Saturday, 3 November 2012


I love October. The weather is great (meaning you can do what you want and wear what you want), I have my birthday (which I still consider a good thing) and it's Hallowe'en, possibly my favourite festival of the year. Of course while I was off enjoying October, I wasn't blogging. Sorry. I'll try to do better. Oh and sorry if you're friends with me on Facebook; you've probably seen all these photos before...

The Saturday before Hallowe'en was the big costume party that I always look forward to. I love fancy dress. Usually I aim for either 'scary' or 'in some way attractive' (or as some put it 'Why aren't you wearing a short skirt this year?'). This year though, it was all comedy. Can you find me?

It was quite a straightforward and cheap costume to put together, but of course I had to do it the hard way. I didn't have a striped shirt so I bought a cheap white long-sleeved T-shirt and stuck red insulating tape to it. I thought that the tape would have enough stretch in it; it didn't. When I first put on the shirt, I couldn't breathe. It felt like a boa constrictor-induced heart attack. I had H peel off the tape in the tight areas (OK, chest and hips...) and reapply it. If you try doing this, I recommend having someone stick the tape on while you are wearing the shirt.

The glasses came from the 100yen shop. Jeans and boots, model's own. For the hat I tested out my new knitting skills! Found a simple pattern online, altered it a bit and got some wool from, yup, the 100yen shop. Made a lovely big pom-pom too, and got it all finished just in time!

Anyway, the party was great fun as always, with lots of people, lots of great costumes and birthday cake for me and Lisa :-)

Digging into the birthday cake
Back at home, the boys did a few little Hallowe'en themed activities. Here they are at work...

OK, T's not really doing Hallowe'en things there. He's colouring in (read 'scribbling on') a panda, despite K pointing out that a black and white picture of a panda doesn't need colouring. K though was well into the spirit of it all, wearing last year's skeleton suit and, yes, the Wally hat.

First we did Jack-o'-lanterns. I printed out some outlines and K added a face to his before colouring it all in. He wasn't at all interested in colouring until quite recently but now he's become quite good at it. I was impressed that he stuck with it and coloured the whole thing in. T scribbled a bit on his, and then stuck on some features I cut from black paper.

Another day, we made bats. I drew around K and T's hands, and K cut out the shapes before taping them to a covered toilet roll tube. Then K added some features, and I hung them from the ceiling. We were all pleased with how they came out, and I foresee more toilet roll tube-based crafts in our future...

On Hallowe'en itself we didn't really do anything special, but I did put on my witch's hat and cloak for dinner, while K wore his skeleton suit again. Then I surprised the boys with these desserts:

They were pretty easy to make: hollow out some large oranges (that was the hardest part) and fill with jelly. When the jelly has set, it's surprisingly easy to cut away a face.

T had never had jelly before, and certainly not served like this! He went from intrigued... enthusiastic eating...

...and finally scooped out every last bit of jelly himself, long after everyone else had left the table.

Hope you enjoyed Hallowe'en too!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Blueberry boys

A couple of weeks ago, in a lull between various colds, we went blueberry picking. To be honest, I'm a bit indifferent to blueberries, but thought it might be a fun activity all the same. K's reaction was pretty much the same as mine, although he enjoyed himself and picked quite a few.

T though. T loved it. He grabbed great handfuls of the berries from H's container and shoved them into his mouth, pointed out all manner of wildlife, and ran about between the bushes waving grass seedheads and scattering grass clippings to the wind.

It cost 300 yen per adult to go into the blueberry fields, allowing you to stay as long as you like and eat as many as you like while you were there. H paid a little extra (I think another 200 yen) to be able to fill a container to take home too. K also had a container but, as a child, he only paid 300 yen anyway, and T, who probably ate the most, was free. We went, picked and ate and then had a picnic of bakery goodies bought on the way there. Then it was back to eating a few more blueberries before heading off to the park in Mizoguchi with the super-long roller slide.

No, don't worry, T didn't go down that great big slide all by himself. That was just him messing about at the bottom while we waited for K to come down.

Later we did all go up to the top though...

...and then arrive at the bottom with big smiles all round.

Next to the park is a small museum dedicated to oni, a kind of Japanese demon, with a giant green oni sitting on the roof. The town-run museum has been closed down for a while now but it happened to be open that day, in conjunction with some other event going on. We were able to climb up several flights of stairs inside the oni, and look out of his mouth over the town below...

Coming back down the stairs, K said 'Thank you for bringing me here today Mummy. I didn't know about this place and it was great!'. That's OK sweetheart, glad you enjoyed it :-)

Friday, 5 October 2012

10 signs of autumn...

  • closing the bedroom windows at night
  • Hallowe'en decorations in the shops
  • socks
  • no more swimming at kindergarten
  • long trousers for the boys
  • using the hairdryer
  • Harvest Moon
  • chestnut-flavoured everything at the bakery
  • Sports Day
  • colds for everyone :-(

Tuesday, 2 October 2012


The other day we made the decision to cancel cable TV. I'm the only one who watches it, and only one or two channels then. I record shows from overseas to watch at my leisure (hah!), but they're always changing the schedule without personally warning me and I've come to think that it's not worth the monthly fee, especially when there is so much available online for free.

Then we realised that cancelling cable TV would mean cancelling all TV, since our cable TV box also acts as a digital antennae for the regular channels. Unless we buy a separate antennae, we can't receive any channels at all. Actually this isn't really a big deal for us. Nobody watches those channels here anyway. H doesn't really watch TV at all and the boys only watch DVDs from the UK. Plus, it means we don't have to pay the NHK fees (like a British TV licence) anymore! So, the plug has been pulled.

It's not quite as extreme as it may sound though. The boys still have their DVDs, and we've taken out a subscription with Hulu. It's a website that provides access to a variety of TV shows and films, but we discovered that, with our recent model TV, we can watch it all directly on the television set. There isn't quite the range of programmes that I would have liked but it'll still take me a while to get through what they've got, and at a fraction of the price of cable.

Having a choice of things to watch has even tempted H into watching TV with me. His first picks? The very first episode of Colombo, and a famous Japanese murder-mystery film Inugami-ke no Ichi-zoku, both from the 1970s. I wonder what that says about us...

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

My husband the artist

The other day I asked H to tidy up a collection of stones, sticks, pine cones, shells and the like which had found their way into our house. Expecting to come across them all dumped in an old cardboard box somewhere, I was pleasantly surprised to find this little arrangement in the entranceway:

It's not a good photo, but it actually makes a nice little nature corner, and appears quite artfully arranged. My surprise at this, H having a reputation as a Science Man rather than in any way an Art Man, reminded me of a little story from back in March.

When we went to Matsue for the St Patrick's Day parade, there were people doing portrait sketches so we had them draw K and T. Here are the results (by 2 different artists):

Now, they are lovely little pictures of children, but I don't really think that they look like our children at all. The next morning, I came downstairs to find this on the table:

While I had been asleep, H had had a go at drawing K, working from a photo and using K's wax crayons to do it. OK, it's hardly award-winning, but don't you think that it looks like K? A lot more than the other picture anyway, and it's far superior to anything I could have done. The biggest thing though, is that I had never, ever seen H draw anything, ever before. When I've been ineptly drawing Thomas the Tank Engine and little animals to amuse the boys, H just shrugs and says that he can't draw. After 11 years of marriage, I've found yet another side to my lovely husband.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

My Organized Chaos

pin it to win it

The next intake for Jo's e-course, My Organized Chaos, starts soon, and if you are lucky you could win a free place! You can either Blog It To Win It or Pin It To Win It. Click on the buttons above for more information but hurry, the competition ends soon.

Little by little I'm managing to organise my chaos. I've made several small changes around the house but one of the bigger ones was creating this reading corner for K in the engawa. He can keep books out of T's reach there, as well as have a cosy and peaceful place to read or listen to story CDs. I have been known to sit there with a cup of tea and a magazine too...

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Neighbourhood Walk: Take Two

When I took part in Jo's neighbourhood walk around the world, one of the things we had to show you was a local form of transport. Around here we have some interesting trains, but I didn't manage to take any photos of them in time so I posted a picture of our local bus instead. The other day though, out with K, I snapped a few of them for your viewing pleasure.

We live near a short branch line which runs between Yonago and Sakaiminato. One of Sakaiminato's biggest claims to fame is that it is the birthplace of Shigeru Mizuki, a manga artist. His most well-known work is GeGeGe no Kitaro, which features a collection of ghost/monster/other-worldly types. In recent years, especially after a big live-action film was made, Kitaro has become hugely popular and Sakaiminato is making the most of it. The town has a museum, a ghost shrine and a street lined with bronze statues of the characters, as well as lots of souvenir shops and events thoughout the year. Yonago Airport has recently been renamed Yonago Kitaro Airport, and all the stations on the branch line have (as well as their real names) a Kitaro character name. And of course, the trains themselves are decorated too, attracting train-spotters galore...

They are even decorated on the inside! I love the way cat-girl here looks perfectly normal most of the time...

I also got around to finding one of the decorated manhole covers in town. Out here in the suburbs the manhole covers are plain, but in the centre of town you can find ones like this:

If you missed the original post on this visual tour of the neighbourhood you can find it here, and the list of all the other participants around the world is here. Bon voyage!

Monday, 17 September 2012

September is the new January

January never really strikes me as the best time to make resolutions. I know, I know, starting the new year as you mean to go on and all that, but I never feel great enthusiasm to make big changes then. It's cold, dark and dismal; all the excitement of Christmas has faded and there's nothing really to look forward to until spring. It makes me feel more like hibernating than improving my life.

September though? Much more like it. New school year (or back to school after the summer holidays, at least), a change towards more comfortable, able-to-do-stuff weather, and lots of things to look forward to and prepare for (Hallowe'en, my birthday and, dare I say it already, Christmas!).

The other day at yoga, I took the opportunity to run through my to-do list and plans for the next few months in my mind. Yes, I realise that that time was supposed to be for clearing the mind and relaxing, but I need to make the most of any uninterrupted thinking time.

K is back at kindergarten now, and my university classes start again soon. I'm in the middle of re-organising the whole house and am pleased with how it's going so far. We're planning to go to the UK for Christmas and need to look into flights soon I think. I want to get thinking about Hallowe'en costumes in plenty of time, and I want to plan something for my birthday. I'm thinking about another clothes swap party in the autumn, and maybe a regular (once a month?) games night. I want to carve out a little time each day for the piano, choosing photos for a 2012 family yearbook, and a few sit-ups :-)

Today was a public holiday. Did I work on any of those things?

Or did I decide to learn to knit (again)?

Mum has tried to teach me several times and I have, with much assistance from her, made a couple of things over the years but I've never felt confident or managed anything by myself. I'm not really sure how much I want to wear, say, sweaters that I have knitted myself, but I feel like I want to be able to knit. Or maybe I just really, really wanted to try one of the Craftsy courses...

So, I've signed up for this beginners class, and got some needles and wool. Wish me luck!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Wheels On The Bus...

...don't actually go round and round. But K doesn't seem to mind.

Having seen the idea in a magazine, K has been wanting to make a bus from a cardboard box for ages. Last weekend we finally picked up a box from the supermarket and set to work.

Painting it blue, because I happened to have a large tube of blue paint

Making wheels of cardboard with tinfoil hubcaps

More foil for windows and doors

Finally, some lights, number-plates, a destination sign and shoulder straps

The bus and its driver in action!

Saturday, 15 September 2012

House tour - part 3

The final part of the house tour - thank you for waiting! If you missed the earlier parts, you can find the upstairs of the house here and the entrance way and bathroom here. Brew yourself a nice cup of tea, there are a lot of photos here. It starts off quite neat and tidy, and then goes downhill all the way...

So, come into the house and turn left. Looking down the hall (with the stairs and bathroom behind you), you can see the door to the living room straight in front of you (complete with baby gate), the door into the utility room on the right and the door into the tatami room on the left.

Here's the tatami room, from the doorway. Traditionally, pretty much every room in a Japanese house was floored with these tatami mats, tightly woven rushes covering a thick core of rice straw. Light green when they are new, the mats gradually fade to a lovely golden colour. Nowadays a lot of new houses use no tatami at all, but we knew we definitely wanted a room like this. It can be a spare bedroom if you put down futons, a dining room around low tables, a train track room (see below), a place for a birthday party or a clothes swap party, somewhere to do yoga, or simply somewhere to dump stuff out of the reach of little monkeys.

The sliding doors on the right open into the living room, although we keep them closed nowadays to contain T. That chest of drawers in the corner belongs in the living room really, but baby K used to use it as a climbing frame so it got moved here for a while. Beyond the paper screens is the engawa, a wood-floored sunroom-type area looking out over the Japanese garden; lovely for sitting and having a cup of tea, or doing a bit of crochet with a baby.

From the chest of drawers, looking back towards the door, you can see the large closet for futons and the display area, currently bare. Set into the wall above the closet is a small Shinto shrine. A lot of Japanese homes have a small Buddhist shrine but a Shinto one is quite unusual. H comes from a long line of Shinto priests though, so this is what we have.

Another angle, revealing the bamboo xylophone from Tim, and the clothes horse in the engawa:

And the engawa again. Behind the floor chairs is another big cupboard. Apart from the walk-in closet in our room, and the shoe closet, most of our storage space is in this room.

The photos above were taken when Katherine came to stay, so we had tidied it up. Usually, it looks more like this:

Back to the hall, and into the living room:

The chest of drawers in the tatami room is supposed to be where the (toy!) Black and Decker workbench is. Well, it will be again in a year or so. The cupboard beneath the bay window is supposed to house photo albums but after an Unfortunate Incident involving baby K, it is now home to toys. More 'baby' toys are in a basket next to the TV and there's a mat for nappy-changing in front of the big window.

Standing in the same spot, turn to the right and look into the dining area. There are sliding glass doors which can be used the separate the living and dining areas, but they are usually left open. Almost out of shot, on the left, you can see the toy piano and a few other big toys kept behind the sofa. In the dining area there is H's computer desk in the far corner, the top shelf of which is one of the few places that T can't reach and is therefore piled sky-high with junk mail important papers. The window cupboard is mainly full of computer supplies and more of H's junk essential belongings.

The play-pen doesn't get a lot of use, but it is still good to have. I often pop T in there after meals while I clear up all the mess on the floor, without him spreading it further afield. The play-pen is big and full of toys and, for limited periods, T is quite happy there. Sometimes K asks to go in too, either to play with T or to escape from him...

Right, the next photo is from the TV corner, looking straight through. There's another glimpse of K's solar system mural, next to a painting he made of H, and another box of toys next to the sofa.

Now from the computer desk, looking towards the kitchen:

More space stuff on the wall there, more toys (and lots of books) on the shelves below the counter, and a baby fence to provide hurdling practice for adults. The counter is higher than is typical, at my request, in an attempt to hide some of the perpetual kitchen mess. At the far side of the kitchen you can see the door into the utility room, next to the covered-in-magnets-and-junk fridge.

The view of the kitchen from the baby fence:

By Japanese standards, this is a pretty big kitchen (6 tatami mats, if you're interested). The hob is between the windows and the microwave/oven is in the corner, in the centre of the photo. The sink and main work area faces the counter, so I can see what the little monkeys are up to, and the space between the microwave and the fridge mainly now functions as an Out Of The Reach Of T dumping ground.

Another angle, this time from near the utility room door. By now I just wanted to get these photos taken and done with, although you'd think I could have put away those dishes and empty milk cartons first. Oh well...

I forgot to take a picture from in front of the hob, looking back this way at the wall. So you'll just have to imagine it: a world map at K's eye-level, which he spends hours poring over, a wooden chair usually covered in bags and some shelves housing K's DVDs, baskets for the boys' clothes, various paperwork and Other Miscellaneous Junk.

Finally, if you're feeling brave, open the door into the utility room. I suppose, strictly speaking, it's not really a utility room since it doesn't have a sink, or the washing machine or anything like that. It's just a little room between the kitchen and the back door, but we have to call it something...

Despite the mess (which somehow looks even worse in a photo than it does in real life), it's actually reasonably organised in here. The grey shelf unit and the wooden desk next to it hold various files, recipe books, stationery, the nappy and wipes stock and Other Miscellaneous Junk. The pole up high is very useful for hanging laundry, and there's a child-sized coat stand that I use to hang all the bags for the various categories of rubbish and recycling. The door on the right leads back out into the hall, opposite the tatami room.

The big built-in cupboard is under the stairs (it's the other side of the cupboard in the toilet), which also explains that funny square jutting out in the ceiling. Can you see that the floor on the left side of the photo is lower than the rest? Hang on, have a look at the next picture...

The back door is, like the front door, at a lower level than the indoor floor. It's the place where you take off your shoes, and also leave any dirty, outdoorsy things. Not having a garage or a shed, we keep the barbecue, winter tyres and garden things here. To get a bit more space for those things, the under-stairs cupboard is at that level too. Also, when you step down to that level in the utility room, the space between the floor and the ground level is open, allowing us to store (not too big) things under the floor.

Finally, from the back door, looking back in:

There's the door to the kitchen, and the big metal shelf unit which is, again, a lot more organised than it looks. There's the old microwave (useful when the newer one is busy being an oven), the bread maker and the fish roaster; my collection of might-come-in-useful boxes and bags; plastic containers housing cleaning supplies; piles of paper and card awaiting recycling; the very important supply of breakfast cereals and, believe it or not, in this shelf at least, no miscellaneous junk!

So there you have it, the Monkey Magic house. Things have changed a bit now actually, since the boys have started sleeping together in what was the spare room, and since I've been doing Jo's course and getting things More Organised. Time to get the camera out again I suppose...