Monday, 31 October 2011

Happy Hallowe'en!

I love Hallowe'en. Any excuse for fancy dress always goes down well with me, and the fact that it almost coincides with my birthday probably comes into it too. This year I didn't really do much for Hallowe'en myself, but I did help K to enjoy it. First off, I subliminally steered him in the direction of wanting a skeleton costume for his preschool party...

I got a cheap black tracksuit, some white fabric paint and this skeleton template. Back in the summer when I was in the UK, I bought some freezer paper, so I finally had the chance to try freezer paper stencilling. If you're not American and/or a craft blog fan you may not know that freezer paper is paper which is waxy on one side only. If you cut a design into it and then iron it, waxy side down, onto fabric it sticks to the material and creates a waterproof seal. Paint over the stencil, let it dry and then peel off the paper - ta da! Skeleton bones!

H suggested that I put bones on the back too, and then paint by hand onto the gloves and socks. Well, no. This will be quite good enough, thank you.

Anyway, we all went to K's preschool on Saturday afternoon for their Hallowe'en party. As well as his preschool classmates there were also children who attend the school for weekly English classes, and some former students, siblings, friends and all. First off they did some songs and games indoors...

... and then they headed out to trick or treat.

Hallowe'en is gradually becoming more well known and popular in Japan, but it's still not a big event and the average citizen would certainly not expect trick-or-treaters turning up on their doorstep. The school had arranged for the children to go to the old people's day centre across the road, and 2 private houses nearby. I suspect that the school provided the treats too!

The treats are behind you, little skeleton boy!

Then it was back to school for a bit of apple bobbing before going home again. Here's K with Rika-chan, his friend, classmate and daughter of 'Mr' Jason, his teacher and our friend.

Today there was another little party within school-time, so the costume got a second outing. I thought I'd add a little Hallowe'en charm to K's lunch and had a go at making severed fingers like Jo's. I showed them to K in the morning and he was very enthusiastic, but they returned untouched. So I ate them.

And now the witching hour draws near, so I will bid you goodnight. Keep your doors closed tightly tonight!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Autumn Days

Autumn is my favourite season. I know some people find the shorter days and cooler weather depressing, but after all that heat and humidity I welcome the end of summer here. Mind you it's not only because of that, because I've always loved autumn, even before coming to Japan.

Right now the weather is just right for me. Clear, sunny days with temperatures in the low to mid 20s, with somewhat cooler nights. Even now in mid-October, there are still times when I'm too hot really. It amuses me when people here are surprised to see me still wearing short-sleeves, in October! They don't base their comments on the actual weather at the time, but purely on the calendar. As in, 'Aren't you cold? It's October!', even if it's 27 degrees... Schools change to winter uniforms at the beginning of October and around town people suddenly start wearing boots and scarves. The other day a woman I know told me she had just changed her cushions from summer ones to winter ones...

Anyway, for me autumn means Hallowe'en, my birthday, Guy Fawkes night... That last one passes me by now unfortunately, but Hallowe'en has been growing in popularity more and more ever since I first came to Japan. I love fancy dress, and the annual foreigner-run Hallowe'en party here is one of the highlights of the local social scene.

at the local shopping centre

our 100yen shop decorations

More typically in Japan, autumn means sports days, culture festivals (November 3rd is Culture Day, a national holiday), autumn foliage and food. There's a saying, shoku-yoku no aki, which literally means 'appetite autumn', pointing out that lots of tasty things are in season now.

If you're a small child, it seems that autumn also involves digging up sweet potatoes. Every kindergarten or primary school around either grows their own or organises a little field trip to harvest some. K (and the rest of us) went up to Daisen with his pre-school last week to dig sweet potatoes (and collect chestnuts), and he also helped H's mum harvest some the other day too. Luckily they make perfect baby food for T, boiled and mashed...

Thursday, 13 October 2011

6 months old

T turned 6 months at the end of September and went for his 6 month check-up last week, weighing in at 8.01 kg. His weight, height and head size were all virtually identical to K's at 6 months; average height and weight, and bigger-than-average head...

Nowadays T usually sleeps from around 9pm to 7am, with a bottle feed at around midnight, just before we go to bed. Often we can pick him up, feed him and put him back into bed again without him even waking :-) He might have a nap in the morning, and again in the afternoon, but there's no real schedule to it and he often just falls asleep in the car or pushchair and wakes up again when K disturbs him... When he's in his cot he seems to like to roll over on his side to sleep.

He has a meal mid-morning (such as mashed banana and avocado, or porridge with apple) and another one at teatime (maybe sweet potato or rice, with some pureed vegetables). Apart from that bedtime bottle, it's breast-feeding the rest of the time.

I wouldn't say that T is actually crawling yet, but he's definitely getting around. He can roll over both ways now and can swivel round in circles on his tummy. He moves forward somehow, and likes to reach up and try and grab things from the coffee table. When he's not underneath it, that is... He does get up on his hands and knees and rock forwards and backwards, reminding me of a cat preparing to pounce! With a little support he can sit up, but is still liable to flop over when you least expect it. He loves to stand on my lap and bounce, and if he can bite my neck and pull my hair at the same time, all the better.

Anyway, time for photos!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Health and Sports Day

Yesterday was Health and Sports Day, a national holiday in Japan. It was created to commemorate the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and is now held on the second Monday in October each year. There are always lots of sports and physical-activity oriented events, including school sports days, and yesterday morning K and H went to a city-organised event for children aged 3 to 6.

Various activities were set up in the city gym and the children and their parents, in groups, spent 10 minutes on each thing, with lots of adult volunteers there to help hold little hands...

The little boy getting onto the balance beam behind K is Rensei, who was there with his daddy Tomonori, one of H's old school friends. I met Tomonori independently, before I was going out with H, and I later (independently) met Ritsuko, who went on to become his wife. Rensei is just 3 months older than K and now we each have a second little boy, only 2 months apart! There seems to be a certain amount of fate in the 2 families' relationship; maybe we were all destined to be friends...

Anyway, back to the gym...

There was trampolining, rolling on mats and skipping; hula hoops, hopscotch and action songs; various jumping, balancing and ball games...

...and finally, tug-of-war. No sports day in Japan is complete without this one!

Well done boys, you worked hard!

H and K left home at about 8.30 and went for sushi afterwards, getting back here just after 1 o'clock. I stayed home with T and was paralysed with indecision about what to do with the free time! First I took T out into the garden and did some weeding for a while. Then he fell asleep (while I was preparing his morning food...) so I snuck upstairs and tided up my little room (it always seems overly grand to call it an 'office' or 'studio'). There was even time to sit in the engawa with a cup of tea and a magazine before he woke up again. Overall it was both a relaxing and productive morning, my favourite combination.

It did set me thinking though... What did I do with my time when K was a little baby? Unlike now, I didn't have a blog, Facebook account or online shop (recently restocked!), I was only teaching one class a week (admittedly, only 2 at the moment now) and, oh, I didn't have a 3 year old running around, demanding attention and waking up sleeping babies... And yet somehow I felt busy then too. I suppose it's that old thing of work expanding to fit the time available...

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Toy Kingdom

H went back to work on Monday, after nearly 5 months of paternity leave. He didn't seem to find it too hard to get back into the working routine; I suspect that he'd had enough of being at home with his nagging wife...

Anyway, last Wednesday we decided to make the most of our work-free weekdays, and went to Toy Kingdom in Okayama for the day. It's a fair way from here, over 2 hours on the expressway, but the boys were really good in the car and it was definitely worth the drive. The park was open from 10 to 5; we were there from 10.20 until it closed!

Like our trip to a closer amusement park back in May, there was hardly anybody there. As it was a weekday and not the summer holidays, parking was not a problem..

All 4 of us went on the Big Wheel and admired the view of the Seto Inland Sea and its lovely cone-shaped islands. We also had a good view of the empty car park and the deserted park itself. See if you can spot a single person..

Entry to the park was 700yen for adults and 500yen for children. This included entrance to lots of different play areas including Wooden Toy House...

... Story Book House, Game House (I had fun playing Pop Up Pirate) and Train House. If he hadn't already seen what else there was in the park, I think that K would have happily spent all day just playing with the trains...

It was a lovely sunny day and a little too hot in the middle of the day, so the air-conditioned Train House was perfect for a couple of little breaks (and breast-feeding stops). K was quite happy to play by himself for a while. Look at all those train-tracks just waiting to be laid out!

There were also lots of ride-on toys to play with freely...

... as well as a sand pit and a whole other area of slides and playground equipment, neither of which we even got to! We didn't make it to the Building Block House either, although we did admire the giant models scattered around the park.

But even with all that on offer for only the park entrance price, we couldn't resist the 'free pass' tickets. The rides in the park cost at least 200yen a time, but an unlimited pass was only 1500yen. With so few people there we didn't have to worry about queuing, and we were able to go on as many rides as we wanted to.

K soon spotted this one, and went on it twice...

Actually, he went on everything twice I think! Of the 17 pay-for rides at the park, there were only 3 which K was too small for. There were several he could go on by himself but he generally preferred to ride with one of us. We worked our way around the park, with H and I taking it turns to go on with K, while the other one waited with T. And then later, we went back and did them again the other way around. H and I are both pretty wimpy when it comes to rollercoasters and the like, so this park suited us all very well :-)

There were lots of classic amusement park rides: teacups and merry-go-round, tiny flume ride and flying elephants. K and I even went on a little rollercoaster, which was just about in my comfort zone! As soon as we set off K cowered into my side and made lots of scared noises, but he later declared it his favourite ride...

H and I both enjoyed driving the go-carts, and the bumper boats. We were, in turn, the only people on them, so there was no-one to actually bump into, but that was probably a good thing.

The free passes also gave us entry to the exhibition hall, which is currently hosting a display on insects; perfect for the boys (of all ages) of the Monkey family! As well as big beetles in cases to look at, there was a big box filled with compost to dig for larvae in, and a little pond to fish for gengorou (predaceous diving beetles).

Finally, we explored the play gym, with its tunnels, slides and ball pool. There seem to be a lot of this kind of play area in the UK now but H and I had just been saying that you don't see them in Japan. But in Toy Kingdom, anything is possible!

We all really enjoyed our day. Another advantage of going when it was so quiet was that H and I could play freely too, with minimal embarrassment. If you are anywhere within a couple of hours of Okayama and have a young child or two to entertain (or a couple in their 30s...), I would heartily recommend it!

Saturday, 1 October 2011

September scenes

September has been and gone and, with it, the last of H's paternity leave. He will be back at work as usual again on Monday. Where has all the time gone?

We've had a few days out, and birthday dinners for Vivian and Shuko. We paid a little visit to English School, had Lisa come visit us one day, met Chieko for lunch and Miki for dinner while she was here from Vietnam. K has been back at preschool as usual and I have been teaching 2 classes a week. Generally though we have been at home this month and there has been a lot of this...

...and even more of this...

The weather has been a big factor in what we've been doing. At the beginning of the month it was still far too hot and humid to do anything - well, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. After that a couple of typhoons brought strong winds and torrential rain, but nowadays the temperature is generally in the mid-20s and the humidity is low. At night-time you can even enjoy feeling a bit chilly from time to time!

T turned 6 months old last week and is enjoying his first experiences of solid food. He's now up to two meals a day and eats anything we offer him, in large amounts and with gusto. He can now roll right over; I never seem to see him actually moving from place to place, yet he can magically cover quite a bit of ground when no-one is looking.

I had high hopes of doing a lot of Sorting Out in the house this month while H was here. Are you surprised to hear that very little progress has been made? I have gone through a couple of cupboards properly but, in general, I've simply made matters worse by starting lots of jobs but, in the words of a well-known plumber, not finishing anything. Oh well.

On the other hand, progress has been made on Project New Car. I think that tomorrow we may actually sign on the dotted line!

And so to bed...

Cooking time!

K loves to help out in the kitchen, and 'mixing' is definitely one of his favourite things to do. The other day we made these super-easy 5 ingredient peanut butter cookies, found via Mary Beth's blog Salt and Chocolate. They were a bit too sweet for us; normally I'd reduce the sugar in the recipe but as the only other ingredients were peanut butter, chocolate chips, an egg and baking soda I thought I'd better not mess about with it too much! Yup, no flour and no extra fat. Admittedly they did taste rather like sweetened peanut butter with chocolate chips in, but who says that that is a bad thing?

Our other recent mixing activity was rather less tasty - playdough. I found a recipe for it here, and K had fun cooking it up.

Then we divided up the dough and worked in some food colouring to make red, blue and green dough as well as leaving some plain. That's what H was doing in that picture I posted yesterday :-)

After that it was just a matter of playing! The dough was not too sticky and generally quite nice to handle. It reminds me a bit of Silly Putty, in that it will stretch but it will also snap if you pull it quickly. Still, I think the one that Mum used to make for us when we were little was better. Do you still have the recipe Mum?