Happy Halloween Weekend

We had the best weekend. I say that every Sunday but this one was extra special. Friends from Saitama came up and we had two 7 year olds and two 5 year olds in the house:

Here are the same four 3 years ago:

Well by the look of their attire make that three years and a couple of months! I love that they have a history together. And I love it even more that I have history with their mum as she is just all round fabulous and even though we can't meet up so often when we do it's just like we never were apart and we fit as much fun and talking and laughing and listening and playing and talking as we can possibly fit into the hours we have together. This weekend was no exception. It was terrible weather, the typhoon missed us completely but gave us the fabulously varied weather pattern of rain, drizzle, heavy rain, rain, threatening to rain. Oh and it was cold and overcast to boot. Lucky we didn't need the weather to lift our spirits then, huh?

The kids of course were not perturbed by the less than amicable conditions and had a ball:

The big girls spent almost the entire weekend sitting at the table writing long stories about their stuffed animals, illustrating them, reading them to each other and then writing another one. They had a ball but it left the little kids at a bit of a loose end. Never mind, the little kids made chocolate crackle spiders- thankfully for their teeth they enjoyed the making way more than the eating and we gave some away to the neighbours, made and played with playdough and ran around and did their own thing.

In the odd few moments when it was only misting outside and not actually dripping we headed out for walks and to go pick apples. It's too early for the main apple haul but there were Shinano sweet to be picked and pick we did.

It being Halloween and all I remembered that we had some pumpkins decorating the school at work and rang my boss to see if I could help him clear up. I mean it wouldn't be very good to have them up there after Halloween now would it? And I would be doing them a favour clearing up right? This was just a bonus:

And this:

And when we finished the pumpkins and there was still carving to do? Why we made the most of the resources we had on hand and:

One very un-sweet looking Shinano sweet. Was it's carver disappointed at not getting a pumpkin? Nope. Thrilled in fact- no gloopy seeds to deal with and 'when we're done with them you all have to throw yours out and I can just eat mine!'

Ahhh what a fabulous weekend. A very Happy Halloween, indeed. To good friends and fun times.


thank you obaachan

Not only do we live a long way from my family but also a long way from K's. His parents live about 7 hours drive north of here so we don't see them so often. This is sad for the girls and especially hard as living either in the same house or at least the same block of land as your grandparents is more the norm around here. So they hear lots of stories about what their friends did with their grandparents on the weekend or where they are going with them next weekend and every now and again we get the 'why can't we live with our grandparents, too?' talk.

I know both sets of grandparents wish we lived a lot closer too (although probably not in the same house!) and they go out of their way to do things for the girls. My mum sends them random non-birthday non-Christmas letters and cards and little gifts and we skype most weekends. K's mum sends them postcards and calls and writes letters, too.

And this week she took a total of 6 trains and around seven hours and I shudder to think how much yen to come down here for Amy's kinder's grandparent's day. Well, day is rather an exaggeration. More like grandparents' morning. From 9-11 the kids bring their grandparents to kinder and do some dances together and perform some songs for them and introduce themselves and their grandparents to everyone. It's really not that terribly exciting but due to the close proximity of most grandparents it has a 99. something attendance rate... And obaachan knows this from previous years. And she didn't want to disappoint Amy or make her feel left out and lonely so she schlepped it all the way down here. Thursday night to Saturday morning. A whirlwind trip. And K and I both had work things we couldn't wiggle out of for part of Friday so K took the morning off and I took the afternoon off and we juggled it around and it all worked out somehow but only just and she was still so pleasant about it all. Travel all that way and the family doesn't even make an effort for you? ouch....

But look at this photo:

We took Amy out of kinder for the remainder of Friday so she could come home with obaachan and spend some time with her. Obaachan was happy, Amy was thrilled, the kids watching Amy leave were envious, the teacher thought it was sweet and it just made me realise why obaachan didn't mind coming all that way for little more than a day.

But I still really appreciate it.

Thank you Obaachan.


in Japan? No way!

Yes way!

Chocolate crackles!!

And they're Halloween themed to boot. I had all but given up on ever being able to make chocolate crackles in Japan due to the lack of copha. Copha? Why that's solidified palm fat of course. Fabulous stuff. The more I researched it looking for a locally available substitute the queasier I was feeling- and I hadn't even over indulged on chocolate crackles yet!

But I found this recipe and wahlah- chocolate crackles. And you know, I think they taste even better than the copha-ed originals.

Or maybe that's just how I feel now I know more about copha?

Oh and aren't those the cutest spiders up there? My sous chef today was a very earnest 2 year old who carefully selected all the M&M eyes so they matched.

The recipe:

250 grams dark chocolate

4 cups rice bubbles

1 cup icing sugar

1 cup coconut

small round candy for eyes

pretzels for legs

1. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl.

2. Melt chocolate over hot water.

3. Add chocolate to dry ingredients and mix well.

4. Spoon into patty pans.

5. Refrigerate about 5 min until half set.

6. Add candy eyes and pretzel legs.

7. Return to refrigerator until set.

Try them! They're fabulous!

And apologies to wherever I got this recipe from for not linking but I looked at so many recipes while searching that I have forgotten where I got it....


a bumper thank you

Thank you to the person who invented bumper bars.

And a special thank you to the person who refined the technology to make crumple-and-instant-recover, no-damage-to-the-bumpee plastic bumper bars.

I bet you lived in Japan.

In the countryside.

Where there are narrow roads and lots of concrete fences.

A big bumper thank you to you.

And that's all I have to say about that.


trick or huh?

I as teaching one of my favourite classes- a group of 6-7 year olds who have been with me since they were 3-4 and are just all so darn cute. Anyway, this week it is all Halloween themed classes and we were playing Halloween bingo. If the kids got a bingo they raised their hand, said 'trick or treat' and got a Halloween sticker. Small incentive big excitement trust me. I play bingo until everyone's card is complete so there's a lot of bingoes going around and the choruses of trick or treat' were pretty constant.

During all this I heard the door open. You can't actually see the door from the classroom but it's all the same room. When my boss comes into the school he always calls out to let me know it's him and not a visitor, parent, random salesman etc.. Most of the time he calls out 'It's me.' But sometimes he will call out something to do with what I'm teaching. 'Can you see something green?' or 'Does it start with A?' or whatever. So when I heard the door open and I called out 'hello?' and the answer was 'trick or treat' I replied in kind and continued teaching. After about 15 seconds there was another call 'trick or treat?' That seemed a little odd... A couple of the kids were interested, too and peeked around the divider to see the door. Big wide eyed faces turned to me 'It's not R-sensei!' 'Hmm? Is it K-sensei (R's wife)? It didn't sound like a woman's voice but maybe she has a cold...?

Even wider eyes- 'Nooooo!'
I picked my way carefully between all the kids and their bingo cards and made it to the door to see a calm but slightly impatient looking man in a uniform.

Holding a package.

He looked relieved to see me and repeated:



Not trick or treat, takkyuubin! (courier)

I apologised, signed for the delivery and tried to explain the mistake but I don't think Japanese men of a certain age really get Halloween...

And I think I have done a bit too much of it this week to make that mistake!


the beauty of baby daikon

There's so much to love about baby daikon. They grow fast, they pup up out of the soil as they grow so you know if you're getting a big one or not before you uproot it (unlike those pesky carrots) they are almost translucent they are so white, the skin is thin and not at all tough so you won't even be tempted to peel it (saving on labour, waste and nutrients) and the leaves are not yet big and prickly and have a pleasant taste to boot so they suit miso soup to a tee giving you soup and a side dish out of one fast growing and attractive veggie and nothing is wasted.

Seriously, Baby daikon are my vote for veggie of the Autumn.


an amy fashion show

In honour of Amy's birthday (and only a month late, sorry honey....) here's a fashion show from our little stylista:

Going gardening style:

Water safety:

She absolutely insisted that the river (stream? creek? trickle?) was dangerous and she needed her life jacket on before she went in.

She didn't want to get her (wet) bathers wet in the rain...

It's all in the accessories:
"They're upside down honey."
"No they're not."

My brother really isn't one of those bores who talk all the way through a dinner...


I was horrified when I saw that not only was Amy aiming for toplessness again but that she was corrupting the sweetest little girl whom we had just met!

piece de resistance:

I love this picture. The girls were copying K who was topless and chopping wood (cropped out as I was asked not to include half naked K pics. The fan mail gets too much, yeah?) The trousers were a year too small, the shorts were part of a jinbei outfit and she just thought she was rocking this outfit.

Happy 5th birthday big girl. I think you've let most of your birthday resolutions slide already but then 'I'm going to always listen to mummy, pack up everything, not get grumpy and not wait till I'm busting to go to the toilet' was kind of ambitious. I love that you are so cuddly and kissy and squeezy and hand holdy and sighy. Even though it drives me crazy a lot of the time I love that you are so unphased by what those around you are doing and just do your own thing. You make me laugh with your little madamisms 'I'm going to let daddy get me dressed today' 'Amy, you forgot your bag!' 'You can get it today, Mummy. I don't mind.' You are so sweet to all the littler kids at kinder and that you meet around and yet when there's a group of bigger kids you're all big girl cool and confident, too.

You're always dishing out advice to anyone on how to do anything and tell people you're going to work when you come to English class.

Love you big girl and here's to a fabulously fun and fashionable future!


guess what we did today

Here's a hint, tonight's dinner:

Ember baked sweet potatoes, steamed tomato and broccoli, grilled saury, sweet potato rice, sweet potato and abura-age miso soup.

Notice the theme?

Yup. We harvested the sweet potatoes today. Well actually that's what we did in the afternoon. In the morning we planted the garlic. After K and I dug the trenches either side of the bed it was rather a quick operation as Meg and Amy were assisting. Worryingly quick actually. I am a little nervous to see the spacing once the shoots come up as I have a feeling there's some pretty friendly garlic in there sharing a berth. Oh well, we all had fun doing it.

So after garlic planting and lunch we headed outside.

As Meg said when I asked her to pose next to the sweet potato beds "Where are they?" Yup the weeds kind of got away from us a bit during the season.

But the four of us got stuck into it pulling out the metre long grass, pulling the sweet potato runners up from where they had roamed (up to three beds away from where they started) then pulled up the black plastic mulch that had protected them from cold and bugs and weeds (huh!) and finally got stuck into the actual potato digging. Both the girls are old hands at sweet potato digging from kinder and school and previous years here as well. They were quite excited to get out there and dig. But less excited by a long shot when they realised all the pre-potato digging work that needs to be done. Seems the kinder and school do all the hard work and only call the kids in for the fun bits. I get that. I'd do the same with a room full of eager kids. And I gave the girls the option of going and playing until it got fun but they stuck it out and lugged weeds and furled plastic with the best of them.

And after a few hours?

Phew! We had left the corn stalks and bean poles up as it was too hard to access with all those sweet potatoes trespassing through there but now? Beautiful, hey?

Phew! Not a bad haul, hey? The decidedly non-sweet potato thing on the left is a Brazilian pumpkin and next to that are three mini pumpkins. Sadly that was the entirety of our pumpkin haul this year. But considering that today I remembered that we had pumpkins for only the second time since planting them I think we probably deserved that small harvest. And I promised the poor spindly bedraggled plants that next season's crop will get way more TLC. Cold comfort for them, I know....

On the fire we used to burn off the mountain of dried grass/ weeds we collected up we cooked some of the broken/ sliced by the spade potatoes. Nothing like food cooked in the embers and you can't get much fresher than that- they were washed under the outside tap and never even came inside!

All in all a good day and even though it was a rather nutritionally unbalanced menu it was satisfying eating the fruits (vegetables? tubers?) of our labour.


do you see what I see?

There's a monkey in each of those pictures.

Not the same monkey either.

Up at the big garden today. K ploughing and then K and I planting the onion sets. We are waaaaayy late getting them in and they were started in a planter that had very poor drainage and appears to have got a lot of love from Amy and her watering can. Upshot, we lost quite a few onion babies to ankle rot.

But that's ok because I sowed an entire packet of seeds of red onions and brown onions so we were still kept very very busy!

The girls spent the time eating mystery berries off the trees that surround the field (I freaked when I realised they were eating stuff at random but apparently it wasn't that bad and it was something they used to pick and eat on kinder walks. That made me feel better until I remembered that the kinder teacher is the same one who had the kids chewing on raw windfall chestnuts the other week.....

Anyway we spent the whole day working to background music of a whole gang (group? troupe? tribe?) of monkeys. The monkey fence is obviously not working. The mothers were leaving the baby monkeys up in the forest and then the adults were running endless raids on the apple orchards. They have a real preference for yellow Shinano sweet apples which is interesting as they command half the price and even less media attention than their more famous cousins the Sun Fuji.

Meg and Amy were all round eyed disbelief at all the screeching that was going on up there. Meg in particular kept running over with updates:

'Mummy! They're fighting again!'
'Mummy! The baby's crying! Mummy? Can you go and help the baby?'

The photos are all pretty far away as I didn't have my zoom lense with me and I'm actually not too keen on monkeys so waited until there was a good distance between us before I pulled out my camera in case one of them had an issue about being photographed and took offence!


seasonably fashionable

Ahhhh the trials of the fashionista in Autumn.

Summer is easy- floaty dresses and cute twin sets.

Winter is obvious- you rug up warm and accessorise with cute scarves and wool hats.

But Autumn? Autumn in Nagano? When the nights are cold, the mornings and evenings are crisp, but the days still warm up to quite a heat for the midday hours.

The fashionista is stuck. Do you dress warm for the start of the day and get stuck sweltering at noon or do you dress cooler in anticipation of midday but shiver through the weather at either side?

Fashionista's take note- today Amy cracked it!

Let's just step back a moment and take another look at that...

Why yes, that is a jinbei (Japanese summer festival wear) with snow boots and knee high socks. Oh, and the jinbei was actually a size too small, to boot. When I questioned her on the climatic appropriateness of her outfit she looked at me and carefully explained:

"I won't be too cold mummy. I've got snow boots on. And it gets hot at lunchtime so I can't wear a jacket."

There you have it huh?


I'm an old woman...

Nope, I haven't had another birthday.

Today Brenda and Sara visited from Nagano.

It was great to see them again and hear all the details of the plane trip from hell.

It wasn't just Brenda and I talking though.

Sara has reached the communicative stage and was very meaningfully and quite clearly explaining a lot of stuff to us.

Unfortunately in a language neither of us understand... and from the look on Sara's face she wasn't buying our excuses.

But that wasn't what made me feel old.

It was my hospitality.

Brenda said she'd call when she left the house (giving me about an hour before she would arrive)

I was in my PJs and eating brekky when I got that email and decided I would clean the house until she called and then go out and buy something for morning tea.

But I got in the cleaning groove and you know how these things escalate and you go from vacuuming and tidying to mopping and dusting the fiddly bits on the stairway bannisters, then cleaning the windows, then you've got an old toothbrush out and you're leaning over the sink cleaning behind the taps.... because of course the first thing all guests do is check behind the taps and under the gas range (yup did there, too), right?

Well, you guessed it. Not only did I run out of time to go shopping I also ended up needing a shower which sucked up more time- because of course I had to clean the bathroom mirror while I was there, right?

No problem. I decided to bake some muffins. That only takes about 20 minutes. And it's something you can take out of the oven after guests have arrived without looking too unprepared, right?

I went to get out a cookbook and realised the whole bottom shelf there was a mess of crayons and dustballs and acorns and general detritis, and the cookbooks needed restacking as well. Because you just never know when a guest will be poking around the kitchen and end up getting shocked by your messy cookbook collection, right?

Hahhh. A job well done.

Aggghhhh! Time suckage! 10 minutes to go and I forgot to set the oven before I started rearranging the cookooks. My beloved oven takes a full 10 minutes to pre-heat. I am out of time. If I start making the muffins now I will still be in the kitchen when Brenda arrives. She will have to come in to chat while I get them in the oven. And she'll be sure to notice the cobwebs stuck in the unreachable-without-K's-help itty bitty gap between the wall and the fridge. Because she'd be sure to look there first, right?

Biting my lip and looking hopefully around the kitchen in case you know there was a carrot cake or tin of Anzac cookies I'd made and forgotten about by some miracle. (Yeah right!) Then I remembered I did have sweets on hand.

Emergency sweets for if guests suddenly turned up in fact.

They were in the freezer.

Not ice-cream though.

That would have been a bit odd at 10am but kind of hip and cool rather than old womanish, right?

Nope. What I had was the fuddy duddy aunt of hip and cool ice-cream.

But it was something! And so I quickly defrosted some.

And when Brenda and Sara turned up I calmly served up apple slices and chestnuts in syrup.

With toothpicks to serve to boot.

It's a combination you could (and probably would) be served all over this area in this season.

I've been served it umpteen times.

By people at least three decades older than me though.

I've never served it up to anyone before.

I think I crossed the line.

I'm an old woman.

Tomorrow I'm just going to have to go and buy some floral ninja-esque sun-shading headwear.


Not my forte...

Why yes, of course. They're superhero bracelets made from toilet roll innards, origami paper, stickers, elastic bands, staples and tape.

I had to make 20 of the for Amy's kinder festival. Well, actually I had the option of making 20 or 25 and I'm afraid it took about half a nanosecond for me to choose.

I'm no artist but I can draw an anpanman face, sew a pair of pj pants, sculpt a jewellery box and plait 10 threads at once.

But fiddly craft work is beyond me.

And these were certainly fiddly. The glue was sticking to everything but where it was supposed to, the paper kept unfurling from the curved ring, getting the elastic band stapled in and under the overlap- especially after you'd already done one side was just very very stressful.

But- after only two ancillary trips to the 100 yen shop (how can a whole house have less than 20 elastic bands in it? And I'm not even going to talk about the profusion of stapleless staplers here) I did it.

Amy was very impressed (gotta love kids!) and said she wasn't going to choose one of mummy's ones at the festival so that everyone else could have them, and I could just make her another one at home!

I hastily and vigorously insisted that she choose one of mummy's creations.

I want at least one of them to get chosen, hey?


seeds of love

There's a little boy at school who is sweet on Meg.

He keeps bringing her little gifts.

First it was a super polished chestnut.

Then a handful of striped-lid acorns. (I've never seen them before but they look great- all green and tawny.)

Then a little bunched up bag of morning glory seeds.

And today she came home just raving because she'd been given a sunflower head full of sunflower seeds. And he told her it will be a white sunflower.

I googled.

They exist!

....in Italy, but still.

I don't know Meg's beau. I will have to check him out next observation day.

But I have to say- I think I like this kid!


what's the opposite of road rage?

I was waiting at the intersection of a side road that comes out of the village industrial estate and crosses the main road in and out of town. The road in and out of town.

I was on the side road.

The light was red.

I stopped and waited.

And waited.

A car joined the line behind me.

Three cars pulled up to wait across the other side of the main road.

More cars joined the end of my line.

Amy was counting and commenting on the trucks thundering down the main road. "Green truck! Big truck! Three, four, pretty truck!"

One in every five or so trucks turned into the industrial estate and gave me a little gasp moment as they swung wide around the corner seemingly headed straight for my cute little Suzuki before they (of course) completed their precision manoeuvre and returned to their lane without incident.

The cars whizzed past, a truck joined the line across the other side of the main road and we kept waiting.

And waiting. By now we must have been waiting more than four minutes. I know that's not long in the grand scheme of life but it sure seems like a long time when you're waiting on a traffic light.

I was zoning out from listening to Amy's truck commentary and beginning to wonder whether I usually wait this long at this light and had just somehow never noticed or whether there was something wrong with the light or ...? when there was a tap at my window.

Excuse me?
I don't think the sensor has registered your car yet. I think you need to move forward a little?
Oh. Thank you!
That's it. See the red light on the pole over there? When that turns on it means the traffic sensor has registered your car.
Oh really? I had no idea. Thank you for telling me.

And he walked away back to his car to be buckled in and ready to continue with his journey when the lights changed in about 20 seconds.

Wow. This poor old guy was kept waiting forever (in some highly unlikely sequence of events both the driver of the car waiting across the main road from me and I had parked too far back from the intersection to register on the traffic sensor and the lights are on a sensor only sequence so they would not have changed until one of us moved forward. Bloody over-cautious women drivers, huh?), realised the problem, calmly got out of his car and came to explain it all very clearly and helpfully- even explaining the reason it happened so it could be avoided in future- and then swiftly returned to his car.

What a guy.


parallel fire play

I first heard about parallel play when I started reading parenting books. It describes the developmental stage when children play adjacent to each other without interacting and playing with each other. The stage is most often observed in 2-3 year olds.

But I think it perfectly describes the way K and I work.

Today Nay, Naoki and Leilah came for lunch.

We decided to make pizza.

When we make pizza K does the oven and I do the pizza prep. Now last time we made pizza was the farewell BBQ for my parents and K was away.

And I did the fire and the pizzas.

It was mad. It was crazy. But the wonderful guests stepped up and helped out and we ended up making five large pizzas and two take home medium sized ones (Fukase Pizzeria, Eat in or Take away!) in a row- bang, bang, bang and they rocked! Seriously, they were amazing pizzas.

So of course I raved to K about the new system (feeding the oven from a separate bonfire throughout the process rather than trying to keep the oven fire at the correct temperature the whole time) when he got home. I was kind of thrilled at the success we'd had so I may have overdone the 'my new way is fabulous! thing. Just perhaps.

And you see here's the thing. I'm the oldest kid in my family. K is the oldest kid in his. I think I'm right a lot. K thinks he is, too. Well, no. K thinks he's right and I know I'm right. K is an engineer so he spends his days thinking his way around problems and finding ways to make the impossible possible.

So, he is always tweaking stuff.

And improving systems.

And, you guessed it, he thought of a better way of doing the fire.

A bit of background:

I grew up in the country.
K grew up in the city.
My parents had wood heaters the whole time I lived at home.
K's parents are kerosene heater devotees.
My dad was a tree lopper.
K's dad was a salaryman.
We burnt off our garden rubbish.
K's family chop it down into precise pieces and put it out on the correct day.
I was a Girl Guide and then a Venture Scout.
K did kendo then judo.
My family camped every holidays (yup, even winter. We're that tough.)
K's family do the ryokan thing.
etc etc etc.

So basically I have waaaaay more experience lighting fires, burning stuff on fires, cooking on fires, being around fires etc etc etc than K.

Just so we got that straight.

But K is older than me. Older than me in a society where that means something. (Supposedly)
And K is a guy. A guy in a society where that means something. (Supposedly.)
And we're both pretty competitive. (But obviously I'm better at it than him, yeah?)

And so when he heard me going on about my fabulous system and specifically asking him to use it?

Why of course he devised a new system.

A better system.

He called it The Hybrid System.


And when I went out to cook the first pizza I could stick my whole arm in the oven without even flinching.

And it's not that I'm just that tough.

The two very narrow ovens (far too narrow for the pizza tray) below the main pizza ovens that we built for grilling fish? Burning fiercely. A raging inferno.

What the????

Yup. The new Hybrid system was a fizzer.

K thought it was because I didn't give it a chance.

I thought it was because we weren't following my fabulous new system.

And the lovely and fabulous Nay and Naoki smiled and mm mmed while alternately eating undercooked and burnt pizza as K and I tinkered with the hotch potch hybrid hybrid system mach 2 that was evolving on the fly.

Come to think of it they may have just been smiling at the sheer ridiculousness of the parallel fire play we had going on....

PS. It wasn't all bad- look at these three cuties. The two big girls were enthralled by and doting over little Leilah who (along with her very unphased mummy) was very co-operative and patient with all the attention.

And just in case you were wondering, Meg styled her own her today.


I heart cabbage

I used to avoid growing vegetables like cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower as I felt the bang for your buck factor was severely lacking. You wait two-three months for your plants to mature, harvest the first head and bang, plant ceases to have a reason for existence beyond caterpillar fodder.

Well so I thought anyway until one of my neighbours told me that if you harvest the main head carefully (without overly damaging the plant) side shoots will sprout and you will be able to harvest a second (albeit mini) crop.

And so we gave it a go.

Gorgeous, crunchy, sweet, five per plant and perfect one meal sized cabbages. And don't they look kind of heart shaped to boot? To be honest I think I prefer them to the giant main cabbages which always seem to split from growing too fast and go wilty in the fridge before we get through a whole head.

And so with this second (and secondary) crop in mind today I planted eight Autumn cabbages. I will give away the first harvest and look forward to the bonus one.



village sports day, sniff sniff

Monday was a National Holiday.

It was also the Village Sports Day.

I wasn't there because I had to work.

I'm not bitter. Really.

That's why it's taken me this long to write about it. sniff.

No really. I know half the village would probably be thrilled to have a legitimate out for Sports Day but I actually really enjoy it. It doesn't take much to entertain me! And I get that there are so many holidays on a Monday that if we took them all off the Monday class kids would not have nearly as many classes as the other days. But still.... sniff

Anyway, K and the girls went to Sports Day (without me sniff, ok I'll stop. I promise) and Amy did her dance (all the kinder kids from both kinders- all 400 of them- sang a song about the Alps as a dance exhibition), K did the age relay where each district fields a runner in each age range from under 10 to over 60. This is the bragging event of the Sports Day. And our district is one of the smaller ones so we don't have that many people to choose from. And yet we came first. Yeah!!

And then it was Meg's turn. She was not really looking forward to Sports Day as primary school kids have an individual event which is rather more daunting than the one-of-400 kinder dance.

But she realised (derr!) that her other post-kinder-now-school-kid friends would also be competing and decided it was doable after all:

Lining up. The bibs have the name of their district on them. Notice what great weather they had? sniff...

On the starter's blocks. I think she's being tactical and distracting her neighbour. Or she might just be chatting with a friend. Oh and the two kids in the yellow bibs in the same race? The kiddy races don't count towards the point total so the bigger districts get to field more kids to give everyone a go.

And they're off! They had to jump for the first bit. Then walk across the balance beam, then run backwards for another stretch then finally sprint for the finish line.

I love the look on her face.

(thanks K for taking the pictures. Oh and actually getting the kids in the frame, too!)

She came third and was given a little notebook. K got a box of washing powder for his first place. Amy got a whistle for doing her dance. A whistle! Who gives 400 kinder kids whistles????

Oh and when I got home from work all glum and sniffing the girls greeted me with a big 'Mummy! Okubo came 4th!' There are 21 districts in the village and as I mentioned we're one of the smallest ones so that's pretty impressive.

Darling Amy then looked at me seriously and said "last year when you came too Okubo was 10th. This year you couldn't come and we were 4th so you don't have to come next time, too!"


sniff sniff.


a book report

I got this book today.

"Growing up Asian in Asutralia"

And I finished it tonight.

I am exhausted but it was worth staying up way past bedtime to read it.

It's an anthology of short stories/ poetry about the experiences of well, growing up Asian in Australia.

There are a wide range of stories about people from many different Asian countries (Asian is used in the wider sense to include India and Pakistan) growing up all over Australia but there are common threads- bullying, mis-understandings, cultural isolation and dealing with stereotypes.

It was published in 2008 and a lot of the stories about when the authors were kids are set in the 1980s or 1990s.

When I was a kid.

Back then my primary school had about 200 kids.

I was in grade 2 when the first Asian kid enrolled. He was Filipino and spoke no English. Within a week he could swear like a trooper though I'm not sure he always realised what he was saying. He had an ESL aide. I was a lot older before I realised that ESL didn't mean going-to-the-multipurpose-room-for-one-on-one-tutoring. I cringe now to think of the racially based epithets that were his nicknames. Oddly, they were all racial slurs about Aborigines. And were used on any of the white kids who got very tanned over summer as well. I'm sure the teachers must have overheard them. Why weren't we educated about what horrible words we were using?

When I was in Grade 6 an Indian kid transferred to the school. He was genius level smart, played chess in every spare moment and everyone in his family had a very long name. I remember thinking India must be an amazing country with all those smart people everywhere and lucky they were smart so they could remember all those long names and wondering if the schools even bothered with playgrounds considering all the kids did was play chess...

By the time my sister went through the same school five years later there were a couple of Chinese kids (two Chinese restaurants in town so at least two families) and I think there was a girl who'd been adopted from somewhere...

But it was on the whole a pretty white Australian experience. Multicultural week we learned how to say Grandma and Grandpa in Italian, Greek and Dutch. I still remember thinking that Oma and Opa and Nonno and Nonna were so similar sounding those kids were quite unfortunate their grandparents weren't Aussie.

It was therefore a huge shock to go from that kind of town to Uni in the city and be surrounded by people from everywhere you could imagine and all just doing their own thing. Not walking around in national dress eating snacks from their respective cultures. The Asian students in my classes defied my long held overly simplistic and insulting stereotypes and ran the gamut from International students with westernised names to third generation Aussies with non-anglicised names. It was a very mind broadening experience. I became good friends with a girl whose parents had migrated from Hong Kong. We spent long afternoons studying Japanese together and shocking each other with stories of our childhood- things like my having a part time job from year 8 and her father tutoring her in maths a year above her grade level each evening left our respective heads spinning.

Reading this book made me think about all the different experiences there are under the umbrella 'growing up Asian in Australia.' From living in Chinatown in Sydney or Melbourne to being the only non-white face in your primary school in a country town in the back of beyond. While some of the themes came up again and again there were also some wildly different experiences.

My town has grown, the school is bigger, the governments skilled migration in regional Australia policy has meant more non-white faces around town. But spending the summer there with the girls I still sometimes get asked 'where did you get them from?' or told about someone else who 'also adopted a Chinese baby.' It's funny that in Japan people see the western features in Meg's face while in Australia they can only see the Asian ones.

The book didn't have any contributions from Japanese authors. I guess this is representative of the fact that Japanese people are a minority within the Asian Australian community. A minority within a minority.

But my hometown has a Japanese restaurant now- actually owned and run by real live Japanese people to boot- and the local school has "sushi Fridays" where the kids can order sushi for their lunch order (the school has no canteen so if you don't bring a lunch you order it and a local milk bar delivers it to the school in time for lunch) so times they are a changing, even in country Australia.

I wonder if a second edition of this book was published in ten or fifteen years about the kids going to school in the 2000s would the stories be the same or different?

I hope they'd portray a more understanding Australia. A less ignorant group of white Aussie kids in the playground.

But those 'where did you get them from?' comments make me wonder...


that bento feeling....

Amy had her Autumn excursion today. She and her classmates walked to a local temple (not the shrine from last week a temple this time. Got to love secular education, right?), spred out their picnic mats and ate lunch. Amy's requests for lunch were simple and rather modest:
onigiri with plums inside and pink sausages shaped like crabs. "And you can choose the rest."

So this is what we came up with:

roast pumpkin, nashi, cherry tomatoes, mini meatballs, rolled omelette green beans, crab and octopus mini sausages and cheese cubes with pickled plum rice balls, a mandarin and two jelly cups.

Just look at those cute weiner sea critters. Well except the crab at the front. Some how his sesame seed eyes look really evil or is it just me?


mushroom madness

Nope I'm not talking about eating the wrong mushrooms and going a bit detached from reality. Although there has been a spate of mushroom hunters (they call it hunting not collecting. Seriously, do mushrooms put up a good fight do you reckon?) collecting the wrong ones and being poisonned/ near poisonned. The local town office now has a mushroom consultation window where you can take in your mushrooms and find out whether you should eat them or not.

But today I'm talking about the other kind of mushroom madness. Matsutake mushroom madness. It's more of a frenzy really I guess. Whatever you call it it's certainly very serious business.

Wikipedia translates matsutake as pine mushroom which seems a far too common name for a mushroom that commands such high prices. The local farmers' market- where you go for dirt cheap veggies- sells them for 5000 yen for two. That's about 60 dollars mum). As you can imagine with prices like that collecting the mushrooms is a lucrative business. It's seasonal and dependent on the right weather/ climate conditions for a good season but this year looks good. It's a bumper year in fact.

So you want to join the crowds and head for the mountains and some delicious mushrooms? Grab a bear bell, your basket and go right?

Not so fast.

You need a mushroom license. That will set you back a cool 1,000,000 yen. Nope. My finger didn't get stuck on the 0 key. that's 1 million yen. For no guarantee of succesfully hunting even a single mushroom that's pretty steep. But even your willingness to part with obscene amounts of cash in search of mushroom happiness doesn't guarantee you the right to try your luck. Nope. Mushroom licenses are severely restricted. Three are given out for this mountain and four on the one next door. Mushroom madness being what it is far more people apply and so a lottery is held. This year officiating at the lottery was one of K's jobs as neighbourhood committee bigwig.

Pull name out of hat, notify happy winner and record details in the official neighbourhood committee almanac and pat self on back. Pretty straightforward, right? Wrong again. One man had applied for all three lotteries. (They're seperate, each mushroom license is for a specific section of the mountain) So he had paid the (lesser but still considerable) application fee three times.

His name wasn't chosen in the first lottery.

Or the second.

But he hit the jackpot third time around.

Or so everyone thought.

Until some pedant pointed out that he had mis-written one of the kanji characters for the name of the mountain.

Now it's not as though this made it unclear what he was applying for.

It was the kanji equivelent of writing Austrelia. A simple typo.

But serious discussion ensued.

This is mushroom madness after all. Must make sure we cross all the T's and dot all the I's (or the Japanese equivelant anyway) right?

After much furrowing of brows it was decided to redo the draw. The poor unlucky man's ballot was clearly invalid. Because after all in the national government elections it would be invalid.

That's right, the local mushroom license ballot is considered up there with the national election in gravity and importance.

If that isn't mushroom madness I don't know what is, huh?

And for those luckless folks who have never had the opportunity to through their hard earned dosh after a puny pine mushroom I leave you with the thoughts of M who was served matsutake rice with mushrooms hunted by the grade 5's in her school lunch.

"They were really smelly. And the rice was brown. I like white rice better."


a pretty productive day

Sunny Sundays are probably my most favouritist days of all.

I work Saturday afternoons (only a couple of hours but still) so Sundays are our family days, our around the house days and our get-stuck-into-something-big days. I know a lot can be fit into a Saturday morning but if I get too grotty I need to shower as well as change before work and that just takes the fun out of it so Sundays it is.

After a lazy morning of eggs, bacon, wholemeal pancakes, grilled tomatoes, grapefruit and fresh coffee- well for K. Then we ran out. sob sob- we headed out to the chook cage. One of the neighbour kids (a welcome-to-visit one) saw a rat/ mouse in there. This is disturbing as that cage is supposed to be completely hermetically-sealed style predator proof and while rats don't eat chooks they eat chook food, are icky and gross and just plain shouldn't be able to get in so out we went with barbed wire, bird netting, pliers, and tie wire to find the weakspot in Alcatraz.

After a good couple of hours of checking and reinforcing and 'it surely can't be this but we'll block it up just in case' wire knitting we are pretty darn sure nothing bigger than a mosquito (and a hungry one at that) will get in. The chooks are gorgeous and so tame they kept coming over to peck at our shoes or wiggle in between our arms as we worked. The girls thought this was hilarious and wanted to stay in the pen and play. Tempting, certainly keep the house less of a mess, but we herded them out.

After K dug over the soil in the chook cage so they can scratch more easily and I packed up the tools we headed out to the big garden and dug over another row and planted four lines of spinach. I love spinach and there are some great varietars that grow right through winter under the snow and come out the otherside not only happy but curly and sweet to boot. While you can make it through the winter on Chinese cabbage and daikon it is great to have spinach to rely on in the post-winter pre-Spring crop maturation bleak months. So lots of spinach planted around here.

After breaking for lunch K headed off to secret men's business up the mountain. There is a torii/ shrine gate thing wayyyyy up the mountain. Twice a year members of the two communities that share the mountain head up there with the local Shinto priest and have a 30 minute cleanup, a 10 minute religious service and a three hour pissup at the community centre. Ok, I may have exaggerated those times a little but the drinking part of it is by far the largest percentage of the event. But it's drinking with the local priest so it's important ceremonial drinking. It just looks like a bunch of men sitting around filling each other's cups and getting progressively redder. So armed with a scythe and the bear bells off Meg's school bag he headed up the mountain.

Anyway, I did some bribery (strike that of course it wasn't bribery!) negotiations with the girls that if they cleaned the playroom to the level that I could walk through there without wondering if I would be able to drive in a cast we would go shopping for coffee, milk, more dried noodles and something yummy for afternoon tea. The deadline was easy. The 3:00 afternoon tea chime of course. And to give them their space (and avoid being the umpire of umpteen tiffs) I went outside and painstakingly removed the morning glory green curtain from the guttering and even more painstakingly removed the morning glory vines from the netting and rolled it up for next year (at an hours work for a 398 yen length of net that is pretty hard labour but it is environmentally friendly) then pulled up the sunflowers and removed the seed heads to save and plant next year and was hauling everything around the back to burn (un-environmentally friendly so there go my net recycling points...) when the girls called me.

At their insistence I went in to inspect their work.

And I was amazed.

To be honest I had pretty low expectations but wanted them to at least make an effort as I have been feeling a bit Cinderella-ish lately.

But not only was the floor cleared but so were their desks, the toy cupboards, the kotatsu table and the bookshelf had been tidied as well. Wow. All that for 95 yen worth of sugar and processed gunk? Hell yeah! I was beaming and bouncing as we headed into town to pick up our rewards.

In the late afternoon (after a fabulous coffee- it tastes even better when you have been waiting all day for it!) I burnt off the rubbish, started my annual tug of war with the creepers that entwine anything that stays still for more than a minute and listened to the girls play with the two little boys from down the hill. It was a bit awkward as the two boys (four and two) were on a walk with both parents when Amy called them in to play. No problem. I stuck my head around the corner to say hi and welcome and they had a grand time playing with the outside toys and in the sandpit and on the trikes. And the boys' parents were there to keep an eye on proceedings. All wonderful. But they stayed about 40 minutes. And I had stuff I wanted to do. And I felt rude just leaving them out the front while I worked out the back but the light was fading and I was busy and I didn't want to leave the fire unattended and this was my productive Sunday.... In the end I excused myself and kept working and they wandered round to say hi and then back again to the toys and then around to chat again. Seemed to be going ok but felt a little anti-social on my part. Then again it wasn't like I invited them over, right? Anyway, it was a good productive afternoon, the girls had a ball playing with the little boys, the boys had a ball playing on the lawn and with the toys here and with M and A so all's well that ends well, right?

Came inside for dinner and K arrived home from the drinking do, sorry, very important religious ceremony, and put the girls through the shower routine while I made cinnamon rolls (I didn't even last a week!) to give out as thank yous to all the people who have given us wild mushrooms and apples and sweet potatoes and pumpkins and and and... lately.

So all told that was a pretty productive day I think.


I made it myself

Cream Stew- hold the roux.

I have an aversion to roux cubes. Ever since I started reading boxes to check for nuts for Meg I have felt differently about popping those little cubes of chemical infused goodness out into the pot for a quick and easy beef/ curry/ cream stew.

That and I hate shopping and live far enough from the stores that I'd rather substitute than go out and buy an ingredient for a meal.

My rouxless curries taste fantastic. But not even close to Japanese curries (funny that since I use (quasi) Indian recipes, huh?) and therefore tend to get the odd 'sniff, I want Japanese curry' among the yums from the other (less enlightened) members of the family.

My rouxless hayashi rice uncoincidentally tastes a lot like goulash and goes over well as long as I remember not to get carried away with the paprika.

Until now I have never tried rouxless cream stew. It just seems like it would be a lot trickier. Making white sauce and all.... But no! Easy peasy Japanesey and soooo good. And that was the conclusion from all four of us!

I am not much of a recipe person so this is more of an approximation than a how to but really, give it a go, it's worth it!

Creamy Dreamy Cream Stew*

3 chicken fillets
3 onions
3 carrots
3 potatoes
3 green peppers
3 sticks of stick broccoli
wedge of pumpkin (about 1/2 a cup?)
1 red pepper
2 bay leaves
1 tsp fresh thyme (or shake in some dry)
2 chicken stock cubes
3 cups water
2 cups milk
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup parmesan cheese/ strong flavoured cheese/ crappy Japanese cheese if you have to.

Saute the chicken in a heavy bottomed pot until golden brown. Add all veggies except broccoli as you dice them. (Start with the onions then work from hard veggies to soft ones to try and get the cooking times to align.)
When the veggies are all in add the water and stir. Cook until veggies are tender.
Add the aromatics and reduce to simmer.
Make white sauce starting by cooking the flour and butter then add milk and finally cheese.
Pour white sauce directly into stew pot. It will go horrible and separated and gloopy and you'll panic that you have a huge pot of disaster (a real hot mess) on your hands but take a deep breath, have faith and keep stirring.
When it comes together (right now) serve with black pepper and chopped parsley.

This makes a lot. But that's good coz it means you have leftovers. And it tastes even better the next day. Or you could just reduce the recipe.

*alternative names I'm considering are 'the power of three' or 'I can't believe it's not rouxed!' sub-editor I'm not...


procrastination pays

Last week I was given three baskets of green tomatoes to pickle. Mum and I pickled 3 kilos of them without really even making a dent in the pile.

And then I got busy.

And mum went home. (sob sob)

And I lost my green tomato pickling mojo and they sat on the floor of the genkan for a week doing nothing.

Well actually they weren't doing nothing, they turned red.

In the dark, north facing, unheated genkan.


So we lose out on adding to the collection (16 so far) of green tomato pickles but gain three big pots of tomato sauce. Not the 13 veg variety this time- my share of that loot was 92 jars. That's enough for this year I reckon. This time I went for straight sauce pommadore- one batch with garlic, one with basil and parsley and the final one with roasted whole habanero chillies. Wow. That one totally rocks!

Now it's all packed up in ziplock bags in the big freezer ready for a bleak winter day in need of some cheerful and warming tomato meal.


straight from the teacher's notebook

"I'm glad to hear that the bump on Amy's head went down. Sorry again.

Today we walked to Hachiojidera shrine. While we were there the children were chewing on raw chestnuts (fallen ones) and it seems Amy's wobbly bottom tooth came out. Everyone looked for it but we couldn't find it. Sorry....

Without having to worry about her wobbly tooth she was able to eat school lunch with real gusto for the first time in a long time."

Waahhhhh. I'm so sad. Amy's first lost tooth and it's lost... Well, I guess I could go out to the shrine and turn over all the half chewed raw chestnuts (why were the kids chewing on raw chestnuts they picked off the ground??) but I think it's a lost cause.

Amy was completely unfazed and matter of fact: "Yeah. it came out. No, I haven't got it in my bag. No, I don't know where it is."

I was far more panicked about the tooth fairy dilemma than she was but we decided that a letter with a picture of her tooth would suffice. Meg was quite taken with this idea and wondered if she could just draw a picture of a tooth and get money, too? Nope, nice try honey.

Now I've just got to remember to hide the picture when the tooth fairy does her thing.

And think of a reply to the teacher....


being un-neighbourly

Ahhh what a cute picture.

All those little girls playing together happily in our front yard.

Well, almost.

There really aren't a lot of kids around here. I think between 5 and 15 years old we have 18 kids. Twelve kids at the local primary school of 800 some kids come from this mountain.

So the three kids who came to play represent quite a large percentage of the local kid population.

And M is rather shy and doesn't want to go over and play at anyone's house so kids coming here is really her only peer interaction.

But I'm still not thrilled to have them here. The girls are in grade 5, grade 4 and the one at the front is 5 years old. They are a rather odd gang of three. Each and every non school/ kinder day they spend roaming the neighbourhood on their bikes (the littlest one still has training wheels.) Their only rules are (I asked) don't leave the mountain and be back at 12 for lunch and 6 for dinner. Other than that they are wild and free. To be fair two of the three come from very busy farming families where it's all adult hands on deck at all times for most of the year so having their kids out from under their heals is a boon. Still, I do not like being responsible for other people's children without any warning or social niceties such a s a phonecall. Maybe I'm being too rigid about it all but even if the big girls are old enough to know risks and make judgement calls the 5 year old certainly isn't and I worry. I worry especially as these three kids have a tendency to do some pretty stupid stuff when they get together. Like leaving their bikes in the middle of the road and running madly to get them when they hear a car. Or all climbing on our swing at the same time.

The swing broke.
The kids ran home without mentioning it.
Meg was distraught.

After a wild time was had indoors while I was unaware they were in the house (yes, I was gardening out the back while my kids played out the front so I am not really a helicopter parent myself but...) and then everyone scarpered when I demanded that at least the furniture be returned to it's rightful place they are not welcome in our house. The garden, ok. The house no.

I know that is terribly un-neighbourly and I'm not helping M form relationships with the local kids but there are some influences we don't really need. That cute picture? They were all rocking back and forth on M's new and much loved horizontal bar. After the picture she jumped down and told me (in a whisper) that she was worried it would break and wanted them to stop. But she couldn't tell them herself. Because they wouldn't listen. That's part of it I think. They are not here to play with M. They are just here to play at M's house. But still I have been thinking that I'm rather un-neighbourly and I have been feeling rather guilty about it until a chance conversation with another of my neighbours. Turns out the gang of three is not welcome at at least three other houses on the street. And at one they are not welcome even in the garden. Ouch. Now I feel a bit sorry for them but I feel a lot better about banning them. Prejudice in numbers and all that I guess.

It's also a little difficult for me to judge as I can fully see Amy being in her own gang of three when she is a bit older...

and then the shoe will be on the other foot...