Saturday, 28 May 2011

These are a few of his favourite things...

This afternoon I was thinking about what we should take to the UK, and so I asked K what his favourite toy was, just in case we needed to pack it. He replied that his favourites were his 'new Lego' and his flying monkey (a fantastic present from Nicole which terrified him when he first had it but is now super-popular). Then, just for fun, I asked him about a few more of his favourites...

song? the alphabet song

colour? indigo

number? (answer one) one hundred thousand ten plus nine; (answer two) zero

letter? j

fruit? kiwi

food? carrot

animal? giraffe

place? hot air balloon (??)

character from Bob the Builder? Scoop

character from Thomas the Tank Engine? 'I don't know'

By now I was running out of questions, but he was keen to answer more, so I sunk to...

person? Mummy

Yeah! The correct answer ;-) Then K prompted me to ask him who his favourite Japanese person was, to which he replied 'Daddy'. Ahhh.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Can we make it? Yes we can! (Er, I think so...)

in blurry action

As I mentioned the other day, I made a pair of shorts for K. They are based on Dana's tutorial over at MADE: elastic-waisted but with a flat front. They were quite easy to make, except that I made the very mistake that Dana warned about in her tutorial. Doh. I confused the leg part with the body part (it's easy to do with shorts, honestly) and had to rip out a seam. Also, they didn't turn out quite as big as I had expected. They do fit K, but I don't think they will last him past this summer. Oh well, we'll just have to indoctrinate T into being a Bob fan too...

Apart from all that though, I'm quite pleased with them. The material comes from an old pair of my trousers so (a) it was free, and (b) it was the perfect weight and nicely pre-softened. I found the Bob the Builder patch in a local craft shop on sale at half-price, basically because nobody knows Bob around here. For those of you without small boys around, that's Wendy there with Bob (she's the true brains behind the operation you know), and Pilchard the cat.

I've made a few pairs of elastic waist trousers before, but this was the first time I'd attempted some with a flat front. And luck was on my side, as they came out beautifully smooth, with no annoying tucks! Yeah! Next time I think I'll add some pockets too...

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Paternity Leave - Week 2

So, what did we do with ourselves last week? I know, it's already Thursday of this week, but I'm doing my best...

We went to an amusement park! It was the first time K had been to anything like that. The place is pretty small and doesn't have many big, scary rides, so it's perfect for K and for his scaredy-cat parents too! Going on a weekday in May was great. It was warm and sunny, and there were hardly any other people there; a few other families with small children, who we'd see at all the same rides, and a couple of busloads of retired people there to see the rhododendrons in flower. There weren't even many people working there. Each person was operating a couple of rides and would come running over when they saw you heading towards one and start it up for you. Apart from the Big Wheel, there was never anyone else on any of the rides at the same time as us! K especially enjoyed 'driving' Thomas the Tank Engine, riding a horse on the carousel and spinning round in the tea-cups (that was my favourite too...).

We went to the farm park in Mount Daisen that we've been to a couple of times before. K was a bit more wary of the animals this time, but I think he enjoyed watching them even though he didn't want to touch them very much. In the dog enclosure he insisted that I stroke various dogs, while he just observed... We had a picnic lunch while we were there, and the playground went down well too.

We spent time with friends. On Saturday we had lunch in Matsue with Scott and Carmella, and on Sunday Jason and the girls and Lisa came over for lunch. Plan A was to have a barbecue but the weather looked bad so we scrapped that idea. Of course it stayed dry all day... K really enjoyed playing with Hana and Rika, especially running around in the garden and picking flowers (weeds actually...) and strawberries. Yeah for the fence! We also visited H's aunt and uncle who live conveniently near the amusement park.

I did some sewing, but no crocheting... As well as the scary baby toy, I made a pair of shorts for K, which can be glimpsed in the photos of him playing in the garden I posted yesterday. If I get time I'll show them to you a bit better later on.

H did some painting. Yeah! The fence is all finished now, and looking good.
And that's about all I can remember... I really ought to start writing this week's report, ready to post on Monday, while I still remember it...

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Another fence post

After several days work by H, and over 16 litres of wood stain, the fence has gone from this...

via this...

to this! Well done H.

You can really see how the garden has changed over the last month or so too. The lawn has greened up and all the plants are full of leaves, even the ones I thought might have been dead... The broom in the corner has grown tremendously and is now covered in yellow flowers, while the 2 roses from Tim (behind K in the photo above) are blooming really well.

If you're really sharp-eyed you may have noticed the rice fields full of water in the background. All the rice has been planted now, and the paddies look lovely; shimmering water with a subtle green sheen from the seedlings. I forgot to take a photo of the other end of the garden, so you'll just have to imagine the big tree in full leaf now. We didn't bother to plant any vegetables this year seeing as we won't be here to eat them, but we do have some strawberry plants and they are fruiting nicely now.

And here is K enjoying the garden with his new bubble gun, which he is ever so slightly scared of...

Thursday, 19 May 2011

A Wild Thing?

What do you do at 11pm when your 3 year old and your 7 week old baby are both finally asleep? Obviously, any sane person goes to bed. Me? I made a baby toy.

I wanted to make something for T with bright, contrasting colours, using fabric and felt scraps I had. I deliberately made this little monster lopsided, for a genuine (?) monster look, and to make it a lot quicker and easier to make :-) I should have made the bottom part of the toy a bit wider though; it's rather flimsy to hold and it was Very Fiddly to sew. In fact I gave up on the neat ladder stitch, tucking in the raw edges nicely, and just, well, sewed it up. So, what do you think? Endearingly wonky, quirky and cute, or just plain old not-straight and a bit scary?

Those of you paying attention may have noticed something that I haven't been making - that crocheted baby blanket for T. To be honest, I have lost all enthusiasm for it because a) there's still a lot to do on it and b) we don't actually need it. As well as all the blankets we used when K was a baby, we were given 2 more nice ones when T was born. And it's summer now anyway. I was only really making it because I'd made one for K and it seemed right to make one for T too. I also sewed a reversible hooded blanket, and a little teddy rattle from a kit before K was born...

Nowadays I seem to spend a lot more time thinking about making stuff, reading blogs and online tutorials about making stuff and browsing shops full of things for making stuff than, you know, actually making stuff, so I'm pleased to have at least made something. Anyway, note to self: do not attempt any more big crochet projects (and yes, I'm afraid a baby blanket counts as big). Hats, scarves, little bags, maybe even tops if they're very lacy and will work up quickly, but blankets? No.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Paternity Leave - Week 1

H has officially been on paternity leave since last Monday, even though he was home most of the previous week too due to public holidays. I want to keep some kind of record of what we do with this special time, both to remind me in the future and to encourage me to use it wisely by putting it up for public scrutiny! So what did we do in Week 1?

We celebrated H's birthday. K and I made a card and baked a cheesecake on Monday and then we had a little tea party after K's pre-school on Tuesday. K insisted on candles and 'switching off the lights', even though it was the middle of the afternoon and there weren't any lights on in the first place... In the evening we headed to H's favourite restaurant but it was closed. After finding several other closed restaurants, I remembered a place I'd been to twice before and liked but since forgotten about, and things all worked out beautifully in the end.

We got rained on a lot, and sunburnt. After record-breaking downpours from Tuesday to Thursday, the sun came out at the end of the week and the weather is finally more seasonal.

We sorted K's toys, books and clothes. While he was at school on Tuesday and Thursday I went through his things, getting rid of (or storing for T) old and small things, reorganising what was left and sorting out the Secret Supply of toys and books that we have in stock for him.

We had some days out. We visited H's grandfather in hospital, had a couple of picnics, felt ill at the sloping 'Mystery House' at Ryokusui-ko (well, I did, H and K enjoyed it) and had a guided tour of a new museum in Yodoe with Vivian and Masaki.

Apart from all that, we went to the play centre one morning, had a few meals out, and got K out of nappies! There have been one or two little accidents but, overall, he's 'a big boy now'...

(Sorry, no photos to accompany this list of antics. It's taken me 3 days to write this, we'd be here till Christmas if I took the time to sort out photos too...)

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Golden Weeks

Last week was Golden Week, a string of 4 public holidays in the space of a week. It's my favourite holiday time in Japan because of the weather; usually warm, sunny and great for being outside, unlike hot-and-humid summer holidays or cold-and-snowy winter ones.

This year though, we didn't really do much. We met up with several friends - a barbecue in the park one day with Cian, Yoshi and gang, visited the Oyamas in their 'new' house (which was finished at least a year ago but it was the first time we got around to going there) and met up with the Kuchitas yesterday for lunch at a new child-friendly restaurant. H has spent 3 days out in the garden staining the fence (nearly finished now!), and we had the one month ceremony and photo shoot for T. Actually, when I write it all down, it seems like quite a lot!

Anyway, I don't mind if we didn't do that much, because we will have lots more days like that this year. H is taking extended paternity leave, a very unusual thing among employed Japanese men! The rules at his office have changed since K was born; previously, a man could only take extended paternity leave if his partner was working, but now anyone can take up to a year off even if their partner is at home. I think that many men are still put off by the idea that they will be inconveniencing their colleagues and may be considered lazy (not to mention the substantial drop in pay, gulp), but H's boss reassured him that he is entitled to take this leave and he should go ahead and do it. H works hard but he also always takes all his holiday each year and generally comes home on time; definitely a work-to-live rather than live-to-work kind of guy!

So, as of Monday, H is on paternity leave and, throwing in summer holiday and annual leave too, he'll be off until the end of September! One of the reasons he's doing it (apart from the simple fact that he can) is so that we can all take a long trip to the UK together. When K was a few months old I took him to the UK for 2 months in the summer but there's no way I could manage the trip with K and T without another adult. It's the only time that H will be able to make a long trip, probably until he retires!

We've got T's British birth certificate, his passport should be ready next week and the plane tickets have been bought. We leave here on May 31st (in 3 weeks time!) and come back again on August 31st, making the most of that 3 month ticket... So if you are in the UK and would like to meet up over the summer, let me know! I'm now, very slowly, getting in touch with friends and trying to organise some get-togethers. I know that, unless I take action, even 3 whole months in the UK could easily pass in a blur of lounging on the sofa eating salt and vinegar crisps and watching The Weakest Link...

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Giant baby

That's H's latest nickname for T.

Yesterday we took T for his one-month check-up; he'll actually be 6 weeks old on Monday but it was delayed because of the holidays this week. When he was born he weighed 3830g, and yesterday he weighed in at 5190g! Apparently, an average daily gain of 30g is good; T's works out at 46g.

T's newborn wrinkles have all gone and his thighs are beginning to get that lovely chubby baby look, but he's not really getting fat, he's getting big. According to the measurements made at birth and again yesterday, he has grown 4.5cm in height (length?), and both his head and chest circumferences have gone up 3.5cm. In comparison, K's vital statistics at one month (when he was 4 weeks old) were: weight gain of 28g a day, height growth just under 3cm, head and chest about 1cm each. I'm sure that these measurements aren't incredibly accurate, but there's definitely a difference between the two; T is about a kilo heavier now that K was at the same age!

Right from birth T has been a good feeder and a good sleeper. Recently it's not unusual for him to sleep for 5 or even 6 hours at a stretch, usually at night-time or in the car or pushchair. When he's not sleeping or feeding, he's generally moving! His little arms and legs are going all the time. He's strong too, holding his head up well when I pick him up and threatening to shoot off my lap when he kicks against me. Crying can generally be solved by a nappy change, a feed or a cuddle. He likes to be held tight and to be rocked, and seems very comfortable in the baby carrier, often falling asleep in there within minutes. Like most babies he likes movement and usually misses out on the excitement of any outings by sleeping whenever he's in the car or pushchair.

It's keeping us busy, but life as a family of 4 is good!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Hatsu Miya-Mairi

or, 'First Shrine Visit'.

It's traditional in Japan to take a baby to a shrine to be blessed when he or she is one month old. I suppose it's comparable to a christening or naming ceremony. We took T to our local shrine last Sunday, just as we did for K three years ago.

We called in at H's parents' house on the way, and H's mum helped me change T into his 'ceremony dress'. It's basically a christening robe, a long white frilly thing that H's mum bought when K was a baby. To me, it's a typical example of how Japanese people borrow elements of Western culture and incorporate them into traditional Japanese life.

Our local shrine is a small place, and the priest (who also works a full-time job) is a relative of H's. He was waiting for us at the shrine, and we all took off our shoes and went up the wooden steps to join him inside.

Shinto shrines don't really have services or group worship like churches do, and people only usually enter the actual building when they are taking part in a ceremony such as a wedding or blessing. At other times, visitors just throw a small coin into the large wooden offering box at the entrance and say a brief prayer. You can see a couple of women doing just that behind us here:

The priest started the ceremony by drumming, and then prayed and blessed us all. We placed an offering of a small branch on the altar (visible in the background of the photo below), and finally, H's mum dabbed T's lips with sake (in the photo above).

This photo is a bit blurry but I love K's excited expression as he tells me something, and the look on the priest's face as he gazes at T.

And here we all are, looking very much as we did at K's ceremony; I for one am wearing exactly the same clothes... H, on the other hand, informed me that morning that apart from his very formal, weddings-and-funerals suit, he had not a single suit that didn't have fraying cuffs, hems or pockets. Looks like we'd better go shopping...

K had fun posing for the camera with the priest's hat and ... whatever that wooden thing they carry is...

The most popular type of cherry blossom finished flowering weeks ago, but there was a different kind in full bloom in the shrine grounds. It was a sunny and warm day, but very windy. At least in this photo you can actually see T's face!

After the ceremony, which only took about 30 minutes including the photo shoot, we all went out for lunch together. Then on Tuesday we dressed up again and went to the photographers to have some professional photos taken. I wanted to go on the same day as the shrine visit, but we couldn't get an appointment at the studio so it got delayed a couple of days. We should get the photos in 2 weeks, so I'll scan them into the computer and give you a peek then...

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Here's one they made earlier...

The other day I wrote that I drove a 2 tonne truck loaded with wood back from the home centre. It was a desperate attempt to garner a few curious comments but it seems that you all have more interesting things to wonder about. Never mind, I'll tell you about it anyway...

My parents have never been people to sit around and relax when there's work to be done. After a couple of weeks here, they were in need of A Project and so plans were sketched on scraps of paper for a fence for the back garden, complete with 3 gates. As it was, there was nothing to stop K going around either side of the house and out to the road, and there is also quite a drop at the end and one side of the garden too. Here it is, in its 'Before' splendour:

So after a couple of trips to the home centre, the workers got down to it. Driving the truck back was my sole contribution I'm afraid, but K was keen to help...

Tools were borrowed from H's dad and his cousin, who both live nearby. About the only useful things we had in the toolbox were a screwdriver, a hacksaw and a tape measure (which was a present from Dad in the first place, as was the toolbox itself!).

There is a gate either side of the house, and another in the bottom corner of the garden to enable H to take his shortcut to the bus stop. The gates all fasten on the outside (non-garden side) so that K will be unable to escape once he's out there.

As well as its enclosing and wind-blocking properties, I think the fence looks really good too. It also makes our small collection of plants and shrubs around the edge of the lawn stand out more as well, inspiring me to plant some more. Not that I have yet of course, but I am inspired to do so.

Mum and Dad have returned to the UK now, and K has had a couple of sessions playing in the fenced-in garden. I can close up the garden gates and open the sliding glass doors from the dining area out onto the patio so that K can come in and out freely. It's like having another big room added to the house!

The weather hasn't been as good as you'd expect for this season lately, but it seems to be improving now. Hopefully that'll mean more playtime in the garden soon, and a chance for H and I to do our bit to the fence - staining it. We have at least bought the stain, so that's a good start, right?

(Apologies to Mum and Dad for tagging this post 'things we made', as if I did anything at all...)