining tomorrow I might even get around to taking a few photos.
Now that the garden is starting to produce well I am going to challenge our family to two weeks of no food shopping. Well we will "allow" ourselves to buy milk, flour, butter and bananas, but apart from that I think we can probably use this chance to clean out the fridge, freezer and cupboards. I haven't done a proper shop for quite a long time, so there is not an excess of meat etc. in the house, but I'm sure we can survive on what we have quite easily - we don't usually eat very much anyway. I find it really rewarding to be able to sit down to meals and think that basically all the things on the table were grown by me. The kids are pretty sick of me telling them about when I picked each vegetable, but are good at praising me and my son even takes a token mouthful of each vegetable to show his appreciation.
At the moment the garden is producing lots of spinach, silverbeet, radishes, cucumbers, mini tomatoes, mixed lettuce, green beans, basil, etc. and there are plenty of butternut pumpkins, potatoes, garlic and of course sweet potatoes in storage. Add our eggs to the mix and there is not too much that we are missing. We usually make all our own bread, yoghurt, cereal and most of the kids "snacks" etc. so hopefully it shouldn't be too hard to go for 2 weeks without going shopping. I would probably extend the challenge for longer, but there are junior high school students due to come in 2 weeks time....

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Perfect Timing

We had a group of 5 strong boys due to arrive on Thursday for 3 days. We start rice harvesting tomorrow. We have zillions of sweet potatoes that desperately need digging up. We have a space in the garden which needs to be dug over, bamboo cut and made into supports and peas planted to grow up the supports. It is absolutely perfect timing for a group of 5 strong boys to be coming. The only problem is... the trip has been cancelled due to a swine flu breakout at their school. Bugger!
You may remember that in May and June I got students to plant lots of kumara (sweet potatoes) for lack of anything else to plant at that time of the year. In theory the part of the garden that most of them were planted in is less than ideal for sweet potatoes. Most books you read about sweet potatoes say that they require very sandy soil, with very good drainage. The area that I planted them in is a former rice field (ie NO drainage and very muddy soil) and it was partially filled with water for most of the rice growing season. I presumed most of them would rot and those that didn't would be so small they wouldn't be worth harvesting. The excessive leaf growth also made me think that all the energy was going into leaf growth rather than the actual sweet potatoes. HOWEVER... when I started to dig them up today I found the opposite was true. They are HUGE! And there are zillions of them. I'm guessing that they are actually too big to be very tasty, but the ones we had roasted tonight with our roast chicken were pretty delicious. I will try to take a photo of the ones I have dug so far tomorrow.... and then I guess I should get on with digging the rest of them, before looking up sweet potato recipes to use every day for the next 3 years!