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Mom, do you have to take a picture??

Mom, do you have to take a picture??

A new adventure for me this year has been homeschooling Robbie, 13 yrs. old. He finished Japanese elementary school in March. Since our city does not offer any education options in English for Junior High, and as we prayed about it, we decided that homeschooling was our best option.

Although it has been a lifestyle adjustment, i think both Robbie (right Robbie??) and i would say we love it. He enjoys the freedom and relative ease of it compared to the rigours of japanese school. He also loves that we chose a literature based curriculum as he is passionate about reading. I enjoy the focused attention I get with him. It’s thrilling to be part of your child’s learning.

One of the highlights of schooling at home is that you can do hands-on activities, not just book learning. I have to admit, this also takes more energy and planning so I don’t do nearly as much as I’d like.

This month we are focusing our studies on India (we are working our way through Asia). He was assigned a project related to India so chose to make Indian curry and Naan. Often when Robbie has a project to chose, he’ll chose something related to cooking. I’m not sure if this is because he knows I’ll be involved (and therefore it is shared labor) or because he gets to eat it at the end.

For our last project, we made spring rolls and they weren’t such a success. Kept falling apart, etc. So we had some trepidation related to the Indian Curry, especially since we had never made anything Indian before.

Against all odds, it was very tasty! Sarah said it is her #2 favorite meal now, and Brianne said it was her #1 favorite. Brian said he is going to stop eating at Indian restaurants because this was way better. So how’s that for reviews? Japanese curry is a very common dish here, but it is so different from the Indian curry we made that it almost needs a different name. I personally loved it because #1: it had coconut milk in it and anything with coconut is awesome. #2: I have a zero spicy tolerance so we were able to regulate the spiciness level ourselves.

Naan dough balls rising

Naan dough balls rising

rolling the naan out

rolling the naan out

Sarah helping so we could multi-task

Sarah helping so we could multi-task

These were as good as they look. The kids ate them like candy

These were as good as they look. The kids ate them like candy

Robbie did great at preparing it. His skills in the kitchen have definitely grown over the years.🙂 The Naan especially took alot of attention rolling them out and frying them. But he stuck with it. Along with his daily household duty of washing the dinner dishes, he really pulled full duty that night!

Robbie (along with the rest of us) enjoying the fruit of his labor

Robbie (along with the rest of us) enjoying the fruit of his labor

Here is the recipe:http: //allrecipes.com/Recipe/Indian-Chicken-Curry-II

And the naan: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/naan/

Since we found these recipes on allrecipes.com i can’t vouch that they were authentic Indian. But they did seem Indian-ish, from our limited experience.

Beginning in April, Sarah and Brianne will begin homeschooling with us. I have a feeling that cooking and home ec will be an even more major part of our lives then.

Well, I’m sensing its time to update my blog. I guess the busyness of life and starting a new career in teaching (read: homeschooling) took over but since a few friends have asked recently when I am going to write again, I decided to attempt to resurrect this simple blog about our life in Japan!

Recently we went camping in the 5 lakes region around Mount Fuji, about two hours from our house. We’ve been wanting to explore campgrounds and this one looked good. Although it has tent camping sites, their main offerings are cabins and yurts. You know, yurt – a Mongolian tent-house. We live on the coast of Japan so always enjoy any opportunity to head to the mountains like this.

Not an everyday experience – camping in a yurt

As it turned out, we were very thankful for our yurt as we chose a very cold and rainy day to go camping. The small terrace allowed us to still cook over the grill and the heater inside the yurt was very welcome while we were sleeping.

Thankfully, the weather cleared up the second day. One wonderful surprise was arriving during the height of the fall foliage. The colors were stunning. Our campground was on Lake Saiko and after breakfast we took a 10 kilometer bike ride around the lake. We brought some of our bikes and rented a few from the campground.

Biking around Lake Saiko

The girls and i took frequent breaks to enjoy the foliage. Brian and Robbie took no breaks and let speed be their guide.🙂

Couldn’t get enough of the beautiful color

Leaf Shower!

And since it seems like taking pictures in front of fences is the thing to do these days…

And for all my friends that have found bathrooms to be one of the most interesting parts of Japan, i thought you would enjoy this. Japanese attention to detail and courtesy for others never ceases to amaze me.

Instructions on how to fold the toilet paper end into a heart-shape, origami style. This particular one says it’s for the advanced. Another bathroom had a beginner version, folding it to look like Mt. Fuji. Have NEVER seen this before and we had to wonder if anyone would actually take the time to fold this work of art.🙂

Sarah skis, the others snowboard (I walk)

Recently we pulled the kids out of school for a few days and headed about 4.5 hrs. west. We live on the Pacific side of Japan but the Sea of Japan side is know for the huge amounts of snow they get, and therefore there are many great ski places. Where we live here in Shizuoka we do not get snow, so the kids were very excited to see snow again.

Our good friends here go to this ski resort frequently so they gave us all the good tips, like a close hotel.  One of the highlights was the Hot Spring that the ski resort is built on. Our hotel had their own “onsen” (public hot bath). One of the favorite winter activities here in Japan is to go to the public baths and we’re beginning to catch the passion. It takes a bit of getting used to since we weren’t exactly used to “public bathing” but now we are hooked.

This is the the road outside our hotel

The amount of snow really was staggering. It was up to the roofs of some one-story homes. Thankfully it snowed before we arrived, and it was sunny while we were there.

Notice the men on the roof

Because of the deep snow, the roofs were full of men shoveling snow off the whole time we were there. No safety straps or anything. Yet I never saw anyone fall off. The roof of the house right outside our hotel window was being shoveled all night but it only affected our sleep a little.🙂

 

Breakfast before hitting the slopes

Although our hotel was somewhat dingy and old, the 4 course breakfasts were amazing! I serve American-style breakfasts in our own home so it was fun to eat fish, hot fried tofu, rice, miso soup and pickled radish before hitting the slopes. The fact that I could enjoy this is a sign that I’ve come a LONG way since moving here 7 years ago.

Headed up the mountain on the lift

One of our favorite things is to see different parts of Japan, so we really enjoyed going to Niigata for the first time.  The “Northern Alps” (as the mountains are called) were breathtaking. We’d love to be able to go back again sometime!

 

 

A few weeks ago a friend asked if we could get some kids together to do Trick-or-treating. I was surprised, as generally Japanese don’t know what that is. Well, she organized it all and on Halloween the kids were able to go to about 10 houses. They were pretty excited to experience trick-or-treating!

The last stop was our house where we carved a pumpkin and served Pumpkin-shaped sugar cookies

Sarah loves animals but getting a dog or cat is not realistic for us. Although gerbils are not generally found in Japan, we contacted an exotic pet shop in Tokyo and they shipped us one. He arrived safe and sound (I had my doubts) and has turned out to be our favorite pet yet.

"Twitch" is rarely not being held

Door-to-door sales are very common in Japan. We were even advised to use salesmen as natural language partners when we first came to Japan. Everything from milk, beauty products, tofu, baked sweet-potatoes, bamboo laundry polls and kerosene for heaters is sold. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons even make their semi-annual stop here.  I was quite intrigued though when a baker rang my bell one day. He comes around weekly and sells small rolls and breads out of his little van. I often buy from him because I think it is so fun. The “Yellow Bakery” plays a song (like an American ice-cream truck) so you know when he is coming.

The kids love it when there are chocolate-filled rolls waiting for them after school

In June Brian and I went away for a weekend to a hotel on a peninsula in our prefecture. We took a ferry. Unfortunately it rained most of the time (it was rainy season) but we still had a fun time at the hotel, enjoyed the hot springs and even found a rain-free afternoon on the beach. White sand and swimmable beaches are rare in Japan, so I especially enjoyed the ocean.

a view from our hotel room

Now that all our kids are in elementary school they eat mandatory school lunches each day. Very easy for mom, nutritional and cheap. But on field trip days, I need to send them a lunch. No sandwiches and chips here! Lunches are generally cooked food and i have heard the ideal is 5 different textures x 5 different colors = 25 items. I’m sure I don’t reach that goal, but it does take quite a while to prepare this for all 3 kids – rice balls with seaweed, cooked eggs, edamame, fish flakes, sausages, tomatoes and cucumbers. I made these daily for 6 years while the kids were in the kindergarten system. I’m finding “occasional” a little more fun that daily.🙂

The left side and middle ones are stackable, they have two levels to the lunch box. They are tied together with a band and put in a bag.

Robbie is in 5th grade and one of their class projects was raising and harvesting rice. I was thrilled that they invited the moms along to help (not that I was ANY help, having absolutely no experience). Planting was in June- during rainy season, on a particularly rainy and cold day. They flood the field and you go in the mud to plant the little seedlings. There is a grid that they use to make sure the lines of seedlings are straight. Of course nowadays, all planting and harvesting is done by machine. But I’m glad they gave us a hands-on experience, mud and all!

Harvesting happens in October. This time it was a beautiful sunny and relatively cool day. They had already harvested half the field by machine (thankfully, whew!). Tying up the bundles was especially challenging so they had the moms help with that part. Although I had no clue what I was doing, most of the teachers and moms seemed to get a kick out of a foreigner attempting their classic rice-harvesting.

The many containers of seedlings just waiting for us

I was thankful they provided these farming boots. They are suctioned to your calves - because once you get in the mud, it's almost impossible to get your foot out again!

A local mr. farmer expert came and taught us how to plant the seedlings. Robbie's 5th grade is in the red hats

The seedlings lined up and ready in the rain

Robbie in the flooded field ready to plant

Us moms got a chance in the mud too

Japanese are known for their precision and they didn't disappoint here. It HAD to go exactly in the upper right hand corner

Really wet, really cold and really muddy - but we're done!

The rice turns a beautiful golden color when ripe. Robbie's class made the scarecrow in the background

Mr. Farmer back again, teaching how not to hurt each other with the scythes

Robbie cutting a bundle of rice

tying two sets of bundles together with a dry reed

Robbie's group of 3 with their tied bundle, ready to hang and dry

Hanging the bundle on the rack to dry for about 2 weeks

Done! Took about 2 hours for 80 of us to complete the half field

In case you are like me and had no idea which part was the actual rice, it is the small brown seed-looking ones. If you crack open that seed, inside is the rice kernel. If you crack that one open, then you'll get white rice.

Visitors

My brother Michael and we hiked up a scenic overlook, Nihondaira, and got a good view of Mt. Fuji. Then we took a cablecar over to another mountain top and toured an historic temple

This past year a highlight for us was two very special visitors we had. My brother, Michael, came to visit in January. He had a business trip in China and was able to make a weekend stop-over here in Japan. The other was Brian’s mom, Barb. She has been planning to visit for several years, but finally was able to do it this year. She spent three weeks with us in March, which was the kids spring break, before heading on to the Philippines to visit Brian’s brother Bruce and his family.

With Michael we ate a variety of Japanese food (I think he enjoyed Japanese food more than any visitor we’ve ever had), hiked a nearby mountain with a view of the bay and Mt. Fuji and played lots of ball outside with the kids. The 3 days flew by!

Barb has been to Japan several times before, so we didn’t do much sightseeing things. We went to an all-you-can-eat strawberry field, and visited a park during the famous blooming of the cherry trees, which she has wanted to see for many years. She was also able to attend Sarah’s kindergarten graduation with us, which was very special for Sarah. But we mostly just played games and did puzzles and spent time together. It was very fun and, even though it was 3 weeks, the time again flew by!

Celebrating Michael's birthday while he was here

Introducing Uncle Mike to the conveyor belt sushi restaurant

Grandma Barb doing a sewing project with the girls

Hiking up to a waterfall in our preficture

Visiting a local park to see the cherry blossoms

In a green house at my friend's strawberry farm - the largest, sweetest strawberries you'll ever taste

Although Robbie usually plays defense, he got to play offense here and had a little ball-action

Last December Robbie joined a soccer club. It is called “CEUSE”. That is an acronym that stands for words like “communication” and “effort” (although I can’t remember them all). He has practice on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays from 5-7pm. And about once a month he has a game. Although it is a recently started club, the numbers of kids joining have been growing. Robbie has invited a few of his friends – Mario, Shoki and Yuki- to join, which they have, so now he’s eager to go to practices.

A few things we like about this club is that it is low on competition and high on learning, having fun, and growing in confidence. We also like that it meets just down the road at the kids’ elementary school, which means Robbie can walk there and picking him up only takes about 60 seconds. All sports in Japan are year-round, so kids generally get to experience only one sport, but soccer seems to be a really good fit for Robbie.  Although, he still has a dream to play American football someday.

 

Here are some pictures of the past year on the team:

Robbie's first day of practice last December

 

Robbie's long awaited game uniform (he owns two - one for away games, one for home)

On the sidelines with his team, before his first game