Thursday, 28 January 2010

New fabric

is in the shop now!

Lovely prints including traditional Japanese style goldfish, super-cute Russian dolls and stylish scenes of Venice. More to come next week too but I only have one metre of each so don't hang about too long...

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

This and that

Firstly, the Internet crisis has been averted, and the shop is open for business as usual.

Secondly, I had a tooth out at the dentist today. I had a reprieve last week when I wasn't well, but today there was no escape. It wasn't actually too bad; at least, not until the anaesthetic wore off...

What with all that snow and cold weather we had, followed by the dreaded lurgy, there's been a lot of hanging around at home going on here lately, so last weekend we tried to get out and about a bit. There was a brief trip to the park (until the cold drove us indoors), a visit to Jusco shopping centre (which was actually a lot more fun that you might imagine, mainly because we had plenty of time and nothing we had to buy) and lots of meals out. Even a visit to the Mitsubishi dealership turned out to be rather fun as they had a nice little play corner which K and I had all to ourselves.

We also went to the photographers and had some pictures taken of K, as H had got some discount coupons. In the past I've resisted the costumes they have there for the little ones, arguing that I want photos that realistically capture K as he is now, including what he usually wears. But this time, well, why not? So we've got some lovely little cowboy pictures coming our way soon...

The weekend finished with an impromptu visit from Tim and Zach and some kite-flying in the back garden. K enjoyed watching the kites, until one crashed down quite near him that is...

And these pictures? Taken a couple of weeks ago when out for a walk with Daddy. Just thought you might like them :-)

Sunday, 24 January 2010

I may be some time...

Thanks to a screw-up by the store when we bought our new lap-top the other day, as of tomorrow we may be without Internet access for (gulp) 3 weeks. I'm not sure how I'll survive :-)

So if there's nothing new here for a long time, please don't abandon me but pity me my off-line status and pop back again in a while. It'll be a real pain if I can't access my email and shop (I'm going to put it on vacation mode, just in case) but, on the other hand, I may actually get some useful things done around the house in the meantime...

Saturday, 23 January 2010

A new widget!

ie that little box just there on the right, asking you nicely to sponsor my sister :-)

Just in case you don't know anyone planning to do the Race For Life to raise money for cancer research this year (or if you do, but you're still feeling generous), how about sponsoring my sister (known on this blog as, well, Diane's sis...)? She's planning to run 5km in July, with no ambling or strolling guaranteed.

You can pay by credit or debit card, or even by PayPal. The site is secure and very easy to use. Sadly, cancer seems to affect every one of us in one way or another nowadays, and every little bit of money collected counts in the fight against it.

End of commercial! Thank you!

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Did you miss me?

Just as I was regaining a bit of enthusiasm for doing things, I got knocked out by a stomach bug... It hit in the early hours of Sunday morning; unfortunately, the day I was supposed to be doing 120+ 'interview tests', in a city a 2 hour train-ride away. This led to me frantically phoning round at 7am (not surprisingly, not many people were answering) trying to find a) the mobile number of the woman I was supposed to be working with and b) someone who could take my place. I felt really bad about letting them down (as well as just really bad) and I'm not sure if I felt more or less sympathy for them when they called me at 10am to say they still hadn't found anyone and was I feeling better enough to just come for the afternoon?

In the end I spent all day Sunday in bed, and on Monday went to the doctor for a 2 hour drip to try to make up for everything I hadn't eaten. H joined me at the doctors since by then he'd got it too. Tuesday and Wednesday passed in a state of Doing The Absolute Minimum, and today I almost feel back to normal.

And what about K? Well it seems he had it first and we barely noticed. Last Thursday when H's mum was looking after him he was sick after breakfast. He didn't eat his lunch but he carried on playing and running around as usual and by the time I came home I wouldn't have known anything had happened. Once again he turns out to be the toughest and healthiest member of the monkey household :-)

One silver lining to all this is that I got the chance to watch some of the DVDs I had for Christmas; all of the BBC's Jane Eyre, the first few episodes of Mistresses and, possibly best of all, The Best of The Two Ronnies. Classic stuff...

Friday, 15 January 2010

Don't try this at home!

Seeing as I'll be working all day tomorrow and Sunday and therefore missing yoga this week, I thought I'd do some yoga at home this afternoon. Don't the parenting books always say that your little one will love to watch you work out and will probably join in, making a wonderful parent-child activity?

Well, I think I've invented a new, more challenging style of yoga - Toddler Yoga. It entails doing your usual yoga routine while accompanied by a small child who wants to get involved. Not simply by copying you of course, but by becoming part of the actual pose. Today's examples include Tree Pose With Toddler Climbing Your Supporting Leg (great for balance!), and Lying On Your Back Pulling Your Knee To Your Chest With Toddler Standing on Your Chest Stretch (I think that one needs a snappier name if it's really going to take off...).

Today's yoga was cut short when K invented his own new pose, Toppling Rocking Horse, but not before I attempted a little savasana (the corpse pose, lying on your back in relaxation). At first, K used my prone body as a table for his toys, but then he toddled off and came back with a blanket. He then lay down on top of me and covered us both up with the blanket. Relaxing? Not really. Super sweet? Oh yes.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010


Tondosan, or Tondoyaki, marks the end of the New Year period in Japan. People take their New Year decorations and various good luck items from the previous year to their local shrine where they are blessed and burnt.

By Sunday afternoon, the bonfire at our local shrine had become quite a pile (click on any of the pictures see them bigger):

In the photo below you can see a couple of arrows, typical items bought in the New Year to bring good luck and protect the household in the year ahead. They are decorated with pictures of cattle since last year was the year of the cow. Now that new, year of the tiger, arrows have been bought, these ones have come to the end of their usefulness.

Your intrepid reporter got up bright and early on Monday morning to go and see the bonfire before it all burnt away, and get some photos for you. I think it was lit at 7am, and I got there at about 10 past. As with bonfires all around the world, men with sticks stood around poking it.

The main event of the day was a small procession with a portable shrine, following the border of the oldest part of this area. It started at the mini community centre near our house and stopped off at another 4 or 5 en route. As an upstanding member of the community (and because I was asked) I went along to the community centre to help out. Men from the area actually took part in the parade, carrying the mikoshi (portable shrine), playing drums and flutes and singing. Children joined in too. On the whole, the women's role was to feed everyone!

In the picture below you can see the men involved with the parade, wearing white and pointy black hats. We gave them all a full meal (at 11am!) and plenty of sake. There was also food for the children, and hot soup and sake for anyone else who cared to turn up.

In the foreground you can see the mikoshi and men playing drums, and a man playing the role of the shishimai, similar to the lion-dog dragon you see in Chinese parades.

And here they are again. This whole side of the room was opened up to the outdoors so everyone could see what was going on and people could move in and out easily. And so that we could all share in the freezing weather.... Still it was better than last year, when there was a fair bit of snow on the ground.

After eating their fill, it was time for the off. The mikoshi was carried out onto a little wheeled trolley that would be pulled along. Traditionally it is actually carried the length of the procession, but this is of course the easier option :-)

Off they went to their next stop-off point for more food and sake, while we cleared up and then had lunch. I brought quite a lot of leftovers home too, enough for dinner for the boys that night and my lunch the next day...

A few hours later the procession came past our house on its final leg back to the shrine. When we heard the drums I nipped outside to get another couple of photos...

... and met the shishimai again. He did me the honour of biting my head (?), which will apparently make all my wishes come true in the coming year.

I followed the procession back to the shrine where it was unloaded and carried into one of the smaller shrines in the grounds.

Last year H took part in the procession, as one of those shrine-pulling chaps. The weather was terrible but it did look cool with all the snow about. If I can find it (and if I can be bothered... see previous post), I might put some photos from last year up too...


...or the lack of.

Yesterday was Tuesday, which means that K was at day-care from 9 to 5. The only commitments I had were one class, a dentist appointment and a bit of lesson planning. So, what did I do with the rest of that valuable day? Update my shop? Sort out photos? Tackle the awful junk-heap known as the utility room? Start some new sewing projects?

Or did I fritter it all away reading other peoples' blog archives?

You decide...

Today is not much better. Once I get into this 'can't be bothered' mood, it's hard to get out of it... K and I have been at home all day since it's bitterly cold and somewhat snowy, and there's nowhere we have to go. He is now upstairs 'resting' (not actually asleep I think). The only productive thing I have done so far is a bit of shop tweaking, including the introduction of a discount for orders of 4 fat quarters or more. Why not check it out?

And now I'll go and do something useful. Or I might just spend some time fretting about how much it'll snow tonight and whether I'll be able to drive to work tomorrow...

Oh, and next week at the dentist I have to have a tooth out. Fantastic.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

A long weekend

After the holidays it's hard to go back to work but workers in Japan were rewarded for completing their first full week of the year, as yesterday was a public holiday! It was Coming of Age Day, where all the young people who turned 20 in the past year celebrated becoming an adult in the eyes of the law. All around Japan 20 year-olds dressed up in kimonos or suits and attended ceremonies held at town halls. Actually a lot of places, including here, did it the week before instead, so that all the young people who have left their home towns for work or study could take part in the ceremony while they were at home for the New Year holidays.

We headed out to the electrical store on Saturday morning and H bought a laptop. I wonder what it says about us, that we were able to go down to having only one car quite easily, but that we now feel the need to have 2 computers? Now that I'm using the Internet more, with my blog and shop, H has a rival for evening computer time and decided we needed another one. He started preparing the ground a while ago by beginning to refer to the existing computer as 'Diane's', thus ensuring that the nice new one will be 'his'....

Sunday's main event was a trip to the cinema for H and I - yes, sticking to my New Year Resolution! H's mum came over and looked after K while we had a quick brunch out and then saw Avatar. I did enjoy it (even only in 2D), but at the same time it was rather depressing as what happens in that film, despite being complete science fiction, is really very comparable to what goes on in our own world.

Yesterday I was involved in a local festival (more on that in another post) and then I went out for dinner in Matsue, leaving the boys at home. There were several people I hadn't seen since before K was born, including the guest of honour who had just returned from almost 5 years in Thailand and is now off to live in Toyama. Hello and goodbye again! I also chatted with a lovely lady who is taking care of her 3 year old grand-daughter full-time while her daughter is away at university. As well as playing mum to that little one, she often helps out with her other daughter's children who live nearby - 4 of them, the oldest one still only 7 years old! Suddenly I feel less guilty about the one-work-day-a-week and occasional-trip-to-the-cinema babysitting demands I make on my mother-in-law...

Monday, 11 January 2010

New Year Resolutions

Did you make any? Are you sticking to them? I don't usually make resolutions as such, but I do like to look back and take stock of the previous year and make a few goals or intentions for the year ahead.

2009 was the year I started this blog, and my Etsy shop. We didn't get to travel really, but we did have a visit from my parents and we all went to Himeji for a few days together. I went back to teaching part-time at the university in April, and I set up a new class at the local community centre in October. Of course it was also a year of big changes for K, who went from being a little baby to a very active toddler. And it was also the year that a very good friend of mine fought cancer. I look forward to seeing her, healthy and strong, again soon.

For 2010 I don't have any of the usual, negative, resolutions. Instead my resolves are more positive and are all focused on making the most of life:
  • Go out with H (without K!) once a month, for a meal and a film or something like that. I can count on one hand the number of times we have done this in the almost 2 years since K was born, and it's just not enough.
  • Spend one After-K-Has-Gone-To-Bed evening a week with H doing something fun. We tend to spend that time in front of the TV or on the computer or doing our own separate things. I think we can manage one screen-free night a week!
  • Spend more money. I bet that one surprised you! Of course, my goal is not really to just spend. It's more about allowing myself to spend a little more on enjoyable things and treats without feeling guilty. Even though I'm earning more than I was a year ago (though not as much as 2 years ago), I still feel bad if I 'waste' money on myself. But I am putting money into savings each month and I can afford some pocket money. While it may be true that if you look after the pennies the pounds will look after themselves, and that money can't buy happiness, the occasional treat makes a big difference between just existing and really living. After all, what is money for if not for spending now and then, and why am I juggling work and childcare if I can't get a little reward occasionally (justify, justify)? And you know I'm hardly going to be splashing out on designer bags and expensive jewellry...

My other general intention is, well, be more like Mary Beth :-) Her beautiful blog, Salt and Chocolate, is a real inspiration to me. She makes the effort to celebrate the little things in life and is so mindful of the seasons and the changes in the world around her. Mary Beth takes (makes?) time to cook and bake and really spend time with her family, but never in an unobtainable, super-woman kind of way. She keeps thing simple, low-key and realistic. If I could just make a few steps in her direction...

While I'm mentioning other people and their websites, have a look at Gretchen's Happiness Project. It's full of useful ideas and practical tips on how to increase the happiness in your life, without being touchy-feely :-) It's another site which has been inspiring to me and has helped to shape my goals for this year. There's also some great advice on keeping your New Year Resolutions! Good luck...

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Christmas present sewing

In the run-up to Christmas I mentioned that I had been doing some secret present-sewing. I can now safely reveal that I had been making zippered box pouches! It started out as 'Oh, I'll make a pouch for Chieko'. Then it was 'Oh, and for everyone who'll be joining us on Christmas Day'. And then 'Oh, and so-and-so might like one!' and 'How about so-and-so?' and, well, you get the idea. You could say I got a bit carried away...

In the end I made 8, but gave away 7. The first one (charitably termed a 'test run' by H) failed quality control checks, and will be my new make-up pouch :-)

They were all made from super-cute printed fabric and lined with co-ordinating plain cotton. It was fun picking out the fabrics for each person. I interfaced all the pieces to give them a nice degree of sturdiness, and made them big enough to hold mascara comfortably...

For a while there I was seeing zippered pouches in my sleep but, now that that has passed, I might make a few to go in the shop. What do you think?

Friday, 8 January 2010


Original plan for today: maybe take K to the play centre or the park, do a bit of grocery shopping, update my Etsy shop and sort out photos while K has a nap, pick up H from work and go computer (window) shopping.

Unforseen circumstances: K waking up at 1.30 and crying for hours (apart from the time he was switching on all the lights in our bedroom...), until I gave up and sat him in front of a DVD from 5am till breakfast time. Total sleep time overnight for me, about 2.5 hours. Add to getting up at 5.30 yesterday to see if the latest snow was settling and whether I should take the train to work. It was and I did, leaving home an hour earlier than usual.

Amended plan for today: stay at home, eat oddments from the back of the fridge and do as little as possible.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Snowy days

As I wrote in the last post, it was quite a snowy New Year here. We had strong winds and snow overnight on the 30th and throughout the day on New Year's Eve. During a lull in the weather we took K outside for his first proper play in the snow. It was lovely and powdery, perfect for throwing around, and dry enough to sit down in without getting all soggy...

After more wind and snow though the night, New Year's Day was still and peaceful, if grey and cold!

I love the way that the wind left the snow on the sides of the trees and torii (shrine gate), rather than on the top.

January 2nd was bright and sunny, and the snow quickly began to melt. There was still time to get out and play in it again though...

...and build a rather lopsided snowman.

K has been keeping an eye on him from the living room for the last few days...

...but I'm sad to report that he is now just a couple of green sticks lying on the grass.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! I hope that 2010 is a year filled with peace, health and happiness for you all.

On New Year's Day we went over to H's parents' house. There was about 10cm of snow on the ground but that didn't bother us, seeing as their place is only a couple of minutes walk from ours. Like many people, they had a traditional New Year decoration made of straw, fern-type leaves and an orange on the door. Some people even tie a smaller version to the front of their car! As it was a national holiday they were also flying the national flag, which is still reasonably common around here but less so than it once was.

Traditionally in Japan people spend the last few days of the old year giving their house a big clean, ready to greet the New Year, and cooking so that they won't have to on New Year's Day. The traditional New Years food, called o-sechi, mainly consists of various items which have been simmered in quite a sweet broth, all served cold. I'm not really a fan and I don't think that many young Japanese people are either really! Most people get theirs from a supermarket now instead of spending days in the kitchen. Here's what H's parents got for the 'bargain' price of 10,000 yen (click on the photo if you want to see a bigger version):

At the top, there is white Japanese radish, carrots and renkon (lotus root) and the yellow stuff is sweet potato mashed with chestnuts. Going clockwise there is a sea bream (tai), some simmered shiitake mushrooms and arrowhead bulbs (kuwai), some sazae shells ('turban shells' apparently) and semi-dried cod, and some black beans at the bottom. Then there are some little dried fishes and some Battenburg cake (no, sorry, it's some kind of processed fish stuff). Then some more processed fish 'sausage' (the pink and white stuff) and some sweet omelette, shrimps, bamboo shoots and scallops. In the centre there's some ikura (salmon roe), kazunoko (herring roe) and a little spiny lobster.

Personally I'd much rather just have some 'everyday' winter food, like a big nabe hotpot...

We brought along a bottle of sparkling wine, and K enjoyed playing wine steward:

Don't worry, the bottle was empty by then!

In the afternoon we wandered over to the little local shrine. Most people go to a (Shinto) shrine just after midnight on New Year's Eve or in the first few days of the year to pray for a good year and buy some good luck trinkets. There are no organised 'services' like you would find at a church; you simply throw a small coin in the offering box, ring the bell and clap to waken the gods and then put your hands together in a moments prayer.

The priest at this shrine is H's uncle. Usually the shrine is unattended (he has an unrelated full-time job) but this time of year is the shrine's busiest and he and his 'shrine maidens' (H's cousins) are there pretty much all the time for the first few days of the year, including the early hours of New Year's Day. The front of the building is completely open, so it's pretty cold...

Usually visitors don't actually go up into the shrine itself, but K gets special treatment, including having a go at the drum :-)

In the forefront of the picture you can see the various good luck charms for sale. We bought a wooden arrow (hamaya), and each picked a fortune from the box after dropping in our 10 yen. K is obviously the smartest of us all because he wanted to pick out the nice shiny coins instead of the paper fortunes...