Friday, 31 July 2009

Summer holidays - part one

This year we don't have any real holiday plans, mainly due to a combination of not wanting to spend much money and wondering how we'd go anywhere with the little monkey now that he's super-mobile. I still fancied something we could call a holiday though, so H took Tuesday and Wednesday off work and away we went...

On Tuesday morning we went to a temporary aquarium display showcasing the sea-life of New Caladonia. After looking around and watching the promotional video I have come to the conclusion that I would love to visit New Caladonia, as long as I didn't have to get too close to much of the sea-life there... Of course the tropical fish and coral were beautiful but they had an entire section of the display dedicated to dangerous stuff, not to mention the merely gross things. Winner of this category has to be the horseshoe crab, which is apparently actually more closely related to spiders and scorpions. They live in one place in Japan too, but are now very rare due I think to the destruction of their habitat and to people saying 'What the hell is that horrendous thing? Quick, kill it!'. I could show you some pretty fish pictures but no, here's that horseshoe crab:

Innocuous enough right? Wait till you see all those legs scurrying about underneath...

Anyway, K seemed to enjoy looking in the various aquariums, especially the little ones at his level:

We had a little play with some starfish in the touching pool too:

His favourite part though was crawling back and forth through a tunnel which had little roof windows so children could see the coconut crabs from close range. Some of the children seemed to think that K was part of the exhibition though: 'Mum! Mum! There's a baby in here!'

After the aquarium we went for lunch at a Japanese restaurant and then headed off to Misasa hot springs, about an hour's drive away, where we would stay overnight.

But for that you'll have to wait for the next installment...

Rainy season

Apparently we are still in the rainy season. I don't know any figures, and I'm too lazy to look them up for you, but I'm sure we've had much more rain than usual this year. Usually I think of June as rainy season, followed by full-on, blazing-sun summer through July, August and early September. This year though we've had lots of overcast and rainy days, plus torrential downpours, all through June and July. Of course we've had some very hot and sunny days too (such as in early June when I wrote a post about the lack of rainy season...), but they seem to have been the exception rather than the rule.

Downside of the rainy season: you can't dry laundry (even perfectly dry clothes seem damp), you can't open the windows if it's raining hard, bread goes mouldy in a couple of days and everything is just, well, wet. Mould will grow pretty much everywhere if you're not careful, especially on leather shoes, belts or bedding closed up in cupboards.

Upside: it's cooler! Sometimes the rain just makes it more humid as well as hot but in general I've found it cooler than usual this year. We've only used the air-conditioners on odd days and sometimes, with a breeze, it's been almost cold in short-sleeves! As far as I'm concerned it can stay cool as long as it likes... On the other hand, all this rain has brought serious problems and floods in some parts of Japan, particularly further south, and there have been several accidental deaths reported on the news.

The rainy season is usually symbolised in Japan by frogs, umbrellas and hydrangeas. So, although most have finished flowering now, here are some hydrangeas for you....

A big one we saw on our drive into the mountains a few weeks ago:

A lace-cap one from the sadly no longer with us trees-at-the-bottom-of-the-garden (RIP), complete with insects:

And the one lone hydrangea in our own garden:

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Would you like tomatoes with that?

Last Saturday I got to play waitress. My friend Vivian's English conversation class have recently been practising 'Ordering in a restaurant' and wanted to try it out in the Real World. The class budget didn't quite stretch to a trip to an English-speaking country, so Vivian asked a very friendly cafe owner if he would be willing to let them have a go at his place. The menu was translated into English (only) and I went along to be the English-speaking waitress. It was good fun playing the role of waitress although I had to remind myself that it wasn't actually just role-playing - I really was taking their orders and I'd better get it right!

Anyway, everyone got what they wanted (or were too polite to complain) and I got a free dinner!

The title of this post though refers to our 'garden' (it still doesn't seem to warrant being called that...). Our 3 mini-tomato plants are just producing fruit like crazy and every meal in the Monkey household is now accompanied by mini-tomatoes. For the last 10 days or so we've been harvesting at least 20 a day, but eating barely half that...

No appropriate photos again, so here's something completely different - the Monkey family's shoes (aren't those little ones cute?):

Water baby

Oh, it's been almost a week since I posted anything again! So much for my little plan to write something every 2 or 3 days at least...

Anyway, today K and I went to the swimming pool. We've already signed up and paid for the summer session of the baby swimming class, but they let us have a free trial class today anyway. K looked very cute in his little trunks and swimming hat (or could I be biased?) and I think it's safe to say he enjoyed it. He didn't cry or seem unhappy at all, and there were definitely a few smiles. The only time he complained was at the end, when all the little ones played in the paddling pool with the teachers while the Mums went off to get dressed... The class we've signed up for is only for 4 weeks, but I can see that it's all part of a cunning plan to get you to join the regular class afterwards. Will we succumb?

No photos of the little water baby unfortunately, so how about this one, entitled 'Like father, like son':

Friday, 24 July 2009

Bring on Bonnie Tyler

On Wednesday we had not a Total Eclipse of the Heart but a Partial Eclipse of the Sun. As it was quite cloudy and overcast we were able to look, briefly, directly at the sun.

No, that's not the moon, it's the sun. Pretty cool eh?

While I was busy photographing the sun, K was exploring the playground at the play centre.

Are you suprised to hear that he ended up sitting in all that muddy water, trying to eat the sand?

The play centre is attached to a city-run day-care so we share the playground and sometimes we can join in with some of their activities. Until now K has seemed a bit shy of the 'big' boys and girls but this time he was really keen to play near them and do what they were doing. They were really sweet too and kept patting K on the head and saying how cute he was.

After all that excitement it was time to come home and pull photo albums out of cupboards...


Where have my followers disappeared to? Their title is still over there on the right but the box is blank :-(

I know they haven't abandoned me because they are still on the dashboard, but where are they hiding? I may only have 4, but I value them deeply (except perhaps for the Chinese guy who popped up the moment my blog began. He is not quite as close to my heart as the others...)

Thursday, 23 July 2009

The long weekend

Monday was Marine Day, a public holiday in Japan, so we had a three day weekend. The most exciting thing we did was a trip to a play centre with R-kun and family, followed by lunch together. It was the first time we had been to that play centre and K loved the ball pool. I know we'll be going again...

Apart from that I did some sewing, some yoga and some work and I also photographed some new fabric for the shop. I've listed a couple of new things and there are lots more to come, including some really cute material suitable for making things for little boys.

We also did a bit of shopping, and bought a small lawnmower for the rapidly-growing lawn. We haven't had chance to use it yet because we've been completely water-logged. Here's how it looked on Monday afternoon:

That 'river' you can see leading away from the corner of the garden is actually the path H takes to the bus-stop every day... In this close-up you can even see the raindrops hitting the water and bouncing back up!

Even the frogs were taking to higher ground...

Unfortunately for those taking part, Monday was also the day of the Kaike Triathalon, held here in Yonago. Kaike claims to be the home of Japanese triathalon as it was the first one ever held in Japan, 29 years ago. Athletes swim 3 km in the sea, then cycle 145 km (basically up and down a mountain) and then run a full marathon (over 42 km). On Monday rain stopped play while a lot of competitors were still running the marathon, and buses were sent out to pick them up. How frustrating that must have been, to have got that far and then have to give up....
O-tsukare-sama deshita!

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Big person T-shirt to little person trousers

On Sunday night I finally got around to a little project that I've been wanting to do for ages - turning an old T-shirt into a pair of baby trousers. I got the idea here, on the Rookie Moms website, and kept threatening to take my scissors to one of the millions of old T-shirts that H has been hoarding since the early 90s. In the end I decided that the ones he would be willing to part with would be too tatty even for trousers for K to get dirty in, and picked out one of mine instead.

I like this T-shirt but it was a bit too long and straight for me so it always seemed tight around the hips. I thought the colour would be good for trousers too, like lightweight summer jeans. It took me about an hour to do, but that includes a good 20 minutes searching for the elastic that I knew I had somewhere....



In action:

Sunday, 19 July 2009


Our so-called 'vegetable garden' consists of half a dozen caterpillar-infested cabbages which a neighbour gave us, 3 mini-tomato plants and 1 aubergine/egg-plant. The plants we bought cost a very budget-friendly 30 yen each, making a grand total for the garden of 120 yen (plus a bit for some manure).

Our input into the garden has been similarly minimal. We planted the plants, and we keep them well-watered. And that's about it - gardeners, please look away now. We have not done all those things that you are apparently supposed to do to tomatoes, such as cut off extra branches or feed them (aren't they supposed to feed us?). We did put in some little stakes to support them but they were much too short and the wind soon blew the plants over anyway.

But you know what? The tomato plants don't seem to mind at all. Despite the fact that they are growing virtually horizontally (some branches have even developed roots...), there are masses of tomatoes growing and loads of flowers too. We've harvested about 50 tomatoes (tiny ones, remember) so far, so we've already had out money's worth about 6 times over.

Yesterday we had our first aubergine too, with more on the way...


Mid-summer (along with mid-winter) is the traditional gift-giving season here in Japan. Department stores set up special sales areas dedicated to summer gifts, which are often boxed sets of useful, if not terribly exciting, items such as laundry detergent, cooking oil or canned drinks. Most gift are given to business associates or others who you feel in some way formally indebted to. H and I don't really move in those kind of circles so we don't usually give any summer gifts and rarely receive any either.

Since moving though we have received gifts from the company who built our house for us. The other day, this parcel arrived:

And inside we found 21 cans of beer. Excellent. Summer is truly here....

K's brush

When we took K for his first haircut, we ordered a calligraphy brush made from his hair. The other day we got a phone call to say that it was ready so H and K went to collect it yesterday. It came in a fancy wooden box and has K's name and date of birth written on it.

If you're planning to actually use the brush, they shape the hair and coat it, creating quite a stiff brush. If, like us, you just want to keep a lock of baby hair, it comes back like this, in all its fine, soft, natural glory:

Friday, 17 July 2009

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Baby on the beach

Last Saturday morning we took K to the beach. It's only 5 minutes from our house but it's the first time we'd been since he was a little baby. He seemed happy walking on the sand and playing with a cuttlefish, but the sea was rather rough and the noise of the waves crashing in was a bit scary for him I think. Later I had a little paddle while holding K but he was still a bit wary, so lone paddling will have to wait till next time.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

What I've been up to lately...

Nothing very exciting I'm afraid but if I don't write these things down I'll just be thinking 'When was it that I ....?' or 'What was I doing with my time then?'. So, in no particular order and purely for my own benefit, some Things I've Done...

  • Last Tuesday afternoon I gave a speech about the UK at a local community centre. H took the day off to take care of K, and took him to the play centre in the morning.
  • 3 out of the last 4 Sundays I've done summer parties for ECC Junior in various towns and cities in the area. All finished now.
  • Weeding. H's been working mainly on the lawn, and I've been doing the Japanese garden. With the weather we're having now weeds are growing like, well, weeds.
  • A few weeks ago we had dinner with one of H's former colleagues, his family, his cousin and her husband, daughter and daughter's boyfriend! The boyfriend is British and is studying, with the cousin's daughter, in Wincester. It was his first visit to Japan and I think he enjoyed having an English-speaker to chat with.
  • Yoga on Saturday afternoons. I'm really enjoying the class, it's so relaxing.
  • Dance on Monday afternoons, while K's at day-care. It's good fun, and deserves a blog post of its own, when I get around to it...
  • Finally, especially for Dad, some news which hasn't happened yet. I've signed K and I up for a baby swimming class. Well it's not really swimming lessons of course, just playing in the pool I think. It's just a summer taster course of 4 classes, every Tuesday morning in August. We were supposed to go for a free trial class today but K has some infected insect bites so the doctor said no... Anyway, I have the swimming nappies (!) so we're ready to go!

Friday, 10 July 2009

Exciting shop news!

Today I had my first sale on Etsy! Yeah!

The pretty sakura (cherry blossom) print fabric which I used to make my Etsy banner and avatar is now winging its way to a lovely lady in France. I hope she likes it and that more people follow her lead....

I've actually just got some more fabric to go in the shop so I'll be adding it little by little over the next week or 2. Pop in if you have time!

Rice update

I'm afraid I haven't been keeping you up to date with the rice-growing, have I? I did take some photos on July 1st, but didn't get around to posting them here... At that point most of the water in the fields had gone, leaving masses of tadpoles thrashing around in ever-shrinking puddles, which made very convenient snack bars for the herons. Here's how it looked then:

A day or two later more water was let into the fields from the river. Heavy rain also helped to raise the water levels, but not before a lot of little tadpoles had met a sun-dried end.

Today there is still quite a lot of water in the fields and the rice has grown noticeably in the last 10 days:

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

A day in the country

I can't believe it's been nearly a week since I wrote something here. Where has the time gone? Mainly on everyday, boring things I suppose, but we did have a nice day out on Sunday.

The last 2 Sundays in June I was working and I will be this Sunday too, so it was nice to have a Sunday all together. H got up with K while I had a little lie-in, and he prepared a picnic too. Then we headed off to a park in the mountains, about an hour's drive from here...

We had our picnic there and then called in to see H's grandparents who live nearby, but there was no-one home. Instead we hopped in the car again and headed over to H's aunt and uncle's place. They lived near Osaka while they were working and then when they retired they built this place as a holiday home. Nowadays they live there most of the time, growing vegetables, taking it easy and getting snowed in in the winter.

After that we went on to a nearby place where you can see horses and Jersey cows. K was really interested in the horses and didn't want to leave them. We found a nice friendly (read, half-asleep) one for him to stroke, while H's treat for the day was a smoked turkey leg to munch on.

Back in the car, and K soon fell asleep...

...missing lots of beautiful mountain scenery:

The main road follows the river most of the way and there were lots of fishermen out there up to their waists trying to catch ayu (sweetfish), one of the few river fish popular in Japan.

We headed back into town, but the day was not over yet. H had booked dinner for us all at a Japanese-style hotel. It has some connection to H's trade union so he gets discount tickets and all three of us ate for a grand total of 300 yen! We had our own room, as if we were staying at the hotel, and our meal was served there. The rooms have their own toilet and washbasin, but no shower or bath. Instead, everyone uses the communal baths (one for men, one for women) where the hot water comes from natural hot springs. After dinner H and K stayed in the room for a while and I went to have a bath. I hadn't been to a hot spring since before I was pregnant so it was a really nice treat.

Yup, that meal was all intended for K. He ate the rice balls, shrimp, tomato and fruit, and H and I ate the rest, in addition to our own of course!

All in all a very relaxing day out, all planned by H. Thank you H!

Friday, 3 July 2009

Still annoyed about this...

If you've seen pictures I've posted of our back garden (like these) you may have noticed some trees and bushes at the foot of the garden, including a big blue hydraengea, wild roses, a camellia and various trees I can't name. They aren't in our garden, but just over the wall at the edge of a disused rice field. Everyone who comes here comments on how nice it is to have them there - they block the view of weeds in the fields and the road beyond and they attract a lot of birds.

Now think back to my last post, when I said H brought me roses to cheer me up. Yes, when I came home on Wednesday at lunchtime, the trees and bushes were all being cut down. Sadly it now looks like this:

That's just a mass of weeds you can see there now, the same as the other disused rice fields in the background. Close up it's even more depressing:

When I saw what was going on I went out to talk the person doing the cutting - the 80 year old, younger sister of the old woman who owns the field. Apparently a tenant of the house that used to stand here planted those trees years ago, without the permission of the landowner who has wanted them gone ever since. Why, and why she waited until now to do anything about it, I'm still not sure. The old lady refuses to sell or rent the land to the guy who is growing rice in the surrounding fields. The overgrown part of the field is a problem for him because a) all the weed seeds end up in his fields and b) he has to go around it all the time to get to his land.

Now it is of course completely up to this woman what she does with her land, especially with trees she never wanted in the first place. What annoys me is that there seems to be no point in the tree-cutting. There are no plans to start using the field again, and I can't see how those trees bothered anyone. I'm interested to see if they are going to do anything about all those weeds, but I'm doubtful.

So that's why I needed cheering up. It was really quite upsetting to see those trees being cut down...

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Good news, bad news

The bad news: another pay cut for H and his colleagues.

The trying-to-sweeten-the-bad-news good news: from today they all finish work 15 minutes earlier.

The negating-the-good-news bad news: the bus schedule hasn't changed so he'll still be getting the same bus home and arriving at the same time

The personally-good-for-me news: H used his extra 15 minutes before catching the bus today to buy me some roses, because he knew I needed cheering up (more on that tomorrow, but don't worry, nothing too serious...)