Meg and I have both been invited to reunions this year.

The first time for both of us.

Both reunions are being run by committees.

Both have RSVP dates.

(Both come with quite a bit of peer pressure to attend.)

Mine is from High School. I have been out of high school for 15 years. Wow.

Meg's is from kinder. She has been out of kinder for five weeks. They're having a reunion already.

Did I mention that there is only one primary school here. That, bar moving out of town, all the kids Meg went to kinder with see each other each and every day at school?

According to the facebook page for my high school reunion about 1/3 of us won't be attending. I'd love to go and catch up with with some old classmates. But not quite book-a-flight-to-Australia type love to.

Of Meg's class of 27 kids one will be absent from the reunion. And he has a pretty good excuse- he has moved half way across Japan.

26 kids, 26 accompanying parents, the odd older/ younger sibling, one dad and even some ring-ins from the other class at kinder for a total of 70 odd people will hit the park for bbq, fun, frivolity and reuniting.


Can't help feel like she stole my thunder a little!


food that makes you cry...

I'm back watching MasterChef again. I love this show. I get to sit around being a loungeroom food critic tut-tutting about panna cotta timing and the travesty that is store bought mayonnaise safe in the knowledge that noone can see me eating cereal for dinner. Perfect!

Anyway, I just watched this episode and everyone had a dish from their childhood that was just so deep and meaningful, so amazingly heartwrenchingly poignant that they were welling up just talking about it. Some of the foods were really intricate and involved- the Indian contestant's prawn curry and the Malaysian guy's umpteen toppings on rice. Others were more simple- deep fried pasta with icing sugar or just weird- chicken, potatoes, mayonnaise and cheese layered together and baked.

It got me thinking though. What one dish from childhood would I have chosen? What dish is there that would have me tearing up?

Hmmm.... maybe I'm culinarily unsentimental but I just don't think there's anything like that for me.

It's not that my mum isn't a great cook- she is. Amazing. I still call her for recipes- worth it even at international rates! And each time I go to visit I have a great time getting reacquainted with pavlova, Chinese noodle salad, roasts, cheese and bikkies and BBQ everything. I love my sister's Mexican food, too. Mmmmm.... And not to leave anybody out my dad and my brother buy great pizza. No really. Australian pizza is really good.

But cry on national tv good? Mmmmmm....

Surely I'm not the only one who doesn't have a tear worthy dish?


matsuri in pictures

Our float. (Man in the middle is not part of the display)

Our lion at rest. In case you're not up on your lion gender identifying she's a female lion.

The young men's dancing group. The long red stick is a rather lurid phallus. The brown stick is what he uses to.. ahhh... beat it with. He has three masks on as well. I'm not sure of the significance there.

The menfolk making a stage (and lighting it with their lanterns) for the seduction of the lion.

The thrust dance. I tried really hard to catch this on film for Jo but it seems a career in the adult entertainment photography field is not for me. I just couldn't adequately catch a thrust on camera. The men go from the crouch position at the back to the standing position at the front in one big pelvic thrust enhanced by the flicking out of their towel. Can I just add here that it is a lot easier to take pervy photos of festivals when you don't live in that neighbourhood? I took some great photos of a naked festival years ago and had no qualms zooming right in. But I had travelled three hours by train to get there... Trying to catch teenagers thrusting their hips when you have taught half of them or their siblings is rather less anonymous...

The lion in action.

The lion comes to scare us.

The young men's float.

The flutes and drums from the neighbourhood down the hill could be heard so the men from our neighbourhood lined the road with their lanterns proclaiming it as our district.

The other district's head man demanding the right to pass.

The dancing men's float in action. The guy on the left is the chief singer/ shouter/ screamer.

And they went off on their merry way. Festival over for another year. Well actually it was just starting for K but over for me and the girls. Where were the girls during it all? Watching from their favourite vantage point:

Behind a pillar.

And the rain? Well, I will have to eat my scoffing words. It stopped at lunchtime.


matsuri meteorological madness

Tomorrow is the big local festival. The biggest little festival in Japan. Big as in a very big deal in the neighbourhood. Little as in of no consequence to anyone outside this little neighbourhood.

The festival is an all day affair. By all day I don't mean a wimpy 9-5 working day kind of all day or even a more hardcore farmer's 4:30-8:00 kind of all day. Oh nooooo. This is a 4:00am (yes four in the morning...) until about 2:00am (yes two in the morning...) 22 hour affair kind of all day affair. Not that it's amazingly exciting hauling floats around all day or anything like that. It has a rather more quiet buildup than that.

After a loud start that is.

4:00 am the two delegates will be out there banging their drums going door to door proclaiming that today is festival day. Despite the fact that it is the rather antisocial hour of 4:00am all my neighbours will be out on their doorsteps greeting the drummers. As K is one of the drummers this year and unfortunately my community spirit/ festival fever doesn't kick in until dawn I am begging off that task. Told K he can pretend we're there... We will be there in spirit... we'll definitely be listening (rather hard to ignore taiko drums on your front porch...)

From 7am all the important men-folk will be down at the community centre with mini-cranes and other mini heavy machinery having a grand old time pretending that hoisting the two massive 'FESTIVAL HERE TODAY' type flags many metres into the air is an arduous job rather than an excuse to play with machines and engage in whose flag is bigger competitions with the other neighbourhoods.

During the day last minute preparations will be made to the two floats. The big one on wheels that the important men haul with big (obviously bigger than the other neighbourhoods) ropes and little kids ride on to play the flute and mini-taiko drums and the little one that the young men (19-20 year olds) thrust around while yelling and jumping and shaking their heads at the crowd in a not very subtle display of virility.

From midday big lanterns will be delivered to each house in the neighbourhood to hang outside the door and proclaim that we are in a festive mood.

From 6:30 the kids, the young men and the important men (who have been there all day drinking and snacking on UFOs- unidentifiable fried objects) will suit up in their different happi jackets- denoting position, rank and seniority and start getting into the mood (more alcohol.)

At 8pm the send off festivities will begin with much dragon dancing and bellowing and thrusting (it's a fertility festival...)

From about 9:00 the procession will leave (flanked by many many men, the odd chaperoning mum and all intrepid high schools girls from less strict homes within a cooee of here.

The procession heads to the local shrine and I'm not sure what happens there as I am neither a chaperoning mum nor a high school girl. The evidence (the state and time K gets home) suggests perhaps a wee smidge more alcohol and much dancing. Followed perhaps by a whif more alcohol...

Phew. So yeah, big day tomorrow.

And tomorrow it is forecast to rain.

That much everyone agrees on.

The scope of the rain shower, the power of the deluge and the effect this will have on festival festivities is however quite contentious.

Much bandying around of i-phones with weather applets, local paper weather forecasts, NHK news updates, local commercial news updates and JA farming weather outlooks is going on. Which of these services trumps the others is a hot bed of political manoeuvering and decades old one upmanship. Eons ago there were kids to spare around here and only the eldest son in each family was able to participate in the festival. (These days it's all hands on deck and we'll shanghai a cousin here or there to boot!) So immediately any of the old men arguing the weather who is not the eldest son is having his opinion disregarded as what would they know- they weren't even official youth participants after all. Similarly blow-ins like K don't even get a 'what do you think?' thrown their way.

And did you know the size of your tomato crop is directly related to your ability to accurately predict the weather?

Apparently the weather argument was dealt a final and conclusive blow with:

"Well, I am the only farmer around here registered as a business (rather than self employed) and I phoned the Bureau of Meteorology and I say it will stop raining in the afternoon!" I can't imagine how that phonecall went. Did he quote his business registration number? Offer to send them a carton of tomato juice? Does he have a direct line to the person at the bureau in charge of neighbourhood festival weather predicting? Can you really pinpoint a weather prediction on a village living at the foot of a mountain range? Curious minds want to know...

I don't think I'll be able to sleep tonight wondering about the rain... what will happen if it doesn't stop by noon? Eating of humble pie? Ohh the suspense!

Hope I get some sleep before my very own drummer boy does his thing though.


a bit of excitement

As of the 1st of April Azusagawa has a police station. Yup, you missed your chance to create havoc and get away with it- until now we have shared the police from the next town over. They have a very swish 24 hour, all down lights and local wood building with about six police officers to boot. Very fancy. I guess watermelon farmers are prepared to pay for the safety of their crop, huh? (Apple farmers organise their own night patrols through the union- can anyone say vigilante?)

Anyway, we now have our very own police box. It's a 警察駐在所 keisatsuchuuzaisho or residential police box. The policeman and his family live in 3/4 of the house and one room downstairs is the police station. There's a noticeboard where he writes when he leaves the station to go somewhere and a phone that you just have to pick up to be put through to his mobile.

The arrival of the policeman was big news. He got a write up in the four page local newspaper and it was all gushing about how lucky we are and it's as a result of the population surge and, while many areas of the country are in population/ economic decline Azusagawa is on the up! (And so is crime. Otherwise we wouldn't need a policeman, right? Somehow the article left that bit out...)

My neighbours have been chortling and chuckling about how the police box is down in the town area as that's where all those new people are. The blow ins. The non-farmer types. The criminal element. We up here don't need a policeman. We look out for (and look in on and just plain look at) each other. Always have. Always will. Hrmph.

I have been wondering what the policeman does to fill his days... From my drives past on my way to and from work he does a lot of raking the gravel in front of the police box and wiping the counter inside. I can just imagine all the retired farmers popping in to say hello and find out the vital information: who is he, where's he from, eldest son? wife? kids? want to join the early morning baseball team?

But today the policeman got a bit of excitement and earned his lunch money.

About 10am a drunk, disoriented, incomprehensible and very angry man walked into K's work. K works in a factory. A factory in an industrial park (euphemism for a slab of rural land turned over to factories). The industrial park is on the outskirts of town. A long walk to anywhere let alone anywhere where you could get rotten drunk by 10am.

The man started yelling and throwing things and hitting out at people. Hearing this did not make me worried for K's safety. My only worry was that K did something that could lead to being charged with assault. He's not violent by any means but if he needed to defend himself he could do it. He's big, he's strong and if he hesitated it would be to decide which of the martial arts he knows he should try on the guy. He's a bit of a geek and he'd jump in to defend one of his ludicrously expensive precious CSI type machines he uses at work, too.

Luckily it didn't come to that but the boss called the police and they turned up. Yup, they. Our new Azusagawa policeman, reinforcements from the fancy police station next town over and plain clothes detectives from wherever they live- probably somewhere in Matsumoto.

I was all intrigued and excited about what sort of motive the drunk guy had- disgruntled ex-employee? Unlikely as they tend to keep the old men on until they fossilise... Customer who got stiffed on an order? Unlikely as they make O-rings. They don't sell retail and they make good o-rings so there'd be nothing to complain about anyway (shameless plug for K's company) Male relative of one of the female employees outraged at the ridiculous aqua plaid waistcoat and flared culotte uniform the women have to wear? (While the men wear a plain jacket and pants work wear outfit) Not likely as it seems I'm the only one who finds this sexist and in bad fashion taste to boot. Neighbour complaining about the noise of the factory? Unlikely as the only neighbours are other factories.... Ooooh, ancient tribal owner of the land the factory is built on furious at the commercialisation of his traditional lands... OK, highly unlikely around here...

Unable to figure it out myself I asked K.

"No idea. He was just drunk. It appears to have been random."

That's not very exciting now is it? I think I like my versions better.


skivving off

Today we should have been out in the field ripping up last years noxious plastic, hoeing, pitchforking manure and leaf mulch around, hoeing again and finally re-laying the plastic.

We should have been doing that as it's really time to start planting the hardier Spring/ Summer crops. Borderline too late to plant potatoes even.

But.... K is still doing crazy hours on the festival committee.... and it's still heavy frost warnings every night which means if we did plant anything we'd have to go out and cover them with tarps each evening and remove the tarps each morning... and it was a really nice sunny day... and we were invited to Nagano city for a play in the park and lunch with friends.... and it was a Thai food lunch.... and it would be English speaking friends so very educational for the girls.... and....

So yup. Skived off field work and headed to Nagano for a fabulous day.

(Just for the record- the twin outfit thing is nothing to do with me. Blame Obaachan for buying them so many matching outfits and the girls for choosing to wear them on the same day....)

We all had a great time. We are now seriously behind in setting ourselves up for Summer self-sufficiency but I think it was worth it for a day. There's always next weekend right?


beary prepared

That's Meg's schoolbag.

That's Meg's name tag.

That's Meg's yellow ribbon to show the area she lives in (and should hopefully return to each evening.)

And that's Meg's bear bell.

It arrived yesterday. It's very helpfully labelled for those literate but unaware of the bear bell system bears you come across occasionally.

And the timing? The only thing I can think of is that they somehow organised an amnesty on 1st graders for the first three weeks. Give them a head start if you will?

I was a bit worried that the idea of needing to carry a bear bell would freak poor Meg out but no.

She's thrilled.

It makes such a wonderfully loud clangy jangle as she runs down the road each morning...


I get paid for this?

Stomach flu is doing the rounds at the moment. Knock on everything wood in sight, none of us have had it so far but it is decimating my kiddie classes.

Today I ended up with a single kid in my pre-kinder class.

A single two year old boy.

A single practically pre-verbal (in any language) two year old boy.

For 45 minutes.

We had a blast!

I had prepared a Richard Scarry Big Book, playdough, kitchen toys, blocks, matchbox cars, balloons and a bag for hiding things in.

Well, turns out my little friend had never seen playdough before and was very unsure of it.

Never mind.

With only one kid I put out every activity at the start of class. It was kiddie heaven with something in each corner of the room and a couple of random islands of fun to boot.

Balloons was a hoot and we bounced them off our heads and noses and elbows and hands and he just squealed with laughter the whole time.

Blocks and the Big book went well.

We ended up going back to the playdough a few times but it never really took off.

And the bulk of the non-balloon time? Roller blinds!

He was amazed at the roller blind. We did 'Up? pull, pull, pull- hello flowers! Down? pull, pull, pull, goodbye flowers' over and over and over again. And he was so excited he kept jumping up and down and spinning around and just squealing with delight.

Over a roller blind.

Ahhhh... seriously I love teaching little kids- the responses are so real, so immediate and so effervescent....

The joy is really infectious.

If only the maladies weren't, too.


what a drip

Life has been going pretty good recently.

Meg still loves school, hasn't got sick of the early mornings and bounds out the door each day to risk life and limb running down the mountain.

Amy has got used to being the only kinder kid in the house- much helped by the fact she gets to go to kinder in the truck now that she's the only one going with daddy in the morning.

K is still doing the whole deep sigh "woe is me, poor hard done by guy who has to go out to festival meetings every evening (and drink with the locals)" deep sigh thing but really we know he's loving it.

The logistics of teaching at two schools, two community centre classes, a private lesson, a cooking class and a tutoring gig are pretty mindboggling and if something happens to my diary I'm in big trouble but I'm loving the challenge so that's all going well too.

Should have guessed then that things were too good to be true right?

And yup.

Dashed home in between my cooking class and hand-over-money time at kinder (for some reason the people we entrust with our children on a daily basis don't feel comfortable being trusted with our cash so we have to turn up at a designated time to hand the money directly to the PTA mums- who we can trust, of course- confused yet?) to grab some materials I needed for my afternoon class after that. Running through the living room I could hear dripping noises. It has been raining buckets all day so at first I thought it was outside.

But no.

I should be so lucky.

Glanced towards the play room and whoa... looks like Meg and Amy have an indoor pool now.


Grab towels and buckets (yes, buckets- plural) and a couple of saucepans to boot and place them under the five most obvious drips. One drip is coming through a light fixture so call K the engineer to find out whether we should not use any electricity on that circuit or whether just not using the light is enough.

Very frustrating conversation ensued- K is unwilling to make any decisions or commit to any opinions until he has seen it for himself. Because you know 'water is dripping from the light' is such an ambiguous statement, yeah?

Anyway, had to leave and hand over money at kinder so that was the end of that and by the time I got home the rain had eased off so immediate panic was averted.

It's forecast to rain for the next two days though so I'm going to kick the big drip into action on what to do about the lesser drip problem!


fashion advice needed...

The other week when I was hanging out looking cool in Kichiyoji- Ok, sitting on a bench zonked out from sleep deprivation- I was amazed at the fashion. So elegant, so cool, so out there, so chic so very un-farmer!

Fashion around here is pretty simple. Jeans and something is pretty much the standard wardrobe for most people. And we tend to be a little (just a little) behind the latest trend. As an example a Tokyo mum was giving advice on clothing for graduation and said that 'noone wears corsages anymore'. So I didn't. But a lot of women did. Made me smile.

Anyway, so I am not exactly up there with the latest trends and maybe this is The Next Big Thing. I don't think so, but what would I know, right?

I know one thing though- I won't be rocking this particular item around the mean streets of Azusagawa in the near future.

As my beginner students are wont to say: "And you?"

Zipper tape is easy to mold and combine into any shape your heart desires.

Need a close up? Why sure!

Yes. You sew a whole whack of zippers together into a natty necklace!

Perfect for Mother's Day.

To make your own check out this site.


Sisters are doin' it for themselves

...standing on their own two feet....

I danced to that as a witch in my Grade 4 play. Just a bit of Tuesday trivia for you.

Meg and Amy are pretty self reliant. I don't mean the leave them here with a carving knife, a chook and a box of matches kind of self reliant but the find your own fun, play together without adult assistance/ interference, go to sleep without mummy holding your hand kind of thing (not that there's anything wrong with all that but it's just not the way we do things). Anyway, they are pretty self reliant. Most of the time I encourage and praise this. It is important to me that they are kids who question things, think outside the box and make their own decisions. For cultural reasons this is less important to K who occasionally baulks at their free spiritedness. My favourite example was when we took them to a gospel concert and they climbed down from the bleachers and danced beside the stage. I was pleased as punch to see them enjoying themselves and the music so much. K was rather horrified and embarrassed.

Occasionally though even I think they are going a bit far and I reign them in a bit. Unsupervised cooking is definitely a no when you are 4 years old. As is giving your sister a time out because she annoyed you (Meg). These are easy for me to stop as I see it as a safety or parent's role not child's role issue.

But at the moment I have a bit of a quandary. Meg has made up a rewards chart. Yes, bad parenting I know but we used rewards charts to toilet train them. That all finished years ago though. But it seems Meg still remembers:

She wrote it in a rush and didn't finish but what she's got says "Megumi and Amy" Inside the sunshine it says "Let's do our best to get our reward" The picture is a dog she split in half with Amy's side on the left and hers on the right. She has written the numbers 1-10 for each of them. This paper is magnetted to the fridge.

Each morning this conversation ensues:

Did you wee your bed last night?
I didn't wee my bed either!
Let's colour in another number!

Despite the fact that they don't wet the beds anymore anyway this conversation is always conducted with great surprise and excitement.

And the reward they are working towards? A big hint to what Meg wants is right there on the poster- a real puppy. Poor kid has been wanting a dog for over a year now and while it would be difficult when we go away we would love to make her dream come true if it wasn't for the fact that she is allergic to dogs and comes out in hives when she touches them. Poor kid.

And Amy? Meg's suggestion for our little mother to all the dolls and soft toys was to ask for a real baby. ??!! After a horrified explanation that you don't buy babies it turned out that it was ok anyway as Amy doesn't want a baby as a reward, she wants to go to 7-11 and be allowed to buy anything she wants. Poor deprived child, hey?

My repeated explanations that completion of this reward sheet in no way guarantees the getting of the chosen reward (or any reward for that matter) are falling on deaf ears as they count how many more nights of miraculously dry beds they need before the puppy arrives....

I have about 7 more days to work out what to do.

Or I could just start giving them a big glass of juice before bed, I guess...


position vacant: token foreigner

Position Vacant

Necessary qualifications:

*Foreign born. Preferably visibly so.
*Able to speak Japanese. Or at least smile and nod and say ehhh? nnnn? and ahhh... in all the right places.


(To be shared with current position holder)
*Answer many and varied questions on a multitude of aspects of life/ culture/ politics in all foreign countries. eg. 'what is a hanging chad? Why are the people in red t-shirts demonstrating? Do American's really all have guns? Does it always rain in Vancouver? When is Christmas in Australia?'
*Provide one-stop instant translation service for locals, their families, acquaintances and associates. Wide ranging translation knowledge necessary to cover topics such as: apple varieties, Buddhist deities, dinosaurs and letters to long-lost pen friends.
*Perform culturally enlightening tasks for the benefit of the local population. Eg. use chopsticks, make a packed lunch, squash rice into a triangle and call it a rice ball, run in village sports' day etc.
*Saviour and lifesaver for the neighbourhood's entire school aged generation. Ie. teach them English.

*A wealth of community spirit, a great country lifestyle and much gratitude from the current position holder.


I am pretty used to being the one and only go to person for all things non-Japanese around here and mostly I really don't mind but at the moment it's getting a little overwhelming. At the moment I am in possession of a pile of mailing slips that I have carefully transcribed in the addresses of people one of my students' husband went on a ski trip with. He wants to send them some photos (all 12 of them) and has the addresses but doesn't know how to fill in the mailing slips so of course that came my way.

I have also picked up two tutoring jobs for kids in my immediate neighbourhood who aren't doing well at English. A Year 9 girl and a Year 8 boy.

"Please, please, please help him. He's failing English. Hopeless. 17% on his last test. He'll never get into High School at this rate. Please? Any day is fine. Any time. Well except Monday, Wednesday and Friday as he has clubs. And Tuesday and Saturday is cram school. But Thursday? He can come Thursday. Please?"

I almost hope one of my girls isn't very good at Japanese or maths. I have a nice long list of local mums I am going to hit up with my desperate pleas for immediate tutoring assistance...

But the job I was asked to do today beats the lot for 'give me a break, please!' My neighbour's colleague's adult daughter has signed up for a homestay/ English school trip to Australia. My job? To talk to her about Australian life? Help fill in the forms? Nope. My job is to talk to the mother. The horrified and terrified mother who is convinced Australia is a cesspool of depravity and violence. My neighbour wants me to reassure her that her adult daughter will be ok living there. I have a few problems with this for a whole range of reasons (let the kid grow up for freaks sake!) but mostly because I don't want to be held personally responsible for the safety of someone else in a country I'm not even living in.

So, anyone else want to move in and share the load? It's a bit of an urgent situation as the neighbour's colleague is coming over tomorrow evening- just before the JHS kids arrive.


Go Y Go!

As I sit here in my pjs waiting for the laundry to finish washing and thinking about my second cup of coffee (you can pretend you're having a lazy weekend by doing the housework in your pjs. It's all mind over matter, I tell you) anyway, as I'm sitting here my friend and neighbour Y is running a marathon. Not a metaphoric marathon, a real fair dinkum 42.195 km marathon. Wow.

Y works full time, has a 9 year old and a 5 year old, a husband who works 6 days a week, a MIL who expects help in the fields during harvest and planting season and all the same daily grind as I have as well. More really as her kids do piano, swimming and English to boot.

She's not an athlete, either. Her husband is a runner and she went and watched him run the Nagano marathon last year and was so impressed and moved by it all she decided to train and run together this year. Just like that. From zero to hero in a short 12 months. At the start she said she couldn't run 50 metres without stopping puffing and panting. But over the year she has trained consistently (early mornings- and the kids here leave at 6:40 so early mornings are really very early) and at night after her husband is home. She built up to 5km then 10, 20 without stopping for a break, 30 and finally the full 42. Wow.

K is a runner, too. And I went and watched him run the local half marathon last year and the year before. But all I thought was that half marathons are really not spectator sports. There's a lot of standing around waiting between 'See you! Good luck!' and 'Well done, honey!' To be totally honest and expose my shameful level of cheergirl spirit I considered doing the shopping while waiting for K to finish last year. Terrible, huh? I guess that's one reason why I'm so impressed with Y.

And today is the big day. She doesn't have a PB to break, no time she wants to make, she just wants to finish in the maximum time allowed. (It's a road marathon so you have to run at a certain pace or you will be asked to retire so they can reopen the roads). And I think that's pretty impressive.

Go Y Go!


weird weathered working weekend

Woke up this morning to this:

But don't worry. This is not another rant about freaking cold weather, freaking absent Spring and freaking non-existent global freaking warming. Really. It's not. I'm over that. Well almost, anyway.

It was a very weird weather day though. Headed off to work in the snow, cancelled our field ploughing as no point if you can't see the field, and spent the afternoon hauling wood. By evening the yard looked like this:

Very muddy and wet but snow free. About 10cm of snow melted in a day. That's my kind of snow day. And I know it's impossible to see but I want you to try- look through the lattice fence in both pictures. Doesn't there seem to be a lot more light coming through the fence in the bottom picture? Why yes, I did haul wheelbarrow load after wheelbarrow load of wood around the back of the house. Almost as fast as K brought truckload after truckload of the stuff home. Never look a gift horse in the mouth, be grateful for what you're given and all that but we are drowning in wood at the moment. Really. There's just nowhere left to stack it. Never mind that it will take K a month of Sundays to chop it all up. (I know it's very un-feminist of me but I don't chainsaw. I haul, I stack, I split with an axe, I break, I saw with a handsaw but I don't chainsaw. So yeah, it's K who has a huge job ahead of him.) Anyway, as I was making yet another above-my-head woodpile beside the house I was thinking of different cottage industries I could start to help with the problem: community kitchen- I will keep the pizza oven going 24/7 and people can just drop in with their bread dough/ yakitori/ pizza and bake away. You cut-you haul firewood- we provide the wood. You come and cut it, leave a percentage as a thank you (donation style- and I won't even 'suggest' a minimum donation!) and cart the rest away yourself. I'll throw in free use of the K-truck to get your wood home. (Easy for me to offer as I can't drive it so I won't miss it. If K is home when you come over we may have to negotiate...) Or how about a whittle your own chopsticks class? You start with a great lump of apple wood and a knife and keep going until you have chopsticks. I could make up a brand and burn a cute apple motif into them and you have the perfect Shinshu souvenir!

The girls had a great day and were so buoyed by the snow melting they really got into the Spring thing:

It really wasn't as warm as Amy's outfit would suggest. Even Meg's bare legs are overstating it a bit. But they had a grand time playing with all the outside toys that have been hibernating since Autumn.

Behind Meg is the board K made up to deal with the constant enquiries about the community centre key. It says 'community centre key here' with a big arrow pointing up to a box with the key in it and a sign in sheet for those who take the key. This is a bit of excitement around here as until this year the key has been kept inside the key holder's house and the key holder (or rather his wife) spends her days doling it out and making sure it comes back again. Scandalously un-housewifely me is just not at home often enough for this to work and I had enough of the indignant phonecalls: 'Hey. Where are you? I've come for the key and the door is locked??' in less than two weeks of our one year term so K devised this system. Is it secure? Well no, not really. But seriously, it's the key to an empty hall. It's not like someone will break in and steal the 100 or so miso soup bowls, right? And this system is far preferable to the one suggested by the guy over the road- that we leave the key in our genkan and the front door unlocked. I am not worried about people coming in and stealing my 8 or so mismatched miso bowls or the 12 inch tv that doesn't work without hitting it on the side but rather that my housekeeping skills (or rather lack of them) would be on display for all and sundry. No thank you.

Finished the day with a neighbourhood PTA meeting where it came out that my phone is too old to do this funky information sharing by infra-red business and that roadside cleaning has been moved from 6am to 5:30am start so the older kids can do their bit before they head off to baseball practice. Fabulous. Of course I want to support the kids following their dreams and sport is a good healthy way to spend the day but so is sleep. And a 5:30 start to pick up non-existent roadside rubbish? You'll have to excuse me if I'm not smiling and whistling while I work that day.

Going to bed with the sound of apple fans whirring above us. The outside PA was going every hour on the hour this evening warning everyone about heavy frost so I guess Spring is not about to make it's entrance tomorrow either... Lucky I don't need to get up and be down at the community centre by 6:00 ready to de-weed the waterways with K tomorrow morning, hey? Sigh. Someone has to stay home and look after the children...


Home visit prep.

Had Amy's home visit today. When the teachers come over for a snoop to check out where the kids live. So of course all the mums go mad cleaning and dusting and making the house look like we don't live there at all. Getting ready for this home visit included vacuuming, dusting, taking down the girls' day dolls (only 13 days late) and...

de-stumping the front yard.


All by myself.

That yard full of apple tree roots K assured me was a very temporary installation was still there. We have all (unfortunately) got rather used to it but I just had an inkling that the average person (and certainly abode snooping kinder teachers) may find it rather odd. I was teaching in the morning, home for lunch then walk down to meet Meg, teaching 3:00-3:45, pick up Amy at kinder by 4:00 and teaching from 4:15-5:15 before hotfooting it back home to be here all smiling and friendly for our 5:30 home visit. Phew. So of course I thought I would just fit in a bit of stump moving during that lunch break. No problem, right? Didn't even bother to get changed just put my big working shirt over the top of my clothes and through my blundstones on.



It was a bigger job than I thought. The roots were mud covered, prickly, odd shaped and heavy. I was a hot, sweaty, dirty, muddy mess by the end and muscle sore and bruised everywhere. Ouch. I had mud all over my trousers, had stepped in a rotting pumpkin so my boots were a mess and a branch had flicked me in the face so I had a scratch on my cheek. But, I did a job K had been putting off for weeks in 1 1/2 hours. Including dropping each stump on the pavers to knock off as much dirt as possible (our lawn is eking out an existence in gravel and building rubble so we need all the dirt we can get) picking up all the little twigs and even raking out the soil so it was a nice spread out top layer rather than little molehills here and there. Quite proud of my efforts actually. One of those thankless jobs though. Sensei would never know I did it for her visit but then she sure would have noticed if I hadn't right?

Went right down to the line time wise and didn't have time to shower before my next class so spritzed with something called 'fresh water' I found in the bathroom. I think it was hair mist. Made me all sticky. Smelled nice though.

Got through the afternoon craziness and home at 5:25. Perfect. Just enough time to stow the bags, wash our hands and sit around in feigned nonchalance. Amy was so excited and dancing around outside in the sleet (with her umbrella) waiting to see sensei's car when she fell over in the mud. All that fabulous topsoil I laboriously coaxed from the tree stumps? Very slippery when wet. Poor Amy is covered in mud from ankle to hip and both forearms and hands. She was devastated and inconsolable and of course that was the moment the teacher called to say she was lost and could we come out to the local community centre and guide her? Aghhh! Ripped Amy's pants off, gave her a cuddle, sent her to get dressed and ran down the road with her (kiddy size) umbrella in my last season's fake crocs (not sleet proof) to find sensei. Got back to the house (puffing as I ran up the hill in front of sensei's car) to find Amy has holed herself up in her bolt hole (the engawa inside verandah thing) closed the doors and is not coming out. She's stopped crying, towelled down and got dressed but is just not in a social mood anymore. It's also past 6:00 when they usually eat tea so I'm not pinning my hopes on being able to mollify her.

So it was a rather weird meeting with me and the two teachers at the table, exhausted Meg lying on the floor rolling around listlessly and Amy AWOL. The conversation ranged from woodfires, types of wood (K sensei has a woodfire too and wanted to talk apple branches vs roots) to traditional Japanese architecture, home preserving (I had a bottle of apple juice out for them) Christmas in Australia and the economy. Eventually she asked 'so, how's Amy?' and we spent a whole 2 minutes confirming that nothing's changed: Amy is not easily moulded to group activities, enjoys kinder and doesn't really nap.

By the time they left it was snowing, I was aching, Amy was falling asleep on my shoulder and Meg had crawled under the kotatsu and curled up.

I'm sure we made a fabulous impression, hey?

Just as well they didn't have to walk through that jungle of tree roots to get here!


I knew it was going to happen but....

I was hoping it would be in October some time and not the freaking middle of April.

Sending Meg off to school in the snow that is.

Yup. It snowed this morning. How impressed does Meg look, huh?

It wasn't so sad for her. Turns out the two kids she's supposed to walk with are delicate little butterflies and their mothers drive them when it's raining/ snowing. As Meg is not supposed to walk alone they take turns giving her a lift. Meg's mortified she doesn't get to run and use her fancy new school bag covering raincoat to boot but I'm rather pleased she gets to school warm and dry. We are not in the driving roster (despite my efforts) as neither of the girls will get in our car. Not because it's our car but because it's not their car.

And yes, M is rather underdressed for the weather. But even this is an improvement on her original outfit which was minus the puffer vest and in sneakers rather than boots. "But I don't want to wear snow clothes!" I would have let it slide (she's getting a lift after all) but there was a note in yesterday's newsletter about dressing appropriately for the weather and that the acceptable footwear for inclement weather is rain boots. Kind of felt like sending her off into the snow in sneakers the very next day might be misconstrued as a hostile action....


a 2 1/2 hour rite of passage

Had another Japanese rite of passage last night. You know, up there with your first naked dip in the communal bath, first drunken karaoke, first time someone falls asleep on your shoulder on a train, first time you fall asleep on the train, first time you bow while talking on the telephone etc etc. This time it was the dreaded elementary school arithmetic set. Whoa baby.

Like all rites of passage the rumours had trickled down to the uninitiated and I'd heard tales of hundreds of itty bitty pieces, minute stickers, eye strain and hours sacrificed to the cause. I had nodded, looked empathetic and intoned a low "ohhhhh" but honestly I had thought it was all a bit of a beat up. I mean come on. Sticking a few name stickers on some cards and counting rods? I've sat through a speech riddled five hour Japanese wedding reception. I've been VIP at back to back kinder sports days (they're really only cute when it's your kid in the events...). A few stickers? Not going to phase me.

Or so I thought until I tried it.



For the benefit of my parents and other lucky souls who will never have to endure this nightmare an explanation: The green, pink and blue sticks? Not sherbet. Counting rods. One hundred counting rods. Each meticulously named. There's also counting tiles, counting cards, the purse full of money, various posters and sheets of paper, a paper ruler, shaped blocks etc etc. And in the yellow box with the (very smart) dog running away as fast as he can? Why they are ever-so-cute flower shaped counting tiles. Really very sweet. But you have to get a name sticker into the crescent shaped petal. That's what the tweezers are for.... Yup, tweezers to delicately lift each itty bitty sticker, manoeuvre it into the exact place (it is a perfect fit so there's no room for error) and pat it down with the end of the tweezers without it sliding away. Agghhh! (As an aside- don't you think maths looks like fun here? Seriously, I don't remember having any of this cool stuff. I think we had a class set of plain wooden counting rods and that was it.)

So yes. 2 1/2 hours, shoulder cramp, eye strain and a headache from concentrating too hard later and I am a fully initiated arithmetic set stickering mum.

And Meg is on pain of death to never, ever lose a single item in this set as I don't think I could label it again. Nooooooooo!


fleeting madness

There is lots of poetry and prose celebrating/ lamenting the fleeting nature of cherry blossoms. So beautiful, delicate, perfect in their simplicity, ethereal.


If an appreciation of cherry blossoms is a condition of citizenship I guess I'll never become Japanese... Are they beautiful? Yes. But so are the (brave, first blooming) apricot blossoms, the buzzing-with-bees fluffy clouds of apple blossom and the huge bright pink peach flowers.

What makes me the cherry blossom grinch is the effect they have on the general population.

For one week a year everyone goes cherry blossom mad. I drive past Matsumoto Castle every day on my way to work. For 51 weeks a year this is no problem and honestly I think it's kind of cool. The castle is big and impressive and a great silhouette against the skyline.

For 1 week a year though it's hell. Matsumoto Castle is a Famous Cherry Blossom Viewing Spot. Apparently, compared with looking at common garden variety (ha ha) cherry blossoms, looking at Famous Cherry Blossom Viewing Spot cherry blossoms is a far superior cherry blossom experience. And so busloads of tourists descend on the castle morning, noon and night. Yup, even night. They open the castle grounds for a special evening cherry-blossoms-by-superbright-uplights festival. It's a beautiful sight, if a bit blinding. It's great to see the castle at night. It's free. I myself go to the festival each year. I have no problems with the festival.

The people who come to see the cherry blossoms, though? Agghhhh! It's a narrow road. Please watch the traffic. Please do not drive along looking at the cherry blossoms. There are carparks all along the road. Park and wander to your heart's content. Please do not drive along at 10 km/h trying the driveby cherry blossom viewing experience. It really does nothing to enamour you with your fellow road users. It's a busy road (even without the cherry blossom season induced idiot drivers) so please don't run across the road at random places. There're two crossings within 100m for goodness sake. And you're about to walk around a huge park so saving 30 steps jaywalking really doesn't make sense. And to the family who pushed wheelchair-bound grandpa out in front of them to get the traffic to stop. Really? I hope the old guy leaves you out of his will!

In general it would just be nice if everyone would spare a thought for the commuters and let's make sure the cherry blossoms are the only ones with fleeting lives this Spring!

And how was our cherry blossom viewing experience you ask?

We played hide and seek in the weeping cherry blossom trees.

We ate special cherry blossom dumplings. (Complete rort. Can't see how they're any different from regular ones but still...)

Climbed an ancient wisteria.

And played slides on a park bench in the temporary bike park (really, a lot of people come out for this) again and again and again. M and A are not really all that interested in the cherry blossoms until they start falling and can be chased and scooped up and thrown around. Just about the time the rest of Japan is losing interest in it all and lamenting the season is over we get excited about the blossoms. Makes for very peaceful and divinely un-crowded cherry blossom viewing!



Still in trial lesson madness at the moment. Lots of new faces and new names in my classes. Trying to be that extra bit sparkly and bright. Explaining my teaching philosophy to mums after class while trying to stop their precious darlings cannonballing off the sofa. (What is it with Japanese kids and sofas? Seriously, you'd think they were jumping castles the way the kids go on.) Anyway, exciting times at work.

Today's 2 year old class had two trial students. Both trial student's mothers had babies less than a year old with them. The babies were fine and the kids were great so class went well. After class one of the mothers was changing her baby (among the kids jumping on the sofa- as you do.) and her 2 yo said he needed to wee. She was in the middle of things so I offered to take him (thinking he'd probably refuse as we'd met for the first time an hour ago) but what do you know, he grabbed my hand and off we went. (It's that sparkly personality I tell ya) As we went through to the loo I heard the mother asking my boss if it was ok and my boss reassuring her I have two kids and not to worry.

Get to the loo and realise this is a boy child.

Hmmmm, they have dangly bits I've never potty trained....

Vaguely remember my friend H's little boy sat down to pee when he was learning and asked my little friend if he could sit down and pee.


Ok. phew.

Got him on the loo and all was going well. Bit worried about the angle of the dangle but stream is heading south so no problem.

Standing there waiting and thinking how fascinatingly complicated this little boy toilet business is.

He did his thing and I handed him some TP and helped him off the loo.

Oh no.

His pants are saturated.

Really soaked.

All down the back.

How?? We made it on time and I checked he was peeing into the toilet...?

There is a huge puddle on the floor. Seriously huge. This kid has an incredible bladder. Could pee for Japan. Bit of investigative work and I figured out our problem. Poor kid had peed a lake through the gap between the toilet seat and the toilet bowl. It had then soaked through his pants and settled on the floor.

He was saturated.

I was mortified.

I had to go back to his mum and explain. And apologise. And she didn't have a change of clothes for him so he had to go home wet. And I had to clean the toilet floor. And did I mention he was a trial lesson kid?



how to freak out the locals

Travel a s a big group of foreign women.

Japanese speaking foreign women. Had an AFWJ outing this weekend to Hida-Takayama. The world heritage listed place with the thatched roofed buildings. Apparently. We didn't actually get that far. Too busy talking and joking and laughing and walking and eating and drinking and more talking and then a bit more talking etc etc. It was a great trip, I met up with women from three prefectures, got my fill of baby cuddling, saw somewhere I've never been before and just generally recharged my batteries a bit with a break from daily life.

And had fun freaking out the locals. Challenging a few pre-conceptions. That's always a plus.


Spring- if you haven't got it, fake it

My Japanese apricot is in flower. Finally. Yeah! Big talk around here that the price of pickled plums will be through the roof this season as the late cold snap (still getting minus temperatures at night) will mean no Japanese apricots this year and that's what you use to make pickled plums. (Apricots into plums? Yup. Don't blame me, I didn't do the translation.) I am not panicking in even the slightest though as I probably have a lifetime's supply of pickled plums under my stairs. And if I should somehow manage to eat all that there's more in the old house...

Today I was trying to take some Spring pictures in the garden:

And Amy asked me what I was doing. I told her and she ran off and then came running back telling me she had a pretty flower for me to take a picture of:

"Wow, a camellia growing out of a fork in the trunk of the yama-something or other tree. That's unusual."

She looked at me for a while with her head on the side and said:

"It's not growing there, Mummy. I just put it there. Don't you know?"

I guess I been told, huh?


new girl

The huge rooster who got too big for his knee joints passed away last night (yes, I even use euphemisms with chooks) and we were left with one lone chook.

She's a bit on the heavy side too. But it's not all my fault. These were the chooks from the broiler factory. They're bred to get big. This is one pampered chook though. She hasn't laid a single egg since we've had her. Not one. Lucky we're nice friendly non-farmer types, huh? I can't imagine she would have lasted this long at any of my neighbour's houses.

Anyway, we no from experience that chooks are happier when they have friend so I rang the mysterious middle of nowhere sheltered workshop/ petting zoo/ hobby farm (for people who like wild boar- they make up about 70% of the animals there) and asked if they would sell me three chooks. Got the ok and grabbed my boxes and tape and headed down there.

The business manager greeted me at the residential facility and sent me across the road to the farm. The farm manager explained the birds were point of lay (about to hit their most productive egg season) and he would only sell me one. Love communication breakdowns, huh? Oh well, one is better than nothing and I came home with a new friend:

Isn't she pretty? And point of lay? Wow. We may actually stop buying chook food and eggs in the same shopping trip now!

All the hay and bamboo leaves in the cage are what I was using to soak up the mud from the melting snow. Poor chooks were living in a mudbath there for a while. Now it's all dry and they have a little forest thing going on with all that dry stuff in there.

Here's to good health, a long life, safe nights and maybe even the occasional egg little chook.


what happened?

Came home today and this is what met me. That's the neighbour's house. And the neighbour's car. Obviously that's not the neighbour's driveway. It's hard to see in the picture but there's about a 30cm wide, 45cm deep ditch on the right of the picture. The neighbour has one tire on the wrong side of the ditch. Just the one. And it's a k-car. They have really small tires. Too small to make it over the ditch without falling in. So how did it get there? The car has overshot the driveway, too. And I got home about 3:00pm so why is it there? Was my neighbour hitting the ole sake a little early? A car jacking that never really got off the ground? It's all a bit of a mystery and I really want to know what happened. Going to have to go out and find one of those gossipping farmers and get the low down...


a tale of two bentos and some ramblings

This week the first graders don't eat school lunch. Kid's who walk home leave at 11:00. That means kids in this area don't get home until 12:20ish. Walking to school, doing a morning worth of school stuff and walking back again just on breakfast is a bit tough and they're starving when they get home.

The kids who go to after school care can't go until 12:00 because in the mornings the after school care building is a play centre for the pre-kinder crowd and they seem to want to avoid having excited and bag laden 6 year olds stampeding through the crawling zone. Weird, huh? Anyway, that means the after school care kids stick around in the classroom until 12 and then the after school care teacher comes and collects them for the arduous journey across one zebra crossing to the within-spitting-distance after school care building. They sign in, wash their hands, stow their bags and eat lunch about 12:15. No real difference in lunchtime then except in Meg's case the lack of a 3.8km walk home (up hill then up mountain to boot).

So this week I have been making two bentos a day. K's usual volume-over-presentation lunch and Meg's "volume is important but I'm eating with my friends so I want something cute as well" lunch. Phew....

This is what I came up with today:

For K (hopefully that was obvious!) rolled omelette, pickles, fried chicken, pumpkin, tomatoes, spicy soy sauce dressing, tofu and kimchi stirfry. He has an instant miso soup with it. This bento is rather lacking in greenery but K considers rice a vegetable and therefore states that he consumes more vegetables than the rest of us combined. Hmmmm....

Meg's bento. Cucumber, red and yellow capsicum and carrot sticks, pumpkin, tomato, fried chicken and rolled omelette. Some kind of citrus, pickled plum and shiso leaves, dried apricot and strawberries. She also had two rice balls. I think this bento is rather dessert heavy but I was informed that her friends all had character imprinted sausages, character shaped processed foods and mini jelly cups in their lunch yesterday and, as we have none of those desirables, I am trying to compensate with sweets I guess. Terrible. And she won't be mollified anyway. Oh well.

I think it's interesting how I can start with the same items in the fridge and end up with quite different lunches. I was also thinking that if they accidentally swapped lunches (not likely but you know) Meg wouldn't bat an eyelid but K would be in for a shock- all those vegetables and not even any mayonnaise? Shudder....

In other news Amy had her first evening of after kinder care and was gutted to find out that she wouldn't be playing in the gym. For the last year she has begged to go to after care as the kids get to play with the hula hoops, big foam blocks and huge foam balls in the gym. So she was all excited from this morning doing a crazy uncoordinated hip wiggle thing and telling anyone who'd listen 'I'm going to do this one!' Well, turns out until things settle down a bit with all the new kids after care is conducted in the regular classrooms. Amy was not impressed and announced loudly on pick up that she's not going again. That's ok. You don't need to go, honey. Well, until next Wednesday anyway.

Poor Meg walked to school in the freezing rain. Only day two of walking and it rains. More of a drizzle than a torrent but still. She was thrilled though as she got to use her umbrella (umbrellas were banned at kinder so this is big time exciting.) It turned to snow later on so I guess she was lucky it was only rain...

It is amazing the number of people who come out to see the kids off in the morning. Each kid's mum comes out to make sure they joined the domino line down the mountain and, while I didn't expect that even the grade 5 kids' mums would do that I understand and respect it, but it's all the random farmers and housewives who come out to say good morning and safe trip that surprises me. The woman from the scary house two doors up turns out to be quite chatty at 6:30am. She's a real sourpuss the rest of the day so I was amazed to see her calling out to the kids as they go past. Nice to know there's lots of eyes on the kids anyway. It's funny but it seems the kids are quite the topic of senior cit. conversation. I was in the JA bakery and the woman behind the counter commented that Meg is the first kid waiting each morning. Knowing that she lives wayyyy far away from us I blanked out and kind of stared at her and she explained that someone who lives in our block came in to buy bread and that's how she heard. Guess there's not much garden action to talk about yet, huh?

I did my first neighbourhood association shopping trip yesterday. As I said part of K's new job is purchasing the alcohol and snacks for all those darn meetings he goes to. Well, as he works full time, the meeting started at 6:30 and he was going to skip/ wolf down lunch to make it to the supermarket and back to work in the puny 45 minutes he gets for lunch I offered to go instead if he wrote me a shopping list. When I write a shopping list it looks like this: bananas, apples, milk x5, yoghurt, mushrooms etc etc. K's shopping list was wayyyy more detailed: iichiko brand shochu alcohol percent 25, carton (not bottle) approximate price 1500 yen, dried bean variety pack, the pack with the most individual packs in it, approximate price 400 yen. etc etc. At first I was annoyed at how little faith he has in my shopping ability- I mean I do all the shopping for our family without any trouble, right? But when I got there and saw how many different variations on a deep fried dried bean there are I was glad of the assistance! On a related note, what's with the price of dried squid snacks? Fresh sashimi grade squid costs half as much. Very odd...

And that was pretty much my day. This waking up early thing is seriously cutting in to my evenings. My usual 3-4 hours me time after the evening rush and evening cleanup are being spent asleep and I'm getting behind on emails, blog reading and the British tabloids. Really. Got to rejig the schedule a bit so I can at least read the Daily Mail, right?


catching up

Phew. I feel like I have a chance to catch my breath for the first time in a week.

Can I just suggest that opening a new branch of an English school, picking up extra classes at the old branch, having your oldest kid start school and your youngest start a new year of kinder and your husband a new role in the neighbourhood association all at the same time is not really amenable to a relaxing period in your life?

Everything is going well though (knock on wood, fingers crossed and all that) The big unbloggable news from a while ago was that my boss decided to open a branch of his English school right here in my village. This is fabulous. Amazing. Wonderful. I get to teach the local kids and I get to teach locally! A 5 minute drive rather than a 45 minute one. The luxury. Anyway, Sunday we had a big grand opening party (after the girls did their early morning easter egg hunt- lucky we're early in the easter bunny's rounds, huh?) and it was a huge success. I think exact numbers are a company secret but let's just say many, many students joined on the day- without even a proper trial lesson! A very rewarding and validating experience.

I am also teaching returnee kids and a phonics and reading course at the Matsumoto school. Two things I have always wanted to do so that is rather exciting, too (no, it doesn't take much to excite me!)

Meg has a great teacher (I mean a kazoo tooting guitar strumming gag-a-minute kind of guy? Really!) who is the father of a boy she went through kinder with so, while she doesn't know him, she knows him better than she knows any of the other teachers at school.

Today was her first day doing the long walk and I think we were both a little nervous about waking up at 6:00 as we were both awake at 5:00! I convinced her to come into my bed for a cuddle until the alarm went off. Neither of us went back to sleep but still, rest is better than nothing right? Super excited she raced through getting ready and was standing at the gate by 6:30 wondering where everyone else was. Well, everyone else was still inside their nice warm houses waiting until 6:40 when they leave for school!

It was a huge day for all of us. Amy needed to be woken from her nap (unheard of- half the time she doesn't nap at all) and was so disoriented she headed to the little kids toilets (that she used last year) and then walked on auto pilot back to her old classroom. Unfortunately the little kids are going home at 11:30 at the moment so there was noone in the room. Just a big empty space. Amy freaked out and started wailing and the teacher rushed to find her and reassured her the class hadn't disappeared and that she is now a big giraffe girl and not a little mandarin. When I went to pick her up at 2:45 she was still only half dressed and making a keening half moaning noise. Poor kid.

I had given Meg the option of coming with me to work in Matsumoto or staying at after school club until I finished. Her two best friends are going to after school club so she chose that option. I walked in to pick her up at 6:30 and the poor thing was exhausted. At 5:00 they serve snacks at after school care and as I don't trust that there will never, ever be nuts there I had put a couple of senbei in her lunch bag and told her that that was her snack before she left for school. Poor kid forgot and ate them with her lunch and then had to sit and watch the others eat their snack. She was all puppy dog face and my heart melted. After a huge lunch and then senbei on top of that I doubt she was starving but to have to sit there and watch the others eat and not join in? That's pretty tough....

I think the novelty factor of after school care is already wearing off as she asked to come home and then go to work with me tomorrow. Soooo nice to be working locally so we have these options!

And K? Well I still only have a hazy idea of what his new neighbourhood association role is but it involves a lot of meetings (I see five on the calendar for this month), looking after the community centre key- lots of people knocking on the door to get it, and buying the alcohol and snacks for the meetings. Great.

And I think that's pretty much where we're up to. We should be planting potatoes, peas and beans but neither my co-farmer or I have time to even weed at the moment so we're pinning our hopes on next week... or maybe the one after...

Obligatory first day of school picture. My mum took one of these of us kids on the first day of school every year- all the way to year 12. Here's picture number 1 of my own collection. I have to say it's missing something for not being in a slightly too big brand spanking new school uniform though, yeah?

Amy wanted in on the action. Of course. Dressed up for the occasion she did, too huh? Precure undershirt, too short fleece pjs and gumboots.

Spot the school kid. This is looking up our road. The kid at the top of the road walks down to the next kid's house and then they walk down to the next house et etc in a domino like action. Meg is kid number five but first grader number two. The older kids are walking with them (at their pace) for the first month but then it's up to them to keep up.

And they're off. That's a 5th grader, two 3rd graders and two 1st graders. If it wasn't for the special bag covers you'd never pick the little kids, huh? And that's neighbour A in the truck off to pour concrete for the day.