Thursday, 19 December 2013

Christmas Partied Out

A photo from the Munich Christmas Market by DH. This is what I wish I was doing this year!
Well it's only the 18th of December, but I think we are all partied out! In the last 6 days we have had 5 Christmas parties to attend. Leading up to it, I was pretty excited about it all. Now I am so happy to have it all behind me. For Amelia, the Christmas Party seems to have become a kind of norm and she seems to be expecting to go to another one tomorrow... We are so worn out from it all that Amelia has a cold, and I actually fell asleep on the floor in the playroom this morning for a few minutes, when I was lying there because I was just so tired! But I have to say that 3 minutes or so did me a world of good!
Thankfully we don't have any more commitments until our own family Christmas celebration which we will be having on the 23rd of December this year as that is a national holiday (for the Emperor's birthday),  and the 24th and 25th are just regular work days here.

Newspaper swimming pool was a big hit at one of our many Christmas parties.
Every year I say I am never spending another Christmas in Japan, and then every year I do. Just like your own birthday, Christmas is as special as you make it. We will be using our celebration day to spend time together as a family and enjoy a nice dinner cooked by me....

Which brings me to the next problem. What to cook for Christmas dinner that is doable in Japan, ingredients and oven size/capability wise. My friends have suggested all kinds of things, but really all our oven can manage is a very small chicken, but then I would have to run it for 2 hours which would probably cause our oven to explode. Anyway, we will probably go with baked chicken legs or something small and easy to manage.

Last night I attempted the great Kiwi (New Zealand) Christmas dessert: Pavlova - a giant meringue that is a cake which is crunchy on the outside and fluffy like soft marshmallow on the inside.
I used my sister's recipe. It turned out quite well for a first attempt with not quite the right ingredients. I thought it would take hours to make, but it was just 10 minutes prep and then 30 minutes cooking and another 30 minutes to cool in the oven.
Sorry, another photography disaster but you get the idea.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Christmas is on its way!

December is here, FINALLY. In Japan, as soon as October 31st is over, the Halloween decorations get put away and out come the Christmas ones. I've been listening to carols for weeks! 

In my house, our (my?) rule is that we have to wait for December. So since the 1st of December was a Sunday, what better way to spend the day than getting out our Christmas tree and putting up the decorations. 
Amelia is 2.5 now. This is her first Christmas where she really knows what's going on. She is very knowledgeable about it all, thanks to lots of Christmas books we have. 
Yesterday we were putting up the tree and she was talking about the star. We don't have a nice big star to put on top of the tree, but we need one now! Amelia has seen it in her book, Merry Christmas Mom and Dad

So today our project was to make one. I made this one: It's a 3D paper snowflake but looks a bit like a star when you put it on top of the tree

Friday, 29 November 2013

Fukushima Now?

*The following post is my own thoughts and opinions, I am not a nuclear physicist - far from it!

I don't like to blog too much about the Fukushima Dai Ichi Power Station. It is depressing, to put it mildly. I have had some readers asking me about the safety of the area now so I thought it about time to rise to the challenge.

The other day my husband showed me a website which actually cheered me up a bit. Safecast Radiation Maps show you data about radiation that has been collected by volunteers. I wondered how accurate the information was so I looked up my own house. It shows that a someone measured the road in front of my house a few months ago as being 0.18 millisieverts per hour (mSv/h). That is 0.1 more than before the accident and fairly similar to what my own hand held geiger counter says. My house is on a big hill. That was something I was so thankful for when the tsunami occurred in 2011. But we do have slightly more radiation here than down in town.

What was also interesting was that on this map, it shows Munich, where DH goes on business sometimes has readings from between 0.08 to 0.18 that were taken a year ago. Then I went and had a look at the USA. Denver had some readings of 0.2 supposedly caused by it's elevation, other places have naturally occurring uranium in the ground that causes higher levels too.

My own country, New Zealand does not have any results on the map, but I have to wonder what fallout there was from the Pacific nuclear tests and the back ground radiation there. Whilst searching I found this old article from 2010 which said: "Levels of radioactive fallout from atmospheric nuclear weapons tests have been falling since 1965, and were now lower than the levels from air travel". Well I should certainly hope they are! Especially since those tests were back in 1965!

Anyway. What I am trying to say is that it's interesting to see that radiation is all around us. In NZ there is a gaping hole in the ozone letting in more UV rays than other parts of the world. Going on an overseas holiday exposes you to far more than being here in my city in Fukushima. Is it safe here now? Well Prime Minister Abe told the IOC and the whole world on TV that it's under control up there. Basically we all need to keep our fingers crossed and try not it to let it get to you. Right now we have a lot of people in Fukushima battling depression and addictions to alcohol and gambling after being displaced from their homes and communities.
So as we say here Gambappe Fukushima: Keep at it Fukushima.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Tottori Sand Dunes Illumination

We have just come back from a great few days down in Tottori with DH's family. Amelia and I went alone this time. It was great for her to have a chance to spend time with her relatives = mummy gets a rest, too! 

One of the things we did was visit the sand dunes again. This time to see the "light up" or "illumination" as it's called here.

First we went to the indoor sand sculpture museum. This time the theme was South East Asia. Amazing as always!

Then we went to the actual dunes. Amelia was so excited to be at the "beach", she insisted on us walking all the way down and up the other side!
 So we did and this is what we saw! It's a lot steeper than it looks! It was actually really fun and I'm so glad she dragged us there as we wouldn't have bothered to go otherwise.
 When we got back to the road again, the illumination had started.
 The theme this year was the story of the white rabbit and Daikoku sama which is supposed to have happened in Tottori.
Always so many pleasant surprises when we go to Tottori, even though Lonely Planet describes it as the "least enticing prefecture" or something like that in the version I own! 

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Things I Love: Juicy Rock

Juicy Rock would have to be one of my favourite accessory stores. It has an online store and an in real life one in the Shinjuku  and Yurakucho Lumine in Tokyo.

I have only bought a couple of things from them. The rest of the time I just salivate over their products.

I bought these gorgeous studs with an "a" on them, you guessed it, for "Amelia". They came beautifully wrapped and the postage is included in the price so no extra surprises at the check out. I think their stuff tends to be on the small side. As a foreigner in Japan I see a lot of jewelry that is so TINY it is barely even there. If I tried to wear it, it would look ridiculous. But I think I can get away with the items form Juicy Rock. 

At the time of writing this they are having a 10% off sale until December 24th, so get shopping!

Sunday, 17 November 2013

A Perfect Day?

Sunday is usually a quiet day around our house. Today I would have to say was almost a perfect Sunday in my book.

1) Weather
Today the weather was so beautiful: Warm and sunny, no wind. We headed out to the park at 9am. Amelia loves the big playground at the main park in our city, which just happens to be 5 minutes away by car. I also love going there as parents can climb up and down, slide down a huge slide and not have to worry about breaking anything (on the playground that is). So I enjoyed a few goes down the slide myself today!

2) Fantastic scenery
Then we went to check out the Autumn leaves, but they weren't quite ready yet. We got a good work out walking up and down the big hill where the best maples are. Then we came home just in time for morning tea. The weather was so beautiful that DH and Amelia went straight back outside for some golf practice and gardening. 

3) Good Food!
I cooked lunch, something I have been craving recently: Nachos! 
When it was lunch time we sat outside in our garden and had a really scrummy lunch that everyone enjoyed (not always the case!)and even Amelia repeatedly said "Yummy Lunch!" - maybe it was the novelty of getting to eat corn chips with her lunch but she ate a lot. 

4) Peace and Quiet Time
Then she took herself off inside and I found her playing "nap time" in my bed. So I left her there as she was having fun with her bee, and I was pretty sure that she couldn't do any damage in our room/hurt herself and went back outside and basked in the sunshine. Just as DH went to check on her again, she started shouting "Mummy! Water in the bed!"....I forgot there was a glass of water in our room and she had been giving her bee a drink...But not too much water was spilled and my bed was not too wet. 

5) Taking Care of Business and Actually Getting Stuff Done
The rest of the afternoon was spent napping (Amelia), packing for our upcoming trip to DH's parent's house, doing preparation for my new "Parents and Children English Class" tomorrow and taking the dog for a walk round the neighbourhood. 

6) More Good Food and Fun
DH cooked a great Japanese curry for dinner and then we had our first ever game of hide and seek! Amelia seems to have gotten the gist of the game but she still needs a bit of help with the counting and not uncovering her eyes etc. So DH and Amelia were on one team and I was on another. Best game of hide and seek ever! (I can hear all non-parents rolling eyes right now ;P) But it was fun! The joy a two year old shows when they find you, even if you were hiding somewhere pretty obvious is very refreshing. 

So those six things really made my day today. We didn't spend a penny/cent/yen. We got our dose of Vitamin D, exercised our bodies, ate good food and laughed and generally enjoyed being together as a family. Feeling blessed right now. 

Things coming up this week in Gaijin Housewife Land: 
- Teaching my first class at a volunteer workshop/lesson for parents and children who want to learn English!
- A big trip for Amelia and I to visit her grandparents in Tottori without DH! 
Look out for my posts later on this week!

"Eco Car" Fail

"Eco Car" = Japanese English for a car that is supposed to be more environmentally friendly...

We have a car - that's not very eco friendly, but kind of necessity where we live. Actually that is all kinds of "excuseitis", to quote one of my favourite personal finance/frugal life style bloggers: Mr Money Mustache.

Anyway. We have a car. It was even considered an "Eco Car" when we got it, it qualified for the "Eco Car Tax Reduction" and everything. It has an engine stop function (i-stop) so that when you are sitting at the traffic lights, the engine goes into hibernation mode. When you take your foot off the break, the engine springs into life and you drive off again without holding up the traffic at all. Many cars in Japan now have this feature. 
Recently when I stopped at a traffic light, the engine did not spring back into life as it usually does but rather coughed and spluttered and finally started and then an orange light started flashing on the dashboard. Turns out the battery for this function had had it. Our car has a separate battery for the engine stop function and after 3 years of very average use and 3 -4 big trips to Tottori and back, it needed to be replaced. Well actually both batteries needed replacing. The dealer where we brought the car said: That will be 30,000 yen thanks or about US$300 for the two to be installed. (Of course we only let them install the engine stop one: $100, DH can do the other himself for $50 with a battery bought online)

Yikes. That is not something they tell you when buy one of these cars. Everyone knows that hybrid cars need a new battery after so many years - like 8 or 10 or something - and they are fairly expensive, but we dreamed that this would be the case with our piddly little engine stop function. Any monetary fuel savings have been completely eaten up by replacing the battery, tiny reduction on emissions from not running engine at traffic lights probably totally destroyed by the production of new battery to replace old one... 

I feel a bit bad complaining about my car. It has never let us down. That engine stop function saved us quite a bit of extremely precious fuel when we were stuck in traffic jams trying to escape the danger from the meltdown at the Fukushima Nuclear Power plant when the Great Northern Japan Disaster hit our area two and a half years ago. But there is a lesson to be learned here. Trying to be green when buying things can bite you in the bum later on, so beware of whistles and bells that are supposed to be good for the environment.