Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Cleaning glass

I promise that this will be the last post about wood and fires until next season... but before I forget, here's a helpful hint for anyone who has a fire and sometimes needs help getting the glass cleaned.  Despite letting our wood dry for 2 years (George - we get all kinds of wood from different sources....) there are times that we have to close the fire down while it is still roaring, or when the wood is not 100% dry and therefore leaves a huge blackened mess on the glass.  I have tried zillions of ways of getting it off and usually hard elbow grease and a combination of baking soda or vinegar is the only way to get it off, unless I want to resort to strong chemicals (which I don't!).  
This year I did a bit of researching and saw a few people saying that using the ash from the fire worked well, so I sceptically tried it and discovered it was a miracle cleaner!  All I needed to do was wet a paper towel, dip it in ash, rub it very gently on the window, wipe it down with some dry newspaper and voila a perfectly clean window with almost zero effort.  The fire just feels and looks so much warmer through a clean window!
Now that the fire season is over it must be time to start thinking about the garden again.  I'm almost too scared to go and see what state it is in.....

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Wood pile full at last!

We did it!  All our wood sheds are full (bottom photo) plus we have a big stack by the car (top photo).  The wood sheds are 6 rows deep, which hopefully means we have a two year supply.  My husband is a bit pedantic when it comes to the wood.  It has to be cut two years in advance and dried.  The felled trees initially need to be cut into 1m lengths and then brought home and cut into 33cm logs before being split.  As I am the main stacker of the wood I do actually appreciate having wood all exactly the same length - it makes it a lot easier to stack.  
This year I had another job apart from the stacking.  I was responsible for marking the 1m logs into 33cm sections with chalk.  My husband then took to them with the chainsaw.  I took the job very seriously, but unfortunately I didn't quite measure up.... My son was also helping and at one stage my husband asked him to re-measure one of the logs that I had marked.  As suspected I had made an error... I had marked one of the logs at 34cm rather than 33cms.  Fingers were wagged and I was asked to be more careful, but my son and I just turned to each other and laughed!  In the end my husband also decided that maybe he was being a little pedantic and that perhaps the log wasn't actually exactly 1m to start with.  I chose not to point out that 33cm plus 33cm plus 33cm only makes 99cm....  Somethings will never change though so I'm not sure I will be asked to measure again next year.  I will feel so deprived!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Great times

I'll do a photo update later when I steal my husband's camera, but... we have had a great few days.  We had some friends visiting and it was great to do nothing in particular, but just talk and eat and talk a bit more and of course eat a bit more too!  They are German friends that used to live in Japan, then France and now live in Hong Kong.  Their two children are tri-lingual in German, French and English.  The thing I always enjoy most is comparing the different ways of different countries and laughing at the way the Japanese do it.  Fortunately for me I am happy to just laugh at it and not get too worked up about it (in most cases anyway....).  When we have visitors I often realise that I have been here too long when I see something as completely normal, but a visitor points out that it is really very strange.
One example of this on this trip was when I took them to visit the kindergarten that the children used to go to when they lived in Japan. Their old teacher was there and was so excited to see them and show them all the places they used to play etc.  Of course the children (who are now 12) had no memory of it, but managed to smile and nod and even make a video-letter for their old classmates.  It was my first time to visit the kindergarten and also to meet the teacher, but as we were leaving she told me that she would get my contact details from my friend and she would come and visit me.  I smiled and nodded and said she would be welcome any time.  This happens to me a lot - it often feels like a form of greeting here and most of them don't actually come and visit, but there are a few who do and sometimes we create a friendship from the initial visit.  Most often we chat for a bit and I never hear from them again as we usually have nothing in common apart from the mutual friend..
It wasn't until my friend pointed out that she thought this was very strange that I started thinking about it.  I'm pretty sure it is a "foreign" thing in that I don't think Japanese people who don't know each other invite themselves to each others houses for a chat.  It seems to just be with foreign people and a "if she is friends with my friend then of course I will also be her friend" kind of thing.  It will be interesting to see if she does actually ever contact me.
I have been here for over 16 years now so I wonder how many times people leave our place after a visit and go home laughing about all the strange things I now do....... fortunately we have another few groups of fantastic visitors lined up over the next few months so they can bring me back to reality!

Monday, February 18, 2013

The next Hollywood?

At the start of this year we had fun watching as the town next to us tried to make themselves known by erecting a sign on the hill above the station.  For quite a while it was just "US" and then they finally got around to adding the final "A".  Although we don't live in this city, it is the city the children were born in and I always wonder if it will be questioned at passport control when we hand over a Japanese and New Zealand passport stating that they are born in USA.  As foreign things are highly regarded here there are also stories of people using this city name to their advantage - writing "Made in USA" on their products.  Of course they are not being dishonest.... just using their name to their advantage. 
Unfortunately I'm not sure how long the sign will be visible for.  Like so many things here I'm guessing that the trees around it will grow up very fast and it will become only partially visible.  Also the construction work looks a little bit dodgy so I'm guessing the houses underneath it may end up with a part of the sign in their backyard as soon as the first typhoon comes through.   But in the meantime we can take pride in our big white sign......especially on days when we have our binoculars with us!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Growing up!

Yesterday Emily found the apron that she had when she first started school six years ago...... I guess it is evidence that she really has grown up.. and out!  She has grown 41cm in six years.
As we start thinking about the things we will need to start junior high school I found it interesting to look back at my entry from 6 years ago which shows all the things that we needed before she started primary school.  At the time it was a bit nerve racking trying to work it all out and justify paying so much for a school bag etc.  But, now that I look back at it she has managed to use a lot of her things for the full 6 years and therefore the expense probably wasn't so over the top.  Her first sports uniform is still being used by her skinny brother, the mouth-organ piano thingy is still being used as it is the tray for her desk, the sports clothes bag, the red and white hat, the umbrella and of course the school bag..  I'm really hoping that she won't grow too much in the next 3 years and I will be able to say that she used all her new junior high school things for the entire 3 years.... I think I might be fooling myself, but all you can do is hope! 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Wood chopping....

My husband spent most of last night putting together this video of his wood chopping efforts and kindly said that I could share it with you.  Unfortunately I can't find the original videos as from what I heard I could actually remake it and add a very good bloopers section...... He has definitely gone for the good selection of chopping action - if you watch right till the end you can even see a double bammy chop!!
This year I have been much more relaxed over the help that my father-in-law is giving us.  I think in the past I have been determined to show that we chose to put in a fireplace and therefore we are responsible for supplying the wood for it.  Every year my father-in-law tries to help and I feel the need to race out and help him if I am around, or even better try and get it done before he can.  But this year... I get the feeling that he really WANTS to chop the wood so I tend to hibernate when he is doing it and then sneak out later and stack it - still a big job, but not as bad as having to chop it.  So with the combination of my husband needing to make a video and my father-in-law wanting to feel needed I am yet to pick up an axe this year.  The wood shed is over half full..... what are the chances I will actually be able to get through the entire wood chopping season without lifting an axe?  High I hope.....

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Snowy Friday

On Friday I had a muffin and coffee date planned, but.... when we woke up the world was white and I opted to stay home in front of the fire instead.  My husband tried to get the kids to school on time, but the main road was at a complete stand still (Hokkaido residents would laugh!).  Apparently a truck had jack-knifed and was blocking the main road and it was taking people about an hour and a half to drive 5kms.  Fortunately my husband has a big car and he isn't scared of driving in snow so he backtracked and took the kids to school via the mountain route - and after slipping and sliding most of the way he got the kids to school only 10 minutes later than usual.  But, of course most of the teachers were a couple of hours late so they didn't really need to rush anyway.  The kids here are so used to having no teacher in their class (no relieving teacher system here so if a teacher is away for any reason the kids are just given handouts to complete and are left alone....) so they didn't seem particularly worried that their teacher was so late.   
I didn't have to teach till late afternoon so I spent the whole day lazing around and hoping the roads would clear before I had to head out - which they did.  Another good reason to stop teaching in the mornings!
I'm guessing that this will be the last real snow of this season... or at least I'm hoping.... we have great friends arriving on Friday so I'm hoping we are not snowed in!

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Craziness for a good cause

I don't usually use my blog as a way of promoting other people's things, but this one is worth it.!
New Zealand has a large number of unique birds which are continuously under threat from different introduced predators and humans taking over their habitats.  Most people know all about the kiwi, but have you ever heard of the kea?  It is a bit of a cheeky alpine parrot that is diminishing in numbers.  Although it has a bit of a bad reputation for eating rubber off cars and stealing the occasional bit of cash from unknowing tourists, it is a beautiful bird that is extremely intelligent.  The exact number of living birds left in the wild is unknown, but is estimated to be only between 1,000 and 5,000.  It needs a bit of help to prevent it from becoming extinct and that is where my crazy brother-in-law comes in....
He has decided to try and do something to help the kea and has teamed up with his brother to climb 21 different named peaks in the Nelson Lakes National park in New Zealand.  Not too much of a challenge for young, fit men... so they are making it a little more challenging by only climbing peaks which are over 2,000 meters and climbing all 21 peaks within 21 days.  They are collecting sponsorship from organisations and individuals and all money raised will go towards the plight of the kea. They leave at the end of the week... and hopefully will return safe and sound 3 weeks later!
If anyone is interested in following their journey or supporting them please check out the following links:
Facebook: 21 peaks in 21 days  - Please like them as a way of supporting them!

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Stress relief

My 10 year old son  will often get frustrated over something small and when I ask him what is going on he will usually answer "I am just so stressed".  I'm not sure that he fully understands what stressed means, but I do know he is a bit of a stickler for the rules at school and that it often means he uses up all his patience and angel wings at school and then comes home and explodes.  I figure I would rather have him being good at school and exploding at home than being perfect at home and exploding at school, but there are times when I would prefer he was just a little bad at school and less stressed at home!
Anyway, the mochi making at school on Sunday seems to have been great stress relief for him and after bashing mortars full of sticky rice for a few minutes he seems very relaxed for the last couple of days. The same can be said for my almost teenage daughter.   Perhaps we should ask them to make it a weekly event... and perhaps the parents should take a more active role.  It may make the world a calmer place!

Monday, February 04, 2013

Next stage of life

Because the children had to go to school on Saturday and Sunday this week they now have today and tomorrow as a holiday.  Yippee!  We used the day off to try and get some of Emily's junior high school shopping underway. I feel a bit like a fish out of water.... I have just got a handle of everything that is required/expected at primary school and now it all starts again with junior high school.  This biggest challenge at the moment is trying to get all the school uniform things organised.  Today we went to three different shops and ordered the main uniform (pictured) from one shop, the sports uniform from another shop and then the compulsory sports shoes and indoor slippers (vomit... I'll do a post on them when they arrive!) from yet another shop.  I think within the next month they should all arrive and will hopefully fit properly - and last for the next 3 years......
Unlike some people, I have no problem with school uniforms and actually think they are a good idea.  Yes, they are expensive and mean the kids can't express their individuality through their clothes on a daily basis.  But in the end I think they probably work out cheaper than having to have a good supply of clothes to wear each day.  I had to wear school uniform at high school in New Zealand and found it so much easier to not have to think about what to wear each day.  Emily is excited about wearing one, but at the same time not too impressed about having to wear a skirt every day.  I'm sure she'll get over it soon!  I'll update the other uniforms as they arrive...

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Here we go again

For the last five years the first Friday and Saturday in February have been devoted to making cookies and muffins for the school bazaar. This year was no different... it started on Friday by making close to 600 cookies of various kinds and putting them all into bags.  Then this morning it was muffin time - 3 different kinds (chocolate - iced, vanilla - iced, pumpkin - cinnamon sugar topping), with a total of about 120.  Again they needed to be bagged and priced.  
As has become the norm, I made all the cookies and muffins, but had people come and help to put them in the bags etc.  This way works best for me - I'm not so good at getting people who have never done any baking to help me when large volumes are needed!  I know if I was a very good person who was thinking about the future of the school I would "teach" them how to do it so when I am gone they can continue, but.... my guess is our school will basically be gone by the time my son graduates and it is just so much easier to do it myself...... maybe next year.......