The problem with plurals

English is M's second language as well as being the minority language here.  She does really well and can hold her own in most conversations but some stuff just stumps her.  Plurals not being as big a deal in Japanese as English means that's one area she trips over.  I joke around with her and she's slowly getting it:

'Mummy, can I have a grape for dessert?'
'Sure, here's your one grape.'
'Ohhh.  You wanted some grapes? Why didn't you say so?  Here you are.'

But all this focussing on S has confused her.  She asks for spaghettis and milks etc.  No big deal, I repeat her request the correct way and we move on.

But we've got stuck on a really tricky one.

My sister's boyfriend.

Meg insists there's only one of him.

She's right.

But his name is still James.

Not Jame as she calls him.


Where the @+%$# is the View Formatting Palette Header and Footer Tool Bar??

Dear desperate google searcher,

Take a deep breath.  Unclench your jaw.  It is safe to let children and small animals within arm's reach again.  Salvation is here.

I have been where you are and I know how you feel.  

You have the funky Mac, right?  Every time you see some Hollywood starlette open up their product placement sexy notebook in the latest blockbuster you feel like part of an exclusive club, right?

You paid out the big bucks for Word for Mac, right?  Sigh, if only the rest of the world would realise what their missing out on right?  But never fear, we stylish and sexy-like-a-Hollywood-starlette Mac users are also gracious, and generous, and willing to pay out the big dineros to help those less fortunate.  Sigh.

You are trying to complete a universe engulfing sized project- complete with random blackholes- and it is not just any old project, either- this is a flashy, showy, sexy Hollywood starlette on the red carpet at the Academy Awards type project complete with fifty odd freaking sections with unique formatting and different headers.

(Take a deep breath- I swear you are nearly at the hallelujah moment)

So anyway, you worked out how to open the headers, you worked out how to change them, but you are pulling great chunks of hair out and gnashing them into dust with the last of your worn to stubs molars trying to figure out how to get rid of the locked-in-harder-than-the-final-answer-on-Millionaire 'same as previous' that's seemingly hardwired into the very coding of the computer. AGHHHHHHHHHHHGGGGGHHH!!!!

You spent a day and a half trying to figure out what to google (attention any budding internet developers out there- a pre-google site where you type in 'I don't WANT that funny squiggle in the middle of my table' and it tells you the technical name of the squiggle so you can locate it on google without first being offered online gambling, HOT COLLEGE GIRLS LIVE and closed techno- wizard forums that make us mere mortals require interpreters to navigate would be great.  Seriously, squillionaire material.) So anyway, you figured out what to google, and then you were staring at '1-10 of about 273,000 pages (0.16 seconds)' (how can google organise programmes that can find 230,000 things in less than a second and Microsoft can't organise a freaking word processing programme that doesn't give you nightmares?) anyway, you were staring at 230,000 pages of online gambling, HOT COLLEGE GIRLS LIVE and closed techno-wizard forums and rocking back and forth and uttering a primordial moan 'noooooooooo!!!!!' when-



And Hallelujah baby!  You and your project are SAVED!!

The answer:

Open document header. (Double clicking in the vicinity of the header oughta do it)  Once the header is open, you can open formatting palette (under View) and a Header and Footer tool bar is visible. This is invisible unless your cursor is in the header or footer. (WHY??????) Then you can select "link to previous section" and UNTICK THE FREAKING STRAIGHT FROM THE 8TH CIRCLE OF HELL LITTLE BOX.  Type in your new Header and walah!  Go pour yourself a big G&T.  Ahhh to hell with it, just drink the gin from the bottle and get it over with- you deserve it!!

Endnote- I know this is about as interesting as a whole post on my crooked toenail or my 'I love Katori Shingo tribute poem in twelve Stanzas' but I just spent three days struggling with this and I am still flying high from having finally worked it out.  Well it's either that or the bottle of gin. 




That's Rabaa Shinbaru.

That's what my neighbour ordered from the Co-op grocery delivery this week.

I'm in a group of four women who get our orders delivered together.

Then one of us (whoever goes over to N's house to pick up their delivery first) goes through the boxes and puts everything in the individual crates ready for pickup.  To do this you refer to a master list of what the group ordered this week.

Being a nosey type person I quite enjoy this job.

Ehh?  M still buys bum wipes?  Her youngest kid is in the 3rd grade, what on earth does she use them for??

Mmmmm N buys these sausages quite often.  Must be good, I'll have to try them next week.

And there being a week between order and delivery and me being quite forgetful there's quite a lot of 'I ordered gobo again???  We are going to be eating burdock root three meals a day at this rate!

Non-food items take two weeks to arrive and come in privacy preserving sealed brown paper bags.  They are still listed on the master list though.  So when I saw my young funky neighbour N had bought something called Rabaa shinbaru my interest was well piqued and the vagueries of katakana rendering of English words had all sorts of things flying through my mind:

Lover Symbol?  Oohhhh wonder what that might be.  Feels squishy and small, surely Co-op hasn't gone into the sex toy business?? :O (I assure you all feeling of the package was limitted to what was strictly necessary in picking it up and putting it in N's crate.  I mean, a firm grip is necessary to ensure I don't drop each item, right?) 

Lover Cymbal?  A squishy cymbal?  A cymbal specially for lovers???

The truth was way less exciting.  Too curious to let it lie I casually brought it up when N came over to get her shopping (serendipitous timing- I would have been lying in agitated wakefulness all night imagining N and her stereotypical accountant husband with lover cymbals and lover symbols and who knows what else... and they co-sleep with their two kids, too- the mind boggles!!)

What an anti-climax.

Rabaa shinbaru?

A rubber thimble.

Ahahhh.  People live way more exciting lives in my imagination...


Three puzzling reflections

A and I had a great day today, skiving off housework we caught the train to Nagano, the subway to Hongo and then were driven up a carsickness inducing winding mountain road by an AFWJ friend to another AFWJers house for lunch.  Fabulous fun but 2 hours travel each way for two and a bit hours socialising is wearying.  My mad dash across the Nagano station plaza with a sleeping 18kg Amy on my hip and my laptop in my messenger bag slung over the other shoulder was only a happy experience as I made it onto the (hourly, if I don't make it I will have a lot of explaining to do at M's kinder) train with a minute to spare.  Yup.  One minute.  that was a bit too close for comfort but kudos to G's amazing driving skills- if I had been in the driving seat we never would have got there!!  And no, I don't usually take my computer when I go out for lunch- all that train time was too good to waste and I got a lot of work done while pretending not to notice Amy lying under the seat infront trying to see how the foot rest worked...

Anyway, onto the puzzling bits.  

#1 On the train home there was an announcement:

"Welcome to the Shinano 18 bound for Nagoya."  (Standard stuff)

"On our way to Shinanoi we will pass the area voted one of Japan's top three views-from-a-train-window."  (Yup, there's a word for that- 車窓)

"We will be passing the spot at approximately 3:14."  (phew, glad they gave us the heads up- hate to be forced to look at non-award winning scenery trying to pick the right view!  And approximately 3:14?)

"You will be able to see Nagano city, the Zenkoji plain and the 5 peaks of Northern Shinshu."  (There are of course more than five mountains in Northern Nagano- these are the five peaks... and today was foggy.  Traffic hazard foggy.  You couldn't see a metre out the window, let alone all the way across the plain to the mountains on the other side!)

I have travelled this line before and while it is nice scenery, I am amazed it got into the coveted top 3 ranking.  According to this site the other two views are in Kyushu and Hokkaido.  Never been on either train so I can't comment but I can't work out why the trains that run so close to the Japan Sea in Niigata don't get a mention.  Or the fabulous stretch of railroad that goes through southern Nagano I blogged about here.  Puzzling.

#2  The woman who hosted the lunch had made Afghan bikkies.  (That's a cookie to all you people not lucky enough to be Aussies ;P) Someone asked why they're called Afghans.  ...  Ummmm ....  Well according to this site they are a terribly unPC cookie.  Chocolate cookie with chocolate on top and a walnut topping it off.  Afghan camel trader with dark hair and turban. :O  Rather yummy in a very moreish kind of way!  Looking around the cookie site I stumbled across an even more curiously named cookie from the UK: jihad bikkies.  Labelled 'really nice biscuits.'  Not often you hear the word jihad in the same sentence as 'really nice' now is it?  So, Brits, why are they called jihad bikkies? Puzzling.

#3 I had to break up a fight between M and A today over who is going to drive the k-truck when they grow up.  it was getting rather nasty rather fast.  Never mind that I'm sure by 8, let alone 18 they will not want to be seen in the function over form, beloved by country bumpkins the length and breadth of Japan k-truck, I can't work out why out of the three cars we now own (I know carbon footprint and all that but they were all second hand and we only ever use one or two of them at a time and....) they are fighting over the k-truck????  I'd take the spacious 7 seater with sunroof or the zippy little all leather interior 4 seater over the bone jolting, no radio or aircon k truck anyday!  And they were coming to blows over it.  Puzzling.


the tooth fairy

M lost another tooth.

She lost it at kinder.  Actually her teacher pulled it out as it was hanging by a thread and getting in the way of talking (ewwww- rather her than me!) and put it in a little envelope sealed with a cherry blossom sticker and they put it in her kinder bag.  All going well so far.  Then she told Meg to take it home and 'throw it on the roof.'  Seems in Japan you throw bottom teeth on the roof and top teeth under the house.  I can't help feeling sorry for kids living on like the 74th story or something... but anyway, M was horrified and when I went to pick her up she came hurrying out (unusual) and wouldn't wave goodbye to her teacher (very unusual)  I asked what's wrong and she whispered in my ear that her teacher told her to throw her tooth away and she doesn't want to.  

Ahhhhhh, yes.  A short explanation to sensei and she suggested to Meg that this tooth fairy idea sounded pretty good, too, and maybe she should give that a try, and off we went with everyone smiling.  Phew.  It is such a tightrope act trying to keep the traditions I hold dear going while living in a place where they are not observed. Christmas is pretty easy- we go to a missionary run playgroup and they hold a Christmas celebration every year so we know that it's about more than Santa and KFC, but Easter and the tooth fairy are a little more difficult.  I do love how M sorts things out for herself though.

Meg's take on the toothfairy/ throw your tooth away dilemma:

"I think sensei probably lives in a very small house.  I couldn't throw my tooth on the roof- it's too high!  Maybe the people who can reach the roof leave their teeth there so the tooth fairy doesn't have to come inside and people like Meg with big houses can't do that so I can use a cup by my bed."

Not bad, huh?

The Easter bunny doesn't go to my friends' houses dilemma:

"I think Saki and Eri and Ayuna's mummies all forgot to tell them to make Easter baskets and that's why the Easter bunny didn't come- they'd have nowhere to put their Easter eggs!  You should tell their mummies when you see them so they can have chocolate too because Eri said she wants chocolate."

Pretty good, there, too I feel.  And the Easter baskets she's sure are our saving grace?  They are the bottom of milk cartons chopped off, strip of milk carton handle attached and decorated with markers and stickers.

At 5 and 3 I hope we have many years of believing ahead of us so I'll take all the creative reasoning Meg can come up with!

Off to find 100 yen and some sequins- fairy dust, you know?

Oh and I found A, brows furrowed in deep concentration trying to wobble her front teeth."I want to see the tooth fairy, too!"



Post convention blues


Was flying all the way home from the convention- even an overcrowded slow train home (when will I ever learn to read train timetables- in any language???) couldn't dampen my spirits. :)

Came crashing back to earth AKA real life with a thud when we got home just in time for K to head off to Taichi.  Can't bemoan that, he love it and he had just driven 7 hours back from Fukushima with the girls, by himself.

But still, it meant I was left with two hyper-excited 'MUMMYYYYYYY!!!!!!!'
Over candied (grandparents... but they only see them a few times a year)
Over stimulated (grandparents.... see above)
Un-napped (Daddy and a stream of DVDs in the car, to be fair I would have done the same...)
Exhausted beyond all reason children to feed., bathe and bed.

A refused to eat anything I made as she wanted food 'like at obaachan's'.  Can't say I blame her, MIL is an amazing cook, but she cooks around 10 dishes per meal and sorry honey but that's just not mummy- even when she hasn't had the bare minimum of sleep for two nights straight!)

M wanted to go back to Fukushima as I wouldn't put the tv on for her and we don't have ice-cream for dessert.  What a lousy place to live, huh?

It went on (and on and on) for the entire evening and I finally wore A out and they both slept and... instead of getting all my stuff ready for work this morning I fell asleep too!  Gahhhhhh!!!!!

Oh well, I scraped through my classes and the sleep meant I actually had a voice which is always helpful when teaching conversation!  

It would have been nice if the buzz had lasted just a little longer, though...


the convention

I'm on a short break between my latin dance-as-exercise class and the Cabaret show this evening.  I've also done scrapbooking and pilates, today.  Everything is a first for me and I'm trying to figure out my feelings.  I really feel like Alice in Wonderland.  I got on a train in Matsumoto and somehow we fell down a hole under a tree (red pine of course- Nagano's symbol tree) and ended up in another world where everything is a little brighter, a little larger, a little zanier than real life- and I'm loving it!

I came here thinking I would find a whole lot of people just like me and really looking forward to doing just that.  Instead I have found that we foreign wives come in a veritable cornucopia of different styles.  And I don't just mean physical attributes- although that was refreshing too- seeing women of all shapes and sizes, hues and styles, wearing things I would never wear, wearing things I could never wear and looking fantastic while doing so, to boot!  But it was the differences you don't notice until you start talking (and I did a lot of that) that have left me with the strongest impression.  I have met people who feel the whole spectrum of emotions towards Japan, those with no children, those with grandchildren, working women, career women, stay at home women, women who move every couple of years and women who have lived where they are for longer than I've been alive.  A big jolt has been the 'how long have you been in Japan?' question- I'm used to 'wow!  Nine whole years?' type reactions and instead I'm getting 'ahhhh, still a newbie then' comments.  This weekend has given me a whole new perspective on my life here.  I have always considered myself pretty self sufficient- I have the support I want available in my close geographic community, why would I need to reach out to others farther away just because we both happen to have married Japanese men?  I mean my neighbours all married Japanese men, too after all!  (well the women did, anyway...;P)  But meeting so many other foreign wives at every stage of their life here I see that I fit into a wider community of people who- while different in many ways- share something important, something that shapes our views, our feelings, the way we interact with those around us, we are all foreign wives of Japanese men.  

Oh and in one way I did find a whole hotel full of people just like me- I swear everyone is smiling fit to burst! 

Off to my first ever cabaret...



Women, wine and wacky games!  


I'm a queen of music trivia!

I'm drunk and there's no long dark walk home!

I'm going off to a Gaijin bar and noone's waiting up for me!



I'm off!

to the big city!!  

No, not Matsumoto.  I'm being really brave and going to Tokyo. (oh!) 

By myself (oh!!)

On public transport- with transfers (OHHHH!!!!)

Yup, a scaredycat like me has already imagined 105 ways I could come to grief in the badlands of the nation's capital but never fear, I watched enough Indie Jones (River Phoenix...sigh) when I was little and I'm all prepared.  I have:

Sensible shoes.  Actually I don't think I own any insensible shoes. Hmmm must look into that.

All my transfers written down.  I initially did this on my laptop going for that 'oooh she could pass for a big city businesswoman' native look but decided I'd look like a right git with my laptop open checking what line I need....

Charged phone, full wallet and camera.  Yup, I may make mistakes, but I do learn from them.  And anyway I got right chastised last time- you're all really scary... ;P  The camera is to record my death in the reflection of my assailant's eyeballs.  Yup, I watch too much CSI.  I just hope the Tokyo police do, too...

I am meeting a friend in Meguro on my way between my bus stop in Shinjuku (yup, I'm cheap) and my hotel in Chiba.  (Security measure #4 courtesy of National Parks and Wildlife: let someone know before you go.)  Not sure what I'm more nervous about to tell the truth: gadding around Tokyo or the AFWJ convention in Chiba.  The friend I'm meeting speaks no Japanese and is prepared to gad around with me so I can't really pull the 'I don't know Tokyo, I can't do that.' routine now, can I?  

And the convention? On the one hand I'm imagining a 130 woman strong slumber party with alcohol to boot.  Woohoo!  They even have party games and a cabaret!  On the other hand I keep thinking- aghhhhhhh 130 women I don't know and have never met.  Agghhhhhhh!!!  I wanna go home and be safe and isolated with my own pillow and my favourite coffee cup!  Just as well then that K is taking the opportunity to take the girls to Fukushima to visit his family so there'll be noone to run home, too.  And we scaredy cats would prefer even a hotel full of 130 people we don't know to an old and creaky house in the country by ourselves!

I'll be taking my laptop (big city businesswoman cover and all that) so if I survive Shinjuku station and the convention and don't get stuck half way up a tree being dared to write on someone's window in lipstick again I should report in safe and sound during the weekend. 

Oh and I haven't blogged about M's amazing theatrical talents.  Here's a snippet of the 5yo class in all their migraine inducing glory.  I do love the egalitarian nature of group singing here- it doesn't matter whether you can keep in tune or not- just sing it LOUD!

Love the false start. :)  Can you pick M?


I have been searching through all our photo albums for a headshot of me to use in my profile piece for a journal.  


26,743 pictures of Meg

19,348 pictures of Amy (hasn't been around as long)

5,062 pictures of Ken (weekends and holidays)

3 of me: kimono for 753, taken by Amy in the cosmos (crooked) or in a beanie (toque, whatever) in the dark at the illuminations.

Really.  Where are all the photos of me with my family?????  Not only am I not on the family register, I'm not in the family album, either!!




kyuushoku.  School lunch.

One of the best things about M's kinder is the school lunch.  That's not to say there's anything wrong with the teaching, the buildings, the teachers etc etc just that the lunches are amazing.

It's fresh- cooked on site, it's seasonal- only fresh veggies are used so I guess it has to be, it celebrates all the major holidays (ohagi at obon, beans on Oni day, mochi rice cakes at new year etc etc), it is often locally sourced 'today's spinach, celery and apples came from Azusagawa, the onions came from Matsumoto.' it's incredibly healthy with a focus on fish and vegetables and it's really varied- a two week roster of meals is used twice to make up a month's meal plan and then not used again that year.

I consider myself a pretty competent cook and we eat a good mix of Japanese and Western food with emphasis on health and nutrition but I am put to shame by the lunch ladies.  They have two year olds eating nisshin- itty bitty fish with eggs in their stomachs!!  Not to mention natto, tofu, seaweed, blue flesh fish and even brussel sprouts!!  You won't find any of that on a kid's menu where I'm from.

Today was observation day and we watched the lunch being served.:

Rice (brought from home and kept in a warmer until lunch) on-yasai, warmed veggie salad (carrot, broccoli, cabbage and wiener pieces), a strawberry (only one, thought that was a bit rough...) mackerel marinated in miso and milk and then poached- with a ton of parsley garnish, M loves it and asked for extra @_@, suimono clear soup with mushrooms, fu (like soggy croutons) seaweed and leek.  All washed down with a cup of mugi-cha barley tea.  Not bad for lunch, hey?  And I was just praising myself on those lunches I was making Amy.  We got a way to go yet!  

My favourite bit was when the lunch monitors (they rotate daily) had to tell everyone what was for lunch.  The mackerel dish is サバのみそ牛乳煮 saba no miso gyuunyuu ni.  Poor kid couldn't spit it out for the life of him and finally the teacher let him just say 'saba'.  It's mackerel.

M loves school lunch.  Infact if you ask her what she wants to be when she grows up she'll tell you 'lunch lady.'  Although I'm not sure that that's not just a misconception that you would get to eat seconds if you worked there...



My grandmother is 93.  She's a real powerhouse.  Or a stubborn old bird, how you feel depends on whether she's with you or against you at the time!  She lives alone in a house she and her husband built.  She is politically active, writes letters (the old fashioned way) by the dozen a week to members of parliament, the local council, old friends and even her great grandchildren.  She has a weak heart, weak lungs, two replaced hips and on bad days she grudgingly relies on the kindness of a (hand carved, au natural wood) cane.  But no matter how amazing she is, she's still 93.  Without the benefits of the death defying, centenarian producing  Okinawan diet, in Australia 93 is pretty old.  Your parts are getting worn down and worn out.  If you were an electrical appliance you'd be in the 'service for this item is no longer supported' category.  

With all this in the back of my head (and being a worrier it's sharing space with my post aneurism parents-yes, both of them, my rush hour traffic on a bicycle brother and my gorgeous, innocent, can't possibly run away very fast in those shoes sister) when the phone rings at odd hours, my heart is in my throat as I pick it up.  I'm doing the 'please let it be nothing, please let it be nothing' thing under my breath at the same time as steeling myself for bad news because let's face it- who else is going to be ringing at 7:02 am?

Well, this morning it was Matsumoto City Land and Infrastructure Department:

Hello? (please let it be nothing, please-)
Hello.  This is Matsumoto City Land and Infrastructure Department.
........ (eh? phew! eh? Oh my god!  Asbestos! Land sink! Land slide! That Volcano! we are being evacuated and I'm in my PJs!!!!!)
Uh, hello. Yes.
Are you planning on applying for the lottery to renew your contract on your community garden plot for the next financial year?
Ahhh????? (For real????)
Uh- Yes.  I mean no.  No, thank you.
Ok. Excuse me. (hangs up.)

What the...?  Why on earth are they checking whether we want our community garden plot at 7:00 in the morning?????  My taxes are paying for someone to be doing overtime ringing people about their bloody veggie patches?????? Are there not more serious issues we could get any city hall insomniacs working on? 


But glad that Grandma- and all my family- made it through another day without succumbing to any of the trillion or so disasters I imagine them encountering.


3 days

Thursday morning:

Sunday Afternoon:

Weird, weird weather.  A bit scary, actually.


Valentine's Day

Yeah!  While I was at work today K organised a babysitter (who he approved of to look after our precious treasures and who agreed to take our rambunctious monkeys- quite a feat!!), bought me a gorgeous dress to wear, made a booking at a swanky definitely-not-a-kid's-menu-in-sight Italian bistro and had flowers and chocolates ready for when I walked through the door.  We had an amazing meal and talked, really talked, about all sorts of deep and meaningful things and spent a wonderful two hours and four courses (with wine, darling!) without even thinking of, let alone talking about, the girls, work or what needs to be done around the house.

Well, I'm sure that's true of someone, somewhere, anyway!

When I was living in Australia I considered it a given that Valentine's Day meant 'princess for a day' and I would be pampered and adored and all I would be required to do was show some loving at the end of the day. ;P

Needless to say my first Valentine's Day in Japan was a bit of a shock.  A lot of a shock.  Mind you, I should have had an inkling of what to expect from someone who didn't observe birthdays, Christmas or his parent's anniversary....

Over the years we have grown into a way of celebrating that suits us and, surprisingly, this doesn't mean I threw a hissyfit and demanded princess treatment.  Marriage sure has mellowed me!

So today's Valentine's Day started with heartshaped pancakes with raspberry sauce (yeah for homegrown raspberries!) and yoghurt.  After work all four of us went to a very nice Italian restaurant (that part was true!) fittingly called L'amore (is that grammatically correct?  Doesn't it translate as The Love?) and had woodfired pizza without tuna, corn or mayonnaise (much to Meg's chagrin 'I want real pizza!' and an amazing salad bar with Nagano rareties like marinated artichokes and olives, roasted red pepper and fresh parmesan cheese.  It was very enjoyable if not particularly romantic and by arriving at 5:30 we avoided crowds which made eating out bearable for homebody K.  The girls were fantastic which was wonderful.  I think I may see a light at the end of the eating-out-with-toddler-hell-years tunnel!  They both had sore tummies on the way home from overdoing the soft serve icecream bar but hey, Valentine's Day is but once a year, right?

Ohhh, how sweet. (punny, punny, me.)  And don't worry, we ate the left over bits too. :)



Lunch is such a pain.

I love brekkie.  You wake up starving hungry, get downstairs, put the coffee on, and either eat a hearty bowl of yummy home-mixed cereal (rice bubbles, sultana bran, cornflakes, rolled oats, sultanas, cinnamon) or eggs, sauted veggies and bacon/ sausages on weekends.  You can feel the energy rushing through you and you're all set to go.

I love dinner, too.  I love thinking about what to cook, I love the challenge of making something with what's in the fridge, I love sitting down together (well that's my ideal...) I love eating Aussie size portions of meat, I really love dessert, and I really, really love that I get to leave the dishes for K to do. :)

But lunch?  It's such a hassle.  Eat breakfast too late and you don't feel like having lunch at all.  Eat a snack in the morning and you don't feel like having lunch either.  And if you're doing something and you're totally engrossed in it, it's really annoying to have to stop for a meal just because it's midday.

Weekends I have no choice.  K needs to eat a large serving of carbohydrate at 12:00.  Seriously, he starts getting antsy at 11:50 and if I don't look like I'm making anything he will hesitantly suggest 'Should I make something??'  Not being a fan of kilos of udon or mayonnaise I usually jump to attention and get into the kitchen!  Not sure what will happen if he doesn't eat as we've never risked it...

But weekdays it's just me and Amy.  And she's really too little to be able to tattle on me so I have a bad habit of slacking off and not cooking lunch.  Not even just not cooking lunch but not even really making lunch.  Just arranging lunch.  A slice of cheese, some cherry tomatoes, a piece of broccoli (we freeze summer veggies for winter use) a bread roll, a mandarin, and a tub of yoghurt and walah! 'Amyyyy! Lunch is readyyyyyyyy!'

If it was just once or twice I could forgive myself and say it's doing no harm but unfortunately it's more often than not.  Bad mummy.  So lately I've been making an effort.  I'm not there yet, but I am giving myself points for trying.  I've been using the muffin tin idea that Jo uses.  This way we get at least six items in our lunch which is a start.  Amy loves it.  She keeps forgetting the name of the muffin tray though and asks 'Mummy, can we have the cooking thing one for lunch please?'

Yesterday: rice, seaweed, pickles, tomatoes, kajiki (white tuna?) strawberries.  It looks a little sad as she started eating before I found the camera. :(

Today: Pickles, rice with sesame seeds and crunchy pickled plums, mandarin, cereal, pulled chicken, mini salad (with mayonnaise smiley face- GJ!!)  The cereal was a request and pickles two days in a row was not ideal but hey, we're still learning!  Oh, we had vegetable soup with it.

And my lunch?  chicken salad with blue cheese and cranberries dressed with balsamic vinegar and black pepper.  Yummo.  Now that's a lunch I can be bothered eating!


the littlest naturalist

I don't know how it happened but I have two little girls who love to be naked.  It's certainly not genetic and not something I have encouraged either.  Most of the time I ignore it in the 'ignore it and it will go away' idea, and the weather helps keep clothes on them for part of the year, too!  But somedays I just can't get pants on Amy for the life of me.  Today was one of them.  She got dressed for brekky- you know the 'no shoes, no shirt, no service' signs you see in bars?  we have a 'no clothes, no service' rule at mealtimes around here.  But after brekky she ripped off her leggings and pants and was happily dancing away to my morning music with her caboose hanging out.  I warned her that we weren't going to be able to go shopping until she got dressed again and no shopping meant no natto and no bananas but she remained unphased.  And so for 3 bum-chilling hours she refused all attempts at cajoling, wheedling, imploring and, I'm not proud to say, threatening to get her reclothed.  I thought I had her for sure when I said I was going out to shovel snow and make a snowman and what a pity she couldn't come because she had no pants on.  Made a big hoohah of putting all my outside gear on and stomping outside and clanging the snow shovel around and I heard a thundering of little piston legs coming down the hall 'wait for meeeeeee!!' He he, I smiled.  Mum will always win!  Turned around to do my smug 'See?  Isn't it better to have pants on so we can have fun?' routine when you wouldn't believe it but she was standing behind me in her snow gear- hat, mittens, jacket and boots- and... no pants!!  



lions and tigers and bears

...and robbers and rapists and murderers.

For a variety of stupid and irresponsible reasons involving not checking the contents of my wallet, the weather report or my phone battery before leaving the house I walked home from the station in the dark, in the snow.  It's about a 40 minute walk and only one turn so no problems there (no street signs though!) but ahhh.... umm.... I'm not the bravest person in the world.  Overactive imagination and all that.  I'm a bit like Chicken Little only instead of thinking the sky is falling I'm freaking that some panting, drooling be-trenchcoated madman is waiting for me around every corner.

This sense of panic was not helped by the pitchblackness of this area at night.  No shops is a given, but no streetlights and not even many houses. And where there are houses most people are asleep by 9:00 so only a handful have their lights on.  Very creepy.  And the snow is falling thick and fast in a way that has a kind of shush shush sound to it.  The kind of shush shush sound that lends itself perfectly to visions of things that go bump in the night.

So I was powerwalking along in the fluffy, slushy snow imagining my death being reported on the news:

(As I left the station)
The 31 year old housewife (they always mention age and occupation- as though the victim was targeted because she was a 45 year old company employee or whatever) was last seen getting off the Kamikochi bound train at 10:20pm.  Witnesses say she headed off umbrellaless into the snow without a hat.  Her dismembered body was found in the creepy ground of the Agricultural High School by the Principal early this morning.  The victim's husband offered his sincere apologies for causing any inconvenience to the staff, students, parents and alumni of the school.

(As I crossed a very long and narrow deserted bridge)
The 76 year old apple farmer said he didn't even see the 31 year old housewife when he hit her, as she was wearing all black and did not even have an umbrella.  'I never expected to see anyone on the bridge at that time of night' he said.  The housewife's body was found 1m downstream, her considerable girth having snagged her on a rock.

(As I went through a bamboo forest)
It appears the 31 year old housewife disturbed a bear with her off key rendition of 'Someday I'll be Saturday night.'  Local hunters found a dead mobile phone, an empty wallet and no sign of an umbrella.  It is unclear at this stage whether a robbery also occurred or whether the housewife was just not very smart.

(As I slipped and slid my way up the 16% gradient walking track)
Indentations in the snow indicate the 31 year old housewife slid for some metres before crashing through a roadside barrier and ending up, backwards and headfirst in a floodwater drain.  Police say neighbours were alerted to the incident when her body became lodged in the drain causing flooding to a large area of the neighbourhood.  The victim's husband made a personal visit to each affected house bearing rice crackers and bowing low to apologise for any inconvenience this tragic event caused them or their family.

(As I startled a dog)
Today police cleared the 31 year old housewife of any wrongdoing and issued her with a strong warning against any further blackclad nocturnal adventures.  The 63 year old widower  concerned citizen who called the police explained 'I heard my dog barking and got out of my futon (yoisho!) to see what the fuss was about.  I saw a bedraggled figure dressed all in black and walking umbrellaless up the road at 11:00pm- of course I thought it was someone up to no good!

(As I stood on the porch searching for my key)
The 31 year old appears to have made it all the way to her front door porch only to be ambushed by a crazed madman who had been hiding in an overgrown bush beside the door.  The victim's elderly neighbour said (suuuuu- toothsucking sound) 'I told her time and time again I'd cut that poor bush back into the correct three tiered UFO shape but she kept gabbing on about preferring the natural shape...'

But despite all that imminent danger I made it home safe and sound.  Phew!  Now to just make it upstairs to bed without anyone's hand grabbing my ankle through the stairs, or jumping out from behind my wardrobe door...


where the streets have no name...

I went into Matsumoto today- and almost out the other side, to see my neighbour/ hairdresser.  

I was meeting J there.  J called me:
Are you taking Yamabiko road?


My friend S, overheard my call and said:
You're going to the salon?  You've got to take Yamabiko.  You got so lost last time.


I arrived at the salon (early thank you very much, and only one unplanned lane change later) and neighbour and hairdresser asked:
Did you take Yamabiko road?


Now I have no problems with people giving me directions.  Quite encourage the practice actually- what with being directionally challenged, hating my navi with a passion, and not liking driving even when I'm not lost!  But the road names thing drives me nuts.

See, road names are totally random around here.  Most roads have no names.  We identify these by vague descriptors such as 'the road that goes past Nagasaki's dairy' (that's pretty easily identified) 'the old school road' (there's always a commemorative monument where they pulled down a school so again, not too bad.) 'the road where that incident occurred' (Yup, that is verbatim how my neighbour described the shortcut to take to get to the watermelon outlet shop.  Needless to say I nodded, said thank you, got insanely curious about an incident occurring in my locale- and put any thoughts of taking a shortcut out of my head!!)

So when you're lucky enough to have a road with a name you shout hooray!  And then reality sets in.  Most names are Route numbers.  As a general rule the smaller the number the bigger the road.  So Route 4 is the longest regular road in Japan, running from Nihonbashi in Tokyo all the way to Aomori city and Route 396 is a back road.  How useful, right?  Wrong.  Let's take Route 4 as an example.  In Fukushima, Route 4 runs for part of the way parallel to the Route 4 bypass which some Einstein decided to name Route 4 bypass.  Not all of that fits on the itty bitty road markers though so while overhead signs will tell you you are on the bypass the roadside markers indicate you are on Route 4.  Confused yet?  When you get a bit further you encounter the Old Route 4 signs.  So now we have Old Route 4, Route 4 and Route 4 bypass.  Oh for some street names!!  And this is how the longest road in the country is treated, you can imagine what sufferings the lesser roads are put through!

Thankfully I now live nowhere near Route 4 but that doesn't mean I'm road stress free.  The Yamabiko road?  That would be the local name for the Kokutai road.  Which would be the shortened name of 'the purpose built for the National Sports Festival (Kokumin Taiiku Taikai) road'.  Of course!  And I would know that I was travelling on said road because it is conveniently signposted thus?  Oh no.  Well not that I could see anyway.  No gymnasiums, swimming pools or hordes of fit people either. ;P

Not to single out Yamabiko Road for criticism I also live near the Koike Nodo.  Koike Agricultural Road.  You're thinking farms, cattle crossing signs, a dirt road with potholes?  Nope.  Try the main route up the prefecture from here.  You do get congestion every Spring and Autumn when the rice farmers prove a point by driving agricultural machinery down it but that sliver of agricultural imagery is far outweighed by the Hardware Supercentre, the Automotive Supercentre and the Supermarket Supercentre (sensing a trend, yet?)  Oh and Koike means little lake.  As far as I can tell they are referring to the fountains on sale at the Hardware Supercentre as there's no lake anywhere in sight...

But my favourite of all annoying roads in the Salad Kaido.  A great tourist trap of a thing it even has it's own website!  (If you click on the photo in the top right of the page there are some pretty good pictures of the area around here).  All very well and good but every man and his dog has an opinion on the road and are either busy putting up signs 'Salad Road this way' with an arrow directing people past their family's overpriced 'Fresh Nagano Produce!!  Farmer's Market Prices!!' shop or equally busily putting up signs 'Salad Road that way' with an arrow directing hordes of understandably confused useless-map wielding Tokyoites away from their peaceful neighbourhood.  So you have a winding and scenic road congested with out of towners going 2km an hour trying to get the shot that's in the brochure- you know the one with the Alps, the apple orchard, the rice paddy and the obliging little old lady bent double planting rice by hand in conical straw hat, without getting the powerlines, the piles of agricultural plastic, the 20 cars around them or the hardware supercentre in the frame and constantly being confronted with intersections telling you that the Salad Kaido goes that way ...., and this way..., and not the way you've just come- despite the last sign telling you you were definitely on the Salad Kaido and what's more, on your way to 'BEST APPLES!! FARMER'S MARKET PRICES!!'

So, did I take the Yamabiko Road today?  Who knows!

The road that goes past the greenhouses, you know?


Random Ramblings

Where are all the feminists?

I was watching NHK news while cooking and correct me if I'm wrong but a member of the opposition had a go at the kanji reading-impaired PM (there's hope for me yet!!) on his lack of decisiveness: "If you're against, it say 'I'm against it!' If you're for it, say 'I'm for it!' all this ambiguity is unmanly!"  Hmmm, while I agree the PM should grow a backbone why wasn't there an outcry at the choice of terms?  I proffer unpoliticianlike, unstatesmanlike, a disgrace for a person in your position, an insult to the citizens of this great land etc etc as alternatives


It never ceases to amaze me the lack of political activity among your average Joe (Taro? Hana?) in Japan.  Today the results of the latest NHK phone polls came out.  Some (from memory so don't quote me) statistics:
Only 62% of people randomly phoned chose to answer the poll.
Of those 17% supported the PM.  Reasons for supporting him included 'He's better than the other choices available' and 'he's the guy my preferred party chose'.
Preferred party?  Well the two main party's have around 23% support each and the overwhelming majority of people are not happy with any party.  And these are the results from the 62% of people who agreed to the survey.  You'd expect that they were less politically apathetic than their non-participating fellow citizens.  Bizarre.  I know I come from a more than usually politically active family (all my mum's family are members of the same political party and I letter dropped with them when I was still in primary school.  Needless to say it takes about a nano second for a family get together to turn political...) but the apathy here shocks me.  Those trucks going around repeating the candidates name endlessly and at screech level without any information about policies.  The candidate for Nagano legislature gladhanding at kinder who shook my hand and asked for my support and then froze mid-smile when I said her government didn't let foreign residents vote.  Seriously, I had more conversations with people about the US election than I ever have about Japan's politics.  (Did you know that being foreign makes me an expert on any western country's political system?)

'expert' opinion

Still on the news, NHK really riled me today.  They dug a startled looking Waseda University (oooh! Elite University- he must know what he's talking about) Professor out of his dungeon (how else would you explain the fact that he blinked at twice the normal rate?) for his oh so learned opinion on the Australian bushfires.  His conclusion?  It's all to do with the fallen eucalypt leaves.  Steel yourself fellow Aussies (and other foreigners, after all if I'm an expert on Super Tuesday...) for a barrage of 'why don't they just sweep up the eucalyptus leaves?' tomorrow. Grrrrrrr.  Think I should offer my services to NHK as an alternative 'expert'.  And I've taught at Keio's sister school.  That should be enough name dropping, right?

Blogging is dangerous

Well reading other people's blogs is anyway.  In the last six months I have 'connected' with a wide circle of bloggers.  It's been exciting peeping into other people's lives and sharing their ups and downs and ins and outs but it hasn't been trauma free.  I have managed to convince myself my life is incomplete as I don't live in Fukuoka, own a hula hoop, quilt, knit, crochet, take amazing photos or cook from actual cookbooks, live somewhere more exotic, cross country ski, be newlywed, Montessori my children or live in Guam.  (If I were a better blogger those would all be hyperlinked but I'm not, so they're not, so explore the myblogs bar if your interested.)  Anyway, with a seemingly quite easily overcome blog envy episode tonight about Gina's pineapple upside down cake I went ahead and made one and whoa!  That stuff needs a Surgeon General's warning on it.  I ate a hideously embarrassing amount of it while it was still warm and am keeping it in another room to avoid the temptation of eating even more!!  I will have to forego sleep tonight to work it all off on the exercise bike.  Grrrr. ;P

You have been warned!

End of an era

We (M, A and I) packed up the two jungle gyms yesterday.  Yes, we had two of them.  I had been sick of them for a while now as they are a hassle to vacuum around and M is really too heavy for them so I had to keep knocking all the connectors together to stop them getting unstable and dangerous.  But at the same time they play on them so often I didn't want to take them away when they still loved them.  I was fixing them again yesterday when M asked why it kept breaking.  I explained she was really a bit too big for them and he said 'why don't we give it to cousin S?' Just like that!!  Seizing the moment we pulled them apart and bagged them up for rubbish.  (Cousin S lives in a 1DK.  Her mum does NOT want a four tier jungle gym with slide!)  And walah!  A whole room opened up to us.  What does M intend to do with her new found play space?  'Now we can skiprope inside!'  Ahhhhh, we'll think about it, honey!

Goodbye, dear friend and many a winter afternoon's saviour!

Love hurts

I refuse to take off my wedding/ engagement rings for any reason whatsoever.  I am not religious, I don't have any rationale for this other than my mum has never taken hers off and always said it was because they were on her finger from the day my dad put them there and that's the way she wanted them to stay.  I love the significance of that and 95% of the time I am really happy that I do it too.  But yesterday was one of the days in that 5%.  I spent about two hours splitting wood with the axe.  I did a huge pile.  Probably a months worth.  But wearing two rings on your gripping hand means lots of skin pinching between axe and ring and ring and ring and ring and axe etc.  I have calluses and got blisters on top of calluses and then I got a blood blister that popped and my poor hand is a real mess.  Love hurts.  And K's sympathetic response?  'You shouldn't be gripping the axe that hard.'  Damn he's lucky I'm cool headed.  I mean I was holding and axe when he said that to my poor bleeding-for-the-sake-of-love hand!!

Woe is my love for thee.



Melbourne is having a rough time of it recently.  There was the three day stretch of weather above 43 degrees celsius, then yesterday was the hottest day in recorded history (46 deg) and some lowlife/s out there set fires.  Idiots.  Fires are still raging, whole towns have been razed, 86 people dead and counting and scores more injured.  Everytime I look at the local newspaper the news gets worse.  I was getting all emotional about it and K asked what I was reading.

'Why don't they just get out?'
'Why don't they just send in more firefighters?'
'Why don't they just send in the army with tanks?'

There is nothing more annoying than a know it all who knows nothing!!

Victoria is one of the most fire prone areas in the world (along with somewhere in California and the French Riviera).  Summers in Victoria are hot and dry.  January rainfall this year was between 0 and 1mm.  That's one millimetre of rain total.  And all those hot, hot days bake the moisture out of the soil, parch the earth, turn grass and weeds into hay and kill trees turning them into firewood.  The trees.  Eucalyptus trees (gum trees, koala fodder) are really oily.  They catch fire quickly and burn very hot.  My parents have a woodfire and redgum logs are the caviar and champagne of the firewood set.  Unfortunately those same properties mean eucalypt forests are perfect bushfire fuel.  Huge walls of fire will literally jump from tree to tree, crossing roads and creeks as the canopy erupts into flames.  These fires are fuelled by hot dry winds but also create their own winds making them highly unpredictable and extremely dangerous to try and fight.  As the canopy burns, burning leaves will fall and ignite the dried grasses and undergrowth.  A blackened tree trunk can be smouldering on the inside and suddenly explode spreading more incendiary fragments throughout the area.  So a place you though the fire had passed can re-ignite without warning.  Fire is also fickle and unfair.  It can raze your house and leave your neighbour's untouched.  It can burn a whole town and leave one street.  There is no reasoning with it.  So K:

Why don't they just get out?
You can think you're going to be fine.  Weather reports and emergency broadcasts can all suggest that the wind will carry the fire the opposite direction to you and then BANG a wall of flame travelling as fast as 100kmh turns your way.  You may want to get out, you may not be able too.  Every bushfire there are tragic stories of people, whole families, burnt in their cars having left evacuating too late.  Once the fire is in the area, burning trees fall across roads, dense smoke reduces visibility to near zero and evacuating is the more dangerous option.  Then there's the emotional response, too.  If your house is uninsured or it's your farm, your livestock, your livelihood, the place generations of your family have worked hard to continue, you can feel that staying with even the chance of saving it is worth it.  Is any building worth a human life?  No.  Can you think it is?  Sure.

Why don't they just send in more firefighters?
In Victoria Melbourne is serviced by the MFB- Melbourne Fire Brigade and the rest of the state by the CFA- Country Fire Authority.  Anyone can volunteer for the CFA and in the country most young men (and many women) do.  There are plenty of firefighters and there is great support from other states, too.  When the bushfires get really bad CFA officers will fly in to help their mates.  The amazing thing about this is these are all volunteers.  They have day jobs.  But they where beepers and take time off work to go and put themselves in danger and fight fires to protect the rest of us.  The CFA are truly amazing people who deserve a lot of thanks and respect.  But with the nature of out of control bushfires there really isn't much the CFA can do.  Elvis the waterbombing helicopter is used to drop huge amounts of water on the fire and the CFA are busy helping people evacuate and clearing and backburning infront of the fire, and putting out spot fires and searching for survivors in the wake of the fire, but until the weather changes, the wind drops, or the fire runs out of fuel, the risk to their own lives and the ineffectiveness of fire hoses against such raging fires means there's nothing they can do.  No matter how many of them there are.  The CFA's best fire defence is the year long fire prevention activities they undertake, attempting to limit the damage of the inevitable bushfires by clearing dead grass and undergrowth, doing controlled burns, and ensuring we are all aware of the fire risks in our area, take measures to protect our houses (clearing gutters, having adequate hoses and water tanks, not storing firewood against houses) and have a family fire evacuation plan.

Why don't they just send in the army with tanks?
Because 'stop or I'll shoot!' doesn't work on a bushfire? ;P I'm not sure exactly what he thinks the tanks would do and by this stage I was too annoyed to ask but I assume it's to crush stuff?  Well, 1) A tank is an all metal vehicle with no windows and you have to climb out the top right?  And they have a top speed of about 80k, right?  Ummm, I don't think I want to be stuck inside a tank if a fire's headed my way!  2) The army is not trained in firefighting and doesn't have firetrucks for some reason ;P but they do have huge bulldozers and are often called in as reinforcements working behind the CFA clearing debris and making fire access routes where roads are inaccessible.  They also build field hospitals helping tend to injured firefighters/ evacuees.  

So K, does that answer your questions?

As I've mentioned before, I grew up on an island and 2 minutes from the beach so we didn't have a huge fire danger and if a fire ever did occur we had the beach to evacuate, too.  (Even living in a relatively low fire danger area we had a fire evacuation plan.)  I was six years old when the Ash Wednesday fires occurred and I remember going to the beach with my parents and watching the horizon glow an unnatural orange.  The air was smoky for days and the waves washed up ash and debris until there was a black charred belt at the hightide mark.  To read that these fires are worse than the Ash Wednesday fires is horrifying.  

It's so hard to sit here grumbling about cold and snow and surrounded by water- frozen water in the snow, dripping water in the icicles, running water in the roadside water channel and hear about the place you grew up starving for water and burning up.  It's really not doing anything for my inaugural happy February mood.  What with floods in Queensland and fires in Victoria I'm feeling rather apocalyptic....

Off to see if there's an update on The Age and all my thoughts are with those in the affected areas.


I'm a winner!!!!

Must have amassed mountains of good karma with that good wifey bento as I won a prize in the FBC sweepstakes!! (Scroll right to the bottom and there in the book pack section is Heather F Nagano!)  Yeah me!  Only problem is the winner's info is blocking the prize details and clicking on it just goes through to the OUP site so I don't know exactly what it is I won.  Not that I'm complaining- winning books is always wonderful news!  Told K the good news and he laughed and then thinks FBC must be terribly honest and in need of a consultant.  You see I only ever order the Springfield (cheap, store brand) items and it's all cereal and tinned corn/ tuna in bulk.  Added to that, nine times out of ten I order on a 'Free shipping!' week, AND I caused a hassle by ordering my Christmas order with a credit card we'd cancelled.  Ooops!!  So I don't really have the kind of customer history that would get me flagged for a prize if it was that kind of arrangement.  Proof it's a fair dinkum lottery, I'd say.  Might even quiet all the cynics who will see that the grand prize of a round trip train ride to the FBC store in Kobe, Hyogo prefecture went to a guy from..... Hyogo prefecture!  Even funnier?  He'll be travelling from Hyogo to Osaka to stay in the Regency then back to Hyogo to the FBC shop then....?  Poor guy.  I bet he'd swap it for one of the gas barbecues!

I looked at the names but noone I know jumped out at me.  Anyone else out there a winner?

In the words of another girl from Oz (that's about all we have in common... ;P)

I should be so lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky...

Rice Krispie treats made with Springfield puff rice cereal. :)


Having a good wife moment

I make K's bento every day.  That usually gets a chorus of 'woooooowwwwww!' from Japanese women and 'whhhhyyyyyyyyyy?' from Western ones.  In return I answer 'Not really, it's more fuel than art' and 'Because I want him to eat something adequately filling and nutritious for lunch.'  K eats a lot.  The regular size bento the company bento service provides wasn't enough so he'd order two.  Or eat one and then supplement with instant ramen.  Neither two serves of crumbed fried mystery meat, or one serve and instant ramen is an ideal meal I felt so I offered to make his lunch.  Most days it's a great stack of rice with pre baked fish and pickles, maybe vegetables, and natto for dessert. :) Miso soup on the side.  I try not to go two days without a green veg in there.  This time of year that means lots of spinach!  Some days he doesn't have rice because we forgot to set the timer (yup, this is that sort of house...) and then he gets a mountain of udon or soba with fish and vegetables.  Seeing a pattern here?  ;)  Most days the bento is nothing to brag about but every now and again I make a bento that I think has wow factor.  That's when I feel like I'm having a good wife moment.  I'm ready to put on my pinny, set my hair, warm K's slippers, and pose for a 1950's Good Housekeeping magazine.  These moments are pretty few and far between but they do happen!  Here's the latest one:

Ramen noodles (three serves!) topped with squid kimchi, marinated shimeji mushrooms, omelette, spinach, char siuh pork and corn.  He gets hot water at work and adds the sauce sachet and hot water and walah! A nutritious ramen lunch!

And yes, to observant readers, that is mostly leftover sushi roll dinner fillings but hey, I said I was having a good wife moment- not a great one!


The same but different...

Today is my mum and dad's 32nd wedding anniversary.  Wow.  32 years.  That seems soooo long to me.

Can't even imagine what my life will be like when I've been married 32 years...

I've been thinking though.  My parents are an international marriage too- my dad is Canadian and my mum is Australian.  So that part of our lives is the same.  But there are so many differences, too.

When my mum and dad met in Canada he worked at a nuclear power plant and she was a backpacker.  They met, fell in love, got married and had me in 12 months.  

When I met K he was a chemical engineer and I was a JET Programme teacher.  We met, fell in love, got married and had Meg in three years.

My parents moved the family to Australia for a better life.  (No offence to any Canucks out there, my mum couldn't hack the long cold winters.)

We moved the family to Nagano for a better life.  (No offence to any Saitama-ites out there, I couldn't hack the bedtown existence.)

When my dad moved to Australia he spoke the language- almost.  He had a thick accent in an era before the Americanization of Aussie TV.  He had to speak slowly and clearly to be understood.

When I moved to Japan I spoke the language- almost.  The damn natives kept forgetting to speak like the textbook!  They had to speak slowly and clearly to be understood. ;P

My dad left all his friends and family behind and relied on aerogrammes, letters and the monthly (booked and operator assisted) ludicrously expensive phonecall to keep in touch.

I left most of my friends behind and rely on skype, email, chat, facebook, flickr, blogging and the odd ludicrously cheap phonecall to keep in touch.  I think I speak to my parents more since I moved here than I did living 2 hours away!

My dad's qualifications (a certificate in nuclear safety) were useless in Australia (no nuclear reactor) and he worked hard for meagre return as a labourer for a myriad of construction/ maintenance firms before starting his own business after 20 years.

My qualifications (Education) are useless here but entirely unnecessary aswell.  I have a great job, that pays amazingly well and is related to my degree.  No plans to start my own business!

My dad took his family (now with 2 1/2 kids) back to Canada for the first time five years after he left.  The next time he visited was alone, six years later for his father's funeral.  The next time was with mum, nine years later and he hasn't been since...  

I go back to Australia at least once a year with the girls.  K has been twice and is planning on joining us this year.  My family visits us every other year or so.

I know my dad feels sorry for me living here.  The language, the food (he doesn't eat fish and thinks natto should be labelled toxic waste), K's working hours and business trips, the lack of insulation, the sitting on the floor etc etc.

I can't help but feel sorry for my dad.  He gave up so much to live in Australia and had to suck it up and adapt.  

But you know what?  My parents are really happy with life.  They don't have heaps of money but they have a house they love in a place they love, friends who love them and they are still in love 32 years later.   My dad still kisses my mum goodbye before he goes out the door- even just to buy milk!  And my mum cooks dinner around the evening news so my Dad can watch it- it's his addiction.  If I can be half as close to K as they are to each other, and have half the relationship they do when we've been married 32 years I think I will be a very content and grateful woman. :)

Happy Anniversary Mum and Dad!


Demon day shinshu life style

No second story today.  Amy had a revolting that's-why-I-don't-have-six-children type day today so not conducive to storytelling.

Some demon day happenings to share, though.

From M's kinder communication notebook:

'We went to the playroom and the principal started explaining Setsubun.  The moment she said the word "demon" Meg started crying loudly.  I calmed her down and told her demons hate beans and if we all throw beans they'll run away.  I also told her the demon was just the head of the school lunch centre wearing a scary costume.  The demon came into the room and Meg was terrified and screamed but many other children did, too.  She recovered enough to throw her beans and enjoyed our after party enough to toast our demon scaring success.'

From A's daycare communication notebook:

'The part-time daycare children went to watch the demon scaring that the fulltime classes were doing.  Amy jumped in with the 5yo class and she's so big we didn't realise.  She threw lots of spilt beans and yelled "Out with demons, in with good luck!" very loudly.'

Hmmm.  My reaction?  I'm glad Meg who's even scared of Santa, managed to overcome her fear.  I love her teacher this year.  Seriously teacher of the year material.  Very understanding but not a pushover either.  And Amy?  Not sure what I think of them misplacing my child (!) but then I've done it, too so I can't really say much....  I can totally believe the teachers had their hands full of crying kids (what is it about Japan and enjoying making kids cry??) and fearless Amy went hurling into the action...

We got home and I made day-before-shopping-day sushi rolls.  No fancy ingredients and brown rice to boot but sushi rolls nonetheless.  You're meant to eat them facing the year's lucky direction, silently, and in one big uncut roll.  I'm not that traditional and I don't think a 3yo and a huge sushi roll are conducive for an easy clean up so we cheated.  Here you are:

Meg's choice- omelette, natto and tuna/ corn/ mayonnaise, cut in half ONLY mummy.

Amy's choice- whaddaya know?  Natto, omelette and tuna/ corn/ mayo.  I don't think Amy has any preferences of her own...  Cut in quarters because I'm a mean mummy...

My choice- omelette, spinach and marinated shimeji mushrooms.  Yummo!

And afterwords I treated my demon scarers with demon cookies:

Meg's is the happy demon and Amy's the scary one.  I think he looks more drunk than scary personally...

And that's it.  Another demon day done and gone.  Next up is girl's day and as far as I remember we don't find that one scary which is a relief!


oni day.

It's setsubun today and we throw dried soybeans at men dressed up as oni.  The official story of why we do this is out there on the web but I'm a bit cynical and I have two theories as to the origin of this practise.

Theory 1: the priest with the mouldy beans

It had been a long cold winter in Nagano* and all the villagers were hunkered down in their straw, mud, wood and paper houses wondering why living in this frozen wasteland for months every year and shivering hard enough that outsiders thought that the Nagano dialect was a stacatto, they hadn't invented bricks yet.  It was the beginning of February and three full months of nothing but daikon, hakusai, negi, dried fish, dried rice cakes and dried beans was beginning to take it's toll.  The priest's** wife was an amazing cook but there's only so much even she could do with such slim pickings and monotony was setting in.  Added to that was the fact that the dried food was beginning to get a bit stale, a bit damp, a bit mouldy if you were pushed to admit the truth.  Really, those beans needed to be thrown out but this was the priest's abode and that kind of wastefulness was simply unthinkable.  By the third of February and after his third bowl of dried soybean mash for the day, the priest knew something had to be done.  He just couldn't eat another mouthful of the vile concoction.  So, he waited until everyone was asleep, dragged the sack of manky beans outside and began throwing handfuls of them as far as he could.  Having done nothing but sit around his irori (the precursor of the kotatsu) for the last three months, his first feeble throws were rather pitiful but as the level of beans began it's satisfying decline he gained momentum and really started hurling those beans.  Unbeknownst to him some stray beans landed on his neighbour's outhouse while his neighbour was having his constitutional- literally scared the crap out of him!  The poor terrified man came running out with his ridiculously fiddly tie on pants around his knees (add elastic to the list of things we need to invent, he thought) and came horrified face to horrified face with the bean hurling priest poised mid scandulous hurl.  "What the &%$#???" exclaimed the earthy peasant farmer.
"Aghfgrhahhhhh...." was all the stricken priest could manage before, thinking on his feet, he suddenly began (in a treacherously fast monologue, but luckily profiling hadn't been invented either)
"Well, I was just saying an extra prayer over these wonderful beans that have got my family through the winter months when in the light of the moon I saw a demon perched on your outhouse roof.  Forsaking the wellbeing of my family I threw handful after handful of these precious beans at the demon and lo and behold- there's no trace of him!"
The earthy peasant farmer would have frozen in terror were it not for his frozen willy (it was winter in Nagano and he was sans pants remember?)  He quickly pulled up his pants and held them at both sides (those damn fiddly ties...) and bowed repeatedly and reverently, proclaiming his indebtedness to the priest before scurrying home. 
The next morning the earthy peasant farmer, his earthy peasant wife, their seven earthy peasant children, bedridden and toothless earthy peasant grandmother, orphaned and adopted earthy peasant cousin, and a random stranger who had been living with them for the last six months because noone liked to say 'who the heck are you??' to him in case he was that second cousin thrice removed whose family they were indebted to for life...  Anyway a veritable tribe of earthy peasants arrived having heard grand tales of 10 foot demons breathing fire down poor ol' dad's neck as he tried to do his business and the heroic and fearless priest throwing himself in the way of danger armed with nothing but some old beans.  The family was indebted for life (there was a lot of this going around but life expectancy was relatively short so it wasn't the burden you imagine) and brought with them mountains of meagre offerings: wizened old apples, flavourless dried persimmon, slightly mushy sweet potatoes they'd buried in special L shaped holes in the Autumn, etc etc.  It was all the priest could do not to pounce on the loot then and there.  But the earthly peasant family wanted him to pray for them and give them advice on what to do if the demon came back.  The near-drooling with food lust priest kept it short and sweet
"Demon's get out, good luck for me!"  
Japanese being an ambiguous language and the earthly peasant family having vested the priest with near supernatural powers they were sure he said "Demons get out, good luck come in!" which was phonetically the same sentence. 
Word spread like wildfire and soon priests all over Japan were throwing out their inedible soy beans and lavishing the loot in return.  
This practice entered the realm of the common people when a foreign wife with no qualms about not following vague and spurious cultural customs, and a particular dislike of dried soybeans decided to get in on the act and happily threw out all the mountains of rancid beans her hoarder MIL had been couriering her (black cat couriers have been around a long time).  Soon this 'new fangled American way' (she was Australian*** but you get that) was helping housewives across the nation clear their pantries of those revolting beans and that's how setsubun started.

*Of course it started in Nagano, what did you expect??
**I have nothing against priests, really.  I just think it needs to be a priest.
*** Australia only has 220 odd years of white history so she was an Aborigine.  Go with me on this one.

Theory 2:
You'll have to wait till tomorrow, I'm off to watch CSI.  Wish me luck on the staying awake until the end thing! ;P

"It's not true!  It's not true, I tell you!  I'm innocent!!"


Is it just me?

Today Mt Asama (in Karuizawa, Nagano) and Mt Sakurajima (in Kagoshima, Kyushu) both erupted.  Yup, two active-but-for-the-most-part-tame volcanoes erupted on the same day.  I think that's a bit scary.  In a something's getting a bit angry down there, maybe we should be a bit careful, kinda way.  But everyone I spoke to today (my neighbour, colleague, fellow kinder mum, husband) was really nonplussed.  As though I was exclaiming 'It rained in Karuizawa and Kagoshima, today!!  Must be the start of a biblical flood!'  But it's not rain- it's a volcanic eruption and this is a country built on fault lines.  Tectonic plates grinding together doing subterranean sumo in a fight for supremacy.  A country riddled with onsen.  Lovely to soak in, I'll be the first to admit but you can't forget that they are only there because there is geo-thermal activity going on.  That's right, something down there is bubbling away causing enough heat to warm the ground water to bath temperature.  Hmmm, maybe I should call the local onsen (only 5 minutes away) and check whether the water temperature has increased...

Yes, I'm a bit of a worrier when it comes to natural disasters.  There's just so many ways for nature to have a go at you here: earthquake, tsunami, flood, avalanche, volcanic eruption, typhoon...  Really, and people think Australia is a dangerous place.  You don't often here of a tigersnake flattening someone's house or a redback spider washing them down stream.

We stayed in Karuizawa a couple of years ago (SIL's company's condominium, six adults, an active toddler, bitter cold, and morning sickness- one hell of a trip but anyway) we could see Mt Asama from the window and I was still the only one who read all the 'in case of volcanic eruption' material.  It amazes me how laid back everyone is here about disasters in general.  I bet if the evacuation was called in the middle of the NHK morning drama half the country wouldn't move until it was over!

I don't live within lava spewing distance of either volcano but I will be keeping an eye on them via the news and I always take these things as a reminder to go through our evacuation kits (yup, I keep one in each car) and update the clothing- no point in evacuating the 3yo with some 0-12 month rompers and an M size nappy!

And do let me know if your onsen feels hotter recently, hey?  In return I'll tell you how to treat snakebite. :)



I have always had something against February.

In Australia, school goes back in February (I think it's end of January now, but when I was at school it was beginning of February)  I grew up in a resort area, all the houses around us were empty for 3/4 of the year and then BANG! Friends old and friends yet to be made abounded as all those city dwellers headed to their beach houses for the summer.  December- end of school, Christmas, New Years Eve.  January- a whole month of running wild, playing and swimming and being introduced to sophisticated, beach house owning city lifestyles of brie and (later!) champagne.  I still remember being 12 or so and coming home from playing at a friend's house exclaiming that they didn't use margarine they had this big round cheese and you spread it on your bread instead and it was sooo much better.  I would definitely be needing this brie thing on my sandwiches from now on! *^_^*  But by the end of January the street was growing quieter again, the cars packed and gone for the last time, the houses shut up until Easter and before you knew it it was February.  Dull, back-to-school, only my brother and sister to play with February.  The sun still shone, the summer weather continued, only instead of bathers and a towel I was wearing a suffocating cotton school dress and regulation shoes.  Erghhh.  Forcing feet used to being naked or at the most in a pair of thongs into socks and shoes was so depressing!

And now?  I don't live at the beach, I don't own regulation shoes, I've finished school and I still don't like February.  It's just that now it's for a whole new set of reasons:  
Cold starts with crisp mornings and evenings in October.
Intensifying it's hold with frosts and the odd freak snow in November it starts working 24/7.
By December it's a series of snow, ice, thaw, snow, ice, thaw.
By January I'm over it and if one more person tries to suggest the raging, nose numbing, eye watering, warm flesh hankering North Wind is 'a bit nippy today' I'm ready to roll them in snow and use them as a snowman!
By February I am SAD.  not just sad.  SAD- Seasonally Affective Disorder.  Where lack of sunlight, warmth and any form of climate fit for human habitat for the past three months has built up until I want to spend all my time either in bed or in a hot bath.  Preferably planning a trip to Australia or reading all about Okinawan house prices. :)  Luckily this usually passes as soon as that darn North wind loses it's puff and some colour starts creeping back into the landscape.  I cried the first year I was here when I saw a patch of yellow adonis vernallis pushing through the snow- SPRING!!  WINTER'S OVER!!!

This winter though (knock on wood) I am doing really well.  I'd love to say it's because I have acclimatised, but really?  It's the wood fire and my ugg boots.  The wood fire has meant the warmest winter I've ever had in Japan, with the bonus of not having a smelly kero heater to worry about.  And it's warming up the room quick enough and well enough that... for the first time ever.... I don't have to put up the hated fusuma doors and cut my big 16mat favourite-room-in-the-house into two cramped and cluttered and dim 8 mat rooms.  Yeah!!  The ugg boots are essential for when I am forced to leave my oasis.   You know- occasionally we need to eat, and that makes you wanna pee and then you need a bath....

But being this happy in February? Wow.  I kinda like it.  So Happy February to you all and may it be a great one wherever you are!!