Friday, January 23, 2009

Signs and Words

She talks quite a bit now, with 90% of it adorable, but incomprehensible babble. She has all the right intonation, expressions and gestures, just sounds, not words! The few clear words she has includes 'mama', and sometimes 'daddy', 'stop', 'nee' (inai of 'inai inai bah', and 'bah' to match, and a variation on 'what is this' which sounds like 'oossiss' but she uses it appropriately. She says 'bye' and waves, and also waves for hello sometimes. Also 'nana' for banana.

She has quite a few more signs, including dog, bird, duck, happy, love, flower, monkey, boobies. She has got the hang of learning them, and often watches our hands to see if there's something there to learn. That spurs us to teach us more, and I expect that in the next few months, until her ability to articulate the words takes over, she'll learn a whole lot of signs.

We're having so much fun with it! I'm finding that a lot of the communicative advantages the advocates talk about are indeed true, and there are a lot of situations where she's been able to communicate her thoughts or feelings to me, reducing her frustration and deepening my understand of what's going on in her little head. Maybe a lot of toddler tantrums are simply the result of the little kid's frustration as they try to get their meaning across but no-one's listening. And I am so familiar with that feeling! How many times have I nearly had a public tantrum trying to get my meaning across to someone in Japanese, but my inability to explain myself, or missing one word, makes the person think I can't understand anything, then they jump to conclusions and stop listening! Okay, this is not meant to be a rant about me, so back to the signs.

No.1 favorite has got to be 'love love'. It's a simple pat,pat,pat with her hand, anywhere on the body of the person or thing she loves. We started teaching this on when she was 10 months, back in NZ, family there will remember her picking up her doll and giving it a love. Now she uses it not only to play with her toys, but on the heads of babies, dogs and big sisters. And on mine and Kanji's shoulders when wants to tell us how happy she was to be picked up, or to see us again after we've been away for a bit. She does it to my boob when I feed her! She also does it to seek reassurance if she's afraid of something or if she just wants a bit of love. It's good to know she just wants a cuddle and isn't just being clingy or annoying.

Of course, I always doubt how much is just normal, that she would be able to communicate anyway, and how much is just my experience, and ability to guess. But any bit helps. We've recently taught her 'happy', but she doesn't do it much yet. She prefers clapping her hands to express joy. And we're teaching her 'I love you' - she loves it when we say it to her, but can't quite coordinate it yet. Of course in all of this, the older girls help me out heaps - they have a lot of patience for sitting down with her teaching her the signs.

The videos show this - they taught her the sign for 'more'. We also do a lot of animal signs, and I'm constantly surprised by how often she sees, and recognizes dogs! And flowers. In a restaurant once, she started to get excited and wriggle, and I think I would have just dismissed it as fussiness and wanting to go outside, but then she did the flower sign (sniffing) and I realized she was trying to tell me she could see a flower. It's not easy to catch these events on camera, but we've tried.

First, monkey

Then 'more'

And trying to teach 'I love you'. As of today, she puts her hands under her chin, so she's gotten a bit further

Hand Update

I don't think I ever did update you all on what happened with the new doctor we saw at the Kitakyushu General Hospital. We had been rather unsatisfied with the Beppu doctor, and were actively seeking another one with the help of a doctor friend and her anesthesiologist husband, when the Beppu doctor announced he would not be continuing at the hospital and would introduce us to the new surgeon on our next appointment. Instead we took out chance to switch (luckily, as the new doctor looked very young!), and requested transfer notes and a referral to the doctor advised by our friends, but instead he gave us a referral to his teacher, the plastic surgery department at Kitakyushu General Hospital.

We went there back in December, and we were both very happy with the new doctor. The old one had taken a brief look at her hand, prescribed cream, asked us to put her hand in a splint, and sent us on our way, telling us she'd have to have a graft next summer. I felt we lacked support in how to use the splint, and what to do about the problems we had with it, like effects on her skin, pain, and her hatred of having it put on. The man who made the splint was kind, but I would have liked something like nursing support or tips on day to day care. All I got was told to 'do my best'. Japanse speakers will understand all the nuances the word 'gambaru' can imply!

This doctor was so different! First of all he wasn't afraid of English, picking up my medical dictionary and having a good look at it! We spent at least twenty minutes discussing the graft in great detail, in Japanese and English, with the doctor using a wall chart of skin to describe the differences between dermis, epidermis, etc, the depth of different grafts, and the reasons for them.

He explained that since the palms have no pigment, he would probably take the skin from her sole, with a second graft from her hip to cover the sole. The hip wound would be let to heal by itself. He also explained that since her first wound scarred, the graft would probably scar and contract too - it's just her genetic tendency. (Her TB stamp has also not healed. Guess she'll get stretch marks too as she gets older). And that therefore, she'd probably have further surgery in her teens to straighten up any further problems BUT not to worry as he assured us that she will eventually regain full function.

Best of all he said the first surgery would not be until she was about three (phew! it's a lot easier to deal with a three-year old in hospital that with an 18-month old! The previous doctor seemed to have no idea how willful and difficult toddlers can be!). And we would only need to visit him every three months, so we are going back in March.

He also said we could ditch the splint. Or use it if we want, if we think it makes any difference. Needless to say, she hasn't worn it once since he said that! He was of the opinion that the contracture happens anyway, and with surgery full function will be restored, so it's not really worth the effort. He also said we could use whatever hand cream we liked, just any ordinary cream. I am still using the Hirudoid though, and now I've been prescribed more for her dry skin, which is partly contributing to her 'mizu ibo' these kind of pimple-like wart thingies. What the heck are they called in English someone?

Mysteries of Babies, no 42,693

Why do they think their HAIR is the appropriate place to put unwanted food? Bye Bye soup and bread. It was nice. I ate the leftovers. Meanwhile the older girls decided to make themselves some dessert/afternoon tea. They made me one too. Here it is, a banana 'split' with honey and crumbled chocolate cookies. I think they want me to stay fat. Fat Mum = lots of dessert and trips to McDonald's. Skinny Mum = salad and lots of grilled fish. YOU figure it out! And now for two totally superfluous vids, Erica riding her rocking horse with great skill. Watch closely, I can't figure out why she suddenly became so intrigued by her sock, but maybe the horse ran her foot over? In this vid, she's supposed to be saying cute things. Oh well, failure is cute too when you're one.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Cute Stuff

The cheeky grin is because she KNOWS she has tofu in her hair. She put it there.

Amy and Lena with best friend Maia


No prizes for guessing what's in the box:

Proof my kids brush their teeth.

Aren't baby giggles the best sound?

White Christmas:

My baby got the moves, she can groove. Sugar power.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sankanbi Again

Just got back from the monthly observation class. Amy's class were doing an interesting activity with tape on the floor dividing the room into four quadrants, and the kids went to a different one depending on their answers to a question. Just simple stuff, like do you prefer udon noodles or ramen noodles.

Lena's class were doing Reading Comprehension - a little story about a fox and a bear and a rabbit, which was apt, because the whole reason she wanted me to come, and the reason in the end that I went, was to see a book in her classroom that has a rabbit in it called Rachel (above, the rabbit and my name in Katakana)

For both of them, half the fun is having baby sister Erica come in and disrupt the class! Here she is, sitting at Lena's desk. The kids literally poking her, are saying 'It's a baby! It's a baby!'

Leaving the school grounds, Amy and Lena take on the 'one, two, wheeeeee' job of flying baby through the air. Advantages of having more than 2 kids - you get to stand back and watch! And a rare half-decent photo of us.

On the way home, Amy's feet started hurting, so Daddy indulged her. We don't know if it's just growing pains, or too-small shoes, or if she's injured herself, but sometimes she just gets really sore feet. Lena was happy because it meant she got to hold Lena the whole time.

Erica loves her big sisters of course. Here she is, running towards Lena, who comes to save her from her fall, but Erica just keeps going! She's wearing mittens with squeakies on the palm, so she had padding on her hands.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Climbing Demons

And I'm not actually talking about my kids.

We went to a groovy festival last night, the highlight of which was a Kagura dance Oni demon who climbed up a bamboo pole. I say pole, but really it was a bamboo tree, propped up firmly on the ground, and secured at the top with three guide ropes. I'm sure it was three storeys high to the tip of the leaves.

There was a bonfire beside it, and a large pan set on a tripod over the bonfire. Three traditional musicians sat by the side, playing the drum, cymbals and flute. First they did traditional kagura dancing, with a 'priest' and a 'demon' dancing round and round the fire, the priest eventually subduing the demon. During this dance, the demon comes and takes little children from their parents and spins them round. This is for good luck, but the babies of course scream, much to everyone's amusement. Erica got taken for a few seconds, and was thereafter much afraid, and clung tightly to me whenever she saw one.

Finally the climbing began, and three more onis appeared, and they took turns trying, and failing, to climb up. Finally one demon managed to do it, in bare feet, no safety equipment, shimmying up the pole, stopping occasionally to applaud himself and work up some support from the crowd. It was so exciting watching him get higher and higher (I wonder if the 'failures' weren't deliberate to make the feat seem all the more amazing), afraid he would fall or the bamboo would topple over. It swayed dangerously, but they straightened it with the guide ropes.

He made it to a cross-post high up, and untied a package of confetti, which he threw into the wind, then a bag of mochi (pounded rice cakes) which he threw for good luck. Amy and Lena managed to score some, I was too busy holding Erica and trying to take photos on my phone - Kanji took the camera to his party, and I regret letting him have it! He's going to come home with boring photos of people I barely know getting pissed, and you're going to have to squint to try to see the demon in a crappy tiny phone photo.

The descent was not a let-down - instead of coming down the pole, he slid down one of the guide ropes. Half way down his body fell off and he hung by his hands for a minute, before hauling himself back up on the rope again, then sliding down the rest of the way, with a flourish, but with no gloves or other protection from the ropes. Must have hurt!

There followed the official opening, and speeches, then another priest did some rituals in front of the huge bamboo bonfire, before three official took flames to different parts of the bonfire. I lit slowly at first and I thought I'd have time to go back to the house (this was all happening in the rice fields behind Jiichan and Baachan's house) and recharge the video camera batteries, but it suddenly took hold and whooshed up into huge flames, again 2-3 storeys high.

I was in a total panic as I was downwind and hot ash was flying around - and I had no idea where any of my children were! Amy and Lena had been running around all day with some friends from school, and I had last seen them over by the climbing demon. And a woman I vaguely know from the Stand took Erica as I was trying to photograph the men lighting the fire. Turns out she knew more than I did about how fast the flames blew out of control, and she took her far away. So when I looked around to find them they were gone!

I skirted round to the upwind side of the bonfire, and finally found Erica sitting happily in Jiichan's arms, then Amy and Lena in the furthest part of the field from the bonfire. Heat and common sense sent them there.

After the fire started to die down, the food was served - free pork and vegetable soup, fried chicken and other fried foods, and a dessert of mochi in a soupy sweet bean paste, called zensai, a special festival celebration food that no-one likes much.

I went back the house after that, but the excitement wasn't over yet. I managed to lose Erica, after we got back to the safety of the house and I let my guard down. I thought she'd toddled off to the kitchen, but when I went to see what she was doing (it was suspiciously quiet - Mums know the deafening sound of silence when toddlers are involved) she wasn't there. The door to the hall, and the front door was open. I had a split second to choose between checking the bath room and outside.

The bath is always full, as Baachan fills it with special filtered water during the day. The door is always open, but the cover is always on it and Erica isn't really aware that the bath is in there, the way she is with the bath at home.

So I chose outside, and ran out, in my socks. I couldn't see her, but just as I ran out the door, I heard Amy and Lena calling to her. They were on the other side of the river on the road leading to the festival ground. The river runs across the back of Jiichan and Baachan's back garden, disappearing into a culvert and the new road on the far side of the river runs diagonally to meet the car parking area at the rear of the house. So we could walk down the parking area, meet the road, and double back along it past the back of the garden on the far side of the river.

I thought she'd managed to toddle all the way across the parking area, find the road and start walking along it, where they happened to be. I started to follow, watching Amy and Lena run towards the river, still no sign of Erica, then Lena let out a chilling, genuine scream of terror, and I was convinced Erica had fallen into the river, which was not deep, but very muddy. So I quickly changed direction and headed toward the river, yelling to Amy and Lena to tell me where she is, and seeing them point towards me over the river, and all I needed to know then was exaclty where she'd fallen in so I could jump in there, as I knew I wouldn't be able to move far in the mud, I had to go in where she was.

Then I heard her yell - not from the river, but from the parking area, practically right next to me. I just had to skirt around one parked car to find her, standing right by the tiny (like 15cm high) wall that runs along the back of the parking area at the top of the river wall. She had not followed the road like a person with a brain would, she had just gone straight toward the people and noise, brought to halt at the wall, sheer instinct stopping her from trying to go across. She was at that point in time, calling out to Amy and Lena, who she could see across the river. They had seen her only seconds before, and got very frightened and started to yell and scream just as I left the house.

The whole event must have taken only a minute or two, it's amazing how fast they can move!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Amy's Kitchen

Amy got the idea just before the winter holidays began that she'd like to run a restaurant at our house for all her friends to come to, while she cooked. She started drawing up free tickets (she insisted it must be free) to hand out to her friends at school.

I managed to convince her that she should choose one or two days only to be 'open' and not just hang around at home all holidays! And I was saved by her own procrastination as she never did finish the tickets.

But I had promised her we would do it, so we did, with a few modifications - we did it at Jiichan and Baachan's house (so I wouldn't have to tidy up here!), have it only on one day, for one meal, and just ask a few relatives and a few of my friends to come. I only issued invitations on the morning of the lunch so not so many turned up, but just enough people came to keep Amy busy enough to realize that it was a bigger job than she had anticipated.

Menu: sausages, salad and an egg made to your specifications (fried, scrambled or Japanese omelet); rice and miso soup; fruit salad and ginger cookie for dessert; coffee

Dessert course

She made the cookies the night before, I only helped with the measuring and I put them in and took them out of the oven. She made the salad and the fruit salad by herself in the morning at home, I put the rice cooker on, and she made the miso soup herself, including the cutting of the vegetables.

She held up her end of the bargain and made most of the eggs - she can do fried eggs, scrambled eggs and Japanese-style omelets, so the idea was we'd have a set menu and the guest would choose which type of egg they'd like, which she would then cook up. I say 'most of' because Jiichan took over at one stage, much to Amy's chagrin. Nothing we could say could convince him that she can indeed fry an egg, because he saw her mess one up. She only messed that one because she was not used to using a non-non-stick pan, and he annoyed me too actually by just not listening when even I explained that she CAN fry an egg, she's just not used to that pan. On the other hand, he did teach her a neat new trick - to add a teaspoon of water and put a rice bowl upside-down over the egg to cook the white on the top. We were relieve Baachan wasn't there, we knew she would have just taken over completely. Why can't they just play along???

Lena was the waitress, which she got sick of, and I had to help out, but she kept going until the end too. All in all, both girls did a really excellent job.

The guests were very happy with their meals, and I think it looks like a very nice menu. I ate mine first actually, to give them a practice round before the first guest arrived. In the end there was me, my friend Keiko, one of the gasoline stand staff, Aunty Mie and Uncle Masamitsu, my friend Mari and her baby, and two 'obento' or take-out meals for Aunty Toyoko and her Daddy.

Several others who couldn't come expressed regret, and said they'll come next time! 'Next time' will be at home, to minimize grandparental interference. If they can't appreciate the charm of the situation and just think it's all a huge inconvenince to them, they can just miss out. Next time also, I think I'll charge 500yen, as it looks like quite a few people might come!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Blog Day

It's snowing. Perfect weather to sit in front of the computer all day and update the blog! Amy and Lena went to stay at Maia's house last night. Lena has been waiting and wishing and wanting to go there for ages, so she was out of her mind happy last night when Maia's Mum said "Yes!". Amy went too, not wanting to feel left out. They promised not to fight and god I hope they didn't!!! Actually they haven't been fighting as much lately, they've been trying really hard.

Erica is sitting at the window watching the snow. She'd love to go out and play, but it's just icy/watery snow, quickly melting. It doesn't seem worth the effort to pile on hats and coats and scarfs and gloves just to get wet and cold and come back inside after five minutes.

I'm going to blog about her baby signs, and Amy's Kitchen and the Big Red Car. And her and Lena's box house, and how they're doing at school. I also have to check flights, and back-up my files now that I've got my CD writer working. Busy screen day, I'll have a headache by the time it's over.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

New Year

The Osechi Ryori. Traditional Japanese New Year food. The idea is that the housewife cooks up these dishes during the last few days of the year, to be stored in these pretty boxes and eaten during the first few days of the new year, thereby saving her from having to cook. In reality, several other dishes are cooked and eaten as well, like ozoni (see below), soba noodles, and the housewife gets no rest serving them and the osechi ryori up. Although I have heard of households where indeed, just these cold meats, seafoods and vegetables were served up for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

My MIL buys her osechi ryori, hence we have a really nice one. It just would not be feasible to make all of these dishes yourself, homemade osechi tends to have a much more limited range of dishes. The osechi is being called oretchi on some forums, some foreigners (and Japanese too) hate it so much, and it would get sickening I suppose if this was all you were served for two days, with no hot food, but such is not the case with us.

We had sukiyaki on New Year's day, and ate out at Baskin Robbins, McDonald's and sushi as well over the New Year period. But I really like the osechi, probably because it's all over for us by the end of the first day, and because it's a bought set, cooked nicely with a lot of variety.

Vinegared vegetables inside the grapefruit; mushrooms stuffed with fish paste and next to them the long yellow things are kazenoko, another special New Year food, a kind of fish eggs, very rubbery and grainy, an aquired taste and one I haven't yet acquired; barbecued chicken; dried fish with soy sauce and sesame seeds, this is also a traditional New Year food, as are the next two, prawns and sweet black beans. Next line konyaku (a jelly-like substance made from arum root), and squid; vinegared lotus root and kelp seaweed tied in knots; simmered fern root and rolled pork.

Kamaboko, a kind of fish paste sausage and another kind of minced fish wrapped in bacon; battered deep-fried shrimp in chilli sauce; chicken on sticks with barbecue sauce; a kind of sushi, wrapped in a thin egg omelet and gobo (burdock root) wrapped in eel; peppered rare roast beef and a New Year special sweet; simmered vegetables - taro, beans and cherry-blossom cut carrots; abalone in their shells with boiled bamboo shoots underneath; rolled eggy fishpaste stuff, I'm not really sure what it is but I like it and we ate it in the ozoni too, and New Year sweet mochi (pounded rice) balls on a skewer with granulated sugar coating. I ate all of that one! And finally baby octopuses, I think Kanji at all of those, and scallops.

Some more Japanese New Year traditional foods - on the left, ozoni, which is at its simplest a fish-based broth with pounded rice cakes. Baachan adds white/Chinese cabbage and the big Japanese spring onions that are more like leeks. Then the next day, she made it out of leftover miso soup, so it can have a miso flavoring as well. I really love it. On the right are the sweet black beans. I like these too, though not as much as chocolate of course. Accompanying the beans is another hallowed Japanese tradition, although they would probably deny it - the TV remote. From the famous Red and White song contest (team colors, not song themes) on New Year's Eve, to multiple New Year's special programming, a lack of official activities apart from a visit to a shrine, and no feasting or partying but just special foods eaten at home, a LOT of television gets watched over the New Year holiday

At the kotatsu. The heated table in the centre of the living room where all the action, or rather conspicuous lack of action, takes place at New Year. Kanji guzzling ozoni, Erica trying to get the camera. Another noted New Year activity is the Nap. Here Kanji teaches Erica how it's done.

This particular activity would go down better during a NZ New Year, I think! Here we are eating ice cream at Baskin Robbins. Zoom in to my fabulous sundae, it was superb. The shop was crowded, what does that tell you about the lasting appeal of osechi ryori?

Finally it snowed! On the evening of the first, a beautiful flurry, just when I was venturing out to get some supplies from home for another over-nighter at Baachan's. So here's my little car in the snow, Jiichan's garden, my dwarf gnome looking romantically ghostly and a bush by my front door.