Thursday, August 23, 2007

summer vacation: week four - Awaji Island

When we woke up on Wednesday morning we felt like our real summer vacation was beginning. No commitments, meetings or work! Chikara took the older three girls out for an hour or so in the morning so I could finish packing all our stuff. Our friends, Stephen and Abigail, had rented a cabin for a week in Awaji Island and had invited us to join them for which I was really grateful since we're six whole other people and we take up so much space, etc. but they were very gracious. Also, I had no idea what to expect since we've never done anything like this with all four of our children before. We've taken them back to Canada but we've done it so many times that it's almost second nature. But a cabin? the ocean? sand and dirt? I kept throwing more diaper wipes in the suitcase!

Check-in at the cabin was for 4pm so we left around 1:30 and got some lunch from the convenience store. We decided that we wanted to take the ferry instead of driving the whole way on the highway, even if it was faster. Basically we drove just over an hour from Osaka to Kobe, rode the ferry for 25 minutes to the island and then drove another hour to the cabin. It really reminded me of the trips we would taken to and from Gibsons, British Columbia when we lived there. We have a GPS navigating system in our car but the way the address was written it could only take us to the neighborhood. We ended up stopping at a cafe to ask for directions and when we found the right road it was a very amazing road. It was almost like a roller coaster at one point when we came over the crest of the hill on this dirt road and we couldn't see if the road continued or not because it was such a steep grade down. After the first time we really enjoyed it!

Stephen and Abigail had arrived with their son Matthew (1-1/2 years old) about an hour before us and had explored the house and what it had to offer. The cabin is a three-story log house built by a home-building company as a type of show house. The first floor is an office and the second floor (which we had rented) had 3 bedrooms, a Japanese room, living room, kitchen, toilet room and a bathroom with two sinks. We divied up the rooms with Stephen and Abigail in one, Matthew in another, Emi, Misaki & Sakura in the Japanese room and then Natsuki slept with Chikara and I in the last bedroom.

It's hard to describe what the cabin was like. Neither Abigail nor I took a picture of it so that's no help. The lady described it as their show house but it didn't really recommend itself. Many of the sliding glass doors didn't close right and the lighting they chose didn't match the type of house it was. There wasn't an air conditioner in the kitchen (where it was needed most!) so we had to cook and clean up in the heat. Originally the dining table was in the kitchen but I knew that was not going to work so we had the guys move it to the living room since there was plenty of space. On the plus side, all the rooms were quite large and had nice big beds and airconditioning so at least we slept well.

Abigail wrote about the first two days on her blog so I'll just give some highlights. There were two things we were looking forward to about the trip. One was taking the girls to the beach for the first time and the second was getting to know Stephen and Abigail better. Stephen works with Chikara so they see each other all the time but in a work setting which is different from a vacation setting and Abigail and I have only gotten together a couple of times although we e-mail each other often. I am pleased to report that we had a great time with them. We taught them our favorite game, Settlers of Cataan (seriously, go buy it right now!), watched DVD's, talked, cooked together, cleaned together, well, really everything and it was all fun and I think we worked well together. My girls entertained their son. Sometimes he just sat and watched them as they jumped around him. They had him laughing all the time and I was relieved that it went so well.

The beach was great, too. I know, I know, why haven't the kids been to the beach before? Because we keep having babies and it's hard to take babies to the beach. Also I don't like to get dirty and wet. I'm my own worst enemy! Emi and Misaki are taking swimming lessons at school so they were really excited for a chance to swim in the ocean. Misaki and I had a funny conversation about it the day before we left:

Misaki: Hey, mom, when are we going to the ocean?
Me: Tomorrow.
Misaki: Are we going to swim in it?
Me: Yes.
Misaki: Yeah!
Me: I'm trying to pack, can you go and play with your sisters?
Misaki: Are there fish in the ocean?
Me: Yes.
Misaki: Where we'll be swimming?
Me: I don't know. Maybe.
Misaki: ... what about ... sharks?
Me: (trying to suppress a laugh) No, there won't be any sharks, sweetie.
Misaki: Phew! I don't want to get eaten!!!

I guess that was her main concern. Sharks. Where did that come from? The biggest surprise for the girls was that the ocean is salty. They couldn't get over it and if a little bit of the water got in their mouth there was a big show of spitting it all out. Very dramatic spitting. Also there were a lot of jellyfish and Chikara didn't want the experience to be ruined so he made a big show of catching them with his sandal and throwing them onto the sand. I think he caught about 10 of them. The girls were very impressed with how strong and brave he was and actually Emi wrote about the experience on one of her diary pages for her summer homework. That's a big compliment coming from Emi.

I was mostly concerned about Natsuki and what to do with her but we rented a covered area on the sand and she sat in her carseat for a most of the time that we were there. I was really surprised because lately she hates her carseat but I just kept giving her snacks or toys and she was fairly content. I did take her in the ocean and she was fine for about 10 minutes and then she was was trying to climb up and over me so we retreated to our tent in the sand and then the last 20 minutes she started to fuss but it was time to go so that was good timing. We had some shaved ice before we headed to the car and the older three girls were really sad to go so I think we'll try that again another time.

The last day we went to a koala park but it was so hot and this time we weren't by the ocean so there was no refreshing breeze nor any air conditioned buildings. After only a hour it was too much so we had some more shaved ice and then headed home. I felt pretty lame but I didn't not want anyone collapsing from heat exhaustion.

I didn't take a lot of pictures of our trip to Awaji Island. I find that I just don't have a free hand. But the pictures I do have are cute so I'll share them with you. Enjoy!

week four to be continued... (it was a long week!)

summer vacation: week four

Week four of our summer vacation had the most going on and I wasn't really sure how everything was going to come together or if we'd even get to enjoy any of it. On Friday, August 10th (a lifetime ago!), the summer retreat for our church started. Our church built a new building two years ago and it's really nice so instead of everyone going away to a camp or retreat center, we just meet at our church. It works out great for people who have inflexible schedules. Also, everyone is excited because their summer vacation is about to begin. People who work in Japanese companies rarely get more than three days off in a row but obon yasumi is one of those times where many people will get at least that, if not more. Chikara read somewhere that during obon yasumi, more than 70% of the population will go somewhere, near or far, so there is usually a lot of traffic no matter where you go. In fact, a lot of our friends were late for the Friday meeting because of it.

The retreat lasted until Sunday and we went and came as we needed to. Chikara led worship for half of the services. He is an awesome singer and guitar player! The girls would stay with me for the worship part and then they were free to go downstairs and play with their friends. They had so much fun and fell asleep on the way home every night.

On Sunday night, Chikara's dad's church's summer retreat was starting and they had asked Chikara to lead worship for all of it. We had planned that only Chikara would go Sunday night and then come home to get some sleep and then we would all go together for the Monday morning service, swim in the pool in the afternoon and then come home. But on Sunday night while Chikara was gone I realized that Sakura and Natsuki were pretty worn out. Neither of them had pooped in previous three days since we'd been running around so much. I don't think they were constipated or anything but there weren't going to be any "downtime" days for another week so I talked with Chikara when he came home and we decided that I would stay home with Sakura and Natsuki and he would take Emi and Misaki so that they would be able to swim in the pool with him after the morning service. I was a little bit worried about what my MIL would think but I had to think of my kids first.

Monday turned out really good. Sakura and Natsuki had a nice relaxing day, they both pooped three times each (making up for lost time?!) and were back to their normal happy selves by the end of the day. Emi and Misaki got to have a nice day playing with their two friends from our old church, being spoiled by their obaa-chan (my MIL) and got to swim in the pool without any time constraints. Misaki, especially, was really excited to have a chance to show her dad all her new swimming moves that she's been working so hard on. The three of them came home exhausted but happy. We went out to the mall to have dinner and came home by 8 and put everyone to bed.

On Tuesday we had planned to meet with Chikara's parents around 11am, have some lunch, go to the aquarium for the afternoon and then come back to our house for dinner, cake and presents. Natsuki shares a birthday with my FIL on August 18th but we were going to be gone on that day and dad would be working anyways so Tuesday was the best alternative. Chikara's dad called us around 10am and said that mom was tired and could we think of something else to do besides the aquarium since that's a lot of walking. After Chikara talked with his mom, he realized that she was actually too tired to do anything so we postponed until dinner time. The girls were kind of upset but they needed a nap anyways so it worked out just fine in my book! To be completely honest we were having a difficult time planning Natsuki's birthday because usually we have a big party with everyone (my in-laws and our friends) and it's a lot of fun but my MIL has offended a few of our friends so we felt that a big party could be awkward. It is a tradition in my family to make two-layer chocolate cakes for every birthday and especially on first birthday we cut off a piece and lay it on the highchair and let the birthday girl go at it. We did it with Emi, Misaki and Sakura and of course now it's Natsuki's turn but I didn't want to make a chocolate cake twice so I was in a bit of a predicament. We couldn't not have a cake for Natsuki's birthday when we got together with Chikara's parents or they might guess that we were having her "real" party on another day. In the end we bought a strawberry shortcake at a bakery and I really think that his parents were none the wiser (knock on wood!).

We got together with my in-laws around 5:30pm and went to a family restaurant that's just around the corner from us. I was kind of surprised at the choice but when we met up with them I could see that my MIL was still tired and kind of dragging. We all sat down and when we ordered, she ordered an ice cream and nothing else. My girls looked at me like, "Is that OK?". At least they know that just ice cream is a no-no! The rest of us ate real food with gusto and at the end, my MIL still hadn't finished her ice cream so I let her divided it up into three bowls and let the girls finish it. Then we went back to our house and opened gifts. Natsuki got a lot of really nice toys. We gave my FIL a foot massager. He was pretty excited about it and he opened it up right away and started using it. Chikara was very happy to see that since we never know what to get for his dad. Then we did the cake and Natsuki just looked it and us like we were nuts. We sat her in her highchair and gave her some but she hardly even touched it and I don't think any of it actually went in her mouth. By this time she was worn-out so I cleaned her up and put her in her bed for a little sleep. Once she was gone, Emi, Misaki and Sakura played with all the new toys for awhile until it was time for them to go to bed.

Here are some pictures from that night.

week four to be continued...

clip of Natsuki climbing up onto the sofa

This is kind of a test to see if links work to Google Video. It's taking forever to post to Blogger but I'm impatient so I'm going to try it this way.

This is the video of Natsuki climbing up onto the sofa.

Thursday, August 09, 2007


Yesterday Natsuki figured out how to climb up onto the couch. This means I have to keep my eyes on her every single *second* that she's awake.

Video to follow.

PS There should be more exclamation points in this post so that you get a sense of how I'm feeling about this!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

summer vacation: week three

There are so many posts that I have started and never finished in the last two weeks. Also, I have been faithfully reading the blogs of my friends (Cara is back online!) but then I don't have time to leave a comment. I don't know what I'm doing that's keeping me so busy. The girls are doing so well. After that first week, I wasn't sure that we were going to make it but it seems like they made enough mistakes and then consequently learned enough lessons that they've managed to keep out of trouble.

Emi is being faithful to her summer homework program. She does a page of homework each day, waters her morning glory (which is blooming nicely), helping out around the house, being nice to her sisters and in general being a good big sister. This last Sunday, we had a Gospel Concert at our church. Our pastor's wife leads a gospel choir and every few months she arranges a concert/recital for them. She asked me about a month ago if Emi & Misaki would participate in one of the songs (This Little Light Of Mine) with some actions. This is usually the type of thing that Emi hates to do so I sighed inwardly and then began to scheme. Both my husband and I were in children's choirs directed by our mothers when we were young. My family would occasionally travel around to other churches and my siblings and I would sing. I won't go into a lot of detail but we were very adorable. Even though we alternately hated and enjoyed doing this, the experience has given us a confidence to get up and speak or sing in front of people without hesitation so we want our children to benefit from this as well.

Eventually I decided bribing would be the easier way to go. We don't bribe our kids for regular stuff like going to bed or eating dinner but I felt this was the right time to try. I sat Emi & Misaki down and told them about the opportunity and how it wouldn't be just the two of them up there because a few other girls were going to do it, too, and how much fun it would be but there came a point when I felt I was losing them so I said, "And I'll buy you a present". I held my breath as I waited for a response. Emi said, nonchalantly, "okay" and Misaki just nodded. Good enough for me! They practiced faithfully all month and then on Sunday they were total pros and smiled confidently as they did their actions while the choir sang behind them. I was bursting at the seams with pride.

As soon as they were off the stage and we were headed to the back, I felt a tug on the back of my shirt and as I turned around, I heard behind me, in a small whisper, "Where's our present". That girl is on the ball. The thing was, I hadn't actually bought it yet, so I told her I would get it for her soon. Every hour, she would appear beside me and ask if it was time for me to give her the present. I could see that she was beginning to wonder if I was going to keep up my end of the bargain. Fortunately, some friends of ours came over for dinner on Sunday night so she enjoyed that enough to leave me alone but on Monday morning, bright and early, I went to the mall and bought the DVD of High School Musical, their current favorite movie. I brought it home with some intrepidation because you never know what Emi is expecting and I really didn't want her to be disappointed. I needn't have worried, though, because as soon as she saw it, she put her hand up over her heart, as if to calm the wild beating, and gave me a big hug. Phew!

On Monday morning, they had a special event at Emi's school about the dropping of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima and while she was gone, I realized that Misaki had a high fever, so she couldn't go to her swimming lessons. It had been a really long week so during the afternoon we all took a nap (except Emi who watched her new DVD) and everyone slept until 5:30pm which is way past the usual 4:00pm. We dragged ourselves out of bed and went downstairs only to find that Emi and Sakura had developed the same fever as well. I sat the three of them down on the couch and took turns taking their temperatures, administering Children's Tylenol and sticking those fever-reducing jelly sheets onto their foreheads. I wanted to take a picture but they were too sad and forlorn so I didn't mess with them.

This morning, typically, Misaki was all better so she went off to her swimming but Emi either sat or laid on the couch almost all day taking only short breaks to come and whine or moan at her father or I. We will be glad when this is over. Sakura was feeling better but she still had a low-grade fever which meant she could play but would burst into tears whenever "it" got to be too much. Poor things. Too bad I had to leave to teach English so that their more compassionate parent could take over!! Honestly Chikara is so much nicer than me.

I figure if we can make it through to the end of this week then Chikara's vacation will start (he has one whole week) for which we have a lot of fun stuff planned which means it will go by quickly. Then there will only be two weeks left until the girls are back on their regular school schedule. Yeah September!

There are other things I should be sharing about last week, like the fact that Chikara and I had to take our kitchen apart on Saturday night and clean even the parts you can't regularly see, because we found cockroaches in our house. To be precise, we found one cockroach on Thursday night and then another on Friday night, both in the exact same place, our little kitchen garbage can, at around the same time. I know that this is a normal part of living in a country with hot and humid summer weather but that knowledge doesn't make me feel better. I did not want to cook so we ate out or Chikara brought home McDonald's for three whole days. Yes, I am pathetic, I'll get over it.

Also, Chikara has finished his "procedure" and we are officially not able to make babies anymore. I know there's not a 100% guarantee or anything but I am feeling greatly relieved. Honestly, we get pregnant so easily. We got pregnant with Misaki when Emi was only 5 months old. I was on birth control and nursing exclusively and I hadn't even started my period since giving birth but there we were holding a little stick with a plus sign on it. We both stood there staring at it and then Chikara said, "How did that happen?". We were one month away from moving to Japan and Emi was only seven months old. Yeah. Think about that for a moment. If there is anyone out there who is having a hard time getting pregnant and you're reading this and starting to feel bitterness towards me, send me your name and I will pray that my fertility works it's way over to you. I am serious. I could never joke about this.

What else? We went to visit Abigail and her son Matthew last Wednesday in Kobe. Abigail's husband, Stephen, works with Chikara and they live near the company so we all went to work with Chikara and he dropped us off at her house around lunchtime (good timing!). Chikara's company is a large house way up on a hill and the owner of the company and his family (The French Family) live across the street. They also have four daughters ages 5-12 so my girls were looking forward to seeing them and swimming together in their pool. Stephen and Abigail invited us to stay with them at a cabin in Awajishima during the summer holidays so although I went over there to make meal plans, I really enjoyed fellowshipping and relaxing. Sometimes I forget how much I miss speaking in English.

Around 2pm, Chikara came down and got Emi & Misaki and they went up to swim in the pool with the French girls. Abigail and I went up after Natsuki finished her nap (Matthew was too excited to sleep). Sakura was determined to go in the water so Abigail set up the small kiddie pool I had brought. We thought it would be nice to splash around with Matthew and Natsuki, but poor Matthew went in the water for about 2 minutes and then he was too cold and wanted to come out and by the time I finished feeding Natsuki her dinner, there was no one outside except Sakura, who was sitting in the kiddie pool all by herself, covered in mosquito bites. She even had a neat row of four bites right across her forehead leading to her left eye. So we called it quits for the day as far as swimming! Stephen and Abigail had to go so we said good-bye and I took all the girls down to the French's house to wait until Chikara finished his work. By the time we got home, everyone was tired out and went right to bed. A lovely end to a lovely day.

I am really looking forward to next week. I probably won't get a chance to post but I will do my best to take lots of pictures and do some catch-up posting later.