Sunday, March 22, 2009


I have to confess, I'm not a very good housekeeper. For that, I blame my mother. My Mom, who is not only my mother but also my dear friend, not only had six children but works as an emergency room nurse. She rarely had time to do the sort of things people do around the house when they "clean". Sure, she had days off where she cleaned, and we had chores and we all tried, when forced by our parents, to pick up and keep things neat. But it was always a losing, continuous battle.

My dear husband lives in the world of daydreams and lofty thoughts. He could stumble over a pile of clutter that I left at the foot of the stairs for someone to bring up, and live peacefully with it. He has a high tolerance for obstacles blocking his path to the computer or his model Japanese castle. He doesn't notice crumbs on the counter when he goes to make his green tea, or that the cups are all dirty except the one he finds, or perhaps that it takes the grimy bathroom sink five minutes to drain when he shaves or washes his hands. He happily drives a car with empty plastic bottles piled high in the passenger side: they don't obstruct his view of the road, after all.

And yes, I husband is working here in Japan and I am not. So what is my excuse for not embracing this role and fulfilling it properly? I'm just not good at it. Housework just doesn't occur to me.

I blame Mom....but wait a minute, shouldn't I blame Dad too?!?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Irish Soda Bread with Raisins

Irish Soda Bread

3 cups flour

1 Tbsp bkg powder

1/3 cup white sugar

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

1 egg

2 cups buttermilk

1/4 cup butter, melted

2/3 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 and grease a 9X5 loaf pan.

Mix ingredients just enough.

Bake about an hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

This bread is from an old old recipe handed down from....ok, I found it on It's good - it doesn't need any butter or anything.
Ahm num num num.....ahm num num....this one took me off South Beach permanently! Oh, what I was missing!!!

Saint Patrick's Day Lesson

I sometimes refer to my English classes as my English club/party/free for all, since that's what they often end up being. There are just so many things to do in one hour and a half lesson, sooo many tiny little ones to herd into place, each time we form a circle or a line of children. I work up a bit of a sweat and end up worn out but happy every time.

This last lesson was right before St Patrick's Day, with around 20 children, I think. We did this:

Sing "Hello, Hello"

Sing "If you're happy and you know it" : Wendy's extra special extended version

Gather in a circle and I give a wee talk on St. Patrick's Day, food, the map, the traditions, the shamrock, the leprechaun, etc, for about 6 minutes or so until I see that their wee attention spans are wandering. Gleaned heavily from Wikipedia, except the picture of the Chicago River dyed green which is from flicker. I talk about how all of the children were born in Japan, and have Japanese parents and heritage, but how most Americans have ancestors that were from another country, and so have different kinds of heritage - a melting pot. I talk about how we all like to imagine that we have a little Irish in us, on this day.

Does. Not. Compute. :)

The mothers get quiet and thoughtful. Hmm... Americans....??

Then I read a story which was really lame but a free printable book from an online preschool source, called "I am a leprechaun". Dumb. But that's ok, they still crowd around, practically on my lap, to see this book. I often spend time at the library scouring the limited book selection on the base, looking for just that interesting, smart, well-illustrated children's book that will interest them and make them laugh, while teaching them. Ha! That is asking alot of a book. Perhaps unreasonable. All of the 3 Saint Patrick's day books on the base were checked out for two weeks ahead of time.

At the end of the book it tells the children how, if they catch a leprechaun, he will be forced to tell them of his secret stash of gold, which he keeps under a rainbow.

Game: find the leprechaun!

I photocopied 30 pics of ugly, wry little leprechauns and hid them around the room. I knew that I good and well better have one for each child, or there was going to be an international incident. When they all found one, I lined them up and gave them each a little certificate that I made up that said Good Job, etc etc and had a little pic of one on it, a rainbow and a pot of gold. There is a website for preschoolers where you can make your own awards papers. Cute! They were so excited and cute about this.

Craft: Shamrocks

As luck would have it, the boss lady didn't bring any scissors and neither did I, except for one pair. So, I hurriedly cut out 25+ and got the babes into mini groups and had them decorate with glitter, crayons, etc. Cute Cute! They are so creative and each one is so different. Some are slow and precise, some are exuberant and colorful, some are slow, sloppy and sweet. Some use exorbitant amounts of glitter and make a four leaf clover that looks more like a coin. At this point I want to scoop them all up and hug them.

Sing Happy Birthday: on their birthday month, they get a card and a present. Play dough, always with the play dough.

Little Treasures: I have the children write their name in English on a little yellow paper circle coin I have cut out in advance. I have taped up a big black paper kettle. They line up, and each one puts their coin on the kettle. I drew a rainbow with marker also. They have an air of solemnity as they put their names in. They like this exercise. They are so sweet, and as I look at all of their names in the pot I feel a little pang: I am going to miss this!

How Many Shamrocks: I quiz them on their numbers from one to ten, with some colored shamrock sheets I made in a big hurry two hours before. I am surprised and pleased that they seem to know their numbers very well. Yay!

Review Flashcards: I showed them some flashcards and again, pleased that one or two of them retained a few words from the lesson. After a bit of review, most of them can put the word to a flashcard. Putting together a sentence is for the next teacher! I guess if there is one thing we can accomplish in this monthly club, it is a feeling of fun, excitement and confidence that can come with learning a new language. Plus, some cool crafts for mom to hang on the little Japanese refrigerators.

Snack: Irish Soda Bread with Raisins (baked Fri night, with 2 eggs I had to beg from my neighbor in a panic!!)

This was funny - one boy refused to eat it, one picked out the raisins and let mom eat the bread, most ate it and wanted seconds. I went home with an empty pan, I brought two loaves and this was a good amount.
So anyway, that was my lesson plan. I try to always have those elements in some combination. that way we keep each part of the class short, for their wee attention spans, and break it up into interesting parts, accomodate different types of learner: the visual, the auditory, the kinesthetic (?). It is a bit of work planning, so I fully take the money they pay me and don't feel bad accepting it. This time, I promptly spent it all on yarn and lunch out with Jose.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

new keychain

I got this keychain from Kinda self explanatory, eh? :)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Here he is!

He is a cute little fellow, and gentle even though timid. Who couldn't love him! Those ears! When I found him I was wearing the lucky sweatshirt from my good friend Laura. She gave it to me when she worked at an animal shelter in Wisconsin as a vet student. That shirt is something like 15 years old. Still lucky.

Ikego woods

I put on my lucky sweatshirt this morning and set out to find Tikki, the little lost dog from PAWS. My heart ached for the timid little fellow, who was outside over two rainy nights, somewhere int he woods. If I was a lost dog, I would certainly hunker down in a nice dry den, like a small cave, hollow beneath an overturned tree, underneath the porches of the MWR cabins, or in the rusting hulks of the area I call "the graveyard of the anchors".
After about an hour it was pretty clear that he wasn't strolling along the main hiking trails (ha!). I heard human voices calling for him from the distance, and neighborhood dogs barking, crows calling and the occasional shriek of a hawk overhead. There was a dog toward Zushi and one further in the hills. Squirrels were rustling in the brush.
I tried to stay away from the human sounds, because he is a timid fellow, and the humans were noisy. I can be a solitary gal myself, at times.
I met a couple from PAWS who were out searching as well, and apparently security had seen him but he ran away and they were unable to catch him.
I was wandering around the anchor and chain graveyard, looking for a sign of him. I don't know where all of the caves and little dens are yet, I have not pent enough time there. But I was getting thirsty and tired. I stood for a long time staring at the bamboo beyond the rusting piles, breathing in the sweet organic scent of the breeze.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a sweet little, dirty little white face peeking around a rusty pile at me. Tikki!!!
I came over and saw that he had his leash on, and it was caught, and that he was very timid. He was not aggressive thankfully, and I quickly had him on our trusty green 100 yen leash, eating treats and trotting back to the main campground.
What a rush.
That is my story for the day.

Nate makes pancakes.

Nate made his first batch of pancakes with Daddy. A man has to learn to cook, after all. He is a pretty good little flipper after all! Frankie has been cooking for a couple of years and now it's Nate's turn to learn his way around a griddle. Next stop: peanut butter cookies!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto behind the plum blossoms.

It is also called "the Crow" because of all of the black exterior.

We also enjoyed seeing Matsumoto Castle, which happens to have a huge collection of old weapons, including ammunition and armor. The boys enjoyed this more than anything, but I like to see the old castles too. Huge thick beams of cypress, fir, spruce and cedar, worn and polished by hands and feet...the walls were thick and the interior was dark and cold.

Each castle has its own feeling and history, of course. But they all have the obligatory gift shop with local candies, treats, coins with the imprint fo the castle (which the boys must always have) and special ink stamp. We have seen several castles in Japan, the closest being Odawara Castle. The boys and I saw Himeji Castle "the White Heron" without Daddy when he was deployed, so he missed out on that one.

Since we are moving in a few months, we are a bit sad that more than likely, we will not get to see all of the castles of Japan while we are here.

Snow Monkey Park

That was a relief, just picking up some nuggets by Frankie, no plans to nip at him in the immediate future! (pic #2)

Aw, poor Frankie was a bit nervous in this one - we had just gotten there and he wasn't sure what the monkey was going to do! (pic #1)

Methinks this one senses some kindred spirits!

This weekend we took the boys on a tour of Matsumoto Castle and Wild Snow Monkey park in Nagano.

The park was amazing - here was a place up in the mountains of Nagano, where wild, free snow monkey come in the winter to enjoy the natural hot springs. They are plentiful (several hundred!!) and not afraid of humans. To tempt them down, workers scattered buckets of barley seeds. There just are not words for this experience - being so close to these monkeys and being able to watch their behavior...

There are more pics on facebook because honestly, it is alot easier to load them up.

Most of the monkeys were a bit shy, and avoided eye contact. A very few bigger ones made more aggressive challenging stares, and the key was not to stare back. Yep, people have certainly been bitten, pinched, pushed at, and had snacks taken away by the little critters. So we were cautious, but wouldn't have missed the experience for the world. the monkeys were having a blast eating the treats, soaking in the hot springs...

It was great to watch the behaviors and interactions, and our time at the park whipped by too fast. The babies were sooo cute, especially their delicate little ears that stuck out from the sides of their heads. I had a strong ache to pick them up and hold them, but I know I'd get in big trouble if I tried :)