Saturday, 29 August 2009

A little giveaway

It looks like our mini-tomato plants have finally reached the end of their productive lives...

I still can't believe how many tomatoes we have had from 3 plants, especially as we didn't feed, stake or prune the plants at all! In fact supply outstripped demand, despite K's valiant efforts, so various friends, neighbours and colleagues have been sharing in the bounty.

I would have loved to have shared some with you too, but I'm not sure how well they would have travelled. Instead, I'm offering a letter set and a sticker set of your choice from my shop. To enter my little giveaway, have a guess at how many mini-tomatoes we harvested, from mid-July to the end of August. Hint - it's a lot. Here's what we picked on August 1st:

The person nearest the mark wins! Just leave a comment on this post with your guess and your choice of letter set and sticker set. I'll set the deadline as midnight on Friday September 4th, Japan time. Actually, make it 'whatever time I check the blog on Saturday the 5th'.

In other shop news, socks from this post have been transformed and are now in the shop as a monkey, with another one on the way soon!

Friday, 28 August 2009

Water baby

Our summer holiday baby swimming class has come to an end. K and I really enjoyed playing in the water each week. He really does love the water and didn't mind being splashed, having water poured over him or even going completely under the water. Maybe when he's older he'll take proper swimming lessons but I'm glad I had the chance to have fun in the pool with him and enjoy K enjoying himself.

These photos are not very good because they were taken through the rather dirty glass separating the pool and the viewing area, but I hope you can see that K had fun. This next photo is particularly bad but if you look closely you'll see K laughing like a maniac...

We splashed, jumped and swirled around in the water. The little ones stood on the side of the pool, held their mummies' hands and jumped in. At the end of each session they played freely with toys in a very shallow area. K loved it all, although he looks rather serious here (look at that big tummy!):

Finally he spotted Daddy...

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

New look blog

What do you think? Is it easier to read on a white background? Comments please...

Whatever template I choose though I always seem to get a long narrow blog, with big blank spaces on either side. Anyone know why that is? I can't find where to edit that, but other people's blogs seem to use the full width of the screen. Hmm....

And now my Etsy thing doesn't fit in properly either. What's that they say about things that aren't broken....?

A busy weekend

Our week without H went surprisingly smoothly, but K and I were both very happy to have him back with us on Friday night. K enjoyed showing H the photos of what he'd been up to all week...

The weekend was hot and summery, at long last. On Saturday morning I judged an English speech contest for junior high school students. It was only after the whole thing had finished that I discovered that the boy who had won first prize was the son of one of the teachers. It's probably a good thing that I didn't know though, or I would have been worried about judging him fairly.

I also collected my new table and chairs from the home centre on Saturday. The table and 4 chairs came flat-packed in one large box which I could just about lift on my own. In fact it would have been fine if the shop assistant had not released the saloon-style counter-door as I was bending down to pick up the box. The corner of it smacked me right in the head and, wimp that I am, it was a real effort not to cry. I still have a sore bump today...

Anyway, with K's help the table was put together, and then H helped me with a chair. Yes, 'a' chair, the other 3 are still waiting...

Other weekend stuff: lots of weeding (mainly done by H, well done!), a house-warming party at Lisa's (where I scolded her cat using K's name...), meeting a new short-term private student and a lovely sunset on Sunday.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Sock shopping...

...for monkey making.

I'm rather keen on the brown and turquoise stripey ones.

Which ones do you like?

Thursday, 20 August 2009

My room

When we had our house built a couple of years ago (is it really that long ago?!), I had a little room made just for me. At the time I was teaching part-time at 3 different places but didn't have a desk, or even a shelf, at any of them so I wanted somewhere at home to plan lessons, mark, keep books and files and so on. Throughout the building process everyone assumed that the 'office' was for The Man of the House, but why would H need a desk at home? He has one at work...

My desk and shelves only really take up about half the room and, until now, the rest of the space has just been a dumping ground for stuff. So, after a mere 2 years, I am finally trying to make better use of the room. Here's what you see from the doorway:

And from the other corner at that end:

Do you recognise the monkey keeping my dictionaries company on the bookshelf? She was part of the wonderful bag of goodies I got from Sarah in the monkey swap.

I've pretty much sorted out the desk and shelves at that end now - look! Nothing on the desk or the drawers next to it! I'm quite pleased with myself.... Apart from those boxes in the foreground of course. And if we look at the photo taken from the window end:

Yes, several more boxes, as well as a little assistant (but he can stay). But believe me, this already is an improvement on what it was! Once those boxes have been sorted out then that corner will become my little craft area. I'm going to put a table there so that I can leave my sewing machine set up all the time and get some drawers so that all my craft stuff will be in one place and I'll know exactly where everything is.

Well, that's the theory anyway...

Wednesday, 19 August 2009


I was going to write here how surprised I was that my spotty sock monkey got 20 views in the shop in the first 10 hours after I put her up for sale.

But having just checked my e-mail, I have discovered something even more surprising - she has sold already!

It's monkey madness! Suppose I'd better go and buy some more socks...

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

A quiet weekend

The weekend was hot and sunny and so we spent a lot of it outside (we'll brush over the mosquito bites which that resulted in...). There was weeding, playing on the lawn and cabbage harvesting (2 huge ones and 1 little one) done on Saturday.

H's mum invited us to go out for lunch on Sunday. Somehow that turned into a barbecue at our house instead... It seems that our new camera has a much wider lens than I realised. I didn't think I was going to be in this photo:

K enjoyed wearing grandma's sunhat:

I also made a quick round of the furniture shops since it dawned on me that, with K now using a kitchen chair, we wouldn't have enough chairs for everyone when Mum and Dad come to visit next month! Would you believe that, apart from folding chairs, I could not find any individual chairs for sale? They only seemed to be available as 'dining sets', complete with table. As luck would have it, I was also on the look-out for a cheap table so that I could keep my sewing machine set up all the time... More on this when my order arrives!

Monday, 17 August 2009

This week I have been mostly...

...making monkeys.

I recently sold Purple Stripey Sock Monkey from my shop, and he is now happily residing in New Zealand and answering to the name Bruno! So I thought I'd better make another one in case anyone else fancies one, and here she is:

When not sunning herself in our garden she can be found here.

While I had the machine out I also did the machine-sewing on 2 more sock monkeys for a custom order, although there is no rush because they will be hand-delivered in September. Hopefully I will get them finished before the end of August though I don't know how much free time I'll have this week as H will be away from home all week and I will probably have my hands full with another little monkey...

Friday, 14 August 2009

The Very Busy Spider

Yesterday afternoon, not long after I wrote the previous post, the delivery man brought The Very Busy Spider (yes, you caught me, I wrote it yesterday and scheduled it to be published this morning, in an attempt to spread out my posts a little...).

I opened it with K and H in the evening and K grabbed it and had me read it to him right away! I think it's safe to say that he remembers the book and still loves it - when we came downstairs this morning the first thing he did (before a nappy change and drink) was get the book from the shelf, sit down and 'read' it. He hung on to it during his nappy change, picked it up again straight after breakfast and has been spotted carrying it around several times this morning.

The edition we bought is the small-sized, board book which doesn't have the end papers that the book from the library has. K keeps trying to find the 'missing' page at the end, which had a little picture of the spider on it. I'm really glad that we found this book at the library because it wasn't one that I knew and I would have missed out on K enjoying it so much....

Books, books and more books!

K loves looking at books. Sometimes he's happy to sit still and be read to, and sometimes he has to hold the book and turn the pages himself. He really likes The Very Hungry Caterpillar, so recently I borrowed The Very Busy Spider from the library and he loved it. Each time we looked at it I had to read it 2 or 3 times until he was satisfied. It's gone back to the library again now, but H has ordered our own copy which should arrive any day now. I wonder how K will react...

English-language books can be very expensive or hard to come by here, so H has been keeping an eye on an online store which often has sales. The other day 2 surprise parcels arrived, one addressed to me and one to K. Mine contained a book on crocheting little animals - I'm particularly taken with the frog, and have added him to my endless list of Things To Make. K's parcel had a lovely (British English!) picture dictionary, a Curious George book, some flashcards and a Maisy book of opposites! They're all a bit 'old' for K yet but they were also all half-price.... Actually, K is enjoying looking at the Maisy book already. Thank you H!

And yesterday, another parcel, this time from Mum! Lots of lovely books (including some proper little story books in board format, which is just what I wanted) as well as a great wooden puzzle and a DVD for me! Thank you Mum!

Here's K enjoying one of the books from the previous parcel from Mum - he says 'Thanks Gran!'. Well, he would if he could talk...

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Latest on the rice

Mr and Mrs A covering the rice with nets to keep the birds off:

Now it looks like giant spiders have spun their webs over the fields:

The rice grains are forming:

Photo credits to H :-)

Wednesday, 12 August 2009


The city's festival continued on Sunday with more parades, stage performances and, to finish things off, a big firework display. K had already gone to bed when the fireworks began so H kindly stayed home while I went to check them out. I love fireworks and I also wanted to try out the new camera on 'firework' mode! I didn't go all the way into town but just cycled to a viewpoint not too far from home. In taking these pictures I realised the biggest difficulty in photographing fireworks - when one goes up you don't know if it's going to be a really good one or not until it's too late to take a picture! So here are some of my random shots:

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Festival Fun

Summer is festival season in Japan. Recently we went to the little festival at the local day-care and the one at the shrine near our house, but last weekend was the big one, the one organised by the city. It's called Gaina Matsuri - matsuri is Japanese for 'festival' and gaina means 'big' in the local dialect, so it really is 'the big one'!

H, K and I took the bus into town to avoid the traffic and went to a barbeque held by H's office for lunch. After that we headed to the main street to watch some of the parade. The whole main street leading away from the station was closed to traffic, and stalls were set up along the side of the road.

There were stalls selling all kinds of fun things, like balloons and masks:

And lots of food stalls too - this chap is selling grilled squid and corn-on-the-cob:

Other stalls were running popular festival games. One common one is fishing for goldfish. Instead of a net you have a little scoop lined with paper, which weakens when it gets wet and eventually breaks. The challenge is catch as many goldfish as you can before your scoop disintegrates!

There were various parades going down the main street throughout Saturday and Sunday. The parade on Saturday afternoon was mainly groups of people, such as work or neighbourhood groups, dancing. Here are the city hall staff, including the Mayor in the middle there looking at you:

They were all dressed in traditional festival garb - lightweight summer kimono called yukata for the women and a type of jacket called a happi for the men, along with zori sandals and special divided 'socks' called tabi.

A local bank group performed a dance using umbrellas, which originally comes from Tottori, the prefectual capital.

Another bank group:

Those traditional dances are very sedate and more like walking-with-actions than really dancing. However, there were lots of other styles too. One of my favourites is the yosakoi dance, which comes from Kochi prefecture in Shikoku, the smallest of Japan's 4 main islands. The dancers jump and whirl and use wooden clackers. Their costumes are cooler too :-)

There were also a lot of street dance/hip-hop groups, especially kids from dance schools. The last part that we saw of the parade featured men carrying mikoshi, a kind of portable shrine:

After all that excitement it was time for tired little K to go home, so we didn't see the evening part of the parade this year. In the evening the main event is the manto parade - literally, 10,000 lanterns. Men carry very long bamboo poles with lanterns hanging off them. Of course, simply carrying them isn't challenge enough so the poles are balanced on the palm of the hand, on the shoulder, hip, even chin! H has done it a few times in the past with his colleagues and I enjoy cheering them on. There is always at least one pole which comes crashing down, scattering the spectators, but that just adds to the fun...

Eventually I found a photo of it here, so you don't have to miss out after all!

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Rice growing update

Here's the view from the patio nowadays:

The farmer has put up lines around and across each rice field in preparation for setting up nets to keep the birds away once the rice grains develop. There's still quite a bit of water in the fields, and the frogs continue to serenade us each evening.

According to the news last night, the rainy season has officially ended here now, 15 days later than average and 29 days later than last year. It's the latest end-of-rainy-season since records began in 1951. The meterological office in Japan is obsessed with these kinds of statistics but I have no idea how they decide when the rainy season starts and ends, as it's still grey and damp here...

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

New camera!

It's full of great functions, including a fantastic zoom and HD video. This is a big thing for us because our video camera is in for repairs again. In the end they gave us a new one last time as it was still under guarantee and now that one has gone on the blink...

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Luck of the draw

When Katherine came to stay with us over Golden Week she very kindly bought a 6-pack of good quality beer... On the packaging was a postcard to enter a prize draw, which H filled out and sent off. Last week he was rewarded with this T-shirt:

Anyone who knows H will understand that this was perfect for him. I wish I had sent off for it myself without telling him so that I could have saved it as a Christmas present for him!

Monday, 3 August 2009

Film recommendations please

A while back I thought I'd rent a DVD for H and me. We haven't been to the cinema much since K was born (er, once together plus once on my own?), and we haven't even rented many DVDs either so I thought I'd have lots of great films to choose from, but actually I had difficulty finding one single film I wanted to watch...

There were lots of films in the 'big-on-budget-low-on-story' disaster genre (generally seeming to be about the end of the world), plenty of action films and lots of horror flicks. I didn't really want stupid comedy either, nor did I think H would be very interested in girly romantic comedies. In the end I rented 'Blindness'. The basic storyline is that everyone (in the country? in the world? I don't really know) goes blind, except for one woman. Now obviously I didn't expect this to be a laugh a minute, but I did think that it sounded interesting and original. Actually it was horrible. H and I struggled to think of one part of it which we actually enjoyed. I could have quite easily just stopped watching it half-way through.

One problem I have with a lot of films (and TV shows - 24 springs to mind...) nowadays (sounding like an old granny here...) is that there seems to be so much really nasty, torture-like violence. I've never really liked blood-and-guts horror films much, but I used to say that 'suspense' was one of my favourite types of film. However, the films labelled 'suspense' recently don't really match my definition. My idea of a 'suspense' film is one that asks things like 'What really happened to the wife of the gruff architect (probably played by Harrison Ford)? Did she really just leave him and all her stuff? Is it a good idea for his new girlfriend to be poking around in his attic? Why was he digging up the patio in the middle of the night?' You know the kind of thing.

I'm not quite ready for a diet of Disney yet mind you. I do like serious stories as well as more lighthearted stuff. So, what can you recommend?

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Summer holidays - part three

Don't worry, this is the final installment, and a brief one at that! After waking up and discovering that K was amazingly pretty much still where we left him the night before, we headed downstairs for breakfast. Here's K demonstrating his impeccable table manners:

After that we intended to visit a little botanical garden near the hotel that H and I had been to years ago, but when we got there we found that it had closed down. Instead we went to a park for another walk featuring a lot of leaf and stone collecting, before a quick lunch and heading back home again. The park had some animals to look at: goats, pigs, deer and rabbits, but also monkeys....

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Summer holidays - part two

On Tuesday afternoon we drove to Misasa, a town famous (well, around here) for its hot springs rich in radium. I know that doesn't really sound like a good thing but apparently taking the waters is indeed good for you. Years ago I went to Misasa every year for a teaching assistants conference, which always ended up with lots of drunk assistants trying out the mixed open-air bath at the side of the river, visable from the road bridge. Oh, did I mention naked?

No such rowdiness this time I'm afraid. We stayed at a nice Japanese style inn next to the river, and went for a walk along the river before dinner. Here's the hotel:

and here's K examining each and every stone and leaf he found on the way:

My main job was to gratefully accept his gifts of stones and leaves and to try to prevent him eating them...

Our room at the hotel was traditional Japanese style, meaning that it had tatami mats on the floor and no furniture except for a low table (oh, and a fridge and TV. There's a limit to traditional nowadays). The room had its own toilet and wash-basin, but no bath or shower. Instead, guests use the communal hot-spring baths (separate ones for men and women) on the ground floor. We ate our dinner in the dining room downstairs but for an additional fee we could have had it served to us in our room. While we were eating, futons were laid out in our room.

This brings us to the one concern I had about our little trip. At home we sleep 'Western style', meaning that H and I share a bed and K sleeps in a cot. But at the hotel we would all 3 be sleeping next to one another on the floor, with nothing to stop K moving freely around the room. How on earth would we get him to sleep?

Well, we were lucky. K settled down in his sleeping bag as usual and fell asleep after only one escape attempt. We were even able to have the room lights on after he fell asleep and enjoy a relaxing beer - good thing we had that fridge, eh?