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Monday, December 31, 2012

よいお年を!


日本に帰国して、この一年間は全速力で頑張ってきたような気がする。YESを始めて、子供や大人の英会話から受験英語まで、リサーチから資料作りまで全部一人で、楽しくもあったけど本当に大変だった。こんな経験は15年ぶり。でも、一つ違ったのは、驚くほど多くの人たちから助けられてきたということ。自力で挑戦していく楽しさもアメリカで経験してきたけど、人の温かさに触れて感謝しながら残りの人生を生きていくのもまたいいものかもしれない。最近では、この何もない塚原の自宅でボッーと過ごす休日に、ふと喜びさえ感じたりする。
 

相変わらずギフト交換をしない私たち。クリスマスツリーは短期間ながら塚原の家にも飾った。すると、ラッキーが。。。彼は4年前の12月にうちにやって来て、その時も私たちにとっては最高のクリスマスプレゼントになったが、今回もツリーの下で寝転んで、最高の贈り物に化してくれた。犬だってsense of humorを忘れないのだ。私もどんなに忙しくてもpositive attitude で来年も頑張っていこう。
 

 
最後に。。。生徒のずtお母さんたちが飲み会に誘ってくれた。わざわざ隣の町まで。。。連れて行ってくれたところは、60年代のステージを見せてくれるバー。私も若いお母さんたちと一緒に踊った。20数年ぶり。私よりずっと年配だろうと思われる方たちもいたけど、私の方が体力的にダウンしていたような気がする。久しぶりで楽しかった。来年はこういう息抜きも少しはしていくべきかな?

 

それでは皆様、よいお正月をお迎え下さい。来年も宜しくお願い致します。

Erika

Heater For Dogs and Happy New Year

We are on winter holiday for the next few days. It has been snowing and the temperature is hovering around -4C. The time off has allowed me to catch up on a few things.

One of my projects was to turn a coffee table into a kotatsu.







 


A kotatsu is a heated table. I took the top off the coffee table and set it aside.
















I added cross-bracing and mounted the heater. The bracing also added support to the table since the table top was no longer attached. The bracing will be stained when the weather warms up.




















A 2 meter by 2 meter futon was placed over the framing and under the table top.








Kiley was the first one to test out the kotatsu. I think it’s her new favorite spot.   

 
 
 
 
 
I wanted to wish everyone a Happy New Year. I think it will be another great year for us. It’s an exciting time and each day is full of surprises and laughter. I can only wish you the same. Thank you for reading our blog.    George


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Huge Success!




Many, many thanks to everyone for helping us make the 1st annual Y.E.S. Christmas party a huge success. The students and parents were greeted by our surprise guest (Santa Claus). In the U.S., it’s not a big deal to see Santa at a party. Actually, it’s not a big deal to see Santa in Japan. The surprise for everyone was that Santa looked like, well…Santa. In Japan, these terrible looking disguises that look like a red Robin Hood are offered as a Santa costume. So when the kids and parents saw a “real” Santa, they freaked out. It was a great photo opportunity for everyone. Santa didn’t say much since his Japanese was rusty, but the kids had a good time trying to figure out who he was. “Of course, it was Santa!” we repeated throughout the evening to every child that asked.

The parents provided a wide assortment of edible delights. The students provided entertainment by giving speeches and singing songs in English. They performed magnificently! The kids enjoyed the freshly popped kettle corn.
 
 
 
I enjoyed looking at the faces of the kids as they tried to break open the piñata. I'm sorry that you can't see their faces because of privacy issues. (Erika did a good job at adding "hearts" to the pictures.) The youngest kids were the first to give it a try. By the time we reached the oldest kids, the piñata was getting heavy. I think it weighed over 10 pounds. The scene was perfectly choreographed as the last student gave the piñata a mighty blow. The contents showered onto the floor and the kids scrambled to gather the goodies. The super balls worked as planned (earlier post). They bounced all over the place!

 
It was time for the parents to have some fun. The Christmas Quiz Game Show was a hit. Candies worth various points were given out as each question was answered correctly. The one with the most points at the end of the game was given the privilege of choosing the first present under the Christmas tree. The highlight for me…playing the guitar and singing Silent Night in Japanese. To add drama, I turned the lights down and the room glowed with Christmas lights. The audience sounded like a choir and it was an emotional experience. I redeemed myself for an earlier childhood trauma (earlier post) and I was able to sing without a mistake. Woo hoo! It feels good to get that monkey off my back.

 
Everyone went home with a candy train, a present, a foam picture frame ornament, an assortment of candy, photos, a full stomach, and many good  memories. What’s next? Santa will make an appearance on the 25th in Yufuin. It should be a lot of fun.   George

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Three Days To Go



We will have a Christmas Quiz show as part of the party activities. The questions have multiple choice answers (A, B, C, D). Each family will have a set of answer paddles. There are 10 easy and 10 challenging questions about Christmas traditions and Santa Claus. Individuals will receive a reward for answering a question correctly and a grand prize will be awarded to the person that correctly answers the most questions.

Our students will give speeches and sing Christmas carols in English to the parents. The parents will have a chance to sing Silent Night in Japanese while I play the guitar. I’ll do my best to sing in Japanese, also. I’m kind of nervous about singing Silent Night in Japanese. When I was very small, I had to sing this song in front of a school audience. I forgot the words and I have been suffering from stage fright ever since. Well, maybe not ever since, but I suffered for a long time. This is my chance to redeem myself.

In an earlier post I mentioned that we stuffed candy and super balls inside of a piñata for the Christmas party. The reason for the super balls: They are harder to collect when they bounce on the floor. The super balls can be exchanged for special candy and gifts. The party is less than 3 days away. I’m starting to get anxious, especially about our surprise. Surprise?..stay tuned.     George

Monday, December 10, 2012

Turkey in Tsukahara

Joe Reinhart invited us, along with several other guests, to a very nice late Thanksgiving, early Christmas dinner. We had turkey, mashed potatoes, vegetables, gravy and stuffing.

 Lucky and Kiley quickly became friends with Joe.











Our host even made home-made beer.

The conversation was refreshing and strange to my ears. I had become used to hearing only Japanese and broken English. This was the most fluent English I had heard in over a year. The turkey was purchased from Yoyo Market Online, a subsidiary of Costco. Thank you Joe!   George

Rain Gutters

It’s time to catch up on our posts before we’re too busy to write. This week we’ll have our Christmas party so we’ll have a gazillion things to do beforehand.


Turning the clocks back to about a week ago, I installed gutters on the back side of the house. I’m not sure why the house didn’t come with gutters. My guess is that it has something to do with the severe pitch of the roof and most log cabins are not used on a day-to-day basis. Anyway, the brackets which hold the gutter consist of a large nail that is welded to a curved piece of aluminum. Installation is straightforward.
 
 
 
 
 
First mark the slope of the gutter, 5/8” for every 10’, and pound in the brackets every 24”. The plastic gutter slips into the brackets and the downspouts are glued in. I still need to install the second story gutter, but I may have to wait for awhile. The snow has arrived and climbing a ladder is not a good idea. To be continued…       George
 


 
 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Foam Christmas Picture Frames


The candy trains are completed. I finished making some foam Christmas picture frames for the tree. They weigh very little and are easy to hang on the tree.  
 
 
 
 


 
 
 
 
 
 
These foam frames will feature some of our student’s pictures and they will be given away at the party. I’m not crazy about the colors, but my resources were limited. Oh well, I hope they like them.
The next project for the Christmas party will be stuffing a piñata with candy and superballs. Superballs? I’ll explain why in the next blog…stay tuned.  George




Monday, November 26, 2012

Making Bread


One of our neighbors in Tsukahara was kind enough to give us a lesson on making bread. Since we don’t have an oven and she does, we visited her kitchen. Learning to make bread was fun and I hope she will give us more lessons on baking.
 
 


As you can see, the bread turned out perfect. Some of the rolls were sliced in half and used as hamburger buns. Dried cranberries were baked into the loaf of bread...YUMMY.
 
 
 
 
After the lesson, I shared some sourdough yeast with her that I brought from the U.S. My hygienist, Debbie, gave me some yeast as a going away present. Debbie if you are reading this, I hope your B&B is alive and well in Homer.    George

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Hasama


How about some pictures of Y.E.S.? I’m glad you asked. Here are some pictures of the neighborhood. Y.E.S. is located in the city of Hasama. Hasama is on the outskirts of Oita City. Oita City is the capital of Oita Prefecture (A prefecture is kind of like a state). We are located near a few public schools. A very large medical school is also nearby. We don’t have the best location because it’s impossible to lease a building with pets. However, if at some point our business is successful enough, we will think about purchasing a building near the main road. It’s one step at a time for us. Right now, we need to focus our attention on gathering materials and designing lesson plans that are appealing to all age groups.

Hasama is one of the fastest growing cities in Kyushu. It’s easy to see why. Hasama offers something for everyone. Plenty of walking trails, shopping malls, a large cultural center, even fast food restaurants. Hasama is made up of people who want to enjoy the countryside, but they also want the conveniences of a city. Many of the homes are recently built and considered large by Japanese standards.

 
If you look closely at the pictures, you’ll notice that the homes are western style. I like to call them “boxes”. Most of the new homeowners don’t expect their home to last more than 20 years. I think it’s because of the materials. The construction is similar to western style homes, but the materials are thinner and mostly made of plastic and laminate.



The walking paths in Hasama get plenty of use from the local residents. This was appealing to us and the dogs. Another nice feature about Hasama is that it’s close to the bay. When the roads are too difficult to drive in the mountains, we can stay in Hasama. It rarely snows here. 

Speaking of snow, Erika informed me that she saw some snowflakes mixed in with the light rain. The first snow in Tsukahara and it’s only November. I’ll try to take some pictures when I get home.  George



Note: This view is from Hasama. Mount Yufu is the volcano on the left. Mount Tsurumi is the volcano on the right. Tsukahara is on the opposite side of these volcanoes. It's a 45 minute drive home.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Log Splitter

It’s beginning to feel a lot like winter. The temperature has dipped below freezing. The wood pile has grown to an acceptable level provided that the winter season will not be too severe.
 

Our manually operated splitter had to be retired because of a hydraulic leak. It did a heck of a job considering how cheap it was. Rather than follow the same route, we decided to go electric this time. My goodness! What a difference! Manually, it would have taken 10 days to do what we have done in only one day with the electric splitter. It was almost fun to split wood. Seriously, we accomplished ten times more work with ten times less effort. I could split oak with a diameter of 15 inches. No problem. Maple, cherry, oak, and acacia were no match for the splitter.
 
It’s a heavy duty machine (300 lbs) with two speeds and it requires a 20 amp circuit. The slow speed does the initial work of splitting the big stuff. The fast speed follows through and finishes the splitting process. It’s very simple to use and relatively safe. 
We ordered it from Rakuten and they delivered it within a couple of days. It's amazing how fast packages are delivered in Japan. The mail is even delivered on Sunday...after 8PM...out here in the middle of nowhere!  We discovered that it's easier, cheaper, and more convenient to order online than to go to the store. Since Erika and I hate to go shopping, this is a good thing.     George


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Party Time


It wouldn’t be Christmas without these classics. We’re trying to incorporate these videos into an English lesson plan for the holiday season.
 Our Christmas Party will be in Hasama on the 15th of December. Erika has been making the invitations and I’ve been busy with the party favors. We are very grateful to the community of Sunny Town for letting us use their community center for the party.
A few of the parents will help in making this a fun and successful Christmas party for everyone involved. Erika and I are very excited to share this holiday with the students. In Japan, Christmas is all about presents. Many students believe that Christmas is on the 24th of December because that is when the gifts are exchanged. I’ve been trying to explain that Christmas is a birthday that is celebrated on the 25th.
Since Halloween is the kick-off to the holiday season, Happy Halloween. The kids really don’t understand the scary part of Halloween. Most of them know that it’s a time for wearing costumes and eating candy. We are going to pass on having a Halloween party and concentrate on having a great party in December. Stay tuned…
A footnote: The people who know us know that we don’t celebrate holidays. We have never given each other a present for any occasion, except for my 50th birthday, last year. It’s ironic that we are planning a Christmas party with all the bells and whistles. Life is full of surprises.    George


Monday, October 29, 2012

Great Idea!


The Japanese have this really great idea about reusing plastic bottles that contain cleaning products, cosmetics, sauces, shampoos, etc. Rather than sell you another plastic bottle, they sell an easy-to-use refill pouch. The pouch contains exactly enough product to refill the original plastic bottle. The pouches are clearly marked so that you don’t accidently put the wrong product into the original bottle. In the U.S., I hated to throw away a perfectly good spray bottle. I would save the sprayer, but how many sprayers does a person need? The pouches are easy to recycle and easy on the environment. It’s a win win situation.   George