Monday, July 30, 2007

Venetian art

I took the kids to Oita today to visit the art gallery and see some Venetian Renaissance and Baroque art. No Titian or Bellini, but there were several Giorgiones and Tiepolos. The girls really enjoyed it - Lena loved having found someone who can draw better than Amy and rubbed that in! The plethora of questions needing to be answered was mindboggling! The Bible stories, mythology, European history, religious practices, clothing, techniques!

We had lunch at the kids favorite, Joyfull, then went to go to an exhibition on the human body, which was closed. So we went instead to the ruins of Oita castle, and walked around the perimeter, hoping one or another of the guard towers would be open. None were. A bit of a non-event, but the girls had great fun pretending to be ninjas. Not that you can hide too well wearing white coordinated sparkly Pumpkin Patch skirts and blouses.

After that I promised to take them to a pirate ship I was sure I had seen on the coast, but I couldn't find it, so we made a brief impromptu visit to a beach. Again those sparkly white pumpkin patch outfits weren't exactly suitable, but we all tucked our skirts into our knickers and went wading. Their joy and glee was uncontainable, I haven't seen them bounce so much for ages! We must go to the beach again.

We finished the day with ice cream, of course, and came home to collapse into bed. I hadn't intended to walk so far - the castle and beach were unplanned - so I had a bit of a sore tummy, which Kanji graciously rubbed for me. Next time I will check the holidays of the exhibitions I go to see!

Sunday, July 29, 2007


God it's hot. We're in the first real heat wave of summer and it's a killer! We had such a hard time getting to sleep on Thursday night! We forgot to turn on the air conditioner, but even with all the windows open, we were just dripping sweat. We ended up getting up to clean the air conditioner's filter because it just didn't seem to be working. Friday night was better, but we still needed the fan and the air conditioner, and although we turned the air con off, we kept the fan on all night. Only last night was endurable, and I finally got a good night's sleep. Naturally carrying my own little hot water bottle doesn't help, nor does it help to have the positions I can sleep in limited. I need to keep a pillow between my legs to stop my hips aching, but it gets so hot!

We stayed at home today, but it's Gion Festival weekend, so the fun came to us - six of the floats stopped near our house for dancing. They leave from the shrine in the morning, stop at Youme Town for lunch, go towards the main street in the afternoon, then back to the shrine after dinner. We just have the good forutune to be on the morning route.

We also went last night to the main street to watch the street dancing and procession of the floats. Heaps of people go at that time, so there's a real festival atmosphere, festival foods and always, somewhere, someone we know to talk to. We got back at around 9 to a room that someone - Kanji - remembered to leave the air conditioner on, so we easily got to sleep! Reminds me, I must go up there now and turn it on for tonight.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Summer Holiday

Cicadas screeching in the garden...summer whirring in the living room...

It's summer and the holidays have begun. They get a full five weeks this year, which some parents are grumbling about but I think is marvelous. We have a very full schedule. Lena has summer school at Keio Academy this week, and they both have summer school there next week. Today Amy and I are going to make soap at the community centre. Tomorrow morning we have an English lesson with a Mum from Amy's class, so the boy is coming too, and Amy likes to teach him. She even gave him homework! Friday I think we're free, except for Summer School and work, that is. Saturday we have a birthday party to go to, and Sunday there is a beach-combing event on. Monday I plan to go to Oita to go to a couple of exhibitions, and maybe some shopping if I have any money left! Oh, and Thursday night I am going to watch the new Harry Potter movie. I am half way through the book.

Amy received a ridiculous amount of homework for the holidays, which upset me a bit because I planned to use the time to concentrate on English. Right now they are practicing English. They like doing their workbooks. We get up at 6:45, get dressed and go to 'rajio taiso' - we stand in a circle with the other members of the 'kodomo kai' group who get together to walk to school, and do some simple exercises to a song. We come back home, eat breakfast, then settle down to do some homework.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

An Incredible Dessert

It's called Banoffee, which is 'banana' and 'toffee' mixed up.

The amazing thing about it is how you get the toffee. You cook an unopened can of condensed milk in a pot of boiling water for two and half hours! It takes a bit of forward planning because you then have to cool the can for SIX hours until you can open it.

The rest is dead simple! Make a biscuit crust, spread the now-caramelized condensed milk on the biscuit base, layer heaps of sliced bananas on top of that (we used 7, but even more bananas would be nice, don't beafraid to go up to 10 or so) and then whipped cream and shaved chocolate.

It's wickedly sweet and wonderful
Worst Mother Award!

Or, Damned Schools!

In an incredible thirty minutes yesterday afternoon, I learned that my precious child has viral warts, worms and nits. Which is, of course, why I have subtitled this blog Damned Schools! There is a chance I picked up the nits in one the schools I teach at though.

But what a nasty thirty minutes! First Amy told me that the school nurse had caught a bug in her hair and showed the teacher it on a piece of paper. Amy had found a bug in her own hair on Sunday, but since she had spent the afternoon outside chasing grasshoppers I assumed it was a bug bug. Horrified, I asked to see her school notices, since I was sure there would be something about it there if it was nits. And she showed me a health check sheet which said there were some worms!

Lena's friend Maia's Mum was there all along - she's a doctor and helped me read the notice. She was the one who confirmed that the pimply thing on Amy's arm was indeed a 'mizu ibo', a kind of wart that can spread. Any one of these things could keep Amy from the pool that she so loves, so we had to deal with them!

First up was the nits - Kanji got the message from the school, and picked up the special pesticide shampoo. We all used it - I finally realized that I was not getting heat rash or a dandruff relapse but I probably had nits too, gross! Then the comb, then the hair dryer. I washed every towel, sheet and blanket in the house, what a job! Especially since it's raining cats and dogs so I had to take them to the laundromat to dry.

Today we visited the dermatologist, who gave us anesthetic tape to put over the warts in preparation to having them removed sometime later in the week. I haven't even thought what to do about the worms! Guess we'd better visit the pediatrician too. And we've only just finished Lena's dental treatment! Gosh, you just can't stay away from the doctor's when you have kids! After all this, my visit to the OB next week will be a pleasure!

Friday, July 06, 2007


Well you wouldn't believe it, but I have a doula! A doula is "a woman experienced in childbirth who provides continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to the mother before, during and just after childbirth. We don't have them in NZ because so many women use a midwife, so they're not really necessary. And I never thought I would have one here, but then one just turned up out of the blue!

Erin is from Canada, and is working at Keio. We teach the technical college classes together on Thursday and Friday. She started in April, and soon after learning I am expecting, told me she had been a doula. At one stage she had started to study towards becoming a midwife, but found the hours a killer! So she has assisted at half a dozen births. Not quite the 1000 or so my NZ midwife Chris has clocked up over her long career, but still, suddenly coming across someone who is on the same page, in the same language, was quite an unexpected bonus. Wasn't I commenting recently on the unexpected things fate throws in your path?

So I asked her to 'be my doula' - just to have someone to talk to and prepare with. Several months ago, I bought a Hypnobabies course. That's a birthing method using self-hypnosis so reduce or manage the pain. They claim that with the right method, you can even achieve a pain-free birth! I'm not putting all my eggs in that basket, though, and I don't really care - I've coped before, it's nasty but it's over soon! But since I used deep-relaxation techniques to get through the first two, including dozing during the middle of Lena's labour, I figured I might be able to make this work. I was not, however, getting around to even opening the folder, let alone listening to the self-hypnosis CDs, hence the doula!

She came around last night for our first session. We talked through the information in the First Class - mostly about the theory of hypnosis, vouching that it works, that anyone can do it, and an overview of the fear-tension-pain cycle (tensing up makes pain worse, and giving in to the fear produces adrenaline, which can slow labour). Then we listened to the first two hypnosis sessions, the first one about creating a Special Safe Place in your mind. I was just going to listen and not do it, but it got into me - I haven't relaxed that much for ages! It worked.

Unfortunately, the second part, about Painfre Childbirth, kept getting stuck and jumping back at the 7minute part! I will sort that out tomorrow, because I am due to listen to the Special Place session again today. I have to alternately listen to each one every day! That's going to the be the hard part, although I'm not really starved for time - I have every morning or every afternoon. I've decided on 9am as a good time, after breakfast so I am not worried about my rumbly tummy.

Well, who can say if it's going to work, or if I am going to keep it up. The baby comes out anyway, no matter what you do! But if it can help me relax, and help me get over my fears about giving birth in Japan, then it was worth the money (only $30, as I got it second hand!)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

My expanding belly

I've decided I'm good at being pregnant. It's all the practice. It's just so much easier this time. I worry less about things. I know what to expect and what I need to do to stay healthy. I'm still eating well, although my sweet tooth is back with a vengeance, trying to make up for the last six months. I found a Bounty under Amy's desk on Monday! Must have fallen out of Jo's or Bec's bag. What a bonus! I stashed it in the fridge to chill and ate for lunch yesterday. YUMM!

Baby is kicking like a trooper, she tends to beat me up when I sit a bit slumped. I don't know if that's because she's getting squashed, or because I can just feel it better when everything is jammed together. She still goes miraculously quiet whenever her Daddy tries to cop a kick in the face!

I am still sleeping well, and grateful for every moment. That's my No.1 reason why I think this pregnancy is easier - I know it's going to get worse, get more uncomfortable, heavier, harder to move, harder to sleep, so I appreciate every realtively easier moment. Hopefully this attitude will last right until the very end - even big as a house, it's easier to cart them around when they are still inside. I appreciated popping into a store yesterday on the way home from work - I know what a chore that is when you have to strap a baby in and out of a car-seat, cope with sudden tears, and negotiate around nap times to get to a shop!

My back is still okay, better than before I was pregnant when I was slack about my sleeping position. I am diligent about sleeping with my back straight, and stuffing pillows between my legs to ease the strain on my pelvis and hips. I find two fat pillows elevating knee above the level of my hip prevents the hip from getting too sore. I am alternating sleeping on the floor and on the bed. My hips have a better time on the bed, my back fares better on the floor! I am having to wake up for one toilet trip, alas, the toilet-free nights seem to be over. Baby chooses this time to practice ballet. The heat also sometimes keeps me awake, but overall things are going well.

I still haven't put on much weight, so I'm not feeling particularly more heavy overall, but I am feeling the weight in a different place. I sit, stand, and work quite comfortably still, although I have to be careful not to overdo it - standing in the station on Sunday talking to the festival organizers, I started to feel ill and faint and had to go to the waiting room to recover. I am a little worried about a school tour my students are taking me on next week, but hopefully there will be ample chance to sit down in the rooms they take me to.

And here is the child herself! Not as good as last month's effort. No nose last month, this month a pig's nose! The next picture is hard to work out, it's a profile, showing the right side of her face, her chin at the bottom - Amy's chin! A button nose (not a pig's, thank god). And no head, but that's the limitations of the technology, not the baby's problem. I think they get the image by rounding out the conventional ultrasound image, not by taking a new image.

A Day in the Life

The alarm goes at six, although I'm often awake before it. But I'm still a slug-a-bed at heart and sometimes the snooze button is put to good use! We all get up at the same time, usually early-bird Amy is the first up, with Daddy, while the lazy ones, me and Lena, sleep on!

From the time I get up until the kids leave for school, and sometimes until quite some time after they're gone, I clean up the living room and kitchen and do laundry. I'm getting fat-bellied and heavy so I often do the laundry now sitting on the computer chair, watching CNN. I can grab the clothes off the mini coat-hanger clothes-lines, fold them and put them on the low table without having to move much.

After that first bit of work is done I write in my blog, check the email and write email, and read the online news (Stuff) and have a cup of tea and some breakfast. I don't usually work until the afternoon, so I schedule some things to do for myself in the morning.

Today I plan to work upstairs between 9 and 10, organizing the tatami bedroom a bit. Yesterday I bagged the winter bedding in vacuum bags, but I have to wait until Kanji has a few spare moments to get the bags into the closet. A lot has to wait until Kanji has a spare moment! The Spare Room waits until the Shed is done, and as Bec can vouch, the Shed is a shambles. Most of it is still full of the junk the prior owners left, with our stuff piled precariously in a heap at the door. I need Kanji to help me move our stuff, so we can toss out their stuff, and finally get our stuff along the walls. Then I will move the old carpet in there, the spare room wardrobe, and the round table, heaters, spare clothes and a few boxes of toys that will probaby become really exciting again once they move position.

THEN I'll be able to move my trade-me flea-market things to the spare room, and have a fairly clear tatami room! But for today, it's a just a bit of re-arranging piles, cleaning up, and starting to pull down the baby things to see what I have and what I need. I'll be able to go through the clothes soon now that the baby is 'probably' a girl. Every month she gets more probably a girl!

At 10 I have scheduled a break! I have a long day today and I don't want to get exhausted. I am going to cook some apples for my lunch, then settle on the sofa, tidy through the girls' school notice folders (you wouldn't believe the volume of notices they hand out!) and figure out some kind of scheme for teaching them English. At 11 I'll showerd and have some lunch, then pick up Lena at 12 and take her to Baachan's.

I start work at 1:10, and it's my least favorite class, a very challenging 'junior university', meaning it's a two-year rather than a four-year course. The students are scraping the bottom of the barrel, they're the ones who didn't get in anywhere else, and they are pretty much coddled through. We can't fail them. They just sit the test over and over until they pass it! You have to be really determined to fail! So they learn that they don't have to put in any effort, and most of the teachers are too afraid to discilpine them, they just ignore them and keep talking, so the students tend to ignore the teacher, and keep talking while you try to explain something or give instructions, which is very frustrating. I tell them to shut up. I'm quite stubborn and I tell them to shut up, but they don't always, and if they do, it's not for long. They are not all like that - half the class work really well.

Between 12 and that class starting, I either go home and rest (again, I'm good at that. This is one pregnant lady who will not get over-taxed!) or I go to the office, if I have prep to do. I do today - we are starting unit six, and I need to copy the teacher's book. Unit six is the last unit I teach! Yay! Only three more lessons! I also need to see how the other teacher is going with the test - we talked yesterday about what to put in it, but he took the job of putting it together, as I had a million things to do at home, while he had compulsory office hours to fill.

After that class I come home just in time for Amy to arrive home from school, and I take her to Baachan's. There is just enough time to check the email, plan what I'm doing in the class and get going again. The next class is at the hospital, I teach the residents. Jo and Bec came to this class with me, and will tell you how un-responsive they can be! Many students get that it's a 'conversation' class, and conversation goes two ways - this class doesn't, possibly because it's compulsory. So it turns into a question and answer session, with me asking questions over and over and over, and them bluntly answering, or me talking away and them nodding. I always have to have things prepared for them to do.

I have about an hour and a half after that class until I have to leave for my evening class. Enough time to get a meal ready, eat and look over what I will teach tonight. I think we are doing time and morning routines today, for which I have just been inadvertenly practicing in this blog! That class is two hours, but it's voluntary students with good study habits and enthusiasm, so it's a pleasure to teach. I get home around 9:20 and pretty much collapse into bed! A few chapters of Harry Potter (I've pre-ordered the 7th book and I'm half way through book 4) and I'm sound asleep

Monday, July 02, 2007

Introducing Nakatsu

I spend an intriguing day yesterday acting as a guide introducing the town of Nakatsu for a website. Of course, they had already decided where and what I would be introducing, and they asked most of the questions. Basically, I was just the photographic model! The page is not up yet, but here is an example of some previous 'guided' tours. O-net


First I rocked up to the station where a team of festival helpers were constructing a festival float inside the station. Every July Nakatsu hold the Gion Matsuri. I go every year in some capacity, including helping pull the floats on Wada-sensei's team for three years running before I had a baby to cart about with me. Other years I have worn a yukata (summer kimono) to the Friday night fireworks, or just gone to the main street on Saturday evening to watch the dancing and the floats, or just waited at home - our house is in the ancient part of town, on the festival floats' route, and they come past every hour or so on the Sunday, stop at our intersection and dance on the back of the float.

So this was a good choice of theirs for me to introduce, and I learned some new things - I had thought they stored the floats in a garage every year, but they actually dismantle the whole thing and re-assemble it every year. I had always wondered how they got it in the station concourse! Next we visited the castle where another float was being constructed. Here, as at the station, I kept meeting people I know, or friends of Kanji. My 'guides' were surprised at first, but got used to fact after a while that I can't go anywhere in this town without meeting someone I know!

We took a few photos at the castle, at the red-wall temple where I took Jo and Bec and at Yukichi Fukuzaka's old house, then went for lunch.

We went to Chikushitei. Click on the third link from the left along the bottom to see the room we dined in. This is a beautiful traditional Japanese restaurant, in a 120-year old wooden building that seemed to go on forever with corridors and rooms and inner gardens stretching back from the entrance. Click around the site for our hostess, who was a fount of information - she knew every little detail of the history of the house and area, and filled us in with all the theories of Japanese dining. In fact, she talked for three hours straight and we were late for the next appointment!

The cuisine was eel - Nakatsu is famous for it's 'hamo' eel. We ate it in several different ways - in soup, as sashimi and as sushi, as tempura (lightly battered and fried) and lightly boiled in a broth and dipped in a sauce with ginger and spring onion. They took photos of me holding, dipping and eating it - can't wait to see those photos!

Our last appointment was to learn about Kitabaru puppets. This is a traditional form of Japanese puppetry, with large dolls operated by one, two or three people. The more famous Bunraku always has three people operating the puppet - in Kitabaru, as the puppeteers get more skillful, the puppet can be operated by two people, and masters can operate the puppet all by themelves, using both feet and hands, with different fingers operating the facial expressions, and even using the mouth to pull some of the strings. I saw it performed a few years ago, when Kanji was hanging out with an old friend of his who does Kitabaru as a hobby.