arm stretches
leg shakes

Japanese primary school kids have community run morning calisthenics each summer holiday morning at 6:30 am. It's called radio calisthenics as they exercise along to a set routine of exercises broadcast on the national radio broadcaster.

Getting your kids out of bed and down to the designated exercise place by the set time is the bane of many of my friend's summer holidays.

Not here.

I have just explained to a disbelieving and disgruntled Meg that there is no radio calisthenics on weekends. Or during the Obon week.

Never mind. She and Amy have put their radio calisthenics cards on (they get a stamp each day they go and hand their cards in with their summer homework at school) and are doing a two person calisthenics class in the passageway.

They're dressed and have done their own hair, too.

And they're thirty minutes early.

I swear if I didn't have such vivid memories of giving birth to them both I wouldn't believe they were genetically K and my kids- they seem to be completely missing the love to sleep gene.

head rolls


I survived today!

This morning I was thinking that there's a fine line between a kick ass day and a day that kicks your ass.

I love being busy. I thrive on having stuff to do. I get despondent when I have too much time and nothing to fill it with. This tends to mean I live life on the edge of crazy as far as time management goes.

I knew today was going to be a whopper.

And I was equal parts excited and nervous.

There's a great onomatopoeia for that- doki doki waku waku.

Anyway, as I explained to Meg on the way into the city this morning (I'm a big believer in forewarned is forearmed with the girls and spend quite a bit of time explaining the day's schedule each morning.) today we had:

Cooking class from 10-12:30. This month it was cooking with mummy and the kids who usually play (supervised!) in the other room while we cook were invited in to make pizza scrolls and choc chip cookies. Seven mums and their kids and me and my trusty assistant-for-the-day Meg.
After a frantic double speed cleanup we would head back to Azusagawa via 7-11 for a rice ball lunch and I would teach my adult class 1:45-2:45 while Meg chilled in the tv room with the two babies that are looked after while I teach. 3:00- 3:45 Meg would join in the kinder English class as an assistant teacher/ big sister role and then we'd fly across the road to pick up Amy from kinder and be at the community centre by 4:10 to teach the mummy and me phonics circle until 5:00.


There were so many variables and so many chances for the day to seriously derail itself not the least of which being so much relying on Meg's stamina at enduring a long work day. She chose to come along today rather than go to holiday care though. Something about making pizza scrolls and choc-chip cookies followed by eating a shop rice ball me thinks...

And you know what? We survived. We more than survived. We rocked it. Meg was a fabulous sous chef and miracle of miracles spoke to me all in English for the entire class. I think I need to open a cooking school to keep up her English at this rate! The food was yummy and everyone loved it. Then Meg put away dishes not just for my station but two other tables as well when the combination of kilos of chocolate and too tired toddlers took effect.

Said our goodbyes and raced to the store where we decided on our purchases in record time (we don't eat a lot of take-out so the girls tend to choose their shop rice balls like they are deciding on the one food item they will eat exclusively for the rest of their lives) and she settled in for the afternoon at the Azusagawa school. She did her homework during my adult class (un-prompted!) and then had the perfect mix of playfulness and kindness in the kinder class. She played all the games with them and allowed weaker kids to win without it being obvious. I was impressed as I hadn't even said anything about that.

The last class was a dream too and Meg settled down and did her workbook without once complaining that I walked away from her (it's a bit rough- everyone else has their mum there to help out and Meg gets about 12% of my time...) This rubbed off on Amy who broke her English circle strike and stopped lolling on the floor and actually sat up and cracked a book for the first time this month so it was celebrations all around there.

We finally got home eight action packed hours after we left to find the baking sun had parched all the flowers and the new seedlings in the veggie garden as well. So we tireless troopers got out the watering cans and got stuck into it with much silliness and frivolity mixed in. Finishing up with a grand finale of trying to play skipping ropes with two people holding the rope and one jumping for the first time. This was actually quite funny as Amy lacks the rhythm for both swinging the rope in time and jumping in time. Meg and I can do either but we can only do one job at a time.

Oh well. Double dutch is a far flung dream but a fun time was had by all and that's what made it such a great day.

Hmmmm, maybe today wasn't an 'I survived today' day so much as a 'I thrived today!' one.

It certainly kicked ass anyway.


in the doldrums: the movie

Title: Day one of the summer holidays.

Act 1 Scene 1: 9:00am. Drizzly grey day visible out the open window. Our protagonist is lying on the couch with her arm over her eyes. She is conversing with someone off camera.

"I'm booooored. This holiday isn't fun at all. I wanted to go swimming!"

"Honey, it was cancelled. You heard the announcement."

"Why did they cancel it? And they cancelled morning calisthenics. I wanted to do calistheniiiiicsss."

"Probably because at 6:30 we had thunder and lightening and it was a bit dangerous. Why don't you think of something for us to do today?"

"I already said I wanted to go shopping and buy some toys, go to the park, have a picnic, make cookies and do my art project but you said noooooo..... and you're still doing the washing. You've been doing the washing for aaaaages..."

"Well, I didn't say we couldn't do anything on your list I just said we couldn't do everything today."

"I'm so boooreeeed. Holidays are a hassle......"

Fade out to sound of drizzle as protagonist sighs deeply.....

Yup. Day one of Meg's generous 19 day summer holiday. She has already done three days worth of homework, started her summer art project, done two pages of her supplementary homework, cleaned her desk, watered all the potplants, watched a wiggles dvd and written a letter to her Japanese grandmother. Phew....

I was really feeling sorry for her having such a short summer holiday but at this rate I think 19 days might be quite long enough....


relative age

Someone asked Amy how old she is.

"Almost six."

"Ehh?" I asked.

"Well, it's July. And after July there's August. And when August is finished then it's September. And I'll be five in September and then after five is six so I'm almost six."

Well, I suppose, when you put it like that, hey?


calamatous anti-climax

I was a bit worried about today this morning. Actually I was very worried about today this morning. Any day in which both girls have needed a complete change of clothes and there are more than four towels in the washing basket by 7:00 am is off to an inauspicious start I feel.

I make the girls a fresh juice each morning. The contents varies with the season and I know juice is just liquid sugar but it started to appease my guilt at feeding them the same home made muesli mix every week day of their lives and we've grown to like it so the habit has stuck. Today's mix was peach (the ones the neighbour left before heading for the hills yesterday) watermelon (the village next door is one of the three main watermelon producing areas in Japan so at the moment reject watermelon are making the way down the foodchain via neighbours and relatives and workmates to us lowly folk in next door village), apple juice (last year's brew) and banana (I actually bought those. From a store. With money.) It was delicious. And much lower calorie than usual after the jug had been upended on first Meg's lap and then Amy's chest to ankle (not one to do things by halves our Amy) both were freak accidents but still, a complete redress and bucket soaking of most favouritist clothes to ward off peach stains was not really on the plans for this morning... And then convincing Amy that she really could wear one of her other nine pairs of pink and purple heart adorned socks without completely ruining her day...

I was feeling rather apprehensive after that start to the day but work went well and without incident. Well my adult class managed to stray from a discussion of either/ neither to menopausal hot flushes, picking people up, hookers and mastitis but that's about par for the course there.

Finished teaching, picked Meg up at afterschool care, convinced her to leave afterschool care- I know I should be happy she likes it there but some evenings it would really be nice if she would just pick up her bag, wave goodbye to her friends and follow me out the door. Instead I go right into the room where she's playing, do my best sheepdog impression nipping at her heals and herding her toward the door, circle around and try again from the other side when she dodges me and by the time we finally have her and all her gear out the door, and kicked the followers back inside, I'm ready to say forget it and drive home alone!

Anyway, today was made just that little bit more fun by needing to duck across to the school to pick up Meg's morning glory plant. They planted seeds way back when and have been tending them carefully ever since. And when I say tending I mean love and attention and letters addressed to it and now charting the flowers each day etc etc. This summer we have to continue with the flower counting and generally keep it alive until school goes back.

Anyway, duck over to grab the plant and back in the car in 2 minutes flat, right?


First we got caught by her teacher. I'm all for open and honest parent-teacher communication but Meg's teacher is all performance all the time and never ever stops talking. I swear we could power half the village if we hooked him up to the grid.

While I was talking with the teacher M & A ran off to play on one of the flying foxes (because every primary school needs an unmanned and unsupervised flying fox or two, right?) and they must have been making enough noise for their voices to travel across the road to the after school care centre as next thing you know Meg's partner in crime came careening across the road calling out to Meg. Now I'm sure little sound of fragrance's mother thinks Meg is a hellraiser who corrupts her little darling but from my rose coloured view of things it's her little hoodlum trying to pervert our little angel. Whichever it is there's no denying that it's a case of 1+1= 3 when they get together. It is unbelievable to me that they weren't red flagged by their kinder teacher and somehow ended up in the same class at school. Funnily enough there has been no effort on either mother's part to enable together time when we're not paying someone else to look after them....

Anyway, sound of fragrance and Meg were asked to get ready to leave, told we were leaving, instructed to follow and informed they would be left behind if they didn't get their butts into gear. Well, that last threat really mobilised them and they decided to run home. Alone. Without accompanying mums or sisters. Not on your life, honey.

By the time we'd chased down our wayward daughters, roundly told them off quite publicly (that's what happens when you are chased down outside the post office honey) and I had packed a defiant and devastated Meg in the car with the promise that she will not be having little sound of fragrance over to play before she's old enough to drive down and pick her up herself it was a less than enjoyable ride home.

Along with important facts such as the sun must be coloured red and there is one and only one way to write numbers Meg has been very busy in her three short months at school picking up some new vocabulary. Yup. She can now swear like a trooper. She does it with such attitude and rolls her r's so convincingly I'd be quite proud if it wasn't levelled at me. Well actually I don't want her talking like that to anyone. So, if it was someone else's daughter, swearing at someone else who really deserved it- and that kid wasn't a mere six years old I guess I'd be quite impressed. But unfortunately those weren't the circumstances and I therefore wasn't impressed and Meg spent a good chunk of her free time after school today sitting in time-out.

Still, we made it through dinner bath and bed without further incident, all is peaceful and everyone's asleep and really, looking back, it seems a lot less calamatous than I feared I was in for this morning.

Which makes me think I should get off to bed quickly and go to sleep before I have time for anything else to go wrong!


freebie tomato plant method

We got a tip from a neighbour and tried it out and waddaya know- it works!

When you grow tomatoes you pick off all the branches that grow out of the plants armpits. This encourages the tomatoes to grow up and not out.

Well, turns out those hardy cuttings are being wasted!

Neighbour up the road said we should stick them back in the soil.

We looked a little disbelieving but gave it a go:

Waddaya know!

Free tomato plants! It will be interesting to see if they mature and fruit like their parent plants.


an overexposed kind of day

Between bathing together on the annual bus trip and the disturbing (to me) habit of men of a certain age around here to stroll about on a hot evening in odd semi-transparent white long johns I feel I have seen more of many of my neighbours than I would choose to. I am rather more prudish than that and, other than the annual communal bath, don't tend to expose myself to my neighbours.

Until today.

Today was a rather overexposed kind of day.

First K was out taking pictures of the street lights (don't ask) and the girls were out the back making a mud pit when someone came to the door. The open door. The cars were all there and the door was open so they knew we were home.

Which we were.

But I was in the loo.

Our loo is right off the entrance. It's also very obviously the loo. So if I called out I would be outing myself. I ignored the caller but he was quite persistent. Finally I gave up and answered and my poor neighbour's husband from up the road ran away before I got to the door. He left the bag of peaches on the doorstop though so that was nice.

Later in the afternoon I was out picking blueberries while K carted wood and the girls had moved on to trying to flood the front lawn- in this heat wave that was actually something I was encouraging as the lawn could do with the water.

I was wearing shorts.

There are lots of bees out there doing their bee thing.

One flew up my shorts.


It seemed lost rather than angry and was just walking around the back of my leg. I held my shorts off my leg (don't want the poor bee getting claustrophobic and panicking now) and called K. I couldn't hold my pants leg and unbutton my shorts so I needed him to take my shorts off. Outside. In broad daylight. Oooohhh errrr....

I de-shorted and de-beed the shorts and put them back on again without incident.

It was the secluded back yard rather than the very visible front one but still I am not usually in the habit of stripping down outside.

After those two experiences you'd think I would have been hyper-vigilant about opportunities for inadvertent exposure.

But no.

About 7:30pm K was out at the summer festival organising committee meeting and the girls and I were winding down for bed. We'd bathed and were sitting around in our underwear looking at videos of stag beetles on youtube. I'd closed the shutters on the window that faces civilisation but had left just the screen door open on the side that faces our shed.





It was dark out there. Full moon so the garden was visible but still definitely night time.

But co-farmer and neighbour A was out there picking cucumbers. In the dark. She works all the hours of the day so I understand she needs to pick veggies around that but still...

Can you bring out a couple of bags? I've got about 30 cucumbers here.

Um... now? I'm in my underwear... I was going to pick them tomorrow morning.....

I've already picked them. Just bring out the bags. Don't worry about being in your underwear. I don't mind.


And that's how I ended up walking around the garden in my underpants for the second time today. Boy shorts and a t-shirt but still. And I was joined by the girls in their bloomer style Japanese underpants. Bright luminous white underpants. What a sight we must have been.

Yup, a very overexposed kind of day here, today.


teaching hands

Today as I headed off to class I looked at my hands.

I did wash my hands before I went to work. I had a shower. I washed my hands again. I got out the nail brush and heavy duty soap and scrubbed my hands. And still they looked like this.

Because we spent the morning doing this:

Cutting back metre high grass by hand. It's too long for the plougher or lawn mower and we don't have a whipper snipper so K and I got stuck in with the hand scythes. Rather fun actually. K is a machine! He is so fast and powerful on the scythe. Like a machine he is rather indiscriminate though so for the sake of the sweet potato runners and the ground cover cucumbers I did all the edges.

And what do you know? I found the pumpkins. Oops. Planted these and promptly forgot about them. Tough little critters they didn't give in to the big bad weeds and we even have a few pumpkins on there- how a bee fought it's way through the jungle to pollinate a flower I'll never know!

And waste not want not: the same neighbour who has been making comments about our weed patch every time he strolls around nonchalantly with his motorised spraypack backpack full of nasty chemical weed killer- I call him the annihilator- will take all the grass cuttings to lay on his commercial tomato crop to stop them getting sunburnt. Couldn't do that with the chemically obliterated stuff now could you?

Off to try baking soda on my hands....


the bugs

Do you think they look happy? Stressed? Depressed? I am spending way too much time staring at them trying to understand how they're feeling.

Poor Meg, they hide all day and get active at night- way after bedtime. So I take pictures for her.

She thinks they look happy. I think the little one looks like he's trying to run away in this picture.

And the big one. That eye. That is an accusing eye if you ever saw one, right? I am not enjoying this jailer experience....


the year of calamities

I'm 33 today.

Thirty three can be read sanzan.
Sanzan means awful, disastrous, hard.
Therefore it's considered yakudoshi in Japanese.
I checked the English for yakudoshi and the quite poetic 'year of calamities' came up.

Well, one day in and it has certainly been that.

Woke up to find that the fox we had been warned about and had checked the chook cage against and smugly congratulated ourselves on 100% protecting our chooks from had not followed the rules and done in all four of our chooks. We were devastated. And I feel guilty for not protecting the chooks better and also severely unjustly dealt with as we love our chooks and treat them as pets and spend a lot of time and effort making life good for them while many of our neighbours keep them as simply primary producers. Why did we get targeted by the fox and not them????

Still reeling from that shock and Amy had a 40 minute meltdown over a banana. After piffing it in indignation at being offered a lowly banana instead of the watermelon that she desired (and we don't have) it was removed from her. Of course this action served to convince her that her life would not be complete, liveable or even bearable without that half banana. She is a very stubborn kid but, worse luck, I'm more stubborn and she eventually headed to kinder banana-less and desolate.

Feeling depressed and now drained as well I headed back inside for a much needed coffee. I'd given K the last of yesterday's pot (he really doesn't mind) and was looking forward to a fresh brewed coffee. Nope. Not for those in the year of calamity.

No coffee. That is no way to start a birthday morning. Seriously.

Depressed, drained, glum and now caffeine deprived I was contemplating doing something rash and driving to the nearest starbucks for some birthday cheer (what's an hour round trip for an overpriced beverage?) when there was a 'hello?' from the front door. Ooohhh! A parcel delivery perhaps? Nope. Neighbour over the road with a message for K. Well actually he said it was a message for Dad but as he doesn't know my dad from a bar of soap I'm sure he meant K. The very important and serious tomato research bus tour K is taking a day off work for tomorrow? Would he please bring his towel for the onsen and don't worry, all the alcohol is supplied. Hot springs and beer? and K has been moaning and groaning and woe is me about having to go on this compulsory agricultural study tour? Poor K my butt!

Depressed, drained, glum, caffeine deprived and now miffed I headed out to the garden and kept being reminded of the lack of chooks. Oooh! Have to feed the chooks. Ohhhh.... Oooh! An over grown cucumber, a rotting zucchini, a huge snail- just go and give it to the chooks. Ohhhhh.

Sad all day.....

Far too hot to consider baking a cake so I decided we'd have ice-cream parfaits for birthday dessert.

Asked M and A to pick some blueberries for the dessert and they were both too busy. Poor me.

K was also busy. He was mowing the lawn. He is pretty fabulous for coming home early so we could have a family dinner but his 'hey, I'm home while it's still light, let's make good use of the time!' mowing jag? Minus points, honey. Any day but today and I'd be singing his praises for taking on the arduous task that is mowing an uneven and unevenly seeded lawn with a hand mower but not today.

Then the ice-cream had frozen into an indestructable brick, the caramel sauce split- serves me right for substituting skim milk for double cream I guess but seriously, who has double cream in their fridge?? The blueberries never got picked, we had 30 minutes until my JHS tutorees would arrive to eat, Meg turned her nose up at parsley and garlic crusted panfried fresh sardines, Amy caused a kerfuffle by eating all the beans and on and on it went.

Probably the most archetypical image of the day was when we were eating our rock hard icecream with split sauce and no blueberries and Meg turned the lights out to sing Happy Birthday. And no-one even got the candles out. Yes, I could have done it but hey, I just shopped for, picked, cooked and served my own birthday meal with no help from anyone. So we sat there sweaty, hot, frayed at the edges, tired and tetchy in the gloomy kitchen and a raucous and out of tune rendition of Happy Birthday was sung.

It was a duet as Amy had already started in on her icecream.

Someone pointed out this morning that yakudoshi is counted on the old calendar where you end up being a year older than you are by the modern one. In that case I have left my year of calamities behind me. I really hope so. I would much rather think today was my year of calamities going out with a bang rather than coming in with one.

Oh, and the remedy for yakudoshi? Having a baby.

Ha ha ha ha ha!!

So not going to happen.


If the shoe fits

I am not really a shoe girl.

Shopping for shoes is slightly above going to the dentist on the things I'd like to do to kill an hour or three. And that's even when I'm in a country where they make shoes in my size...

Don't get me wrong. I love my shoes. But I tend to find a pair of shoes I like and just wear them into the ground. My last pair of fake crocs I had to finally give up on as I had worn holes in the soles of them. My work boots are ones I was given as part of my uniform when I worked part time in a hardware store while at Uni. The elastic is starting to go but other than that I still love them. My thongs are hand me downs (hand me ups?) from my Brazilian neighbour's daughter. She has quite a defined style and none of the shoes her mum brought back from her last trip to Brazil suit that style so I lucked out and flip flop around the neighbourhood in style. All the shoes I have have stories like that that g with them. I get quite sentimental about my shoes.

I have always thought Japan was the perfect country to live in as a person who doesn't really co-ordinate with shoes. You take them off anywhere you go so as long as you have cute socks (I love socks and sock shopping) you're set.

Well, so I thought.

I have been wearing the same pair of slip on canvas sneakers pretty much everywhere I go for months now. They are comfy, easy on, easy off and black to boot. And black goes with everything, right? Can look casual or dressy, right? Perfect!

I noticed during the wet season that they had started letting in water and I know they look a little scruffier than they did when I bought them last October (on a coffee morning jaunt in Nagano with B, it was cold but not snowing yet- see a story!) but still, a nice comfy, well broken in pair of shoes? What's not to love?

I hadn't shared my shoes-in-Japan smugness with anyone and maybe just as well.

Today I was given a present.

A new pair of shoes.

By someone who felt sorry for me walking around in my broken down sneakers.


I tried to explain that it wasn't that I don't have the money for new shoes or even that I can't buy any in my size. I tried to explain the whole love your shoes to death shoe wearing thing.

But it just didn't translate. In any language.

So I made a big deal of throwing my old shoes in the bin then and there and appreciatively coming home in my shiny new shoes.

They're very nice.

They fit well.

They look very smart.

They're easy to get in and out of and they don't even let in water.

They look aeons smarter than my old shoes. And I'm sure they smell better, too.

But you know? I still miss my broke down sneakers.

I wonder if the rubbish has gone out yet?


a reward for the late bird

They say the early bird catches the worm.

Well, around here the early bird would have quite a bit of competition as the whole neighbourhood is up at the crack of dawn.

Recently, between my crazy schedule and the crazy heat (ha ha, I know it's been like a whole week since I was complaining about the endless rain but that's Japan, season changes as sharp and crisp as origami folds- woah flakey Japanofile simile) but anyway I've been doing quite a bit of evening gardening.

And just as I finish up, pack up the garden tools and start heading inside something else is just starting. Just beginning it's brief but glorious life. It feels kind of like a serenade or a guard of honour as we walk back to the house because they line both sides of the path between the garden and the house.

They only start blooming in the evening.

And they're all over and done, finito, no more by morning. No matter how early those early birds wake up they won't be able to appreciate this beauty.

Nope this one is saved for the late birds.

By tomorrow morning they will be all finished up and pink like the ones at the back here.

Score one for the late birds, huh?



Obon is the festival of the dead here. No Halloween or Dia de los muertos it's rather more sedate, lots of water being thrown on grave stones, weed pulling, incense and a week off to revere your ancestors- or head to Disneyland to enjoy the crowds and the waits.

People who work in essential industries like incense stores, black clothing shops and Disneyland don't get the week off. But most of them get a week somewhere in lieu. Because this is Japan and the way companies convince people to work all the hours of the day and not take their annual leave is to have nice big blocks of National holidays.

Well except for K's company.

Oh no. They have pared Obon back to Friday the 13th and the following Monday. Technically this covers the official religiously obon days of 13-16 August but it hardly shows any generosity on the part of the company now, does it?


That's OK. I think us three girls will just turn up at K's work everyday with our picnic lunch looking for daddy and a some holiday fun.

(Only half) seriously.


productive patches in the day

Well, the rainy season is officially over.

And the weather followed orders and brought on the sunshine. It was 33 degrees today and bakingly sunny. It was 25 degrees by 7:00am and 26 degrees at 10:00pm so hot, hot, hot all day. Had a great morning with some friends who came over to pick blueberries, then decided I'd do some garden work as I had the whole day free. I was wearing a neck towel, a hat and a loose cotton shirt but after 1 1/2 hours controlling the bean shoots, pruning the tomatoes, weeding the leeks and picking peas I began to feel a bit ill. Ooooh Erghhhh. Think it was just a bit too hot and the only liquids I'd had was three cups of coffee. Went inside for a rest and was woken when my neighbour dropped in four hours later!! Wow. I don't nap so that was a bit of a shock. We decided to meet up at 5:30pm as it was still too hot to be out there. From 5:30 we dug over another patch of garden, laid more of the dreaded plastic and weeded all around. We planted the third crop of cucumbers, Korean lettuce, sunny lettuce, fennel, a third crop of edamame soy beans and some more baby beats. Looking forward to a fruitful (vegetable-ful?) Autumn!

We finished up in the dusk at 7:30pm. There was a refreshing breeze coming up, it was getting too dark to see and we'd got a lot done. So, even with a four hour nap in the middle of the day it was pretty productive all said and done.


cooking with cucumbers

By special request cucumber recipes!

Actually I am not really the right person to ask for recipes as I tend to just wing it a lot. But these are some ways of eating cucumbers (and more cucumbers and more cucumbers) that we like. Keep in mind that we have masses of cucmbers. Would I eat some of these dishes if I only had one cucumber in the house? No. Are they nice for variety on day 47 of the cucumber season? Yup.

Sticks with sauce:
sticks with miso is the dish de rigueur around here. Pretty simple dish- cut cucumber, put a lump of miso on a plate and you're done. Very salty dish.
The kiddy version is miso-mayonnaise. Fabulous- now you get your salt with a great whack of fat on the side.
I like chutney or salsa as a dip as well as curried plain yoghurt. A Tb of curry powder in plain yoghurt. You can fry the curry powder first if you don't want the raw spice flavour.

tataki- this one is fun to make. You take a poor unsuspecting cucumber and bash it until it's broken all over. Then you chop it up. Then you add the flavouring: pickled plum flesh, crushed garlic and sesame oil, very finely sliced negi, sesame oil and sesame seeds, soy sauce and sesame oil, soy sauce chilli oil and vinegar etc etc

cucumber kimchi- soooo good. Take 10 cucumbers, chop roughly and drain in a sieve with about a Tb of salt. (I hate salting stuff but water is the enemy of pickles and I have learnt the hard way sometimes you need to suck it up and salt stuff) Drain for a couple of hours or overnight if you're super organised. Without rinsing the cucumber transfer it into a big bowl and add One negi (white bit finely choped green bit chopped bigger) three cloves of crushed garlic, a Tb of vinegar, 2 Tb of korean chilli powder (weird stuff it's actually micro-flakes, my Korean student swears up and down it's the absolute only chilli product that will make kimchi. I think you could probably substitute but they have it at my little local supermarket so I just use the recommended stuff) mix it all together (with a spoon! Or put a bag over your hand. Or wear gloves. Unless you have no plan to rub your eyes or pee for a few days after making it. You have been warned!) Leave at room temperature for two days- the longer you ferment the more fizzy/ sour flavour and the milder and more rounded the chilli flavour. This time of year I don't like leaving it at room temperature after that so I fill ziplock bags with it and freeze it. Yummo!

Mustard salt pickles: 1 kilo cucumber, 30 grams salt, 100 grams sugar, 50 grams mustard. Mix all together and leave for 2 days to pickle. Then store in fridge or freezer. You can reduce the sugar or mustard but the minimum amount of salt for salt pickling is 3% any less and you will just waste your time and end up throwing out a whole lot of revolting slimy smelly cucumbers. Ask me how I know.... You can use that yukari dried red shiso instead of mustard for shiso pickles, or add some soy sauce instead for soy pickles. Basically you need 3% salt and anything else is up to you. These recipes work much better with small/ underdeveloped cucumbers as the water content increases when the seeds get bigger. And water is the enemy!

Vinegar pickles: A whack of cucumbers thinly sliced, half that of onions thinly sliced, vinegar and sugar at the ratio of 1 cup of vinegar to 1 teaspoon sugar, aromatics- whole pepper corns, laurel, dried chilli, dill whatever your pleasure!

Other than that I love tsatsiki dip but I'm the only one here who does (raw garlic, mint, lemon juice, drained yoghurt and grated drained cucumber- yummo what's not to like??) so I haven't made any recently. I am experimenting with cold noodle sauce (hiyashi jiru) with tomato juice, cucumber, okra, chilli and negi but haven't quite cracked a good combination yet.

Anyway, that is my public service to those inundated with cucumbers for today. And feel free to reciprocate- we could always do with a new way to eat them!



I got stung by an ashinaga-bachi. A long legged wasp. Owwwwww.

It really really hurts. I was out in the garden at dusk collecting blueberries and cucumbers and peas and stick broccoli and leaf lettuce and just talking to my neighbour when I walked past the woodpile to take a load of cabbage leaves to the chooks and I saw/ heard something flying at my face. I dropped the cabbage and ran around the woodpile (ok, another woodpile but I'm trying to play down how much unsorted wood we have around here) and it bloody chased me! Seriously. I was waving my arms around and shrieking but it was really persistent and I ended up getting got on the elbow. Right on the elbow. It hurt so bad. And all I could think of was my little 5 year old neighbour who was hanging out in the garden with me a couple of weeks ago and filling me in about various wasps. He told me the ashinaga-bachi was even stronger than his favourite super hero Ultraman. Whoa baby. I've been stung by something that could take down Ultraman??

Luckily K was home and could check it out for me- almost impossible to see your own elbow. I dealt with the interrogation from the girls:

What happened?
I got stung by a wasp.
Which one?
I think a long legged one.
Ohhhh!! Call the ambulance!
No, just call daddy for me.
The long legged wasp is really bad! This is terrible! You better go to the hospital now!
Just go and get daddy, please?

Poor K came sprinting around the back as I walked around the front to get him myself and we missed each other. So he is calling out for me and not seeing me and feeling increasingly worried and the girls are jumping up and down chanting Ambulance! Hospital! It's terrible!

Well, it's all a bit anticlimactic after that. I googled and K called the local hospital (he doesn't trust google and I have less faith in the local hospital not just saying 'come in and get checked out' no matter what your symptoms are.

Turns out the first time you are stung is not so bad. The nasty reactions tend to come out on subsequent encounters. According to the hospital I will probably live and according to google they are less poisonous than the much feared suzume bachi (Giant Asian Hornet) but hurt more. That was validating.

It's been a few hours now and my elbow is still stiff and swollen and painful to touch but I think my other symptoms- drowsiness, lethargy, muddled thoughts are probably the result of a big week coming to an end rather than the Ultraman beating wasp....

Can't wait to tell my neighbour's kid, though. I lost major cool points not being able to do the Ultraman transformation dance. Having had a run in with a long legged wasp and living to tell the tale should put me back in the cool stakes, yeah?


You can't eat that

I make K's bento lunch each day. It's really quite easy as his only requirements are maximum volume and go easy on the veggies. So usually it's a packed box of rice topped with grilled fish and a couple of types of pickles and a token vegetable. Sometimes though he has noodles. To be honest this is usually because the rice cooker wasn't turned on rather than a deliberate menu choice. But K is a noodle nut. Really. The guy could eat noodles of some type three meals a day for a very long time. So on no rice days he has cold noodles and toppings. Something like this:

Soba noodles, red shiso pickled cucumbers, mustard pickled cucumbers, ham onion mushroom and cheese omelette, pickled pumpkin and zucchini in olive oil and lemon juice. Ok, today is a bit heavy on the veg and very heavy on the cucumber (welcome to summer at ours!) but not too shoddy, huh? He takes noodle broth in a flask and dips the noodles in it before he eats them.

Well apparently one of the other guys in the office thought cold soba noodles looked like a nice change from endless cold rice lunches. So he went home and told his wife about the soba lunch box idea. This guy is in his fifties so I assume his wife is, too. Apparently she could not get her head around the idea of cold noodles in a lunchbox.

Impossible, she said.
But Fukase-san's wife does it, he said.
You can't eat that, she said.
But Fukase-san does, he said.
You need rice in a bento box, she said.

And he gave up.

And Today K had soba noodles for lunch again.

And you can eat that.

He did eat it.

And he said it was great.


One of those days

Some days you should just give up on and head back to bed you know? But you don't know that at the start do you? Oh no. You have to slog your way through to the end before you realise you should have pulled the doona over your head and refused to move.

It started with Meg flailing on the floor that I'm always so horrible and mean to her when I was trying to hurry her up as she needed to be out the door in five minutes and she had no socks, the contents of her bag were spilling out everywhere and we still had to do our daily shoe battle where I point out that she is getting a lift to school so should wear shoes in case the rain clears and she needs to run doing PE and she claims that it's raining so she needs gumboots.

Got Meg out the door and grabbed a gulp of coffee to fortify myself for the Amy battle. A good half an hour of negotiating later and I'm ready to pull my hair out. The pinnacle of pain was the lunchbox debacle. Mean and nasty mummy has given poor hard done by Amy one chore to do each day. One. Remove her empty rice box from her bag and put it in the sink. Phew... child labour- call social welfare, right? Well she spends a good chunk of her time complaining at the injustice of this onerous task. I cracked it today and told her I was putting her rice in her dirty rice box as she hadn't put it in the wash. K overheard and came running in looking horrified. No no no! She'll get food poisoning if you mix old rice and new rice. There was no old rice- she polishes off it all every day. It's basically just a smeared lunch box and we're talking about a kid who eats anything with seemingly no ill effect whatsoever- even a throat lozenger that went through the washing machine- ewwww. But well, I lost.

Finally got them out the door with Amy rabbiting on about something or another ten to the dozen.

Right. Off to feed the chooks. Blergh.... The chook cage is a slurry pit. Too much rain, too much manure, just yuck. Feeling sorry for the chooks (they have a 3m x2m covered area but still) I decided to spread some rice straw around. I really don't want to have to google footrot in chooks or something like that. Grabbed the rice straw from the huge pile in the shed- nervously as I am terrified it will be teeming with mice and cockroaches and lord knows what else from the animal kingdom that prefers warm dry rice straw to the rain of biblical proportions that's going on outside at the moment. Climb over the rebar fence to get back into the cage without doing any damage to my nether regions- a very real fear as I have to stand on tiptoe to get from the wobbly stump on this side of the fence to the wobbly stump inside the cage while balancing my double armload of rice straw- and breathe a sigh of relief as I put my feet down on solid ground again. Well, solid, wet ground. Solid, wet, slippery ground. Yup. Arse up in the rank and revolting muck. I could have cried but you wouldn't have known as it was chucking it down with rain anyway. Bloody chooks didn't even pretend concern as they ran over to check out the ground I exposed with my slip. So much for gratitude, huh?

Didn't want to gunk up the shower drain with lord knows what so ended up hosing myself down before I came inside to shower. Yuck. Just yuck.

Went to my morning 1-2 yo class and just as we were starting two men turned up at the classroom window. Call me suspicious but something about the buzzcuts, Louis Vuitton manbags, Japanese style jinbei outfits and not to mention lack of toddlers in tow made me think they probably weren't here to join the class. They were looking for the previous tenant who had left without telling his 'friends' where he was going. It was all very pleasant and congenial but there were big ears and eyes throughout the classroom as I conducted the exchange about when we moved in and whether we knew where the previous tenant went etc etc. I thought I'd handled it very well and turned back to the class to re-start the hello song when one of the mums piped up (in English) 'Japanese gang member'. Class deteriorated into a discussion of local gang activity and it took all my kiddie entertainment skills to regain control of the situation. Sheesh.

Raced from class to the supermarket only to find it was 5% off day and the place was jampacked. We don't get a newspaper so I never know about the sales and to be honest I value a stress free shopping experience more than 100 yen off my grocery bill but I needed to shop so I sucked it up and braved the onslaught of old women wielding their elbows and shopping carts as though they were weapons. Aaaghhh.

Got home, unpacked, discovered that K had run the washing machine again, don't get me wrong, I really appreciate that he puts the laundry on each night but seriously it has been raining for a week, there is washing in several states of half dry/ half sour on every available hanging place in the house and I really don't need another load to do. Agghhh! I rate clothing as dry or not yet dry. K has a wet season rating of 'wet season dry' which I hate. Oh well, all his clothes that were 'wet season dry' got folded up to make room for the new load.

Had the last meeting with the neighbour's co-worker's daughter who is going to Australia. It's been a fun three months but I feel a dreadful weight of responsibility as she chose where and when and for how long to go based on the information I gave her. Rather gulp inducing. Today she showed me her international drivers license which freaked me out and I spent a long time explaining roundabouts.

Just finished up there and Meg arrived home demanding snacks and asking for a blow by blow description of her bugs' day. Something I had promised I would watch but promptly forgot this morning. Not a happy Meg. But she ate her banana while watching the bugs (they are pretty slothlike in the daylight hours so not that exciting to watch) and all was forgiven.

Went to my afternoon class with Meg and it went well. A great group of 6 year olds and we are at the end of a 6 week unit called 'all about me' which they have really gotten into which is great.

Raced back to kinder to grab Amy and she refused to leave. She was busy. Come back later. The teacher and I convinced her to come out and home we go.

The dinnertime arsenic hour was it's usual less pleasurable than teeth pulling experience. I was cooking salmon, convincing Meg that I can do mental arithmetic so that when she asked me to check her sums and I wasn't using my fingers to count on I really was still doing it properly and trying to placate Amy who was nutting out that I wasn't listening to her:

Amy I am listening to you now. Tell me what you want to-
Stop talking! You're always talking. You never listen to me!
I'm list-
Stop talking!!!
Wahhhh you're not listening!

So I'm multitasking away and I inadvertently sighed.
"Wow, it's tough being a mummy, isn't it?"
"Yes! Thank you Meg. It really is tough, sometimes."
"You have to do lots of things and everyone gets grumpy at you."
"Yes, but I love you guys so I don't mind. You could stop being so grumpy though. Mummy is trying to help everyone."
"It's too tough being a mummy. ... I think I'll be a daddy."

That made me laugh and give her a cuddle. Went and found Amy rubbing her tears and nose all over the thick blanket I had just got dry after she wet the bed three nights ago but with my renewed mummy calm I didn't even explode. Just gave her a cuddle, convinced her to come eat tea and decided the blanket has seen far worse and folded it up. Shocking huh?

The bedtime routine went better than expected as we pretended to be shinkansen and did everything at double speed. Saying 'lets be shinkanen!' is so much more effective than 'would you stop faffing about and get your butts into bed so mummy can go downstairs and collapse?'

Came downstairs after forbidding Amy from bedhopping and Meg from fiddling with her alarm clock which has been known to go off at rather odd hours lately... and went to grab all the washing from under the eaves. Only two sheets had blown off the line. My fault for not using pegs but still of course they blew off into the ruddy mud. Darn it. More washing.

And that was my day, today. Here's hoping tomorrow is better or I might just pack up and move to the Sahara, or the Serengeti, or even the Nullabor. Anywhere where it doesn't rain....


Amy logic

Torrential rain today. Really bleurghh. The traffic was crawling as everyone was being extra careful which I think is fantastic but also makes for very long car rides. Amy has English class Tuesdays so come with me to work in the afternoon. In the car we started playing shiritori, the game where each person says a word that starts with the last letter of the previous one. If you say a word that ends in N it's game over. Sometimes we play in English and sometimes we play in Japanese. Today first we played in English. I said Jam
Ah! Ribbon ends in N. Mummy wins. Your turn to start.
RibboN. It ends in N.
Ahhhh... some people say ribboN but I say ribbO so your turn mummy. O word.

So next we played in Japanese. I said sumire (violet)
Renrakucho (notebook)
chocho (butterfly)
chowa (???)
What's a chowa Amy? This was a real question. The girls know some kiddy Japanese that I don't know and also a whole lot more bug names than me.
Yeah. What does it mean?
It's what we call someone's house.
Chowa means house?
Does your teacher say that? (this is my gauge of whether something is kiddy language or real Japanese)
Do the other kids say that?
Who says it, then?
I think just Amy...


The wonders of Amy logic, huh?


It's been one week...

Nahh I'm not going to torture with my bad karaoke skills.

I took some garden pictures exactly a week apart. Well a week and a couple of hours. A week, a couple of hours and about 500mm of rain. Nagano made the national news tonight: noteworthy amounts of rain falling. And 250mm more forecast in the next 24 hours. Mum and dad- to put that in perspective you guys get about 750 mm a year.

So anyway, dodging raindrops I headed out to the garden to record a weeks growth. Of course I forgot exactly where I stood when I took the first pictures so there are no perfect matchups (I had a mad idea of taking apicture of the garden at the same spot every single day for a year and making a slideshow/ film but there is no way I will ever be that organised so...)

The cucumber vines then

and now

The non-spicy peppers- yellow, red, piman and banana then

And now. They all have huge peppers on them that are weighing them down. That combined with the super soggy soft soil/ mud is meaning they're falling over and I staked them all after I took this picture. The best solution is to remove the peppers but they are nowhere near ripe (you need X number of sunny days over 25 degrees before peppers colour) and I really love coloured peppers so I am staking and tying and stamping down the ground and showering them with encouraging words and will start doing my sundance soon.

The leaf veggie beds and the herb bed then

and now:
Yes. I did no weeding in the uncultivated parts of the garden last week. I weeded around all the plants but the menfolk promised to do the uncultivated parts with the big plougher. Only it had a broken blade. Then another. That's what you deal with when you are using a 50 something year old machine. But it was free. And a new one costs big bucks. So they ordered in some new blades. (too old a machine to have the blades in stock.) The shop offered to replace the blades at 300 yen each. There are 4 blades on each circular doovalacky and about 5 circular doovalackies on the plough (very technical we are here). Both our blokes baulked at paying someone to do such a simple job.

That was two weeks ago.

There are now pieces of plough in two different boxes, a big hole under the plough where the blades should be, a box of new parts with only one blade taken out and the weeds haven't waited for them to get their act together. Of course delivering the whole shebang to the original farm machinery shop as is would be incredibly embarrassing so that is not an option. And co-farmer A and I were spied checking out little lady-ploughers at the JA festival Saturday.....

Anyway, the weeds are growing the fastest but we are also eating butter lettuce, oak leaf lettuce, cos lettuce, horrible iceberg lettuce we were given for going to a JA we-love-chemicals talk but that we are picking one leaf at a time to avoid the iceberg thing, red, yellow and green silverbeet, baby beets, baby turnips, basil parsley and coriander. The parsley and coriander are last years and are now seeding (it takes two years) so we are looking forward to a bumper Autumn crop of herbs.

The tomatoes then

And now. The tomatoes really amaze me. They haven't been watered since the day we planted them and the rain cover keeps the rain off them. So they live an entire season on the moisture they suck up out of the ground. Very low maintenance high reward crop! And yes, our tomato house is a bit rough. The neighbours shake their heads but hey it works.

Corn and beans on the left and snake beans in the centre then

And now. Whoa baby look at the snake beans go, huh? I am so excited as I love snake beans and can't wait to give my neighbours some 30+cm long beans to knock their socks off. A and I were thrilled when we found the hemp netting as it breaks down into the soil at the end of the season making clean up way easier than with the usual nylon netting which is a cow of a thing for getting tangled and taking hours to carefully untangle and packup each Autumn. A's husband looked at it, sniffed, pointed out that we have 100s of metres of hemp twine and could have made our own netting. We nodded and agreed that indeed we could have and then went and bought two more lengths of netting. At 298 yen a 2m length I think our time is worth more than that.

The eggplants on the left and okra on the right then

Eggplant and okra now. Eggplant plants grow in a Y shape so the stakes are put in on an angle to support each of the main branches. Looks pretty weird though huh? And there are masses of marigold plants planted around both the eggplant and okra as they are aphid magnets. Seriously I planted one marigold next to each veggie plant and then a couple more for good measure. Take that aphids!

And I forgot to take pictures of the snowpeas, cabbage, zucchinis, negi etc etc but you get the idea. This really is the growing season.

And now for the karaoke: It's been one week... nah, just kidding.


one bound sunday

Today was the village Summer Sports Day. As opposed to the village Autumn sports carnival, the village Winter sports festival and the village Spring sports whatever...

Anyway, today was Sports Day. Our district is so small that the usual quota of one member from each household doesn't make up enough numbers and the willing/ able/ volunteers/ volunteered end up doing a lot. And so it was that both K (the willing) and I (the volunteered) were on the one-bound volleyball team. One bound as in rebound or probably bounce if it was better English. Two teams of 8 people face off on a volleyball court. Three subs sit on the side, five players on the court and a big weird, bloated triangle of a ball is thrown around bouncing once before being passed back. Of course, because it's a triangular ball it bounces randomly and you just have to be prepared for it to come at you. The girls came along and there was quite a party of little kid cheerleaders as two other families had to bring their kids along too.

The actual game was kind of ridiculous. These games are big bragging rights for the districts. There are trophies at stake. Trophies and a mention in the village newsletter. I mean whoo hoo. So on our team there were six normal people. Normal people doing their thing, hitting the ball, getting the ones they could, missing the ones they couldn't (and apologising of course) but yeah, giving about 80%. That was definitely my style. Then there were two crazy winning obsessed nuts out there giving 200%, throwing themselves around the court like hyped up kids on a bouncy castle, going for every single ball, hitting the floor every couple of shots and just basically looking like they forgot this wasn't the Olympics. And yup, K was one of the 200%ers. He is the most peaceful, lets all get along together kind of guy so it was weird seeing his inner killer-athlete come out. The other 200%er was a 70+ year old guy with all white hair. It's a small court and when two 200%ers were on at the same time the rest of us just kind of stood back. Give the jack-in-the-boxers their space, hey? I was worried that K would injure himself or crash into someone else and injure them so it wasn't that much fun actually.

We lost our first game in a controversial 21-19 match. There was a net ball and an unscheduled rotation that we should have challenged but well, you know we're 80%ers....

The second game we got schooled. We were up against the second biggest district in the village. We have 80 households. Mostly retirees. They have close to 300. A lot of nuclear families. Yeah. Fair playing field, huh? With half their team wearing volleyball kneepads we knew we were out matched. And we lost 21- 11. Not doubled which is something, right?

Because we didn't make the finals we were finished by 11:30. Which meant a bit of a wait until 1:00 when we had to rock up at the little neighbourhood community centre to have the post-game shindig. Because every community event ends with copious amounts of fried food and alcohol. Got to balance out all that healthy exercise, right? As both our girls have somewhat incredible appetites we ate a light lunch first. Trying to stave off the "ohhh what a good eater! Have 7 more sushi rolls and a plateful of squid rings!" over attentive old women.

It didn't work. In fact it backfired big time. Not only did they eat way too much food at the event (there really isn't that much to do but eat at these things. I even took along some mini blocks to share just so there'd be something for the kids to do.) but they had eaten a plate of ham and cheese and salad before they left so they were doubly full.

K imbibed (that is the manly thing to do at village events) and probably had more than usual even as word spread of his amazing motivation and self sacrifice for the sake of the neighbourhood and grateful old men lined up to fill his cup.

So after a good couple of hours of this, culminating in getting out the neighbourhood karaoke equipment- including disco ball- and belting out a few tired classics we trudged home. K of course immediately said he was feeling a little off and maybe he should lie down. I swear he thinks drinking too much is like catching a cold and we should all feel sorry for him and let him rest. Yeah right! Amy was lying on the floor saying that she must have drunk too much orange juice as she felt a little off as well and needed a rest. Orange juice, meatballs, fried chicken, fried squid, sashimi, sushi, edamame and watermelon more like. The two wretched ones retired for a lie down leaving the two supercilious ones to go and pick berries and hang out together on the lawn.

And that was pretty much Sunday.


The colours of summer and a busy Saturday at the JA festival

Went to the JA Summer festival today. Woohoo! Or maybe Yeehaa! Hmmm, do you need cows to say yeehaa? There were no cows but there was a big pool full of rainbow trout you could jump in and try and catch with your bare hands?

Thankfully I didn't have Meg and Amy with me so there was no floundering with trout (oh the pain of a bad pun...) and friend and neighbour A and I had a ball going round to all the stalls getting our free samples of manure and fertiliser and recycled/ regenerated dirt (really- there's a company that will truck out your top soil, mix it up with good stuff, heat it to such temperatures weed seeds die and then truck it back to you. All for a gulp inducingly incredible price of course.) We would have ended up with way more stuff (including sample size weed killer and liquid fertiliser) if we hadn't told every stall we were chemical free farmers. The price you pay, huh?

They had so many fruit tress there. Blueberry varieties we don't have yet (there are 5 trees here, planted in order of maturation from early July through to early September), Figs, supposedly Nagano-proof olive trees, yellow raspberries, white currants, black currants, (I only have red so far) and even Jostaberrys! But, *sigh* I have got to the stage where I can't spur of the moment buy fruit trees anymore. Need to seriously think where it will go first. Such a pain...

We were looking for yellow button squash seedlings and came home with a kilo of raisins (real fair dinkum raisins not sultanas) a kilo of dates, a fancy pair of pruning sheers that according to the sales guy are "as seen on TV! But better!" huh?? and a diamond head blade sharpener to sharpen everything in sight. Because uber-sharp blades and small children is just such a relaxing combination, right? I was two seconds away from buying myself a UV cutting ninja head gear (in plain green- the only colour not floralised) when A dragged me away and scolded me for even considering such Japanese old woman garb. I know it would age me beyond my years but so does sun damage, yeah? And It would stop dust and sweat and cucumber leaf prickliness from irritating my neck and I was looking at the plain green one not the floral....

Anyway got home and picked some more berries. Story of my life at the moment. But they sure are pretty.


stag party at ours tonight

Stag beetle party that is....

Meg is bug mad.

Really. The kid could bore your socks off on stag beetles and rhinoceros beetles and male and female physical attributes (not genitalia but hornage) and care of and dietary preferences and the best way to find them and... and....

But poor Meg's parents were not rushing out to get her a beetle buddy. It's one pet I'm pretty sure she's not allergic to so that's a plus but K is not actually that fond of bugs (probably the only boy in Japan who never went bug hunting) and I have a catch and release philosophy on pets which doesn't really gel with keeping wild animals in cages with a constant supply of sugary jelly (such an obvious choice of food yeah? Coz you always see beetles hanging out sucking back fruit jelly in the woods, right?)

So for the last week or so we have been going back and forth back on forth on the bug thing:

"And then you just get some sawdust and we have lots and you get some wood big wood not little wood but not too big because it has to fit in the bug box and some people have yellow lids but I like the black lids. Not the big bug box though that's too big I just want a medium one, but with the black lid and you can buy these jellies and they smell good but you can't eat them because they're not people jellies they're bug jellies and-"

"I don't know why she wants to have a bug. Why? I never had a pet bug. ...We could get another goldfish? ...Why a bug? ....And she wants us to go and get one from the woods? At night? And pick up a bug? Where on earth do bugs live anyway? And pick it up with your hands?"

"It's just a bug. I mean it's not like she wants a pet snake. I had pet snails and caterpillars and tadpoles and even an antfarm when I was a kid. The ant farm was crazy. We left the lid off and they escaped. In the house. Yeah, really. No, mum wasn't thrilled. And dad didn't like the tadpoles as they grew legs, turned into frogs and jumped in the washing up when he was doing it. Yeah really. No of course they weren't ok. It was hot soapy water. And we used to collect the frogs eggs in our gumboots and bring them home barefeet. On a muddy gravel road. Yeah, really. In winter, too. So when you think about it compared to all that a stag beetle is pretty harmless, right? And I hear S-chan and H-chan's dads are both gun bug hunters. We could always ask them for advice Ok. Well if you think we don't need to ask that's cool we can just go out by ourselves.

So endless re-runs of those conversations for the last week and we were all set to do it today. I bought a bug box yesterday- the Hilton penthouse suite of bug boxes- and was slightly overawed by the range and sheer number of bugkeeping related products for sale here. Really. And if K knew that there's a possibility we might need beetle mite remover or mini-fly repellant (whatever mini flies are) he would freak! And we had a date to go bug hunting tonight. A very vague date "Go to the mountains with a torch and a bug box and just, you know, find a bug." Well Meg's plan was rather more elaborate, she wanted to find a stag beetle, a rhinoceros beetle and a female beetle (she thinks that's a type of beetle...)

Just as I was gearing up for my "we're really gonna do our best and try our hearts out but we can't guarantee success honey...." talk and K was looking slightly green getting together the bug hunting gear S-chan's dad, S-chan, her brother and her cousin rocked up at the gate carrying a bug box a piece and a big net.

Yeah! They're inviting us bug hunting- chance of success instantly infinitely increased!

But nope. Not inviting us bug hunting.

Even better!

Giving Meg bugs! Yeah!! Meg, K and I all had huge grins on our faces for completely different reasons. But we were all thrilled. And the best bit? Two stag beetles. Two male stag beetles so very impressive to look at and no chance of larvae to look after. So it's a stag beetle party at ours tonight and I'm just working on convincing Meg they would all be much happier if the bugs stay in their box at bedtime rather than share her bed. Even the little one with the underdeveloped pincers...


Progress report from the early July garden

It's all go in the garden at the moment. So much go I'm playing catch-up all the time. But hey, life's twice as fun when you live it 200% right?

We harvested our garlic. A great crop this year. We tried to wait till the bulbs got as big as possible and they went to seed. I actually like the flavour of the seeds as well so no problem there but the neighbours all tut-tutted when they saw. Oh well.

We have started ripping out the yellowing plants from the first crop of snowpeas and replacing with the second round which we had started in our starter bed.

We are harvesting around 20-30 cucumbers a day. Waaaay too many cucumbers. We're giving them away left right and centre, pickling them, serving cucumber sticks with every meal, even the chooks get a daily cucumber! We have another 16 plants in a starter box to plant in a couple of weeks so cucumber madness shows no signs of abating anytime soon...

The stick broccoli is excelling in stick production and providing a welcome relief to the diet of cucumber and peas. Stick broccoli is a true champion plant I think everyone should have. Where as you get one main head on a regular broccoli and then up to half a dozen mini heads if you lay on the TLC stick broccoli provides you with months of broccoli florets- each conveniently the size of a floret. It's like ready-meal broccoli in a stay-fresh package!

We are inundated with mini turnips, radishes and mini daikon. We always plant waaay too many of all of these as there are thousands of seeds in a packet, and they grow so quickly it gives you an almost immediate return on your investment at a time when there's a lot of work going into the garden and not much coming out. By now though we have other stuff to eat and are suffering through the root vegetables so as not to have them go to waste. I made some sweet pickles (vinegar and sugar) and the radishes turned everything a gorgeous shade of pink which was kind of exciting to eat. For the first three days anyway...

Blueberry and raspberry madness is still in full swing. I have about a kilo of each in the freezer and we're loving berry crumble, berry cobbler, fresh berries on our brekky and berry snacks. Well, actually not all of us are exactly loving it. Amy burst into tears last night as she thought the berry cobbler was chocolate. Yeah. Because I always serve up a pie dish half full of chocolate, right? Even the chooks don't get excited over being given the bruised and damaged berries anymore.

The wintered swiss chard, spinach, ruccola, coriander and lettuce is going to seed as the second crop we planted this Spring comes on. We are planning for a third crop from these seeds.

Whether the three sisters experiment is a success or not is hard to call at the moment. The beans have gone mad, the corn is chest high, the orderly ruler wielding neighbours are horrified at the randomness of it all but it all looks pretty healthy and happy at the moment. We shall see.

The zucchinis are loving life. About 1.5m across at the moment we are harvesting huge zucchinis every couple of days. Plenty more coming too. Yum.

The snake beans are huge. About 1.8m long (tall? high?) now. Still waiting for a single bean though. There are buds so that's a start right? I am such a control freak, I go out there every morning and wind the new tendrils back into the nets keeping it all nice and neat and manageable. This is actually kind of fun and much better than not doing it and ending up with a bean jungle a la last year.

The peach is (finger, toes, legs and eyes crossed) looking like giving us about 30 peaches this year. This will be the first crop that didn't all drop off at some point before they ripened. The nectarine is huge, the leaf curl did infect the fruit as well as the foliage and we have lost about 50 fruit already and what is left is all diseased. Oh well, live and learn and that is a lesson on putting off the spraying, hey?

The redcurrants are so beautiful glistening in the sun that I haven't picked any yet. Must get around to it before the birds get sick of blueberries and move on to them!

The two plum trees I pruned severely (the arborial equivalent of a decapitation) have sprouted from their cut bits and have plums colouring up nicely. So excited as I love blood plums. The Japanese apricot (ume) has about 10 plums that are bigger than golfball size and turning orange. I think I will preserve them in syrup as that's my favourite way to eat the big ones.

All the fruit trees are having their best year to date which is very exciting.

A lot of weeding is being done and a lot more desperately needs doing. The rainy season really is amazing at kick starting growth but unfortunately it works just as well (if not better) on weeds as it does on the stuff we plant.

And that's about it from the garden at the moment. Back to you in the studio, Jim.


sleep vs study

It's pretty widely said (furphy or otherwise) that you will never get into X (elite) university if you sleep more than four hours a night during high school. I tend toward the other extreme and think you will never get through the school day without 12 hours sleep a night.

During the kinder years Meg was getting between 11 and 12 hours sleep a day- bed by 7 and up between 6 and 7. Since starting school- and this corresponding with my work hours doubling- she has been going to bed between 7 and 8 but getting up between 5 and 6. So that means some nights she only gets nine hours sleep. Then she walks an hour to school, does a full day of school (that recently starts with marathon practice- running laps of the school oval. They are asked to do between two and ten. Meg always does ten. Then she either walks an hour and a half home (uphill so it takes longer) or hangs out at after school care until 6:00. She is tired. Exhausted. Bruise coloured marks under her eyes and meltdown central.

That's ok. She can catch up on sleep on the weekend, right? No. The kid is hardwired to the dawn chorus. She wakes up earlier on the weekends. Seriously. I have a fair whack of bad working mummy guilt going on that's only partially alleviated by the fact that the little girl up the road -with a fulltime SAHM- is equally exhausted. Still, I'd love her to get a bit more sleep.

So it was a real surprise today in my 6 year old English class when we were using clocks to talk about our daily routine and every kid said they woke up at six. Some of these kids live within shouting distance of their elementary school. Many of them have non-working mothers. Why do they wake up so early? The unanimous answer- I don't know.

Actually there was one kid who doesn't wake up at six.

She wakes up at 4:30. I was sure she'd made a mistake. I made the hands on my clock show 4:30 and asked if that's what she meant. Yes. Wow. What do you do when you wake up? (Isn't that a shockingly intrusive question thinly disguised as English practise? But really. I was curious!) "I do my school homework. Then my other homework. Then I do some study with my mum. Then I get ready for school."

This girl is by far my strongest student. Japanese mother, Japanese father, no overseas experience but she has an amazing grasp of English. Her vocabulary knowledge is extraordinarily wide and varied and she has an ability to extrapolate her grammatical knowledge that is years beyond her peers. I know I shouldn't but I can't help comparing some days. Just last week Meg didn't know/ couldn't recall the word storm and she piped up with it then turned to Meg and said 'You don't know much English, do you?' Ouch! That one hit me where it hurts!

But you know, knowing that the price to pay for that knowledge is getting up at 4:30 every morning? I'm not so envious anymore. Living with Meg's attitude and disposition on her present schedule is hard enough, I think we would kill each other if we were getting up earlier and then trying to study during that time. Still it makes you think, huh?


little Aussie battler

Japanese folk mythology has the all sacrificing, no free time, give your life to the emperor, the company, the family story.

American folk mythology has the American dream.

Australian folk mythology has the little Aussie battler. The person who just can't get a break. Bad luck follows them like a bad smell. They work hard day in and day out and someone else gets the prize.

The early settlers? They slaved away clearing land to start farms and then suffered through drought and locust plague and fire and then more drought.

The ANZAC soldiers? They went to help the Brits, got royally messed around and died by the hundred unnecessarily on the beaches and in the trenches.

The blue collar labourer? Works hard day in day out for the man, wages get cut, the union is useless and then his factory shuts down and the jobs go to China.

The overriding theme in all these hardluck stories is that despite all the hardships the little Aussie battler keeps on trucking. Nose to the grindstone and just never give up.

Well, every morning I am reminded of this folklore when I walk out the gate and see my snowgum. It was a gift from my grandma in the form of a packet of seeds. A little bit of Australia up here in Nagano. Well we have had nothing but failures trying to grow our snowgums. The first batch of seeds never even germinated. A little research (a call to grandma) and we tried again by first placing a sheet of paper over the seed tray and setting it alight to create the same conditions as a bushfire. (Some Australian plants only seed after a bushfire. How's that for being a battler?)

Then we lost them all the first winter and started again in the Spring. Last Autumn they were a metre high. Spindly but a metre high. I was convinced I should start worrying about branches dropping on the cars or the postman rather than wintering them but no.

Come Spring they were brown dead sticks.

I was really disappointed.

But then a couple of weeks ago I noticed something:

Those little round leaves? My snowgum! Sprouting from the base. So far only one but I am not giving up hope.

That's an Aussie snowgum after all.

A real little Aussie battler.


old men

sometimes I worry about K.

He' a guy.

He's Japanese.

Some day he's going to be an old man.

And the old Japanese men I know tend to be rather trying to be around. There's the king type: "Heather, heather! Tea, tea!" As he waves his cup at me while sitting down digesting the meal I cooked, served, cleared away and have yet to eat myself.

There's the waffling drunk type who don't open their mouths wide enough to enunciate clearly even when sober and decide to have long and involved conversations with me when drunk.

There's the know-it-all type who decide to educate me on Australia. "There's two men for every woman in Australia. There's only one road in Australia. Australian's only use their washing machines once a week- I saw it all on TV, it's all true!" Try as I might I will never convince them otherwise. Then again they at least get points for remembering I'm Australian. I have been quizzed on US gun laws, governmental agriculture support and how the president is elected more times than I care to remember despite emphatically stating that I am Australian and have no US experience past having been stuck in LA airport for 6 hours once. And it was under construction which was seen as a security threat so we weren't even allowed to walk around and explore.

So yeah, I am still looking for a positive old man role model for K. Each interaction I have with the old men here makes me more and more worried. The three I've had in the last week:

Just do it man
Just do it man lives in a huge and very extravagant house on a side road here. He was a Japanese garden landscaper until he retired and started spending all his time doing up his own garden. It looks amazing. His garden butts onto a deserted mini shrine. I don't know what their official title is but they are dotted around the place here. A big shrine gate at the road, a narrow path then something about the size of a pigeon coop as the shrine. The shrine is surrounded by huge pine trees. The trees seem to have something to do with the shrine as they are encircled with straw ropes and white paper. Whoever the priest was who used to look after the shrine is no longer around and the neighbourhood association now looks after it. This basically means weed-whacking, raking leaves in Autumn and replacing the straw and paper decorations when they rot. Just do it man has another job he wants done though. He wants the big trees removed. All of them. Because they're dangerous. They could fall down and hit his garden. Not his house- his garden. He comes over about once a month to harangue K on this point. The neighbourhood association is reluctant to remove the trees as a) they are not really dangerous (but just do it man's garden would get a lot more sun without them) and b) the neighbourhood association is merely the guardian of the shrine. It's a murky area to start removing stuff. But yeah, he was hear again right on tea time Sunday night looking for a progress report and he left with a cheery goodnight and the phrase 'just get it done.'

Life's tough for some man
Life's tough for some man is straight out of a British sitcom. He has the flashy house, the shocking dress sense- a big fan of the pull your pants right up to your armpits brigade, the inflated sense of self-importance, the habit of speaking in long and winding sentences with no clear point and the charging around the neighbourhood looking terribly busy but just faffing around and getting in the way of the real workers. He is the biggest tomato producer in the neighbourhood. A fact he will proudly tell anyone within 30 seconds of being introduced. This year he has planted one trillion tomato plants. (I think. one cho worth anyway. A billion? A thousand billion? A trillion? A freaking huge number of tomato plants anyway.) Obviously he and his wife can't do all the planting and spraying (and spraying and spraying) and picking by themselves so he has a small army of casual workers working for him. Tomato prices have been pretty bad these last few years and a lot of the smaller producers have taken on part time jobs to supplement their income. So they work in the town, race home, try and do all the tomato work before it gets too dark then wake up the next day and do it all over again. So sitting around listening to Mr Life's tough for some bitch and moan about the problems of managing labourers, how much time he spends in his truck racing between his 10 or so fields, did he mention he's done one trillion plants this year? etc etc etc is a bit galling. And he seems completely oblivious to the feelings of the people listening to his diatribes. Anyway, he is building his son a fancy new house at the back of his land. It's huge, will command views of the entire Matsumoto Valley and as we were all informed (repeatedly) he didn't even need to get a loan. Just moved some money around. Well, seems a few more people than he hoped heard about the money manoeuvring. The local tax department paid him a visit. Ouch. Now he's hopping mad and all woe is me to anyone who'll listen at having to pay horrendous amounts of tax. Life's tough for some, hey?

Mr You can't help me but listen to my complaint anyway.
Quite a number of people who come to our door ask for Fukase-san. When I say "Yes, that's me." They look troubled and say "No, Fukase-san." Oh, right. Forgot I was an imposter... So they want K. Who is invariably not home. So I offer to take a message. No, no, no, no... not necessary.... but.... and that's when I get to hear the entire problem. Friday it was the phone bill for the community centre. Slightly tipsy old man waving NTT bill in his hand asked for Fukase-san. Not here. Can I take a message? No no no no. Have him call you when he gets home? no no no no. Give you his work number? No no no no. .... "See this is the bill for the community centre. It's got your name on it." "Yes. we're doing it this year." "Well the street number is wrong." "Sorry for the inconvenience, I'll take it from you, tell K the problem and make sure it's fixed before next month." "No no no no." "This bill came to my address." He was waiving it around like he was bidding at an auction as he waffled on for a good 5 minutes about how the address and postcode were fine but the street number was wrong." Finally said I had to go get my kids their dinner so I needed to go but could I have the letter to pass on to K? "No no no no. I'll take it down to the other guy who should be doing this job." AGHHHHGHHHHH!!! Give me back the last 10 minutes of my life!

So yeah. While I love living here I think we'll have to retire to Australia to avoid K becoming a Japanese old man...


blast from the past

Found some old emails when I was tidying up. At the time Meg was three years old and Amy was one.

April 14 2008
Another terrible day yesterday. although seems kind of funny in 24hrs hindsight. Kept Meg home and we went to English playgroup. All my friends have left (waaaahhh) and the new people seem to all have >12month olds. Not a lot of fun doing games!!
Anyway Meg fell asleep on the way home and Amy refused. Got home and Meg woke up. Not a chance Amy will nap now so Amy spent the afternoon getting increasingly wretched culminating in a one hour crying fit when I wouldn't let her wear her shoes in the house.
So Amy is tired and unconsolable, Meg is refreshed and wired, K is working late and I have a student coming at 8pm. Decided to feed the girls and worry about K's dinner later (I can survive on yoghurt, fruit and chocolate.) ;) Found some Brazillian dish my neighbor gave me and heated it up. Ohhh yummy beans and sausages. I'll have some too. Hang on... what's that? TRIPE!!!!!!! Now I know it's edible but so are beetles and I have no desire to eat those either. So I was a bad mummy and spooned all the tripe on to Meg and Amy and I had the sausages. Isn't that terrible???
Then Meg is going on endlessly about something or another. That's right it was why is Pooh-san unchi in English? And I was failing at convincing her the silent H made all the difference when there's a splat. Amy literally fell asleep in her dinner. Yuck. Freaked she'd suffocate so pulled her out and wiped her face and she still wouldn't wake up. Out cold. Got out a futon and put her down in the playroom thinking she'd be up in 10 minutes. She slept on and on. Put Meg to bed 'why doesn't amy have to have a bath? why is Amy sleeping downstairs?' etc etc Started the fire, Made K's dinner, taught an hours lesson in the same room and she STILL didn't wake up. Then 10pm as I'm getting ready for bed she wakes up disoriented and grumpy. Why Amy futon? Where's Meg? etc etc. So she was refreshed and up for an hour before I could convince her back to bed.
Of course she's tired today and the cycle will continue!!
April 17th
I took Meg and Amy to a JET talent show tonight (K had Tai chi and I wanted to see it) and it was mostly great- singing, dancing, cabaret numbers etc. Then there were 5 women doing exerts from 'The vagina monologues' uh oh. Meg kept repeating 'Angry pussy' all the way home. >_< Of course they didn't understand it but it was a bit much and you can hardly walk out or start talking during the performance can you? aghhhhh!!!
I can't decide whether I'm nostalgic for when they were so little or relieved we got through those years intact and have come out the other side!