Thursday, April 30, 2009

Festival Preparations

Every year on May 3rd and 4th my town has an "Orchid festival" - the main events at the festival are a half marathon and a pig rodeo..... there is a small display of orchids, which hardly justifies naming the entire festival after them, but this is Japan and you wouldn't want to change the name of a festival just because it is no longer appropriate! Anyway, at this festival there are always the same groups who always sell the same food etc. I usually have to help out with the Green Tourism group and today we started our preparations by cutting up zillions of bamboo shoots, carrots and shitake mushrooms (and the end of my finger...) and boiling them all up so they are ready to mix with rice and sell at festival. As much as I'd love to suggest something new and exciting, it is sometimes simpler to continue to nod and bow and do the same thing year after year. Maybe next year I'll be brave and suggest something a little more exciting!
After coming home from that exciting morning I retreated to the far side of the house to avoid having to watch my asparagus and strawberries being trampled, big poles thrown on them and generally being destroyed. I really hate feeling the way that I am feeling right now (I know I am out of line), but... my parents-in-law have taken it into their heads that we have to have a roof over the chicken house (I agree) and that it has to be done right now - and to their plans. Great - I should be feeling really grateful as it is something neither my husband nor I have the time or skills to do ourselves. The problem is that no matter how many times I ask them to consult us before actually doing things they seem to think they have to do it all themselves and therefore our ideas don't actually count. The main problem with this is that they are OUR chickens on OUR land at OUR house and it is US that has to look after them and therefore we have some ideas as to how we could make the best house for them etc. And then of course there is the issue of not caring about MY garden that I have spent years developing and that is now just being stood all over when there is no real need to do so!
Good to get that off my chest... not that it has solved the problem, but it is good to moan to someone other than my husband for a change! Thanks for reading all the way to the bottom of my moan for today... honestly I know I am out of line so I don't need anyone bashing me for it.... tomorrow will dawn bright and sunny and I will be feeling happy again - I'll even post pictures to prove it! Until then coffee and chocolate should be enough to brighten my evening!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Garden Helpers

For the last few weeks my mother in law has been driving me crazy - by "helping" at our house. For anyone who doesn't know I don't live with my Japanese parents-in-law, but they do live about a one minute walk up the road. Anyway, this year we have decided that we are going to completely rip up our lawn and replant it therefore there is no need to spend days on end pulling out the zillions of weeds from it. I told this to my mother-in-law, but she has spent the last week or so taking all the weeds out... of course the parts she did last week are now completed covered in weeds again, but at least she feels that she has done her bit. Every time I tell her not to bother she always comes up with the "but the children's teachers will be coming for their annual visit soon". I don't think she realises that the teachers are on a tight schedule and that they don't even open their eyes as they walk to the door - let alone care if there are weeds in the grass! Anyway, if she really feels that she has to do it then I shouldn't complain - perhaps I'll even rub something yuck onto the windows so she feels obliged to clean those too!
Speaking of grass - we got our new lawnmower today. After years of using the stupid electric one that broke really easily as it was designed for small Japanese home gardens, not our large, rough one, we decided to go for a push mower - with no motor. It is wonderful! I love the sound it makes and the kids are able to use it without me worrying about them chopping off half their limbs when the electrical one takes on a life of its own. Here's hoping their enthusiasm continues when the lawn really does need mowing!
Our other garden helpers are back in full force at the moment - the frogs. They are appearing everywhere and helping to keep the bugs at bay. This little fellow is my washing friend. He sits on the washing line all day and even came inside with the washing last night. I had to ask my husband to politely show him the door after I almost stood on him and jumped in fright while I was putting the washing basket away!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

School Outing

Now that my husband takes both the children to school on his way to work my mornings are very relaxed. I am not a typical Japanese housewife who makes everyone's breakfast - it is very much a free for all here where everyone gets what they want for themselves. I am also not a typical Japanese housewife who makes her husband lunch every day - he buys it at work. Therefore mornings generally involve me getting up last and making sure everyone has eaten, washed faces, brushed teeth, practiced the piano and then shove them out the door. Of course once they are gone I don't sit around in my pajamas all day and am generally in the garden by 8:30am - but till then it is pretty lazy.
This morning I did have to get up a bit earlier than usual though as the kids had their school outing and therefore needed packed lunches. They were catching the train from close to their school to the next station (a total of 4 minutes) and then walking up the hill to the park where it sounds like they will be sliding down the grass banks on chicken feed bags before coming home again on the 4 minute train. Back to the lunches... in New Zealand you throw a sandwich, a piece of fruit, a muesli bar and perhaps some yogurt in a bag and you are done. If only it was so simple in Japan! It wouldn't be so bad if my son would actually eat some vegetables (he eats them all at school).. Notice the one tiny stick of broccoli and the cucumber hidden amongst the other things to give it a bit of colour. Oh well, I guess I shouldn't complain - they only need lunches about 4 times a year. Perhaps I should put in a little more effort next time....

Saturday, April 25, 2009

PTA observation class

Yesterday was the first PTA afternoon for the year. It is always the same... first you go and observe the class doing their normal lessons, next you go to the gymnasium and listen to reports from the PTA committee etc. where you clap in the correct places to show your approval (no one has ever disapproved in the history of PTAs here) and then you shuffle back to your child's classroom for a meeting with the other parents and teachers about how things are going in the class. Now that I have two children in the same school the shuffling is increased between the two classes, but the information is basically the same in both. The teacher asks if anyone has any questions etc. and despite everyone having moaned about things while they should have been listening to the meeting in the gym they all smile and say "no" - well actually they don't even say no, they just look at their shoes. Then of course the "foreign" Mum asks some questions which are answered with suckings of air and tilts of the head and nothing really changes.
My son's new class was.... an absolute disaster, but I am kind of used to that with first grade classes here. It always seems to take a few months to whip the kids into action - one of the goals of the teacher was to "stop the children getting up and wandering randomly around the room during the lessons". Here's hoping she can get that one sorted pretty fast! My biggest worry is that even though the desks and chairs here are adjustable, they never bother to adjust them according to the children's height. As most of you know both my children are tall (to put it mildly) and therefore the smallest size that they start the desks at just doesn't work! I asked the teacher very nicely if she could do it as soon as possible - pointing out my husband's incredibly bent back (apparently the result of having desks that didn't suit at school... he is 190cm tall) and she promised to have the desks adjusted on Monday. I remember doing the same with my daughter in first and second grade too.... perhaps things just don't sink in here!
My daughter's class was very refreshing in some ways - at least the children could sit still for most of the lesson - even if their responses etc. were controlled so much that they could probably be replaced with robots. I guess parents are critical all around the world, but sometimes having a completely different education system to compare things too makes the grass on the other side look very green!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Money for nothing?

For those of you living in Japan this is old news, but for those of you in other countries you might be interested to know that the Japanese government is currently trying to help the poor economy along by giving cash handouts to every single person living in Japan..... that's right - cash handouts to every person in Japan (current population of about 127 million people). All you had to do was apply and the money was transferred into your bank account. Children and elderly people were given 20,000 yen (NZ$350) each and everyone else was given 12,000 yen ($NZ210) each. Every child who started school this year was also given a bonus 36,000 yen ($630). The government is saying that this will jump start the economy as people will then go out and spend it. The reality is that it is an election year next year and most people are putting the money into savings.
I am not really complaining, but I am wondering who is really going to end up paying for this big handout. I'm guessing our children in years to come when the governmental debts get so high that taxes will need to be increased greatly to cover it.
Another great scheme of the government to help the economy is that they have introduced "travel as far as you like for 1,000 yen on the highways in the weekends if you have the ETC machine in your car". At first I thought this was a good thing until someone reminded me that the world is currently battling to reduce CO2 emissions and therefore encouraging everyone to travel long distances every weekend isn't going to help that cause very much. I guess there are always positives and negatives to everything, but I think in both these cases the government here has only looked at the short term solution rather than the follow on effect. Perhaps I should go into politics... or perhaps I should just show my appreciation for our handout by going out for dinner with the kids tomorrow night. My husband has another meeting... always a good excuse for some revolving sushi courtesy of the government!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Thinking of a third... not!

Recently a few of my friends have been having babies or are about to have babies and on VERY rare occasions I think it might be nice to have a third baby. And then I see them during their two year old stages and am reminded that two children who are now at school are more than enough for me! Tonight's guests are proving to be good birth control for me. They are a lovely mother, grandmother and a 2 and a half year old boy and a 7 month old girl. The boy is wonderful in that he is interested in everything, but if I had to count how many times he has said "what's this" since they arrived this afternoon I would need more than 20 hands and 20 feet! Despite this we have been having a nice time and fortunately there are plenty of vegetables in the garden to get them picking for meals and of course the chickens are wonderful entertainment too. Although none of the summer vegetables are ready yet we managed to pick lots of peas, many kinds of lettuce, radishes, carrots, asparagus, broccoli, spinach, onions and of course bunches of herbs. It makes providing meals pretty cheap and they definately seem to be able to appreciate the difference between eating vegetables that have been picked 30 minutes earlier and those that have been sitting in the supermarket for days.
Thank you for all your nice comments about our wood shed. I worked solidly for 4 and a half hours yesterday and put all the wood that is already cut in its new home. Unfortunately I was too tired to take a photo afterwards.... maybe tomorrow after our "what's this" boy leaves.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Finished product

Miraculously it looks like we might have finished our new wood shed today - complete with paint! Even more miraculously it looks like one of the three sections of our new wood shed is going to be not only a place for the kids to park their bikes, but also a place for me to park my vegetables like potatoes, pumpkins, and hang my onions. I bypassed my husband and consulted his uncle when he arrived to help this morning as I know he is more open to new ideas than my husband. Before I blinked he had built a couple of shelves and a rail to hang the onions. Now all we need to do is shift all the wood into the shed.... I think that will take longer to do than the actual building did!
In other news... we were given two swarms of bees from a friend last week and although one hive is still humming the first bees decided they either didn't like their new box or their new location and have taken off - leaving just the very start of their honey comb and no honey. Apparently their is a big shortage of bees in Japan at the moment so I hope we can at least keep one hive going to help restore the balance of nature - and pollinate my veges at the same time!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Christmas come early?

On Thursday the children thought that Christmas had come early. It was the annual pilgrimage around the neighbourhood to pray and receive sustenance in return. In Japan this is called "Osettai" and it originates from when in the past the pilgrims used to walk very long distances and were given offerings of food along the way. In our tiny community there are only 4 houses each year that do it and so the walk around them is not so much of a pilgrimage as a short saunter, and the bag of goodies is usually pretty small. However, this year when I went to pick up the children from school I discovered that the area around the school was also being kind to pilgrims so we took a few detours and filled up our bags a little more. Because my husband is currently in charge of the "old peoples' welfare" division at the city office he is well known to all the people in the area and therefore we got extra snacks for him too. The first picture is of just the snacks that I received..... The second photo is of the children sorting their snacks into different categories. I have no idea why they felt the need to do so, but it filled in 20 minutes or so and meant they had very little time to actually eat any of them before tea. We are set for snacks for the next few weeks!

Monday, April 13, 2009

The baby leaves the nest

Today was my son's entrance ceremony at school. Fortunately it only lasted for 30 minutes (which consisted of boring speeches... how unusual in Japan) then it was time to collect all the textbooks (for anyone who doesn't know they have textbooks for everything here - even P.E. and Art) and go home! It is amazing how different it is with the second child as opposed to the first - both for me and for the children. I'm not sure who is more excited about my son starting school - my son or older daughter. She has been telling him all the details of what is done every day and he has been listening carefully and taking notes, hoping to get a jump on some of the other students. There are 10 children in his class - the other 9 are all from one different kindergarten and therefore know each other well. My son doesn't seem to be worried by this though and is already starting to make friends.
Tomorrow is his first full day at school - I'll pick him up exhausted at 4pm - no half days to start with here. As I have been taking him to kindergarten every day for the last few years I am looking forward to farewelling them both at the door tomorrow morning when my husband takes them on the way to work. I plan to be in my dressing gown then settle down with a cup of coffee and a book for the entire morning. I wish anyway! Actually I have to go back to my son's old kindy and do a speech at the entrance ceremony there (almost last duty as the stupid chairperson) then go to a meeting all afternoon. Perhaps Wednesday I can do the dressing gown thing! But for now I need to go and think about what I will say to the kindy parents tomorrow....

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Progress report

Despite the children making very detailed rules last night about what time they could start their egg hunt (7am, if Easter Bunny was organised enough), what state of dress they had to be in, whether they needed to have eaten breakfast etc. they were awake by 5:45am and ready to race. Fortunately they waited till 7am to pester me to get up. Last year we were in New Zealand for Easter and my mother had the great idea of making a treasure hunt for the eggs so of course the expectation from the children was pretty high again this year. I managed to make 9 clues and put them in the correct places, correct order etc. and the kids had a great time. They are already counting down till next year.... The only sad point of the day was that my son was a bit grumpy with Easter Bunny. He had written him a letter and asked where he lived and my mother (I mean Easter Bunny) had replied that "I have to keep the place I live in a secret in case bad people come and steal some of the eggs before Easter." This did not impress my son and he spent the whole day stomping around saying that he was not a bad person and would never tell anyone where the Bunny lives, so why didn't he tell him. I told him perhaps next year he would get a more satisfactory answer.....
After the early start we made some progress on the wood shed - well actually I made more progress in the vegetable garden, but my husband and his uncle made some good progress. It is looking a lot bigger than I had imagined and we may be able to use part of it to store the kids bikes. Either that or put a fireplace in every room in the house to use up all the wood that could be stored in it!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Back to "normal"

We said farewell to our guests this morning after a day at the beach and running around trying to get hospital reports. I then took advantage of the beautiful weather to get a bit more work done in our vegetable garden. For anyone who is new to my blog, I have a pretty big vegetable garden which I promise myself I will try to keep under control every year, but which usually ends up looking more like a weed pile than a luscious vegetable garden. However this year things are much more under control than usual and I have less than half a row to weed tomorrow before I can basically call it a weed free garden... until next week anyway! Click on the photo to get a better view.
The children decided the great weather was a wonderful excuse to play baseball... in their swimming togs.... with their goggles on..... The reason why they needed this attire? - because the "ball" they were using was a bottle filled with water. Fortunately they didn't throw the bottle, only the water in it... not many home runs though!
Other exciting happenings today - my husband asked his father to help with concreting the floor of our new wood shed this morning - without me prompting! I think my rant at him last week may have paid off. Hopefully tomorrow the actually building part of it will progress further. Other news - my friend called and told us she had caught a swarm of bees for us so we just put them in their new home... unfortunately "the Easter bunny" was just coming in from delivering his eggs when she was given the command to come and help and didn't bother putting on gloves or a long sleeve top. I (I mean Easter bunny) am now getting fidgety thinking there are lost bees flitting inside my top - despite having taken it off two times to examine it! Here's hoping the bees stay in the new hive this year. They all ran away last year...

Friday, April 10, 2009


We are having amazing spring weather right now and it is doing its job to keep genuine smiles on our faces.
Yesterday we took off to the park for an hour or so, just to let my son have a good run around. A nice break in the sunshine! Note the beautiful blue sky.....

By the way, I deleted the last entry and edited this one for reasons which only I and perhaps those that read the last entry can imagine.

Monday, April 06, 2009


I think I have a serious problem when it comes to seeds. I love seeds... and can't seem to throw old packets of seeds away despite the fact that their shelf life is well and truly passed and therefore the chances of them germinating are practically zero (even if I do store them in a cool, dark place as opposed to in a tin in the hot greenhouse like someone else I know... mother!). So every year I try to use up all my seeds from the previous ten years by planting pots and pots of seeds in our (fortunately) very big greenhouse. This year is no exception and the children have been helping lots by filling lots of pots with soil. The biggest problem is that they then need watering every day and the closest tap is a little walk away and the hose doesn't reach. So when it was raining the other day I walked passed the garage that has a drain spout that was a bit broken and decided to use it to collect water from the roof for watering the seeds. Miraculously my invention (which took 2 minutes to build) seems to be working and as long as we get some more rain soon I may not have to walk so far for water over the next few weeks when I need to water my zillions of pots of seeds that are not likely to germinate anyway!
Our other big job for the weekend was to build a wood shed for our mounting wood pile. Until now we have just been covering it with plastic etc. and to be honest I have never had a problem with it, but apparently the time has come to make a proper shed for it. My image of a wood shed is a few posts which hold up a roof and maybe a couple of walls on the side. My father-in-law used to do concreting for a job and uncle-in-law (is that a word?) is a builder so by using their help it should be a simple thing to build a shed..... only my husband is too stubborn to ask my father-in-law to help and my father-in-law is too stubborn to offer his help so things move a little more slowly than they should. Of course no one else seems to have my "build things in 2 minutes" mentality either so everything has to be measured exactly, leveled exactly etc. (brings back visions of the chicken house). As a result we now have concrete blocks in place... after a whole day's work...... need I say more!
Tomorrow we have a repeat visitor coming... unfortunately not in the best circumstances. The mother that stayed the other night has been hospitalized with food poisoning (fortunately not from here!) and the daughter is being looked after by another family, but will come to us from tomorrow until the mother is well enough to get out of hospital... perhaps until Sunday. Not a great way to spend their first trip to Japan!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Spring at Harmony Land

For anyone who doesn't know (shame on you!) Harmony land is the home of the famous Japanese character "Hello Kitty". It is about a 20 minute drive from our house and yesterday we had the pleasure (??) of going yet again - this time with our latest guests. They were a mother and 11 year old daughter from Canada and were with crazy biking Joe as part of a "car tour". It was nice to meet them and show them some of the "cute" side of Japan... although there are only so many times I can get excited about looking at Kitty! (and paying the entrance fee...) On the bright side it was the first time I have been there in spring and they had done a great job of bringing in cherry blossom trees (the ones in the picture are potted) and had violas and pansies everywhere (again often potted...). Tulips were in full bloom too so if you could stop the spinning feeling from the teacups (the little boy who also joined us was sure they were coffee cups) for long enough they made the visit bearable. Of course the kids had a great time - their one real treat in the spring holidays!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


Anybody who knows me well knows that I will never win any awards for being the most enthusiastic cleaner in the world. If I have done some cleaning (and by this I usually stop at vacuuming...) while the children are away they always come home and say "who is coming?" or "who came to visit today?". So although I love having visitors I don't really enjoy cleaning the house in preparation for their arrival. However this week I seem to be on a bit of a roll. We had two sets of friends come to play on Monday, followed by guests last night and there are more guests arriving tomorrow. The cottage has been cleaned twice in the last two days and the house is still reasonably tidy and even a few windows have been cleaned. I hope the kids (and my husband) don't get used to it to much!
Last night's guests were a family from kindergarten. The older daughter had planned to come with a couple of friends, but when they pulled out the family decided to come instead. It was fun for the children to have children to play with and I spent most of my time chatting with the mother and her older daughter - if you could call it chatting! The mother is very worried about how shy the daughter is... so I spent a lot of time trying to get her to communicate. As is often the case the biggest problem was the mother who would answer every question I asked directly to the daughter etc. I guess one day the daughter will rebel and become her own person... when is the question! The younger daughter is exactly one year younger than my son - another reminder of how tall my children are!
More guests tomorrow followed by a trip to see Kitty on Friday - can hardly wait!