That's logic

Spring Holidays.

Crappy Weather.

Mummy's got a cold.

We've been doing lots of inside stuff.  And that means lots of playing with toys.  Toys that get everywhere.  Really everywhere- lego on the stairs, dolls in the bathroom, playing house stuff in their beds (I always sleep with a fork and 1/2 a watermelon, don't you?) and today they set up a bookshop in the genkan.  Needless to say we have been playing the game we all wish we didn't have to- Let's Pack Up!!! on a daily basis.  

Today was a particularly bad day with two cleanups necessary after Amy decided we needed a swimming pool in the living room, or maybe it was a beach for her shell collection, or maybe- nah, you know what, there's no point trying to make sense of Amy's reasoning so let's just say she emptied a cup of water on the floor with significant collateral damage of the stuffed animal variety.

By pack-up two M had had it.  
'But, I don't like packing up, mummy!'
'Neither do I.'
'Well don't do it!'
'Don't make messes all the time and we wouldn't have to pack up everyday.  Just get out the toy you want and leave the others.'
'But I can't see the toys when they're all packed up!!'

She's right.  But I can't see my floor when they're not....


Inside the mooncake...

Well, my camera is playing up (it keeps doing upload mode when I try to take pictures.  Any ideas?) so no pictures but the mooncake.  Hmmm, how would I describe it?

Flaky, dark, chewy, rich, crumbly, dense, sweet/ salty/ spicy/ eggy.  I know some of that's a contradiction but so is a moon cake!!

I wikipediaed it (if google is a verb why can't wikipedia be one?) and there's a whole list of toppings and my uneducated palette thinks this is what we got:

Five kernel (五仁, wǔ rén): A filling consisting of 5 types of nuts and seeds, coarsely chopped and held together with maltose syrup. Commonly used nuts and seeds include: walnuts, pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, peanuts, sesame, or almonds. In addition, the mixture will usually contain candied winter melon, jinhua ham, or pieces of rock sugar as additional flavouring.

It definitely has ham in it and a hard boiled egg yolk, too.  

Would I buy another one?  No.  

Am I eating this one? Yessssssss.


For Jessica

Jessica at the local dialect posted about how much she just loves mooncakes.

Well, one of K's colleagues got married in Taiwan and brought back loot for all the guys on his team.  

This is what we got:

I just realised there's nothing in there for scale but it's a huge mooncake.  And it was filled with anything and everything.  We are trying to work our way through it, but it's slow going.  It doesn't really go with tea or coffee.


Amy's choice

Remember this meal K made for the girls?

Well, I think I outdid him, today.

And I'm blaming Amy.

It was all her idea- really!

I've been working on a couple of big projects this week and kind of, sort of, maybe, perhaps, not being quite the mummy I'd like to be.  Hey, it's English TV.  It's good for them!

So come meal times I've been letting the girls choose what they want to eat.

Yesterday we had carrots two ways- raw and microwaved- courtesy of Meg.  (I managed to add rice, salmon, and soup and it was still ok- phew!)

Today was Amy's turn and we had tortillas

with (cold) creamed corn

and sheets of nori

and tuna in brine

and sultanas.

In that order.  All rolled up and skewered with a toothpick.

How was it?  Ummm, well, when I say 'we had' I mainly mean 'they had'...  And they enjoyed it.  Two tortilla each kind of enjoyed it.

Sometimes I really worry about those two...


Westerners only. Keep Japanese OUT!

Of my funky knife sharpener that is.

My poor Japanese knife.  I just read this last night:

包丁ほうちょうJapanese cook's knife.  Apart from the fact that they cut these knives are in a different world from anything known in Western culture.  Like swords, they are forged and are sharpened on one side of the blade only, allowing extremely clean, accurate slicing.  They must be sharpened on several different whetstones, a knife steel being totally unsuitable.  
A Dictionary of Japanese Food, Richard Hosking

For nine years now I have been sharpening my Japanese knives on my ultra funky knife block with built in knife sharpener.

Now I'm going to have to stick a sign on my knife block:

Westerners only.  Keep Japanese OUT!

I'll show you mine if you show me yours

What did you think I was talking about???

I love the artwork and local tourism appeal that goes into these.  And look- Matsumoto has colour!  The design is of temari- Japanese thread balls.  Matsumoto is famous for these silk thread designed balls that used to be played with by girls way more gentle, clean and careful than my two!

So, now it's your turn. :P


One fierce chic

I've been watching Top Model (I know, I know but I am attracted to anything with the entire season available on YouTube...) and am amused at Tyra Banks' reinventing of the word 'fierce'.  She seems to use it as the ultimate compliment, the epitomy of womanly power and beauty.'Girl, you were fierce in that shot.'  Whatever, I believe words are there to be reinvented.  Personally I'm on a mission to take the 'aggghhhhh, muuuummmmmmy!!!!' hysterics inducing power out of the deceptively innoculous sounding 'akanbe'. (The Japanese equivalent of 'Ner ner na ner ner!')

Anyway, when I'm not watching Tyra do this week's rendition of fierce I've been reading Japanese Women Don't Get Old Or Fat.  An equal mix of nostalgia and pop nutritional science with the subtitle 'Secrets of My Mother's Tokyo Kitchen' alluding to the hagiographic tone.  Despite the damning praise I am actually really enjoying it.  But then I am also enjoying America's Next Top Model..... 

Anyway, in JWDGOOF there is mention of a female samurai warrior.  



And she's from Nagano, to boot!

Ok so she made some bad decisions when it came to life partners (maybe even twice).

And there's the possibility that aspects of her endeavours have been exaggerated or even fabricated- but I surmise that the penchant for talking up your exploits was not gender specific...

But I still think it's pretty cool that there were women Samurai.  Maybe (according to Wikipedia) only three notable ones but hey, that means there were at least three seriously fierce women out there.


how about you?

Went out for lunch today with a friend and her two kids.  Two mums, four kids, one buffet with ice-cream, everybody's happy!

One of the lunch options was tarako spaghetti.

M had no idea what tarako was.

My friend was amazed.  'She's five and she's never eaten tarako?'

I had to bite my tongue to stop myself pointing out that my dad is 55 and is managing quite well without ever having eaten salted fish roe...

But it got me thinking.  I feel I have a responsibility to introduce the girls to a wide variety of foods.

I'm pretty good at it, I think.

Except when it comes to food I don't like.  That's why they've never eaten tarako.  Or kikurage.  Or cheese spread.  Or baked beans from a can.

Poor kids.

But then my mum never served us cabbage and it meant I got to discover it for myself when I left home and that was kind of fun.

So maybe I'll leave tarako for them to discover.

Bonus is I won't have to eat, smell, touch or look at it! 

How about you?



In the interests of gender equality

I present the snow woman:

Has she got va-va-voom or what?  

I know I'd be smiling!


Spring snow fun

We have friends visiting from Saitama.

Two little kids who've never played in the snow.

We can't have that now can we?

That's the same place we went with my family in January.  In January it snowed all day.  It was freezing cold, we had a great time but ran back to the car as soon as we finished as if you stood still you got chilled quickly.  The snow was magic though- fresh powder.

Today it was a balmy 6 degrees, the snow was like sherbert, the roads were snow free, there were bare patches and slushy patches, the only cars in the carpark were out of prefecture numbers, and...  

it was perfect for us!  Sherbetty snow slows down the sleds, the warm sunny weather meant even Saitama-ites didn't feel the cold, the kids had a ball just hanging around in the snow and we even had a picnic lunch- in the snow!
Friend N, K, M and A enjoying a picnic in the snow on rocks that weren't even visible last time I was there!


Pay it Forward

 I loved that movie.

Such a simple message.  Pity it went sad at the end.  But I really believe in the ripple effect when it comes to kindness.  Some days if I'm feeling crap I go out of my way to be nice to strangers and do little things to help random people just to try and create some good feeling in the air around me.  Pointless, probably but it always makes me feel good so that's a start, right? 
So anyway, when I saw this pay it forward blog thing going around I had to be in on it!  

As presents I humbly offer:
  1. a selection of girls clothes from size newborn to 3yo. About 10 bags or so.  Please ignore 'part of a three piece set' labels as most probably only one piece survived my two scallywags.  All tags are labelled in black marker 'Megumi' 'Amy' 'Pak' 'Noriko' 'Leina' 'Yasuko' or 'Sachina'.  My girls learnt to answer to any of these names when the teacher was distributing lost and found- now yours can too!
  2. 100 billion trillion craptastic plastic toys the girls collect like they are craptastic plastic magnets or something- we don't even live anywhere near a McDonalds!!
  3. Eleven years worth of accumulated paperwork.  Mostly, payroll, tax, engineering or martial arts related.  Won't have time to go through and black out personal details so as a bonus you'll get to know K's full name.  And his employee number from the first job he ever had, his University club newsletter, every payslip he's ever received- the list goes on! Probably 5 boxes worth. 
  4. A vacuum cleaner.  We have three.  Or a microwave, three of those too.  And don't get me started on double beds... 
Just kidding!  It would be nice to be able to clear out that stuff but I'm thinking maybe something a little more Nagano for you.  Hmmm.

Soba flour? Fresh wasabi? Fuki-no-to shoots?  I have some amazing 3-5-8 pickling miso...  Ooohh how about some of my home-made miso?  See if your husband can tell it was made by gaijin hands... ;P  If you live overseas I will send you something non-perishable and customs clearable.  All K's paperwork, maybe?  Most of it's still boxed from our last move four years ago...

Forgot to copy the rules but I have presents for five people and please leave some kind of contact info.


take 2

we got bubbles!

Now that's a good looking crumpet!


President Obama's movements

Big news here in Nagano tonight.

No, President Obama isn't here.  

No he's not planning a trip here as far as we know.

He is wearing something that was made in Nagano though.

Not the suit.

Not the shirt.

Or the tie, the pen or the ring.

The American flag pin?  Nope. (derrr.)

The watch?

Well, almost.  The workings (what we proud residents of Obama-associated-Nagano know now- thanks to a ten minute news spotlight- are called the movements) of his watch were produced RIGHT HERE IN NAGANO!!  Wow.  I'm feeling proud.  As are the not one, not two, but three line workers in the Citizen watch movements factory who were interviewed tonight.

"At first I was surprised, then I was disbelieving, but now I am just really proud."  

Times three.

A special mention has to be given to the factory manager's nice PR/ Sales pitch:

"Of course we are all very proud to have provided the movements for President Obama's chosen watch.  We are proud of our high quality work and assure you we put the same effort into Presidential watches as we do into all our regular watches."

Am I missing something here?  They make one part of a watch.  The parts are shipped elsewhere, assembled, boxed, then shipped again and then the President chooses a watch.  So when they made the movements they had no idea it was the Presidential watch they were making.

But it gets better.  Not only is President Obama a very smart guy for choosing a watch with movements made in Nagano, his chosen watch is a very reasonable $325, proving the American people are very intelligent for choosing a President who is smart enough to buy such an incredibly stylish and so very reasonable a watch with movements made in Nagano.

Let's just hope they don't get so excited over this link with President Obama they send him an official 'Nagano is honoured to provide your watch's movements' letter.  What with that whole 'Buy American' thing he might have to change watches.

And then where'd we be?



Wife, mother, teacher, friend, daughter, sister, gardener, editor, cook, cleaner, seamstress, driver, correspondent, just plain me.

I feel like all my roles are juggling balls.  Some big, some little, some lighter, some heavier.  Some days I only have to carry a couple, a few.  Those are the easy days.  I have big hands, long fingers.  I can hold a couple of the balls in each hand without too much effort.  Even do it while carrying a crying child and trying to find my keys in one of half a dozen bags slung over my shoulder if I have to.  And sometimes I do.

Other days I am trying to keep a dozen things in the air.  Trying to be everything to everyone and all of it now.  Those are the days when I inevitably drop the ball, or a couple, a few of them.  
And the first ball to go is always just plain me.  So much easier to say yes to everyone else and no to yourself.  Easier that is until you realise the little ball that represents just plain me has fallen, unnoticed, and rolled into the gutter somewhere... 

It's the crazy time of the year.  Deadlines and school holidays, schedule changes and temporary schedules and new schedules and revised schedules, season planning, garden clearing, greenhouse seed sewing time.  Break ups and farewells and thank you parties.  

And it's not like real life stops so we can deal with it all.  There's haircuts and power cuts and 'no taking shortcuts through my orchard'.  Doctors and dentists and checkups and fillups and trying to avoid the tripups.  

So many dates to remember, so many balls in the air. 

If only I'd taken juggling not Japanese...



Kinjo-tsukiai.  Neighbourhood relations.

Three neighbourly interactions today and three boxes of cookies...

Box 1  Neighbour at the back left.  

(I know I say 'my neighbour' referring to about a dozen people but it's true.  I have the neighbours on either side of our house, the neighbour directly over the road, then there are the neighbours on the back half of our block.  It's only orchards back there but each is owned by someone so that's three more neighbours.  So I have six sets of immediate neighbours before I get into 'people in my neighbourhood'.  Anyway...)

Neighbour at the back is super smiley.  Incessantly smiley.  It's weird how if someone smiles too much it goes beyond pleasant and you begin to feel like you're not in on the joke...  Anyway, smiley came over this morning and positively beamed that she had 'some wood' and would we like it?  She's an apple farmer so it was a pretty good bet that 'some wood' was going to be a) a lot and b) apple- king of burning woods.  Of course we said yes and K spent the rest of the morning hauling truckload after truckload of apple boughs.  That required a box of chocolate pecan cookies.

Box 2 Neighbour directly at the back

So K was hauling all that wood.  And we have that road that goes between the apple orchards from the road behind us to our back lot.  Very handy that road.  K uses it regularly.  Well, turns out a) it's not a road.  Oops.  b) neighbour is not OK that K uses it. Oops. c) neighbour has put up several barriers to K's trespassing which K has just driven around. Double oops! d) K did not humbly grovel, apologise and beg forgiveness when quite rightly considerably miffed neighbour came grumbling over to complain of tyre tracks and brushed against apple branches.  K!!!!! What were you thinking?  Seriously in the wrong, here!!  That probably required department store bought fancy cakes, alcohol and a discreet envelope of cash but I went with a dozen chocolate pecan cookies.

Box 3 Neighbour across the road.

Remember this guy?  The neighbourhood's Mr. Uncongeniality?  Well he drove past in his held-together-with-fencing-wire-and-bailing-twine k-truck as we were offloading the apple wood around the front (post run-in with rightly grumpy neighbour) and stopped the truck.  Ready for some kind of 'that's a public eyesore!  Remove it immediately!' tirade I steeled myself and waited.  Mr. Uncongeniality speaks in stereotypical grumpy old man mumbles so I had to wait till he drove away and ask K what he said:  'He said, "wood fires take a lot of wood?"'  That's all?  "That's all."  Weird.  
Twenty minutes later Mr. Uncongeniality came to the door (!!) and mumble grumbled that he had some wood to give us.  K turned on the super polite guy thing he should have done with rightly grumpy neighbour and offered to go and get the wood.  Mr. Uncongeniality jumped right in "No!  No!  That would be a nuisance."  (Seriously, he said 迷惑)  So for the remainder of the afternoon he silently delivered apple trunk pieces and we silently offloaded the truck in the same place.  Very strange situation.  But very nice wood so that deserves a box of cookies, too.

Only that box of cookies is still sitting in the entranceway.  I have to wait for him to drive by so I can fling them at the back of his truck as I somehow get the feeling that delivering them to his door might not be very welcome...

Postscript- K just got home from delivering cookies to rightly grumpy neighbour and all is well.  Phew.  K still feels he's the one who has been hard done by though.  Pah, men!


White Day

Today was White Day.  You know the day when men give women chocolate.  You thought that was Valentine's Day?  No, no, no.  Valentine's Day is when women give men chocolate of course.  Then it takes men a whole month to return the favour.  Actually, according to Wikipedia, it took eighteen years for the first payback chocolate to happen.  Phew.  But don't worry, there's a great rule that comes into play: 「三倍返し」 Sanbaigaeshi-  thrice the return.  So you give a couple of handmade truffles and get something shiny in a little light blue bag.  Well that's what happens in the TV dramas anyway.

Today while I was at work (only two hours, keep that in mind) K took the girls shopping, bought a cookie mix (I didn't even know they made cookie mixes!) came home and made cookies with the girls for me.  Wow.  That is more than thrice the return on our Valentine's Day pancakes with raspberry sauce and I love you Daddy cards!  Any cooking with the girls requires careful, balanced, even handed, softly softly micro-management.  But cooking sweet things?  Whoa!!  Poor K.  

And as the cookie mix suggests, K is not a baker.  So I really appreciate the thought and effort that went into it.  Apparently there were a few hitches:  K thought a mix was 'everything you need to make this product in a box', lucky we had butter and eggs at home.  Oh and when they say melted butter they ususally mean melt the butter before you put it in the mix but hey, sticking the whole bowl on top of the fire worked fine in the end. 

So, without further ado- Happy White Day to us all!


take one

Late this afternoon I had a sudden urge to eat crumpets.  

When I'm in Australia and have access to the full range of breakfast carbohydrates I rarely choose crumpets.  More of an English muffin person myself.  But you know how when you can't get something you suddenly feel like you must have it?  Well that was me and the good old crumpet this evening.

So I found a simple-looking recipe and was ecstatic that no substitution would be necessary as I find baking is less forgiving to the 'cook with what you've got' approach.  The batter was a cynch and I left it next to the fire which is the warmest place in the house.  It rose nicely and I beat the air out of it:

The next step was a little more difficult.  We don't have crumpet rings- that's a given.  But we also don't have egg rings, metal cookie cutters or anything else conceivably substitutable at all.  Hmmmm, after a couple of attempts at cutting the bottom off empty steel cans (metal on metal screech- aghhhhh!) I found some two part cake tins, a little larger than your average crumpet, but hey- a metal ring- nice!

Batter in cake tin in frypan- yeah!  Ok.  Now just sit back and wait for bubbles.  

...and wait

...and wait.  

That bubble you can see?  That lone bubble?  That's not the way I remember crumpets!!  You need hundreds of bubbles to trap all the butter and honey you're going to slather all over your scrumptious crumpet.

Oh well.  The bottoms look fabulously genuine, they taste very authentic (of course they're for tomorrow's breakfast, but you have to taste your creations, right?) all it's missing is the bubbles!

It took a long time to make (I could only cook two at a time and at 10 minutes a pop that was a looonnnngggg process.) but it was quite fun actually and the idea of being able to make my own crumpets is so appealing so I think I'll have to try again sometime.

Sometime soon....

Stay tuned for take two!


from the test kitchen

My friend S heard I am going to be teaching a 'Cooking in English' class and laughed. 


I'm the first to admit I'm not a very pretty, cook-by-the-book, Martha Stewart type, but I'm still happy with the results of most of my culinary experiments.  I guess if I had to try and define my cooking style I'd say it's 'cook with what you've got'.  I shop once a week and try to use up all the perishables (fresh veg, meat, dairy, tofu etc) before the next week's shop.  This can mean some really odd days where we have four vegetable 'side dishes' and half a chicken breast as 'main'.  Oh well, healthier that way anyway, right?

For ages K thought anything I cooked that wasn't Japanese food was 'Australian Cuisine'.  He was quite shocked to realise that Australians don't tend to eat mizuna and tofu salad with balsamic vinegar and candied walnuts or hakusai in sweetened vinegar.  (That is sooo good.  Seriously, try it!)  Now when he gets a plate of something a little odd- tofu parmagiana anyone? he asks 'Is this Australian cuisine or Heather cuisine?'  I kind of like the idea that I have my own cuisine. 

But, while I am a bit haphazard with my cooking I'm quite conscientious about my job so I've been trying some recipes out and S, I think these three are undeserving of your laughter:

Exhibit 1: clam chowder.  I love the kikkoman cooking site.  You type in what ingredient you want to use and it comes up with pages and pages of recipes with pictures.  Of course they somehow all need kikkoman soy sauce and kikkoman mirin etc etc but... shhhh.... trust me, cheapo supermarket homebrand stuff works just as well.  In true 'cook with what you've got' style I didn't have white wine, garlic, fresh parsley or full cream but that's ok as I had some prune wine MIL brought ummm about 4 months ago and noone is drinking, negi, nira and plenty of milk.  I think it turned out pretty good and the girls loved it.

Exhibit 2 mini sausage rolls.  I really don't like storebought sausage rolls.  So fatty and greasy and heavy.  But I love home made sausage rolls with heaps of grated vegetables in them.  These were yummy but again, substitution was called for- no fresh wholemeal bread crumbs so I used panko, no fresh parsley or coriander (I wish!) so I used more of that nira and no zucchini so I used minced cabbage.  Ok, so with that much substitution this one is not really like the original at all but it was still yummy.  Have to add to my list of things to remember when using Australian recipes (1 cup is 250ml, Japanese flour is not self-raising so must add baking powder etc) that 4 sheets of puff pastry in Japan is only 2 sheets of jumbo Aussie style pastry.  Oops!  Never fear, with the left over sausage mix and a jar of tomato sauce I made:

Exhibit 3: meatloaf.  Very rich with the homemade tomato sauce on top.

And reactions from my taste-testers?

chowder- M "I don't think we should put shells in our food.  They should stay on the beach."
sausage rolls- M and K "There's no sausages in it??"
meatloaf- K "It's called meatloaf but it's only chicken, right?"

Tough crowd this.


Don't want to get too excited now...

The government is considering, thinking about, talking about, discussing, debating, and just basically trying to waste time until the election is (finally) called, ruminating on a 12,000 yen per person cash handout.  12,000 yen for every man, woman and child in Japan and an extra 8,000 yen for those over 65 and under 18.  Don't tell M and A about this though, as, I don't know about other families but there is no way we are handing over 20,000 yen each to a 5 and a 3 year old.  That's over 100 craptastic plastic toys from M's favourite shop- the 100 yen store,  and almost as many 7-11 pickled plum filled rice balls- A's drug of choice.

The rationale for the largesse is that we are all going to grab our bonus cash and go wild eating out at expensive (Japanese) restaurants, buying shiny new (Japanese) gadgets, grabbing the family and going to (Japanese) holiday destinations etc etc.  This will kick-start the economy and Japan Inc. will be back on track.  It's a bit of a gamble though as not only is it doubtful people will splurge with their cash (this is a country of tightfisted savers after all) but the public isn't even behind the idea!

In Nagano the economy needs more than a kick start.  We need Dr Luka and the heart paddles.  (ahhh Dr Luka....)  The big employer here is manufacturing and with the recession on a lot of big manufacturers are hurting.  Epson is closing and consolidating its factories, Toyota subsiduaries are retreating to Aichi left, right and centre, and the roll on effect is pretty widely felt.

Hoping to convince people to spend their 12,000 yen locally rather than at Disneyland or Costco (ok, maybe that's just me...) a lot of villages and towns are coming out with variations on a 'shop local' campaign.  For example, Shinano town is offering 12,000 yen worth of vouchers valid at any of the Shinano Chamber of Commerce member's shops for 10,000 yen.  .  These programmes are creating quite a stir and in many places the first printing of the vouchers sold out so quickly they are issuing a second print run.  People are excited at the 2000 yen they get for free and appreciate the opportunity to give something back to their community- to the point that they don't mind paying 50-100% more than at their nearest supermarket supercentre.  

The local news has been breathlessly following these developments with nightly updates along these lines:

Announcer: "Here in Inaka-village they are printing out their second run of these amazing 20% bonus certificates!"
Villager: "Yes!  I'm so excited!  12,000 yen to spend at the metal spade and outdated farm equipment store, the 'use by date- what use by date??' ma and pa shop or the consistently 10 yen a litre more expensive than anywhere else and seldom open petrol station.  It's fantastic!"
Announcer: "I'm so excited I want to go and get some certificates myself!! Back to you in the studio!"

Yesterday, they tracked down the dull-as dirty-dish-water Mayor of Matsumoto.  To be fair, he was elected on a platform of 'I'm dull and plain.  I won't waste your money on ridiculous media whoring gimmicks like that Governor Tanaka guy we just got rid of' (notice the lairy fashion but particularly that there's not one, but two weird button hole decorations on his lapel- and he accesorised for each occasion- a violin for the Saito Kinen music festival, an apple for harvest time etc etc)  So anyway, Mayor Sugenoya (don't bother clicking- seen one salaryman, seen them all) never claimed to be exciting and out there but I really think he outdid himself last night:

Breathless journalist: 'Does Matsumoto have any shop local programmes in the pipeline?'
Mayor S: 'No.'
Journalist: 'How do you hope people spend their money?'
Mayor S: 'Charity would be good....  At times like this we really need to reach out to each other and help those less well off than ourselves....'
Journalist: 'Tha-'
Mayor S: 'And masks.  It would be great if everyone spent their money on the masks that protect against new strains of pandemic influenza.'

What???  Yup.  That's the way to get some excitement back in the lives of Matsumoto-ites.  Burst their little 'Oooh free cash!' happiness bubble with a big 'remember you might still die from a drug-resistant influenza outbreak' needle.

Wow.  I'm totally whipped into a spending frenzy by that one...


Notice of registration as a love hotel

In the interests of full disclosure and being a law abiding member of the community I find it necessary to register our house under the city's love hotel licensing.

Love Hotels are regulated under five different national laws, three organisations and also come under local government planning restrictions.  I can't imagine why but it seems noone wants to live next to the neon pink, castle shaped, fairylight bedecked open-all-hours love hotel.  I always felt Matsumoto was noticably devoid of  lurid love hotels and it turns out I'm right.  Not that there aren't love hotels here- they're just a little more subtle.  So subtle they prefer the name 'business hotel' it seems.  

So Matsumoto city- browbeaten into it by armies of indignant residents has added city regulations to the national laws concerning love hotels to try and crack down on these devious undercover love hotels.  The new regulations are:
  • no hotel permit for a building without a manned lobby
  • no hotel permit for a building with hidden parking
  • no hotel permit for a building with more than 1/5th of the total beds being double beds.
Now I love socialising.  Eating together, talking together, just hanging out together- I'm there!  And having people over?  That means all the fun of meeting people and I don't even have to leave home?  Bonus!!  With plenty of space and a long way from where most people live we have had quite a few overnight guests.  That's pretty rare in this neighbourhood.  The only time my neighbours have people stay is at Obon and then it's only the extended family of the main branch of each family.  I'm sure the neighbours think I'm weird when there's a strange car parked outside for days at a time.  When we have big gatherings we have people park next door in my friend A's truck park.  It's never a problem as if her husband comes back in the truck he can park in one of their two other truck sized carparks.  

We have done up one room in the old house (there are two houses on this block but only one is habitable) for people who like a little privacy/ don't think it's cute to be woken at 6:00am by the girls (hard to believe, I know, but those kind of people really do exist...) to stay in.  It has a double bed in it.  Then there's the computer room (grandly referred to as a parlour on the house plans- ooh la la!) which is big enough to have a double bed and a sofa and two chairs as well, which, when added to the lairy orange velveteen wallpaper and the chandelier, gives it a strange half 1970's suite room, half outdated computer centre look.  

On Sunday K came home from a vague 'I need to go to work for an hour or so....' jaunt with...yup, a double bed on the back of the truck.  Seems one of his colleagues is being transferred overseas and wanted to get rid of his bed and K jumped at the chance.  As I've just mentioned, we already have not one but two spare double beds here but 'a free bed is a free bed, right?' is K's philosophy and so we now have three spare double beds as well as enough futons for four, two baby futons, and a baby bed in addition to the beds we actually sleep in.  Never mind whether we're actually in the hotel business or not, noone is going to believe this is just a private house with all those beds everywhere!

So yep, no manned lobby- infact at times I've been known to give someone the spare key and go out on errands leaving them to sleep past dawn or whatever other weird rest-related habit they have and I dream about.

Hidden parking?  Yup, and if you know which rows of apples to cut between you can even drive up to the back of the house- now that's hidden!

More than 1/5th of beds doubles?  I'm a bit rusty on maths but four (including ours) out of seven (including the baby bed) seems like a bit more than 1/5th...

And at the flick of a switch I can light up the front yard with our funky sequenced Christmas lights and all.

Yup, off to city hall to register as soon as I think of a name... all those apples, maybe Garden of Eden?  Nah, that didn't turn out to well in the end...  Somewhere half Australian where Japanese people go for a good time- maybe Cairns?  

And I don't think I can add pictures in the comments section so here's some unrelated pictures:

GJ- this one's for you.  M is wearing her favourite glittery silver striped skivvy (turtleneck?) which is unfortunately getting rather too small, over a blue camisole top that's a little too big (hence blue belt effect) with a pair of yellow terry towelling shorts over black polka-dot leggings, and you can't see her feet but she has on green crocodile socks.  She went to kinder today like that. @_@  And yes, she dressed herself!!  When I went to pick her up she said she was hot (it was 5 degrees here today so obviously hot is relative) and had rolled her leggings up to her knees.  I really don't need to worry about everyone staring at the foreigner when I walk around with M!!  I am looking forward to her being a bit older so it's more obvious to others that she chooses these combinations herself...

Oh and the cheesy grin is because she's posing with her teddy bear in front of the hinamatsuri dolls.  I had to think of some excuse to take a picture- 'your outfit is too weird to be believed without photographic evidence' seemed a bit nasty...

Priscilla- this is the naptime futon set we send to kinder.  The bottom futon has to have a face washer sewn on where a pillow would go so they know where to put their heads, and the top futon has a towel sewn on it to show which way around it goes.  Traditionally these towels are sewn on to futons so they can be unpicked and washed rather than washing the whole futon.  These days most people just go to the coin laundry and throw the whole futon in the washer but my MIL still sews towels on the top of her futons.  


The been there done that club and child labour

The been there done that club

Of M's class of 25 kids, 5 of them have a brother or sister A's age.  So 5 of us mum's are involved in the getting-ready-for-kinder-again thing.  And man are we full of ourselves!  Today was Orientation Day.  Well day is a misnomer as it was only 90 minutes long, but you take what you can get, right?  So anyway, this morning we sat together and watched our kids jump all over the stage and jump off the stage (oohh!) and pick up the microphone and call out to each other (they all know each other as they've been meeting at their elder sibling's kinder events for the last two years.)  When we weren't watching our naughty imps and secretly being proud of their outgoingness we were mock-sympathetically and rather condescendingly watching the new mum's with their kids clinging to them for dear life or with their head up mum's skirt (really!) or trying to pull mum out the door.  You would never guess by looking at us that that was us just two short years ago!

We sat through the 'This is Azusagawa Kinder.  This is a kinder bag.  This is a futon.  The name tag goes here.' spiel rolling our eyes and making comments comparing this year with two years ago.  'Oh look, the futon no longer has an elastic strap.' 'Hey, they've changed the schedule for the first week of kinder.' etc etc.  

We gloated as we confidently strolled up to our elder children's class and waved goodbye to our happy, confident younger children while all around us kid's clung and shrieked and wailed like they were being chucked in boiling oil rather than having rice crackers and playing with the big kids while their mums listened to more kinder preparation.  A was so confident she practically swaggered.  I don't even think I needed to walk her down to M's class.  I could have just pointed at the door and said 'Where's Meg?' but then people already think I'm strange as I admonish with an 'OI!' and whistle at the girls when they don't hear me.  Want to reassure everyone I do realise they're people not dogs, hey?

We came crashing back to earth with a thud when it was time to go and pick up our kids though.  The new mums got within hearing distance of the classroom and their hiccuping red-eyed children came running up and grabbed them like the last scene in a Mills and Boon novel while we were on our knees next to our fully-absorbed-in-play children, trying to convince them to come with us.  I finally resorted to bribery and told A I'd let her open the bag with her kinder goods in it once we were in the car.  Terrible, terrible mummy.  Pride comes before a fall, hey?  

I think tomorrow morning will be the hardest part.  Now A has a kinder bag, a pyjama bag, a new kinder lunch box, a kinder futon and has been welcomed to kinder by the Principal it's going to be nigh impossible to convince her she's not going for another month.  Poor thing.

A practising for kinder with her big sister's help.  Yes, you can see all our washing in the background.  I don't have photoshop and hey, we wear clothes around here.  Well some of us do anyway. :)

Child labour

After the excitement of orientation day, a full day of teaching with my assistant A, and mummy and me aerobics after we picked M up from kinder, we arrived home at 5:50- ten to dinner time around here- with nothing ready.  I had an idea, grabbed the kiddie knives and chopping boards and in my best tv shopping channel voice enthused 'Hey, girls!  Who wants to help mummy make curry rice?  Wouldn't that be fun?'  We've done a lot of cooking together which has been a major act of community service on my part- you know when it would be so much quicker and easier to do it yourself but you know how much they want to help so you let yourself be persuaded?  Well today was not like that.  They cut the potatoes, the carrots, and the mushrooms while I did the meat and the onions.  The meat because I think it's icky and the onions because the girls wouldn't touch them.  'They make you cry, mummy' said in the same voice you might say 'they're mean to defenceless kittens, mummy'.  We flew through the preparation and were eating in no time.  Wow.  I do feel kind of bad though.  They enjoyed it immensely but it just seems wrong to be using a five year old and a three year old on kitchen duty because you need them rather than because they want to help.  Hmmm an ethical dilemma...  And I've just realised I used child labour on Labour Day.  What would my staunchly leftist family say? 

The curry.  Man a saucepan of curry is unphotogenic!


getting some culture

For a small city in the middle of nowhere Matsumoto has a surprising amount of cultural opportunities.  The home of the Saito Kinen Festival (nah, I've never heard of it either but that crazy overanimated long haired Japanese conductor does it and it's quite the big deal apparently.) and also birthplace of the Suzuki Method (you know the one where kids start learning violin in utero and start piano soon after birth...) there are a lot of music aficionados here.  I'm not one of them.  Last year one of my students was in a 300 strong choir doing something she called Daiku.  Ahhh 大工 thought I.  That would be 'The Carpenters' in English I pompously instructed.  Classroom-wide awkward silence.  'Ahhhh no.  第九- The 9th.'  Ahhhhh, right, shrinks I.  My utter lack of comprehension must have been more visible than I was hoping for, as she went on to explain: 'Beethoven's 9th Symphony'.  "Ohhhh, of course.  That 9th" I faked, then quickly changed the topic.  Came home and googled it- ahhh the music from the Army Reserves recruitment ad!  Or was it the car ad?  Anyway, the music from that ad...

So yeah, we're not really classical music buffs here.  But today I decided it was time we broke up our weekend of wood carting and toy clearing to do something a bit artsy.  Well, that and a different student gave me tickets to her koto group concert.

Bundled us all into the car- insisting Amy let me brush her wild medusa-like hair and Meg swap her tartan tracksuit pants for black leggings.  Why?  Because she was also wearing a pink striped shirt, a floral cardigan and a denim rah-rah skirt.  Gave up on K as he probably thinks a shirt with a collar and moleskins is dressed up- even if the shirt is a rugby shirt.

We arrived and found seats- 100 people on stage and sadly less than that sitting in a 2000 seat theatre so plenty of choice of places to sit.  The lights dimmed for the first song and... M freaked.  Our Chicken Little is afraid of the dark.  She lasted a song sitting on my lap with me whispering a constant babble in her ear that it's ok, don't the overhead lights look like stars?  Which kimono is prettier?  Look how fast their fingers are moving etc etc.  But she bolted when the curtain came down between songs.  When I say bolted I mean bolted.  K had to trot to keep up with her as she raced up the stairs to freedom.  A was clapping and swinging in time with the music and really enjoying the show and so was I so we stayed and I texted K- 'We're having fun.  Where are you waiting?'

Forty-five culture-filled minutes later Amy and I clapped our final applause and headed up the stairs, I turned my phone on and there was a message from K.

Where were they?  Where did they spend 45 minutes that they could have spent soaking up the sights and sounds of a 100 strong koto, shamisen and shakuhachi performance?

'Glad you're having fun.  We're next door at the Gym watching a karate competition.'

Oh well.  Karate is culture, too.  Right?


First Lady Elect

Good evening fellow residents (I've only just realised that 'fellow citizens' leaves me out so that won't do.)

As the President elects wife, or as I prefer to be known, the First Lady of Okubo, I stand before you humbled by the faith you have placed in my husband, in my family, in electing us as 2009 Neighbourhood Association President.

I would like to thank you for overlooking the fact that the neighbourhood notices file often needs a good 24 hours to get from ours to the house next door.  I assure you we will make every effort to have all the notices sent out before the deadlines for the events they are announcing.  If, due to circumstances beyond our control, the overpriced catalogue of leather bound farmer's almanacs or the notice of liver checkups for left handed 74 year olds born on a Sunday does not reach your abode in good time I will personally ring the appropriate authority and negotiate a transaction on your behalf.  I assure you both organisations will be ecstatic at having a customer and will not bother with the deadline.

Our first duty as First Family is the annual 'Ride On A Bus For An Hour Up A Mountain Road, Pick Tasteless Mountain Weeds In The Rain And Mud, Jump in The Bath Together Then Eat The Same Menu Of Soy Sauce Boiled Cod And Slimey Toadstools That We eat Every Year' Tour.  This being the year of Presidents bringing in CHANGE, I must admit I was hoping to shake things up a bit and introduce the erstwhile people of Okubo to such delights as riverside picnics and outdoor games fun for all the family, but I understand the forces who pull the strings behind the scenes explained to my husband that his first job as President is to book the 'Ride On A Bus For An Hour Up A Mountain Road, Pick Tasteless Mountain Weeds In The Rain And Mud, Jump in The Bath Together Then Eat The Same Menu Of Soy Sauce Boiled Cod And Slimey Toadstools That We eat Every Year' Tour.  You elect the President, people, but none of us elect the puppeteers.

Change is inevitable.  Much has been made of the youth and relative inexperience of 2009's other First Family, I think you will find that your first President serving while not collecting a pension will be full of new and surprising experiences, but I hope you will all find it a rewarding journey.  

What my husband lacks in intimate knowledge of decades old neighbourhood disputes, I assure you he makes up for in passion for bureaucracy and attention to detail.  I know many of you remember this from his stint as Recycling Inspector- more returns in a week than any other Inspector had ever had in a year.  (Nod head and wait for applause) Rest assured that same commitment to perfection will now be applied to every aspect of your Neighbourhood Association.

As First Lady I assure you I will wholeheartedly devote my attention to all the fabulous support roles that come my way throughout the year.  The 2008 First Lady (lead polite applause) was an amazing pickle maker- who knew celery could be pickled in soy sauce?  And I counted no less than eight, yes eight dishes she brought along to our fully catered 'Ride On A Bus For An Hour Up A Mountain Road, Pick Tasteless Mountain Weeds In The Rain And Mud, Jump in The Bath Together Then Eat The Same Menu Of Soy Sauce Boiled Cod And Slimey Toadstools That We eat Every Year' Tour.  This year I hope you are looking forward to a fresh, new approach to fully-catered event culinary augmentation.  Think chocolate chip cookies and mini sausage rolls.  Remember- Change! Yes, We can!

To sum up- and I know you all want to get stuck into the room temperature Oolong Tea and deep fried, processed, long-life snack foods- a lad from Fukushima and his Aussie wife, no in laws in residence, been in the neighbourhood for only three years, and two preschoolers under foot in charge of the community affairs of 15 households of seventy plus year old apple farmers?Yes, we can!!  

The question is: Can you?


It's the hearts that make it special

A will start kinder this April.

Two years ago when M started we were both stressed and tense and freaked out (A trillion 27.5-27.8 x 31.0-31.7 cm rah rah rah bags etc etc) she was only 3/4 toilet trained, I didn't know anything about the kinder system, didn't know any kinder mums, etc etc)

Two years later and what a difference- not only am I not worried about the pernickety measurements on those umpteen bags she needs- I'm not even making most of them!!  Between what I made for Meg, what MIL made for Meg (without asking- grrrr! but I'm over that, really.) what the neighbour gave us (now I get kinder mum friends!) and what MIL bought for A (even she's not making things this time around!) we are pretty set.  But I still want to make it special for A.  She's not nervous at all about going to kinder as she goes with me to pick M up every day and goes along to all the umpteen events as well so she pretty much thinks she owns the joint.  She goes to daycare twice a week so she's fine about being apart from me, she's cool with having hand me downs- second girl born only two years later the poor dear is born and bred hand me downs.  And anything that used to be Meg's is just so cool!!

But I still want to make it special for her.  Today we were going through the kinder cupboard stuff seeing what we've got and what needs re-naming and we found a plain white bag.  I think it's probably a school lunch bag but hey, we'll worry about that next year, right?

But I still want to make it special for her so I asked her how we should decorate it and she ssid hearts.  So hearts it was.  Thanks to iron on felt and my ironing assistant:

And yes.  She's wearing an apron and.... look closer.... why I do believe she's not wearing any pants- what a surprise!


Gratuitous cute kid shots

K's away this week and I am being mum and dad and not doing a great job.  I'm pretty sure K doesn't pull the plug in the bath when they refuse to get out...

I am being very Zen about it all and lots of deep breaths and 10 counts and talking through stuff with M.  She told me off for being grumpy and said she wanted Daddy.  I said sorry and that I missed Daddy, too.

B R E A K T H R O U G H !

We are now on the same team.  It's the "we miss K" team but hey, it's the same team!

I'm being realistic and imagine that by tomorrow morning and more precisely by the time I try and brush her hair tomorrow morning she will be professing how much she hates me again but hey, I remember doing the same thing to my mum every morning, too. :)

But they are cute.  Sometimes I forget it but yeah, I think my kids are pretty great.  So gratuitous cute kid shots:

Ohhhh.  Butter wouldn't melt in their mouths right?  How could such sweet looking kids throw such amazing hissy fits when asked to get out of the bath??


the glass is always half empty

Matsumoto has had a really light snow year.  The official figures came out and this winter we only had 42% of the average winter snowfall.  Nagano city only had 17%.  This means all conversation for February was about water.  We're going to have a drought this summer- there'll be not enough snow melt and the rivers will dry up.  Low snowfall means heavy rainy season and we'll have floods and destruction etc etc etc.  The apple blossom will dry up and drop off, the apple blossom will be rained off/ rot off etc etc etc.

So when it snowed all day yesterday and about 30cm accumulated I greeted my neighbour (shovelling the road for the umpteenth toe-curling metal scraping on bitumen time- apple farmer's don't do winter very well and jump at the chance to get out side and do something) with a cheery 'Great that we're getting some snow, hey?' and he sucked his teeth, shook his head and said:

"Too much snow this time of year really sets back the apple blossoms...."

Ahhh the glass is never half full around here!


A tale of two hina-matsuri

Today is hina-matsuri, Girl's Day.  Well it is in most of Japan anyway.  In Nagano all festivals are celebrated a month late (lunar calendar issues...) but Obaachan (in regular calendar following Fukushima) told the girls it was Girl's Day so that's what it was in our house.  I have a feeling we will be doing it all again in a month when kinder says it's Girl's Day, too but hey, you can never have many days celebrating Girls I reckon!  

I was thinking aout previous Girl's Days and remembered this account of Girl's Day I wrote four years ago:
I had my second hinamatsuri yesterday. The first one M was 6 months old and MIL and FIL were visiting. MIL whipped up a feast of chirashisushi, some kind of suimono with a little egg bow in it, black beans, prawns etc etc. all followed by a (bought) strawberry cake. I sat on the couch in my role of mother of the new princess breastfeeding and worrying what on earth MIL would find to disaprove of in my kitchen.

SO, this year I was quite excited to try it all on my own. The menu was decided: umani prawns (can't go wrong with a dish with the word 'umai' in the name, right?), sekihan (M has allergies that would make chirashisushi a little bland) a big salad with lots of colour and haguri clam suimono. No problem. Oh and dessert would be an egg and milk free crepe cake layered with marmalade and decorated with strawberries. Never made any of it before but hey, can't be
that hard right?

After M's nap we went to the supermarket and bought what we needed. Well almost. Haguri were outrageously priced so I made the executive decision that 18 month old princesses could settle for asari (they're all clams, right?). Home to cook.

Just wash up the dishes first (while M pulls the garlic out of the cupboard and proceeds to break each head into handy one serve clove sized portions). We live in Nagano and it's pretty cold so it can take a while for the water to run hot. Turn on tap, help M with her new exciting game of putting the garlic back in the cupboard and return to the sink. Water is even colder...??? On with jackets and boots for us both and round the side of the house... kerosene tank is
reading below empty. ah hah! we are not going to be having hot water anytime soon.

So it's back in the car and off to Watahan for kerosene. I can't actually put it in the tank myself as the bottles weigh a tonne and the opening on the tank is shoulder height but at least there will be some for K to put in when he gets home.

Park the car and notice we are low on petrol. bu**er! I promised K I wouldn't drive with less than half a tank so at 4:30 and with NOTHING even started for dinner we're back in the car and heading out for petrol.

4:45. Home again.M usually eats at 5:30 and is in bed by 6:30 but hey, it's a special occasion right? First things first, boil adzuki beans with 2 1/3 cups water until soft and crumbly (approx 30 minutes) rinse mochi rice and leave for 30 minutes. On track! M has pulled out the garlic again but hey, I'm busy and she's happy. On with the prawns, boil with only one cup of water and seasonings until prawns change colour and liquid dissapears.

Aaaaggghhh! the beans! They are rock hard and submerged in murky red water that is almost boiled dry. Recipe book does NOT mention this problem. Boot up computer and check internet. M has found 500 pack of patty pans and is shredding them. Mustn't be mad with princess.  Demonstrate new and exciting put the patty pan confetti in the sink game. (papery garlic skins are double points) No help on internet, forced 'good girl!!' at DD as make executive decision that burnt/ crunchy raw beans are not desirable and add another cup of water. Forgotten prawns have all changed colour but DOUBLED in cooking liquid??? Contemplate tipping excess prawn liquid into beans but come to senses quickly and pull prawns before they stew any longer. Two burner stove and beans still bubbling. No hot water and need to make crepes with frypan that previously held prawns. Grab dishwashing liquid, bicarb soda and scrub and smell scrub and smell. (M responded rather TOO enthusiastically to 'good girl!!' and has
spent my bean prawn panic putting three slippers, numerous toys and a good portion of the garlic in the sink while leaving a carpet of patty pan confetti on the floor). Beans FINALLY somewhere NEAR soft so dump them with rice and juices in ricecooker and it's 48 minutes
till dinner is ready. Only the crepes, salad and soup to go. Already 6:00 pm, M fussing so I give her a drink of water and a wooden spoon and bowl to play with. Howls 30 seconds later when I realise I need the bowl back.

To cut this looonnng whine short (and save you all from a REAL rant about K who arrived home to fussy M, frantic me and a kitchen resembling a snow dome with a huge puddle and discarded cup in the
corner and calmly said he would have a bath before dinner. ??!!! What dinner??!!!!  It didn't happen as there was no hot water. :)) by 7 pm three of us were finally sitting down to my hinamatsuri feast of near-manju sticky sekihan ( I didn't realise how important the 'tip sekihan into wooden bowl and fan cool' step was when I decided to skip it as the only wooden bowwl
we have is the bath scoop), almost flavourless suimono (I forgot to buy both yuzu AND mitsuba) stewed prawns and a wonderful salad that only I ate.

And did the princess smile and say thankyou? Clap her hands and eat ravenously? Nope. Poor kid was so tired and overdone by the long afternoon that she ate half her rice, two prawns, tipped soup all over the table, had a banana and the strawberries off the crepecake before breaking down into loud nose dribbling open mouthed wails at the injustice of not being allowed to feed her teddy bear soup. So the celebrations were cut short and it was a sponge bath with water from the kettle before bed. Then I collapsed and wanted to cry myself at
all the work and stress and the less than ideal results and how tired I was and not even being able to soak away my cares in the bath!

Planning on inviting MIL down to celebrate with us again next year.  Bu**er what she thinks of my kitchen!

PS. And to top it all off I have jeopardised DDs chances of marriage as the dolls are still up...


Whoa.  Four years later and I still remember that afternoon quite vividly.  What have I learnt in four years?  The petrol tank is now never under a quarter (rather than a half- the hospital isn't that far away) We bought four extra kerosene cans and now always keep the home tank at half or above (hot water and a happy Heather are that important!) and Girl's Day food?  Well this year with K away and a hectic day this is what we had:

natto sushi, mini spring roll, croquet, inari-zushi, edamame, miso soup, fruit flavoured yoghurt drink, and a whopping great piece of store bought, cream covered, sickeningly sweet strawberry shortcake.

Yup, I took the girls to the supermarket, showed them the souzai (ready made) section and said go for it.  M was shocked and dubious 'we can choose one thing?' 'No, you can choose whatever you want for tea.' 'Really??' Poor neglected child.  She's not used to shopping....

As you can see they LOVED the idea, we set up the hina dolls, I dished up dinner (even the miso soup was leftovers...) and we had a stress free Girl's Day.  And this time mummy was a princess too- rather than Cindarella!

Happy Girl's Day!


that family

When I was in primary school I was in the same class as a girl from that family.  You know the one- the kids have to walk kilometres to school rain, hail or shine, they never have the right form on the right day, they come to school with raging fevers and dreadful lurgies (having walked, of course) etc etc.

When I was teaching in Melbourne I taught a boy from that family.  You know the one- the family owns a big, famous nightclub and are super busy, the son is their heir, their angel, their little baby boy- no matter what the 17 year old hellraiser does.  I spoke to the father at parent teacher night about lewd remarks and refusal to follow instructions and was told it was impossible.  'My boy is very nice, good boy- you calling me LIAR??!!'

When I was teaching in Fukushima I taught a boy from that family.  You know the one- nothing's left of mum but rumours, dad runs a hostess club and periodically leaves 14 year old son home alone (above the hostess club...) while he goes to SE Asia on recruiting drives.  Boy spends class time sleeping or cussing, buys all meals at 7-11 and never returns any homework or notes home.

Now, here in Nagano I have a horrible feeling we are that family.  You know the one where the 3yo goes to kinder in her PJs or wildly seasonally inappropriate clothing, she may or may not have the three hundred odd items needed for daycare, and if she does have them, they may have her name on them but more likely they will have her sister, cousin or a random acquaintance of her mother's children's name on them.  The 5yo is carried, yes carried into kinder each day by her doting father and never carries her own bag, periodically misplaces her regulation hat, socks, hankerchief and didn't have a bell on her bag after day two of her first year....  Her mother has been known to send along rice on 'bread day (no rice needed)' and send bento contraband such as konyaku jelly and yoghurt on excursions.  Notes go home and disappear into black holes (well are stolen by Amy for cutting and pasting) , other children's odd socks gravitate towards her bag, she stuffs her change bag with skirts and singlet tops (more kinder no-nos) We've left her spinning top at home, her kinder bag at kinder, her pyjama bag in the library and her pool bag in the car for a weekend.  And the worst one?  We got a phonecall on a Wednesday asking if we were bringing in M's futon this week.  Oops.  Yup, we'd forgotten three days in a row.

I have no excuse for this amazing lack of parental organisation.  No bedridden grandmother or demanding newborn to divert my attention, I'm not a single mother or a career woman, I have lots of support from K, I really do try and some weeks work smooth as well oiled machinery but others?  

The Fukases, you know that family...


This for that and what is that??

Today we went to the neighbour's one street over's apple orchard and collected three k-truck loads of apple tree roots.  The farmer has a wood fired bath and wanted the easy to use trunks and branches himself but was more than happy to offer us the knobbly, hairy, soilcoated roots.  And we were more than more than happy to accept.  Any free wood is welcome but apple?  The king of hardwoods?  And ultra dense slow, hot burning love (just kidding, rootsbut that was getting a little Mills and Boonish in there.  Hmm wonder if that's why the word root means what it does in Aussie English??  Crude Tasmanian wood fire owning apple farmers at work?)

Anyway, we were given this:

Well actually twice that and then some as that's one of two piles and we have to go back and get another truckload next weekend.  Not bad.  Looks pretty rough now but wait until the wet season washes all the soil off and we'll be laughing (and toasty warm to boot!)

I always like to make something to say thank you when the neighbours give us something to encourage them to do it again.  No, just kidding, but I think it's nice to show we appreciate their kindness and as the only bread/ cake/ cookie maker in the neighbourhood my very unmeasured, no-two-batches-are-the-same home cooked goodies are much admired and without fear of being stood up by the real thing.

So today I gave Mr and Mrs N some 'Martha's chocolate chip cookies'.  Only I didn't have any chocolate so I used sultanas.  I also didn't have brown sugar, butter (as opposed to margarine) or wholemeal flour.  Never fear, I'm the substitute queen aswell and walah- 'Heather's not really at all like Martha's chocolate chip cookies sultana cookies'

I have a feeling I ate these at the AFWJ convention and they were bigger and chewier and moister and actually had chocolate in them and well, just more American tasting but hey, these were still pretty good.  ANd I should know having eaten ahhh, well, hmmm, about a dozen of them? *^_^*  Lucky I boxed up two dozen to give the neighbour or I may have eaten more!

And finally:

What is that?

K made it for M and A for lunch.  It has only four ingredients.

They loved it.  

K didn't eat it.  

I couldn't believe M and A did.