2010年2月28日日曜日

indulgent mummy

After a Saturday where I dragged the girls to work with me and had them eat their lunch out of ziplock bags picnicking on the floor while I taught then spent the afternoon completely cleaning the house I was feeling guilty enough to offer them 'anything you want to do' for Sunday. Being the horrible mother who hates conflict resolution that I am I told them to think of their plan together and come to me with one idea. It worked and our Sunday plans were decided:

Go on a train and eat a donut.

Poor deprived country kids. I asked all sorts of questions about where they would like to go on a train- visit an Aunt? to see more snow? to Nagano city? Not important. Just want to go on a train to somewhere you can eat donuts.

Thinking I should support the local Kamikochi-sen Alpico train company that was bailed out of bankruptcy a couple of years ago we headed to Hata station to board the train. Confirmed that preschoolers are free and asked for a return trip to Matsumoto.

"1120 yen please."

"Just the one adult?"

"Yes. 1120 yen."

Wow.... no wonder the trains are half empty. The journey is all of 25 minutes long...

Oh well. Sucked it up and the girls literally squealed when they saw we were riding the rainbow train so I guess it was worth it.

Meg was very concerned there were no seatbelts on the train and we had to talk about the difference between trains and cars. Still feeling indulgent I told her you could even ride standing upon a train if you wanted to and she proceeded to do so. On a train with maybe 10 people on it. Oh well. She was beaming and that's what counts. I did stop her from swinging off the handles as while they look like the rings in the park they are really not meant for swinging on....

Amy was a very serious passenger with her nose pressed to the window updating me on the scenery "a car, a field, more fields, another car, a house, a dirty house..."

Got off at Matsumoto station which is the terminus and Meg was amazed that everyone got off with her "I think they all want to eat donuts today, mummy!"

After walking around a bit and playing in the park we headed to Mister Donut and:


She was soo happy. Made me feel rather guilty actually. I'm sure eating a donut is rather less of a day-making experience for your average 6 year old.

(Grandpa- that's the strawberry donut she promised you she'd eat)

Walked around looking at a couple of temples and checking out the International Centre (full of people sleeping in chairs- that seems more Japanese than international to me...) and we headed back to the station to catch the train home.

Both girls were tired from all the excitement but absolutely thrilled with their day out. They were talking about it right up until they went to sleep.

The negi didn't get pulled up today but sometimes you just feel like being an indulgent mummy.

And the smiles make it all worthwhile.

2010年2月27日土曜日

what does graduation mean?

We're in the countdown to M's kinder graduation.

It's all about dresses, school bags, orientation days, forms, more forms, a few extra forms for good measure, thank you cards, to graduation dinner or not (is it not weird to hold a ¥5,000 yen a head dinner graduation ceremony evening and only invite the mothers??) etc etc.

In the neighbourhood committee it's all about organising walking groups, receiving graduation congratulations money, organising celebration rice and towels to give back and planning the new 1st year kids' first Kid's Association activity- planting mushroom spores...

At kinder they are busy practising their songs for the graduation ceremony, finishing up their graduation albums, organising a graduation class present for the kinder, colouring in the seed packets they made to hold the morning glory seeds they harvested from the plants they raised to give to the new lot of biggest class kids- a 20 odd year old tradition that's a study in plant genetics as each year the flowers get smaller and more monotonous.

At home it's all about why Amy can't go to school when Meg does, how it's not fair everyone talks about Meg and Meg had her picture in the paper and Meg gets a blue bag when blue is Amy's favourite colour and she's stuck with a yellow one and and and...

So yeah, I thought we had a pretty good grip on what graduation is. That is until Meg and I had this conversation today:

I can't wait till graduation mummy!
Really, why? (she loves kinder, loves her amazing teacher and doesn't like the attention she gets from older kids who don't know about us at the school so I was puzzled)
Because then we'll sing our special graduation song!
Ahhhhh....
And then we won't have to practise it any more and we'll be able to play again. I want to play on the scooters for a long time!
....

Uh oh.

2010年2月26日金曜日

where do you live?

The community centre where I teach a kids' English playgroup is closing for renovations and we're looking for a new place to go.

We started bandying around ideas and I suggested my local community centre.

"Where do you live again?"
"Okubo."
"Umm.... I know that's an area name here but where is it?"
"Do you know the little shop Tamariya?"
"Ummmm... no."
"Do you know the YKK sash factory?"
"Ummmm.... no."
"Do you know the group home for disabled people?"
"Ehhh? There is one?"
"Ok! You know Kinshoji Temple where they hold funerals, right?"
"No..........."

At first I was shocked that someone could live in the village for 10 years and not know about the different areas here. But then I started thinking about it and the woman I was talking to lives downtown, works in Matsumoto and probably doesn't join in the annual climb of Mt Kinshoji or own a mushroom picking license.... And the Tamariya store is really not somewhere you would go out of your way to shop at...

Still seems a bit odd to me but....


2010年2月25日木曜日

Easy Focaccia

Today my cooking-in-English class made minestrone and focaccia.

It was delicious, the students were interested, motivated and spent the class speaking in English. That may be a given in most people's classes but it's nigh on a miracle with eight women getting a break from their toddlers for a couple of hours during a class four of them signed up for en masse.

So anyway, great day today and the focaccia was so easy I have to share. It's not the most authentic recipe, it doesn't have a very open crumb (can you tell I spent a long time researching breads?) but it requires a total of 2 minutes kneading and only one proving. (Am I the only one who can never remember what my dough looked like pre-proof and therefore am totally hopeless at guessing whether it has doubled or not?)

And it tastes good.

And it's fabulous for mopping up minestrone.....

Quick Focaccia

Ingredients

1 teaspoon white sugar

1 package active dry yeast

1/3 cup warm water (45 degrees)

1/4-1/3 cup extra water

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt


Directions

1. In a small bowl, dissolve sugar and yeast in warm water.

2. Leave until frothy, about 10 minutes.

3. In a large bowl, mix the yeast mixture with the flour and stir well to combine.

4. Stir in the additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until there is no more dry flour.

5. When the dough has come together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 1 minute.

6. Grease a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil.

7. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes.

8. Preheat oven to 245 degrees.

9. Punch the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface; knead for about 1 minute.

10. Pat the dough into a rectangle and place on a lightly greased baking tray.

11. Poke dimples in the dough.

12. Brush the dough with oil and sprinkle with salt.

13. Bake focaccia in preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes. If you like it moist and fluffy, then cook for about 10 minutes. If you like it crunchier and darker on the outside, cook for 20 minutes.

14. Serve hot with minestrone.


2010年2月24日水曜日

hello baby whoa baby

Today looked easy on my calendar: 10:00 take Congratulations on baby's birth money to neighbour N.

"Hello baby, here's your money."

Easy-peasy Japanesey.

Well, except that I didn't have a 5000 yen note and apparently five 1,000 yen notes doesn't cut it. Grrr.... Took the girls to kinder and headed to the only place open that time of morning- 7-11. Didn't want to waste money but didn't have anything I wanted to buy, either. Usually if I need change I buy K a newspaper but today I bought a maple flavoured coffee. I am not a fan of coffee in a can but maple and coffee together? Mmmmmm, that sounds good.

Sounds good.... but tasted revolting. Blerggghhh far too much sugar and fake maple flavour. Should have gone with the newspaper after all!

Anyway, got home, put the far-superior single 5,000 yen note in the special envelope, folded it just so, wrote K's name on it just so (yes, K's name. Not our name, his name) and then bundled it all up in a special cloth just so. Wouldn't want to be seen walking around the neighbourhood holding a special money envelope now would I?

8:55 there's a big cheery 'hello?' as the front door opens. It's neighbour K.

'Oh, Fukase-san, are you ready?'
'Ready??! I thought we were going at 10??' (absolutely am not ready. The pile of washing I'm holding and the toothbrush sticking out of my mouth attest to this fact)
'Well, 9:30- 10:00ish. Did you tell (deputy head of the neighbourhood association) M-san?'
'Ehhh?! I thought it was just us immediate neighbours today?'
'Immediate neighbours for the big money. But the deputy head needs to be there to jointly present the 1,000 yen per person in the whole neighourhood association money.'
'Ahhhh.....' (That was definitely not written on the calendar.)

So, off I scooted up the road to see if M was available. Nope. Husband was working 4 towns away, her University age son was still in bed and she was just leaving for a seminar on how to poison- sorry spray- your commercial tomato crop. And anyway, she has bad blood with the grandmother of the baby over that thing that she said 18 years ago and you know....

Back down the hill to report less than successful mission to neighbour K. (wondering if we have a deputy-deputy?) Neighbour K decrees all is well when it's unavoidable and we'll just make apologies on M-san's behalf.

Phew. All this running around and I've noticed two things. Neighbour K is very dressed up. She has on her usual two cardies layered over a shirt but today it's co-ordinating cardies with that special touch of glitter and a flouncy floral shirt. Hmmmm, she appears to be wearing brighter makeup than usual and a natty neckerchief to boot. This dropping money off thing shows signs of being a little more of an event than my king-of-the-understatement husband promised with his explanation 'go over there together with the other two immediate neighbours and hand over the money.' Luckily the other thing I noticed was that my fabulous neighbour friend Y is home. Yeah! Not only is she home but she has two young children so probably still remembers what this whole fuss is about and can fill me in.

9:20 and I'm back home with lots of useful advice but no time to do much about it. Quickly change from casual but cute purple sweater to cerise long sleeve T and a purple cardy. Can't go wrong with a cardy around here...

9:30 and I'm outside looking for a job to do in the front yard where I will a) look like I am legitimately busy and not just waiting outside so my neighbours don't come to the door to get me, b) will not get dirty and have to turn up at what I am increasingly thinking will be quite a fancy-schmancy meet the baby do with black fingernails and c) will not work up a sweat and arrive all huffing and puffing. Decide on carefully raking off the layer of matted halfrotten Autumn leaves from the flower gardens. Spring bulbs need all the encouragement they can get after all.

9:40. Hmmmm, I can hear the other two immediate neighbours (confused about the neighbour thing? The houses here are not perfectly parallel so Neighbour N has a neighbour on either side and two neighbours directly across from him. Yes, that does equal 4 immediate neighbours but the immediate neighbour to his right is a relative and they don't count as immediate neighbours in neighbourly financial transactions as they get fleeced separately on 'we share a surname' grounds.) Anyway, the other two non-relative immediate neighbours are having a loud conversation bridging the road that separates their houses. They are both hard of hearing so it's a tricky call whether they are using that volume out of necessity or to send a signal to neighbour N that we are all ready to be received.

9:50. This is very odd. Even a 10:00 appointment should have started already by now around here. I've given up pretending to rake leaves and am just standing leaning on my rake when Neighbour N's son, daughter-in-law and the baby-of-honour pull up. Ahhhh, I see. That's why we were waiting!

9:52 the three of us (all in cardies- I knew it!) head over to neighbour N's house. The door is locked. Very odd. Obviously buying some extra time. Neighbour K looks a little miffed when she realises she'll have to ring the door bell rather than the usual walk-right-in-routine. Neighbour N's wife greets us, begs us to come in, we demur, she insists, we demur again, she says she has some tea 'only tea, just tea' for us. Instant change of plans and we're all shucking shoes left, right and centre. 'only tea, just tea' with that level of vehemence is code for 'I have prepared an absolute feast' and sure enough, on being ushered into the parlour/ guest sitting room thing we are met by a table covered with a myriad of morsels, each in their own individual dish.

"Ohhhhh... wowwww!"
"Oh no. It's nothing....."

Well sure, if your idea of nothing is individual apple fritters cut just so, fruche and strawberry parfaits, a sweet pickled plum, pickled celery, preserved mountain vegetables and boiled chicken and veg in soy sauce. Yeah, the combination of dishes is baffling but each dish was delicious in itself. It is all accompanied by cherry blossom "tea" (salt preserved cherry blossoms in hot water), green tea and amazake, a taste sensation that my dictionary translates as "fermented sweet rice gruel." It wasn't a choice of drinks situation but rather that we each had three glasses in front of us.

After about half an hour of painfully inane small talk the baby, accompanied by mum and dad (carrying a tray of individual fruit salads because obviously we were famished by this stage) arrived and we oohed and ahhed at a seriously cute bundle of yawns and joy who did a great job of tolerating all the neighbourly attention.

11:10 Unable to eat another thing and feeling a little digestively unsettled (I'm not sure soy sauce, strawberries, amazake and mountain vegetables really go together. And as for salted cherry blossom tea? I'm not sure about that one on any level!) I did my endlessly bob-bowing woodpecker impression as the three of us expressed our humble thanks for a splendiferous meal, our profoundest apologies for the trouble we caused our hostess and our most fervent wishes for a long and happy life for the baby.

11:11 Started mentally writing friendly 'by the way' type email to absent husband re his 'just go and hand over the money' advice.

Whoa baby!

2010年2月23日火曜日

Life's greatest little pleasures

Had a great class today teaching this lesson about life's greatest little pleasures.

Different people, different backgrounds and from three different countries and we all voted for the same thing as life's greatest little pleasure- a good night's sleep. Seriously, who doesn't agree? With it anything else seems better and without it everything else seems just a little less sparkly, yeah?

And recently I think everything around me is looking a little more sparkly- there's an extra spring in my step you might say. I always jinx myself so I hadn't wanted to say anything but I really think... maybe.... it's possible that we've turned the corner on winter- shhhhh! 雨水 usui- the day on the old calendar when it is said to stop snowing and start raining- or more scientifically when the sun reaches the celestial longitude of 330 degrees- was last Friday. Maybe it is just a coincidence but it has been shhhh warm ever since. Not even just less chilly but really warm, today was 16 degrees- that's above zero! Yeah! Roll on Spring! I am still steeling myself for a cold snap- it snowed on the first day of school last year and that's not until April. But today on the news they said the plum trees are blossoming in Nagano city. That's a month earlier than usual and the earliest they've blossomed since 1953. (I have mentioned how much I love Japanese weather forecasts and their trivia, right?)

So, the plum trees think it's Spring, too...

And while the Britons listed playing in the snow and the first snowfall of the year among their favourite things, I think the coming of Spring is definitely one of my life's greatest little pleasures.

Definitely.

After a good night's sleep of course.

2010年2月22日月曜日

Just a little bit...

A little boy tugged at my sleeve while I waited for Meg and Amy at kinder today.

"Yes?"

"I know where there's a little bit of Spring. Wanna see it?"

"A little bit of Spring?"

"Mm hmm... come here."

So I followed him away from the door and over to one of the gardens. Stepping carefully between the tyres that make up the garden border we walked toward the fence.

"There!"

"Wow..."

And we both just stood there looking down at a patch of 10 or so green bulb shoots sticking out of the ground.

A little bit of Spring...

2010年2月21日日曜日

in numbers

length of time spent preparing M for Daddy's impending departure- 2 weeks
number of times I used the words 'happy' 'adventure' 'just us girls' etc- hundreds
number of times M used the words 'sad' 'lonely' 'miss' and 'nooooo!!'- thousands
number of tears as we said goodbye to daddy- zero. YEAH!!
number of seconds between goodbye and first tear- 2
number of seconds between saying goodbye and K opening the boot to get his bag- 2 Oh no....
number of days till daddy's back? ...

2010年2月20日土曜日

again and again...

Another PTA meeting tonight. This time I was just a guest though- oooohhh. It was the first school PTA meeting. Yup, still six weeks till school starts but I've already had my first PTA meeting. It was the local, local one. All the mums of the school age kids who live on this mountain turned up. Fourteen mums in all.

Quite an interesting meeting actually. The usual territorial gumph about proportional representation- the flatlands have doubled or tripled their population in the last five or so years with the sacrificing of rice paddies for kit home enclaves. This means that some districts have hundreds of children, literally- there are 140+ kids in Meg's best friend's district. The mountains have a lot less paddyland to sell out and so our population tends toward the gradual decline. We have 18 kids in ours. You can see why people complain.... Anyway, 30 minutes of 'but we've been here longer....' later we got onto advice for the new mums. Three main points really:

1. Getting to school. Meg will need to be outside our house (and hopefully having had something for breakfast and not still in her PJs) at the oh so friendly hour of 6:40am. AM. I think I've probably already complained about that ooohh a hundred odd times and bear with me as once I actually start having to do it I'm sure complaining about it will become a daily ritual.... 6:40 AM...

2. Getting home from school Pt. 1. It takes a long time for the kids around here to get home. Not just because it's a freaking long walk. Not just because there's a freaking great mountain to walk up for the last kilometre. Not just because they have little legs. Nope, it takes a long time to get home because they get distracted, stop to watch bugs, climb great freaking retaining walls, play at the local shrine, hang out at the pocket park (that triangle of land you get when you don't want three intersecting roads to actually intersect) etc etc. Now, after explaining this issue did they remark 'so, please make sure to tell your kids to come straight home, don't dilly dally, say hi to mum- tell her where you're going- then go play'? Of course not. They said 'so, please don't worry if your children take longer than normal to come home. They're probably just playing with their friends.' Yeah. Don't think that one's going to happen. May have to be known as 'Meg's mean mummy'.

3. Getting home from school Pt. 2. Every neighbourhood has to have a kids' safety house. A house to run to and get help if they need it. The kids' safety house gets a nifty sign to put out the front:
イラストは「こどもを守る安心の家」の看板

and have to be there during the times kids are walking to and from school. So far so good. We have only had one safety house in the neighbourhood. A woman who was home looking after her bedridden husband. The husband passed away and now she's back in the apple orchard again. Passed in her sign.... No problem. The PTA asked the young people's activities committee (how on earth do you translate 育成会?) to find another safety house candidate.

....

Nope. Not a single house in the neighbourhood has year round able-bodied people in the house. Hmmm.... What to do, what to do? Have a couple of houses where people are likely to be home? Nope. Take the sign down altogether and report to the powers that be that we don't have a safety house? Oh no. The sign stays up and we just tell the kids that the woman will most likely not be home. A fake safety house. You'd think that would worry me- especially seeing as I'm to expect Meg to be late home yeah? Nope. See we may no longer have an official safety house anymore but we have many, many safety orchards, safety market gardens and safety vinyards. All those people who aren't at home are really just out there watching not just the kids but the whole neighbourhood!

All in all an informative evening.

But 6:40am. Really. 6:40am...


2010年2月19日金曜日

supergran

I drive verrrry slowly on the roads around here.

Not only is the road up the mountain to our house very narrow but it's also winding and full of people who don't seem to consider it a road. You know, people who assume it's a carpark and park in the middle of the road (hazard lights optional) to say hey to a neighbour coming past. Or people who see it as an extension of their front yard and just gather in twos and threes for a chat on their way to or from the garden. The small ma and pa metal workshop even annexes the road for loading and unloading massive plates of metal when their impossibly small workshop area gets too crowded. Come around the bend and you're face to face with a forklift wielding a 2m odd wall of steel... Those 'proceed with caution' signs really mean just that around here. And of course there's the kids who play catch or skip or ride their bikes around like it's a park....

So yeah, I drive slowly here and really didn't think any unconventional road use could surprise me.

But today I met supergran and she has raised the bar a bit.

A number of the farmers around here are old. Not senior citizen old or older than the norm old but really old. 80-90+ years old old. At first I found this a little unsettling- who were all these families pushing their octogenarian relatives out into the fields day after day? But now I've talked to most of them and know that they want to be out in the fields so I can stop giving my neighbours dirty looks. Anyway, some of these seriously old people use those pushchair things to get around. You know it's like a walker on wheels with a seat attached? Usually has a bag for your shopping or a lethally sharp scythe attached, too? Well supergran is one of the women who uses the pushchair walker. I see her creeping along one push at a time or sitting on it (in the middle of the road of course) chatting or sometimes with a mound of daikon or hakusai piled on it.

Not today though. Today I came around a corner going down hill and there was supergran and her pusher. Not pushing it though- sitting on it. Not sitting chatting but sitting and flying down the hill. The pushchair does seem to have a brake- she had one hand behind her on a lever back there but still.

No steering.

Limited braking.

Steep hill.

Road.

Physical condition such that you need a pushchair walker to get around.

Hooning around at high speed.

What a thrill seeker.

What a supergran.

2010年2月18日木曜日

all gone

Meg went to the hairdresser for the first time today.

*gulp*

The ends of her hair were really dry and getting tangled easily and the morning battle was not fun for either of us. We had talked about her getting a haircut before school started as the new out-of-the-house-by-6:30-(AM!!) routine just isn't conducive to long high-maintenance hair. But it's only February? you ask. Why yes. But the latest play-craze at kinder is being hairdressers and as the-girl-with-the-longest-hair Meg has been in much demand as a model. She goes to kinder with a smart plait down her back and comes home with the start of dreadlocks after six little girls have done their creative best. I've talked to the teacher about it, talked to Meg about it, talked to Meg and her budding hairdresser friends about it but, well the whole let-em-run-wild style kinder that I love? It's not really compatible with eagle eye supervision at all times.

So, we headed off for a trim. Mid-chest length, tidy up all the ends and still enough to plait.

Meg got settled in reading the dye chart...


Dying was absolutely NOT on the menu but she had fun reading about it anyway...

An hour later and much discussion between the hairdresser (my neighbour) and Meg- with the odd interjection from me- and we came out with a thrilled Meg and a lot less hair than I was planning on.

*WARNING MUM* You may find these photos distressing but it is only hair. It will grow back. Repeat after me- it is only hair.... Ok. Deep breath...




Agghhhhh!!!


Life is just full of new discoveries now. She sat in the bath and her hair didn't get wet, she ate dinner without it tied back and it didn't get in her food, hair clips fall out etc etc.

Amy thinks it's gorgeous and predictably wants a haircut too.

She doesn't want to go to the hairdresser, though.

She wants daddy to cut it.

With the clippers....

AGHHHHH!!!!

2010年2月17日水曜日

Go go Valentine's Day soba

We had quite a nice Valentine's Day this year. No chocolate, champagne, roses or candlelit dinners but after ten or so Japanese Valentine's Days I'm kind of used to that.

Instead we headed down to the local community centre and played Igo ball. It's a cross between the board game Igo (or Go) and mallet golf (another Japan born sport a little like croquet) anyway, you use a mallet to hit little heavy balls (hopefully) into the indentations in the green felt Igo ball mat. You get point points for every ball successfully landed on a spot and line points for every run of balls. But, the opposing team can aim for your ball and knock it out of position or off the board altogether. A combination of precision, skill, luck and bashing balls with mallets I am quite keen on the game. I may even make the neighbourhood team for inter neighbourhood Igo ball competitions if I keep at it until all the current players have to hand in their mallets... Mind you it may be a team of one as the players here are all in the retiree or elementary school age group. On Sunday I played two games with a group of 5-6th graders and one with Meg and Amy. The retirees class me as 'mucking around with the kids' level and don't invite me to play. Oh well.



End of the game where I was black. We lose two of the balls- the ones sharing a spot- and were sooo close to getting 5 line points but no dice. So the score here is black: 7 white: 8. Beaten by 11 year olds....

K doesn't like ball games so could take or leave Igo ball but came along quite happily anyway looking forward to the second half of the proceedings: hand made and cooked to order soba.



The girls were fascinated by the soba making. Meg stayed until the very very end watching Mr N pack up all his gear. It really is quite an involved process and very precise. I don't see myself ever taking it up but it is interesting to watch.


Behind the scenes- the neighbourhood community centre committee members. That's not the same as the neighbourhood committee we're heading at the moment. Oh no. This is another role we have to look forward to. They were making the dashi stock (no bottled stock here it was boiled down konbu seaweed and dried fish), boiling the soba and preparing the yakumi condiments- grated daikon, finely sliced spring onion and grated wasabi.


Patiently waiting. You know you're in a classy establishment when your waiter is wearing overalls....

I'm no fan of soba (shhhh or I'll get kicked out of Nagano) but if I'm going to eat it freshly made stuff is pretty good. And while everyone else was slurping away there was less demand for the Igo ball mat and I got some extra practise in.

And that was our Valentine's Day.

Go go Valentine's Day soba!

2010年2月16日火曜日

winter weary

I'm over winter.

Snow is pretty, ice is pretty, white wintry wonderlands are pretty.

The woodstove is cosy, polar fleece pjs are cosy, 'marshmallow' socks are cosy, ugg boots are cosy.

Skating is fun, building snowmen is fun, kicking up powder is fun, snowshoeing is fun.

But too much of a good thing and all that.... today I slipped on ice walking up the step to the house. Slipped holding groceries. The groceries were fine and nothing broken me or otherwise but as I sat there on the cold, wet, icy step getting my breath and furtively checking to see that the neighbours weren't watching I realised-

I'm over winter.

2010年2月15日月曜日

FYI

Snow tires are a good idea.

A very good idea.

Without snow tires winter in Nagano is a very slippery. slidey, dangerous place.

All that said you'd think snow tires would be the law, right?

Nope.

Unless the 'chains necessary ahead' signs are up (and around here that is basically the expressway and the routes to the ski-fields- places where out of prefecture tourists go) there is no law about using snow tires.

Amazing....

So, hypothetically of course, if you were driving home down the mountain from the ice-skating rink and an old guy decided that, despite the snow, the ice and the fact that he did not have snow tyres on his dinky truck, he would just take that little old truck for a spin (literally- huh!) and end up fishtailing and spinning through an intersection and- what with the snow and the ice and the driving down a steep road and all- you you were unable to stop and backended said little old thrill seeking man in his seasonally inappropriate vehicle it would be completely your fault.

Completely.

100-0% responsibility. All damages to both cars and points off your license to boot.

Ouch.

Well, the little old man did get a 'you really should change your tires living around here.'


2010年2月14日日曜日

emptying the coffers

"Hi, we're from the neighbourhood committee, give us all your money."

Of course that's not actually what K said today as he walked around the neighbourhood but he may as well have. Today we collected:

3000 yen, two months worth of neighbourhood association fees. I guess someone has to pay for all that alcohol they provide the hardworking neighbourhood committee men...
2000 yen, two months worth of payments for the exciting Ride On A Bus For An Hour Up A Mountain Road, Pick Tasteless Mountain Weeds In The Rain And Mud, Jump in The Bath Together Then Eat The Same Menu Of Soy Sauce Boiled Cod And Slimey Toadstools That We eat Every Year Tour. Yes. I'm thinking the economy's bad, we could definitely economise here....
1000 yen, birth-of-first-child money for neighbour N. Neighbour N is 70 odd so obviously it wasn't his first child but his grandchild. And no, not his first grandchild but his first via his son. Very important. Despite the fact said son doesn't currently live with neighbour N. No consequence. He may live here at some point in the future...
1000 yen for neighbour N's (yup same one) father who has been in hospital 20 days. Actually only 18 but he's not looking like getting out anytime soon and K likes to streamline his shaking down of the neighbours.
400 yen x every high school age and up member of the family for prefectural health insurance. Not sure what this is exactly but at 400 yen for a years worth of top up insurance everyone buys into it. Me, included.

So yeah, he shook people down to the tune of about 8,000 yen a head today. Ouch!

Aren't you glad you don't live in my neighbourhood?

2010年2月13日土曜日

ahh hahhhh

A day of answers today.

The weird frozen rain stuff? Not snow, not sleet, not hail. 雨氷 uhyou. Literally frozen rain. And it's really rare. Made the news. First time in living memory we've had it here. Apple farmers are grumbling they can't prune their trees as the branches are encased in ice. I'm not much of a farmer as I think that sounds like the perfect excuse not to be out there in subzero temperatures!

The 竹には雪折れ無し bamboo doesn't break under snow thing? Not just an agricultural maxim. The bamboo looks so spindly and weak and yet, even after being bent double with the wait of the snow it bounces back. Hidden strength. Unexpected result. If I really think about it maybe that's what the mud wall vs canonball saying is all about, too. Just can't say I've ever heard of it let alone used it!

A real なるほど I see... kind of day. And for you I summarised it all down into two paragraphs. For me it was two hours of roundabout conversation with my senior class to get those gems. Love that class. Don't really even need to prepare a lesson when you have 12 women who love to talk!


2010年2月12日金曜日

a mud wall deads a cannon bullet.

I have no idea what that means.... But according to this site it's the translation of 竹に雪折れ無し or bamboo doesn't break in the snow. I thought that was just an agricultural maxim- I had no idea it alluded to mud walls and cannon bullets...

The reason I learnt about unbreakable-by-snow bamboo was that I have been worried my bamboo would do just that. The ice hasn't melted yet and it has kept snowing. The poor bamboo looks pretty sad.

This is the bamboo that my MIL pulled out, my neighbour pulled out, my kids sat on, fell on, parked their ride on construction toys on, the tree lopper felled a tree on etc etc. So it has taken quite an effort to get the stand of beautiful, tall, leafy bamboo we have now.

Or had?

This one is bent double:

This one is worse:

And yes, on closer inspection the bits that haven't fallen over are fused with ice to the electricity lines. And K took great pleasure in telling me not to try and shake them apart as bamboo transmits electricity. Great. Live-wire bent bamboo.

If only I could work out what it has to do with mud walls and cannon bullets I might have a chance of knowing the fate of my ill-fated bamboo grove. Sigh.

2010年2月11日木曜日

wild weather

I don't know what you call today's weather. It wasn't snow, it wasn't sleet, it wasn't hail. It looked just like rain but by the time it landed on anything it froze.

Whatever you call it it sure is pretty:



even the netting on the chookcage looked beautiful today:


Unfortunately it's not just beautiful but dangerous.

As of an hour ago it's snowing again. Fresh powder on a layer of ice...

Safety driving tomorrow everyone please!

our demons...

Great conversation in the bath today. (See what I'd miss if we didn't bath together?)

Amy's latest favourite conversation is teaching people stuff. This ranges from the teeth gritting 'mummy, when the light is green you can go.' to the cute 'mummy, when I'm too big for my pretty socks sorry, you can't have them because you're already too big, too.'

Today she taught me about momotaro:

"Mummy, if you split a peach in half in the middle there's a baby and he's called momotaro but he's going to run a way and get demons- do you know what demons are?'

'Hmmm... what are demons?' (I love hearing her explanations)

'They're in your tummy. There's crybaby demons and lazy demons and selfish demons and- what demon's in your tummy mummy?'

'Hmmm... short tempered demon?'

Meg piped up: 'I've got a scaredy-cat demon. I used to have a crybaby demon too but I got rid of that. I don't even cry when people don't give me something when I asked for it nicely. But I've still got a scaredycat demon... maybe I'll get rid of that next demon day... Amy, what's your demon?'

Amy thought for a while and then said: 'Same as mummy. Short tempered demon...'

The scary thing is they are spot on! If I had to pick one character fault for each of us I'd pretty much choose what they chose (well in nicer words but anyway...)

2010年2月10日水曜日

more meg, so many megs...

concentrating...

hamming

lunch monitoring

drawing

showing

laughing and throwing stuff at mummy

enjoying her last kinder presentation day before she'll head off to school with all her friends. (All of them. Same school. There are some advantages to living in the country.)

2010年2月9日火曜日

a glimpse inside the secret world of the kinder PTA meeting

(we join the kinder PTA meeting part way through a 'one comment from each of the 27 members' circle time discussion)

"I agree with the person before me, the teachers and the executive committee have all been so helpful and it was easier than I thought to be a class rep. Thank you"

"Well, same sentiments as the people before me, it was not as hard as I thought because the teachers and the executive committee were so helpful."

"Well, I have nothing new to say but the teachers and the executive committee were very helpful and it was beneficial being a class rep."

"Uh, me? Thank you very much to the executive council and the teachers. You were very helpful." (She wasn't even paying attention and she said the same thing as everyone else!)

"Well, I just want to repeat what everyone else has said: the executive committee and the teachers were really helpful. Thank you."

Seriously 26 women said exactly the same thing. Think of the time we could have saved had we just made and seconded a proposal to express thanks to the executive council and teachers!

And the 27th person?

"I do have a comment. I was wondering if it would be possible to move these meetings from slap-bang-middle-of-the-working-day 1:30 to say 4:00? We could all put our kids in late care that day and it wouldn't interfere with our work as much? Oh, and thank you to the executive committee and teachers for all their help this year."

That was me. And yup, had to put in the thank you at the end. I mean if I didn't I would be the person who didn't thank the executive committee and the teachers. That would have been too rude for words, I'm sure.

It was an interminably long meeting that really never got any better. After soliciting our comments on the year we started in on ideas for voting in the next council:

"Well, like everyone else said..."
"Hmmm, I don't really have anything new to add..."
"I agree with the others....."

GAHHHHHHH!!!!!!

(And so, after two hours we leave the kinder PTA meeting as they begin a debate on how many times a month bread should appear on the menu.....)

"Well, I agree with everyone else..."

2010年2月8日月曜日

another first time fabulous foreign foodie friend experience

Since coming to Japan I have eaten so many foods I had never eaten before. And I don't mean tofu, seaweed or burdock root. I mean things like chilli dogs, refried beans, tarte au tatin, spinach dip, quesadilla, soft shell tacos, paneer curry, feijoada, dal, cinnamon buns and mango chutney. Yum... It's funny because I thought I was a pretty wide-palated person yet I had never eaten any of those things.

I owe my boss for a lot of my foodie firsts. Not only is he an amazing cook but he's generous to boot. Today he introduced me to Gumbo. I have to admit that if I didn't know his food by reputation I wouldn't have been quite so excited about the supersize ziplock bag of khaki coloured lumpy mystery soup. But excited I was and disappointed I wasn't. Gumbo is good! It's spicy, fragrant, thick, meaty and just plain yummy. Weird thing is he used some of the tomato sauce we made last summer. That surprised me as the finished product tasted nothing like my usual tomato sauce based dishes. Then again I didn't taste my tomatoes in the paneer curry either. Hmmm, I think I have a new idea for an Anthony Bourdain style cooking show- send me around the world to exotic and exciting locations with a jar of tomato sauce as a hostess gift and see what people make with it.... definite possibilities and I would be way less trouble for network lawyers/ producers than Bourdain!

Anyway, it seems the longer I'm here in one of the many less exotic restaurant blessed areas of Japan the bigger my circle of fabulous foreign foodie friends. I feel really lucky to know all these people from far-flung food cultures taking on the challenge of cooking the food they love with the ingredients they have.

And then I realised I'm not holding up my end of the fabulous foreign foodie friend bargain. Seems a lot of people haven't discovered the wonder that is damper yet. And so: damper.

At it's simplest it's just flour, (1 cup) water, (1/4 cup) baking powder (a bit) and salt (a pinch). It's campfire bread. It's camping under the stars bread. You can cook it in a dutch oven, wound around a stick or just make a hollow in the ashes, through the dough in and pile more ash on top. Scrape the ash off, tap the damper, when it sounds hollow it's done, flick off the ash, rip it open and eat. Yummmmmm... If you're feeling fancy you can serve it with butter, honey, golden syrup, jam or use it to sop up stew or soup. Yummmm.

Ahhh, fabulous foreign foodie friend balance restored I can await my next culinary epiphany with a clean conscious...


2010年2月7日日曜日

Megged

I've been Megged.

I'm exhausted. I ache. I have sore muscles in places I never knew muscles existed. It's undeniable. I've been Megged.

The skate rink is closing for the season (and probably forever... sob...) so we headed off for a final skate. No 9:00am skating class today so we took our time, had a power brekky and arrived about 10:30. Skated up and hit the rink. For the next 3 1/2 hours we skated. Well Amy skated, rested, skated and rested, and K and I took turns escorting Meg around the rink. She didn't stop at all. Sure, she fell over a couple dozen times and she waited for me on a barrier cushion when I got left behind but she didn't leave the rink at all. Wow. And yes, I got left behind. I spent a lot of the day like this:

skating along behind Meg....

She loved it. Even when she fell over she was enjoying it:

Yes, that's a peace sign.

After all that activity I had my fingers crossed for a nap on the way home. Unfortunately I was the only one who felt drousy and we got home singing all the way and then the girls made snowmen and a snow mountain, K cut wood and I was guilted out of my nap and into industriousness by it all and did some housework. I swear, I'm a pretty active person but Meg just leaves me for dead. She's all go, go, go from morning to night.

And keeping up with her? Well, after the girls have gone to bed I usually just collapse. Today I'm feeling like I've been hit by a truck.

Worse than that.

I've been Megged.



And just because this blog is getting a little Meg-heavy: she may spend more time resting than her sister but she sure knows how to throw a pose while she's doing it:

2010年2月6日土曜日

today in pictures

Woke up this morning bright and early to find that for some reason ice-skating lessons had been postponed:


The ice-rink is huge and while they have two zambonis to clear the track it takes time. That wasn't the only reason it was postponed though, the ice-rink is half way up a mountain on a rather low priority snow plough route. With freezing temperatures last night and 10cm of fresh powder they didn't want us all driving up there. I get that but I was still disappointed.

Not wanting to waste such a wonderful morning (heavy sarcasm) we headed into town to see the combined kindergarten graduating class art exhibition.

(Fighting our way through crowds the whole way)

It was great. The entire main hall of the local (I mean really local so this is not a big deal to any but the child artists and their parents) art museum was papered with these life size self portraits. Before Christmas we were all sent home a huge piece of paper and asked to draw around the outside of our child in faint grey pencil, not to draw features, write their name in bubble writing so they could colour it in and send it back to kinder with a mirror. The kids would then use the mirror to draw their features and colour it all in with crayons and paint. I kept getting status updates from Meg 'we did our hair today!' 'A-chan spilt blue all over her picture's face!' and had a pretty good idea of what colours Meg was using on hers from the colours of paint I was soaking out of her clothes but I had no idea how amazing they would all look.

The poses were fun to see the variety the kids (their parents?) had thought of, the faces were a delight and the amazing rainbow effect of all those colours together was really mesmerising. I had thought we'd rush in, take a picture of Meg and her artwork and scurry off home again but we ended up spending a good 30 minutes walking around and around with Meg pointing out her friends' work and Amy just enjoying all the colours.


The proud artist and her masterpiece.

The snow didn't let up all day and it was a slippy slidey drive to work and back but I am getting so much better at snow driving I didn't even have one 'whoa!' moment. That is such an improvement on my first snow drive where I did everything you are not supposed to do and span 270 degrees and then stayed there crying till K came and got me. I hadn't made it 200m from home so it wasn't a long wait but still...

After work I went out to feed the chooks and needed to come back for different shoes:


Snow shoes! It wasn't that deep but it was over boot height and very powdery and I really hate wet cold feet so I thought why not and put these on and tramped out there dry and warm as you like. Very happy Heather. My favourite part of these snowshoes? Other than the abovementioned benefits of their use that is? The straps. Yup. The straps. They look so much like the straps on surf sandals that I can pretend (if I try really, really hard) that I'm heading out to the beach for a swim rather than to trudge through snow...


Chook unimpressed by the snow.

I found the camera cable so here's part of Meg's book:



She's read it to me about a gazillion times now so I can decode the writing but I think it's still pretty indecipherable. The わ are both わ and は for example.

Finally the genkan. I'm not going to be winning any Good Housekeeping Awards for the state of it at the moment and I was going to clean it up before I took a picture but in the pursuit of truth in blogging and well, more truthfiully, with it being bloody freezing down there I decided to just take some snaps and escape back to my warm cosy living room.

Looking to the right: the curtain we put in, a very dusty gardening shelf, a wardrobe for our wet weather gear, a whole lot a boots, a whole lot a pickles and a whole lot a juice.


Looking to the left: why yes those are tanabata displays from last July. But I really love them so they're there to remind me of the girls and of summer. A whole hodge podge of shoes, Amy's dolls' stroller and the broom for sweeping snow off the porch. Meg loves sweeping snow (a feeling that I am hoping lasts a long, long time!) but has the not so desirable habit of leaving the broom wherever she happens to be when she stops sweeping. At least it was inside this time!


And that was today in pictures.

2010年2月5日金曜日

Please come in

No really, please.

Genkans are a strange neither here nor there kind of place. Technically inside the house yet you wear your outside shoes when you step down into the genkan.

People walk into the genkan and then call out 'hello?'

I lock my front door not to keep thieves out but the neighbours!

In summer the door is open and people pop in and out all the time.

By in I mean as far as the genkan. There seems to be an even bigger psychological step between the genkan and the inside of the house proper than the 30cm physical one. It's not just quick 'I'm in a hurry, won't take my shoes off and come in, just pass on this message' kind of visits that occur entirely in the genkan but longer ones, too. Salesmen, deliverymen, apple-bearing neighbours, survey requesting neighbours, just dropped by for a chat neighbours etc etc.

Around here houses are built with big genkans. Mine has high ceilings and is big enough for a shoe cupboard, a wardrobe for snow/ wet weather gear, the pickles, three crates of apple juice, a scooter, a gardening goods set of shelves etc etc.

The genkan opens up onto a huge -uselessly so- corridor. Double wide and full of 1970's nouveau riche glittery orange wallpaper it's designed to wow you when you open the door.

Unfortunately this space is a real heat sucker so we put in floor to ceiling curtains across the step up from the genkan to the house. Lost the retro wow factor but much warmer!

This simple single layer of fabric seems to have really cemented the inside/ outside dichotomy.

Normally I am quite happy with the meet and greet in the genkan idea. Saves me having to clean the rest of the house for one!

But in winter? In an unheated genkan? Having long and involved conversations? Come in. Please!

This evening the doorbell rang and I left my cosy warm living room and jogged down to the door. It was a neighbour from up the road. Snow was blowing sideways, it was gusty windy and about -4 out there. I invited her in:

"No, no, no. Won't intrude. Just wanted to ask you about that apple butter you made.... mixer first or boil..... sugar?......"

"Would you like to come in?" (my fingers have gone tingly and I'm losing my happy fireside glow.)

"No, no, no. Tried it but lacked jamminess.... pectin? pips?......... added cinnamon?..... how thin did you slice the apples?..."

"Would you like to come in?" (My left knee has started shaking of it's own accord and I'm getting miserable)

"No, no, no. Oh! I see you made apple juice. Did you use the seconds apples?...you used green apples? Ahhh, I have a few crates of those left... lacking honey in the middle... what to do with them...."

"Would you like to come in?" (My nose is running, wind is finding its way down my collar and around my ankles and I am really having trouble keeping the smile on my face...)

"No, no, no. So, did you make juice at the rent-a-kitchen or the juice centre?... price of bottles.... they'll do it all for you... How many bottles did you make from how many crates of apples?...."

"Ah! Sorry, that's one of the girls calling me. Here, please accept a couple of bottles of juice and some apple butter. No, no, really. You do so much for us, I insist. Really love to keep talking but must go. Children need me....." (Complete and utter bald faced lie. Both girls were soundly sleeping in their beds. I know it's terrible to take advantage of someone's hearing loss but really? I couldn't stand out their any longer. I was beyond my limit.)

So, any time you want to drop in I'd love to have you. Chat about the weather, the apples, existentialism, whatever. But please come in.

Please!

2010年2月4日木曜日

親バカ

Besotted mum. That's me.

On Tuesdays while I teach a kids' class for Amy and four other little Amy's- it's an amazingly energetic class- Meg watches dvds, draws pictures and chats to my boss in the other classroom. I think she really like this time and loves to tell me about her conversations with my boss who won her over on day one for showing an interest in what she likes and asking her about her life and just listening. Who doesn't like having someone's undivided attention? And when it's a non-family adult to boot? Kiddy Nirvana!

So anyway, usually she asks for a print to do and I give her one of my spares. Not this Tuesday, though. She asked for blank paper and headed off to the other classroom.

Whatever it was she was making I didn't find out. I finish the energetic class of five Amys and have 15 minutes to return the room to a semblance of order, pack up my equipment and hand the place over to a fellow teacher for his class so I don't do a lot of hanging around chatting. We grabbed all our bags and coats and scarves and Meg must have packed her pieces of paper.

Tonight at bedtime she suddenly remembered her 'book' and ran to get it.

And lo and behold my little girl had written a story! At 6 this is not exactly call-the-newspaper stuff but considering that neither K or I have taught her her Japanese alphabet as K is a left hander with a very....ahh... unique penmanship and- surprisingly enough- my handwriting in Japanese is nothing I want Meg copying so we just thought we'd leave it for the school teacher to do.

With some backwards letters and the odd b for a d style swapperoony (for Japanese readers she always both reads and writes を as そ- odd to me as while I have trouble keeping my ぬ from masquerading as a ね I have no problem with wo and so...)

Anyway, other than that she did really well.

The story goes:

One day there was a girl. And she went for a walk. And she saw a flower. And a butterfly. And she laughed. Then there were two girls. They held hands and looked for flowers and butterflies. They found them. They laughed. Then they went home. Then they went to where their mummy was. The end. Wonderful, wonderful.

Ohhh it's such a sweet story. I know I'm biased but she's bloody brilliant I tell you. I thought we'd start with a sentence or too but no. Straight to the short story for my wunderkind! I'd have a picture (or two, or many!) if I could find the uploading cable at the moment. Grrrr.

And I'm so happy I'm even managing to try not to read too much into the fact that in the story the mummy isn't at home....

Really.

2010年2月3日水曜日

seemed like a good idea at the time (times 3)

I am prone to great ideas. This is less of a gift than a curse. See the ideas always seem great before I actually put them into action.

It is at that point and only then- when it's too late to go back- that I begin to question the greatness of this particular idea....

number 1:
Since Sunday the big car has been parked at my work.
Didn't get it Sunday as I was too tired to drive safely.
Wanted to get it Monday but K took the bike as his car had a flat tyre.
Wanted to get it Tuesday but it was snowing too hard to ride.
So today, finally, on a freezing but blue skied day, I decided to head off into the city on the bike.

The bike because I gave away my tricked out touring bike in all it's paneer packed glory when I got pregnant with Meg. Gave it away. Because I was going to be a mummy, now. Never ride a bicycle again you know. Those great ideas I tell you....

Anyway, got geared up in my cycling jacket, shoes and helmet and clip clopped out to the bike. It was a little cold but I figured once I got moving I'd be OK. About 2 metres down the road I realised my mistake. 1 degree is not fabulous cycling weather. Being unable to find my Bono style yellow cycling glasses I had wind in my eyes, tears running down my cheeks, my lungs were burning and my hands were aching (forgot gloves). All that and I was still in sight of my house! I would have turned around and gone home but two of my neighbours were out shovelling snow and, well, wouldn't want to ruin the whole cool cyclist look by scurrying off home, now would I? So I kept going, remembering not to brake on ice, trying to avoid being taken out by trucks driving perilously close to the curb and trying not to take out old ladies waiting at busstops. All while not actually being able to see properly with the wind and tear thing going on. Yeah, it was a really fun ride. But, 45 minutes later and my lungs felt bigger and my hands had warmed up and I was invigorated and thinking I might get back into cycling again... come March or so...

number 2:
The extension on the chook cage is made of plastic agricultural netting. The first time it got snow on it I flicked it and the snow fell down into the cage. This saved the netting but the chooks were pretty unimpressed. So for about a week now I have been feeling sorry for the chooks and letting the snow just accumulate there. Woops. Today I noticed the netting was straining and sagging rather sadly. Headed out (jacket and boots but no hat or gloves because it would just be a quick ping flick job, you know) and tried to clear it. Flick... Ping... Nothing. The snow has gone icy on the bottom. Icy and entwined around the netting. Started picking big hunks up and hurling them as far away as possible. Slightly more effective but so, so cold. Great idea moment- decided to brush a huge sweep of snow with my arm rather than pick it up. Great idea. Dropped a whole pile of powder snow down my front. Face, down the neck, all the way down into my boots. Great. Gave up in disgust and decided this is a job for another day. Preferably a Saturday....

number 3:
Demon day sushi. You eat a huge fat futomaki seaweed wrapped sushi facing that years compass point. Having given up on slavishly obeying tradition with all the fretting and stressing that it entails and deciding that it's the spirit of the thing that's important the menu was for natto sushi (Meg's favourite), meguro tuna sushi (K's favourite), rolled omelette and blanched spinach (my favourite) and smashed cucumber and pickled plum sushi (Amy's favourite). Taking the spirit thing and running with it I didn't make sushi rice and we used regular brown rice. Decided that instead of painstakingly removing the pits from the pickled plums and smooshing them into a paste I'd make use of a jar of plum salt a student gave me. Plum salt is made by evaporating the liquid left over when you finish a jar of pickled plums. You just keep drying it out until you're left with a thick, gloopy, intensely plummy and intensely salty paste. A teaspoon of that ought to do it thinks I and confidently start mixing.... Hmmmm...? Ahhh... Oh nooo.... The salt in the paste is sucking moisture out of the cucumber and I'm getting a disturbing pink soup with green flecks in it thing going on. Now, with adequate preparation time this wouldn't be a problem- wait, drain off liquid and continue. Unfortunately my reality is Amy standing under my armpit complaining that she wants her sushi now! Pah... it'll be fine! I thought as I dumped the concoction on top of the rice and got under way. Hmmm. Too moist sushi filling equals wet rice equals a sushi roll that's just not happening...

Oh well, lucky for me the family are more grateful than gourmand and the day finished without any further great ideas. Phew!



Miss Perfect had to try and re-roll my ill-fated cucumber and plum paste sushi.

2010年2月2日火曜日

oni day in three parts

Part 1 - the morning

Meg doesn't want to go to kinder. She's lying along one of the stairs- the backless stairs- looking at a 2m odd drop to land on top of crates of potatoes and onions should something go wrong. Personally I'm thinking that's a lot scarier than a man in a mask coming to kinder but....

"I'm not going to kinder today. I'll stay home with you, Mummy."
"Mummy's going to work."
"Well, I'll stay home with Daddy."
"Daddy's going to work, too."
"Well I'll stay home with no-one, then."

After a lot of weedling and convincing she agreed to go to kinder if I wrote in her notebook to ask her teacher to protect her from the oni- the demon.

"Dear Y-sensei, Meg has agreed to come to kinder today if I ask you to please protect her from the demon. I apologise for the inconvenience and ask for your help in this. Thank you for everything you do." I swear I'm going to be in trouble one day when Meg is able to read back over what I wrote to her teachers over the years.

Meg was still wobbly-lipped about the whole thing and Amy piped up:

"I'll come to your room and look after you. Just wait though because first I have to look after my friend T and the other people who might cry in my class, ok?"

Meg's response? "Hurry, ok?"

Part 2- at kinder (as relayed by Meg's teacher in her notebook)

"Meg was really brave this year. Last year she started crying as soon as the head teacher started explaining the demon day tradition and didn't stop until lunchtime. This year she was a bit wobbly-lipped but made it through the explanation Ok. When we got our bean containers ready tears started rolling down her cheeks but her friends stepped in and reassured her, patted her back, held her hand and told her they'd look after her. She cried when the demons came to our room and hid under my desk as we'd discussed but she soon stopped crying and came out of her own accord. When I praised her for being brave she smiled and looked pleased. She's really gained confidence."

Part 3- in their own words

Meg- It was really scary. They were real demons- not just people with masks on. There was a red one and a blue one. The red one had a mochi making mallet- if it was just a stick I wouldn't have cried but it was a mochi making mallet! It made a really big noise when they banged it on the floor. It was really scary so I hid and then I came out when they went to the next class. I think the demons are bad to come to kinder and scare us, we should lock the door next time.

Amy- I don't think they were real. I don't know if they were real or not but they weren't scary. One had curly hair. But it was curly up in the air hair not curly down hair like Amy when I have plaits. I threw lots of beans at the demons. I through them so hard. I think if you throw the beans really hard the demons will get lots of spotty sores all over them and they'll run away. I picked up the beans off the floor and threw them again. The demon was hitting the floor with the mallet and making our windows shake. I said "hit the window, it's ok- it's plastic!" but then my sensei said "No! It's glass!" so the demon didn't hit the window. I wasn't scared so I didn't cry. My friend T cried but sensei picked him up so that was OK. Can we go buy demon day sushi tomorrow? and throw beans at daddy?

And my thoughts on the whole thing? Hmmm.... I'm happy that the kinder makes the effort to continue these traditional events for the kids but I really have an issue with purposely scaring kids. There seems to be quite a lot of it around- the namahage in Akita, crying sumo down south, demon day, our local lion dance festival even includes a bit where the lion makes the youngest child in the neighbourhood cry to much applause. Hmmmm.... wouldn't it be nice if we tried to make them laugh instead? More of a challenge too, I reckon!

And Meg, poor Meg. I was sad for her that she still finds demon day traumatic but looking back on previous years I can see that she really has got braver- it's an incremental thing but braver is braver- and Amy? Little monkey, no problems there, I think she got the lion's share of the bravery around here!

2010年2月1日月曜日

in the eye of the beholder...

While I was away Amy had her observation day.

K took the day off work and went along.

He took lots of pictures for me.

Father of the year so far, right?

well, he took lots of pictures like this one:


That's Amy in the pink (for those who are used to recognising her by her face rather than her curious fashion sense).

K does not think this is a botched photo. No. He wasn't focussing on Amy, he was focussing on the discrepancy between how much lunch she eats and how much the little boy she eats with does.

It is a source of much warped pride that Amy is making the most of her chance to eat school lunch. And as such he wanted a picture of it. Eating more than a boy is also important.

Me? I would have liked to see her face.

Sometimes I just shake my head and wonder.