Friday, August 22, 2014

Musing about Birthdays

My birthday's coming up in a week and I've found myself lacking the energy to be bothered planning much this year.

With getting older every year the novelty wears off a little, that's part of it. And Japan kind of sucks the fun out of it by thinking the whole thing is much too selfish and childish, so that I even find it hard to write this and not feel like I am coming across as that! Neither friends nor family are under any obligation to even remember the day and say something, let alone indulge you in a whole week of 'Celebrating Me'. But it's less that I think than busyness inertia - the fear of planning because everything gets changed, cancelled or trumped, so that even blank spaces on my calendar look suspicious.

For years now, I've ensured my own birthday fun (and ensured my kids would learn how I expect a birthday to be celebrated) by making my own plans for outings, planning my own menus and ordering the things I want to be delivered (nothing better than getting boxes in the post!). No choice really, you can't just sit around waiting for everyone to realise then get all pissed off when they don't. Might as well ensure there are some things there that YOU like!

In summers gone by (I've had more birthdays in summer and/or tropical weather now that it feels normal!) I had more time off work and the kids' summer wasn't so stuffed full of things. I hate how while school is out, extra curricular classes continue. I do skip some of them, but feel obliged to keep up with others. I liked it better when we blew everything off and just forgot what day it was. Anyway, that was a bit of an aside, though summer busyness and plans certainly impact my celebrations.

So I didn't have any clear ideas about what I wanted to do, except go to the beer garden. That was my plan last year, only it got typhooned out. The problem is that my birthday falls on a Thursday, in the middle of a work week, sandwiched between two busy weekends. There simply isn't a space to put that!

Planning was complicated by there being so many things I like to do! Go out on a date with Kanji to a fancy restaurant. Or with the whole family. Have a family dinner at home with old country favourites and a bottle of expensive bubbly on NZ sav blanc. Go out with the girls. Have a home party, preferably wine and cheese. Go out for lunch with the kids. Eat pie at home for lunch (yes, meat pies, the height of exotica here!). Go out for parfaits or sundaes with the kids. Drink champagne or wine while watching a favourite DVD. Now, how on earth can I fit all that in? I can't, right? So I have to choose, and kind of let it fall by the wayside as I dithered about what I wanted and where I could fit it in.

At the same time, I was being equally dithery about our summer holiday plans. I'd had vague ideas of going to Shimonoseki, Miyajima, waterfalls, beach trips, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, maybe even Melody in Miyazaki again. And once more, I couldn't decide so kind of let it fall. Part of the reason was never knowing what was planned for Obon, and suspecting we were going to be busy with hatsubons, since there were two deaths in the family this year. It turns out that a visit from the 'head of the family' is enough and we did nothing different from normal, so we could have booked many things that weekend, except of course that that's the week every other person in Japan is booking things, and we'd probably have to had booked a year ago, plus the roads would be packed so even staying with people would be risky! I'm glad we left the week before free, and could do Gishwhes.

So for our annual summer holiday, we ended up in Beppu, because the chance came up to use the Yaskawa affiliated ryoukan at company prices (eg, cheap), and the only weekend I get a booking was the 30-31. That's the weekend directly after my birthday, and with PP stuff the weekend before, so no 'birthday weekend' with a panoply of events for moi. I've also squeezed in a girls night in Fukuoka on the night of the 24th, with a night in a hotel. That was an AFWJ event organized ages ago, that I wasn't sure I could go to, until I decided that with work and stuff crowding my birthday on both sides, I was damn well going to go, come hell or high water (probably the latter this record-breaking rainy August).

With work every day next week, that means my actual birthday will be a bit of a non-event, and it won't be a whole-weekend, or 'lunch today', 'party tomorrow', 'date night the night after' kind of long weekend I like to arrange. Just a day, and a busy one at that, with work in the morning, and three kid lessons in the evening.

So here's the plan, finally: in direct defiance of my usual practice, my goal this year is to not order a single thing. Okay so I've already broken that promise by deciding to buy the second season of The Conchords, but at least I am getting by on no ordered-in food. Breakfast will be after rajio taiso (nice way to start your birthday, lol!), and will be ham and eggs with the most expensive Buzen ham, which tastes like real ham off the bone, igirisu pan ('English' bread) and Hokkaido butter.

Then work! At least it's an off-text lesson, and the two classes that day are okay, I should have some fun with them. Maybe I should butter them up with chocolate or something to ensure a smooth day!

Lunch is going to be beef kebabs at Aile I'm in heaven since Miyuki brought the beef back!!! Then we'll go home and eat meringues with whipped cream and berries. Okay, they are not from Nakatsu, or even from Japan, Mum brought them for Christmas. I hope they are still okay!

I have to take Erica to English at 5, but I might give that a miss - at least, her American English teachers are the most likely to totally and instantly 'get' that it being my birthday is a legitimate reason to skip class. It would just bamboozle the Japanese staff. We'll have a cheese board, greek salad and deep fried camembert for our snack at about 5pm. Then I'll put the chicken on to roast!

I have to order in the chicken too, but at least I can order it locally from a shop down the road. I'll stuff it in the afternoon and have it ready to roast while I do the karate and dance class run, with Amy lovingly basting it and watering it to ensure a perfect gravy. Erica really can't miss any more karate classes since she missed so many over summer, and same for Lena with dance. It's okay! Just challenges my stubborn ability to have fun no matter what life throws at me.

So we'll have a super late dinner, probably not eating until 9, by the time we mash the spuds and make the gravy. I'll probably do roast veges and other veges in the afternoon to save time. Dessert is going to be brandy snaps! Amy's been asking for them lately, so we're going to MAKE them the day before. I've done it once before, with K helping, and have made the easier brandy baskets a few times so I know I can do it. I may have some wine, just a little, with dinner, but I think I'll be too busy eating to drink much!

Monday, August 11, 2014


Well that was fun! 

I just spent a most interesting week participating in Gishwhes, the greatest international scavenger hunt the world has ever known. I joined Team Takoyaki at the invitation of a friend, on a facebook group, Kim, but I knew about the game from last summer, when Jessica posted her immortal photo of her battling Casey dressed only in kitchen-ware. 

It seemed like a fun idea, and while I had a few moments of doubt, I'm glad I went through with it. We had such fun! Or, I did anyway. E was a bit shy, A a bit teenage angsty, L was a good model though. 

It must say something deep and meaningful that the first items I opted for were dress-ups, Lego and food. I quickly put my name down for 'geisha', 'bathroom' and 'candy bathing suit', 'lego dinner' and 'ice cream hat'.

17. [IMAGE] You are off to a most elegant formal evening gala. Disaster strikes! Your outfit is ruined! Dress yourself in an outfit fit for such an evening, using only items found in your bathroom. -Hutchinson 49 points


This was my first effort. I started thinking about how I could use the items I already had in the bathroom, like my bath mats. I thought I'd just have a quick look at the 100 yen shop on Monday and ended up walking away with these black towels, blue sponges, red heart sponges ( in my ears) and the non-slip bath mat around my waist. I figured that you can always use more towels and sponges! Samantha came over to help me pin it up and she took the photos of the finished result. 

36. [IMAGE] You at the beach, pool or on a boat, wearing a homemade, 99% edible, candy bathing suit. (The remaining 1% can be inedible thread or wire, but we don't want to see it.) 53 points

Amy and I had started making this from the morning, but Lena didn't arrive home until 5. Amy wove the bikini top and I threaded in the lolipops. Amy made the marshmallow bottoms and I added the jellies. When Lena finally got home, we whipped her into that pool, Samantha standing modesty guard with a towel while I draped the swimsuit over her.  I added the 'straps' and the lollipop eyes and hair ties. We were just in time to catch the lovely light of the setting sun. 

Samantha stayed on for drinks and a curry dinner, and we spent the evening constructing stuff out of Lego like a pair of 8 year olds. 

106. [IMAGE] Let's see a fully dressed, face-painted geisha mowing the lawn. - Anni Kauniskangas 62 points 


This is the one I worked hardest at, spent the most on, and am the most proud of. I asked Satoko at Grand Jete first of all if she had a wig I could borrow, then she offered to do my hair. My girls had modeled for a few weeks before, so it was favor. It's my own kimono, and Samantha's obi, and I have all the ties and things necessary, and know roughly how to put it on, but I got a bit worried as it's heavy silk, and long, it's not like putting on a yukata, so I ended up getting it put on at the salon, at a cost of ¥11,000! I could not find geisha make up, so I decided to use acrylic paint, as Sam suggested that it would be okay as long as I took it off in half an hour. But then when I arrived at Jo's (I had originally planned to use my decrepit lawn, but as I had to meet Jo to get her to sign our passport photos anyway, I changed locations - as an added bonus she also had an actual lawnmower!), she told me she had some clown paint, so I used that! It was hot, it was sweaty, it was FUN!

When I arrived home finally, after taking some kimono photos at the shrine, and going out for dinner at Aile Turkish restaurant with my hair in place (it was so beautifully done I didn't want to say goodbye to it), I used the advantage of having my hair in a terrible mess to do the mugshot - the whole team needed to do a mugshot for the team collage. That's elopus, the Gishwhes mascot, on my cheek, and a backwards YOLO on my forehead. 

37. [IMAGE] “When I grow up, I want to be...” Have a child dress up as what they want to be when they grow up (lawyer, doctor, ballerina, dragon-slayer, etc.). Then stage the photo in the environment they would be working in. 61 points

I was really on a roll by now! Though another member (the one who invited me) had claimed it, another person had commented that she had someone sending her a fireman photo - but it hadn't arrived. I checked the facebook group first thing in the morning and read that, and thought, I can fill that gap! Here is the result!

74. [IMAGE] Be the messiah you were always meant to be. Walk on water (must be a lake or pool). We must not see anything under your feet except for water. Not that we need to say this, but: no photoshopping!56 points

The main goal that day though was getting the Lego done, and I also added this walking on water task. Filling the swimming pool took all day! I intended to be the walker, but in the end, Lena was just so much more elegant at it than me!

16. [IMAGE] A family of at least four enjoying a formal dinner. All of the place settings, serving utensils, dishes - basically every non-food item above the tablecloth - must be made from Legos. 63 points

Another thing that took all day! We actually started the Lego dinner on Wednesday night, while Samantha was here - those are her forks, knives, and sashimi dipping bowls! I did the glasses and spoons and gathered salad and seafood items. Amy did the large white serving bowls. It took all day because the first time, I just photographed the items. Then I read that it was a family of four, eating a meal, just everything but the food and tablecloth should be lego. Then I took a photo on the iphone's internal camera, but that camera sucks, so as soon as K got home, I sat him down and got my shot!

It was while doing the lego that I noticed, really noticed, that that is an octopus. Then remembered that we have an elephant finger puppet somewhere. Voila, the Gishwhes mascot Elopus! 

122. [IMAGE] Create a piece of furniture that hasn't been created yet but would be very useful. Demonstrate its use. - Alex white 34 points


Really on a roll now, I'm getting the hang of this! Get an idea and go with it! Confidence! Trust! If they have a better idea, let them take precedence, but in the meantime, submit your own idea! This was something I thought of Friday afternoon and put together with two shoe stands and a broken part of the cat tower. Hope it gets us at least a few points!

12. [IMAGE] GISHWHES has taken its toll this year. You deserve a break. Hit the hot tub with a couple of friends... wearing hats made of ice cream.37 points

Lauren helped us out with this one. She's also on a Gishwhes team, Sinning Minions, and this was also her team's 'help another team' challenge. (our team's was already done). The kids were SO reluctant, but we had such fun in the end!

172. [IMAGE] One of my big pet peeves is that parades only seem to happen on certain designated holidays or for special events. Obviously, it is our god-given right to have a parade anytime we want. Build a Mardi Gras-style parade float and drive it down main street. We must see something related to GISHWHES on the float (a mascot, an item, etc.). 108 points

When I first read this challenge, it seemed obvious that this was totally out of my league, but as the week went on, somehow anything seemed doable. Or rather, realising that no actual full-size festival float was going to happen, I was free to do a mash-up. I made this with stuff in our crafts drawer and a hot glue gun in about an hour, and filmed it at Nakatsu station (while waiting for Lauren to emerge, honey-covered, for her own Gishwhes challenge!).

119. [VIDEO] “Jump the shark”. You will be penalized if you are bitten or eaten by a shark, so plan accordingly. (Liberal interpretations of this item are encouraged.) 21 points

Another last-minute one. I was up early Saturday searching noisily through the Lego to find the bits I needed for that boat! I made the mistake of thinking this was an image at first, and took a photo! I re-read the challenge and saw it was a video, but I had to go and do the hot tub picture then, so when we returned after lunch we re-did it! That's Lena driving. 

The last things I did seemed so impossible to me at first. Not something *I* could do. Impossible, given the parameters I read into the initial challenge. As the week went on though, and the 'impossible' items remained unchallenged, I was able to free my mind from the limits imposed by the original challenge (or my reading of it) and come up with more creative ideas. 

Naturally I want to try this again, and next year I will be on the ball from day one! 

Sunday, August 10, 2014


I love booking stuff. I love searching and working out where to go and filling in all the details and working it all out and the little thrill of success, and a holiday booked! In another life I should have been a travel agent.

What have I been booking you say? Not much, just a hotel in Fukuoka on the 24th for a girls night. I figured it was cheaper than the train two ways, not to mention getting onto that last sonic is incredibly depressing and sinfully early (11pm!). It's my birthday a few days after that, and that day is full with work and other commitments so this is my birthday blow-out! Easy booking on

The other was a much more complicated deal to stay at a company hotel in Beppu. I got the idea off my student, and wondered if I would be eligible to stay as well. She sent me the web link to check availability, and the application form, but I could not get anything to open on my home computer. Back to asking my students, this time we all went together to ask the receptionist, who made several phone calls and established that yes, indeed I can use it, I'm category C and have to pay the price up front then request a partial refund later on from my department. Ridiculously complex, but as long as I'm in, I'm happy!

It's a ryoukan on the coast in Beppu. Looks like it's just up the road from the beach there, so I have fantasies of spending the whole day at the beach, then retiring to our hotel for a nice bath, and a wonderful dinner, followed by a few hours of karaoke. All for the amazing price of just over ¥6000 per adult, meal included, which is half of what the cheapest ryoukan usually is! That's on the 30-31st, so can be considered another birthday special! Ending the holidays with a bang, as school goes back Sep 1.

Next will be tickets to NZ... I'm aiming for Christmas, thinking of sending Amy and Lena first, so have to find flights that suits all the parameters. This might be harder!