a doozy of a phonecall

I think I would say I am conversationally bilingual. I will not be interpreting for heart surgeons or international financiers any time soon but in my daily life I function in Japanese without consciously thinking about it.

And then occasionally I have an absolute doozy of a conversation and feel like a right idiot.

Today's phonecall was one of those.

Hi! Fukase-san?
This is Maruyama-san from the bazaar.
You forgot a phone tree yesterday didn't you?
(??? Oh no. Really???!!! How???!!!!) A phone tree?
No. Some washing. At the bazaar. On the veggie table. Some washing.
(Phew... But washing? I didn't take any washing with me.... washing?) Washing?
Washing? No a calculator. Cal-cu-lator.
Ahhh! A calculator!
Yes! A green calculator. It's yours, isn't it?
The one with the photo stickers on it? No, that's not mine. Mine was red with goldfish on it. That one was there before I started.
Really? We all looked at the photo stickers and were sure it was you...
Oh? I thought the woman in the picture definitely looked Japanese....

In my defense, I was tired, serving dinner with one hand and on the cordless phone at the time. But still, a pretty weird conversation and a jolt to my Japanese ability confidence, hey....

Oh and the words I mucked up- renraku, sentaku and dentaku.

Double Oh- I really wish I had taken a picture of the photo sticker now. It was definitely a Japanese woman.... I know if you've been here long enough people stop looking 'Asian' but is the reverse true, too? Have the locals got so used to seeing my face around town I've stopped looking 'Western'?? Hmmmmm......


bazaar bizarre

The bazaar was today.

Certainly a bizarre experience even if it wasn't much of a bazaar experience.

Exhibit 1. The main selling area. BO (Bizarre opening) -15 minutes:

Please note:
  • This is the entirety of the non-perishable items we had to sell.
  • Front right lined up by the truckload? Not towels, not sheets, not even futon covers. Nope. Gauze (think scratchy and open weave) blanket covers. Uncouth me. I didn't realise blankets even got covers... We sold none all day and then 15 minutes before closing- when everything was going out for 20 yen- we sold four to the one woman. At least one family in the village will now have adequately dressed blankets, hey?
  • Far back left is a whole bank of toilet paper, kitchen paper, plastic wrap and bags of adult nappies. I thought we had Buckley's chance of selling any of this but whaddaya know, bargain priced toilet paper is a real crowd puller. Not so adult nappies though....
  • Middle row- laundry detergent and body soap. Who donates this stuff?? Who buys 10 packs of body soap and then decides they don't need it anymore???
  • Oh and please notice that this is a big building. Without heating. In Nagano. In November...
Exhibit 2. My selling area.

Yup. I got produce. And yup, that's it. Points of note:
  • The thing on the seat? I thought it was Santa in a farmer's hat (that's the kind of hat the male farmers around here wear) for a full half day until I saw it front on. Is it a something-or-other ranger? Got two girls here, no idea...
  • The contents of the crates: one of hakusai, one of leeks, two of daikon, two crates plus a box of apples and some random bags of kiwi fruit, potatoes and rice. This time of year I would bet you could break into any house in the village and demand vegetables (very odd and I'm not suggesting you do it but hypothetically) and I reckon 9 out of 10 houses would pull out a daikon, a hakusai or a leek. And as for selling apples in apple country.... If I was running the bazaar I would load up a couple k-trucks of veggies and apples, put on some good music and drive down to Nagoya and sell them all for three times the price we're begging people to buy for here. I mean we were selling 6 apples for 100 yen!
  • The blue box in the corner? Hotel portions of bitter orange marmalade. Packaging in French and English. No Japanese. That and the word 'bitter' was just not helping it rush off the shelves....
  • The basketball? Not for sale. One of the dozen or so kids who turned up with their mothers brought it. I see where he's coming from- gym= basketball. But I was a bit surprised the mum didn't think it just might be inappropriate at a bazaar?
So, that was the bazaar. Two hours setting up and pricing, 1 hour lunch break (remember you absolutely cannot do any work during the 12-1 sacred lunch hour) then 2 hours selling and 1 hour boxing up, packing up, and cleaning up. Not a bad day's work, hey?

I really don't think we even came within the same gymnasium of our sales goals and the poor head of the PTA is stuck with boxloads of the kind of junk you can't even sell at 20 yen so I would hardly call it a roaring success but hey, we came, we bazaared and now we're done.

Oh, and I do think there's a certain nice karmic element in the PTA head who was pushing so hard for workers last week taking home 6 boxes of authentic 1970's gilt edged freebie beer glasses and other such incredible treasures...


if your kid is going to get the flu...

Then I think this is the way to do it:

Neighbour's 16 yo daughter has got oinky flu.

She's currently on a school trip to Okinawa.

Her mum gets flown down there this evening.

She will be put up in a hotel room with 16 yo daughter and they can't fly back
until the quarantine is over.

It's all covered by insurance. She's not paying anything.

It's 24 degrees and sunny in Okinawa today....

It's minus 2 and cloudy here in Nagano at the moment.

Now, I wouldn't wish the flu on anyone but if my girls do get it I have a little list I'd like them to consider:

Great Barrier Reef

Hmmm, I see a theme developing here....

Oh- just thought- If I caught it from them while we were lounging poolside sipping drinks with umbrellas in them, then that would mean a further 5 days quarantined in paradise....

Wow, the possibilities....

The flu or not the flu, that is the question.
Is it better to be flu-free and freezing or oinking in a balmy tropical paradise?


late autumn with a kiss

the camera kiss that is...

Went for a walk around the place yesterday with my camera when I realised I was home, had an hour before I had to be anywhere, it was sunny and my camera was charged. This convergence of events is not likely to occur again until at least mid-January so I made the most of it. The pictures were for the most part disappointing- despite having read up to page 47 of the instruction book- I was thinking that should make me 47% better at taking pictures than before I started reading but nope. Apparently more study is necessary before I become a world famous vegetable photographer. Oh well.

The persimmon tree. Currently advertising for persimmon pickers. Must be nimble, enjoy climbing trees, weigh less than 50 kg and not drop too many on the neighbour's roof. The tree is about 7m tall.... Meg would seem the obvious choice for the job and regularly offers her services but we're still trying to think of a good story for the hospital when she falls and breaks both legs....

I think these were gladioli. But I love the shapes they've made dead. And they sway in the breeze, too.

The quiet producer- I hadn't been round the side of the old house in ages and look what was there- a late, late raspberry crop. A sweet treat for the camerawoman.

Happy chooks. (bonus shot of sickle feathers on the left)

Happy fish. Actually he looks a little cold but the free fish I brought home from Halloween have so far been given two pumps, three water plants, a light and I am drawing the line at a heater. We don't even heat our bedrooms! We have wintered goldfish here before without a heater. I know you can do it little fish. Stop looking at me like that!


Accidental Thanksgiving and nice mummies

Accidental Thanksgiving

So, today was US Thanksgiving.

I had no idea but I cooked the full roast dinner anyway. Hmmm, maybe being surrounded by Americans here is rubbing off on me? The whole thing was a big accident from start to finish:

And the girls ate bucketloads of vegetables while the chicken was resting and I was making gravy and didn't even touch the chicken. Oh well.

And I forgot it was K's aikido day and he wasn't home till 10. Oh well.

Oh well, I enjoyed my roast dinner anyway and I'm thankful for the extra room in the freezer.

Nice mummies

While I was cooking today M and A were playing 'nice mummies'. What do 'nice mummies' do?

They dress to the nines (see above) and then they take their children out for the day. 'Out' meant passing by the kitchen on the way to the genkan so I got to hear all about their travels. Nice mummy travels include:

Going to the vending machine to buy juice.
Going to the pool.
Going to the park.
Going to buy ice-cream.
Going to the zoo.
Going out for a kid's meal.
Going shopping to buy 'whatever you like and not just one thing'.

And that was all one day's outing...

Wow. By the end of this I was thinking I am really not a very nice mummy after all.... Lucky they have a 'nice daddy' huh?


school entrance checkup

Headed over to the other side of the city for a school entrance medical with Meg today.

Of course there was one at the local school but it was on a day where K had clients flying in from Italy and I was going to be on TV so we read the 'if you are unable to attend please call the school in advance' sentence and thought- great!


Meg was the only kid out of 135 who didn't go. Wow. I still haven't got my head around which meetings you should miss work for and which ones you can get away with an absence. Case in point- the PTA meeting last week? VERY URGENT MEETING?? Out of 20 mums who should have been there 5 didn't turn up. Hmmmm, I guess that one was less very urgent than work?

Anyway, set the navi to the elementary school we're heading for and off we go. Got forms? check. Got introduction letter from local school? Check. Address? Check. Reception time? Check. Meg? Check.

"Did you bring my inside shoes?"
"No. You keep them at kinder. Did you bring them?"
"That's OK. You can just wear socks like mummy." (I hate slippers so always just take a pair of bed socks to wear over my socks.)
"Did you bring my socks?"
"Your socks?? Aren't you wearing them?"
"No. I took them off...."
"Are they in your bag?"
"No, because Kanon-chan said and Ryota-kun said and I was busy playing with Ayuna-chan and-"
"Are yesterday's socks still in your bag?" (I know that's gross but hey, sometimes it happens.)
"No. You told me to put my dirty things in the wash as soon as I get home from kinder. You said to."
"That's ok."

Of course she remembered to put away her dirty stuff the one day when it would have been great if she didn't. Murphy's bloody law.

Oh well. Stopped at the supermarket for socks. Only have women's anklets. Oh well. Miffed M "They don't have any pink..." Miffed mummy "If you wanted pink you should have brought them!"

Arrived at school, found parking, registered, received confusing map and detailed explanation of how to navigate eye check, ear check, dental check, ENT check and general physical check, commit map to memory and then realise the entire stress inducing exercise was pointless as everyone else is going to the same place so we just followed along.

Flew through checks in half the time it took to drive there.

Had very odd talk with school teacher checking we'd had all the checks:

"Wow. You're from a long way away. Is it your first time at this school?"
"Ummm yes. (Would it not be rather odd if I had been to an elementary school on the other side of the city before?) It's a lovely school."
"Thank you. We have an onsen."
"There's an onsen at this school??? Or do you mean the pool uses onsen water?" (Hmmm, maybe Meg should go to this school afterall....)
"Eh? Ahh, no. I mean this area is an onsen area."
"Ahhhhh....." (Funnily enough as the area is called 'Asama Onsen' I had figured there was a high probability there might have been a hot spring in the vicinity....)

And then it was back home via the kinder to pick up Amy.

M Starting school is turning into such an adventure and she's still over 4 months from D-day!


why walk when you can fly?

Did you know that if you put a hoodie on and take your arms out of the armholes you can fly?

M and A have been flying everywhere lately.

And when flying involves:

counting 1,2,3 go
jumping once

You wouldn't believe how much slower flying is than regular old walking....


Oh Daddy

I had to work today so K and the girls were on their on for the day.

They went to the big pool complex and played until Amy fell asleep in K's arms.

Oh Daddy....

Then in the car she perked up at the offer of an ice-cream.

Oh Daddy....

So, instead of going home they headed to the park and played on the equipment and then rode their bikes around playing 'mow daddy over.'

Oh Daddy....

Finally tired out they headed not for home but to the library.

Oh Daddy....

But it was closed because of the public holiday.

Oh Daddy....

Then, after a full day of fun and games K headed out to chop wood. He didn't want the girls around while he used the chainsaw so he asked them to play inside.

I came home to this:

When I asked (really rather mildly considering) what was going on I was told:

"It's OK, they promised to pack up when they're done."

Oh Daddy!


setting the record straight

I get a lot of ribbing about being the youngest old woman on the block.

Many of my neighbours see me as a bit of an honorary senior citizen.

This is because I do stuff that other women my age around here don't do.

I garden, I pickle, I jam, I miso, I dry, I can, I freeze, I make etc etc.

I have both more time together with and more topics of interest in common with the over 60s crowd than your average me-age person does.

One of my neighbours told me today that she used me as an example when trying to encourage her DIL to preserve more produce.

Uh oh.

I think there is a misunderstandings at large here.

I am passionate about attaining as near to self-sufficiency food-wise as is comfortable for our family. (I can't grow coffee, cocoa beans, bananas or mikan here and don't see our family giving up those things...)

But, if I lived with my mother/ mother-in-law and she was going to make the family's miso/ pickles/ jam/ juice while I went and had lunch with friends or went out to work or sat around in front of the fire with my feet up, watching Oprah and eating Rummy chocolate would I take advantage of that?

Hell yeah!

Just setting the record straight.

And think of all the time I'd have to do up the flower beds and put in a pond and grow more herbs and build a bbq pit and.....



K is at a very important Neighbourhood Association meeting.

A very important Neighbourhood Association meeting they were told not to drive to.

A very important Neighbourhood Association meeting they were told not to eat before going to.

A very important Neighbourhood Association meeting at which they were told they will be having made-to-order hand rolled buckwheat noodles.

A very important Neighbourhood Association meeting he has been at for 2 1/2 hours so far...

Of course no-one is calling it "a free feed and piss-up for the men who volunteer their time to the Neighbourhood Association."

No no no. It's definitely a very important Neighbourhood Association meeting.


I'm not waiting up.



PTA= parents teachers association
PITA = pain in the ass

As of today I am renaming the PTA the P(i)TA.

We had an emergency meeting to discuss what to do with all the things we made for the festival/ bazaar that was cancelled due to flu.

It was pretty predictable- lower classes want to save for next year. Graduating class mums want to hand out now. Kinder is against presents- children making something or doing something (playing a game) to get something is ok but straight handouts get a no.

Some classes' crafts are complete, some- like the make a medal or make a kaleidoscope class- are not. Reasonably enough they are not so keen to get together and complete the making of the goods.

So that one ended in a big old spaghetti like tangle of ideas that P(i)TA chief will take to principal of the kinder. No idea what will eventuate but imagine there will be more to discuss. Oh yeah.

Second half of the meeting was spent discussing the bazaar. Every year on the day of the festival a bazaar is also held. Apples, rice, vegetables, old clothes and toys, unwanted towel set gift boxes etc are sold and the proceeds go to the kids' Christmas presents. (Yes, despite being a Japanese public kinder we have Christmas presents- and as the principal is against straight gifts she actually tells the kids the nativity story as an explanation of why they are getting presents. Always amazes me that some devout Buddhist/ Shinto/ Sokagakkai parent doesn't complain.)

So anyway, the bazaar has a minimum amount of money we have to make. The presents are the same each year- beach balls for the 0-2yo, bamboo mini stilts for the 3yo, skipping ropes for the 4yo and a book with a name plate and graduation message for the 5yo.

This year the bazaar was cancelled.

Until today when it was reinstated.

Next Sunday.

In the local gym as no public hall/ kinder space can be used for large gatherings as Nagano is in the top level of flu warnings at the moment.

The local gym will cost us more than 5000 yen to rent. That's a whole lot of second hand clothes to sell before we even break even.

We're not allowed to ask people to come. Well, officially anyway. Unofficially we are to strongly encourage people to come. Wearing masks of course. And shopping quickly.

It's on a Sunday. Next Sunday. The P(i)TA president went around the room asking for everyone's commitment to a half day or full day of pricing and selling.

Squirrel class representative?
Ummm, I have to work....
All day?
Until 1...
So you could come for the last hour?
Where do you work?
Toyoshina..... (three towns away)
Hmmmm, so I guess you could come before work?

And it went on and on. My co-rep in mikan class:

I can come all day but I'll have to bring my children.
Children?? You can't have someone look after them?
It will be so hard on the children with you busy working......
You have no-one to look after them?

I realise the P(i)TA is a job we signed up for.
But I do not think it's right to be putting so much pressure on people to drop everything and turn up on a Sunday. A Sunday we were given 10 days notice about.

I am rather disillusioned about the whole thing at the moment.

Just want to finish my term and never have anything to do with them again.

Bloody P(i)TA.


the other apple diet


I hurt.


My first free day in about two weeks and I was planning on doing absolutely nothing and not even pretending to feel guilty about it- as soon as I got the girls off to kinder, when I got a phonecall.

Hi Heather?
Are you working today?
Nope. It's friend and neighbour A. She doesn't drive. Sometimes I drive her somewhere. I had my fingers crossed for the hairdresser or clothes shopping-
Great! Can you help out in the orchard today?
I really need the help. We're way behind schedule (all apples contracted to JA have to be handed in by the 23rd)
Ok. No problem. Just let me get the girls to kinder first. Damn. I was hoping to meet up with S today and go for a walk/ coffee/ catch up. But a friend in need...

So, from 9:30 until 3:30 I picked apples. Well really 9:30-12 and 1:00-3:30 because remember no-one is allowed to work during the sacred lunch hour.

That's nothing by farmer standards. Downright lazy, in fact.

But I picked two whole rows of apples which made me happy. Happy because I was told most people get through one row in a day. Well of course I took that as a challenge!

It was about 3 degrees when we started and I was wearing fluorescent yellow fleece lined waterproof over pants, a wool jumper, K's extreme weather work jacket, K's explorer socks over my socks in my work boots and to top it all off a beanie. Yeah. Really disappointed there were no cameras there, today...

After less than an hour I had shucked my jacket, shed my beanie and rolled up my sleeves. I was getting really warm climbing up ladder and down, lugging baskets of apples around and crawling under and around the trees getting apples growing in awkward places. Determined to beat the average I was an apple picking machine. I literally raced around. A little too fast. I lunged straight into a wire that runs the length of each row of apples. A thick wire. A very visible, thick wire. A wire I had been successfully ducking under all morning. Ouch. I had a headache for the rest of the day. A headache and a fear of being garrotted. Still finished my two rows, though.

Friend and neighbour A was thrilled. She hadn't told her husband I was coming today and was giggling that she's going to tell him she did it all herself. As I'm about 20 cm taller than her and I was on tippy toe on top of the stepladder getting the highest apples I think her husband will be seriously amazed. Disbelieving even.

I was feeling great when we wrapped up. Ready to sign up as apple picker for hire. I mean all my neighbours are out there day in, day out and they're more than twice my age- and half as fast by the sound of it. It would practically be community service if I got out there and did my bit. Especially what with me being such a gun apple picker!

But the longer I am sitting here in front of the fire this evening the more my muscles are complaining- especially my butt. I swear I picked the apples with my hands but wow, sore butt. My apple-picking superhero alter ego is long gone. I'm quickly becoming a hunched up, slow moving, teeth sucking, complaining grouch. Rather like a few of my apple farmer neighbours actually. Hmmm, maybe I should cut them some slack, hey?

Think if A calls me tomorrow morning I'm not even going to pick up... The way my arms feel at the moment I may not be able too, anyway...


winging it

Cooking class today.

I was so nervous about my cooking class today I was actually awake when Amy snuck into our bed at 5am.

I've done these classes before.

I've cooked roast chicken before.

I've taught English before.

I've taught for two hours before.

But I've never taught 7 people how to cook roast chicken with a vegetable trivet, baked potatoes, stuffing and gravy in a foreign language and in two hours.

The recipe was three pages long, the seventh student was a surprise, one group turned their oven on at the switch but not at the gas line and didn't notice for 15 minutes, having given my copy of the recipe to the 7th student I was winging it and ended up having everyone remove their chooks from the oven to insert the lemon, etc etc. Oops.

But- despite everything- it was a great class and five students signed up for my next class on the stop. Woohoo.

And just think of the sleep in I'll be having Christmas morning now that I can cook Christmas dinner in 2 hours!


a day

6:00 wake up. Or woken up rather by Amy sneezing and sniffing and wiping her nose on my pillow case. Ewwww. Open eyes to admonish that one and realise she had a blood nose. Again. Not a 'poor Amy, a blood nose' blood nose but a 'for the love of my beautiful white wedding gift bedding set would you stop picking and poking at your nose until it bleeds child??!!' blood nose.

6:00- 8:00 manage the robing of two children strongly encouraging warm clothes and desperately steering Amy away from wearing a pair of fluffy bum warmer underskirt short things as trousers, feed three people, bento three people, coffee one person, plait long hair of two people, supervise tooth brushing, face washing (not just your mouth Amy, wet the washer Meg) bag packing, hat searching, shoe wearing- Amy, I'm thinking as it's bucketing down outside boots might go better than canvas slipons... You don't agree? Ok, walk out to the gate and back and check... oh? you have wet cold feet? Who woulda thought? Inside, desock, resock, boot up and into the car and belt up. Wave goodbye, de-caterpillar leafy things, feed remaining chooks, feed fish and restore a bit of animal karma by turning filter off and on again to release not too bright fish who got sucked against it.

8:05- 8:45. Phew. Peace. Eat brekky while reading news online. Drink coffee. Take down dry laundry and hang up wet. Dress, do test 'heads, shoulders, knees and toes' in front of mirror and redress due to midriff baring issues. A work wardrobe that allows for heads shoulders knees and toes is an elusive thing. Turn off lights, grab work bag, shoe up and lock up. Unlock, deshoe, grab phone, reshoe, relock.

8:45- 9:20 drive to work. I am a reluctant driver. Would be quite happy to just bike everywhere like I did until Amy came on the scene. I don't so much hate the actual driving. It's just all the other people on the road that get to me. The ones who think road rules are optional. Grrrr.

9:30- 12:00 prep for class, teach class and after class chat. Love this class so a lot of fun. Even when teaching something as scintillating as prepositions of time. woohoo.

12:00-2:00 lunch at yummy yummy (that's really the name of the place) with boss and student.
2:00 race back to Azusagawa, pick girls up early (Amy still in PJs and playing with lego. Meg ready, bagged up and annoyed I kept her waiting. Can't win this one.) Race home to feed chooks as won't get home until after dark, race back to work to teach kinder kids' class.

4:00- 4:45. 3 yo class. Love 'em. They think I'm hilarious because I do funny voices. They think I'm magic because I do slight of hand. They howl and yowl and whisper and clap and jump and sing on cue. Love'em. I think they are even starting to pick up a bit of English...

4:45- 5:15 edit my monthly article in a local magazine, google whether you need to capitalise president even if you are not following it by a name. You do. M and A have mad conversation with boss about cheesey toast. Slight embarrassment that they are taking up his time discussing trivia is outweighed by happiness at hearing them conduct quite a long conversation all in English. Heh. So they can speak English when they want to.

5:15- 6:00 drive across Mastumoto to buy whole chickens for tomorrow's cooking class. Hate driving in Mastumoto. In the dark? And the rain? And with back wiper on the blink? And on roads I don't know? Really, really hate it. Girls were great though. Long discussion with Meg about why there are so many traffic lights and why there are so many cars and why I'm not going even when the light is green and why I can't just take a different road with no traffic lights/ traffic jams/ cars. Amy bopped along to AC/DC in the back.

6:05 chickens bought and head for home.

7:00 arrive home with two tired girls and 5 frozen chooks. Amazing husband has come home, lit fire, warmed up chicken noodle soup and started folding laundry. Might keep this one.

7:30 girls fed (natto, rice, raw egg and wakame. Neither wanted chicken noodle soup with amazing amounts of vegies as 'we had that last night.' Oh well. All the more for me. Get girls in bath and head out to supermarket to get other ingredients. More driving at night, in the rain.

8:30 finally home with everything on my list bought. Phew. Straight upstairs to howling sounds coming from bedroom. K sitting on their floor meditating is not wafting out waves of calm it seems. Tuck girls in. Meg past exhaustion and into irrational stage. Calm her down from desperate sobbing fit that Amy said she wasn't allowed to go to Australia at Christmas. Little talk about whose the boss around here.

8:45 Make K yellow tail teriyaki as fish needs to be used today. Cooked all six fillets and he ate 4 in a sitting. I guess they weren't too bad, huh? Phew. Sat down to my bowl of soup- way better than raw egg and natto or smelly blue flesh fish any day- finally say hi to K, finalise recipes for tomorrow and watch an episode of The Closer. Well most of an episode anyway but I am used to falling asleep before the conclusion. Not so much "The Closer" as "The Opener" when I watch it.

11:30 bath and bed. Gotta be rested and ready for another round tomorrow.



No, not me this time.

My ko-shamo. The ugly fighting cocks.

They didn't like the cold. Hated November more even than me.

When I was an exchange student in Osaka there were three Thai students in my dorm. We arrived in April all happy and excited. May through September all full of laughs and fun. October the smile lost a bit of shine... November downright glum, December through February they wore their jackets inside and wrapped blankets around themselves like sarongs. I remember one guy because he tried life in earmuffs and it made conversation difficult to the extreme.

I have been thinking of them lately because my poor ko-shamo have been hunched up and miserable looking. Really, chooks can hunch. Yesterday they refused to leave the covered section of their pen. I put garlic in their water (general pick me up and wards off vampires to boot), put another bag of straw clippings in there for insulation, made a lukewarm oatmeal and apple mash and went out and empathised with them. I think empathy is important. They pecked at the mash a bit, ignored the insulation (probably disappointed it wasn't central heating...) and turned their beaks up at my empathetic words.

This morning we were down to one ko-shamo.

This evening we are ko-shamo less.

And I feel miserable. If they didn't come here would they have been happier? Was it a miserable existence here? Is a short sharp chop (what they were headed for if we didn't take them) when all you've known is warmth better than an extra 5 months of life and a cold miserable end?

When I think of all the chooks and goldfish who've passed on while under our care I begin to feel very responsible and very miserable.

But wintering two roosters inside the house would be a little difficult to say the least. M and A would love it and probably share their meals with them but I have a feeling K's tolerance for chooks is based on their outside confinement.

But, even though I said they were ugly and I wasn't impressed when we were 'given' them I really did grow to like my ko-shamo and I'm just a bit miserable today.

RIP ko-shamos. Hope wherever you are it's warm and full of sunshine and caterpillars.


I did it

Had serious camera envy for a while now.

Mum, Kevin, Sue, H's husband A... all these visitors/ visitees with amazing cameras taking pictures of the same stuff as me but making it pop. The wow factor.

After stalking the camera department of the electronics store for weeks and having 101 consumer-guilt conversations with K along the lines of:

H: It's just so much money. And there's people in Sudan with nothing to eat...
K: Well don't buy it then and send the money to Unicef.
H: But the photos look so amazing...
K: Well buy it then.
H: But it's so much money and we have to pay for high school for Meg in nine years...
K: ... (left room as realised his contribution to the conversation was really not being adequately appreciated)

But, in the end...

I bought it.

Now I've just got to learn how to use it...


just another English class conversation

Taught my senior citizens class today. Made it an entire class without discussing death, disease or even hospitals which is quite an achievement so gave myself ten points for that.

My sometimes student, the high school girl who joined our class to help get her conversational ability up in time for Uni exams, was visiting home (a big temple) from University for the weekend and dropped in to say hi.

She's 19.

She's on a scholarship studying physics.

She brought a banana cake she'd made.

Everyone oohed and aaahed and you didn't have to do that'd.

My oldest student, an octogenarian fulltime farmer, not only self sufficient but grows enough to send to three adult children and their families to boot and a pillar of the community and on every committee available in the surrounding district piped up:

"You're so good at cooking you don't need to go to University. You could get married now."


very awkward silence

I think I might go back to hospitals, illness, old age and death next week.


because of the flu....

Letter came home from kinder today.

After the obligatory paragraph about the season (crunchy leaves and chilly mornings) and the thank you for your cooperation during the week of home detention we got to the main point. Due to the flu:

  • The kinder festival and bazaar that was postponed indefinitely has been cancelled due to other engagements/ inclement weather from now until graduation. (I am signing up for the psychic hotline- I got this one wayyy back when.) Bizarrely the bazaar whose proceeds are needed to buy Christmas presents will not be cancelled. But will be held off campus... Even if it is kinder mums selling stuff to other kinder mums just moving it off kinder land alleviates the issue of responsibility...hmmm....
  • BBQed sweet potato party is cancelled. Not sure what the influenza/ bonfire connection is....
  • Evacuation drill is cancelled as the police/ fire brigade attend and we don't want to invite anyone from the town into this cesspool of infection. Hmmmm, all the sick kids are at home....
  • Road safety day is cancelled. See above. I would risk flu to give my kid an extra chance at practising walking on the roads safely considering she will be expected to walk over an hour each way next April...
  • Parent teacher interviews- lower classes cancelled. 6 year olds are still on but 'date to be advised.' Not holding my breath. And don't really understand how cancelling this reduces the risk of infection as all the people who would attend the kinder for interviews are the people who turn up twice a day to drop off/ pick up their kids anyway....
  • Monthly height/ weight check day- postponed. Hmmm, as it's held monthly wouldn't just saying November's is cancelled be the same thing? Or will they check the kids twice in December?
  • Dental checkup- postponed indefinitely. I have a sneaking suspicion this is done without changing gloves between each child so quite happy to have this cancelled altogether. Forever. It is famous for overlooking problems anyway- as you'd expect from a 20 second "say ahhh. move on" experience.
  • Follow up nutritional seminar for overweight children- to be decided based on future cases of influenza. I bet the mums are all distraught at the thought of missing out on being berated for feeding their children anything other than traditional fish/ veg/ miso soup and rice meals and not taking them for hour long walks after kinder each evening...
All this has been cancelled and there's not even any classes off with flu at the moment. Can't wait to see what will happen if the flu makes a comeback here...


I like November because...

I like November because.........

(Please complete the sentence.)

No really. Please.

November is my least favourite month in the whole year.

It's grey. It's cold. It's not summer anymore. Everything dies. Well not everything but all the tomatoes and the cosmos and the peppers and the summer flowers and the leaves all fall off the trees and it rains. Cold, nasty rain.

But, I am trying to remember that nothing lasts forever, not even cold November rain... Love the guitar solos in that song... and the wedding dress... at 13 we were all going to get married in that dress. Now most of us have married and surprise surprise we all used a little more fabric...

Anyway, November. There's no snow yet. It's not Christmas. It's not Halloween. I don't come from a country that celebrates Thanksgiving- and a harvest bounty in November here would be kind of sad and sparse anyway. I vote October for Harvest festivities in Nagano.

It gets dark at 4:30ish. It gets cold at 3:30 when the sun goes behind the mountains. The North wind is bitingly chilly and races down the rows in the apple orchards like they are autobahns.

I am post visitor blue as I had so much fun with my friend H here but she hates the cold more than even I do and so we won't have her here again until at least March. Boohoo.

But, rather than wallow in my November funk I am looking for some reasons to be happy it's November. Anything will do...

I like November because....

At the moment all I've got is:

I like November because it's almost half over.



Woke up at 5:30, out of the house by 6:00 and drove through the dark and pouring rain to the highway bus busstop.

By the time I caught the bus I was tired, wet, had soggy socks and was ready to just go home- and it wasn't even 7:00am yet.

But, soldiered on and headed to Nagano City where I was hobnobbing with people with very important titles and self-important speaking styles.

I spent the day being followed around by two Japanese men with clipboards and cameras and a host of local media.

Everything I said they nodded and wrote down. Everything I looked at they took a picture of. It was exciting for the first ohhh 20 minutes and then it got kind of annoying. I mean when you're just standing, waiting for someone to call a meeting to order and suddenly a news camera is right in your face you get a bit dithery- should I look serious? confused? smile beatifically? definitely not bored, right?

Six foreign residents of Nagano were chosen to represent their language group (so I wasn't from Australia, I was from 'the English world') and tell Nagano City, Nagano Prefecture, JR East, Nagano City Tourist Bureau, Nagano Prefecture Tourist Bureau, Nagano Allied Bus Union etc etc how easy Nagano Station/ the bus from the station to Zenkoji Temple is to navigate for foreigners.

I think this is a fabulous idea.

I also think it would have been a lot more real if they had of picked a few backpackers off the street- real tourists, with real tourist level Japanese language skills and followed them around for a day.

Instead, in order that all the above important organisation's representatives would not actually have to communicate in any of the target languages they arranged to have 6 foreign residents fluent in Japanese come along.

So, while pretending we are completely reliant on the foreign language signage at the station we are dashing off comments in Japanese- remembering to use our politest and most showoffiest language as we are being paparazzied by the press the whole time.

Rather odd....

and for a 10 second glance at me being interviewed you will have to wade through the news slot here.

Caught the bus home in the rain and the dark, picked the girls up at 6:00pm- they were the second last kids to be picked up and Meg has satisfied her curiosity as to what everyone does at kinder after she goes home, and came back to a cold dark house in a bit of a state as K had done the morning routine by himself with the girls, almost perfect, they ate, dressed, brushed teeth and fed animals but he left their hair in the same plaits it was in from the night before. Oh well. Not bad. So tired and caught up in the evening routine I almost didn't even see myself on TV but B mailed to say she'd seen it and I remembered I had been paparazzied just a few hours before... amazing how quick the limelight fades back into teatime/ bath time/ bedtime/ night lights...

Thanks B!


time warp

Matsumoto Castle has the coolest gimmicks.

There's the free evening concerts for cherry blossom and moon viewing, the New Years ice sculpture festival, the New Years Day free entry, the horseback archery demonstrations, the kid's kendo competitions on the lawns.... and that's just the events I've been too!

But this weekend they topped anything I'd ever seen before:

Look closely....

On top of the moat wall...

That's right- a man in full samurai regalia was walking very slowly and purposefully around the grounds with lots of paused poses for us to take his picture.

How cool is that?


tuppence a bag

Remember the song "feed the birds, tuppence a bag" from Mary Poppins?

Always made me sad.

That little old woman trying to get people to buy bags of bird feed for so little money and noone buying...

We took our visitors into Matsumoto to see the castle and M remembered that I had said next time we went she could feed the pigeons.

So we did.

50 yen a bag of dried soy beans is practically tuppence these days.

But there was no little old lady to help. Just an honesty box in front of a cashed up Shrine... Beer money for the monks I reckon...

But it still made me sad...

Nothing a rousing round of Supercalafragilisticexpieledocious in the car on the way home didn't fix though!


then and now

The first time M and N played together:

The second time:
(how's the determination on Meg's face??)

And today:

Here's to many more years of fun together for you girls (and for us mummies too!)


coming home

Living at the foot of the Alps you don't get the mountain views... well you do but it's more of a head tilted right back, the mountain is blocking the view sort of thing.

That's why I love going somewhere else.

It means you get to come home again.

And coming home means:

I love the mountains in late Autumn dusk.

I don't love that dusk is 4:30...


it was their idea- really!

Well we made it.

A week of home detention.

And it has been quite easy, really.

See, the kinder's yakiimo-kai (BBQed sweet potato party?) was cancelled as it was on this week.

Meg and Amy were really disappointed

We have sweet potatoes...

and tinfoil....

and lots of fallen leaves....

I told them we could have our own sweet potato party.

"But at kinder we collected all the leaves ourselves."

Hey. I won't stop you!

They have spent two days raking leaves and scooping them into the wheel barrow and pushing them around the side of the house and emptying them into a big pile in the field.

I am feeling rather guilty at shameless child labour exploitation but every time I offer to help I get told:

"We want to collect them by ourselves".

Now that we've cleared all the leaves I am thinking it's only right that I should point out they're missing out on all that handwashing of the floors they do at kinder, too...


not that small

When I was an exchange student in Osaka I was part of an International Friendship Group. Cynical me spent most of the year poised to run as soon as they brought out the white gowns/ word from the master CDs or whatever as I couldn't believe it wasn't some kind of cult but no, seems there really are friendly, kind people who give up their Saturdays to go on outings to historical sites, village Sport's Days, seasonal picnics, tea picking, konnyaku making, taiko drum learning, kimono wearing etc etc.

All this was free for foreigners and a cover-costs-only stipend for Japanese. Sounds fabulous right? Why would I be suspicious? Well, at the end of each outing, no matter where we were, we stood in a circle....

held hands and....


It's A Small World...

Still can't hear that song without cringing!

But I've had a few 'it's a small world' type experiences recently.

My boss's wife's mother and aunt (following this?) came down to help clean up after the Halloween party. Found out from Aunt that an American friend in Nagano city was in hospital. Looking at rice-farming, grandmother-of-two boss's wife's Aunt I really couldn't think how she would know funky, young mother-of-one-baby American friend. Ahhhhh, I underestimated Nagano- why she lives in the same city as funky friend's husband's (quite famous it turns out) family and is family friends with a woman M who takes funky friend's belly dancing classes and that's how she knew. And how did Aunt know that I know funky friend? Why belly dancer M figured out that I was working for her friend K who married R who is my boss. Phew.......

Went to the gospel concert of a friend, K. She is an amazing woman- Montessori teacher extraordinaire, gospel singer, mango salsa making maestro and just all round fun person to be around. So anyway, went to concert and sitting next to me is one of the Japanese helpers from the English Playgroup the girls and I belonged to before they started kinder. The playgroup that was 4 whole towns away from where we are now. Said hello, did the how are you thing and asked if she was a member of the church where the concert was. Nope. Looking puzzled.... "I teach English playgroup with K three times a week." Ahhhhhh! I knew K taught playgroup in tandem with a Japanese woman. I knew Japanese woman who helped out at our playgroup taught elsewhere as well. I have know them both for years now. I just never put two and two together that women I knew from places four towns apart knew each other. Freaky...

There is a rumour going around that this January a couple are moving into one of the vacant houses on this street. This is big news for so many reasons- noone moves into the old houses here (well except us and that was 4 years ago), January is mid-winter and not a traditional Japanese moving season, the couple apparently have no ties to the neighbourhood and noone just randomly moves here (well except us....), they are moving from Mie- a long way away and... the wife is American. This last information I'm taking with a grain of salt- many of my neighbours equate white skin with America in a: is white? is American. Is American? Is white kind of thing. But still, another international marriage right here on my street? So today as I was driving the girls into town we pass a Japanese guy and a blonde girl pushing their bicycles up the hill. All excited I stop and say Hi.

"Hi! How are you?" (stupid question as they are both puffing and panting and pushing their bikes)
"This is a strange question, but are you from Mie?"
"He, is. I'm from America."
"Oh wow! I'm Heather, I live in the white house with the lawn up there. I'm so excited I met you. Everyone's been telling me you were moving in in January. Have you already moved in? You'll have to come in for coffee. I'm just heading into town now but we should be back in an hour-"
"Ummm, we're not moving here. We're just going for a bike ride...."

Oops. Oh well. Quite embarrassed, I wished them a good ride and went on my way.

Guess it wasn't that small a word after all. But really, what are the chances of a different international couple with a guy from Mie happening upon my street while I was going past?

It's a world of laughter, a world of tears...

Off to listen to some heavy metal to get that sugary tune out of my head...


the pumpkin chronicles

Thanks for all the pumpkin cooking ideas.

I have been very busy trying out lots of ways to get through them.

We have steamed, boiled, baked and fried.

We have mashed, spiced, muffined and pancaked.

We have errmmmed, ahhhed, oooooed and ehhhh?ed.

They are incredibly watery.

You can get over that by cooking the water out of them.

But they are just very very bland. Tasteless even.

Such a pity.

The standout recipe so far has been pumpkin muffins made with rye flour and spiced pumpkin. For two cups of pureed pumpkin the spice mix is:

2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger powder
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp nutmeg

They tasted amazing. That's a seriously good combination of spices.

The last word went to K:

"Wow. These are good. Imagine what they'd be like with pumpkin flavour as well."

Hmmmmm...... 32 to go....


Oh Happy Day

Woke up this morning and Meg and Amy were happy.

Very Happy.

Yup, first snow of the season. 13 days earlier than last year and 24 days earlier than the year before. I felt more like this:

Amy settled in at the kotatsu for the morning with her scissors and sticky tape and was very happy.:

She cleaned up all the scraps and binned them without me even threatening to remove her scissor privileges so I was very happy, too.

Then in the afternoon we went into Matsumoto to watch a friend's gospel concert. She sang "Oh Happy Day" and the girls were transfixed.

Ever since they have been running around calling out "Oh Happy Day!" and waving their hands to the heavens.

It never fails to make me giggle.

Oh Happy Day.



連絡網 れんらくもう renrakumou the phone tree.

Picked Meg up at kinder yesterday in a sleet storm. Of course I had no umbrella, I also had no jacket or even a newspaper to shelter under. It had been a beautiful sunny day until about 3pm then torrential rain turning to hail then sleet in quick succession.

I was only picking Meg up as Amy's class were declared oink infested on Sunday morning- I got a call from her class teacher calling from the kinder at 9:30 on a Sunday morning.... as if looking after 20 odd little kids day in day out isn't enough to put you off having any of your own these teachers don't seem to get enough time for a family anyway.... So I dropped Amy off at my boss's house where she watched TV on 'a BIG tv mummy' while I taught my lessons and in the afternoon we went and picked Meg up. Asked M's teacher about her class being closed down and was told all looked good so far. Did a mad dash to the car and got home, got everyone inside- Amy was refusing to leave the car because it was cold outside. Standing waiting in the sleet makes me nasty and I pointed out that unless she was thinking of staying there until April she had better just suck it up and get out.
Fed the chooks, grabbed an armload of wood and holed up for the night. Put a smile back on Amy's face by setting up the kotatsu heated table. She loves snuggling under there so all is right with her world.

ring ring ring

This is Azusagawa West Kinder. We have a message for the phone tree. Please get a pen and paper.
Due to a flu outbreak affecting more than 10% of students the kinder will be closed between November 3 and November 9. Further information will be delivered by the class teacher this evening or tomorrow. (It was 6:30 at night. Tomorrow is a national holiday. Again, any family time for kinder teachers?)

So rang my two deputy class leaders and passed the message on. Then called work. Got a call from the English circle I run in the Village- no kinder means no after school activities so no circle this week. The phone tree have to report back to me when each branch has finished. Got one call..... got a second. Two people weren't home so they were skipped and left voicemail messages to call me and confirm they got the message. Got one call...... got the second. Phew. Call the kinder and report that everyone in our class now has the message.

Just sitting down to have a chai and a breather when I got another call

Hello this is T from sunflower class. I have a message on the phone tree.
Yes? (really puzzled- I already sent the message around....)
Due to an outbreak of flu kinder is cancelled until next Tuesday. Y-sensei will be around to explain later...
Ahh! Sunflower class. Y-sensei. Meg's teacher. Of course! I'd been so caught up in passing on Amy's class's message I forgot I was part of another class, too...

Hung up, passed my message on and was very happy to finish my phone tree duties for the evening. I understand that they are a quick and efficient way of circulating information but I'm more of a text email person than a phone one and phone tree days see me using the phone more in one night than I would normally do in about a month!

And I get to repeat the whole fun experience next week when they will (hopefully!) officially call off the quarantine. Yeah.


A walk

Home alone today and made the most of it going for a brisk hour plus walk. You really just don't appreciate what a luxury it is to walk at your own pace until you have to walk at kid pace and then it's too late...

So today was a real treat. And it was a fabulous day, too. Really high blue sky, whipping wind and little white fluffy clouds racing around.

Found plenty more signs of Autumn to marvel at.

big old weeping sakura looking bare but still grand.

ginnan- gingko nut still in it's fleshy fruit casing. They are quite decorative... but smell terrible ... but gingko nuts are so yummy- what a confusing tree!

The ginkgo tree. Surely the queen of Autumn colours.

The road going past the local shrine. I've been wanting to get a picture of banks of fallen leaves like this forages but my neighbours are all too diligent at sweeping everything up. Glad Shinto Priests are obviously too busy with esoteric thoughts to rake leaves...

A persimmon tree. Biologically speaking it doesn't make sense that they drop all their leaves before they fruit with such great big, bright orange fruits left there in plain sight of even the most vision impaired bird but it sure makes for great scenery...

And the destination for today's walk? An amazing bakery run by a couple of Tokyo escapees. This is nothing special... you know, just your average hand kneeded, wood fired, ultra crusty, chewy, fig laced, delicious breadstick....