Thursday, December 09, 2010


Fact: We have 22 chickens
Fact: Chickens lay a maximum of 1 egg a day (in 99.9% of cases anyway)
Fact: I collected 26 eggs today.....

It seems that the escapee chicken has still been escaping every day and has found a new place to lay. It had stopped laying in its rubbish pile, but I had presumed that it had actually started laying in the nesting boxes as I couldn't find any little piles of eggs anywhere - at least not until today! It appears that the lemon grass plant is preferable to the rubbish pile and I collected 11 eggs from her little stash today. Here's hoping that me removing them doesn't encourage her to find a different spot to lay - I don't have the time or energy for hide and seek right now!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The best present ever

Today I went to school again... I went yesterday for an afternoon/evening of PTA stuff, but today was a little different. Today it was my son's class's turn to do a presentation in front of the whole school for 10 minutes in the morning. There are 12 children in the class (the biggest in the school!). They are all 7 or 8 years old. I had no real idea what the presentation was going to be about, but I knew it was something to do with Peace and that they had been practicing for weeks. It turned out that December 7th was the day in 1941 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in America and World War 2 took a different turn when America declared war on Japan. I had no idea. In fact I really know nothing about the war. My generation in New Zealand seems to know that there was a war, but it hasn't really effected us personally (probably a huge over-generalization, but...).
This morning my son's class (who are usually pretty out of control) stood in front of the school and in their loudest voices told us a story of a family who died in the war. They sang a wonderful song about how we should all stand together in peace and make the world a great one. They stood in unison and asked us all to never consider war ever again. My son is continually telling me that war is bad and he knows why. I'm sure there are people who would disagree with me and say that Japan teaches the history of the war etc. in a biased way, but from all the presentations I have seen this is not the case. The teachers at our school do not point fingers. They talk about the lead up to the war and the things which Japan did to escalate it. They talk more about how we can prevent it in the future than anything else. However the children are the ones who really get the point across. Their presentation this morning should have been shown worldwide and perhaps a few more people might listen.
The presentation also got me thinking a bit more about Christmas. Every year I feel obliged to get presents under the tree for my family etc. Living far away from them I have no idea what they want or need so most things are pretty random. I'm not saying that my gifts aren't appreciated, but I do often feel like it is an obligation rather than a heart-felt gift. Having spent the last few days trying to literally clean out our house (I think I've taken out 6 big bags of rubbish already) I have been conscious of how worthless a lot of the junk we accumulate is and how precious the things are that have really been given from the heart.
One of the teachers commented after the presentation today that the biggest gift the children can give us is the gift of peace. I totally agree and I think the biggest gift that adults can give children is the capacity to bring peace to their own little piece of the world. So.... this morning I made a decision. I'm not going to send any Christmas presents to New Zealand this year. Sorry! Instead I am going to send gifts at a time when I think they are necessary and important. Please feel free to do the same! And in the meantime I am going to give my family the gift of raising my children, their great-grandchildren, grandchildren, niece and nephew in a way in which they can hopefully bring as much happiness and peace to my family's lives as possible in the future.
I realize this is all a bit deep for a Wednesday morning - don't worry, I'll be back with the normal chicken news in the very near future!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Back to the land of the living

I'm back! I haven't actually been away anywhere in particular, just not quite in a space where I was able to sit at the computer. As well as normal work I had a few extra programs - including one speech I had to do yesterday for over 200 people, for one and a half hours.... I was almost grateful when a few of the old men fell asleep in the 12th row! Actually it went pretty well in the end - I always enjoy the chance to discuss the Japanese education system and some of its faults - just a shame I have to do it in Japanese!
As well as this I had a great idea a couple of weeks ago to make an advent calendar for some of my family.... out of different shaped origami boxes/envelopes. The main problem was that I decided to do it quite late in November... which meant it had to be finished very quickly in order to get to New Zealand before December 1st. Another problem was that we needed to make 3 sets of not only the boxes/envelopes, but also 3 sets of all the contents as well. If you are good at maths that calculates out to 72 boxes/envelopes and 72 things to go in them - some bought, but lots handmade too. The children worked really hard with me and we managed to get it all done, boxed up and sent in time for it to arrive before the 1st. In fact in the end I think we had a few days to spare. Fortunately customs didn't insist on opening every single envelope... it may have taken them a few hours! As much as I would have loved to make a set for all my different family members and friends three was our limit this year, so apologies to anyone who hasn't received one. Maybe next year......

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Coming of "half" age ceremony

In Japan there are zillions of ceremonies and one of the biggest ones is for people who have turned twenty and are therefore "adults". Today there was a ceremony at school for all the children in my daughter's class (all 11 of them....) celebrating the fact that they are now half way towards that big turning point in their lives. There was a ceremony where they received a certificate from the principal, endured her long speech about the fact that they would be able to vote when they turned 20 and would therefore be responsible for everything in the world. There was singing, a message from each child to their parents, a message to the children from the parents and small gifts all around. I personally am not particularly excited by all these ceremonies, but the children wanted to do it and spent hours practicing, decorating the room etc. It wasn't as bad as it could have been and the bonus of having a potluck lunch (actually not very "potluck" as one of the mothers insisted on having a meeting at school one night to organise who would bring what....) was worth the effort of going to school on a Sunday! This ceremony is not one that is "officially" recognised, but is just something that one of the teachers started at this school a few years ago. Here's hoping the next ten years prove to be a little less challenging than the first ten! Hope is a wonderful if not always realistic thing!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bag collection

The other day I was watching a disgusting programme on TV with my daughter about celebrities and their collections of stupidly priced shoes, bags, jewelery etc. Most of their outfits cost more than our house! I was trying to explain to my daughter how utterly unnecessary it was to have 650 bags or 900 hats - especially at the prices they were charging when she kindly pointed out that I have quite a collection of bags too - most of them completely full on my bedroom floor! Just to prove her right the photo shows all the bags I am currently using - most are bags that I was given or have inherited and all of them are used every week.
I teach at a total of 8 different schools and kindergartens - with up to 5 different classes at each place. I also do quite a lot of one-off teaching or recreation programmes. When I first started teaching "privately" I took the easy way out and basically did all the same lessons at all the places I was teaching each week. Although it made preparation easy, one whole week of the same lessons soon led me to complete boredom! Now I have taken it to the opposite extreme and I am doing completely different topics at basically all the places I teach at - hence the need for so many bags! There are my basic bags for different schools. There are my "special" bags for current topics - currently one is full of vehicles that I use for teaching transportation, another is full of different shaped objects for teaching shapes and the big barn at the back is full of animals for a unit on animals. And of course there is my "magic" handbag which seems to be able to produce anything necessary at any given time. My biggest problem is always trying to work out which bag I used last and therefore which bag currently holds my diary to tell me which bag I need next!
Megan - at least Yamaura can't complain that I am ever without a bag....

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Christmas come early?

All the shops here have already got their Christmas displays out and the cake shops are already taking orders for the cream filled christmas cakes, but I have thing about bringing anything "Christmassy" out before December the first. However yesterday we broke the rule when we started to decorate our piano with cedar branches..... it looks pretty Christmassy, but it is actually to deal with a mousey problem we discovered yesterday. The piano tuner came to tune the piano and discovered a couple of mouse nests inside the piano. Apparently it is not actually that unusual for this to happen and they usually get into the piano from the small space by the pedals - hence the spiky cedar branches which are supposed to discourage them. We also discovered that the felt cover that goes over the keys was not in fact hacked with scissors by the children (which I scolded them loudly for last week), but was actually ferreted away by the mouse.... I did apologize for my assumption.... Now we just have to catch the little friend before our guests arrive tomorrow night - I can just imagine a tiny field mouse racing across the room as we sit down to dinner!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Tateishi Gaku

Today was the "main event" for the senior school in terms of their traditional dance. They had to perform at a local event at a shrine near the school. They did their "dance" then led a procession of men in tight-fitting clothing carrying weird things. I'd love to be able to tell you what it was all about, but unfortunately the children were given no history or information about the event and all of the other parents and teachers I asked about couldn't enlighten me either! Perhaps by the time my son dances here for the last time (we have another 4 years...) I will be able to inform you a little more!

Friday, November 05, 2010


I've been thinking about a question Kevin asked me in a comment he left on my blog last week. His question was "How far are you from the neighbors? Or from your own fields? Don't your chickens mess with your and your neighbors' crops?"

When I first read his question I thought - we live in the countryside so of course we don't have any neighbours for our chickens to bother. And then I thought a little harder and realised that we are in a bit of a unique situation here in the middle of the Japanese countryside. For anyone coming from New Zealand your image of countryside is probably one house, 10km of farm land, another house, another 10km of farm land etc. Houses are built to get maximum sunshine or a good view. Here in Japan things are a little different. All land that is vaguely flat was traditionally used for rice farming and houses were built in the cold bases of the mountains etc. that were too difficult to farm. This resulted in little clusters of houses in mainly cold areas and then vast areas of rice fields. The typical distance between houses in the countryside is probably around 5 meters. The first photo is of the "space" between my parents-in-law's house and their neighbour. The second is of one of the little "clusters" of houses near our house. Not exactly spacious!
Fortunately my husband had the foresight to build a house in a different kind of location before I met him. Our house is built on a rice field with no houses directly next to it. It is built to catch as much sun as possible and has a big grassy area for the children to play on. We are slowly taking over a few of the rice fields for gardening purposes. The chickens have one old small rice field, I have a big rice field for my garden and I have another tiny rice field for my herb and fruit garden. The chickens run free around our lawn and the herb, fruit and flower gardens. There is a steep set of stairs down to the vegetable garden which the chickens haven't discovered yet. Their only other exit is onto the road - which they very occasionally stray onto. There is a small river directly in front of our house so we can never be "built out". I know that countryside is not for everyone, but I personally think we have an ideal location! Now if there was a small cafe on one of our other rice fields it would be perfect......

Sunday, October 31, 2010

All Halloweened out!

I would have to say that Halloween is not one of my favorite times of the year. Here in Japan it is taking off as a theme for shops to sell decorations and for English schools to have parties! Yesterday was the party for the English school I work at - I forgot to take very many pictures.... it was fun, but by the end of it I was ready for bed. Unfortunately I had to get all my clown make off off (sorry not one photo to prove I was actually a clown....) and rush off to a friend's shop that was having a Halloween event where you could make Halloween flower arrangements for free before I could go home and flop. Only I couldn't actually flop because I had to make 40 cupcakes for another Halloween party that I had to partly organise for a friend today. More and more Japanese people are trying to have Halloween parties, but they are the first to admit that they have no idea what a Halloween party is. So I get called in as an "expert".... having never really celebrated it in New Zealand I have no idea what I am talking about, but I can look very confident when I am talking about things I have no idea about! Today's party was also fun, but far too long! I think it was about 4 hours in the end... it was supposed to be two and a half... Games, making "eco" bags, trick or treating, decorating cupcakes etc.
This year Emily spent a lot of time making her costume. We didn't need to buy anything to be the "fairy" that she wanted to be - just let out the armpits of the dress she wore as a 5 year old and used some coat hangers and some pantyhose to make the wings. Masaki also managed a magician's outfit, but no real photos with him in the full thing - he is definitely not a "dresser-upper"! After having Halloween lessons at school etc. for the last few weeks as well as these two parties I am definitely all Halloweened out.... Here's hoping October comes around slowly next year.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Continuing theme

Continuing on from yesterday's theme of eggs and stupidity.... as I have said quite a few times we have 22 chickens. They have 8 nest boxes to choose from. They lay their eggs in the boxes 99% of the time. They are let out in the late afternoon from their relatively large run for a stroll around the garden - there are no fences to keep them in, but they never leave the property. When it starts to get dark they all find their way back to the chicken house and settle down for the night. They all follow this routine and seem more than contented. Well at least 21 of these chickens follow this routine! There is one chicken that thinks she is above the rest and has her own special nest - in a pile of rubbish beside our house. She has a mystery door which she uses daily to get out in order to lay her egg in her special nest. She is the only chicken that uses the mystery door and she will often use it 2 or 3 times a day. The only problem is that the mystery door is a one-way door and we have no idea where the door is! Every day my husband tells me he has solved the problem and secured the mystery door but every day the same chicken is wandering around the garden when I go to collect the eggs etc. Unfortunately being a one way door it means she can't get back into the chicken house where all the main food and water is so I have to let her back in at least 2 or 3 times a day. She is more than happy to go back in... only to get back out whenever she feels like it. I don't understand why all the other chickens see her going out but never follow - they love wandering around the garden. I guess I should be grateful that she lays in exactly the same place every day and I don't need to go searching in the garden each day to discover where the next egg is hiding....

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dedicated or just plain stupid

Sorry to those who asked questions about the pumpkins in my last post... I always read comments, but often forget to answer - sorry! We managed to grow a total of 2 decent pumpkins this year... (apart from the zillions of butternut pumpkins) so the rest were bought from a grower in Hokkaido (maybe... my husband organised it all). The variety is Connecticut Field Pumpkin and they are just the right size for carving. You can buy the seeds at Tane no Mori in Japan. The templates are stuck onto the pumpkins then holes are poked around the lines and then the template is removed. Next you draw a line through all the holes to show you where to cut and then you cut away... it is actually pretty easy - even the small kids did a great job. Some of them were a bit off put by the scooping out, but a few really got into it and spent most of the time playing with the discarded innards!
Last night I had another of those "am I a dedicated teacher or just plain stupid" moments. I was teaching one of my kindergarten classes possession - as in "Whose is this?" "Mine". A fairly simple thing to teach.... unless you get carried away! Last week I took along mini-noodles that I had carved the top out of. They drew beautiful faces on them and we played a few games - making towers, asking whose was the first noodle on the tower, bowling them over and asking whose had fallen down etc. They wanted to take them home but I convinced them if they let me take them home I would bring them back transformed.... stupid me! I then spent hours last night printing out, laminating and cutting out little chickens... putting all the mini noodles in little bags... putting eggs onto each noodle... attaching the laminated chickens to the bags with rubber bands then finding a way to transport them to the kindergarten without them getting broken. I then handed them out today asking "Whose egg is this?" and they answered "Mine"... it took all of about 2 minutes.... a lot of work for 2 minutes! I think I earned a few extra brownie points though and the smiles on their faces made it all worthwhile.... maybe! I have no idea how many of the eggs actually made it home unbroken, but I guess I will find out next week.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pumpkin Festival

Today my husband organised a "pumpkin carving workshop" as part of the first ever pumpkin festival in our town. Unfortunately he hadn't really ever carved a pumpkin so we got Chris around to carve a couple of impressive ones last night and get a few hints before today's workshop. Thanks Chris - they were much admired!
I was the "assistant" at the workshop and although I didn't get into a short skirt and wear bunny ears I managed to survive the day and actually help a few people. It was restricted to a "parents and children" event and it was great to see families out having a good time. They made some great pumpkins and all and all it was a great day out.... although I now feel the need for an early night!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Three's a crowd

My daughter has always been a bit scared of the chickens, but lately she has been very brave and has even started going out in the dark with her torch to put them away at night by herself. Last week she was rewarded for her bravery by a very kind hen who decided to lay an egg just as we were checking the nests. She was amazed by the way it stood up, basically opened its bottom and popped the egg out then toddled off to play. I have seen it a few times, but it really is pretty neat to watch.
Anyway, this morning when I went to check the eggs a chicken looked like she was about to drop again so I rushed off to get the camera hoping to capture the moment on film.... but no such luck. If I didn't have to rush off to sing a few rounds of heads, shoulders knees and toes I may have been more successful, but time was against me. So here is a picture of a hen about to lay an egg with a couple of her friends watching on. They actually have 7 boxes now that they can lay in, but they all usually choose to pile in on top of each other and lay in the same box - a different box each day mind you. Perhaps tomorrow I will have more luck before I rush off for a bit of Hi5 jumping forward and back... gotta love my day job!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cake stand

Today was my birthday and although it wasn't a very exciting day, I did manage to enjoy it at times! Thank you to those who sent birthday messages - they were all read and appreciated!
My mother owns an auction house and a while ago I asked her if she could get me a cake stand if a nice one came up. The only cake stands I had knowledge of were the metal kind with the flowery plates which I didn't particularly like, but thought it would be nice to have one when guests come. Anyway, when she came to visit earlier this year she brought a wonderful antique oak stand with her and then for my birthday she sent me another beautiful (oak?) stand which is a slightly different style. I love them both, but haven't yet had a chance to use them. I figured that needed to change so in preparation for some visitors coming tomorrow afternoon I continued on with my recipe book "from start to finish" challenge and made some melting moments, Mum's tea cake with apples, and some peppermint slice.
Unfortunately my husband is sleeping off his aches and pains after completing the 100km walk for the third year (after a slight hiccup on the way) so the photos are not particularly great. I'm sure you get the idea though. Thanks Mum!

Friday, October 08, 2010

How many eggs can one family eat?

These are two different views of today's eggs. 15 in total.... we need to make some big decisions about our older chickens soon! Either we need to find a few people who will buy eggs regularly each week (like our neighbour does) or we need to say goodbye to a few of the older chickens. As much as I'd love to keep just giving eggs away to wherever I am working each day the cost of feeding them is just a little too much and chances of us using 15 eggs a day are very low!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

More bugs...

Our morning glory "Green curtain" seems to be a wonderful place for living things to congregate. The latest visitor is a giant caterpillar. I was thinking of leaving it there so the children can watch it turn into a cocoon and then a big beautiful butterfly..... But then I looked up wikipedia and identified the caterpillar as the larvae of the moth "Acherontia lachesis" which is
a large (up to 13 cm wingspan) Sphingid moth found in India and much of the Oriental region, one of the three species of Death's-head Hawkmoth, also known as the Bee Robber. It is nocturnal, and very fond of honey; they can mimic the scent of honey bees so that they can enter a hive unharmed to get honey. Their tongue, which is stout and very strong, enables them to pierce the wax cells and suck the honey out. This species occurs throughout almost the entire Oriental region, from India, Pakistan and Nepal to the Philippines, and from southern Japan and the southern Russian Far East to Indonesia, where it attacks colonies of several different honey bee species.
Considering it is close to our beehive I think I might give it a new home in the river tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

It's following me

We have one very long, very skinny snake that has decided it really likes our garden and possibly our egg boxes. Every time I go outside it seems like it is just sitting there staring at me. It usually looks for a bit and then slithers away. There was one broken egg in the chicken house today and I suspect it was the snake's doing, but a bit hard to tell. I'm not too worried though as it should go into hibernation soon... I think I have lived here far too long as they no longer make me jump and run inside anymore!
In other news I think I have builders-envy. My brother and his partner are building an enormous house on an enormous piece of land at the moment and all their stories of concrete foundations etc. are making me jealous! I have therefore continued on with my building projects and in my spare hour this afternoon whipped up another box garden.... now I just need to find something to plant in it! Not exactly a new house, but I did do it all by myself....

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Double Digits

As I said in my last post, today we celebrated my daughter's birthday a day early. She told me that she didn't want a cake, but I made her one anyway... she was not exactly sad about it! After eating cake we headed to Oita for shopping, lunch and bowling. We all had a really nice time... well most of us did. My husband used to be a pretty good bowler - has his own bowling balls (yes, plural), own shoes etc. and before we were married we often used to go and play a few games - with me losing badly each time. Until today - when miracles of miracles I won! Not that I am counting, and not that it was due to my amazing skill - just a bad day for Tom! The kids are getting pretty good now too - although I think it will be a while before we can remove the gutter protection rails!
Back to my daughter... to be honest this year hasn't been a great one in terms of our mother-daughter relationship in many ways. We have battled a lot and spent many hours trying to work out what exactly has been going on in her head. She is a wonderful child when she is at school, at anyone's house etc., but at home she has her amazingly disgusting moments - most of which have been aimed at me. I think perhaps hitting double digits has something to do with it, but it hasn't been pleasant! However over the last month or so she has gone back to her beautiful, caring, helpful self and our house has been a much nicer place to live in because of it. Here's hoping that once she gets her presents tomorrow she doesn't revert back into her monster self. Hard to believe she is already 10 years old!