It only took 5 years...

When we moved here the place was a mess. Really. Hideous. Before we even moved in we spent three months commuting and clearing up, cleaning up, doing up and all round rennovating everything. We moved in and kept the ball rolling putting down linoleum, putting up wallpaper, putting in shelving and wood floors etc etc. We painted over the revolting glitter-velvet-porridge wallpaper that had been accented so wonderfully with the scratch marks of thirteen bored cats. Really special.

At about the 3/4 way mark I ended up in hospital with pre-term labour (seems heavy duty DIY, running after an active toddler and eight months pregnant in mid-summer wasn't really a great combination...) and then when I got out a month later I had a clingy 2 year old and was on bed-rest... then we had a newborn and a toddler... then we had two active kids... then we started spending more time doing up the outside of the house... then we got a woodfire and started spending all our free time hauling, cutting, splitting and stacking wood- and then sitting by the fire slothing it... and then...

So it has been five years since we stopped painting. And we stopped halfway up the staircase. For five years there has been a weird halfway mark where the nice clean painted wall peters out into glitter-velvet-porridge with cat scratches and worrisome stains...

Until tonight.

Sick of waking up of a morning and walking out into such a miserable corridor I bought paint, K dragged out the painting kit from storage and we got to it. We now have a lovely lemon yellow corridor.

Well half of one.

We ran out of paint.

I refuse to leave it another five years before we finish the last square metre of hallway.

But I'm teaching tomorrow night, I have a PTA meeting Friday, I'm away for the weekend...

Maybe Monday?

K has aikido Monday.... perhaps Tuesday??


The Amy morning monologue

Good morning! I love you too. Did you sleep well? Get dressed and come and have brekky. No, Amy that's Meg's brekky and she's eating it because she's already dressed. Amy? I asked you to get dressed first. No don't go now that you've already spilt milk on your pjs. Amy please don't use your hands to eat your cereal. What are you doing??? I know I said don't use your hands but I meant go get a spoon- not stick your head in your bowl! Amy, you know which end of the spoon goes in your mouth- do it. What are you doing under the table? Well pick the spoon up don't draw in the spilt milk with it. No, you already had a mouthful and I don't think kimchi and cereal are a good brekkie combination anyway. Get down off the table and go and get dressed. Put your PJs in the wash because you spilt milk on them. Amy! Not on the kitchen floor- in the wash. Those are heavy weight cords and a polar fleece jumper. It's hot and sunny today. Do you want to change into shorts? Take those clothes with you when you go get the new ones! Amy walk please. I know you hurt your knees but that's why you shouldn't crawl-run on a synthetic carpet. I don't think you need bandaids. Go and get some clothes on- it wouldn't have happened if you had clothes on. And take these clothes back when you go. Amy where are you? Well, yes. It's a pretty flower. Thank you. But I like the flowers outside in the garden where we can see them for a long time. And could you please get dressed? Ok, I'll come help you choose once I've put this in daddy's bento. You grab your poolcard while you're waiting. What are you doing? That is where Mummy writes your temperature. I know you're 4 but your temperature is not 4. Trust me. Clothes! Now! Ok. I'm coming. How about this one? This one? This one? You said you wanted mummy to help choose? Well you decide then. What do you mean don't walk on the play mat? Why? Well take your milky pjs out from under there and put them in the wash then. I know it's a hassle. I know I tell you to do it everyday but that's life. Ok. Let's brush your teeth. Yes. That is a very pretty picture but I asked you to get your toothbrush. Good job. Now the toothpaste. You have to open your mouth so I can see your teeth. Ok go spit. Not in the kitchen sink! Where's the hairbrush I put on the table? Charlie bear doesn't even have hair. Ok. Three more brushes for Charlie Bear then it's your turn. Stay still while I do your hair. Well tell me how Mi-chan's hair looked like yesterday and I'll try it but I can't do it like Mi-chan's hair when I didn't see Mi-chan's hair. "Like that" is a bit vague. Two plaits? Two ponytails? One plait? You choose. Ok. Two ponytails. Keep your head still. Amy I know you want to see what I'm doing but just stay still or I can't do it. Ok. Where's your bag? Why is it under your desk? I don't think you have time to play kinder under your desk today. We're trying to get ready for real kinder. Go get your bag. Amy? Your bag! Ok. socks. No. I just hung those socks out. They're still wet. Really. Check then. See? Different socks today. Ok. shoes. Your shoes. On your feet! Amy your bag! Come back here and get your bag! Oh forget it. I'll get your bag, just get in the car. In the passenger seat. Thank you. I love you too. Have fun today. Good bye!
Phew.... I swear, by the time Amy gets out the door to go to kinder I deserve a Nobel prize for parenting.

Or a stiff drink.

Or both.


the problem with mums

Meg asked me to help her read (decipher?) a letter she got from her friend:

"Dear Meg, Sorry I couldn't go to your house yesterday. Mum said I could go but she lied. She's terrible. I'm really sorry. I'm really sorry. From K"

Ouch. Poor K's mum, huh?

And just so she's not the only horrible mum on the block- this is the first I heard of a playdate and our weekend was full and I would have had to have said no anyway.

Ruddy mums, hey?


International Day

Spent today at International Day in Matsumoto. I have a big problem with these events in general. Tokenism, Stereotyping, National Costumes, The same old questions, the same old answers and then finish up standing in a circle holding hands and singing 'It's a small world'. Really. Been there. Done that.

My idea of a great International Day event would be everyone sitting around in jeans and t-shirts talking about their favourite movies, songs, books, places in the city where they live, just basically finding common ground.

Anyway, as you can see from the poster today was more of the former than the latter. Look at all those smiling people in national costume. I was pleased to see they have a Japanese girl in a kimono there, though. Hopefully for the citizens of Matsumoto remembering how often they wear kimono will put the other costumes in perspective.

I was there with my boss manning the Great American Hotdog Challenge. This was very generous on my part. Not the giving up my Sunday to schlepp it at International Day but putting my endeavours to be recognised as an Australian back at least a couple of years!

By all accounts it was wildly successful. I say by all accounts as I didn't leave the hotdog room all day. We had people play in pairs with one person on a mike and the other blindfolded. Mike person had to guide blindfolded person through a maze in 60 seconds. Mike person had to do all this in English. It was a riot and everyone was having a great time. I helped so many little little kids tell their parents where to go (politely of course!) It was so cute seeing kids eyes go all wide with wonder when they heard their amplified voices.

K brought Meg and Amy in to check it out and they tried out the pinata (just like our birthday only they had lots more candy) pearl tea (the jelly [tapioca]was yummy but the juice [sweetened tea] we gave to daddy) and the hotdog challenge (why couldn't we stay with you mummy? How many hotdogs did you eat? You were there all day!)

I met lots of interesting people and had a good time. I came home exhausted, hot and sweaty. I had fun, I'm glad I went and best of all there was no 'It's a small world' at all!


rainy Saturday fun

What do you go when you were outside playing in the rain with your umbrellas and you got wet anyway?

Why change into bathers and go and play in the rain for real of course!

And when you think you couldn't possibly get any wetter it must be time to break out the water toys:

And a great rainy Saturday was had by all.


something nice

I teach English.

I teach a lot of English.

I teach a lot of people English, a lot of English classes and a lot of different types of English.

But I don't teach English.

I teach people.

I teach a just-turned-two year old class where I just shadow them and provide a running commentary on what they're doing- mostly playing with cars. After two months they can now understand and produce 'go, stop, fast, slow, push, again and oh no'. Or rather OH NO!!

I teach a JHS class where the kids bring their textbooks and we just drill in the grammar. They each work individually on their elected area and I facilitate, drink coffee, encourage, drink more coffee, explain, drink more coffee and try and stay awake.

I teach a whole bunch of elementary school classes where I have a great time playing games and encouraging communication and explaining plurals and trying to keep my Yuyas and Yutas and Ryusukes and Ryosukes and Nanases and Nanasas straight.

I teach two senior English conversation classes. One where I bring a print each week and we do warmup, print, self-expression time. The class has great momentum, the women are eager and attentive and it really has great energy. As a plus they actually seem to be retaining some English.

My other senior English class I have niggling doubts about. We only meet twice a month as they are the busiest group of people I have ever met. Each is involved in multiple volunteer activities, studies at least one other activity and two of them teach activities as well. In a one hour class we almost never get past 'how was your week?' as they have so much to talk about and all write down what everyone else said too which inevitably leads into an explanation of a grammar point (today's was 'I should have......') and then we each make a sentence using the grammar point for practise and that leads to....

So I was driving to class today thinking wow, I just get so mired down in the details with that class... They all seem quite interested and they remember a lot of what I previously taught but it is so random- we are learning higgledy piggledy bits of grammar all over the shop... Got to work on my teaching there.

And then at the end of class as we were drinking tea and eating pickles- if I get high blood pressure I'm claiming workers comp from all the salt I eat on the job- when one of the women said she wanted to thank me for teaching her something really important. Pretty sure she didn't mean 'I should have taken an umbrella' I asked what she meant.

"You always teach us what we're interested in. You take what we want to say and make it into a lesson. We're motivated because you're helping us express ourselves. I copied that idea and it has really helped me teach Y-chan. She's the Brazilian girl I help at the local elementary school. I'm the third teaching aide she's had and the other two wrote reports that she probably has learning disabilities and she was no good at school. I watched her and I thought that she just wasn't interested in the textbook. I asked her about the character on her t0-shirt and she tried to explain but she didn't know all the words. Slowly with lots of gestures and drawing pictures she told me about her favourite Brazilian cartoon. The next class I brought in some Japanese cartoon character pictures and we talked about that. Slowly she started trying to communicate more and more. I started introducing the grammar from her textbook into our conversations and then when I opened the textbook I showed her that she already knew how to do it. She really changed. Her class teacher and her principal both asked me what I did- she used to sit in class and just draw pictures. Now she is trying to talk to her classmates and really being a member if the class. Thank you for teaching me how to teach like that.

Wow. Now there's no way I am taking responsibility for Mrs N's getting through to Y-chan but I was really happy that the thing I am most passionate about in my teaching- teaching the student not the subject- was appreciated. I'm happy that I was able to help her learn and help her teach. And I am happy that somehow that made a difference to an 8 year old kid living in a foreign country and dealing with all the issues that brings with it.

And that was something nice for all of us today.


Ever eaten a rock?

Rock cake that is.

My monthly cooking class was today and we made granola (thanks Kim!!) and rock cakes.

Of the eight people there two thought I had said hot cakes, three thought they would be cakes as hard as rocks and the other three were just mystified.

It's a wonder any of them turned up at all, huh?!

Anyway, the class went well, the granola is amazing, the rock cakes went over really well (much tastier than rocks by all accounts) but it got me wondering: how widely known are rock cakes? They're quite popular in my little part of Oz and incredibly popular with my Dad who used to request a double batch from my sister as his birthday present (even after she got a part time job and could have actually bought him something) but today's class had people who have lived in Hong Kong and the UK, and a woman married to an American and none of them knew what I was talking about?

Just incase you are similarly unaware of the magnificent rock cake- easy to make, great fun to cook with kids, tasty to boot- here's my (sister's) recipe (it rocks!):


300 grams flour

1 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp cinnamon (mixed spice if you can get it)

80 grams butter

80 grams brown sugar

30 grams sultanas (I add waaaaay more)

45 grams granola (actually cornflakes but I needed a tie in with the granola)

1 egg

125 ml milk


1. Set oven to 200 degrees

2. Sift flour, cinnamon and baking powder

3. Rub butter into flour mix with fingertips

4. Add sugar, fruit and granola

5. Beat egg in a small bowl and add milk

6. Add egg mix to flour mix and stir well to combine

7. Place spoonfuls of mix on greased oven tray.

8. Bake at 200 degrees for 10-15 minutes until brown

9. Cool on cake cooler



long distance love?

Two and a bit years ago I took my senior English class to Australia with me for two weeks of fun in the sun (ha! It was rainy and windy and miserable the whole time we were there). They had a great time ordering pies and steaks, drinking the local wine, walking everywhere, talking to absolutely everyone they met- I mean everyone, over two full days they went into every single business in the town my parents live in. Just you know, getting to know the locals...

Anyway it was a bit of a trip of a lifetime for some of them and they still bring it up every now and again. You know 'remember in Australia when....' or 'oooh this chocolate tastes just like the one we had on the ferry remember? You know? When Mrs. S talked to the young man and his son? Before Mrs N tried to order a coffee and got a milkshake? hahaha!'

So I'm used to being asked to remember minutiae about the trip at a moment's notice but I have to admit even I was taken aback with the latest Australia talk.

I walked into class and Mrs Y pounced:

Heather-teacher? (losing the suffix is a lifelong dream...)
How's your uncle?
My uncle??
Yes. We met him in Australia?
Ahhh, My Uncle N? My mum's little brother?
Hmmmm? N? ..... We went out to dinner with him? At the place you used to work? And we ordered garlic bread? And we tried the red wine? I ordered 'house red, please'?
Ummm.... Ahh! My Uncle I! My mum's older brother.
(My mum has five brothers, we ate out most days and I was rather too distracted with a 4 year old and a 2 year old to be focussing on what wine they drank when so really I think I can be forgiven for not getting this quicker.)
How is he?
Umm. Fine I think. Why?
Is he married?
Yes. (and so are you??)
Ohh (giggle) I wanted to introduce him to my sister. (giggle.)

I'm not sure if my Uncle should feel pleased he made such a positive (and long lasting) impression or insulted that someone would feel he'd need an overseas introduction.

And just to really make this whole situation more bizarre- the sister in question lives in Korea. So if Mrs. Y and I did decide to go into the cupid business it would be a tri-national, tri-lingual long distance love affair.

The mind boggles.


they're taking over....

The view from my front door looking out to the left:

and to the right:

We have a big porch area. It started out with the four big pots on the left decorating it: one of chives, one of thyme, one of seri and one of violas and baby's breath. (OK, so only kind of decorative and rather kitchen gardenny but still...)

Then I was sent the beautiful snapdragon seeds from Ibaraki and the directions said they should only be watered from below not above. So, no watering cans and no rain. Hmmmm, I couldn't decide where to put them and then- lightbulb moment- the porch!

Well that was the beginning of the end...

To the left of the door we now have: the original four pots, the snapdragons, a planter full of transplanted coriander babies waiting to find a home, a seed starter tray over-full with over-started marigold seedlings waiting to be planted out in the veggie garden to ward off aphids, Meg's three pots of morning glory and Amy's umpteen pots of mystery plants. Some are sunflower seeds, some grass (she went through a stage of transplanting chunks of the lawn into pots. You can bet that has been stopped short!) and some are random things like a snail shell and a chunk of wood. She has great faith that with enough love you can grow anything. K's contribution is the plastic bucket of items the girls use as toys that he thinks should be chucked. That's why he put them on the porch....

To the right of the door we have a seed starting tray full of basil babies, a seed starting tray full of over-started cucumbers, a beautiful terracotta pot with a loquat I killed and a whole lot of self-sown violas I am trying to grow up to look as though that was what I was going for, a random planter of Amy's and Meg's shiitake mushroom log. Just off the porch the bamboo stakes are for Meg and Amy's cucumber plants and the green netting is our green curtain of morning glory flowers I am imagining being a fabulously artistic trailing wall of green, blue and white all the way to the roof. Maybe even eye-catching enough to distract you from the rest of the stuff on the porch?

Because at the moment I really think it's getting out of control...

It's day of the triffids...

The plants are taking over!


Happy Summer Solstice?

Yesterday three people wished me a happy summer solstice and Meg's teacher wrote at the end of his note home "Today's the summer solstice! Fight! Let's not give in to the heat!" (Meg's teacher doesn't seem to know about the full stop. He ends each and every sentence with either a question mark or an exclamation mark or multiple exclamation marks.)

I think I am the summer solstice grinch. No celebrating the longest day for me. Oh no. I'm too busy mourning the fact that tomorrow will have fractionally less daylight than today. And the next day less than that. And the next day, and the next day.... Might as well be resigned to our fate and just go get the snow gear out of storage now, yeah?

It would make much more sense to me to have the summer solstice at the end of summer. After a whole season of sun-filled fun and sun-ripened tomatoes and sun-warmed peaches and just reaping the sun's goodness in a plethora of ways I would be quite happy to say thank you for your hard work sun, it was good while it lasted, see you next year.

But June? Swimming hasn't even started for the girls yet, we're still just harvesting the Spring veggies, the tomatoes are thigh high and covered in flowers but not really reminiscent of long summer days and it just feels wrong to be on the downhill slide into winter already.

Sob sob.

Commiserations on the Summer Solstice to all.

And I don't want to hear a word from anyone in the southern hemisphere...


impulsive Sunday

Meg and Amy blowing bubbles in the park.

Ho hum. Just another Sunday.

But look closer.....

Those little boys....

The teenage girl....


Did something crazy and very un-me today. We'd been invited to Niigata for the weekend to see Lily and Bryn and their families but I was working Saturday afternoon, had a wine and cheese party Saturday night, cleaning of the community baseball/ festival ground 6:30 Sunday morning and K had a very big Taichi conference 1-5pm Sunday.

It really looked like we wouldn't be able to go.... boo shucks....

Then I thought why not? Sure it will cost a horrendous sum of money that will make me blush when I think about it but hey, I work hard for that money why shouldn't the girls and I have a little fun?

And so we headed off. Being that Nagano is singularly un-blessed with convenient public transportation we caught a train to Nagano (1 hour), then switched back and caught the shinkansen half way to Tokyo (the opposite direction to Niigata) for an hour before finally changing to the Niigata shinkansen at Takasaki for the last leg of the journey (1 hour). Phewwwww.

But it was so worth it!

We had a blast. My two were overwhelmed by the whole trip, a little wary of all the new people and took a while to warm up and the other kids were a bit flat from already having had a whole day of play Saturday but it all just really worked out.

And needless to say we mums had no problem finding stuff to talk about and passing the time!

After a nice leisurely afternoon at the park (Niigata is amazing- there was a park within sight of the big station there that we practically had to ourselves!) we three started the long trek home:

(two of the three trains and still playing)

Bryn- you are AMAZING!!! Seriously, she gave the girls not only a huge princess activity book each but also some very funky crayola pencils and they spent the entire three and a bit hour, three train pilgrimage home absolutely enthralled. Really. I didn't need snacks, bribes, Sesame Street on the ipod- nothing!

I even had time to sit back and read my Ladies Home Journal she brought for me. Wow!

We had the most amazing time and my biggest, biggest thanks to Lily and Bryn for a wonderful day and changing the whole day's plans to suit our crazy schedule.

It was a 12 hour trip door-to-door and incredibly irresponsible on a school night and all but hey, you've got to be impulsive sometimes, right?

After all it's back to the daily grind tomorrow...


Hot Saturday Fun

(Thanks to Kim for the reminder!)


observation days in pictures

singing a rousing round of Old MacDonald with the kids names as farmers.

Sensei banging it out on the guitar.

Making origami hydrangeas together- I am not Japanese school desk size!

Hamming it up with her best friend/ partner in crime.

A paper folding experiment

They had to write letters to their morning glory plants. This is installment two. It says 'Your leaves are like hearts, aren't they? I was happy when you sprouted. Grow into a healthy morning glory, ok?'

Carrot group introducing themselves.

While the parents had a one hour introduction and hearing about our kids day at kinder talk the kids went for a walk. Here they are coming back.

Getting ready for lunch

Lunch time. Today was Chinese (inspired) They alternate between Japanese, Chinese and 'western' (everything else). vinegared glass noodle salad, sweet and sour meatballs, clear mushroom, tofu and greens soup and mini tomatoes. They bring their rice from home.

The little foil containers on the tables you can see if you look really closely? The mums all knelt on the floor in the (oh so ample) space between tables and ate with the kids.

It was an interesting two days. Both girls have mammoth classes (by my Australian perspective anyway) but they both seem to be coping ok with it. Both the kinder and the school have huge grounds so there's plenty of place to play and they're not stuck in cramped classrooms all the time so that's a plus. I think our school attendance isn't required again until August when we will go to pool observation which is always fun with all the splashing and smiles.


that's gotta hurt....

I was thinking the other day how rough it must be to be a chook.

I mean having a period once a month is hard enough.

Chooks lay an egg once every 26 hours. Not days- hours.

And (it's a bit gross but) if you think about the size of their vent (where the egg comes out) and the size of an egg it's more like giving birth every 26 hours than just having a period.

And that thought just freaks me out.

Poor chooks....

And then look at this:

That is two eggs from the same chook. The one on the left is her usual egg. About 65 grams. The equivalent of a three kilo baby? On the right is the egg. The egg weighs in at a whopping 120 grams. Wow. Like a six kilo baby!

It just made me cross my legs and go 'owwww!' when I saw it.

I had to go and get her some extra feed to commiserate...


Our little weasel strikes again

When she was 2 years old Amy went to daycare once a week. She had a great time, an amazing set up (maximum of eight kids and up to three teachers in a purpose built room in a brand spanking new kinder) She was part of the Monday posse of kids who regularly went on Mondays and had the teachers around her little finger. She also had them under the impression she didn't understand Japanese.

Well not all Japanese but some phrases in particular anyway.

I was asked to stay back one afternoon at hometime and the teacher asked if we could please work on more Japanese at home. I was a little confused as (much as I wish it was otherwise) both my girls speak Japanese at native level and English at a passable second language level but nowhere near age level.

When I asked for details I was told Amy looked blank, ignored the request or stated that she didn't understand when asked to:

pack up
lie down for a nap
come here
sit down
put your cup in the container etc...

hmmmmmm....... I pointed out that we use the same phrases at home and she has no problem and that I felt she had taken them for a bit of a ride....

Fast forward two years and Amy is still adjusting to her new kinder class. This is the one that's gone from 18 kids to 35. It's huge, it's staffed by a fresh-out-of-Uni girl (she's not really a woman yet, right?) and a very nice and caring mother of two kids who I am guessing are angelic as she is just sooo nice about everything.

Anyway, we got a note in the communication book that Amy was not very good at packing up and needed lots of reminders to stay on task or she wanders off to play somewhere else.

I wrote back that she has always had an independent streak, doesn't meld to group work very easily but is not lazy- she's a great helper at home, does heaps of chores around the place without even being asked (and in fact sometimes without me actually wanting the floors washed with a sopping wet mop or the kitchen swept with the outside broom etc).

Got the reply back in the notebook this evening:

"I think because Amy speaks Japanese and English she finds it difficult to understand long or involved sentences. We are speaking slowly and in short sentences and praising her a lot whenever she does what we ask and it's working great."

Oh gee.... I'm kind of conflicted. I don't want Amy weaseling out of her responsibilities and I know in good conscience I should set the teacher straight but at the same time I rather like the idea of Amy getting a bit of extra attention in a class of 35....


I'm going to the police station

Yeah!!!! I don't think many people are quite as excited to get a summons to the police station but I am thrilled. Really. I was grinning so much when I got the notice and almost took a picture of the summons to post here.

So obviously it wasn't a summons for someone discovering that we're growing heroin poppies here (they grow wild all through the neighbourhood so it's not like we're doing it on purpose...)

And it's too early in the season to have been caught by the apple guarding vigilante set.... (not that I am likely to be doing anything untoward in an orchard anyway)

So why the summons?

Well, it's my birthday next month....

And I've had my present drivers license for two years.....

Yup. My unblemished driving record puts me in the coveted 'great driver' league and therefore no draining of time, energy and money trek down to the big prefectural driving centre for me. Nope. Nah ah. Not for this good driver. I'm getting away with a 30 minute safety driving video at the local police station. Woohooo!!!!

I'm going to the police station- nah nah na nah nah
I'm going to the police station- nah nah na nah nah

I'm still smiling!


basking in the attention

Today was a strangely complimentary day.

First, in my two year old class I was told my arm hair was beautiful and sparkling. Wow.

Then the six year old class decided I was probably twelve years old. Wow, and I was worried about sun damage!

Then I went to pick up Amy at kinder and she took her usual age and a half to dither through packing up the outside toys she was using, washing her hands and getting her bag and shoes.

Getting her bag and shoes from right inside the front door of the kindy can take three to four trips. You know, wander in, realise you still have a spade in your hand, wander out again to pack up spade, wander in again, forget what you were after and wander over to check out the bug case, pick up one shoe and drop it outside the door then wander off somewhere again.... Every freaking day.....

Anyway, while I was whiling away my time waiting for that whole production to play out a little boy in the 5yo class started chatting away.

Are you Amy's mum?
Amy and I played in the sandpit today!
Are you Japanese?
Nope. I'm Australian.
Well, goodbye.

And as I walked away to chase Amy down he called out across the playground- loud enough for three teachers to turn around-

"You're pretty! You look like a celebrity!"


I really don't look like a sparkly armed, 12 year old celebrity but it's nice to be complimented sometimes, hey?


racing the rain

It was forecast to rain today. Rain that could very well be the start of the rainy season. We were racing the clock then to rain-ready the garden.

Thankfully the rain held off until evening and while it came down to the wire we did it:
  • planted 7 pumpkin plants. Two varieties this year, mini pumpkins and butternuts. We planted them right in the corner of the plot where they will run rampant over the butterbur and Japanese ginger. Hopefully. Last year they took a liking for tilled soil and invaded the sweet potato patch...
  • planted out an additional 9 cucumber plants. The 20 we already planted not being enough. We were given the seedlings and didn't quite offload as many as we were hoping. Oh well, I see pickled cucumbers on the horizon.
  • Put up the tomato house. Well for the first time anyway. I'm not convinced the plastic we used is typhoon-proof so I see tomato house building on the horizon, too...
  • transplanted 5 rows of seedlings from the seed raising bed to the leaf vegetable beds. Fingers crossed for the cos lettuce, butterleaf lettuce, sunny lettuce, oak leaf lettuce and salad mizuna.
  • cut the grass and trimmed the edges of the lawn.
  • cut back all the leaves from the bulbs and the fallen lupins so they don't rot in the rain.
We were just packing up the garden tools when the first big drops of rain started falling.

I hope it rains for at least a week to tell the truth. I could do with the break!


ahhh the holidays...

Saturday a holiday?

Not around here.

I swear I work harder on the weekend than I do on a work day!

Today started at the ungodly hour of 5:40 when both little darlings decided it was time to get the day underway. I must be the only mum in Japan who actually encourages- nay begs- my kids to raid the fridge for a yoghurt and stick a DVD on when they wake up but pleeeeaseeeee I need my sleep!

Absolutely wasn't happening and I was out of bed in two seconds when Meg offered to make Amy scrambled eggs. Yah, thanks for the offer but no thanks!

So I got up and made scrambled eggs and bacon and sauteed spinach and garlic with cheesey polenta for three and rice for one. A serve of fresh squeezed (ok, blendered) orange juice and hot coffee on the side... not to shabby, hey?

Then did the morning chores (including half an hour with Meg doing sums and hiragana and reading and then a token effort at English) and headed outside to:
  • Cut down a tree (that is rather addictive. Think my carbon account is in the red and my Aussie family will disown me for crimes against the environment if I don't get this under control soon...)
  • Cut up, cart and burn said tree. (pouring salt on the environmental desecration wound)
  • Weed the jungle that was trying it's best to be the path from the back of the house to the front.
  • Prune the entire fence length of trees after I realised it wasn't that it's not yet poppy/ begonia/ purple daisy/ azalea season but rather that mine are in full shade all but 30 minutes of the day)
  • Cut down completely rotten tree I found while pruning. Have Meg race to tell K to come and help me as the bit I cut was too heavy for me to hold with one hand while I cut with the other and it was going to fall on me...
  • Balanced up a ladder while picking a bag full of diseased leaves from the nectarine and peach trees. There's still about another bag of leaves up there. All the experts say leaf curl is a fungus and therefore picking the leaves will not do anything but I'd rather the apple farmers in the neighbourhood didn't know I was harbouring fungi here- we get enough stick for not using chemicals as it is!
  • Cut down all tree limbs overhanging the roof in a vain attempt to try and ebb the flow of concerned citizens/ interfering neighbours calling out from the street that 10cm of leafy overhang is going to rot our roof, fill our gutters, cause a roofing tile cave in and lead to the destruction of all that we have. (or warnings to that effect anyway)
  • removed new mountain of pruned limbs to the fire pit.
  • Decided the yummyness of a bbq outweighed the risk of food poisoning from eating meat cooked over green wood and shovelled coals into the bbq and cooked pork chops on the barbie (almost Aussie...)
  • Made a dashing arch out of two aqua coloured garden stakes for my climbing rose. It has a certain 60s beach house glamour I'm telling myself....
  • Had how-will-we-anchor-the-cucumber-net talk (part 17) with co-farmer A. very draining talk as neither of us are native speakers of Japanese, I learnt from a textbook and she learnt from her husband (a concreter- not that I have anything against guys who work construction but they tend not to speak what the textbook teaches) and we both are convinced that our (opposing) opinions are right. We're really not getting anywhere and her husband has already refused to work on the project until we make up our mind. This stems back to the tomato shelter incident of 2009 in which said husband set up the tomato house not once or twice but three times before we were both satisfied.
  • Drove to the other side of the city and back to eat an ice-cream. Well actually it was to take neighbour's daughter to get a 'recruit suit' for interviews and for me to look at a shop rumoured to have a big-big-size corner where I might be able to buy some summer pants. Only big-big-size corner turned out to be for women not blessed in both weight and height and so was a bit of a fizzer so the girls had 95 yen soft serves while we waited for R to find herself a suit. Only a 30 minute drive each way for an ice-cream...
  • Made dinner, did the bath and pjs thing, translated the directions on what I thought was a pack of amazing looking coconut flavoured jelly from the Brazilian supermarket only to realise it was instant coconut flavoured marshmallow mix. A whole tray of marshmallows... great.... and it required 20 minutes of mixing... and I don't have a mixer... so I wound down after my big day watching tv on youtube and whisking at full tilt for 20 minutes....
Phew... I think that was it for today. K is at a meeting at the community centre (having gone around and checked all the street lights first- think he wants to get a jump on any complaints!) and I'm about to go to bed because I just don't know what time tomorrow will start....

God news is only one more day until Monday- yeah!


sometimes they're so cute...

Amy has two favourite teddy bears and two favourite sticks. The brown bear is Charlie Bear. My grandma gave it to her. The blue bear spent a long time in semi-anonymity as plain old blue bear until Charlie Bear came along and now she's Carrie Bear- pronounced Cahr-ee to rhyme with Charlie- because our neighbours have boys called Ryota and Sota and Amy has decided she likes names that rhyme. The sticks don't have names. At the moment the bears and the sticks go everywhere with her.

That's K's lunch being guarded by two bears.

And he's so sweet he drove to kinder that way. And then waited while Amy strapped them into the seatbelt when she got out of the truck. And he left them there all day while he was at work. Ohhhhh....

And some more cuteness to really push the schmaltz limit?

We were getting ready for brekky and I asked the girls to move their toys off the table (because I'm an ogre like that) and Amy let out a big sigh....

"This would be so much quicker if we had another kid to help out mummy. We need another baby."

Yeah.... because the two we've got already are so amazing at packing up, right?


eggstra good

Look at the colour of that yolk. That's a good egg. Happy chooks mean happy eggs mean bright orange yolks mean amazing flavour mean yummy cakes mean happy us.

Just happy all round.


leading light....

One of our jobs this year as deputy head of the whole neighbourhood she-bang is guardian of the street lights.

That's right. The street lights. I am really confused about our road on the mountain here. It looks like a road. People drive on it like a road. But it isn't counted when they calculate the distance the kids walk to school (hence no bus service here) and the city doesn't look after the lights. According to K we should be happy we've even got lights. The neighbourhood association petitioned for them, the city agreed to put them in (we're talking almost 2 kilometres of mountain road so you'd think street lights would be considered a necessity rather than a luxury but....) but the neighbourhood association is responsible for maintenance and even the electricity fees!

Anyway, K is in charge of changing light globes. No problem right? A couple of times a year climb up a ladder and change the blown globe right? Wrong. Think phone call after phone call with reported light outages, flickering lights, lights not coming on at dusk etc etc.

Tonight I got a phone call from Mrs N. Mrs N is head of the kid's club and her husband is head of the local fire department. She called at quarter to 9 at night. She has a way of talking that makes everything sound like an emergency- very fast and breathy.

He's still at work. Can I give you his work number?
Really? I think he changed the globe yesterday afternoon?
OK. I'll take a message and pass it on.
(me?) Ummm, both my kids are asleep. I can't do anything about it now....?
Ok. Well thank you for the heads up.


Told K when he got home and he said he'd had three phonecalls about street lights today too.

Two about the same light at the community centre and one about a light that's flickering outside Mrs M's house. It's keeping her awake...

Lordy. After we fix the lights think we might just go around and tuck everyone in and make sure they have their blankies, right?


one of these things is a little bit different

one of these things is not like the others
one of these things just doesn't belong...

I loved that song on Sesame Street when I was little.

This morning I was reminded of it:

Can you tell which thing is not like the others?

Amy has been all sad about going to kinder without Meg. Having the week off last week when she was sick didn't help.

She very graciously offered to accompany me to work each and every day forever and not go to kinder anymore. Me thinks we over did the all-you-can-colour colouring in fiesta and non-stop kiddy tv....

So today when I had a late start at work we suggested that she could walk to kinder when Meg walks to school.




They flew through their morning routine cheering each other on- did you get your hanky? Me too! Let's get our toothbrushes!- and were both out waiting by the roadside for the girl up the road in record time.

And so all four of us (yes, sad to say neither K nor I wanted to be the one left out of the family walk so we both went) headed down the mountain at 6:40...

I had been a bit worried about Meg's walk as I know there are only three kids living further up the hill from us and noone further from town than this mountain walks so I had assumed that Meg was pretty much in a rough group of 4 the whole way. A group of four with two Grade 5 boys who I was sure would overtake them and run off in seconds.

Well, I was right about the grade 5 boys but I underestimated the little legs of mountain kids. Meg and her buddy H easily catch up to the kids living closer to school (down on the flatlands) and end up walking in what looks like a long trail of slightly excited ants all the way. I guess with 815 kids they have to come from somewhere, right?

And so it was a very early morning (having done an hours walk before 8:00m...) but great fun watching Meg take care of her little sister and Amy just as pleased and proud as can be walking with the big kids.

I just hope we can convince Amy that we're not going to do it every morning....


not feeling up to teaching

Teaching a rather uneventful women's conversation class today and we were going over parts of the body. It's a mixed ability class so as well as the simple ones in the textbook (hand, eye, head, neck etc) I was adding in a few to keep the higher level students interested- heal, arch, palm, shoulder blade etc. I explained how we only use the word lap to describe the area when we're sitting down. Put up a couple of examples- lap blanket and the baby sat on her mother's lap.

Retiree student pipes up:

Ahhhh!!! Lap!! Like lap dance!

Unfortunately for all (and the table) I had just taken a sip of coffee when she said that.

Finished spluttering and (still blushing) said yes. And lap dance.

Why do they call it lap dance?

Ummm... I think it's because of the area they dance around?

Oh. It looks so exciting. And they move so fast. And they seem so excited when they do it. And they keep smiling the whole time...


My piano playing, container gardening, concert loving, ex-JHS teacher student has been to a place that does lap dances???? Lordy me. Wonders never cease.

So, the shoes. They're called lap shoes?

The shoes?

The once that make the noises when they dance. They've got metal on them, right?

OH! You mean tap shoes. Tap dancing.

Phew.... I really felt rather drained after that conversation. Not sure how much my lower level students picked up. There was a lot of tapping at dictionaries going on. I usually explain things or have one of the advanced students explain it so everyone feels in the loop but I just wasn't feeling up to it on that topic.


productive day

Woke up, well woken up, befoe 5:00am by Meg determined to start the day. I have had enough of these early mornings and flat refused. After dithering around for a while she decided to crawl in to bed with me and go back to sleep. Hallelujah!!! This is the first time I haven't been dragged out of bed at the crack of dawn in three months!

Drifted off to sleep again only to be woken just before 6 by a huge buzzing sound. Really loud. Meg had left the door to the balcony open and a carpenter bee had flown in. These things are aeronautical miracles. It should be impossible for something that big to fly. They are not wasps, not aggressive and so not that much of a problem other than that I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep again knowing one might land on me. Sigh. Wiggled out of bed around Meg and escorted bee friend out of room.

Gave up on sleep and went downstairs and made wholemeal blueberry muffins for brekky. We are still trying out various methods of eating the mass of wheat we harvested last year. Whole in rice is fine, sprouted is great but we really wanted to mill it and use it as wholemeal flour. K did some in the coffee grinder last night so I used that.

Hmmmm.... decidedly crunchy. Oh well, Amy, K and I ate them and then Amy and K headed down to clean the community centre as it was our half of the mountain's turn.

Meg was still sleeping.....

Hung out the washing, drank my coffee, Meg woke up and came downstairs and we made scrambled eggs and sauteed spinach for breakfast and ate it with more muffins when K and Amy got back.

Faffed around doing house stuff until 10:00 when we headed down the road to the annual JA farming seminar. This is the second one they've done and was being held outside in one of the neighbour's farms this year. The actual seminar makes me all irritated as it's a huge sell for JA agricultural chemicals "Please don't think you don't need to spray your home-use veggies. Why would you set lower standards for your family than your customers?" and a worrying insight into Japanese farmer thinking "Please follow the instructions on the label. If it says dilute 1:1000 it will not work twice as well at 1:500. Also obey minimum pre-harvest no spray zones. If it says 1 day before harvest and you spray at 5:00pm today you cannot pick until after 5:00pm tomorrow. Please think of one day as 24 hours."

The cultivation tips are useful in a broad sense but really I have no intention of slavishly following them when they are as involved as "Once you have seven sets of leaves on your cucumber pluck out any further side shoots other than the thickest one. This is the child shoot and the original is the parent shoot. Once you have 12 sets of leaves on the parent shoot strip the first 7 leaves. Pluck off the first two cucumbers on each shoot. They will be tough. Once you have harvested 20 cucumbers from the parent shoot pluck the top off it to stop it and begin to propagate a side shoot from the child shoot. This will be the grandchild shoot. If you diligently follow this system I guarantee you will get 100 cucumbers from each plant. The prefectural prize winner harvested 200 cucumbers from one plant this way!" Phew. And there were similar instructions for tomatoes, melon, leaf vegetables and pumpkin. All laced with liberal doses of the benefits of using (JA) agricultural chemicals. Why go then if I don't like what they are saying? Well, it's free, they give you 10 lettuce seedlings for going (probably chemically addicted but still) and my co-farmer and I need all the field cred. we can get so we turn up to be seen.

Came home and decided to do something about the tree in front of the house. It was one of those poodle trees when we arrived and I decided to give it it's freedom and let it do its thing. Unfortunately it had had too many years as a poodle and didn't really work returning to the wild. The middle died off and the sides grew super long and straggly.

Enter K and his trusty chainsaw and tree no more:

Meg and I got in on the act with the hand saws and cut it all up into manageable pieces

Very manageable in Meg's case....

And we hauled it out the back to the fire pit and burnt it off.

Then co-farmer and I went and picked up some cucumber seedlings from her friend who is a cucumber farmer. We came home with 30 seedlings. I was feeling bad about taking so many until the woman told us she had planted 1000 seedlings today and was over looking at them. Wow... Bet she doesn't do that labour intensive parent, child, grandparent thing on every one!

Brought them home, made wholemeal pizza dough with more of the flour K milled for me, let it rest while we started planting cucumbers, shovelled coals from the fire pit into the pizza oven, stacked firewood, rolled out pizzas with the girls and topped them with our super tomato sauce and fresh herbs and cheese (and carrot slices in Amy's case...) Baked the pizzas:

And had dinner under the persimmon tree:

Then K put the girls in the bath while A and I planted out the rest of our 20 cucumbers (we gave 10 away) in the gloaming. Had a race with the girls who would be faster- them getting pj-ed and teeth brushed or me finishing up outside which meant they got through the evening routine in double time and were upstairs, books read, light out and asleep by 8:00. A bit later than ideal but pretty good for such a big day!

Sitting back with a cocoa and aching muscles I'm pretty impressed with our productive day today.


Dear Mum

Dear Mum,

Happy Birthday!

And just to let you know I was first to call you and say Happy Birthday.

But you didn't answer.

So I just need to write this to prove that I was first.

I'm sure I beat my bro and sis.

And of course that's because I love you more.

Love Heather


Ever since we were kids my brother sister and I have this thing about being the first to say Happy Birthday to our parents. Kinda over-competitive. And kind of defeats the whole calling to wish you a happy birthday thing when you pick up the phone and say 'Hi mum, happy birthday. Was I first?'

And rather sad that we're now all adults and still do it.

But you know I was third to call on Mother's Day and so I just had to get this out there that I was first on mum's birthday...


Foul Friday

I love Fridays.


All the anticipation of the weekend to come, no evening classes so I don't need to do the evening routine sprint (key in front door to lights out and asleep in 29 minutes is my PB) and just a nice pre-holiday glow about the whole day.


Today Amy woke up at 5:10. That means the rest of us were up at 5:10:04. Well except for K as he had left the house before 5:00 to head down to Wakayama for work. Poor guy.... Well except that he spends the majority of the day sleeping on a shinkansen being whizzed around the country at high speed....

So we were in no rush at all getting Meg out the door by 6:40. Positively sauntered through that one and I made blueberry and oatmeal pancakes to boot.

When Amy and I went out to see Meg off she realised the k-truck was gone.



K swears up and down and left and right that he told Amy last night that he wouldn't be here in the morning. Amy screams and wails and hollers otherwise.

Fabulous. After an hour of hysterics and tantrum pulling I decided I'd had enough cajoling and cuddling and pleading and ignoring and reasoning and put Amy in the car and hauled her screaming butt to kinder. We were waayyyyyyy early so thankfully our entrance wasn't witnessed by too many people as Amy managed to lie down and hissyfit in a drain and then half pull my t-shirt off when I manhandled her out of there. Ahhhhh the delights of the passionate 'spirited' child...

So, being that it's only 8am and I am already feeling drained and haggard I went home to commune with nature in the garden- only to be met by neighbour A who was escaping the wrath of her PMSing rebellious 17 year old daughter. I felt sorry for her and listened to her tale of woe but I really didn't need to hear that Amy may still be being a right missy in 12 years time.....

The morning lagged on with the usual drudgery until 12 when I got dressed up in my sombre best and headed yup the hill for a funeral. A letter had been stuck through the postbox that one of the third of the neighbourhood called Nagasaki was no longer with us. I had his name, his age (92) and his time of death but no other information to go on. Pretty sure it was someone I had never met and seeing that he had lived a good innings I was less morbid than usual as I dug out my dark clothes and found the funeral money envelopes and the little funeral money envelope covering cloth.

Started walking up the mountain and realised I was alone.

Very odd.

One representative of each house on the mountain should be traipsing up to pay their last respects with me.

And I count one.


Stuck my head in the window of the last house before the temple, the house of the little girl Meg walks to school with each morning- had the mum seen anyone walking past? Nope. Damn. What about earlier in the day? Nope. Just the bus leaving for the crematorium at 10am.

Trudged home again trying to look nonchalant in my funeral gear and like I was just going for a stroll. Dressed head to toe in black and wearing dress shoes. As you do right?

Checked the information and I was an hour early.


I was hot and tired and sticking to my slacks but couldn't be bushed changing into a t-shirt only to change back again in 40 minutes.

1 oclock came and I headed up the mountain again. This time there were white k-trucks carrying black suited farmers whizzing past and little clusters of black clad, pearl adorned women shuffling up the street as well.

Got to the temple and realised I was drawing a complete blank on the order and way of the water, salt, incense ritual. Noone else was at the reception at the same time so I just bowed, smiled pleasantly (but sadly) handed over my envelope, wrote our name on the register, bowed, smiled and left. It's the thought that counts right?

Got home and got ready for my afternoon classes. Gastro is going around the kinder and I had one single 2 year old at 3:00. Fabulous. No problem, shelved all my activities and we played blocks, dinky cars and stickers. Draining but successful.

Picked up Amy at kinder to race to after school care and pick up Meg before racing to our English circle and Amy had an absolute freak out when she realised I wasn't driving the k-truck. I don't ever drive the truck. I can't drive the truck. This reasoning was entirely lost on Amy who screamed through my entire processing of the application for child allowance. I guess she is too young to realise it's the same window that deals with child abuse and putting your kids in a children's home....

Got through the circle with Amy still mightily miffed with me (though thankfully quietly miffed) and Meg hyper energetic and running an alternative class in the corner of the room doing card games with the littlest kids. Oh well, at least it was in English...

By the time I got home to find that I had set the rice cooker but not pressed the on switch I was about ready to give up on the day and just go to bed.

But we got through it, with much thanks to coffee and amazing (and impeccably timed) Lindor ball chocolates neighbour Y had given me as I got out of the car.

And the weekend can only get better, tight?



Little league, big ask

Meg brought home a flyer from school about Azusagawa Little League yesterday. My initial elation that girls and boys were being invited to play was short lived when I read the back of the flyer with its pretend Q&A with a prospective little league mum:

Q: How long are practices? I heard there are a lot?
A: It depends on the season and year level but only Saturday and Sunday 8:30~3:00. Higher grades have a night practice Wednesday 6:00~8:30pm. There's a holiday once a month.

Q: I heard that parents have to be unpires and do the ground announcements?
A: During games we need umpires and announcers. There's a roster. Dad's energy! Mum's beautiful voice! Your kids will well up with emotion!

Q: What are the positives of joining little league?
A: Boys without big brothers join little league and get a whole team full of them and gain confidence. Mum's get to know each other and be friends, too!

Q: Do I have to hang around the ground all day?
A: Once or twice a month you'll be ground monitor. And at matches we ask for assistance too. But people who like baseball want to be there all day!

Q: Do we have to make the coaching staff's lunch?
A: There's no need to make the coaches' lunch. Just bring an extra onigiri to give the staff. The kids lunch is onigiri, too so just make an extra one. When you can't be bothered convenience store onigiri is fine. Convenience store onigiri tastes better anyway!


That last sentence was the kicker for me. Who on earth wrote this??? Really. Welcome to the age of enlightenment Azusagawa Little League.....

What a pity I'm too busy having my hair and nails done and hitting the tanning salon each weekend to take Meg down to little league to learn the role of a mummy....


New prime minister, old joke

We are getting a new prime minister.


This last one lasted eight months.

That's not too bad for Japan.

I know I should be concerned about political uncertainty, the effect on the economy, my poor first grader having to relearn the prime minister's name (actually not sure she ever learnt that yet and considering she made up the words to the school song 'because I can't remember them and everyone sings so loud you can't hear anyway' I don't think she's too fussed.)

Anyway, I'm not worried about all that. What's got me worried is my street cred. with Grade 5-6 kids. Especially boys.

They have this thing going where every time I say sorry they say:

I'm sorry
Very sorry
hige sori (shave your beard)
Santa no sori (santa's sled)

And I always come back:
Hatoyama- sori (Prime minister Hatoyama)

Only now I can't do that anymore. And I have only just stopped mucking up and saying Aso-sori, too.... sigh....

I know. If only everybody had these kinds of things to worry about, huh?


where I've been...

When I haven't been answering the phone,

when I haven't been on skype,

when I haven't been writing emails and returning messages

this is where I've been:

It's a bad photo- too far away too see everything but the fact is the garden is just getting too big to see everything at once. Each year friend and neighbour A and I extend it a little more- reclaiming land from the butterbur, the myoga (Japanese ginger) the fiddlehead ferns and the lupins. It's tough work but we're getting there. This year we have added three more rows than we had last year and (out of shot to the right) we are putting up a large greenhouse (clearhouse?) to winter some leafy greens and get a head start on Spring planting without colonising our covered verandahs with tray after tray of seed starters.

It actually looks quite small in this picture compared to the real thing- or maybe it just feels bigger when you're out there working! But it's three rows deep and 10 rows wide in the middle. The rows vary in size depending on the purpose- steep narrow rows for corn, low wide rows for zucchini (so we can hopefully keep their fruit off the soil and therefore out of the rotting zone) etc.

So yeah, that's why I'm so hard to contact at the moment. Not because I have my head under my pillow ignoring the world- although give half a chance....