Friday, April 29, 2005

Amy goes to Keio again

Today is Midori no Hi (GreenDay) a Japanese public holiday, so Amy didn't go to her kindergarten. However, Keio had lessons today, in exchange for next Friday so they could take the whole week off next week. So Amy came with me to drop Lena off, and was quite excited about seeing her old teachers and showing them a slater she had picked up from the garden that morning, as well as the Easter Egg she made at kindy the day before.

Amy got all shy and wouldn't say anything, but Manager was there and asked her to come in. As I got Lena ready, Amy rushed outside to add some dirt to her slater box, then I asked her to come in and sing a song with Lena. Once she was in the room she was happy, singing the old familiar songs, and Lena was so chuffed to have her big sister there that she kept stopping singing to turn around to make sure she was still there! So Manager suggested she stay all day! I asked her if she wanted to, and she just gave me a sweet smile.

So I ordered her a lunch from the place next door, and took off for an uplanned day alone. I didn't do much - went for a swim only to find the pool closed, so I biked to the supermarket, made some dinner, tidied the bedroom and it was time to pick up the girls. Amy and Lena had been put in separate classes, Amy with the second-years, and she had had a wonderful day. It was so nice for her to be back in a familiar environment, doing familiar things, not lost in the crowd! She is getting accustomed to her new kindy, but today was a nice little break for her.

Thursday, April 28, 2005


I watched this movie today, that Chris had dubbed for me. Cate Blanchett made a superb young Elizabeth. I loved the costumes and settings, having recently read three Elizabethan historial novels this year, including Philippa Gregory's 'The Virgin's Lover', which is what this movie should have been based on!

But the problem with knowing your history too well is like the problem of having just read the novel - you end up getting frustrated at the changes made. Enough things were wrong that I knew of, that I found myself strongly mistrusting many things. It started out accurately enough, althoug I wondered why they missed out the bit about Leicester being in the tower with her. And although whats-his-name Fiennes made a very fall-in-love-able Robert, it did annoy me that he didn't seem to have learned how to button his jerkin. Okay, that makes the rather ridiculous Elizabethan mens' costume a little sexier, but surely an aristrocratic man would not be seen in public in such a state of undress?

And the biggest glaring fault was having her act all shocked when Cecil 'informed' her of Robert's marriage - she knew all along! And they missed out the bit about his wife's suspicious death, which would have made such a good story. That's the real rub - this is such an interesting period in history, and Elizabeth a fascinating woman who lead a very dramatic life - there is no need to make things up!

They seem to have combined an early Papist plot to have her killed off, with a much later plot involving Norfolk and Mary Queen of Scots, and chucked in her apparent assassination of Mary of Guise for good measure. A quick look at my history book tells me that although Norfolk was indeed beheaded, Arundel was pardoned. Leicester was involved after her continued reluctance to marry even after his wife's death. He ended up marrying one of her ladies.

And I thought the sudden transformation from the charming but flightly young queen to the flinty Gloriana was a bit contrived. She didn't just decide to chop her hair off one day, she was very vain about it and tried to hide for ages that it had lost its beauty and she wore a wig. The change in her make-up and costume were gradual too, and I don't think she just realized one day (or was told) that she should become an Protestant alternative to Mary.

They depicted her as lacking confidence, which is only to be expected in the early years of her reign. But I liked her speech to Parliament, when you get to see the shrewd politician she will become. Philippa Gregory comes to a different conclusion about why Cecil left. And notes that he returned.

Anyway, I have more reading to do.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


Today in Again we talked about my upcoming trip to Takachiho. I am getting quite excited - I do so love travelling and being away from home for a little while. Uto knows the area quite well, as there is a famous mountain (Aso) nearby, which he goes climbing often. So he was able to draw me a map, and point me in the right direction. I estimate it will take between 4-5 hours to get there, plus frequent stops. Part of me thinks I must be mad to put the kids through that, but most of me think I would be madder to just sit at home the rest of my life. I have a wonderful chance to meet some other ladies like me, other members of the email group Married in Japan, with free accomodation and cooking facilities so we can eat normal food and not waste too much money at restaurants.

I am planning on packing some sandwiches and pies, and maybe the meringues, and Victoria will be preparing for a barbecue for Tuesday night. And a bottle of wine, but not the Sauvignon Blanc Maria sent me! I would die if I only got one glass of that, so it's waiting until I can drink it with Kanji, just the two of us (with strict instructions that he is to have only one glass). I thought I might also bring some board games. I enjoyed Pictionary with my college students last week - even though I was only watching!

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Birgit and the Kakejiku

Birgit has decided to buy a kakejiku as a souvenir of Japan. They are going back to Germany soon. A kakejiku is a wall-hanging with Japanese calligraphy. I am helping her get it - I advised her to go to Naganos shop to get the wall hanging, Jiichan advised her on what to get put on it, and found her some nice kanji for their surname. And then Toyoko agreed to write it for her, although she is very nervous about it, as, although she is very good at calligraphy, it is a style that she is unfamiliar with.

Meanwile the train crash just gets worse - 100 people dead, and the driver was speeding to make up time, as he was running late after over-shooting the platform at the previous station. And he only did that because he was already running late. It's just so scary, having been on many trains like that, to imagine the chaos.

Slater Mania

Amy has developed a liking for slaters. I vaguely recall rustling about in the garden chasing and catching slaters. I think we used to throw them into spider webs when we had finished with them.

Amy got it off Peter, who is obsessed with them. Rosa also collects them, but she hands them on to Peter. At first Amy was a bit squeamish about them, but I convinced her that they don't bite. I think the kids find them easy to approach because the first thing they do is roll into a ball - hence their Japanese name dango-mushi, dango meaning a type of ball.

She collected her first slater on Tuesday when the kids came for the English Playgroup, and I helped her put it in a little plastic container with grass and cake crumbs. She carted it around, showing it to everyone, how it made a little ball, how you could hold it in your hands and it would not hurt you. She lost it at one stage but fortunatly it was found again. She still had it the next morning, and the next day, although by that time she had handled it to death. By the time she showed it to Chiharu and Seiya yesterday, the little container was quite smelly! So off she went to find some more. She managed to get one crawling on her instead of curling into a ball, which was a revelation. She giggled as it tickled her hand, and then she concluded that it must really like her to want to be with her. From then on, whenever they tried to get out of the container, she told me it was because it wanted to come and see her.

Meanwhile in Japan, there was a big train crash today. From what I have heard and seen so far, the young driver was speeding and the train just lost it on a corner and derailed, crashing into an apartment building with such force that the carriage was crushed to about a quarter of its width. Apparently that was the ladies' car (introduced by JR in an attempt to do something about the 'chikan' (molester) problem). And perhaps a lot of schoolgirls in there, which would be very sad.

It's always a bit of a shock, especially in Japan, where it is supposed to be so safe that things like this aren't supposed to happen. But really life is not that predicatable, and ultimately fate can't be controlled. I just heard from an email friend that a fellow AFWJ club member's husband usually takes that train, but skipped work today because of a cold. Fate...

Sunday, April 24, 2005

A tough translation job

Chiharu and Seiya came and I met Mamoru, her boyfriend. He is in the Self-Defence Forces, and had been ordered by a colonel to do a translation. He was having a little trouble with it, so he asked Chiharu to help, and she asked me. I read the piece - and oh my god, alright here is the link:

I could barely understand it on my first glance, and English is my native language! It's a projection of what China will do in the near future on the international stage and how the US should react.

I spent the morning totally blahhing, doing loads of online puzzles. When they arrived at about 3pm, we got down to it, fuelled by coffee, and worked at it until 6pm. My job was to re-phrase the English, provide English-English translations (ie, to easier words), break down the essay structurally and chop up the sentences into more manageable bits. Chiharu acted as the bridge, making sure she understood properly by re-phrasing it in English or Japanese. Then Mamoru's job was to get all that written down in appropriate Japanese. Phew. But it was good work, nice and challenging mental work. Often my lessons are too easy for me!

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Keio Academy Junior High class

I was hoping to quit this class and get my Saturdays back, but they asked me to continue as the girls were still too busy on weekdays - and they liked me! There is one more girl this year, making three in total, 12 years old, first year at junior high. The new girl's name is Rina (the Japanese spelling of Lena). The other two are Shiori and Tomoka.

They are a very quiet class! Shy and slow, but excellent workers, if they lack a little in visible enthusiasm, I have to believe it's in there somewhere, as they keep coming back! I just hope they like this year's text book - it's one I've taught before and I didn't like it then - it's very repititous.

Good luck to us

Friday, April 22, 2005

A Day in the Life

Getting my new schedule, my new 'life' organized:

7am get up, get breakfast, put the rice on to cook, make Lena either sandwiches or a rice 0-bento for lunch. Get dressed, nag kids to get dressed, brush their teeth, brush their hair, put it up. Get all the bags together and all bits of paper and other things I have to get

9am Take Amy round to Grace.

9-10am have a cup of tea, read email

10am take Lena to her kindy, either in the car or on the bike, run errands

10am - 2pm my time. Work, either lessons or at home, swim, clean, shop

2pm Pick up Lena, go home and start to prepare dinner

4-5pm pick up Amy, eat dinnner

6pm Get in the bath

7pm select books, go upstairs to read, get kids to sleep

evening: work, tidy, projects

Of course, almost no day goes exactly like this!

Thursday, April 21, 2005

You'll never guess who just called...

Of all the people to find at the other end of my phone, and asking for English lessons, to boot - my first boss in Japan, Shu-san. Mr Yoshida from Sanko village is back in town. Katchan called me, and passed the phone over to him. Shu said he would call me tomorrow about details so I had better get some days/times organized.

We started the next semester at OIT this morning. It was the introductory/orientation lesson, so we played Pictionary which was a lot of fun. After work, I didn't have any kids to feed or run around after, picking up, what a change. Strolling through the supermarket looking for something for lunch, and something for Lena's lunchbox the next day, I bumped into Chiharu, so we shopped together, then went to have coffee at the petrol station. We talked about getting together to do translation work, since neither of us have the skills to work alone. Another business opportunity flies into my face, what is it about this year?

Amy has decided she does not like ballet. This started two weeks ago. I am not sure why, but I am pretty sure that her reason today, that the music had no words, was related more to my current CD pick, a jazz compilation with a few instrumentals that Amy declares she does not like, because she can't sing along. Maybe last week's excuse, that they did not let her play, was more on the mark. Maybe it's because the class has shrunk to four since all the kids who started primary school have moved to graded lessons at other times. Maybe it's just the general disruption of her life at the moment. I think I will try to convince her to keep at it a few more months at least, in the hope that she re-discovers her love for it.

Lena is coping well with kindy, and eating ALL her lunch most days, which surprised me, then annoyed me! Why won't she do that at home! Little sneak, is she having me on? She has also got a little rowdier, playing rough and laughing hysterically. Alternating with pretending she is a baby. Good thing I am reading a child psychology book at the moment, so I can attribute her general weirdness to feeling a little insecure about her new life away from Mummy, but showing it in completely unconnected ways.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


Another one.

This one was much smaller, but much scarier because we were at home. It was early morning, we were all in bed, and as well as the first sway, there was an awful rattling as all the windows in the house shook. While the hospital one was a big, but smooth sway, this one just jumped up and down, but it was a smaller earthquake, so it was all due to our being on the second floor of a wooden house.

We grabbed a kid each - it's a relief not having to go to another room to get them - and just waited it out, you know, that watchful waiting to see if it will get any bigger. But it stopped

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Amy's Birthday Presents this year

From Mum and Dad: Bratz fridge magnet, fairy puzzle book, Pretty Cure Theme song CD

From Grandma: Click-its Lego Beads

From Baachan: money, with which she bought a Pretty Cure outfit

From Aunty Mie: Kitty bag and umbrella

Friends: Bag, Pretty Cure diary

Now, about that cake

In a minute.

Amy decided she had a sore neck when we arrived at kindy. Since she had been totally normal all morning, this was a cause for suspicion, so I asked her outright if she was afraid of those boys who push and kick her. She said No, and insisted her neck - no throat - was sore. We went inside, but she got worse and worse as we headed towards her room. She was very withdrawn and moody, and I decided, well, kindy is not compulsory so why push it? Let's take her home and get to the bottom of this.

I had to go to the dentist, so she came along, and it was in the car on the way that she started to describe feeling shy, and no-one will let her play, and she is having trouble saying 'kashite' (pass me) when playing with the other kids. And the boys...So I extracted a promise that she would go the following morning, because she would not make friends if she did not go! And I told her that in time, all the kids would come to love her and be her friend, cos she is such a wonderful girl, why wouldn't they?

And so she played happily with the toys in the dentist's waiting room while I submitted to more mysterious treatments in the chair. The oddest thing was thing purple gun, some kind of new anesthetic. Not the needle, not the topical anaesthetic the NZ dentist used on me to top-up the waning injected anesthetic, but something else. He put in a little ball of cotton first, I don't know if that had some anesthetic on it, maybe. Then got this gun, and irradiated me for several minutes (it honestly looked like a laser gun from a 1960's sci-fi tv series, maybe Lost in Space). I could feel the gum slowly going numb, but none of the awful shooting nerve-death of the injection, and NO NUMB MOUTH! Yay! I can have lunch! And a cup of tea! And no pain! Now they just need to invent a purple ray gun for childbirth that takes away the pain without paralyzing half your body.

Back to the cake. I used store-bought roll sponges, which I think was a mistake. They were so light and fluffly that they collapsed onto themselves, especially with the addition of icing and lollies. Luckily for me, two pretty fairies flew in the window and helped hold the houses up, I don't know what I would have done without them. The tall pink house was iced and on the board while I was working on the tall purple house on a separate plate. The pink house had sagged already a few times, but I thought it was because I had cut the bottom crooked so I kept shoring it up with bits of sponge under one side, like the leaning tower of Pisa. Then Amy came in and noticed that it had completely fallen over, and while I was fixing it up, the purple cake actually toppled off the plate and went splat on the floor, and kind of flattened with the impact, which is why it is a bit oddly shaped.

Originally, I was going to have the two paths leading to the fairies, but since the were needed to hold up the houses, I hit upon the idea of making a 7th tiny cake just to hold the candles, which I did, using cut-offs from the houses.

The conical roofs are muffins, and the round ones are sponge rolls with the top layer removed. The doors and the bars on the windows are made of gum, and the windows are made of jelly lollies. The blue-and-pink stuff on the medium-sized purple house is actually candy floss, but it shrank. Japanese pocky chocolate sticks make up one roof and the path border, and coffee biscuits with the cookie part painstakingly removed make the roof of the tall pink house. The pink, white and green roof of the tall purple house are actually Japanese Dolls' Festival sweets. The grass is coconut dyed with green food colouring.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Amy's Birthday Party

And here it is, the cake:

It's an enchanted fairy village. Posted by Hello
We had the party at a local community centre, as the guest list started to get a bit high (16 kids counting babies) and I thought they would not all fit. But fortunately there were a lot of last minutes cancellations and some no-shows, so we ended up with just 9. Amy and Lena, Peter and Rosa, Seiya, Maika, Takumi, Maia and Luna. First time I've been more relieved than annoyed at the Japanese tendency to cancel at the last minute. We made it a pot-luck party, so we didn't have to worry about food quantity not matching!

As well as the cake, I also provided home-made hamburgers, which Amy had requested. Compared to the approximately six hours of cake-decorating, preparing and cooking 18 hamburgers was a breeze. Maika's mum brought the lettuce, cheese, tomato and ketchup, I brought the buns. Maia's mum brought home-made blueberry muffins, Takumi's mum brought home-make raisin bread and chocolate and maply syrup buns. Luna's mum, Seiya's mum and Peter and Rosa's mum all brought fruit, so it wasn't too much of a lolly overload after all.

Amy, Maika, Maia, Luna, Takumi Posted by Hello

The spread Posted by Hello

Lena, Seiya and Chiharu Posted by Hello

The mums converge on the table Posted by Hello
We played a couple of games, nothing too taxing, no prizes or anything. The children started out giving the mums a concert, while I was busy getting the cake.

Maika, Maia, Luna, Lena being a cat, Amy putting on her best stage face, and Takumi. Seiya was being camera-shy and Peter and Rosa had not yet arrived Posted by Hello
I played music, but decided not to try musical statues or musical chairs. We did bowling, which Seiya, Lena and Takumi liked the best.

The Champ Posted by Hello
And we did body tracings, which Amy and Rosa liked. Here are Amy and Lena's versions of themselves.

Note the blue eye shadow, and an uncanny resemblance to Divine Posted by Hello

Lena's effortPosted by Hello

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Cake Mania

Let's just say I spent all day on that damn cake and if I drop it like I did the castle Mum made me for a birthday in my childhood, I will cry even more than I did that day.

The scary thing is that I have to take it from home all the way to the community centre where we have decided to hold the party.

I started in the morning after my cup of tea, about 10am, stopped to go out and buy lunch at 1pm, started when we got back then stopped again at 3pm to go to my lesson, started again as the kids ate their dinner at 6pm, stopped to get them to bed at 7.30, did some more between 8 and 8:30 when my evening student arrived, and finished it off between 10 and 11.

If you are not impressed, I will murder you. You have to wait until tomorrow to see the pictures.

Friday, April 15, 2005

I start swimming again

Okay, so my diet so far has gone so badly that I have somehow managed to PUT ON weight instead of take it off. Oops.

And it does not help that I have been kept away from the pool for a month, with influenza, hospital, bronchitis and finally sinusitis. My muscles ached a bit at first today, but soon I hit my stride and managed 1000 (don't laugh Rachel and Becky, I've only just begun!). While trying to keep count I started planning the cake in my head. Amy's party is on Sunday, and I intend to get the cake done tomorrow. It's a very ambitious one - perhaps I found Humpty Dumpty too easy or something, because I have really gone overboard with this one. Suffice it to say for now, that I have already shopped at four stores for just the right lollies and things to decorate it.

We played in the park today with Peter and Rosa, instead of Amy staying at kindy for a 'nap' (she doesn't sleep, she just gets bored). They had a fabulous time in the sandpit, making rivers and balls and getting thoroughly grubby. I met a Philippina mother and her daughter Lisa, who is Amy's age (5 next month).

Toyoko's daughter Yumi was supposed to come over tonight, to practice English and check out my books - she likes big colourful books with lots of pictures, so I think she will love my bottom shelf! But she isn't here yet, and it's nearly 7pm, and the kids are so exhausted from their long day of kindy and parks, I will take them up to sleep very soon.

Happy Birthday Amy!

She woke in the morning to presents, of course - she had already opened one on Sunday, a CD of a song from a cartoon she likes, Pretty Cure. On the morning of her birthday she got a Bratz Jade fridge magnet dress-up doll set to match Lena's Chloe. And a fairy coloring book and a fairy puzzle book.

She went to kindy as usual, partly because I thought they might do something for her there. The teacher made a bow out of pink ribbon and it was pinned on her sleeve so everyone would know she was the birthday girl. She got a kick out of that. I think they sang happy birthday to her.

She came home at 4pm in time for a phone call to New Zealand, where Grandma, Aunty Jo and family and Aunty Becky sang Happy Birthday over the phone, which made her really happy. Aunty Becky got the low-down on everything that had happened to her that day.

We quickly popped out to Youme Town shopping centre to spend the money Baachan had given her. She knew exactly what she wanted, a Pre-Cure white outfit. She also got the matching phone and a talking colouring book with crayons. Perfect for her. We came home and ordered a pizza, Amy's request. We followed it with strawberries and ice-cream, and then Daddy came home. Amy dressed up in her new clothes and played with all her new toys.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

And another little Grrr

This time from Keio Academy. It's enough to have to juggle two kindy runs and my cooking lesson today, without getting a phone call from Keio Academy in the morning asking me what to do in the Higashi College Orientation today. The What? Nobody told ME that college's semester began today! He's like, 'So what will we do after the introduction?' And I'm like, 'Hang on, you say we have the lesson today?'. Of course I don't know what to do, I wasn't there last year. 'We'll start Unit O in the text book' I say. 'We don't have any text books yet' he replies. OH. So, I have to arrange for Lena to be picked up from kindy, reorganize my English lesson/cooking lesson swap this afternoon, and I know we are doing chirashi-zushi which can't really be put off, if Waka-chan has already prepared the ingredients...AND I have three hours to figure out how to amuse twenty 18-year olds for an hour. I will let you know later on how it went.


There were 23 18-year olds, and what a lovely bunch. The boys (only six of them) were a lot more outgoing than in my last class, where all three of them were 'sleepers'. We have already covered Harry Potter and Avril Lavigne, perpetual subjects of interest with teenage boys in Japan! That leaves 18 girls, and none seem nasty or lazy - yet.

I decided I would put them into groups, since I want to teach this class this semester in groups, not rows. And I would get them to write five English questions (using their memories of junior high school and high school English) and use them to survey the class. The other teachers had prepared a list of questions to ask, and planned to use the format of writing the answer only on the board, and seeing if they could elicit the appropriate question. I combined the two activities and we did five easy questions to start (Rachel, 8/28, Hawera New Zealand, chocolate, swimming). When they had all asked five other students the questions I wrote up five trickier ones (green, Scruffy, tennis, London, French).

I have just finished eating the chirashi-zushi, it is not as sweet as Baachan's, typically for Waka-chan, whose dished are often stronger in hot and sour flavors, as opposed to Baachan, who prefers sweet or salty. Next is Again again.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Another Grrrr

Or Why Bad Service Can Ruin Your Day

It didn't seem to me to be a particularly complicated request. The sort that you 'drop in' to find out. I want to know the price of a plane ticket to Tokyo on May 27th. I had already picked up a schedule book for April/May, and found the right page, the flight number and time, and even the corresponding page in the back of the book that listed the prices. All I needed was to be pointed to which of several pricing options I would be eligible for.

The travel agent was busy. There were two men seated being served, and as I walked up to the counter she gestured me to sit down. I picked up the schedule book and found the right page, and waited. She came up to me with a form to fill, and said in hesitant English 'make a reservation?' I said in Japanese, 'No, not yet, today I just want to find out the price' and she said Okay, and went away.

She went back to serving an elderly man, and spent about twenty minutes with him sorting through various papers, and once answering the phone. Meanwhile I leafed through ferry timetables, and checked out alternative airlines flight schedules, coming back to where I started. Then she came back to another younger guy sitting by me, who was also in the midst of a pile of papers. Another woman was sitting in another chair, nodding off (more as a method of enduring waiting than because of real sleepiness, I assumed). She spend ten more minutes with him, answering another two phone calls, and leaving the elderly man with a slightly smaller pile of papers. He finally seemed to reach the end of his tether and took off with a pile of brochures.

I thought now was the time, after half an hour's wait for a two-minute answer (and she KNEW what I wanted!) but she went back to the elderly man. I took one look at the other woman, who also seemed in despair of ever being served, and packed up my timetables and left. I will of course go to another travel agent, the question is, should I let that silly woman know she lost at least one customer that day because of her slowness.

And she was slooooooooooooooow. She walked slowly, she put the phone back in the cradle slowly, she looked for a piece of paper and pen slowly and wrote slowly. She got up and walked slowly to the other side of the office, and came back just as slowly with a calculator. I wondered if she did everything in her life that slowly. I wondered if she realized, or noticed that other people do things faster. I wondered if her colleagues despaired of her, or if she ever noticed that they did twice the work she did - or does she just wonder at how they can get so much done? I wondered if her boss regretted hiring her, I wondered what other job she could do, since competent speed seems to be a trait valued in almost all occupations.

Needless to say, I still don't know how much my flight is going to be. Maybe tomorrow I will find some time to get to the OTHER travel agency and get a (hopefully) quick answer

Monday, April 11, 2005

Lena's first full day at Kindy

Today was the first day Lena stayed the whole four hours at kindy, and took her lunch in a little lunch box. First this, first that, who else is getting sick of firsts?

Anyway, she did marvellously, ate up half her lunch and enjoyed the experience of having her own drink, and towel, and fork and spoon as well as the lunch box, that the first thing she wanted to do when she came home was have lunch all over again, which she did, eating up her leftovers at the computer table.

Meanwhile Amy had a bit of a rough day, she says that she was kicked off the mountain and that the children won't play with her, sigh, knowing Amy, the spills and upsets of childhood will affect her deeply! She is quite taken with the naming of all her clothing, and has taken to naming things herself if I haven't done so yet. She does Lena's too, as I found out doing the laundry, folding a singlet with a wobbly LENA written on the neck band.

And for me the day was MY first experience of my new life, with two kindy kids to run around after. Monday needs to be timed perfectly, with Lena's kindy finishing at 2pm, Amy's at 4pm, swimming from 5:30 to 6:30, and my student coming at 8:30. We had tea at 4:30, and supper at 7pm before quickly heading to bed, where they both fell straight to sleep. I had a lesson in the morning, at 10am, and Amy's kindy starts at 9am and Lena's at 10am. Fortunately the student was happy to change her start time to 10:15, giving me that little bit of leverage I needed. When she finished, I was at a bit of a loss, accustomed after that class to feeding Lena her lunch and going to pick up Amy.

I would not call it Empty Next Syndrome, since I have no shortage of things to do! But it does feel odd to go somewhere and all you have to do is stand up, grab your bag and the key and walk out the door!

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Party Party

Baachan, Aunty Toyoko and her daughter Yumi, and Aunty Mie came for lunch today, to celebrate the girls' birthdays. Lena of course, did not get a birthday party this year due first of all to Amy's hospitalization and secondly to her own illness. So, I decided to make the cake today.

Humpty Dumpty cake Posted by Hello
For lunch I cooked beef olives. I have not had these for ages! I don't know why I suddenly remembered about them about two weeks ago, but I am glad I did. I made a very normal stuffing out of breadcrumbs, finely chopped onion, an egg and some basil, oregano and rosemary as well as salt and black pepper. Japanese beef comes extremely finely sliced, so I made them much smaller than usual, only about a thumb-size wad of stuffing, with the beef wrapped around. An advantage of this very thin beef is that it does not uncurl, so you don't need toothpicks to hold the 'olive' together, which makes browning them much easier.

To accompany it, I cooked frozen peas (which I left in the microwave!) and baked vegetables - potatoes, sweet potatoes and pumpkin. Japanese usually eat sweet potato either cut and smothered with soy sauce and sugar, or whole, roasted in the skin. You peel the skin off to eat it, and Baachan likes to put extra butter on! Dad would have loved it. You know how we have ice cream trucks going round the streets in NZ? Well in Japan, you have whole roasted sweet potato sellers. Japanese usually smother pumpkin in soy sauce and sugar too, so eating both vegetable plain was unusual for them. I reminded them to put extra gravy on them for flavour!

They brought food too - Baachan brought her famous chirashi-zushi, a variety of sushi where the rice is all together in a dish, with a variety of toppings - thinly sliced sweet omelet, shrimp and pickled ginger. She also brought a vegetable dish, and a delicious eel soup. The Aunties both coincidentally brought strawberries, which is great, because I love them and so do the kids.

As I suspected, they all left in under two hours. We ate so much even the kids forgot about the cake. The girls got some presents. Mie got them matching umbrellas, but in different sizes. Good timing because Amy's Barbie umbrella has started to fall apart! We also decided to give Amy her present from Daddy, which was a Precure CD, and a sticker book. Precure is short for Pretty Cure, a fantasy super-heroine anime, very similar to Sailor Moon. Amy LOVES it.

Then the next party began.

Yuu is a little boy who was in the next bed in Amy's hospital ward. He was a darling sweet little thing, so shy at first that he hid in his mother's skirt and poked his tongue out at us (not deliberately, but a kind of shy gesture). But he soon got used to us, and soon him and Lena were inseparable, they even went to the toilet together. When we were discharged, Amy was distraught at leaving him so we swapped addresses and I invited them over today.

I also invited Raoul and his wife and their two boys. Maguno, the baby who was in the hospital with Lena with asthma, slept the whole time. Max was also shy at first, but soon started to play. He preferred me to the other kids though. He LOVES books, he must have 'read' about twenty during the time he was here.

The final guest was Seiya and his mother Chiharu. We have not seen them yet since we got back from NZ. Chiharu has a boyfriend, who likes to stay home Sundays so we have not been able to meet.

But today we had a lovely day, dragging all the toys out of the cupboard, playing outside, eating sweets and cake. Some more presents were bought, for Lena this time. She got a nice pile of cool things from the Leons, and both Amy and Lena got a present from Seiya and his mother - a groovy drink bottle that has a fountain inside and a cap that lights up when the juice from the fountain hits it. Okay, so we might need a photo of that! Yuu's mother brought another cake, a rolled sponge with cream and strawberries, and very seasonally appropriate preserved cherry blossom flowers on it.

We had leftovers for dinner and I managed to get the the room tidy and the kids upstairs by 7:15 - they were alseep in five minutes, I couldn't believe it, they must have been exhausted from all their hard partying! So I even had TIME before my student came at 8:30 (Yes, I scheduled a lesson after such a day! I had to - she usually comes on Saturday, and I had to shift her to go to the Hanami in Yukuhashi, which I had to go to because I promised once already and then cancelled, cos I had forgotten that Friday was the night I was scheduled to do the speech. And yes, I even have a diary - I guess the key is to actually use it...)

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Hanami No.2

Hanami No 2 was in Yukuhashi, by the river in the place where we went with Mum last year, at the invitation of Mayumi, Maika's mother. I took Jessica from Keio Academy and her friend - we all managed to squeeze into my car, the friend in the front and poor long-legged Jess in the back with the kids, which Amy thought was so cool, since Jess was one of her teachers. I got lost once on the way to Maika's house, but found it again fairly quickly, thank God.

I had brought only bought meals this time, no cooking. Everyone brought snacks and drinks. Jess and her friend got to have a few beers, but none for me, since I was driving. It was much warmer than last year, very very pleasant weather, perfect for sitting outside under a picture-perfect cherry blossom tree and sipping a nice cool beer.

I learned a little more about the place - it is just one man's private garden, which he set up like this just out of love of cherry-blossom viewing parties. And then lets loads of people come for free every year.

As for the medicine, my frustration today was set off by the kindy teacher refusing to promise to use the ventolin inhaler. I was so angry, while at the same time I understood where she was coming from. I needed to fill in a form before the teachers could use a medicine, which I had not done, so fair enough. But she had also never seen it before, which seemed to her to be a good enough reason to never use it. She said it had to be approved by my doctor. I told her my doctor knows I use it. But she knew I was currently getting discharge care from the hospital so she asked it that doctor had okayed it. I said no, because I hadn't asked, because she is taking the same medicine as she always does from the other doctor. So I said just use it in an emergency, but not even that. Not even if she's dying in front of you? But you wouldn't send her to kindy if she was that bad, you'd know in the morning. Maybe not... with asthma it's touch and go sometimes. Grrrrrr

Friday, April 08, 2005


Tonight I did my speech on my impressions of Nakatsu for the Nakatsu katarukai. I was a bit more nervous than I thought I was going to be, but it turned out okay. The questions at the end were the hardest part, because I didn't have any practice with them.

I talked about how impressed I was with the historical Nakatsu, how I liked looking at the old houses and I wished I could see more of the gardens. But I explained that I was unpleasantly surprised at how ugly the view was from the castle, and I blamed it on the power lines, and how people keep cutting trees down or over-trimming them. I also suggested that rubbish bins in the street would be a good idea, and rubbished the absurd notion that we can't have rubbish bins - cos people might put rubbish in them, which is the most common arguement against having them. I pointed out that the sort of person who chucks their household rubbish into a public rubbish bin rather than getting rid of it properly, is probably not going to be reformed by the banning of rubbish bins - they are the ones who then leave their household rubbish all over the roads and in the forest. I want to have rubbish bins SO THAT people will put their rubbish in them instead of in the rivers and forests.

Afterwards, we had a nice buffet dinner and then I went to find Kanji, who was at a sushi-bar. We then went drinking together to Tropicoco's. (Amy and Lena stayed the night at Baachan's)

Futons and friends, boyfriends, boytoys and boys

Amy has to take a futon to class, so she can have a nap. She is making friends at kindy. Lena is in a class with six boys, and herself, so we say she has a lot of boyfriends!

And the drain guys.

Drain guys work for companies that clean the drains leading from your house to the street. These drains are just underground and can be accessed through little 'man' holes (don't know any men who could fit down them, but what else do you call them? Drain covers, I suppose).

Anyway, these drain guys come and knock on your door, explain what they do, and offer to give your drains a free check. Then you go out with them and they open the drain, and whatever state it is in, they gasp in horror and declare your drain to be dangerously blocked and in need of being immediately cleaned (for lots and lots of money, of course).

Many of these guys are quite young, and not all of them are very good actors. In fact it's quite comical to watch them feign shock and stunned disbelief at the sight of your drain, when it's the hundredth normal-looking drain they've seen that day. And even though I am standing right there, looking in the drain and thinking, 'It doesn't look so bad to me' and 'If it gets blocked I'll pay for it then, it'll be a lot less than paying you guys every year for preventive care'. So I always tell them No Thanks.

I was NOT in the mood for these guys, partly because they disturbed me in the toilet. I didn't flush when I heard the doorbell, that would be too embarrassing. Now, my problem with these people always is, I am never quite sure if they are not real official people from the city office, who might be conducting a REAL drain check or something, so I always give them the time of day. Seems to me that if they were real official people, they would be quite happy to check the drains then move on, so telling them to go ahead and check the drains if they liked seemed like a good thing to do. They moved off to the side of the house, and I went back inside, to the toilet for some necessary freshening up, where I realized I could not exactly flush with all standing out there looking into the drain! Gross! So now I was getting even more impatient with them.

They came back to the door when they realized I had not followed them to view their stupid fake play acting, and told me to come see. 'No, that's alright, I don't need to see'. I said. This kind of dumbfounded them - I told them to go check the drains, but I didn't come too. So what were they supposed to do? I don't think they had any idea. Eventually they left. Hopefully they never come back, but I know they will, next year, with a whole new bunch of amateur actors who have no memory of the crazy gaijin who didn't want to look in her drains. (cos all she really wanted to do was flush the goddam toilet!)

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Medicine and Hanami No.1

I tried to get Amy's kindergarten teacher today to keep the ventolin and an inhaler at the kindy to use if she needed it, but she refused. I needed to fill out a permission slip, and I could understand that. But even before she told me that, she had a problem with it. When she first saw it, she obviously had no idea what it was, and when I explained it was from NZ, she started said they could only give out medicine that was from a doctor. I explained that it was from a doctor, one in NZ, and that our pediatrician in Japan also knew we had it and used it and he had no problem with it. But she remembered that we were now seeing the city hospital doctor, and asked if he was okay with it, and I had to admit that I had not informed him, so I didn't know.

But I tried to explain that it wasn't a fixed dose, daily medicine, and was different from the ones she was taking from the hospital, and I just wanted them to have it to use if it was necessary, if she started having trouble breathing. She countered that if Amy was getting that bad, I would know and keep her at home, so it shouldn't be necessary. It's not that easy! It's hard to decide when to send her and when to keep her home - you don't want her to miss out on school, fun, play, life etc.

I started to get really mad and said even if she was dying in front of you, you wouldn't use it? She did not say she would, just denied that that was going to happen.

I got so annoyed. The have an old-fashioned, less safe way of dealing with asthma in Japan, yet she made me feel like I was the one with the funny ideas!

Meanwhile, we had a Hanami party with the kids from Amy's kindy. We went to that park above the rive (why can I never remember Japanese park names??), and we all brought o-bentos and I brought balloons and balls and bubbles and called it a 'B' party. The kids spoke no English though!

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Did you count nine?

Yes, nine boxes all ready to send to NZ. To be fair, they are rather small. Some have things from the house I want to get rid of including a load of stuffed toys and some bags and other miscellaneous stuff. One is Japanese things from the 100 yen shop. Three others are Kitty goods from the 100yen shop.

And that is in addition to the Bratz! I really have to get into gear and start sending them, if only so I have some space in my spare room for more!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Lena's first day at kindy Posted by Hello

Singing the Hello song Posted by Hello

Receiving her attendance book Posted by Hello

Lena's Kindergarten Entrance Ceremony

And Amy's first day at Japanese kindergarten.

We dropped Amy off first, with her bag with it's lunchbox of rice and chopsticks, and her attendance book and communication book. I stayed for about an hour, as she wandered aimlessly not knowing what to do, unless she was chasing Peter and Rosa. Finally the teacher decided to go for a walk, because the weather was just perfect, so I took the opportunity to leave. She cried at first, but I reassured her, and told her to ask the teacher if she needed anything, and the teacher got Rosa to come over and hold her hand for the walk, which made her smile, and she was fine after that.

Lena's Keio Academy English Kindergarten Entrance ceremony was next. There are only four students continuing, and the new class has only six, so it is a very small group this year. The current students and teachers sat at the front and the new students and their parents sat facing them. After introductory speeches from the principal, manager, and all the teachers, the children's names were called out and they had their first go at calling back "I'm here". Lena did very well. Then they all got together to sing the Hello song, which Amy has already taught Lena so again, she did very well. They went up one by one to collect their attendance book. Next were individual photos for the attendance book, clothes basket, and shoes box and finally a group photo.

We finished there and quickly drove back to Amy's kindy to see how she was - she had just finished eating ALL her kindy-provided lunch (I send her in the morning with just a box of rice), and declared that kindy was MUCH more fun when mum wasn't there.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Label mania

Having run around here and there getting together all the necessaries from the two kindy lists, today was the big labelling day. 'Lena' had to be written in English on all her things, including her drink bottle (bottle, cap, cover and lid), furoshiki container and lid, lunch box, Japanese bento lunch box (lid, false lid for chopsticks, okazu (side dishes) container, rice container and separate lid). As well as her scissors, glue and crayons, and I started to get carried away here and labelled each crayon, including selotape keep the label on.

Amy's full name in Japanese on all of hers - full change of clothes, two towels and a washcloth, hat, bag, socks and shoes, pyjamas, mattress and quilt and their covers. Sheesh! And the one thing I forget to label will be the first thing she loses...

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Hanami No.1

Keio Academy's Hanami at the cherry blossom park by Komo Jinja

My cold has progressed to an earache and my sinuses are stuffed and painful. But I figured that if I didn't go to the party I would just have to cook dinner and I really didn't feel like doing that, so I bundled the kids in the car and off we went.

It was a good party. The food was mixed platters with sushi, fried chicken and various Japanese side dishes, and there was LOADS of beer, of which I had one small glass. There were two other babies there, and Amy and Lena sat up on the podium at a small table colouring. Another mother brought balloons which were a huge hit, and spawned a wild chasing game with a slightly pickled Shinobu (who is leaving Keio Academy). I chatted with most people in turn. We farewelled Shinobu and Yukari, and Amy cried and cried, and was inconsolable at learning Yukari was going to Hong Kong. She was over-tired by this point which made it worse. We had a line-up so everyone could say goodbye to her and Shinobu in turn, and Amy lined up at least three times to get hugs. Then we took tons of photos, and had a big Banzai to finish off the party.

I felt only a tiny bit jealous that the others were moving on to a bar in town, but I was so tired by that point that I was mostly relieved that I would soon be asleep in my warm bed. I am gobbling panadeine but the only thing that really relieves sinus pain is unconsciousness!

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Grace Entrance Ceremony

Even Day Care Centres have Entrance Ceremonies!

First of all, we were late. Lena had to go to the doctor again for another check and another few days of meds. While we were there we saw a boy from Amy's class, and they kind of recognized each other, but went all silly and shy at first. Then another lady whose grandchild also goes to Grace commented to me that I would miss the Entrance Ceremony. I had thought that it started at 11am, and I had plenty of time, but she got me worried, and sure enough, when I got back to the car, I poured through my little pile of papers and found out that it started at ten.

When we walked in, all the mothers, dressed nicely for the event, were seated on mats on the floor in the hall. Almost all of the 'new entrants' were one-year olds. There was only one other boy starting in Amy's class. So Amy didn't want to hang out in there with the babies, so she went outside to play with Peter and Rosa while I listened to the rest of the talk. They were just up to describing the futon and pyjamas, and we were only in there for a few minutes before they separated us to go to our own kid's room.

I was given a huge fat envelope full of papers which I have not even begun to look through! We went up to Amy's room learned how to take a sticker from the box and stick it on today's date in the attendance book then put it, and the communication book in the slip on the wall. Then Amy played HARD and burst into tears when it was time to go. We played Toni Braxton's 'Unbreak My Heart' for her, with the words changed to 'Unbreak my heart, say you love yochien, undo this hurt that you caused when you walked out the door and said goodbye to your friends, uncry these tears, you've cried too many times...' And an ice-cream, which mopped up those tears very efficiently.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Last Day at Home

It's April tomorrow, spring, a new year, and time for change. School starts in April in Japan, job transfers and promotions happen in April, everybody restructures and the supermarkets rearrange their shelves again!

And it's going to be a big change in this house, with both girls going to kindergarten every day, Lena for four hours and Amy for a huge seven! So today is our last day together. Lena is still ill and I have a cold too, so it's not the most cheerful day. March, indeed, has seemed to fly by in a whirl of doctors visits and days spent with one person or another moaning on the sofa. A write-off, so let's be done with March, and hope April treats us a little better!