Sunday, December 23, 2012

Did you know?


Why didn't anyone tell me this sooner? This rates almost as high as "it is not entirely your fault that you will be in a bad mood before your period" as things I should have been told sooner (like sometime during the 20th century).

 I thought it was really bad genes and poor eating/ exercise habits that kept me from finding pants that fit. Well, maybe that's part of what's going on, but I love not being held responsible way too much to acknowledge this :) It's not my genes' fault, it's my jeans' fault!

So for starters, I'd bought a jacket that looked good on a fashion blogger I liked for about 8000 yen (never mind that said blogger is about 1 cm taller but 6 dress sizes smaller than I am). I knew the sleeves were way too long, so I spent a couple hours shortening them. Then, I decided the shoulders looked wrong, so I took my trusty 100 yen-shop seam ripper and took out a few stitches in the lining and removed the shoulder pads. Then I hand-stitched the hole in the lining closed. The jacket fits much more nicely around the shoulders now, to say nothing of the sleeves looking right post alteration.

In a delusion of grandeur, I bought a sewing machine. So far I have only used it to hem the Pumpkin Princess's new curtains, but when I get the hang of things, I would like to use it for DIY alterations. Because it's not my fault my clothes don't fit! And I need to justify spending the money on a new sewing machine (when I could have just winged it with my mom's machine)!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

It's this easy??

Konnani kantan nano?? The Pumpkin Daddy has found a new job. He starts on January 7th. I am an evil spouse because a part of me wishes he had been unemployed longer, because I liked how he was getting stuff around the house done (like taking down our green curtain and sweeping the genkan and working on the Pumpkin Princess's bedroom). Everyone is talking about how we're in a chronic recession and how the 99% is suffering and (cut for brevity because, seriously, do you want me to go on for another 2000 words?) I was bracing myself for being the sole breadwinner for an extended period of time. The man was unemployed for 77 days. That's shorter than the paternity leave he took when the Pumpkin Prince was born! Granted, he is a very responsible, dependable, hardworking, and charismatic. If you were hiring, you would want to hire him too. If you were hiring. In this economy. It all seems too good to be true. I've seen his workplace-to-be. It's a good-sized factory that I pass by on my daily commute. Yes, for the first time ever, his work is now closer to mine. Say, do you think he'd take over day care drop off duty once or twice a week?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A little disappointed, a little relieved

Chotto gakkari, chotto anshin

For a while there, I thought someone was going to pay me to go to Thailand. For a while. Sour grapes make me say that I would have hated the mosquitos.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Santa Claus is coming to town

Santa ga machi ni yatte kuru The Pumpkin Prince and Princess trimming the tree
Lego Santas
November whizzed by with not so much as a single post.

Snail's Pace English School has finished all 26 letters of the alphabet! Now for vowel combinations (like "seal" and "coat").

I didn't say anything about this until now, but the Pumpkin Daddy is currently unemployed. His work announced they would cut jobs and people who raised their hands would get retirement benefits and full career counseling. We discussed what might happen if he stayed (potential transfer to Fukushima or, perhaps, China, and increased workload) and decided that for the Pumpkin Clan, taking what he could get and leaving was the best option. He's thrown himself into running (right now, he's at 10 km about four times a week) and doing stuff around the house (like re-organizing the closets and cleaning the kitchen sink) but not cooking (boo hoo). Seriously, the Pumpkin Clan could live like this forever (if the Pumpkin Daddy were o.k. with it). The Pumpkin Princess loves coming home to Daddy (as opposed to making the 15-minute walk to after-school child care), the house is clean, and I make enough money us to live comfortably (sans overnight trips to Disneyland or Guam, but um, I think we'll live). The career consultation companies have scored him several job interviews, and most have ended on a positive note, so we're still waiting, but I think things will be quite all right whatever happens as long as the Pumpkin Daddy is happy and healthy.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

If you don't give me candy, I'll play a trick on you!

Okashi wo kurenai to itazura suru yo!

(updated in response to a request for pictures)

Some English conversation schools for kids have full-on Halloween parties, large affairs with the participants in elaborate costumes. Me, I run a fake English school in which half the student population of two shares a good deal of DNA sequence with me. So it seemed fitting to have a half-assed Halloween party (but not until we went through the 18 alphabet flashcards and 30 vocabulary flashcards first). I bought some individually wrapped candy and cookies at the local supermarket, and witches' hats and Halloween decorations at the 100 yen store.

Then the Pumpkin Mommy, Daddy, Princess, Prince, and the neighbor girl took turns being the trick-or-treaters and the neighbor.
The Pumpkin Daddy was assigned the role of the neighbor who didn't celebrate Halloween, and got TP'd. When planning this "party," I'd considered having them TP the house for about 0.02 seconds before deciding against it. I mean, how are you supposed to explain the concept of TPing to a neighborhood of Japanese folks in their 60's and 70's?
When the Pumpkin Princess and the neighbor girl started turning Daddy into a Mummy, the Pumpkin Prince started crying "don't hurt Daddy!" so we had to stop.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

I want a Power Rangers Samurai lunch!

Boku, Shinkenjaa bentou ga ii!

Ask and you shall receive...

Rice flavored with ketchup (Red Samurai Ranger) or curry powder, salt and sugar (Gold Samurai Ranger) and decorated with sliced cheese (the kind that's wrapped in plastic that you have to remember to take off when making grilled cheese sandwiches) and nori. I used a craft knife that I bought at the 100 yen-shop to cut the nori this time. The empty spaces were filled with leftover chicken nuggets, leftover broccoli, baby tomatoes, and frozen chicken patties. It's interesting that the Pumpkin Prince asked for this lunch because "Shinkenger" was something like three seasons ago and he probably has no memory of watching the show. But he does like to check YouTube videos on my iPad, and apparently there are a lot of Shinkenger clips because "Power Rangers Samurai" ("Shinkenger" action sequences spliced into original material filmed with English speaking actors) is being aired in the US right now. What I want to know is if they're going with the original Shinkenger ending because Power Rangers Samurai has gone far away from the original story to make that kind of hard to do.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Summer has past...

Natsu ha sugi... So we survived the first summer vacation with a shogakusei (elementary school student) with only minor trauma. Gakudoh (after school day care) was open every weekday, and they had a system where a local company took orders for boxed lunches. The Pumpkin Princess said she wanted me to make her lunch every so often, and I think I ended up sending her with lunch something like 6 or seven times, but I only took one picture.
Cousins came to visit Grandma, so we met them there. Brother-in-law brought his nagashi-somen kit.
As the name implies, what you're supposed to do is run water and somen over the bamboo and catch the some as it comes in front of you, and we did this, but then things got wild and b-i-l stared letting candy through it, and then...
grape juice.

Snail's Pace English School is still open for class. I think we're about halfway through the alphabet. It's too soon to tell if we're going anywhere at this, well, snail's pace.

Monday, July 30, 2012

We harvested.

Shuukaku shimashita.

The watermelon was tiny, and there was only one that was fully ripe, but the fact remains that we grew a watermelon in a container outside our dining area, and that it was just as sweet and juicy as any watermelon we have bought at the local supermarket.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

This (is what we're doing) this year!

Kotoshi ha kore!
Does anyone remember last year's green curtain? And how were were up to our necks in goya (bitter gourds) that the kids didn't like?

I have learned from experience, and this year I went with something that the kids would eat.

That's right, I have watermelon vines growing in containers outside my dining area. They're small, and I'm probably only going to get four or five watermelons from two very large containers, but the cool factor of having watermelons growing in my yard is pretty much off the charts humongous. 

In other news...Snail's Pace English School now has a new student. Our neighbor's 9 year-old, whom the Pumpkin Princess idolizes, has joined in classes. I was having (somewhat expected) problems with getting the Pumpkin Princess to say stuff and carry conversations with me, so I recruited the 9 year-old. I've done one lesson without and two lessons with the new girl, and the difference was...well, me trying to force the Pumpkin Princess to do something she doesn't want to do, and a functional children's English class.

So there are now 4 students (the Pumpkin Princess, the new girl, the Pumpkin Prince, and the Pumpkin Daddy), which is pretty good for doing group stuff like games and practicing talking to each other. We'll see how it goes. Right now, my concern is that there might be two weeks in a row without classes because of my work and family stuff. I'm trying to think of a way to make up at least the second missed lesson without driving everyone crazy...

Monday, July 2, 2012

Can you read it?


A Japanese first grader can write a letter by the end of May. Considering this is 2 months into  her first school year, this is an interesting situation. I don't think this holds true for American first graders.

The Japanese phonetic alphabet (hiragana or katakana) is a "what you see is what you get" alphabet. You read the name of the letter, and that's how that letter is pronounced (I understand Korean and Nepali are also like this). Not so in English. The name of the letter and its pronunciation are two different entities.

When I was in first grade, I remember my teacher, Mrs. Carter, doing phonics flashcards with us. The first graders would happily shout "ah! aaaaaay!" "ih! aaaaai!" "yuh! ih! aaaaaai!" as she flashed cards labeled "A," "I," or "Y."

Then we moved, and we went to a different school in a different state. This school did not do much by way of phonics. The kids were taught to read by recognizing short words.

I have started to try to teach the Pumpkin Princess English. I found a text I thought I liked, and I got the textbook and workbook and teacher's book, but it didn't make sense to me until last night, when I figured out that the Pumpkin Princess


Apparently this is how they currently teach reading to children in the UK and Australia these days. It's called synthetic phonics, and when you stop and think about it, it makes perfect sense, and it's probably easier (if time consuming) to both children and teachers.

So I have the textbook, workbook, and the teacher's book.

But I am too cheap to pay 7000 yen for the set of flashcards.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Too much stuff!

Mono ga oosugi!
Every day, the Pumpkin Princess takes these things to school.

textbooks (subjects for the day must be checked and appropriate schoolbooks taken)
notebooks (see above)
pencil case (with pencils, red colored pencil, eraser, ruler, and black marker)
homework (something every day)
reading card (must read passages from Japanese textbook, signed off by parent)
napkin/ place mat
lunch bag (drawstring bag containing above chopsticks and napkin)
pocket kleenex

Every Friday, the Pumpkin Princess brings home stuff that needs laundering/ tweaking/ checking. Off the top of my head:

P.E. uniform (T-shirt, shorts and cap)
P.E. uniform bag (drawstring bag)
school shoes (white canvas slip-ons that she wears inside the school building)
school shoe bag (drawstring bag)
drinking cup (for brushing teeth)
lunch duty uniform (white coat and white hair cover cap. The kids have lunch duty every other week for the whole week. They fetch the buckets of school lunch, serve each other, and clean up)

The thing is, the Pumpkin Princess walks to and from school. And she is six. So on Fridays, she's carrying all this stuff home by herself. And all this probably weighs as much as she does. Doesn't this affect their skeletal growth or something?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

April is the time when school starts. The Pumpkin Princess started school, but before that, she finished day care. The last day she was allowed in day care was March 31st. The first day of school was April 9th. This meant that there was a whole week without day care. So I sent her to gakudo for 2 days, and she spent the other 3 days at the Pumpkin Granny's.

Gakudo is after-school child care. The kids spend the time between the end of school and the time their parents come to pick them up in a supervised environment where they do homework and read books and play outside. On non-public school holidays (like spring vacation), they can spend the whole day there, but unless the gakudo has a special permit to prepare food, they have to bring their own lunch. Some gakudo have a contract with an outside catering service for box lunches, but I was too late to sign the Pumpkin Princes up for it.

So this is what happened.

Characters from the "Tamagocci" anime. The character on the left has ears of rolled salami skewered in place by pieces of fried spaghetti (safer than toothpicks).

Pokemon bento. The cutout of Pikachu was sold in packs in the local supermarket. I put it on a slice of cheese on top of a microwaveable frozen hamburger steak. The Pokemon ball is cutouts of salami, cheese and nori laid on a ball of plain white rice (and held in place with small drops of mayonnaise).

That was just two days in a single week. Come summer vacation, if I don't remember to sign her up for the catering box lunches, I am going to have to do this every day. Which, um, no. This is fun, but quite time consuming. Once every so often (to give me something to blog) is enough.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mid-way assessment

Chuukan hyouka

So I made New Year's resolutions. Resolutions are made to be broken, right?

1. My desk is still messy.

2. I have not written anything on it. I did three new presentations this year so far, but that doesn't really count as writing as far as work is concerned. I did a lot of proofreading on a different "public space" desk, though.

3. I have not reassessed my career plan. I do know that I probably can't stay where I am for more than a few years, so this is definitely something I need to do.

4. I am still getting up at 5:30 every morning. The time between when I finish brushing my teeth and the Pumpkin Princess comes downstairs (something like half an hour) is the only time I have to myself at home. It has been put to good use. Things like sewing, decluttering, making the occasional boxed lunch, and prepping presentations (see #2) have been done during this time frame. I should probably post pictures of the lunches I made for the Pumpkin Princess earlier this month.

5. I think I am doing less late night junk food than last year, but not so much because I have made an effort to do so as much as it just kind of working out that way.

So I think I will clean my desk a little tomorrow. If I feel like it. If.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Shourai no yume ha nani?

I have the job I wanted when I was 14. But I kind of have other jobs that I wanted as a kid too. Except for one.

When I was 12, I wanted to be a writer. I blog, so that's writing. I also write and edit stuff for work. I am the person they come to when they need to write a letter in English that says "you are being an @$$" without actually saying "you are being an @$$."

When I was 13, I wanted to be an actress. I present sometimes, for research and also at training seminars. The training seminars in particular involve pretending to be more confident and knowledgable than I actually am. If that's not acting, I don't know what is...The drawback to this one is that I usually have to write my own material.

When I was 15, I wanted to be a diplomat. I am currently the designated international relations person for my department. When a group of Indonesian students wants to do a tour of the department, I am the one who makes sure everyone is ready for them. When a Nepalese woman wants to come work with us as a research fellowship type deal, I figure out which paperwork she needs to send where.

The job I don't have that I used to want? When I was six, I wanted to be a flight attendant. I am so glad I am nowhere near having that job. Those people earn every cent they get.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Well prepared

Junbi ga ii

What do people who celebrate Christmas with a live tree do with the tree? Do they chop it up and leave it out for the trash? Use it for firewood?

In Japan, there is a designated method of disposal for New Year decorations. They are burnt in a traditional bonfire. The ceremony is called "dondoyaki" or "dondonyaki"  in Pumpkin Prefecture (other names in other areas include but are not limited to "tondoyaki" "dontoyaki" and "sagicho" but they all involve burning New Year decorations) and it usually takes place on January 15th or thereabouts (adjusted these days so that it falls on a weekend and everyone can take part). 

The week before, local kids will come knocking at your door to collect your New Year decorations and two-eyed daruma dolls. Their loot will be placed in a great tower, with straw mats and firewood added for form and flammability.

Our local dondoyaki took place in the park the Pumpkin Prince and Princess frequent. The fire department stands by, just in case. 

This is my neighbor. She came prepared with dried squid skewered on twigs. When the bonfire settles, she'll roast the squid to eat. Others came with mochi (rice cakes) on sticks, and sweet potatoes in tin foil.

Here they are, getting ready to light the fire. Not all the darumas have actually earned their second eye. Many (o.k., nearly all) were bought and given two eyes just for today.

Ready, set!

Just gonna stand there and watch me burn....

It only took a minute or so for the blaze to reach full force. To be honest, until this moment, I thought the Fire Department was kind of overkill. Now, I am glad they were there.

After the blaze settled down, everyone who came prepared roasted their squid and mochi. Eating food cooked by the dondoyaki flames is supposed to bless the person with good health throughout the year.

Monday, January 9, 2012

I am glad you are around.

Anata ga ite yokatta

I think I caught a watered down version of the flu. I was achy, I had a fever, I felt like I'd been run over by a car. But it only lasted a day and a half. I think it was the flu, but I'm not sure. I didn't get that test where they stick a piece of paper up a nostril and see if it changes color. I didn't even go to a clinic or hospital. I got vaccinated last fall, so it was probably watered down by that, if it was the flu. Which I think it was. But I am not an internist, nor do I play one on TV.

But that's not the point. The point is that I felt awful for a day and a half, and I was completely useless. And during that day and a half, the Pumpkin Daddy bought me ice cream and udon, and kept the kids fed and played with them and did the laundry and vacuuming.  And when I felt better and told him thank you for everything, he totally blew me off. And he's tall. And looks good in random articles from Eddie Bauer.

And he always does the laundry. And the vacuuming.

And I am so lucky to have him. All the time. But more than usual this weekend.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

New Year decorations

oshougatsu kazari

We had a Christmas tree (since we don't have a fireplace, we needed to make a place for Santa to put the presents) but we put it away. The only holiday decorations in the house right now are these.

The small ones on either side are what the Pumpkin Daddy brought home from his holiday party at work. The large one in the middle is an arrangement my mother made from orchids she got from her neighbor and some things in the garden. The pine (matsu) are symbols of longevity. The clustered red berries are called manryo and which mean "ten thousand ryo," ryo being a large unit of currency in pre-Meiji restoration Japan, and the red berries surrounded by leaves are senryo, or "thousand ryo." The obvious reference to prosperity in their names makes them popular as New Year's decorations.

My mother insisted on bringing them on the 30th of December, as opposed to the 29th or the 31st, because 

1) The 29th has a 9, or "ku" in it. "Ku" means suffering, making the 29th unlucky.

2) Bringing them on the 31st would mean they would only be there for a single day before New Year's Day, making them unlucky.

Japanese superstitions are based on puns. We're punny like that.

Sorry, couldn't resist.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

Shin-nen no houfu

1. Clean desk at work

My 8th grade English teacher used to have this sign that said "a clean desk is a sign of a sick mind." Which may be true, but a cluttered desk devoid of flat surfaces is not very productive. Which leads us to...

2. Write something on it.

Obviously, I don't mean write something like "I heart Alex O'Loughlin." I would like to write something technical that would help others with their work, and I can put on my CV, because...

3. Reassess career plan.

I am on the career track I wanted for myself right after graduation, before I understood the Dark Side of this job. Right now, staying with the Dark Side is the lesser evil available to me. I'd like to see if there is something less sinister I can realistically attain. If not, I'll stick to the Dark Side as long as they will have me. It's not like we're sucking the blood out of babies (though we hang with people that do...kidding, but not 100%...)

4. Continue to get up early every morning.

About a year ago, my BFF mentioned she got up at 5:30 every morning to run. So I tried it. While I am not a runner, getting up early gives me time to do a short Pilates workout, or do little things around the house, or, (gasp!) research work stuff. It takes effort, though. I have to fight and conquer the desire to stay in bed (otherwise I just play alarm clock tag for an hour), remember to have all my clothes laid out the night before (otherwise I just stand in the closet in a kind of daze for an hour), and stay away from the computer (I get sucked in by e-mail and Facebook checking) to get anything out of it. But worth the effort.

5. Limit late night lapses into junk food to once a week.

This is a carry over from last year. It has become a habit, probably like the way others smoke.

I can think of so many other things, but these five are probably what is realistic for the time being.