Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas time is here by golly...

So, here we are, December 24th already! Santa Claus comes tonight! We've had a busy week and
obviously it just got busier as I am returning to this post having left it there for four days! Appologies to everyone - I wanted to wish you all a Merry Christmas at the right time but I got distracted. In my defense there really was a lot going on!
I enjoyed the lack of planning I was able to get away with for the month of December... I love teaching on a theme! They're totally into anything Christmas so it was an easy few weeks of Eikaiwa! I even started singing with the adult classes.
I was at a loss as to what to do for gifts this year, since we were here over Christmas. We talked a bit about it and decided that making some Christmas goodies was our best bet so I spent the better part of a week making and baking. We wound up with ten different cookies and treats and I found some good boxes and containers to pack them in so that they displayed nicely. Even packing them up was an ordeal though and it took the better part of one evening to get it all done. We have since found that people here have difficulty receiving gifts. We gave the baking away and within a day or two we got something back from many of the people we were giving to. We felt a little distressed about it since our trying to be nice seemed to put pressure on people to reciprocate - not what we were after at all!
Last week there was a ballet Christmas party at the Royal Hotel in Date. It was quite the big deal! It was a bit expensive (about $40 each) and the food was only so-so but there were games and entertainment and a gift exchange. The owner of the ballet school had a present for each of the dancers and there was a gift from her mother too! Joisan was asked to present flowers to one of the teachers which she did with grace (despite the teacher not being someone Joisan particularly likes!)
This week we had the Chugakko Christmas party which I managed to avoid having to help plan and organize! Naoko really got into it and had it all figured out so that I just had to show up and help decorate a bit. The kids used little pound cakes to make houses and they stuck the cookies and candies on with melted white chocolate. It worked really well.
Ian was lucky enough to get to play Santa for the preschool and kindergarten on Wednesday morning. There are some great photos that prove that despite his differing opinion he is actually a little skinny to pull it off properly. He had lots of fun and enjoyed answering all the questions they asked him.
Wednesday evening was the teachers Christmas party. We went to a new restaurant in Date and ate and drank our faces off! I took some photos of the food but in the interest of getting this actually posted today I will have to add them later. After we finished at the restaurant we went to the same bar as last time where we were privilaged to be treated very specially. The VP and I have made a promise that next time we'll go to karaoke afterwards. I think we were all just too exhausted this time!
Thursday was a national holiday - a day off for the Emperor's birthday. We cleaned and organized because it was the potluck Christmas dinner for the adult eikaiwa classes. We had a good turnout and some lovely food! It seems like there were a lot of things to do last week though and every time we got through one of them and I could check it off the list I felt a little weight lift from my shoulders. I gave out boxes of Christmas baking to everyone as they left the party - they seemed to really like it.
I had to work on Friday but the kids didn't have to go to school because of having gone to school last Saturday for the Warashibe festival. Ian took Joisan to Noboribetsu to the chiropractor and they did some last minute errands on the way home. I spent the afternoon making pies for Christmas dinner. We're getting better at making due with the ingredients we can get! We wrapped and organized all evening and somehow wound up staying up far too late as usual! Thankfully we have teenagers now and neither one of them was interested in getting up at the crack of dawn to dive into presents. It was a bit of a weird Christmas morning for us. I was first up and puttered around for a bit before the others started to wake up. Eventually we were functional enough to deal with breakfast before moving on to stockings and presents.
It was all fairly low-key and definately joy of giving was the highlight for all of us. Santa made sure that we had coffee (which we don't usually have here) and some Bailey's to go with it for that Christmas-morning feeling! Thank you Santa!
We lazed and played a bit before we had to get cracking on the preparations for dinner. We had invited about 20 people for a traditional Canadian Christmas dinner. Due to circumstances, only about 14 could be there but it was still a lot of pressure to get everything ready and able to be served hot.
I have never before dealt with a whole Christmas dinner by myself. At home it's usually more of a potluck thing where we all take a dish to be in charge of. This was a bit of a balancing act but with all of us contributing we managed to produce a wonderful dinner. Ian was really focused on making the hall a more intimate and welcoming space and his efforts really paid off! It was so pretty and the company was great. I'm not convinced that they were in love with the food but everyone stayed later than we thought they would, so clearly it was a success!
Sorry to be so long in getting this actually posted - hope you all had a marvellous holiday!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Booked!

Whew! It took many days of internet searching, much reading and conferring but we are finally booked and our travel dreams will come true!! My Mum arrives on December 30th and we'll have a few days of relaxing and showing her around here before we head to the Hawaii of Japan... Miyakojima. We have a full week there to explore and there won't be any snow!! I'm so excited! On January 11th we will fly to Tokyo and meet my sister. We have two nights in Tokyo and plans to watch a live Sumo Wrestling match while we're there. We found some cheap flights to get us around instead of the train so on the 13th we will fly to Kobe where we'll pick up a rental car and drive to Hiroshima. The only thing that I absolutly don't want to miss is the Peace Museum in Hiroshima so we're doing that right off. Then we'll drive back to Kyoto and turn in the car and stay there for four nights. Kyoto is the heart of cutural Japan and the main place to see original buildings that were not destroyed during the war. We found some inexpensive train/bus tickets so we'll be able to get around fairly well I think. On January 18th we will all fly back to Sapporo where we'll show Aurora and Mum around a bit more before sending them back to Canada on January 21st. I'm SO excited! We'll have lots of news and pictures to post in Januay for sure!
For now though, I'm still reaching to find anything to write about. Life just keeps on keeping on. Not much new or interesting. Last week was the AET Conference in Sapporo. It was in the same place as last year so I felt very much at home. Katherine (the JET AET from Date) came up on Wednesday evening and I drove us to Sapporo. Joisan ditched school for the two days and came with us as she wanted to explore and do some Christmas shopping. I did have to really think about it before I would agree to my 13 year old exploring downtown Sapporo by herself but in the end I realized that not only is it a very safe city (crime is very low here) but I was able to navigate the subways and find my way around last year when I had even less Japanese than I do now!
We had a great time - Joisan took herself to the JR tower and to another shopping centre where she was able to find a Subway for her lunch! I skipped the JET socializing and took the subway to meet her at the JR tower for dinner and some shopping. The next day I missed some of the afternoon session - which was really not applicable to me anyway - and met her for some more shopping. We did really well and finished up most of our Christmas shopping. There are some photos somewhere - I'll add them soon.
On the way back from Sapporo we stopped at Costco where I managed to spend almost $400. Wow! It goes fast! We are planning a Canadian Christmas dinner for the 25th and we'll probably have around 20 people for that. I was very surprised to find a turkey at Costco - last year we couldn't find one anywhere!
I've been going to Yosakoi (Japanese Folk Dancing) for about a month and a half now. Unfortunately, it seems that my back is suffering - despite much warming up and cooling down. There are many low, bending moves and lots of jumping. I've been careful about my knees - particularly since they dance on a concrete floor covered in carpet. There have been "twinges" over the last few days though that tell me that my dancing career is at an end! Too bad :(
I am completely wracked by guilt most of the time due to my lousy blogging lately. The computer situation at school has deteriorated again - I no longer have access to the internet on a regular or reliable basis. However, it is my New Years resolution to be posting at least once a week after we get back from our travels. I'll have lots of cool photos and stories to share then I'm sure.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hassles...

So, as the title indicates, there have been a few hassles of late - not the least of which was Joisan bugging me about not updating the blog regularly!! But as I told Joisan, there really hasn't been much of note happening.
We went to see Harry Potter two weekends ago. Anyone who has seen it should please skype with us soon - we are anxious to talk about it!

Until last weekend the weather was warm and balmy during the day and a bit chilly at night. On the weekend there was a bit of a wind storm and it blew in some serious arctic air! We had about ten centimetres of dry snow over two days, along with some serious cold. The roads were a bit treacherous for my drive to Date Chugakko on Tuesday but I made it safely. Thankfully, we are back to balmy sunshine during the day and the snow is retreating quickly!

Ian has been busy over the last couple of weeks, helping his friend Takaaki-san. He has been harvesting Nagaimo - a long potato-type vegetable and also helping with a structure Takaaki is building. They are working on the foundation for a pizza oven that Takaaki will build outside his back door. It's a bit weird and the poor planning and execution is driving Ian crazy but he still goes to help.

Last weekend, with the help of Takaaki-san we were able to order some discount lift tickets for the local ski-resort. We have been looking at the 2nd hand stores for ski and snowboard stuff so that we wouldn't have to rent them this year and we were able to find a great deal for some skis and boots for Joisan. Taran, with his skookum sized feet have been more of a challenge to fit in the land of tiny people. Today though, I think I may have found something!!! In desperation I went to the Hokkaido JET forums in case anyone had posted any equipment for sale and there it was!!! A posting only 3 days old!!! A snowboard with step-in bindings for sale - complete with size 30 (cm) boots!!! (Picture the following in slow motion...) I ran to the conference room where Taran was working and yanked the shoe off his foot... I frantically (in slow motion) searched for the size of said shoe... (suspenseful music here) a 30!!!! (Switch to hyper-speed) I raced back to the computer and frantically registered for the HAJET forum so that I could post a response saying that I would buy the set (for the equivalent of about $40 mind you!!) I haven't heard back about it yet but I'm feeling like it was meant to be!!! It's a good thing - I need something to go right just now.

We found out this week that the cheap train passes that we had been counting on for our January holiday with my mum and my sister are not available when we need them. (Never trust the internet - lesson learned!) Mum and I have been frantically working on alternatives to make all our travel dreams come true... details to be posted as they are determined.

Sorry for the lack of photos to break up the monotony of my ramblings. There hasn't been much to take photos of... I'll work on it for next time!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bad habits...

So, I've found that despite the stringent web filters, I can access Webkinz from the school and office computers. This of course has directly resulted in the blog not getting finished on time! I do have to be careful though since Webkinz has a distinct fun and games look about it - I don't want everyone to know I'm goofing off! Not that there is much else to do while sitting at the office or the Chugakko. I think we Canadian teachers are definately much too efficient in our planning and prepping. It astounds me how much time here is spent accomplishing NOTHING!
Last week was pretty low key for me but all the teachers were stressed out about the Pro-D happening here on Friday. I really like some of the ways they do Pro-D here. I know I said this last year when we all went to observe classes at Date Chugakko, but this year it was here at Otaki. All of the Junior High School teachers in the district came here last Friday to observe four classes. Usually there are more options available for observation but because Otaki is so small there were only two periods with two classes in each that could be observed. It seemed like there were endless meetings leading up to the big day. Joisan and Taran were asked to not come to school that day since the conference room where they spend most of their time was going to be used for meetings.
Having the day off, and not wanting to sit and do nothing all day, Ian took the kids to Lake Toya where they went for a very brief and very cold swim! They were rather excited about the whole thing when they came and picked me up on their way home. They've got big plans to do it again soon and aparantly I have to do it too! Oh joy!
Friday night I went out with the teachers to celebrate their successful Pro-D presentations. We went to a restaurant that I've been to before with the teachers. It had wonderful food. Part of the experience is always in the presentation of the food too - and it was beautiful! There are always several courses and lots of drinking. One course involved cooking your own meat and mushrooms on a super-heated rock that they brought in, and then dipping the meat in a special sauce... yum!
I offered to be a driver this time - particularly since I wasn't one of the ones who had worked so hard - but there were enough drivers already so I enjoyed being a drinker. The licensing in many of the restaurants is different here - you can bring in your own alcohol and they just serve you food. The drinks in most of the restaurants where they provide are typically limited to sake and beer so I was happy that we were able to bring our own - red wine for me please!
After the restaurant we went up the street to a bar. It was the ground level of someone's house that had been done up. It was a little funny to look around and imagine the space as someone's home bar - with a few more chairs! I had some of the best sake I've ever had while we were at the bar. I took a photo of the bottle in hopes that I can find it somewhere and buy some!
The principal and vice-principal were kind enough to pay the whole bar tab so I left with money in my pocket.
Saturday was the kindergarten school festival. It was much more fun for me this year because I know all the students now. They do some really cute things and I've gotten some good ideas for things to do back home. Ian took Joisan to dance and they were able to pick up the next of the Harry Potter movies so that we could get ourselves prepared to go see the new movie soon.
Sunday I did my swim (I've lost count of how many weeks now!) and the rest of the day was mostly lazy. Ian had made a bunch of pastry and cooked up some of the pumpkin from Halloween so I made four pumpkin pies. I wanted to give a couple of them away. On Monday I dropped one for the Hashimoto-sans on my way home from Date Chu. They have a farm near the Chugakko and they have gifted us with vegetables and deer meat on many occasions! They also donated several pumpkins to the Chugakko Halloween party this year. Ian also gave a pie to his friend Takaaki-san and I shared one with the adult English class. I don't really know if anyone else liked it but we really enjoyed the taste of home!
On Tuesday morning I woke up with a burst blood vessel in my left eye. It was fairly high up so it wasn't totally obvious but by Wednesday morning it had gotten worse and looked bloody awful! (small pun intended!) I had removed my contacts on Tuesday evening and it was looking so bad that I didn't dare put them back in. When the nurse at the Chugakko saw it she insisted (along with everyone else) that I needed to go get it looked at. Ian was going to be taking Joisan to dance anyway so I cancelled the Warashibe and went in with them. Ian and I had actually diagnosed it on the internet the night before and the eye doctor came up with the same diagnosis - subconjunctival bleeding. It sure looks gross - but actually it has definately improved since Wedensday!
Enough with the procrastinating... I'll post this right now and do another update asap. I'm really missing everyone right now!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Joisan on pointe!!!

This week was all about the ballet performance on Saturday. There were extra rehearsals almost every day so there was very little else happening for us. The parents were allowed to videotape the dress rehearsals but not the performance because there was a professional videographer who would be making and selling the official video (at a ridiculous price!!) I was totally prepared to not film the performance - despite the fact that we didn't have a proper dress with full make up. My camera failed me at the first dress rehearsal though so I got permission from the ballet teacher to film the second one - despite the fact that the film crew were already there. I was just in the middle of filming Joisan's dance when one of the other mothers came over and made me stop filming. I was really upset! At that point I was feeling so lonely and isolated from the whole show that I pretty much fell apart. I was able to hide the tears in the dark and get a grip on myself before the lights came up but when the teacher and the other mothers came over to talk to me about it I fell apart again and totally embarassed Joisan. It was so difficult to try and follow all their stupid little rules without even knowing what all of them were. Anyway, we were both feeling fairly low but we managed to push through.
After our bag lunch I did Joisan's make up and then I went to check out what the rest of the program looked like.
There were several choirs and a couple of school bands. The dance was the finale. By the time Ian and Taran arrived I had seen that many people were video taping the choirs and bands so I decided I would film the ballet. I was very subtle about it and I managed to get everything on tape. Trying to load it on here though has been a challenge - I don't know if it's just too big (even though it says it's not) or if the internet connection is just too slow. Anyway - here are a few photos and I'll have to continue to push Joisan into letting me post the video on YouTube!
After dropping us off in the morning, Ian went to Date to get some flowers for Joisan and Satoko (her duet partner). He did good! This is the amazingly beautiful bouquet that he got for Joisan - and the photos don't do it justice!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Snow!!! Halloween and stupid busy.

As promised, this week was nuts! Clearly, despite many attempts otherwise, we left all our planning and organizing much too late! Of course - that lead to an overwhelming feeling of crazyness and although I did start this on time - I was not able to finish it until now.
On Tuesday we got the snow that had been forcast. It seemed to have just started when I got up but it accumulated quickly and by the time I left for work it was a little scary! I was running late to get to Date but still took it slow because of the snow. I have to figure out what happens if the weather is too bad for driving on a Date day... I'm not excited about doing that drive this winter! The snow actually continued through Wednesday and by the time it quit for good it was up to my knees! Thankfully it is all but gone now and hopefully we won't see any more for several months (ha ha!)
On Wednesday I spoke to the English teachers in the area again. Personally, I thought it was a great talk - very interesting, a little entertaining, and informative too! I didn't feel very successful afterward though because all the feedback I got from the organizer was that I took too long! He hadn't told me there was a time limit and I thought I'd done well to keep it as short as I did! Grrr. I think I'll say no next time he asks me!
Seeing that it was the end of October, I kept all the lessons focused on Halloween. I played Halloween bingo, Halloween concentration and various other games to build vocabulary. We even made paper plate masks - totally fun!!!
While I was focused on making some truly fabulous cookies that looked like green witches fingers,
Ian and the kids decided that a haunted house was essential to this year's Halloween party. They planned and shopped and prepared diligently.
We determined that to be able to make it dark and scary enough we would need to do it in the garage. Consequently the car had to give up it's warm and frost-free resting place and the transformation began... In the end we had a gory, science lab gone awry theme going on with a display of a bloody cut up body, various creepy bits and pieces, a skeleton that swung down from the ceiling
and two dummies positioned to look scary. The second one was particularly scary as it involved a severed head and when you walked by it jumped up and tried to grab you... (it was Taran in disguise!) The whole thing finished off with a walk through a "graveyard" where the names of the families attending the party were written on the gravestones. We downloaded some spooky sound effects and of course there were cobwebs and spiders everywhere! It was pretty awesome!!! The Otaki cable TV came and filmed it and they promised me a copy of it on DVD. I'll be sure to post it as soon as I get it! The haunted house was really the highlight of Halloween for me.
I had four parties on Friday and it was more than a bit stressful! I started with the pumpkin carving party at the Chugakko during 6th period. Joisan and I beat it out of there as soon as the period ended so that we could make it to the kids party in Date that I was "helping" with. "Helping" is the new word for "running" or "doing" you know! I was really grateful that Joisan was willing to come and help as she was invaluable at the face painting station. There were far too many children there (about 30!) and the age gap was far too big (3 yr olds up to 12 year olds). I will recommend that they have two shorter parties next year instead of the big one. It was a bit chaotic but in the end everyone had a good time. I got out of cleaning up again because I had to boot it back to Otaki for the childrens party at the guest house. I was a bit frustrated with it because there were only six kids signed up for it (and most of them Jr. High kids) and we ended up with 14 kids! And only a few of them made any effort to dress up. I was really lucky that I had enough spare stuff to be able to give prizes to everyone. We played some fun games - including a "mummy wrap" but they really loved the haunted house - as did the adults at the next party. Unfortunately I couldn't run away from the clean up at the last two parties - since they were at our place. Although Ian has already done a lot of it, the rest is still waiting for me! It will feel good now to be able to pack everything up and put it away for someone else next year!
On Saturday I had to go to Noboribetsu for the district English recitation contest. Two of the girls entered were students that I coached at Date Chu so I wanted to be there to support them. Luckily there was no dance, so Joisan went with me and we made notes on all the contestants and tried to figure out who would win. Aparently our notes didn't match with those of the judges though since they totally messed up as far as we were concerned! One of the Date Chu girls did place third - although not the one who had done the best as far as we were concerned!
Anyway - I think it must be very difficult to judge these types of contests and I'm grateful that I won't have to be involved next year!
Taran had a bit of a cold this week and we are all out of Cold FX :( I did my best with some lemon/honey/ginger tea and he did catch up on some sleep on the weekend so it looks like we made it through without it this time!
When all was said and done, Joisan decided to carve the mini pumpkins...
Well, it's time to get this up - and almost time to get started on the next one!!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Phew! A Quiet Week!

Despite it being a quiet week I still didn't get this finished on time. I'm trying - really I am!
I was back to Date Chu this week after three weeks off. I started working with the two speach contest participants again as they prepare for the next level of competition. I'll be attending the contest next Saturday in Noboribetsu. I'm looking forward to making a day of it as we haven't been to Noboribetsu before.
Taran and Ian played soft tennis on Thursday evening - I didn't go so I can't say exactly what the differences are but it is played indoors and I believe it is a different ball. I think it's a weekly thing for the time being so it will give Ian and the kids something to do.
Joisan went through a few costume options this week. There were fitting issues with a couple of them since her duet partner is a bit larger and difficult to fit. Unfortunately, the second costume - the one Joisan loved - did not fit either of them so she had to trade it in for one that she's not fond of. We did have it long enough to take a photo of it though...


On Friday night Joisan and I went to Date to have a karaoke girls night. I made Joisan promise that she would sing at least one song - since I was paying for her to be there. It's a pretty neat setup. You pay a flat fee and you get a choice of food and as much as you can drink! I was driving so Joisan and I were both drinking juice and pop but they have some pretty great options here. Joisan's a big fan of the melon soda so she enjoyed that in various forms! She even managed to work up her courage and she sang several songs! She's got some big plans for if one of her friends comes for a visit.
Saturday was a bit busy between Joisan's dance and shopping and organizing for the busy week ahead. I have to speak on Wednesday for the district teachers meeting so I have that to plan, on top of four Halloween parties to plan for! Next week is going to be pretty busy!
On Sunday I went for my swim (seven weeks in a row...) and then after lunch we all went to the big mall in Tomokomai. Aside from all the other stuff it's always worth it to go just for the amazing takoyaki! I promise to take anyone who comes to visit!
So - that's our quiet week... next week is going to be much busier - I'll work on getting that one done on time!!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I Love Hakodate!

Here we are - on Friday morning - and I'm blogging!! I'm right on schedule!!! So, this week was fun! We had a fairly slow start to our holiday but eventually (by noon) we headed out for the 3+ hour drive to Hakodate. It is an old city with a lot of mixed architecture, owing to its history as the first "international" port city in Japan. There were a lot of Europeans who settled there and, compared to the other Japanese cities I've seen, it has a very unique look and feeling. The majority of the city is quite flat with the exception being Mt. Hakodate at the end of a peninsula in the instep of the "boot" of Hokkaido. The night view of Hakodate from the lookout on the mountain is touted as one of the three best night views in the world. Ian had actually been up there before, when he was here 25 years ago and I'd seen pictures of it but I was excited to see it with my own eyes. With the help of their iPods and the Kindles and one stop for a leg stretch along a breakwater, the kids survived the drive. After a quick stop at the tourist information centre we made our way to the guest house we had made reservations at. I was not expecting a great deal of the place since we were able to book it for two nights for less than the cost of one night at any other place we could find. Fortunately, we were pleasantly surprised. It's actually a "rider house" - kind of a hostel for motorcyclists.
The building is over 120 years old and very typically Japanese with its narrow, steep stairs and clutter, but it was clean and Chica, the owner, was very nice. I would reccomend it to anyone looking for budget accomodations in Hakodate. After we got settled and sorted out we headed out for some food. On the reccomendations of several people we wound up at a place called Hamburger Luckey Pierrot. Luckily for Joisan they had more than just hamburgers. Ian went for their "Mt. Hakodate Mega Burger" which came with a special card to say that you ate this burger!
Once we finished dinner we decided to pick up a few supplies for breakfast and then head to one of the local public baths. Taran had done the communal bath thing once before in Otaki after our family swim but Joisan has steadfastly avoided the experience. She has recently realized that she has only a few months left to experience all she can of Japan though so she is trying to put herself out there and have every experience she can. When reminded of this resolution she was able to steel up her nerve and come for a bath with me. She did really well and (I think) somewhat enjoyed the experience. When we are all scrubbed clean and shiny we went for a drive up the mountain to check out the view.
It really is quite impressive! The pictures don't do it justice. We had arranged to rent bicycles from Chica so the next morning Ian and Joisan and I got up early and went to the famous Hakodate Morning Market. It's quite something!
Streets and streets of endless shops filled with seafood that is so fresh that much of it is still alive! We wandered around in and out of shops looking at everything before we stumbled onto a place where you could "fish" for a squid and then they would clean it and cut it up for you to eat.
Joisan caught us our breakfast - which squirted water at us!
They cleaned it and cut it up as promised... but when we were given out plateful of fresh, raw squid it was still moving!!! Here's a little video of what happened when we dunked the tenticles into the soya sauce...
videothen we had to eat it!!! That was quite the experience let me tell you! And Joisan joined in!!! We biked back to the guest house to connect with Taran before we took off exploring on the bikes again. Unfortunately, the weather turned for a bit so we had to bail on the bikes by the late afternoon. Taran wasn't much interested in seeing anything so we left him to read his book and Ian and Joisan and I took the tram up the mountain and had dinner in the restaurant with the million dollar view! It was a pretty magical evening. We also were able to see the first concrete utility pole in Japan!! I kept saying it was something to write home about so... here's a picture!
Afterward we picked up Taran and headed for a different public bath house. (Two nights in a row!! Way to go Joisan!!!)
The next day, before we headed home we went to check out a famous fort shaped like a pentagram. It was lovely - but you could see how it would be particularly beautiful during the spring when all the cherry trees are blossoming! There was a booth set up in the middle of the park - just in front of an impressive looking building - where they would let you dress up in Japanese outfits and then the man would use your camera to take photos. Josian and I were really excited to do it and in the end he pulled Ian in and put a costume on him too! (Taran had already taken himself back to the car - party pooper!)
We went the long way through Date on our way home because Joisan needed to get her wrist xrayed. She had smashed it when we stopped at the breakwater to stretch out legs on the way to Hakodate and she had suffered the whole time because she didn't want to ruin the holiday by making us go to the hospital. They couldn't see her on Thursday evening so Ian took her back on Friday morning and (surprise surprise) she has ANOTHER small fracture. I swear that kid is made of bone china!
Friday morning we had some excitement as we learned of our new nephew / cousin! My brother and his wife had a baby boy on Thursday October 14th! "He who has yet to be named" was 8lbs 14oz and 22 inches long! I've seen a few photos and he looks very much like Taran did as a newborn. I feel really sad that we weren't able to be there to support Wyatt and Danielle and share in the welcoming of our baby. I really wish that Star Trek type transporter technology would just hurry up and get developed!
The students and staff of Otaki Chu Gakko were back from Canada on Tuesday night but their first day back to school was Friday. It was fun to hear all about their trip - I haven't seen very many photos yet but I'm sure I will eventually. From what I heard so far they had an amazing time (of course - who wouldn't enjoy going to Cowichan!!)
We have been invaded again by the kame mushi (stink bugs) and it seems really out of control. I managed to get one of my bosses to bring over a machine to try and exterminate them. Ian did a big clearing up and covering of everything and we spent Friday evening next door while the poison did it's thing. Unfortunately the effects were not very long lasting and we are again waging war. Ugh!
The weather this weekend was mostly wonderful! Saturday was the elementary school festival and I really enjoyed it - even more than last years! I rode my bike and stopped at one of the farms on my way home for some fresh veggies! This really is a cool place to live! Joisan's dance schedule is all mixed up as she prepares for a performance at the beginning of November. She is doing a duet... on pointe!!! I'm so excited!! I think she is a little excited about it but she's really looking forward to the possibility of coming home in time to participate in the Steps Ahead dance show this year. I hope it works out for her.
So, I did start this on Friday morning but it's now it's late on Sunday night and I'm desperately trying to get this done and get off to bed before this day officially ends!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Been here - done that!

Now that we've been here over a year we are beginning to experience events for the second time around. Over the last couple of weeks I have been thinking a lot about how I felt last year as we were taken around to the various harvest festivals and events.
On Saturday there was a matsuri (festival) at the rehabilitation centre in Kitayuzawa. It was the same festival that we went to last year when Joisan won the Hello Kitty towel in the Bingo and we tasted deer burgers and met Ato-san for the first time. Last year I remember feeling so overwhelmed and isolated by my inablility to communicate with anyone. Everything seemed so scary then! One year later and everything has changed...
This year Ian helped Ato-san at his booth making burgers and hot chocolate and yaki-soba. This year we all won something in the Bingo - some veggies, some stationary and a towel. It was fun to be part of it for the second time around. I enjoyed having friends who I could visit with there (my friend Natsumi had a booth selling her special organic baking) and I am enjoying having a knowledge and understanding that I didn't have last year.
On Sunday I went swimming (4th week in a row) and then we had a pretty lazy afternoon. Taran and Ian were supposed to go participate in an air-soft game but it was pretty rainy so it was called off. On Monday, while Joisan was at dance, Ian and I went for a long walk around the waterfront and breakwater in Date. It was a beautiful day and there were lots of people out fishing.
That's all for this update but I will be posting on Friday all about our little holiday to Hakodate!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

This'll do it!

Whew! This should finish the catch up and (hopefully) get me back on to a regular schedule... In the future I am planning to update once a week - probably on my Friday morning (Thursday evening in BC) but I will give myself until my Sunday evening before I feel wracked with guilt!
Around the end of September Ian and I remembered what we had forgotten to do while we were in Canada... renew our International Drivers Licenses. Of course by the time we remembered they had already expired and we were driving illegally :( (Shhh don't tell my sister the lawyer!) Through an accidental discovery while looking for information about where to go to renew the International License, I found that it was a good thing we didn't do it while we were in Canada. Japan will only honour the International License for one year. After that we are required to get our BC license changed to a Japanese license. Since our international licenses had already expired, we were in a bit of a panic to get it done. My boss, Omiya-san made the appointment and on Thursday the 30th we headed out at Oh-my-gawd-o-clock (aka 6am) to make it to the licensing office by 9. The good thing about travelling that early was that there was very little traffic so we made good time - but having given ourselves enough time to get there we were left with time to kill on the other end. There was a lot of "hurry up and wait" going on and when we were finally called back to the counter it was to be told that we could not get our licenses that day... One of the requirements for changing the existing license is that you have to have driven in Canada for a minimum of 3 months before coming to Japan. Unfortunately, Ian renewed his license when we were home at Christmas so his was clearly an issue. I had forgotten that I had renewed mine last summer just before we came to Japan so it turned out that mine was an issue too - when they added up all the days I spent in Canada after the license renewal I was three days short of the required 3 months!!! The Japanese being a rule following society, we drove away unlicensed. Ian was suitably cautious in his driving as we made the rounds from the chocolate factory (yum!) to the dance store (for new pointe shoes) to Costco and an international food store. We were pretty tired when we got home - and not a little discouraged.
The chocolate factory was pretty neat - it's not really old or anything (est 1994)but it had some cool displays and a garden with play houses and a fancy clock that does a show every hour.
We found a funny t-shirt at Costco... not in big enough sizes for Taran unfortunately but still fun!

With a little guidance from one of our neighbors back home (thank you Joanne!) I was able to get our drivers abstracts emailed to us to prove that we had, in fact, been driving for a collective 50 plus years. Armed with the paperwork, I had Omiya-san make another appointment for us for Tuesday - unfortunately at 9am again.

Our weekend was fairly low-key. I put together a couple of things to send back to my mum for her birthday and dropped them off with my friend Mayu who works at the city hall in Date. She is the official translator for pretty much everything and she was going to Cowichan with the delegation so she said she'd take stuff for me. If anyone sees any Japanese students in Duncan on Saturday - say hello! They are the kids from Otaki! They're actually in Cowichan now but their only free time when they can explore Duncan is Saturday.

On Tuesday we went back to Sapporo and got our Japanese drivers licenses! Yay! Afterward we (Ian and Joisan and I - Taran stayed home) went and explored a new outlet mall in Sapporo. The rest of the week has been fairly low-key. With all the students off to Canada it is very quiet at the Chugakko. I think the teachers who didn't go to Canada have all taken holidays. I'm going to take three days off next week and we're going to visit Hakkodate. It's supposed to have one of the three best night views in the world. I'm looking forward to doing a bit of exploring and it will give me something to write about next week!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

School Festival Week

Last year we arrived just after the Chu Gakko school festival so although we saw many photos we did not have a complete understanding or appreciation of the energy and effort that were involved in preparing for and producing the festival.
The school festival is clearly a much anticipated tradition and now that I have attended three of them I can say that there are clearly elements that must always be present...
The festival is actually a day (or in a large school 1 1/2 days) of performances by the students. There are songs, skits and a variety of presentations. The festival seems to be the focus of most of the fine art endeavors for the school year. It is always held on a weekend or holiday so that working parents can attend, and students and staff are given a day off in lieu.
Otaki currently has a vibrant drum program due to the skills and expertise of some of the current staff. As a result, there was a fantastic drum performance by all the students. Taran and Joisan looked really good and did their part very well.
There were two short plays (one that involved Taran in a box...),
several songs, some public speaking presentations, a couple of slideshows, a photo contest (in which Joisan won a prize!) and a band performance where Joisan played her flute.
The whole thing was organized and run by the students. Although it did not run as quickly as it could have - there was a lot of waiting around - it was a lot of fun and very well received. In the back of the gym there were displays of artwork, woodworking projects and writing samples.


Because the festival lasts all day, there was a lunch break. Everyone bought bento items from the concession and after we finished eating there were games in the library. Joisan was part of the group who organized the games and they were pretty fun - some great ideas to bring back to Canada for a fun fair or sports day!
The performances continued in the afternoon, with the people from the Warashibe (the handicapped adult care facility next door) joining in for a song or two! It was a very long day - particularly on top of the days and weeks of extra work leading up to it. But even still, the teachers went out afterworks to have a celebratory dinner. It was wonderful food (as usual!) and some of it even came with open flames on the plate!! Very impressive!

The Otaki school festival was held on the Autumnal Equinox - Thursday Sept. 23rd - (which is a day to remember and honour ones ancestors here in Japan) so the kids had the next day off. Unfortunately, I did not have the day off and after my office time and teaching at the kindergarten I went in to see the Date school festival. Joisan chose to come with me and she proved to be a very popular guest. She was a bit embarassed with all the attention she got as she was repeatedly told how pretty she is. It was a bit of a challenge to understand everything that was happening but it seems that each class (and there are sixteen classes at Date Chu) was given about five minutes to perform something - some were skits, some were dances - there was a drum performance too. Some of them were great and others were... not. We survived though and afterwards we went to have quick visit with my friend Mayu at the City Hall.
Saturday was the second day of the Date school festival but I opted out of most of it. I should have gone - that was the time for all the really good stuff - the band performed and there was a chorus contest - but I really wanted to go for my swim and spend some time together. Ian and the kids came with me for the swim - they played in the outside pool while I did my lengths. After the swim we took a quick drive out to Midori's farm and enjoyed some of her farm made soft ice cream. Then Joisan quickly got ready for dance and we headed into Date to catch the end of the festival. There was a beauty contest where the boys dressed up as girls, and a 1 minute improv contest. We were not able to stay for the closing ceremonies as Joisan had to get to dance. One thing I was really impressed with at the Date Chu festival was the banners that each class had made. They drew in pencil on white fabric and then painted them - very impressive!
The next day (Sunday) there was another school festival - this one in Tatsunan where I was teaching until I started at Date Chu. I only went for the opening ceremony and to see the grade one class perform their play in English. They did very well and it was great to see the students but there was another festival happening in Otaki so I had to high-tail it back to make my appearance at that! Ian and Joisan were helping Ato-san at his food booth. Ian is getting to be quite expert at making yakisoba on an outdoor grill!
Due to the festival on the weekend and an upcoming exam schedule I didn't have to go to Date Chu on Monday or Tuesday so I was able to spend both days at Otaki Chu helping with the preparations for their trip to Cowichan. I'll finish this up now and get the next update on asap...
Remember... if you see a crowd of Japanese kids in Cowichan next week please say hello and tell them you know us!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Getting there...

So there we were... Ian recovering from his visit with Imai-san and me still feeling a few of the after effects of the gallbladder attack... Luckily it was a quiet week. By the weekend we were all recovered and ready for some fun though. On Saturday morning Joisan went to a party for the track and field club and I went for a swim at the Meisuite. One of the things that the Dr. did say when he was examining me was that I need to lose some weight so I figured the best way to get started on that was to get some more exercise. The Meisuite has a shallow (1m) 25 metre pool and I swam for about 25 minutes the first time. I was well and truely worn out by the time I finished! Afterward, I went to the onsen all by myself! It's the first time I've gone without Hiro or one of the other teachers with me and it was a bit strange but very peaceful.
Joisan's ballet was early on Saturday - she's working on a piece for a performance in November. She's doing a duet on pointe! After dance we went to a jinja festival in Date. It was very reminiscent of the festival we went to in Sapporo last spring. We didn't stay long but we were able to see some performances and eat festival food!


On Sunday Ian and I got up early and attended a family wedding (congratulations Margaret and Ian!!!) via Skype. I think my brother has a photo of me (on the computer) sitting in a chair in the front row! It was really cool to be able to attend and be part of it - I LOVE SKYPE!!!! If you haven't got it yet (and you know who you are!!!) this is your friendly reminder to SIGN UP NOW!!! I was even able to take a few photos from the webcam! It was almost like I was really there... if only I'd been able to enjoy the delicious dinner along with everyone else that was there.
Sunday evening we had the Hayashi family for dinner. As is the norm here, they brought way too much stuff with them - particularly considering all that we had prepared! We made burritos (thanks to a trip to Costco!) and salad and Joisan made cookies for dessert. The Hayashi's are the family who took us to Otaru in July. We really enjoy hanging out with them. After dinner we taught them to play spoons!
Monday was a national holiday (respect for the Aged day) and we had a lazy lazy day. We stayed home and watched tv and slept. We thought about going out... but we let that thought pass and had a great time perfecting our remote clicking abilities!
I'll keep this update short as the next one is more complicated... the school festival week was very busy!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Gallbladders and Festivals...

So, the other thing I forgot to mention that happened in the first week was that Ian and I had a routine health check. It happens every year here and you can opt in or out of certain tests based on your age and when you last had them done. We both got screenings for lung and stomach cancer as well as a blood workup and had to give a stool sample. It was all okay except we had to drink barium for the stomach x-rays and that was yucky! I didn't feel well for days after that.
On Monday and Tuesday I started back to Date Chu. It was fun but draining. I think the jet lag was still bringing me down. I met with my travel agent on Monday night to start the ball rolling for a trip to one of the southern Japanese islands in January. My Mum is coming from Canada and we're all looking forward to a warm getaway!
Wednesday I was supposed to start at the Warashibe but I was feeling really gross so I ended up going home halfway through the day. It is only in retrospect that I know that it was my gallbladder again. It's been a year and a half since my last attack and it didn't even cross my mind when it was happening. I ended up missing a day and a half of work and I felt like I'd been hit by a truck for about a week. I did finally go to see a doctor a week after the attack started but for all the impressive tests and attention I had, it was clearly far too late to diagnose anything. I was again very impressed by the medical system here though - I presented at the clinic at 1:30 and by 4:30 we were on our way home, having had a CT, an ultrasound, some bloodwork and a thorough examination. Our insurance cards had not yet come so I had to pay for everything and then submit receipts for reimbursement. So... without insurance the whole visit, complete with all test was about $200. I'll get back all but 20% of that because of the insurance I have. This is an interesting medical system and I'm particularly impressed by how quickly I had all the tests I needed!
There is a constant stream of festivals in September - and from what I recall of last year they will go right into September! They are all very similar - some entertainment, a bingo game, some festival food and lots of fun.
There was one in Yutoku where I won a pottery plate in the bingo, and one in Honcho where I won a box of shitake mushrooms and Taran won a stuffy and a garbage can. Ian helped with the Honcho festival by cooking yakisoba. The kids wound up wearing a headband with a light up bow on it all through the festival. I bought one too - even Ato-san got into the bow thing!

There was also the Jinja part of the festval where Taran and Joisan wore happy coats and marched around Honcho with a small shrine. There were pamphlets passed out and many people came out of their homes and put coin offerings into a collection box.



Afterwards we gathered by the Jinja where there was a raffle for rice and other prizes. Ian and Joisan both won rice and Taran and I won a can of pop. Taran and Joisan and Ian participated in the Sumo wrestling and won some instant noodles for their efforts! That afternoon Ian was requested by Imai-san to join him and a few others in the traditional drinking part of the celebration. The end result being... you guessed it! A very inebriated Ian!
Whew! That only leaves two more weeks to catch up on... as long as I keep this momentum going you should be caught up by the end of this week!