It's over

Summer that is.

Today is the last day of summer. Usually this makes me all blue and wistful and wishing to turn back the clock and enjoy summer again rather than moving on into the slow but steady decline into cold and gloom and darkness and more cold and just blerghhhhhh.

But this summer has been great. It feels like it's been going on forever. Unofficially (just on my memory) we seem to have had close to a whole month of days over 30 degrees. Day after day, every day for a month. That's what I call summer weather!

The garden had mixed results, aphids nixed the snake beans leaving us with a harvest of one single, solitary bean. The corn was amazing and I have my fingers crossed for the second crop. They are fattening but need a little more sunny weather to ripen. The tomatoes were fabulous. We tried some heirloom varieties and got less volume than last year but seriously yummy when we did get them. The salad greens all shot to seed really early with the heat (the very weather when you want to eat salad you can't harvest any...) but we let them go and hopefully will be enjoying salads way into jacket and jeans season. The cucumbers completely got away from us. 20 odd plants times oodles of cucumbers and we were just overwhelmed. Friend and neighbour A salt pickled about 40 kilos of them all together. Me? Only 5 kilos of kimchi. I just don't need that much salt in my life!

We're behind on the Autumn plantings but only just. I mean it's not Autumn until tomorrow, right?

We got more chooks so that was a huge yeah (ignoring the reason we needed more...) Meg learnt how to use the horizontal bar and was thrilled, Amy stopped being so laissez-faire about bed-wetting ("I didn't get up because I was too tired." "It was dark." "You didn't come and wake me up." etc etc) so I have stopped washing bedding multiple times a week- hallelujah!!! We got through pool season without getting mizu-ibo (molluscum contagiosum), tobihi (impetigo contagiosa) or natsukaze (adenovirus or enterovirus) (don't these things sound better in Japanese?) which was fabulous and a 100% improvement on last year! We got through Meg's first school holidays, K's amazing lack of holidays, my juggling work and holidays, English Summer Camp, BBQ marathons, visiting friends, friends visiting, phew....

After all that Autumn is really a bit of a much needed rest I guess. Well other than pulling up the summer garden, digging everything over, planting the winter garden, the apple harvest, the tomato harvest, tomato sauce making, three sport's days, PTA recyclable collecting, Autumn roadside cleaning, two little girl birthdays.... Ahhh I'm tired just thinking about it!


Lala and Lemon

Those are the names the girls gave the chooks. Because they are fluffy and pale yellow in colour and sing harmoniously right?


Not even close.

They are black and white speckled. And make strange teenage boy struggling with his voice dropping kind of gurgles as they are still in their adolescent years and can't decide whether to peep or berk berk berk.

So the names? Amy chose Lala. She has never seen Teletubbies so that's not it. It is the last in a long line of seriously puzzling names she has bestowed. We have teddy bears called Sharlie- not Charlie, Sharlie (a girl) and Luka (a boy- and nope, she hasn't seen ER either), Honey (named after my boss's mum) a beetle named after K- with the rather disrespectful kun tacked on for good measure) and there was a caterpillar called funny mummy but Meg accidentally stepped on it. Not sure what that's an omen of but it was a little disturbing.... So, yeah, a chook called Lala? None of us even batted an eyelid.

Lemon's name? Meg.

Poor Meg. She is still so desperate to have a puppy. She had it all worked out that she would just take her medicine all the time and then she could have a dog and still not get itchy. Unfortunately big bad mummy vetoed that idea. And so we have the next best thing. She named her chook after the neighbour's dog. The neighbour is tickled pink. Seriously, he called his wife out of the house to tell her the news. Lemon the dog is a pale yellow mini shiba dog. Much more lemony looking than it's namesake but that didn't worry Meg.

And that's the story of Lemon and Lala. With the new super cage I have high hopes of them being around long enough for me to tell which is which to boot!


poultry alcatraz

It has been over a month since the horrible chook carnage on my birthday and we have really missed having them around. But, even after multiple and extensive thorough searches, we never found out how the fox/ weasel/ whatever got in so we have been rather wary of trying again. But finally longing for some chooks overcame fear of being accessory to poultry murder again and we spent the weekend really upping the security in their cage. We now have bird net, chook wire, rebar and birdwire on all the walls. It is buried to 30cm, covered in either tatami or 20x20 solid concrete blocks. The wire goes way up and across the roof to boot. The door is reinforced, has two locks and a nib closure. The outside area and the inside now have completely covered rooves with at least two layers of bird net or roofing metal/ plastic.


We are not going to be party to another avian massacre.

No siree.

If we even smell a fox out there I am sending K out with a pillow and one of his aikido swords.

Here's to a healthy, happy, safe and very long life to the new chooks.


bearcon 2

If the bear alerts around here were equated to the US DEFCON system I think we must be at bearcon 2 by now. We have had the little 'it's bear season now, be careful' warnings, the 'please electric fence your corn crop' warnings, then it stepped up to the 'do not go into the mountain/ river/ forest areas before 6:30am or after 6:30pm' warning and this morning with further bear reports (a mother and two cubs down by the river and a single [as in lone- they didn't mention its marital status] bear up by the forest road) we reached bearcon 2: Do not go into the forest/ mountain/ riverside areas at all.

I really doubt the entire village will heed this call. The farmers with apples up there definitely won't give up their harvest for the warning. It does nicely cover the city's butt should the worst happen though, hey?


innocent until.....

Thankfully I have never had the opportunity to experience the Japanese legal system but I hear they are pretty keen on getting convictions.

It always interests me then that the tv news is so careful to uphold the innocent until proven guilty thing.

Even to the point of eyerolling ridiculousness. An example? Why sure. From tonight's news:

(My translation and summarisation so don't quote me but...)
The investigation into the case of the man found cut up and being disposed of by two men last January is continuing. The two men have been charged with illegal disposal of a dead body and doing nasty things to a corpse. Police are investigating whether they are linked to the death of the man.

Need more proof that the tv stations are on your side? How about this story:

A man walked into a South Ina Post Office with a knife-like bladed object (nice libel avoidance there when it turns out it was a cut throat razor or cleaver or ??), held it to the neck of a customer and demanded money from the teller. After getting 600,000 yen he ran out and drove off in a different customer's car. Police are investigating the possibility it was a burglary. Yup. That's what years at police academy will teach you, huh?

So, if you ever find yourself on the wrong side of the law beg for trial by tv!


something yummy to share

My monthly cooking class today. The menu was BBQ food but the community centre flat refused to let me BBQ in the rear courtyard so it was conducted inside. Part poopers or what, hey?

The menu was spicy corn, pumpkin and spinach salad and blackened chicken.

It was all delicious but man, the blackened chicken was so good!

So good that I got home and made it again for dinner.

A double batch so there'd be some for lunches tomorrow.

It is based on a Jamie Oliver recipe for pork but tweaked for Japan.

Here's the recipe:

Blackened chicken

for the marinade:

• ½ teaspoon cumin seeds

• 1 teaspoon fennel seeds

• 2 cloves

• 1 heaped tablespoon sweet smoked paprika

• zest and juice of 1 orange

• a small bunch of fresh thyme, leaves picked and very finely chopped (I grow it but otherwise dried will suffice)

• 4 garlic cloves, peeled and very finely chopped

• 150ml tomato sauce (or ketchup)

• 6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (or black vinegar)

• 4 chicken breast fillets skin removed (that's just a personal preference)

• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

• a handful of fresh coriander, leaves picked and chopped (or parsley)

•1 lemon

1. Crush the cumin, fennel seeds and cloves in a pestle and mortar. (or suribachi, or just bang them lots with a rolling pin)

2. Mix with the paprika, orange zest and juice, thyme, garlic, ketchup and balsamic vinegar.

3. Season the chicken fillets with salt and pepper.

4. Completely coat the chicken in the marinade.

5. Marinate for at least an hour and up to a day. (or 30 minutes if you're teaching a cooking class)

6. When you're ready to cook, put the meat on to a barbecue or under a hot griller for 15 to 20 minutes or until nicely charred. (If using a fish griller make sure the meat isn't too high and touching the elements)

7. Every time you turn the meat, brush it generously with the leftover marinade so you build up a sticky, blackened glaze.

8. When done, rest for 5 minutes.

9. While waiting for the meat boil the rest of the marinade (it's had raw meat in it) to use as sauce.

10. Slice the meat and sprinkle the chopped coriander and serve with lemon wedges.

I usually marinade in lemon juice so when I discovered this recipe back in June sometime I was a bit worried it would be really sweet and a bit offputting but the combination of flavours really works!



Hi, how old are you?

Every year on Respect for the Aged Day (third Monday in September) our neighbourhood host a part for all those over 75. Why 75? Probably because if we dropped it any lower we'd have everyone on the sitting side and noone on the serving side but anyway Matsumoto City gives us some money each year to buy gifts for the oldies. Exciting gifts like towels and pot scourers and mini bottles of sake.

So the neighbourhood committee got money x54 old people. Only for privacy reasons we weren't told which 54 people. So we don't know who to invite....

So the guessing games have started:

What about Mr N?
Hmmm, he retired from the water board after I retired so he's probably younger than me.....

Mrs K?
Hmmmm, I'll ask her daughter in law at work today...

Mrs W?
Ahhhh, definitely old enough but I think she is still registered at her old house....

And you see that's where it gets complicated. In Japan everyone is registered to a domicile at city hall. That's how tax is paid and health insurance dependants are organised and a million other beaurocratic things. But sometimes old people move in with their children and leave their address at their former house. Which means the city doesn't realise/ recognise that they live where they do. And so they are not provided for in the community respect for the aged day money.

Which means the neighbourhood committee are reduced to supersleuthing as they try and work out the 54 old people who are registered as living here. Not all of whom actually live here. And some of whom appear to be living here but aren't actually.

Some are relatively simple to work out- the family with not one, not two but three grandparents in residence and both kids in fulltime daycare? Definitely unregistered oldies as city hall wouldn't ok daycare with that many hands on deck to look after the kids.

Some are more of a grey area. Did the woman who moved in with her son and his family after the death of her husband 'until she gets used to not having him around' four years ago finally admit to herself she's here for good and officially move or is she still 'just visiting'? And how do you broach the subject tactfully?

And what about the people of indiscriminate age?

The round about way:
Ahhh neighbour. Look at the clean neat lines of your cabbage crop. You surely must be born in the year of the horse. No? The rooster then? The snake? The sheep?

The slip it into the conversation way:
Hey neighbour! How about this weather, huh? Raking it in in the tomato business this year, huh? By the way- how old are you anyway?

The straight up way:
Hi, how old are you?

Hey it works for kids yeah.......


you old samurai bastard, you

Meg's Japanese homework so far this term has been printing practice, writing labels for pictures of words containing the target letters and then writing your own words (different ones) that contain the target letters.

No problem.

When we couldn't think of a word we'd consult the picture dictionary we bought Meg with some of her Congratulations-on-entering-school money (best spent money ever and we've only been doing homework for four months!)

Only we've now finished all the easy letters and are down to the horrible ones.

Mya Myu Myo
Gya Gyu Gyo
Rya Ryu Ryo
Jya Jyu Jyo (not じゃじゅじょbutち"ゃち"ゅち"ょ- I can't even figure out how you input that!)


And there's nothing in the picture dictionary, either. So we resorted to using the 'big people dictionary'.

But today yesterday's print with the beauties myakuhaku (pulse) and myogonen (the year after next) came home with a note from the teacher that the words were too difficult. Please choose words Meg knows.

Well we tried. We got gyuuniku (beef) and Wagyuu (Japanese beef) K and I had a conversation about whether 'gyuuuu!' (the sound you make when you squeeze something or someone hard) was a word or not, We got kyoryu (dinosaur) and gyouza (dumplings). Ryuu (dragon) and ryoshin (parents) were easy.

But then we got well and truly stuck on rya.

Rya is just not used in words.

By adults or children.

Well actually it's used a lot by anyone trying to speak rough and gangsterish in the form of Oryaaaaa! And Koryaaaaaa! but I'm pretty sure that wasn't what the teacher had in mind.

Finally I found ryanko.

Two meanings:

A type of Japanese seal found down South リャンコ


A mildly derogatory slang for a samurai derived from two swords=niko=ryanko. 両個

That's a cool word.

I like it.

I wanted her to use it.

But K pointed out that if 'pulse' and 'the year after next' were considered too difficult 'You old samurai bastard, you' might be considered a little obscure.

I agreed but I still think it's a waste of a great word so I'm giving it to you all to use freely in conversations. As I know needing to slur a samurai is just another part of daily life for all of us here, yeah?


oddly complimentary

I was tucking the girls in last night and Meg gave a huge sigh along with her patent python neck hug. "I love you mummy. I really love you. You're so pretty."

Wow. Thanks honey. I love you lots too.

"You're so pretty.... I love your eyebrows and your forehead."


And then today one of my 11 year old students was chatting before class and announced to the group of four girls that she'd seen me out with my husband.

(Not hard seeing as we live in the same area of the same village but news none the less...)

"Her husband is pretty cool. He's got muscles. But he doesn't really look like a foreigner. He looks really Japanese."


My name is Heather Fukase. My two daughters Megumi and Eimi come to class with me... Still... until that point it was quite complimentary, yeah?

Gratuitous shot of cool, muscly Japanese guy- with sparks flying to boot.


throw another shrimp on the barbie

That was a really cringe inducing Australian Tourism Ad from the 1980's. Just in case you missed it:

Ewwwwww... 'G'day Paul' 'G'day Love' Ewwww!

Anyway, I hear they catch a lot of prawns out West but prawns on the barbie wasn't really a staple dinner for my family in the South East when I was growing up. Sausages, lamb chops, steak, whole snapper, chicken, yup. Prawns? Not so much.

So when, after a full day of weed whacking and chicken Alcatraz making I saw 'sea happiness BBQ sets' at the supermarket I got all excited and decided it was time the Fukases threw a shrimp on the barbie.

Amy was excited:

Not so much at the seafood but all the pretty shells. Before we even lit the fire she had elicited promises that we would all hand over our scallop shells the moment we finished eating- or sooner.

It was a lot of fun. Teaching the girls to peel prawns, watching the turban shells spit and bubble, trying to remove the scallops from the shells, trying to explain the difference between a squid and an octopus to Amy when I couldn't just google it, comparing butter/soy sauce dressing (K) and olive oil/ garlic/ parsley dressing (me) and trying to brain wash the girls to the best way (our ways) to eat seafood etc etc.

It really was a lot of fun and I finally see what Paul Hogan was getting at. Australians really should throw another prawn on the barbie.

And maybe a scallop or two as well...


hidden dangers

With all that wildlife around at the moment (and I forgot to even mention the rat python living in the woodpile) I'm a little more alert than usual when out in the garden. That is to say I have shoes on and I turned my ipod down a notch or two so I can hear the wild boar when it surprises the monkeys who screech at the bear and they all charge me startling the python and...

So, anyway I was out trying to talk sense to the pepper plants who have gone berzerk in pepper production to the extent of breaking limbs and splitting down the middle with the wait of their fruit. Picking some off and tying everything up- bit of capsicum bondage going on... and I stepped back and shrieked.

My foot was burning.

What bit me????

A snake?????!!!

A hornet???!!!!

Something worse??!!!!!


I kicked my fake croc half way across the garden (all the better to ward off repeat attacks with one bare foot afterall, hey?) and examined my foot for telltale stinger/ bite marks.


But it was rapidly going red around my toes and really burning...

I looked on the ground around me for a half squashed spider or limping snake (can they limp?)


Nothing but some rotting peppers I had just cleared from around the chilli plants....

No way....

Taken out by a pepper?

Hopped over to my discarded sandal to investigate.

Yup. Smushed up rotten chilli pepper all over the front of my sandal. Just the smell made my nose twitch it was so fiery.

But my poor foot....

Even after a bath and soothing cream it still stings.

I can't believe I was taken out by a chilli pepper.

The upside is it seems like we have a wicked crop this year!


the wild life

I always thought life in the country was going to be quite slow and well, a tad boring. I never realised how much excitement there could be in a day. A real wild life sometimes.

After the other day's bear attack on the mountain next door today we had the police patrolling during the time the kids walked to school. This caused major excitement 'you're going to get arrested!!!' echoed up and down the mountain. I couldn't help taking the opportunity to suggest that *maybe* they were checking to see if the kids were walking safely on the verge of the road or not.... I said maybe so it's technically not a lie, right?

Then about 10am the outside PA system kicked in and we were told three bears had been seen in the apple orchard at the top of our road. Maybe they were looking for Goldilocks?

Then at lunchtime my neighbour dropped in to say that the neighbour up the road's wild boar had escaped. He caught it in his garden earlier in the year and has been fattening it up for a feast. It is ugly, smelly and incredibly noisy. Personally I reckon his neighbour released it! But anyway, we were on the look out for a possibly mildly annoyed, possibly ecstatic wild boar...

Then at 3:00, school let out time, the school alert system kicked in and I got an email. A monkey gang had been seen on the road that leads down the mountain. Please go and pick up your kid rather than have them walk. Monkeys are not really in the same category as bears and wild boar when it comes to dangers but they travel in packs and can get territorial. They are also stronger than the average six year old so it's a bit of a worry.

Phew..... not such a quiet life after all, huh?

Oh and the school's reaction? Meg came home with a second bear bell for her school bag. She now has one on either side of the bag. I'm really quite sceptical that two bells are more effective than one but she's thrilled at another decoration on her bag so we attached it.

Here's to a quieter weekend...


top tip of the day

Are you always trying to pick your kid out from the crowd at Sports day?

Taking photos in every direction in the vain hope that your little darling will be visible in at least one of them- when you get home with the magnifying glass to read name tags?

Brave all the splashing and cavorting at pool observation day only to realise that fabulous underwater picture you took? Someone else's kid....

Frustration be gone!

Fret be banished!

Follow this one simple tip and you'll never fear child mis-photographing again!

But don't just take my word for it. See for yourself.

Spot Amy in this picture:

It even works when your child is facing away from the camera:

Amazing isn't it. You can find her in nano-seconds. Your eye is drawn to her you could say.

Yup. I sent Amy to kinder in the wrong swim hat. Meg's old swim hat. I had renamed it for her to use at the city pool and forgot over the summer holiday that her class wore blue hats. In my defence she didn't say anything when we packed her bag. Or when she put it on. Or when everyone else put on blue caps... but that might just be Amy...

Also in my defence today was the first day of school for Meg. (She really did only have 20 odd days holiday- 30 July to 18 August) So this morning the house was an epicentre of frenzied activity as we got her ready. We'd done most of the packing last night but there were still last minute things to organise. Because there was a lot to organise. Today Meg hauled to school:
  • All her textbooks. We didn't actually need any of them all holiday but nevertheless they came home on the last day of term so had to go back today.
  • Summer homework book and picture diary book. These were the things we actually used for summer holiday study. For some odd reason the picture diary book is too large to fit in their school bags...
  • PE kit- shorts, shirt, red/white hat
  • Lunch serving kit- long sleeved whiteapron, surgical mask, floppy white bonnet/ hair net hat. Apparently they don't actually operate on their lunch but if the need arises they will all be perfectly kitted out.
  • Swimming kit- togs, towel and green hat (got that one right!), signed and temperature recorded pool card.
  • Lunch eating kit- chopsticks, placemat, towel
  • Toothbrushing kit- toothbrush, cup, bag
  • Melodica and case
  • Aluminium cans for recycling (every Thursday)
  • New floor wiping cloth sewn just so. Which I was told was needed 5 minutes before she needed to leave. One trusty cloth nappy and the sewing machine later and walah we have a cleaning cloth. Miffed it wasn't made from the regulation hand towel I reassured her her cloth would have far superior absorption properties and was soft on her skin to boot. Only partially mollified.
  • Water bottle for the walk home
  • Free study project, First graders chose between flower pressing, mud ball making, dying with natural plant dyes and clay objet making. Meg made a star shaped clay candle holder. The clay was from the 100 yen shop and it was very brittle so we wrapped it in bubblewrap for the trip to school.
  • Morning glory plant complete with pot and one metre tall stand.
And I think that was about it. Phew....

Despite her eagerness to try there was no way she was going to be able to carry it all without incident to self, morning glory, clay objet or a combination of, so I drove her and the girl she walks with (and all her stuff) to school. It was eerie as the roads were deserted all the way there. There are usually kids streaming in to school like ants from all directions but I guess a lot of mums and dads out there were keen to get those ruddy morning glories back to school in one piece after spending all summer nurturing them and recording their progress.

So yeah, after all that I think only mixing up the colour of Amy's swimming hat was a pretty good effort!

I even made it to swimming observation day between classes.

A few more gratuitous cute Amy in the water pics (now you know how to pick her out from the crowd...):

Be warned though. Wearing a different coloured cap will make you the envy of all your friends who will want to check it out and get their own. In which case it will lose it's power...


jimmy crack corn and I don't care

Well if Jimmy was a bear.

And it was an ultra-modern version of the song talking about crack-corn a la crack-cocaine.

And the I don't care bit is just plain untrue.

It's bear season.

This made the news today.

For mum and dad- that's the next mountain over. The temple we walked to. Yup. That close.

A lot of people around here have an extra field up in the mountains. They bushwhack a patch of forest and plant a plant-and-leave crop like plums, chestnuts, soba, corn or apples. Unfortunately the bears don't recognise title-hold and tend to view these crops as a new convenience store in town.

From mid-summer through until late autumn we get bears. Not every day. Not in the kitchen eating porridge but yup, real bears. They go after all the crops but especially corn. It's like an addiction or something. Once they pop they just can't stop. Crack-corn.

Amy brought a letter home from kinder today about avoiding bear incidents:

1. Don't go out into the fields/ forests before 5:30am or after 5:30pm. I think we're pretty safe there.
2. Surround your corn crop with an electric fence. Haven't done that. After losing about 1/3 of last year's crop to bears and monkeys we planted the corn right by the house this year. Jury is still out on whether this was a good idea or not!
3. Be noisy when you're out and about. Never fear on that one!

Here's to a quick recovery for my fellow villager and a beary safe Autumn.

I had to do it at least once, right?


hostage in my own house

Big day today work-wise, hot day temperature-wise, and tiring day emotionally with the big boys fooling around at holiday care making Meg very unenthusiastic about going.

Got home and Amy had fallen asleep in the car. Poor mite is totally over the heat- we must be going on a month of weather over 30 degrees every day- and not sleeping well. In order to let her catch a few more winks I left her there while I watered all the flowers who also seem to be totally over the heat. Finished watering and she was still asleep so I went to chat to my neighbour across the road. Had a good catch up and she was still asleep and now Meg was clamouring for dinner as well.

Carried Amy in and she still didn't stir so let her sleep on a floor cushion- gotta love a culture where you can stick kids on the floor to sleep and it doesn't even raise an eyebrow.

Had dinner with Meg and got her bathed and PJed and headed upstairs. And that's when the fun started. There was a huge wasp in the stairwell. Now, I am 99.9% sure I am not allergic to wasps but I was told by many people after my last (first) wasp bite that the first one is a cinch compared to subsequent ones and, well, I'm not so keen to test that theory out. So there we were stuck on the stairs with a wasp who, being an expert on bug emotions and all, I could tell was rather peeved at our presence. I shooed Meg into her room with a kiss and a hurried goodnight and closed the door and then waited for my chance to open the corridor window to enable the wasp to find it's freedom.

Unfortunately our wasp wasn't the smartest vespidae on the block and kept buzzing around and around and around and just not getting the whole open window thing.

I kept trying to get past and down the stairs and I would creep, creep, creep and then the wasp would make a run at me and I'd freak out and hide in my room and wait. Stealth creep back out the door and start all over again. My eyes were going funny from staring at the wasp so hard (so it didn't disappear on me) and I was getting worried I'd be stuck there all night. Aggghhhh! Meg locked in her room sweltering without the cross breeze, Amy asleep downstairs, unfed and likely to wake up at any moment and me stuck darting up and down the corridor held hostage by a measly 6cm of insect...

It was a full 30 minutes before I got down the stairs- my genius plan of making a fake me diversion out of an oversized t-shirt and a broom handle worked on insect buddy and I hot-footed it out of there.


And the badass- bug hostage taker? K arrived home and 30 seconds later bye bye bug. Seriously. I was almost disappointed it was so easily dealt with. Kind of made me feel inadequate really.... And Amy slept through till morning. And didn't even realise she'd slept through not only dinner but mummy being taken hostage...


what a guy

Today K had the day off work.

And Meg is still off school.

And Amy is off kinder.

And I went to work.

When I left this morning at 9:00 they hadn't decided what they wanted to do but the girls wanted a bento lunch so I made one for them all.

When I got home at 6:30 the girls were both asleep in the van and K was unloading bags. Considering neither of the girls regularly nap anymore I was a little worried.

Are they sick?

No. Probably just tired.

What did you do?

Turns out Meg had wanted to go to the park and Amy had wanted to go to the pool so instead of arbitering a decision K suggested they do both.

From 9:30 until 12 they were at the local park playing and watching the radio controlled car enthusiasts and eating their lunches.

Then they headed to the city pool.

Along with half of Matsumoto.

There were no spaces available in either of the carparks. Instead of pointing out this regrettable occurance and forcibly cheerfully heading for home and the paddling pool consolation prize K parked at the recycle centre over the road (the pool is heated by the recycle centre's incinerators) and schlepped all the pool stuff and two kids back to the pool.

Where they stayed for the next five hours. Really. And K didn't even swim a single lap. He spent the whole time following the girls around letting them choose the course of the day. Wow.

At 5:00 pm he said it was time to think about getting out of the pool.

After Meg had one last go in the lazy river.

And Amy had one more go in the wave pool.

And when Amy still didn't want to get out of the pool and the announcement went over that it was big wave time in five minutes instead of picking her up by the back of her bathers and hauling her off to the change rooms they stayed around for that, too.

So by the time they got out of their togs and back to the car it was 6:00pm.

And by the time they drove 30 minutes home both girls were asleep.

As I was getting Meg out of the car she mumbled at me that today was more fun than if it had been her birthday. Coming from a kid who spends a good half the year anticipating her birthday that's high praise indeed.

And all I can say is I'm not worthy. What a guy. I'm so impressed at the selflessness of giving up an entire day's holiday for the girls. I have been patting myself on the back if we spend an hour at the park somewhere during the day. And I usually choose 11:00am or 5:00pm because it's much easier to heard hungry kids to the car than otherwise.

But I'm not going to beat myself up too much because if we were both that accommodating of the girls' wishes we'd never get anything done and they'd be real monsters, right?

Well, that's what I'm telling myself anyway...


bon-less in Nagano

It's Obon.

Festival of the dead.

Well, if you're Buddhist. Which all my neighbours are. Well except for the two Shinto families but even they seem to be Buddhist for the weekend. Friday was mukae-bon and all the neighbours trooped up the mountain to the temple to collect their ancestors' spirits. We were up at the ground adjacent to the temple as well. Not picking up spirits but playing dodgeball while K cleaned the community toilet there. I know. Bad timing. And no, I wasn't being a horrible wife having K clean the loo- it's his job. Not mine. I even offered (half-heartedly) to help but no, it's his job.

I didn't offer twice...

They carried paper lanterns, flowers and kettles of water which had the girls convinced they were all going on an exciting picnic.

I explained about Obon and that FIL is Shinto and MIL is Christian and therefore K was brought up without religion and so we don't observe Obon.

All weekend the neighbourhood has been full of different faces as all the rellies blow into town to pay their respects, eat watermelon, check out what's new in the neighbourhood since last time they were here, eat more watermelon etc etc. M & A are quite jealous of all the comings and goings and want visitors to stay at ours.

I explained (again) about Obon and that the relatives are all coming back to their original homes to pay respects to their ancestors and M & A are super lucky that all their grandparents are still with us so there's no need (and we don't observe Obon anyway...).

The little girl Meg walks to school with travelled three hours plus to a grey sand, rubbish and people littered beach for the day yesterday. She brought home a new beach floaty ring. Meg was incredibly envious (It's quite possible the grey sand, litter and people infestation was not in the original description of the beach but I've been there so trust me.).

I heard her complaining to Amy that it wasn't fair that we don't observe obon as look at all the great stuff everyone else gets to do.

In the interest of cultural accuracy I jumped in to clarify that going to the beach is not a Buddhist observance.

"Yes it is. H-chan said they go to the beach every obon."

No amount of explaining would ameliorate her and she went to bed demanding we buy an obon next time we go shopping.

It's not much fun being a bon-less kid in Nagano but it's proving to be quite the task being a bon-less mum, too!

*tonight's blog was brought to you by the number -196 and the flavour lemon. We are after all unfettered by Buddhist dictates... Please excuse all subsequent typos.


another day another bbq

life's tough at ours, huh?

Started bright and early with K needing to be down at the community centre by 7:30am to get ready for the neighbourhood festival. Not a religious festival this time but a neighbourhood association one. The neighbourhood association collects dues from every house every month and these go towards all manner of things around the place- light bulbs for the street lights and snacks and alcohol for the meetings for example. But not all the money is used and the surplus slowly builds up until we have enough for a festival (every 3- 4 years) and blow it all on soft cream machine rental and yakisoba. K was in charge of making gohei-mochi which is regular rice pounded out a bit so it sticks together and baked on a stick then served with sweet miso sauce. The consistency is lumpy and K was not impressed when I told Meg (and she wanted to try it) that you could get the same results from spitting out half chewed rice and moulding it onto your chopstick. Ok, probably not the best thing to say to a curious 6 year old but I was countering K's very longwinded, traditional/ religious explanation of equally dubious credibility.

Anyway, K headed off at 7:30 with Amy in tow. She wanted to help too and the idea of halving the terrible two for the morning was rather appealing so I quickly acquiesced. Without interruptions or interference Meg flew through her homework and we even tackled the art project which we have been putting off until such an opportunity arose. Not that we don't enjoy crafts with Amy, too but it tends to be more fun than results oriented and Meg is very serious about her school work so I wanted to give her a chance to do it 'properly'.

At 11:00 Meg and I made our way down to the community centre to join the festivities. We had all been given coupons for the various stalls: 'this coupon is good for one time use only. This coupon is good for as many of X item as you like.' Very strict. Oh, and after you ran out of coupons a simple please would get you more of whatever you wanted anyway as Amy was thrilled to find out.

Meg was checking to see if the mustard was sour (American) or hot (Japanese).

The cooks. All men. And you gotta love a cook in a mechanic's overall, hey? And the cameraman is from the city newsletter. He must have such an exciting life...

The entire festival. Well except for the Okubo Neighbourhood Karaoke Club Karaoke Festival that was happening indoors. Thanks to large speakers in the doorway I was quite able to appreeeeeeeciaaaaaaaaate (enka intonation) that without going inside and seeing for myself.

We stayed around until the festival wound down at 2pm and then headed home. A quiet afternoon in the garden and then we decided to BBQ again.

Grilled marinated zucchini, baked new potatoes, grilled pork chops, grilled peaches and mini tomatoes. Roast marshmallows were planned for dessert but the girls had eaten so much lunch and played so hard all afternoon that they were both exhausted and too full and ended up fed, bathed, in bed and fast asleep by 7:30. On a holiday. Wow.

And so that was another day another BBQ. I'm loving thinking up new variations on the bbq theme.

What will we grill tomorrow?


Jamie Oliver over for dinner

Well not really but he was responsible for our yummy dinner today.

We had Navajo flat bread and bbq corn (with tomatoes and cucumbers and marshmallows to follow.)

The flat bread was amazing. I used this recipe halved but used 100 grams homegrown rye flour, 100 grams homegrown wholemeal flour and 100 grams bread flour. It was fabulous. K and the girls had never eaten bbq breads before and were really amazed. I grew up with my mum's amazing dampers and was just happy to be recreating the tradition (in my own way but still).

And the corn was fabulous. I usually steam corn and when, last weekend, we ate bbqed corn at the kids' club bbq I was horrified. It was dry and overcooked, and it tasted like it had been sitting around for a week rather than picked that morning. And it had been slathered in soy sauce so it was salty to boot. I was convinced there must be a better way to bbq corn and I remembered Jamie Oliver's cooked in the husk recipe and decided to try it out. It's so easy! And amazing! You just soak the corn (in the husk) in water and then plop it on the grill. The water trapped in the leaves steams the corn, and as the water evaporates the husks will char giving it a fabulous smoky flavour to boot. Seriously good. Everyone agreed that it was better than the kids' club one. (Not that I'm competitive enough to ask or anything you understand...) I think I will have totake my turn as kids' club committee member to teach them a thing or two about correct treatment of corn, hey?

It was so good noone even realised I'd forgotten to get meat out of the freezer. I reckon that's the sign of a good bbq!


things I love about summer thursday

*sunripened sun warm tomatoes
*hot days
*cool Nagano nights
*fireworks big and small
*peaches, nectarines, watermelon, blackberries, blueberries...
*spending time with the girls
*screen doors (why did we go four summers without them??)
*Summer special chu-hais

And because I'm having a grinch of a day things I'm not loving about summer Thursday:
*the cucumber glut- I'm so over cucumbers
*hot fractious kids
*summer kid ailments- so far we have infected insect bites, sweat rash and probably the start of impetigo, too. Oh yeah.
*bugs so small they can get through the flyscreens. Seriously. That's just not right. Never fear I am going to spray them all with citronella oil- I will not be beat!
*the tourists. Just go home all of you. I know you're good for the economy but seriously you are going to stop and walk around the castle anyway so try and keep your eyes on the road while you're approaching, hey?


Just a day

Today was a day. Nothing special. Just a day. Started bright (the sun not my mood) and early and the girls trooped off to radio calisthenics only to come back with Meg very peeved that the grade 6 on a power trip who stamps their participation card purposely smudged her stamp for the second day in a row. Maybe she's got a dodgy stamp, maybe she's got a dodgy attitude about compulsory dawn exercise during summer holidays, I don't know but Meg is taking it very personally and a promise was extricated that I would accompany her tomorrow. Fabulous. And what exactly will I do? Standover tactics on a moody 11 year old? I offered to just stamp the books myself- double stamps for kids who sleep in- but no dice.

Got K off to work with his bento. Poor guy, Amy is on holiday this week too and he has no excuse for not making it out the door in time. It's really puzzling him why he is still time strapped even without our unrushable daughter to take along. Much less of a mystery to me who knows exactly where said daughter gets her lack of time management. Swap rolling on the floor and drawing in spilt milk for relaxing over coffee and the Zen of shaving and there's the time gone!

Spent the morning weeding, laundry, coaching Meg through her homework and re-organising clothing storage. We were given a truck load (k-truck but still) of clothes for the girls. A full wardrobe through to the end of JHS. Fabulous! Wonderful! But she's only 6 and doesn't need a JHS uniform yet.... It's now all packed away by size and season in the attic space. Big pats on the back for me. K is going to flip when he sees Meg has snaffled two singlets for now wear. He approves of singlet wearing (mustn't let your belly button get a chill!) but I'm not sure about the built in shelf bras....

After an exciting lunch of Vegemite rolls- I'll make one for poor deprived Mona next time I'm up Kevin, cucumber sticks, tomatoes and yoghurt we tried to learn the lyrics to 100% yuuki (courage) by some tweeny bopper boy group. Meg's teacher is very into music and plays the guitar for class sing-alongs quite frequently and to hear it told poor Meg is the absolute only child in her class who doesn't know every word back-to-front to boot. So while we cleaned the floors and dusted we rocked out to "100% courage, you just have to get it done, while embracing all the vigor in the world, 100% courage, nothing else to it, don't ever forget how exciting we are." Yup, if I have to suck it up listening to that delivered in prepubescent boy harmony then they can grab a duster. Nah, to tell the truth they both love to clean and so I vacuumed and they mop-danced and K was very impressed at the shiny sparkliness of it all when he got home.

A break in the rain and we headed out to play soccer. Only Meg wanted to play dodgeball. And Amy didn't. And everyone wanted to play with mummy. Never fear, mummy multi-tasker here and we played a hybrid game where Amy kicked the ball, Meg hurled it and I did whatever wasn't just done to me. Worked out rather brilliantly actually. Until an emergency time out was called to find Amy's caterpillar which had been brought out to watch and had rudely wandered off without telling anyone. I am rather over this caterpillar actually as he is free range in the house so there are lots of search and rescue moments each and every day. I admire her dedication to cage-free pet keeping though.

Eggplant three ways (baked, in tomato sauce and in sesame oil and soy sauce) cucumber two ways (mustard pickles and sticks), bitter gourd two ways (hitashi and chamboru) and tomatoes for dinner and the girls went off to bed without any drama.

Just another ordinary day.

Just a day.


rainbows at our feet

Walked down to the community centre with Meg and Amy today on some vague mission involving Meg's drink bottle that she'd heard was there. From whom? Since when? Why did the drink bottle go there? Those were the vague bits...

On arriving she turned to me expectantly.


You need to open the door.

I don't have the key.

Why not?

You didn't say your drink bottle was inside the community centre.

You should know that.


Of course I should. Add that to my list of knowledge I am seriously in arrears about hey? Along with the second verse to most Japanese nursery rhymes, advanced origami and identifying desired objects from the descriptive 'you know, that thing that was over there!'

Anyway, it was an un-fulfilling trip and we headed home glumly. Well, Meg and I were glum and Amy was typically oblivious and singing some song I'm sure I don't know the second verse of.


What Meg?

Oh no..... (looking at her feet.)

What's happened now?

It's a rainbow. It must have fallen down.... Poor rainbow. It's still so pretty....



Oh, it's an oil spill. It is pretty though.* Mr M's car is leaking fuel. There are spots all up the road and I bet there is a really big one in his driveway.
* I didn't actually say that but I would have been a much better mummy if I had so let's just say I did.



And glumness and drink bottles and disappointingly lacking in super powers of perception mothers were forgotten and forgiven as they ran up the road finding rainbows.

Here Amy! Look!

And here!!

Here's a really long one!

And so Mr M's engine troubles became the rainbows at our feet.


Happy Birthday K

K's birthday today and the girls really got into the swing of things. All day Meg kept exclaiming "We should do X for Daddy! It's his birthday!" X included lining all the shoes up in the genkan, sweeping and mopping the floors, cleaning their desks, picking beans and cucumbers (dubious that one as K is the least veggie-licious of us all) packing up the outside toys, watering the lawn etc etc. Phew.... wish it was K's birthday every day! Other than that we shopped for sushi fixings and had a hand-rolled sushi feast in his honour and the girls made cards. Meg's was cute and pretty standard: Dear Daddy, Happy Birthday, I love you, love Meg. Amy's was more unique in its sentiment: Dear Daddy, Happy Birthday, Congratulations! I did the best I could. I love you even when you're angry, trace the heart machine. Love Amy. With Meg's help she wrote all the letters (hiragana) herself which was quite impressive and a bit of a surprise as we didn't know she could write. Woops. Lax parenting! Not sure about the message though as K gets angry about once every two months or so and even then he only says 'I'm getting angry' in a slightly elevated voice and trace the heart machine is a complete mystery to us all. Thought that counts and all that though huh?

So Happy Birthday K, hope it was a great one and yoroshiku onegaishimasu for the coming year.


growing potatoes two ways

The easy way- find nice fluffy arable land, plant potatoes, keep weeds down, wait about 10 weeks until the leaves go yellow, pull potato stalks up and watch potatoes come roly poly out of the ground at your feet. Gather them up go home and bake yourself a potato to celebrate.

Our way- decide potatoes are a plant and leave crop and plant them in the barely reclaimed from the mountain rock infested field, visit once during the season to nod and hmm hmm and decide we definitely need to weed, not weed, arrive about 12 weeks after planting to search for potatoes. Whoa. Put down spadeand go back to the house to find a scythe to tackle the metre high weeds. Spend the next three hours scything and ripping weeds out by the roots and battling this horrible creeper I am calling razor vine because it is covered in a prickly coating (not individual prickles, more of an all over rasping) until your arms are ripped to shreds from fingertip to elbow. Take a lunch break (walking home swinging your still empty potato bucket) Come back for the afternoon shift and start digging. And keep digging. And dig some more. The lack of rain for the last two weeks means the dirt is like concrete. Rock studded concrete. But then last year we dug the potatoes after heavy rain and complained about the mud so I guess digging potatoesis just not meant to be an easy job. Because you didn't weed the potatoes have been fighting for survival and are small and few and far between. After a four hour digging shift you go home with three full buckets of potatoes. Three! And getting home so achey and dog tired you can't face even looking at a potato and end up having spaghetti for tea. Can I just say I really don't recommend our way?

Well, except for as a fun day out for kids. Look at those legs! They had a ball all day long. Right through to the bathtime fun with a bar of soap and a flannel each and seeing how clean they could get.


kids' festival

The local local kids' festival. The schedule goes something like this: 6:30am- gather to harvest corn and edamame beans, 3:00pm gather at the temple ground to play dodgeball and soccer. 5:30pm families arrive and the BBQ begins. After eating copious amounts of BBQed corn, meat, soy beans, tomatoes, cucumbers with miso and watermelon at 7:00pm it was time to play ghost hunting in the cemetery. Really. Oh well, most of the graves contain the kids' ancestors so I suppose they won't complain too much, right? Oh and they sell sets with masks and glow in the dark bobbles to wear when you scare. An instant fright pack if you will. 7:30 and time for fireworks. Each kid was supplied with an entire pack of fireworks because what's more funthan an over-excited and exhausted 5 year old with a packet of fireworks in the dark jostling for a go at the candle? From 9:30 the sleepover started (at the community centre this year- they alternate between the temple, tents on the temple ground and the community centre). As Meg wasn't keen to sleep over and none of the three other 1st graders were sleeping over either we went home. Amy had a fabulous time being a big girl for the day running around with the older kids and Meg got more than her fill of dodgeball for the day which made her happy. K got a fill of blokey bloke men talk and we all got fed without me cooking which is always a plus!

And it's over for another year. well other than the neighbourhood festival next week... and the New Year Festival... and the Spring festival...

Gotta love the apple crate tables and the monkey fence in the background.

Fukases eating

Playing with fire....


summer camp in pictures

Well a very few pictures and not the best I've got by far as I am trying to protect the anonymity of the other kids who were there.... on the billion to one chance one of their parents stumbles on this blog and takes offence... and just because I don't think it's nice to blog other people's kids- unless they also blog them, yeah?

Anyway, all that to say these pictures are subpar but it's all you're going to get.

Ok, broke my own rule on that last one but I love that my new camera can catch the balloons in motion so well!


you know you're tired when...

I am absolutely bushed. Today was day 2 of a three day Summer English Day camp we're doing at work. And of course we are also up at 6 to get ready for radio calisthenics and I'm teaching all my regular classes around the camp. So it's crazy. Got home today and I couldn't remember whether I'd sat down today or not. I do know I was outside and active from 9:00- 3:30. I always thought I'd like to have a job working for the parks and gardens department of a city. Sounded quite romantic spending all your time out in the sun and the wind and planting and nourishing things all day long. Well, turns out being out in the elements all day long is quite exhausting. Or it could be the 45 kids we had there with us... or the games of capture the flag... or trying to keep up with an excited group of 6-7 year olds on a scavenger hunt.... Any one of those could have done it, hey?

By the time I got home tonight my mind was going on me. I knew I was tired because:

I called Meg Amy and Amy Meg. Multiple times....

I asked K to cook dinner knowing full well we were in for boiled noodles of some sort (somen) and canned toppings of some sort (tuna and corn) to his credit he added fresh okra and tomato. Unfortunately he didn't know to blanche the okra and the girls were less than impressed...

I didn't have the energy to insist Amy ate with a fork or chopsticks resulting in her slurping somen through a straw.

I asked K to finish eating with the girls while I had a restorative bath knowing full well it would result in a fantastic mess. And it did. And they had veritable slabs of watermelon for dessert.

I fell asleep in the bath and dropped my magazine in the water. Oh noooooo!

I had tremendous trouble turning my t-shirt the right side out and getting it on right way around. You'd think it was a rubix cube the way it confounded me.

I had three cups of coffee before my tutees arrived with their summer homework and still almost nodded off resulting in a coffee (me) and chocolate (all of us) break. There were no complaints on that one!

My English is going hazy and I had to reverse search with my Japanese dictionary to find nourish and blanche...

My Japanese is going and I could remember how to say the past participle (kakobunshi) but not how to conjugate the verb to see.... miru, mireru? mirerarere???

I decide to go to bed at 9:30.....

Half the 6 year olds in Japan stay up later than that.



last ditch aphid control method

I need help.

My snake beans really need help.

They are absolutely infested with brown aphids. So much so that the leaves are going yellow and falling off. It's a pretty sad sight. Every year we end up with aphids somewhere but usually we just rub them off with our hands and resort to milk/ chili water spray if it gets beyond that.

This year started the same way but the conditions must be perfect for aphids or else they are a particularly randy bunch as things are now seriously out of control.

So far we have sprayed with milk (2% and 3.6% just to be sure), chilli water and diluted tar from the chimney which was something neighbour A swore by.

But nope. If anything they are still multiplying.

I am about to break down and go and buy something nasty at the hardware store.

I don't want to but at this rate I will not get to eat a single snake bean.....

Any home remedies we haven't tried yet?

For the sake of the beans and my commitment to chemical free gardening...


you'll be sick.... maybe

That's Amy at an amazing buffet breakfast.

They had almost anything you could think of.

And Amy ate most of it. In her right hand she has a chocolate donut (on a spoon, grubby little mud monkey has a hang up about eating with her fingers. Go figure.) In her left hand she has a chocolate ice-cream with chocolate sprinkles. For brekky. Erghhhh. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. SHe also had bacon and scrambled eggs, copious amounts of prawns and pickled vegetables, salad, a bowl of apple jacks/ lucky charms/ pops/ chocolate cookie cereal, an American dog (hmmmm, I wonder if that's a Japanese name?), a crepe with sour apple sauce and white gravy on it, sausages, fruit and a waffle. Crazy. Oh and apple juice. Usually I would have bee playing food police and stopping the volume if not the content but hey, we were on holiday.

Today for breakfast Amy had a bowl of cereal with grated cucumber on top (she is in love with the grater at the moment. I feel nervous if I stand still for too long when she's wielding that thing!) a blueberry yoghurt with grated cucumber in it and half a banana with vegemite. Other Amy favourites are scrambled egg, vegemite and blueberry jam on toast, miso soup and flavoured yoghurt and sausage with jam.

I used to really worry that she would be ill from the shocking flavour combinations. I mean that's the kind of thing where people say 'You'll be sick!' right?

Well it doesn't seem to be true.

Just ask Amy.

Because I wouldn't know as I am way more conservative in my tastes.


a question for those whose parents actually loved them as a child

Just kidding!

But I was deprived of a trampoline in my youth.

Probably had a lot to do with me chipping a tooth on one at a friend's party.

And then another tooth on a different trampoline at a different friend's house....

But despite all that K and I are thinking of getting the kids a trampoline (the I-don't-want-the-electricity-bills version of Meg's heart's desire for her bday- her very own bouncing castle... Wonder where that idea came from, hey?

Anyway, we are looking at the quite reasonably priced 10ft (3m) version or the gulp inducingly priced 15 ft (4.5m) version. Nothing in between seems to be available here.

They both take weights up to 100kg and come with safety nets (and I may just buy my darlings matching mouth guards...) so the size is the only real difference.

And so the question: could two kids use a 3m trampoline simultaneously? I really don't want to spend all my spare time enforcing turn-taking. Neither do I want to stoop to buying two trampolines- tempting as it is!

Oh and mum and dad? If you'd like to assuage any guilt at not buying us kids a trampoline when we were young they are muuuuuch cheaper in Australia... and only weigh about 70 kilos.... what's a bit of excess baggage between family?


other worldly weekend

I've just got back from an absolutely amazing weekend.

Eye opening, refreshing, rejuvenating, spirit lifting and just all around enjoyable.

The lovely Bryn is heading back to the states (for a very short holiday we hope but as yet there is no ETA on her return so fingers crossed) and rounded up some friends to come down to hers for a BBQ Bonanza see-you-later-not-goodbye party.

That would be fun no matter where she lived but the fact is she lives on an American Air Base (along with 14,000 other Americans) here in Japan. Visiting a base was a new experience for all of us Fukases and it was quite the adventure.Between all the English, the abundance of non-Asian faces, the showing of passports and the waiting in the visitor centre for clearance (much like going through immigration) Amy was excused for asking if we'd somehow arrived in Australia without boarding a plane.

K was relieved to find that many of the staff were bilingual and he wouldn't have to answer security questions or order his lunch in English.

Meg was much taken with the rather un-Japanese fashions and looped the bottom of her shirt up through the neck hole for the crop top look.

It was a very educational weekend for both girls actually. Amy discovered cool-aid and very quickly developed a litre plus a day dependency. Seriously she had her oft-refilled drink bottle in her hot little hand the whole weekend. I had to pry it off her at bedtime... Meg was enlightened about fighter jets (she couldn't work out why they had guns), chocolate milk 'chocolate in the milk, mummy' the cartoon channel, play model making, trampolines and that English comes in different accents.

And me? I felt like I was on holiday. A very relaxing holiday at a resort full of kind, gregarious people. We spent a few hours at the food court and three different people struck up casual conversations with me and none of them were looking for an English lesson. Amazing! Just chatting to random people is something I really miss here and hadn't realised how much until this weekend. It was a wake up call to my increasing narrow mindedness living in such a homogenous society too thatmy first reaction to one chat partner was to make sure none of the kids bumped him as they ran around as he was over 2m tall, muscle bound, tattooed and sporting a buzz cut. Shame on me for jumping to conclusions as he ended up being quite the king of the kids teasing them and making them laugh. My 5 year old host kept me entertained with tremendous tales tall and true and was the epitome of a gentleman introducing us to his Spanish teacher and a number of friends from kinder as well as leading the girls on a rather frighteningly fast paced tour of the mall- they were back with me before K and I had even decided who was going to go search and who was going to stay put and worry.

I learnt a lot from the other women who came as well.

The amazing unflappable Bryn blew my mind. The reason we spent a few hours in a food court was that a sudden torrential downpour and motorcycles-on-base bureaucracy wreaked havoc on the best laid plans and she spent about 4 hours sponsoring our passes and escorting us all in. In the same situation I know I would have been a gibbering mess. Stressed out and panicky I would have been snapping at people and bursting into tears. But Bryn? Not only no theatrics but she kept on smiling thewhole time. Wow. Just wow. And this whole amazing weekend get together she-bang? A mere four days before she has to pack up her entire house and fly half way across the globe. Made of sterner stuff than me that's for sure!

Cecilia is simply amazing with kids. I don't baby talk to my kids but I definitely dumb down explanations thinking it's all they will be able to understand. Not only does Cecilia not do that but she asks probing follow up questions and has an infinite amount of patience for the endless whys. She really taught me a trick or two. And she's well read and a great conversationalist and makes honey joys to make the toughest Aussie homesick and is just all round fun to be with.

Gina dealt with two incredibly active pre-schoolers and their combined clothing calamities (mother nature and then ice-cream and then BBQ and then juice) and their exhaustion at a big day so very assuredly that her mood rubbed off on the kids and they were real troopers. Made me rethink my have-a-flap-first reaction to disasters when out and about.

And Lily? I've been a big fan of hers for as long as I've read her blog. Bit of a girl crush in fact. I still acutely remember a day when I was feeling the pre-schooler parenting stress and reading her blog while Meg and Amy watched the Wiggles and she was talking about feeling the pre-schooler parenting stress and so deciding to take her little guys to the art museum before they had finished their unit on that particular painter. Wow. I'm not worthy! Well, turns out I love Lily in the flesh just as much as Lily in the blog and especially her forethought in setting up strategies to deal with kid issues before they even happen. Wow. Oh, and the way she says 'eh?' at the end of her sentences. Canadians are just so cool...

With all these fun and inspirational people to be around (and a huge BBQ, copious amounts of amazing food, six varieties of Schmirnoff mixers and... wait for it... a bouncing castle for the kids- no really!) It was a seriously other worldly Toto-where-not-in-Tokyo-anymore weekend. There was lawn- wide spacious lawn devoid of 'no standing on the grass' signs. There were neighbours popping in for a chat and a beer around the barbie, neighbour kids everywhere you looked and just such a laid back atmosphere.

It was great to see K having a good time hanging out with other Japanese guys who are married to foreign wives. He gets a kick out of the common bond and I like him to get that exposure every few months to realise that a lot of the stuff I do isn't weird it's just not Japanese!

We reluctantly came home loaded down with souvenirs (English books! Cereal so sweet and colourful I'm amazed it's not labelled 'cereal shaped confectionary', spare ribs so we can have an ode-to-the-weekend-at-Bryn's tribute BBQ, cheese, cheese and more cheese and butterscotch choc chips just because I'd never even heard of them and they sounded too good to pass up among other things.) and absolutely exhausted. The girls were asleep before we even got on the expressway and had to be woken up three hours later when we got home. And these are kids who don't nap!

I think Meg's comment best summed up the feeling about the weekend. We were just passing through the gates on our way out and she sighed and said 'Instead of Tokyo tower and Tokyo Disneyland can I come to Ethan's house again for my birthday?'

I have to agree.

Better than Disneyland.

For sure.