Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Final day of 30 day challenge

At the start of this month I set myself 4 goals. I think I have probably succeeded with two of them....
1. 1 blog entry every day - I did it and it was much easier than I thought. Hopefully I can keep up with more day to day happenings here from now on.
2. 30 minutes exercise every day - oops! Started very well, but things like strained calf muscles, lots of holidays for the kids etc. got in the way a little!
3. 30 minutes housework every day - nope! I tried, but there is just so much to do outside right now that the house gets neglected..... I did it on the first and last day of the month though!
4. 30 minutes of "me" time every day - probably the majority of days this was achieved - and the days when it wasn't were made up for by longer periods other days.

One thing I am very hopeless at is answering people's comments on my blogs. I read them avidly and reply in my head, but often never get around to answering on the blog itself. For this I apologise! Another reason is that I often forget when I comment on other people's blogs to actually go back and see if they have replied to my comment.... a pathetic excuse really! Anyway, as the final blog for this month here are a few answers to some of the questions and a few updates - I bet you can't even remember what you wrote! Of course there were many more.... maybe that should be my challenge for next month!

thefukases: The only reason I have strawberries to make jam at this time of the year is because I freeze them.... cheating perhaps, but easier than making 20kg or so of jam at one time!
I think we must have the same pants from uniqlo! I bought a few pairs out of excitement when I discovered them a few years ago.... I'll check out the other stores you mentioned too.

Mickey: I agree about the LLBean japan fit clothes. I don't buy clothes from them anymore because they started making all the sizes too small!

Solar Panel update: our last electricity bill came through and instead of paying for electricity we ended up getting paid 1,800 yen. It was a very sunny month! Vicky - I know that the direction of the house really makes a HUGE difference in the electricity you can produce, but I don't know how the snow would affect the panels. We get a couple of mild snowfalls a year, but probably not enough to cause any damage. It is amazing to see how quickly the electricity production reduces even when small clouds roll in, so I am guessing that if they are covered in snow they are not going to be producing much! In terms of payment for the panels - we are paying them off over 10 years at a fixed rate, but at this stage our previous electricity bills and the loan payments are about the same so in theory in 10 years the system should have paid for itself... in theory! I mentioned the vacuum cleaner before, but I have also discovered that the iron and the coffee maker also use about 2 times the entire houses' energy when they are on. Another reason not to do the ironing!

Masaki's arm update: seems to be okay - he uses it all the time and says it only slightly hurts... final x-ray tomorrow.

Fish eggs: never hatched making me think we either have all females or the males are not quite developed enough to be of any use yet.

The big flowers in the photo are called "yugao" 夕顔 in Japanese

My leg: I am walking on it, but still "pulls" a bit with each step. Feet up whenever I can!

Rice pudding: definitely best made from scratch, but when time is limited cooked rice works for me!

Spider: I swatted with the fly swat.... I have no idea what kind it is I just know it is big!

Sports Day: sorry for the confusion... yes it is 3 down in total with 5 more years to go! 8 in one year would be just a little too much for me!!!

Thank you to all those who commented over the last month - especially those who introduced themselves for the first time. I look forward to hearing from you AND replying to you all more regularly in October!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Museum Visit

The children had yet another day off school today in lieu of going to school on Saturday to prepare for the sports day (don't even get me started on this!) so we headed off on the train to Kitakyushu to go to what turned out to be a great museum. To be honest I am not really a museum kind of person, but this "Museum of Natural history and Human history" was well worth the trip. Great exhibits and enough for the kids to "touch" to make it easy to spend a few hours wandering around. Of course the kids best memory was probably the donuts on the train on the way home, but I personally loved the "dinosaur show" complete with lightening and a volcanic eruption. Definitely a place to go back to in the near future.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Demon's pants

According to "blogger" this is officially my 500th post on this blog, so I thought I would really let rip with a great post and possibly start the wheels in motion for divorce proceedings in the process. Mike commented that perhaps "demon pants" needed a little more explaining. It is actually far less exciting as it sounds. Basically someone decided to make some huge pants and at the sports day they are used to join people literally at the hip while they are running. One person gets in one leg hole and the other person gets in the other one and they run.... pretty harmless fun... or so we thought! My husband had to get into these "demon pants" twice during the course of the day and they seem to have rubbed some of their demon power off on him.
This morning the children and I (the kids have the day off in lieu of sports day yesterday) were surprised when we heard Tom's car pull up at 9:30am when he should have been hard at work at the town office. A quick race to the bedroom and we discovered that the reason for his early trip home was his trousers.... Somehow he had managed to bend down to pick up some keys (with his boss behind him) and, somewhat like my leg, heard and felt a big RRRRRRIIIIIIIIPPPPPPPPP. That's right - the demon powers that be meant he completely split his trousers and he had to ask special permission to come home and change. Perhaps the demon really does work in mysterious ways!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sports day... yet again!

3 down and only 5 more primary school sports days to go! The more you go to them the more you discover that it is not just a coincidence that the events were the same as last year...... they actually never change! The first time I went I was actually quite interested and excited, the second time, less interested, but more involved in the "helping out" side of things and the third time.... I was very much on the sidelines! I did get up at 5:30am and made a pretty good lunch, but apart from that I watched and took photos. Aunty Megan arrived after lunch and although she wasn't in time to get in the "demon's pants" with Tom she did arrive in time to participate in the bean bag throw and the "drink the horrible green drink, run across a beam, jump over a box, and then pick a card and do something silly like walk on stilts, blow up a balloon and pop it by sitting on it etc." Her fate was actually quite boring - balance a beach ball on a badminton racket and run with it. Thanks for taking my place Meg!
It was fun to watch the kids participate, but it is nice to know it is only once a year! It is also nice to know that talks are very slowly starting regarding turning the horrible dirt ground into grass... the clouds of dust that blow up with the wind and the grazes the kids (and adults) get from slipping on the ground are just a too much for me to deal with each year!

Saturday, September 26, 2009


I know that lots of other people have been mentioning the rather large spiders that are around Japan during this season, but I thought I would add to the entertainment by introducing you to a little friend that it took me two days to catch. The other night I discovered a rather large spider on the toilet door. My husband was here so I conveniently turned into a feeble female and got him to deal with it. Then yesterday my son found another rather large spider in the cereal cupboard. Unfortunately by the time I hobbled there it had disappeared. Tonight it reappeared and as my husband was conveniently out I had to deal with it... not something I particularly enjoy, but as these spiders are about the same size as your spread-out hand you really don't want them hanging around inside the house as you start having nightmares every time you feel the slightest movement while you are sleeping.... Two rather large spiders down, hopefully no more to go!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Comfort food

Thank you for all your "get well" messages, phone calls and offers of help. My leg didn't particularly enjoy doing the "hokey pokey" at my kindergarten English class this morning, but a bit of ice and it seems to be semi-okay right now. I am not patient enough to use the crutches they gave me so am slowly walking on it and hopefully I will be back in full action soon.....
Tonight my husband is at a work party so I got to have my favorite tea for when I am not feeling 100%. Rice pudding! Most Japanese people just can't believe that I would eat this stuff, but as an instant tummy filler I really love it. For anyone who feels like a change - just put some cooked rice (cold is fine) in a bowl, add lots of milk, brown sugar, sultanas or raisins and cinnamon and zap it in the microwave until it is almost boiling. Of course you can add some different dried fruits if you want, but raisins are my favorite! Instant comfort food!

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Today I managed to do something extremely stupid. I tore my calf muscle... it went "pop".... I guess I should be grateful that it wasn't my Achilles tendon, but right now I don't feel very grateful at all! The hospital put it in a half cast, gave me some crutches and told me not to walk on it for at least a week. The pain that rockets up my leg when I do put any weight on it at the moment is ensuring that for the moment anyway I don't try to walk on it. But the hopping and crawling is already taking its toll on my other leg and I'm hoping it is going to heal sooner rather than later. Judging by the huge bag of pain killers etc. they gave me for 2 weeks it may not be as fast a recovery as I would like. I guess the one bright side to it all is that I won't be doing any running in the sports day on Sunday!
So, how did I do it? I would love to say that it was during my intensive 30 minute workout that I have been doing diligently every day this month, but to tell the truth I haven't managed to do any exercise for over a week. I did it by... walking across the lawn in the exact same way I do zillions of times every day. It had been a bit sore from the morning, but then it just went pop! Here's hoping the other one doesn't decide to do the same thing in the very near future.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Children's cafe

Today we went to an amazing cafe. What was amazing about it was that it was run by children aged between 4 and 7 years old. Of course there was lots of adult support, but in general the children were responsible for taking the orders, putting together the orders, delivering the food etc. and they all did an amazing job. This is the first year that this cafe has been run in Oita and it looks like it was a huge success. No one will make a monetary profit though, in fact chances are there will be a financial loss at the end of it. All the participants were volunteers and most of the produce etc. was donated. The big profit made out of this cafe will hopefully be a change in the attitude towards restaurants in the children who participated.
The cafe concept was started by a mother who was refused entry into a number of restaurants because she had children with her. After observing the behavior of children in Japanese restaurants I don't blame the owners of "nice" restaurants for doing this. In general it is often hard to remember you are actually in a restaurant and not in a zoo. Her idea was that if she could show the children what is involved in preparing food, presenting food and delivering food to customers they would be more respectful and really enjoy restaurant experiences rather than thinking of them simply as a place to eat. Their attitudes will hopefully then rub off on their friends etc. and restaurant owners will then allow children back into their restaurants - allowing families to eat at really nice restaurants, rather than just "family restaurants". Last year the cafe was run in Fukuoka and it appears it was a great success there too. Some of the children even started running their own "cafes" in their own houses and inviting friends etc. to come. Remember the participants are all only 4-7 years old!
It is a wonderful concept that will hopefully gain more and more support and become not just a one off "5 day cafe", but an annual event.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Today we got to do something that we very rarely get to do - we got to spend the day with my children's half sisters. My husband has two children from a previous marriage and although they live only about an hour drive away from here we very rarely get to see them - not for lack of trying! My parents are also divorced and every time we do get to see these girls it makes me feel so grateful for the way my parents dealt with their divorce - in front of us anyway. In Japan when someone gets divorced it is standard that all ties are cut between the children and the parent who the children are not living with. It is almost as if they no longer exist and everyone is supposed to go on as if there never was any connection at all. I find this so unfair. The children never did anything bad, yet they are being deprived of one of their parents.
In my own case, my parents were divorced when I was only about 2 and a half years old and every summer, winter and spring holidays my brother and I would get on an airplane and go and stay with my father and his new family. I know that financially this was not a very easy thing to make happen every holidays. I also know that it must have been incredibly difficult for my step-mother and my sisters from that marriage to have us "invading" them for so long every holidays. I'm sure it was difficult on my mother having no actual "holiday" time with us. Despite all these obstacles the effort was still made every year and although there must have been many arguments between all parties involved the thing I am most grateful for is that I never ever heard them or felt that I was imposing on anyone. It is only now that I am an "adult" that I can fully appreciate the sacrifices everyone made to allow my brother and I to maintain a relationship with our father. It is only now that I hear stories that make me realise that it wasn't all "happy families". Perhaps I just managed to block out any negative side of things, but my memories of "divorced families" were all good. Because of this it makes me particularly sad that we can't have more contact with my children's sisters. They are now in senior and junior high school and therefore are able to make more decisions by themselves so we are hoping they will come to visit more often. The door is definitely wide open!
Mum, Dad - thank you so much for never saying a bad word about each other in our hearing and for putting your children's needs ahead of your own. The sacrifices you both made for us were incredible and I am only really fully starting to appreciate them now.
Dawn - every time the girls come to visit I think of you the most. It must have been so difficult to allow 2 children into your house every holidays yet you did so without showing any negativity towards us and as I have no memories of anytime before you were around you have always been my "other mother". We don't communicate anywhere enough lately but you are often in my thoughts. Thank you for being unselfish enough to allow us to not only have a great relationship with Dad, but also with you too.
Fiona, Beth and Megan - thank you also for letting us be part of your lives. Again, it can't have been easy to have "big brother and big sister" invade you every holidays and turn your nice quiet house upside down, but you never complained (in our earshot!) for which I am very grateful.
Mike - sorry I have used the "we" a bit here.... you can correct me if necessary!
Of course there are many other people who have made it possible for me to have a great relationship with my "two families" and I thank you all... if not by name here!
Enough reflecting - today was a really nice, quiet day with our "extended" family. I'm really hoping that one day my husband's girls can feel as comfortable coming here as I did going to my second home. I guess time will tell.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Early start for some

Every since one guest asked to have breakfast at 5:15am I have dreaded asking guests what time they want to have breakfast. Last night's guests made life very easy for me though and asked to have breakfast at 10am - after climbing the mountain behind our house. Not only did they want a nice late breakfast, but they were also more than happy to take my children up the mountain with them. It was difficult to take their money after that! In the end they ended up eating breakfast at about 11am... by which time I had made two different kinds of muffins to go with the bread etc. I guess there are advantages to all to have late starts!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

In a rut?

We are in the middle of "silver week" here. It is a 5 day holiday period named because it has the "respect for the aged day" sandwiched in the middle. We had people wanting to book for basically every day of the holiday period, but I decided to only take one group so we could actually have a bit of a holiday ourselves. Tonight's group is a really interesting mix. The lady who organised it owns a small English school in Beppu and is married to a Canadian man. She brought her Mum and 3 of her students with her. One of the students happens to be a school principal who I taught with when I first arrived in Japan. It really is a small world....
Anyway, they are a really nice group and have been really enthusiastic all afternoon and evening. We did some baking, talking and of course lots of eating! It is the eating part that I am referring to in my title when I wonder if I am in a rut or not... tonight we had: lasagna, herbed focaccia bread, pesto, salad, Palms fish (fish and egg dish... worth putting the recipe up when my eyes are open wider) and baked eggplant, followed by raspberry and baileys cheesecake and fudge slice..... again! For guests this menu seems to be a big hit. I agree it tastes pretty good. The problem is that my family also has to eat the meals with the guests and having the kids say "lasagna again" quite loudly when you put it on the table isn't exactly a wonderful feeling! I do occasionally do other things and we do quite different things with student groups, but that is my standard menu for adult guests.... it is easy for me and it works. If it was you and you had to feed 9 people what would you feed them... it is supposed to be a bit of a "kiwi experience" - any suggestions welcome as long as they don't involve sausages!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Swimming tests

It looks like either my son is an amazingly fast healer, he is amazingly good at acting normal when in a lot of pain, or the doctor's diagnoses of a "broken bone" was a little off the mark! My children go to weekly swimming lessons and every two months they have a test to see if they can go up a level. Despite having a "broken arm" my son decided he really wanted to do it as it was his first real chance to go up from the "very basic class" to the intermediate class where the volume of swimming increases dramatically and therefore the speed of improvement also increases dramatically. The test he had to pass was to swim 25m backstroke in 45 seconds (46 seconds and you have to repeat again in another 2 months). The thing that really annoys me is that the only chance they get to try the 25m is the actual test. During the weekly practices they only get to try about 12m and therefore it takes for ever for them to actually get past the first big test and into the intermediate class. I think this is probably a ploy on the swimming school's part to get people to keep coming for a long time as a lot of people quit as soon as their child can swim 25m. Anyway, back to the test... I was just hoping my son would make it to the end to give him some confidence and wasn't worried about the 45 second time limit, but he ended up swimming the distance no problem and doing it in 35 seconds. Pretty good considering he has a "broken arm"!
My daughter also managed to pass her last test - 5om backstroke well within the 1 minute 15 second time limit. They both seem to be really enjoying it now (we had a few problems with teachers for a while...) and have made some good friends. Here's hoping it continues this way at least until they can both swim 50 meters freestyle.... next test for Emily and a year or two away for Masaki!

Friday, September 18, 2009

You know you have been in Japan too long when....

Yesterday I went to the bread shop on the way home from visiting Katy and was asked whether I was "used to my life in Oita yet". The same lady asks me the same question every time I go into the shop and I always reply "yes, for the most part". Having spent over one third of my life here I find I don't blink an eye at some of the "strange" things anymore and today as I was painting the deck I confirmed that I am now officially "used to life in Japan". Firstly I realised as Tom was snapping the photo of me painting (yes I did the whole deck myself... including scrubbing it down etc. - still have to do the railings etc. though if anyone is free tomorrow!) that I was painting while in the seiza sitting position - ie on my knees... and it wasn't worrying me at all. I have been laughing at Megan and Nathan and their inability to sit on the floor for even 5 minutes, but I remember when I first arrived being exactly the same. I can now sit through an hour long funeral on my knees without moving. Of course when I stand up my knees protest a little and I am likely to need knee surgery before I turn 40, but I can sit there for an hour when needed.
The second thing that made me think perhaps I have lived here too long was when my husband came home with the paint and some "taiyaki" which is basically sweet bean paste enclosed in a pancake kind of case which is in the shape of a sea bream fish. Not only was I excited to see it, but I ate two! I can't count the number of times I came home from the supermarket when I first came to Japan all excited about making myself a sandwich - cutting into what I thought was a nice bread roll and discovering that it was filled with sweet bean paste. Just the thought of it used to make me feel sick - beans should be spicy or in tomato sauce, but not sweet! But, now I love them..... perhaps in another 14 years I won't even blink at the thought of eating whale... but I very much doubt it!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Flower of the day

When my daughter started school 2 and a half years ago (I can't believe it has been that long!) the prefecture gave every new student some seeds to plant. We planted them, they grew a little, flowered a couple of times, but weren't all that impressive. Each year we kept the seeds and tried again and this year they finally seem to have done well. They are called "Moon flowers" and are basically a form of morning glory that opens out in the evenings (called evening glory in Japanese). They are huge compared to the morning glory flowers though and ours are extra special this year as they open out in both the morning and the evening. A double dose of pleasure!
Speaking of pleasure, my son's homework today was "to go to bed early". I love his teacher! Mind you my idea of early and most Japanese people's idea of early is a little different.... my children were in bed with no complaints at 7:15pm. They are usually in bed by 8pm at the latest. Standard sleeping times for Japanese children (even at kindergarten) seem to be at least 9pm, but more often 10pm or later..... I'm not even going to get into that debate here tonight!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Goldfish revisted

A month or so ago we decided it was time to get some new goldfish after all the other ones died basically overnight. The children chose them, two of them promptly died, and then the remaining 6 got a horrible disease and I thought that we were going to have yet another mass burial. However the wonders of the Internet told me that the disease was "Anchor worm" (picture via the wonders of the Internet) and the wonders of the Internet then told me how to say it in Japanese which meant I could get my husband to buy some medicine for them on the way home. Within a week or so they were all well again and miraculously they laid their first eggs today. I managed to separate a few from their hungry jaws and I guess we will now find out if there are any males in the tank.....

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Not again!

Today I rushed off to Fukuoka to do a big shop. I was planning to go on Thursday, but a few children at school have come down with fevers and my big fear was that they would be diagnosed with the horrible swine flu and the school would be closed for a week and we would be confined to our house to prevent it spreading into the neighbouring rice fields. In the end the children who had the high fevers ended up not having swine flu so things are back to normal at school. However just before I got home from Fukuoka I got a phone call from my mother-in-law to say that my father-in-law had picked up the kids as organised, but that my son had fallen off the monkey bars and was having difficulty moving his arm.
For those of you who have been following this blog for a while you may recall that 2 days before we left New Zealand to return to Japan last year my daughter fell out of bed and broke her arm. My initial reaction that day was - toughen up it couldn't possibly be broken - oops! Anyway, my initial reaction to my son was pretty much the same, but I did learn something from the last experience and decided to take him to the hospital just to be sure. And guess what.... his arm is broken! It is not a bad break - the doctor described it more as the bone being "bent" and therefore it doesn't require a cast. But I did feel a little prouder of my self this time for actually believing him when he said it was sore, rather than just telling him to toughen up!
I was also VERY impressed with the service we got. We went to a hospital I have never been to before, but that is just 10 minutes down the road. We arrived at 5pm (remember what happened in NZ when we arrived at the hospital at 5pm Mum!!!). We walked in the door, handed over our insurance card, sat down for what I presumed would be a long wait, were promptly called into the doctor's room before we could even watch one bout of the sumo on TV and within 20 minutes my son had been examined, x-rayed, the x-rays returned and examined, the results explained, a bandage stuck on his arm, our bill given to us and paid and we were out the door. I repeat... all that within 20 minutes. And it all only cost 1,500 yen - which the school will refund for me as the accident happened at school. Sometimes Japan is a wonderful place!
Oh - and for those who are wondering... it did rain this morning very briefly. Perhaps the snakes are a good weather predictor!

Monday, September 14, 2009


I always laugh when I read Heather's blog as she is usually doing/thinking the exact same thing as me. In a recent blog entry she talked about leaving things in the ground till the last minute - in the hope that they might produce one more vegetable before the seasons change. I am exactly the same. I have been weeding around sickly tomato plants hoping for just one more flower to turn into a tomato, green pepper plants that the tiny little pepper might just grow a few more centimeters and be able to be harvested etc. But today I gave up on basically everything from the summer after my father in law offered to get the tractor in and plow the garden for me. The thought of doing it all by hand was just too much for me! For the first time ever I also didn't protest when my mother-in-law made some vague statement about me not being able to dig the
trenches in between the rows in the garden. Usually this kind of comment would make me determined to prove her wrong, but this happens to be incredibly back breaking work for me and I can never make the rows straight - not that I care, but my father in law is a bit of a stickler for straight lines! So anyway, not only did they end up digging all the trenches for me while I was away at piano with the kids, but my father in law also got the big rake thingy and made all the rows completely level (the photo is before all this work was done... it was too dark to do anything after we got home). Now all I need to do is plant all the autumn veges and try to keep the weeds away...
While I was clearing the last of the summer stuff away I was joined by yet another snake. (fortunately not a poisonous one). And then when I went to get the spade (not to kill it) another snake (I know it wasn't the same one as they were both in my vision at the same time) slithered across the road in front of me. I think the worst thing about snakes is their silence. After returning to the garden the original snake snuck up on me in the tunnel house and then again in the pumpkin patch - I'm sure it felt like I was sneaking up on it, but it definitely felt like it was following me! I mentioned to my mother in law that I had seen a number of snakes and she declared that it meant that it was definitely going to rain. I learn something new about snakes from her every day!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Live feed

I'm not sure whose blog I saw the "FEEDJIT" information on, but a few months ago I added the FEEDJIT gadget onto my blog. It is a free service and basically it shows me which country and which city people are accessing my blog from. I can see what time they arrive, which page they arrive on and therefore whether they are coming directly onto my blog or coming via someone else's blog, via a specific word search etc. I have found it really interesting to watch. I can recognise a lot of the visitors - Switzerland - Lennon and Kim, London - Mike and Bec etc. etc. but there are a few which really make me wonder who is interested in reading my blog - people in France, Bombay, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, all over America, Korea, Australia and of course many parts of Japan that I have never even heard of. Don't get me wrong, I love having people read my daily dribble, but if you are reading this and haven't commented before I would love it if you left a quick note to say how you found my blog etc. I love the way blogs can make links between people all around the world. I read a number of blogs daily and feel like I know the writers really well despite never having met them. I look forward to meeting many of my "blog friends" in the near future. If you are reading this and thinking of heading to Oita let me know - it would be great to meet you in person.

Japanese signs

I know that this is a bit of an overdone theme, but
Japanese signs really do amaze me sometimes. The longer I live here the less I notice the bad spelling, the terrible grammar and the nonsense kind of meanings, but lately I have found a couple of signs that left me shaking my head... again!
Just in case you can't read them, the first one was on the window of a hairdressers:
"No one ever told me I was pretty when I was a little girl. All little girls should be told they're pretty, even if they aren't."
Pretty good in the spelling and grammar stakes, but I would wonder a little if I went into the shop and they called me pretty whether they were telling the truth or not....

The second sign is at a Japanese style barbecue restaurant:
"Laugh and graw fat"
I'm not even sure where to start dissecting that English!

Friday, September 11, 2009

The perfect combination?

The boys did a great job this morning digging the hard ground, planting some potatoes, chopping some wood, collecting the eggs and making and eating pizza - all before 11:45am. The only thing they didn't manage to do was solve our latest puzzle. We have many "logic" kind of puzzles and our latest one combines my passion for puzzles with my passion for chocolate! It is a very realistic plastic block of chocolate which contains 12 different shaped 5 block pieces. We bought it when we went on our last camping trip to keep us occupied on the ferry. Unfortunately we quickly took it to pieces and couldn't get it back together again.... no matter how many hours we tried! I figured the junior high school boys might have more luck, but... no - they tried for hours as well, but were completely unsuccessful. And then... I came home this afternoon after dropping them off and sat down to blob out for half an hour or so and.... I did it! Apparently there are 2,339 ways of doing it, so if anyone else wants to try and find a different solution I challenge you! They seem to be available in a lot of book shops etc. here and if anyone else overseas wants one let me know. Great for wasting precious time! They also have "dark chocolate" and "white chocolate" - after just researching them I have discovered the white chocolate is the easiest, the milk chocolate (our one) is a medium challenge and the black one is the expert level.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hit the jackpot again

We seem to have managed to get another good group of boys for the night. I didn't get them back here till about 4:30pm so we haven't done much today, but they are so enthusiastic about everything it makes life easy. Usually they choose the people in their group, but this school chose to make groups according to their "student number". When I first saw this I was sure they would all hate each other and that it was going to be a terrible group, but they all get on really well and the different personalities makes it a really nice group. They are away at lunch time tomorrow so they don't really have too much time to prove me wrong on my impression of them today. My husband was in his element when he discovered one of them was interested in Rubik's cubes. He even pulled out a book he bought a long time ago to discuss strategies with them! Of course they didn't change out of their sports uniforms, but at least they have their names written on them so I don't have to work too hard at remembering who is who... something I am terrible at!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Falling down houses

One of the things I was surprised about when I first started living in the Japanese countryside were the number of houses that were literally falling down like the one in these pictures. After some "research" I was told that it is so costly to dispose of the building materials of the houses and the land is so cheap and plentiful around here that most people just leave houses to rot back into nature and build a brand new one next door rather than going to the trouble of pulling it down. There are also many houses around our area that are no longer lived in, but that will never be sold - mainly because it is the "family house" and therefore contains the Buddhist altar etc. (which can actually be moved, but is not often done). There is also little demand for the houses and there is always the vague hope that someone from the family will return from the big city and choose to live in the countryside.
Back to the house in the picture... every day I drive past this house when I go to get the children from school. If you look carefully you will see that it was once a 2-storied house, but the top story has basically fallen through the first floor. If you look even more closely (you really need to be there in person to do this) you will see that there are many things still inside the house. If you look even more closely at night time you will see that the lights are on and that there are actually people living in there. My husband is currently working in the "welfare" department so I often ask him about it and he says that they have tried to find alternative accommodation for the occupants, but they refuse to shift. It turns out that they have lots of gambling debts... from pachinko! Yet another reason to stay away from the big, noisy, smokey, bright pachinko parlours!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

I just don't get it

Today I went to Oita and on the way drove past this Pachinko parlor and it made me scratch my head yet again. I just don't understand the attraction of pachinko! For anyone who doesn't know, pachinko is basically a form of slot machines where you use little silver balls and watch them go around and around the machines and usually end up losing big money, but can sometimes win. I have had some fun with slot machines so don't really have a problem with playing occasionally, but in Japan it seems like a huge social problem. When I drove past this pachinko parlor it was 9:30am. It doesn't open until 10:00am, but as you can see from the photo (if you look carefully!) there was already a huge line of people waiting outside. The parlor closes at 10:00pm and the majority of those lined up at 9:30am would be coming out at 10pm. Inside the parlors are extremely brightly lit, extremely noisy and extremely smokey. Not exactly a wonderful environment to be in all day!
What really confuses me though is that in Japan gambling is illegal (with the exception of public sports - horse, bicycle, boat and motorbike racing, the lottery and soccer league betting). Casino's are illegal and no matter how you look at it pachinko should fall into the same category - but they get around it by exchanging any "winning balls" you have for tokens or small prizes which you take outside to a small booth which is officially not connected with the pachinko parlor and exchange it for cash. Therefore you are not actually winning any cash at the pachinko parlor. Considering how many pachinko parlors there are in Japan and how many social problems there are associated with the parlors (there are deaths annually where kids have been left in the car in the summer while their parents go and play etc.) you would think the police would think a little more carefully about them, but the parlor in the picture is literally across the road from a big police station and I'm guessing that half the police force go over the road in their lunch break or as soon as they have finished work.
Enough ranting... if you want any more information about pachinko wikipedia has detailed descriptions of how to play, the history etc.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Electricity Update

It has been close to 2 months now since our solar electricity system was installed and despite a lot of cloudy days last month it seems to be working fine. Because we have a monitor which shows us exactly how much electricity we are making, using and selling at any one time it makes us a little more conscious of how many lights we have on etc. and has even led us to change our habits a little. In order to take advantage of the night rate (that ends at 8am) we try to have the washing finished before then and I have also discovered that the vacuum cleaner uses as much electricity as the entire house does (fridge, freezer, lights etc.) and therefore try to get the vacuuming done before 8am too (okay - so I did it today for the first time, but it is a good theory!). The other day we got our first electricity bill since the system was installed and... until now our average monthly bill has been around 12,000 yen. This month it was 1,000 yen. Not too bad considering it was cloudy! Of course from now the days get shorter and therefore the amount of electricity we can produce reduces, but at the same time the price which the electricity company will pay for any excess electricity we produce will also double from November so it may all work out in the end. I guess we need to wait for a whole year cycle to see whether it is worth it or not, but so far I give it the thumbs up! I seem to be the most interested in the data and take great pride in seeing that we have saved 1.1 trees etc.
In other news we let the chickens out again this evening and they had a great time wandering and chomping again. Katy - our chickens are so clever that they all just go back in to their house by themselves when the sun starts to go down.... we've got them trained well!

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Wild and free - for a few hours anyway!

Last night my husband stayed in Oita and didn't get home till just before lunchtime so I thought it was a perfect time to try letting my little friends out for a walk. When we first got chickens I had visions of them pecking around in the garden, but unfortunately these visions were always kept in a cage due to my husband's fears of bird-flu. I think swine flu has now reduced the bird flu fears and this morning I decided to attack the garden around the chicken house and I thought it would be nice to have some helpers. And great little helpers they were! None of them ran away. They all followed me around and dug up the parts I had weeded - doing poos here and there and generally having a great time. My husband came home while they were still out and didn't complain so I'm thinking of letting them out every evening for an hour or so to do some scratching and fertilising. They are still laying 10 eggs most days lately so their large cage life can't be too bad, but it is nice to see them out in the open too. Who knows they may even keep the weeds at a manageable size.....

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Thunder thighs

Since high school I have been affectionately (?) called "thunder thighs" by some people (who I will not name at this time....). My thighs were very helpful playing netball as it meant I could jump higher than many and could block players from passing just by standing still. However now that I live in Japan I find that my thighs cause problems when shopping. Although there are more "larger sizes" becoming available, one of the major problems I have in Japan is buying trousers that fit. I can find tops etc., but basically every pair of trousers I try on looks great and feels good until I get as far as my thighs.... where they stop and refuse to move any further. The majority of Japanese women seem to have have pencil thin (but very bowed) legs and I have always been a little jealous until I read an article the other day which claims that "having slim thighs could be bad for your health". Apparently my thunder thighs are going to give me less chance of suffering from heart disease than my slim friends. Perhaps it will cause a boom here and I may be able to go into any shop and buy a pair of trousers that will go passed my knees... I live in hope!
PS: just in case anyone is worried.... the photo is a random one I found on the Internet - not me and no one I know!

Friday, September 04, 2009

Before breakfast

When I first came to Japan I couldn't speak any Japanese, but one of the principals at my school was insistent on teaching me complicated sayings that I thought I would never need or remember. One of them was "Asa meishi mae" which literally means before breakfast. In a less literal sense it means "a stroll in the park" or " a piece of cake" and this morning I managed to mix the literal meaning with the real meaning and achieved a whole day's work before breakfast - well 10am anyway! Today was my childrens' social study's outing so they needed a bento lunch box (Japanese style so no stuffing a sandwich in a bag and adding an apple) so I was up at 6am making that. After preparing for two kindergarten classes I made 3kg worth of strawberries and wild strawberries into jam as a "donation" for a friend who is organising a wonderful project called "Children's Kitchen" - more about that project another day. I then did my 30 minutes exercise before racing into the shower and was out the door by 10:10 to teach my 2 classes of midgets (none of which put their fingers anywhere near my bottom!).
It felt so good to get so much done in one morning that I decided to take the afternoon off and watched a DVD and had a nap.... it was far too hot to do anything else. A nice reward!
By the way.. I seem to have confused some of you with my measurements in the last recipe. At the moment my daughter is studying volume at school and they talk a lot about "cc"s so I got a bit carried away... - 1cc is the same as 1ml. Therefore in the recipe below 250cc really means 250ml or one New Zealand cup....

Thursday, September 03, 2009


It has been a while since I did a cooking classroom, so today I was slightly nervous - especially as one of the participants has her own cooking school where she teaches bread making. Anyway, I had no need to worry really as my standard first time recipes pulled through and they all went home very happy.... after chatting for over 2 hours!
It is basil and pumpkin season so today's menu was: Pumpkin muffins, herbed foccacia bread, basil pesto and apricot fudge slice. The fudge slice is always a big winner in Japan because it is so easy to make and doesn't require an oven. For anyone who is interested in trying it here is the recipe.... (sorry the measurements are in "cc's" and grams due to different cup measurements all around the world!)
125g butter
125cc brown sugar
200cc sweetened condensed milk
250cc chopped dried apricots (can substitute other dried fruit - but apricots are my favorite!)
250g crushed plain wine biscuits (Marie style in Japan - get the cheap 105 yen packets!)

Heat, butter, brown sugar and condensed milk until butter melts. Do not boil. Add apricots and wine biscuits. Mix well. Press into a tin and sprinkle with coconut if desired. Set in fridge. Cut into squares. It will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for weeks - but never lasts more than a day or two in our house!
Right I'm off to a PTA meeting... can hardly wait!