Tuesday, August 28, 2007


I had my first birthday party on Saturday the 26th. After seven years of cooking my own birthday dinner and having to do tons of cleaning because the kids were too young/Kanji was at work or unable to cook, I finally got a 'birthday dinner' presented to me. I was so excited, so touched!

Kanji has been cooking a lot over the last year, so he finally felt confident enough to do it, although it was things he could cook, rather than my old favorites! We had cold noodles, fried chicken, salad made by Amy and Lena's favorite miso soup with potatoes in it. And then cake! The girls LOVE looking through the decoration cake books. They have their next cake planned up to a year in advance. So they wanted to make me one, which means me making it. I usually do, for the 'practice' (yeah right!). But this time, Amy wanted it to be a surprise cake. I figured out a way to do it - I baked a chocolate cake, whipped up some icing and left the three of them in the kitchen with a bunch of lollies they bought.

They fought over which cake to make, so Kanji decided to make three! I wondered why he ran out of icing, but he had sliced the top of the cake off to make two, then divided one into a moon from him, and a butterfly from Lena. Amy decorated the other circle, writing Happy Birthday on the cake.

They got me presents - some very pretty candles for the table, Amy chose pearl earrings and Lena a garnet flower necklace. Kanji got me a book! He got himself a matching one in Japanese, they are books about Birthday personality. I'll be looking you all up sooner or later!

Birthday part two was on the actualy day. I opened my cards and presents - thank you all! Mum got me two cards in the end (there was a card in with the case, Mum!) and a credit card case. It's beautiful with a washy blue ground and a diamante dragonfly, which is a symbol of summer in Japan. Everyone I've showed it to loves it, it really suits Japanese taste. Mum also got the kids a book each, and a message card each, which I put in my card case. I got a book from Maria, which I am a third the way through, emails from Chris and Pete and Jo, and a rimu key holder and newsy letter with photos from Becky, and a card from Chris. All in all I had a lovely morning opening my pressies. I bought myself a new camera.

In the afternoon it was back to the kitchen, as I attempted a pav. I failed. I did manage to make weiner schnitzel, even if I had to slice it myself. So we had stuffed potatoes, schnitzel, peas and gravy, all a bit hot for mid-summer!

And my third birthday was on the next Saturday, when I took myself and the girls to go see Mamma Mia! More about that another day

Monday, August 20, 2007

Another trip to Oita

After our failure to see the body exhibition last time we went to Oita, we had another go today. It was definitely open - and crowded! A Saturday in the school holidays, one day before the exhibition closed! There were so many people there the air conditioning was stretched to breaking point and it was getting hot in there.

Photos here if you want to check it out. Here is a link to the original German process. The one we saw was not the original, and the specimens were all obviously Japanese.

I was actually rather grossed out (sensitive pregnancy hormones?) and felt like I was just gawking at dead bodies. It all seemed so unecessary - Gray's Anatomy (the famous book, not the TV series) does a better job of describing and picturing anatomy in a way to make us understand our bodies. Plus most of the specimens were clearly elderly with wasted muscles and enalrged bones from arthritis. The organs were beige/grey and shrivelled. And only one female, whose bits ended up in different rooms. Not exactly enlightening. As they say in the Wikipedia article, a computer simulations, with colour and zoom capacity and motion would be far more effective.

In the end, what the kids enjoyed the most was the visit to the beach on the way home! Amy has a ton of summer homework, including drawing pictures and writing a little bit about some of the things she did. Her picture from this day included no plastinated dead bodies - but a picture of her snorkelling in the water, seeing jellyfish, and then seeing another one in the sand, which she poked and prodded in her own little science experiment that she clearly found much more memorable.

Lena has finally made peace with deep water, and was thrilled to go up to her neck. She loved to swim alongside me and we both glided over the sand in the shallow water, ostensibly looking for fish, but mostly looking at each other. She was so cute in her fish-shaped goggles, learning all the things her body can do in the water and calling on me to 'be watching' every few minutes. Amy followed her own course with the snorkel while me and Lena had goggles. Of course, Amy kept finding all the good stuff, and we had to keep going back to where she was to marvel at the latest discovery - mysetrious mounds of sand like spaghetti (perhaps deposited by something burying a hole in the sand?), mudskippers, jellyfish, the occasional big fish, shells and stones. Amy wished we had brought a net and bucket. Maybe next time.

I can't believe how much more FUN we had without the ubiquitous flotation devices. Safety-conscious Japanese have a bit of a mania for them. One kid, swimming in foot-high, clear, calm water, was wearing a life-jacket as well as his ring. But, remembering the lilo scares of my childhood (and distant memories of Jaws?) I am convinced it's safer without them, because the kids will not go out of their depth and are forced to practice breath-holding, balance, swimming and other skills. It was incredible to watch Lena's latent water-baby emerge.


We were intending to have a slow Sunday after our big day out Saturday, but Kanji told us on Saturday night that we were invited to a family camp at the lake nearby. We decided to go.

It's the same place we've been for the last two years with Lena's kindy group. Not really camping, but staying in a bungalow and having a barbecue. There were five families and a total of twelve pre-teen children. After a brief thunderstorm threatened to ruin our fun, we arrived at about 4pm. One Dad had already started the dinner. Instead of the ubiquitous yakiniku (thin slices of beef and pork dipped in sauce) he had a dutch oven and made a kind of casserole out of onions, potatoes and chicken, all pre-fried, then left to simmer in the oven. The potatoes were especially delicious! So nice to have a BBQ in Japan with no rice anywhere!

That Dad was a sweet-shop owner, so we were treated to some yummy cakes too. One other couple ran a sushi shop, so we got some excellent sushi. One other was a generic 'salaryman' (never did find out what kind, though he is in Kanji's young businessmens' club, so I guess he's a business owner of some sort). And finally our hairdresser and his wife and kids, who I used to teach.

The children of course just ran around and played games of their own devising while the parents ignored them and drank beer. I found some 0.1 alcohol beer, so I got to enjoy the taste of a nice cool beer on a hot summer afternoon, even if I was left just feeling tired. I chatted with the Mums, one of whom I knew quite well, the other a little bit. She, the mother of four, assured us all that the third and especially the fourth child were easy compared to one or two! That matches my theory, which is that two is easier than one. Mothers of one seem to be the busiest! Maybe because while the first one changes your life, subsequent babies just slot in. Plus they play with each other.

So the night wore on, chatting and drinking, with a brief interlude for fireworks. Getting the kids to sleep was every bit as hard as you can imagine! We did leave them until about 10:30, when the older, and more sensible ones were wanting to go to bed (Amy included - she knows her bedtime and pretty much likes to stick to it - she beats me to suggesting that we should have an early night tonight! But she was happy to stay up late playing). I had to lay with them and literally teach them how to select what noises, etc to respond to. "Keep your eyes closed...that's just the toilet door...ignore that...don't sit up every time someone comes into the room..." Of course, most adults can't get to sleep in those conditions, so you can't really expect kids to. Finally they went to sleep, the grown-ups continuted to drink, and me? I went home! It's only a 15 minute drive, and with my hips playing up lately, and the fear of being kicked, there was no way I was going to sleep in the middle of that melange of bodies!

I returned in the morning. Lena had slept through, Amy had woken several times though. Aparently one mother slept in her car, and three Dads where they were on the chairs around the barbecue, including ours.

The plan for the day was to go swimming in a river. I really wanted to go, because swimming just feels lovely, my body feels so light. And it's so refreshing. But it was a very long way, and we didn't leave until about 10. Kanji had to go to work, so we were on our own. The place was quite far, and was a shallow swimming hole by a concrete bridge and roadway. All the kids went in of course, but I was the only adult to brave it in my togs! I think everyone was more worried about me than the kids! It was a bit slippery, but I found sand paths between the rocks that were not.

We weren't there for long though when I dropped my camera in the water. It's sitting in front of me now, two days later, still refusing to move. I think it's dead. So guess what I'll be buying myself for my birthday this year? Hopefully the photos are okay - I have retreived the chip. Then I slipped, but saved myself. Then a thunderstorm started, just as the guys were firing up the barbie again. Since we were exposed, and the road in was very steep and dangerous when wet, we all quickly packed up and left!

We decided to have the barbecue back in town. I should have gone home at this point, but I thought Kanji might be able to make it for lunch, so I stayed. However he never did, and we ended up there until 4pm. 24hours was enough! We went home, then went out for ice cream and to the onsen to wind down before coming home and going straight to bed!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Typhoon coming

And all that means this time is ballet is cancelled, cleaning out the shed has been postponed - again - and my intention to get some baby things washed thwarted.

Well, the typhoon hurried Kanji up anyway! I have been out there twice in the last few days tossing unwanted items out onto the path - where they are now a typhoon hazard. He's out there now transfering them to the car to take them to the rubbish centre.

And now I should really start dinner - we're having Spam. Kanji brought it back from Okinawa last time he went, but neither of us has eaten it before, so I looked up a few recipes, and I will be making a small spam and pasta salad, and spam and cheese sandwiches on rye bread. Then it's an early night I guess! Once more the 'typhoon' is so far just cloudy skies and a few drops of rain. A welcome respite from the nasty heat, which has drained me of all energy. Time is crawling. When the kids get home from Keio summer school, we'll go upstairs and clean their desks.

Once that damn shed is done, and I have transferred a few things from their room and the spare room into it, I'll be pretty much done! I can get onto more relaxing things, like sorting photographs, which I can at least do from the comfort of an air conditioned room.