I rock...

I've mentioned it before but I'm really not much of a Japanese hostess.  I seem to be able to intrude on people at any hour of the day or night, announced or otherwise (long story involving gridlock, screaming baby and 'hey, I think I visited someone out this way once...') and unfailingly be greeted by hot tea, home-made pickles and something yummy.  Either the fancy cakes from that new bakery, a home made fruit-filled roll cake or at the very least visitor worthy rice crackers.

Turn up unannounced here and not only will you think you should call 110 as it looks like we've been ransacked but I will probably offer you the leftover morning coffee (microwaved of course, give me some credit!) and... ahhh... at this time of year it would be cut up apple, unpeeled.  In non-apple season you'd get banana slices, peeled.  We just don't keep snacks as a matter of course and if we do get them, we tend to eat them.  All of them.  Hence the reason we don't keep snacks!  I have actually pulled out three packs of toddler tamago ball rusk things and mixed them with sultanas and dried cranberries and told someone it was what we call trail mix. *^_^*  Went quite well with coffee....

Anyway, today good old friend and neighbour A called me at 10:00 to come over for lunch.  It attests to the amazingness of her culinary skills that when I said I had to work at 1:30 half an hour's drive away she suggested we come over now. 

Two things flashed through my head:

Aghhhhhhh!!!! We've just finished breakfast! 


Aghhhhhhh!!!!  I have nothing to take and no time to make!

I realised my first panic was actually a relief- the girls eat truly amazing quantities of food so arriving full (bagels, scrambled eggs, veggie medley, sausages AND a banana smoothie) should limit the amount of portion control I have to do.  They still managed to eat three portions of spaghetti, two helpings of potato salad, two of rice and some chips and dip, though...

The second panic was more of a problem.  A is an amazing cook and always whips up mountains of yummy food.  Even when we don't eat there she quite often brings me over some of whatever she's made- Brazil has gone from off my travel radar to front and centre place I must visit!

Anyway after a quick freak out I said a big THANK YOU COSTCO and whipped this up:

Not bad, hey?  1 block of blue cheese which I absolutely love but need to get out of the house as I'm the only one who eats it here and silly me bought a 6pack- errrr diet??? With a thinly sliced and toasted onion bagel cut into chips, and some of my quince paste from the summer.  This is the second batch I made when I was over being vigilant and stirring for hours, so I quit halfway through and store it in jars like jam- absolutely no different and wayyyyyy less work!

Everyone loved it: blue cheese! So exotic!!  This bread- it's got seeds is it??  Quince paste- you made it?  Had to bask in the glory a bit...

So yes, today I rock.

Oh and A's 16 yo daughter on her first taste of blue cheese ever?

ウオー!このチーズは超チーズだ!  Whoa.  This cheese is majorly Cheesy!


Not mad, just sad.

A really horrible thing happened in Melbourne. 

Since the I have been emailed a petition to bring back the death penalty (Australia doesn't have it), invited to join a RIP Darcy facebook group and a number of people are suggesting truly horrible things that the father deserves.  The overall feeling seems to be incredible anger.  I'm a mum,  I have young kids, I should be outraged, too.  

But I just feel sad.  Really, deeply sad for everyone involved.

Afterwards the father drove his two sons to the Law Courts and begged security to take them.  He is reportedly in an 'acute psychotic state'.  What kind of stresses and pressures and demons would a person have to have to throw their own child off a bridge and not even stop or call police.  By asking for someone to take his sons was he feeling that he might harm them as well?  Who knows.  But one thing is for certain: for the rest of his life (and with no death penalty and him being on suicide watch that may be a very long time) he will have to live with the horror of what he did.  And I feel sad for him.  That one really horrific moment of whatever-induced bad judgement has caused him to ruin so many lives and to be aware of that, forever.

I feel sad for the two little boys who sat in that car and watched their father do that to their sister.  They will be traumatised by it and have to work hard to work through it with counsellors for many years to come.  Will they ever be able to forgive their father?  Will they ever have a relationship with him?  They have lost so much today: a sister, a father, trust, innocence, a sense ofsecurity.

I feel sad for the other commuters on the bridge that day.  People sitting, powerless behind the wheel, waiting for the traffic to move who witnessed the horrible incident.  Who had to be reassured by police that it all happened too fast for them to have done anything.  Who will probably always wonder 'what if...' and 'could I have...' and will worry themselves sick being  hypervigilant of those around them.

I feel sad for the children's mother.  Not being able to protect your children is one of the worst feelings in the world.  She must be racked with guilt about overlooking any possible signs of her ex-husband's fragile mental state.  In one moment she has lost her daughter, her children's  father (to prison), and her anonymity.  Her husband's full name and suburb are all over the news.  She will now have to raise two traumatised boys, by herself, with all the whispers and raised eyebrows as she goes about it.

I am not making excuses for the father.  What he did was an atrocious thing and he will be rightly punished severely for it.  I think most parents have experienced moments of utter despair.  I have pulled off to the side of the road and just sobbed when sleep deprivation, a jealous toddler, a teething baby, a super humid day and just life in general made me want to just get out of the car and run somewhere.  Anywhere.  Melbourne is experiencing a heatwave at the moment.  Day three of highs in the 40s and lows in the 30s.  The traffic was crawling on that bridge.  He was under time pressure trying to get his kids to school.  Maybe the kids were crying.  Maybe they were fighting.  If he was feeling overwhelmed he should have pulled over, for sure.  But he should never, ever have let his emotions take over like that.

I am not religious but I really hope someone is looking over that family now.


Easy Peasy Japanesey meal

"Easy Peasy Japanesey": a cockney rhyming slang phrase describing something unbelievably easy; exclusively used by those innocent, unknowing folks who've never had the opportunity to study the over-alphabetted Japanese language.
Source: the dictionary according to Heather

But this recipe really is Easy Peasy Japanesey.

Name:   Pork and Hakusai
Ingredients:   Pork and Hakusai.  (Bet you couldn't see that coming!)
Method:   Layer hakusai and thin sliced pork in a large pot.
Add water.  Add heat.  Wait for it to cook.  Eat.

  • There aren't any volumes listed here.  It's up to you.  I used a whole small hakusai (about a kilo?) and just over 300grams of pork because that's what I had.  I'm sure the more meat you add the richer it would get.  We use the cheaper, less fatty pork.  I'm guessing the expensive stuff works, too. ;P  As to the amount of water, if you cook on a very low heat you can actually make it with no water.  But cooking on heat that low takes way more patience than I have so I added 200ml water and cranked it.  I think 100 would have been enough.
  • The hakusai has to be the first layer.  No idea why (maybe sticking?) but everyone says so.  Break the rules at your own risk.
  • I was dubious that just water would work and added salt and pepper (I think everything tastes better with salt and pepper!) it was delicious and had plenty of flavour.  Now I want to know how it tastes plain.
  • How do you know when it's done?  When it's cooked through!  The whole thing reduces, the hakusai goes transparent and the pork goes grey.  It starts smelling amazing, too.
It's not the most photogenic of dishes but here goes:

If you're being really fancy you can cut the hakusai in half and wind the pork around the leaves still attached to the base before cooking.  The result is a beautiful rose like creation but nahhh, that's not Easy Peasy Japanesey at all!


the hanten sphere

Hanten's are padded quiltlike jackets with a tie at chest level.

Here's M and A in hanten:

(They were give them by one of my students.  They thought the labels were a bonus card that came with the clothes.  They were thrilled.  Hmmm, think they're used to only getting hand me downs? :S)

I got my first hanten as an engagement present from my MIL.  That's Tohoku for you!  I refused to wear it.  I mean it's like something you see old bedridden people wearing, yeah?  A doona you wear.  

Fast forward a few months and my brand new husband K gets home from work and gets straight into his hanten.  Seeing how warm and cosy he looked began wearing me down and I tried mine on.  Hmmm, a bit stiff, a bit awkward moving around with all that padding but definitely warm...

Since moving here though I am growing ever fonder of my hanten.  It helps that my neighbours walk around outside with them on (along with those camel toed canvas work shoes and tie on pants- it's a bit of a time slip around here...) and again they look so warm...  So slowly the sphere of my hanten wearability is expanding.  I've gone from only over my pyjamas..., to only in the house..., to only in the house and garden... and then... today I went across the road and picked up my Co-op delivery in my hanten and gumboots.  Aghhhhhhh!!  I'm turning local!

If I ever go down into town and pick the girls up from kinder or drop into the post office in my hanten, slap me.  


I mean it's like something you see old bedridden people wearing, yeah?  A doona you wear.


Another one bites the dust...

Hi, I'm Taro
Hi, I'm Heather
Where are you from?
Are you an English teacher?

I hate that as soon as someone sees me they assume I'm an English teacher.  I am, but that's not the point.  Not too many foreign execs around here but I mean I could work in a factory, I could be a hostess.  Damn insulting that noone ever mistakes me for a hostess.  Just because I'm usually schlepping around in baggy jeans and a faded shirt.  So what?  Don't they watch those 'documentaries' about the Ginza Madames?  You know, Sweet kinder mum by day and Steel Rose of a hostess club owner by night?  Hmmm, I would probably squash the average salaryman if I sat on his knee and I don't wear makeup... a very undercover hostess... ;P

Anyway, I am a teacher.  I was a teacher in Australia, too.  I've only ever been a teacher.  And sometimes (especially since coming here and finding out that my qualifications don't matter a hoot as long as I can sing the hokey pokey) I wonder whether I am an undiscovered whiz at some as yet untried by me profession.  You know like those amazing stories of Olympic athletes who stumbled on their sport of excellence by chance?  Who knows, if I were ever to open the spreadsheet software on my computer I might become a great economics whizz.  If I ever shot a gun I might be a sharp shooter and join some elite military force.  If I actually wrote down the spur of the moment activities I make up for my kids rather than just thinking 'wow! that worked really well!'  I could be the next Genki English.  On second thoughts...;P  If I conquered my fear of speed, tollways, driving and shadowy tattooed characters I might be an ace truck driver... ok that's a lot to overcome but you get the idea.

The problem with this theory is that each time I actually get a chance to try something out I usually find that it isn't me afterall:

Event staff- amazing fun but one day left me wasted for two days.  That doesn't seem like a great start to my career.

Call centre- cold calling is not my thing.  I got all sweaty and nervous and so depressed when noone would let me do my speel.

Industrial kitchen- see event staff.

Apple picking- lots of fun and I was quite fast.  It was a nice day and I was with friends though.  I think alone in bad weather wouldn't be quite so nice...

Organic market garden- work in progress.  I love nurturing plants, watching them grow and encouraging them towards maturity.  I don't like killing things (unwanted seedlings or caterpillars) and I find being alone too long gives the voice in my head a little too much free reign...

And today I had a go at a job I really thought would be me to a T.- Office Assistant.  Teaching is all about me vs the kids.  I know I'm meant to say we're all a team with a common goal of their enlightenment, but the reality is it's me vs the kids.  When it goes well I can stand back and gently guide and let them think they're setting the pace of the class but ultimately I'm always in control and that necessitates a (terribly friendly and warm and fuzzy) me vs them approach.  From that standpoint an office worker has the most idyllic work environment.  All those cubicles filled with people chatting and going to the water cooler together and making coffee and collaborating and chatting and just a peace sign short of a group-hugging commune.

What I managed to overlook in this image was the actual work.  I mean not even I could make coffee and drink water all day...  

Today I have spent three hours fiddling with Microsoft Word's Master Document function.  

I have the manual.
I even read the manual.
I still had to do a complete redo.
It's still not perfect.
I'm so over it all.
I've just begun.

Sigh, cross Office Assistant off my 'I coulda been...' list.


Happy Australia Day!!

The 26th of January 1788 is the day the First Fleet (of English ships) entered Sydney Harbour (without the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House how did they recognise it?? ;P) and declared the land Terra Nullis (uninhabited land) (colour blind they couldn't see the Aborigines who'd been living there for the last 30,000 years) and claimed it in the name of England as Terra Australis (Southern Land- those Captains may have been smart enough to go around touting Latin but they certainly weren't very creative with it!)  

Therefore the 26th of January is the day we celebrate Australia Day.  The Aussie equivalent of Independence Day or Canada Day.  Their history is different but the basic idea of having a national holiday devoted to bbq, beer and sport is the same right?

If I was in Australia I would probably be sitting around in my bathers and sarong, drinking a G&T (I know it's un-Australian but I really don't like VB.  I am only actually half Australian so I blame my DNA.  I obviously missed the beer gene...) and watching someone else cook on the BBQ.

But I'm not.  I'm in Japan and I don't know any other Aussies within hollering distance.  So I had a chuhai (it's girly and alcoholic, I can pretend it's a Bacardi Breezer...) and taught M and A 'Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!  OI! OI! OI!'.  Quite proud of myself for instilling important aspects of my culture in their lives.

K was less impressed.  Seems OI! is not very polite in Japanese and the thought of his two sweet little preschool aged girls running around hollering it at the top of their lungs does not please him.

What a flaming hoohah over a bloody word.  Don't get all shirty with me, mate.  Stick a sock in it, bite ya bum or on your bike and shove off, orright?

Hooroo, I'm off to grab some more grub and some grog and veg out in front of the idiot box. :)


City mouse, country mouse

I am such a country mouse.  

I grew up on a small island and spent all my teenage years dreaming my way off it.  Left to go to Melbourne for Uni, shunned my previously coveted surfer wear and pieced together an all black wardrobe (de rigeur for Melbourne, dahling), had a ball experiencing the city for four years with a break of one year living in Osaka- a city that seemed more like an amusement park to a 22 year old with a scholarship to burn and barely a class a day to attend.  I really thought I had become a city girl.  No car, no license, a train pass and a bicycle, a tiny apartment, a balcony garden, shunning supermarkets in favour of a daily pilgrimage to my favourite specialty shops (still warm tofu- yum!), that black wardrobe, Sunday mornings at my local cafe with the newspaper and a latte... Yup, no sand left under my fingernails.

So that's why it surprises me so much that I really don't enjoy the city any more.  And yes, you can laugh, I'm calling Iruma and Kawagoe in Saitama 'the city'.  You just forget how many people there are there!  We set the navi- only 28km, no problem!!  We get out on the road and...stop.  Not just the traffic lights every 50m but the gridlock that means you can't go even when the light is green.

Costco Iruma opens at 10:00am.  We arrived at the tail end of the queue to get into the carpark at 9:30.  The parking attendants were already out in full force.  There were long lines snaking out of each entrance.
DH: we must have stumbled on a sale.'
Me: Must have...
DH: There's no sale signs up.  Must be an American thing.
Me: mmmm.

Got inside and it was overwhelming- all those aisles, all that produce, all those giant sized trolleys, all those people!  It was mad but fun and (after researching your lists- thank you!) I bought lots of goodies:
bagels (all those flavours!)
mini croissants (they actually look like real croissants not the bready things shaped like croissants you see around here)
dinner rolls (so cheap!!  and what a great size)
parmesan cheese in a HUGE two pack (yummmmmmm)
balsamic vinegar (so I can finally admit my 18month old carefully brought home from Australia bottle of it is finished)
cheese (Had to restrain myself here.  Six(!) pack of blue vain and shredded matured cheddar.  I don't think my taste buds remember what real cheese tastes like anymore)
coffee beans (fresh ground coffee is amazing and who could resist vanilla hazelnut?)
bag of pecans (total splurge but hey, people who go to Disneyland buy themselves a souvenir, right?)
bag of cranberries (ummm, see above? ;P)
rolled oats (HUGE box.  We love porridge around here and this should keep us happy even if goldilocks comes a calling)
Gorgeous and insanely cheap matching ankle length pink dresses with a sash and flower detail that will be perfect for flower girl duty.  Machine washable so even more perfect for these particular flower girls!
A ginormous square pizza for lunch.  So big we brought the left overs home and I cut them in squares and have frozen them for those 5:00pm 'mummy, I'm hungry now' emergencies.
1.8kg grapes to go with the pizza.  What a treat- grapes out of season.
Industrial quantities of taco seasoning, cinnamon and onion powder.  Not sure why I bought the onion powder, I've never used it before but it just sounded cool.  Bizarre shopping madness induced behaviour.  Lucky I wasn't in the electronics aisle when it hit!

I think that's about it.  I couldn't go down the bathroom or cleaning products aisles as the scents overwhelm my sinuses and I sneeze and tear up- makes it kind of hard to see whether you're holding body soap or dog shampoo and we don't want to make that mistake!

I was wanting bubble bath but didn't see any which was a pity and my boss asked for chicken wings and Farmer John bacon and I didn't find either which will be disappointing for him but all up it was quite the experience.  Both DH and my friend's husband needed a nap when we got back though.  All a bit much for them but they were stars and minded the four preschoolers so we could shop in peace so a nap was the least we could do, right?

And then DH had the fabulous idea to go home on the local roads.  The tollway takes you over 100km north of home so you can double back on a different road to get to Matsumoto.  This irritates DH's sense of logic and we both prefer looking at scenery as we drive so off we set on the local roads.  Four hours later we had finally made it into Nagano prefecture.  (A tollway trip door to door is about 3 hours.)  The roads are very clearly marked and nice and wide.  It's just all those darn other cars on the road that are the problem!  We gave up and took the tollway the rest of the way home arriving exhausted, relieved, overwhelmed and thankful in a little over five hours.

I think I will have to give up my hard earned honorary status as a city mouse.  Admit I'm a country mouse through and through.  I've swapped sand for dirt but it's all the same thing when you get down to it.

I do love my little Costco luxuries though.  Hmm, maybe I'm a closet city mouse?  A country mouse with a shady city past I try to hide but just can't shake?  Whatever you want to call it, I'm glad to be home- even when the water in the coffee cup in the sink is frozen. :)


Yeah! Costco!!

Tomorrow we're going to Costco.

So what?  Well it's about a 4 hour drive each way, it's full of the kind of food I can only dream about around here and I get as excited as a kid going to Disneyland each time we go.

This time we are going in the van for the first time and I have so much more shopping space than the Wagon R that I'm planning on really going to town.

My regular buys are parmesan cheese, bagels, dinner rolls, rolled oats and tortillas.  

Coming from Australia I don't know some of the products or a lot of the brands so to anyone in Japan reading (or somewhere else that has a Costco) I'd love recommendations of Costco must haves.

Yeah!  So excited!!  

(So sad, huh? ;P)


I tried to socialise...

After a sick day at home, a you might still be sick and your sister might get sick day at home, and a snow day at home I felt sorry for Amy (and I was experiencing just a touch of cabin fever) so we dropped M off at kinder and A and I headed to the local jidokan.  Jidokan are free city-run playrooms.  The size/ facilities/ rules differ from place to place but, at least around here, they tend to have an active play room, an outside play area and a quiet play/ babies room.  It's about 80% free play with some exercises, a song or two and a storytime thrown in there for fun.  They are a great place to go when you are feeling like being commanded to draw one more anpanman face or cut out one more vague 'like this and then this and then, you know' paper shape might just be enough to tip you over the edge into hairpulling, screaming, drooling, rocking back and forth in a corner mad woman territory.  Oh and the kids enjoy going there and playing with different toys too.  But that's secondary. ;P  They also have in-floor heating which I loooovvveee.

So anyway, drop M at kinder and mosey on down to the jidokan.  

Arrived at about 9:30.  

(It opened at 9:00.)  

Walked in and signed our names, took Amy's nametag from the tub and...

Nope, there aren't twenty people squeezed into a corner behind me so I can take this shot.  We really had the whole place to ourselves.  And we did the whole time we were there, too- until 11:00!!  Bizarre.  A free, heated playroom, stocked with toys -and magazines for mum, and not a soul there.  Where do all the other SAHM hang out??  

I'm a little worried actually.  See, I tend to be a bit behind on neighbourhood gossip.  I ate at the restaurant (yup, it's the restaurant- we only have one) and commented to a friend that I was the only one there for lunch.  She looked puzzled and said hadn't I heard that they were caught recycling leftovers a month ago???  Uhhh, Nope. 

I'm trying to think what on earth the jidokan could have done to get blacklisted... put the wrong labels on all the toy boxes?  tear out the 'continued on page ##' pages from the magazines?  Do that horrible aeroplane song where the mum has to run around holding their (huge, heavy, wriggling) kid in the air?  

Me thinks I need to get to the bottom of this...


Meg says YEAH!! Mummy says @*%#!!

Woke up this morning and had that feeling.

The light in the bedroom was just a little too bright, a little too white.

Kind of like we'd slept in for an extra couple of hours.  (I can dream!)

I held my breath, tentatively lifted a corner of the curtain, peeked out through scrunched up eyes and...



No, that wasn't me.  That was Meg jumping up and down on the bed and looking over my shoulder.  Me?  I didn't actually swear what with little people with big ears around, but if thought swearing counts then it was a PG13+ moment. :(

So, as well as doing the normal morning routine without K around to help (business trip) which is hard enough, I had to go and shovel a path to the car (whose bright idea was the great big lawn out there???):

clear the snow off the car and warm it up to melt the snow on the windscreen.  Princess confession: those are all K's jobs usually. *^_^*  It wasn't as bad as it could have been, there was only about 10cm out there and it was not that heavy yet.  Heavy enough to stick to the tree branches and be quite beautiful:

But not too tiring to shovel.  We got to kinder and M ran off with a 'bye mum!" over her shoulder.  The kinder has a big yard with a hill at one end.  They have little toboggans and were having a ball:

Ahhh well.  I can't wish away the snow when it gives so many people pleasure now can I?  But even my sister's snowboard mad boyfriend said 'Snow would be so great if it was like 30 degrees out there.' 

That sounds perfect!

*I don't keep my camera in the bedroom.  That picture was taken downstairs later.  Just to let you know. ;)


No, really.

The Shinshu Santa was a bit busy with visiting family (erherm) and ended up doing a Christmas Eve 100 yen shop dash.  Santa, really!  Anyhow, Santa grabbed a colouring book without really checking it out.  I mean what kind of inappropriate content could there be in a colouring book, right?

Well we ended up with a 30 page colouring book all about chores.  No, really.  Wiping the floor, washing the dishes,walking the dog, feeding the fish, getting daddy's newspaper (Give me a break!!) massaging mummy's shoulders (oh, that ones ok. :>) cleaning the bath etc etc for thirty whole pages.  

Today I kept M home just in case she caught whatever A had yesterday.  She didn't of course so I had two very genki kids (yup, A bounced back to 120% overnight) and M decided we should do all the jobs in the colouring book.  No, really.  I thought it was the absolute dullest way to spend a morning I could possibly think of but hey, if she wants to do it?  And I get a clean house to boot?  OK, we'll give it a go. :)

check the book...
(yes, Amy's colouring in is rather more focused on staying in the lines than art)

... do the job.

We made it through sixteen pages before we got to clean the bath.  The bathroom was cold- frigidly cold, and mean mummy had a no slippers in the bath rule.  M lasted about a minute before she looked at me like this:

(look at those poor cold, red fingers :<)
and we decided to call it a day and go and have hot cocoa by the fire.  They were so proud of themselves and kept talking about all the things they'd done.  But it's about the last way I would choose to spend the morning.  No, really.

And no, it wasn't a freakishly warm day here- I was wearing three layers.  They just wanted to wear their sundresses.  As you do.  

They are my daughters.  

No, really.


the dreaded lurgy

Amy is sick.

I was called into daycare at lunchtime as:

"Amy didn't eat very much lunch (well I did write in her notebook that she ate a bowl of cereal, a traffic light jelly AND half a banana for brekky...) and she has a fever of 37.8."
"OK.  I'll come and get her.  I'll be about half an hour." (darn, darn, double darn- there goes my shopping trip.)
"Oh, no hurry, she's napping now."

Righhhhht.   She sure sounds desperately ill.  I am constantly battling bureaucracy on this fever thing.  There is a regulation that with a temperature of 37.6 or above you can't get innoculated, go in a swimming class, go to daycare or kinder and probably a thousand other things I don't even know about yet.  I am just as keen to stop the spread of illness and keep sick kids at home as the next person.  I just don't agree with the total reliance on body temperature as a gauge of health.  I mean a kid can be sneezing vile green snot all over the place or coughing like a 40 a day smoker but as long as her temperature is only 37.5 degrees she's off for a fun-filled germ spreading day at kinder. Seriously, I think you could cough up half a lung and as long as you didn't break the 37.6 barrier they'd just tell you to ganbatte! persevere!

Amy?  Well she's a little hottie.  Fabulous to have around in winter as she's always toast warm to cuddle up to but it really doesn't take much to push her over 37.6.  And so she gets sent home sometimes only to spend the rest of the afternoon running around the house shrieking and singing and asking to go to the park.  Grrrrr.

But today?  Today we didn't even make it home before she was sick everywhere.  Poor kid, she was more grossed out than under the weather but we pulled over and got her changed and kept going home where I had to call the daycare to report it.  Yup, we have to report any throwing up so the daycare can keep track of outbreaks.  Again, I get that.  But I don't like the gossip factor involved:

"Hi.  This is Amy's mum.  She was sick on the way home from daycare."
"Ohhh!  Poor Amy-chan.  Take care, it could be the flu.  18 kids at the University Kinder have flu at the moment."
"Wow, that's a lot.  We don't know anyone from there so that should be Ok."
"Oh! And they've closed two classes at Tagawa Elementery School with a stomach virus."
"Wow.  That sounds pretty bad.  But ummm, we don't know anyone there either so that should be OK, too."
"Ummm, I should go check on Amy..."
"OH! Of course!  Take care of Amy-chan!"




大寒 だいかん Daikan  Big Cold.

Tomorrow is the coldest day in the year. No, I am not some weather forecasting prophet (would I be living in Nagano if I had known what the winters were like???)  It is the coldest day in the year according to the SolaLunar Calendar.  This oldstyle calendar broke the year into 24 seasons.  (Sock that to the next person who hits you with 'Japan has four seasons'!)  These days haiku poets and farmers are really the only ones left concerning themselves with all that seasonal minutiae but they haven't completely disappeared from our lives- setsubun (the sushi-roll munching day in February) is from the old calendar, too.

There are a number of traditions associated with Daikan.  Many of them involve near-naked men and icy (literally) cold water (sometimes it really bites being a woman, hey? ;>)  Another tradition is to eat an egg as Daikan is the day chooks begin laying again.  Hmmm, I've had chooks that would come when you called them but never any smart enough to read a calendar.  And start laying on the coldest day of the year?  Me thinks that's a little odd...

And me?  I think I'll celebrate with a yuzu chuhai.  Why?  Well, yuzu is one of the 'winter only flavour!!' drinks and it's amazingly yummy (as are so many winter only foods- I have a theory involving the government, snackfood manufacturers and the yummy food equals less seasonal depression thing but I'll save that for another day...) so I need to make the most of it while it's here, and if I buy it in the 500 ml size then that's 大カン だいかん Daikan.  Big Can, get it?  ;P

Happy Big Cold!


Flower girl material?

M and A have been asked to be a part of their Aunt's wedding.

They are excited.

K is honoured.

I am nervous.

Aunty M told them they could choose their dresses.

She doesn't know about A's unique dress sense:

Not too bad if it wasn't for the belt hiking her shirt up.  Or the fact that it was about 7 degrees...

I think my brother's face says it all.  She wasn't outside playing in the snow.  No, she was inside at a fancy ryokan having a 12 course lunch...

All little kids like playing dressups, right?  But some little kids absolutely refuse to change before going to the supermarket...

M won't be a problem fashion wise.  She's a pretty normal frilly pink and sparkly loving 5 yo.  She's also a bit of a tomboy.  A little wild even.  I won't deny that that's partly my influence.  I love to see her running and playing and singing and climbing trees and making mud pies and just having a great time without worrying about her clothing or gender roles.  That said, she could definitely use some guidance on time and place.  MIL would surely have needed smelling salts at this very unkimono like pose:

And even tomboy loving she'll- be- right mummy insisted on a no shirt, no service and no crawling on the table rule here:

Agghhh.  We have two months to turn these monsters into flowergirl material.  Wish me luck!


the biggest loser

"Have you got snow?"
"Last week's is still there."
"We got 10 cm last night and it's still snowing."
"Ours is frozen."
"FIL is out shovelling as we speak."
"Amy fell over on the ice on our front step yesterday"
"It's windy, too.  The snow is blowing sideways."
"It was minus seven in here this morning"

My MIL and I have a very weird thing going on each winter.

We are both quite stubborn and competitive and in summer our conversation is all about the volume of our tomato crops and the prolificness of our spinach and how that is all a direct result of our choice of fertiliser/ seed company etc which is weird enough.  But in winter when there's no veggies to brag about?  We go all out for who lives in the most unforgiving climate.  PIL live in Fukushima.  Tohoku- the North East.  Michinoku- the End of the Road.  They get a grey winter with bucketloads of snow.  But I live in Nagano.  Alps Country.  The Winter Olympics.  Matsumoto has the most blue sky days a year of any city in Japan.   That means we don't get piles of snow but all those clear starry nights mean super cooolllld temperatures.  Maximum temperatures in the minuses and minimum temperatures as low as -12. Brrrr

So all winter we have conversations like the one above.  Both determined to win.  Win what?  Win having the other person say 'damn, that's nasty.'  Pointless really when the winner is just the biggest loser.  

That said I will be mentioning to MIL that the icicles hanging off the bathroom eaves didn't even drip today.  

See if she can top that! ;P 



From Wikipedia:

Shichi-Go-San is said to have originated in the Heian Period amongst court nobles who would celebrate the passage of their children into middle childhood. The ages three, five and seven are consistent with Japanese numerology, which dictates that odd numbers are lucky. The practice was set to the fifteenth of the month during the Kamakura Period.
Over time, this tradition passed to the samurai class who added a number of rituals. Children—who up until the age of three were required by custom to have shaven heads—were allowed to grow out their hair. Boys of age five could wear hakama for the first time, while girls of age seven replaced the simple cords they used to tie their kimono with the traditional obi.  By the Meiji Period, the practice was adopted amongst commoners as well, and included the modern ritual of visiting a shrine to drive out evil spirits and wish for a long healthy life.

Happy 7-5-3 day Amy!


chicken ud-le soup: the recipe

That was a cross between udon and noodle.  Hmm, chicken noodon soup maybe?

I hate being asked for a recipe. It puts me in a quandry.  Do I:
A Quickly invent a recipe 'ahhh, let's see, 2 tablespoons oil.. no that's too much, 2 teaspoons oil, hmm, not enough, aha! a splash of oil...'
B Admit that I feed my family invented dishes loosely grouped under the genre 'refrigerator food'.  As in you cook with what you have in the fridge at the time.

The results of this method of cooking are surprising.  Mostly surprisingly good with just enough surprisingly blerghh to keep me on my toes.  The most surprising thing though is my inability to recreate them.  I can use exactly the same ingredients and think I have remembered quantities and still... something's just a little different.  All part of the challenge I guess!

The chicken udle soup was fantastic though so here goes:

  1. Pry a dollop of cold and reluctant olive oil out of bottle and into heavy bottomed pot.*
  2. Turn on gas
  3. Open fridge and frantically search for garlic.  Remember it's still in a box in the entrance way and dash down there to get it.  Peel crush and chop in time to add to oil before you cause a flash fire.
  4. add roughly diced onion and shavings of frozen fresh ginger.*
  5. add ubercheap pack of chicken bit-with-bones.*
  6. stir.  oops, go back and stir between each previous addition, too.
  7. open fridge and grab any and all of: leafy vegetables, mushroom varieties, root vegetables, pumpkin, fresh herbs.  Chop into pieces and add as you go (otherwise your chopping board will disappear under a mountain of vegetables.)
  8. Go and negotiate a peace treaty between preschoolers in another room.  This will give the vegetables and chicken jut enough time to go caramelly coloured.
  9. Add enough water to cover all the vegetables.
  10. Add another 500ml for good measure.
  11. see how small you can break a pack of udon while it's still sealed in it's bag.  (my record is fifths.)
  12. Add broken udon (you can remove from bag now.)
  13. Cook until udon is no longer crunchy.
  14. Season with salt, pepper, fresh parsley, whatever you fancy.

*1 not strictly necessary if you postpone #2: turn on the gas until after you search for veggies but where's the fun in that?
*2 solidform olive oil and frozen ginger are Nagano winter specialties.  If unavailable in your area regular varieties will suffice.
*3 I don't know what's wrong with this chicken but it's sold for 100 yen a pack.  I'm sure more expensive stuff would work.  And don't worry- I can read the characters for "dogfood" so it's not that. :)

And the verdict from Ayuna?  She loved it and 'so did Mummy, Daddy, and my brother.' Ehhhh??? If I had known I was feeding the family I would have given her more than a cupful!


Through the eyes of a babe

M had a friend over after kinder today.

I'm embarrassed to say it's the first time she's had a friend over but there are a number of mitigating factors:

Two of her classmates live in walking distance.  One is painfully shy and still can't look at me or say hello- and I don't even growl and snarl at her anymore. ;P  So having her come and play is not on the cards.  The other little boy has been invited to M's last two birthday parties and just not shown up.  No phonecall, no note, nothing.  Oh well each to their own and I know (it's a village, trust me I know) he has a complicated homelife but still courtesy is courtesy, right?  So anyway, he hasn't made it up here either.

Until a couple of months ago I only had a K car so I couldn't really take anyone home with us to play.

And, uhhhh, brutal honesty?  It's a village.  I'm 'the foreigner'.  (There are about half a dozen of us actually but I'm the only gaijin as the rest are Filipina, Nikkei-Brazillian or Chinese.)  I know that whoever comes into our house will tell 10 people every incy wincy detail about my housekeeping (her breakfast dishes were still in the drainer!) and they'll each tell 10 people (her breakfast dishes were still in the sink!) who will each go home and tell their husbands' (She was still eating breakfast!!) and before long the whole village will know me as 'you know, the foreigner who buys 7 litres of milk a week (true!) and eats cold cereal 3 meals a day.'

But today I cracked.  M was desperate to have her friend Ayuna over, Ayuna's mum is pretty cool (we've done all you can drink together- always a bonding experience) and my hourly morning houseclean is still going strong (miracle of miracles! How is everyone else going?) so I had nothing to fear on that front and we brought Ayuna home with us to play.

The girls had a ball and they entertained each other so well that the arsenic hour (that hour before dinner when everyone's tired, hungry and demanding, and you can't decide whether you want the arsenic for everyone else or yourself...) was a piece of cake.  I'm thinking we should schedule playdates every afternoon...

But the most interesting thing for me was seeing our house through unfiltered Japanese eyes.  I've mentioned that we ripped up the tatami and put in wooden floors and painted over the crumbly walls and put a logfire in the tokonoma space but most people (OK everyone but my MIL) is always very polite and complimentary about the place.  Having a confident and chatty 5yo here without her mother shushing her was a real insight.

"Wow!  You have a park in front of your house- you've got swings and everything!" (it's a big lawn covered in snow.)
"Ehhhhh it's too long a walk to your door- I got snow in my shoe!" (It's a big lawn covered in snow.)
(In the entrance) "Your house is huge! And Dark! And COLD!" (I turned the lights on and shepherded them into the living room, we don't heat the entranceway.)
(On the second of 15 steps to upstairs) "Waaaah!  Meg's mummy!! Helpp!!! These stairs are scary!!" (It is a pretty steep staircase but the girls have grown used to it and fly up and down.  I'd forgotten that it's a bit offputting at first.)
"Wow! Meg has HEAPS of toys!" (Unfortunately quite literally heaps as they pulled everything out of the toy cupboard...)
and my favourite:
(Looking at my shelf of photos) "Are you MARRIED?" 'ahhh, yes.  To Meg's daddy actually.'  

I think we came out of that inspection not too badly.  M was miffed they didn't get to ply upstairs in her room but they had fun playing picnics in the engawa corridor so that made up for that I think.  Ayuna was mesmerised by my unique cooking style of throwing everything in one pot and cooking it on the woodfire.  She kept coming over to watch me and I ended up sending her home with some of my fusion chicken noodle soup- chicken, hakusai, carrot, daikon, onion, enoki, ginger, garlic, pumpkin, celery, capsicum, corn and udon.  It will be interesting to hear whether she liked it.


What a pansy!

From thefreedictionary.com:

3. Offensive Slang
a. Used as a disparaging term for a man or boy who is considered effeminate.
b. Used as a disparaging term for a homosexual man.

I don't know why the word pansy has such derogative meanings.  Pansies are amazing.  They look so delicate but they are the one flower that keeps on blooming all winter.  When the frosts take out the roses and the cosmos gives up the ghost you still have pansies to rely on!

I love seeing them all colourful and quietly defiant while they're covered with their little individual snow bonnets.

How did such a strong resilient flower get such a bad rap?

You can call me a pansy anyday!


the weekend in pictures

I've got to get better at rock, paper, scissors.  It really sucks being the first person out of bed around here.  That's a balmy (barmy?!) -4 in my living room.  brrrr.  I put a huge piece of wood on the fire before I go to bed but I just get too much sleep now with no pregnancy bladder, breastfeeding or night terrors to wake me up anymore.  Having a baby to keep me warm in winter is a bit extreme- and it would only work for a couple of years and then I'd be back at square one.  So I just have to get better at rock, paper, scissors.

A thinks she look rather cute in this three piece set from our Saitama friends.  So cute in fact that she doesn't like changing out of it and into her snowsuit.  Even her pink snowsuit.  That's fine if you're just walking around but you know how every now and then you get that urge to go jump in a snowbank?  Well that's where you wish you'd checked to see whether you were wearing your snowsuit or not first.  Luckily the snow around here is really dry and powdery and if you wail loud enough quick enough mummy will come and brush you down before the snow melts into your clothes.  Of course you still refuse to change into your snowsuit...

K: M's coat is too big.
Me: I know.  It's a size 8
K: She' only 5!!
Me: I know (derrhh!)
K: Why is she wearing a coat that's too big?
Me: Because we don't have one her size, we have this one, she likes it, and she usually wears gloves which keep the sleeves up.  Plus they are really expensive, and she grows too fast to get two seasons out of one that is her size, and I'd have to drive into the city to buy one.
K: ohhhh. (Stumped by my barrage of incredible reasoning or thinking I'm a horrible mum.  Probably thinking I'm a horrible mum...)
Me: (am I a horrible mum???)

You can't have your brown rice and eat your brown bread, too.

We get our rice from Great Uncle Hajime.  (yup that's Uncle Beginning.  There's also a Sueko- Youngest Child and then after that there's Tome- Stop.  They just don't name kids like they used to, huh?)  Anyway, back to the rice.  It arrives in big 40kg bags of brown rice which I am meant to polish into white rice as I use it as brown rice stores better.  But I prefer brown rice so that's how we eat it.  Unless I need to make sushi as K who had never eaten brown rice until he met me can handle it in everything but sushi and that seems a pretty fair compromise.  So when I polish the rice for sushi I get the rice bran to make brown bread with.  I LOVE brown bread.  But I LOVE brown rice, too.  What to do, what to do.  It's a real conundrum...



Today was the local sankuro festival.  By local I mean really local- Ours was just our neighbourhood.  

Sankuro is 'one of the Matsumoto area's unique traditional festivals'.   Now, I've lived in enough places in Japan to be a bit sceptical about claims to uniqueness but this one does seem to have a special place in the lives of the locals.

The main players are primary school kids (which of course means the real main players are the mums of the primary school kids but anyhow...)

They go and fell two huge skinny pine trees and drag them back to the local ground.  Then they go and collect up everyone's New Year decorations, green rubbish and last year's daruma.  All these are tied up around the skiny pine until you have a weird, bloated Christmas tree shaped thing like this:

Then you make まゆ玉 little gloopy, sticky balls of rice flour, water and fod colour that need to be mixed, heated, kneaded, heated, coloured, formed into balls, cooled etc etc... or bought from the supermarket if you had a horrible experience last year and are totally over mayudama making.  shhhhhh ;)

You stick your mayudma on a green branch so it looks like this:

Then after the responsible adults in attendance have thoroughly doused the pyre in kerosene the 6th graders use straw torches to light it.  Full of pine, bamboo, paper, paper mache daruma and don't forget that kerosene!  It goes up like a bonfire in seconds.  All those hollow sections in the bamboo explode when they catch fire and it's like fireworks.

From this:

To this:

In about 10 seconds.

When the fire has all burnt down the kids smoke/toast/ roast/ burn their mayudama depending on their patience level:

(M centre back in red.)

The adults throw in foil wrapped mochi, bean and sesame filled mame-mochi and chestnuts.  It's the first family event of the neighbourhood association year and it's all about seeing each other, enjoying each other's company and wishing everyone good health for the coming year.

Happy Sankuro!


say what?

We were having a nice family game of karuta.  You know, one person reads out a sentence and the others scramble to be the first to slap the card that matches it.

It's a traditional New Years game here and M has been playing it at kinder this week.  She came home rather miffed as she's not as quick as her classmates.  All my fault of course.  Only this time it really is my fault as we play Alphabet karuta heaps but not with hiragana.  So we get out the unopened (whoops!) Set Obaachan sent M when she was 2 (is there such thing as a kyouiku-baba?) and start playing.

All is going fine until DH reads out this one:

I took it on the webcam and it's come out backwards but it says: 

'Nnnnnn... Nontan (the cat character) is doing a poop on the toilet.'

M slapped it up straight away, 

M and A went 'poooooopppp!!!!' 

I went 'whatttttt?????' 

and DH started reading the next card.  

Say what?  'Honey isn't that a bit weird for a kid's game?'
'The poop thing?'
'No.  Why?  What else starts with N?'
'Ummmm..... Nnnnnnnnnnnn.....'

So, people with karuta sets out there- tell me there's something else that starts with N! 

And don't you think Nontan needs some more fibre in his diet? ;P


before and after



I just love the look on Meg's face. :)

The right choice

A year ago I wrote this post

At the time I was really unsure whether we'd made the right decision.

The stove was expensive.

The installation was mindbogglingly expensive.

Would we use it enough to make it worthwhile?

Would we be able to collect enough wood?

Would K think the collecting, carting, cutting, splitting, storing and hauling wood thing was too much effort and long for the days of kerosene?

Well, a year later it's a resounding success:

Would we use it enough to make it worthwhile? Oh yeah!  We've had the fire going 24/7 since the end of October.  I can put a big hunk of apple root in there before I go out and come back to a warm room.  Yeah!!  That means so much to me.  I used to dread coming home to a cold house and waiting for the stove to start up and then waiting longer for it to try and heat the room and even then there was the smell of the kerosene and the cost of it all.....

Would we be able to collect enough wood?  Collect it?  You mean take delivery of!  Surrounded by apple farmers and mountain owners, yup mountain owners, we have had no problem getting more than enough wood. 

Would K think the collecting, carting, cutting, splitting, storing and hauling wood thing was too much effort and long for the days of kerosene?  It's kind of a family thing.  We go and get the wood together, haul it together, K uses the splitter, I use the axe and the girls play in the sawdust.  Simple things amuse simple minds, hey? ;P  

I think the whole wood thing is actually right up K's alley.  It's a manly, physical pursuit, providing for your family and best of all- it discourages conversation!

Does K long for the days of kerosene?  Well, I like it toasty so I close the doors so the fire only really warms the living room and K gets his kero fix in the kitchen.  :)

So yup.  We're happy campers.  It's pretty multitalented, too.  It heats the room, dries the washing, cooks the soup, proves the bread, warms our PJs etc etc.  Man, if it didn't need someone to feed it wood I'd be out of a job!

She's not very photogenic but we'll forgive her. :)


Dear Amy

In future, if we are to do origami together I would like to suggest the following conditions in order for the ancient art of paper folding to be a harmonious and tranquil undertaking rather than the tension fraught one it was today:
  • You trust me that square paper works better.
  • You trust me that I work better with a piece of paper bigger than a gum wrapper,
  • We decide on a design and stick with it until I've finished folding- changing pages half way through is stressful for all concerned.
  • Any perceived genetic predisposition to paper folding genius you feel you have you are very welcome to try out on your own piece of paper.  Lending a hand when I'm at stage 16 of the intricate floating hydrangea is not good for my health or your desired origami.
  • You understand that my patience/ talent continuum means 3 designs in quick succession is my limit.
  • A 'thank you' wouldn't hurt.  The production line style 'Now this one' leaves your workers feeling under-appreciated.
In return I will endeavour to give you my full attention and not skype at the same time.

PS.  Did you know Daddy is an origami maestro?  Really.  Go ask him to make something... ;)



Today is the day when we eat okayu rice porridge with seven herbs in it to give our digestive systems a break after six days of heavy New Years osechi food.  Well, we actually only ate osechi once and that was way back on January 1st but I really love okayu and any excuse will do so I wanted to make some.  I was all ready to head off to the supermarket and buy my set of seven special herbs when I heard a really interesting segment on NHK.  Not NHK radio but NHK tv on my car radio.  For some bizarre reason the new car only picks up one station and that's NHK tv.  It can be a bit weird sometimes.  You know 'And this here on the left- is that what you're talking about?' 'Yes, that's a great example.'  And the morning drama is completely unfathomable without visual clues but there is some really great stuff on there, too.  The segment on nanagusagayu was about how it used to be a matter of going up into the hills and finding wintering herbs to eat.  So the actual herbs included varied from place to place.  This made sense to me and while I'm not quite brave enough to go and pick random weds in the mountains I decided to have a look around our big garden and see what I could find.  I came up with seri, mitsuba, komatsuna, spinnach, mizuna, rocket and I had celery in the freezer and whala! 7 herbs.  Ok.  Frozen celery is cheating but still, pretty good and six out of seven fresh picked beats one of those packs anyday, right?

Oh and to add to the unorthodox nature of my okayu?  I made it with brown rice to boot!


My New Year

Better late than never but I really wanted to write about my New Years.  

With two sleeping kids, two sick people and two people who don't like the cold in the house we didn't plan anything too big.  The early part of the evening was spent mooching under kotatsus and next to woodfires doing nothing very festive whatsoever. 

Then about 11ish we who were not in the abovementioned group started putting on layer upon layer of clothes and hats and scarves and sticking hot pockets in all our pockets and, looking like Michellin men, we rolled up the hill to pick up my friend A and her visiting sister and then we kept walking up the hill to the temple at the top of our street.  It's a really beautiful temple at the bottom of a mountain.  It was pitch black with just the light of the stars and the moon to guide us.  When we reached the temple there were no outside lights so the temple doors were thrown open and the temple lights bouncing off all the gold decorations were throwing a golden glow over the bell tower.  

I've spent NYE at Meiji-jingu shrine in Tokyo- umpteen thousands of people and a 3 1/2 hour wait to get from the gate to the shrine.  I've spent NYE at a small temple in Nara- about 120 locals sitting around drinking sake, lining up to ring the bell and greeting each other.

I had never been to a temple on NYE and found noone there but the priest!  A man and his two kids were leaving as we arrived and three more people were arriving as we left but for the 20 odd minutes we were there there was noone else at all!!  We climbed up and rang the bell, then we were invited to ring the bell again so we did.  Then we were invited to look around the temple complex after picking up one of the handmade omamori the priests wife and children had made.  There were less than 20 in the box.  How sad that none of my neighbours get out and go to the temple for NYE.  I will be going each year from now on in.  It was a really different NYE for all of us and the clear crisp night with it's amazing views over Matsumoto City on the walk back down the hill to toshikoshisoba made it extra special.


it's oh so quiet...

and my house feels huge!!

And I'm exhausted as though two weeks worth of excitement has only just now caught up with me.

Well that and I was still in the bath at midnight and up and at 'em at 6:00 with a pretty stressful morning getting friend to the station, parents to the bus terminal and A and I to my work (daycare still on holiday) all in good time and with all the accompanying luggage. @_@

We all made it though and I actually stayed awake through my three classes (thank you coffee and the hokey pokey!) and A was an angel, a tired angel but an angel nonetheless.

Gotta get to bed before real life starts tomorrow.


goodbye dinner

My sister wanted gyoza.

No problem.

My brother wanted nabe (again).

No problem.

We had them at the same meal.


They've also had:

soba in miso soup
toasted mochi with blueberry jam
Christmas turkey sandwich with gomadare nabe sauce as dressing

It's bizarre!

Or, am I just getting set in my ways the longer I'm here?


uh oh

Yesterday at the snow M was transfixed by the snowboarders.

She had to be convinced that a toboggan would have to do for now.

So she made the most of it and had my sister pull her around like this.

And she had great balance.

And I'm already seeing an expensive future ahead...

In other news we start saying goodbye to everyone tomorrow *sniff* and I am off to the hospital as I cut the top off my finger, quite a chunk of it actually, and the towel I wrapped it in has stuck to it.  Stuck to it badly enough that soaking in water, icing, warming, pulling etc etc was doing nothing but getting more and more blood coming out. :(  So, I cut the rest of the towel off from around my cut and we bandaged it up as is.  I just know the Japanese doctor will yank it off in one horrific rip and I'm already feeling sick thinking about it.  I'm such a wimp!!  I keep reminding myself I've given birth- TWICE!  But it's not working. :(


A big, white, fun day

I live in Nagano.

I don't ski.

I don't snowboard.

I don't enjoy any snow related pastime whatsoever.

Well, other than making my annual snowman with the girls. 

One snowman.

But today I had so much fun I'm all ready to sign up for a season pass and get me some wicked looking goggles.

We spent the day at the kiddie slope at Norikura Kogen Onsen Ski Resort.

Me and my dad


My sister and Amy

Evil Knevil aka my brother

And a bonus?  The whole day was a steal.  Kids were 500 yen a day and adults were free!!  You see we were supposed to be responsible accompanying adults...


hmmm, I may have to move town....

The big people went shopping while the little people played at the park....

What's the chance noone will think they're with me?