a propelling experience

Well, I'm back.


Not that I wanted the convention to be over- that was fabulous.

But the plane ride home?


Shinshu- Matsumoto is a small airport.

JAL is doing so badly here they're pulling out altogether at the end of March.

In the meantime they have downgraded their planes to:

Yup. Propeller planes!

And I took that picture from my seat. Yup, I was seated next to the propeller. Made me feel personally responsible for checking the propeller was turning as it should, doing it's spinning thing without incident- quiet a cross to bear really and the longer you stare at a propeller without blinking the funnier your eyes get- like a magic eye book or something - and you lose confidence that the propeller is still turning properly and you need to stare harder. Doesn't make for a very relaxing flight!

The plane itself was tiny- two rows of two seats. Not quite as small as this one but pretty close:

The funniest part wasn't that we were bussed out onto the tarmac in Sapporo to walk up the stairs and onto the plane, or that the flight attendant didn't need to move to check we were all sitting down and count heads or even that there was a conversation-interruptingly loud roaring wind sound of the propellers the entire flight (that wasn't very funny at all actually) no, the funniest bit was when we arrived in Matsumoto.

Mastumoto is a very small airport surrounded by a very big park. (SkyPark- imaginative, huh?) there is about a flight a day out of Matsumoto at the moment. To either Sapporo, Osaka or Fukuoka. Signs telling you about these flights are all through the park.

As are signs and a huge banner informing you that the observation deck on the roof of the airport is free to enter (isn't it everywhere???).

Today was Sunday. We started circling to land and noticed masses of people on the rooftop. We got closer and closer and realised they weren't shooting a scene out of Independence Day, the airport hadn't flooded and it wasn't a hostage situation. Nope, they were families there to watch a plane land. And we did- to applause and much waving. So, in a re-enactment of the Beatles landing in Tokyo (only without so much screaming) we walked down the steps of the plane, across the tarmac and into the airport (think big bus shelter with a 5m long baggage carousel) standing tall, looking VIP-style serene and waving at our 'fans'.

Truly bizarre.

Almost worth the terrifying propellor plane flight there.



Convention Day 1

I have done:

Interminably long board meeting..... 'nuff said.

Hatha yoga- turns out I have lived 32 years of my life without realising I have a podiatol disability- the inability to move my toes individually. Quite traumatic but I'm over it. Almost.... Unfortunately no surprise that I am lacking in bendiness whatsoever. When everyone else had their forehead on the floor in the splits I was straining and wincing and still looking over everyone's heads....

Surprise Birthday for a woman who had a rather sad and doctor filled real birthday. Great fun and a lot of warmth in the room but the surprise was so well kept the person in question was taking a bath while we were all waiting for her arrival.... we were quite jovial when she arrived!

Discovered a new talent. Not sure how useful it will be but it turns out I am rather gifted in the sitting on a potato, picking it up between your butt cheeks and walking accross the room before depositing it- without using your hands- into a waste paper bin thing. Who woulda thought, hey? Still trying to work out how I can write that up for my CV though.... other skills? Talents?

Freaked out a tour load of Korean ladies. Well not by myself, I had assistance. See there's this big onsen complex here. And some very modest Korean women with towels stretched out tiptoeing around trying to retain their modesty as they gingerly stick a toe into this bath and that trying to work up the courage to take the plunge. Some of them tried to get in in their underwear and had to be instructed by the staff the au natural nature of onsenning. They were already looking a little stunned when in walks a loud, jovial pack of (comparatively) swarthy Western women laughing and joking and swinging their modesty towels around and- shock- wobbling and jiggling and swaying their way into the pools of hot, hot water. Scarred for life I'm afraid.... My hope is that by tomorrow night our cavalier attitude towards public nudity will have worn off and they'll join us in soaking up the fun.

And that's it. Signing off from Hokkaido. Oh, the weather you ask? Still freaking snowing. Top of 0 degrees tomorrow.... and windy. Oh yeah.... might cancel the tour and just spend the day in the onsen....



Before we got the wood stove I often thought about escaping the winter in Nagano. You know, just up and moving to Okinawa until about March or so...

Well, this weekend my dream is coming true. I'm at the airport. Escaping. To freaking Hokkaido!!! Seriously, it's like a bad joke. My very last choice of places to spend a winter weekend away.

But I'm off to the AFWJ convention so I'm sure all the friendship and fun, laughs and witty banter- in English! will get me through... somehow.... The hotel is fabulous with a resorty kinda pool (only inside of course!) so I suppose I could just not leave for the entire weekend and pretend I'm in Guam...

Bit of a rush getting this far though. Went straight from cooking class to lunch with my boss, her mum, dad and aunt (we have so many kids being looked after while I teach that we've brought in reinforcements) they are all really fabulous people and I just click with them. Occasionally I do wonder why I click so well with so many people twice my age and older.... I prefer not to think it's that I am an early onset fuddy duddy but rather that my amazing personality attracts interesting people regardless of age. Hmmmmm... do have to wonder though....

Anyway, had way to much fun at lunch playing 'who lives in the most old fashioned neighbourhood' and laughing fit to burst. Looked at my watch and realised I had 15 minutes to catch my train. Whoops! Never fear, boss drove me to the station then drove my car back to the school where she'll keep it for me. Have I mentioned recently how much I love where I work??

Caught my train- phew, managed to change trains at Nagoya- too much living in the mountains and I lose the ability to do things like read train timetables and deal with multi-platform stations... Realised while waiting for my train that I have completely forgotten how to read the names for the various speeds of train- you know, local, semi-express, express, rapid express and super rapid express or whatever. Ten years ago when I lived in Osaka I could rattle them off without batting an eyelash and now... nothing. Ouch....

Got to the airport on schedule which is to say 2 hours early (ahhhh, no time crunch today..) and thought I'd hang around looking cool and urban and see if I couldn't meet up with anyone else going to Sapporo from AFWJ in this area.

90 minutes later and... nope. Mind you I have set off a security sensor, mucked up the e-ticket check in procedure, made a bit of an idiot of myself declaring my foodstuffs to a bemused security guy- hey, I've never flown domestically before- spilt a coffee, dropped my coat and scarf numerous times while juggling my shoulder bag and ultra cool commuter carry on thing that I can't get the pull out handle to work for me, I'm sweating in this heat (is it not Winter in Nagoya?) and to top it all off I have accessorised my sleek business woman outfit with snow boots. Yup, snow boots. And not cool chic ones but Homecentre cheap and functional snowboots. So I'm thinking that it's probably better for my reputation that I haven't seen anyone yet.

Or maybe they've seen me and all scurried past in dark glasses and hidden behind copies of the financial times to avoid being seen with this country hick....

Called home to see how the family is surviving without me.

Meg sang me a raucus (rorcus? roacus? I know that is a word...) hand slapping song she has learnt. From the odd crackly sounds on the phone I think she was doing actions as well...

Amy apologised that she couldn't talk long as she was busy working at her desk. That's all she said....

K couldn't talk as he was busy getting dinner.

I know I should be happy they're all coping without me so well but it would be nice to think that my absence was felt at least a little. Not meltdown level obviously but would a hiccupy 'I miss you mummy' be too much to ask for???

Well, off to catch my plane. Yeah!!

Oh, gratefully accepting all wishes for unprecedented warm temperatures in Hokkaido this weekend. Low 30s (centigrade!) would be fabulous.


If Dante lived in Nagano

All I know of Dante's Inferno I read in Jodi Picoult's The Tenth Circle- yes, that says something about how cultured I am but anyway, I do know that he was into cruel and unusual forms of torture.

I'm pretty sure if Dante lived in Nagano and he had it in for me personally he would have been more than satisfied with today:

First Circle- Sudden unexpected routine changes
I am a creature of habit. Boring? Yes. But I like it that way. So K suddenly announcing last night that he was leaving at 5:30 to catch the first train pretty much as far North of here as you can go and still get back in a day was not nice. The fact that he also didn't get a chance to explain this to the girls was unfortunate. That they are also creatures of habit and incredibly attached to their daddy was traumatic all around.

Second Circle- Time crunch
I hate being late. I hate almost being late. I hate being worried I might be late. I tend to be over cautiously early to make up for this. Strict schedules and routines enable this earliness. My morning routine today did not have time for an unexpected double kinder preparation. That the girls embarked on a 'Daddy always drives us to kinder!' stop-work pyjama-in was the icing on the cake.

Third Circle- Sibling fighting
The girls get on like a house on fire about 80% of the time. About 15% of the disharmony we do have is run of the mill "she said", "but she said" stuff but every now and again we get an all holds barred full on barney going on. I have no idea how today's started, Horrible as it is to admit, I really don't care. I'm sure it was something heinous like Amy using the wrong spoon or Meg not saying please. Whatever. But by the time I got there they had handfuls of each others hair, were trying to out scream each other, Amy was being bossy and Meg was feeling very hard done by. The crying continued for about 30 minutes. Enough time for me to make a rice and veggie soup, pack my apron, mask, ravishing hairnet and 5 boxes of empty bottles, convince them both to get in the car- and in Meg's case-convince her into the same car as Amy-she suggested I make two trips... drive to kinder, hold both their hands, two kinder bags, a Miss Universe "Howling and wailing? Nope. Can't hear a thing" smile on my face and deliver them to their respective teachers with a cheery 'no, not dying or run down by a truck on the way to kinder, just a small disagreement...'

Fourth Circle- Nagano time
We agreed to start at 9:00. I got there at 8:45. My friend and co-farmer A and her friend and co-worker T had been there since 8:00 making me look incredibly late rather than 14 minutes early. Gahhhhh.....

Fifth Circle- Cold
It was below zero this morning. Inside and out. Perfect weather for spending the morning up to my elbows in cold water. Interspersed with walking outside into the wind and even colder outside temperatures and handling a scarily sharp knife. Just what you want to be doing when you've lost feeling in your fingers...

Sixth Circle- Heat
What better way to get over aching cold than scalding heat? So after my snowman experience we started playing with hot water. Lots of it. Putting our (gloved) hands in it, pulling things out of it, chucking it around by the bottle and saucepanful. I now know you can get a RHB. Like RSI only for heat- Repetitive Heat Burn. Ouch.

Seventh Circle- Shame
That rice and veg soup I made while the girls were bansheeing? It was good. Not great, but good. To be honest I was going for 'oooh unusual foreign food' points. Well, friend and neighbour A also brought something for lunch. What you ask? Why rice and veg soup, of course. Only hers was amazing. Looked fabulous (three jars of tomato sauce to my one, bacon and seafood mix to my frozen broccoli) etc etc. Everyone was very polite and ate my offering, too, but still...

Eighth Circle- Spare wheeledness
I really hate it when everyone around me is super busy and I'm standing there not sure what I should be doing, not wanting to do the wrong thing and get in the way, but desperate to be doing something. Aghhh. There was lots of that today. Oh well, it'll be a year until I have to do it again. By which time I will have forgotten what to do and the cycle will repeat...

Ninth Circle- Money
Talking about money, not talking about money, trying to talk about money without actually talking about money- eergghh. I swear, if I could I'd live in a commune- self sufficiency, gifting, bartering and renouncing all things fiscal- and an airline that flies to Australia would also join- I'd jump at the chance. Trying to cryptically negotiate with A how much to recompense her co-worker for her time while said coworker was hurrying in and out of the room was simply ulcerific.

Easter morning- Liquid gold
At the end of the book Dante gets back to Earth at dawn on Easter Sunday. Don't quote me on that, I had to google it, but I'm guessing that the Easter morning thing, the dawn thing, the surviving thing is supposed to represent something positive. A happy ending. And so, too, my day of circles- today was apple juice making day and I am sitting in front of the fire (not too hot, not too cold, on my own time, part of my evening routine, girls sweetly sleeping, knowing what I need to do- and having done most of it) and sipping hot apple juice with a nice 'yeah, I deserve this perfect moment' ache between my shoulders.

Bring it on Circles- I can take it!

Well, a day off tomorrow to recover would be nice....


Un- Australian?

Today is Australia Day.

I forgot.


My dad reminded me on skype at about 10:00 am.

I was working- on Australia Day- that's pretty un-Australian.

I spent the day thinking of what I could do with the girls to celebrate...

BBQ? Nahhhh.... way too cold- that's Australian- being scared of the cold.

Meat pie? Hmmm.... need to make pastry.... and buy mince meat.... too much effort- that's Australian- slothlike attitude.

Sit around drinking beer and saying maaaaaate a lot? Hmmm, bit young, save that one for next year.

I had decided on making damper and cooking it on top of the woodfire- resourceful- that's Australian- when I got home to small chaos, overtired children and a fridge full of leftovers calling my name. Slap-up dinner- that's Australian.

Miso soup, nimono, wakame, pickles and rice for dinner. Hmmm, that's pretty un-Australian.

Thought about making damper for me anyway- after the kids got to bed- but got a email from a friend asking for a bit of e-research. Helping a mate- now that's Australian!

And she's an Australian friend to boot.

So, despite doing absolutely nothing at all to celebrate Australia Day, today I'm holding on tight to my right to say I'm Aussie.

And just in case the jury needs more evidence:

There's me teaching a whole bunch of little Aussie Vegemite's how to make damper. Not today, obviously, but still...


I can't understand...

...why Meg's classmate's mothers still say hello to me and nod when we pass each other in the playground.

There are just so many times that I go to pick Meg up and the teacher meets me at the door and explains the fact that she is wearing head to toe a completely different outfit than when I dropped her off:

... Meg decided to paint the kinder with buckets of water and brooms...

... Meg made a river through the sandpit....

... Meg was stomp dancing in puddles today...

... Meg fell in a rice paddy on our walk today...

... Meg made a mudslide....

It wouldn't be so bad if she didn't always end up with a small gang of kids doing the same thing she is.

Today was up there even for Meg though.

Still keen to ice-skate at kinder, failing to convince the teacher to open the pool up and having heard from an octogenarian neighbour that they used to throw buckets of water on the road, wait till it froze and skate on that, she threw a bucket of water down the big hill at kinder. Unfortunately (fortunately!) it's not -10 degrees at the moment and the water didn't freeze. What did happen was a big slushy, muddy slippery mess. So, of course, she slid down it.

And again, and again.

In Meg's words "It was so much fun and I got mud everywhere- even in my hair! I was lucky because I was wearing gumboots. Everyone else was wearing sneakers and they got really dirty. I told them to wear boots tomorrow so we can do it again!"

Thankfully (??) it's forecast to snow tomorrow so we should be safe from parental glares for at least a day...


out of the wood

I'm exhausted. Creaking like an old woman.

We decided to spend today working around the house.

First job: Knock together a simple greenhouse.
One hour later: It was a very frustrating hour arguing out the best way to put up a huge industrial size greenhouse- I suffer from I'm-always-right-itis and K has tunnel vision. He is an engineer but ask him a question - if we sink the legs to the same depth and the angle of the roof is the same thanks to angled connecters will we be assured an even-heighted house? and he gets all 'I don't know. Don't ask me, I'm a chemical engineer not a structural one.' Grrrr!!!! Anyway, gave up on the house building for the sake of marital harmony and decided to wait until my co-farmer is free to act as co-builder and mediator.

Second job: de-ghetto/slum the front of the house.
We keep getting given wood. This is a good thing. Unfortunately, though sometimes the rate of wood gifting is faster than K has free time to clear up or the condition of the wood (covered in dirt and mud or crawling with ants) means that we don't clear it straight away. If another load of wood is delivered/ dumped on top of that it means we go from 'oh, they've got some new wood' to 'hmmmm.... let's call the neighbourhood committee, they're bringing down the tone of the neighbourhood....oh they are the neighbourhood committee...)

So we spent the day moving an out of control car sized woodpile from the carpark one barrowload at a time to the back yard.

Third job: reclaiming the back yard.
Now with all that wood that used to be out the front out the back, as well as the two overgrown piles of wood that were already there and the three piles of chopped wood waiting to be sorted and stacked we don't actually have a backyard anymore. No complaints from the girls who were scampering over it all like monkeys but I do need to be able to get out the back door so we started sorting out the huge mess of wood into too long, dry, too green and too thick piles and then K chainsawed the too long pile while I axed the too thick pile. Finally we stacked it all against the front wall of the back house.


Very satisfying but rather tiring. Feeling quite deserving of sitting on the hearth in front of the fire drinking cocoa tonight!

Lucky as I don't think I could move even if I wanted to. Not without creaking, anyway.


a week later and a different story

Last week we went ice-skating for the first time and the girls loved it. Meg did the class and Amy played on the ice with Ken and I.

We spent an entire week reliving the experience:

"Mummy, when I was ice-skating, remember when I thought I was going to fall over but I didn't?"

And looking forward to this week:

"Mummy, when I go ice-skating next time, will I do this one? (crouching holding hands behind back like a speed skater) or this one? (twirling like an Olympic skater)

She even tried to get her teacher to unlock the kinder pool so she could teach her classmates how to skate on the frozen surface. That's right- teach them. Hmmm, confidence, much?

Amy got swept up in it all and was really looking forward to going to the class with Meg today.

She got her skates on, helmetted and name badged up and went out to the class with Meg. All was going swimmingly.

First on the schedule was learning how to fall. Tuck your hands in, your chin down, and curl up and roll onto your bottom.

Ahhh nope. Amy was not at all interested in practising falling. Sit then lie down on the cold, wet ice? Nope.

It's for safety Amy.


Do this and you'll learn how to slide next.

Nope. "I want to learn how to slide, not how to fall!"

She ended up not only quitting the class and going to stand on the sidelines but also taking off her skates and changing back into her snow boots.

Oh well. Skating isn't for everyone, hey?? And I really think she will be back playing in skates again next week. Probably not in the class but just playing on the ice.

Meg and I are still loving it, though. It's going to be hard on Meg when the course finishes and the rink closes for the season.

It will be nice to talk about something else again though!


pot, kettle, black...

I have a class I teach because I feel I should.

It's a group of old(er) women in my immediate neighbourhood. I've talked about them before. They're all hideously busy- politician's wife, matriarch of important farming family, public official etc etc.

They turn up and don't turn up randomly. If they do turn up they can be up to 40 minutes late for a one hour class.

They talk in Japanese. They talk around me. They talk over me.

They spent a full six months trying to master "This is a..." "Is this a....?" "That is a ..." "Is that a...?" "These are..." "Are these...?" etc. We'd just get 'this' down and move on to 'that' and then everyone would completely forget 'this'. And anyone who missed a class would insist we redo the lesson they missed the next lesson as well. AGHHHH!!!!

So we gave up on learning grammar altogether and at the suggestion of the head woman (chosen by some instant summing up of family history/ assets/ English language ability or whatever) we have spent the last 2 months focussing on pronunciation.

Two months.

We basically play endless rounds of karuta- I say a card and they grab it from the table- and then we all take turns saying the word. Again and again and again. Complete with detailed explanations (in Japanese of course) of how to form your mouth and where to hold your tongue etc etc to make each sound. About as interesting as watching paint dry- and at least there's an eventual conclusion to that exercise!

Anyway, even my new found Zen like patience gets stretched a bit thin at times and I had a little preachy moment today and suggested everyone a) listen, b) try, c) turn up and d) stop being so pedantic about exact pronunciation and focus on communication.

And then, in my exhausted state I started losing my Japanese.

I mixed up ojosama and jo-osama- daughter and queen.

I mixed up gachou and dachou- goose and ostrich.

Confusing but not so bad, right?

Then I had three genteel women practise saying 'coat' about five times. Individually and then altogether- trying to stop them from saying 'kohto' in dreadful Japanese English.

Finally we got close to mastering it and one of them asked me what it meant (while holding a flashcard of a coat and remember the Japanese word is phonetically very similar but you know...)

And I said 上着 uwagi- jacket.

Well, I meant to, anyway.

What I actually said was 浮気 uwaki- to have an affair.

Shocked silence.

Wrinkled brows all around.

Then realisation dawned, there was hand over mouth embarrassed giggling and a gentle suggestion that I might pay careful attention to pronunciation.

"Japanese is a very difficult language."


The irony!!!

Pot, kettle, black anyone?


bathing survey

Need to know whether I'm weird or not. (No comment, dad.)

Went out for lunch today with three other foreign women married to Japanese men.

Four of us from four different countries.

Somehow we got onto talking about bathing (as you do over spaghetti, right?)

I was the only one who thought it was fine- dare I say it 'normal'- for kids to bathe with their parents.

I am talking about in Japan.

Girl or boy child with mother and or father.

Someone asked me would I bathe with my dad. Well, no. Apart from the fact that we wouldn't fit (no offence dad) it's not our culture.

But I do jump in the bath with the girls and every blue moon when K is home before the girls go to bed they all jump in together, too.

Hell, sometimes we even go to the onsen and jump in the big bath with all kinds of humanity.

I know I didn't always feel comfortable with this. The first time I went to an onsen I took a swimsuit. When I heard I wouldn't be wearing it I was freaked out.

That was 16 years ago. I can't remember when or how or why I changed my attitude....

But now I'm all curious about how many other people feel like me. Or not.

So, what are your feelings on bathing and have they changed?

Oh, and I may be pro-family bathing but I'm not all Japanese- I don't think I'll ever clean my husband's ears for him.


when you don't have snow...

Really warm day today. No really. It was 8 degrees and sunny. Spent the day getting little heart stopping jolts as great lumps of snow rumbled down the roof and fell with a sploshy, splatty, crashy, clunk on the ground. You'd think after the first couple you'd mentally set yourself up for a day of weird 'oh my god, someone just rolled down my roof and fell to the ground' type noises and you'd be fine but nope. Jumping and startling all day long.

It was windy as well so I took the opportunity to wash every sheet and blanket in the house- 3 beds and the kotatsu makes for a lot of linen. Of course we don't have enough of those special futon clips to go around so I spent a good part of the day (between startles) running outside and chasing down my laundry. ended up tying a couple of sheets the the rails of the deck. Ingenious and no one will notice the creased corners around here.

Looking out towards Matsumoto/ Shiojiri from the deck though and the city was completely obscured by a brown dust cloud. Apparently, depending on wind direction, in winter when the fields all around the city are all dry the wind can blow the topsoil across to the city. Ick. Breathing in all that chemically enhanced dust. I think I'll take snow any day!

Made me think again though- why do people say Green Christmas for a Christmas without snow? The three countries I've been in for a non-snow winter Christmas (Japan, Canada and England) have all been decidedly brown and drab with not much green to be seen at all...


yearning for irresponsibility...

Well maybe not irresponsibility but definitely a lack of responsibility would be nice.

We moved here 5 years ago.

The first two years we were eisei-toban, kind of like rubbish monitors.

The third year we were traffic safety/ patrol monitors

The fourth year we were deputy head of the neighbourhood committee/ disaster committee members.

This year we were head of the neighbourhood committee.

And K was head of the lion dance committee for the local festival.

I volunteered for PTA this year for Amy's class.

This past year I have also been district representative for AFWJ.

None of these jobs is particularly odious in itself but it's the remembering all the meetings and deadlines and reports and co-ordinating the communication and just the responsibility of it all that gives me a tummy-ache.

But, there are 50 odd people in this AFWJ district.

And once you volunteer for kinder PTA you won't need to do it again until your kid graduates.

And there are 16 houses in our neighbourhood committee. Each of these jobs should take 16 years to come around again.

So, being the calculating type that I am I was adding it all up and thinking I have a good few years of living-is-easy life ahead of me until the next position arrives.

I have been so looking forward to finally being free of responsibility.

But then....

K went to the pre-AGM neighbourhood committee meeting (where everything is really decided so that the AGM looks like a smooth running machine to the regular folks who have probably all attended a pre-AGM meeting at some time or another so the whole thing is pretty bloody ridiculous but it ends in much imbibing of alcohol so no-one complains) anyway, K went to the meeting and came home not just half tanked and with a fist full of fish sausages but also mumbling incomprehensibly about some new role.

What?? What on earth is left that we haven't already done????
Inter-neighbourhood association directory committee.

And then....
I heard that as our district has very few children (two 1st graders this year) all families (read mothers) will have PTA positions.

So when I was asked to join the farming women's co-operative I was flattered- me? considered a farming woman? Wow.... But begged off for a year.

I just think my tummy needs a break for a while....


The local daruma festival

We walked to the temple one hamlet across from us to check out the daruma festival. The night before they had had fireworks. One an hour all night long. Not those sound only ones for festivals but real, fairdinkum pretty fireworks. In winter. In Nagano. One an hour. My favourite way to experience fireworks!

Anyway, every year we here the firework but we'd never got around to going and seeing the festival so we decided to walk across and check it out.

Even snow flurries and a bitter wind won't get in the way of water play for Meg.

You could be forgiven for thinking it was a mini mini-truck convention....

But nope. Festival in full swing (someone has just rung the big temple bell).

Check out the crowds! Actually there were two brothers bashing the hell out of the gong/ bell thing while this responsible dad was obviously explaining religion and reverence and respect and the meaning behind the gonging of the bell etc, it just looks like he's crouching down by the fire while his kids go wild at a temple....

The main event- daruma selling. This was the one and only daruma seller... Monopoly anyone?

And we head off home again.

Hmmm, I think next year I'll just watch the firework from my bedroom window again.


we'd be better off....

This is an old house.

This is a cold area.

That means this is an old, cold house.

Not your average, 'brrr, that's a little chilly, think I'll put on a sweater' kind of cold.

More like 'honey? the fish tank has frozen, the drain in the wash basin has iced over, I can't wipe the table because the cloth is frozen to the sink and oh, the olive oil has gone solid again' kind of cold.

This morning it was -8 in the kitchen when we got up.*


But it was -11 outside so we were still winning on my "we're still better off living in a house" check. (Gotta look on the positive side of life, eh?)

But today someone pointed this article out to me:

Igloo as a snowhouse

Frobisher Bay, an illustration from Charles Francis Hall's Arctic Researches and Life Among the Esquimaux, published in 1865

...Although igloos are usually associated with all Inuit, they were predominantly constructed by people ofCanada's Central Arctic and Greenland's Thulearea. ...Snow was used because the air pockets trapped in it make it an insulator. On the outside, temperatures may be as low as −45 °C (−49.0 °F), but on the inside the temperature may range from −7 °C (19 °F) to 16 °C (61 °F) when warmed by body heat alone.[4]

That last sentence- an igloo gets as warm as 16 degrees when outside temperatures are as low as -45????

Aghhhhhh!!! We'd be better off living in a freaking igloo!!!

*Dear Mum, Dad, Matsumoto Child Welfare etc etc, please don't worry. Of course we turn the heaters on as soon as we get up. Within about 10 minutes we're out of the minus temperatures altogether- even 6 degrees feels positively balmy after that! But there is something satisfying about checking the thermometer and knowing that you're not just being a wimp- it really is freezing in here!


The little girl and the ice

Once upon a time there was a little girl who went ice-skating for the first time.

At first she as a little confused:

"The one with the two planks and the two sticks?"
"Nope. That's skiing."
"The one that Uncle James does?!!??!"
"No! That's snowboarding. Skating is on ice. You wear special shoes and glide on the ice."
"What's glide? On ice? On purpose?! You always say don't walk on the ice...."

But she soon got the hang of it.

Her sister was less impressed:
"It's cold. And it's hard. And I don't like those shoes..."

But then she realised that your skates draw lines on the ice when you move and she loves drawing so she thought she'd give those weird shoes a go after all.

Meanwhile the little girl was having her first skating class. It was pretty tricky, hard to concentrate with all those cool speed skaters racing past and a bit disappointing the triple axel wasn't on the curriculum but other than that she had a blast.

The teacher certainly succeeded in instilling lots of confidence. She decided to skate over and say hi to mummy.

A little too much confidence even...

It all looked so much fun the little girl's mummy even took a class.*
* Please note she's on one foot there!

By the end of two hours the little girl, her mum* and even her little sister were standing up on ice- and smiling!
*Yes, her mum is probably the only adult in the known universe who wears a helmet for beginners skating but if you knew her staggering lack of co-ordination and its related osteopathic history you'd concur that it is advisable.

The little girl was smiling biggest of all- she was hooked-

and already planning on trying speed skating next time...


best of both worlds!

Seeing as the veggies we have around at this time of year are daikon, chinese cabbage, carrots, negi, onions, various leafy greens and garlic we eat a lot of nabe- hotpot dishes- in winter.

This is fine. There are infinite variations on nabe depending on the seasonings and sauces you use, the meat you choose (if any) etc etc.

But sometimes I'm just over nabe.

But I'm stuck with all those nabe vegetables...

What to do. What to do.

Well tonight I hit it.

First I made regular chicken and veggie mizutaki hotpot.

Then I took out Ken's portion and put it aside. (Good wives experiment on the rest of the family first.)

Then I added two cups of milk, a handful of parsley, some celery leaves I froze in Autumn and a whole lot of fresh ground black pepper.

Just before we ate we shook parmesan cheese on top and walah!

Not New England clam chowder by a long shot but as Shinshu chicken chowder it wasn't bad at all.

Think I might just have to make it again so K can try it as well.


the banzai check

Meg is starting school in April.

I should be worrying about stuff like you know early years literacy programmes, class sizes and that terrifying 4 kilometre trek to school and back she'll be doing each and every day, but nope.

This week I'm all in a tizz about the entrance ceremony.

Coming from Australia this whole idea that there's a ceremony needed to get a 6 year old into the classroom is a little bizarre.

But, when in Rome and all that so here we are with all the other mums and daughters in a fluster over outfits.

That's right- not outfit- outfits. See, there may be less than two weeks between graduating from kinder to entering school but during that short interval the month changes from March to April. In Nagano that only means it goes from bitingly frigid to merely quite frigid but somewhere in Japan that means Spring has sprung and we can't possibly wear the navy/ black outfit we wore to graduate in anymore. Uh-uh. Definitely need a pastel frothy dress for that one.

As each event is only one day and I'm Mrs Scrouge when it comes to buying fancy outfits for a kid whose growing like a weed and spends 99% of her life covered in muck anyway we have gratefully accepted offers of hand-me-down dresses.

We have tried on two pink outfits and one navy one so far.


Being a good head taller than her classmates is something Meg is quite proud of. I think she sees it as something she has achieved- "Kanon is the best at stilts, Mitsuki is the fastest runner but Meg is taller than everyone!" But it means hand me downs don't often work.

So this week we have been doing the banzai check.

Banzai is that two hands in the air salute to the emperor.

And I really don't think they'll be doing it at the school entrance ceremony but I figure any dress that is knicker-flashingly short when you raise your hands in the air is probably a little too small.

Unfortunately so far every dress has failed the banzai check and it has had the unintended consequence of making her anti-banzai. "Mummy, I hate banzai. I don't want to do it anymore." As I'm pretty sure there are still many in the elder generation for whom banzai= long live the emperor I am trying to rename this skirt length check.

But "Put your hands in the air and shake'em everywhere while I check your derriere" isn't catching on as well as I thought it would.

I thought it was pretty impressive. I mean it even rhymes...


Incidental teaching

I'm an English teacher.

I spend my days trying to get people to remember English phrases.

But sometimes they pick up stuff I wasn't trying to teach them.

I have a gorgeous boy in my 4yo class I have been teaching since he was 2.

One of the first things he said in English (before we'd even got that "how are you?" isn't the reply to "how are you?") was "Don't touch!" Yup, he's a character that kid and in truth I probably did say don't touch to him more often than how are you...

Meg and Amy came back from Australia this time full of "yep" "nope" and "oh my goodness!" They think it's hilarious.

But today brought incidental teaching to a whole new level.

I went to pick the girls up from kinder. It was -2, snow flurries and a freezing wind. Really bitter weather so all the kids were kitted out in their snow gear and lined up inside in the corridor rather than the usual gaggle monkeying around outside. All the kids that is but Meg. She wasn't wearing her snow parka "I'm not cold!" and she was tightrope walking across the top of the drinking fountain structure. It's only about a metre drop but still, it's onto concrete and you know, made for drinking not climbing and all the usual reasons why something Meg thinks of as fun is actually rather inadvisable so, as I walked across the playground I was watching her, watching her teacher point out it was cold and dangerous, listening to Meg's replies "I'm not cold!" and "It's not dangerous- I'm good at it!" and sighing and mentally preparing for the smile, apologise to teacher and instruct Meg in no uncertain terms that she needs to comply with authority if she hopes to make it through the next 12+ years of schooling when:

"Meg. GET DOWN!"


It was in English.

It even sounded like me.

But it wasn't me.

The four or so mums who were waiting for their kids to get their gear together and get out of the cold whipped their heads around.

Meg jumped down right smart and stared at her teacher.

Meg's teacher was smiling and giggling. "I learnt that English from Meg's mum!"


I did take the time to point out that it really wasn't the nicest way to say it and should be used sparingly and as a last resort etc etc and remind myself to command action in a less demanding style from now on but she was so chuffed and excited I don't think she was really listening "it's really effective!"

I guess it could have been worse. I have been known to resort to "get your butt down off that drinking fountain right now or I'm leaving without you and you're walking home!"

Now that would have been embarrassing!


the good wife

I don't make miso soup every day.

My husband has got used to cereal for breakfast.

I can't remember the last time it was me who put the rubbish out....

K does a lot more housework than the average (or stereotype anyway) Japanese husband.

I am only the first one out of bed on weekends...

I believe in giving my vacuum cleaner generous R&R breaks between workouts.

But even with all those black marks against my name I think I'm a good wife.

Hell, today I think I'm a fabulous wife.

Not only did I make K his lunch (including my new invention- the egg poach/fried on top of the rashers of bacon so it all melds together) and pack it in completely disposable containers (including chopsticks, wipe and snack) because for some unknown reason the same guy who is forever grateful to take a home packed lunch on the train to Tokyo (and miss out on the exotic delicacies available at Tokyo station department store food courts- what a waste!) would be mortified at having to carry the empty box home again- whatever, but I also managed to be very polite when I called 5 minutes after he left to inform him his lunch was still sitting in the genkan where I had placed it (thinking naively that he would notice the unusual package with clearly visible mandarin in it, remember that he'd asked for a packed lunch and put two and two together, but no) offered to deliver it to work and then stood out on the kerb so he wouldn't have to get out of the car when he said no, he'd come back for it.

That's right. I was out in my PJs, snow jacket, beanie and snow boots, trying to keep my back to the wind as squalls of snow were coming at me from all directions with one hand stuffed in my pocket and the other freezing to death holding K's lunch waiting for him to drive up so I could pop it through the passenger side window.

I even smiled and said 'drive safely'.

And that's why I'm a good wife and have rewarded myself with a morning of coffee, cookies and sitting in front of the fire wasting time on the internet.

Of course a really good wife would be polishing the floors or at least putting away the dishes or something but hey, I've gotta pace myself...


the holiday spirit

Very hard to get into the holiday spirit-Coming of Age Day (when all those 20 year olds dress up spiffy, return to their hometowns and head to city hall for a couple of stuffy suit speeches before going off with their JHS classmates and getting wasted) when you're working. Bah humbug.

Neighbour A's son is 20 this March so he came back for the weekend to attend the celebration. Unfortunately, since he was at school here the village has amalgamated so instead of a nice cosy soiree with the 100 or so kids he went through school with it was off to the city proper to join thousands (literally) of 20 year olds from near and far. I imagined this event as kind of like a mass 753 ceremony- lots of kimonos, a few less tantrums than the 3yo group (but no guarantees...) lots of mums and lots of cameras but no. It's 20 yo's only. Neighbour A spent the time over here drinking coffee and searching through our stock of tiles for tiles to put in around her wood stove. Kind of a non-event really. Then again, her son has been living in another city for the last 2 years so I guess the fact that he's a bit more independent than my two at 753 shouldn't be that that much of a surprise.

Anyway, me? I was working. Bah humbug. Not sure which class got me more in the holiday spirit- the one that should contain 3 2 year olds and instead had 3 2 year olds, 3 mums, 2 older brothers and a dad. Phew. A fight broke out between two boys and despite all those parental authority figures in the room I was the one who suggested that perhaps the (punch) "that didn't hurt!" (punch) "that didn't hurt!" (punch) "that didn't hurt!" game was not going to end happily.... or was it the class that should have had 8 5 year olds and instead had one? Influenza plus public holiday does not make for great attendance rates. Cutest little girl though. She wanted to play Simon Says. I pointed out that with me as caller there would only be one contestant.... no comprehension burst so we played a game to demonstrate the shortcomings here- "I won!!" Nope. Still no comprehension burst.

Got home to find the play room relatively less catastrophic than I had expected (I have low expectations for K and the girls home alone days) , the girls exhausted after 4 hours swimming in the big city heated pool with Daddy and K folding washing so I guess I shouldn't complain that much, hey?

Still, working on the holidays. Bah Humbug.


the people you (don't) meet...

Miley Cyrus

That's Miley Cyrus. Hannah Montanna in-real-life. Or as us oldies know her- Mr Achey Breaky Heart's daughter.

And where is she? Why that's the milk bar come general store come fancy wine by the glass cafe on the dead end road my parents live on. It definitely has out-of-the-way appeal for the Hollywood starlette wanting not to be recognised. During our stay in Oz we walked up there numerous times. Even had an overpriced but scrumptious brekky there. I wonder if the storeholders (a nice couple in their 50-60's) even knew who they were serving? My guess is not.

I guess my almost brush with fame means I can now brag that I bribed my kids with ice-creams from the same shop Miley Cyrus went to. Wow. And we were there during the same holiday, too! Double wow!

Ahhh... so close but yet so far. Probably all for the best I suppose. After all that not being recognised (do they even show Hannah Montanna in Australia?) if I had gone racing up wanting to hear how her dad was going it might have been too much for the poor girl...



The hills are on fire!

No, it's a K-truck on fire!

Ahhh, no. It was 三九六 today. Sankuro is the local build-a-huge-pyre-of-daruma-bamboo-paper-and-pine-dowse-it-in-kero-light-it-and-stand-well-back festival. All the pine New Year decorations and the bamboo explode like crackers and shoot out everywhere. The big tree thing in the middle eventually falls over with a cloud of sparks and fire. Kids stand around with bits of flour, sugar and water on sticks (mayudama) and singe their eyebrows while toast/burning them. The men stand around drinking shochu and munching away on the ubiquitous fish sausage and the women try and keep their darlings out of the fire. All this is done in the dark in January. Surely up there in the list of months in Nagano that are not terribly suited to nocturnal outdoor gatherings. The fire is so hot you are burning on the front and the wind is so cold you are freezing on the back.

Somehow though all this discomfort is what makes it fun. Kids can't believe they're going out at night in the cold, mothers can't believe they're a) encouraging it and b) going with them and the men are just looking forward to the shochu and fish sausage so everyone rugs up to the hilt and heads out. It's also the end of the New Year festivities here. Everyone has spent 10 days living it up with their family and rellies from near and far and this is the first community gathering of the season. First chance to exchange gossip and there's loads of it around.

"Did you see Mr N's son didn't come back this year?"
"Is that Mr. M's grandchildren here still?"
"Hear the shouting at the A's over New Year?"

Yup, snow, sleet or minus temperatures it's an event not to be missed.

Amy takes the roasting of the mayudama very seriously

How are they Meg? Hmmm.... I think they taste better to kids who don't know roasted marshmallows....

I was enjoying myself. Really. Not as much as Amy seems to be but at least as much as Meg. I blame the lack of smile to having lost feeling in my face. I thought I was smiling...


Not in Nagano....

That one's an out-take (obviously!) but I just love it.

Those pictures were taken at the beach accross the road from my parent's house. While I was in Asutralia I kept looking at them and seeing the girls and thinking that family photo may just be the nescafe/ fabric softener/ shampoo commercial family I was pining for but now I'm back all I see is the beach. Ahhh.... the beach..... the yellow sand, the lack of ludicrous "beach houses" (are Japanese people the only ones who need a tatami room, cold beer on tap, a shower room and curry rice served on china on a day at the beach? Pah. Soft. It's a badge of honour to have hair the salt has turned into steel wool and sand in places unmentionable. Need a rest? Lie on your towel. Lie on the sand if you sneer at towels. Refreshments? They don't call it a sandwich for nothing.)

Anyway- if you are ever in Australia and feel that sudden urge to have a family picture taken (as you do, naturally) or hell, the yen is strong against the dollar at the moment, Australia is a mere hop away, it's summer there, there's daylight savings so it's light until 9pm and you won't even get jetlag with a 1 hour time difference so go go GO (and take me with you!) and while you're there try Hayley for a family photo. She and her daughter/ assistant were so nice about the ubiquitous peace sign, M deciding her concerned face was her new smile, A wanting to search for shells head down, bum up and M desperate to get in and swim in her tutu and the pictures turned out great to boot.

So, in my second plunge into commercialising this blog here's a shout out to Lenz Magic. She specialises in on location shots so you could take your family to Kevin's for that custom country life tour and have Hayley photograph it for you. Then you'd really have to stop in and say hi on your way home!


back to real life

with a thud.

The huge snow fall over new year thankfully mostly cleared up before the big chill of the last week so that, while we are left with treacherous icy frozen snow at least it's 10 cm and not 50!

There was a small commotion while we were away with one of the neighbours being a bit glad handed with the salt on the roads. Half the neighbours think he's wonderful as no snow will stick out there for probably the next two seasons while the other half are moaning about rusted out cars and I am the only one who wonders what the environmental effects are.... Oh and the salt? He takes it all from those road side salt stores the city puts out around bends on mountain roads. Makes me worry a truck will slide out of control all for lack of a bag of salt.... I guess if we really wanted him to stop we could just call city hall.....

So in between boiling water to pour into the chooks frozen water bucket every morning and digging through crunchy snow/ice for veggies and trying to convince Amy that her new clothes from Australia are indeed very cute but also very summery and therefore perhaps not the best choice for making snowmen I headed off to the dentist for Amy. Her last 6 monthly checkup with the city's healthy teeth programme. Also needed to buy snow boots for Meg and gumboots for Amy so stopped at the big city Jusco on the way.

While I was torturing myself over the ethics of buying superwarm and cute fleeces for the girls when they were going out at 240 yen each- torn between buying the entire rack and handing them out to all the little girls I know and images of the kind of sweat shop labour that must be involved to be able to mark down a fleece to 240 yen... but then if I buy them and give them away does that act of altruism cancel out the profiting from unethical labour practises bit?? Anyway, lots of umming and ahhing and Amy made use of this time. She wandered up to me as I decided on buying just the two and donating to Unicef or buying something from Oxfam to balance it out.

"Mummy, pretty?"
"Aren't they? Do you want the blue one or the blue and white one?" (Amy is going through a blue phase so the blue bit was a cert.)
"No. Mummy, Amy pretty?"
"What? WHAT???"

She looked like she'd been beaten up on a dirty playground and rolled down a hill before she ran away. She had found the makeup aisle and used tester foundation in four colours- cheek, cheek, forehead and chin. They ranged from grey-brown to pink-brown and none matched her skintone. Pulled out the aromatherapy disinfectant and a hankie and started scrubbing at her face but it was having little effect and she was shattered that I was rubbing off her makeup so I paid and we headed to the dentist as is.

The dental nurse said nothing, I said nothing and Amy sulked.

I think it's karma for buying the fleeces...

Maybe I'll buy two things from Oxfam....


we're back.....

I'm still shattered, and COLD but I promised dad I'd blog when I got back so here you are Dad, and here's a picture of your crazy temperature oblivious granddaughter playing in the snow, in the wind, in the cold- in the dark.

And yes, there are still pumpkins out there.