Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Annual 'First Day of Spring Break' blog post

Only it's not the first day of Spring break. We've had several of those so far, including last Thursday, Lena's birthday, when the kids came home before lunch, and the weekend, of course, which just 'felt' different because we all knew it nearly a holiday, and then Monday, when they went to school for five minutes or so to do god knows what, and finally yesterday, which was technically the first day.

I spent that day trying to catch up to myself (work and housework); we also went to the hospital and then spent the evening at a friend's kid's birthday party. It was a bit of a sad occasion actually, as it was also partly a farewell party for the Dad and step-mum, who are leaving Japan.

This morning, we all slept in until 9am, then I said to everyone that we had to tidy the living room before we could do anything else. Lena said, and I kid you not: "Hey, we should do this every day!". Wow. Well! Only ten years of hard slog and constant nagging, and finally, the kid gets it. So I replied, "YES, every morning, and every evening too before we go to bed!" Please!!!!

Actually I had my first Mummy-tantrum on Tuesday morning, when I put the fear of god into them swearing they would NOT leave these rooms in a tremendous mess every day these holiday, or I would jut throw everything out that they dared to put down anywhere but in its rightful place (into the back yard, not into the actual trash, so it's retrievable but still a bit dangerous). At least they are old enough to now to understand that it really is more pleasant to be in a tidy room, and getting to understand how much their behaviour with their everyday items contributes to the mess, or not mess.

First picnic today too. After the room was tidied, I sat down with them at the table, and said "Good morning" in a tone that they said made me sound like a teacher! So I decided today's lesson was going to be shopping for a picnic, and I made them a list and off they went to Youme Town, bringing back bread and cheese and lettuce and tomatoes (while Erica ran away to the neighbor's house and I did some work on the computer).

Amy spent the morning practicing the school song on the piano and the afternoon looking up online intelligence tests and signing up for a brain training program. Where did I get that child? Lena spent the morning playing with her fake horse on the ipad and the afternoon playing with a friend. Once the friend left, she also took the intelligence test and beat Amy! Not a result any of us were expecting, but good for Lena! Erica fiddled about in the adventure-playground-that-would-be-a-garden-if-I-had-a-green-thumb in the morning, then played Stray Souls on the ipad in the afternoon once Lena had abandoned it for her friend. I fiddled with convention photos all day.

And Amy and Lena cooked dinner! The rice was already made, they added salad (I cooked the broccoli) then they toasted ham steaks in the oven to eat with pineapple. They are now watching Disney while I type, I hope I didn't leave it too long to chase them into the bath and a movie has started!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Shopping Day with Lena

Just got back from a shopping day in Oita for Lena's 10th birthday. It was sufficiently different from the trip with Lena - they are different children after all!

We went straight to Park Place, and started off with lunch. We went to Capriccosa, my favorite Italian restaurant and ate a margarita pizza and spaghetti carbonara. We know now to order prudently at that place - too many times we've ordered too much! Nice to see they have introduced a 'regular' size now.

Then we went straight back to the car to change out of my shoes. Sky high wedge boots were a bit ambitious for shopping! I need to wear those only to places where I can guarantee I'll sit down. I also got an ominously sore knee (do I really have to say goodbye to heels forever? Hope not!). I picked up a mall map and walked with it in front of my face to pretend that I was mincing gingerly along because I was trying to find out where to go, and not because I was wearing stupid shoes.

So, with sensible shoes on, we hit the shops again. Lena found what she wanted almost immediately in Jusco. I insisted we check out the specialty stores there as well, because we have a Jusco in Nakatsu! Amy had got her beautiful dress and cardigan at the Gap last year, so I really wanted to get Lena a beautiful dress there too. But no, we breezed through the stores, with nothing catching her eye and doubled back to Jusco and got a pair of shorts (she loves shorts and specifically wanted some) and a pretty top.

On the way we went into the Indian import store Malalaika and she immediately set eyes on some blue sparkly earrings. Again, nothing she saw subsequently matched them. She's a pure instinct shopper.

We also checked out the hobby/fun/junk store. She also had in mind ONE specific thing here, that she had seen at our local Jusco's hobby/fun/junk store, a little battery operated fluffy moving snake thing. We could not find it, so she suggested we visit Nakatsu's Jusco on the way home! We could have just gone there to start with, although that just wouldn't have been as special.

Just before we left, we ate parfait:

The snakey tail-like thingy was not there either, so we came home. She's planning on enjoying the rest of her night with a bowl of popcorn and a movie (Blu). I've promised them pizza later and K is out now buying me wine. Should be a relaxing night for all the family!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Grandma Food

This all starts with a article, here:

Scroll down to the first drawing, and this quote: "Those jars are there to indicate her ability to take care of herself. She opened all those jars without the help of a man because she is self-sufficient."

Read more: The 6 Most Baffling Classic Rock Songs About Women |

Well really it started in the kitchen yesterday as I wrestled the tapenade jar. No, actually, it started months ago when I was wrestling the pasta jar, failed, and passed it to my handy, biceps-equipped husband to open for me. Only someone must have left out the 'feel shame if can't open jar' gene from my husband, because he handed it right back, saying "I can't!" So I did. So when the tapenade jar wrestlemania began in the kitchen yesterday, I knew not to bother my snoozing hubby. I did it myself. Because I am self-sufficient.

Anyway, the lovely tapenade (from olive-growing Takamatsu in Shikoku, where I went last weekend) went onto a wee cracker sandwich I was preparing as a snack. Usually I have butter and cheese for a cracker snack attack, but I was out of cheese. My second choice is butter and Marmite, lots of it so it squeezes out of the cracker holes in black and yellow worms. But I was out of butter. So I was doing a little taste test - which was better: plain Marmite, tapenade or guava jam.

I got the guava Jam from Raul, who got it from his wife Ana's grandmother in Mexico. I love food from someone's grandma somewhere. I loved MY grandmothers' food - my paternal grandmother decorated wedding cakes and made tiny flowers out of sugar. My maternal grandmother made fantastic vegetable soup, the most amazing meat stews, and simply perfect stewed apple. I used to love staying at her place just so I could have her perfect stewed apples on my weetbix in the morning. My mother remembers her maternal grandmother's borscht and homemade spaghetti. I remember her (Big Nana, we called her) pocket-full of aniseed lollies.

I wonder what my kids will remember of my mother's cooking. I hope it's the beetroot. I wrapped up a jar in multiple layers of packaging tape, plastic wrap and tea towels and brought it back to Japan with me. Mum's coming in May, and she's bringing her recipe with her. Apparently we can cheat a little and use tinned beetroot, and just add her special flavorings. Then maybe I can send a jar back to Mexico to Ana's grandmother to puzzle over.

(PS the guava jam won the contest)

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Zest for Life, Aichi, 2007

The most significant different with this convention is the fact that I was pregnant, which made for quite a different weekend.

I had only just found out, so it was too early for it to be widely known, but one woman guessed - she said I just 'looked' pregnant! Since this was Solveig of the magic camera, I think I believe her!

The strongest memory is of the onsen, which I managed to visit FIVE times, due mostly to my being pregnant! The onsen was on a high floor of the facility, with lovely views. I went in on Thursday night after dinner, Friday night, Saturday morning and night and Sunday morning! This onsen was the first time I learned that some people, inexplicably to me, showered AFTER the onsen, to 'wash it off'. ??

The Board meeting was held in the hotel - woohoo! Which meant we early arrivals had an extra night in the same hotel. I stayed with Victoria, who soon guessed my delicate condition due to my not drinking! Not hard to pick when I am up the duff.

Kiwi Louise was my roommate for the next two nights, and I met Juliet for the first time. Great roommate! She was concerned about waking me after partying, but I sleep through anything, and don't snore - I'm the perfect roommate!

Dinner on Friday night was a mixer - we had assigned seats to encourage people out of their cliques, and it was a great idea, I wish more conventions would do that. I ended up sitting beside Ms. B, who had been posting on femail for several weeks before the convention about how she was going to bring her Pride and Prejudice board game. I re-read the book especially just to play, so it was nice to sit down next to her. We played the game later on in the hospitality room. She died a year later, of a sudden heart attack, making my time with her all the more poignant.

There was a quiz after the dinner - Victoria and Alison were on my team, and I can't remember who else! Irish Maryann was quiz master.

Saturday night's dinner's theme was Pretty in Pink, which was designed to fit in with the whole convention's theme and goal of charity for breast cancer. It was, hmm, interesting, to see a room full of grown women dressed in pink! I had a pink, black and white skirt with a net underskirt (another hand-me-down from sister-in-law) which I wore with a pink cotton twin set.

I was in the cabaret! Typically, for anything involving me, it was a disaster. Well, okay the act itself - a quiz show all about New Zealand, which I did with Louise - was great, but the sound system was no good, and for reasons I cannot fathom, the tables were gathered at the far end of the room near the buffet, leaving what felt like an acre of space between the stage and our audience. Throw in thick Kiwi accents and obscure subject matter, and many people had no idea what was going on! Fortunately the people on the stage who entered the quiz did, and we awarded prizes with a Kiwi theme, including a Buzzy Bee toy, to Marie and Vivien.

The panel discussion on Sunday was Zest for Life, and I recall Kyushu's Barbara talking, with her usual irrepressible energy, and also XX, who broke down a bit admitting her marriage was a failure. (She's doing really well now by the way). I don't remember singing, so maybe I managed to escape early enough.

Another unforgettable thing was my bloody suitcase! It was stupidly heavy, but I had thought I could pull it on its little incorporated wheels, however it was on its last legs, or rather last half of one rickety wheel. By the time I left though, just about everyone knew I had a bun in the oven, so I had a lot of help hauling it into a taxi, and from there onto a suburban train and all the way through Nagoya station! One of my helpers still occasionally reminds me not to bring that bloody suitcase!

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Uminonakamichi Convention, Fukuoka 2006

Which brings me to 2006, which I still think of as my favorite convention so far.

Victoria, who was Kyushu Rep at the time, called me one day and asked if I would be willing to help organize a convetion in Kyushu next year. This was just before I went to Narita, so I had attended a grand total of ZERO conventions thus far - so of course I said yes! At Narita I kept asking people there what they liked about conventions and writing notes in my diary!

We were four to a room, and my roommates included Susan, and I think Christine and Denise. Correct me on that if I am wrong! Four to a room was a mammoth squeeze, but it was of no consequence - I was hardly there! I still remember the champagne toast we had in that room as the weekend began. Cheers "Southern Comforts" and the Kyushu district, I had a wonderful time hosting that convention!

I drove - it's still the only convention I drove to. Since Victoria and I both endured the marathon cross-town train journey the year before only to arrive late, we pushed for finding a meeting room in the hotel. I still feel guilty for forgetting Michelle's Starbucks cup in there after she so kindly brought us all coffee! I had no experience with Starbucks at the time and just thought they gave out nice mugs every time...

I was in charge of several things at that convention, including the tour on Saturday afternoon, a wine tasting event on Saturday evening and the 'Miss Uminonakamichi' pageant on Friday night. Since I hate beauty contests I wanted it to be much more about personality and luck than about looks or presentation. Dinner was out on the lawn overlooking the bay. The rain stopped just in time. Each table was provided with a bowl of M&Ms, and each person had to choose one. Then they opened the quiz sheet, and had to answer the question that corresponded to the color they had chosen. The table then chose the best story-teller to be their table's contestant in the finals. The finalists told their story to everyone over a mic, with the winner chosen by applause volume, if I remember rightly. The winner was Solveig Boergen, the photographer, which I thought was just fabulous because she spent the whole weekend diligently making other women feel, and look, utterly beautiful with her fabulous glamour shots (She was still establishing her business then, and did glamour shots of women as well as baby photos. She gave us a great deal, and took some superb photos of me!). I believe she won all the chocolate, and a sash and tiara, and got to draw the Early Bird and other prizes on Saturday night.

The tour was a disaster. I think it would be fair to say it was the most pathetic tour ever offered at an AFWJ convention. We drove ourselves in two vans, and drove over the actual umi-no-naka-michi (literally a road running between two islands with the sea on both sides) to Shikanoshima, famous for a memorial to the memory of the lost souls of the original Kamikaze, the wind storm that destroyed the invading Mongolian fleet in the 12th century. I had previously visited the site, and there was a great lookout, a very sombre and ancient memorial and gravestones and a really cool stone map of the world, which I thought I could get everyone to stand on, on their own nation, for a great photo.

However, I had not had the opportunity to revisit the area since my first visit six years before, and found when we arrived at the site that access was closed off! After last year I am no longer surprised at how long it can take to get things back in shape after an earthquake, especially rarely visited obscure historical sites, but at the time it had never occurred to me that there would be damage from the earthquake the previous year, and that the area might still not be repaired. I was very disappointed. We ended up visiting a shrine, and having a wee splash at the beach by the umi-no-naka road. The guests did not complain, and said it was a lovely day trip anyway. I suppose they don't know what they missed.

My next job was the wine tasting, and I was seriously RUNNING back into the hotel after the tour to get it together - I had just enough time to shower and change into my 'wine tasting' dress and rush around gathering toothbrushing glasses from the guest rooms (more on that later). By a stroke of luck, that year I was working with a guy who was teaching English just for the cash, whose 'real life' consisted of being a sommelier (and a cyclist). Well, fantastic! I got him to put it on, and all I had to do was make sure he got the money to buy the wine. He was fabulous, he led us through the language used for wine-tasting - 'cucumber notes' and odd things like that. Thank you Adam!! The wine tasting happened on the pool, which was covered for the off season (it was June, but Japanese only swim in July and August). It was held with no help from the hotel staff, as we wanted to avoid corkage fees, which explains the tooth-brushing glasses! I could not acquire the appropriate amount of glasses, and I did not want to use plastic so somehow I happened upon the idea of using the room glasses! Someone remind me if you know whose idea it was!

I just remembered what I did Saturday morning - Charmaine and I crossed the bay in a ferry to go to a flea market!

After the wine tasting the race was on again, this time to get ready for the cabaret dinner. Uminonakamichi's theme was Southern Comforts - we brought people to the southern-most island of Japan, and referenced both the South Pacific and the American South. So the cabaret theme was Mardi Gras, and we asked people to wear a mask. We also held a mask-making workshop and left a few 100yen shop masks and mask-making paraphernalia in the hospitality room, just to make sure everyone would have a mask and no-one would feel too pressured to come up with something. I changed from my wine-tasting-friendly white, red and black shift dress to a black cocktail dress I inherited from my sister-in-law (I wore another black cocktail dress I inherited off her to the convention the year before).

Three things stand out for me from that cabaret:

1) I won the photo contest, with that photo of naked Amy jumping for joy at the beach. Actually it wasn't a surprise, because the voting was conducted by delivering two red stickers to each convention goer, which they were to use to stick onto the photo they liked the best, with the photos displayed in a clear file folder. I had had a wee sliver of time before or after lunch (which was provided that year, as we decided to add a buffet lunch since there was just nowhere for guests to go) to visit the hospitality room and saw then that my photo was miles ahead. It was cool to win something though. I think I won booze.
2) The convention committee performance: Charmaine had worked SO HARD on preparing special songs for us, from the musical South Pacific ("Some convention evening... you will meet a stranger, across a crowded room...), BUT the sound system didn't work, and we ended up singing a capella, which was okay, but we lost the rhythm, and sang a bit too slow, and it sounded a big choral. Shirin did her best washing 'Japan' out of her hair, but I still feel we didn't do as well as we would have if we'd had music!!! I had practiced so much singing those songs!
3) The male dance troupe. MEN turning up at an AFWJ convention cabaret is pretty rare! Young, sexy dancing men? Unprecedented! It was the tap-dancing students of Kyushu member Barbara, who I'd seen dancing for the first time the previous year. Boy did they get the crowd going! I think it was THE best disco we've ever had!

We went to karaoke after that, I think... or was that Friday night? They had a wee karaoke box in the hotel, which was totally cool and kept all the karaoke fans happy.

The hospitality room that year was a guest room, but with no guests in it. Crafts and books and brochures were spread out over the beds, along with the mask-making equipment and photo contest folder. I think we also sold crafts on behalf of members that year. People gathered in the lounge part of the suite room, or on the floor, or perched on the edges of the two beds. After dinner on Saturday, I plugged in my portable DVD player and threw on some Abba and Boney M. As the crowd began to thin out, I put on Nature's Best, a compilation of NZ music, while me and Louise danced and sang the night away. We were so late up we decided we'd best not crash and bang our way back to our rooms and went to sleep in the hospitality room beds!!

Good thing I did because I staggered back to my room the next day for a recovery nap, to find my bed was BROKEN. I sat on it and just like Goldilocks, it toppled over. A little birdie told me it had happened when X-san sat on the it day before. I'm sure I don't remember it happening! I was hardly in the room!

After recovering a bit from that stupendous hangover, I headed across the lawn to an outbuilding where the panel discussion was being held. Beverly and Tamah were talking about legal steps to take to protect your life in Japan. And I was treated to my first hand-holding and song-singing session. I'm not too fond of this bit, it feels a bit embarrassing to me somehow; I love all my AFWJ buddies, but I don't necessarily want to go round hugging everyone (unless it's Friday night, I'm tiddly on champers and happy to see everyone after a year) and especially since there are TWO songs, and a long history about the spat that resulted in their being two songs, sheesh! These days I slip away before any hands get held...

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Narita "Gateways" 2005

My first convention was in Narita in 2005. I was a convention newbie, but somehow that information had been left off my name-tag (newbies usually have some kind of identifying mark so people know to be nice and welcoming to them!) so I was on my own a bit!

The Board meeting on Friday was held in the middle of Tokyo. For those of you unfamiliar with Tokyo geography, Narita is about an hour's train ride from Tokyo! We ended up arriving late for the dinner, and had missed the ice-breaker activity. At the time I wasn't the least bit bothered, as it was my first time, so I didn't know what I was missing, but now that I know how much nicer and pleasant it is when the meeting is either in the hotel or at least very near, I always have my fingers crossed that they do us a favor of finding us a room there!

The Friday dinner that year was al fresco, it was a lovely outdoor area of the hotel. I think I sat at a table with Louise George Kittaka. I knew the board members, and quite a lot of people's names from the yahoo group femail, so I kind of felt like I knew people. I also spent a lot of time that year with Victoria Yoshimura, who I knew from Kyushu, and by extension with the Slimforce group. I also spend pre-dinner drinks with them on Saturday at a bar in the hotel, when I was just wandering around and happened to bump into them.

My roommate situation that year was a disaster, but again I was all starry-eyed newbie-ish and didn't really notice. I was in a room of three, pot luck. Upon arrival I realized 'three' meant two normal beds - and one camp stretcher. Luckily for me I arrived second and scored a bed. I drank quite a bit that night and staggered back to my room, using the bathroom to change. One roommate was watching TV from her bed while the other roommate was trying to sleep on her cot. I went to bed and roommate No.1 proceeded to chatter away to me. Like I said I was a bit tipsy and a newbie, thought well this is just what it's like, so I chatted back a bit, between laying my head down to strongly hint that I was ready to sleep now. Roommate No.3 said nothing, but I caught her at reception the next day - booking another room. She would rather pay than spend another night with us! I didn't feel too bad, as I was not the one watching TV or initiating the conversation (I was ready to go to sleep) but was still rather surprised! On the second night again Roomie was watching TV when I got back, but I had had even more to drink that night, so it didn't keep me up at all! I did ask her why she was watching TV, she said something about having kids at home, and not much time, and she liked it, which is fine, but I think she should have noticed that the other two people in the room were trying to sleep! Roomie 2 apologized to me for leaving, and tried to make it clear that it was 'just her, I have trouble sleeping' and I still wonder if she thinks it was as much me as the other person, although I had every intention of heading straight to sleep!

I had spent my night in the hospitality room, with smoke breaks in the lobby, and a few drinks there too once the hospitality room had closed for the night at about 1am. I had caught a group in the elevator who were heading out to karaoke earlier, but I felt like I might be missing something of the actual AFWJ convention if I left, so I stayed. I enjoyed chatting to random people in the hospitality room. I remember sitting at a table with three Germans who I thought were so kind to continue to speak in English for my sake! It was a seminar room, with long tables around the edges of the room holding mountains of goodies to eat and drink, books and magazines to give away and brochures and maps of the local area and places to eat and drink. We sat around tables in the centre.

On Saturday morning I attended a flamenco dancing workshop, then went on a tour to Narita temple, walking all through the old town. I thought I should get out and see some of the area I was staying in! Lunch that day was a box of rather ordinary sandwiches at the hotel. I remember meeting Candace for the first time out by the pool while we waited, but I ate lunch with Vicky M. I'll eat anything so I was happy with the sandwiches, but you could sense the polite disappointment, and the frustration of the convention committee, who did their best, and provided lunch because the hotel was in an out of the way place, with no restaurants nearby.

The Saturday night cabaret theme was National Costume (the convention theme was Gateways, with the idea that being close to Narita made it easier for travelers to get to). I wore all black, of course, with a bone carving. All the other kiwis there wore all black too! We all looked rather elegant, although one had added stuffed sheep to her shoulders.

I still remember that cabaret as one of the best. There were several dance performances, and I love watching dance. There was flamenco, hula, tap and Indonesian dance. I also was treated to my very first Bonnie comedy, Aunty Mary that year. That woman is SO funny!!!! I videoed it all, and have NO idea where that tape is now!!

I only caught some of the panel discussion, and I don't recall the topic. I had to catch a plane back, so had to leave early, though I remember popping by to see part of it but missed the famous singing. More about that next time...

I also missed the optional lunch, which was held in a restaurant popular with some of the locals, but a little out of the way for attendees who needed to head back to stations and airports. One person told me she spent three hours on trains that day!


Every year I get as far as the above title, sometimes I even get as far as creating separate posts for the separate days, but I never get around to posting!!!

I'm busy, I'm tired, and also, I think, I feel like I have to catch up on the rest before I can update the first. There's history, you see, and I can't talk about the latest one now without referring to all that history! So I am going to catch up!

I've been to six conventions, in 2005 (Narita), 2006 (Uminonakamichi, Fukuoka), 2007 (Nagoya), 2008 (Kagoshima), 2011 (Odaiba, Tokyo) and 2012 (Takamatsu, Shikoku). They were all fantastic, all fun and all follow a set pattern, while being quite unique in the details.

Some things they all have in common:

A raucous Friday night dinner party with excited friends happy to be seeing each other again; casual, often al fresco or buffet dining and often a quiz or games session thrown in,

Workshops on Saturday, including art, crafts, dancing, exercise, and local tours,

A formal Saturday dinner and cabaret, often a sit-down multi-course meal, and a cabaret show featuring acts from club members, usually including music, comedy and dancing. The dress code is often themed to match the official convention theme,

A hospitality room - a space set up for attendees to just hang out and chat with each other, usually filled to the brim with donated food and drinks, and second-hand goods for giveaways,

And a panel discussion on a set theme on Sunday morning, often a theme that fits in with the convention theme.

Several other features are more hit and miss:

Roommates: do you scramble to find one ahead of time or throw yourself into the pot for a random placement? Will it be 2, 3 or 4 person rooms? Roommate disaster stories abound, but success stories are much more common.

Hospitality room: will it be a public space in the hotel, or a private room? Will it be a guest room occupied by a convention committee member? Will it be all day and all night, or have restricted hours? What other spaces does the hotel provide (karaoke, bars, smoking rooms?).

Lunch: will it be provided or are we on our own?

Sunday lunch: often presented as an optional extra, but not part of the official fee - will it be offered at all, and if so, where and how much?

Board Meeting: will the convention committee find a room at the hotel for the Board, or are they on their own? This has been quite important to me, as I have been on the Board for seven years now, and always attend the meeting at conventions!