the rice chronicles part 3

Part 0 was levelling, tilling and fertilising the field.
Part 1 was planting the rice seeds in trays.
Part 2 was planting the trays in the incubator rice field to grow.
Part 3 is the water. The difference between a rice field and a veggie field is the water. (Well, the presence of rice and absence of veggies is a big tip off too but yeah, water is a biggie.)

So, to flood a rice paddy you turn the tap on and sit back and watch it fill right?


Well, not entirely right anyway.

You need ditches for the water to run around. That means digging a ditch around the entire perimeter of your rice paddy.

Phew. Now you've done that (Easy Peasy Japanesey, right?) you turn the tap on and sit back and watch it fill (while massaging your tired digging muscles), right?

Not exactly time to put out flood warnings...

Rice paddy flooding relies on gravity and water pressure. Gravity because you let the water in at the high end and out at the low end and water pressure because you need the water to actually run somewhere. We are fighting a hard battle here as we aren't exactly blessed with either quality. The paddy has uphills and downhills throughout and needs a lot of levelling out and the water pressure is more trickle than torrent.

But never say never and where there's a will there's a way and if you dream it you can do it and every other platitude on success and adversity you can think of and there will be rice there one day!


frolicking at the festival

Day two of the festival is just for fun. The shrine is decked out in lanterns and the stall holders turn up. It's a pretty small festival so we only usually get a half dozen stalls but that's enough to excite the local kids. And I reckon the stalls must rake it in as, while the population is small there really isn't a lot of excitement around here and the kids all turn up loaded down with money from all the rellies as 'it's festival time!' Being devoid of festival frenzied relatives Meg and Amy were limited to one purchase. Mean and nasty I know but seriously we do not need more overpriced plastic junk and 500 yen for a sausage on a stick brings out the miser in me- either that or the entrepreneur- seriously I could make good money buying sausages at the local supermarket and grilling them up just outside the festival gate!

But hey, it's festival time and the girls were thrilled with their mammoth bags of fairy floss and so was I when Amy decided she didn't like fairy floss after all and gave it to me. Nothing like spun sugar for a pick me up!

I love this picture of the festival. It was 10am and the nighttime chill still hadn't burnt off so most kids were wearing jackets still. But the kid in the short sleaved blue plaid shirt, the orange check skirt, pink socks and sandals? That would be our Amy!


downsized neighbourhood festival

Today was the neighbourhood festival. It’s a riotous, rollicking, rowdy and oh yeah religious fertility festival to mark the start of the agricultural year. It involves about a month of preparation- tissue paper flower making, drinking, float decorating, drinking, dance rehearsing, drinking, child dancer/ musician training and a little more drinking (for the adults not the first graders but still).

This year just as schedules and roles were being reconfirmed and the roster was in production the Tohoku Earthquake happened.

What to do, what to do? Festivals left and right were being down-sized as a mark of respect. The Nagano marathon (an Olympic qualifying event) was cancelled outright. The community elders held an emergency meeting and decidedon the shape of this year’s festival: cancelling it outright was not an option due to the religious component and the blessing of this year’s harvest was not something people wanted to do without. But the usual raucous alcohol fuelled debauchery seemed rather disrespectful in the circumstances. The dancing outside the community centre where a young man serenades the Chinese lion would stay. Instead of a cacophonous parade to the Shrine the portable shrine would be carried by kei-truckto the shrinewhere it would be blessed and return quietly to the neighborhood. The child dancers would not participate. The flautists and taiko drummers would not participate. Oh and it would be an alcohol free event. I was highly skeptical about this last aspect as the men around here don’t seem to do much at all without toasting themselves afterwards.

The day of the festival rolled around. It was incredibly windy. The kind of wind that had ripped up agricultural plastic around the neighbourhood, knocked over porta-loos and ripped roofing material off sheds. Ok, the last one was just our shed and the construction was a questionable DIY job but anyway, it was windy. At 4:30 am the men gathered at the community centre to raise the huge nobori-hata white flags that proclaim a festival is in progress. At about 4:32 they brought them down again. The flag poles were creaking, the flags were flying around and one of the sandbag weights at the bottom of the flag had whipped itself into a frenzy and fallen off.

So an unannounced-by-flag festival evening arrived and it was a bitterly cold one. The wind had lessened but was still biting. The flag near the road was raised as it wouldn’t hit anything if it swung around. The one near the community centre was left furled as its sandbag would hit the neighbouring house. Thirty minutes before the festival the second flag was raised. Almost. It got stuck on the flagpole going up. Cue an army of old farmers in work wear manouvering kei-trucks and long wooden poles to poke and heave and prod the flag up the pole and with minutes to spare we had two flags up.

The lion danced, the young men serenaded. Well, not so young men. The courtship dance is supposed to be danced by the local high school boys. Only this year we don’t have any. So it was an alumni dance. The important men of the neighbourhood encircled the dancers with their lanterns- forethought and over-preparedness meant that even when candles disappeared from the shelves after the earthquake we were fine as our neighbourhood shops a year in advance- and a scraggly crowd of die-hard festival observers rugged up and braved the conditions to watch the dancers. The combination of the weather and the downsized festivities kept people at home in droves.

After the dance the portable shrine was loaded on a kei-truck, the local important men were loaded on another one, each carrying a beer and I do believe I saw a couple of bottles of shochu in the truck, too- but at that volume I guess that pretty much is alcohol free around here…

The first graders who didn’t play the flute and taiko this year will get their chance next year, even combined with next year’s cohort they won’t fill all the places on the float. We will have three high school boys next year, too. The festival flags will be replaced-at great expense- with new ones, candles are back on the shelves and have already been purchased and there is a massive alcohol budget surplus that will be carried forward to next year’s festivities so in the end the downsizing was more like a postponement. I just hope it doesn’t equate a downsizing or postponing of this years crops!


Amy's observation day in pictures

Observation day today. The last one for kinder. Ever!! Wow.

First we watched them do a clapping game. Amy's partner is the class bad boy. He of the lightening bolt hairstyle she wanted to copy... Super happy Amy. Not so thrilled Daddy!

Then it was morning announcement time and rollcall and I swear it is a coincidence that Amy is sitting between two teachers. No really!

Next it was plaiting time. The parents were supposed to sit behind their kids and help them get the hang of plaiting by doing it together. Only Amy has been plaiting for about a year now and was not going to let us help her so K and I sat there and smiled while Amy plaited. Did I mention that she likes doing very intricate plaits so we were sitting there for ages after everyone else had finished while Amy's pedantic plaiting drew an increasing audience...

Then it was time to wind string round and round a bunched up piece of fabric in order to prepare for tie-dying the class koinobori flying carp for Children's Day. This is another incredibly intricate undertaking and Amy had a ball while yet again K and I were relegated to 'stand over there and don't get in my way' duty.

Lunchtime and the little boy next to Amy was so cute and kept jumping in the pictures.

Bowing before eating. I love how reverent Amy's bow seems and then her neighbour is doing some kind of inverted bow?

And that was it. They send the parents home while the kids are still eating to minimise crying.


DIY hot cake mix

When I make pancakes I usually use 1 cup of wholemeal flour, one of ground rolled oats and one of rolled oats. They turn out fluffy but chewy and a bit crunchy from the lumps in the wholemeal flour. I don't use any sugar either so they are good for savoury purposes, too.

Everyone likes them and I usually make lots and freeze the leftovers to dole out as after school snacks. All is well and fine with the pancakes.

But, they are not even in the same hemisphere as the traditional Japanese 'hot cake'. This is made from a mix and has a cloyingly sweet and fluffy taste and texture but it is the pancake over here. And instant hot cake mix has a bit of a cult following. There are many, many websites with literally hundreds of recipes you can make with hot cake mix as the main ingredient.

But being a bit stubborn when it comes to using pre-mixes I decided to do some research and see if I couldn't make my own hot cake mix.

And I did!

It's a pretty shocking recipe that makes you realise that traditional pancakes are a real minus in the nutrition stakes but they have the authentic hot cake taste and for a treat now and again I'm sure we'll live!

Hot cake mix

1 kilo cake flour
250 grams sugar (aghhhh!!!)
40 grams corn starch
45 grams baking powder
5 grams salt

In a really big bowl mix very thoroughly and you're set!

To turn it into pancakes (sorry, hotcakes) add 150ml milk and an egg and mix well. Walah! (That's voila mum)

Change it up with only 120 ml of milk and add 50 grams melted butter (because it wasn't healthy enough already...) and you get-


I just hope it has a long shelf life because after two days of hotcakes I need a wholemeal pancake!


How do you top an Easter extravaganza?

After all the great advice on how to do the Easter Bunny last night I had pretty much decided to skip his visit this year as we have had more than our quota of chocolate and sweets already.

But wouldn't you know it Meg chose this year to not only know how to read the calendar but also remember the Easter story and know that the real Easter is Sunday....

Oh well... it's only once a year and there really must be a limit for how much chocolate even a sugar deprived child can eat, right?

K had an all day aikido seminar and left the house before the Easter bunny had finished her coffee and got organised so quite a bit of skullduggery was required to get the job done. With the girls ensconced in front of a dvd (with bemused expressions as mummy doesn't usually push tv on a sunny Sunday morning) I snuck out the front door 'to feed the chooks' and was running around like a loony with wild hair and throwing foil covered eggs willy nilly around the garden when...

'Oy! Heather! Good morning!!'
... 'What are you doing?!'

Agggghhhhh!! busted big time!!

It was my new, very friendly and rather boisterous neighbour. At any other time I love that he always calls out hello and stops to chat when our paths cross but I was supposed to be undercover. On a stealth mission. I was supposed to be out the back giving kitchen scraps to the chooks not out the front talking to the neighbours!

I hissed hello and did a wild waving gesturing thing intended to communicate 'please don't talk to me now, I'm on a to secret mission' that I am rather afraid may have translated as 'there is a wasp on my nose and ants in my pants' as neighbour looked puzzled and repeated

'What are you doing??'

I hissed 'It's EASTER!' threw the last eggs in the sandpit and disappeared indoors but not before noticing that my neighbour across the road was holding his one year old granddaughter and watching the whole charade with much amusement.

Went back inside, said hi to the girls and suggested we turn off the tv and go and check the seeds they planted the other day.

We all trooped out the back (don't want to be too obvious) and the girls checked their seeds and played and talked to the neighbour while I weeded nonchalantly. Amy ran around the front to get her skipping rope and came back yelling "THE EASTER BUNNY CAME HERE!! THERE ARE EASTER EGGS IN THE GARDEN!!"

They ran inside to get their Easter baskets and started searching:

I only hid 20 eggs and didn't have optimal hiding conditions so it wasn't a very long lasting hunt but they had a ball as did the three neighbours who watched the whole operation. We sent our 1 year old friend home with an egg- in the custody of Grandpa. I'm sure her mum will love us, even more when she hears it was on the ground, huh?

It was pretty subdued after the hoopla of yesterday but it was perfect for our needs and the legend of the Easter Bunny lives on to fight another day!


Easter extravaganza!

Every year one of the amazing women in AFWJ in Nagoya holds a huge Easter Party at the kindergarten where she works. Every year I hear about it, think "I wanna go toooooo" do nothing then see the pictures and think "I wanted to go toooooooooo" and decide that next year will be the year. Then of course I start the cycle again!

Not this year though.


And so we were up at 6:00 on a very rainy Saturday and out the door by 7:00 with the girls a little confused and miffed at me doing the regular morning rush despite the fact it was Saturday.

The road down was horrific and if I had been driving we wouldn't have made it out of Nagano as I would have given upand gone home. It was driving rain and gusty wind so the rain was hitting us from all directions. The road was so wet that we achieved hydroplaning- something I was warned about when I went for my licensebut really didn't think it existed. It does. And it's not fun.

Anyway, K the family hero got us to Nagoya in one piece and we had a fabulous day:

Not quite getting the idea of the Easter egg hunt. They had first hunted for their Easter baskets which contained stickers, stamps and some lollies. they both thought that was the Easter hunt. Then when they were told to empty their baskets ready to hunt for eggs they didn't quite get it...

Meg was a quick study and Amy followed along. When we hunt for Easter Eggs we hunt for little coloured foil wrapped chocolate eggs. These are coloured plastic cases with lollies inside. Amy didn't realise there was anything inside and couldn't work out why she had emptied her basket of goodies to collect plastic balls.... They collected ten each. TEN! And each one had 3-4 lollies in it....

But wait, there's more!

A pinata. Meg really got into the swing of things (haha)

Amy really didn't want to hit it and started crying that the other kids were 'trying to break the pretty decorations'. She was really upset and we tried to mollify her that there were even more lollies inside but she still wasn't happy 'I've got enough lollies, already!' I had to agree with here there!

The pinata broke and out came pencils and erasers and skipping rpes and playing cards and lollies and more lollies and to Amy's delight lollipops:

Then it was time to play with the dressups:

And with an amazing playground right outside and a menagerie including ducks, turtles and a goat who was going to let a bit (a lot!) of rain dampen the spirits?

It was a very big day and we ended up getting home (after a detour to a huge recycle shop and numerous breaks on the road home as K was tired and the rain was still bucketing down and those of us who hadn't been eating lollies all day long wanted some tea) about 9:30 with two sleeping and very sticky girls!

It certainly was the biggest Easter we've ever done!


dangerous times

Meg doing her homework this morning.

It's grade 2 Japanese. It's really not that dangerous...

Neither is watching me hanging out the laundry.

Or watching neighbour A and I plant lettuce.

And I'd like to think going in the car down to the supermarket with me at the wheel is a pretty safe activity, too....

And yet Meg did all that and more (pretty much everything but eating) in her helmet, today.

Worried about earthquakes?


Trying out for the police/ ambulance/ fire brigade?


Really bad hair day?

Not even close.

It's just that yesterday we bought her a new bike helmet.

That's all.

What are you looking at?


K, Chef du jour

K's last day home sick. He spent yesterday hauling and splitting wood so I think he's feeling a bit better wouldn't you say?

He offered to make dinner and asked what he could use to make it.

This surprised me until I realised we must be out of udon and soba after K being off sick for so long!

With no instructions other than- there's pork or chicken and you can use anything else you find, he came up with:

Wow! It was really beautifully arranged and tasted great to boot. Certainly puts my usual offerings to shame...

And served on china that necessitates trekking from the kitchen to the front room, to boot.


And the icing on the cake? He not only did it while watching the girls he did it with them.

Darn, there goes my other excuse for serving one pot wonders five nights a week...


I love you and I need you

I love you and I need you-


I am not one to poke at a benefit song. I actually own quite a few. "Do they know it's Christmas? " is on my permanent Christmas playlist and I even liked the remake of "We are the world" for Haiti- less so when the girls got into the swing of "Ha-ha-Haiti" and wouldn't let it go but anyway I am usually pretty keen on benefit songs.

But today when my friend S told me there was a tribute song to the people of Fukushima called "I love you and I need you Fukushima" that (as if that wasn't bad enough) contained the chorus "I love you baby, Fukushima. I need you baby, Fukushima. I want you baby, Fukushima." I had to check it out. It just sounded too schmaltzy to be true. Too cringeworthy to be real.

Or so I hoped.

But nope:

To save you from sitting through the whole thing the first chorus starts at 1:27.

I do applaud the idea, the effort that went into it (the people appearing in it are from all 47 prefectures- quite a feat in itself, and some are so famous even I recognise them!) and the references at the end to some of Fukushima's tourist attractions are cool and will hopefully remind people of reasons to go there and help out the economy but "I want you baby, Fukushima"? Really?????

And what are they singing in the rest of the song?

You know you're not going to sleep tonight without knowing:

To everyone in Fukushima,
we’re supporting you from across Japan.
That’s why we all sing together.

I left my true self at Fukushima, Fukushima, Fukushima
I want to love the true you at Fukushima, Fukushima, Fukushima

Something will start tomorrow. Something wonderful.
Something will start tomorrow. Something about you.
I love you baby, Fukushima. I need you baby, Fukushima.
I want you baby, we like Fukushima. (x2)

Let me see that you’re wonderful at Fukushima, Fukushima, Fukushima.
The dream-like days and the beautiful you, at Fukushima, Fukushima, Fukushima.

Something will start tomorrow. Something wonderful.
Something will start tomorrow. Something about you.

I love you baby, Fukushima. I need you baby, Fukushima.
I want you baby, we like Fukushima. (x2)

Everything will start tomorrow.

It will be your day.

A new day will start tomorrow.

It will be your day.

I love you baby, Fukushima. I need you baby, Fukushima.
I want you baby, we like Fukushima.

I love you baby, Hamadori*. I need you baby, Nakadori**.
I want you baby, Aizu Region***. We like Fukushima.

I love you baby, Nomaoi****. I need you baby, Akabeko*****.
I want you baby, Tsuruga Castle******. We like Fukushima.

I love you baby, Fukushima. I need you baby, Fukushima.
I want you baby, we like Fukushima. (x3 1/2)

*the coastal region with the nuclear plants

**the central region

***the inland region furthest West. A bit wild still. Preferred to say they are from Aizu than from Fukushima even before the word Fukushima became synonymous with radiation.

****Soma nomaoi is a 1000 year old festival with a recreation of a horse battle. Soma is on the coast in Hamadori

*****akabeko is a red cow with a bobble head. It is a symbol of Fukushima. Dating back to the 7th century it proves Fukushima has dibs on "first people to invent annoying dashboard accessories"- way before there were even dashboards to put them on in fact!

****** Tsuruga Castle is the famous castle in Aizu Wakamatsu the main city in the Aizu region where the hero of Tohoku- Date Masamune- fought the good fight against the evil Tokyo-ite Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1590 and they still feel slighted like it was yesterday. It's a big deal.

I can't work out the significance of the other prefectures in Tohoku being given non-speaking parts in the song? Hmmmm...

And you know, having listened to it three times in a row while I (probably badly) translated the lyrics after playing it for K earlier and him listening to it twice it's growing on me...

"I love you baby, Fukushima, I want you baby, Fukushima, I need you ba- aghhhhhhh make it stop!!!!!"


good question....

Meg wants to know:

Why does the Easter Bunny come to our house and not her friends' houses?

I know some people say you shouldn't lie to your kids about Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny but well, we do.

Santa is easy as many houses in Japan have some form of Santa.

The tooth fairy is pretty easy as we are heavily in the midst of a fairy book boom and in the fairy books only certain people can see them so Meg and Amy just think they are some of the chosen few.

But when it comes to the Easter Bunny we are really stuck. Why does he come to our house and no-one else's?

Until now we have gone with "He's an Australian thing and so he comes to your house because you're half Australian."

But this Saturday we are going to an Easter party and there will be kids from Ireland, UK, Canada, US and Japan to boot.

Hmmmmmm.... there goes the "It's an Aussie thing" thing...

I need a new answer. They are just so cute when they're all excited and running around the garden searching out eggs and squealing "He put one in my BIKE BASKET!!" and Amy continues to look for about a month after, to boot- just in case he came back. So I really don't want to just give up on it but it's getting a bit tricky to explain.

What do other multi-cultural families do?


rice babies part two

Yup the thrilling continuation of the rice season. I think you'll be catatonic by the time I finally photograph our first bowl of home grown rice for rice babies part three hundred and four!

First a picture of a rice embryo as per request:

Not a great picture but those little wispy things at the bottom? It's basically unpolished (brown) rice still in its outer husk.

So as of lunchtime yesterday we had 200 trays of rice grains in dirt. The others kept working through the afternoon and they ended up with three hundred and something.

This morning we arrived bright and early and the first thing I noticed was noone was working at the house- they were all at the rice paddy.

The very, very wet and boggy, muddy and knee deep in water rice paddy.

Oh and I was wearing boots of course but ankle length ones. Aggghhhh!

Oh well, barefeet it was.

Did I mention that we started at 8:30am? On a morning where there was fresh snow on the mountains? I was almost crying for the first 10 minutes but then my feet got numbed and by about 10am the sun had crept over the mountains and we were no longer in mountain shade but quite warm sunshine- so warm we ended up a little pink with sunburn by the end of the day!

So, being that it was muddy and all- clay type mud that took your boots and put up a good fight on not giving them back again, and that I'm not the most co-ordinated person on any surface- there are not a lot of pictures but here's what we did:

1. The seed raising beds had already been made. That meant digging 130cm wide beds about 15cm higher than the surrounding area the length of the field.

2. Spread out an agricultural mesh net the length of each row. This was measured to be 100cm across and folded over about 20cm.

3. With a person either side of the row holding one side of a plank we wriggled and jiggled and slapped and stamped to get the water from below to rise up through the net so the surface was wet.

4. In relay teams hauled trays of rice embryos from the truck to the rows before placing them three across- but without touching and within the 100cm of the agricultural mat- giving us a few millimetres of leeway and that's all)

5. Using two boards stamp down the seed trays so their bottoms get wet- but evenly so they are not on an angle. The boards can't get wet or they will pick up the crumbly seed growing dirt and the rice seeds with it. The tops can't get wet or the stomper will slide and slip off. So each team was made up of a stamper and a board shifter. The stamper wasn't allowed down so the shifter lifted a board and moved it in front of the stamper who then moved forward and repeat:

I did two shifts on this. The first time I was a stamper with Meg, Amy, another 7 year old and a 3 year old. All on that rather narrow board you can see there- it was quite the circus act!

The second time I was the shifter which is a great upper body work out as you have to lift the board on and off the rice in a swift vertical movement as if it drags it might scrape the seed raising dirt off.

6. Then we had to protect our new babies. First came a layer of newspaper. These had previously been glued end to end into long, very long, rolls. One newspaper width covered half a seed tray so one person worked either side rolling at the same speed and watching for overlap issues while rolling out perforated orange plastic with the other hand- and remember we are trudging through knee deep mud? Oh and we can't splash the seed trays or the mud will cause a shadow and the rice won't sprout. No pressure, huh?

7. Right on our tails doing this double-action, mud-trudge, rolling was the karate chop agricultural mat tamping team- so called because they had to push in the mat with the side if their hand.

8. Then we had to put the fabulously named 'Love Mat' white thermal sheet on top. More rolling and tamping.

9. And we get this:

10. Finally we used pegs and nylon thread and tied it all down in a zig-zag fashion criss-crossing the rows at 3m intervals.

Phew.......... what a day!

And that isn't even the start of it- the rice is still about 8km from home!

The girls had a blast as finally they got the muddy fun part of being rice farmers:

Packing up the mudballs they made for the ride home.


sowing baby rice

Very, very baby rice?

Rice embryos?

Today we said goodbye to K after a brekkie eaten to the soundtrack of the girls drilling K on correct influenza etiquette:

"you got to eat icypoles"
"yup. Garigari-kun are the best ones. Get mummy to but some."
"you don't have to eat if you're not hungry but you have to have a drink-"
"a big drink!"
"a big drink or an icypole!"
"you can't go to work!"
"you can't go and play with your friends"
"you can watch lots of tv!"

and headed across the mountain to a friend of new neighbour and co-rice farmer W's.

We were there to plant up seed trays of rice to start in a greenhouse before transplanting to the rice paddy.

It was quite a process:

From the bottom left:
1. taking an empty seed tray from the pile, checking for damage (they are planted by machine so if they are damaged they won't slide out smoothly), filling it with soil and then using a dustbrush to remove about the top 2mm.
2. feeding the dirt-filled tray through a machine that punches little depressions in the soil and then drops some rice (in its husk) into them.
3. Quality control: using tweezers make sure there are between four and six grains of husked rice in each section of the sections. The machine puts in anything from none to nine so it's quite a job...
4. (At the front where I was working when I wasn't shirking taking pictures) pour more soil on top, level with a length of board and place in stacks on the truck. Stacks that are staggered half a depression to the left and right to avoid the top trays compressing the lower ones. This is important as there are 20 trays to a stack.... This morning we did 200 trays worth!

The girls were fabulous. I had taken along drawing materials and their skipping ropes figuring they would be bored but nope:

Aren't they cute?

Can't believe I just said child labour is cute....


and then there were three...

K came home from work at 7.

Very early for a Friday.

"I'm feeling a little off. Probably just tired. Think I'll just go to bed."

In a house where not one but two kids have been off school with the flu and you think you're just tired???

Felt his forehead and he was burning up.

Packed him off to the after hours clinic and yup, strike three.

Luckily he has been wearing a mask for hayfever for weeks so there is less chance he infected his co-workers...

Seriously. It's the middle of April. Flu season is supposed to be over!

Bets on me dodging the B-bullet? Hmmmmm....


ten points for effort

I am pretty slack about organising play dates.

I feel that the girls spend plenty of time with their friends at kinder/ school each day (from 8:00am to 4:00/ 5:00/ 6:00 depending on the day) and they need some down time.

To be honest there's also an element of me not really liking Meg's previous BFF very much. She's not a bad kid at all but they are a case of 1+1=666 and I can do without that!

If they really want to play with someone else they can always go knock on the door of one of the (admittedly only three) neighbours with kids in their grade level. But that would be little H-chan who struggles with putting up with Meg five walks to school a week so probably isn't hanging out for a Saturday morning door bell to ring!

Well, I guess Meg has been feeling that something was lacking and she decided to take things into her own hands:

Oops. Bad picture. Oh well. Here's the translation:

Arrival time: morning
Things to bring: 100 yen, key*, snacks, bag, wallet
Names of attendees: Kanon, Meg, Amy. (3 people)
4/17 (Sun)
Arrival place: Okubo hill
Meeting place: Tamariya**
Thing to buy: drink

*key is incase your parents get busy and go out while you are playing. You then arrive home to an empty house and let yourself in.
**Tamariya is the local ma and pa shop about 1.2km down the hill from our house.

I gave her points for including her little sister and bringing her own snacks 'so we don't use too much money' but had to take them right back again for the incredibly vague meeting time and for thinking we would give her a key to the house and go out!

She was pretty cut when I said no way Jose and nixed the entire plan and I do feel bad for her that obviously quite a bit of planning and work went into it but she is only seven- in saner countries I'm sure it would be illegal to let her wander off down the hill for an open-ended amount of time!

We compromised and will organise a play date with her new BFF (unknown quantity as a transfer student but a case of give-the-devil-you-don't-know-a-chance) at our house, with a drop off and drop home time and I will even shout the snacks and drinks!


my new favourite job

Don't worry, I'm not chucking in my job but I have found something I like almost as much as teaching.

Leaflet delivering.


This is not an area where people walk for leisure. Kids walk to school, sure. You walk to your field, you work and you walk home again, sure. But that's about it.

But, add a bag of leaflets and you get to walk up and down all the little side roads and back roads and windy roads and really check out your neighbourhood.

And around here I'd say more than 80% of the postboxes are a hole in the wall beside the front door. So not only does leaflet delivering let you walk around your neighbourhood without raising alarm but you get to walk right up people's front paths all the way to the front door.

And what front doors. There are stained glass doors and metal vault style doors and solid doors and ultra-modern doors and wow...

And as a bit of a kanji geek I also love looking at the name plates on the houses. How many Saitos use the old kanji and how many the new? Wonder if the Kabashima kids get teased at school (it's a homonym for hippo island) and what would it be like to be the Deguchi family? (the kanji mean exit) I guess the kids would never have to worry about forgetting how to write their names...

And of course the flowers and the gardens and the exterior design and the decks and the paving and.... all that nosing around in people's gardens for the amazingly low price of stuffing a leaflet in a postbox? Hell yeah! Sign me up!

When I was gushing to K about my new found hobby he pointed out that a career change might not be terribly advisable- it's not always mildly warm and amicable weather around here ad I really do love teaching, too.

But as a hobby I think leaflet delivery is way up there!


Thank you for making my heart feel warm

I am very bad at saying thank you.

Ask my mum. She got to spend the week after Christmas and my birthday hounding me to write thank you notes to my relatives.

I think I probably owe my Grandma about 10 letters still.... Do you think she'd take an anthology version "Dear Nanny thank you very much for the book you gave me for my 14th/ 15th/16th.... birthday- I love them all!"

So, quite rudely and impersonally I am going to thank a lot of people in one post. Shocking. But at least most of them will actually see this. My Nanny doesn't use a computer so she will still be waiting....

To my SIL, thank you for the box of amazing strawberries. They were seriously huge! I have never eaten a strawberry that you couldn't eat in two bites. Wow. The girls were very impressed, too.

To Vicky in Hokkaido and Gaijin Wife in Kyushu for the mug. It came as a complete surprise and I love it! It makes me smile and think of both of you when I use it. And it is the biggest mug in the house so you can be assured that I use it every time I drink coffee!

To all my friends. Something about a disaster really makes you value your friends, hey? And they really have been fabulous. From parcels of batteries when we couldn't buy any for PILs torches, a huge box of hardcore crunchy muesli (impossible up here), house guests bearing corn meal and semolina flour (ditto) to random phone calls and postcards we are feeling the love and loving it! It may take me years but I hope to be able to return the favours someday. Hmmm if not years at least months until it's apple season again!

And lastly to my little bundle of spikes and tears that is Meg. We have had a trying month of it. The earthquake, the PIL visit, the seemingly never ending school holiday and then the extra week off with flu... there have been many tears and a few tantrums. But yesterday and today have been all sweetness and light and I got a goodnight hug and a sigh and a "Mummy, when I'm not angry and you're not grumpy and we all smile it makes my heart feel warm."

And it does, doesn't it?


A month ago today

Yup, a month since the March 11 quake.

It has been quite an emotionally draining month for all of us.

Of course we can't compare our worries and troubles with those in Iwate, Fukushima and Miyagi directly affected by the earthquake, the tsunami and then the nuclear incident but I think the secondary effects are being felt by a far wider portion of the population.

The economic fallout is hurting businesses the length of Japan. K's company can still source all the materials needed to make their products so they are fine in that respect but now they are finding that their customers are cancelling/ cutting back orders as many of them are scaling back production as they can't get all the parts they need.

K's parents are back in their house and back with water, electricity and phone all working well. The aftershocks have continued (literally hundreds of them) but typically they are quite stoic about it "we don't have to worry about so many things breaking as most of them broke in the first quake!" During the day they handle the shocks quite well but the night time after shocks have them waking up and K's mum says she feels like she is not properly rested and then lacks energy throughout the day as a result. But come back and stay with us again? Perish the thought!

The fear of radiation is also weighing on their minds. Even though they are 80km from the nuclear plants and therefore not in the zones the government has placed restrictions on, their city government has recommended they avoid long stretches of time outside where possible, wear masks and remove outside clothing when they come inside and close their curtains to boot. These are all strictly preventative measures for a what if type scenario but they are not really conducive to relaxing living, hey? K's mum says she swings between following all the protective measures and throwing caution to the wind for the chance at a bit of normality (and sunshine!)

I feel public sentiment is swinging in the predictable arc from disbelief, grief, a desperate need to do something-anything- to help and now slowly anger and the search for someone/ something/ anything to blame.

A month riding an emotional rollercoaster means tempers are frayed and rational thinking is suffering. It is sad to see the disaster having a divisive effect on communities when a co-operative approach is far more effective.

On a personal level the girls are more settled about it all now. Meg had her first evacuation drill of the new school year (they have them monthly) and what has been a thrilling break to regular scheduling until now has taken on a bit more gravitas now. She was talking about how you know when the drills are because they are on the calendar but you don't know when a real earthquake comes and how long would they have to wait in the school yard and what if the school got broke and and and....

Amy doesn't talk about her fears as much but they show up in nightmares and night waking and clingyness. She is still a bit more clingy than normal but thankfully we now get to sleep through the night again. Can't believe I used to think waking to soothe kids at night was a normal part of life... how soon we forget!

I feel guilty about not doing more to help the relief effort. I get despondent watching the news and then guilty for not watching. It feels rude to have the luxury of just not turning on the tv and ignoring the problem.

As if to mark the one month anniversary there was aftershock after aftershock all day today. I heard a prediction that we can expect aftershocks for up to a year. I guess this is the new reality for the time being...


spot the difference- the agri-geek version

Exhibit A:
(last Sunday)

Exhibit B:

Well obviously Meg and Amy are missing and the tractor has now moved waaaay down the eye chart in terms of visibility but for the incredibly observant agri-geek the left hand side of the field is slightly more red-brown than the right in the second picture.

And the reason why?

That's neighbour A and a two tonne truck full of chicken manure. We don't do things by halves around here! The manure has been fermented with a combination of rice bran and soy bean casings (? my dictionary says oil cake but that doesn't sound right.... 油かす) and is all crumbly and dry and has quite a sweet-sour smell. No, really! So five adults spent three hours with shallow two-hand scoops sprinkling manure over the field for the tractor to plough in.

It was quite the job and being Japan and all we first had to mark the field out into a grid and work out the ratio of manure per square and work out how many scoops that was and devise a system of even coverage and distribution of labour and and... I am really becoming quite Zen about it all I think. I don't even badger everyone with questions anymore. Just smile serenely and do my labour- while thinking all sorts of wicked things about pedants and Japanese decision making processes!

The manure will sit a week and then we will (hopefully- if there aren't any leaks!) flood the paddy in readiness for the baby rice. Which we will plant in rice trays next Sunday.

And so the riveting saga of the rice paddy continues!

And a random picture of Amy with a stick, an apple and only one boot to reassure my mum that she really was healthy enough to be out and about:


My doppelganger

Senior English class today while K looked after the sickies- yeah, escape! Freedom!!!!!

Anyway, the class went well and when we got to the bit where everyone takes a turn to talk about whatever they want one of my students talked about a tv show she has started watching.

It's about a group of young people living in California.

She likes it because it is exciting and because the main character looks exactly like Heather-sensei.

And she's really cheerful, bubbly and enthusiastic just like Heather-sensei.

The show is 90210.

And my doppelganger?

Yeah. Ummm. Well, we're both white....

Nice compliment though!

Although last time I watched 90210 this particular character was pretty desperate and emotionally distraught so hope my student survives Heather-sensei of Beverley Hills going through all that....


can't win for trying

the shared sick couch worked for all of about 20 minutes.

The two kids in two rooms sick bay idea worked for a further 20 until I got jack of having people yell 'MUUMMMMMMMYYYYYYYY' in stereo....

Decided drastic measures were necessary and put both kids in the car with a box of tissues between them and drove to the local video store.

Where I did something I promised I wouldn't do and bought Nintendo cartridges.

We actually own a DS. But it has K's English training software, my Japanese practice software and a whole lot of dust on it and nothing else.

So, while the girls were in the (unlocked) car with the windows cracked I raced in and picked up two second hand cassettes. I had hoped that we would now have one kid watching youtube on my ipod touch, one kid playing Nintendo and no 'MUUUUUMMMMMMYYYYYY!'.


I assumed you inserted the cassette, handed it to your kid and sat back and enjoyed the peace and quiet. I mean I know three year olds who can use them so no problem with a 7 year old right?


Meg had no idea what to do. 'MUUUUMMMMMYYYYY!'

'Just read the instructions.'

'I cannnnnnnnn't'

Seriously. I had not planned on spending my morning deciphering the instruction book.... So much for buying peace and quiet I just sold my parenting soul and got frustration and stress...

That was pretty much the theme of the day. Meg was feeling better and tetchy at being holed up, Amy was feeling pretty rotten and wanting to be babied- seriously babied as in mummy feed me please.... There was constant bickering and tetching and my flu prevention measure of not touching anyone's snotty tissues required pretty much constant harping to get them to dispose of them appropriately...

My neighbour of the year came in and sat with them (and taught them some Portuguese to boot) while I went to work for an hour and then to school to pick up Meg's homework. Yup, even sick kids gotta do their homework!

Meg was so excited to have her school books but by 5pm was a little worse for wear energy-wise and wanted me to sit next to her while doing her drill work. Of course this cued Princess Amy on the couch to need immediate blanket administrations and water and more tissues and a cuddle and.. and.. and.. agghhhh!!

So when K got home at 7:00 and sighed and said he had had a hard day and was really tired and might just need to have dinner, bath and bed tonight he was lucky all the heavy throwable objects were in another room!

Packed his butt back out the door to at least buy the milk I had asked him to bring home and that he had forgotten (that tough day and all you know...)

Oh well, no day lasts forever and tomorrow's a fresh start... and this time I get to go to work and K can stay home and 'rest' with the invalids.


And then there were two....

Meg on the mend. Past the lethargic 'poor kid' stage and into the irritable 'poor mummy' stage. We got through the morning 'Boring. I want to go to schooool. Why are you stilllll doing the washing?????' and I had just geared up to go out and do some gardening when the phone rang.

"Hello Fukase-san?"
"This is Azusagawa-nishi kinder. Amy has a fever. Could you come and get her?"


I had told them Meg had flu and to watch Amy but that I wanted to send her as long as she was healthy as a) hopefully it would keep her healthy and b) one sick kid at home with one well kid was not a fun combination.

So, quick change of clothes, bundle Meg in the car grumbling and moaning about how unfair it all was and off to kinder, doctor, chemist, kinder, 7-11 and home. Kinder to get Amy, doctor to be told that yes, she has the flu, chemist for tamiflu, kinder to report we have flu, 7-11 to buy sports drinks and jellies as noone wants to eat anything and finally home to set up a sick bay in the living room. Fun, fun, fun!

It is going to be such a fabulously relaxing weekend. Wish us luck!


trial lesson

Meg is still ill, Amy went off to kinder and as one couch is the same as another when you are lethargic I took Meg to work and set her up in the staffroom with tv, drinks and a blanket while I taught my class. It was only 45 minutes and then I was done for the day as my boss was covering all my other classes but this one was a trial lesson so I wanted to do it.

It was the cutest class but whoa baby. Babies. Ok toddlers. I had five two year old boys. Whoa.... They were so cute but I think there were exactly three points in the class where I had all five kids focussed on the same activity at the same time.

It went really well though and the mums seem like they will sign up which is great as that's the aim of the trial lesson, right? But wow. My last 2 year old class had a quiet boy and a very mature girl and one ball of energy. To go from that to five balls of energy? It sure won't be boring!


Meg's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day

First day of school! Yeah!!

Meg's a grade 2!!

She's thrilled!

Mummy manages to whip up the two floor cleaning cloths we realised we hadn't organised at the kitchen table while Meg eats brekky.

Meg wears her new top we bought a week ago but that she has been keeping for the first day.

Meg sets off all excited and happy.

Mummy gets a phonecall from the after school centre.

Meg has a 38 degree fever and is lethargic. Please come and get her.

Mummy and Daddy both finish work early and head to get Meg.

The local clinic is closed.

We head to the next town's clinic and Meg has to submit to having a large cotton bud stuffed waaaay up her nose.

Wait 10 minutes and yup. Meg has Influenza.

Poor kid is therefore automatically suspended from school for 7 days.

Meg cries all the way home.

Not because she feels rotten (although I'm sure she does) but because she wants to go to school.

"I didn't even eat school lunch yet."
"I haven't even got all my new textbooks yet."
"I don't know what group I will be in yet."
"I don't know who I will sit next to yet."
"We didn't hand in our cleaning cloths yet"
"I didn't even get a chair today"

Seems the first day of school was completely taken up by the entrance ceremony and kids wandering around trying to find their new classrooms. Their chairs were all set up in the gym for the ceremony so they literally had no chairs in their classrooms.

And now she has to stay home for a week. Poor kid can't catch a break I swear.


Kinder entrance ceremony

What a lot of hoohah. Seriously. We had to be at kinder at 8:40 and I finally escaped at 11:30. In that time we had a lot of waiting, a lot of meetings, the election of the new PTA board, an entrance ceremony, an explanation of the new bag we need to make (oh yeah!) the announcement of classes and teachers (no change for Amy, oh well...) and got to watch 62 new 3 year olds in all their finery. Fashion stand out for me was the dad with the pink mohawk. Just don't see those that often. It wasn't punk razor thin mohawk, more Puck from Glee but 10cm long and yeah, bright pink....

We have 210 kids this year which makes us the biggest kinder in Mastumoto (a fact that was only mentioned...ooooh 10 times? Bragging rights, huh?) with 23 staff and 9 part timers. It's huge! The kinder principal hasn't changed which makes me really happy as I really respect our current principal and (unusually for around here) she was a working mum herself so understands the way stuff just happens sometimes. As this is Amy's last year of kinder it means we will see out her kinder years with this teacher. Here's to an uneventful year!


Sunday rice farmers!

We are rice farmers!!

Well almost.

This has been a long term goal of K's and I ever since we moved to the country.

We have lackied on other people's paddies, been to seminars on rice growing and looked into renting a paddy on a number of occasions but this year it's full force ahead and we're in business!

The girls are thrilled- "Yeah!!! I want to stand in the mud and plant the baby rice! "I want to turn the water on and off!" Not that they completely get the process- "Are we going to plant white rice or brown rice?"

It has come about because I have a new neighbour- W and her husband K (this is going to be confusing with two Ks.....) arrived in November and already rented a paddy. Wow. Look what you can achieve when you don't procrastinate, huh?? They are even more hardcore organic farmers than we are and want to grow rice without any chemicals and.... wait for it.... ducks! Yup, ducks. The ducks will churn the mud up and eat the weeds- and provide something to go with the rice come Autumn. Thank you and sorry ducks....

So today we headed down to the paddy for the first day of work. Not planting baby rice while standing knee-deep in mud as the girls were hoping. Not even turning the water on and flooding the paddy as I had hoped. Nope. We have a loooooong way to go before we get there...

See, this paddy hasn't been used for forty years. Four-oh forty. The ditches that run around the outside of the paddy to channel the water are overgrown with weeds and decades of dirt. The pipes that take the run-off water from the paddy are jam-packed with dirt the whole way through. The entire field isn't even flat anymore so that is a big job.

A big job because this is a big field.

Everything you can see that's ploughed is the field. There's the new K in a mini backhoe at the far end levelling stuff out, that's my K walking down the left hand side, Amy kicking back in the dirt and Meg posing with the tractor and demanding to know why I wouldn't let her drive it... Really... It's about three tan apparently. A tan is a Japanese rice paddy unit of measurement that is apparently 991.74m2. I don't know... 991m2 x 3 seems rather big even for that field but maybe a couple more days out there working and I'll be agreeing with it!

At the very front left corner you can see the water inlet pipe. It doesn't look very impressive or time consuming but there was more than 30cm of absolutely rank mud-gone-off in a 1m deep just-too-small to get in and work properly pit. It took a looooong time to clear out and was not a nice job!

Next Sunday we're making a mud slurry to firm up the sides of the paddy. This will be fun and I think the girls are going to have a ball!


The season has started

Spent the day outside today.

First time this season. We spent the morning ploughing the big field ready to plant potatoes and bagging chicken manure (it gets delivered by the 4 tonne truck load) to move to the other fields. Meg and Amy were so excited to be out in the garden again and kept talking about all the veggies they want to grow this year (yellow tomatoes, little tomatoes, watermelon, peas and pumpkin). Bagging manure is quite the job. The bags are old grain bags so quite big and the manure pile is huge. The girls held the bags while neighbour A and I filled them. I really thought the girls would grow tired of the job/ the smell and go and play which would have been fine as we are not really into child slavery but they were amazing. Not only did they hold manure bags for the whole morning but they were laughing and chattering and smiling and just soooo happy to be doing it and for the first time it really was a great help having them there. In previous years it has been somewhat helpful, or a little distracting or sometimes even counter productive to take them along but it was a necessary evil as we won't leave them at home while we work up there. But slowly they are really getting the hang of things and they are still really enthusiastic about helping (that has never been a problem, just the direction of the enthusiasm....) so it was great. We flew through the bagging and had finished/ run out of bags by 11:00. Wow...

Spent the afternoon chainsawing (K) and hauling/ stacking wood (me). The pollen is horrendous and we both sneezed and cried and sniffed through the day but it was so exciting to feel that the end of Winter has come and it's time to get back into the swing with the beginning of Spring.

Tomorrow we are going to level out the soil in another field. If we can move that is. A winter of inactivity has made us soft and my muscles ache.