Monday, February 28, 2005

Amy the diligent worker

Amy did her bit to help out at Jiichan and Baachan's Stand today, in her own inimitable way.

They have 'message candy' (with a little inspirational message written on the wrapper) at that Stand that they give away, two to each customer.

When Amy hangs out there, she likes to take scrap paper and a pen and draw pictures. She draws dozens and dozens in one sitting. Sometimes she gets into the roll of selotape too, and creates and embellishes her drawings with collage.

Today, she combined these two activites, and drew individual pictures on sheets of scrap paper, then selotaped two message candies to each paper. Then she piled them up neatly and instructed the staff to give one to each customer. Some she handed over herself to bemused customers who are used to getting their two candies, but were surprised by the little bonus picture they got with it today

Sunday, February 27, 2005


Today I had another good idea for Trademe - Bratz.

They sell for much cheaper here in Japan, and are currently on sale for the ridiculous price of 500yen! or rather, 1000 for a bundled set of one boy and one slumber party girl.

I intend to keep an eye on them and on the prices on trademe to see if its worth buying them

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Wine Tasting

Tonight was the wine tasting at Muroya Shoyu, organized by Shoichi as part of the Hina Matsuri. Jess A, Hannah and Adam came as well.

I was not quite sure what to expect, I guess my mental image was of a long table in the parking bay of the factory next to the office and the dolls' display area, with the people milling around, you know, tasting wine and nibbling the nibbles.

But the Japanese like to impose order on a party, and this one was no exception.

It was held in the back of the factory, and we were seated at four tables surrounding one centrally located kerosene stove heater. The party duly 'started' with a couple of speeches and introductions, and the system was explained to us. We were to have three bottles of wine per table, one each of white, rose, and red. The food was served piece by tiny piece, onto our plates, one type at a time, mostly by chopsticks, but sometimes by hand.

Once we had tasted all the varieties, we were to choose, as a table, a fourth bottle. We all agreed on the Rose.After that things are not so clear. We were able to bring our own, but we had not, and I bought another bottle of the Rose.

I introduced the Keio people to the Again people and tried to stay upright. Going to the toilet was an adventure - weaving through the cedar barrels under the ancient beams and out through a side door to a long-drop squat toilet.

At some time people started to sing, and made us sing too. We decided on Waltzing Matilda as the least offensive national song, and the only one we all knew - me Hannah and Adam, that is. Jess got away with it. The party finally 'finished' with another round of speeches and thank yous.

We went to karaoke, where none of us could seem to make the thing work, we kept putting in the wrong song, or ones I put in never turned up. I have no idea how many beers and chuuhais I ended up drinking, but I am exceedingly grateful that no-one took me up on my suggestion to go to a Snack afterwards, and I stumbled home, only crashing the bike twice this time (I think), and ended up sleeping on the lounge floor because I was too cold to brave the stairs.

Friday, February 25, 2005


I was getting a slightly sore tooth under the cap that was put on last year over a root canal treatment, but I was ignoring it as usual. The dentist is just one of those things you don't really want to get around to putting money aside for! Very easy to procrastinte - oops, it's raining today, can't go to the dentist. Oh dear, have to go to the supermarket today, no time to go to the dentist. Amy's got asthma - can't go to the dentist.

Then on Saturday my tooth broke! At first I thought it was some glass in my Moro and thought I was in for a free carton of complimentary Moros, but no, it was MY TOOTH, or about 1/4 of a molar. So I had to go, didn't I?

I first went on Tuesday for an assessment and some antibiotics, and came back today for...hmmm. And herein lies my problem. Why do I go to this dentist? a) he' fast b) he has an appointment system so no waiting c) he is a quick and liberal user of pain relief. But he does not speak English and my medical Japanese does not encompass dentistry terms. So basically I had no idea what he was going to do. I remember lying down and trying to remember where I had heard 'hazusu' before and if it meant 'drill' or 'remove'...

Turns out it meant drill, which was lucky as I didn't have a shot. That does make it a bit nerve-wracking, wondering if the drill is going to hit a nerve. I try to think of childbirth and breathe...relax...release the tension - having stiff shoulders does NOT decrease the liklihood of the drill slipping. And like childbirth, where having no drugs means you can jump off the bed when it's all over, have a shower, and go back to normal, so not having a shot means I can have a cup of tea when I get home and eat normal food for dinner.

I managed the last root canal treatment without drugs, wonder if I can do it again. Or should I demand the shot and console myself that it's good for my diet?

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Maika and Takumi's Mums

I finally did it. I bit the bullet and started the playgroup. Only time will tell whether I am going to regret this!

Amy will finish at Keio Acedemy English Kindergarten next month. She will start either full-time or part-time Japanese kindergarten. I have every reason to expect that Japanese will take over from English when this happens, although I am hoping that having Lena attend Keio, and continuing with almost all English at home,will help keep English the language at home. Of course I will continue to speak it, but the unknown is whether Amy will start to answer me in Japanese, or whether the girls will switch to English between them. Of course I can try to encourage Amy to speak to me in English, especially if I can't understand what she is saying, but I don't have much control over what they speak to each other. I can only try to encourage them to use it as much as possible by reminding them of their NZ family, and using as many resources as possible to keep their English skills up so that they never feel the need to switch to Japanese because their English won't allow them to express themselves as fully.

I think bilingual children often speak only a limited amount of the home language - their social development and learning take place in the community so their vocabulary expands in that language. They appear to speak the home language flunetly, because their accent is perfect and their understanding high, but they don't have the vocab or phrases etc to fully express themselves on a wide variety of subjects. Part of the problem is that everything that is relevant to the child takes place in the community language. Peer language, hobbies, etc.

It is for this reason, and just to keep some people in her life who don't think it's weird to speak another language. So I thought of the idea of keeping up contact with her kindy friends, not by swapping phone numbers and making vague promises, but by setting up a playgroup at a specific time and place for us all to attend.

What I am afraid of is becoming the teacher. I don't want to be the teacher, it puts too much pressure on me to prepare a 'lesson', keep it moving for the required amount of time, and show some results. I am much happier calling it a club, so I can sit back and ignore them if I feel like it! The idea is that we will play games in English, using resources chosen and ordered by me. All the parents will be responsible for encouraging their children to keep speaking English and not switching to Japanese. And only kids who already speak English will be welcome - this is not a lesson. I will ask them to contribute a small amount each month which we will use to buy snacks, and order games, books and resources.

So with that in mind, I asked Maika's Mum and Takumi's Mum to my house for lunch. I see them the most outside of kindy, and their English skills are very good. I showed them my plan, and they were very excited about it, especially Takumi's Mum, because Takumi will not be continuing at Keio. I aksed them to translate it into Japanese for me, and we will spread the word around the Keio mums and get a group together.

So it's done, and I am committed I guess.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Man With the High-Heel Shoes

I was leaving the checkout area when I saw him, the man in the red tracksuit, grey socks, and high heel shoes. Black ones, chunky heel, heel-less peep-toed.God knows what I would have thought of him if I had seen him in New Zealand, but this is Japan, and I just assumed that he had rushed out of the house and grabbed the first shoes in the genkan, which just happened to be his wife's.

The genkan is an area just inside the front door, before the step up to the inside of the house. It's where everyone leaves their shoes. Ideally, there shoes will be stored in a nearby cabinet or at least neatly lined up, facing out ready to slip straight into. There should also be some all-pupose geta (wooden Japanese clogs) or outside slippers ready to slip into for quick trips out, like when you go out to get something in from the car. Or when you go out in the car to the convenience store, or the supermarket...

In reality it's often a bit more of a mess. In reality those all-purpose slip-ons aren't always there, and people often tend to slip into whatever looks most convenient. I will slip into Kanji's sneakers rather than mine, because they are bigger, so they are easier to slip on and off. At Kanji's parents you might find me teetering on Baachan's old shoes on days when I wore my boots to work and can't be bothered pulling them on and zipping them up for just a short trip to the Stand.

And obviously the cross-dresser at the supermarket was just some guy wearing his pyjamas who had whipped out to grab something and rushed out the door, using the most convenient shoes his feet found on the way. No doubt he had worn them numerous times to get the mail, answer the door, go to the car, etc, and didn't think twice before he slipped them on.

Or maybe he was just a weirdo

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Some Thoughts on Swimming

I finally got back in the pool after about two weeks of various sickness and busy-ness distracting me.

I didn't do too badly after the break, but I lost count of my laps so I can't say how far I swam.

There was a man sharing my lane today. It's good when there's a man in my lane. No, it's not what you think, I am a very happily married lady. Okay, it is what you think, but only a little bit, because seeing if you can catch a glimpse of bicep as you gilde by, goggled and trying to breathe, is not easy.

But really it's about speed and pacing. Usually I share the lanes with old ladies, NONE of whom can keep up with me. That means I am constantly having to slow down so I don't swim into their feet, hoping they will realise I am there and wait and let me pass them at the end of the lap. Or having to wait myself to let them get ahead, only to catch up to them before they have finished the 25m lap.

But at least when I share a lane with a man, I know we won't have that problem. In fact, I am spurred on to swim a little faster, cos I love to see if I can beat them! It takes a few laps to sort out who is faster and who should be waiting to let the other pass. Of course, no man would EVER publicly admit I swim faster by waiting for me to pass. No, they pretend they wanted to do a lap of breaststroke or walking instead.

I waited for the man to pass me today. But he reached the edge of the pool and stood up. Such things should not be allowed! I can understand why muslim men want women covered all the time. Of course, I just kept swimming.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Mrs Fukuda

Yoshimi again today. She is 70, and has been studying English with me for five years - through a marriage and two babies, several overseas trips by both of us, and she just keeps coming back.

She's a tiny lady, mother of one and grandmother of four. Occasionally she takes a trip to Tokyo to visit her mother! She often brings us souvenirs (cakes) and her and Baachan have a bit of a battle giving things to each other all the time. She brings the girls a present every now and then too. She dotes on them, and doesn't seem to mind them coming to the lesson.

Her English has improved in that time, of course. We cover the material quite nicely in our current text book (about the fourth) and do mostly conversation. She also paints, and often gets together with her junior high school class for reunions.

I hope she continues for another ten years!

Sunday, February 20, 2005


We went to the library today.

Yes, that sounds pretty ordinary, but it's the first time! For a book-lover like me, most extraordinary. I remember going in once several years ago, asking for the English section, and finding about 12 ESL textbooks. So I gave up. And I did not expect them to have many English children's books, so I have collected quite a library of my own.

But then Joanne went a few weeks ago, and said the did have some English books, and that was in Usa, so surely Nakatsu would have some. So we gave it a try.

I found the English book section had grown and diversified. I got "Japan's Best Short Letters of Love", which is bilingual, so I can use it to practice reading Japanese. And I got several Japanese books - ones with lots of pictures. I remember how I used to read the big, non-fiction books on Mum and Dad's bookshelf, and started out just looking at the pictures, then reading the captions, and then finally the text as I got older. I figure the same system will work for Japanese, and I will start out with books with lots of pictures. So I got one with historical photos, a fashion book that also has English captions, a recipe book (I can pretty much read Japanese recipes) and three children's books - Snow White with furigana, a picutre book for kids with insects and another with water creatures, and a book of the human body with all the parts labelled in kanji, but aimed at kids, so all the readings are provided.

The kids grabbed about 12 picture books in both English and Japanese, including two with CDs, one Japanese one English. I just hope Daddy comes home often enough to read them to them before they have to go back!

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Lena's Night Terror

Lena had a really horrible scary night terror last night.

I was just shifting to be comfortable and I lightly touched her, nothing out of the ordinary, I often reach out to touch her, several times a night I think (it's done kind of semi-conscious now so I don't know) to see where she is and if she is covered by the blankets.

But last night I touched her just lightly on the arm, and SCREAMED!!!!!!!!! She totally went off her nut, a frantic, panicked, terrified crying and wailing and yelling about a 'mushi' (insect). I tried to touch her again and she scrambled away from me. All the time I was calling out to her, Lena, it's mummy, Lena, what's wrong, it's Mummy. She finally heard me, and leapt into my arms, her arms and legs all four of them clinging around me like a little monkey, telling me about the 'mushi' she thought had been crawling on her arm.

We had to turn on the light and show her there were no insects in her bed.

On the sweet side, as I lay beside her reading the other night, she said "Mummy huggle me and pat me". So I put my arm around her and stroked her temple. She said "mmm, you love me Mummy".

Friday, February 18, 2005

The Christian Lesson

Yoriko Fukunaga, the heart doctor and intended evangelical faith healer translator came tonight for her first lesson.

It went quite well, although we don't have any definite material yet. I helped her with the pronunciation of a few words, we started to look at a text about Faith Healing, talked about the language used in the Bible and which translation was popular. So now I am grateful that I know what 'King James' means and the difference between episcopalians and evangelicals!

I have ordered Osborn's book and some tapes with him speaking, so we can get into the hard stuff next week - simultaneous translation.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Amy and the New York School of Ballet

We bought the Barbie 'Nutcracker' in New Zealand. Amy loves ballet and Barbie so I thought it was a nice way for her to learn what a ballet really is, get familiar with the music, etc.

But she has only watched it once. She prefers the documentary included as an extra on the DVD about seven dancers at the New York School of Ballet. There is a principal dancer, a core dancer, and five students of various ages, and we watch them at their lessons, and talking about their lives and ballet.

Amy knows it so well she has started to spout dialog (complete with American accent). In the car on the way to ballet, I hear her saying "In my ballet bag, I have...spare tights..." etc just like on the DVD. She has taken charge of her ballet bag, and never forgets it now. I can SEE that she is, in her head, a REAL dancer on the way to her lessons at the New York School of Ballet (first question: "Mum, what's New York?")

Then I hear her going, "My name is Gangin Dongin (she is misheading the name and I can' t for the life of me imagine what it could be!) and I am a student at the New York School of ballet" or "I was a second angel and a third shell" (talking about the parts the kids had played in perfomances).

Of course, she has asked me if she can go to the American School of Ballet when she grows up. And of course, I said "Of course, if you study hard enough".

She is aware that New York is a plane ride away, but still seems to think that her teacher is able to go to her lesson at in New York on a Tuesday and be back in time for Amy's class on Thursday!

Wednesday, February 16, 2005


Wow, just turning up at Again and my social life was boosted for the next few weeks. I managed to make three dates in the first five minutes

Feb 26 is a wine tasting, I bought tickets for Kanji and me. The party is part of the Hina Matsuri, arranged by Shoichi and a wine student from Kitakyushu who will be bringing German wines. There will also be some food, and it will be held at Muroya. I am looking forward to it.

Second is a party at Again, on March 2. Only a little different from the usual thing, we will be starting at 7pm and will be eating steak. And drinking bucketloads of beer no doubt. Good thing I don't have college the next day!

Third is a speech. I forgot the event, some club of Jinjin's, a Nakatsu developement group I think. I am to talk about my impressions of Nakatsu for about 20 minutes, in Japanese. After my last effort, where I still had loads to say after 90 minutes, I don't think that will be a problem. I just have to think of what to say that is not to negative! Thought I might talk about 'my' tree, that beauty they pulled up to build a new road and then put back in the park opposite Kanji's stand, all hacked to bits and wrapped up like a mummy - but alive, with a few brave shoots poking out from the amputated limbs. I don't know whether to be mad that nearly every tree here is cut to bits for being a nuisance, or pleased that they cared enough to transport it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Kaze o Hikan Koto Suru ne

I am doubly pissed off.

Second, it took too long to get the girls to sleep tonight. I thought that with their illnesses they would go off quickly, but it was not to be. First, Lena decided she wanted to sleep next to Amy, and I relented, after all, they slept side by side so nicely in NZ. So that delayed them. Then Lena decided to sleep without her chuppa - and how could I say No to that? Second delay begun. Then Daddy came home and they heard him come into the living room, so then it started all over again!

Of course that would not have been so annoying if I hadn't had a previous annoyance to deal with. I went to Kakize for lunch, and Baachan came in briefly and fussed over Amy and checked her for a fever and when I told her it was her asthma, she declared it was a cold. I said No, the doctor said it was asthma, but she still insisted that the asthma had started from the cold. This dates back to Saturday, when they were wearing one less layer than Baachan deemed appropriate. (The cough pre-dates this episode by about week).

Now I know that weather is the worst thing for Amy's asthma - cold biting air, and damp humid air are just as bad. As for colds, I don't know which is first - is it that the asthma predisposes her to catch colds badly, or do the colds come first and set off her asthma? Either is plausible. But the real clincher is the phrase in the title, which means "do things to not catch a cold". In Japanese there are no pronouns in the sentence, so it is not clear from the words who is to do these things, but I have always assumed they mean me. (Like make sure they have about ten layers of clothes on.)

It could also just be a set phrase, not to be taken personally, like you might say to someone in English "Don't catch a cold" as they head off out the door in the rain or something. But they say it so much!

And then when the kids do catch a cold, they say a word that kind of means, 'as I told you' 'what do you expect' like they really did actually expect me to be able to prevent every single cold, and if I had just kept the kids warm enough it wouldn't have happened. Do they really think that there are people in the world who never catch a cold, and that they did it by simply staying warm all the time? I can understand the notion of harsh weather taking a toll on your physical condition and predisposing you to succumb to the virus, but not to the idea that, therefore, all colds can be prevented by doing the opposite.

And why do they act like catching a cold is the worst thing in the world that could happen? Colds don't kill people, they don't even really debilitate you, they are just a nuisance. And EVERYONE gets them!!!!!

I could have handled it today, only they both did it - once Baachan had left, Jiichan came home, fussed over Amy, checking her for fever, worrying that she had lost weight, and then, when I reported she was having as asthma attack he also immediately declared that she actually had a cold (like that was the worse option) and...that damn phrase again.

I just packed up and left. I had been going to leave Amy there while I took Lena back for a visit. (All this while poor Lena had the actual fever and cold but no-one paid attention to her. After all, she had a jersey on on Saturday). I ended up taking Amy too, and she had another check and another nebulizer treatment, while healthy little Lena got the all-clear. Now I know why other parents just feel a fever and give the kids some panadol and forget about it. Cos you've got kids like Lena. Amy goes down, stops moving, can't eat, vomits, cries, and sleeps half the day. Lena got up to 39 yesterday and she was still acting normal. It wasn't until tiredness overtook her as well as the fever that she complained of a headache.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Valentine's Day and Fairies

We went to the doctor this morning and got our check-up, nebulizer and meds, after waiting the usual two hours. At least I am used to it now, and take a book to read! It was harder when Lena was one and needed constant supervision as she toddled around the room. Now I can leave her to her own devices and the worst thing that can happen is that she'll gather samples of all the viruses and bacteria present in the room to take home for our immune systems to experiment with.

She has been given cough medicine, and I'm too keep an eye on her temperature and go back if it gets higher, as she might need antibiotics. At least this doctor isn't as keen on handing them out like candy as some Japanese doctors are. She feels pretty hot right now, so I better go see how she is.

It is also Valentine's Day, so we got Dad some chocolates. I aksed them both who they wanted their boygfriend to be and they both chose Daddy. Electra complex? But what Daddy appreciated much more was Lena when he was putting her to sleep last night, saying "I love you Dad" and putting her tiny arm around his neck and stroking him. That melts a Daddy's heart more than any amount of Mickey Mouse chocolate.

Of course I didn't get anything. Valentine's Day in Japan is for women to buy men chocolate, or a gift. The whole Valentine display consists of tastefully packaged chocolate, men's underwear and chocolate, not a girly thing in sight. Men are supposed to return the favor on White Day, March 14.

We hired some DVDs today, just to be sure Amy has a quiet afternoon. We watched A Fairy Story, about the Cottingley Fairies (The two little girls who became famous for photographing fairies in their garden). Then ending is especially sweet, with all the fairies coming back and the fairy queen coming to see the little girls, and bringing back the other little girl's Daddy from the war. Amy was so happy that all the fairies came back, and none had been caught, and everyone was happy, that she actually cried! She is such a deeply emotional child. When she is upset, she screeches and despairs like the sky is falling on her head, but when she is happy her heart sings and the whole world is wonderful.

Now she tells me she is going to dream of fairies tonight, and she is so happy she won't have to have nasty dreams tonight. She even made some fairies and had her photo taken in the garden with them.

(Cute things kids say: Amy, while drawing a picture of me as a girl doing ballet, said she knew I had done ballet as a girl, even before I told her. When I aked her why, she replied "Because your belly button glows pink")

Dinner tonight: ceasar salad, fried rice with yesterday's uneaten vegetables, and...and...and....I really have no name for it! You slice thin slices of lotus root, and put two pieces together with tinned tuna in the middle. Then you crumb them and fry them. Fried lotus & tuna sandwiches? That sounds gross but they are truly yumy.


The Real Cottingley Fairies

Amy and Lena and the fairies Amy made

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Hina Matsuri vs. Nakatsu Public Hospital

Amy's cough got progressively worse through yesterday, and she finally vomited in bed. She was upset and crying because she was coughing so much and it hurt her. It also exhausts her - it is sad to see my little girl, who is usually so active and non-stop talkative, go so quiet and still.

Since her usual pediatrician does not open on Sundays, we had to take her to the public hospital, where we were given a day's worth of meds and told to go to Inoue on Monday.

And so we missed the Hina Matsuri Parade once again! Hina Matsuri is the dolls' festival, for little girls. Usually it's an at-home fesitval - girls take out their Hina Dolls - beautiful dolls dressed in Heian period court clothing. Then on the actual day, March 3, you have a party at home and drink a special sweet sake and eat special sweets.

But in Nakatsu, it has also become a public festival, and several families open their homes to display their dolls to the public. Most famous are Yori's dolls (Yori of the soy sauce fame). His has several sets that go back 2-300 years. The festival kicks off with a parade from the station round to the soy sauce factory. There are troups of dancers, groups of little girls dressed in various costumes, several rickshaws carrying ladies dressedin a variety of kimonos, and the highlight - this year's Hina festival princess, dressed in the same Heian period clothing as the dolls and carried in a beautiful wooden carriage.

It is this parade that we have now missed for four years in a row. We went in 2001 when Amy was a baby. In 2002 we were in NZ for Lena's birth. In 2003 we were in NZ to farewell Grandad. Both this year and last Amy was ill. Fingers crossed we will make it next year!

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Dr. Yoriko

My new student came at 7pm. She is 30-something, single cardiologist at a private hospital in Usa. Her English is really excellent, which will be a good change for me, and a challenge!

She has studied English a lot, and has quite a definite purpose in choosing to get a teacher right now. Her father is a presbyterian preacher, and next year will be hosting the visit of a famous evangelist and faith healer, T.L.Osborne. Yoriko has been asked to translate, so she wants to study public speaking and religious oratory.

She contacted me through a website that lists teachers and charges students to search for one. As part of my application I had to state my university major - which was religious studies. I remember as I typed it in thinking how irrelevant that was...only to actually be chosen on that basis! Hey Mum and Dad! My degree finally got me a job!

Friday, February 11, 2005


We went to Yamaga today to visit Emily and Masaki and their mother Joanne who is from NZ too. They have kites! So we braved the bitter cold (a biting wind very much like NZ winters today) and went out and flew the kites. The wind was a little strong, and at one stage lifted Lena on to her tiptoes! She let go rather than have her first try at hang-gliding

Amy holding the kite at left; below, She does it! With Emily and Masaki, in front of their house

Lena holding the kite.............She also manages to get it to fly

Crossed Kites:

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Slow Day

What a slow day.

Kanji was home between lunchtime and dinnertime. We tried to have a nap and the kids (literally) jumped all over us. There is no such thing as a parents-only hug - they have just got to be the ham in the sandwich.

I am reading several books at the moment, which is not unusual for me these days. This started when the girls were babies, and I had little time to read. Consequently it took me ages to read one, and I would start to get bored with it, it was like: "oh, god, am I still reading that book?" So I started to diversify, and read several at once. Of course, that means it takes longer for each book to be finished, but because I switch around I don't get bored with any one book.

I have had up to eight book and/or magazines going at once: bedtime book, toilet book, car book, purse book, couch book, kitchen table book, chapter-a-day book - let's see how many I have going at the moment:

"Memoirs of Cleopatra" by Margaret George. At about 900 pages this one should keep going for quite some time! I am reading it upstairs at bedtime. I still stay with the kids for them to go to sleep. Although I discovered during my recent NZ trip that they are quite happy to go to sleep without me there. But I LIKE it! We have a nice cuddle, and snuggle into the warm bed, and I get to read my book, which does not move from by my pillow. I leave them when they are sleeping like angels. I think I can encourage them to have good sleep habits this way, because I am there to discourage games and playing. But back to the book - it's the third of hers I've read, after her Henry VIII and Mary Queen of Scots. Both those were excellent, this one is a little more strained, over-long - it's taken me to page 350 to get into it!

"Kids". Gotta throw a parenting book in there somewhere. This one has an anthropoloical/evolutionary biology angle. Very interesting stuff about cultural differences in child-rearing styles, and what biological basis there is for them. This book is slipped into my handbag, and I read it here and there when I have a few moments to spare, including red lights.

"Concise Encyclopedia" In the toilet. I am not much of a toilet reader, in fact I hate the idea. So it had to be something from which I could read just one sentence and then move on. "The capital of Liberia is Monrovia". Right, ready to flush. (Now you know why I know such petty, esoteric trivia.)

"Kitchens". Pictures of NZ women in their kitchens, talking about them. I like kitchens. I like the idea of the kitchen as the centre of the home, where it's warm, where the food is. In many of the flats I lived it, no matter how comfortable the living room was, people often gravitated to the kitchen. It's just a cosy, sociable place to be. Traditional Japanese kitchens couldn't be more different - a slip of space at the side of the house, with dirt floors, about two feet down in level from the tatami rooms. Even kitchens today tend to be a narrow space tucked in the side, only big enough for one. I'll never forget when we were house-shopping, going to one place, who showed us some plans, and I asked if you could see the living room from the kitchen. It was so funny how the salesman started to reassure me that 'oh no, the kitchen can't be seen from the living room' because he assumed I was concerned that the dirty kitchen work space would be visible from the guest area. When in fact I was only concerned about myself not feeling abandoned and left out trapped in a cubby-hole kitchen while life went on eslewhere. My main criteria in choosing a house were that it had a reasonable garden, and a spacious kitchen big enough to have kitchen table. I got those two things, so I am happy.

"Ms" magazine, 30th anniversay special issue, with lots of great articles from the last 30 years of feminism. Sits on the kitchen table, and I read it while eating. I am supposed to wait until the kids have finished, so I can monitor their atrocious table manners, but I can't help sneaking a peek.

Crappy gossip magazines, slipped into my work folder and read while the kids do written work or tests.

"Sex in History" "Immaculate Decpetion II" "Heironymous Bosch" Okay, I am not actually reading them but I have started them and they sit on the shelf by the couch waiting to be read

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Aaaarrrghhh!!!! Offline!

Yep, I had to endure over 24 hours offline!

Scary to realise how dependent I've become on it, but to be fair, I was mostly worried about my various money-making schemes - selling on trademe and amazon, needing the website to do the translations, and needing to get back to a potential student about a time to meet.

I went shopping instead, which is not much of an improvement. I visited the other three 100yen shops and bought up on Hello Kitty goods to make into packages to sell on trademe. If we sell new stuff we won't have to become second-hand traders! Hope they sell well...

And this morning I put my internet-free time to good use and hung some hooks in the hall by the spare-room to tidy up our mountain of jackets. Why don't Japanese houses have coat closets! That, and the lack of a laundry tub are the greatest inconveniences of a Japanese house (and the lack of insulation, but this winter is either much milder than the previous ones, or I am acclimatized). One other thing they lacked were squeejee floor mops - or any mop with a long handle. There were ones for outside, for cleaning cars and windows but not for the kitchen. Then I saw one last week and snapped it up! Although I can't for the life of me figure out how you would go about changing the mop - I can't even get the rest of the plastic off it.

Lena has learned to skip. She is SO proud of herself. It was so cute to watch her as she tried to coordinate it at first, then her glee when she got it right! Now they both skip through the supermarket, which is better than walking, because they can keep up with me, and better than running, because I can keep up with them.

Amy's fascination with fish biology continues. Just after watching a Discovery channel medical/surgery documentary, she came into the kitchen where I was gutting some small fish to simmer (recipe will be on the soy sauce site when its finished). Did she say "Ugh, yuk, gross, I'm not eating that!"? No, not Amy. After poking its eye (see previous message) she said "Where's the heart?" So I fished around with the knife and pulled out a red blob and said "Maybe that's it". Who needs to bisect frogs in High School biology?

Monday, February 07, 2005

Swimming Lesson

Amy has her swimming lesson from 5:30 - 6:30. It's a bit late, but we chose that time so she can go with her friends from kindy, Hina and Luna.

She was completely green when she started, she couldn't even get her face wet, let alone put it in the water. She has spent the last three months concentrating on that technique, and holding her breath. Now she is enjoying herself immensely and constantly practicing her new skill in the bath everyday, as well as over and over in the pool (always making sure I am watching). She bounces around and plays with her friends, and sometimes pays attention to the teacher.

Their system is to do only a few things as a class - kick practice sitting on the side of the pool, breath holding, lengths (about a third of the 25m pool roped off) of whatever they are capable of. Then the kids line up and the teachers take each one individually and have them do a lenght of whatever they are up to. While they are waiting the kids mess around and have a grand time playing together.

Amy is learning to float on her back while holding the kick board, and to finish her length by tucking in her chin, holding her breath, making a ball and thus coming up to stand.

While she swims, me and Lena look on from the Gallery, a corridor running the length of the pool with large glass walls for us to see through. Lena likes to run up and down between the seats and the windows, pushing past everyone's knees and counting them. Or she hooks up with one or another toddler to play with. She climbs the barred windows behind the seats, plays with her doll, steals other kids' snacks and climbs onto a bridge made from my legs, feet resting on the window-sill. Fortunately the other mums think she's a cute diversion from the boredom of watching kids swim up and down a pool, and not a nuisance!

Sunday, February 06, 2005

A Big Long Slow Day at Home

It's one of those days that somehow manage to slip by without you getting much done. A bit of laundry, a few emails, website front page nearly finised.

Lots of Dancing - we have the new R&B CD on random shuffle with Tschaikovsky, White Stripe, Manic Street Preachers and a Triple J Hottest 100 CD, so we are getting an eclectic mix today! Amy like the R&B and the classical - they are the best for dancing. I really should get up and dance with them, but Sunday is my day off.

I finally hauled our bums out the door at 3, to do some shopping. I forgot that Kanji works at the Kakize Stand on Sundays now; if I had remembered, I'd have grabbed some books, the laptop, and spent the whole day thereso the kids could have some time with their Daddy.

We were only there for about an hour though, and I had a double tantrum on my hands when it came time to leave. But Dad go home in time to put them to bed, then we cooked some interesting new recipes we saw in a magazine: A no-carb pizza (arrange a circle of thinly sliced pork (or bacon) on tin foil, top with pizza sauce, cheese, anchovies and broccoli (or whatever) and bake) and even better, pork rolls - thinly sliced pork wrapped around 'nira' (a kind of grass) mung beans and carrot sticks. The best part was the sauce - 1&1/2 Tablespoons of soy sauce, about 1/2 teaspoon crushed garlic (to taste) and about 1/4 teaspoon of 'toubanjan' a hot Chinese chilli sauce. You dip the pork rolls and barbecued vegetables (lotus root, eggplant and capsicum) into the sauce before eating. YUM

Saturday, February 05, 2005

First Business Meeting

Well I had my website meeting today. Nothing much happened. It was more for Uto and Hiro-chan (the web designer) to set up a computer for Yori. I've heard about these Japanese business meetings where nothing happens, but this really takes the cake! Even Keio Academy get more achieved in their meetings.I've also heard that verbal deals struck over drinks mean as much as formal contracts, I wonder if that's true, and I'm really on board with this company? I wonder if I am a partner, an employee or just being used? (Some people seem to think foreigners' function in Japanese society is to translate everything for free, as though we were here on some kind of Rotary exchange). But I trust Uto and Yori. Anyway, it's a great opportunity to learn, and I just may keep my most cherished ideas to myself for now, just in case I end up doing one day a week answering emails while everyone else gets rich.

Hiro complimented me on what I had written already, and gave me a quick html lesson. It's much simpler than I had imagined (with the right software of course, which she has offered to copy for me). I think that's made it worth it already! Then she wrote down the URL for me with instructions to change the Japanese writing to English.

I shall start tomorrow morning.

Friday, February 04, 2005


Oh the sinfulness of it all! I didn't go swimming today, and I could well have, there was nothing really preventing me except a cup of tea. You see, the swimming club only allows you to go at certain times, as the pool is rather small (25m, 5 lanes) and would not be able to fit all the members at once. I have the cheapest course, so I get the most limited times - usually only one hour a day - and today was between 2:40 and 3:40. And I had just made a cup of tea at 2:30 so I ended up not going!

So I tried to make up for it, and put on my new Pilates DVD and had a go. Amy and Lena joined me and we all rolled around the floor for 15 minutes. Lena especially thought it all just some grand game put on for her benefit, and I found myself suddenly catapulted to expert level by the addition of her 13kg to my legs during lifts! Amy giggled so much during the 'roll like a ball' exercise, and started wobbling sideways. I recommend doing exercises with kids! They make it so much fun.

We topped it off with a bit of combination dancing/weight-lifting - the weights being Amy and Lena who insisted on being lifted, tossed and thrown back down over and over and over again....our favorite songs are Outkast's "Hey Ya" and Britney's "Toxic"

Kanji came home with a sore back. There is a big knot on his right shoulder blade, and he will go for shiatsu tomorrow, with a friend of his who runs the convenience store around the corner. We think he got it from sleeping on his side with his arm around Amy, who is sleeping between us at the moment.

Dinner: chicken, green pepper, carrot, broccoli and cauliflower stir fry; corn soup; fried tofu with mushroom sauce (must put that one on the soy sauce site!)

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Hello Kitty

We made some great trades today! I can't believe how much some people are prepared to pay for those Kitty stuffed toys. Oh well, one woman's junk is another's treasure.

Kanji suggested we get Egami, who works in the garbage trade, to keep an eye out for more...

Meanwhile Uto got a lovely letter from the web designer who said she is so glad to have our help, she was thinking she was going to have to hire a lawyer and that costs a truly astronomical sum in Japan. She said they were getting quite upset because they thought they couldn't afford it and what were they going to do - and then I came along and found the information they needed in one afternoon googling. I still can't quite believe this opportunity has dropped into my lap just when I needed it, I hope hope hope it all works out for us.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

And Now for the Actual Snowman...

We finally got to make the actual snowman today.Amy had kindy off again, only slightly because I don't trust the car on the icy roads - but also because I knew it would be our only chance to get that snowman made! Sometimes kindy just isn't as important as the fun things in life.

It was all I could do keep her inside until the promised time of 10am, when I thought it would at least be mild outside. We ended up going out at 9:40. We used almost every scrap of snow in the yard! First I helped them make one:

Okay, so I cheated a bit. The base is a rock in our garden, the head is an Anpanman ball, but I did the middle section, I promise!

Embellishing the snowman: Oops! broke it!

Re-building. The Finished Product

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Snowman Day

Well it was supposed to be snowman day, but the best we got were a few snowballs before it started to snow again. See pictures below.

I intended to stay in all day - I had enough food, nothing absolutely necessary to do...but Amy got so desperate to get out and build that snowman, and the snow began to look like it might melt soon, taking our one chance this year to build a snowman, that I relented and we rugged up and ventured out. They squealed with delight, got their gloves all wet, then the snow started to fluff down again.

Once we were outside it seemed like a good idea to get in the car and go out, so the girls went to see Daddy at the self-service station at Youme Town while I got some more food and a new pair of glasses. The lens fell out a week ago and I've been balancing it in there ever since for want of time to get some new ones - and to psyche myself up to spend the money on them. They are one of those things I just don't like spending money on, even if I have it!

We had simmered fish for lunch today (I've decided to put that recipe on the soy sauce site) and after lunch Amy just came along with a chopstick and idly poked it's eye out. She likes doing that to her whole fish, which we often eat for lunch at Baachan's. The first time she did it, she asked me if the fish could see if she took its eye out, and I said, "of course not (it's dead anyway)" so she popped out the eye and giggled and said the fish was blind now. Charming.

Anyway, it got me thinking about the gross food you get used to as a kid, and aquired tastes. Someone on an email list said she had grown to quite like Vegemite to use in cooking, but could never eat it on her bread. It seems to me that black food is the most likely to have tastes that need 'acquiring' - Marmite and Vegemite, black pudding, caviar, black olives, truffles, squid ink.

In 2003 I had a red themed christmas party - maybe this year I should go all out and have a black themed Halloween party!