Sunday, August 29, 2010

Breakfast anyone?

One of the major bonuses of staying with a "local" person is always the trips to the very local markets. We had a barbeque last night, but my suggestions of bringing home a few of these beauties to cook were quickly rejected - even though the skinning of them was all part of the purchase price! Sorry, I can't get the photo to turn around.
Unfortunately life in paradise ends tomorrow when we head back home...

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Hello from Hong Kong

Just a very brief post to show you the view from our private terrace on the 62nd floor of our friend's "apartment" in Hong Kong. We have been sitting up there for dinner and then till late chatting... a wonderful way to finish each day. All I can say is that coming from a tiny town in Japan to a very compact city of 8 million is a bit of a shock to the children (and me.... ) but we have an absolutely fabulous guide and it is a wonderful feeling to be completely guided for a change rather than guiding people (not that I don't like that, but...). I'll write more when we get back, but for now I think this is about all I can do on this German keyboard. I know understand the frustrations of those coming to our house and using our Japanese keyboard! 2 and a half more days left of holidays.... always too short!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It's STILL the school holidays

I always think that if teachers are serious about asking for pay rises and want support from the parents then they should do their pay negotiations as soon as the summer holidays finish - or even a week or so before the holidays finish. I'm sure that a large number of parents would then be more than willing to pay the teachers anything they ask for! In other words, it's been a long summer holiday and there is still one week to go!
Today I decided that I really should do something a little more with the children than just let them run wild all day every day which leads to boredom, which leads to fighting, which leads to screaming on my part, which leads to a generally unhappy family. So we ended up inviting ALL the girls in my daughter's class to come and play for the afternoon. Actually originally we were only going to invite two of the girls, but when there are only a total of 5 girls in the class and one of them is my daughter it gets a bit tricky to invite some and not others.... anyway, unfortunately (??) one was busy and another one got sick at the last minute so we only had two extra children for the afternoon and it was a lot of fun. The neighbour had kindly donated his long piece of bamboo for the children to do noodle catching with - well some noodle catching followed by some watermelon, tinned fruit and then jelly catching!
Next we made some cupcakes (they wanted to take them to the sick girl) and headed to the free river pool..... only to discover that there was no water in it! So we headed to the local B&G pool which is only 100 yen to get in and the kids had a great time swimming for an hour and a half. I thought it might be nice to watch them swim, but the pool was a semi-indoor one and the temperature inside was 46 degrees. So, I sat in front of a fan in a room close by and did crossword puzzles. Even the pool supervisors were in a completely separate air conditioned room where they assured me they were watching the children on monitors so I could just relax. It seems crazy to me that even that pool will close at the beginning of September... surely they could leave it open in the weekends at least for a bit longer! (for anyone who doesn't know ALL pools seem to close on August 31st in Japan - even though it is still over 30 degrees every day).
One last "recreation" program tomorrow then we are on a plane on Thursday to Hong Kong for 4 nights... I can't wait!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Another good reason to go to NZ next summer....

I know I write about the same things every year, but this is Japan and things happen in exactly the same way every year! Yesterday was the annual "weeding" of the school grounds. Despite the 7am start it was still too hot to cope with doing too much and yet another reminder that the school should plant grass rather than go through the pointless process of trying to pull out all the weeds that grow in the hard, dusty, horrible playing ground. Of course if everyone just got on with the weeding rather than sitting in the shade gossiping things would also go quicker, but I won't get into that here!
In chicken news - the old chickens and new chickens spend all day together in relative harmony - pretty much staying out of each other's way but not fighting (unlike my children....). You may remember that we have a lovely chicken house that is predator safe and big enough for all the chickens to roost at night, but the new chickens are still a little weary of this (mainly because the big ones keep trying to peck them - similar to my children picking fights with each other....) and so they find all kinds of places in their run to roost for the night. I have left them out a few times, but then I can never sleep because I keep envisaging them being mauled by wild boars or more likely ferrets. So we usually spend a few minutes getting them down each night and getting them into bed. They protest for a bit, but then seem happy enough to be all together. Sometimes I really think that chickens and children might be related!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Flying things

I've decided that giving up on things is often the best way to actually make things happen. A good example is one of our new beehives that my husband bought which is supposed to lure the bees into it without any help from us. He put it in the "ideal" location with the special orchid above it in full flower to attract the bees. Nothing - not one bee went inside. So we put the hive beside the house until we could think of somewhere else to put it - perhaps next spring. Within a week it was buzzing with bees and three weeks later it is still buzzing! We are supposed to check it for bugs every week or so and today was the first time we lifted the lid to check that all is going well. If you click on the close up of the honey comb you can see that although the bees haven't started capping the comb there is a small supply of honey building up. Now we just have to hope that the queen starts laying some eggs to boost the population and the honey supply!
This morning I got up at 5am to try and make a start on reducing the number of weeds in the vegetable garden. By 8am it is already over 30 degrees so an early start is the only way I am likely to get anything done. It is also dark by 7:30pm so not much chance of late evening weeding either. Anyway, a relatively successful morning's work - one thing I rescued were some
butterfly flowers that my daughter and I planted from seed in spring. My work was rewarded by a beautiful butterfly coming to suck some nectar out while we were collecting some of the seeds. I just hope it is not one of the butterflies that will lay eggs that will hatch into the cabbage destroying caterpillars in spring... perhaps I shouldn't have bothered collecting so many seeds!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Logistical nightmare

This week was one of those logistical nightmares which leaves you trying to ignore everything till the last minute and then just hope that it all works out in the end - which fortunately it did! A month or so ago I enrolled the children for a swimming course - which meant they needed to be at the pool between 9:30 and 10:30 every morning this week. The pool is about a 20 minute drive from here so it is not really too much of a hassle getting them there everyday - unless all the kindergartens that you teach at decide that they are not taking a break from English classes in the summer holidays! It meant that I had to teach every morning - usually from around 10am till 11am. All the kindergartens are between a 20 minute and 40 minute drive from the swimming pool. I'm sure you can work out the logistical problems I had all week!
I admit that I really shelter my kids too much from the big bad world. I think it is probably a combination of coming from a country where it is illegal to leave a child at home alone until they are at least 14 years old and living in a country where there have been the odd (not a lot, but a few) case of a child being taken and murdered while walking home from school. I cringe when I see the 6 year old children walking home from the school pool at 12pm proudly showing the key to their house where they will go and stay until their parents get home from work at 6pm. I close my eyes when I see small kids weaving their way along the footpaths of busy streets on their bikes with no bike helmets. I am not trying to get into a conversation about parenting and what is best for children, but I do have a phobia of leaving my children alone in our house and letting them go places by themselves. They are now 9 and 8 years old so it isn't that they aren't capable - it is just that they never really have the chance. Living in the countryside you can't exactly just wander off to the shops etc. if you feel like it!
Anyway, if you have lost the plot of this blog entry, I don't blame you! I started out by talking about swimming lessons and then moved on to sheltering my children too much. It is all linked however by the fact that I used the fact that I couldn't be there to pick the children up from their lessons to help conquer my fear of letting them do things alone. Day one - no problem, I actually had nothing that day so didn't have to think too much. Day two - I knew I would be 30 minutes late so they were on shopping duty. They walked to the 100 yen shop for a look around then went to the supermarket where they bought 4 cartons of milk and some bread flour and then waited outside eating iceblocks until I arrived. Day three - I knew I would be about an hour late so they went and bought an iceblock (not that I was bribing them....), walked about 1km down the road in the scorching heat and went and got my son's haircut. Paid for the haircut and waited outside for me to come and get them. Day four - my kind friend took them home so I didn't have to worry! Day five - again I knew I would be about 40 minutes late so they asked if they could walk to the bookshop and wait there for me. Another successful outing where they managed to get an iceblock and drink on the way and then buy themselves some books too. I think my daughter's one is even one for studying! All in all what was going to be a nightmare in terms of organisation turned out to be a learning opportunity.
For all the family members who have been to swimming lately they both managed to pass the next level of their tests today - Emily completed her 25m butterfly in 28.12 seconds and Masaki did his 50m backstroke in 54.34 seconds - I don't think I could even swim that far anymore and I know I definitely couldn't get my arms out of the water to do butterfly!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Beating the drum

As a lot of you already know, when my daughter started school we made the decision to not go to the local school (about a 10 minute walk away), but go to the next closest school (about an 8 minute drive away). The decision was made purely on the fact that there were no other children starting school that year
and therefore she would have been in a class on her own. Most of the
time I still believe that we made the correct decision, but very occasionally I feel sad that we are not able to be involved more with the few children that actually live in our tiny hamlet. The main time is the annual bon-dancing where most of the community gets together to farewell the ancestors who have been back to visit. The children from the local school all play the drum, but our children have never been able to do so (only because they haven't been taught it). However, this year my husband has been working with a few others to help any children who want to learn the drumming each Saturday night and this year they both played the drums with the local children, talked with them and played with them for the first time. It was probably the first time they felt really involved in the community and they had a great night.
I personally get sick of dancing around in a circle after the first 10 minutes or so and was happy when the night was over! Mind you we did come home with 2 boxes of glad wrap, 2 drink bottles, 2 chilly-bins and about 15 sponges for washing the dishes so I guess I shouldn't complain too much!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Leaving it over to the pumpkins

Despite my wonderful wheat efforts (just for the record we only got about 3kg of unrefined wheat so we are not exactly self sufficient yet! Heather, I really have no idea what kind it is... tane no mori seeds!) the rest of my garden has been abandoned this year. A combination of lots of visitors, lots of work, lots of rain and lots of heat has meant I haven't been able to get into the garden for months and the result is a HUGE weed pile. I have decided to let the various kinds of pumpkins take it over for the summer and in the autumn get the weedeater and tractor employed and start all over again.... hopefully!
A lot of my pumpkins are butternut pumpkins and most of them are self seeded. The interesting thing about self seeding pumpkins is that they readily cross pollinate with other varieties and you end up getting some interesting shapes and textures. The last photo in this entry is a pumpkin which I think is a cross between a butternut pumpkin and a jack-be-little one that had already crossed with some kind of zucchini last year. It will be interesting to see what the flesh inside is like.......
As an aside, I'm not going to get into the squash vs pumpkin argument... they are all the same to me!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A long process

One of my dreams is to be as self sufficient as possible... within reason anyway! I make a lot of bread, cakes etc. and therefore one thing I would love to have is my own wheat to make my own flour. Today we finally moved one step closer to this dream... on a very small scale! At the end of November some of the junior high school students randomly planted some wheat for me and my children stood on it occasionally, I weeded it very occasionally and somehow it managed to grow big and strong. My mother helped me harvest it when she was here and it stayed drying in the tunnel house until today when we finally decided to do something with it. Unfortunately I only planted a small amount so it wasn't worth going to borrow my friend's machine to separate it all out and therefore the traditional style of beating it with a bottle and then trying to separate the husks from the actual wheat began. We did resort to throwing it through a separating machine at one stage, but basically it was all done by hand.
Many hours later and we finally had our first ever wheat. I think we have to dry it again one more time and then work out how to make it into actual flour.... or perhaps I'll just keep it all and use it for planting more for next year - when we will definitely be using a machine to harvest it!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Holiday homework

It is summer holidays here in Japan which means the battle is on every day to get my children to do their homework. My memories of New Zealand schooling is that when school was out for the summer holidays, school was really out and the pencil cases were put away till the start of the new term. Therefore I have a huge problem with the amount of homework my daughter has been given this year (she is 9 years old...) and feel like telling the teachers to stuff off and let the children play in the holidays, but at the same time she goes to a Japanese school and therefore has to do what is expected of her. Tonight she finally finished her big project. I can remember doing projects at primary school and actually enjoying them. I can also remember that we were given a basic theme and a basic overview of what was expected of us. Title page, contents page, introduction, habitat etc. etc. My favorite project was one about a toe-biter. The theme was rock pools (if I remember correctly).
My daughter came home with a big piece of white paper, no expectations from the teacher and was told to research something during the holidays, present it on the big piece of paper and hand it in on September 1st. I personally think it is a little difficult for children of this age to do this without a bit more direction, so I helped her to do some basic brainstorming and worked through how she might present it etc. She decided to do it on our solar electricity system and the sun etc. and in the end it was all her own work and she is very proud of actually getting it done with some time to spare. Now she only has about 15 pages of maths homework, 20 pages of kanji homework, 3 pages of diary and a whole book of experiments etc. to do before we leave for Hong Kong on the 26th.... it could be a painful few days!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Chicken Update

Gina's great frog comment yesterday reminded me that she had also asked about our chicks earlier. So I guess it is time for a chick update.

When we first decided to get chicks we presumed that our old chickens would stop laying soon and therefore when the new chicks started laying it would be a case of "out with the old and in with the new". We also presumed that our chicken breeding skills wouldn't be quite up to it and that we would lose a couple of chicks in the process so ordered a couple of extra chicks just in case.
Theory is a great thing, but in practice... the ten old chickens are still laying pretty well (not one egg per chicken everyday, but at least 6 or 7 a day) and none of the baby chicks succumbed to disease, fright or heat exhaustion. So we now have a total of 22 chickens. The baby chicks are now almost as big in size as the older ones (you can tell them apart in the pictures by looking at their combs - the older ones have the bright red combs and the smaller ones have the smaller, pink combs) and eat almost as much. They are only 3 months old so it will be another couple of months before they actually start laying, but we have now combined them all into one chicken range and they seem to be living together in harmony - well the small chickens take over the big chicken's house during the day, the big chickens spend all day outside and lay their eggs in the little chicken's house, they all eat and drink from the same feeders - just at different times. or from different sides, at night the big chicken's go into their house, the little chickens go into their house and the whole cycle starts all over again in the morning! Confused? Basically all is going well in chicken land - and we are grateful that it is summer when the amount of food they eat goes down a lot!

Monday, August 09, 2010

The joys of being a mother in Japan

Every year the parents at our school are given a 30 minute lesson in CPR and rostered on for pool duty once during the summer holidays. I don't mind it really - a chance to sit in the boiling sun continually counting bobbing heads to make sure that no one has been sucked under. A chance to gossip with the other mother also rostered on that day (and this year I could sit and chat with Megan too!) and of course the chance to scoop out the floaties in the pool before the children get in. This year this job was especially fun as there were zillions of baby frogs in the pool! Every where you looked there seemed to be another couple just hanging about learning how to swim. I did my best to scoop them out with the net, but those I missed were keenly scooped up by the children as they were swimming. Gotta love country kids!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Yet another farewell

This year we have been lucky enough to have a lot of family members come and visit us. The only problem with visitors is that it usually involves farewells. Today we had to say a very tearful farewell to two very special visitors - my sister and her boyfriend. They came to Oita a year ago and it has been wonderful to have them close by for so long. It is going to be strange for my children to go to English classes at school and not have their aunty teach them. It is going to be sad to have no one just pop in for a good gossip after they finish classes early. It is going to be hard having no one around to play cards with the kids or joke with them. It is going to less entertaining to have no one call unexpectedly and pass their phone over to a random Japanese person for me to explain something to.
As expected we took it for granted that one year would last forever, but it didn't and we didn't see them as much as we hoped to, didn't eat with them as much as we wanted to and didn't go away on holiday with them as much as we would have liked to. But, we did have some great times with them and it really was special being able to spend a whole year in Japan with family living in the same area. Here's hoping they come back to visit again soon!
It was also nice to be able to spend a few days with Nathan's parents. I hope they enjoy their hike up Mt. Fuji later in the week!
Thanks Megan and Nathan for some great times over the last year. You never intruded or took anything for granted and we loved every minute of our time with you. You are welcome back any time!

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Basil pesto

I am a big believer in enjoying food when it is in season rather than all year round. There are a few exceptions though - one of which is basil. Our whole family really likes pesto - even my son, who generally hates all vegetables etc. So every year I plant some basil and then the kitchen turns into a disaster zone as I make enough pesto to last us the whole year. Today I was inspired to do so after I made some pesto filled bread rolls with the last of last year's pesto. I can't remember which book I originally found the recipe in, but the recipe I use is great for freezing - a much more solid one than the really oily ones you can buy in jars here (for crazy prices....). I freeze it in glad-wrap filled muffin tins then put it into bags where it will last for well over a year.
For anyone with an excess of basil - try this recipe:
100g basil leaves (wiped if necessary, but not washed)
25 g pinenuts (I use walnuts.. much cheaper!)
2 cloves of garlic
125ml olive oil
Put into a blender and blend till smooth. It helps to put the basil leaves in in a few batches so the blender doesn't choke too much.
Freeze or use as soon as possible.
When you want to use it defrost and add about the same volume of Parmesan cheese as the pesto and additional olive oil if you want a runnier pesto.
You can also add a tomato to the pesto in the blender for a milder flavour.
For anyone who wants grow basil for pesto I really recommend the variety "lettuce leaf". It has much bigger leaves than Genovese etc. and therefore takes less time to prepare in the kitchen.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Summer break

It was my son's 8th birthday on Saturday and this year he chose to go camping rather than have a party. It turned out to be a great choice! We went to a tiny town South of Oita called Kamae and went to a beach which had basically nothing but sand, surf and free camping sites. We only stayed for 2 nights, but the children spent basically the whole time in the ocean or on their bikes and my husband and I spent most of the time sitting around reading books or going for bike rides, with the odd cold beer thrown in for good measure. The hammock was definitely my favorite spot to laze in - I could read my book while still keeping an eye on the swimmers. I must say it was great! What was even better was that the first night we headed down to the beach with our pathetic packet of free fireworks from the petrol station and discovered that all the other people staying at the campsite were there with huge bags of much bigger and more impressive fireworks. We sat and watched and didn't have to worry about who was about to be burned or of course pay for them! The second night we were the only ones staying at the beach which was wonderful. The whole beach to ourselves, all the cold showers to ourselves (no complaints when it is so hot outside!), the ex-neighbours charcoal to make a fire for our marshmallows and only the sound of the waves to put us to sleep. All in all a great (much needed) break away! I was so excited about the summer holidays actually feeling like a holiday that I came home and booked tickets for Hong Kong at the end of the month - Birgit, Paul, Peter and Rosa - we are looking forward to seeing you soon!