autumn at ours in pictures

red spinach, swiss chard, regular spinach, mouse daikon.

hakusai beginning to do their thing

chingensai, carrots, mizuna and more daikon

those chrysanthymums... Shhhhh but I kind of like them now. Especially as my mucking up the planting order causes my neighbour so much consternation!

The persimmon tree. Or rather the leaves that fell off the persimmon tree. I'm from Australia so falling/ fallen leaves are very exciting.

see above....

the fire's on, the room is toasty, the beans are drying, I made stove top chai, drank it, then refilled the pot with water and the spices and now my room smells of cinnamon, cardamon and star anise.... yum....

Amy doing her thing amongst the apples...

as above.... Totally in her own world, we had to weedle the apple basket off her when we needed it.

I love Autumn....


not sure...

Each month at kinder they have a birthday party for all the kids born in that month. The kids wear a crown, stand at the front of the room, say their name and new age into a mike, have happy birthday sung at them, get a commemorative photo/ handprint folder to take home and the teachers perform a skit.

This is the highlight of the party for the kids as each month the teachers put on a different comedic skit. They've done the giant turnip with the principal as the mouse, the young male teacher as the granddaughter etc, they've done one about a rolling riceball, the very hungry caterpillar eating it's way through each class in the kinder (they're named after fruit and flowers) etc etc.

Parents are not invited to these events so all my information is second hand through my kids and backed up with conversations with Meg's teacher.

This month's theme was a magic show.

The teachers all did slight of hand type tricks- pouring the lunch milk into a rolled up newspaper and unrolling it to show a picture of one of the teachers and claiming he drank it etc.

But one of the magic tricks was a teacher "turned into an American". She put on a top hat, said abracadabra, pulled off the hat to reveal a yellow wig and started speaking 'English' "annn iii aaa oookkk".

Meg came home very confused- "A-sensei is Japanese... she said she was American but she wasn't speaking English, she was just saying "ann iii aaa oook." That's not American, mummy?"

I couldn't quite believe she had understood it all correctly so I checked with her teacher today.

"Congratulations on another great birthday party. Meg's still talking about it. She said A-sensei was pretending to be an American?"

"Yeah! hahaha! She was so good at it. All the kids were beside themselves. She had this wig and she was going "aaann iii aaa ookk." ha ha ha! Poor Meg was really confused though. She knew it wasn't English. hahaha"


I told K over dinner and his reaction was "Magic, this month? A-sensei only did that? She mustn't have any slight of hand tricks...."


When I pressed it and asked wasn't it a bit culturally insensitive? Four out of 200 kids are obvious minorities- mine and siblings with a Filipina mother- that's 2%. I'm not sure if there are any Korean-Japanese kids or other less obvious minorities but still.... I think pantomiming any race is wrong in this day and age. When I likened it to blackface comedy or portraying Japanese people as bucktoothed, bespectacled, skinny and saying flied lice a lot K thought I was going over the top and 'they didn't mean anything bad by it. It's all in fun...'

I'm just not so sure.....

I know I tend to be hypersensitive to what I perceive as racial stereotypes/ racism (even if it's subtle) but I would have liked to not feel like I was the only one who had a problem with this. I mean what would Debido Arudo do, hey? Am I hypocritical for not getting riled up over gender issues at a male teacher in drag a couple of months ago? Or is that Ok because the female teachers often play the old men/ farmer roles, too?

I'm not sure....

I also know I'm living in a rather un-enlightened country, where token foreigners on TV are there for there oohh ahhhh factor more often than not, where even a semi-serious debate show between foreigners and Japanese people (koko wa hen da yo nihonjin- yes it was comedy but they did cover some serious topics) had the foreigners dress in traditional dress etc but I think we need to change this subliminal racism and you start by not making a different country's people a figure of fun to a room full of 0-6 year olds.

Or am I just overreacting?

I'm really not sure....


not the flu

Amy has had a cough and runny nose for about a week but only a slight temperature. With the piggy flu in town I've been monitoring it and waiting but nothing.... She gets seasonally sneezy anyway so I just put it down to that.

Then yesterday the teacher told me she'd had a temperature of 37.4. One tenth of a degree away from the automatic send home magic number of 37.5. On the 7 minute drive home from kinder she fell asleep. Very unusual Amy behaviour. Turned around and headed straight for the paediatrician. Took her temperature- 38.1. Please wait in the car, we'll call you on your mobile when it's your turn. Get everyone back in the car (very difficult as the doctor gives out stickers so a stickerless trip to the doctor was not going down well....) They cleared out the healthier people and invited us feverish ones in. Went through a whole questionnaire of what kinder she goes to, reported flu cases at said kinder, where she was three days ago etc etc. Get in to see the doctor and he does the usual chest, back, ears, throat-


Getting very 'you bad mummy' looks from doctor as he checks A's throat.

"How long has she had the cough?"

"Hmmmm, about a week?"

"She has tonsillitis. Bad tonsillitis."

Phew. Not the flu.

I had tonsillitis about 7 years ago. So bad I couldn't swallow anything and was admitted to hospital. Amy has been sneezing and coughing but eating normally, playing normally and otherwise fine. Could she really do all that with tonsillitis??

According to Mr Doctor children quite often have no pain when they have tonsillitis.

Until it gets really bad....

So, we are home on house arrest, A is still fine and happy and coughy and sneezy and begging to be allowed to go to kinder.

And I was told on the way out of the doctor's:

"Just because there's flu going around doesn't mean she can't get other illnesses. Pleas take care of your children."

Bit my tongue and said thank you.


what's a pumpkin?

Pumpkins confuse me.

We have green skinned yellow pumpkins that are super hard to cut. (I think this is the variety we PC Aussies call Jap pumpkins) They need to be eaten within about a month of harvesting.

We have big grey pumpkins with paler yellow flesh that last through the winter.

We have huge ugly bumpy grey, green and orange pumpkins that seem to be grown just because you can. Noone eats them, they decorate their genkans with them or donate them by the dozen to Halloween festivals. (My boss picked up an entire truckload...)

I hear from American friends that Japanese pumpkins are not the same as American ones. Too watery and stringy fibres. I've heard people therefore refer to Japanese pumpkins as 'kabocha squash.'

I've heard that you can't eat jack-o-lantern pumpkins and that you can. I looked up some pumpkin pie recipes online to see what kind of pumpkin was recommended and came up with more recipes using Libby's canned pumpkin than anything else so that was no help.

So I know a fair bit about pumpkins but a lot of what I know just confuses me.

Then today I just about gave up on trying to understand the whole pumpkin thing altogether.

I was teaching one of my adult classes and we were doing a Halloween crossword and one of the clues was 'an orange squash that you carve at Halloween.' After we'd gone through the squash not as in crush and not as in lemonade but as in gourd we still had some confusion. One woman was convinced a pumpkin was a grain. Being the diplomatic type I refrained from saying 'don't be stupid' and just said 'a grain?'

After a long and winding discussion with all sides wielding dictionaries (did you know the kanji for pumpkin is 南瓜 southern gourd?) it turned out that I was approaching this from a growing perspective- using the Latin plant genus as a guide, while my student was approaching it from a nutrition standpoint.

She was a child during the war/ immediate post war period and ate pumpkin instead of rice. So to her, pumpkin is a staple carbohydrate- bread, noodles, rice, potatoes, pumpkin. What started as a simple crossword clue developed into a really interesting discussion and if anyone felt stupid it was me for my narrow view of pumpkin classification.

I do think I'll give myself a break though and stop thinking about pumpkins and just concentrate on eating them for a while!


don't DO that!

K is away.

The house is dark.

It's rainy and windy outside.

This house creeks and shudders in the wind.

There is a mystery dripping sound in the ceiling space we need to check out.

I am a real wimp.

I have 110- the emergency number- on speed dial.

I put the girls to bed at 6:30.

I put Amy back to bed at 7:00.

And 7:30.

And 8:30.

I get out of the bath at 10:30 and listen to the house creak as I walk out of the bathroom wrapped in my towel.


"EEEEEEEEKKKK!!!!!!! AGHHHHHHH!!!!!! What the????!!!! DON'T DO THAT!!!"

Amy was sitting calmly on the bottom step swinging her legs.

"What are you doing?"

"Waiting for you." (calm as you please)

Apparently she had got out of bed again and gone into my room looking for me. When she didn't find me there she wandered downstairs and heard the shower on so she just sat down to wait.

Meg woke up a lot at the same age so I am used to that but when Meg woke up I knew about it "MUMMMYYYYY!!!!!!!"

Amy is just so quiet.

Scarily quiet.

Too scary for a black, windy, rainy, all on my own night.

I think I probably lost a couple of years of my life tonight...


role model

Role: model.

Meg and Amy tried their hand at modelling today.

I defy anyone to live here with bi-racial children for more than a month and not get told 'Oh! They are sooo cute!!!!! You should get them modelling!!!' It's all very flattering (of course I take full credit for the cuteness of my progeny) but I've never really been interested and besides, unless they were modelling stain remover (in the before shots) I don't see either of them being suited to modelling.

But last week my friend and neighbour Y asked me if they would model at the salon she works at. The timing was bad (those enthralling visitors) but she turned my no into an invite for our 18 month old guest to come along too and off we all set at 7:00am. (Point one of what I didn't like about modelling: the start time.)

The modelling was for an ad campaign about a new promotion at the hairdresser where you take your kid in for a haircut during their birthday month and they get all styled and ribboned up, gussied up in a frilly princess dress and you can take a picture of them looking nothing like they usually do.

So the first stop when we got there was not the toy room as Amy hoped and anticipated by ripping her shoes off on entrance, but the big chairs. Neither Meg nor Amy wanted to sit in the chair by themselves and it took some gentle persuasion, chocolate buttons and my lap before we got settled (point two of what I didn't like about modelling: using up my treasured trump persuasion tactics on something so much less important than the usual immunisation jabs, plane takeoffs and dental checkups- they really must be used sparingly or they rapidly lose effectiveness.).

And that's where we sat for the next hour. Apparently M and A have very slippery (I prefer the term silky myself...) hair and that teamed with the world's most indecisive hairdresser working on Amy meant it took an age to get their hair done. I played so many games of thumb wrestling, tickling, funny faces, etc etc I was exhausted- and I wasn't even the one having my hair done! (point three of what I didn't like about modelling: the preparation takes soooo long!)

Finally we got to the gussying up stage and Meg and Amy toddled off with the hairdressers and came back..... looking like.... hmmmm, saloon girls? extras in a Disney Princesses performance? Rather more frilly and shiny and satiny than usual anyway!

The photography itself was quite painless- aided as it was by my amazing clown skills, honed over two 7-5-3 photo sessions and two wedding full family photograph sessions- and was over in about 10 minutes.

And the verdict? Both girls loved the dresses. Meg wanted to know why I didn't buy them. Amy kept her fancy up do until her regular active life had it falling out and wants me to do it again tomorrow... Meg on the other hand hated her (admittedly rather out there) hair do and in a moment of pure exhaustion before bed started crying uncontrollably that she didn't want people seeing her in 'that yucky hair'. She wants a re-do, same dress but two plaits as a hairdo. Glad to see she's still my kid after all!

My biggest issue with it all I guess was the lack of control I had about the image the girls were portraying. I was really uncomfortable with Meg dressed like a 20 year old. So I think the girls' modelling careers are probably over and therefore so is my career as stage mother. It was a great experience and one I'm just as happy to put to rest.

Oh well, back to just being a role model...



Had a conversation about:

sustainable agriculture
the economy
the environment

and lots, lots more....

Really knocked the cobwebs off my non "How are you? I'm Great. Heads, shoulders, knees and toes" English...

Yup, got visitors staying.

I loooooovvvve having visitors stay.


not a bad life

I am a big believer in thinking positive. You don't make a bad situation better by wallowing in it. This can verge on the ridiculous. I still remember the night my friend S and I rode our bikes from Fukushima city to Shirakawa city in Fukushima. It's about a 90 km ride, it was raining heavily, our bikes were loaded with a weeks worth of camping supplies, we both had colds, it was dark and there's a mountain just outside of Fukushima City we were slogging up as we got splashed by passing cars. I think I said something like

'Isn't it great to be out and enjoying nature?'

S's reply is unrepeatable....

Anyway, so I try not to succumb to envy or regret but this morning I woke up after a broken night (you would really think that, evolutionarily thinking, children should sleep through the night, yeah?) and came down and checked my email and there was a mail from my sister L.

And my whole 'thou shalt not envy' thing was sorely tested. But I thought it over and came up with this reply:

Well I write to you from the roof top balcony of our hotel in santorini.
Santorini, huh? I'm sitting underneath Amy in the sunroom. Quite nice and I can see the computer screen every time she jiggles left or right.

We had a great time working in Canada, it does appear that we left in the nick of time weather wise, it dropped about 10degrees and was raining on the day we flew out to Dubai.
Hey! Snap on the luck with the weather, the 4th attempt at a Sport's Day was bitingly chilly but very sunny.

Now Dubai on the other hand was every bit as hot and humid that we were expecting (and that was just at 10pm when we arrived!!) swear to god in the full afternoon sun it felt like walking around in a sauna, we didn’t just sweat we dripped!!! Then going into the shopping malls we had goosebumps as it was so air-conditioned nothing in between!!
Pah. Try living in Osaka, baby. You visited for a few days? I lived it!

We managed to squeeze alot into a short amount of time, we went to the gold souks,
M and A frequently are sooks

saw and had cocktails in the Burj al arab (the apparent 7 star sail looking hotel) otherwise nicknamed ‘lil’ burj,
I got the sunroof on the car jammed open and had a revitalisingly cold million star drive home.

we went to the snow park in the mall of the emirates I skiied and J went snowboarding of course, now that was about a 45oc difference in temperature!
No need to pay for artificial snow here.... the southern alps are white now too... it's coming....

We went to the ‘big’ burj this is the new world’s tallest building, it’s still not finished yet and when you are up close to it is impossible to get it all in a photo!
I have a pile of laundry just like that! Bedwetting, aikido, taichi and that damn Japanese thing of only using a towel once and wham- world's tallest laundry pile and of course it's always unfinished.

Amazing, the Dubai mall which is next to the ‘big’ burj is just recently opened and insane you could spend the whole day there and not step into a single shop,
Ahhhh, sounds like shopping with toddlers... and you get all that running around after them exercise to boot.

We took in some of the local activities like riding the abra (water taxi) to a sheesha café (the crazy smoke pipe thingies) apple flavor still doesn’t make smoking attractive to me.
apple flavour smoke? Just in this neighbourhood I have apple, bean stalk, chestnut, maple leaf and I'm sure the odd agricultural plastic flavoured smoke- and all for free!

We went to the beach and thankfully we weren’t looking for a refreshing swim as the water felt like getting into a bath not really what you want when you’re at the beach! Even the cold tap water in the hotel was warm I cannot imagine what it’s like in summer no way!
Ahhh but I have snow melt so the river is unenterable even mid summer and your hands go numb washing the rice.

And for those of who are interested no matter how covered up you are, the locals are still going to leer at you, stop and look you up and down! I have never had so many compliments in my life! granted they weren’t from people who I would have wanted them from tho!
Ahhh snap here too. I have the power to cause accidents, an old man ploughed his bicycle into a telegraph pole as he was stunned by my beauty. Oh and a common 'compliment' here? 'Have you got fatter lately?'

From Dubai we made it to Egypt where we went on an 8day Gap tour. This for our first organized tour was great, we had a very very busy schedule and a very chatty energetic tour guide who at 4am in the morning when we were leaving to go visit a temple still managed to say ‘lets dance’ in hopes of getting us energized!
Busy days? Got that. Early and ridiculously energetic mornings? Got that, too. And you only had it for 8 days? Hahaha! 6 years and counting.....

Aside from the early early mornings (one wake up was at 2.30 am) we had a blast, saw all the major things like the pyramids,
of dishes? laundry?
battered old dusty thing with no nose to speak of? Sounds like Mr N down the road....
the museum
that would be my kitchen
abu simbal temple
quite templed out at the mo, hoping for no more funerals in the foreseeable future.

the hieroglyphics everywhere were amazing, I can’t believe that back in the day they were all in colour!, we saw some that had remnants of the colour which was great to see.
Amy has taken to writing her name, Meg's name and my name in various random places including on the underneath of the table. Some are in colour to boot...

We rode camels twice, the ones at the pyramids were big guys! Full size which I must say when
you are up in the air it looks a long way down!, the other ones were just youngins, about 5-7 years old as opposed to the pyramids 15 year olds. We also had a fairly long ride on the donkeys to get to the valley of the kings (about 1 1/2 hours a bit sore after that one!
Ok, you've got me on this one. I give piggy back rides to a combined total of 40 kilos though.... very sore after that one....

We also tried to do a bit of shopping in the markets, now in most situations and places shopping is super easy for most people yeah?!! Well in Egypt and to a certain extent Dubai as well you can’t even glance at something whilst walking by without someone trying to offer you a ‘special price for you my friend’ and of course there are no prices on anything so you can’t even scope anything out without them trying to suck you in! apparently there are different pricing strategies depending from where you are from so they all want to know what country you are from and then will say random stuff, ‘aussie aussie aussie’, ‘captain cook’, didgeridoo etc etc crazy stuff, you really just have to look straight ahead and ignore them all if you don’t want anything if not you get to do some bargaining !
Ahhhh, try taking two preschoolers to the supermarket! Getting past the lollies and chocolates on the way to and from the produce aisles without buying anything or one of the three of us having a meltdown makes Egypt a walk in the park I'm sure.

After our busy tour we were due for some relax time
no stamina...

and Mykonos was a great place to be for just that. We checked out the whole island from end to end, went to a light house on top of a cliff overlooking the town where J proposed! He sure did pick a pretty spot and of course I said yes.
Ohhhh. I'm so happy for you.... and a lighthouse on top of a cliff on a Greek island? J has nothing on K... but he'd kill you if I told everyone where he proposed.... on the other hand how often will you get to go back to Mykonos? We get to relive the memory every time we need groceries.... oops.

We are now in santorini we caught a ferry over here and it makes you realize just how many islands there are. There really isn’t much the same with Mykonos and santorini apart from the white buildings and the yummy gyros it’s so different.
Ahhh that's the way I feel about mountains. Mine have fuji apples, next mountain over has grapes, one the other way has red delicious apples...

We are on an island that in the BC days had a crazy big volcano and half the island went in a really nice chunk in the middle. It sure makes for a beautiful view!
All that's left is a view? Nagano has an active volcano. You get to sweep the ash off your car if you stay in Karuizawa...

And that pretty much brings you up to date we will be home in less than a week (I can’t believe that!!)
Your adventure is nearly over and mine starts each day at 6:00 with a 'MUMMY!!!!'

Love much,
L and J
Love you too L and J.
Wow. What a life huh? Nice for some.... And do I feel bad about sharing my sister's mail with the world? Well, yeah, a bit, but she did cc fifty odd people on it so it's not exactly a private mail... and when I skyped her to check she wasn't getting very good wifi from her banana lounge on top of some cafe so really, I can't feel too bad...

Anyway, I'm sure she'll pay me back by showing me hundreds of amazing pictures....


free fun from seikyo

Seikyo is the food co-op. It's a grocery delivery service loved and adored by country housewives nation-wide. Some of my neighbours don't drive and do all their shopping through the co-op. Others do drive but use co-op as well. When the harvest season is on the orders go up as people don't want to take the time to go shopping. It's more expensive than a supermarket but you get fresh, good quality goods and it's delivered so that's a bonus. I like a handful of products and am mainly a member for access to those items. But there's another reason I love Seikyo.

The food arrives in polystyrene boxes chilled with dry ice.

So, every Thursday when the groceries arrive:

It's 80's disco night at ours and the girls sit there and watch the 'smoke' until the ice completely melts. This takes a long time. Long enough for me to unpack all the groceries, decide on dinner, cook dinner and plate up. And the dry ice is free!

I'm sure there's a science lesson in there somewhere but at the moment I'm just enjoying my free fun from Seikyo and the free time it gives me every Thursday.


you knew her before she was famous...

Spent the drive home this evening trying to come up with my celebrity chef name.

the passionate chef? nahhhh, people might expect a Nigella and I don't quite have the ahhhh assets to pull that off.

the fresh fanatic? I think Jamie Oliver probably has that one wrapped up...

Over lunch I heard about a chef in the US known as the butter queen as she uses so much of it. Hmmm, what do I use a lot of.... the veggie queen? Nah, people might expect vegetarian food....

I thought I had it with "the slapdash svengali" as, if there's one thing my cooking is about it's approximation. Approximate ingredients- spinach? rocket? swiss chard? mizuna? all green, all interchangeable... approximate amounts- if the recipe says 500grams and I have a kilo bag I should be able to squeeze it in the middle and get half, right? approximate cooking times- bake for 20 minutes. Ok, no problem. Damn, what time did I put it in again?? All was going well until I thought I'd just check the meaning of svengali. Whoops. Not a magician/ genius as I thought but an evil person who exerts excessive influence on other people. Ouch. Back to square one on the celebrity chef name I guess.

Why the sudden need for a celebrity chef name? Well, a few too many compliments in one day went to my head...

Served my test recipes for my cooking class to K and the girls for brekky to rave reviews. K is always appreciative of my cooking, never critical, but rarely passionate about it.

"This is really good. I love the sandwich but these pie things are great. Really yummy. They taste like that quiche thing."

Yup, that's right. They were mini quiches...

Then Meg started up:

"Mummy, these are yummy. You're good at cooking. I thought you should be a clothes maker because you made me pyjamas but now I think you should be a lunch lady because you cook really yummy things, too."

I'm not actually looking for a new career but Meg is constantly on the look out for new opportunities for me. Not sure why she thinks I'm underemployed as she certainly sees me running around enough....

Headed in to my cooking class and everyone loved the recipes. One student asked if she could make a permanent booking for the class. Wooooo a groupie....

Then a journalist turned up to feature us in a local magazine and I had her tasting stuff and she started raving, too...

Took the left overs to a pot luck I was invited to for lunch and got more compliments, lucky my ego-inflated head could fit through the door!

So yeah, spent the drive home imagining my future as a celebrity chef, the cookbook, the tv show, the amazing sponsorship from global knives, kitchenaid and le creuset .... hmmm guess I'll have to learn how to pronounce that last one before I start my tv show....

But don't worry. I'l never forget my roots, sell out and become spokesperson for Ito Yokado. And so, to you, my loyal readers who knew me before I was famous, I will share the two magic recipes.

That's the problem. I think it was two great recipes rather than any sudden onset gourmet talent that got the compliments today. I mean if it was innate talent would I be trembling with the pressure to think up recipes for next month that are just as good?

I'm thinking of early retirement already.....

the back two are made with gyoza wrappers for the health/ budget conscious quiche fan.

Mini quiche


3 large eggs

90 ml cream

3 tsp grated onion

1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

salt and pepper

1 pack frozen pastry or 1 pack gyoza/ wontan wrappers

1 cup grated cheese

2/3 cup diced ham

1 bunch chives to garnish


1. preheat oven to 210 degrees.

2. grease muffin pans

3. beat eggs, cream, onion, nutmeg, salt and pepper together.

4. cut pastry to fit muffin tin.

5. line each muffin hole with pastry.

6. place some cheese and ham in each hole.

7. spoon about 1 Tb of egg mix in each hole.

8. garnish with chives.

9. bake for about 20-22 minutes or until pastry is golden and puffed.

10. cool, eat.


salmon and chives


ham and corn

tomato and onion

Pressed sandwich

1 loaf crusty bread

1 red pepper

1 yellow pepper

1 chicken fillet

1 bunch baby spinach


1 clove garlic

1 bunch basil

2 Tb olive oil

2 Tb parmesan cheese

cottage cheese

1 litre milk

60 ml vinegar

1. blacken red and yellow peppers, place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.

2. flatten chicken fillet and cook. Cool.

3. remove blackened skin from peppers, deseed and slice.

4. cut bread in half horizontally.

5. cut out some of the centre of the bread.

6. spread bottom half with cottage cheese.

7. layer with spinach, pepper slices, chicken and finally pesto on top slice of bread.

8. put lid on sandwich, wrap in plastic wrap and place heavy object on top for 2+ hours.

9. remove weight, unwrap, slice and serve.

Cottage cheese

1. pour milk into saucepan.

2. heat until 90 degrees. (when small bubbles appear on surface).

3. turn off heat.

4. add vinegar and mix well.

5. cool.

6. strain through paper towels.

7. add salt to taste and refrigerate until use.


1. peel garlic.

2. wash and dry basil.

3. place oil, basil and garlic in mixer and blend until smooth.

4. add cheee and mix well.

5. refrigerate until use.


the power of one

The power of one. Great saga-rific, drama-licious book by Aussie author Bryce Courtenay. Yes, he was born and raised in South Africa but he's definitely an Aussie. I hear New Zealand and the US make similar spurious claims about the origins of other true blue Aussie celebrities like the band Crowded House and actors Russell Crowe and Mel Gibson. The cheek.

Anyway, Bryce Courtenay. He wrote a great book about an underdog, a shyster, a Jew, and something vaguely supernatural. Actually he wrote a lot of books about a lot of different things- the Crusades, early Australian history, pioneers, South Africa, his haemophiliac son etc etc and they all seem to boil down to: an underdog, a shyster, a Jew and something vaguely supernatural.

Anyway, he wrote this book called the Power of One and I was reminded of it this week as we are experiencing a bit of a Power of One thing here at the moment. The Power of One, Two and Three in fact.

The Power of One

On Friday one kid at M and A's kinder got piggy flu. One kid out of two hundred kids gets the flu and the village-wide kinder festival and bazaar gets down scaled to a kinder kiddos only affair. That means of the 330 odd fish we painstakingly made, 130 of them will be swimming around in storage for another year as we don't need them. Painful but not so bad for us low maintenance fish cutters as the mums doing the fiddly, pernickety time consuming doodads in other classes who must be shattered.

The Power of Two

Today a second kid succumbed to the oink. There are now twice as many kids ill as last Friday, yes, but still- we're talking about 2 out of 200... Nevertheless, with three days to go before the scaled down bazaar and festival- WHAM! postponed. Postponed indefinitely. Postponed until the flu run is over. As it's only just started, I'm guessing this means the festival will probably be held sometime next February. Oh, hang on... it's an outside festival and there's about 30 cm of snow on the ground by February.... hmmm, wait until the snow melts? Well that would be March.... by which time all eyes are on graduation in the third week of March...., hmmm... thinking there might be ohhh a good 330 fish left over from this year's non-festival at this rate.

The Power of Three

Hasn't happened yet but rumour has it that the power of three is class closures. Three kids sick and a class closes. Three classes close and the whole place closes. Noooooooo!!!!! It's just a rumour so far but I'm already worried. We could really use a shyster and something vaguely supernatural to save us about now...


It's staaaaaarted.....

(akibai at the front, shinano red and shinano gold at the back. Just because I'm finally learning my apples...)

Apple season has started.

Giving-crates-of-apples-to-the-poor-non-apple-producing-Fukases season has also started.

Trying-to-impress-on-Meg-and-Amy-the-importance-of-being-grateful-saying-thank-you-and-not-taking-gifts-of-food-for-granted season is necessarily in full swing.

It's very hard to convince Meg that a lot of work goes into producing the food we eat and that we are very lucky to enjoy such an abundant harvest when a) she thinks playing in the field is fun and b) year round fruit and vegetable gluts are all she's ever known. By the end of last season Amy would see a sweet potato/ pumpkin/ apple/ pear/ daikon and say "who'd you get that from mummy?" Buying fresh produce was outside her thought process. But it was Meg answering the door not with a "hello" but with a "what did you bring?" that horrified me into action.

So, we have been talking about those less fortunate than us, how our neighbours work rain, hail, shine and snow to produce the apples we eat and that it takes a whole year for a tree to produce an apple.

We went out to a neighbour's orchard to help out picking up windfall and putting them in big bins.

I wanted to impress on them that we have to work (in some way or another) for our food.

Nope. Post-windfall collecting talk:

"That was fun mummy. I want to do it again. The grass is all soft and you can run and run and run.... and I carried three apples at once!"

Oh well the season is still young....



When we bought this place it was a mess.

That's the kitchen. Just look at the stove... the chair.... the fake plastic tatami on the floor. Tatami in the kitchen you ask? Why yes. There were three layers of fake plastic tatami in the kitchen actually. The previous owner had a brilliant way of cleaning- just add another layer!

So, we bought the house in November, took possession in January (had to wait for a rellie to organise a ceremony to remove the buddhist altar) and didn't move in until the May holiday. Yup, it took four whole months to get the kitchen, bathroom and one room habitable and the rest of the house off the condemned list. K would drive 40 minutes from where we were renting, do an hours work, go to work for the day, do an hour or so's work and drive home.

When we moved in we lived in one 6 mat room while we slowly got the other rooms sorted.

Isn't it beautiful? Not, her. It. The floor. It was so beautiful before we started living on it.... oh, ok, Meg's cute, too I guess....

Meg was 1 1/2, I was pregnant with Amy and we just slogged away at the renovations. K would wake up early, get all his tools out, measure, cut, glue, and nail one or two floor boards then pack everything up again so it was safe during the day before he went to work. We painted, we put down cushion floor in the kitchen, ripped off a room full of fake wooden panelling, insulated, sanded, patched, redid all the window screens in the whole house.... we were renovating maestros!

But there seems to be a motivation/ habitation equation going on. The more liveable the house becomes the more complacent we become and the less work we do. K doesn't even see some of the problems anymore. Just part of the background. It doesn't help that what's left are the fiddly pernickety jobs, too... And I work more.... and we have those two big gardens.... and.... and.....

But, after I caught Meg and Amy shaking hands through a hole in one of the doors I decided no more!! Back on the DIY straight and narrow.

So yesterday I papered two doors. Our doors here come in two types: non-standard width with a plywood backing that should be easy to paper over except for the non-standard width thing, and real old style thin wooden skeleton that you paper over with layer after layer of carefuly placed and glued newspaper before finally adding a layer of pretty paper/ vinyl on the top. These come with windows to boot. You know, just so you can have the fun of cutting around them. Last time I considered redoing the doors I went to Cainz ready to by all new doors as I was so sick of trying to work with the ones we have. Just a cheap, plywood door thanks. Nope. Not in our size, they don't. We could have them order made but ¥¥¥.

Well, yesterday I bought off white sticky backed door fixer-upperer paper. This stuff is fabulous: measure, cut, wet, stick- walaa! Only problem is our doors aren't really off white.

Closer to off brown really....

Oh well. I'm hoping the piebald "but we're trying" look is better than the scraggly stuffing hanging out uncared for look. That and I'm selling this picture to the anti-smoking lobby "This is what smoking does to your doors. Imagine what it's doing to your lungs."

The second door I did yesterday was a lot more fun. Meg and Amy helped me repaper the door to they toy cupboard:

Top to bottom with their pictures. It's really bright and they love looking at all their work up there.

And by the time we decide we want a more elegant look there I'm thinking it will be K's turn to do the doors.


magic juice

I teach three different groups of senior citizens in three different towns. This means I'm at the forefront of the next big it product among women of a certain age. If one group is talking about something I just nod, two groups and my ears prick up, all three groups and I buy shares. Well, stock up as I know it's going to run out anyway. In this way I've been through the Caspi-kai (Caspian Sea) DIY yoghurt craze, the banana diet, the sew your clothes from old kimono fad, natto diet, knit your own bottle warmer phase and now the hechima water boom is in full swing.

Hechima is a loofah gourd in English. The fruit, when dried, are sponge like and can be used as an all natural kitchen/ bath sponge. As long as you don't mind a sponge that slowly goes black and rots. And lots of people don't "just pull off the black bits and use the rest."

But that's not where the hype is this time around. It's the sap.

You've missed the boat on prime bottling season (the night of the full moon of August 15 on the lunar calendar- September these days) but if you go and cut the stalk of a hechima plant about 30 cm above the ground and then point the cut stem that's attached to the roots into a bottle and leave it over night you will get about a litre of Hechima water.

Hechima water contains potassium nitrate and saponin. Potassium nitrate is salt peter and is used in gunpowder, stump remover, ice cream and toothpaste for sensitive teeth. Saponin has soap like foaming properties and seems to be used in supplements.

Put them together and you have senior citizens raving about it as magic water:

Hechima water has an earthy aroma and is renowned for moisturising and softening rough skin, for skin lightening, anti-perspirant and astringent. It also has anti inflammatory, anti-allergic (bryonolic acid) properties. It is cooling and soothing and is thought to stop sun spots or brown patches on the skin which are caused by the strong sunlight and UV rays in summer. Therefore it is usually kept in the fridge and patted on the face in summer to avoid a suntan.

From here.

Unfortunately for all these DIY cosmetologists hechima water has a short shelf life in it's unaltered state. But never mind, a local chemist has jumped on the band wagon and for only 1200 yen will blend your hechima water with stabilisers and the like into a cream.

There's the real magic for me- a local small town chemist seeing a business opportunity and running with it. I wish I knew where his shop is. I'd love a picture of all those women of a certain age lined up with their shochu bottles of hechima water waiting to fork over 1200 yen...

Oh, and I was given some so watch this space for my sudden fresh scented, silky skinned, lighter, whiter rejuvenation.



So I've been bitching and moaning about my fish issues, yeah? Feeling sorry for myself with this job and bloody mothers who need to be spoon fed and then still can't follow instructions etc etc.

No more.

Well, ok, maybe a little more next Friday when I actually have to run Amy's class's stall but no more for now.

Today I went to the working bee for Meg's class's stall.


They had sent home a rather strongly worded letter (way less of the polite "of course, please only offer your help if it wouldn't inconvenience you in anyway" sentences that I had written and a lot more "if you don't help, this won't work. If it doesn't work your child will be disappointed.") well flies and honey and vinegar and all that last Monday there was a huge A3 poster taped to the window outside Meg'S class with (written in red for extra oomph) "We asked for 330 16x18 cm squares of plain, unpatterned cardboard and 330 pieces of 13x16 Japanese paper screen paper and we only have 110 cardboard and 120 paper. This is NOT enough. You have until Wednesday." Nice, huh? Well, it worked. Got home and quickly got our 20 pieces of each done grumbling and moaning and thinking nasty things about the class PTA reps the whole time.

Fast forward to today and I headed off to my 1:00 working bee- with my nasty hole punching tool (千枚通し in Japanese just because I had no idea what a '1000 sheet through' was on my instructions sheet) my scissors, glue, ruler and apologies that I don't own a wool needle.

The group of 10 or so of us sat down and the two class reps pulled out box after box of those cardboard squares we had prepared. Only now they had a little 2cm odd overlap made by cutting almost but not quite all the way through the card, folding it over and gluing the perfect sized piece of pretty patterned fabric on.


times 330


And just because that wasn't enough busy work they had also made pretty coloured paper for the front with a star and a flower punch out on each one- and saved the punched out pieces and glued them on (in contrasting colours of course).


Our job was inserting the sheets of paper, lining it all up, punching holes in the top, threading wool through and tying it off in a pretty bow.

Then on the day they will have a production line of mums writing kids names on their little book, painting their hand, pressing it on the middle page, washing and drying their hand before they touch anything, and drying the kid's handprint book before returning it to the kid.


I meanwhile will be letting kids go wild with bamboo fishing rods and paper fish with twistie tie mouths. Oh, and supervising a crayon colouring in table.

So, yeah, don't think my job is so tough anymore.

Oh, and as well as all that preparation of pernickity little punchouts and the like the leaders had brought three types of tea, coffee, a hot water pot, an assortment of chocolates and ..... home made madeline cakes.


just wow.


easier than I thought, harder than I thought, just as I thought

Drying beans is going fabulously. Perfect weather for it and a 100% success rate really goes a long way towards helping me forget what a horribly fiddly and time consuming job it is shucking them. Already looking forward to slow, wood fire top cooked bean soups come Winter. So all things considered this is going easier than I thought.

Ruddy fish. Everyone really jumped on board with the making of them and we have (literally) hundreds of them so all is going well quota wise. I got lots of "It was so much fun I got carried away and stuck stickers all over them/ coloured them in myself/ did elaborate drawings/ made some extra out of regular paper etc etc" I think Disney may sue us for copyright infringement on a phew fish by¥ut damn, some people have hidden talents. Great that the idea motivated everyone so much but... ummmm.... the point was for the kids to colour them in.... oh well. It's gone so well that we are way ahead of schedule and some bright spark decided we should punch a whole in each one and thread some wool through so they can hang them around their necks. Not quite sure I understand why you would want to hang a fish around your neck but hey, who am I to question, right? So tomorrow's job is punching holes in fish... oh yeah. Definitely turning out harder than I thought.

The bentos went down well. Phew. green and red capsicum omelette, potato cakes, sausages, cherry tomatoes, green beans, pickled plums, apple, banana, mikan (semi-peeled into tulips as per request) and two big round rice balls. And the reaction? Loved the jack-o-lanterns I drew on the rice ball wrappers. That's it.

Yup, just as I thought, the food is irrelevant, it's all about the cutesy decorations...



Last week one of my senior ladies' English classes were covring shopping with prices and units of food. I downloaded a catalogue from an Australian supermarket and we went through 'buying' food for our breakfast, lunch and dinner the next day. None of them had any idea what cereal was so I brought out my huge 20kg rice keeper full of mixed oatmeal, coconut, rice bubbles, cornflakes, sultana bran, rice bran and sultanas. They each tried a couple of spoonfuls- literally, I served it to them in soy sauce dishes- and hmmmed and hahhhed but finally said it wasn't bad.

Fast forward a week and maybe it's a coincidence, but today I was given a big container of mushroom rice, a container of walnut hagi-gloopy rice balls, some bean nimono, some pickled turnip and some slimy boiled satoimo. After class we usually have a cup or three of tea and someone brings something to munch on with tea- like candied shimeji mushrooms or you know, normal stuff like that- but this huge haul of take home stuff was a bit of a surprise. When I mentioned that it was a lot of food and I felt bad as I had nothing to give and... they looked at each other furtively, pushed the food further towards me and said

"It's for your husband."


I wonder if I should point out that a) we eat rice as well, b) K actually likes cereal c) we only eat it for breakfast, and d) it's waaaay better tasting than candied mushrooms or slimy satoimo...

or just say thank you and have a night off cooking every now and again?




Meg has an excursion tomorrow.

So does Amy.

We have one cutesy anpanman itty bitty ground sheet.

It's not big enough for the two of them even if they were going to the same place.

Meg reminded me that we don't have two groundsheets at 6:30pm as we were just pulling into the driveway after a long day of work/ kinder.

I had some fabulous ideas:

You can take the big picnic rug with the armstrap. How cool is that???

You can take one of the (dozen or so ubiquitous) blue sheets we have. We'll cut it down to size.
I'll cut it any shape you like?

How about a big rubbish bag? Blue (recyclables) yellow (plastic) or red (burnable)? And we can draw on it and make it pretty? With markers? And you can do the drawing? And after lunch you can fit sooo many acorns in your big, big bag?

*sigh* OK. Put your seatbelts back on, let's go to Cainz.

I have no idea where people buy cute groundsheets for children's excursions. The one we have came as a freebie in a magazine MIL bought Meg. I assume groundsheets are sold for a 24 hour period the business day after the first midsummer day of the season and then not again. Whatever, I can never find them. So, being that it's now mid-October I have zero expectation of being able to find a sheet but need to show Meg that we tried before I go back to my above options so off we go. Yup. Nothing in the outdoor section. Nothing in the kid's section...

How about a Winnie the Pooh bath cover?

A Mickey Mouse Car mat?
No. (lucky, damn those are expensive- for something you just put your feet on....)

A cute pink raincoat? It has little rabbits on it???
.... ok (yeah!) a raincoat and a ground cover, Mummy.

Finally, after I was thinking we were going to be stuck in here forever I stumbled across the plastic tablecloth by the metre aisle.


In ten minutes we chose our designs (Hello Kitty and Charmy Kitty- who wants to eat their breakfast off that??) and yes, designs, Noone wanted to use the blasted anpanman mat when there were pink cats on offer and I was too spent to referee an argument so I folded and we bought two new mats, tracked down someone to cut it for us, convinced him that I was absolutely positively sure I only wanted 50cm of each and yes, I understood there was no exchange or refund on cut cloth etc etc. and paid way too much for them (if you or a loved one is a victim of the economy may I suggest the vinyl table cloth industry? Highway robbery so someone must be making some money..)


Now I just gotta get up early to make the all important bento lunch to eat on the fancy pants groundsheet...


Dad of the year

I don't know how other English Conversation Schools do it but where I work they have to schedule classes on some holiday Mondays as so many public holidays happen on Mondays that otherwise those classes would miss out on far too much of my scintillating conversation.

So, today I worked.

But K and the girls had the day off. When I left the house at 8:30 everyone was in their PJs, hadn't had brekky, the girls were setting up a kinder for their dolls- complete with entrance interview:
M: How old is she?
A: 2
M: How many times has she cried since she was born?
A: 0. Zero?????? Give me a break!

I got home at 4:30 and asked how the day was.

Had they spent the day in PJs watching TV while K napped/ faffed about in the woodpile?

Nope. Shame on me for asking.

He made them a bento- cute shaped onigiri, pickled plums, left over salad drenched in mayonnaise and persimmon but still a bento, and took them to Matsumoto Skypark, a huge park area in the no-build zone around Matsumoto airport. The girls love it because there are a whole lot of different play areas including some franken-bicycles a volunteer group makes and lends out. It's about a 30 minute drive away though and there are so many regular two-swings-and-a-slide parks in between that we rarely venture out there. But not only did K go there with a bento but he stayed there from 11-4, five hours at the park without a book or a playdate parent to chat with or anything...
"what did you do all that time?"
"I played with them."

Ahhhhh..... feeling like I'm losing in the parent points race....

And he even remembered to both take the camera and use it. Phewwwww.... dad of the year around here, I reckon. I was so impressed I even forgot to be mad when at 11pm he casually mentioned that the happi coat M wore for Sport's Day had to be ironed and folded just so before being returned to Kinder tomorrow morning.

Lucky guy!

He even did their hair...

I think Amy may have dressed herself though....

And the verdict from the girls? I was complaining about the traffic on the way home and M piped up "If it was really crowded you could have waited and come home tomorrow."



A day in the October garden

Today was spent in the garden. We continued spreading wheelbarrow loads of chicken manure around the top garden and using the tiller to mix it through. Then we planted 200 bulbs of garlic. There won't be any vampire problems around here next season!

In the garden next door we:
Pulled up the sweet potatoes. Due to some miscommunication about who was buying the sweet potato runners this year we ended up missing out at the shops and only planting six very sad looking shoots that a neighbour had decided against planting.

Well, lots of TLC and a huge area to go rampant in and we ended up with:
Not a bad haul at all! Imagine what we could have done had we planted the twenty runners we were going to... Oh well, we'll know better next year.

We also:
ripped out the last of the roma tomatoes. sob. sob. No more fresh tomato pasta. Oh well, I guess I've still got a few jars of the bottled stuff... Also ripped out the last of the soy beans and the first planting of regular beans. I shucked all the beans and am drying them for soups in Winter. This is a lot slower job than I had imagined. I think I know why you rarely see pictures of fat farmers from 100 years ago....

Did the twice daily de-caterpillaring of the green leafy vegetables, here is some daikon, chrysanthymum greens, two rows of carrots and some chingensai/ bok choy. Please notice the lack of lacework on the leaves. Yup, caterpillars are not going to win this year!

Made the last of the fresh tomatoes into a seriously divine tomato pasta dish. Got all Jamie Oliver on everyone and spent the meal raving about how it was the quality and freshness of the simple ingredients: tomato, garlic, basil and olive oil, that made the dish something special. More than just the sum of it's ingredients. Everyone sat and ate quietly throughout my spiel but I'm pretty sure it was hunger and exhaustion rather than reverence...

And that was today in the October garden.



Sport's Day. And it was bright and sunny. All good things come to those that wait? Or just the law of averages- it couldn't rain forever...

I finished my job looking after car park number 4. Phew... busssyyyyyyy. Actually I had about 10 cars in there by the time I finished and people did follow my instructions. The fact that the other three car parks were full and my instructions were 'you can park here' made it easy I guess.

Amy did her dance to the very hungry caterpillar song.

Meg did her bamboo drumming song

There were relays

And speeches

And stilt walking

And artwork

And lots of grand finale's

And I realised why all the people around me had paparazzi style cameras. Next year the ground will be about 4 times as big. I'm thinking I need to invest in some serious zoomage!

I was all teary during so many events. Ohhh Meg's last kinder Sport's Day... ohhh she's making a speech.... Ohhh Amy's first Sport's Day.... ohhhh, she's completely oblivious to it all and is playing with her friend.... eh?

And that finishes the Sport's Day season for us. I love them but three in a month and I'm kind of worn out.

Need to recharge before the Winter Sport's festival...



Two weeks ago we started lighting the fire at night...


Last week I saw an ad for studless tires on TV...


Last weekend the sun-fuji farmers were talking about when they would start harvesting (after the second frost)...


Yesterday on the radio they were talking about the results of the bear food survey- too much food and the bears go into a frolicking frenzy and have too many cubs to feed the next year, too little food and they head into people's fields and surprise old farmers checking their crops at 5:00am- two years ago we had 3 deaths and 16 injuries- so they do a bear food survey each Autumn.


Then today on the news they talked about this:

First snow on the Northern Alps.


Yes, it's true I live about 100 km south and 2,000 m closer to sea level than Minami-dake but still- it's that horrible cold white stuff and it's here. In Nagano. To stay.


I'm thinking hibernation sounds good right about now.

Well, after the winter chocolate varieties come out anyway. I mean even bears stock up on yummy stuff before they turn in for the winter, right?


new PJs

I absolutely loooove two seem pants.

Take some stretchy material and fold it in half.

Take a pair of your kids pants and fold them so the crotch is sticking out one side and there's a straight, outer-side-of-leg seam on the other side.

Line the outer side of leg sem up against the fold on your material.

Pin if you're feeling pedantic.

Cut around the shape of the pants adding about 2cm for seamage and about 6cm at top for hemmage.


Lay two cut pieces of material out flat.

Sew shorter sides together on both ides (crutch section)

Place crutch seams together (should now look like the shape of pants) and sew big U shape from one ankle, up to crutch and down to other ankle.

Add elastic in the waist hemmage space and you're done.

I assuage my too-slack-to-even-hem-the-ankles guilt by sewing a heart of the same material on the shirt to make a set.

Made a pair for Amy too but no cute pictures of them both as she is going through a need daddy by my side constantly stage leading to much heart wrenching tears when he is not around at bedtime (which face it, this is Japan, not having daddy here at bedtime is something she should be pretty used to by now...). So here we have Meg posing, K trying to get his aikido gear on- I'm assuming Aikido-ka do very few surprise attacks as it takes a good 10 minutes for K to gear up- and Amy wailing "Don't leave meeeee!!! I neeeeeeeed you!!!!!" The PJs are cute though, yeah?



K turned kyoiku-papa last night. Education-daddy. Hothouse parent. He went shopping specially. Came home and did about a half hour's preparation then called the girls over to do their lesson.

We're pretty laid back with the girls. I do some English work with them and MIL buys them those kinder magazines with activities to do but this is the first time K has got all fired up and decided to do some lesson time with them. The catalyst was the kinder newsletter and notice of an upcoming event. K wanted to make sure the girls would do well.

So, what was it K was determined to practise?







Stilts, skipping rope or drumming?


It was something much closer to K's heart.


Not the catching of, but the eating of.

This month's kinder menu theme is "Autumn's bounty". Lots of sweet potato, chestnuts, pumpkin, pear, apple and Pacific Saury- sanma さんま 秋刀魚 The kanji for sanma even includes the character for Autumn. Sanma is K's favourite fish and he gets all reverent about it. The cooking, the presentation, and the eating are all carefully carried out with great attention to detail.

So when the October newsletter said that all the children were going to learn how to eat sanma K was all fired up. The 1-2 year old class will have theirs filleted, the 3 year olds (Amy's class) will have an army of senseis in there helping them fillet their fish while the 4 and 5 year old classes (Meg) will just go at it with their chopsticks.

I grew up on an island and my dad loves fishing so I ate a lot of fish as a kid but I certainly was never served a bone-riddled, guts intact, head and tail attached blue flesh fish at 3 years old. To me, the ability to remove the thin segments of flesh from the bony ribcage of a fish with two sticks is definitely an achievement but not something I'm so worried if my preschoolers can't do. But to watch K tonight you'd think this wass something the girls need to be able to do well for the honour of the family name.

And how did it go? Well....

That's Meg, Amy and my fish after we finished eating.

Amy kept spitting out anything with a bone in it despite K's constant reassurance that you can eat the little bones and Meg was on the unfortunate end of a misunderstanding about fish guts. When she asked "can you eat this bit?" and K said "yes, that's the best bit." she meant "Is this bit yummy fish flesh (and not that other revolting, bitter muck?) and K meant "yes, that's the revolting, bitter muck and that's the best bit!" Poor Meg.

K happily munched through his fish and the rest of the best bits we girls had left on our plates and went back to being a laid back dad but boy, for someone who doesn't think Meg needs to practise reading, writing or arithmetic before she starts school next year he sure got fired up over a bloody fish!

Priorities, huh?