What was I doing??

This is how I imagine I look when I teach:

Ok, I don't usually hold the book directly in front of a kids face so he can't see it, each kid is holding a bunch of picture cards and I have stopped reading to help a kid with his cards here. Promise.

And because I usually teach with just me and the kids in the room my image of how I look when I teach is the only one I have and I feel quite happy that I'm doing alright.

Then every now and again we have a big event at work and someone is trailing us wielding a camera and you get to see the candid snaps of what we really looked like teaching.

And when I look at them I start wondering...

What was I doing??

Exhibit A:
My colleague and about three kids in the front row are looking where I'm pointing but a large proportion of the audience (including Meg for the Where's Wally fans) are staring straight at me despite the exaggerated gesture...

Colleagues now looking at me like I've lost my mind and I appear to be doing a peace sign with one hand. Absolutely no recollection of what I was doing here... If pushed I will plead temporary insanity.

Not so weird except that all the kids are looking to the far left of the picture. So I was doing a 'no idea!' reaction to what someone else was saying? No idea...

The event was a blast and the kids had fun too but I have to say I'm happy to go back to undocumented teaching and only my own mental image of what I look like teaching again!


Just a little light lunch

My senior English class had our annual end of academic year lunch. It is a semi-formal occasion where th leaders from the year pass on the baton to the new year's leaders and we al say a little something in English about the previous year's classes and talk about what we want to do for the coming year and then enjoy a yummy lunch together.

This year we had the whole restaurant booked. Ooo ahhhhh! It was a small restaurant and she was closed except for two bookings- us in the main room and another table in the back room.

The food at this place is really hard to imagine. The shop is opposite the town hall beside a railway crossing in a town my boss's family who are born and raised Naganoites had never even been to before. Not the kind of place you expect to find food that surprises you.

Especially not non-Japanese cuisine that surprises you in a good way.

But that is exactly what we had.

It was a course menu and I didn't get pictures of everything but this will give you an idea of what we dined on:

French onion soup (with the cheesey bread on top) salad (ok, the salad was your standard Japanese shredded cabbage) prawns, scallops and asparagus in a mornay sauce, french bread and a non-alcohol cocktail to go with.

I really should have taken a picture of dessert. It was a gigantuan slice of salt caramel frosted moccha cake with chocolate syrup and o the side? A second piece of cake- raspberry and chocolate this time. It was served with strong black coffee for a reason!

The ladies who come to my Senior English class love this restaurant which always surprises me as it seems so far removed from their every day diet in terms of volume, cuisine and richness of the dishes.

I certainly couldn't eat there every day or even every week but I am certainly not complaining that we get to go here every year.


child labour

My boss is opening a third school.

It's in a fabulous location, we have the whole building and enquiries are already coming in. Yeah!

The building itself had been unused for a number of years and its previous incarnation was as a newspaper office and I guess it's not just an empty stereotype that journalists of old smoked a lot- everything in the place was stained yellow from tobacco smoke and just blergh.

Never fear, we have the two week Spring break to get everything ship shape.

'We' being a veritable army of staff and family. My boss's mum flew in from the US, his wife's whole family lends a hand at everything we do and turn up day after day after day. (I'm sure lots of bosses do the 'we are a family, you are a valued member of our family here' spiel to their employees but you know, when my boss does it it really does feel like it considering I know most of their family already, anyway!)

So anyway, it being Spring holiday I of course took Meg and Amy along with me. To their credit they are always happy to tag along to work with me. Might be my winning personality but could have something to do with the amazing variety of games we have at work, the tv and snacks and people-other-than-mummy to hang out with...

My boss's nephew was there with his grandma for the day as well. Meg and he have been at the same summer camp for the last two years but only meet each other about once or twice a year. That didn't make any difference though- they wasted no time catching up and loud and raucous laughing and chatting was erupting from the room they were in. I was down the corridor painting a toilet (well the room, not the actual toilet but...) and couldn't see what they were doing and was getting increasingly concerned that they were quite probably causing someone some measure of nuisance...

I extricated myself from my taped and be-laddered toilet (the room that is- I wasn't actually in the toilet...) and crept down the hallway to check what was going on...

Despite (or perhaps because of?) the mirth, the three kids were actually doing a really good job stripping paper from the old paper window screens. This is the perfect job for them as it is fun (you get to destroy stuff and rip paper and punch holes in the window screens) and also as it is a job no adult wants to do as it is so tedious ripping of endless itty bitty strips of paper.

I should have had more faith.

And who says you can't have that much fun while working, hey?


graduated in pictures from my phone

More to come when I download from K's camera but a sneak peak for mum and dad. :)


pretty in gel

My fabulous student K (not husband K, or co-farmer K, or Meg's friend K, student K this time) offered to make my nails pretty for Amy's graduation/ school entrance ceremony.

I really didn't have any confidence in this idea.

Not because I doubt her abilities- I've seen her work and she rocks!

No, my problem was that the natural state of my nails is broken, split, very short and not very pretty at all. Functional would be the nicest thing you could say about them really...

But- thanks to K and the miracle of gel nails (a thick layer of gel like polish that has doubled the strength of my nails and made them pretty) and the artistry of my student K, I am looking all snazzy for formal wear season.

And so seasonally appropriate too with cherry blossoms and pink glitter.

Unfortunately with the revolting never-ending winter we're having this year my nails are the only cherry blossoms around.

The pre-cherry plums aren't even blooming yet.

Oh well, every time I look at my nails I get a shot of Spring, anyway. :)

Thanks K!

(And that's after a week of nail destroying life)


massive lunch

This is what it looks like when 64 5yos, their mothers (and a couple of brave dads) a handful of younger siblings and the teachers all have lunch together in the gym:

It's an annual event for the 5yo class to celebrate their graduating.

Another celebration.

The last part of February and the entire month of March is one big string of special events for the kinder graduating class.

As someone who only went to kinder a couple of days of week and definitely didn't have a graduation ceremony let alone a whole graduation fiestathe whole thing seems a little over the top to me but Amy is having a ball and that's the main thing, right?

Serving their mums

Almost there...

Lunch is served- crumbed prawn, curry, Korean beanshoot vinegared salad, rice and barley tea. (Amy snaffled mummy's half orange and mummy forgot her placemat....)

Stop taking pictures and lets eat already, mummy!


downsizing plans

K and I are the masters of downsizing grand plans.

Probably our best effort yet was when we lived in Saitama and planned a night away in an onsen with baby Meg.

Then we started searching for somewhere easy to get to by car from gridlocked Saitama....

Then thinking of the packing necessary to travel with molly-coddled-first-child.

So we decided to make it a day trip.

But where could we go that wouldn't end up being more drive time than bathe time....

And after tossing around ideas and even considering the local public (non-onsen) bath down the road we ended up walking literally across the road and buying a box of bath salts and all squishing in our apartment's bath together.

So yeah, think big, act small around here!

And so it was that our 'let's take the girls skiing' day trip idea started grand.

We live in Nagano- surrounded by ski resorts- which one?

Hakuba? Beautiful, famous, a little far....

Norikura? Less facilities, close, very hairy road to get there...

Asahi Prime? Very un-famous, very close, not very exciting snow....

Meg wants to snowboard.

Amy doesn't want to ski or snowboard. She wants to sled.

K will ski but not snowboard.

I want to do something all together.

Meg doesn't want to be by herself.

Neither girl wants to go to ski school unless one of us goes too.

I'm pretty sure neither K nor I will get into the under 12 ski school...

Meg decides she would rather sled, too.

We are surrounded by snow and live in a mountain. It is crazy to drive all the way to a ski reort- to drive anywhere- to go sledding.

And so we walk to the top of the road and spend the morning sledding at the baseball ground there.

We even took a spade and made a jump:

And despite the rather extreme downsizing of our plans a fun time was had by all and we ate our lunch on the upturned sleds looking out over Matsumoto.

Maybe we'll try ski school again next year.....


kendama meijin

Kendama is a Japanese toy with a ball a string and a serious of cups and a spike that you have to land the ball on.

It sounds complicated.

It sounds easier than it is.

It is the winter challenge for the 5yo class at Amy's kinder. (Every year level has a winter challenge to keep them active when they can't play outside so much.)

meijin means a pro. A master. Someone who rocks at what they do.

And it's very un-japanese and pretty bad in English as well but I have to give Amy credit where it's due- she rocks at kendama.

She's our little kendama meijin:


'a children's story about political oppression'

That is the wikipedia summary of the play Amy's class performed at their end of kinder presentation day. It's an Italian story about a justice seeking onion called Cipollino. It sounds pretty complicated even just reading about it. When the play is presented with no less than six kids playing the main character in turn and multiple versions of every other character as well it was truly a mindboggling performance. From the puzzled looks on the faces of the mum's around me and the quizzical 'Is K-kun in jail now?' 'What is S-chan supposed to be?' 'Is Y-kun a good guy or a bad guy?' flying around I have the feeling that the story is not well known here either.

The kids did well with pretty long and complicated lines though and looked very cute in their paper mache vegetable themed hats. And we all ooohed and ahhhed and sniffed and said 'look how big they got... it seems like yesterday they were going off to their first day of kinder....' which was the purpose of the day after all so mission accomplished, hey?

Two onions discussing something very seriously. I am pretty sure this is two onions and not one onion played by two kids talking to itself. Can't be sure though....

A group of lemons and cherries arresting and manhandling an onion and a potato while a peach looks on. The fruit were the wealthy oppressors.

Amy and the other two narrators.

The kids in the front row are the other 5yo class. Their play didn't have the political overtone but it wasn't about to lose on adult themes and complete lack of fun and frivolity- it was about a group of animals escaping the slaughterhouse as they were all past peak farm production.

Seriously, I sometimes wonder about preschool education here...


It's happening....

I remember when we first got a computer when I was in Year 8. We all sat there looking at it as my computer teacher set it up for us (now that I think about it that was a bit dodgy having computer sales as a side job but anyway...) and my brother and I got the hang of it quickly while mum and dad looked nervously at it like it might explode and at us as though we might cause it to explode...

I always felt sorry for them being technologically handicapped by age and era and thought it would never happen to me- I'm of the technological generation, I'll always be up to the minute and a step ahead of my kids.

Well, guess I was wrong.

And she's only six!!!

Recently when I charge and sync (that means update mum) my ipod there are pictures to be downloaded from it.

Pictures like this:

And I'm not even sure how you take a screen shot on my ipod as it doesn't even have a camera.....

Or maybe I'm just a techno-ludite and it does and I just haven't realised yet....

I do know how to save the pictures Amy makes on it though and they're cute:


I made it myself

Meg is on school holidays and is enjoying making hew own lunch each day.

This is one example:

Instant potato soup, rice with an egg she collected from the chooks herself, two slices of ham, three slices of Korean seaweed, pickled plum and accompanying shiso leaves, cheese and teriyaki chicken. She washed it down with green tea and finished with a mandarin. It's not just choosing the ingredients but the arranging and styling and re-styling that is part of the fun and she is most pleased with her creations:

class brain dump

I really love teaching my adult classes as the women are all so interesting and the range and scope of out¥r conversation over an hour is really incredible sometimes. I finish class, turn around to the board behind me that I have been scribbling down words on as we go and seeing the whole class in one whiteboard I have to think to remember how we got from life expectancy to lamp shade and from latin name to essential oil...


Happy White Day

White day is a scam. Japan has divided Valentine's Day into two- women give to men Feb 14 and men return the gift March 14. K never remembers it is white day. At his old company all the admin staff (young women) would give the men chocolates on V Day and then I would buy return gifts for White Day.

At this company they are so casual/ apathetic they don't even have the ubiquitous drinking parties so needless to say there is no VDay/ White Day going on.

The girls and I made chocolates for K on VDay (ok, we melted down chocolate bars and added sprinkles and remoulded them into hearts and anpanman shapes but still) so when it got to White Day they were all very excited to see what daddy would make in return. I tried to soften the blow by suggesting daddy probably wouldn't make anything as much as buy something but who knows right?

K got home (after the girls were asleep) with....

"eh? Today? Today is White Day? Eh??"

Poor K. The only shop open was 7-11 so off he went to get something and of course they were sold out (I am guessing the majority of men around here would be doing the emergency 7-11 dash for White Day!) and he came home with huge single serve grape jelly cups. I have know idea how his brain works that that was remotely close to either chocolate, cookies (traditional gifts) or something white but the girls were thrilled to eat them for brekky and raved at how amazing daddy was to remember and know exactly their favourite kind of jelly.

Amazing, huh?

Truly Amazing.

Me? I had my own treat. My friend S and I went out for lunch and she had won a voucher for a free dessert. Thinking it was a cheap chain family restaurant and on top of that a freebie I was imagining a spoonful size dessert but when it arrived we both took pictures:

And then she shared what was a delectable dessert.

Happy White Day indeed!


getting ready

We're getting ready for Amy to start school.

We've bought the bag.

The school lunch uniform.

The red and white hat.

We have to go back for the PE uniform as they didn't have her size at orientation day. Nothing like that to make a kid feel gigantuan, huh?

Today we walked to school for a practice run.

All four of us. I remember doing this with Meg and she was sooo thrilled she wore her school bag the whole way there and back. Amy? No way! How embarrassing and really she'd rather not go at all and especially not with mum and dad!

But K and I were both blessed with the worry gene so even though they have been practicing walking around town at kinder for months we wanted to see with our own eyes that she knows about intersections and cars and public vs private property and all that stuff so we all walked down there together.

Amy is a great walker. She's been intermittently walking 2k or so to kinder since she was three. What we hadn't noticed was that she is great at 'going for a walk' but not exactly 'walking somewhere'. She kept stopping to look at cats and snow and flowers and pretty curtains and and and... It took no time at all before Meg was threatening to leave her behind.... K's and my biggest fear- after the one where they have a fight half way to school and one gets injured/ pushed onto the road/ down a roadside ditch/ into a rice paddy.... Ok, I worry a lot!

But we made it there in 57 minutes which isn't too bad for a first attempt.... (yes, K timed us.)

Back to getting ready, she has a desk and chair and while it was a close call on whether to get the neighbour's back hoe in to clear said desk she managed to sort through a million pictures and letters and assorted 'treasures' (that word really is subjective when it comes to kids, hey?) and we now have a space to do homework.

All this preparation is coming from those around her.

What about Amy? What's she doing to get ready? Well she's been through her skirt draw twice looking at everything and deciding what is school-worthy. This is a big deal as kinder has a no skirts rule so our little fashionista is most looking forward to being free to wear frills again come April.

And while she has always spent hours doing drawings and stories and letters and such there is now a definite educational bent to her doodles.

This was today's effort:

Bad picture (again) as I left my camera at work and am using my phone but at the top it says "It's Maths!" And then "Name Amy". The flower swirl thing is known as a "hanamaru" and is the highest in primary school praise. A check is a cross, one circle is good, two circles is very good and the hanamaru (flower circle) is excellent. Glad she thinks her work is ok, huh?

The writing is hard to read a a number of letters are back to front and the exclamation has gone Spanish and upside down but it says 'It's fun and interesting. How are you!? Doing it.' Then it's sums on the left and she has written the numbers from 1-7 in Japanese followed by 'lunch time'.

The countdown is on till the end of kinder and the start of school!


going, going.... back again!

This was the story of the igloo disappearing. Meg and Amy made an igloo December 29th and it has been there for two months. I have bee following it's melting with much glee anticipating the end of winter and start of Spring. I was keeping a daily record of it's demise:



Thursday.... almost there... tomorrow will be the end and the final picture and I can blog about SPRING!


What the???????? Friday.

7:00am Saturday morning. Wahhhhhhh!

I know it's beautiful and all but pleeeeeease! I want some Spring. I need some Spring!


remembering another Friday

3/11 will be Sunday this year.

But that 3/11 was a Friday and so it is today that I had real 'one year on' pangs.

I remembered and re-read my blog from one week on from that 3/11.

And I looked around at the same faces as a year ago. The woman who brought the little boy who was crawling is still bringing him but he's walking now. The woman who brought the little girl who was pre-verbal is now bringing a chatterbox.

We sat through class and had a great laugh as the conversation somehow ended up in the women's health clinic area of chat and then jumped to the nebulous world of online profile pictures and who has the least realistic one.

Just another English conversation class then.

And Meg walked there from school and got saturated as she was walking along with her umbrella upside down using it to catch snow rather than repel it.

And I went and taught another class and we discussed our end of academic year plans as we do every March and have since I started teaching there with Amy in a baby carrier on my back and two year old Meg attempting to destroy the classroom or injure herself or both...

And then we picked up Amy and came home and I started going through all the notices from school and one was the announcement of next year's neighbourhood kid's club leaders.

And one of the names there made me tear up and all my resolve not to cry today deserted me.

The girl student leader this year (we are a very unenlightened area and have a male and female leader each year with gender specific roles) is my neighbour's niece.

The one who evacuated from Fukushima and has been living with them since soon after the earthquake and will be living with them at least for the next four years until she finishes JHS.

When she first arrived there were people worried that she would transition to a new living situation, new prefecture, new school and everything else to boot.

And a year on she's head girl in the neighbourhood.

And that makes me happy and gives me hope and makes me proud of my neighbourhood all at the same time.


got wood?

Apologies for the lame title. :)

There are a number of places around here where the city dumps the wood from trees they cut down around the place. Anyone can go and get this wood. There's even a website you can check to see how much of what kind of wood is at each of the stockpile areas.

Most of the time there's a smallish pile of chopped limbs and small branches at the one nearest to town a it is picked over pretty quickly just because it's convenient.

Today S and I went for a walk and went past the woodpile.


It was like rush hour!

(very bad picture courtesy of not being able to see the screen on my phone as I took it.)

I counted 9 k-trucks with men piling them sky high with wood.

At 10:30 am on a week day.

I was so surprised I took a picture to show K (and suggest he join the rush!)

He said it's a bit of a problem at the moment.

There's a woodfire boom on at the moment and the local cable tv station keeps running programmes about how fabulous they are.

A secondary industry has now popped up- firewood sales.

And it's the men running these businesses who are clearing out the woodpiles quick as they are stocked.

The city gives the wood away and there is a caveat that it's for personal use only but K says the check is just a 'Is this for your use?' question and noone asks what your occupation is.

You are only allowed one k-truck of wood at a time but there's nothing to stop you unloading and coming back for more.

Honestly, we get most of our wood 'delivered'- the local apple farmers just drop it in the driveway and we have more than we can use so it doesn't affect us personally but I just think it's a bit disappointing that people are abusing the city's good nature like this.

I mean after free firewood greed what next? Incorrect rubbish sorting? Skiving off road cleaning duty?

It's a slippery slope I'm sure!


First work day of the season


After a revolting weekend and a Monday where I taught my students the word 'soggy' today was A fabulous day.

It was five degrees when we woke up- 5!!!

Positively balmy!

So I let the chooks out and told them it was the first day of the season. They looked as excited as I was but it could have been the slugs and worms rather than the work on their part.



OK, even I have to admit the photographic evidence is pretty lame but I took four wheelbarrow-loads of leaves out of there and pruned all the fruit trees and roses. Well, more lopped and chopped than pruned but same result, right?

Even though it's not the end of the cold weather and I'm steeling myself that there will most probably be more snow it felt good to get out and do something for the first time this season.

And the chooks had a ball, to boot!

Roll on Spring!


Happy birthday to me?

Sometime last Autumn one of the mums in my 2yo class asked me what my mail address was on my phone. She had taken a great picture of her son and I playing in class (that's a good thing in a 2yo class, really!) and wanted to send it to me.

I wrote my address on the board "heather227@..." and she asked me what it meant.

I explained that heather is my name (not always obvious as my name in Japanese is Hezaa and the pronunciation means some people think it's Fezaa/ Feather) and 227 is my birthday.

She sent me the picture and I forgot all about it.

Until last week.

When I was presented with this after class:

A beautiful bouquet of flowers, a card, a giant cookie, a milk caramel and a speech (in English!) about how much they all enjoy my class and how much they appreciate me.


It was so sweet.

Made my eyes all well up.

And I was really touched.

There was just one small problem.

They were a little off on my birthday.

About five months off actually....


Well, it's an Aussie thing....

You see 227 is my birthday.

In Australia where we write the date day/month/year so 227 is 22nd July.

Just unfortunately not in Japan where we write the date year/month/day so 227 is 27th February.

I felt so bad....

And keeping the mistake a secret wasn't even an option as one of the women's husband does Aikido with K and had him text K to find out how to spell my name and he blabbed my real birthday.

Oh well, after I explained that I hadn't misinformed them we all had a giggle at the misunderstanding and a snowy day in February where I have shovelled snow twice before 9:00am is the perfect time for a (very!) surprise birthday as far as I'm concerned!

the winter that was

January 21, 2012:

January 22, 2012

March 6, 2012

That's the igloo still struggling to survive there in the centre.

And you can't see it but the whole yard is soggy.

Slushy and soggy and waterlogged and freezing.

It has rained non-stop for two days.

I lie.

Sometimes it changed to sleet.

I didn't know what sleet was till I moved here.

It's kind of like someone upended a slushee machine through a sieve.


This happens every Spring. Just when I think I am so over snow I would do anything to have it all melt it does just that and I remember that I like pure white crisp and sparkly snow so, so, much more than early Spring slushy grey and dirty melting snow. And as it receded you see the dead leaves and matted/ half rotten plants that were previously hidden under all that really rather pretty snow...

Ahhh well. Soon enough the bulbs will be shooting and the ume will be budding and the rain will let the sun have a go and I will hopefully be over my winter funk but for now I'm all grumble grumble grump. :(

Children of the tsunami

This is a long video. Almost an hour long. But I think it's worth the time to see how the kids affected by the tsunami and radiation problem are dealing with it a year on. It was extra poignant for me as one of the schools where children were moved to is a school I know well. A school in the town next to the one I lived in. The town where I did karate and went shopping and used the community pool. Where the kids would yell out 'Hello!' and run away giggling. Where the biggest worry was naughty boys throwing stones and my karate sensei had an agreement with the Board of Education to take in said naughty boys and train them in self discipline and give them an acceptable out for their anger. And now kids in that town wear radiation sensors and talk about microsieverts and wonder if they'll ever go back to their homes.

It's almost a year since the tsunami and I really didn't think it would make me feel so sad. There has been so much focus on the rebuilding efforts and the community building efforts and the heartwarming stories of people helping each other and all that that I guess the focus had shifted from the destruction and despair to the glimmer of hope but now I feel like the anniversary is drawing everyone's focus back to the horror of 3/11 and the terrible footage of the tsunami's black wall of water racing inland as cars and bicycles and pedestrians try desperately to escape is being replayed and it's hard to feel hopeful and not just want to sit down and cry for all the lives that were lost and all the lives in limbo and all the people still suffering.

But there are inspiring people who are not letting it get them down and are making real efforts to make a tangible difference in the lives of those still struggling. The ins and outs and red tape of government assistance is beyond my understanding but not everyone is eligible and for those ineligible there really aren't many resources. The tiny village of Oura in Miyagi's fishing co-op were some of those unfortunate enough to miss out on funding but a fellow foreign wife here has set up a project to support them Support Oura Project and they are really making progress raising the money to replace the boat winch necessary to resume fishing there.

Anyway, if you have the time, watch the video.