April 28, 2007

Woodpecker Skull

The other day my son dove into the couch at high speed. Unfortunately for him, someone had moved a cushion and he smashed his forehead into the wooden frame with a loud whack. He immediately burst into tears and said, "I --sh (sob) - wa- a woo--(sob)---er (sob, sob, sob)" After getting him to repeat himself a few times through his sobs,we made out that he was saying, "I wish I was a woodpecker because they have thick craniums!"

Good old Ranger Rick magazine. A few months ago there was a feature which said a woodpecker can bang its heads into trees all day without getting a headache because the front part of its cranium is extra thick.

Yes, this is the second blog entry about one of my kids bumping his head and saying something about a cranium.

photo credit

April 24, 2007

Conserving Water, Japan Style

Yesterday I posted about ways my family tries to save electricity. Today I move on to water conservation. I'm impressed with the way Japan conserves water and we just go with the flow (sorry) of what people tend to do here. The main difference is bathing habits. In Japan, families typically fill up a big bathtub with hot water. Each family member uses the same bathwater (eewww, yuck) but takes a quick shower to get clean before relaxing in the tub (oh, okay, like a hot tub). The shower is in the bathroom right next to the tub. So instead of my family of four each taking a ten-minute shower to get clean and relax, we each take a five-minute shower to get clean and sit in the tub to relax for as long as we want. I figure we use about half of the water we would otherwise.

But wait, there's more. I said earlier that we get in the tub after showering so even after the four of us have taken a bath, the water is quite clean. Rather than letting it go down the drain, we use a special hose attached to our washing machine that siphons water from the bathtub to wash clothes. Pretty nifty. Most washing machines sold here come with these gadgets.

Our new place doesn't have this but most toilets in Japan have big (大) and small (小) flushing options. The uses are self-evident.

So what are your water conservation tips? Let me know in the comments.

April 23, 2007

Lighter Footstep

Yesterday I linked to an article about "ten first steps to a lighter, more sustainable lifestyle." Here, I'll compare what the article suggests with what my family is doing here in Tokyo.

Energy Use

Chris Baskin's first four suggestions are ways to save electricity.
  1. Make the switch to Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFLs). This was a no-brainer for us. CFLs cost a bit more initially than incandescent bulbs but the good ones last six times longer, use 1/5 of the electricty and burn much cooler; they pay for themselves many times over. Older CFLs flickered and took a long time to light up but the new ones don't flicker and they light up right away, reacing full brightness in a matter of seconds. He didn't mention this but another way to save on lighting is to use lower watt bulbs when possible.
  2. Monitor your thermostat. When we (rarely) use our heaters and air conditioners we keep the thermostat set as close to the natural temperature of the room as we can without being uncomfortable. Rather than using the air conditioner, we try to control the climate with windows, drapes and fans. Insulation in Japan is almost nonexistent, but it helps that we have neighbors above and below our apartment as well as on the left and right. We live pretty cramped compared to most people back in the US but we save a lot of energy by having a smaller area to heat and cool.
  3. Clean or replace your air conditioning filter. We do this.
  4. Unplug idle appliances and electronic devices. Rather than unplugging, we have our computer and peripherals on a power strip and turn it off there when we don't need it on. We try to make a point of turning off our TV at the switch instead of with the remote control so it isn't wasting electricity waiting for the remote to turn it on again but I should probably get a power strip for the TV, DVD player and stereo too.
We also save electricity by setting our water heater to run only at night when electricity is about 1/4 of the price. It's well-insulated and the water stays hot all day. We are looking into lowering our basic monthly bill by reducing our contract from 50 to 40 amps. Another small thing is that we turn the coffee pot off right after it brews (saves energy plus fresh coffee tastes so much better than stuff that's been baking on the hot plate for hours).

In the next post I'll tackle water conservation.

April 22, 2007

Happy Earth Day

Lighterfootstep.com has a good list of "Ten First Steps toward a lighter, more sustainable lifestyle." I think we're doing a pretty good job here in Tokyo living "lightly" on the earth. Tomorrow (or so) I'll compare my family's approach to the 10 steps found in the article.

April 9, 2007

Home School Hassles

We are in week two of homeschooling T and everyone is having a good time so far. I teach him for an hour first thing in the morning before leaving for work and then Tomomi takes over for a couple hours. He's usually done by lunchtime.

We've had an interesting series of correspondence with the public school board and the principal of the school he "should" be attending. The principal told us he thought homeschooling sounded good for our situation but that he had no authority to release T from school (compulsory education) so we should contact the school board.

The school board, acting in typical bureaucratic fashion sent us a form to fill out as to why our child wouldn't be attending public school. Here are the choices:
  • child is too handicapped even to attend a school for the blind, the mute or the disabled.
  • child is in jail (juvenile hall).
  • child is missing or not living at home.
  • child is a returnee from abroad and needs tutoring in Japanese before being able to attend school.
  • child has dual citizenship and is attending an approved international school.
Obviously none of these apply to T. When we called and brought up that fact the person at the school board said if he didn't fit any of those criteria, he would have to enroll in public school.

We called the principal again today and explained the current situation. He said that T is in fact enrolled in first grade class #3. He has a desk and a set of textbooks waiting for him. By law the principal can't "officially" release T from school, but he wished us luck and implicitly gave his blessing. He said T is welcome any time and we can drop by to pick up his books if we want to use them at home.

We are expecting a pesky postcard when T misses seven days in a row but hopefully it will end there. The board should be satisfied that he is indeed enrolled in school, and the principal can't say anything but he has given us a nod a wink to indicate that he is on our side. I'll post more if anything else occurs.

April 7, 2007

How Random is iTunes?

This morning I had a 140-song play list going on random and heard these three songs in a row:

"Until the End of the World" - U2
"It's the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)" - REM
"I Feel Fine" - The Beatles

How weird is that?

April 3, 2007

American Education

I'm nervous about home-schooling, but could I do any worse than this? (Warning: There's a word or two of bad language).


April 2, 2007

Big Change Tomorrow

Spring break is finished and tomorrow we begin our second year at the preschool. (Japan's school year goes from April.) R will be one of the bigger kids.

T starts elementary school tomorrow in the living room. We're going to homeschool him. I'll do English with him for an hour early in the morning, then breakfast, and when I leave for work Tomomi will cover Japanese and the other subjects. We will mostly using recommendations from The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer. It's a classical approach and what I like about it, besides the fact that they emphasize literature, is that the history curriculum is very broad in scope. Most of the other stuff we looked at was very, very American. As a binational, we think T will benefit from a more universal approach.

Anyway, I'm sure I'll be posting a lot about our homeschooling experience and the specific challenges of doing it in Japan.