Thursday, September 24, 2009

Solid Gold Silver Week

Phew! I mananged to cram loads into five and a half short days!

We started the long, long weekend (Saturday to Wednesday) with a Friday afternoon spent in hospital waiting rooms (dermatologist and dentist). Not the most fun start to the week, but we quickly made up for it with Hotto Motto (take-out) for dinner and sat down to watch a movie together. Dirty Dancing of course. The kids hadn't seen it yet, and I cracked open a half bottle of champange. Two hours and LOTS of questions later, and the girls were prancing around the living room. Another favorite to add to their list.

Saturday was the day of the big party. Friends Zain and Mari and their little baby Kiara were back from the US for one very short week to attend her sister's wedding. Because Mari's parents live in a different town, I offered them the use of my house for a reunion party so all their Nakatsu friends could come over, including the kids. We had a pot-luck lunch, it turned out to be a great spread with three different kinds of chicken (pot UNlucky!), two different sorts of sushi, fried shrimp, pears, grapes, donuts, and various snack foods. And beer. Of course.

Two very grubby babies and one broken window later and the party wound up fairly early, allowing me an early night in preparation for Sunday.

Sunday we attended the Sports Day at the small primary school I teach at in the mountains. It's a tiny school with just 14 students in total, and this is its last year of operation. From next year, the 14 kids have to travel a few kilometres down the road to the next school. I was wondering what 14 kids would do all day long for sports events, but the whole community came out in support, and joined in the color teams. Mums and Dads ran relay races and there was even a gate ball relay for the oldies (gate ball is a version of croquet played by old folk like bowls in NZ).

Monday I taught a lesson in the morning, then took off to Jusco for lunch. Baachan broke her arm in a fall a week ago, so I couldn't make her cook us all lunch. Erica fell asleep on the way, so I drove to a park and read a book while Amy and Lena played. When hunger got too much for us we went to the mall and had lunch in a family restaurant. We shopped, but only bought stuff at the 100yen shop - loads of party things for Erica's birthday.

Monday night I was scheduled to go out to karaoke with Zain (back from America) but he started drinking a little too early and piked! In the meantime I had rustled up my old drinking buddy Maiko and her boyfriend, so I went with them instead. We stayed out til 3 singing natsukashii old J-Pop tunes and Abba...

...Which meant I took it rather slow on Tuesday morning. I read on the sofa, pulled out into a bed, with my little puppies around me watching Disney and Nickelodeon. At 11am I forced myself to move and made it as far as McDonald's, but only the drive-through, and quickly retreated back home to watch Billy Elliot. Erica and I took a nap after that, and woke up just in time to get ready for Tuesday night.

That night we went to a birthday party for Ana, the wife of the owner of my 'local', the Mexican bar. She's Mexican too, and doesn't speak English or much Japanese yet either. She was turning 20, a big deal in Japan as it's the age you can drink and drive. It was a surprise party - we all hid behind the bar and jumped out at her. She got such a fright she cried! Then she opened her present - a huge box full of balloons and children and a puppy that she named Leno. We didn't stay too long as we were afraid of Erica's asthma getting worse again with the tobacco smoke, so we left at the very first cough. I took the girls home in the car with a 'change driver' taxi, and this time Kanji stayed out until 3am.

Wednesday we went to Oita to go shopping. I stopped first at a book store that used to have a good selection of English books...very few books stores have a good selection anymore or any magazines since the internet. Overall we're better off, but I do miss browsing. We then drove round in circles trying to find Park Place. We finally got there, and had lunch at an Italian restaurant. It was truly divine!

It was a bit more expensive than the usual lunch places, with dishes 1000-1500 yen, but it was worth it. Like many restaurants in Japan it was noisy - I don't know what it is about them, they seem to be designed to amplify accoustics, maybe they like the busy bustle and noise, it makes it look popular?? There always seems to be a big humming noise of air conditioning or ovens or an industrial-strength extractor fan somewhere, and the constant clatter of dishes. The upside, of course, is that three little girls' noise goes completely unnoticed. They even SANG A SONG and not even the people at the next table noticed!

We had four dishes shared between us - a warm salad of potato, carrot, broccoli and cauliflower with garlic butter, a huge cheese-filled rice ball with a tomato meat sauce, thick fat parpadelle pasta with chicken and broccoli in a creamy white sauce, and a margherita pizza. And there were still things I wanted to eat on the menu!

Then we hit the shops. The haul included: new jeans for Amy and Lena, who have put holes in the knees of all the ones they currently have; toys - Lego for Amy and Lena and a puzzle book for Erica; several hundred yen wasted playing those silly games where you try to get stuff knocked off a shelf into the scoop; several hundred more indulging Erica's 'need' to ride every single Anpanman ride (four); a Harry Potter board game that was on 'time service' for 500yen; some pretty Body Shop creams and potions to make me (ethically) beautiful; some fancy balloons for Erica's birthday party; A.I.'s new 'best of' CD; ice creams and chocolate parfaits (with cornflakes, sigh); lucky dips - three for 1000 and we got a ball (a pretty good one acutally) a slinky and a Care Bear mug.

We finally got out of there to find Erica's puzzle book was gone! While I was looking at the time service table (table of goods on special only at that hour) Lena took her to play in the baby playground...and neglected to put the book, which Erica had been holding in her hand, back on the stroller. I hummed and hahhed and decided it was worth it to go back and check the Lost and Found. I couldn't find the help desk, so we headed back to the playground. I asked at one counter, and was told to ask at the toy counter. Before going there, we checked the shelf to see if they put it back on, then checked the playgound...and there it was! In the meantime, some kid had opened it and played with it. There was a load of books in the playgound, so they must have just assumed it was a shop toy. All the bits were still there, and the packaging, so Amy and Lena patiently put it all back together and we drove home.

We finished the weekend where we started - with bentos from Hotto Motto.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Pool time

We hadn't been to baby swimming for two months. In that time, the class had proliferated - there were three of us last time, in July; today there were about 15. Erica LOVES LOVES LOVES swimming. I think I take her just so I can see her smiley face so much. And her cute skinny baby bum. Swimmers nappies have just made it to the stores here, but are as yet not a requirement in the swimming class. She is by far the genkiest (happiest, most energetic; also can refer to tantrums!) kid in the class, calls out "Yay!" and "woo-hoo!" while we wade through the water.

I like the bigger class. We had more time to do our own thing. I can't believe how much more advanced in movement she is from two months ago, when we last went.

We start the class sitting on the edge of the pool on 'betoban' (kick boards) set out in pairs, for each mother/baby pair. At 11am exactly, they start playing kids' music, action songs everyone knows, and the mums and kids play the songs together. Today, we got there WAAAY too early, and it was all I could do to keep her in one place. She kept twisting away, crying out, trying to go god-knows-where, certainly not sitting there quietly like all the calm little Japanese babies.

Next, the teachers come down the line of babies, kick their feet, splash them and greet them. We had the young guy teacher today that both Amy and Lena like, plus a new woman I haven't met before. Then we can finally get in! Erica had memories of the pool and beach with her floaties, and kept trying to push my hands away. I let her sink a little, to try to make her understand that she's can't actually swim without me holding her up! She's pretty intrepid though, she kept trying!

After we get in, we take the baby for a swim down to the far end of the (25m) pool, swinging them to and fro in the water. Erica LOVES this bit, and grins and laughs and shouts out "YAY!". Then I put her on the edge of the pool to jump back in to me, on the count of three. She used to do this quite happily two months ago, but she was reluctant today. All day she resisted doing it, and wanted my hands under her arms first before she'd jump.

Next, all the mums and babies get in a circle. First, we move around the circle, again pulling the baby to and fro, with the teachers making waves and splashing. Then we pull them facing out, going backwards, then put the baby on their back, head on mum's shoulder. Erica HATES this one, she still won't do it. Next we lift them up above our heads on the count of three (or four really, ICH, NI, NO, SAN!). And drop them into the water. Only the advanced babies get really dropped, most of them get gently placed in the water! I try to place Erica in with a generous splash. Then the same thing, only baby faces out and hopefully, waves bye-bye to her friends while her mum's arms die as she tries to hold her up so long!

After that, all the mums and babies do individual widths or lengths, while the teachers go around each kid and try to take them to the next level. Erica found her own fun. Today she liked the 'crab' - holding on the edge of the pool and moving sideways. She did that a million times. Then she figured out she could also hang on to a hoop in the same way - it was my job to make sure the hoop stayed at the surface of the water. Then she discovered my knee, and stood on it, while holding the hoop, and jumped. From then on "Jump!" was the game of the day.

After she tired of the hoop, I put her arm bands on, and she got to do some free swimming. She is getting really good at kicking. It's 'bata bata' in japanese, and this is what she called the whole experience, from the changing room on. She found my knee again and we did some more jumping.

Then she saw the slide. At the same time as the baby class, a kindy class has a lesson in the Lane One. Lane One is special as it has an elevated floor, so it's only about 60cm deep. Our class finishes at 12pm. Theirs finishes at 11:50. For the last ten minutes of their class, they have playtime, with balls and floaties, and the big plastic slide. Our class gets to go to Lane One after the kindy kids leave, but Erica saw the slide too early, and managed to escape (I thought she was trying 'crab' again, then I thought she was afraid of something, so I let her climb out of the pool) and ran off to the slide. Another mother caught her, she twisted, and tantrummed (other mother was chasing her own absconding toddler at the same time!), I caught up with her and got her back to the pool just in time to be told it was now our turn on the slide.

Oh well, Erica gets to win that one! She went down the slide three times, decided it was too scary, and proceeded to "jump" down the whole length of the pool. When 12pm came, we were at the other end, and I faced tantrum NO. 3 and held her under my arm to get her to the showers. (we have to shower before getting in the pool, and it's expected that you'll want to shower after as well. The showers are in public next to the pool, you shower in your togs).

She was happy until I tried to remove her robe. Tantrum No. 4 followed. I finally got her dressed, put her towel robe back on her to stop the tantrum, nd we got as far as the entry way before Tantrum No. 5. I gave in and bought her Anpanman juice, and finally got her in the car for home!

More of the same fun to follow next Tuesday. Hope we can achieve it with only two or three tantrums this time. Did I mention I do this to see her smiley face? Honestly she does spend MOST of the time blissfully happy. And so do I.

Autumn and the Great Outdoors

Erica and I are both loving the gentler autumn weather. All the doors to the house have been open all day long, and Erica's has spent nearly the entire day outside. This is more in keeping with my Kiwi idea of what kids should be doing, not cooped up indoors to escape the heat, as we must do during the hottest days of summer. I love Japanese summer because there are so many fun events, and because the pools are open, but this wonderful fall weather allows us to enjoy the outdoors all day, every day.

She only escaped one and a half times. First time, she followed Amy and Lena to school. They called out their goodbyes, and I assumed they would remember to close the gate. The deafening silence that followed indicated how wrong I was, as I called out to "Erica! Erica!..."

She had gone down three streets, turning two corners, following their route to school. I heard her from the second street, calling out 'IIna, IIna' (Lena), and turned the corner to see her toddling off, barefoot, toward the next corner.

It's not as hazardous as it sounds, we only get about ten cars down those streets a day, but you never know....I'm just glad she goes that way, following her sisters, and not the other way towards the much busier street leading to Youme Town and the station.

The other time, I caught her trying to squeeze through the gate. She was just squeezing her head through as I walked out the front door. By the time I got to her, her body was through, and I was sure she was going to get through, only she seems to have gotten caught up on the bulkiness of her nappies or something, because she couldn't get the last bit of her body through. She was already getting distressed, and then I came along, and dragged her back, scraping her ear on the gate as I went. Oops, but...hopefully the memory of the trauma will scare her off trying again.

It's a concertina gate, consisting of two parts that bunch up at the sides when open, then stretch together to meet in the middle to close. It had been closed in such a way that the latch was one third the way across the space, meaning the gate slats were bunched up more than usual on one side, and more stretched than usual on another. I just have to be sure the latch is evenly placed to ensure the gaps are too narrow for her to fit.

This was all before we went swimming. After swimming, lunch and nap, she was out there again, she fetched her own cup and fork from the kitchen to play in the 'sandpit' (our back lawn). I thought I wouldn't have to bathe her tonight, after getting so very clean in the pool, but she's acquired three more layers of dirt since then!

Amy and Lena came home, and I promptly sent them off to photograph their school for me. They always come straight home, put on the latest NOW CD and dance. Lena LOVES Lady Gaga's Poker Face, but Amy is sick of her playing it all the time. Amy helped me cook dinner - spaghetti bolognese. Now she's doing her homework, and Lena and Erica are watching TV. The day ends quietly, we're off to bed very soon...

Ups and Downs

Life is always a series of ups and downs, but it's not so often you get so many on one day.

I started the day with a big spring of energy and cleaned out the shed. That was a job I started when I pregnant with Erica, and it was a hard slog with my belly and general level of exhaustion. I plugged away at it however, and got the shed into a usable, relatively well-ordered space, by putting in half an hour to an hour's worth early in the morning, while it was still cool and before I ate anything, so as to avoid morning sickness. Nevertheless, it took several weeks to achieve!

So I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I got the WHOLE shed emptied - it was clear by 11am. I only had to sweep it and deal with the piles of stuff now dumped all the way down the path to the front gate.

Downer No.1 came in the form of Kanji's health. He needs to go back to the doctor for a recurring problem, but was being typically male about it, and skipped going as it wasn't hurting 'right now'. It started to hurt after lunch though, much to his regret. I hope he didn't pull the same trick today!

UP again after a meeting at Keio. Anyone who's ever worked there will wondering how that is possible! On the phone Etsuko said something about a new class, and they needed to know my schedule today as they had to phone 'the company' by 5pm. I got excited about that, she didn't say 'the school' or 'the kindergarten' she said 'the company' which means a nice cushy company job. As K didn't go to the doctor, he was home to watch Erica, so off I went just after my early lunch. The company is Panasonic, and it's only a 10-hour stint, but it's still a nice autumn bonus.

The GOOD news though was I got the OIT job back. The college I had been teaching for ten years before being summarily dismissed last autumn as the college chose to make a contract with another English school. For reasons I am not sure about yet, our school got it back this year, so I have a job again!

Back down again in the afternoon as we learned Baachan broke her wrist! She slipped and fell - in the entrance way to a hospital of all places. She was there for her cold, so she continued that appointment, and the doctor wrapped the wrist up for her. The next day, after a painful sleepless night, she went back to the doctor for her cold, and he x-rayed it for her and discovered the break. THEN she went to the orthopedic hospital to get it set.

Japanese medical systems points to ponder:
- going to the doctor every day for a cold
- not being treated by the doctor as it's not his area of specialty

Japanese medical system plusses:
- as a senior citizen these three visits probably didn't cost her more than $50.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Summer Holidays Beach Trip

Catching up on some summer posts, here is one of our only three trips to the beach. I so wanted to go more often! This was the second trip, and we stopped at this charming shrine on the way.

I hadn't stopped here for 12 years! I remember it was a dark and stormy night...the sea seemed to come up closer and crash against the shrine, unlike this balmy summer day. Maybe the tide was further in, or perhaps they have added the plaza since then.

And a photo op hole in the rock. Totally man-made, but it's situated so that it's right behind the shrine's altar. I'm guessing this is a shrine to the sea god!

Lena leaping into the air on the plaza in front of the shrine. Straight down to the sea beyond the railing. It was kind of like looking off the side of a ship.

Amy contemplating the drop. There were rocks on this side.

A very busy baby settling down to experiment on the properties of sand and water

Posing for the inevitable Three Girls shot.

Lena's beach style. She's still a bit nervous of going out of her depth, even with the floaty. There were tons of things to see with the goggles, mostly seaweed!

Amy's more of a beach bunny. On our next trip to the beach, it was just her and me. We had a grand time without the 'babies'. We forgot the snorkel though. On this day, we were just using the goggles, none of us are very good with the pipe yet.

Erica, the intrepid toddler. She LOVES being in the water, LOVES her arm floaties, LOVES to be LET GO and float and kick around by herself. Okay so she's a water baby, but I'm not too sure about it...she's overconfident and quite happy to follow her sisters WAY out of her depth.