Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Okinawa Adventure

Despite it being the school holidays my daughter is supposed to be at school this morning..... studying (don't get me started on this!). However fortunately for her she is not at school, but is on a very big boat for a 5 day trip to Okinawa. It takes about 24 hours to get there and although they sleep on the boat each night they will go for day trips to different places in Okinawa - swimming, peace memorials, shopping, exchange with local children etc. It is her first official trip away without any family members, but she is far from alone... in fact she is with over 400 other students as well as about 100 support staff. She only knows one other person on the entire boat, but is really looking forward to her time away - as are we! Oita prefecture provides this opportunity to about 400 5th and 6th graders each year and it is a bit of luck if you can actually get on as the numbers who apply for it are about 4 times the number that can actually go. Hopefully she will have a great time and come home really appreciating her family more and more! It was nice to have her snuggle into bed with me at midnight last night claiming that she couldn't sleep because she was worried about not having Mum and Dad around.... a nice change from the usual "I don't want to live with this family!" comments.
One of the staff members is making a blog of the trip with regular updates - it is all in Japanese, but has some photos for anyone who wants to see what they are doing. It was great to see a picture of Emily at the table (green top at the back) with a smile on her face.... Blog address: http://yaplog.jp/shosen/




Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bottle Collectiing

One thing I am often surprised about is the lack of fundraising in Japan. In New Zealand if you are involved in sports you usually spend quite a lot of time raising money to help pay for trips away etc. I can remember doing raffles, making zillions of pizzas, baking cakes to sell to teachers , selling chocolate etc. etc. Schools had work days where you used to clean windows, mow lawns, wash cars etc. to help raise money for the school (they used to... I have no idea if they still do).
In Japan parents are just expected to fork out money for everything - especially sports related things. I have tried to explain to as many people as I can the importance of children actually helping to raise the money in order for them to really appreciate the trips etc. they are going on and the team spirit that it can help create, but have never actually seen it being done here. Our school has two "fundraising" events each year - a "bazaar" in February and this morning's activity... collecting beer bottles! The families from each area get together and go around collecting all the empty beer bottles and take them to the collection point at school. Despite the fact that we start at 8am it is actually quite fun. The kids have a great time riding around on the back of the truck (don't tell the safety police....) and the adults wander around chatting. An hour or so later and it is all over for another year. I have no idea how much money is raised, but I have a feeling that there may be a few other ways to reduce the amount of money we seem to be continually forking out each month to pay for things at school. Gotta love "free" education!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Over reaction?

It is 12:30pm on a Tuesday. The children have been home all day. The sun is almost shining outside and there is no wind. It is not a public holiday (that was yesterday). The reason they are home is that there is a typhoon hanging around somewhere over Shikoku and so last night we got a phone call at 9pm to say that school today was canceled -just in case the typhoon hits here. So far it looks like we might get the very edge of it in the evening, but not during school hours.
Usually I wouldn't mind too much, but yesterday was the end of a 3 day weekend where I had to run a camp for 60 kids. The LONG school holidays begin on Thursday so I was really looking forward to having a little bit of recovery time at home in between kindy teaching this morning and 3 classes this afternoon. Of course they are not canceled.....
Perhaps I will have more luck tomorrow... before the kids come home at 2:20pm.... it is Wednesday - the teachers have a meeting that day so the kids need to go home early......

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Gone


I think I may have written about this somewhere before, but I can't find it so I'll just write it again.... When I first came to this town there were three junior high schools which I rotated around each week. 3 years ago these three schools merged and a brand new school was built on a completely new site. This is becoming a very common thing here in Japan and although I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the smaller schools I think in the end it is probably for the best - financially as well as in terms of social interaction with other students and sporting opportunities. Another school has since joined the main school - so it is now a merger of 4 different junior high schools. I can't work out exactly how many students there are at the new school, but it is still not more than 200.... I'll check later!
The biggest problem with this is that there are now 4 junior high schools which are no longer being used and which are deteriorating by the day. There are plans to use some parts of the old schools for accommodation or community center activities, but the majority of the schools no longer pass the earthquake regulations and therefore need to be demolished. This is a huge cost, but our town has just pulled down the first one - leaving the gym and science block for general public use. It was my favorite junior high school, the one that my husband attended (obviously well before I met him!) and the school that my children would have gone to. It is kind of sad driving past it every day and seeing the cleanup progressing. I'm guessing it will be replaced with a huge carpark...... not sure for who to use, but probably cheaper than trying to keep the grass down in the area every year.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sleeping Beauty

videoI am a pretty stubborn person, but my husband is even worse sometimes. Every night we seem to have a battle about him falling asleep on the sofa rather than finding his way to bed to sleep properly. The major problem is that he snores - loudly! Tonight he made his way to beside the fire place and refused to move into a different room because he wants to watch the soccer at 3am. Great logic... don't quite get it myself, but I told him if he wasn't willing to move then I would take a video and put it on the blog. He said he didn't care because he doesn't snore..... unfortunately the batteries ran out on the camera just as the steam engine was starting, but here is a sample - I guess he is right... he doesn't snore and now you all know!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Frustration continued

And then to top it all off the "live" broadcast that I could actually see stopped in the last 10 minutes because the game had gone into exciting overtime and it obviously hadn't planned for that. So the final 10 minutes was spent yelling at the family to be quiet so I could try and work out what was actually going on while listening to the radio - it doesn't help that I haven't really kept up with the players names recently so I spent half the time trying to work out which team actually had the ball! An excellent game from what I could tell.... unfortunate loss, but has definitely motivated me to get sky sport for the rugby world cup! Either that or I'll take the hint from Andrea and get the family to aim the skype camera at their TV!

Frustration

I am having a very interesting experience right now.... I really wanted to watch the final of the netball world championships between New Zealand and Australia. Only I live in Japan and they have never even heard of the sport. I don't trust most of the streaming sites, but yesterday discovered that the semi-final was live on the radio (http://www.radiosport.co.nz/ListenLive/ ) I figured that listening to it was better than nothing. So I was sitting listening to it on the radio - but then I discovered that there is a facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/TV.Splash.Apps?sk=app_142452699165582)which is streaming it live - so I started watching it - only to discover that the commentary is in some language which is not English. No problem I thought - I'll listen to the radio and watch it on the facebook page. Only problem is that the facebook coverage is about a minute later than the actual live radio. So I have the choice - either listen to what is going to happen and then watch it happen, or just watch with no commentary.
It is half time - New Zealand is ahead by 6 goals and pictures with no commentary is winning over the radio at the moment..... Sometimes I miss NZ TV!

Friday, July 08, 2011

Jam Recipe

For Heather and Connie... here is the marrow and ginger jam recipe. It comes from a great New Zealand book called "The Cooks Garden" by 3 New Zealand sisters: Mary Browne, Helen Leach and Nancy Tichborne. The book seems to be out of print, but there does seem to be a "More from the Cook's Garden" book that is more available that I don't have... hint, hint Mum!
Anyway, back to the recipe for yesterday's jam:

1 large marrow (about 1.5kg) - Connie, a marrow is a zucchini which has grown very, very large!
4 tablespoons water
50g bruised root ginger
1.5kg sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
120g chopped crystallised ginger
1 bottle liquid pectin (225ml) or equivalent made from pectin powder

Peel the marrow and remove the seeds. Chop the flesh finely (I used the grater on the food processor). Place the marrow and water in a pot and simmer, covered until the marrow is tender (about 20 minutes - I used the pressure cooker - 4 minutes). Tie the root ginger in a piece of muslin. Add to the marrow with the sugar, crystallised ginger and lemon juice. Bring slowly to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Boil hard for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Take out the muslin bag and stir in the pectin. Allow to cool before pouring into clean dry jars. Seal.

Note - this works really well sometimes and not so well other times! I tend to boil it too long and get a sticky mess..... You need to play around a bit with the pectin. I suggest you boil it and let it sit in the pot till it cools quite a lot to see if it is going to thicken. If not then just boil it a bit longer and try again. It doesn't need to be boiling hot when you put it in the jars. It is definitely worth trying a few times to get it right.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Marrow and Ginger Jam

Most of my days start with a stint at either a school or kindergarten doing some teaching then a few hours at home followed by another class or two in the afternoon or running the kids to piano, swimming etc. When I am really busy my time management skills are incredible, but when I have some "free" time I tend to waste a lot of time doing nothing in particular. There are always too many things that don't HAVE to be done, but SHOULD be done that I tend to give up and just read a book.... Today I broke that trend though and made the snap decision to make some jam after I discovered a zucchini that had hidden away and somehow managed to turn itself into a marrow overnight. I love ginger marmalade, but can never be bothered cutting all the fruit to make it (my food processor isn't quite up to it) so when I have marrows I like to turn them into marrow and ginger jam which is pretty close to ginger marmalade. Great taste, very little arm work (the food processor can handle marrows!) and only the cost of sugar. Now if I could only use my time wisely again tomorrow the tomatoes might get turned into some relish.........

Land of the setting sun

Japan is often called the "land of the rising sun" but, if there weren't so many bugs I think I would put a chair in our driveway and sit there every night with a glass of wine or a cup of coffee and watch the setting sun.......



Tuesday, July 05, 2011

It's offficial

Japanese style green peppers (piman) have now officially joined the tomatoes, cucumbers and beans on the list of "we must cook every day or the fridge will explode" list of vegetables...... Favorite recipes most welcomed...... Have I mentioned that I don't actually like green peppers on this blog before..... but that they grow like wildfire here so I always feel I should plant a couple, or four plants each year...

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Companion Planting?

My style of gardening is definitely in line with the theories of natural selection. I figure if the vegetable seeds from the year before happen to come up somewhere in the garden this year they really want to grow there and therefore should be encouraged, not pulled out. Unfortunately this often leads to very jumbled patches of garden... this is my latest creation - my asparagus patch in the tunnel house... which I fed well with compost... which happened to have some butternut seeds in it... which happened to show their little heads and happened to grow rather big..... and are now taking over the tunnel house and growing out the door and windows. If you look carefully at the close up picture you will also see that amongst the pumpkins and asparagus are also some tomatoes. These are actually planted in a pot and are producing the best tomatoes I have ever grown (not saying a lot really!) so I'm figuring that they are enjoying the shade they are getting from the pumpkins. I'm not sure how long my mother-in-law will be able to cope with this hodgepodge, but for now it seems to be working.....

Friday, July 01, 2011

Renovating

One of the biggest problems with renovating is the huge mess that it involves. Painters or builders traipsing through the house, the need to be there continuously while they are there and then the dust/mess that it always creates. Sometimes it hardly seems worth the bother. Unless you live in Japan...... where renovating is easy! I didn't get around to taking any photos of the "before" doors through to our tatami room, but basically they had a few holes in them (thanks to our trying to move furniture around....) and the odd bit of graffiti from the kids when they were younger. I'd had enough so found a company that re-covers doors, contacted them by e-mail, they drove and hour to drop off a catalogue, I sent them another e-mail to tell them which paper I wanted, they came back 2 days later to pick up the doors - including the cupboard doors, took them away, recovered them and brought them back 2 days later. No mess, high speed! They also cost a lot less than I expected so I'm wondering why we didn't do it sooner.
Now I'm just waiting for them to find a way to repaper our living room without having to move any furniture.....
On a different note this week was one of those "if I can just get through this week, things will slow down" kind of weeks. It is Friday night. I made it through the week! I'm not confident that next week will be "slow", but it can't be as bad as this week!