Family Fun at Green Park

Friends from Katie’s jazz dance class recently invited us to have a barbeque at Green Park in Utsunomiya.  We’d never been there before, but were really impressed with how many fun things there were for kids to do!  After feasting on delicious barbequed meat and vegetables next to the Kinugawa river, the kids set off to ride funny bicycles and then test their physical prowess on the “over water obstacle course.”  There was also a water play area, a paddle boat lake, and venders selling ice cream, crepes, and other delectable treats.  The weather was perfect and we greatly enjoyed the time with our friends.  We definitely plan to visit again!

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Pottery Making in Mashiko, Japan

We live in the Japanese city of Utsunomiya, which is less than an hour away from a town called Mashiko that is famous for pottery making.  Tourists from all over Japan make their way to Mashiko to buy pottery and to try their hand at making it themselves at one of the famous pottery kilns.  Despite living close to Mashiko, we rarely go there and no one in our family had ever tried pottery making.  But one weekend Bryan had plans to take Austin and Ethan to a sports camp so Katie and I decided to head on over to Mashiko and let the family Queen of Arts and Crafts give it a try.

We ended up going to a place called Hasegawa Touen, one of many pottery makers who have inexpensive classes for beginners and who welcome children.  Most of the shops in Mashiko offer two kinds of pottery making experiences: forming pottery out of a ball of clay with your hands or using a pottery wheel.  We decided to go with hand forming the clay since it sounded easier.  The staff woman who helped us was very friendly and she assisted Katie whenever she had any questions.  Otherwise, Katie was free to make whatever she wanted and could make use of various tools and clay stamps that the staff provided.

After a bit of deliberation, Katie decided to make a mug that she decorated with various animal-shaped stamps.  When she was finished, the staff woman engraved Katie’s name and the date in the bottom of the mug and told us it would be ready  in about a month.  When we inquired about why it takes so long, she said that first they have to dry the clay, then bake it, then glaze it (in the color of Katie’s choice), and then bake it again.

Several weeks later, we received a call from Hasegawa Touen and went to pick up Katie’s pottery creation.  She was very happy with the results and it is now her go-to mug for all types of beverages!  Way to go, Katie!  You did a great job!  Maybe next time we will try the pottery wheel!

Exploring the Microscopic World

Bug parts, cheek cells, fabrics, leaves, hairs, paper scraps, drops of slimy pond water.  These are just some of the ordinary-turned fascinating items that we have examined under the lens of our microscope so far this school year as part of our Sonlight science curriculum.  It’s amazing how getting a chance to look closely at items we normally take for granted can elicit ooohs and aaahs from kids and parents alike!

We also recently did a project where we made gelatin, added it to petri dishes, and then stuck our fingers in potentially germ-infested substances.  We then poked our fingers into the gelatin to see what kinds of creepy microscopic organisms would grow!  Gross stuff like ear wax, nose mucous, river water, dust behind the refrigerator, and more made it into our petri dishes.  We also pushed a clean finger into one petri dish and in another a finger disinfected with Germ-X alcohol gel so we could compare the dishes that had been touched with something clean with the dishes that had been touched with something dirty.  A week or so later,  we got to look at all the dishes under our microscope.  Wow!  Exciting stuff!

Since we’ve been reading about the structure of cells in our Usborne World of the Microscope book, we decided to make models of animals cells out of cake.  A couple of years ago we did the same project with plant cells, but it was so much fun (and so delicious!) that we decided it was worth doing again.  This time Katie was old enough to join in the fun and make her very own cell model all by herself.

Science is one of our most hands-on topics and it gives a chance to marvel at God’s creativity, intelligence, and attention to detail so it is definitely a favorite around here!

Crafty Katie

When Austin and Ethan were Katie’s age, they spent lots of time playing with toy trains, cars, and Legos.  Katie plays with toys too, but she spends the majority of her free time creating things out of paper, disposable chopsticks, tape, glue, and staples.  Lots of staples.  In fact, to help her enjoy writing, we recently started a blog for her called Katie’s Craft World.  She comes up with craft ideas and makes them.  Then I photograph her with her crafts and she dictates to me what she wants me to type into her blog to explain how to make her craft.  It’s her first foray into homeschool writing assignments, but without having to worry about spelling or get exhausted from writing it down herself.  I get a kick out of the creative craft ideas she comes up with, like sushi made from origami paper or a mini badminton set made out of drinking straws and staples.

Something else Katie has gotten into is sewing.  Back in 2010 I first gave her a piece of felt and a needle and thread to practice making super simple stitches.  She enjoyed it and since then has been improving in her sewing ability little by litte.  A few months ago, I ordered this kids’ sewing book from amazon.com and also this one and we put together her very own sewing kit. She was super excited to have her own sewing tools, fabric, and books with various projects in them and she set to work right away to make some of the easy ones.  She can now thread and knot a needle on her own and knows how to do a running stitch and a whipstitch.  So far she has made drink coasters and a “tooth fairy pillow” with a pocket to put the tooth in.  She’s also made a couple of sweet dreams masks (to block out sun while you sleep), stuffed animals, and a blanket with a pocket and a “pocket pal”.

I only know the very basics of sewing, so I’m no expert but I am looking forward to learning alongside Katie as I try to help her gain new skills.  I think it would be fun to take a sewing class with her some day if she continues to be interested.

A Disney Birthday — Ethan Turns 10!

Our family usually celebrates the kids’ birthdays by inviting sweet friends to our house for a party. This year for Ethan’s 10th birthday, however, we decided to try something a little different. Since none of our children had ever been to Disneyland and Bryan and I hadn’t been in over 11 years, we decided to pile into the family van and take everyone to Tokyo Disneyland.  We made the trip with our good friend Yoshie (a die-hard Disney fan and genuine expert on the ins and outs of how to ride all the best rides at her favorite theme park) and also met the wonderful VanZante family at the front gate so we could spend the day together.

Our kids were so excited they barely ate anything all day (and just focused on getting to the next ride!)  I have to admit that I was really excited too (though I somehow managed to eat a huge Mickey Mouse shaped cheeseburger and several other snacks while we were there). :-)

I grew up in Southern California, so I had my share of visits to Disneyland as a kid and teen, but this time I couldn’t wait to introduce my own kids to “The Happiest Place on Earth.”  As a child, riding Space Mountain and the other fast roller coasters always seemed so scary, but this time I had a giant smile on my face as I conquered those gut-wrenching dips and curves (well, in between screams, that is!) because I was getting to ride them with my very own kids!  I felt like I had come full circle.

Everyone in our group had a super fantastic time and our family is still reliving the memories together. The only downside to our little adventure is that now every few days I have to turn down requests from my kiddos to go again next week. :-)  It is awfully tempting, though…

Here are a few pics of our trip.

Cherry Trees and Resurrection Rolls – Easter in Japan 2013

While most people in Japan picnicked under cherry trees or went about their usual spring break activities this weekend, our family celebrated the little known holiday of Easter by dying eggs, participating in our little house church, and making resurrection rolls. And of course we had to trek around a park looking for blooming cherry trees too!

Our Easter celebrations started on Saturday when our friends Mio, Kazushi, and Yushi came over to play and dye Easter eggs. Mio read the Easter story to the kids from the Japanese children’s Bible and I explained that, though there actually aren’t any Easter eggs in the Bible, some say that the eggs represent the grave and new life. I told them that while we decorated we could remember how Jesus broke free from the grave and rose from the dead so that we can have new life. I had a few Easter egg dying kits that friends sent us from the States last year and I have to say I was impressed by all the bells and whistles that are part of these kits nowadays! I feel like a grandma saying this, but when I was a youngster there were dye tablets and there were those little wire egg holder thingys that (let’s face it) don’t really work very well to hold the eggs. That was it. Though they haven’t improved the egg holder thingys, boy have they added some amazing extras! There was paint to put designs on the eggs, a “magic crayon”, rubber bands that prevent the egg from being dyed where the band is so you can add stripes, plastic “belts” for the eggs that shrink to fit tightly to them when you add heat from a hair dryer, stickers, glitter, beads and more! The kids had a fantastic time decorating their eggs and it was especially fun to be able to do the activity with our friend Kazushi who had never done this before.

On Sunday we celebrated Easter with friends at our house church, International Bible Fellowship (IBF). After the worship time, the parents went outside to the yard and hid around 50 plastic Easter eggs filled with candy. The kids were, of course, chomping at the bit to get out there and find those eggs so they had a hard time waiting until all the hiding was done. But, they somehow hung in there and survived to have a super fun time scouting for eggs and showing off their winnings.

Later, after a relaxed lunch at IBF, we headed to the park with a few friends to view the cherry trees that were in full bloom. Unfortunately, it was overcast and freezing cold outside, but that didn’t stop the kids from thoroughly enjoying tromping around the park, chasing and feeding pigeons, and adventuring among the trees. And, to please the adults, we of course had to take a few photos to prove that we did actually see some cherry trees together.

 

Sunday evening, we finished up our day by making resurrection rolls together and watching a movie. To make the resurrection rolls we used this recipe.  To make them you dip marshmallows in melted butter and then roll them in cinnamon and sugar.  This symbolizes Jesus’ body being annointed in oil and spices. Each marshmallow is then placed on top of a flat circle of bread dough and the dough is wrapped around the marshmallow to make a ball shape.  The dough represents Jesus’ grave.  When you bake the rolls, the heat melts the marshmallows and the first bite reveals that the grave is empty and Jesus has risen.  This is such a fun (and delicious) way for our family to remember the true meaning of Easter. It’s always a big hit! This year our friend E-chan joined in on the fun, which made it extra special.

 

We ran out of time yesterday to use our resurrection eggs kit to review the Easter story from the Bible, but since it’s still technically Easter in America we figure we have an extra day to finish up our family’s festivities.  That’s one of the benefits of living in another time zone!

Fun with Snow and Igloos in Nikko

A few days ago, the kids and I hopped into the car with our good friend Yoshie and sped off for the mountains of Nikko to enjoy the Kamakura Matsuri. Matsuri means festival and kamakura are Japanese style igloos made out of packed snow. Two hours later, we were excitedly wading through knee-deep snow and the kids were “body sledding” down packed snow hills and enjoying every second of it. Even without the igloos to look at and climb inside of, Austin, Ethan and Katie were ecstatic just to be around so much snow and be able to play in it. In Utsunomiya it only snows a couple of times a year and even then it doesn’t get very deep — just a few centimeters, usually. It also melts quickly. So, the kids were jealous of peole who get to live in the mountains of Nikko with so much snow around them all winter. (I, on the other hand, couldn’t help but notice that there weren’t any grocery stores or other conveniences for miles around! I think I prefer just visiting…) The igloos were very cool, though, and some of them had tatami mats and a little barbeque stove inside them so you could eat a meal. We didn’t do any BBQ-ing, but we did buy warm “nikuman” (steamed bread with meat and spices inside) and ate those inside of an igloo so we could warm up a little. In addition to large igloos you could climb inside of, there was a huge area filled with mini igloos that had candles inside of them. Once it started to get dark, workers went out and lit all the candles. It was a beautiful sight!

Though it was a bit of a drive out there, we would definitely go again and would recommend the matsuri to anyone in the area, especially those with kids! If you go, be sure to bundle up! The night we were there it was minus 9 degrees Celsius — 7 degrees Farenheit. Burr!!