Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The house next door

Next door to our house is a house that's been derelict for years. It's owned by an elderly man who lives far away and refuses to sell the land to anyone. His slightly younger brother lives nearby and grows vegetables in the garden. Judging by the current state of it though, I think it's been getting a bit much for him lately...

Recently I've seen surveyor-type people measuring the plot, and workmen assessing the house. It certainly looked like the land was being sold, and we wondered who our new neighbours would be and how it would affect us if a new house was built there. It turns out that the local Buddhist temple has bought it, to use as car parking! That's fantastic news as far as I'm concerned - we won't have to worry about a new house blocking our windows or overlooking us, the people at the temple are lovely and we may even be able to use the space too when we have a party...

Demolition work started yesterday, with a mini-digger knocking down a bit of garden wall and clearing enough space for a small lorry to get in. The workmen have been gutting the house and seem to be salvaging a lot of the reusable materials, including the roof tiles.

I took this sneaky shot from our bedroom window to show you all those stacked tiles, but I think that guy in purple standing on the roof there saw me...

K is entranced by it all and has realised that he can get a pretty good view of what's going on from our dining room window:

Friday, 26 November 2010

Lucky dip!

It's not exactly new news as I listed this about a week ago now, but you can now buy a surprise set of 6 fat quarters of Japanese fabric in my shop. Each set will be different but they will all include some designer fabric, some traditional Japanese designs and some super-cute stuff. And while I can't include particular fabric requests I will do my best to incorporate your favourite colours or design styles if you let me know what you'd like.

A great way to get a bargain on Japanese fabrics, or it could even be a Christmas gift for a friend who sews!

Monday, 22 November 2010

Anyone need a step machine? Going cheap, barely used...

On Sunday Lisa and I became shop-keepers for the day, selling our old stuff at a flea market, the Japanese equivalent of a car boot sale. Most of the things for sale were mine - clothes that no longer fit, odds and ends from around the house and, yes, unwanted gifts (nothing from any of you though of course).

We had a prime corner spot and, after an unsure start to the day, sold quite a bit. The veteran flea marketer next door to us bought several clothes from me and I wouldn't be surprised to see them on her stall at the next one! I did learn a handy trick from her though, for when you can't try clothes on for fit: your neck is about half the size of your waist so try holding the waist of trousers around your neck.

I enjoyed the day, cleared some cupboard space and made a bit of money - yeah! Maybe this time next year I'll be back with maternity wear and newborn baby clothes...

Friday, 19 November 2010

22 weeks and counting

Somehow I'm already more than half-way through this pregnancy. How did that happen? By the Japanese way of counting, I'm 5 and a half months pregnant. Did you know that in Japan the length of a pregnancy is measured differently than, well, anywhere else I suppose?

When I first heard that a pregnancy is considered to be 10 months long in Japan, I couldn't help thinking 'Here we go again, Japan always has to be different!'. But actually I now have to say that it makes sense. From the start of the last period, a full-term pregnancy lasts 40 weeks, so that's exactly 10 28-day cycles or lunar months. Quite logical really, don't you think?

People here sometimes ask me about antenatal care in the UK and I have to answer that I have no idea; I've only ever been pregnant in Japan! I do think that we have more ultrasounds here though. Barring any complications, I'll be expected to see the doctor once a month from the 3rd to 6th month, every other week from the 7th to 9th month and weekly from then until the birth, with a scan at every single visit. So far, H hasn't come with me to any of the check-ups but the nurse records the scans so that I can bring them home to show him. When I was expecting K, I had a video tape but this time they put it on a USB drive - that's progress for you...

Another difference is that pregnancy and childbirth is not covered financially by the public health system here. But worry not! Although it varies from place to place, local government reimburses most of the costs. When I had K, I had to pay at each doctor's visit (though nothing too extortionate) and then, when he was born, the city paid me a lump sum which comfortably covered the hospital bill for the delivery and the 6 days I stayed there. This time around, things have gotten more generous! When I registered the pregnancy at the city hall I was given vouchers for 14 free doctor visits, which should be plenty. Apparently the lump sum paid out at birth has gone up too, although the city's budget for the next fiscal year is looking pretty tight and it may be reduced a bit again from April. As my due date is March 25th, the woman telling me all this recommended that I don't go too overdue. I'm not sure exactly what she thinks I can do about it if I do...

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

A,B,C, easy as 1,2,3

I had great plans of taking a Montessori approach to teaching K the sounds and letters of English. I intended to carefully introduce the written alphabet (lower case only) in an ordered manner, focusing on only the phonetic sounds and ignoring the letter names for now. What I didn't take into account was K teaching himself the alphabet...

Due partly to the alphabet song being on several CDs we have, and largely to one of K's favourite toys, he can now recognise and name all the letters of the alphabet with ease, lower and upper case. It's not a great picture of it, but here is The Toy That Taught My Son The Alphabet:

One of Mum's great Oxfam finds, it has buttons to press and it makes noise, so it was bound to be a winner with K. Above each button (shaped like the letters of the alphabet) there is a picture of something beginning with that letter, and the name of that thing is also written there. The toy has several different games and at first K amused himself by pressing buttons in response to questions like 'Where is the letter 'a'?' and 'Where is the apple?'. Once he'd mastered that though, he was determined to play the spelling game. I suggested that answering 'How do you spell 'apple'?' might be a bit beyond K's capabilities, but he simply made me answer instead. As I did it, I pointed out that the words were written on the toy and that I was pressing the same letters in the same order.

Having figured out what I was doing, K soon got the idea, carefully pressing each letter he saw written under the pictures mentioned. With practice he soon memorised some of the shorter words (cat, dog, yo-yo) and can now remember a lot of the long ones too (xylophone, umbrella). Even when he's not playing with that toy I sometimes catch him chanting 'u-m-b-r-e-l-l-a, umbrella!'. Now I'm not quite such an obsessed parent that I believe he truly knows what he's doing when he's 'spelling' - it's obviously just rote memorisation. But he is very interested in the written word now, pointing out letters he sees when we're out and about, and short words he recognises in his books. We do need to move on to phonetics though - ask him to spell 'cow' and he'll reply 'o-x'....

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Last day for free shipping!

Don't forget that today is the last day of the shipping sale in my shop!

There's free shipping on orders over $20, and half price shipping on smaller orders. The sale applies to everything in the shop (Japanese fabric and craft books) and is on until tomorrow morning. Don't miss out!

Friday, 12 November 2010

'Where in the World...?' Postcard Swap

Last month I joined in a postcard swap organised by Jo at A Bit Of This And A Bit Of That. I sent out 4 postcards and have so far received 3. Everyone I swapped with lives in the States but was assigned a more unusual country to send a postcard 'from'.

Here's what I got...

Thanks everyone! I was allowed to send a card from the country I'm actually in, and made one with a photo I took at Himeji castle last year:

I wonder what kind of swap I can join next...

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Shipping sale in my shop!

I don't want to make you panic, so I'll say it quietly... Christmas is on its way. And if you're planning on giving handmade gifts, now is the time to be buying cute fabric. And as luck would have it, there's a sale on in my shop right now!

*** FREE SHIPPING on orders over $20 ***
*** HALF-PRICE SHIPPING on smaller orders ***

I've been busily restocking the shop over the last week or two, so there are lots of lovely fabrics there to choose from, as well as craft books which would make great gifts too.

All my fabrics are listed as fat quarters - that's a piece of material about 55cm by 50 cm (or 22 inches by 19.5 inches in old money). If you're wondering what on earth you could do with fabric that size, worry not. Orders of more than one piece will be delivered as one uncut piece of material so if you buy 2 FQs you'll get half a metre, and 4 FQs is a complete uncut metre of fabric.

But even one little fat quarter is useful! Over at Sew Mama Sew they spent a whole month suggesting projects and listing tutorials of things to make with fat quarters. Find the details here. A fat quarter of lovely fabric is also a really economical way to make simple projects more interesting, such as adding a pocket to a bag (like Lisa's birthday bag!).

But anyway, go and check out the Shipping Sale! The offer is on for a whole week, until Monday 15th November, and shipping costs will be refunded after purchases have been completed. End of small print!

Saturday, 6 November 2010


Today the city library held its annual giveaway of old books. Anyone could just show up and help themselves to as many as they wanted. I was working this morning but H and K went along and came home with all this:

The library doesn't have many books in English but H managed to find a few to keep me entertained. He also got a lot of travel guides, both for Japan and overseas. If you're planning a trip to Bhutan, Poland or Mongolia, let me know. They also found lots of nice books for K, mainly picture books of animals and vehicles. I have no idea why H, the virtual tee-totaller, brought home 'The Best Bourbon' though...

Later in the day I walked over to the supermarket, passed a neighbour's garden on the way back and came home with these (as in 'she gave them to me', not 'I stole them'):

Earlier in the week K and I went for a little walk and met a man who knows H's dad (which means anyone you're likely to meet within walking distance from here really). He was tending his vegetable plot and sent us home with a big bag of spinach and another of shungiku, young chrysanthemum leaves.

Yay for freebies!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Grow your own loofah

The lawn has had its final cut for the year, what few vegetables we had have long since finished and the plants designed to provide shade to the patio have largely died off. A few morning glories are still going strong though and are a mass of blue blooms. You can't really see them all that well in this picture but all the leaves and flowers at the bottoms of the plants have gone, while the balcony at our bedroom is absolutely covered. It's a lovely sight to open our curtains to each morning.

Apart from morning glories, the other main shade plants were gourds. They too have largely died off now, but H has collected a great crop of gourds. They are a miniature type, small enough to fit in your hand, and H intends to dry them and make them into... something. Here's about half of them, the others are soaking in a bucket of water at the end of the garden until the soft insides have rotted away...

There was one other plant we bought, which was labelled as a gourd too but turned out to be something quite different. H described it to me as something you could use to scrub yourself in the bath and, sure enough, it's a loofah plant (hechima in Japanese). Did you even know that loofahs grew like this? I must admit that I didn't...

On that one plant I counted 10 loofahs this afternoon. Apparently it's a bit of a complicated process if you want to dry them and produce beautiful off-white loofahs such you see in the shops. If, however, you're happy to have a loofah brown as nature intended, all you have to do is leave it on the plant until it has completely dried up! We've got one brown one now and it's been getting lighter and lighter as it dries, while the green ones still feel very heavy when you weigh them in your hand.

I don't know how long it will take to become completely dry and bath-ready but, if you're on our Christmas list, you may just find yourself receiving a loofah this year...

Monday, 1 November 2010

Baby blankets

When I was expecting K, I crocheted a blanket for him. Well, to be honest, I made all the squares while I was pregnant, started sewing them together when I was in the hospital and finally got it all finished when K was almost 2 months old. There's even photographic evidence; K at 6 weeks old, enjoying his bouncy chair and his view of the garden, while I crochet...

I thought I'd taken a photo of the completed blanket but I suppose, in those pre-blog days, it never occurred to me that I'd want a picture of a blanket! Here it is in action though, when K was 2 months old. Look how little he is!

The blanket has had a lot of use and now I'd like to make one for the new baby. This time though, I'm determined to get it finished before the baby arrives! I realise that this means that I should probably have called in at the wool shop on my way home from that first doctor's visit. I thought about just making all the white squares first and then doing the coloured ones later, when I know if it's a boy or a girl, but then I got scared that they wouldn't have the same wool anymore. So at the weekend I bought some white and yellow wool and managed to find the pattern I used 3 years ago (I'm quite proud of that).

I now have 5 calendar months until baby is due to arrive. Any bets on when the blanket will be finished?

Happy Birthday to me...

It was my birthday last Friday and I had a good day. It started with an unexpected Skype chat with insomniac Mum and Dad. To be honest, Skyping can be a bit of a pain at times, with poor connections making it difficult to talk to each other and K trying to disconnect stuff or play with the mouse. But this time it was all as it should be, and we were able to have a nice, relaxing chat; even K was on his best behaviour and performed well for the camera.

After an easy class with a private student, K and I joined Cian, Lisa, Vivian, Cally and Alex for a lovely birthday lunch. K was reasonably well-behaved and I had a special birthday dessert, complete with candles (luckily not the actual number of my age. That would have been a fire hazard) and everyone in the restaurant singing Happy Birthday.

Lately the cold weather definitely encourages baking, and K is keen too. One of his favourite books at the moment is Maisy Makes Gingerbread, in which 'Maisy needs flour, sugar, eggs, butter and ginger'. Therefore everything we make now is also declared to need those ingredients too. Well, we didn't make gingerbread, but we did make a cheesecake on Friday afternoon. Yum. H came home a bit early and we had a big one-pot nabe dinner, followed by a visit to H's mum and dad's (taking the cheesecake. Yum.)

It really was a lovely day and I had some nice cards and gifts too (as in 'I had some cards and gifts. They were nice' not 'I had cards and gifts. Some of them were nice'. Don't you just love the English language?). The birthday atmosphere carried over to Saturday night's Hallowe'en party too, where Cian presented me with a birthday cake. It was slightly battered where the box had been knocked over by a drunken guitarist, but it still tasted Very Good as a mid-afternoon snack yesterday.

So now that my birthday and Hallowe'en have passed, I suppose Christmas is next on the list. Gulp.