Yokomatsu Family Blog

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Musing about Birthdays

My birthday's coming up in a week and I've found myself lacking the energy to be bothered planning much this year.

With getting older every year the novelty wears off a little, that's part of it. And Japan kind of sucks the fun out of it by thinking the whole thing is much too selfish and childish, so that I even find it hard to write this and not feel like I am coming across as that! Neither friends nor family are under any obligation to even remember the day and say something, let alone indulge you in a whole week of 'Celebrating Me'. But it's less that I think than busyness inertia - the fear of planning because everything gets changed, cancelled or trumped, so that even blank spaces on my calendar look suspicious.

For years now, I've ensured my own birthday fun (and ensured my kids would learn how I expect a birthday to be celebrated) by making my own plans for outings, planning my own menus and ordering the things I want to be delivered (nothing better than getting boxes in the post!). No choice really, you can't just sit around waiting for everyone to realise then get all pissed off when they don't. Might as well ensure there are some things there that YOU like!

In summers gone by (I've had more birthdays in summer and/or tropical weather now that it feels normal!) I had more time off work and the kids' summer wasn't so stuffed full of things. I hate how while school is out, extra curricular classes continue. I do skip some of them, but feel obliged to keep up with others. I liked it better when we blew everything off and just forgot what day it was. Anyway, that was a bit of an aside, though summer busyness and plans certainly impact my celebrations.

So I didn't have any clear ideas about what I wanted to do, except go to the beer garden. That was my plan last year, only it got typhooned out. The problem is that my birthday falls on a Thursday, in the middle of a work week, sandwiched between two busy weekends. There simply isn't a space to put that!

Planning was complicated by there being so many things I like to do! Go out on a date with Kanji to a fancy restaurant. Or with the whole family. Have a family dinner at home with old country favourites and a bottle of expensive bubbly on NZ sav blanc. Go out with the girls. Have a home party, preferably wine and cheese. Go out for lunch with the kids. Eat pie at home for lunch (yes, meat pies, the height of exotica here!). Go out for parfaits or sundaes with the kids. Drink champagne or wine while watching a favourite DVD. Now, how on earth can I fit all that in? I can't, right? So I have to choose, and kind of let it fall by the wayside as I dithered about what I wanted and where I could fit it in.

At the same time, I was being equally dithery about our summer holiday plans. I'd had vague ideas of going to Shimonoseki, Miyajima, waterfalls, beach trips, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, maybe even Melody in Miyazaki again. And once more, I couldn't decide so kind of let it fall. Part of the reason was never knowing what was planned for Obon, and suspecting we were going to be busy with hatsubons, since there were two deaths in the family this year. It turns out that a visit from the 'head of the family' is enough and we did nothing different from normal, so we could have booked many things that weekend, except of course that that's the week every other person in Japan is booking things, and we'd probably have to had booked a year ago, plus the roads would be packed so even staying with people would be risky! I'm glad we left the week before free, and could do Gishwhes.

So for our annual summer holiday, we ended up in Beppu, because the chance came up to use the Yaskawa affiliated ryoukan at company prices (eg, cheap), and the only weekend I get a booking was the 30-31. That's the weekend directly after my birthday, and with PP stuff the weekend before, it was the prime candidate for my 'birthday weekend' with a panoply of events for moi, but alas, no more. I've also squeezed in a girls night in Fukuoka on the night of the 24th, with a night in a hotel for moi. That was an AFWJ event organized ages ago, that I wasn't sure I could go to, until I decided that with work and stuff crowding my birthday on both sides, I was damn well going to go, come hell or high water (probably the latter this record-breaking rainy August).

With work every day next week, that means my actual birthday will be a bit of a non-event, and it won't be a whole-weekend, or 'lunch today', 'party tomorrow', 'date night the night after' kind of long weekend I like to arrange. Just a day, and a busy one at that, with work in the morning, and three kid lessons in the evening.

So here's the plan, finally: in direct defiance of my usual practice, my goal this year is to not order a single thing. Okay so I've already broken that promise by deciding to buy the second season of The Conchords, but at least I am getting by on no ordered-in food. Breakfast will be after rajio taiso (nice way to start your birthday, lol!), and will be ham and eggs with the most expensive Buzen ham http://www.miyako-ham.co.jp/item/t010/, which tastes like real ham off the bone, igirisu pan ('English' bread) and Hokkaido butter.

Then work! At least it's an off-text lesson, and the two classes that day are okay, I should have some fun with them. Maybe I should butter them up with chocolate or something to ensure a smooth day!

Lunch is going to be beef kebabs at Aile https://www.facebook.com/AileCafe. I'm in heaven since Miyuki brought the beef back!!! Then we'll go home and eat meringues with whipped cream and berries. Okay, they are not from Nakatsu, or even from Japan, Mum brought them for Christmas. I hope they are still okay!

I have to take Erica to English at 5, but I might give that a miss - at least, her American English teachers are the most likely to totally and instantly 'get' that it being my birthday is a legitimate reason to skip class. It would just bamboozle the Japanese staff. We'll have a cheese board, greek salad and deep fried camembert for our snack at about 5pm. Then I'll put the chicken on to roast!

I have to order the chicken too, but at least I can order it from Japan to a shop down the road. I'll stuff it in the afternoon and have it ready to roast while I do the karate and dance class run, with Amy lovingly basting it and watering it to ensure a perfect gravy. Erica really can't miss any more karate classes since she missed so many over summer, and same for Lena with dance. It's okay! Just challenges my stubborn ability to have fun no matter what life throws at me.

So we'll have a super late dinner, probably not eating until 9, by the time we mash the spuds and make the gravy. I'll probably do roast veges and other veges in the afternoon to save time. Dessert is going to be brandy snaps! Amy's been asking for them lately, so we're going to MAKE them the day before. I've done it once before, with K helping, and have made the easier brandy baskets a few times so I know I can do it. I may have some wine, just a little, with dinner, but I think I'll be too busy eating to drink much!








Monday, August 11, 2014

Gishwhes

Well that was fun! 

I just spent a most interesting week participating in Gishwhes, the greatest international scavenger hunt the world has ever known. I joined Team Takoyaki at the invitation of a friend, on a facebook group, Kim, but I knew about the game from last summer, when Jessica posted her immortal photo of her battling Casey dressed only in kitchen-ware. 

It seemed like a fun idea, and while I had a few moments of doubt, I'm glad I went through with it. We had such fun! Or, I did anyway. E was a bit shy, A a bit teenage angsty, L was a good model though. 

It must say something deep and meaningful that the first items I opted for were dress-ups, Lego and food. I quickly put my name down for 'geisha', 'bathroom' and 'candy bathing suit', 'lego dinner' and 'ice cream hat'.


17. [IMAGE] You are off to a most elegant formal evening gala. Disaster strikes! Your outfit is ruined! Dress yourself in an outfit fit for such an evening, using only items found in your bathroom. -Hutchinson 49 points

Wednesday

This was my first effort. I started thinking about how I could use the items I already had in the bathroom, like my bath mats. I thought I'd just have a quick look at the 100 yen shop on Monday and ended up walking away with these black towels, blue sponges, red heart sponges ( in my ears) and the non-slip bath mat around my waist. I figured that you can always use more towels and sponges! Samantha came over to help me pin it up and she took the photos of the finished result. 


36. [IMAGE] You at the beach, pool or on a boat, wearing a homemade, 99% edible, candy bathing suit. (The remaining 1% can be inedible thread or wire, but we don't want to see it.) 53 points

Amy and I had started making this from the morning, but Lena didn't arrive home until 5. Amy wove the bikini top and I threaded in the lolipops. Amy made the marshmallow bottoms and I added the jellies. When Lena finally got home, we whipped her into that pool, Samantha standing modesty guard with a towel while I draped the swimsuit over her.  I added the 'straps' and the lollipop eyes and hair ties. We were just in time to catch the lovely light of the setting sun. 

Samantha stayed on for drinks and a curry dinner, and we spent the evening constructing stuff out of Lego like a pair of 8 year olds. 









106. [IMAGE] Let's see a fully dressed, face-painted geisha mowing the lawn. - Anni Kauniskangas 62 points 

Thursday.

This is the one I worked hardest at, spent the most on, and am the most proud of. I asked Satoko at Grand Jete first of all if she had a wig I could borrow, then she offered to do my hair. My girls had modeled for a few weeks before, so it was favor. It's my own kimono, and Samantha's obi, and I have all the ties and things necessary, and know roughly how to put it on, but I got a bit worried as it's heavy silk, and long, it's not like putting on a yukata, so I ended up getting it put on at the salon, at a cost of ¥11,000! I could not find geisha make up, so I decided to use acrylic paint, as Sam suggested that it would be okay as long as I took it off in half an hour. But then when I arrived at Jo's (I had originally planned to use my decrepit lawn, but as I had to meet Jo to get her to sign our passport photos anyway, I changed locations - as an added bonus she also had an actual lawnmower!), she told me she had some clown paint, so I used that! It was hot, it was sweaty, it was FUN!




When I arrived home finally, after taking some kimono photos at the shrine, and going out for dinner at Aile Turkish restaurant with my hair in place (it was so beautifully done I didn't want to say goodbye to it), I used the advantage of having my hair in a terrible mess to do the mugshot - the whole team needed to do a mugshot for the team collage. That's elopus, the Gishwhes mascot, on my cheek, and a backwards YOLO on my forehead. 



37. [IMAGE] “When I grow up, I want to be...” Have a child dress up as what they want to be when they grow up (lawyer, doctor, ballerina, dragon-slayer, etc.). Then stage the photo in the environment they would be working in. 61 points
Friday

I was really on a roll by now! Though another member (the one who invited me) had claimed it, another person had commented that she had someone sending her a fireman photo - but it hadn't arrived. I checked the facebook group first thing in the morning and read that, and thought, I can fill that gap! Here is the result!


74. [IMAGE] Be the messiah you were always meant to be. Walk on water (must be a lake or pool). We must not see anything under your feet except for water. Not that we need to say this, but: no photoshopping!56 points

The main goal that day though was getting the Lego done, and I also added this walking on water task. Filling the swimming pool took all day! I intended to be the walker, but in the end, Lena was just so much more elegant at it than me!


16. [IMAGE] A family of at least four enjoying a formal dinner. All of the place settings, serving utensils, dishes - basically every non-food item above the tablecloth - must be made from Legos. 63 points

Another thing that took all day! We actually started the Lego dinner on Wednesday night, while Samantha was here - those are her forks, knives, and sashimi dipping bowls! I did the glasses and spoons and gathered salad and seafood items. Amy did the large white serving bowls. It took all day because the first time, I just photographed the items. Then I read that it was a family of four, eating a meal, just everything but the food and tablecloth should be lego. Then I took a photo on the iphone's internal camera, but that camera sucks, so as soon as K got home, I sat him down and got my shot!


It was while doing the lego that I noticed, really noticed, that that is an octopus. Then remembered that we have an elephant finger puppet somewhere. Voila, the Gishwhes mascot Elopus! 


122. [IMAGE] Create a piece of furniture that hasn't been created yet but would be very useful. Demonstrate its use. - Alex white 34 points

Saturday

Really on a roll now, I'm getting the hang of this! Get an idea and go with it! Confidence! Trust! If they have a better idea, let them take precedence, but in the meantime, submit your own idea! This was something I thought of Friday afternoon and put together with two shoe stands and a broken part of the cat tower. Hope it gets us at least a few points!

12. [IMAGE] GISHWHES has taken its toll this year. You deserve a break. Hit the hot tub with a couple of friends... wearing hats made of ice cream.37 points

Lauren helped us out with this one. She's also on a Gishwhes team, Sinning Minions, and this was also her team's 'help another team' challenge. (our team's was already done). The kids were SO reluctant, but we had such fun in the end!




172. [IMAGE] One of my big pet peeves is that parades only seem to happen on certain designated holidays or for special events. Obviously, it is our god-given right to have a parade anytime we want. Build a Mardi Gras-style parade float and drive it down main street. We must see something related to GISHWHES on the float (a mascot, an item, etc.). 108 points

When I first read this challenge, it seemed obvious that this was totally out of my league, but as the week went on, somehow anything seemed doable. Or rather, realising that no actual full-size festival float was going to happen, I was free to do a mash-up. I made this with stuff in our crafts drawer and a hot glue gun in about an hour, and filmed it at Nakatsu station (while waiting for Lauren to emerge, honey-covered, for her own Gishwhes challenge!).


119. [VIDEO] “Jump the shark”. You will be penalized if you are bitten or eaten by a shark, so plan accordingly. (Liberal interpretations of this item are encouraged.) 21 points

Another last-minute one. I was up early Saturday searching noisily through the Lego to find the bits I needed for that boat! I made the mistake of thinking this was an image at first, and took a photo! I re-read the challenge and saw it was a video, but I had to go and do the hot tub picture then, so when we returned after lunch we re-did it! That's Lena driving. 

The last things I did seemed so impossible to me at first. Not something *I* could do. Impossible, given the parameters I read into the initial challenge. As the week went on though, and the 'impossible' items remained unchallenged, I was able to free my mind from the limits imposed by the original challenge (or my reading of it) and come up with more creative ideas. 

Naturally I want to try this again, and next year I will be on the ball from day one! 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Booking

I love booking stuff. I love searching and working out where to go and filling in all the details and working it all out and the little thrill of success, and a holiday booked! In another life I should have been a travel agent.

What have I been booking you say? Not much, just a hotel in Fukuoka on the 24th for a girls night. I figured it was cheaper than the train two ways, not to mention getting onto that last sonic is incredibly depressing and sinfully early (11pm!). It's my birthday a few days after that, and that day is full with work and other commitments so this is my birthday blow-out! Easy booking on booking.com.

The other was a much more complicated deal to stay at a company hotel in Beppu. I got the idea off my student, and wondered if I would be eligible to stay as well. She sent me the web link to check availability, and the application form, but I could not get anything to open on my home computer. Back to asking my students, this time we all went together to ask the receptionist, who made several phone calls and established that yes, indeed I can use it, I'm category C and have to pay the price up front then request a partial refund later on from my department. Ridiculously complex, but as long as I'm in, I'm happy!

It's a ryoukan on the coast in Beppu. Looks like it's just up the road from the beach there, so I have fantasies of spending the whole day at the beach, then retiring to our hotel for a nice bath, and a wonderful dinner, followed by a few hours of karaoke. All for the amazing price of just over ¥6000 per adult, meal included, which is half of what the cheapest ryoukan usually is! That's on the 30-31st, so can be considered another birthday special! Ending the holidays with a bang, as school goes back Sep 1.

Next will be tickets to NZ... I'm aiming for Christmas, thinking of sending Amy and Lena first, so have to find flights that suits all the parameters. This might be harder!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A summer holiday Tuesday

Can't believe a week's gone by already!

Well, with the double modeling day last Monday, then two days of camp, then up to Kitakyushu hospital for Erica on Thursday, then Gion and the Gion party, last week just flew by!

Today was silly busy - up for rajio taiso, then I set myself a two-hour cleaning bee, which went overtime to 10am, when I jumped in the shower, thinking I had enough time to shower, prepare my lesson and get the kids' lunch before leaving at 11:30 - only to get a phone call from work while in the shower. I didn't take it, being all wet and all, and was just sitting there musing on what the possible reason could be for the call, when I suddenly remembered I had a lesson that morning at 10! EEEK! Cue panic, motor-speed shower, throw clothes on, stuff work bag, and fly out the door, telling Amy as I left that her babysitting job was starting a little earlier, and please make noodles for lunch!

Amy and I got the carpet up and cleaned the living room and returned it to the usual non-party configuration. Then Amy decided we needed to move the stack of wedding albums on the genkan cabinet, and by the time I got back from that rushed morning class, she had completely cleared the genkan out and cleaned everything! She is a very thorough and complete cleaner, when she decides the time is right!

It's been pretty much on the go since then, I was home long enough to throw some cheese rolls in the oven for the kids' lunch, then rush off the catch the train. Home at 5:30 (lovely hubby waiting to pick me up at the station again - he wasn't there when I came out, so I thought he didn't have time and was just forlornly checking the car park again when I saw him pull up), then to Keio to pick up Erica, back home to clear kitchen table while K cooked dinner (eel and cold noodles - better than my effort last week when I served only egg and ham with the noodles - tonight we had cucumber, tomato, carrot, sprouts and alfalafa, spring onions, ginger shoots, shredded shiso leaves, ham, egg and two types of fish sausage! At the same time he was preparing sansho pepper corns for a future effort. He's turning into a right gourmet, even if it's only once a week.

Then it was off to my private lesson at Joyfull, and home again to send in reports by email. Things are finally settling down from tomorrow. One class tomorrow and one on Thursday, then nothing until next Tuesday. Plans include beach and pool trips, movies and an art gallery and shopping for summer dresses. Fingers are tightly crossed that a house for loan on an island off Nagasaki comes to be, and I'm forming plans for a trip to Beppu staying at a company hotel, and the kids first trip to Honshu, with a train museum and a possible look at a ship lined up. Summer is looking up! I just hope the kids are on board with it all, and their crazy schedules don't conflict with my plans!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Tour, No Tour

Feeling a bit disappointed, but also a bit relieved, that my tour seems to be coming apart.

Relieved because I was starting to worry about the cost - my goal to pay my visa back in full is proving elusive, partly because of the exchange rate but also just because of stuff, life - things that keep coming up. When I conceived of the tour back in February, I had the extra pay from Daihatsu and the extra classes I was doing, so I was certain it would have been payed back by now.

But also disappointed on a larger scale, since I, silly or not I don't know, kind of conceived of this as the start of something new, a permanent part of my work life, even a new career! Tired of never getting to travel anywhere (the only thing that really interests me longterm) I thought maybe I could recapture lost opportunities by bringing this group, or others, to different places every year. I thought they'd appreciate the chance to travel off-package, with more control or independence, less expense, and with their own private translator to boot.

Ahhh.... Japanese. They like their package tours, they really do!

I at least thought the NZ tour was special - it's the sort of tour *I* would like to take, visiting someone's hometown with them, with a festival going on, personalised invitation-only tours to special places, visiting a family home and attending a family party, a good quality but inexpensive motel, a personal guide who knows the area and can introduce the special, secret places...

The first hitch was K, who brought along a travel agency brochure and said she wanted to also visit Christchurch, Queenstown and Mt. Cook. After I had presented the details of my tour, she had emailed her friend in Christchurch to ask about it, and ask what were the best places to go in NZ. Of course the friend, who lives in Christchurch and probably hasn't even been to the North Island, said Christchurch, Mt. Cook, Queenstown. Typical toursity answer, and not untrue I suppose. K presented it as why would you want to miss out on the best a country had to offer, since this was probably going to be her only chance to go there. I get that in a way, I don't know if I would be happy to go to a small town in New York state for a family birthday party and not get the chance to visit the city! At first I thought I could add a few days, but I miscalculated and realised I couldn't, nor can I afford it. So it was back to plan A.

Then today T showed me a tour she had found. She said her husband said he didn't want to cause me any inconvenience (meiwaku) by having me do all the driving. My protests landed on deaf ears so I can only assume that the truth is that he doesn't trust me, and would prefer the security of a package tour. And actually I have to admit that it's a good one - seven days for 250,000 including hotels, transport and most meals. I have the itinerary beside me, and part of me wants to go too! I would enjoy seeing all those places at least, and being the Kiwi on a Japanese tour of New Zealand would be good for a laugh. But a) it costs too much. My tour worked for me because I could stay at Mum's, get them to cover the car hire, and could expect to charge a gratuity for tour guiding that would pay half my ticket; b) I can't go for a whole week because I have to work on Tuesdays; and c) I would cringe at the waste of money and feel bad that I was paying out so much when I was supposed to be making money out of this and forging a new career!

So at this point in time it looks like it might be squeezed down to just a day or two in the naki, with them after they arrive after doing their South Island tour (if they can finagle the flights, that is, but they probably can't, package tours being generally inflexible). And I wouldn't be able to charge for tour guiding fees since they really would be guests then, so I'd be back to paying for my own ticket. I could take the chance to go back for Mum's birthday but then I'd feel guilty about the fact that it's becoming clear that I won't be able to afford to take the girls for Christmas - my original optimistic plan included all of us going in December - so it's looking more and more like it won't be happening at all. K said today she's not sure if she can go at all. T will go on this tour with her husband and his brother. I will save my cash, go to the mini convention in Huis ten Bosch instead and save my cash to bring my family back to NZ.

That part makes me happy. I was worried about getting too emotional in front of the tour group, returning home after such a long time. I was also afraid I'd feel horribly guilty for not bringing the girls, when they SO want to go. Maybe it's better this way.

A Dream Friday

My dream is to one day, on a sunny Friday afternoon, return home from work and have a glass of wine. 

That sounds very simple, but is in fact very elusive with three hungry, messy children (and one messy, hungry husband) at home waiting for you. 

So... dessert and pie cooked, one laundry load brought in, another folded, another put in the machine, the cat litter changed (and the realisation made that I have some DIY to do in their toilet closet), two kids despatched to Gion gong practice and a third set up at the kitchen table with real, not play, doh and a bunch of cutter (she's decorating our chicken pie) and I finally get a chance to sit down with that drink!

I know that the day will come when I can do just that - come in, sit down, not think of anything else. And I already know that when that day comes, as much as I'll enjoy it, I'll also miss the little darlings, and will probably sit straight down and call them or check their status on whatever social media is the thing then.

I bust my gut to do it now though. I know I've posted about this before, the preparation it takes, going back to menu planning on Thursday morning to get all the shopping done on Thursday afternoon so everything is cooked Friday morning, the running around Friday morning to make things just so at home... and the constant threat of things coming up that stand in your way, an appointment you forgot, a sudden need to buy something, an emergency of some kind.

Well it's done for this week, and I have nothing else to add. Maybe I'll go add to the other blog. I think I did this last week, wrote a post after a few wines. Oh well, maybe one day I'll add some photos to the other days, and it'll be one drunken weekly post and bunch of photos. Sounds good to me.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Throwing Things Out

http://www.cracked.com/blog/5-useless-products-that-nobody-can-throw-out_p2/

5. Books
4. Skinny Clothes
3. Dead People's Stuff
2. Photographs
1. Stuff That Might Be Useful

This article really resonated with me as I've become significantly more aggressive about my decluttering efforts recently, fuelled partly by sheer frustration at the level of junk we've accumulated in this small house, and partly by the older girls' ideas about going to high school in New Zealand - the realisation that I may only 'have' them for 1.5 to 2.5 years more makes the saving of things they might need, that they use, the just-in-case stuff seem infinitely more useless. The future seems shorter somehow.

4. I can't agree about skinny clothes. Nope. Gonna keep them, dammit, cos I'm going to LOSE IT, dammit! I am! Okay, just the favourites then. Actually I'll probably enjoy getting rid of a lot of it. I haven't done my summer wardrobe overhaul yet this year (I usually go through my clothes twice a year) but I just have a feeling that this year, I'll be more ruthless than usual. I usually like to remove at least one garbage bag, I have a feeling it might be two or three this year...

3. I don't really know about dead people's stuff. Nana had already downgraded a lot in her shift from her home to Mum's, and was never a hoarder anyway. She liked things clean, neat and new. Dad didn't have much stuff to start with, and Mum was not overly sentimental about keeping pointless items like clothes. She wasn't ruthless either, the clothes stayed in the closet for some time. She couldn't understand her friend getting rid of everything the weekend after her husband died. It all went eventually, she just took her time and let it go gently.

As for me, I'd like to think my family would know what to keep and what to lose. You don't need my clothes or shoes or towels or kitchen things (unless you find them convenient or they have nostalgia value to you). Or most of my books and certainly not my papers (not even I want those, but life in modern civilisation forces you to keep a drawer-full of that crap). I'd like to think they'd keep my old treasures and my better jewellery (eek! I'd better sort that out, I would be happy to chuck most of it, but there are a few pieces that either cost more or have more history that I'd like them to keep). I'm already sorting out my treasures by writing a blog about them so the kids always have a record of what they are and what they mean to me, and am starting to put them out around the house so they have actual memories of them, instead of them being just random mysterious junk they found in a cupboard after I died.

1. Stuff that might be useful, hear hear! But... it's a tricky one. The things the article mentions you can't argue about, especially the pertinent point that these things would have been much more use to the world recycled fresh than kept musty and dusty until they are no use to anyone. But living day to day, there are a few things you need to keep around to use. Plastic bags, paper bags, paper clips, rubber bands, bag ties, envelopes and note paper, pencils, erasers, tacs, thread, needles, buttons... I've always been pretty good at keeping a lid on it though - I need newspaper to wrap broken items, but I never have more than six, and usually one or two, not stacks of them. I have a set of 12 tiny drawers (10 x 5 x 5cm) for things like tacs and rubber bands, which is tidy and easy to access and designed so you always have enough and never too much. Sewing things in a sewing box, stationery in a stationery box, pencils etc in a drawer in my desk. I think if you create a space for it, and only use that space, you're doing okay.

But what really got me thinking was the books and photographs. These are two things that, as the article correctly points out, have enormous social value. We've been taught since birth to treasure them. Books are the greatest treasure known to humans. Photos are the first thing we save when the house is on fire, as they are so irreplaceable. How can anyone brought up in modern society view these things as anything other than sacred, and the idea of trashing them as anything other than sacrilege?

5. Life in Japan exacerbated the book maniac in me. It's easy enough to be a bookworm when you have several stores and a LIBRARY always at hand to feed your addiction. Coming to Japan meant facing a sudden and horrifying drought of reading material, begging for hand-me-downs, paying exorbitant postal fees for supplies from home, paying top dollar for new books on rare trips to the big city, and learning to seek out reading material in any place a gaijin was or had been or might be!

Only a few years ago, any AFWJ event or any other occasion when foreigners got together would include a book and magazine exchange, where people would swarm over the new offerings, and snatch up their choices. I would always come home with more than I brought, glorying in my new treasures. Now you're lucky if anyone bothers to look at the pile.

I can trace my changed attitude to books (and magazines, which I also used to treasure inordinately) to late October 2010 when I won the ipad at Tropicoco's Halloween party. It was a first generation ipad, so I was early adopter, and I got an iphone too that year. It didn't take me long to discover the world of electronic books - the endless universe rather, because over those few short years, the provision of digital books has skyrocketed into the ether, to the point now that theoretically, I don't ever have to buy another book ever. With dozens already downloaded to my devices, and hundreds - thousands even - available free or for a few dollars, and endless online magazines and blogs, I know I will never run out of reading material, never run out of choices. I used to keep a book and a magazine in the car, the kitchen, the toilet even, I used to travel with at least two different types of magazines and one or two books so that I'd have different reading choices to suit different moods, but all I need now is to ensure I have a device (and a charger).

This has put the contents of my bookcases in a slightly more tenuous position. I've always loved having bookcases, and the idea of having a house with rooms lined with them. It feels enormously comfortable and glorious to me to have that resource always at hand, to know I can always stroll into a room or up my corridor and choose something I love to read. I don't think that's going to change soon. I keep novels I loved and think I might like to read again, non-fiction that I think I might refer to, and beautiful books I just love to look at or hold in my hands.

And while I've never kept novels that, once read, I know I'm not going to read again (I would sell them or give them away), life in book-starved Japan has inspired me to keep piles of unread hand-me-downs and giveaways and 'hmm, I might like to read that one day' books around in piles, to guard against the threat of  literally having nothing to read - a very real scenario for me in my early days in Japan.

That day is not ever going to come now, which means those piles of already-read, and might-read, and just-took-anyway piles of books really have started to become a liability. They have almost no re-sale value - books are being sold for 100 yen these days, barely worth the effort of selling them. Staff where I work have stopped taking used books (they were once like gold to new staff!). So, do I toss them? Cut them up into book art (really fond of this idea, actually, though it means keeping piles of unwanted books hanging around!)? Try to pass them on? Either way, the article makes a really good point. Books just aren't the treasure they used to be!

2. Photos too. For me it feels almost sinful to say that, as I've always valued my photos, even more than my books (which are theoretically replaceable at least). But I realised two things recently. First, a photo has so much more value if there is only ONE. It really is quite boring to view a folder full of twenty views of the same thing. I'm even getting tired of collages, though I completely understand the impulse to gather a few of the best that you can't choose from into one 'thing' to look at. I've realised *I* value a photo more if it's unique.

This shouldn't be a surprise really. I've always known that professional photographers take a whole roll, or several rolls of film and choose just one for the Vogue or National Geographic magazine article. And as I take them, the dozens of shots of one thing, I always have it in my mind that I'm going to trim them, just choose the best shot. I just have to actually DO it.

A realisation I came to in a different way, is that I just have way. too. many. I have so many that my computer has slowed down, and that's not even all of them - I have stacks of CDs of photos that still aren't on this computer! I have THOUSANDS of photos. Of course, like everyone, I want to 'sort them out', 'someday'.

I'm beginning to realise that 'someday' has to be sooner rather than later, and I have a few ideas about how I'm going to do that, but... what I know is, that if I'm going to get any pleasure out of my photos in the future, and for my children to find any value in them, I'm going to have to be massively selective about what I keep, and delete most of them. I've started, I've gone through iphoto once and destroyed obvious double-ups. Next task on my list is to start with recent albums (I'm less sentimental about recent photos) and try to reduce them by at least half, though my ultimate goal is to reduce them by 75-90% -wish me luck!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Enjoying it

Another busy weekend chasing children comes to an end!

JHS sports day done and dusted, an impromptu Blinky Bits performance and spontaneous overnight stay I should have vetoed, a modelling audition and the usual prowling the streets looking for free-range Erica.

Dipti told me the other week that this is best time of my life and I should enjoy it. She's feeling a little empty-nesty now her two are gone. Mum said something similar. People also told me that about the newborn period and babies, and I really took that advice to heart and did my best to enjoy that period, staying home with my babies, keeping my toddlers out of kindy or daycare until they were three (at the time I assumed they'd be home until 4, the usual time of starting kindy in NZ, or 5 in Japan, and K thought the same. In reality in was plainly obvious once they hit three that they needed more than I could provide and home, and all of them loved kindy - only Amy cried, and only for the first few weeks). But I didn't really 'get it' until Erica was a baby, because by then I had personally experienced how quickly the time flew, and that made me spend many more hours just sitting or lying, talking to her or watching her sleep.

It's true that being busy makes you feel dynamic and useful. I can see why people pile things up on the plate of life. I am speechless with shock when people suggest that because I'm 'only' doing ten lessons a week, that that means I have that strange thing called 'free time'. Like hell I do! Work, work prep, chauffering, paperwork, daily household tasks and the ever-present decluttering mean there's little time for play. I do admit to wasting time on facebook, but that's something you can do over a cup of tea between tasks. It happens precisely because it requires no extra prep, time or thought! It can go overtime though...

But part of it, I think, is just enjoying life as it's given to you, being present and appreciating the moment, timeless wisdom that can be found in many sources, in many different forms. Today it was reading about a teenage boy who just died from cancer four years after being diagnosed, and how he chose to live his very short life. Yes, you should enjoy the baby period and yes, you should enjoy the dynamic chauffeur-and-committee period, because you should strive to enjoy LIFE, period.

And so I will now go drink wine.