Summer in the City

Time has slipped away on me again with three weeks seeming to vanish into thin air. While I write an actual post about our lives, here are some photos of what our summer has looked like so far.

On July 1st we celebrated our third Canada Day in Japan. I made poutine and the boys tried it for the first time. Theo seemed to really like it, but as always with anything containing potatoes, William was not too excited.

Rosie was happiest of all with her piece of barbecued corn on the cob.

Even though we barbecue A LOT in the summer, we occasionally head over to the local 100 yen sushi restaurant to change things up a bit. The boys decided that during this meal they would be sushi zombies. 

Rosie, who can never be left out of their shenanigans, tried her hardest to be a sushi zombie too.

We've also been working on removing the training wheels from Theo's bicycle. He has been wanting us to do this for a while, but his balance still needs a little work. Here he is taking a popsicle break on one of our biking trips.

Summer time at our house means trying to avoid using the air conditioner as much as possible. Instead I boot the kids outside and let them splash around in the kiddie pool if they get sweaty.

"I yam wot I yam and that's all wot I yam!"
Rosie enjoying taking a stroll around the block.

Inspecting a large caterpillar we found on the bike shelter. 

The Japanese star festival, Tanabata, is held on July 7th. People write wishes on coloured strips of paper and hang them along with paper cut into pretty shapes and designs on a young bamboo tree. Here are the boys posing in front of a Tanabata tree we found at a local department store.

Some people also go star gazing on the evening of the 7th, but since it was pouring rain it was kind of out of the question. With all this rain we've been having, I got to see a gorgeous double rainbow.

Another way we enjoy summer is with one of our favourite traditional Mennonite meals, rollkuchen and watermelon. It is quick to make and really light but best of all there are never any complaints no matter how many times we have it in a week.

And that's a little glimpse into our world these past few weeks. Hopefully I'll be able to get a real post up soon! 


The Insect Isle

Japan loves bugs, or at least the little boys do, which is great since I find them fascinating and encourage the kids to investigate nearly every insect they come across. There is a whole culture and industry built around finding, collecting, and observing insects. It is made easy when nearly every home store has an entire aisle devoted to insect collecting. Even the 100 yen store has a dazzling array of nets, tanks, substrates, and food jellies. 

You can even pick yourself up some adult rhinoceros beetles if you don't want to go out and collect your own.

And here is where I'm going to go on a bit of a rant: I believe that the fear and disgust of insects and arachnids is a completely learned behaviour that children, especially girls, have forced upon them. I'm sure a sort of wariness is an innate human response, but for most children that are really afraid of insects you don't have to look very much farther than their parents to see where they picked up that attitude. Planting and nurturing extreme phobias and irrational hatred in your children seems pretty cruel to me. We are grossly outnumbered by bugs on this planet so we might as well try to embrace it and reduce the unnecessary stress their lives. 

A face only a mother could love
I want my children to grow up with a relentless curiosity, love, and respect for the natural world instead of becoming adults who turn into a panicky mess at the sight of a spider or cockroach. I make a point to show them photos of insects they shouldn't try to pick up, like mukade and suzumebachi, but always explain that insects don't hurt us because they are cruel or vicious, but because they are protecting themselves or that it is part of their life cycle. I don't always love it when William shoves a handful of rhinoceros beetle grubs 1 cm from my eyes but I push down my initial revulsion and try to view them through the eyes of a child. Cute little bug babies and a tangible way to discover all the other creatures with which we share this planet.

Maybe you agree with me or don't at all and need more convincing, but either way I encourage you to read one of my favourite books, My Family and Other Animals, by Gerald Durrell. There is also a  fantastic movie adaptation that came out in 2005. But don't take my word for it...


Death Traps

Japan really has some amazing ways of collecting, draining, and channeling water. Considering the amount of water that pours out of the sky during the rainy season or a typhoon, it is necessary to be a little inventive when it comes to water control within the city. Nearly every street has an open concrete ditch running beside it which can be anywhere from 40 cm wide and fairly shallow to a meter or more in width and depth. When you go into the countryside, the canal systems get even more elaborate so that farmers can divert water from reservoirs, rivers, or lakes to flood their rice fields.

Judging by all the little rice fields tucked here and there between houses and buildings, I always get the feeling that Fukuyama is just a country town that happened to get big. Houses in the older central neighbourhoods like ours seem to be built around the existing channels bringing water from the Ashida River to farmer's fields. There just happen to be way less of those fields now! 

How do these ditches have any influence on our daily lives, you might ask? Well, firstly you must always pay attention to them when you are biking, especially when Theo is riding his bike. I have visions of him flying over the edge of one of the deeper, wetter ones and breaking his bike and landing himself in the hospital while he's at it. Theo has skinned his knee and lost two water bottles to the ditches on his way home from school. The streets in our neighbourhood are notoriously badly lit at night and I am surprised I haven't walked or ridden into one accidentally myself. With streets so insanely narrow, virtually no shoulder, and a 50 cm drop off on either side of the road, can you blame me for being a little hesitant about driving a car in Japan? 

Secondly, the little piece of the street and the ditch that wraps around our house is considered our responsibility to keep clean and free of debris. I feel like every high schooler passing by decides this is the prime place to throw their empty drink boxes and ice cream wrappers and every smoker seems to think our ditch looks like an ideal ashtray. I also have to clean up leaves and toys that the boys throw over the fence, but I just don't have the same animosity toward our children as I do strangers littering in front of our house. Lowering myself down into a narrow, mossy, slick ditch to scrape up leaves, mud, and cigarette butts is very rarely my idea of a good time. Maybe that is why our ditch doesn't look as sparklingly clean and pristine as most of the obaasan's do? 

Lastly, the deeper ditches that have at least some water all year long are wonderful for watering plants. You don't need to waste water or money by filling up watering cans with a hose when you can just collect some of the water from the ditch next door. The water is not contaminated in any way, I wouldn't exactly brush my teeth with it, but it is more than okay to use it for plant watering. Since it is mostly rain and river water I think it is probably better for your plants than using the treated water from our taps. I was lucky enough to find and old but useable long handled dipper in the space underneath our house which came in really handy when we still had our community garden plot


Sunshine and Clouds

In the past week we have experienced a lot of rain which almost makes me think the rainy season has arrived when it is supposed to this year. Our first year we saw no change in precipitation during the late spring/early summer, and last year, when the rainy season finally did come, it was a month later than it should have been. 

After a week of almost solid rain, the sky cleared a tiny bit during the weekend so that we could have a barbecue for Rosie's birthday on Saturday, and get all of the laundry that had accumulated during the rainy week washed and dried. Thanks for cooperating so nicely clouds! 

Cake stacked and iced with cupcakes skewered to the top.
On Saturday, I woke up bright and early (seriously Rosie, you need to stop waking up before 5 am!) and got to work on decorating the birthday cake. I decided go with a hydrangea theme because they are one of my favorite flowers and this is the season that they are blooming in Japan. I had made 3 round cakes and a dozen cupcakes earlier in the week and frozen them and also 3 batches of icing the night before. I leveled off two of the three cakes and stacked the layers with icing in between in the brown plastic base of a planter pot. I did not level off the dome shaped top of the uppermost layer to give the cake a bit more roundness and height. I fully iced the cake in chocolate cream cheese icing so that it would look like a plant pot. I then arranged the cupcakes on the top of the cake and secured them in place by sticking 15 cm long skewers through them and into the cake. 

To ice the cupcakes, I used the star tipped icing nozzle and an icing bag. I put blobs of purple and blue in the icing bag separately and tried not to mix it up too much so that I would get colour variation as I iced. I then took a few hydrangea leaves and arranged them here and there. As a side note, hydrangea leaves are mildly toxic (they contain cyanide), so I wrapped the cut ends in aluminum foil before decorating the cake with them. It was really easy and took me just over an hour to decorate from start to finish.

The only problem I ran into was that over the course of the morning, the temperature in our kitchen rose to 27˚ C and the humidity to 89%. The icing started to liquify and things started slipping so I had to pop it in the fridge until the party.

close up of the "flowers"
After icing the cake, I had to run off to work for the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon. While I was at work, Mr. Oshima took Theo on a tour of our local water treatment plant, something he has been talking about for months. We got to hear all about poop eating bacteria for the rest of the day. Yaaay! 

When I returned home we had a few close friends over for a barbecue to celebrate Rosie's birthday. 

Totally oblivious to the fact that it was her party

William and the Oshimas
First inspection of her birthday cupcake
Realizing that smashing it is so much more fun than eating it. 
Because the weather remained warm and mostly sunny the next day, I pulled out the little pool and let the kids splash around a bit.

This was Rosie's first time in the pool and she loved it.

Also, thanks to a little inspiration from my cousin over at lately léna, the boys and I spent a few hours on Sunday tie dyeing some old t-shirts and a onesie. 

Now I have a few cups of dye left over and my eyes are roving for anything else that could help me use it up. I've already convinced Dustin to let me have fun with some of his undershirts but who knows what else is going to get some colour around here!


Everything's Coming up Rosie

One year ago today, we welcomed a new member into our family. Rosemary has filled our home with even more love, life, and laughter than we could imagine.

1 day old

Since she was born, I have felt very distinctly like our family is full and complete. Maybe I needed just a tad more noise and mayhem in my life, or a bit of pink to offset the blue, or maybe the interaction between three children just feels more natural for me having grown up in a three child household myself. Whatever the case is, Rosie was meant to be and we celebrate and cherish her. 

She has grown and changed so much in the past twelve months and we are still getting to know this little person more day by day.

1 month
2 months
3 months
4 months
5 months
6 months
7 months
8 months
9 months
10 months
11 months

1 Year! 
This is what we have learned about her in the past year: she is full of spunk and life and thrives when surrounded by her family, especially her doting brothers. She is very happy to be the third child, since her favorite pastime is to watch her brothers crazy antics while laughing and clapping in delight. When she is not chasing after her brothers or exploring her world, she loves being held and cuddling.

She is always trying to do what her brothers are doing, sitting, crawling, walking, and copying their sounds earlier than I would have guessed. She also has a stubborn streak and a bit of a temper. Not too sure who she got that from!

Me too!
She loves the outdoors and finding a good patch of mud or sand to get dirty in (and eat) or a plant to rip up (and eat). I can't wait until she is old enough to put that to use helping me in the garden! 

Rosemary, you are loved and we can't wait to see what the future has in store for you!