absence note in pictures

The reason I've been AWOL:

Summer festivals

Meg's (and our!) first primary school Sports Day

The hurl a ball into the net game. And yes, that's Tottoro in the background. Of course, right?

The white team wins.

Meg's not in this picture but it's just so freakishly unbelievable!

And I can only think this was a manhood ritual for 10 year old boys. Teams of topless boys trying to push each others poles over. Nothing phallic about that, right?

7-5-3 for the big girl.

This pretty much sums them up at the mo. The clown and her serious big sister.

These kimonos are heirlooms. Every female relative on K's side has worn them.

Apparently M & A are the first kids to open the fan accessories.

I'm not sure what that says about them or their myriad of Aunts and cousins...

Yup, I've graduated to the middle-aged obi style years. Sob....

I love this pic.

Moonviewing Festival at Matsumoto Castle

Amy's 5th birthday. We made her a sandpit. And I mean we. A granny, grandpa, daddy, mummy and Meg collaboration.

Amy's sports day. On her birthday. (She's climbing over a step standing on tin cans with a bell cricket hat on. Of course she is.) We kept trying to get her pumped for her birthday:

Hey, Amy! What's happening on Saturday?
Sport's Day!
Yep. Anything else?
My dance at Sports Day!
Yup. And?
Running at sports day!
Yup. And....?
Singing at Sports Day!
What about after Sports Day?
The Principal's Speech and I get my gold medal!!

It was totally hopeless...

Running back after doing the one where you peg an apple, pear or persimmon on the tree.

Amy has my sense of timing...

The running at the Sport's Day!

Amy had one request for her birthday tea- fairy bread. She saw kids making it on a tape of Playschool and has been dying to try it. So we made it. And ate it. M and A ate about 5 triangles each. I managed one and that was an effort. I never remember it being quite so bland and margarine-y and crunchy and just, well, like bread with 100s and 1000s on top.

One year older and still hasn't got the hang of blowing out candles.

Phew. And in our spare time we've pulled up half the summer garden, harvested enough tomatoes to make 188 jars of sauce, made the sauce, moved woodpiles around the place, cleared out a whole shed to store the wood, planted not nearly enough of the Autumn/ Winter garden, visited friends in Nagoya- the city! the trains! the big girls to play with!, gone shopping every other day (the poor fridge can't cope with this many people!), oh and just you know, work and housework and stuff. Nothing much really, huh?

So, please excuse my absence and I'm back!


turning over a new leaf

Out with the old in with the new today.

Mum (love ya mum!) and I pulled out the last of the corn, the beans, 1.76m tall lettuce (I didn't really measure it it's as tall as me) a few long forgotten giant and deformed turnip and the beetroot and turned over all the soil. Well we let K do all the hard work with the hoe really but we were there to guide and direct and I assisted on spade and we said goodbye to three rows of summer (nooooo!) and made way for Autumn/ winter. We planted out red spinach, regular spinach, chrysanthymum greens, mustard greens, baby daikon and carrots. It's only a start but I need to ease myself into Autumn planting. Got to eke out the last of the summer veggies, squeeze the last bit of summer out of the garden before I turn my back on my favourite season and start girding myself for winter...


a very big celebration for a very little festival

I have a senior student who really should write a boo. She has lived the most amazing life. Not famous amazing or incredibly successful amazing but living your whole life for your family and just doing everything day in, day out kind of amazing. Now that her children are grown and left the area, her 90+ year old MIL has passed away and her grandchildren don't come over as often as she'd like she thinks of all of us, her friends, neighbours and acquaintances. A while ago I mentioned Amy searching our (oak tree free) garden for acorns and she brought me in a whole bag of them she had collected to give Amy. She always collects the seeds from her salvia, marigolds, spinach and pansies and passes it on to others. She really does seem to enjoy helping people out.

And so when she invited my entire family- including the parents- over for her neighbourhood festival she was determined to have us over. I tried weaseling out- it was late, she had no time to prepare, the girls would likely be cranky, there are so many of us, my parents are not great with fancy Japanese food and can't sit on the floor for long periods etc etc etc she wouldn't hear a bar of it. Not a problem. Nothing at all was a problem. We must go.

And so we did. And the table was laden with enough food for an army, there were chairs out for my parents, there were juice boxes for the girls and games for them to play with, there was more food in the kitchen waiting to come out, there was wine and tea and top shelf beer and and and....

At 6:00 her husband went outside to keep an eye out for the float to come past. When it came into view we all went out to watch it go past. Yup, it. It was a tiny one float festival. We finished eating (gallant K ended up eating almost three whole boxes of sushi as my parents couldn't eat a lot of it) and headed up the road to the shrine to see the main event. Well, there was the one float again.... and 5 stalls including a free lucky draw for the residents of the neighbourhood and a display talking about Sakamoto Ryuichi. And that was it. It was a great fetival to show mum and dad the real small town small time festival atmosphere but I couldn't help thinking that the effort my student had gone to to celebrate the festival with us far outstripped the festival itself!


day labourers

Got mum and dad working for me today. Does that make me a hirer of itinerant workers?

We really got stuck into the much neglected garden and in a busy morning weeded metre high weeds from all around the garden, ripped up the bean plants, the 1.5m plus tall salad greens, harvested masses and masses of veg and then harvested some more for good measure.

cherry tomatoes, broccoli, goya, cucumbers, eggplant, red yellow and green peppers, chilli peppers etc etc.

Now I ache, I'm exhausted and still have to think of ways to use them all!


the touristy thing

Between searching for houses, renovating houses, having babies, further renovating, gardening, more gardening, further gardening, community commitments etc etc we have managed to live in Nagano for 5 1/2 years and really not see that much of it.

Today though was a totally touristy day. My mum and dad are here visiting (yeah!) and the three of us went up to Nagano City and 'did' Zenkoji temple. The best part? Meeting up with Brenda and the gorgeous Sara! Ok, that really isn't very touristy but it sure made the touristy bits more fun for me!

Oh and all three of us remain unenlightened having failed to find the secret handle while going though the pitchblack undertemple tunnel. But last time I went through (when I was 17) I absolutely cracked my head on a rafter, found the handle of enlightenment but saw stars, had a headache and felt queasy for the rest of the day so I still think I came out on top!


the chook whisperer

K lives in a female jungle- one wife, two daughters- even the chooks are girls. I think sometimes he feels a bit lost in the oestrogen whirlpool and that we all kind of talk talk talk and don't really listen.

I don't think we're that bad but it's true that when he gets on one of his epic (read longwinded) tales of morality (read hodge podge of Aesop's fables, traditional Japanese stories and the bible) we do tend to tune him out a bit.

But he's undeterred. And he's discovered a far more receptive audience- the new chooks.

The new chooks are doing fabulously well. Chooks are notoriously dumb and it took them two whole days to notice/ figure out how to use the gaping wide hole that is the door between the coop and the rest of the cage. You can imagine then that roosting- flying up to a branch about a metre off the floor- was light years beyond their understanding.

And so every evening K and I go out and pick them up off the floor and place them on the roosts. At first K was a little hesitant but it grew on them and he always gives them a peptalk as he goes. As of a couple of days ago he's been going out by himself.

Tonight he came in from the roosting debacle well chuffed with himself.

"They did it!"

Did what?

Yesterday I told them I am going away for work tomorrow and won't be here at night to put them on their roost. I told them they'd have to really try. And tonight they did it!


I'm not so sure it wasn't just a chook lightbulb moment but it certainly is making K feel listened to and looked up to and, when it comes to long tales of right and wrong, rather the chooks than us so we'll go with the chook whisperer angle I think!


free at last

Meg heard at school that most stag beetles die at the end of the season.

She didn't want to be responsible for her beetles' death.

I explained again and again that they die of natural causes.

No good.

And so today we had a releasing ceremony.

The bugs will live out their last day(s?) hour(s?) on the beautiful Japanese maple with the swing under it. The rationale? It's Meg's favourite tree and if they fall they can swing on the swing.

Swing high little beetle. Swing high and reach for the sky!



Well, it's Autumn.

On the calendar anyway- we had our hottest day of the season yesterday, 36 degrees. Love, love, love Nagano weather- hot and (relatively anyway) dry days with cool mornings and evenings and blanket-necessary nights.

The garden baked but that revolting black plastic we put down everywhere really retarded evaporation and saved the tomatoes and okra, and zucchini and- ok, everything basically!

After the traumatic you're too noisy comment Meg has continued to walk to school with little H. Neither of them look exactly thrilled but neither is refusing outright to go along and some things you just gotta do, right?

The recycling effort went well and we were adequately represented in the great k-truck muster- 10 trucks from 13 households. A tip off from neighbour Y about Sunday morning cartoons combined with the fact that I didn't get home from my beer garden outing until 3:30am meant I actually slept the entire thing blissfully away while AMy feasted herself on trashy tv. Shocking parenting I know but hey, needs must.

Meg and Amy have decided Lady Gaga has a bit of a naughty mouth on her. (Err derrr, right?) But they actually don't know any naughty English words so what they have taken offense to is the song Poker face. Or rather baka face. "Can't read my baka face. Ba-ba-ba-ba-baka face."

A new ad is going out at work. Umpteen thousand copies of it. I'm already bracing myself for the comments. You'd think it was a tv campaign with Brad Pitt the way the neighbours go on every time an ad comes out. This time it's me and four young foreign male teachers cavorting around in front of the big sign at work. Can't wait to hear what the yokels think of that one....

The first rice paddies were harvested on the weekend. NOOOOOOO!!! It'S the beginning of the end. After the rice goes it's just brown, brown, burnoff, burnoff, frost, frost freaking snow! NOOOOOOO!!!!


where there's a beer garden, there's a way

I have somehow managed to live in Japan for more than ten years and never once frequent the summer drunkenness-in-public spectacle that is the Japanese beer garden. This is not to be confused with the Aussie beer garden which tends to involve drinking beer at picnic tables in the garden of a pub all year round. No, no, no. The Japanese beer garden concept involves a lot less garden. None at all in some cases. It tends to favour the rooftops of tall buildings (just where you want a load of drunk people, right?) and run for a limited time (Summer) only.

And that's what we have here in Matsumoto. The rooftop of a Chinese restaurant that gets red and white lanterns strung up (you know you're having a good time when you look up and see lanterns), some wobbly picnic tables and a makeshift bar for a couple of months each summer.

But never mind the concrete caravan park in a rundown holiday resort past it's prime atmosphere- you're drinking beer on the roof! And you are staring at Matsumoto Castle close enough to reach out and touch (well it feels that way as the night wears on, probably why there's a huge makeshift chainlink fence between you and said castle...)

But you only know all this about the beer garden once you get there.

And sometimes getting there is half the battle.

And sometimes it's more- way more- than half the battle.

It was a pretty ordinary Saturday. K was off at a taichi do up in Nagano city but he'd be finished by 3:30, getting home in plenty of time for me to head out at 5:30.

Friend and neighbour A calls to say the tomato jam is taking longer than predicted and she won't be ready until 5:45.

Bosses wife mails to say that the beer garden is closing tonight and therefore having a special closing day all you can eat/ drink deal that starts at 6. Is that ok?

It takes at least 30 minutes to get there from here.

Fly off some emails here and there including to neighbour Y who is also coming and whose husband will be driving us in and we reschedule for a 5:45 departure and 6:30 start.

K calls.

Car problems.

Not the engine.

Not the battery.

Not the transmission or the brakes or even the windscreen wipers.

Nope. He is stuck on the top of a freaking mountain in a state of taichi induced calm and he has locked the keys in the car. JAF is on way but will take at least 30 minutes.

I calculate that if he really belts it down the highway he can be here by 6. I will have my fabulous local High School girl babysitter come over and eat tea with the girls, slip her 1000 yen and I'll be on my way while she teaches them something it will take months to unteach (last time it was putting mayonnaise on your curry rice... euchhhhhh!)

Fabulous HS girl babysitter is already out on the town. Of course she is. It's Saturday night.


Tell girls to put their sandals on and we're going down to see incredibly responsible JHS 3rd year girl and see if she wants to eat tea with them. They're not thrilled. The HS girl wears two pairs of false lashes, has multiple piercings, speaks shocking Japanese, lets them listen to music on her phone and is all around mayonnaise-on-your-curry cool. The JHS girl is serious, studious, quiet and comes here to be tutored. They know who they want to eat dinner with!

It's a moot point as her family is not home. Darn, darn, darn.

K calls. Yeah! He's on his way and I will only be 15 minutes late?

Nope. JAF has still not arrived, they just called to say they will be another 30 minutes at least and could I not take the girls with me and he'll pick them up from the beer garden?

I'm dumbstruck. There are just so many things wrong with this idea- their ages? the purpose of my outing? the fun factor for me minding two kids at a beer garden? Nix that idea honey.

Out of babysitting options- well, there is the local national welfare officer. Part of her job is providing relief for families in crisis. I am pretty sure not being able to get to the beer garden is a looming crisis in my future but I am just not so sure it will translate so well when she writes up her incident report you know? So I head dejectedly across the road to neighbour Y's to say I'm going to be late and please go ahead and I will catch a lift with K when he finally gets back here.

She can't understand how you can lock your keys in the car (she has fancy auto locks on her cars and we have old fashioned insert key in lock and turn types...) after a bit of explanation she says don't be silly it wouldn't be any fun without me (ohh isn't that sweet!) and her husband offers to look after all four kids- her 9 and 5 yos and our 7 and 4 yos) including packing us all in the car to drive in to the city.


What a guy.

So now that the beer garden is back on again I have 25 minutes to get ready, get the girls ready for a stay of indeterminate length at the neighbour's place, pack their dinner and get out the door.

I get Meg in the shower, chase Amy down and rugby hold her into the house, Meg is out of the shower and is still grubby. Both girls back in the shower, Meg out, Meg dripping everywhere while continuing conversation with Amy who is holding the handheld shower facing the door. Shower off, half washed Amy out, two kids told to get their PJs on or they are going over naked, start filling tupperwares with curry and rice, make a box of cucumber sticks and cherry tomatoes, another of fruit salad, throw in some mini yoghurts for everyone and sacrifice the 6 pack of dirt cheap near beer I bought for my Dad as a thank you gift to the husband. Feeling like it is a rather rude gift- as it's literally the cheapest beer related product in the supermarket but there is literally nothing else in the house even remotely gift worthy. Decide it is still alcoholic and leave it in the basket. Meg walks in with a blood nose that is dripping all down her PJs. Tissues and instructions to get new PJs. Amy walks in wanting to know which way is the front on her long sleeved corduroy dress. Explain it is 32 degrees outside and she is going to boil. Please choose a t-shirt or some PJs. Meg has dripped blood on a second PJ shirt and wants it cleaned off now as she wants to wear them anyway. Amy is still insisting she will wear her seasonally inappropriate dress. The doorbell rings. Can random old man have the key for the lights at the baseball diamond at the top of the mountain? Geez.... Sure he can. I'll just call K and find out where on earth we keep this key I had no idea we were custodian of.

K is not answering. Either a) because he is still stranded up a mountain and is scared of my reaction (smart man) or b) because he is hurtling down the highway (very smart man)

Rummage through K's cupboard and find a whole box of keys and thrust them at random man. He looks them all over carefully chooses one and is on his way. I lock door, tell girls to ignore door bell and jump in shower.

Get out way too soon later as doorbell is ringing insistently. Grab jeans, hide round corner and ask Meg to open door as I get dressed.

She can't, she might still be bleeding and has to use both hands to hold her tissue on her nose. No she can't take it off to just check if it's stopped...

Amy runs at the chance. Unfortunately she's more butt naked than I am by this stage but fortunately it's neighbour A ten minutes early and thinking I'm late. Grrr.

Throw some clothes on, get Amy into a frilly black lacy top and red cargo pant baggy shorts- better than a bare butt- grab keys, phone, wallet, kids, food basket, sandals and key for the lights at the baseball ground that is being returned as I'm trying to lock up and am herding everyone across the road as a car pulls up and someone else comes in search of keys. This time it's the one we keep outside for ease of access and I just throw out a 'good evening' and don't even stop.

Load all eight of us in the peoplemover and we're off with the 5yo boy telling all and sundry about his mum curling her lashes and Meg asking in a very loud voice why I'm pinning my (gorgeous but made for a bigger, bustier Aussie chick) shirt to my bra. Embarrassing conversations aside we arrive in one piece and all disembark and wave goodbye to the kids before the evening finally gets underway.

After that the rest of the night was a bit of an anticlimax really. I had a great night, lots of fun and laughter and conversation but it was just so uneventful compared to the first half of the evening!


stop monkeying around

K has a working bee to do monkey fence maintenance. This involves pulling down creepers, cutting back grass and weeds and generally walking up and down the fence admiring their handiwork.

This morning we were driving along the mountain hugging road to get to the scrummy bakery and we encountered monkeys on the road eating soy beans by the branch.

K was all proud and told us to watch as they would be thwarted by the monkey fence when they tried to escape back to the forest.

So we dutifully watched as he revved the engine to startle them.

And scamper they did.

They all bolted straight for the fence.

I was a bit worried we'd be left trying to explain accidental simian garrotting to the girls.

I needn't have worried.

The monkeys barely even altered their pace as they lifted the net and ran under it.

K was crestfallen.

I was disbelieving.

The monkey fence is not anchored??

Whose monkeying around?


such a pity

Sunday morning 7:00am we have PTA recyclable collection. This is a big deal. We collect the large sake bottles, beer bottles, newspapers and cardboard. People around here often have very big sheds. Sometimes more than one of them. And they want to support the school fundraising so they keep a year's worth of paper and glass and then haul it all out to their kerb for us to collect in an army of k-trucks and schlep down to town hall where it will be sorted into different piles and finally taken away by the people from the recycling centre. Getting everything to town hall is a bit of a drama as it takes a while to sort bottles into their separate piles etc etc and you end up with amazing k-truck only traffic jams approaching city hall form both directions- and that's even with staggered drop off times by neighbourhood. It should be all finished and wrapped up by 10:00....

So yeah, I m really looking forward to giving up my Sunday morning to do that.

And then tonight the PTA deputy head in charge of recycling and roadside cleaning (yup, that's an office) dropped in to say projections suggest we will have a bumper year for recyclables (I didn't ask but I really want to know how they gauge that? Snoop in people's sheds?) and they need more k-trucks and could I bring ours?

Nope, sure can't.

Total bummer but the truck is a manual and I have an automatic license.

Lots of teeth sucking and what shall we do?ing later and she hesitantly asked

"How about your husband....?"

K? K has a manual licence....

And so with much bowing and fake traumatised voice pleading PTA deputy head in charge of recycling and roadside cleaning garnered K's support and participation on Sunday. (Bit miffed actually. Noone sucked up to me big time when it was me they thought was coming...)

Unfortunately Amy is too young to come along- she's not covered by PTA insurance lest a stray Sunday supplement took her out, and therefore someone has to stay home with her.

Guess that would be me.

Such a pity.

I was so looking forward to it and all...


Happy Birthday Big Girl!

Meg is seven today.


K spends most of the day on the girls' birthdays exclaiming 'wow. Hasn't time flown? It feels like just yesterday we were in the hospital and she was just this big. sniff sniff.'

Well all I can say is that attests to how much K loves the girls but also how much time he spends out of the house and ergo out of the parenting line of fire.

It definitely feels like it's been 7 years since two became three to me. Some days it feels like seventy....

But enough of all that, today is about Meg.

Meg who has been looking forward to her birthday for so long the excitement is contagious.

Meg who was worried she wouldn't be able to sleep because her tummy was all wiggly from the excitement- and then was dead to the world two minutes later.

Meg who woke up this morning with a huge grin on her face and instead of good morning greeted us all with 'ask me how old I am!'

Meg who was genuinely thrilled to see there were presents on the table for her and thought there were too many and she should give one to Amy...

Meg who thinks the cards are just as exciting as the presents:

Meg who reads the inscriptions in her books while there are still presents to be opened:

Meg who was jumping up and down thrilled when he saw she got her very own horizontal bar!

Meg who had to be cajoled into turning the right way up again and getting her bag ready for school.

Meg who ate her first fully loaded hotdog last month at Summer camp and has a new favourite food. Here she is modelling her tomato, two cheese, avocado, onion and red pepper dog (not quite what we ate at summer camp but still):

Meg who wanted a 'sparkly star rainbow cake'. Well actually that was her second choice. Her first choice involved the earth and a solar system but mummy has shocking hayfever, Amy home for the day, work and not that much creativity.

Meg who blows out her candles one at a time:

So happy birthday big girl. Hope you have a fabulous year being seven and in honour of it being your special day I won't even mention the shocking early onset teenage attitude you've got going on at the moment. Nope. Not even going to think about it. Just going to keep looking at all those sweet smiles in these pictures!


back before you even missed her

Meg walked to school this morning as usual.

Or so we thought until she turned up on the door stop 30 minutes later.

She was quite distraught so the first thing I did was look for bear marks, bee stings, skinned knees from falling off the curb she likes to walk down, monkey bites et etc.



Stopped freaking out enough to ask why she was home again. (horribly quick change from worried mum to scolding mum there...)


After a deep breath and a cuddle we tried again:

"Because (little girl from up the road she walks with) said she didn't want to walk with me."

What? Why?

Little girl up the road is very quiet. Very quiet. And rather passive. And not very expressive. If she half smiles I take it that she's thrilled. I really couldn't imagine her saying anything like that.

Cynical me, I had to ask:

"What did you say before she said that?"

"I was just talking and asking her what her class is doing and what homework she had and what she's going to do on her birthday and...."

"And she said she didn't want to walk with you?"

"She said I was too noisy. She told me to be quiet and I was just talking."


I remembered something else about little H. Her mum says she has trouble waking up in the morning. I know that feeling. And then a mere half hour later she gets hit by the full onslaught of bouncy, happy, morning already everyone! Meg and it's not even 7:00 in the morning.... While comforting her with another cuddle K and I exchanged looks. Yup, little H. The barrage of chatter can indeed be a bit hard to take. Especially before your first coffee. And little H is probably about 10 years off her first coffee....

So we drove her to school this morning (she'd done the 1km mountain road up and down already and was understandably a little weary from that and the trauma of being told she's noisy) and I have promised to see if one of the other kids in this area will walk with Meg and H tomorrow. Diluting Meg's effect and leaving little H to her thoughts.

And hopefully they will all make it to school before they get home again.