Friday, 28 January 2011

Yet another post about snow...

In short, there's still a fair bit of it about. After close to a metre of snow at New Year, we got down to this year's least-amount-of-snow-on-the-ground-so-far on the 14th:

But over that weekend it returned to this...

Again, it gradually started to disappear, only to be topped up again last weekend too. Luckily it hasn't really inconvenienced us too much; H has been taking an earlier bus to work everyday (but still managed to be late once), and I am getting braver and braver about driving in it. My reluctance to drive with even the slightest bit of snow on the ground is often laughed at, and I almost kept K home from school one day, but in the end it wasn't really a problem at all. The weather gods have been kind to me though, keeping Wednesdays, the day I go to university, virtually snow-free (on the roads that is). If the weather is really bad I can get there by train, but it's a bit of a pain: 20 minute walk to the station, 12 minute train ride, change trains, another 40 minute train ride and then a 15 minute bus ride, plus time for all those connections; not ideal when class starts at 8.30! I've got one more class next week, and then term ends; keep your fingers crossed for me...

There have been some lovely bright days though and, now that the snow doesn't come up to his neck, K has been enjoying playing in it. Making looping tracks through the snow is one favourite...

... and another is very gentle sledging down the little slope in our garden, using a multi-purpose seat/spinning/ who-knows-what toy that H's brother gave him for Christmas:

We had a bit more snow just the other day and, guess what? More is predicted for the weekend. I'm doing more kids' interviews on Sunday, this time in Tottori, which originally was supposed to entail somehow getting to the mainline train station before 7am... However, due to the potential snow, the company has asked me (and will pay for me) to go the day before and stay overnight. Is it really bad that I'm actually quite looking forward to a night in a hotel, all by myself, with no little people climbing over me with picture books in their hands at 5am, and with several consecutive meals eaten in peace? Maybe the snow is not such a bad thing after all...

Monday, 24 January 2011

Goodies from New Zealand!

The other day the postman brought me this lovely parcel of goodies from Hanna of Craftykin. I had commented on all her wonderful opp-shop/thrift shop/charity shop finds, and she offered to send me some! I offered to send her some Japanese craft books and odds and ends in return and so a swap was born... Here's what I found when I opened the parcel:

I couldn't believe the number of things that she managed to fit in that parcel! Let's have a closer look...

A tea towel destined for my kitchen, and some great vintage linens calling out to be re-purposed into, well, something. The detail in that embroidery is beautiful.

Some child-orientated goodies - K is loving that little sheep finger puppet...

A set of five little cards made with the coolest vintage flower prints. Hand-made by Hanna maybe??

Some lovely ribbon and lacy edging, plus a tiny pair of scissors. So cute.

And look at this! A little booklet of patterns for soft toys, even older than the dinosaur one I have :-) It's got some great ideas in it, although I must admit that the doll on the front scares me a little... Plus a little purse that definitely was made by Hanna (it has her cool Craftykin label inside) and a little tissue case - I didn't even know that they existed outside of Japan!

Thank you Hanna, for suggesting this swap and for your kindness and generosity. When a virtual stranger thousands of miles away offers to send you a present out of the goodness of their heart, it does a lot to help you believe that the world is not such a bad place after all...

Friday, 21 January 2011

Busy days...

After all the inactivity of the New Year, things seem to be going non-stop now (as you can see by the lack of recent blog posts...). K is back at pre-school and H and I are back to work as usual. Actually, I'm working more than usual. I'm doing some work for a friend's research, transcribing interviews with Asian EFL students. I can only do it when I have some peace and quiet, which translates to 'when K is asleep'. Unfortunately that is also prime blog/crochet/laze in front of the TV time, but I can't do it all at once...

I'm also doing kids' interview tests for ECC again this year. Starting last week, I'll be spending every Sunday in January and February (and a couple of Saturdays) doing English speaking tests with kids ranging in age from 3 to 15, generally about 100 a day! They can be quite enjoyable really, but there is a lot of travelling involved. Last week I 'only' had to go to Matsue and Izumo, leaving home by 6.30am on both Saturday and Sunday. This Sunday is a 'late' start, leaving home just after 7, but the following week I'm supposed to be getting the 6:01 train from the main-line station. Unfortunately there are no trains or buses to get me to the station at that time in the morning, and I can't see H being terribly enthusiastic about getting up to take me. Seriously considering going the day before and staying overnight...

Oh yeah, and being 31 weeks pregnant, that can be a job in itself sometimes! H took the day off to take care of K on Wednesday while I was working, and then took him out in the afternoon so I had a couple of hours all to myself at home, a very rare event. I didn't know what to do: transcriptions? blog? lesson plans? TV and crochet? In the end, I fell asleep on the sofa...

Tuesday, 11 January 2011


This is the chap I made for K for Christmas. It was all done in a bit of a rush, with some very shoddy workmanship, so please don't look too carefully. K seems happy enough with it anyway, though it is nowhere near as popular as The Maisy Doll.

I made a few alterations to the original pattern (and when I say 'alterations' I generally mean 'shortcuts'). When I opened up the pattern I realized that this creature was huge so I reduced it by two thirds. Of course it wasn't until later that I discovered that this meant that much of the sewing became a lot more fiddly... I also just used single pieces of felt, unfinished, for the claws, instead of two pieces sewn together and turned for each of the 12 claws. That would just have been ridiculous.

I'm not sure how this pattern ended up in my sewing basket. I suspect that it was either pilfered from my mum or, like so many things in this house, was given to me by a friend who was leaving Japan. If you recognise it, let me know! I noticed that it is dated 1986, which makes it practically vintage now I suppose. The best thing about it was an advert on it for McCall's Patterns ('Sewing's Fashion Magazine'). I tried to take a photo of it but it didn't come out well, so here's the highlight for you:

You'll find ... top celebrities including Linda Evans, Joan Collins,
Diahann Carroll, Brooke Shields, Shari Belafonte-Harper, Mariette Hartley and more!

Yeah for the cast of Dynasty! I wonder if the magazine featured shoulder pads in every garment...

Monday, 10 January 2011

Back to the usual routine

Tomorrow K and I will finally be getting back into our usual routine. H started back at work last Tuesday, but my 2 classes last week were cancelled due to the snow so I've been on extended holiday-mode. Tomorrow though, K will be off to preschool for the first time this year, and my usual schedule begins again tomorrow too.

With the heavy snow over the New Year we haven't really done anything of great interest lately. In fact, in a week I only left the house twice, both times on foot, to go to the supermarket and post office. The rest of the time I've been at home here with K.

So what did we actually do with all this free time? As always, I seem to have frittered it all away. K and I have been sleeping quite late in the mornings, although poor H has been getting up earlier than normal to take a train to work. Luckily the buses are now running so he should be back to normal tomorrow too.

We did manage to do some useful things over the holidays: I tidied up my office and filed class notes, we caught up on the mountain of laundry, got a new TV, shoveled snow...

Mainly though, there was a lot of lounging about at home. I crocheted a few more squares for the baby blanket, read an entire book (that's good going for me nowadays) and caught up on some blog reading.

Today was a public holiday so we had a three day weekend. Now that the roads are pretty much clear of snow, we went out! Two lunches out, a bit of shopping (including a diary for me - I love buying a new diary each year) and a little cinema date for H and I (Tron, my first 3D cinema experience). Today was Tondo-san, marking the official end of the New Year festivities, so it really is back to work for everyone now...

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Still snowy

We haven't had any more snow since the 1st, but it's still causing problems. Snow ploughs have been out clearing the roads; the fact that H had never seen one before shows you how unusual that is! Ploughed roads are now clear enough to drive on easily, but there's one slight snag; the snow ploughs create big banks of snow at the sides of the roads, making already narrow roads even narrower. The road in front of our house now poses no problems at all for a single car, but when 2 meet someone has to reverse a long way or everyone leaps out with their shovels and starts digging out a passing place...

Yesterday I ventured out on foot to our second-nearest supermarket. We weren't in desperate need of supplies but it was H's last day off work and I realised that if I didn't go then I would have to go today or tomorrow - with K...

It was a good chance to see what was going on too. Next to the supermarket is one of the biggest roads around here, with 2 lanes each way. Traffic was moving easily, but again the road was significantly narrowed:

Smaller roads were clear just in the tyre tracks - 4 tracks if you were lucky, 3 tracks on narrower roads and here, where a car had been abandoned, it went down to just 2:

The very smallest roads though were still pretty much impassable. Believe it or not, this next one is actually usually used by cars; look very closely and you'll see a car parked at the end of it:

Today was the first working day of the year for a lot of people, including H. He usually goes to work by bus but the buses still weren't running today, due I suppose to the narrowed roads. So poor old H set off on foot, a distance of 5 or 6 kilometres. He returned home tonight with stories of downed electric cables and a collapsed car port, a blister or two and, of course, photographic evidence of his adventure. Here's the route he would normally take if walking into town...

... and here's the less snowy option he chose today. This is the road his bus would have taken too, if it had been running...

Even in the centre of the city, where the traffic was moving steadily, it was still tough for pedestrians. The pavements were pretty deep in snow and crossing the road meant navigating your way over huge mounds of snow at the edges of the road:

Apparently the buses still won't be running tomorrow, although rubbish collection will be. H's planning to try the train tomorrow; by the time he walks to the station, waits for the train and then walks from the station to his office, it won't really save him any time, but hopefully it'll give his feet a bit of a rest...

2010, 2011

What kind of year was 2010 for you? It sounds rather melodramatic but when I look back at last year I can't help thinking that the theme for me was 'Life and Death'. My grandfather, one of my very best friends, and a close friend of my parents all passed away within a few months of each other. The loss of my friend in particular hit me hard, and I'm still mourning her in many ways. On the other hand, I also found out that I was expecting a baby. We had been trying for a baby for quite a long time before I got pregnant with K, so it was lovely that things went so easily this time around.

In our everyday life, not a lot really happened in 2010 to be honest. There were no changes at work for H or me and no exciting events; most things just carried on as before. I did get to spend a month in the UK in the summer though, and just being around K and watching him grow and develop brought us a lot of pleasure.

Looking to the year ahead, I think the theme could be 'Family'. As well as the arrival of K's little brother (we think!), Mum and Dad will be coming over to visit us for a month. H and I are also hoping that our new family of 4 will be able to make an extended trip to the UK in the summer, spending lots of time with friends and family. However things pan out, I hope that it's a year of health and happiness for us all. Happy New Year!

Monday, 3 January 2011

Overnight Caramel Walnut Rolls

Since getting the bread machine I've been wanting to make something a bit fancy, so when I saw this recipe (found via Penelope Loves Lists) I thought I'd make them for breakfast on New Year's Day. You make the dough and shape the rolls in advance, put them in the fridge overnight and then just leave them to rise for half an hour and bake them. Easy!

Of course, I hit a slight snag when I got up on New Year's Day - no electricity. Luckily the recipe calls for the rolls to be left in the fridge for at least 12 hours and no more than 48, so we had them on the 2nd instead. And there were still some left for this morning too. Yum.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Happy New Year!

No sign of the garden wall, the compost bin or the patio

It may only be January 2nd, but already it's a year that people around here will remember - the year of the snow. It started to snow on the night of the 30th and continued throughout New Year's Eve Day, with biting winds sending the snow in horizontal sheets. By the morning of New Year's Day the wind had dropped and the snow lay deep and crisp and even.

Our bedroom window faces the direction the wind was blowing from, so the balcony was filled with snow up to the height of my waist.

K and the car demonstrating the depth of the snow

The previous night the electricity had gone off for a minute or so, and when I got up briefly with K at 5.30 I noticed that it was off again. We all slept in until about 9 o'clock, and we were still without power. Like a lot of the newer houses around here, our house relies entirely on electricity for heating, hot water and cooking as well as lighting and appliances. Luckily we do have a single table-top gas ring so I was able to make hot drinks for our breakfast.

An important part of New Year's Day morning is reading your New Year cards. The post office holds them all back until the big day and then delivers them all early in the morning on New Year's Day, hiring extra part-time workers to help deal with it all. This year though - nothing. I'm hoping they might come tomorrow...

H dug out a little path, just wide enough for us to walk out to the road. He didn't dig right down to ground level and even then the snow was deeper than K's waist. I guessed the total amount of snow to be close to K's height and the news today reports that there was indeed about 90cm.

In front of our house on New Year's Day

The plan was to spend New Year's Day at H's parents' house. They had a power cut too, but they also have one old-style kerosene heater so we headed over there once H had dug us out, leaving candles and torches on stand-by for our return. Their house is only a few minutes walk away, but we visited the local shrine on the way too.

Japanese people traditionally visit a shrine at the New Year, either just after midnight on New Year's Eve or in the first day or two of the year. The priest, a relative of H's, told us that he had only had about 20 people show up the previous night, while a man with a digger (also a relative) dug out the road for everyone.

At the shrine H and I each bought a fortune for the year and both got 'small luck' - better than plain old 'luck' and 'bottom-of-the-barrel luck', but still lagging behind 'medium' and 'big'. Oh well. There are also 'bad luck' fortunes but our local shrine, not wishing to disappoint, buys the boxes of fortunes which don't contain bad luck at all. We tied the slips of paper to trees around the shrine and went on our way again.

A stone lantern at the shrine

Announcements on the public address system told us that 28,000 homes in the city were without power, due to a fallen pylon. Today H found a picture of it on the news - eek!

At H's parents' we all stayed in the living room with the one heater, and for once I was glad of the traditional New Year's food, o-sechi. Made (or bought..) ahead of time so that no-one needs to cook over New Year, it isn't really my favourite but at least it was all ready to eat without the aid of any electricity...

After lunch the power came back on and H's mum rang round to see how everyone was doing. H's younger brother was planning to come over on his way back from a trip to Kyushu, but on hearing what it was like here he wisely decided to go straight home. We were all relieved when we heard that he'd got home safely, especially as the news was reporting a thousand cars stuck on the main road from Yonago to Tottori. A thousand!

A not-very-tropical palm tree

By late afternoon the falling snow was turning to light rain, which continued overnight. By morning a lot of snow had melted, but there's still a lot out there too. All the snow has gone from the car, but the roof is slightly dented from the weight. Overhead cables are hanging dangerously low, again due to the weight of the snow, and lots of trees have lost branches.

In front of our house this morning

The airport is closed, buses and branch-line trains are not running yet and H's cousin reports a queue for taxis at the main station 60 people long. H goes back to work on the 4th (Tuesday), so we're hoping the buses will be running again by then. Like most people we stocked up on food before the holidays, since a lot of supermarkets are closed until tomorrow or Tuesday, so I suppose we'll just carry on our hermit lifestyle for a few more days...

Broken branches at the shrine