Halloween in Nagano via Australia :)

Well the big halloween party has come and gone.

It was actually quite fun.

As the kids arrived they took a paper bag and headed to a table with origami paper, stickers, ribbons, pens and crayons and they made their trick or treat bags.

Then when we'd all done that we read the ultra easy GenkiEnglish Halloween book (Look! There's a witch.  I'm scared.  Look! There's a wizard.  I'm scared. Repeat 9 more times) and practised our candy-getting chant 'trick or treat, trick or treat, give me something good to eat.'  I have no idea how authentic this is, one of the other mums suggested it.  I actually don't like the idea of kids saying 'give me' without saying please but they only learnt it as a set phrase so I don't think it will have done lasting damage. ;)

Then we went through the kid's masks asking 'what are you?' 'I'm a cat.  Happy Halloween!' 'Happy Halloween'.  For the first time ever all three shy-to-the-point-of-paralysis girls answered the question.  I think I'll have them wear masks every week!

The masks and a couple of our candy bags.  Probably the smallest candy bags on the planet but they don't know that. :)

Then it was reviewing the halloween vocab and halloween karuta time.  I have a special even-the-playing-field rule where I call out cards that have already gone and if you move you take a step (well bum shuffle) back.  Guaranteed it's the fast kids slapping indiscriminately who get caught and them moving back gives my shyer think-before-you-whack kids a go.  Brilliant, huh? ;)

Then finally the highlight of the day.  We set up tables around the room and the mum's were the householders with bags of candy and the kids and I went as a group (safety in numbers and all that- halloween's a pretty dangerous time of year, yeah?) ;)  from 'house' to house and did our chant.  Then we had to answer a question: 'what colour do you like?' 'how's the weather?' 'what's your costume?' before we got our candy because I figured with all that candy waiting for them this was my best chance all year to get them answering in big confident voices!

And that was it.  We said thank you to the teacher (me) to the leaders (East Azusagawa mums) and see you next time to everyone.  It was pretty low key but perfect for our age group (3-7) and the kids all seemed really excited by it.  

And the best bit?  Neither of my girls really like chocolate so they ate the senbei and lollipop and I got a handful of chocolate- bonus!!  I think I could get to like Halloween!

Phew!  Look at those chipmunk style candy filled cheeks.  Oh well, it's only once a year.  And Amy's mask?  Well she's a princess but she wanted to do it all by herself.  It's not a masterpiece by anyone else's standards but it's her masterpiece and that's the important thing, right? :)


Japan has four seasons

How many times have you heard that?
What do you do? Groan? Pull your hair out? Point out that your home country does, too? Play devil's advocate and ask what about the wet season?  I've done all of the above!

But the longer I live here the more I'm beginning to think there is something special about the seasons here.  When I say Japan has four seasons I don't mean the country (although obviously  that's true, too!)  But I think Japanese culture has four seasons in a way other cultures don't.

Traditionally and historically of course there are seasonal styles in kimono, ikebana flower arrangements, decorative calligraphy scrolls, traditional sweets and even tableware.  While many of these things are now relegated to the history books there are a myriad of subtler, smaller ways in which the seasons influence our lives here.  

Ever write a letter in Japanese?  The first two lines always make some reference to the seasons.  Stuck for what to say?  Check the inside back cover of your letter pad for a list of suggestions.  While most of us don't wear kimono anymore the seasons still affect what we wear.  The most obvious way is koromogae- the seasonal changing of uniforms at kindergartens, schools and companies nationwide.  And if you're a good housewife you do it for your family, too. ;)  Still think you're not affected?  Try buying a shirt in pastel blue, pink or white in Autumn or winter!  
It starts young, too.  M goes to the local public kinder.  She has a song for every month and sometimes more than one.  Songs about tulips, cherry blossom, tadpoles, frogs, boy's day, girl's day, sunflowers, dragonflies, pill beetles (really!), acorns, falling leaves, snow and then back to tulips again.  Phew!!  And it's not just the songs, there's 'Let's find Spring/ Summer/ Autumn/ Winter' walks with each kid carrying a bag to collect what they find to take home.  The seasons make there way inside the classroom as well with decorations made by both teachers and kids changing each season.

But for greedy gastronome me, the most exciting way to experience the seasons is at the supermarket.  Every season has it's 'THIS SEASON ONLY!' beer/ chocolate/ candy/ premixed drinks etc.  I'm a huge Rummy fan so I love winter for that if nothing else.  :)  Of course it's not just the processed food, ;P all the fresh produce has a season, too.  I know that's universal but I swear living in Australia I didn't notice.  I'm sure apples were available year round, along with oranges, bananas, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers etc etc.  Now I'm living among orchardists and market gardeners and it's ALL about the seasons.  Plum, apricot, peach, cherry, watermelon, tomato, kiwifruit, grape, and apple all have their season.  Each seasonal fruit is further broken down into early, regular and late season varieties.  And even if they could find each fruit or vegetable out of season they wouldn't eat them anyway.  It's all about shun no mono, seasonal produce in season. Saury, salmon, chestnuts and mushrooms in Autumn, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants and mackerel in Summer etc etc.  It makes winter pretty bleak with endless reworkings of daikon, hakusai and leek! 

So yeah, Japan has four seasons.  Just look around you.  And try some of that Rummy!

Autumn for dinner.  Potato, onion, carrot, chingensai, salmon and corn cooked in milk and water.  I can't decide whether to call it milk nabe or deconstructed pottage but it was so good I'll definitely be making it again!



Someone translated our prefectural song into English.  All umpteen verses of it.

I can only find the words for the first verse but this is the kind of thing we're talking about:

Shinano, our home province, the land of our pride
We have ten neighbors; our land is vast and wide

Nestled in the mountains that kiss the sky above
Blessed with the rivers running through the land we love

Matsumoto, Ina, Saku, Zenkoji

Fertile farmland, rich with fruit and grains
All that we could hope for, we get from abundant plains

Seas of wealth without an ocean
Shinano, you're my home.

Yup, acres and acres of prefectural pride here.  I love hometown pride and hearing people talk about where they're from.  In Australia it was all about Victoria being superior to New South Wales (all up themselves just because they got the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House- pah let 'em have them, they got cockroaches, too!)Tasmania (two-headed, inbred, always whining about being left off the map of Australia), South Australia (croweaters, small town Adelaide masquerading as a city) ACT (all politicians and pornography producers) and Queensland (more retirees per km2 than your average nursing home and the policemen wear shorts and safari socks!)  Can't think what we said about WA and NT- don't think they eve registered!  

When I lived in Osaka it was all about Kansai vs Kanto in stinginess, friendliness and seasonings.

In Fukushima it was ALL about the Boshin War as though it hadn't been over for 150 years all ready.  The people of Aizu especially harboured grudges against Tokyo and for not being given naming rights to the prefecture.

I really didn't live in Saitama long enough to get to know it, and I was pretty unhappy there which dampened my enthusiasm for the place but you only need to be in the city I lived in- Kasukabe City for about a day before someone says 'did you know Kasukabe is the hometown of Crayon Shin-chan?'  And if you want to make friends do NOT answer as I did: 'who's Crayon Shin-chan?' :O

And now I live in Nagano.  Shinshu. Shinanonokuni.  Locals seem to prefer the old words to the term Nagano.  Pre 1871 this was Shinanonokuni.  Riddled with castles it was a hotbed of political activity and seemingly you couldn't know who the ruler was going to be from one year to the next.  Then along came those darn interfering Tokyoites decreeing that ruling with 130 of your relatives by sheer brute force was not going to be cool anymore and Shinanonokuni was split into two- Nagano in the North and Chikuma in the South.  A mere five years later they were merged and everyone became part of Nagano.  

Well to hear Matsumoto folks talk this merger was pure highway robbery and the passion they display belies the fact that we're not talking about something that happened yesterday but 150 years ago!  You see Nagano is a city built around a temple that was used as a base during the Boshin War but Matsumoto is an out and proud castle town.  Surely we should have got prefectural capital status?  There are many people who will tell you it'S not too late and we should move the capital even now.  Despite the HUGE ammount of money it would cost to do this.  They are prepared to sign their grandkids' taxes up to the cause if it means righting this dastardly wrong. 

So, back to where I was heading before I got distracted,;) this blog is called Shinshu Life not because I am a follower of Jodoshinshu Buddhism- which at least one person was googling when they ended up here- sorry! but because Shinshu is another, more endearing, those-in-the-know kind of name for Nagano.  Think Shinshu Salmon, The Shinano train from Nagoya to Nagano, The Mainchi Shinano Newspaper, SBC- Shinshu Broadcasting Corporation, 'Made in Shinshu' labels on everything from wine to apple juice, lacquer ware to silks.  And of course that rousing anthem of our people, Shinano no kuni or as I now know it in English 'Our Shinano.' 


inaka udon

The easiest Autumn meal around

1. Put water on to boil.
2. Find enough udon for your family.
3. While waiting for the water to boil scour the fridge and grab any of the following:
negi, daikon, carrot, sweet potato, hakusai, spinach, komatsuna, any and every Japanese mushroom, atsuage, pumpkin, basically anything you've got.
4. Slice everything thinly enough to cook at the same time as the udon.
5. When the water boils throw all the veg in.
6.  Wait for the water to reboil and throw the udon in.
7 cook until udon is tender and wala!  Inaka udon.
(We add tsuyu/ miso at the table as the girls have theirs plain but you could add it as you go, too.  Beware though that the udon makes the soup salty so you need less tsuyu than normal.  You could also add pork or chicken but we like all veg.)

And just so you don't think I made this up it's based on houto nabe and yup, they really do call it inaka udon around here.

There was supposed to be a picture but it all got eaten too fast!



It was such an amazingly blue skied sunny day today and I was stuck inside working.  The sun shining through our windows was so warm I was all excited to get out there and go for a walk.  But 


Summer is well and truly over.  We've entered the season where sunny does not equal warm.  Sigh.  Sob.

And then the sky clouded over on the way home from work: 



Ok it's really, really hard to see but if you look really, really, closely at the top of the mountains there is fresh white stuff. Aagggggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!  The beginning of the end.  

I had zero time for my garden all weekend and when I went out there this evening


All the leaves are off the persimmon tree.  I know this has to happen every year but I swear Friday there were 9 or 10 leaves on the ground and today there are 9 or 10 leaves left on the tree.  

There was a good shock too though.  Despite getting zero TLC and a rather haphazard planting my wheat is up!

Yeah!!  Grow, grow little wheat!  (any Hi=5 fans out there?) ;)

One of my students who was at the Halloween party yesterday complimented me on my costume.  'You were such a cute jellyfish!!'


I was supposed to be an octopus.  You be the judge:

I know the design on the jumper ruins it a bit but I started making it after midnight the night before I needed it after I came home from Halloween set up and realised that my witch costume really didn't suit the under the sea themed room I was going to be working in so I had to make do with what I had.  Not my best work but not too shoddy, I thought.

I was also a bit shocked to hear that all but the two 100kg+ pumpkins in the 35 pumpkin display we had at the Halloween festival were looted.  Well, taken without so much as a thank you anyway.  So were all the balloon displays (seriously amazing spiders and witches hats and scarecrows and stuff all made from balloons) and even some of the non-balloon decorations.  I'm all for taking balloons home from a party (especially helium balloons- I love helium balloons!) but surely asking first is just good manners?  

Uh oh 

DH has arrived home unannounced and I'm playing on the computer with a messy house waiting for me.





Today was the big Halloween event.  It was huge.  Last year's was held outside in the middle of a typhoon. @_@

This year's was held over three floors of a huge community centre and the forecourt and 
even the side roads around it. We had a jumprope competition, cakewalk, costume 
competition, craft room, balloon art, live music and dancing, haunted house, sponsors' 
display, raffles, pin the nose on the witch, face painting, Halloween twister and ball toss.
I was in charge of twister and after 5 hours of 'left foot orange- No, LEFT, hidari, HIDARI!
! This one!!!(poking) No, foot! ORANGE' I have almost no voice left but I had such a great,
great time.

It amazed me last year and it amazed me again this year- so many people come together 
and volunteer their time for these events. Uni students, eikaiwa teachers who know and love
Halloween from their home countries, those who don't, senior citizens, everyone. There was 
a real buzz all day and it was just great to e a part of it. You can sign me up now for next year's

That said I worked yesterday afternoon and then helped do Halloween setup straight from work
until 10:30pm. The I spent all day (8:00am - 5:30pm) there today and I really missed my family.  
I feel like I didn't see my girls at all. :( And tomorrow it's back to Kinder and A's in daycare so I can
work. Funny how I spend so much of my time wishing for some time to myself and then when I 
finally get some I'm all sad and lonely. Weird!

I took my camera with me today but I was literally too busy to take any pictures. (You wouldn't believe
how bendy some kids are!! Even cheating and calling out the trickiest calls I could think of the games 
went on foreeeeeeevvvverrrrr. And we had some serious repeat offenders, The worst one came in FIVE
times! @_@)

So Dh took my camera to take some pictures for me. I love my husband and he's a great
guy. Talented at many and varied things. BUT he sucks at taking pictures. Doesn't believe in the zoom button, 
never considers framing and believes you needn't take more than one picture of each happening. So in a whole 
day with all that going on he took seven pictures. SEVEN. Oh well.

Here's the girls in their costumes:
Shocking picture.  You can't see that M has a tooth on her shirt, is holding a tooth shaped wand, and has a tooth on her hairtie.  Or that M and A have wings.  But oh well.

You can't see any of M's costume here but it's a cute picture of her anyway, hey?

And all that time I spent assembling and making those costumes?  Completely wasted!  They both stripped down to their skivvies and played that way.  Oh well, that's my girls- comfort over cuteness anyday. :)

Two festivals in three days though and I'm beat.


Apple kids' festival

Along with overly detailed handouts, compulsorily handsewn finicky bags and an intrusive level of interest into home life, one of the things I like to moan about M's kinder is the ringokko matsuri or apple kids' festival.  Months of planning, soliciting ideas, overriding them, voting, moaning about the results of the vote, collecting donations of goods, sorting them, making a gazillion miniscule and intricate origami whatsits and sticking 7 stickers just so on each one, arranging them decoratively etc etc all for one measly morning of festival fun for a group of under 5s who will love these painstakingly made masterpieces for a day, a week at the most, before they go out with the recycling.  Yeah, I'm a big fan of the good old kinder festival.

But today, well today I was impressed.  Really impressed.  I don't know what caused my change in perception but it happened.  For the first time I noticed how positive the energy is when everywhere you look there are excited kids and proud PTA members, awed staff (the festival is run by the PTA, the principal is in on it but not the regular staff) and just a buzz of anticipation everywhere.  All this under less than best conditions.  After a week of garden witheringly good weather we woke up today to a downpour.  So the festival moved from the spacious kinder grounds to the less than roomy kinder itself.

Today I saw the immensely time consuming homemade decorations festooning every classes entry and even the toilet door as more than just a waste of time and a huge drain on local stickytape supplies.  Today they seemed to speak of how much the parents love the kids here and how much they want them to be happy and having a great time at kinder.  

There are still some aspects of the festival I don't personally like or agree with but on the whole I'd have to say I'm pretty proud of what we achieved today and I think I may even volunteer for Class Festival Representative next year.  Little old festival bashing me. ;)

Here's the festival in pictures:

The Opening Ceremony

Nasty halloween characters steal an apple from Alpchan (Matsumoto city's character-back of head shown) who was on her way to give it to the principal so she could open the apple festival.  But never fear Appleman (in red) is here to save the day! (I think the local apple farmers must be bankrolling the kinder, all this apple this and apple that.)

This was quite the production with two mothers who do voice overs making a tape complete with sound effects to be played while the characters did their stuff.  Just like a real character show- ooh errr!  BUT, the halloween characters were pretty graphic- the one with it's back to the camera was the grim reaper complete with blood splattered scythe.  Now I know it's partypooperish but I really don't like the whole 'let's scare the kiddies' culture here.  I am biased as the mum of a very sensitive child but I don't like seeing kids cry.

My sensitive soul standing wedged between two teachers at the back of the group watching in that don't want to watch but can't stop watching kind of way.

The Ba-ba Cure 5 show. (middle aged women cure 5)
A play on the hugely popular Pretty Cure 5.  Funny for the other parents, cool to the kids but I couldn't help feeling that it was pretty much pure exhibitionism, an excuse to get up on stage in knee high boots and tight skirts.  I'm probably just getting cynical in my old age...

Pony rides
Someone's grandpa's brother's nephew's cousin's daughter in law is connected in some equally obvious fashion to one of the Kamikochi pony ride outfits and so we had two ponies at kinder today to be overfed carrot slices and sat on.  A was super keen and didn't want to get off.  She even fed both the ponies a carrot.  I was impressed as it was the first time she'd seen a horse up close.

Sumo wrestling
Three poor volunteer dads ('can you spare three hours Friday morning to help with the kinder festival?') turned up at kinder and were told to strip down as much as decency would allow and put on these rice bag and newspaper sumo suits.  Rice bags are heavy duty paper.  They are completely taped in.  Hot, hot, hot.  But the kids loved pushing them out of the ring time and time again.  Well, most kids.  M found them terrifying. :(

Rear car bus.
I can't think what Rearcars are in English.  It's a cart you push along with a bar across your stomach.  They don't use them so much now because tractors are more efficient but the old farmers still use them.  This one was all gussied up to look like Thomas the Tank Engine and the kids were pushed around the playroom by costumed PTA.

Bell throwing
This is an example of the busywork I was talking about.  Those are all toilet paper rolls.  The kids stand behind a line and throw jester bells into the design.  Everyone's a winner (even the kid who clocked the attending PTA mum on the head!) and your prize is more hand crafted origami/ accessories.

Design your own fish
After fishing a paper fish shape out of a wading pool with a paperclip on string you take it into the room and colour to your hearts content.  I very nearly didn't get any further than this room as A looovves drawing and they had textas which have been banned around here after a spot of redecorating without a permit. :(

Ring toss.  
This is M's class.  We did ring toss with, you guessed it, everyone's a winner! (So there's really no need for blatant cheating a la Amy here!) and the prize was your choice of origami watch, sword, necklace and ring set or character on a stick.


The mum's of the youngest kids set up a maze in the staffroom.  It was wild with dead ends and cute pictures everywhere and at the exit a slide.  A loved it.  Pretty amazing considering they couldn't fit their original designed for outside maze inside so they rigged this up spur of the moment.

There were more games and then finally the bazaar but I had plans and didn't make it to the bazaar this year.  M went around with her class so A and I went around together and despite the last minute change of venue and the kneehigh congestion in the cramped corridors it was really fun.  Fun for A and fun for me, too.  

Weird... ;)


End of an era

Ok that's a tad melodramatic but I went to my last (foreseeable) ;P city run children's health check today.  Amy had her 3yo checkup.

I have had many issues with the health centre staff over two kids and 4 years in the village here.  Having it strongly suggested at the 2yo checkup that M should have a followup check for ADHD because she wouldn't sit still and look at some Dick and Jane style picture cards when there was a slide in the middle of the room AND we'd been there an hour and a half already AND it was smack bang in the middle of naptime was just about enough to send me running screaming around the room begging for tranquilisers!  

Being the only foreign mum most of the staff have met has made for some interesting advice, too.  She skips seven every time she counts- must be because I'm raising her bilingual.
She eats cereal for breakfast everyday?  Not enough variety and her bowel will get lazy- you need rice and soup at least every second day. 

Going to checkups with M was always a tense and stressful battle of wills anyway as it's the same room where they have drop in playgroup so she knows where the toys are hidden and she would just prance over, unhook the curtain and waltz right in with a stream of kid's behind her like the pied piper or something!   And when she was using the health centre phone or jumping off the banquette lounges and I was desperately trying not to lose it and pasting serenity on my face with such force I'm lucky I didn't break a tooth all the other mums inched slowly away and we were definitely that family.  That mother of that child.  You know the one who ....

Well now M's at hoikuen and while no shrinking violet her behaviour is well within 'normal' range for her age group.  Phew!

While I enjoy complaining about the health checks I really do appreciate them.  I find it really reassuring to have such thorough health checks on a regular basis- and for free too!

But- small village, big mouths, I am sure we still have a reputation so I was seriously smug today with Princess Amy on my arm.  Behold! Not only does she wait in line to register she does so holding hands!  Behold!  She greets the staff with a hello and a bow without even being greeted first!  Behold!  She sits, knees tucked primly under, next to mummy and even turns on big googley eyes looking at the tearaways running around and ignoring all pleas to sit down.  Ahhh, yes, it's tough being A's mum. :)

We flew through the exams and A did well on all of them.  I know it's not a pass fail exam and it's not like it's thanks to me that she can stack blocks but I can't help being proud of my little girl and all the stuff she can do now. :)

There were a few funny moments.  The interview had questions about her family.  The word onesan means big sister and (big) girl.  In Japanese families younger siblings don't call their older siblings by name but big brother, big sister.  The girls and I speak English at home and M and A call each other by their first names.  So the woman is asking 'And what's your big sister's name?' and Amy says 'Amy.' 'No, your BIG SISTER'S name'. 'AMY!  I'm onesan, too!' :)

Or in the draw a circle exam and A kept drawing eyes and nose and mouth and cheeks and eyebrows and says 'Anpanman!'  That beats a circle anyday!

So 2 1/2 hours later and we're done.  No more cattle call health checks for us.  The end of an era for me and my girls.  I wonder if they'll miss us... :P

Look at that concentration! Those fine motor skills!


the tooth fairy

I am involved in a big citywide Halloween festival this Sunday.  I did it last year too and my girls were too shy to dressup.  (And they had no idea what halloween was so it was all a bit weird for them.)  This year they are on the ball and keen keen keen.  There are posters for it up at the play centre and M's kinder.  Every day when I pick her up she points it out and informs me that that's mummy's party.  And I've given up saying no and just bask in it now. :) 

We read a couple of halloween books I borrowed from work and the talk around here has been all about costumes.  A is easy.  She wants to be a butterfly-princess-fairy.  Or a princess-fairy-butterfly.  She hasn't quite made up her mind but it's not an issue as either way she will be thrilled to wear M's flowergirl fluffy white dress with fairy/ butterfly wings, a tiara and a wand.  I'll leave the naming of it up to her.  

M?  Well after two very exciting visits from the tooth fairy this year and another one imminent she is very, very, keen to be the tooth fairy.  hmmmm.  Noone sees the tooth fairy- that's the point!  I think we're going to go with a tutu, white shirt with a tooth painted on (it has to be a big tooth not a baby tooth apparently) and a tiara and wings just because if her sister has them she will want them, too.

Think I'm going to finally use that big bag of revolting 70s lace curtains MIL gave me! :)

Princesses in training.  And Amy KNOWS her tiara is upside down.  She LIKES it like that. ;)

muck up day

Muck up day is making big news in Melbourne at the moment.  I think mostly because the kids involved are from an elite Catholic Boys School and left leaning journalists just love stuff like that.

Muck up day is an Aussie tradition.  Because exams are held by the State government and not the school you actually finish going to school on a daily basis around the end of October, exams throughout November and everyone studies different subjects so you're not all together as a class after the first exam which is in the only compulsory subject- English.  There's no JHS/ SHS system so you go to the same school from 12-18.  Six looonnnng years seeing the same faces everyday and now everyone is about to go their own way.  Muck up day is about a final hoorah as a class.  Pranks like writing on the school oval in weedkiller, putting peanut butter on the lockers, bubblebath in fountains, having pizza delivered in class are frowned at but allowed in a look the other way kind of way.  But it seems recently it's getting out of hand and these latest group of kids have wrecked public property and private property belonging to people in the neighbouring community.

I have been trying to remember my muckup day.  hmmmm.  I know there was a party the night before out in the bush somewhere, we slept over, walked in to school and spent the day feeling sorry for ourselves.  I don't remember any pranks though.  Drinking age in Australia is 18 so by the end of the year about 3/4 of my class were legal drinking age.  I *think* a group of people spent the day sitting in the middle of the roundabout in town drinking.  From memory we were a pretty lazy year who almost didn't have a breakup party at all so I think we probably just couldn't be bothered doing anything wild.  I know I went to all my classes on the last day as I was the only person at one of them.  Yup, total square!

I've never taught at Japanese SHS but the JHS I worked at the kids had their exams first, then finished classes with graduation day.  All very civilised.  They left the school for the last time walking under an arch of all the underclass students arms and finally the teacher's arms, too.  Very civilised and really sweet.

What do other countries do?

And for your viewing pleasure (??) a picture of my graduating class. :)



Ok.  I was trying to think of something to write that would tie all these pictures together and I realised the only thing that connects them is me wanting to brag!  So, wahlah! (how do you spell that??) the bragging post. :)

The girls on one of their recent harmonious days.

And that's right- Amy's riding her trike!!

Autumn has given us some truly amazing sunsets so far.
Yes, I've been back to that cosmos field again!  See the white house in the background? I think they're ready to call that suspicious foreigner hotline on me... ;P

I had a total Jamie Oliver moment here.  Seriously simple food made with seriously great, fresh ingredients.  Pasta with spinach, garlic and tomato.  That's it.  And flowers courtesy of M and A. :)

And a vegetarian meal straight from the garden.  Chingensai in Korean BBQ sauce, Komatsuna with aburaage in soy and sesame sauce, sweet potato stems (really!), and green tomato pickles on rice with potato and onion miso soup and baked sweet potato.  Total poor countryman's food and totally delicious! 

Bragging over. ;)


a quandry

Work all day today so nothing exciting country-life wise.

I've been asked to donate some jars of produce to M's bazaar.  And price it myself.

Mixed feelings as I spent an age last year making really cute sets of two hair clips and matching hair band all decorated with beads and ribbon and lace.  I eagerly sought them out on bazaar day and they were going for the princely sum of 50yen a set!!  That doesn't even cover materials.  I almost cried right there and was tempted to buy the lot back and give them to my girls.  It felt like a slap in the face.  I was extremely pleased to the point of quite obvious staring and chest puffing when one of the graduating girls wore one of my creations on graduation day.  Yeah!  Take that PTA underpricers!

So this year I've been asked to put in some tomato sauce, juice and jam.  Hmmm, flattering to be asked but if they're wanting me to mark them 50 yen a jar they can go jump.  Even I think the 500 yen a jar the JA wives' club charges is too steep, though.  Somewhere in the middle?  When I think about what went into the making of it I think 1000 yen is about right!  What would you want to pay for a jar of organic homemade tomato sauce?  

And a couple of reasons to leave really really early for work at this time of year:


Yup.  'Tis the season of the overloaded k-truck.  They aren't terribly fast empty.  Pack them that high and we were doing 7km/hr up that hill. :(  The guy on the right had his hazard lights on and actually pulled over for me to go past.  Thoughtful.  Great idea.  Except I couldn't see his lights and was rather hesitant about overtaking a wide vehicle on a curve on a narrow uphill street.  

Happy Safety Driving Everyone!


A tale of two grains...

Another amazing day.  We were out in the field from 10-5 with only a break for lunch.  Not a long day at all by my neighbours' standards but huge for us.  If DH and I both want to head out we have to take the girls too.  I never want to force them to come with us (I save that for the doctor, dentist and getting home from the park!) ;P so we're always at the mercy of their humour.  When they get antsy and my 'hey! who can find a really big leaf/ red berry/ white rock' stalling tactics stop working one of us has to come home with the girls.  Today was the first time it was me saying 'Let's go home.'  They played in the mud, dug for dinosaur bones (can you believe they didn't find any?) ;) ran around and up and down the rows of veggies, followed frogs around, passed me 150 onion seedlings one by one from a strategically distanced pile as I planted them, tramped the wheat seeds as we planted them, talked to everyone who walked past and just basically had fun all day long.  Makes up for all the days I spend more time coaxing A up the road to get to the field than she will let me work there!  

But this is the story of two grain crops...

A couple of months ago I was lusting after some of the bread in Sara's blog and got onto a whole tangent of all the breads I want to eat but can't get (or can't get without a long drive and a second mortgage anyway!) and I got fixated on rye bread.  After wallowing for a while I decided 'hey! I'll just grow some!' Easy right?  Well, after doing a lot of research in online seed catalogues I found I could buy ryegrass for the lawn by the truckload from just about anywhere but rye?  The phonecalls went like this:

Hello Taro's/ Jiro's/ Hana's/ Daisuke's Nursery.
Hi, Do you stock rye seed?
Sorry? (I speak Japanese.  It's not a difficult question.  I have a tendency to be lazy with my katakana pronunciation but rai is pretty hard to muck up.  So the fact that EVERY phonecall started with this 'Sorry?' was bugging me.)
Rye.  The grain.
For lawns?
No.  Not ryegrass. Rye the grain, to eat.
To eat??? No.  Sorry.

I was about to give up when wonderful DH who supports me even though most of the time he thinks I'm nuts with these bizarre projects suggested we try JA.  Japan Agriculture.  I was dubious.  JA aren't exactly known for their out there ideas.  Much keener on preserving their monopoly and fixing the price of agricultural produce.  If the funky nurseries set up for I-turners aren't stocking rye what hope have I got with the old school JA? 

After getting the run around 'This is the JA agricultural shop- you need the JA agricultural centre' 'This is the JA agricultural centre- you need the JA regional agricultural outlet' etc etc.  I FINALLY got on to someone who knew what I was talking about- hallelujah!! A regular farming wizard he wanted to know why I wanted it, what my soil was like (uhhh dirty?) and how many are I had.  Are?? Turns out it's English.  Metric even.  Means 100m2.  So after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing with me not knowing the answers I drove 30 minutes up the road and drove home with my rye- yeah!!!  

So yesterday when I decided to plant another 1/4 of our field with wheat I was really not looking forward to having to repeat the same rigmarole.  
But it couldn't have been more different-

This is JA Regional Agricultural Outlet.
Hi, I want to buy some wheat seeds.
Yes, what variety?
Uhhhhh, for bread? (Damn, these people must thing I'm a complete idiot not being able to talk about soil or seed!)

They put me through to my friend the wizard again and by this afternoon I had a field planted with a strong, early maturing wheat with a slight yellow colour to the flour.  Wow!

So, barring fire, flood, plague or pestulance next summer I will be chewing on some home made rye bread made with home grown wheat and rye and smothered in home made jam.  Yum.

No pictures from today as I was a worker not a tourist ;) but I love this little guy I found chilling in my rhubarb.


a really great night

This is not my story so it's going to be vague.  And no pictures. :(  But I really want to share what a wonderful evening I had last night.

Last Monday my friend and colleague announced at work that she had just got married.  At town hall.  On her lunch break.  For various reasons there was going to be no ceremony or reception.  My boss and his wife are the most generous people you'll ever meet.  Generous with their time, their money and their knowledge.  Well, B (for boss) ;) decided that just wouldn't do and despite being smack bang in the middle of organising a HUGE citywide Halloween event, running an English school, teaching at the local Uni and probably more stuff I don't know about too,  he, his wife and another colleague managed to put together an amazing wedding party in 5 days!!  Twenty odd people, a private room in a restaurant with great atmosphere, a handmade orange veil with flowers and beads all over it (the bride's favourite colour is orange) a table full of orange themed presents, a surprise entrance (which I TOTALLY ruined by calling out to the bride- derr. *^_^*) a fabulous buffet dinner, multiple champagne toasts (as in about 8-9- I kinda lost count...) bouquet tossing and garter removing/ tossing, a first dance, cake cutting, group photos, the works.  My friend and her new husband didn't stop smiling the whole night and I don't think I did either.  They are an international marriage.  So am I.  So were a few other people there.  There were quite a few exchange students there too.  All people who have left their families, friends and social circles behind to move here and have to start again.  Many of the people there didn't know all the people there.  I knew about 1/3.  But there was no awkwardness.  There was so much happiness, so much laughter, so much warmth, so much love. I know that sounds flakey but it's true.  My neighbour was there too.  She's Japanese born and bred.  Never been overseas, or maybe she's been to Hawaii on tour, I don't remember, but anyway, she's just your typical Japanese working wife and mum.  She felt it, too.  (And she's now convinced all western weddings are this great big laughing lovefest- she'll have her single friends heading overseas by the boatload!!) It was just so wonderful to be coming together to celebrate my colleague and her husband's love and this new stage in their life.  In his speech B said that he felt his staff were more than just staff, they were friends, family.  I know every company president probably says that but it's different with B and his wife as you really feel they mean it.  And last night was just such an outpouring of all that.  It's wonderful to be a part of a group of people with so much love to share and so generous with their love.

I'm still glowing with gooey happy puppy dogs and fields of daisies greeting card sentiments this morning. :)  

And that's despite getting home at 3:00am and being woken at 7:00!

Have a wonderful Saturday!



I grew up in a house where you only got a day off school if you were throwing up, covered in spots or had a debilitating fever.  If you were too sick for school you were too sick for loafing around watching tv and had to lie in bed recuperating.  I respect that and for the last year and a half M has only been home from kinder if she was sick, sent home for being sick, or once a month for English playgroup.

But last night her allergies were playing up, she slept fitfully and woke up with dark shadows under her eyes.  It was a beautiful sunny Autumn day and A and I had no plans so I checked her monthly planner to make sure she wouldn't miss anything vital and kept her home.  Felt terribly naughty but I mean she's only 5 and it's not like it's school and... Hey!  I don't need to make excuses, I'm the mum this time. ;P

We had a fabulous day.  Dropped Dh at the station and headed to Mister Donuts for some country folk in the big smoke excitement. :)  It could be worse, the right of passage when you got your license at my old school was driving an hour to the city and buying McDonalds.  If you really wanted to rub it in you brought one to school for lunch the next day.  Mmm, old, cold cheeseburgers. ;)

Then we hit the department store to buy 'something orange' for a friend's party.  M's suggestion was some oranges because 'they're orange AND they're called orange!!' A was stuck on the le crouset saucepans which are indeed orange and I'm sure would be appreciated but were a smidge over budget! 

Then we stopped at the cosomos field again (his time in sweet pink shirts to match the flowers) but wouldn't you know it- this time we were alone so there was noone to take our picture.  Oh well.

Home and the girls were too busy playing together to want lunch so I said to call me when they were hungry and I tidied.  At 2:00 I finally had to break up their swing session but they were thrilled at the idea of a picnic lunch (even if just in our front yard) so that was fun for us all, too.

It was too late to try for a nap and really, they were having so much fun I thought why be the sleep dragon?  So I mowed the lawn and uprooted my poor struggling and looking it cosmos and the girls raked leaves and ran around sprinkling them around again.

We came in and made curry rice together and now it's time to jump in the bath and not a tear has been shed or a cross word said all day.  I wish I knew what I did right so I could do it again.  After all the 'I must be the worst mother in the world' events of yesterday today was a dream.  

And after bathtime I'm off to pick up DH and hand the girls over while I go out to my party.  A party without fairy bread, pass the parcel, or oversugared tantrums (at least I hope so!!!)


a day of ups and downs

I was having a great lazy morning sitting in my sunny verandah room thingy (engawa) and really soaking up the warmth when I suddenly panicked: OH MY GOD!!  It's the 16th!! My Friday class changed to Thursday this week!  I have 5 minutes to get dressier dressed, brush my hair, wash my face, chase Amy down, feed the chooks and get in the car and go AGGGHHHHHH!!!!  So I turned into the Tassie Devil and flew around the house and we made it out the door only a little later than I had planned.  Drove to Mrs H's house and arrived at 9:59.  Niiiice!!  But..... hang on..... no extra cars in the drive....  Called Mrs H and 'Oh! I forgot.  Go to Mrs O's place.  I'll be there soon.'  Drove 5min down the road to Mrs Os (there are three women in the class and depending on the state of their house we change venues- 'ohhhh, I'll be too busy to clean next week, can we have it at yours?') and A pressed the buzzer.  'who is it?'  uhhhhh, it's Fukase.... 'OH??!!  Today??!!!' Just a second and I could hear her rushing to the door.  Went in and she had forgotten too.  Feeling rather unloved as we called the other woman who had guests over so obviously she had forgotten too.  Damn, are my classes that bad???? 35 minutes, a cup of coffee and a yummy persimmon cookie later we started.  And uhhhh, ummm it was me who'd made the mistake.... How embarrassing is that??  The class was a blast though and we were fed like queens at the end as always (even without notice- I swear anybody used to Japanese hospitality who suddenly turns up unannounced at my house is going to be fairly disappointed!)

After class I was driving home and I passed a flag saying that the cosmos was blooming 'winners of the 51st roadside floral arrangement competition'.  Well, I couldn't miss that now could I?  ;)  So A and I took a detour:

Wow!  It was fields on all four corners of an intersection.  That picture is one quarter of it.  Stunning.  And look at all those tourists!! Actually there was one really dressed up young and very in acutely embarrassed love couple there trying to take armslength pictures of themselves with A and I only 3m away.  I took pity on them and offered to take their photo.  'REALLY??? THANK YOU!!!'  Wow.  You'd think I'd offered to donate an organ.  So after determining what they wanted in the picture (I take this stuff seriously :) ) I framed them a great shot from an angle where you couldn't see the walkways snd it looked like they'd been photo shopped into the scene.  They were thrilled and offered to take A and my picture.  I said no automatically as we were in roughish clothes and the wind was doing my hair no favours then thought bugger it, yeah, I'd love a picture of us.  So cutesy girlfriend took our picture.  Well she ain't gonna win any competitions I tell ya!  This is our picture:

But considering how few pictures there are of me I figure it's a keeper as 'Heather, Autumn 2008' anyway. ;)

After a great afternoon wandering in the garden with A and cleaning the bathroom from top to toe while A serenaded me from her futon I was feeling like a sure thing for mum of the year as we headed off to pick M up from kinder.  Whoa no.  A freaked out in  the carpark and had to be manhandled into her carseat which I HATE doing but you really can't have full on lying down hissyfits in the middle of a busy carpark. :(

So with the glow definitely off my day we struggled home with A screaming and M shouting 'AMY'S BEING TOO NOOOOOOISYYYYYY!!!!'  Arrived home frazzled and decided to do all the outside chores before opening the door and see if we couldn't all soak up enough minus ions to calm down a few notches and

wonder of wonders

it worked!!

And we even headed off up the road to the big garden with our tools and a packet of daikon seed.  M wanted to ride her bike so A wanted to, too.  A is three but has steadfastly refused to believe me that you have to push your feet around in a FORWARD motion to propel yourself forward, preferring rather to freewheel backwards while I grunt her up the mountain with occasional dangerous shoves at M's bike seat to give her enough momentum to keep going forward, too.  Well, today, after all that negative energy and freaking out A just suddenly started pedalling!

My baby riding a bike!  

Well, a trike, but still!!

And she was off and gone with me running along clompingly in my workboots yelling out 'BRAKES!!!!!!!  STOP PEDALLING SO I CAN SHOW YOU HOW TO USE THE BRAKES!!!' 
Of course it had no effect whatsoever.

Thankfully it was a dead straight side road so she didn't need brakes, as she can't seem to decide whether the label 'brakes' belongs to her helmet or her bell and patted her helmet and rang her bell each time I yelled brakes.

By the time we planted the daikon seeds, weeded the onion seedlings and had to each harvest something it was getting dark and we came home to a green feast with the komatsuna M picked, the chingensai A relished uprooting and the handful of cress I had intended as our green veg.   Can't complain though.  When I say 'eat your greens' it's to say 'eat your greens, put daddy's back.' :)  

A few more cosmos pics:

Cosmos?   I prefer dandelions, actually. :)  And of course she was wearing her oldest roughest play shirt instead of something irresistably cute but ahh well, that's our A!


food and happenings

Wow!  Someone asked me for a recipe.  How flattering but umm, I'm not very good at following instructions so recipes aren't really me.  So if you give any of these a try no guarantees on the outcome!!

Quince paste.  Here's the recipe I used.  Only I don't have a simmer mat and cooking anything for 3 1/2 hours would cost me sooo much in LPG I couldn't do it.  So I did the simmering on top of the kerosene stove.  One of those old fashioned ones with a grill on top.  Oh and I didn't have ramekins either so I set it in old purin containers.

Green Tomato Relish from my old Home Ec. cookbook. :)

500gram green tomatoes
650grams onions
2tsp salt
1/4 tsp allspice
4 shakes cayenne   (didn't have any so used ichimi)
1Tb mustard   (used Japanese karashi mustard powder)
1 cup (250g) sugar   (I used that slightly brown type.)
1/4 cup (40g) flour   (I used the regular cheap stuff)
1 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp curry powder 
3 cups (750ml) white vinegar   (I used the cheapest blended vinegar available here.)

Wash and slice tomatoes and onions and mix salt through well.  Can be left overnight.
Mix all dry ingredients with enough vinegar to turn it into pancake batter type consistency.  DO THIS SLOWLY OR IT GOES LUMPY
DRAIN LIQUID FROM SALTED VEG and place in a pan with remaining vinegar and heat until boiling.  Boil one minute (or turn heat off when you walk into room and realise it's been boiling for some unknown quantity of time.) :)
Turn heat off and add vinegar spice mix while stirring constantly.
Return to boil and cook 2 minutes.  Or for as long as it takes you to find a clock with a second hand and then realise it has started boiling while you were searching. ;)
Pour into prepared (boiled) jars and screw lids on really tight and place upside down until cool.  LIDS WILL GET HOT ENOUGH TO MAKE MARKS ON PLASTIC TABLETOPS

The capitals are my instructions from experience. :)  This is the third year I've made this relish and it has never gone bad at room temperature but we live in Nagano so for the winter months room temperature is colder than the fridge anyway...  In Australia this would be part of a ploughman's lunch with cheese and cold meat and crusty bread.  Here it works well as a rice topper or as a cheat's marinay (what is the english for that?  You know the fried things served cold with vinegared veg on top?)

Dinner tonight:

Panfried pork chops with panjuice simmered apples, steamed spinnach and the first (and last- sniff) yellow zuchinnis served with miso soup and rice.  DH was horrified at fruit and meat being used in the same dish and still thinks cranberry sauce is an excuse to eat jam for dinner, but even he digs in to this one.  I know it's a really unhealthy way of eating apples but boy is it ever good!!

No problem getting my kids to eat their veggies!

I had to answer the door while A and I were having lunch.  I came back (after politely refusing to buy a carved owl.  Seriously bizarre salespeople come up this way) and this is what I found.  The amazing thing?  She actually ate it all. @_@  It's three types of leaf lettuce, cress, ruccola and baby spinach with nothing but diced apple as a dressing.  I was persevering through my modest serve telling myself how healthy it was.  A must be part caterpillar!


My little rye babies are out!!  We planted rye on Wednesday.  By we I mean Amelia, myself and Amy.  As A spent most of the time wandering around all over the field randomly either trampling seeds or flinging them it was hit and miss whether the seeds would come up but it looks like we did ok!!  Now we've just got to raise it, have it bear seed, harvest, dry, shuck, mill and store it.  Phew!

Quiz time: name that truck

I'll give you a hint- you want it to come to your place but you hate it when it comes to your neighbour's house.

Akibare- fine Autumn days

Yesterday the weather was gloomy.  Rainy.  Dreary.  It made me feel that way too.  But today was clear, sunny, crisp and beautiful.  Yesterday I couldn't imagine a day like today.  Today I couldn't remember how it was I felt like that yesterday.  So a picture of an akibare day to remind me it can't be rain for ever! 


The trip and the aftermath

At 2:30am the night before we left to go to Fukushima I bottled my last jar of green tomato pickles.  After tomato sauce, tomato juice, tomato puree and tomato pickles I am so over tomatoes!!!  My persimmon tree is having an off year this year so I think I will make some quince paste for Christmas (diviiiiiinnneee with cheese and apple) and that will do me for preserving this year.  All those other wonderful autumn goodies will just have to wait for someone else to try them out this year.  Oh, I forgot, I have to harvest my green chillies and make karamiso but that's so easy and sooo good I don't dread it at all!

One of my favourite parts of the trip.  Seeing the Japan Sea.  I grew up on an island and never reealised how much I took clean squeaky sand, endless blue ocean and salty sea breeze for granted until I moved to Japan and then decided to live smack bang as far as you can get from the sea!  So even though we're only speeding past on the expressway I love seeing the Japan Sea.  The pinnacle of good fortune is if we are drivig through Yoneyama service area around meal time.  They have a lookout over the sea AND the most amazing food I've ever eaten in Japan.  (OK, I haven't eaten at anywhere famous to compare it with but nevertheless, it's good!)  Unfortunately I'm not the only one who thinks so and the restaurant won an All Japan Best Service Area Restaurant Award (really!) and there were 30+ people long queues which really doesn't suit travelling with kids so we had to do without.  Bummer.

Niigata is rice country and the rice paddies stretch on forever.  We went past the turnoffs for Nagaoka and Niigata-City and one day I am going to get off the highway and go visiting so make sure you lock the doors, hey? ;)

We went to Ryozen Kodomo no Mura in Datte city and had a blast.  The girls played to their hearts content and MIL and FIL had a ball watching them.  DH and I got to wander around and just chat.  Such a relief to get out of the house full of collectables, breakables and valuables, too!!

The girls were both champions squashed into a Suzuki for over 13 hours in two days!!  They played and sang and chatted all the way up and M fell asleep and slept all the way home while A watched sesame street podcasts on mummy's i-pod.

So the next day while her sister was happy and refreshed and playing A was:

It's sorta hard to tell but she's hanging off the couch.  Her knees are where her head should be.  She fell asleep at 5:00pm and slept through till morning without any dinner. :(  She sure had no problem finishing brekky today!!