Thursday, January 31, 2013

5 Years Old!

A very happy birthday to our Beaver boy yesterday!  

He chose pretzels for his birthday breakfast, and then spent the rest of the day telling me he ought to be able to watch TV because it was his birthday.  Ugh to both of those things.

Neither of my kids are crazy about cake, so I keep trying different birthday treats for them.  This year I tried a chocolate chip cookie pie.  The kids liked it alright, but I wouldn't recommend it.  I'll attempt something else next year. 

Lighting the candles

Singing "Happy Birthday"

Blow them out!

And opening presents!

All in all, a good day for Beaver!  

Sunrise, sunset.  Swiftly fly the years.


Yesterday I attended an ikebana class that some friends in the neighborhood organized.  Ikebana is "the Japanese art of flower arrangement" (source: wikipedia!).  Honestly, when I got to the house, I wanted to turn and run.  I just don't think of myself as very creative or artistic, and I was afraid of making a fool of myself and having to leave the house with a terrible arrangement of flowers that my friends would try to compliment, just to be nice.  This happened to me at a scrapbooking gathering once, and I've been rather traumatized by it ever since.  As I sat down at the table and looked at the bewildering array of vegetation in buckets of water nearby, I wondered what on earth I was doing.  I needn't have worried.  The teacher did all the arranging for us.  I just had to sit and watch and be amazed.  Ikebana is a big deal here.  There are actual schools that people attend to be trained and certified. There were six of us, and each of us had a different ikebana vase - which are more like bowls than what you might think of as a traditional vase.  In the bottom of the vase is the kenzan - a spiky apparatus that holds the plants in place.  It was so fascinating to watch this woman work.  She would look at a vase, and in a matter of a few seconds, choose flowers, leaves, and a delightful viney, woody thing called dragon willow.  She would pull off leaves snip stems, hold them up in the water to test the look, snip some more, twist and weave the dragon willow, and in five to ten minutes have a beautiful creation that I never would have envisioned, but which perfectly fit the shape and color of the vase.  I don't know if I will ever be able to make an arrangement myself, but if the teacher wants to continue arranging for me, I'm happy to attend!

 The pictures from my phone didn't come out very well, but the last one is my arrangement back at home, taken with my camera instead.

Here's some wikipedia information about ikebana for you:

More than simply putting flowers in a container, ikebana is a disciplined art form in which nature and humanity are brought together. Contrary to the idea of floral arrangement as a collection of particolored or multicolored arrangement of blooms, ikebana often emphasizes other areas of the plant, such as its stems and leaves, and draws emphasis toward shape,lineform. Though ikebana is a creative expression, it has certain rules governing its form. The artist's intention behind each arrangement is shown through a piece's color combinations, natural shapes, graceful lines, and the usually implied meaning of the arrangement.
Another aspect present in ikebana is its employment of minimalism. That is, an arrangement may consist of only a minimal number of blooms interspersed among stalks and leaves. The structure of a Japanese flower arrangement is based on a scalene triangle delineated by three main points, usually twigs, considered in some schools to symbolize heavenearth, andman and in others sunmoon, and earth. The container is a key element of the composition, and various styles of pottery may be used in their construction.

Happy flower arranging!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Winter Break

Oreos for breakfast - only on Christmas morning!

Making Christmas cookies

One of their favorite things - sleeping on the futon in Mom & Dad's room.  This has been a common occurrence throughout the winter break.

Bear is waiting to ambush his dad as soon as he walks through the door.  Notice the glee on his face.

The kids got these snuggly blankets from Santa Claus.  Mike borrowed them for the evening because he was cold.

Mike went back to work for three days after Christmas.  The kids and I hung out at home and played the card games they got for Christmas and Scotland Yard, which was our family Christmas game this year.  We attempted a visit to a museum, but after driving all the way there and walking through the rain, we discovered that it was closed.  Too bad.  Mike had the whole week of New Year's off, so we went to a New Year's Eve party at our neighbors Monday night, went downtown for New Year's Day on Tuesday, and joined some friends for a trip to Awaji Island on Wednesday.

A cute flower garden on Awaji.

The fun thing about this family is that they lived less than a mile from us back in Illinois and the kids attended the same school as Bear, but we didn't know them until they came to Japan.

Behind the kids are the whirlpools under Naruto bridge, but they weren't very whirly that day.

A pretty view from the Island.

Thursday we took another ski trip.  It was snowing really hard and I was colder than I ever got in Hokkaido, although the actual temperature was warmer.  Beaver and I look like we're on an arctic expedition. 

Friday we chilled at home and cleaned the house.  Today I prepared for primary and Mike and the boys played at the park in our neighborhood.  I joined them after awhile and played capture the flag with Bear.  Tomorrow is church, and then it's back to school and work on Monday.  It's been a nice vacation, and I rather hate to see it end!

One other thing of note:  I played a musical number on the piano in Sacrament meeting last week.  The counselor in the branch presidency asked me to play, and I told him no, but he didn't believe me.  So, I thought about what I might possibly be able to play, and remembered that "Nearer My God to Thee" is one hymn that I can play with minimal mistakes.  I looked online and found a version of it that wasn't too difficult and practiced until my family probably never wants to hear the song again, but I got it down well enough to play in Sacrament meeting.  Unfortunately, the piano in the chapel locks into quiet mode when the center pedal is pushed down, but I didn't know that.  So, I started playing and couldn't figure out why the piano was so quiet.  I was hitting the keys as hard as I could just to get it loud enough for the congregation to hear.  It's too bad and kind of funny that happened, but I got through the piece pretty well.  I feel quite proud of myself because that is something I never thought I could do.


One of the best Janglish shirts I've seen yet:  Two little boys wearing matching sweatshirts in the grocery store that said in big block letters on the back, "Do not get hyper about that wam-wam!"

Friday, January 4, 2013

New Year's Day

We had a nice Christmas, but New Year's is the big holiday in Japan.  Everyone goes with their families to the shrines to pray.  We decided to brave the crowds downtown this year to experience New Year's Day as the Japanese do.  Also to eat at the many food vendors that are out that day.  A nice, festive atmosphere, and of course, good food as always!  

This is the crowd of people making their way up to the shrine.

Looking back away from the shrine.

We were at the front of the line here waiting for our turn.  They would only let so many people in at a time.  Once you get up to the shrine, the Japanese people would pray and throw money into the center area.  We gave the kids some coins to throw in.

 Here's another view of the crowd.

Beaver enjoyed the hot dog he got at the end, if nothing else!

A quick video that Mike took.