Friday, May 29, 2009

First white egg

I keep forgetting to post a photo of the white chickens' house... so here it is! It is the roll from a coil of wire which has some netting nailed around it. It took 10 minutes to make and UNTIL NOW has been pretty ideal. The chickens seem to like it and go in by themselves each night and all we need to do is put the hooks on to shut it to keep the wild animals out. The reason I say "UNTIL NOW" is because... today the first white egg was laid... in the "house". Yippee! What's wrong with that I hear you saying. What's wrong with it is that it was laid in the most distant part from the door and therefore to get it out is pretty much impossible. After a few minutes of swearing and stretching I somehow managed to get it out but I think we need to work hard on getting all the chickens to live in unison and therefore all lay in the proper egg boxes very soon or build a back door to the house! As for the size of the egg ... nothing compared to the big brown ones we get each day, but for a first try not toooooo bad. I'm sure they will get bigger soon! Either that or we might be able to pass them off as quail eggs.
I managed to survive both new kindergarten classes and after school English classes today.... just. Am looking forward to a quiet weekend!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Spoke too fast...

Just after I pushed the "publish post" button on the last blog entry there was a knock at the door... at 10:30 at night... by one of the girls staying.... to say that she had just thrown up.... fun, fun, fun! A glass of water and some talking and she was back to bed till 1:30am... when she came again... to say she had thrown up again... this time all over her futon, her clothes and her pillow... fun, fun, fun! Another glass of water and a new futon downstairs away from all the other girls and closer to the toilet and she was back in bed again. Fortunately that was the last time I saw her till 8am - when she seemed to be fine again. I had visions of everyone having food poisoning or everyone catching her tummy bug and the whole visit being a disaster, but as no one else was vaguely sick and she was fine for the rest of the stay I presume it was just a change of environment etc. Phew! Needless to say I was too tired last night to write a blog entry....
Yesterday we filled in the day by pulling out all the onions and preparing them for drying, cultivating the onion patch, cutting down bamboo to make supports for tomatoes, making supports for tomatoes, planting tomatoes, cutting wood, making pikelets (hot cakes), playing baseball, having a barbecue in the garage (it was raining) and last but not least having a bonfire. We had some old wood lying around so I promised them if they did a good job all day we could have a bonfire and toast marshmallows. It would have been better if I had actually bothered to look at the weather forecast first... but they were determined to do it even in the rain. So with the rain coming down we had a great time singing, dancing and toasting marshmallows then headed straight to the hot springs to warm up!
Final morning today was spent collecting eggs, making lunch, cutting more wood, making and decorating cupcakes to take home with them. We had a good time with them, but .... I will definitely sleep well tonight!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Another group arrives....

About a week before each group of junior high school students arrive I receive an envelope with "profile" sheets written by the students. These include a photo, and a brief self introduction etc. When we first started having groups to stay I used to read these thoroughly, trying to remember important things about each student and made a rough picture of what they were going to be like and therefore what they might enjoy based on these profiles. Now that we have been doing it for a while I look very quickly at the pictures and sometimes scan the information then throw them in the bin.. well not literally... but in effect. It is not that I am lazy, it is just that so often the profiles and then the actual students that arrive are so different! I think the school has a set format that they have to follow and it just doesn't convey the real students. This was the case again today when I picked up my 5 recruits - they looked very boring in the profiles, but have turned out to be very enthusiastic (if very LOUD whenever there are bugs around) and seem to be having a good time.
I picked them up at 1:30pm and we managed to make muffins, dig some baby bamboo, peel some baby bamboo, pick some loquats, get veges for salad, get the rice, work out how old Japanese locks work, play in the river, make pizzas, play with the chickens and have a soak in the hot springs - well they did... I couldn't face bathing with them today so sat in the quiet resting room waiting for them. Oh and of course we spent some time watching the fireflies too which are now out and about in quite large numbers around our house. Whew... now we just need to fill in a whole day tomorrow and the next morning too.... here's hoping they get at least a few hours sleep!
In answer to Kevin and thefukases comments relating to our rice planting season... this is the general time of the year for sowing the seeds around here - and then we plant the actual rice plants in the middle of June, with harvesting in October. We only get one crop a year. It sounds like things are done a little differently in Nagano. Perhaps I should come and practice there each year before we do the planting here!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Rice Seed planting yet again

I can't believe another weekend has disappeared... this time we spent most of it "farming". Sunday was one of the big days of the rice growing year where we sowed 260 trays of rice.... well the machine did anyway! This year my mother-in-law insisted on getting two extra family members to come and help, despite my efforts to tell her that no matter how many people came the job would not be completed any faster as the machine controls the speed and the machine is very slow! So we all got our gloves and hats on and all basically sat around twiddling our thumbs - pulling the trays out as they slowly emerged, filling up the soil and seed hoppers, carting the trays etc. for about 3 hours. As predicted we didn't need the extra two people and it just meant I had to make more of an effort with morning tea and lunch!
Anyway, that job is now done for the year and if anyone is interested in the process I have attached a short slide show... pretty boring if you are not interested in machinery and I don't have time to try and find a decent sound track to go with it... sorry!

Another group of 5 girls arrives tomorrow afternoon for 2 nights. I can hardly wait......

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Goldfish Influenza?

I'm not even going to get started on what I believe is a bit of an over-reaction on the part of the Japanese community at large in terms of the swine influenza outbreak because we have bigger problems in our house right now. I'm not sure if I should be reporting them to the government or not, but..... our goldfish have been slowly dying. There, I said it - here's hoping there is no one monitoring this blog who will report me to the authorities for not reporting these deaths.... I didn't check their temperatures, but each morning we have been waking to find a sad sight in the tank. Today we removed all the water (after giving the goldfish a temporary home in another bowl), all the pebbles and cleaned, cleaned, cleaned so hopefully the remaining 3 goldfish (all females I might add... says something about the strong ones in this household) will perk up a bit and we won't have to have any more grave digging tomorrow morning.
It has been a bit of a sad week in terms of our "pets" as one of our new chickens has also had to be put into isolation after one of its fellow friends (they are still separated from the brown ones) decided to peck its head open. We are hoping that it will heal and that we will slowly be able to put it back with her "friends", but for now she is taking a rest in a big orange container...
Speaking of taking a break, I took off to Fukuoka on Friday for a day of movies and shopping. The students that were supposed to be staying on Friday night as part of their school trip cancelled (refer to paragraph one... over reaction!) so I had an unexpected free day. It was great to be able to go to a movie that didn't involve cartoon characters, high school singers, or toilet breaks in the scary bits! The worst part of the day was the stupid roads around here where if you get stuck behind a truck (big or small white one) you have to stay behind it for over an hour as there are no passing lanes and the speed limit is only 50 km/hour... on the open road! Another long story for another day!
I hope you and your pets are all well.... hope to be able to say we have the goldfish influenza under control tomorrow!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Where do we live?

A few people have been asking where exactly I live in Japan - so I have finally worked out how to mark it on google maps and send the link... I think! If you click on the link below hopefully it should come up with a blue marker that says "Kiora Cottage". If you zoom right in you will be able to see the exact plan of our house and garage (but no cottage... it was obviously mapped before it was built). As you can see by the lack of buildings around us we live in the middle of rice fields! The "satellite" and "terrain" maps are also interesting, but living so far in the countryside the google earth maps are pretty hopeless!

View Kiora Cottage in a larger map
Anyway, nothing else interesting to write about today... unless you want to hear about my new weekly English class at an after school program. Discussed age range - primary school year 1 to 3. Actual age range 3 years old to primary school year 4. Discussed number in group - 10. Actual number in group 17. Of course I wasn't informed of the changes before I turned up for the class today.... fun, fun, fun!

Yamaga Town, Our house!

Monday, May 18, 2009

New Challenges

I managed to survive my weekend away at work and had a great day today chatting with two other fellow kiwis raising families here. A nice way to relax after a busy weekend. Thanks!
There are times (not many) when I feel that by living in the countryside I am depriving my children of some opportunities that they would get if we lived in a bigger city. Of course I firmly believe that the benefits and opportunities they have by living in the countryside FAR outweigh these things, but I'm not going to get into the big city vs countryside debate here! One of the things I have always been a little sad about is that I haven't been able to give more sporting opportunities to my children. Of course they are still young, but I would like them to try as many things as they can, but because it takes a long time to go anywhere and the options are not great to start with they are currently only doing swimming and piano. I don't know about other areas, but the way sports are done in our area of Japan also drives me crazy and therefore I resist letting my children be a part of some of the sports clubs. For example, we received a list of sports clubs that are available for children in this area a few weeks ago and my son decided he wanted to do baseball and soccer. Problems...
  • Baseball - number of practices per month... 20 days! Average practice time per session 2 and a half hours. Saturdays and Sundays - 3 or 4 hours each day (yes I am talking about a club for primary school students... my son is 6 years old!).
  • Soccer - number of practices - twice a week (not too bad). Time of practice 5pm till 7pm. My children are usually in bed by 7:30pm at the latest.....
Anyway, I was very happy to see one new club this year - the gymnastics club! Number of practices - 2 days a MONTH. Time of practice 10am - 11:30am on a Saturday. That's right - a club where the kids can just try out the sport at a decent time of the day and see what they think about it without committing themselves and their parents to taking them to practices every day for the rest of their lives and never being able to participate in any other sporting activity - let alone spend any time with their families! My daughter was also really keen and had her first class on Saturday. As I was away working I couldn't go, but it sounds amazing. It is at a local high school where they have FULL gymnastic facilities - including sprung floor, all the beams, bars, vaults, trampolines etc. and what's more there were only about 10 kids there and they had FUN - something that is often not important in children's sports here. My son didn't want to join originally, but after watching the practice has also asked to join. And the cost for this wonderful, fun experience... 4,000 yen (NZ$70) for the entire year - usually the monthly fee for clubs is over 5,000 yen and there is generally a joining fee which makes you feel like you really need to continue for as long as possible to make it worthwhile. Here's hoping the enthusiasm remains and this style of club spreads further in rural Japan!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Silence again

Twas the night before work and all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse (well maybe a chicken...)
The children were tucked up all tight in their tent
Waiting for Daddy to come and ... okay I'm really pushing it here, aren't I!

Can anyone tell that I am avoiding preparing for a 2 day "Leadership" camp that I have to run for a group of international students this weekend?
For some reason the children decided that they wanted to go camping tonight and for some unknown reason my husband agreed it was a great idea and so they put up the tent, got all their sleeping bags etc. and are now tucked up tight in the tent...... in our garden. Our family is so adventurous!!! They think it is great fun - although my husband (who always gets the job of sleeping with them) doesn't always find it so fun as it is a very small tent and he has very long legs!
Enough putting my preparation off.... see you again on Monday!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Busy three days

On Tuesday I went and collected our first group of junior high school students for the "season". The students all come from big city schools where they live in apartments and therefore have very little contact with "nature". They come in groups of about 200 or so and are then billeted out to "agricultural" families to have a wonderful agricultural experience. We got another good group this time and the children in particular enjoyed playing tag with them and showing them around.
If anyone is interested in seeing what other kinds of things I do with them then feel free to watch this slide show. Although it is very tiring entertaining them the 3 days pass very quickly and we never seem to have enough time to do everything on my "list". We did a few other things that I forgot to take photos of, but I have already forgotten what they were... weeding, bee hive inspecting, green tea field inspecting etc. etc.
Of course they loved having the cottage to themselves and despite there being two bedrooms and plenty of bedding they all decided to sleep in the same room in the two single beds... how they could sleep I don't know, but they were very happy and it saved me some washing!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Monday mornings

As much as I love my family, there is something so nice about Monday mornings when they all rush out the door to school and work and I am left with the humming of the fish tank and the twittering of the birds..... and a cup of coffee! I have discovered that if I retreat to the bedroom then I can also avoid seeing the piles of dishes and all the tidying up that needs to be done. I think I am going to make this my Monday morning ritual!
Yesterday afternoon my daughter and I went to an outdoor concert at a friend's house. The weather was perfect.. again... (we've been having 30 plus degrees every day lately) and it was nice to hear some different people playing some original songs etc. The main group were the children of the family and they play amazing Japanese-Irish songs. Great feet tapping stuff!
The two kinds of chickens have been separated for the time being. I got up at 5am yesterday to let them out of the house and they were already starting to test each other a bit so I built a fence half way in between their house (yes, at 5am...) and they now live reasonably happily on their own respective sides. I'll try to remember to take a photo of the new chicken house too... a very quick, but very good solution to what is hopefully their temporary separation.
I guess the dishes and tidying won't wait all day... no magic elves here yet. I hope you are all having a nice quiet start to the week too.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Changed man and anxious night

Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while will be familiar with the fact that my husband tends to take a long time to make decisions and actually DO anything. Today however things were different and he decided that we should get a few more chickens... what better thing to do on a Saturday afternoon! The only problem was that he had meetings all afternoon and therefore we had to rush to the chicken farm just before they closed at 5pm to pick up our 5 new beautiful white chickens. Of course we then spent the next couple of hours keeping the two different kinds of chickens from terrorising each other - my daughter ran away screaming every time they even got close to each other. In the beginning they were just a bit weary of each other and then it turned into "our group is better than your group" kind of playing around so we put the new ones into the house where they settled quietly into the corner and stayed there until the original brown ones came in to go to bed. They were okay when we left them at 8pm, but I think we are going to get up extra early and let them all out before they start to get too "friendly" again!
My children kept translating what the chickens were saying for me, which put my mind at ease. Apparently the white chickens had told the brown chickens that they were welcome to come and sleep in the same house and that they wanted to become friends - which is why they all went in together at night time. Here's hoping the friendly conversations continue tomorrow!
We also got a new door made for the chicken house during the week so we no longer have to slide through the net and secure it with clothes pegs (and catch the chickens that have snuck out through the gaps during the day!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Children's Day

May 5th is "Children's day" in Japan and so we decided to spend at least the morning doing things the children really wanted to do. The only thing they could really think of was to go and play "ground golf" again... for anyone who doesn't know this game it is a cross between golf and croquet. Big balls, short course. No one won any prizes for style, but it was fun to smash the ball out of bounds on basically every shot! As it had been raining the night before there were also some of Japan's wonderful worms out for a wander.... the yellow ball is about the same size as a tennis ball - so yes, the worm is big! My most exciting moment was when I got the ball in the hole and went to get it out only to have a frog jump out first. It must have been enjoying the small "pond" in the cup.
After our exciting golf game we did what a lot of Japanese people do... collected water. There are so many places here where people stop on the side of the road to collect "very clear, fresh water" which is pouring out of the rocks etc. Usually my husband is the chief collector but this time my children helped too. Of course I assisted by taking photos!
A trip to the park and the day was done. Back to reality... the chicken house door - another story for another day!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Vegetable Garden update

I think I have managed to finally take some pictures of the vegetable garden and I think I have managed to make a slideshow of them and I think I have managed to upload it on to You-tube.... can you tell that I am not very confident with technology? Anyway, I didn't quite get photos of all the veges, but if anyone is interested in a look at my vegetable garden then here you go! Perhaps I will get around to taking some photos of the flower gardens tomorrow....

Monday, May 04, 2009

Cycling guests

Last night we had some more great guests - this time from Kitakyushu city. They had woken up at 3:30am to travel to Oita to participate in the "Tour de Kunisaki" - a cycle race around the windy, hilly Kunisaki peninsula - a short 160km bike ride! After completing the race and having a relaxing hot spring bath, they were pretty tired by the time they arrived at our house, but we still managed to have some interesting conversations. One of the guests has a blog that he writes in English to help him practice English. If you have time please go and have a look at it and leave him a comment - the address is
As usual the children were not on their perfect behaviour, but did pretty well as they didn't get to bed until 9pm (their usual bedtime is 7:30pm). My son did his usual trick of hiding for the photos in the evening, but managed to be on much better form in the morning - actually offering to have his photo taken with the guests. From next week we have junior high school groups for weeks on end so it was nice to have some adult conversation before the onset of giggling teenagers... I can hardly wait!

Friday, May 01, 2009

I did it!

I was so proud of myself today. I had my whole day planned out before I got out of bed. After everyone had left for school/work I would tidy up inside and then spend the entire morning planting out all my seedlings etc. into the few spaces that are left in the vegetable garden. Before picking the children up from school at 4pm I would spend all my afternoon in my green house preparing the ground to plant all my extra seedlings that wouldn't fit in the garden. I had confirmed with my husband that there would be no progress on the chicken house roof today as he had called his father and told him he would help with it tomorrow so not to do it today. I should no better... never make plans... never believe what you are told!
By 9:30am I had cut down half a bamboo forest so I could make some supports for my tomatoes and cucumbers and was starting to put them up when I got a call on my mobile phone (I always have it in my pocket in case the school rings to tell me the kids have been taken to hospital or something less dramatic) from my mother-in-law (who was 100m up the road) to say that they were preparing the plastic to put on the roof and that I should come and help. My first proud moment - I didn't stomp my feet and yell and scream I just said... "sorry, I am planting my tomatoes and when I am finished I will come." I mucked about long enough for them to finish getting the plastic ready and then went and helped put the plastic on the frame. I still don't know why the plans were changed and I couldn't be bothered asking. I found a much more fun way to deal with the situation. I remembered that my father-in-law is pretty deaf and therefore I can talk away and he doesn't have any idea that I am saying anything. So I talked constantly in English about what was annoying me and making very witty comments about him the entire time I was helping. He had no idea I was doing it and I had so much fun!
My afternoon gardening was also put off till tomorrow because my mother-in-law made some random comment about my monster passion fruit in the green house and that if I didn't cut it back a bit it would cause a lot of problems in a typhoon. I really have no idea what she was saying as the passion fruit is completely inside the tunnel house, but sometimes her logic is a little strange! Rather than have her cut it down completely I spent most of the afternoon tying up the net and cutting it back enough to save us all in a typhoon... talking to myself all the time!