Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Sunrise, sunset

This morning I woke up at 5.15 for some reason. (Could it have been the dream I was having, where flies landed on my body and laid eggs, which instantly turned into maggots and started burrowing into me? Sorry if you're eating...)

Just as I was falling asleep again, K woke up. Despite my best efforts neither of us got any more sleep.... One good (?) thing about this is that I can report with confidence that it is already light at 5.15. In fact, today's sunrise was apparently at 4.55. It's only in the depths of winter and if I'm forced to get up before 7 that I see darkness in the morning. I really love that, but I can't have it both ways - no long summer evenings here. Even at this time of year it's dark by 8 o'clock.

After the war, under American occupation, Japan had daylight saving time in the summer but it was scrapped again later. I've always thought it would be better if we had DST - surely daylight between 8 and 9pm would be of more use to most people than between 5 and 6am. I've heard lots of reasons against it that, to be honest, just make no sense at all to me, usually based on the loss of sleep(one hour a year, right? do you always really go to bed and get up at exactly the same time?) or some misguided belief that you'd have to go to work earlier or stay later or something...

But recently I heard a compelling arguement from someone who has actually experienced daylight saving time in Japan - the heat. Although the humidity doesn't change, the sun going down does make the heat a little more bearable, and was particularly relevent in the days before air-conditioning. As a distinct fan of doing anything to keep (somewhat...) cool in the summer, I'm convinced - 'no' to daylight saving time after all.

Friday, 26 June 2009

K's first hair-cut

We finally took K to the barber last Saturday, to have his first hair-cut. Does it seem slightly ridiculous to take a 15 month-old to the barber? Well, in Japan there's a custom of making a calligraphy brush from a baby's hair. The very fine, soft hair makes a very good quality brush capable of producing very fine lines. Nowadays most people just have them made as a momento I think, with no intention of ever actually using them. I suppose it's the Japanese version of keeping a lock of hair in a locket. Anyway, that's why K avoided the pudding-bowl Mum-haircut which he'll probably get next time...

He was a really good little boy and kept (reasonably) still on my lap while he had his hair cut. He looks so grown-up now that his hair has been cut, especially when I see him walking around outside with shoes on too. Actually he looks like a naughty little boy ready to get up to all kinds of mischief...

Before (sweet, innocent, little long-haired baby):

During (getting a bit bored by now):

After (Dennis the Menace in training):

*** Barber anecdote...***
When H described to me the location of the barber he was planning to take K to, I thought 'Hey! That's the Catholic barber!'. When I'm driving home I often find myself stopped at traffic lights in front of a small barbers with a framed photo of the Pope and a statue of the Virgin Mary in the window - not something you often see around here. However, when we actually got near the barbers on Saturday I realised that H was heading for a bigger, newer looking place a few doors down the road. I was slightly disappointed. While we were sitting waiting our turn though, H pointed out a framed photo of the Pope and Mother Teresa on the counter! Mixed in with all the old manga (comic books) and magazines for customers to read there was also a book entitled 'Mother Teresa and her sisters' (I have to admit that I thought 'oh, I didn't know that she had sisters. I wonder what they did... Oh, right, yeah, those sisters...' Doh). Later conversation revealed that the barbers was run by a couple and their son (one of 4 children), that they lived at the old shop but had opened this newer shop a few years ago and that the wife travelled a lot to (Catholic) European countries and had considered entering a convent in Belgium...

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Move over David Attenborough

Despite living on the outskirts of a city of around 150,000 people, we can see (or hear) our fair share of wildlife. I'd like to take photos to show you all but it's always all too small, or too far away, or too quick to run away when it hears a camera coming. Anyway, here's what I've spotted in the last few days, all from the comfort of our back garden:
  • wild ducks, white ibises and herons in the rice fields

  • masses of tadpoles in the rice fields, and frogs still croaking at night

  • pheasants - I often hear them shout and this morning I spotted one wandering about

  • tiny little shrimp swimming around in the rice fields

  • swallows, sparrows and various other birds I can't identify, plus crows eating our tomatoes :-(

  • butterflies - everything from big tropical-looking swallow-tails to the dreaded cabbage whites

  • bats flying around at dusk

  • a snake rustling through the overgrown fields behind our house - luckily this one was spotted by H

  • creepy crawlies of every description, most interestingly the mino-mushi. Read on...

Mino-mushi literally means 'straw raincoat bug', and I've seen it translated into English as 'bagworm' or 'basketworm'. The caterpillar builds a little house around himself from whatever he can find, usually little twigs, to protect himself from predators, so that he ends up looking like this:

But if you carefully cut open his house, you can find him hiding inside:

Then if you give him new materials like, say, a cut-up pizza flyer, he'll build a new, much more colourful home. I don't think this one would work well as camoflauge though, unless he was living on our kitchen table....

** No mino-mushi were injured in the making of this blog post. Pizza-flyer caterpillar is living happily in his new home, with fresh food delivered to him regularly (leaves, not pizza...) **

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Rainy season

In early June we had quite a long run of cloudy, rainy days before the weather changed to hot, bright sunshine about 10 days ago. That was also just about the time that the 'official' start of the rainy season was declared... Refusing to bow to authority, the weather just raised its game even more by moving into full-on summer mode - since last Thursday it's been very humid with temperatures reaching 30 degrees. Late Sunday night though, the rains came. Through the night we had torrential rain accompanied by thunder and lightning. Yesterday it rained heavily on and off throughout the day, and today... we're back to hot and humid. A one-day rainy season?

Our Japanese garden has a 'dry river' of gravel which turns into a real, most definitely wet, river when we have heavy rain.

All this humidity and rain makes a lovely environment for mould - bread keeps for only a couple of days now, and we have to put moisture-absorbing thingys in the cupboards to prevent our shoes growing a blue fuzz. When it's actually raining though it feels so refreshing, and all the trees and plants in the garden look wonderful.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Purple stripey you-know-what

Yes, the purple stripey sock monkey has been finished and is sitting in the shop waiting for some kind person to give him a new home...

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

These are a few of his favourite things...

One of the reasons I started this blog was because I wanted to create a record of K as he grows. Everyone says how quickly you forget all the little baby and toddler things and I have a particularly bad memory so I started a notebook when K was born. Lately though I've been very slack at writing in it, so I'm going digital instead. Of course this probably won't be very interesting for most of you (and my other posts are??) so please feel free to skip over it (unless you are a grandparent or doting aunt, in which case you are expected to read Every Last Word).

Today's topic - K's favourite things (at 15 months old).

He continues to love to play with books and he enjoys being read to more now. Previously he just wanted to turn the pages as quickly as possible but now he'll sit quietly through the whole of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. At bedtime and before K's nap I read a couple of stories to him, which he picks out himself. His favourites are definitely 'Cuddle', 'Little Rabbit Waits For The Moon' and 'Time For Bed Snow Bear'. All 3 of these were presents from Cynthia - good choices Cynthia!

K really likes this car-slider toy nowadays, now that he can confidently set the cars going by himself and adjust them if they get stuck.

Kneeling on the table to play with it is just an added bonus.

Shape-sorters are also high on the list. We have 2 great shape-sorters that Mum had kept from when sis and I were little. And guess what? They're both still being made and seem to have become classics. K can now do this one easily and so he's now moving on to this one. It's still too hard for him really (and he can't open it himself yet) but he can put a couple of pieces inside.

However, toys in general are now losing out to his new-found ability to open doors and explore all over the house! We need more baby gates...

Other favourite things include: eating (pretty much anything), pressing buttons (he called a lift today and looked very proud of himself), anything involving music, riding in the car, going out in general, climbing on the sofa and then up onto the unit next to the sofa (followed by cheeky grins, laughter and rapid retreats when I tell him to get down), opening and closing windows, playing on the little slide at play group and making prank calls on my mobile...

Finally another picture, just cos it's cute. Sorry it's blurry - he moves fast.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Odds and ends - and yet another monkey...

I wonder what percentage of my blog posts so far have the word 'monkey' in the title... I hope you're not getting bored. Don't worry, monkeys are just one part of today's ramblings.


The other day one of our neighbours, who has a son at elementary school, came round with bags of little boys' clothes to pass on to K. I had great fun going through it all on Sunday morning, sorting out the summer clothes that will fit K this year. I felt like I had my own personal jumble sale! Look at all this generously donated stuff:


Sunday afternoon brought Lisa, Cian and Jason here for Scrabble. It was great to just relax and hang out with some friends. Scrabble was fun too of course - in fact, board games in general could well have been one of my 6 favourite things if I had thought about it. Sunday's games led to the coining of the phrase 'Magpie Scrabble' - stealing other peoples' treasures by simply adding an 's' or 'ed' onto a word and getting millions of points. The sort of thing that seems lazy and unfair when others do it but an absolute stroke of genius if you think of it yourself...

And then...

H came rushing in from the garden the other day to grab the camera in order to show you all this:

Can you see what it is? Loads of tiny, newly-hatched, praying mantises (manti?). They were really quite cute.

And finally, this:

Yes, it is the tail of yet another monkey. Katharine at Woolly Wotnots , who got my Strawberry Sock Monkey in the monkey swap, has encouraged me to make some more sock monkeys to go in my Etsy shop. So on Saturday morning I headed off to our local sock emporium and in the afternoon made a start on Purple Striped Monkey. He should be in the shop in a few days time and after that I've got another, different, striped pair of socks and one with polka-dots on, both destined to meet a distinctly simian fate.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

It's here!

*warning! this post contains a lot of italics, exclamation marks and general excitement!*

This afternoon, while K was having his nap, I was doing a bit of sewing (more on that later...) when the doorbell rang. 'Could it be the postman with something that won't fit through the letterbox?' I thought. And yes, it was! That's right, my monkey swap parcel has arrived! I was so excited. I even made H stop what he was doing and come and watch me open the parcel...

When I saw the stickers on the presents inside I couldn't believe my luck. My goodies had come from Sarah at paper-and-string! I've been reading her blog for a while and love all the fantastic stuff that she makes, though I often think her blog should be called felt-and-buttons really. Looking at the monkey swap photos on Flickr I had noticed that no-one had received anything from her yet and I couldn't help wondering if I would be the lucky one. And I was!

So, would you like to see what I got? First I opened the green package and found this great pink mini-tote, complete with felt monkey face and cool polka-dot lining:

But that's not all. Inside the bag was this fantastic zippered pouch!
Isn't that wonderful fabric? And it's beautifully lined with felt too. I've been thinking for a while that I ought to have a go at making a zippered pouch to keep little essentials like lip salve, eye drops and name stamp in, to make changing bags easier. So I know exactly what I'll be using this for!

And as if that wasn't enough, there was a whole nother package to open! And inside was...

... a lovely felt monkey, complete with a little letter to me! How cute! She (I'm pretty sure she's a she) doesn't have a name yet but needs to get one soon - we already have 2 monkeys known only as 'monkey' around here so a third would just be ridiculous...
Oh, and look at how her tail is attached (sorry the photo's not very good):

Oh, the excitement of it all. I'm really quite tired out! Just in case you missed something, here is all the booty again, plus the cute little card that Sarah sent:
I was so thrilled by it all that I had to take it with me to yoga to show Lisa and Heidi! They agreed that it was all super-cute and incredibly well-made. Thank you Sarah, so much! I'm definitely a lucky monkey today...

Friday, 12 June 2009

Six unimportant things you love!

Katharine at Woolly Wotnots has tagged me to make a list of 6 unimportant things I love. This is the first time I've been tagged for something and it makes me feel like a Real Blogger, especially in combination with the recent monkey swap. I've also been meaning to write here about some of my favourite blogs to read, so this is the perfect opportunity to tag them. Thank you Katharine!

Here are THE RULES...

Pick 6 unimportant things you love

Mention & link to the person who tagged you

Tag 6 of your favourite bloggers to play along

(don’t forget to comment on their blog to let them know they’ve been tagged!)

1. Maps. I love maps. And atlases. And globes. You know when you go to, say, a park, and they have a big map at the entrance? I have to stop and look at that. Have to.

2. Pizza. Mmmm, pizza. Especially if it has lots of mushrooms and meaty stuff on it. Which reminds me. The other day my friend Oliver told me that King Wenceslas invented the first pizza. Apparently he liked it deep-pan, crisp and even.

3. Boots. (The footwear, not the chemist. Having said that...) I love wearing boots. With thick tights and short skirts, or under trousers, I live in boots through the winter and try to extend the boot season for as long as I can. Ankle boots are OK, but knee-highs are really the way to go.

4. Shower gel. The type that smells so good you want to eat it: lemon or strawberry or vanilla or coconut or mint or... You don't really see proper shower gel in the shops around here, just liquid soap that usually smells of, well, soap.

5. Thunderstorms. Big claps of thunder, flashes of lightening, torrential rain coming straight down. I love it. As long as I'm not actually out in it of course...

6. Diaries. I was trying to avoid the books-music-fabric-stationery type of answer here, but I had to give in over diaries. I love notebooks of all types but I tend to think 'I don't really need it...' and leave them in the shops. Or I buy a nice one and then feel scared to write in it in case I spoil it. But diaries? An entirely justifiable stationery expense, and you need to buy (at least) one a year! I really enjoy choosing a new diary every year - week or month to a view? does it have the Japanese lucky and unlucky days listed? what completely unnecessary and yet irresistable information does it have at the back? and of course, design! Yay for diaries.

Ah, that was fun.

I'm tagging these great 6 blogs. I've been reading all of them for a while but I must admit I've just been lurking without commenting on most of them. Sorry...

And if you're reading this and would like to join in, consider yourself tagged too!

Growing, growing, growing!

The rice...

the lawn...

the tomatoes...

and the little monkey...
It must be all that rain we've been having...

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Monkey news!

I've just heard that Strawberry Monkey has safely arrived at her new home, with Katharine at Woolly Wotnots. It seems that she travelled well and she now seems to be settling in and making herself at home! Katharine makes the cutest little knitted collectables and sells them on Etsy and Folksy. I'm particularly keen on the latest addition, Bert the Monkey...

Throughout the monkey swap I've been concentrating on getting my things sent, and hoping that Katharine would like them. It's only recently that I've really realised - hey, I have a surprise parcel coming in the post! I'm sure it'll be here any day now, and I'm really quite excited!

If you're interested in seeing what everyone else has been receiving in the swap, you can check out the Flickr group which Claire set up. Truly Monkey Magic!

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Shameless self-promotion

I've added a little Etsy widget on the right there - → - so that you can easily find my shop! Stickers and letter sets coming soon...

Poor little K :-(

For the last couple of days K has been breaking out in hives from time to time. He's been getting them scattered across his body but, after an hour or so, they all fade away. Then a few hours later he'll have some more. As far as I can think he hasn't had any new foods, nor have we started using any new soaps or detergents, nor does he seem to be coming down with a virus. I suppose I'll just keep an eye on him for a couple of days and then see the doctor if it's still happening.

The good news is that they don't seem to be itchy and don't seem to bother him at all. I, however, go all shivery and itchy just looking at them...

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Monkey goodies

The parcel I sent for the monkey swap should be arriving at its destination any day now, so I think I'll show you what I sent. It's a secret swap, so the recipient won't know to look here for her goodies anyway. And I just want to show you!

I made a sock monkey! Are you surprised??

I think this little strawberry lover is a girl monkey, don't you?
And to keep her company on the trip I added a few little monkey buttons:

Do you recognise the material I used to cover the buttons? It's what I used for the lining of H's birthday book cover.

I felt quite pleased with my little parcel when I sent it off, but now I'm not so sure. Today I saw Sarah at paper-and-string's post about the monkey swag she has received. She got some sweets, a wind-up monkey and 3 (three!!) sock monkeys! Oh dear. I do hope the woman who gets my lowly offering is not too disappointed...

Monday, 8 June 2009

Do you know about Etsy?

The other day I told you I had a Top Secret Project in the works. So here it is...

I have opened an online shop! I've only just started it so there aren't many things in it yet, but I plan to add lots more things, little and often, over the next few weeks. I'm selling Japanese fabric and craft supplies, stationery and so on.

My shop is part of the Etsy website. Do you know it? It's an online marketplace for people to buy and sell handmade goods and supplies. I could spend hours just browsing there...

It took me ages to think of a name for my shop; I wanted something that would suggest Japan and cuteness, that would be easy to remember and spell but that was unique. I also had to try and find something that wasn't already being used by one of the millions of Etsy users! So what did I come up with? You'll have to go over to the shop to find out :-)

If you visit the shop, please do leave a comment here telling me what you think. Thanks!

Friday, 5 June 2009

Can you keep a secret?

For the last couple of weeks I've been working on my latest Top Secret Project.

It's almost time to reveal all but, for now, some hints: I've set up a Paypal account and spent a lot of time in the fabric shop. Can you guess what I'm up to?

And in other Top Secret Projects, my monkey swap goodies are on their way to the UK!

2 legs good

People have been asking me for ages if K can walk yet. Now I can say, Yes, he can!

He started moving around by himself using just his arms to pull himself along, commando-style, before progressing to Proper Crawling. About a month ago he made those first tentative steps between the coffee table and the sofa, but it was more of a 'lunge to the next support with a slight shift of one foot' than proper walking. On the other hand, he has been standing without support quite confidently for some time now.

I've often heard reports from friends with young children along the lines of 'He can do 4 steps now' or 'She's up to 6 steps at a time'. It seems that K isn't interested in messing about with that. After a long period of only crawling, on Wednesday he decided it was time to walk. And did so. Not to my outstretched arms or a piece of furniture, but simply across the room. He has also suddenly become able to get himself into an upright position without pulling up on anything.

K has been performing this new feat with a look of 'Hey, look what I can do. You didn't know I could do this, did you?' on his face. It's as if he's been able to walk for ages but has only now decided to let us in on the secret. H says it reminds him of 'Andy' from Little Britain...

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

How was your weekend?

We had a nice relaxing couple of days. On Saturday morning we took K to the park, to play on the rocking-animals and swings and look at the monkeys.

After that we went to get sushi for lunch. Recently several new, cheap revolving sushi restaurants have opened up in town. I think they are trying to get away from the traditional image of sushi restaurants as expensive and somewhat intimidating. These restaurants are cheap and very family friendly - high chairs, baby spoons and forks, plenty of space for pushchairs, nappy-changing facilities... The menu also reflects this appeal to families. As well as traditional sushi there is a lot on offer which doesn't use raw fish (hamburger sushi anyone? No, really!) and a lot of stuff that is just not sushi at all - fried chicken, savoury egg custard, chocolate cake. If you want something that you haven't spotted on the conveyor belt, you can order it using the touch screen found at each table. Your order arrives by shinkansen (bullet train) on an express lane above the main conveyor belt!

On Sunday morning we went to a craft fair in town. I've always liked going to craft fairs in the UK but I had never seen that kind of thing here. I had actually been idly thinking about trying to organise one and even had a venue in mind. Then at the hairdressers the other day I saw a flyer for a craft fair at the very place I had been thinking about! Ah, beaten to it. Still, it was nice to go and have a wander around and I did pick up some info about renting the place while I was there, just in case...

Apart from all that I went to yoga, H had a nap, we had a nice Skype chat with Mum and Dad with the unexpected bonus of Karen and Liz being there, and very little cooking or housework was done. Perfect! I also managed to finish off the things I was making for the secret monkey swap. The person getting them doesn't know yet that they will be coming from me, so the chance of that person seeing this is incredibly small but hey, I'll make you wait anyway. I should be sending it all off tomorrow and so when I think she has probably received it I will put some pictures up here. Hope she likes it!

Monday, 1 June 2009

Ten days...

... and already you can see a difference in the rice:

For the past week or more it's generally been warm (17 to 20 degrees) but overcast and sometimes rainy. Not ideal for catching up with mountains of washing, but great for rice-growing and for newly-laid lawns. Unfortunately it's also great for weeds, which have sprung up everywhere in the Japanese garden. The other day we woke up to see that we'd had a visit from the Weeding Fairy (aka H's dad, popping round to weed in the very early morning!), but there's still a lot waiting there for me...