Monday, October 31, 2011

Luigans and Hilarious Photo Fail

I won a Halloween special lunch for two at the Luigans, the resort hotel where we held the 2006 Kyushu convention. I took Christine and Kristin because they also entered the competition, and we split one lunch cost between us.

You know how you always get the waiter to take a photo of your table so you can fit everyone in? And most of the time it's okay, occasionally a bit rough? Well I had to laugh this day, because I cannot image a dafter pair of waiter-photo attempts than these:

Kristin's lost her whole head! I look HUGE, Ken looks drunk, but hey, Christine looks okay! To be fair, it was a very bright sunny day and a naturally dark interior, so the sun REALLY poured in - and the flash WAS on!

The next sensible thing to do was to avoid the sun, so we thought it would be a good idea to all sit on the sofa. But we had to get Ken in the photo. But not take him out of the stroller, because once out, he would never go back in, and his Mom would have trouble finishing her meal. So we asked our very kind waiter to fit him in too. He did....

Friday, October 28, 2011

Not skewering chicken

... which is what I thought I would be doing at about this time until Lena threw a spanner in the works and scattered my carefully constructed house of cards, dealing me... a better hand that resulted in a much more relaxed and enjoyable day!

Poor Lena. Seems she is prone to tonsilitis. Actually she threw her first spanner last night, when she reminded me about her field trip today, and the lunch that I had to pack her it. So I flew off to the supermarket to pick up cheese sausages and broccoli. It's just not a 'real' Mum's bento without cheese sausages and broccoli.

Then this morning she threw the fever. When she flew into my room in a panic to tell me, I actually thought that with some meds she might be able to stagger out the door and onto the bus, but she lost her steam half way through breakfast, and didn't even finish her weetbix, even with brown sugar on top.

Kanji working until 1pm. An essay to check and the weekend shopping to do. Erica at kindy by 10am, but home again at 12:15, and me starting work at 1pm. Erica going trick-or-treating with her kindy class at 3pm, me finishing work at 4:10pm and a doctor's appointment for all three of them at 4pm. Then a visit to Kanji's parents to see Jiichan after his recent return home from another short hospitalization. Chicken skewering and oreo-witch-hat making sometime after we got home.

In case you haven't twigged yet, that's not doable with a kid with a fever. (In fact I doubt if it was actually doable at all). Usually we would take one kid to Baachan's if we were stuck between a rock and a hard place like this, but we couldn't expose Jiichan to germs in his current fragile state of health. So it had to be done... I called and *cancelled work* GASPhyperventilatepanicattack! You just don't DO that on a part-time short-contract job. You don't cancel when you only work a few hours a week. You don't cancel at short notice when your contract is coming up for renewal. And finding the time to do make-up lessons is always a hassle too.

And so I ended up walking around Jusco Mall with the Mad Hatter, 13 charming pre-schoolers and a gaggle of camera-toting parents, instead of coaching teens in the finer arts of octopus ring toss and Pin the Hat on the Turkey. The chicken was skewered at the more leisurely hour of 1pm, and the oreo witch hats were very enjoyably constructed with Amy's increasingly expert assitance after dinner. The only crunch time was the overlap between the end of the Halloween Walk and the doctor's appointment, which saw me running in to the hospital late with a mini witch in my arms, after the others had finished, and then being late at the chemist (and running into the take-kid-to-doc-after-work crowd), then late shopping for dinner, so I bought fast-dinner stuff (tofu, gyouza and packet soup with bread) as I knew I'd be met by cries of 'Mum, I'm hungry!' as soon as I walked through the door.

Now all I have to do is successfully coordinate packing and pie-making in the morning, and pray no-one else gets sick, and we might just get through the weekend!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


So I found out today that I've been de-friended by two people on facebook. To be honest, I do not keep a record of how many friends I have, I can only tell you right now that it's just over 400. So I wouldn't notice if people 'dropped off the bottom'. I suppose they do every now and then as sometimes I remember about someone I haven't seen in a while, or even see someone who I thought was a friend, but who isn't (anymore? or never was?).

The first fit into that category. I wouldn't have known, but her sister announced the birth of her baby, and I hadn't even known she was pregnant. I had seen her wedding photos, but I can't remember if I saw them on her own newsfeed or her sister's. Never mind. I only met her a few times, around her sister's wedding and Stagette, and if I ever feel the need to contact her again, I can contact her sister.

The second was a bit more dramatic. She posted, I replied, she replied, I replied, she replied, I replied (I kept trying to defuse the situation, say something that would lighten the tone or explain myself), she replied and threatened to delete the thread, I posted one more time and poof! In the time it took me go pick up Erica from kindy, not only the thread, but SHE was gone too. De-friended just like that.

I don't think it was the result of just that one conversation though, because if you looked at it, surely you wouldn't think it was that bad. She was also annoyed at what I'd written on someone else's post (that person wasn't, though!) and to be frank, she sometimes seemed to get annoyed at the things I wrote or I got the feeling that I'd written the wrong thing. I never deliberately rubbed her up the wrong way or purposely attacked her though.

Thinking about and analyzing what I wrote (or what I remember I wrote, since it's gone) I feel like a high school student endlessly dissecting friendships and who said what to whom and where and why and how, or sending their friends on an errand to ask who said what about who... there's a burning desire to know, if only so I can defend myself from the attack!

Friday, October 07, 2011

Farewell Queen, Welcome Esther

I received mail yesterday informing me that my sponsor child had left the area with her family, and was now no longer part of the program. I knew it was coming - I've sponsored Queen since 2002 when she was in her early teens, and only last year agreed to continue the sponsorship beyond the usual cut-off date of her 18th birthday, so she could continue in school. Still, it's sad to say 'goodbye'.

So they sent me information about another girl in a another village in Zambia, and how can you say No?? So Welcome to the family Esther!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Back into the Grind

It feels like a Tuesday, with the piano lesson going on the background. Amy was keen to get started again - given the (hypothetical) choice to give up all her extra-curricular lessons, she said she would quit English, and give swimming a break for a few months, but continue piano. Erica is starting today, Lena having finally given up for good. We coached her through some rough patches, so I was sure she wasn't just giving up because it was momentarily difficult, but she never really caught the bug. She has also pulled out of swimming too, finally, and we are now trying to find her a dance class. THAT is something she can do well and really enjoys. Erica was so excited to be starting! We'll see how it goes on... we are also thinking of starting her in karate. She's been bitten by the ballet bug, as most four-year old girls are, but ballet is to damned expensive!

A new OIT semester begins tomorrow, 84 bright and eager new faces... well okay not quite so bright and eager, maybe mildly curious about the gaijin teacher and quiet-for-now...

In other exciting developments on the home front the laundry is not yet finished (what's new?) but we did have a mammoth 90 min working bee and got the bedrooms mostly done - winter clothes change and toy closet sorting are waiting until Saturday.

I've been using up my bucket-loads of non-Journal-panic 'free' time (read: time I should be doing aforementioned laundry but choose to please myself instead) making some new blogs. Check these out:

Meanwhile, searching for my own blogs, I found THIS, so weird, it's like a bizarre language copy of my silver week blog of two years ago. It's like she took a thesaurus to it, you should try reading it first, and see if you can figure out what the heck it means before reading the real thing. Sigh, the things people do with their spare time...

Monday, October 03, 2011

English - bad; License - good

So, my first job today was to deliver the exam results to the college. I ended up spending half an hour or so there, mostly trying desperately to convince them the students need LESS hard-out grammar memorization and MORE communication practice. Sigh. How many times do you have to have this conversation in Japan??? They are the first to admit they are no good at English, but keep on thinking that all they need is more grammar and more words and then it'll be alright and they'll know 'everything' and then be able to speak English. And we keep trying to convince them that no, they have enough grammar and vocabulary stuffed into their heads for now, to start with at least, and they need to jump right in and start USING it, not as memorized sentences, translations of phrases and words, and parsing sentences but using what they have in their head already like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to generate unique, original language about their own observations and experiences.

Phew, rant over.

This stems from a meeting I had with the principal a few weeks ago, in which he noted our students' rather low English level, to which I agreed, but then he said we need to aim for reinforcing, or repeating, what they'd learned in junior high school. I tried to convince him we needed no such thing, that what they needed was to be taught how to USE what they had already learned to communicate with confidence, not being constantly afraid of making mistakes. Well clearly I didn't convince him. The plan was to continue with the communicative, false-beginner text I have been using, but to add something on. He said we would meet again to discuss that, and I thought it was getting a bit late in the break for that little talk, but I had no idea he'd just set someone else up with the task! I met today with another woman on staff to discuss the issue.

I had to give her credit - she'd listed all the grammar points covered in all 3 years of junior high school, and slotted them into the 32 weeks of my course. She asked that I hand out a simple explanation of each grammar point as part of each lesson, explain it, then pass out a simple fill-the-blanks exercise. Her initial concern was would I have the time to do it? I said yes, I have time, but... I just don't LIKE the idea! For one thing, the grammar points were totally out of whack with my text's - eg, she's got me handing out simple past tense the week after next, while I have it slotted in for next July.

On the other hand, it's true that my students have trouble, not just with keeping up, but with understanding what's going on. Of course the MAIN reason for that it that they just don't listen to me - I often explain what to do, then go around the class explaining again to everyone individually, using the same words and pointing at the same part of the book, but 'teacher talking in front of class' seems to be a universal symbol to switch off and daydream (or actually sleep) while they HAVE to listen when I am standing right in front of them!

So I thought perhaps the way to meet in the middle here (consensus and compromise being a much preferred solution in Japan) was to cut back the amount of handouts and have them line up with what I am teaching. I offered to hand out the first one in my introductory lesson, give it to them as homework to be tested the next week, and then use my textbook to practice and back up what they hopefully learned from the handout. This way I can use the hard work this woman has done, and hopefully benefit the students, without the classes turning into more pointless rote memorization. (can I have another little 'grrr' here - why on earth do they think it's going to work this time when it didn't work the first time! SIX YEARS of 4-5 hours study a week, and 95% of Japanese student not only cannot speak English, but they have become convinced that English is intrinsically difficult and that they, genetically, cannot ever learn it).

So... the woman gathered up her papers to ask the principal if this compromise would work for him, and I will hear back later in the week.

Through all of this stress about content, I forgot to be relieved that I wasn't fired. I was actually a little concerned that the principal's observation of my class and discussion changing the classes would end up with the whole English program being cancelled.

Chore No.2 today was much more pleasant - I got my license renewed. I was in a bit of a panic actually, as I was supposed to go to the safety seminar last Wednesday, and was sure, what with the Japanese preference for sticking strictly to the rules, that I would have to start the process over (at least my NZ license is still valid, so I would only have to get that changed again, not actually sit any tests). So I was mightily relieved that all I had to do was stamp my inkan in the right spot on a list and they handed it over to me!

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Erica's 4th Birthday Party

The birthday girl - no cute poses, she's decided she hates the paparazzi (me) this week.

Erica, filmed by Amy, reacting her seeing her cakes for the first time.

Yuuki and Erica with their cakes and matching masks. He is a Kamen Rider, she's Gokai-pink, from Gokaija, both are Sunday morning super-hero TV shows.

The power of Kamen Rider: all kids ignoring the sweets to watch it!

The table:Clockwise from bottom: sausage rolls; potato chips; Griffins Sampler biscuits; mini hamburgers with french bread and condiments; edamame; twisties; sandwiches made by Lena; licorice allsorts; Mum's apricot no-bake cheesecake; strawberry jellies with grapes; hokey pokey biscuits made by Amy; lollipops including light-up Halloween ones; NZ Party Pack lollies including milk bottles, jetplanes and jelly beans; jaffas; and home-made coconut rough.

Cake with candles. Yuuki with mum Maki, Erica, and Yuuki's sister Karin

Happy Birthday song

Cutting the cake; Erica and Yuuki get the first pieces

The Party.

And then Ana arrived with the Pinata! Dora the Explorer (Erica calls her Dora-ble, because I kept calling Erica DoraDora-adorable!). I don't know why Erica looked so grumpy at Yuuki!

Centre: setting up. Yuuki on the left (see video below) and Erica having a go on the right.

Our neighbors grandkids, Kiara, Airi and Yukia. There was one more little boy but he was too shy to have a go.

Left, Max; centre, Lena; right, Momoka - she was the best!

Left, Amy; centre Karin, right - Raul on the fence! The pinata works best strung over a rope that can be raised or lowered depending on the size of the kid hitting it. Kanji was on one end in the house, and Raul jumped on our stone wall - luckily he did not fall in the river behind!

Yuuki! Go Yuuki! A little harder...

The final whack, courtesy of Yuuki's mum. And the lolly scramble begins.

Left, Amy with a knife. Right, Momoka and Lena

Dipti arrived early enough to have a quiet moment with Erica opening her present, a book.
Erica opening her present from the Tambourinos - a ball tent! It was amazing, kind of like a magic trick, we opened it up and BAM all the children went away and silence descended.

Erica delivering our present to Yuuki

Me! Along with Lena, Dipti and Max. On the right, Erica's posse, Hana, her, and Kiara.

And yes, we did have a keg. And no, I did not drink it all.