Monday, January 31, 2011

An anxious couple of days

Over the weekend we had about 3 phone calls from different divisions of the prefectural office and the city office to check exactly how many chickens we have and that they are all okay. The reason for all this is because there have been quite a few new outbreaks of bird flu at chicken farms in a neighbouring prefecture, Miyazaki. We reassured them that all our chickens were all running around in their covered area (I have been very good about not letting them out lately) and laying beautiful eggs in large quantities each day.
And then yesterday we came home from a day away to discover that one of our very happy, healthy chickens had rolled over and...... died.... We did all the right things and rang the officials, my husband packed it into a double bag and took it to the town office only to be told to just put it somewhere and wait for a day. If another chicken died within 24 hours then we would need to get them checked, but if not we could just put it out with the "burnable" rubbish this morning as chances of it having died from bird flu would be very low. So we have been checking the chickens every half an hour or so and having visions of people in space suits coming in, TV cameras taking over the lawn and having all our neighbours' chicken farms shut down because our chickens had been the first in Oita prefecture to be infected with the dreaded bird flu.
Fortunately the remaining 21 chickens appear to be completely fine and rewarded us with 17 eggs today so we have our fingers crossed that the combination of freezing temperatures and old age were the cause of our first ever chicken death. I just wish the timing had been a little different! We haven't bothered to tell my parents-in-law about the incident as it is likely to just confirm that our "free range" ways are not good and they are likely to mention it to the neighbours who are likely to relay the story to others in the area who will change the story into something that it is not and we will end up with people in spacesuits at our backdoor and TV reporters camped on the lawn. I rewarded the remaining 21 chickens for being happy and healthy by making them a huge pot of hot porridge, which they scoffed down this morning.
Here's hoping I don't have a "spoke too soon" moment in the next week or so.....

Friday, January 28, 2011

Gaining strength

Two posts in one night... I hope it doesn't mean I am coming down with the flu!
A few weeks ago it was an absolutely freezing day so my husband decided to go to our town's waterfall to see if it was frozen and take a few photos. Unfortunately for him it wasn't frozen, but he did find the local karate club.... in the waterfall..... making themselves strong. From what I have heard this is quite a common thing for martial arts groups to do here in Japan - there is even a special word for it "Kangeiko" or "mid-winter training". Different clubs will go to the ocean, into lakes or rivers in the winter and test their staying power and prove that they are mentally strong. I personally think they are crazy and would be more than happy to just skip it and roast marshmallows on the fire ready for their return, but I'm sure it must be very character building.....

New Laying Spot

I've decided that the escapee chicken is actually very smart. She still insists on escaping each day to lay her egg and is onto her 4th different spot now (well the 4th one that I have found anyway...). We had a patch of really cold, windy, snowy weather for a while and during that time she discovered the bike shed and took it over as her daily laying spot. The first time I discovered her in there it was because she had actually rung the bell on the bike to alert us that she had finished. She now strolls up to the deck door when she has finished laying and "asks" us to let her back into the chicken house. I'm hoping she will keep using her new nest for a while yet... it is clean, dry and easy to find!

Monday, January 24, 2011

For Mum

Just a couple of photos for Mum... to show that not only do I chop a lot of the wood we use, but that I am also usually the chief stacker! I must admit I used to be fairly hopeless at it, but as the years go by I am starting to be a master stacker. At least it always looks good until it starts to dry out and move around a bit and then eventually fall over! Judging by how we have been racing through our supply in the last few weeks I think we are going to have to do another 2 or 3 loads (or more...) as big as this one ready for next year..... not that I am complaining... I wouldn't give up my spot by our fire for any kerosene heater or air-conditioner heater in the world!

The good and bad...

Living in another country always makes you aware of "differences" and you find yourself weighing up what things are "good" or "bad" all the time. This week a couple of things happened that showed both the good and bad about life here at the same time.
The first was that my daughter got sick. She was not ultra sick - just a sore throat, but with the "influenza" season in full blast here I made her stay home from school. It was her first sick day from school since she started almost 4 years ago. She was not impressed! Anyway, back to the good and bad... one of the possible reasons that she got sick is that the classrooms at school are so freezing.... and the corridors are even worse. I won't even start about the gymnasium where they still do P.E. in shorts and t-shirts. The teacher took great pleasure telling me that they had the "stove" on all day in the classroom and it still only got up to 11 degrees - I repeat INSIDE the classroom, a MAXIMUM of 11 degrees. As a result of the day off I discovered one great thing that they do here at our school - I have no idea if they do it at other schools or not, but when my son came home he handed my daughter a big envelope which one of the children had written all the things they had done that day, all the things they would be doing the next day and then there were messages from each child to Emily telling her to get well etc. as well as a message from the teacher. Of course there was also homework inside the envelope, but if you ignore that I was really impressed with the effort that was taken to keep sick kids up to date. Apparently they do it every day for any student who is away and often the teacher will take it to the child's house if they have no siblings at school. I have absolutely no idea if anything like this is done in New Zealand, so it may not actually be a "difference" as such.

The second good/bad thing happened to my son. For anyone who has ever been to Japan you will you know how wonderful Mr. Toto is. He is the king of toilets and although most people are usually a bit scared to try out many of the buttons on the warm-seated, technological wonders in the beginning, after a few months most people succumb, push the odd button or two and never look back! My son has recently discovered one of the buttons - the bottom wash one! He takes after both his New Zealand and Japanese grandfather and takes a book with him to the toilet while he takes his time to completely cleanse out his system. In an attempt to speed up the process a little my husband showed him how to use the bum washer. The other day he tried it by himself for the first time. He had the door locked. He was calling for help. Unfortunately my husband had shown him the on button, but not the off button so my son was sitting helplessly on the toilet with water gushing up to clean his bits, unable to reach the lock on the door to let us in to help him and starting to get a little worried! Fortunately we were able to tell him which button to push and I don't think he was scared of the marvelous buttons for life....
I have millions of posts that I am behind on again... maybe tomorrow!

Friday, January 07, 2011

Tempting Fate

The whole world seems to be dealing with natural disasters at the moment - extreme temperatures, flooding, huge snowfalls, earthquakes etc. and we have been warned that this year is going to be a very cold winter... only so far we have come off very lightly at our house. I know it is still early, but so far we have only had one relatively small snowfall - which resulted in one relatively small snowman that lasted all of about one afternoon. I don't have any snow tyres on my car yet so I am hoping that the promised wicked winter never actually arrives and that we can keep a lot of our wood supply for next year...
Now that I've written this I'm sure that from tomorrow the heavens will open and we will be snowed in for the next week - at least it would be a good excuse not to go back to work!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Piano concert - again....

My son decided to stop learning the piano near the end of last year (mainly because he didn't want to take part in the piano concert...) so this year we only had to concentrate on my daughter's performance. Our piano teacher only has about 10 students so it is never too long and it gives the students a goal to work towards. For family members (and anyone else who is interested...) here is a video of her latest piece. Better late than never.... For anyone who checked this earlier - my original upload didn't work. Here are two new videos - I hope! It is scary when your children start wearing your clothes.....

New Year

I have definitely lived here too long.... After spending 11 New Years in this little valley I think I have perfected most things. I don't have to ask what day the mochi (rice cake) making is on, I can roll the mochi into perfect rounds, I don't blink twice when my father-in-law wanders around with tissues stuck up his nose, and I enjoy digging into a freshly made bright green, sticky rice cake filled with sweet beans almost as much as the children do!
I also know which meals we will be expected to spend at the in-laws and exactly what we will be eating each time. I know that I am responsible for the potato salad on the first night and for cutting up the vegetables for the "barbeque" style fry up on the second night. I know that I am responsible for washing the dishes while my husband sits in the heated table drinking beer and talking with his uncle. I know that it is pointless asking to have the TV turned off during any second of our time there and having the volume turned down when my father-in-law is going increasingly deaf is also a losing battle. I know that we will start eating dinner at 4:45pm each night, despite the fact that no one is actually hungry. I know that we need to take plenty of warm clothes and torches for the cold, 100m walk home each evening. I know that we are expected to be at the in-laws for breakfast of vegetable and mochi soup on New Year's day and that the children will be given envelopes of money which I can no longer steal off them and discreetly deposit in their bank accounts.
Knowing all these things doesn't make New Year in our family any more exciting, but having experienced EXACTLY the same thing for 11 years does make it predictable and therefore relatively relaxing. I'm not going to try and change it. In my mind Christmas is for the children and New Year is for the older generation here in Japan - lots of traditions, not so much excitement! I hope you all had a good New Year with the occasional surprise thrown in!

Christmas 2010

This year we had a really relaxed Christmas. We spent the morning doing the Christmas stockings and presents and playing around and then we headed to our friend's house in the afternoon. I THINK (my memory is not exactly great...) that it is the first year in about 10 years that we haven't had "Christmas Dinner" at our house. We have been so lucky in that we have always had family or friends come to visit over this time, but this year one of our friends kindly offered their house for us to share Christmas at. It was a great afternoon/evening/night where 3 "international" families got together, all brought different parts of the dinner and just generally had a great time chatting and eating till we burst. I'm sure it wasn't as relaxing for Kayo and Steve as it was for us, but I had a great time. Thank you! It was made better by the fact that they had a spare room where we could stay so both Tom and I could have a few glasses of wine and not have to worry about how we were going to get home!
I know that for a lot of international couples living in Japan Christmas is a time where the "foreign" member of the family starts to get homesick and wishes they were home with their family as the Japanese Christmas is just not the same as "home". I agree it is not the same, but it is what you make it and for me I really enjoy the special time we make it here. The kids are still fully into Santa and the build up to Christmas starts in about October for my son. Children definitely make Christmas for me. Of course I wouldn't protest to a warm New Zealand Christmas in the near future, but for now I am happy sitting by the fire reading books and relaxing with great company and delicious food.


I'm not quite sure why I haven't written lately - not a lack of things to write about... just lack of motivation really (gosh how many times have I written that in the past!). The fact that the memory card on my camera is full is probably a good enough reason to do a bit of a catch up. I'll try to add a few entries at once - but I prefer to break them into topics etc. so you may want to scroll a bit to see if there is anything new.... or perhaps I will lose focus and only post this one! It is school holidays here at the moment so I find myself fighting with the children over access to the computer when we are not out braving the cold playing "park golf" or going bowling etc.
Anyway, first catch up - the rogue chicken! The same chicken has still been escaping each day to lay her egg then happily going back inside as soon as she has done so. I know where she is getting out, but as she is the only one who does it I'm not going to stop her. After I stole her huge pile of eggs she started laying somewhere different. Fortunately I discovered her next spot under the flax bush on the first day and my daughter found her latest "nest" a few days ago -on top of the nesting boxes... outside the actual chicken house! I managed to get a very short video of her popping out her egg this afternoon. For your viewing pleasure - a chicken's bottom! Aren't you glad I'm back in the blogging world again?