The nearest Costco is about 45 minutes from us, and we've got limited space in our apartment, so we only go about once a month or so.

But man, the treasures you can find there! Refried beans, parmesan cheese, angel hair pasta, tomato soup, black olives, frozen burrito shells, you name it. Lots of things you either can't get in a Japanese supermarket or if you can manage to procure one of these foreign delights, they're in miniature sizes at mongo prices.

A few months ago I had the most amazing find when I opened up a box of something Costco-ish: a real live inspector's forgotten Canadian ballpoint pen stuck inside an industrial-sized pack of cotton facial puffs. Woo-hoo!

I've been using it ever since, and perhaps as a nod to the closing of the year, it's decided to bite the dust today. New year, new pen?

Wonder if I can find another freebie tucked inside something else. Treasure within treasure.

Christmas Show 'n' Tell

Here are some belated photos of our Christmas time:

The gift theme for Matthew this year seemed to be "transportation"

Including some very funky red PJs with a digger on them

Christmas Day was a work day for me, but we went round to my boss Jon's house for a full-on Christmas dinner after I had finished

Abigail's bump wasn't the only thing wrapped up under the tree

Takako and Jon made great food, which we were very happy to help them eat

The Orange Food Group

In Matthew's world, food is classified into groups by color. And the color of the moment is orange. For instance, Abigail tells me that today for lunch, the selection of food Matthew would actually eat (as opposed to what he was actually offered) was as follows:

  • Pumpkin (very high in orange)
  • Cheese bread (orange cheesy bits)
  • Tangerines (about as orange as you can get)
  • Vegetable / fruit juice (many different veggies and fruits, but a good full-on orange hue)

Culinary Hack

I am a regular reader of Lifehacker, where I find all kinds of useful tips (like how to burn video files onto DVD so that you can watch them on your TV, like I did today).

Yesterday I really impressed myself with my own little lifehack: Abigail was debating about how to get the cheesecake she had made for the church lunch off the base of the spring-form pan without the structural disintegration that trying to lever it off with a kitchen implement would have entailed. "What we need is some cheese wire," was my thought - although we don't have any and I'm sure it would have wreaked havoc with the non-stick surface as well.

The solution? Dental floss! Worked like a dream, slicing cleanly between the base and the pan preserving the cheesecake in all its flawless beauty. And it was delicious, too! (Although that was more credit to Abigail's skills in the kitchen than to my little flossing trick.)

Rattle and Plunk

Matthew the inquisitive charmer went exploring while we were waiting for the church Christmas lunch to be set up in one of the rooms of the public facility we meet at. Just down the hallway is the washitsu (Japanese-style tatami room) where the shamisen group were having a plunk-jam session. Matthew hung on the slatted door looking through the narrow opening and listening to the strange music. Spotted by a nice lady, little M was whisked in and became the one-boy audience for a folk-song performance, as well as receiving the usual comments about his blond hair ("Is his mother Japanese?") and his "big" nose. Ah, the price of celebrity.

Dogs and Cats

No, nothing about the rain that we have been having here for the last couple of days. (That would be cats and dogs, anyway.) In fact it was the following excerpts from the diary of a dog and a cat that the guys on The God Journey podcast mentioned in this week's episode.

I have been getting a bit stressed recently what with the weather confining us more than usual, and Matthew starting to throw some tantrums. Particularly this morning at the church Christmas lunch I found to be really tiring. We were all pretty exhausted by the time we got home and so Abigail and I had naps while Matthew had his. I woke up before he did, though, and decided to head out for a walk (round the lake, through the graveyard and back up the hill) with my MP3 player and The God Journey.

You will see what they meant about the difference between dogs' and cats' personalities when you read the diary below, but let's just say that the dog is just so happy living in every moment and making the most of it, whereas the cat is suspicious of everything and has a negative attitude. Listening to this, it just reminded me that there are so many good things that are right in front of me to enjoy and to thank God for - I just need to live in them.

Now, here's the diary. It's very funny. Particularly what the cat writes:

From a Dog's Diary:

8:00 am - Dog food! My favorite thing!

9:30 am - A car ride! My favorite thing!

9:40 am - A walk in the park! My favorite thing!

10:30 am - Got rubbed and petted! My favorite thing!

12:00 pm - Lunch! My favorite thing!

1:00 pm - Played in the yard! My favorite thing!

3:00 pm - Wagged my tail! My favorite thing!

1:00 pm - Played in the yard! My favorite thing!

3:00 pm - Wagged my tail! My favorite thing!

5:00 pm - Milk bones! My favorite thing!

7:00 pm - Got to play ball! My favorite thing!

8:00 pm - Wow! Watched TV with the people! My favorite thing!

11:00 pm - Sleeping on the bed! My favorite thing!

The Cat's Diary - Same Day

Day 683 of my captivity. My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while the other inmates and I are fed hash or some sort of dry nuggets. Although I make my contempt for the rations perfectly clear, I nevertheless must eat something in order to keep up my strength.

The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape. In an attempt to disgust them, I once again vomit on the floor.

Today I decapitated a mouse and dropped its headless body at their feet. I had hoped this would strike fear into their hearts, since it clearly demonstrates of what I am capable. However, they merely made condescending comments about what a "good little hunter" I am. The audacity!

There was some sort of assembly of their accomplices tonight. I was placed in solitary confinement for the duration of the event. However, I could hear the noises and smell the food. I overheard that my confinement was due to the power of "allergies." I must learn what this means, and how to use it to my advantage.

Today I was almost successful in an attempt to assassinate one of my tormentors by weaving around his feet as he was walking. I must try this again tomorrow -- but at the top of the stairs.

I am convinced that the other prisoners here are flunkies and snitches. The dog receives special privileges. He is regularly released - and seems to be more than willing to return. He is obviously retarded!

The bird must be an informant. I observe him communicating with the guards regularly. I am certain that he reports my every move. My captors have arranged protective custody for him in an elevated cell, so he is safe ... for now.

Getting A Kick

When Matthew was a baby I remember him always stopping moving whenever I came over to put my hand on Abigail's tummy to feel the activity. This baby seems a lot more obliging. Yesterday I felt movement for the first time - a really big (I am assuming) kick. A future karate expert, perhaps?

Our Week

It's been a busy week and I'm sitting down to relax on Friday evening. Stephen's rented a sci-fi movie so I might watch five minutes of it, give it a test run, and then get on with some more copyediting. We have pretty different tastes in films sometimes. (The last one we watched was "This Is Spinal Tap," and we both laughed our heads off. If you're in the mood for a mockumentary, you gotta see it. And the 80's clothes and hair added to the fun.)

Our neighbor, Nio san, came Tuesday morning for tea and brought some homemade cinnamon, cream cheese, and raisin bread she'd just baked. Yum! She has three grown children and a couple of grandkids, and Matthew had a wonderful playtime with her. We miss her doggy, though, who went to doggy heaven in August.

Wednesday was a play group day, and it was supposed to be a music/dance time for the kids, but so many people showed up that they had to separate us into two groups. We were in the group sent to the playroom first, and after an hour of intense playing with a million other kids, Matthew was too pooped out to stay for the music lady in the other room. It was our lunchtime, anyway, so we headed home. It was fun while it lasted!

Rei chan came over this morning for her mommy to have some time for herself (Matthew went to their home last week). Matthew loves having her here, but also enjoys doing his own thing and being in his own little Matthew play world, so Rei chan and I brushed each other's hair and did some chatting. I eventually put in a Psalty DVD for the kids, and I chilled out on the hot carpet in front of the TV with them. Rei chan was so cute! She sucked her thumb and occasionally rubbed my ear while we watched.

I fit in copyediting around all these adventures, and see the previous post for what we did this evening after picking Stephen up from work. Matthew had a blast running around all the grassy areas at the college. He liked the Christmas lights, too. Wish there were more around here! I miss Christmas-lights-driving-around-and-gawking like we used to do in Florida.

Christmas Lights

We visited Kansei Gakuin University campus to see their Christmas lights today. The lights that there were were nice as you can see, even though there were not many of them.

Matthew the Blunder Blob

Matthew loves the new blankie he got from Mimi (Grandma) in Wisconsin. He loves it so much that he will even play with it over his head, and walk around the apartment without being able to see where he is going.


19 Weeks

The weeks are zooming by, and if I didn't get e-mails every Saturday from BabyCenter.com, I'd forget that the next week had started for little Eleanor. All the milestones she's hitting are absolutely amazing to me.

She's up to week nineteen, and here's what yesterday's e-mail said:

"Your baby weighs about 8 1/2 ounces, and he measures 6 inches, head to bottom — about the size of a large heirloom tomato. The hair on his scalp is sprouting. If your baby is a girl, she already has 6 million eggs in her ovaries. This is a crucial time for sensory development: Your baby's brain is designating specialized areas for smell, taste, hearing, vision, and touch. He may be able to hear you as you talk. Research shows that he's learning to distinguish your voice from others, and he'll soon show a preference for it."

18 Weeks Old!

Quickly catching up with big brother, little baby is wiggling like crazy and keeping Mommy entertained, though nobody else can feel these movements yet. Baby's growing up big and strong, and is now about a whopping 7 ounces (198 grams). Apparently baby could be about 5.5 inches (14 cm) long.

Mommy is heading for a cup of decaf maple vanilla tea and the couch, and is looking forward to more tummy wiggles as soon as she sits still for half a second.

Happy Birthday, Nobue!

Don't worry, I won't tell everybody your new age! :)

Anyway, we had a blast Sunday evening when Nobue's daughter, Rei chan (Matthew's good friend), came to visit while her parents went out for Nobue's birthday dinner.

Playing in Matthew's toy basket

Watching Sazae San together

Matthew's 21 Months Old Today!

Plunking on his keyboard

Zonked after a hard morning of play

On the move (Matthew's normal state of being)

Out for a walk, enjoying the autumn leaves (click pic for a larger view of his happy little face)

  • His new favorite book is a Japanese peekaboo book, Inai Inai Baa!
  • Loves having his head and back rubbed (a chip off the old Daddy block!).
  • When he's in the no-fun zone, he takes his socks off and throws them out the same side of the playard every time.
  • Stephen taught Matthew to pat him on the back after he pats Matthew on the back when hugging.
  • He's back to standing on his head again and looking through his legs.
  • If he sees me with food, he says, "Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm!" and heads toward his high chair.
  • Matthew's pretty much shoveling his own food into his own mouth now, and is good at drinking from a cup. Sometimes towards the end of a meal it seems as if his shoveling hand might be cramping up, because he stretches it out and gives us his spoon or fork to finish off feeding him.
  • Likes yogurt drinks that I make with wheat germ, honey, plain yogurt, and frozen fruit with my hand blender.
  • His mouth looks like a normal size when closed, but everybody always comments on how massive it is when it's opening to receive food!
  • My new hobby has gotten to be taping his books back together. I try to watch him carefully when he's "reading", but Matthew is in a new stage of ripping paper off pages, even seemingly indestructible kids' books.
  • When he had a cold a couple of weeks ago, he was so cute when he tried to blow his own nose.
  • His favorite new fruit is mikan (tangerines). Has no trouble finishing off a whole one on his own.
  • He and I watch "Classic Club" on national TV every before/during lunch for about thirty minutes, and he loves all the different classical instruments people play.
  • Has also really gotten into the kids' electronic keyboard my parents gave him in Florida at New Year. He knows exactly which buttons to push to get certain rhythms and melodies going, and he likes pushing the cymbals buttons. I think Stephen and I are going to get tired of "Greensleeves" pretty quickly.
  • Loves zippers, and the other day in the post office he leaned over out of his stroller and unzipped another (surprised) kid's jacket!
  • We got some library books out recently for Matthew, and he really likes one called People, by Peter Spier (one of about five English books in our local library). He especially likes the page with all the different kinds of eyes that people around the world have. (It's a really gorgeous book with lovely drawings and good writing. Check it out sometime.)
  • Talks a lot (in his special Matthew language).
  • "Helps" me make up my bed every morning by chasing me around while I do it, then patting the covers after they're all in place. A couple of times he's gotten a bit miffed when there was a random sleeve poking out between the two closet doors. He pointed and talked until I put it back safely in the closet.
  • I'm always amazed at what Matthew eats! He'll go for a spicy lentil curry but won't touch raw veggies.
  • He's really into dragging an object around like it's a pet on a leash (his drum with drumstick attached by string, Stephen's lunch bag, clothing).
  • After his shower, he always puts the bottle of baby soap back up on the second shelf in the shower, without us even asking him to.
  • When he's finished drinking, he'll bring us his cup, and if we ask him to, he'll put it on the dining room table for drinking later. If he has two cups, one of milk and one of water, he'll line them up next to each other.
  • Loves to bring me pieces of fluff from the floor.
  • Recently he really likes to pull his sleeves down and hide his hands up in them, then pop his hands out like it's a big surprise.
  • Says "heddo" for "hello" and waves a lot.

Red Priest Rocks!

I blogged recently about Red Priest here, here, and here.

Well, last night was the night I actually went to see them in concert with my friend Sarah. What a fun girls' night out! I drove because the concert hall is in our town of Nishinomiya, and Sarah came on the train from Osaka where she lives with her Japanese hubby and four daughters. We met an hour before the concert and had dinner at a cute little Italian cafe, where they had real loose tea and little teapots (I'm not drinking caffeine for the next five months or so, but Sarah indulged and it looked delicious). The pizza and minestrone soup (no zucchini like the picture promised, though, which was really disappointing) were pretty yummy, and I want to go back there sometime. I don't get out much without Matthew, so I kept feeling like I should push Sarah's hands away from the knife and fork and tell her no!

The concert was at the Hyogo Prefectural Cultural Center, in the smallest hall (about 500 people). The seats went all the way around the stage, and we sat behind the musicians, but they did turn around sometimes so we could see them, and we had a great view above the harpsichord. (Wonder if they brought it with them from the UK?)

All four baroque musicians seemed like great jokers, which was a shame because it was all in English with no interpreter and the Japanese audience didn't seem to get it. Sarah and I were giggling quite a lot, and a couple of times we got smiling glances from the quartet. I'm sure they were relieved that somebody could appreciate their humor!

One of my favorite moments was when the harpsichord player leaned over and played a few notes with his nose. I'm sure it worked so well because he's got one of those high-bridged gaijin noses.

Brain Stimulation

Spending most of the day staring at computer screen, I am as keen as I once was to pick up a book to stare at for those other times of the day when I can take a break. My alternative source of brain-fodder has been podcasts - and there is some excellent material out there.

The OpenCulture blog
has been a particular useful source to dip into. Recently, I have finished listening to "European Civilization from Renaissance to Present", a lecture series from UC Berkley, and I have now started listening to "US History: Civil War to Present" from the same University. I would really recommend taking a look at the lists of online (and free) lecture series that are available. My only "complaint" would be that 5 minutes of editing with some freeware like Audacity to remove comments about tests, term papers and "section" (tutorials in UK universities) would be appreciated by the average podcast listener.

Matthew's Favourite Movie


(This is what the little legal eagle toddles around saying now.)

Welcome to Wisconsin

Just talked to my sister on Skype, and she asked if I'd talked to Mom and Dad lately. I haven't spoken to them in about a week, so I hadn't heard their weather news! Sharon said they have over a foot of snow, and in her six years up there she hasn't seen so much this early in the winter. I think the snow fairies are opening their arms wide and welcoming the parentals to their first winter in Wisconsin! I'm sure Mom is out playing in it and making plenty of Snow Susans, and Dad is most likely hunkering down with a mug of green tea. If it was me, I'd play in it for about two minutes and then grab a cuppa by the fireplace. (I've got both sets of genes at work, you know.)

Cash Guzzling

On my way home from some bento shopping and errands-running this morning, I realized we were down to a quarter tank of gas, so I pulled into our local Jomo station. When I got the receipt I almost gasped! 5300 yen ($48 or 23.50 pounds) for three-quarters of a tank! And we have a medium-sized car with a small tank and not many get-up-and-go horses (Corolla). I guess in Britain that's probably nothing to pay for that amount of petrol, but my American rellies and friends will probably feel some sympathy for me (right???).

I'm really supportive of finding alternative sources of energy, and soon. What about those guys driving their car around Africa on chocolate?

A Day in the Life

I was talking to my sister today and saying that I feel like I hardly ever get anything done around the house.

So I got to thinking about it, and here are a few of the things I accomplished today, a typical day in the life of Abigail (and this doesn't include copyediting, which I don't have this week):

  • got out of bed at 6:30 am (it was cold today so that was a bit tough)
  • packed Stephen's lunch
  • made breakfast
  • helped Matthew eat his pancakes (no, I didn't eat any of them, just helped him keep focused)
  • did three loads of laundry and hung them out to dry
  • changed the sheets
  • walked to the post office and park with Matthew
  • played at the park
  • helped a stray man with his English Santa song that he wrote
  • went to a friend's house in the neighborhood for a few minutes to chat and catch up
  • made lunch
  • changed a total of four (but who's counting?) poopy diapers
  • kept Matthew focused on lunch (food goes in the mouth, not on the floor)
  • put Matthew down for a nap
  • talked to my sister on Skype
  • e-mailed Bento Yum customers regarding their questions
  • took a quick nap and woke up to the sounds of a talking Bean
  • snacked with the Bean (thanks, Yuka san, for the gorgeous yuzu (citron) omanju!)
  • vacuumed
  • washed dishes
  • entertained a toddler and tried to keep him out of mischief
  • talked on the phone to a friend whose call I missed while vacuuming
  • made dinner (tuna croquettes, sauteed pumpkin slices with garlic, oven-baked sweet potato french fries with cumin and olive oil, carrot and curry soup, pickles, and tomato slices)
  • had dinner with hubby and the little Bean
  • grocery shopped
  • put the Bean to bed
  • chopped up the veggies and chicken for a slow-cooker meal for tomorrow
  • folded and put away the three loads of laundry
And now I'm taking a breath at 9:22 pm!

You see what I mean? I really didn't get a lot done today. ;)

Fushigi Gaijin Adventures

You just never know what's going to happen on a given day. I decided to take it easy this morning by not going grocery shopping with Matthew (I'll do it later after Stephen gets home and we have dinner - a much more civilized plan), so Matthew and I went for a walk to the post office and park instead.

We were hanging out at the park at the bottom of our hill with another mommy and her three-year-old daughter, Chinaru, when I heard a rumbling sound and Matthew started pointing at the garbage truck pulling up. There was a big pile of trash bags next to the surrounding fence (the park is right next to a small town hall), and I was surprised when one of the garbage collectors hopped out and just stared at the bags. He then got out a camera and took a picture before he threw them in the back of the truck.


A few minutes later, a retired-aged guy (in his sixties, I'd say), walked up smiling. I was a bit wary and glad Chinaru's mom was close by. I was trying to act normal but as he got closer and asked in broken English if he could tell me a sentence in English, and if I'd correct it for him, I wanted to run away and hide.

Things just got better and better. Not only did he "say" the sentence, he sang it! He really got into it. His voice was very good, but the contents of his self-written song made me want to smile. It was all about a "hasty Santa" and some other Christmas tidbits.

Oh my.

I'm sure he's a very lovely man but it was all just a bit odd.

The hormonal headache I've had for three days wasn't helped by all this excitement (I remember having headaches when I was pregnant with Matthew, too), so I'm off for a quick nap while I can.

Hope I don't dream of any Santa songs.

Still Falling

Stephen and Matthew at Kita Dam

Abigail and Matthew under our favorite tree

Crunching leaves

Colorrific fall leaves

A palm tree wrapped up for the approaching winter

Fall Panorama

The hills are alive with the hues of autumn. Make sure you click through to the larger image of this 41-photo, 140-degree panorama taken at the Kita Dam.

More photos of the spectacular colors and Matthew-leaf-crunching activities to come!


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