Tuesday 20 August 2013

Summer holiday diary - part 2

August 1st: Torrential rain, not for the first time this summer.

August 2nd: T proudly shows off a puzzle he has done.

August 3rd: K having fun in Vicky's hammock. Yes, we went to Hokkaido! Just me and K...

August 4th: Yoshi and K at the Air Show in Chitose.

August 5th: One of the many tree houses at Ecorin Mura.

August 6th: I loved seeing farm buildings, fields and full-size machinery as we drove about - clearly my father's daughter!

August 7th: Riding the Portliner monorail back into central Kobe on our way home again.

August 8th: Local Daisen beer, a present from Katherine.

August 9th: Tigger and friend having fun in The World's Smallest Paddling Pool.

August 10th: H meeting a starfish at the temporary aquarium at Yumeminato Tower.

August 11th: Impromptu barbecue in the back garden after Lisa cancelled hers.

August 12th: Writing, drawing and toilet roll binoculars.

August 13th: I secretly made dinosaur eggs to hide in the garden.

August 14th: Dinosaur day! The boys hunted eggs, made a mini dino world and later did some paper craft.

August 15th: Lanterns, drumming and lots of dancing at out local festival for O-Bon.

August 16th - Another day out in Daisen. Same itinerary as before (park, museum, lake) but this time with Lisa too!

August 17th - I actually managed to make a summer dress in time for this summer!

August 18th - The new water slide, a gift from the very generous Liz. After watching the boys for a few minutes, H and I soon got changed and joined in the fun too!

Friday 16 August 2013

Summer holiday diary - part 1

You know that I'm never going to actually catch up with all the things I want to tell you about, right? That there are so many things that slip through the cracks because the thought of sorting and editing the photos is just too much? This summer holiday has been full of things like that: days out, crafting, getting together with friends.... Each of them worthy of a photo-filled post of their own, but likely to be lost altogether instead. So with a nod to Voltaire ('don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good') I have decided to give you one photo a day throughout K's summer holidays. Here's part one:

July 20th: Vacuum cleaners small, medium and large prepare for Katherine's visit.

July 21st: K does his piano workbook while T sets about returning the Japanese room to its usual state.

July 22nd: 'A farm in England and some sheep' by K, drawn at the play centre.

July 23rd: H found a stray, late strawberry growing under the washing line.

July 24: Playing on the slide during a day out in Daisen.

July 25: 'Stained glass' art made with tissue paper and a laminator.

July 26th: K's reaction to the news of the upcoming trip to Hokkaido was to draw a map of Japan.

July 27th: A 2 year memorial service for H's grandfather, followed by a meal for all the family.

July 28th: OK, I'm cheating. This was Gaina Matsuri on the night of the 27th, with Lisa, but I have no photos of the 28th.

July 29th: Boys having fun. Ignore T's neck, it just looks weird in this photo.

July 30th: How many tiny frogs can you spot here?

July 31st: K being eaten by a T Rex at a trick art exhibition.

Friday 26 July 2013

More garden fun

A couple of weeks ago, a big box was delivered. H and the delivery guy were just about able to get it around the house to the back garden, where it attracted a lot of attention from the little monkeys...

It was raining that day, but it was also the last time for a week that H and I would both be free for long enough to put it together. So we got down to work...

The boys had great fun 'helping', testing out the slide piece on the little slope and putting the tunnel together. They got a lot wetter than H and I since they were rolling about on the ground and sitting in the water which had collected on the slide. When their clothes got wet they simply took them off, until they were both running about in their underpants. H and I decided against this option though, and came in for a mid-afternoon break when it started to rain really hard.

Once it had dried off a bit, H got his first ever power tool experience with his Dad's electric drill/screwdriver. He declared it to be quite fun, actually. I'll make a DIYer of him yet...

By the time it was all finished dinner was ready, but the boys were given 10 minutes to try it out. T immediately stripped off again; he seems to think that getting undressed is a prerequisite for playing in the garden nowadays. After dinner they were out there again, and by the time they came in, both were completely naked...

Wednesday 17 July 2013

In the night garden

A couple of weeks ago, before it got too hot and humid, we spent most of the weekend in the garden. I hadn't been letting the boys play out there unattended much because we spotted not one, but 7 (seven!) suzume-bachi on the big tree. They are a kind of giant hornet, about the size of my thumb, which not only have a powerful sting but also bite. They gnaw at trees to access the sap but, if disturbed, they'll gnaw at you too... Anyway, H made some traps (he recommends a base of grapefruit juice), and we seem to have solved the problem (touch wood...).

On the plus side of the suzume-bachi infestation (assuming you consider a increase in insects to be a good thing), the readily available tree sap has attracted a variety of other bugs, including stag beetles. Hunting for stag beetles is a popular summer activity for little boys here, and some little boys never really grow out of it... H was very excited to find stag beetles in our garden; he's often caught them in the mountains but has never found them around here before, even as a child. Insect-keeping supplies can be found at any home centre in the pet section, so we now have a box full of stag beetles in our living room.

On the Saturday afternoon I pitched our little tent. The boys loved playing in it, although H did have a moment of panic when he thought he had lost T. Nowhere in the garden, nowhere in the house... he turned out to be hiding under the built-in groundsheet of the tent!

For once I was able to just sit on the patio and relax, watching the boys play, without having to referee or join in the games myself. Of course it only lasted for about 10 minutes, but it was an encouraging glimpse into my (hopefully) near future. It was also a good chance to play about with the focus on the new camera...

Later, little frogs made way for dinner. I had suggested a barbecue, in keeping with the camping theme, but H had a much smarter idea: we took the little electric fish grill out onto the patio and cooked sausages for hot dogs there. The boys were still excited about 'cooking' outside, and I was happy with the minimal clear-up. Along with some caramelised onions, corn-on-the-cob and mini-tomatoes, it was the perfect lazy summer dinner. Especially with that glass of wine...

After dinner there was a bit more playing in the garden...

...and then it was time to get ready for bed. T and H slept upstairs as usual, but K and I slept in the tent. It was very lazy camping, using an ordinary futon instead of sleeping bags. I wondered if K would be at all scared or want to go back to the house, but he was quite happy to spend the night there. I also thought that it might be too hot and stuffy once the sun came up, but we both slept comfortably until 7, when it was still cool and pleasant in the tent.

We came back into the house through the patio doors and then, as I headed to the bathroom, I found this, which gave me quite a start:

Yes, that's T asleep on the doormat. No-one knows when he moved there (he was asleep in his cot upstairs when H went to bed), but he seemed quite happy about it, telling me 'T sleep genkan [entranceway]!Mat!' repeatedly. I suspect he woke up in the room he shares with K and, finding himself alone, set off to look for his brother. I wouldn't have been so surprised to find him, say, on the sofa, where one might naturally sit down and gradually fall asleep, but finding him by the front door suggested to me that he made a conscious decision to lie down there. Maybe he thought K would return that way and decided to wait for him, like a loyal dog waiting for his master?

There was a lot more tent fun on Sunday and, perhaps not surprisingly, K wanted to sleep there again that night. So we did. And on Monday morning, we found T asleep on the sofa...

Tuesday 2 July 2013

New camera

I've always fancied a, well, fancy camera but know better than to buy one. I know that it's the idea of having a cool camera that appeals to me; the implication that I would take stylish, artistic pictures and be a creative, admired photographer. In reality of course, I have no knowledge of photography at all and little time at the moment to really learn about it. I wouldn't want to be carrying around a big camera all the time, nor an expensive one that I'd be afraid to leave lying around near the boys. But still, the idea of taking better pictures does appeal...

Enter Vicky, of Hyotenka fame, and her recently acquired 'serious compact' camera. She mentioned it on her blog, and then I had the chance to see it in action in Kyoto. Best of all, I didn't have to bother researching all the different cameras available, because her husband had already done all the work for me :-)

So a couple of weeks ago I went and bought one, a Canon Powershot G15. It's slightly bulkier than a standard compact camera, but not enough to be problematic. The price was also in the compact camera range. It has a lot of settings (and one day I will learn about them all, I promise), but so far I've only used it on auto. The biggest selling points for me were the high quality macro function, and the clarity of photos taken in low light, without a flash.

As always, I resized these photos to speed up page loading, but now I'm regretting it. The originals are much sharper. Anyway, I'm pleased with them...

K in artificial light, with no flash. Hurray!

Playing with the 'black and white plus one colour' setting :-)

Err.... a frog. Testing out macro and zoom.

Hydrangeas, the other staple of rainy season photography.

Sunday 23 June 2013

AFWJ Convention 2013

Last autumn I finally joined the Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese. I had known about it for years but didn't feel that the membership fee was really a justifiable expense, considering that there are no other members around here and most of the events tend to be held in the more urban areas of Japan. But after reading about their annual conventions on Vicky's blog, I decided that the convention alone would make joining worthwhile. And I was right!

This year's convention was held in Kyoto, a 4 hour bus journey from here. I got there at lunchtime, ate at the station and then went straight to the hotel. It was too early to check-in, so I spent the afternoon in the hospitality room, chatting with other convention-goers. Of the 120+ attendees, I had only ever met one in person before, but I 'knew' many others online. It was great to finally get to meet those familiar names, and to get to know lots of other fantastic women too.

Since the convention was held in Kyoto, the chosen theme was Shichimi (a blend of 7 spices) and there was an emphasis on traditional Japanese culture. On Friday night there was a buffet dinner, complete with a performance by a geiko-san (geisha) and a maiko-san (trainee geiko-san). While their performances were beautiful, the most interesting part was the Q&A afterwards. They were surprisingly frank and honest in their replies to our questions and I felt that I'd been privy to a rare experience.

Throughout Saturday there were various tours and workshops on offer. I joined a walk along Kamo river on Saturday morning, made a quick visit to the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine flea market and then, after lunch at an Egyptian restaurant, had an insiders tour of Nishi Hongan-ji temple. I didn't take many photos, but here are a couple...

Crossing the Kamo river

At Nishi-Hongan-ji with Vicky
On Saturday night we had a big gala dinner, with cabaret and (a few minutes of) dancing. The work put in by the organisers was incredible. Each table had a table centre made up of strings of handsewn chili peppers, enough for everyone to take one home at the end of the night:

Did I mention that there had been completely different handmade table centres the night before?
I sat with 2 lovely blogging ladies who I finally met in person at the convention. Janine blogs at Crafty Tokyo Mama, and makes beautiful bags which she sells on Etsy. She has recently moved from Awajishima to Kyoto. Vicky lives in Hokkaido and blogs at Hyotenka. I already felt as if I knew them so well, and it was wonderful to chat with them in real life!

Janine, me and Vicky
For the gala dinner the theme was Japanese textiles, and many women wore kimonos or yukatas. Janine made herself a dress from a lovely traditional design fabric, Vicky made an intricate stole using kimono fabric with a crochet edging, and I made a simple skirt. Aren't we the crafty trio?

During the dinner, a professional photographer took photos for us at no charge. Despite having to deal with a long line of women waiting for portraits and having a hotel corridor as a studio, he took some wonderful pictures. If you're in the Kansai area and in need of a photographer, check out Janne's website. Here's the picture he took of me:

On Sunday morning we were treated to a performance of rakugo ('sit-down comedy') in English by Diane Kichijitsu, another British women living in Japan. And then it was, sadly, time to say goodbye! I really had such a great time - whatever one's situation in life it's wonderful to have friends who have had similar experiences and truly understand. While I enjoyed all the activities over the weekend, my favourite had to be simply chatting! For weeks after the convention, most of my stories started 'When I was in Kyoto...', and I'm sure poor H (who of course was left holding down the fort while I was away) is sick of it all. Next year's convention will be held in Nagano in June and I'm already thinking about the best way to get there...