I never thought I'd get sick of pizza but we cooked twelve pizzas today and it happened.

Yup, twelve.

My friend A came over to help eat them all but still that's a lot of pizza.


So, no more pizza but a 1-2-3 for you:




Ko-ume (small green Japanese apricots) jam and strawberry jam.  The ko-ume was a huge hassle, it takes a lot of work to get any pulp out of the marble sized apricots.  But it is the most amazing flavour- sweet and incredibly sour all at the same time.  Kind of like those war heads sour candies but as a jam?  I have joined the 'how low can we go' jam making frenzy here and am down to 30% sugar.  Woohoo.  I really have doubts about the long lastingness of these low sugar jams but I was only making two jars anyway and I do hate to be left behind on the latest craze.  Brings back repressed memories of parents who wouldn't buy me a Cabbage Patch Doll.... sob...no really dad, I've forgiven you...

And I made baked eggplants again so I could pay attention to what goes into it for Kim.  So (very approximately) 6 eggplants to 1/3 cup men-tsuyu noodle sauce (we use the konbu one if that makes a difference) to about 1/2 cm grated ginger.  Bake the eggplants (I do oven toaster 260 degrees for 15 minutes or until they explode, cooking around here is not an exact science.) Take eggplants straight from oven and put in container with sauce and ginger.  Wahlah. I leave the skins on the eggplants and just score them to let the sauce soak in and peel when we eat them.  They last quite a while in the fridge so are handy to make a batch and use for bento lunches.

I bet they'd make a good pizza topping, you know....



We did it!!

First pizza up!

Yeah!!  Obviously I've got to work on my pizza dough technique (there's a big air bubble in the base making that pizza mountain) but it was amazing.  And a pizza was cooking in literally 3 minutes.  Wow.  I cut up a huge range of yummy toppings: salami, eggplant, capsicum, mushrooms, onion etc and what did the kids choose?  Meg had capsicum and cheese and Amy had cheese.  Yup, just cheese.  No problem, there's 13 veggies in the pizza sauce!

And I think I have a new addiction.  After our pizza lunch we drove 30 minutes to the Brazilian shop to buy sausages and came home and cooked up meat and panfried potatoes for dinner in there.  K even turned his squid sashimi into baked squid.  Oh and then we went and bought some more flour so we can do pizza again tomorrow.  I think my B&B/ Love Hotel has just become B&B/Love Hotel/Pizzeria.  How's that for a niche market?



Much as I am want to bemoan my isolation and lack of exciting shopping opportunities here there really isn't much I can't get here.  Can't get easily?  Sure.  But can't get?  It might take a bit of time, a bit of effort and more than a bit of money but I can get real cheese, lamb, timtams, English TV, books, even the weekend magazine from my favourite Australian newspaper thanks to my mum.  (Love ya mum!) 

But there's always been one thing that's eluded me here- fish and chips.

Real fish and chips.

Not fish fingers or fish tempura or catfish or cod but real fish and chips made from flake.

Flake is shark meat and it's good.  White fish, it's moist and sweet and so so yummy.  

I've tried substitutes: kajiki tuna- looks good but too dry, karei (flounder) too many bones and not enough fish, kisu (Japanese whiting) too small etc etc.  I'd pretty much given up and resigned myself to the onerous task of eating a year's worth of flake each time I go back to Oz.

And then.... at the all concrete, cardboard boxes and gumboots (on staff and customers) farmer'sfavourite supermarket right here in the village there it was- サメ, same, shark!

So I rushed home and here it is:

Panfried fish and ovenfries with salad and lemon wedges.  Yeah!!  I'm going back to the supermarket tomorrow to buy the entire stock of shark.  That should register a huge demand and they'll be stocking it by the tonne, yeah?  Then I just have to convince one of the local shops to cook it for me and wrap it in newspaper, and oh a beach to sit on while we eat would be nice, too....

*sigh*  oh well, I guess I have to leave something for Australia, yeah?



Zenkoji Temples big hoo-haa festival Gokaicho is on.  
It's so big it was picked up by the AP:
(as if I needed to say it, but the italics are mine)
Zenkoji, the famous Buddhist temple in Nagano, Japan, will display the replica of the hidden Buddha image for the first time in seven years.

(Well actually 6 years.  This kind of economy boosting activity should be encouraged to happen as often as possible so 7 years is on the old counting system where year zero is counted as year 1.)

The event, called gokaicho, involves the unveiling of the sculpture of the Amida Buddha, the Bodhisattva of Mercy and the Bodhisattva of Wisdom.

(Oh, and it also involves the selling of gargantuan amounts of souvenirs- if you can print a picture of the temple on it you can sell it.  And if you can't print a picture on it (loose dried shellfish for example) dress up in the traditional costume of some place in Japan (I saw some rather suspiciously Aomori style outfits last week), hawk your wares in a Nagano accent and watch the loot come rolling in.  And no.  shellfish are not really what you think of when you think of landlocked Nagano but JTB tourers will pay a king's ransom for them so go for it, yeah.  Ditto any and every eating and lodging establishment within an hour of the temple- stick a poster in your window and go for it.  The local buslines even put on an extra busstop for the festival!)

Occurring once every seven years, gokaicho will begin on April 5 and end on May 31.

(Well actually the earlybirds have been turning up since about mid-March to see the 'there's going to be a festival here soon' preparations.  But yep, last days, better jump on a tour bus and join the JTB invasion soon or you'll have to wait another 7, ok 6, years.)

The sculpture, the oldest Buddhist image in Japan, originated in India and arrived in Japan in 552 CE.

(I had to google CE.  It's Common era.  Some kind of non-Christian way of saying A.D.  And Nagano has the oldest image of Buddha in Japan? Must remember to add that to the list of superlatives we can lay claim too, you know- most delicious apples, best wine, highest waterfall etc etc)

The Zenkoji temple is one of Japan’s most sacred sites and boasts a history of more than 1400 years.

(Hmmm, except for the roof which isn't even 14 months old...)

So yeah, it's Gokaicho.  The women in my senior English classes are all in a tizz about it.

"Ohhh I have to go this year.  I'm 77 and you know.... it's only every 7 years...."

(Gotta love these conversation stoppers dropped in the middle of class.)

"We went last Tuesday, got up at 3:30, left at 4:00am, got there just after 5:00 and only had to wait 30 minutes to get to the front of the line!"

You what???

"I went there and lined up three times.  Once for me, once for my daughter (in the US) and once for my granddaughter."



no artificial colours

One of my students made the girls yomogi dango -mugwort dumplings.  

In the shops these are usually the colour of the seat Amy is sitting on.  

Today's were rather a rather more shockingly vibrant green.

The girls thought they were great, though.  

Thanks Mrs. M!


A good natured sucker

One of my students today said she liked people who were 'ohitoyoshi'.  I didn't know the word so we looked it up and she tried again:

'I like people who are easily duped.'

'...' (???!!!!!)

She is a really sweet woman and as far as I know has no secret underworld persona so I asked to see the dictionary.

Turns out the same word- ohitoyoshi is used to mean good-natured as in:
  • 公平に評すれば、彼はお人好しだ。 
    To do him justice, he is a good-natured man.
  • 母は、のんきでほがらかでお人好しです。  
    My mother is carefree, cheerful and good-natured.
And then exactly the same word goes on to be defined as a sucker:
  • 私は君の言うことをしんじるほどお人好しではない。 
    I'm not so simple as to believe you.
  • かれはお人よしのかもから大金を巻き上げました 。
    He made heaps of money by ripping off naive suckers.
  • ある戸別訪問のセールスマンがお人好しの老婦人を馬鹿にして大金を持ち逃げした。 
    A certain door to door salesman made a fool of a trusting old lady and went off with a lot of her money.
Am I the only one who finds it disturbing that good natured = sucker?


Small triumphs

I taught my class of two 2 year old boys this morning and they stayed in the room for the entire 45 minute class.  

Yup, I take my successes in whatever tiny doses they come in.

*I suppose in the spirit of full disclosure I should mention that I took in a bag full of toy cars and a floor mat with roads all over it and we practised stop, go, fast, slow, bump, help! and I'm sorry.  Still, that's quite a bit of language for two year olds  in their second month of classes, yeah?


The Trip

Today was the trip.  The Ride On A Bus For An Hour Up A Mountain Road, Pick Tasteless Mountain Weeds In The Rain And Mud, Jump in The Bath Together Then Eat The Same Menu Of Soy Sauce Boiled Cod And Slimey Toadstools That We eat Every Year' Tour.

Only this year it was even more exciting.  No, not double helpings of slimey toadstools, this year we were running the show.  K did all the booking and reservation making and tramping the neighbourhood to check final numbers- only two attendees per household, please- and checking the record book to ensure we bought the same amount (and only the same amount) of beer, shochu, sake, 88 yen cocktails, juice and overprocessed dried seafood assortments- what I like to call the desert aquarium set- as last year.  I made the requisite pickles (doesn't everyone take their own pickles to fully catered lunches??) miso pickled cucumbers, salt pickled cabbage/ carrot/ celery, and my new favourite dish- baked eggplant in men-tsuyu noodle broth and grated ginger.  I also bagged up the kiddy treats- you can imagine how thrilling kids find The Ride On A Bus For An Hour Up A Mountain Road, Pick Tasteless Mountain Weeds In The Rain And Mud, Jump in The Bath Together Then Eat The Same Menu Of Soy Sauce Boiled Cod And Slimey Toadstools That We eat Every Year' Tour- and made a tupperware trifle (brilliant bringalong dessert!) for the sweet tooths among us.  Ok, for me, anyway.  But hey, I deserved it after all that, right?

It rained all day (of course- that's a prerequisite for choosing the date...) and the food was the same as it always is, but you know, much as I find the whole thing pedantic, excruciatingly over organised and slightly bizarre- the conversations all remind me of the two old guys on The Muppet Show commenting on what everyone else is saying- only everyone is commenting on what everyone else is saying without actually joining the conversation- I actually kind of enjoy the outing.  I'm sure it helps that it's only once a year but how often do you spend a whole day chinwagging with your neighbours?  Especially around here where everyone works all the hours of the day, there's a real carnival atmosphere to it as we all trade gossip and apple price predictions and grandchild updates etc etc.

K and I passed the biggest job of our term as First Family with flying colours- praised for how seriously K undertook his speech and toast duties, and the trifle got me the major please-overlook-my-instant-pickling-spice-pickles points I was going for.

Phew... and the next time we have to do it will be in 16 years.  I think we'll let 21 year old Meg and 19 year old Amy be our nominated attendees that year...

A taking her First Family hostessing job very seriously.

The area where we conduct our search...

Th trifle...

Kicking back in the world's cosiest rotenburo...


a bit of cleaning in return for a bit of clowning...

Today was one of the biannual grounds cleaning days at kinder.  You know, where the parents all give up a Saturday morning to haul butt (and clippers, spade, hoe and shovel- this year they actually asked for wheelbarrows, too...) down to kinder at 8:30 in the morning to divide into strictly designated groups (orange class mums, sunflower class dads etc) to do carefully proscribed jobs (weed the gardens, remove any living thing from oh-so-aesthetically-pleasing large gravel tracts that surround buildings, fill in the holes in the paths, dig holes at the back of the veggie garden to bury all the stuff everyone else is digging up etc etc) and by 9:30 we are all sucking back room temperature green tea.  Mmmmm, yeah!

Then the second half of the morning begins.  This is the hook to get you to give up your lie in and put on your regulation white gardening gloves: each class puts on a dance/ song/ exercise routine/ random crowd pleasing spectacle and we all ohhh and ahhhh and exclaim at our children's obvious star potential.

It's also a great chance to do that 'Oh look, honey, our Taro is fairer/ bigger/ funnier/ cuter/ smaller/ friendlier than everyone else here!  Get out the camera, I'll do the video...'

So look at my two healthy giants:

A and a friend pledging for the preschool pinkladies.

M and a classmate.  That kid is older than her!  

And I want the award for 'My kid is the least likely to join in exercise routines she doesn't think are as good as the Go-Ranger one'

And here's A doing her run to your parent, get a piggy back as you do a loop around a kid holding a fish flag and then cross the goal line do.  As you do, you know...

Ahhhh, so much excitement, so much fun.  How am I going to last until Autumn to do it all again?


There's something about Shorinji...

It's a bit hard to spot but there's something a bit quirky about this temple that made me want to meet the priest... but I settled for taking a picture...



I'm not sure why but for some reason K has been the one to do the pruning around here.  Quite probably because he likes chopping stuff which is something to encourage what with the woodfire's voracious appetite and all.

So pruning around here tends to go like this:

"K, can you cut back this (one, individual, lone, singular) branch that's hanging over the path?"
"Sure!" (practically running for saw with evil gleem in eye)


"K!!!!! What happened to this entire swathe of forest stretching from here to the Japan Sea????!!!"
"...." (sheepishly not making eye contact.)

Today I was weeding the front garden and a branch of some random tree kept getting in my way.  After trying the art of gentle persuasion- bending, crossing over, plaiting etc I decided to show this stubborn bush who was boss and went to find K's saw.  

And... umm.... well an hour later we'd gone from this (the other day):

to this:

Not a great picture but that's the same white azalea in the background and M is standing next to what was removed.  


It's really quite addictive that pruning, hey?  By the end I was cutting down tufts of grass with the saw...

K arrived home after dark this evening.  I wonder when he'll notice my little transgression and whether I should apologise about ribbing him all these years before or after he notices?


This is so cool

Thanks Jo! I had no idea you could see so much on Googlemaps these days.

View our house in a larger map


Yes, you've reached Nagano Health Centre

"Yes, you've reached Nagano Public Health Centre, how can we help you?"
"I went to Osaka yesterday, am I safe from the flu virus?"
"Do you have a fever?"
"Well I think you'll probably live. Try to limit your travel to Kansai though, you might lose your -daa Nagano accent and pick up that mechakucha Kansai accent."

"Yes, you've reached Nagano Public Health Centre, how can we help you?"
"I'm supposed to go to Kobe tomorrow. Will I be Ok?"
"Just a minute, hmmmm, yes, yeeees, yep. No problem, and you'll meet a tall dark stranger, get married, have two children and live happily ever after. So on second thoughts, if you're already married best not to go, hey?'

"Yes, you've reached Nagano Public Health Centre, how can we help you?"
"My daughter's English Conversation teacher is from LA. Do you think she should stop going?"
"Has your daughter's teacher been overseas recently?"
"Been to Narita, recently?"
"Been to Kansai recently?"
"Then she should be fine. Just to be on the safe side, have her teacher avoid teaching the letters A H and N and the number 1."

The questions are real, from tonight's news.  Come on Nagano, get a grip!


the flowers

In my spare time- you know, the 2 minutes a week when I'm not working or tending tomatoes or mummying- I am trying to build a self-sufficient flower garden.  My dream was always the English Cottage Garden until I read a few books on them and found out how many hours go into them.

Hmmm, that's not going to work so I decided on a self seeding/ perennial garden with lots of colour.  This is season three of my plan and this is what we've got:

That's from the front fence to the front porch.  I cheated on the pansies but everything else has come up on it's own or was there when we arrived.

Along the front fence.  That's a snow gum on the corner.  We're in trouble if it ever takes off- they grow to 20m which will slightly impede our access to the house... As it only barely survived the winter though I'm not panicking just yet.  The rest of the garden is all roses and strawberries- that's a little English, right?  Oh and I just realised K has found another place to leave a pile of wood...

The 'you can do it garden'.  This is a horrible space.  It's tacked onto the outside bath/ toilet (no, we have inside plumbing, thank goodness!) and butts up against the neighbour's fence and the road.  It bakes in the sun and has soil runoff issues.  But it's the little garden that could and all the wild viola and in the way plants and gifted plants get planted here and the girls and I are extra pleased when something goes well.

And finally a couple of the girls' planters.  Who knew you could grow peas in sawdust?


Rainy Sunday

So my neighbours weren't out and when we went for a walk I could take photos of the garden without risking my 'I'm a farmer not a tourist' rep.

The garden next to our house.  This is where we grow veggies that need to be harvested throughout the season (leaf veggies, beans, peas, tomatoes, eggplant, goya, okra, cucumber, red, yellow, green and chilli peppers, pumpkins, zuchini, squash etc.)  The mini shovel truck is digging through a forest of fiddle head fern to extend the garden.  My co-gardener's husband is in construction so we get all the big jobs done with this.  

Both the butterbur and the fiddlehead fern grew way beyond their boundaries under my neighbour's mother-in-law's regime.  Not because she was a slack gardener by any means- the woman was out there all day, everyday until she was 92!  But because apparently in Japan plants that spread represent happiness in the family and are therefore let to go.  As you can only eat the very tips of the fern for about 2 weeks in the Spring we decided our families will be happier with more space for veggies...

The big garden.  Ryeat 175cm and counting at the back, behind that are four varieties of potato and to the left behind the trees 300 odd negi plants.  garlic down the side some spinach and lettuce we are letting go to seed to collect the seed, a row of cabbages and all those tomatoes...

The other half of the big garden: wheat at the back, more garlic, red, white and brown onions, and a whole lot more tomatoes...

And of course when you go for a walk in the rain- and refuse to use your umbrella- you just have to jump in every puddle along the way, run squelching through the sticky mud until your boot is sucked of your foot, then put your muddy foot back in the boot and exclaim that this is a great idea as it makes your shoes all soft and warm...



So, all day yesterday getting ready to plant tomatoes, right?

Finally, the big day rolled around.

The last thing I asked my neighbour yesterday was what time we should meet today:

"Nnnnnnnn... tomorrow's a holiday.  Not too early."

(not too early farmer time?) "8:00?"

"Around 9:00 will do..."

By a major feat of housewifely/ wifely/ motherly organisation we were all up, dressed, fed, spit and polished, and out the door by 9:05.  Not bad, me thinks- and I didn't even resort to bribes or threats!

Three minute walk to the field and we arrived about 9:13- just in time to plant the tomatoes.

The last 30 tomatoes that is.

Yup, they'd planted 220 before we got there.  Now I'm the first one to say that Japanese farmers are half ninja, half superman but even with the funky hole digger/seedling planter doohicky we borrowed- 220 in 13 minutes?  I had my doubts...

'Hey!  You guys should have called!  You did all this by yourselves?'

Mr M.: 'he he he.  Tell her what time you woke me you crazy woman!'

Mrs M.: '......' (sheepish smile)

Mr M.: 'She heard it was going to rain today so she woke me at 4:00.  4:00!!!'

Me: 'Ohhhhhhh.'

So yeah, after all that preparation and patience building faffing around yesterday I missed out on all but the dregs of the actual planting.  But 4:00am?  You know I think I'm already over my anticlimactic  disappointment...   By 9:30 we were done.  249 tomato plants (one was a dud.)  Even with drying and saucing and pureeing and ketchuping and eating, I am going to be forcing tomatoes on people left right and centre...  Start booking your Nagano U-pick tomato holidays now!

So, after a gruelling couple of days and a freakishly early start for the M's we gave ourselves at least the rest of the morning off, hey?  

No!  Don't be silly- we're farmers- we don't do anything as idle as relaxing...

We spent the rest of the morning creating (dead straight, elaborate, typhoon and earthquake proof of course) trellises for our cucumbers and goya then (in that rain the M's were 4:00am start style desperate to avoid) someone had the great idea to start ripping up a huge patch of fiddlehead fern to extend the veggie garden.  That's just what we need, hey?  More space to hoe and plough and raise and measure and rope and mulch and plant...



This year I gave M and A the use of all the planters they could fill with dirt.  Every time they filled one I gave them their choice of my old (antique in seed years) seeds to plant.  This is version 2.0 of my patented "successful gardening with children" plan.  Last year I gave them one seed each time they came by, it gave me hours of gardening time but also pumpkins in the lawn, flowers in the carpark and a goya in a crack between the house and the front porch, hmmm.  

Anyway, the planter idea is working brilliantly as it takes quite a while to fill a planter when all you've got to use are teaspoons... just kidding!- I'm not that mean, they have their own garden tools, and they have a remarkable success rate- even with Amy's favourite propagation method being dump and whack- empty all seeds in one spot and hit them with your little spade until you're sure they're dead...

My favourite part of the exercise is what it's teaching the girls about patience.  A plants her seeds and stays, squatting in front of her planter, for a good minute waiting for them to grow.  She is also convinced they grow inches each night so she has to go check on them each morning before kinder.  

Meg is more aware of the time issue and tries to put it in terms she understands- we can't eat watermelon until after the pool opens at kinder, we can't eat apples until after I'm six.  Genius or what, hey? 

But today it was my turn to learn about patience via gardening...

Last night:

"Hi, J, this is Heather.  I might be late for our lunch in the park tomorrow.  I'm planting tomatoes but we're starting at 8:00 so it shouldn't take more than the morning.  I'll be late but I'm sure I'll make it."

I even baked a banana cake...

This morning bright and early:

Heydy ho neighbour, let's get started1

'Nnnnnnn, mmmmmm, we need to wait for Mr. M to get back from laying concrete to run the (old, cantankerous and patched up) plougher to make the (all important, dead straight) raised beds for the tomatoes.'


So I spent the morning doing teka- removing five out of every six apple blossom/ applets.  This job would send me crazy if I had to do it fulltime, every time you think you've finished a branch you turn away, turn back, and- BAM! there's more.  I swear there are millions of flowers on an apple tree..

Anyway, that was the morning and then 12:00- Ding Dang Dong whoa- down tools.  Just finish this tree?  Nope.  This branch?  Niet. This bunch of six flowers?  Maybe, if you're fast.  At 12:00 all farmers must stop whatever they're doing and take a one hour lunch break.  Not 55 minutes, not 65 minutes, an hour.


Lunch over, now onto the tomatoes, right?

Yes, and no...

We headed out to the field and stood around sucking our teeth, going 'ehhhh?' and making vague nods and grunts about where and in which direction to do the rows.  That done, down to work?  Nope, need to go and get some rope to make straight lines.  A second trip was needed to get a tape measure...

Measuring, roping and digging took us to 3:00pm.  Ding Dang Dong whoa- down tools.  Yup.  Afternoon tea break.  Not hungry?  Doesn't matter.  3:00pm is afternoon tea break.  Can't work again until 3:15...

Now it's time to plant the tomatoes, right?  Nope.  Mulching.  Japanese style mulching where you cover your entire garden in black plastic.  Well, it feels like that anyway when you're rolling out the plastic and carefully spreading and tamping soil around the edges so it doesn't blow away...

Then it's time to put the plants in, right?  Nope.  We do get to go and get the plants though.  I had to go and pick the girls up from kinder so I missed this part.  It should have been pretty quick- we're getting them from a neighbour who grows them commercially- but apparently it involved a couple of cups of tea and a long conversation about the recent spate of frost warnings, predicted apple prices, the hot weather, the new JA mandated spraying regime etc etc.  Yup, crying in my cornflakes that I missed that one!

So, now we have ploughed, measured, roped, mulched our rows and we've got tomato seedlings- time to put the tomatoes in, right?  Nope.  A calculation of tomato numbers (250), row numbers (6 long and 7 short), recommended spacing (47cm) and oops- we need more rows. 

Back to the beginning of the plough, measure, rope and mulch show and dance.

Come on, that done surely we can plant the darn tomat-

Ding Dang Dong

6:00pm.  Whoa, down tools. 


Nope.  Absolutely can't start anything after the official 'all farmers must go home' music sounds...

So, after a whole day with only one thing to do- and it wasn't learning all about patience- guess what I'm doing tomorrow?



aim high honey

I don't like to think of myself as a snob.  Rather like to imagine myself a battler done good actually.

But when Amy called me over to see her "house" and I found her surrounded by construction vehicles, a broken down trike and a baby with no shirt on?

Honey, aim a little bit higher, hey?

For mummy?



this is azusagawa branch office

"This is Azusagawa Branch Office, pig flu has been recorded 5 1/2 hours away in Narita.  We all know how well pork goes with peppers, tomato and eggplant so please cover all three vegetables to avoid a sauted pork and veggies flu pandemic."


"This is Azusagawa Branch Office, it has come to our attention that farmers have finished plucking five out of every six apple blossom off, planting their spring crops and are not yet ready to plant rice.  As we all know, farmers do not know what to do when not working, so to alleviate this problem would all farmers please add completely covering all vegetable seedlings each night and uncovering them each morning to their list of jobs to do.'


'This is Azusagawa Branch Office.  Reports have come in that senile 90 year old retired apple farmers have been hearing the sounds of Spring (the whir of the spraying machine and the snip snip of the shears) and dragging out 25 year old drums of banned pesticides and loading up their sprayers.  This is resulting in indiscriminate use of nasty poisons.  Please cover and protect all vegetables and wait until they run out of poisons.  Respect for the age and all that we won't be telling them off.'


"This is Azusagawa Branch office.  It has come to our attention that some farmers are growing far too many vegetables than they could possibly harvest let alone eat.  JA is conducting a survey and anyone with more than 10 eggplant plants per family member will be required to donate them to the Emperor.  Please note, this is an officially sanctioned, very important survey- but we won't check anything we can't see so wink wink, nudge nudge."


"This is Azusagawa Branch Office.  There is a frost warning current for this area.  Please ensure all frost sensitive plants are protected from tonight's frost.  I repeat..."

How did you spend your evening?


The mummy and me excursion

First 53 five year olds and their mums (and one dad) walked, holding hands and carrying enough gear for a 3 day camp- all labelled and regulation size of course, for 40 minutes to a park.

Then we had a juice box and some rice crackers as a snack.  
That's the wrong picture you say?  
No, the teacher said the kids could play for a short time after they finished their snack.  Well of course M managed a world speed record after that and headed straight for the slide.

And then the wobble log.  Astute viewers may notice that in the first picture everyone seems to be wearing long sleeves and yet Meg is sleeveless.  Why yes, that's correct.  It was quite cool and breezy this morning but M insisted this was her picnic attire and so off we went.  I think she did it as payback for all the 'ohhhhh a half!  How cute!!! She spoke English!!' comments she gets when out with me.  By wearing seasonally inappropriate clothing she ensured I would weather a barrage of 'Ohhhhhhh! No sleeeeves??!!' shocked comments and look like a bad mum.  Oh well.

After some getting to know you games, some quality time with your kid games, and a scavenger hunt ('It's brown and prickly, find a **** bokkuri (cone)' M: 'A pine cone bokkuri!' That'll do, honey.) it was time for lunch and my amazingly un-cutesy Japanesey bento.  I was going to do something fancy, really, but then the HS student up the road dropped off a bag of need-to-be-eaten breads from the department store where she has a PT job and, well, they were need-to-be-eaten fancy department store breads so what could I do?  M's lunch on the left and mine on the right.  She also had two onigiri but she's holding them out of frame.

M very seriously measuring me out a cup of water from her big-girl-no-straw-uses-a-cup drink bottle.  Yes, she has a mouthful of lunch...

After lunch we had more free play time and someone's child ripped off her pants and went splashing in the creek.  The icy cold snow-melt-straight-from-the-Southern-Alps creek.  

Before long about 3/4 of the kids were in various states of undress and splashing about while their concerned and disbelieving mothers tried to work out what on earth caused the outbreak of health risking, dare-devil, crazy behaviour.  

doo be doo be doo....

Then we stalked and chased and cajoled and tricked our kids back into their clothes and walked the 40 minutes back to kinder.  It should have been an easier walk with lighter empty bento box backpacks but we had collected souvenir rocks.  Yup, rocks.  I tell ya, these kinder teachers have a sense of humour.

I was exhausted and, while I'm no athlete, I think it's fair to say I'm one of the fitter mums at kinder so I'm guessing there were a few weary souls around here this evening!

Oh well, the kids had a brilliant time and that's the main thing, right?  

That and making sure your picnic mat is 60cm by 90cm of course.


when you gonna call?

I hate telephones.  

As far as I'm concerned SMS is the best invention ever- no need to worry and fret about timing, I can mail you at 3:00 am and you can check it when you feel like it- yeah!

But sometimes you have to slum it and use the landline.


What's a good time to call?  6:00pm?  You may be having dinner... 6:30? Still eating?  Already in the bath?  7:00pm?  Having a late dinner?  In the bath?  Putting the youngest kid to bed?  7:30? 8:00?  More of the same... 8:30?  Maybe you're in bed.

And if I call and you don't answer, do I leave a long and involved message or just ask you to call me back?  Or tell you I'll call you back and then go through the whole thing again...

This whole thing is exacerbated by living in a farming neighourhood.  My neighbours are up by 4:00- 4:30.  Fortunately, I'm still asleep at that time of day.  By the time I'm up and about though they're long gone out into the fields...  And then in the evening by the time my kids are asleep and I'm ready to get down to work my neighbours are probably asleep already, too...

So, what time do you make calls?  What time do you like being called?


Just SMS me...


many hats

...or whole outfits actually.

Sunday evening Meg said to me 'Mummy did you wet your pants again?'


'But you changed your clothes again...'


I didn't wet myself but I did change clothes a lot this weekend.

Saturday morning got up and put on my garden clothes- a much loved pair of gap chinos with a rip in the knee and an old men's button through shirt- and hit the garden to rip out last year's gone to seed nozawana, komatsuna and chingensai.  Then home, change out of dusty work clothes and into house wear to make lunch, then change into work clothes to teach, come home change into gardening clothes again to transplant leek seedlings by the hundred, then back into housewear to make dinner, then finally into PJs- phew!

Sunday morning straight into gardening clothes to dig over the big garden ready to plant 200 tomatoes-for-sauce plants, then back home, change into smart casual, out to an International Families picnic then back home, gardening clothes to plant three types of eggplant, red peppers, yellow peppers, green peppers, shishito peppers, corn, soy beans, tomatoes, sweet bite tomatoes, okra, goya, cucumber, pumpkin and spaghetti squash (for Meg), then inside into housewear to make dinner and then finally PJs.

So no, Meg, I didn't wet myself but yup, I beat you all when it came to changes of clothes this weekend!


what a day...

It's the planting season here and I have spent the last two days all day out in the garden ploughing and hoeing and making those darn Japanese raised beds that must be just so and weeding and planting just so and transplanting just so etc etc.  The couple I co-garden with (already decided I can never get divorced- co-gardening is doing me in, I can't imagine co-custodying !) are being really pedantic about straight lines on everything.  Well I thought they were being bad until I saw the guy in the next field had a tape measure out!  Give me a break!!!!

I am really upset though as the neighbour we have had issues with (a long time ago and I thought we were over it- they sent us some kind of legal letter 'requesting' we remove a terribly dangerous tree on our side of the fence- at our cost of course.  Oh well we did it and I thought all was well again) today I found they have removed big bambooshoots from inside our land.  I'm upset because they were about a metre and a half high and we had been watching them and enjoying them since they first pushed through the earth.  I know there're way bigger problems in the world than this and I'm sounding like a BBC comedy warring with my geriatric neighbours over garden stuff but I'm right that that's out of line right?  Yes bamboo can be viral but this is not that sasa bamboo but really beautiful thick bamboo and we only get a half dozen new shoots a year anyway.  And what about having the decency to say something????

Grrrrr neighbours!  

I'm packing it in and moving to a deserted island.  Just as soon as I get my T-square out and check those right angles on our raised beds..


In the garden and in the house


Great value- beautiful long lasting flowers and they multiply each year.

Prima donna flower- beautiful but bruise and brown at the slightest hint of rain or hail.

Beautiful, dainty, longer lasting than sakura and you get 'petal rain' to boot

Divisive- I love them, cheerful popcorn like fluffy happy balls of sunshine, K hates their undisciplined ways...

Amazing value- cute little daisies in pink and white that self seed like weeds and even survive preschooler transplanting!

And inside:

"Mum, mum!  Look what I made!"

Great honey but mud balls in the house?


for dad

When I was a kid my mum was on a lot of committees.

At least a couple of times a month she'd have an evening meeting and us kids would have dinner with dad.  Most of the time she left something ready for us but occasionally dad cooked.

We all knew dad was good at cooking three things- omelettes, goulash and popcorn.  I'm pretty sure he never served us popcorn for dinner but we definitely ate plenty of the other two.

I have been trying to remember why we knew dad was good at cooking these three dishes and all I can come up with is that it was because he told us he was good at them.  'I might not cook much but I make the best popcorn, a mean goulash and great omelettes.'  Yup, brainwashing.

Well, it's normal that as kids get older their faith in their parents superhuman abilities gets smaller and my sister and I were still living at home when we discovered foamy, frothy, lightweight omelettes and had to gently tell dad we wouldn't be needing his egg-in-an-oilslick great omelettes anymore.

And the goulash... well, it was easy to stake a claim at being a goulash maestro as, living in a very Anglo country part of Australia we'd never eaten any other goulash but dad's.  I still remember my shock the first time I ordered goulash in an Eastern European cafe.  I was in Melbourne, on excursion with my Year 12 History class.  We'd just been to the Holocaust museum and were following it up with a themed eating experience.  That in itself now seems a little odd but anyway I ordered my goulash, it arrived and... I sat and looked at it.

"What's wrong?"  asked my history teacher (probably concerned as I wasn't known for either speechlessness or lack of appetite.)

"Ummm... I ordered goulash...."

"Yes.  Is something wrong with it?"


Illusion shattered.  My dad's goulash was minced meat, veggies, a jar of Dolmio and a packet of spiral pasta all mixed up together.  Don't get me wrong.  I loved it.  That's why I ordered it in the cafe.  I just wasn't expecting a dark, rich, fragrant beef stew with sour cream on top!

I still make my dad's 'goulash' for dinner.  His grandkids love it.  His son-in-law thinks it's fabulous (for all their differences they share a love of meat and simple carbohydrates) and I still like it.  But I don't call it goulash.  It's 'grandpa pasta'.  

And goulash?  Dad, here's a recipe for real goulash.  Every bit as good as yours.

And you still make the best popcorn I've ever eaten.


getting there...

The heat bricks are in, the mortar is drying, we were well on our way to getting it done and then...

It rained for two days straight.  


Oh well, only another two days till the weekend!

M working on her own masterpiece 'just like daddy'.


for Nanny

My mum has a recipe book.  It's nothing fancy, just a stained and faded spiral bound notebook with recipes written in and written on paper that's been stuck in between the pages.  Some of the recipe's have names on them 'Susie's Satay Sauce' or 'Mrs. Peck's Chocolate Cake'.  Others have comments.  One my Nanny (my mum's mum- not the other kind of nanny) wrote 'ohhh Heather!' on it.  I remembered this yesterday when I wanted to make a tarte au citron.  I bought a big bag of lemons with dreams of Melbourne cafe style lemon tart for dessert- yum!  Unfortunately, I got home to realise I didn't have a spare 8 eggs, creme fraiche, double cream or even butter in the house.  Master of substitution I am, but even I can't make lemon tart without that many necessary ingredients so I needed to start from scratch.

A bag of lemons....

I remembered Nanny's recipe for lemon clag.

Lemon clag.  Just as I have no idea who Mrs. Peck is, K and the girls didn't know what Clag is.  These cultural tripups don't happen often but when they do they serve to remind me, sometimes gently, sometimes more painfully, that the girls are growing up with a different cultural identity, a different understanding of the world, of their world and what is 'normal' than I have.  I don't see this as a negative but rather a challenge.  An opportunity to share my normal with them and in doing so shape their normal.

Determined now to make lemon clag and introduce my family to its sweet and sour lemony gooey goodness I rang mum for the recipe her mum gave her when I was a baby (hence the 'ohhh Heather!) and now I'll share it with you:

Lemon Clag (sounds so much better than lemon glue, hey?)

Juice and grated rind of three lemons
5Tb cornflour (I used corn starch with no problems)
3Tb sugar (reduce if lemons are sweet
2 egg yolks
1 pint water (My resident conversion maestro-mum- said 600mls)

That's it!  Mix everything but the water until smooth.  Add water and over a low heat slow until it thickens.  When it bubbles it's done.  You can eat it warm or wait until it cools when it will set.

It's not tarte au citron by any means but it's really yummy and good for those days when you're out of creme fraiche...

So Nanny, your half Japanese great grandkids had their first taste of lemon clag via your daughter's cookbook and your granddaughters disorganised shopping skills.

And the verdict? 

They wanted seconds!

A day of golden goodness