Thursday, August 09, 2012

Almost away....

There are piles appearing on the floor, lists are being made, menus planned, slabs of ice being made, and if all goes well we should be off for our summer camping expedition tomorrow afternoon.  We even managed to put the tent up on the back lawn a couple of days ago to give it a good airing before we have to sleep in it.  I'm sure if we went more often it wouldn't be quite so stressful getting out the door, but there always seem to be so many things that no one thinks of till the last minute.  The biggest problem we have is that we are planning to go back to a great spot that we found a couple of years ago that is so nice and quiet and isolated that there are NO shops anywhere nearby.  Which means menu planning becomes quite ice doesn't stay solid forever!  Fortunately Japan has pretty good curry-in-a-bag which works well on the last night.  There is a roast chicken cooling on the bench to take for tomorrow night (which will then be thrown into bread rolls the next day for lunch) and I think we are heading towards spaghetti, salad and soup for the second night.  Unless of course anyone out there has a great, easy suggestion for a delicious camping meal.
So, there won't be any posts for the next few days.  Hopefully we will be back Monday night with both children.... they have been fighting a bit too much lately and I'm a bit worried that we might opt to leave one (or two) of them behind!  Hope all of you here in Japan are getting to have a slight break in the holidays...

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Frog obsession?

I'm starting to think that I should perhaps rename this blog "frog fanatic".  I am honestly not obsessed with frogs, but living in the middle of rice fields means that you literally do find them all over the place.  Usually they are the cute little green frogs, but tonight I spotted this beautiful (?), BIG bull frog on the grass just outside the front door.  It was just sitting there in the dark taking a break and didn't seem at all put out that it was having its photo taken - perhaps the flash blinded it into a frozen state.  My son decided it was practicing to be a model.... I'm just hoping it wasn't trying to devise a scheme to get inside and take a ride in the washing machine - I'm not sure I would be so calm if this one hopped out at the end of the cycle!

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Rice planting excitement


These photos are from quite a long time ago and are courtesy of Mum's camera...
This year rice planting was basically the same as every other year..  (Un)fortunately I had to go and get Mum from Fukuoka on the first day so I missed out on helping in the heavy rain.... so disappointing!  To be completely honest I used to think rice planting was something quite special - the interesting machines, the feel of mud under your feet, the occasional snake slipping in and out of the fields to keep you company and the satisfaction of knowing that you have been part of the whole process - even if the parts you have planted aren't exactly straight!  However, as each year passes it is not quite as interesting... much more of a chore than an adventure.  That being said, there is always one part of rice planting that is interesting for me every year.  That is watching 3 men trying to stop the rice planter from tipping over sideways as they try to get it up the steep ramp between two of our rice fields.  It takes one person to drive it, one to stand on the front trying to add extra weight so it won't tip and another to give directions and pretend to push, while yelling abuse at either the driver or the balancer, who happens to be pushing his weight in the wrong direction.  Of course you also need a funny-hat lady at the back to laugh and squeal a little as the planter slowly tips to a 45 degree angle.  And then of course applaud when they make it safely to the top field!  Perhaps next year they will make it to a 60 degree angle to make the day even more exciting.....

Monday, August 06, 2012

Back in business

I know you are all just hanging out to hear how the chickens are going.... for your information they are going very well - even the poor chicken who I thought would never make it is strutting around thinking she is pretty special.  They have all moved naturally from sleeping in the nesting boxes when they were smaller to perching on their roosts each night (sorry Heather, I really do think you were taken in!) and seem to be surviving this hot, humid summer..  
I think chickens are really similar to humans in many ways -  mainly when it comes to puberty.  I love listening to boys as their voices change, and chickens are even better as you know when they go from the cheep cheepy cheeps to the deeper, louder cluck cluck cluckety cluck that you have got eggs on the way.  Today we got the biggest haul of eggs yet - 12 in total.  The fridge is starting to fill up so I guess we may need to start selling them again soon.  I love having fresh eggs every day!

Sunday, August 05, 2012


Near the end of the school term the children seem to bring home information on a daily basis about different camps, day trips, study opportunities etc. which are offered by various groups in the community .  In the past I have tried to encourage them to join some of them, but they have never really shown much interest.  This year has been a bit different though as my son has decided he wants to learn how to make new friends (a bit hard to do with only 12 in his class...), so has applied to be part of a couple of different activities.  The first was a 2-night camp, which was run by the local "junior chamber international" group.  The main activity was a hike up the tallest mountain in Oita prefecture, Mt. Kuju.  I think it was about a 5 hour trek there and back and although they saw an amazing rainbow on the way, the view from the top was a little less exciting!  Mind you he spent most of his time telling us how windy it was and how he thought he was going to be blown off the edge, so at least it made a big impression on him.  
The organisers of the camp had funding to include 11 students from Fukushima, one of the areas affected by the tsunami, and my son said one of the best things for him was meeting these students and making friends with them.  There is still so much devastation in the area and it is so easy for us to start forgetting about it, so I think it was a good reminder for all of us that there is still so much that we can do.  For my son it was helping to give 11 students a bit of a break and have a fun 3 days.  I wonder what the rest of us could do.....

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Washing machine

For the last couple of months we have been having washing machine problems.  If you held your mouth the correct way then you could occasionally get it to do a full cycle without having to open and close the lid a hundred times or turn it off and restart it.  Usually you just had to hope that it had completed enough of the cycle and that the clothes were vaguely clean.  We presumed it was going to be a costly exercise to get it fixed as it seemed like the computer wasn't functioning properly, but we were pleasantly surprised when the repairman finally came to fix it today and discovered that somehow a 500 yen coin had made its way into the outlet hose and was causing all the problems.  He has no idea how it could have got there, but judging by the colouring I think it has been there for some time... which blows my theory that the frog took it in with him thinking he had to pay for his wish-washy ride!
Although we still had to pay the call-out fee, after we deducted the 500 yen we found it turned out to be a pretty cheap exercise.

Friday, August 03, 2012

School "holidays"

I think I have mentioned before that I try not to write too many negative things on this blog, but.... sometimes I just have to marvel at the insanity of some of the ways things work here.  Today's topic is school "holidays".  The summer holidays here started on July 20th and the children will go back to school on September 3rd.  Wow - that's over 40 days holiday - yippee!  Time to play, time to relax and of course time to help around the house!  Only here in Japan it is not so yippee...  For the first week of the holidays my children had to go to school each morning for a couple of hours of classes designed to improve the level of academic achievement in maths.  This was compulsory for all 4th to 6th graders at our school - regardless of what level they were already achieving at.  I asked my children if they learnt anything new.... the answer, not one thing!  But, they did complete over 20 pages of handouts each day.  Unfortunately I seem to be in the minority in believing that holidays should be for having a holiday as most of the other parents seemed to be really happy that the school would be "babysitting" their children for the first week of the holidays.  
The kids don't have to go to school again during the holidays until the 6th of August - the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.  I think this day is an important part of their education and have no problem with them going to school this day.  Unfortunately the teachers use this day as a way to collect in half of the zillion pages of homework that need to be completed during the holidays and hand out yet more homework to be done before the end of the holidays.  Both my children are expected to do at least 2 hours of homework every day.  I think because the summer holidays fall in the middle of the academic year, rather than the end, means there is more pressure to keep the kids studying... I personally would prefer that they learnt how to clean the windows or wax the floors, but as I said I am in the minority here!

On a completely different note... I found this photo the other day which proves that, despite my daughter's insistence, I am still taller than my children... but I fear that very soon I will be the shortest - perhaps I'll have to start wearing high heels!

Thursday, August 02, 2012

New camera

My birthday is not until October, but since I had been discussing the fact that I needed a new camera, my husband kindly bought me a new one as an advanced birthday present.  My only requirements were that it had a good macro function as well as a good zoom.  I didn't care what it looked like as long as it was easy to use.  He ended up getting me an Olympus SZ-14.  It wasn't overly expensive (I know because he had it sent "pay on delivery" and I was the only one here to pay when it arrived......) and so far seems to be doing the job well.  I haven't had any time to play with it yet, but a few frogs kindly made an appearance and the macro seems to be fine.  
I find frogs all over the place, but the frog in the last picture was probably in the strangest place so far.  It jumped out of the washing machine.... after it had just finished a full cycle!  It wasn't hopping all over the place, but it was moving and didn't seem too disturbed - just squeaky clean!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

All in double digits

Okay, okay, okay... enough complaining!  I'll challenge myself to a blog a day for at least the next week to try and catch up on all the happenings here and give my brother some reading before he heads off to the real world called work!
First up - it was my son's 10th birthday yesterday, so my children have both now hit double digits.  It is school holidays here right now so you would think it would make it easy to have a proper celebration on his actual birthday, but..... unfortunately most of my work schedule doesn't change in the holidays, so we split his birthday in half - sushi for lunch followed by bowling yesterday.  Cake and singing tonight.  In Japan "coming of age" is considered to be 20 years old, so I guess we are half way there!  Happy Birthday Masaki!