Friday, 30 October 2009

Working my way down the to-do list...

Finished my latest custom order! This pair of monkey love-birds (love-monkeys?) are destined to be a gift to newly-weds. I hope they like their heart-patterned monkey cuteness.

And while I'm at it, here is last month's custom order; twin monkeys for twin little boys turning 2. Now I just have to make some non-custom monkeys to restock the shop...

Monday, 26 October 2009

Where did last week go?

No, really, what happened to it?

Things I intended to do, but didn't: blog (obviously...), put more fabric in the shop, make a monkey or two for the shop, finish a custom order, plant some bulbs (yes Mum, the very ones we bought about a month ago...), take K to the play centre...

On the other hand, I did do a few things outside of the regular routine. I played at being waitress again for Vivian's students (at Giardinos!), and this time K came too and charmed them all. I got to see Ted for the first time in over 3 years and meet his wife Miki. I had fun celebrating Lisa's birthday at her favourite izakaya (Happy Birthday Lisa!). And I got ready for a new English class I'm starting tomorrow.

So the to-do list carries over to this week. Mind you, I'm already doing better than last week - we went to the play centre today, I had a nice Skype chat with Nicole, the custom order is almost finished and hey look! I wrote a blog post!

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Can you see what it is yet?

Yesterday I had a go at making some traditional Japanese sweets. Well, I say making but it was really just a matter of shaping them -playdough for grown-ups! The teacher was a retired sweet-maker who had been quite ill and bedridden for some time. This workshop was set up to help motivate him to become more active and I was glad to be able to take part. He seemed to enjoy it and I did too.

The teacher demonstrated how to make various shapes and then we all had a go. Each sweet is made by flattening a piece of coloured bean-paste dough, wrapping it around a lump of bean-paste filling and then shaping it. Of course, getting your shapes to look anything like the teacher's is not always an easy task...

Here are the finished sweets. Can you figure out what they are supposed to be?

Clockwise from the back left: a turtle (no, really), a camellia flower, a flower that I can't remember, a chestnut, a Japanese maple leaf, a tsukubai (stone 'bowl' often found in Japanese gardens) complete with water and floating fallen leaf, a chrysanthemum and another maple leaf in the centre. There were other, more deformed, ones too, but they were conveniently eaten before the camera came out.

I took some of them over to Ritsuko and Tomonori's house today as part of a pot-luck lunch with them and Miho. Miho and Ritsuko correctly identified every sweet. Yes, even the turtle!

Tomonori grilled sanma (Pacific saury, an autumn delicacy) over charcoal and Miho brought, not a chiffon cake, but a very tasty pumpkin soup. We also took H's top secret potato salad and this chicken and mushroom pie that I baked this morning - don't you think I've been quite domestic this weekend?

Friday, 16 October 2009

A final rice update for the year

All the rice around us has been harvested now.

In late September, Mr A set this up in one of the fields:

No, nothing to do with The Wicker Man, it's a rack for drying rice. Most of the rice behind our house was combined and the grains were dried by machine straight away. One small field wasn't ready then though, so Mr A cut that with a smaller, walk-behind machine and then hung the sheaves to dry on the rack:

The old rice plants shoot up again really quickly; you can see a big difference in the ten days or so between those two photos being taken. Last week Mr A got his little tractor out and turned it all over:

So now it all looks like this, and will be left fallow until next spring:

Hope you enjoyed following the rice-growing!

Wednesday, 14 October 2009


(You might want a cup of tea for this one. There are A Lot Of Photos...)

While Mum and Dad were here we went to China and saw the terracotta warriors.

No, not really, otherwise the title of this post would have been 'China', right? Actually we went to Himeji, just over 3 hours drive from here, for a few days. The city is most famous for its castle (more on that later) but on the first day we went to Taiyo Park, on the outskirts of Himeji. The park has replicas of famous monuments from around the world, including the Arc de Triomphe, Tiananmen Square, the Pyramids, and of course the Chinese terracotta warriors. They've even built 2 km actual size of the Great Wall of China.

The South Pacific area has giant stone coins that K enjoyed checking out...

I think they went a little over the top with the Manneken Pis though...

We were saved a trip to Easter Island too...

And so, on to Himeji castle:

No, this is still Taiyo Park. This castle, an 80% scale replica of Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, was recently finished and now they are working on a complete European village at the base of the hill.

Obviously if you're coming to Japan on holiday then Taiyo Park wouldn't really be high on your list of destinations but if you live here and fancy a day out, it's a nice place to explore.

Anyway, the next day we really did make it to Himeji Castle, a World Heritage Site. It's Japan's largest 'real' castle, as opposed to ones that have been rebuilt in concrete since the war. Since it was never attacked or subject to fire (a big problem for Japan's historic wooden buildings), it has managed to survive almost 400 years without major rebuilding.

This is not the most common view of the castle but I like it because you can really see the complex roof shapes...

Around the edge of the complex is a huge wall topped with rooms and a corridor. Great fun for little boys to run around!

This may not be the best photo, but it gives you some idea of scale. As an added bonus, you can play 'Spot Diane and her Mum and Dad'!

From the top you get a great view over the city. The 'fish' shaped gargoyle-y thing (that's its technical name, you know) is supposed to protect the castle from fire...

I thought we were running a bit low on shots of K being cute...

After exploring the castle we went around the adjoining gardens, and then the little zoo...

On the third and final day, H said he wanted to take us to a nearby temple before heading home. I was expecting a single building still in the city, but it was actually a temple complex in the mountains, more a monastery than a simple temple. We rode a cable car up the mountain and then had a very scary ride along a winding mud road on a mini-bus to get to the temple.
It's Engyo-ji, on Mount Shosha, if you're interested...

I love the shape and pattern of the woodwork. Can you tell that I take a lot of photos of roofs?

Apparently The Last Samurai was filmed nearby. All we saw was this Buddhist priest taking photos for a tour group though :-)

Well done if you made it this far!

It was really nice to get away for a few days. We had great weather on the first two days and the light rain at Mount Shosha only added to the atmosphere. K slept well between Mummy and Daddy in the big bed, and a good time was had by all.

Sunday, 11 October 2009


Marie of Wind and Rain Handmades has very kindly featured my little Etsy shop on her blog!

For the past few weeks Marie has been choosing 5 Etsy shops with less than 30 sales, featuring them on her blog and then seeing if the sales improve. This week she chose me! I have actually had 3 sales just today (!) - I don't know if the purchasers came via Wind and Rain but I am very willing to give Marie credit for them!

In her own Etsy shop, Wind and Rain Handmades, Marie sells beautiful handmade chopsticks and jewellry. Check it out if you have the time - I'd love to be able to return her favour!

K's check-up

On Wednesday K had his 18 month check-up. He weighed in at 11.84 kg and measured 83.6 cm, putting him towards the top end of the '94% of children are in this range' part of the graph. His head measurement though (50.6 cm) was off the scale, putting him in the 'I've got a big head just like my dad' category! H claims that this means lots of brains, while I'm just pleased that K's head was more average sized when I gave birth to him....

We were able to give the 'correct' answers to most of the questions regarding K's daily routine and development, except for his speech. He doesn't yet produce any meaningful words but he understands a lot and I'm not concerned, especially as he is growing up in a bilingual environment. I suspect K's speech may develop in the same way as his walking - nothing for ages and then suddenly all systems go!

There were also a lot of questions about K's favourite activities, although unfortunately not 'Does he enjoy sliding round in a box pulled by his grandmother?' or 'Does he like looking at photos taken on a digital camera?'. There were 2 questions that surprised me, as it had never occured to me to offer them yet: 'Does he climb on a climbing frame?' and 'Does he use scissors?'. Would you expect an 18 month old to be doing those things? H reckons they were trick questions and if we had answered 'yes' we would have been scolded as reckless parents.... But I suppose, with careful supervision and suitable tools, a child can use scissors from quite a young age.

What do you think?

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Here three weeks ago, gone on Wednesday

Mum and Dad are safely back in the UK now, after almost three weeks here with us. The time of course flew by, but we did manage to do quite a few things together: a long weekend in Himeji, day trips to the bird park and flower park, a barbecue here with friends and a few meals out with friends too.

We also went to the beach several times and Dad got to swim in the sea, despite the shock of the locals ('but it's autumn!'). Mum and Dad also got their DIY hats on and stained the woodwork on the outside of the house as well as working in the garden. And of course time was spent reading, relaxing, browsing the shops and, most importantly, playing with K.

H and I managed to sort out most of our Christmas presents for people in the UK so that Mum and Dad could kindly transport them back for us. I also got the chance to slip out by myself and have a haircut and do some shopping, as well as a couple of grandparent-sponsored lie-ins. H and I got to spend some toddler-free time together too (a real rareity) with lunch and a film one day and an evening out another.

But now it's back to the usual routine..... University classes started again a couple of weeks ago and I'm going to be starting a new class at a local community centre soon. The main thing I have to do is catch up with this blog, and update my shop! I've got lots of lovely fabrics upstairs waiting to be photographed and listed in the shop. My stock of sock monkeys has suddenly gone from 3 custom orders and 2 in general stock to zero in stock and 2 requests so I'd better get on with some of them too! Not to mention going through all the photos we've taken recently...

Anyway, it's nice to be back! No pictures in today's post I'm afraid but stay tuned...