stuff I've been wondering about...

It's about a 40 minute drive to work each day and then of course the same back again. That's a lot of thinking time and here are some of the things I've been thinking about recently:

First, here is a picture of my new gadget- isn't it fabulous? Only I still have no idea what it's called...

How crazy is it that when your five year old exclaims "I hate you mummy. I really hate you! Shoo!!" your first reaction is to be super impressed she said it all in English? Oh, my crime? I told her she should not be playing cat's cradle while eating dinner. Literally while eating- she had both a fork and a cat's cradle string in her hand...

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo- good for Swedish tourism or bad? On the one hand I now know about 200% more about Sweden than I did before, and the scenery sounds beautiful.... but the whole psycho serial torturer/ killer thing? Hmmmm undecided....

While we're on the subject of literature- Nam Le's The Boat. I didn't get it. Am I inadequate or was it just confusing?

This one is a bit cheeky as it was an argument I was asked my opinion on rather than my own question but I have been thinking about it ever since- is it ok to sit on a bed? Me? No problem. Actually, truth be told, I have been known to stand on the bed to open the curtains or step around my army of co-sleepers some mornings. But having surveyed four Japanese people so far it seems that sitting on your bed (in particular sitting on a down doona/ comforter/ kake-buton) is a huge no-no. Seriously some shocked faces that I would even ask about it. *sigh* I break enough rules here consciously, I don't need to find out about more that I was breaking without even knowing about it!

The reason I have so much thinking time is my ipod doesn't work so well when the car is really cold. Once it warms up it remembers that it does actually have battery life afterall. I don't mind waiting but I'm wondering whether the extreme cold is having any long term damage? Hmmmm more stuff to wonder about....


While mummy's away...

I spent the weekend in Kyoto at the AFWJ Board Meeting. I left on the 7:00 am train Saturday morning and got home at 6:00 pm Sunday night. K and the girls drove me to the station Saturday so we were all up and out of the house by 6:00am. Both girls usually wake us up at the crack of dawn every single Saturday but wouldn't you know it they were not only both still asleep at 5:30 but also flat refused to get out of bed moaning 'can't you see we're still sleeping??' Talk about pot, kettle black!!' Anyway, I packed them each a vegemite and cheese sandwich and a wholemeal apple and boysenberry muffin to eat in the car and they slept till 5:55 and then we carried them into the car in their pjs. Their pjs are black super fleecey hooded outfits that really could double for outdoor wear- and so for the less academically inclined High School girls I see squatting outside 7-11.... It wasn't quite the look K wanted but when I suggested he undress and dress them both then he decided the junior delinquent look would suffice for one early morning station trip.

Unfortunately I didn't have time to do their hair before I left but assumed K would give it a go.

Fast forward to Sunday night and I'm back at the station and my fabulous family were there waiting for me. The girls were wearing knee length skirts and snow boots- no leggings or tights. Oh well, they're old enough to put on some more clothes if their cold right? But the hair.... they both had their hair plaited. I was amazed! I didn't realise K could plait hair.... I mentioned it and Meg laughed and said 'he didn't do our hair yesterday or today!' Ahhh, that explains it! Oh well, they lived.

I had left a meal plan and all the ingredients but shopping with daddy is one of the girls favourite things to do when I'm away so they had supplemented it all with mochi and cream pan and as Amy mentioned about a dozen times in one 40 minute ride home 'Gum. We had gum. Chewing gum!' Another contraband.... Oh well, they lived.

I had had Meg finish all her homework before I left and all she had left to do was to get Daddy to go through and mark it for her. Only when he suggested they do it she didn't want to. Instead of insisting he acquiesced. So I got home to five pages of homework to correct and then have Meg redo the mistakes. Oh well, she lived.

And I can't be too critical after all as, as well as the meeting, I went out for a fabulous dinner with wonderful women, had a ball walking all over Kyoto, did some shopping and just had a great escape from the same old, same old and I'm very grateful for the opportunity.

But not brushing hair for two days straight? That's beyond gross!


winter fun- Little House style

One of the reasons we got through the week of school closure so easily was thanks to a fabulous neighbour. W is my newest neighbour, she's young and fun and full of great ideas and even more into living the country life than I am! Oh and to top it off? She's from America so the English speaking population in my neighbourhood has just doubled! (I'll have to watch my accent though, hey?)

Anyway, W invited Meg and I to make maple snow candy. I have been intrigued by this ever since I read Little House in the Big Wood as a kid. At the time I tried making it by pouring honey straight onto the shelf in the fridge freezer. Funnily enough a) it didn't set, b) it just tasted like cold honey and c) mum wasn't too impressed....

This time was not only more successful but way more fun!

First we collected some snow:

Then we measured out some maple syrup (did I mention my neighbour is so fabulous she not only has maple syrup but is amazing enough to share it!)

Then it was time to measure the butter:

Heat it to 106 degrees. (She even has a candy thermometer!) (Oh and I love old style kero stoves because you can cook on top as well!)

Then it was time to tip the syrup mix over the snow.

And this is what we ended up with- if you look veeeery carefully and really want to see it you might see an M and an A and some hearts.

After putting it outside to cool down again we carefully removed the maple candy from the snow....

and walah!!

Only it didn't quite work out... The snow is really cold and powdery at the moment so I think maybe the hard, icier type snow might work better. We also did some creative mathematics changing the recipe from imperial to metric and then trying to halve it so something could have easily gone amiss there, too.... But while it didn't turn into crunchy toffee like goodness it was the most amazing soft caramel type yumminess and as you can see Meg had an absolute ball making it and that made it more delicious, too!


gakkyu heisa- what a week

gakkyu heisa 学級閉鎖, a word that shoots fear into the hearts of mothers the length and breadth of the nation. My dictionary defines it as 'temporary class closures'. I'm pretty sure it's mainly used to describe the preventative action of keeping home the healthy kids in a class with a large number of sick kids.

Last Friday Meg's class of 35 had one kid out with influenza. As of Monday morning there were 10 kids out. Not all with confirmed cases of flu but with fevers and that's close enough for the Nagano Prefecture BOE. So they cut the school day short and sent everyone home. The teachers drove the kids home. Meg was registered at after school care that day so she headed over there with about six of her classmates. Only they were now officially quarantined so instead of being free to roam around and do some crafts or play soccer or ride a unicycle or just hang out they had to stay in one room. With a be-masked teacher/ bouncer standing guard at the door. When I went to pick her up they were all bundled up in a corner whispering. Without masks. Because of course that's what kids with suspected flu should do, right? Spray spit in each other's faces, right?

It's been quite a week. The official letter she brought home set out some pretty rigid rules for class closures- no going shopping, no visiting friends, no going to the library, park, community centre, no going for walks even in your neighbourhood 'you don't want to give your neighbours flu, do you?' Basically you stay home, wash your hands a lot, eat well, sleep well and gargle a lot. Oh, and expect random visits from the class teacher to check up on your well-being. Unfortunately, this strict regime didn't fit with the rest of the family and our commitments. With a few frantic phonecalls and some mad schedule re-jigging and lots of wonderfully understanding people we have managed to get through the week without loss of life, limb, living wage or laughter but that last one was touch and go. Meg was a real trooper being schlepped around to my classes all week- with her mask and her colouring books and her homework and her drink bottle.

Yes, I said homework. And that's the rub. Not only did the school refuse to educate my (incredibly healthy and active) child this week the teacher delivered a sheaf of worksheets for me to teach. Complete with an answer grid as after I teach it all I get to correct it. Hmmm, reckon I'll get his pay for the week in return? One 35th of it anyway? Meg is quite the eager beaver student and is really self-motivated when it comes to her studies so this usually wouldn't be a problem. And it wasn't for four out of five pages. We flew through kanji, counting by 10s and 5's, a read and respond passage and some copywork. Then we got to page five. Page five was an entire page grid. Numbers across the top, numbers down the left hand side, a plus sign in the top left corner and row upon row of empty boxes to fill in. Seems we've found a style of work Meg doesn't like. Doesn't like with a passion. And in one single A4 page all my wondering about whether I could/ should/ would ever homeschool my kids evaporated. Wow..... homeschooling mums are amazing! It took blood, sweat and tears to get that print done. Literally- the blood was Meg procrastinating by playing with a stapler, the sweat me running back and forth doing housework and keeping 30 second checks on the homework progress and tears were both our tears of frustration!

It wasn't all bad. It was quite nice spending so much one-on-one time with Meg. We went on a walk every day. Well I walked and she scooted. We compromised on lunch menus- Meg didn't buy my soup is a meal theory and I didn't want cheesey omelette every day! She spoke a lot more English than usual and we just hung out a lot. I'm going to miss that.

But, the week is over.

We have finished all the homework, survived two teacher visits (actually we weren't home for either and when I called him to grovel and explain he beat me to it 'Oh, I just assumed you were off teaching. Meg's fine, right?' - after that nasty list of do's and dont's? anti-climax!) and it's back to school on Monday. Even with the threat of masses of catchup work to do Meg's thrilled, I'm (secretly) thrilled to get back my lifestyle and here's hoping this is our one and only class closure of her school career.



Aussie seeking Aussie(s)

Aussie seeking Aussie(s) for friendship, mateship and conversation!

Agghhhh! Can't believe I said ANZAC cookies. I think my family just disowned me. On the spot. Saying cookies is akin to calling Z Zeee or culling the u from all your favo(u!)rite words- all big no-nos in my family. I remember being about 13 and mad keen on Bon Jovi. My grandma told me off for singing Young Gun in an American accent. How do you sing Young gun without an American accent??

But yes. Caught big time. I slipped. In my defence I am surrounded by North Americans here. My boss is from the States, the other guys at work are from Canada and the states, my closest (geograhically) foreign friends are from the States, too....

The only Aussie I know here at all is a British expat anyway....

I didn't sell out and chameleon myself instantly- it's more of a gradual thing. My boss is a fabulous cook and sometimes we swap recipes or (even better!) samples. But we get stuck a lot talking about sultanas/ raisins, rissoles/ sausage/ sausages, grits/ polenta (not sure on that one) icing/ frosting, cookies/ biscuits/ scones, tea, dinner, supper etc etc the list goes on and on.

Combine that with the constant teasing about my accent (you're from Oklahoma and I'm the one with the accent???) and the occasional word that really doesn't compute- dag, bumbag, thongs... and yep, I've adapted my English. Guilty as charged.

It's not just written English either. The other night I was on skype with my amazing friend H in Saitama (British) and she stopped me pretty much at hello and told me to turn off my teaching voice as I still sounded American....

And while I'm pretty sure- almost certainly sure- that I'm only borrowing from other versions of English, Meg swears the other day I said su-trawberries. As in a mangled version of the revoltingly difficult to spit out Japanesified sutorouberii and strawberry. She hasn't let up on hassling me about it and keeps threatening to tell everyone at work that I can't teach English anymore because I don't know how to speak it properly myself.

So yup, my English needs help. My Aussie English is pretty critical. Pretty crook, mate. Yup, Aussie seeking Aussie to join her gang, er posse, er mob! I'll bring the ANZAC bikkies. (surely that's what real Asutralians say- biscuits is for the Poms right?)


Happy Australia Day!

It snowed all day.

The only lamb you can buy in this town is uber-thin sliced and frozen. The locals eat it as "Genghis-Kahn" a hot plate meal. You can't roast it to eat with mint sauce.

This town is also completely devoid of VB, Fosters, Carlton- even XXXX.

I don't actually drink beer anyway.

I could have made meat pies but I went to all that trouble a couple of years ago and the girls were less than thrilled (they don't really like beef mince) and K was happy as long as it was served with rice and pickles and miso soup.... which is completely un-Australian.

Being electric mixerless I didn't have the energy or get-up-and-go to make a pavlova.

And anyway, I think the latest news is that NZ has put in another claim on it. Sheesh, next thing you'll want Russell Crowe, too....

I had to work all day. That is almost criminally un-Australian. Even for a non-beer drinker. Australia Day should be spent outside, flat out like a lizard drinking, soaking up cancerous UV rays in your shorts and thongs (North Americans please note the s on the end there) and either listening to the cricket, the tennis or JJJ hottest 100 countdown. You then have to whinge. That's important- we were robbed at the cricket (even if we won), the tennis coverage sucks and the hottest 100 is sooo commercial these days. (It's a popular vote so you'd assume that a majority of people voted for the #1 song but you'd never guess it to hear the moans from the obviously far more culturally elite...)

So anyway, what with the snow and all that I was not going to be lying out on the deck wearing any amount of clothing let alone just a singlet and shorts.

I was definitely feeling like the hard done by Australian. The little Aussie battler. The under-dog in the Australia Day festivities. (This may sound depressing but these are all good things, they are all very Australian sentiments.)

So, after briefly wondering whether I could blame the government in any way for my current predicament, realising it would be difficult to blame immigrants as I am one and deciding El Nina was a definite possibility I was buoyed by my Aussie true grit in being still determined to do something Aussie and burst into a rousing rendition of Advance Australia Fair. Only I couldn't remember the tune properly- kept getting mixed up with the Adam Hills Working Class man version.

Actually, I think I prefer that version.

Undecided whether that's shockingly un-Australian or quite the renegade anti-authoritarian true blue Aussie thing to do.

So, being that I am obviously such a true blue Aussie chic I of course own me some Barnesy and put it on as I had a moment of sheer genius (Australians are known for these, just ask one) and made the perfect dish to celebrate Australia Day-observed-under-less-than-ideal-conditions:

ANZAC cookies.*

Only it seems the NZers reckon they got dibs on that, too...

That'd be right. Bloody Kiwis.

Kiwi bashing- that's very Australian.

So is cussing.

I'm feeling more Aussie by the minute here.

Better go before I start approaching random Americans to tell them what's wrong with their country...

Happy (bloody) Australia Day anyway, (mates).

*I mean no disrespect to the memory of any ANZACs and am fully aware that my 'hardships' are nothing compared to what they endured but you see complaining and exaggeration are such quintessentially Australian traits...


Cleaning and tidying as a matter of perception

This one is for GW. She wrote a post all about cleanliness and laziness and men who just dump stuff about the house, even right next to the washing basket rather than in it.

K is definitely not that person. In fact I'd say he'sthe more Martha channelling one of the two of us. But we have different ideas when it comes to what the ideal storage situation is.

So here's a case study- you be the judge.

Problem- we have five bags of various grains (rice, wheat and rye), three crates of apple juice and three boxes of apples to store somewhere. Me? I had them all (admittedly higgledy piggledy) stored under the stairs. Under the stairs could definitely look better- dull disclosure here it is:

Obviously not retouched on photoshop or pre-styled, huh? No, it's not pretty but if it's better sorted and it's all food stuffs then surely it looks like a larder rather than a mess? K doesn't like the under-the-stair storage solution. At all. Not buying the whole larder idea at all. So while the girls and I were in Fukushima he sorted out some stuff. (Yup, he's the kind of guy who has three days to himself and decides to clean the house....) His new system?

That's the corner of the guest room. The room that looks all nice with it's bed and couch and coffee table. True, we don't use it on a daily basis, true, it's not visible from the front door like under the stairs but really? Guest room/ larder?

We are still locked in negotiations as to a permanent resolution. I insisted the boxes of apples move to the genkan as the possibility of a rotting apple + carpeted room worries me. My ideal solution is to completely wall in the under stair space and have a mini larder there. It's right outside the kitchen door, cool, no direct sunlight- perfect, right? K likes the staircase as is. It's built to be quite showy in a certain style and I guess he thinks if we change it up it will look odd.

And that's why the poor grain bags are such nomads. I'm cleaning up the guest room this week and will have to move the bags to vacuum. If I'm moving them anyway.....


*what's* your favourite animal??

At the start of all my kids' classes we run through a series of questions and answer drills. It's not great pedagogy but it is good to review what we've covered recently and I usually try and make it funny- 'Do you like pizza?' (yes) 'How about orange juice?' (yes) 'Hey! How about pizza in your orange juice?' (Nooooo!!!) So anyway, today I was asking which animal they preferred out of two animals and following up with 'What's your favourite animal?' I got the usual cat, dog, rabbit, cheetah, lion and then I got a doozie. He didn't know what it was called in English so I asked him to describe it. It's nine metres long and it lives at the bottom of the sea. Nine metres?? Are you sure? Not nine centimetres or ninety centimetres? Nope. Well...a squid? Nope. Eel? Nope. Some kind of shark or whale? Nope. I was stumped so we looked it up.

His favourite animal? The giant oar fish. Never heard of it?

(thank you wikipedia)


Oh. And he was wrong on the nine metres thing.

They can grow up to seventeen metres.

Double ewwwwww!

And to think I usually groan at how boring the endless cat, dog, rabbit etc favourite pets are...


go go gadget

I really don't like gadgets. They take up so much room in your kitchen and have such limited uses. When I see things like hard boiled egg slicers and onion slicers and strawberry hullers I want to market my own gadget- it peals! It slices! It dices, pares, chops and scores! All this in one streamline, space efficient package! Dishwasher safe. No batteries required! That's right, it's a knife!

But, a couple of weeks a go I picked up a gadget.... me. The anti-gadget woman! In my defence the price was right- my neighbour was giving it away- and it's very slimline... and dishwasher safe... and... oh. ok, I'm a hypocrite. No two ways about it, it's a gadget.

But it is soooo cool. Seriously. I want to go out and buy one for all the cooks in my life.

What is this wonder gadget?

Well this is what you do with it:

It's a matchstick cutting machine. A julienne grater? I'm not sure what it's called but boy am I having fun! I started out small: a cabbage and carrot salad, then I tried some daikon... oooooo that was fun. Then today I went completely overboard and made julienne soup. Absolutely everything went through the julienne grater before it hit the pot: potato, pumpkin, sweet potato, daikon, turnip, carrot, cabbage, even garlic! I knew I had a problem when I (briefly) considered trying to julienne some maitake mushrooms....

Yup, I'm a hypocrite. A julienne-aholic, A gadget user. Shudder....

Now where can I get me a strawberry huller...


a dangerous job

I teach kids' English classes at three locations. I would guesstimate that I teach kids form at least ten different kinders/ pre-schools/ schools. Actually probably closer to fifteen. At this time of year I feel like I am at the frontline of a germ war.

The local primary school has two classes closed with influenza at the moment and it's just started to do the rounds.

Both the local kinders have mumps wreaking havoc to class numbers.

The school in the next town has a contagious stomach virus going around. So does one of the schools in Matsumoto.

Two kinders in Matsumoto that I teach children from have chicken pox outbreaks.

Someone was absent from class last week with a streptococcal infection.

The majority of my classes are teaching kids in the 1-8 year old range. Kids who want to high five me and pull at my hand to get my attention and wipe their noses on their sleeves and stick their fingers in their mouths and their noses and get excited when they speak and spray it rather than just say it.

I feel like I'm being attacked on all fronts. Ducking sneezes and coughs and spit and pathogens from all sides.

So far (touch wood!) with OCD like gargling and hand washing and liberal gifting of tissues to anyone who starts sniffing in my classes I am sickness free. But it's probably just a matter of time...

I really think people underestimate how dangerous being a kids' English teacher is. I know I did!


the road less travelled

We get quite a few landslides around here. The big kind that make the news are thankfully few and far between but the less dramatic kind happen quite regularly. The combination of rocky soil, mountains, roads cut into the side of said mountains, a rainy season and then snow melt means there are slips somewhere in the village at least a couple of times a year. They have made efforts to prevent damage- there are big wire nets to hold the mountain in and some roadsides are completely concreted for 10s of metres up the mountain. Where snow melt induced rock/ mud/ land slides are an issue they build little balcony like overhangs over the road so everything can slide down and into the ravine without blocking the road.

Even with all these measures in place roads get damaged. In a number of places you can see the remnants of a road that was just left after it fell into the ravine and they gave up and built an alternate road.

There's a really pretty road that runs from the village here up to the tourist spot Kamikochi. It's not the main road up there but it winds between the river and the mountain, has a troupe of monkeys you have to negotiate right of passage with, less traffic than the main road, no traffic lights and is convenient to boot. The last three years in a row though it has been blocked at some point along it due to landslides. Luckily noone was hurt but it was closed for months at a time being repaired.

At the start of December it was blocked again. At the far end so noone has lost access to their house (that has happened in the past) but still, blocked again. Since amalgamation we are ruled by Matsumoto City. And it seems the number crunchers at Matsumoto City Council are less persuaded by the beauty of the road and more concerned with the endless throwing of money at a non-essential road.

They called a meeting of the residents, the local neighbourhood association reps and the council engineers and geologists. If we want the road re-opened we have to put up part of the money for it to be repaired and be prepared to keep doing that as the experts all agree that the mountain is going to keep sliding.

And in a surprisingly short amount of time the unanimous decision was that we don't need a shortcut to Kamikochi anyway. It's not like a lot of locals head to Kamikochi to hang out with the throngs of tourists anyway. Mostly we use the road as a back route to the next town. And there are plenty of alternate routes to get there. It's kind of a win-win situation I guess. The locals now have a no through road to get home- even less traffic, and the monkeys get the entire end of the road to colonise at will.


7 things

Jo has tagged me for a meme, it is a long time since I have done one of these, I need to share 7 interesting facts about myself then tag 7 other people.... I have spent two whole days trying to think of seven interesting things about myself that I haven't already told you and... uhhh.... well this is what I came up with:

I was chosen to go out on the ice and take a half court (rink?) slapshot at the first ice-hockey game I ever went to. I had never walked on ice before. It was excruciating. Apparently I was quite entertaining. It was the last hockey game I ever went to.

I was school captain. I ran on the incredibly arrogant platform 'I'm on the school newspaper, school radio, in the school rock eisteddford team and I'm a bus captain so you all know who I am and what I am like. I want to represent you as school captain as well.' Cringeworthy, huh? I'm not sure what it says about the students at my school that I won...

I don't like cold foods. Anything cold. I only eat ice-cream after it's been sitting on the table for ages.

I have read Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice at least once a year since I was about 14. I have seen the movies to (in all their incarnations) but I still prefer the books.

I love words. I love reading them, I love writing them, I love the sound of them, I love their meanings. I love learning new words, I love etymology. I love words in Japanese and in English.

I have a big garden, an even bigger veggie garden and they both do really well. I am, however, an indoor plant serial killer. Seriously, I don't even like thinking about all the house plants who have passed through my life.....

I like cooking against the clock. Turn the gas on, grab a pot and put it on then open the fridge to decide what to eat. If you get it washed, chopped and in the pot before the oil gets so hot the gas turns itself off you win. Seriously, if they make cooking an Olympic event I am a dead cert for gold in the sprint division.

It took me so long to think of seven things I'm sure everyone else has already done this but if I could choose seven people I would choose:
Gaijin Wife (are there really seven things you haven't already told us?? ;P)
Cafe Yamashita (because your writing always makes me want to read more)
Sweet Things (because I haven't read an update in so long and I miss your daughters)
Gardening in Gifu (because I want to know what you do in the winter time)
The bubbling swamp (because you were making me think on a daily basis and now it's been a month)
Creating a stir (because your blogs are sinfully delicious)
Life of an American Mommy living in Japan (because you are so sweet and your love for your family shines out of all your posts but I feel like I don't really know *you*)

And that's all I have to ay about that.


note to self to be read November 2011

Dear Heather,

It's getting cold again. Snow soon if you haven't had it already. You've been living in snow country for near on eight years now. There're some things you should know by now. But you don't seem to remember from one snow season to another. That whole blocking things out thing has something to do with it I'm sure but, in order to avoid another season of 'ohhhh right, I remember!' moments here's a little crib sheet for you:

*No matter how light on your feet you think you are you are not able to walk to the chook cage and back without disturbing the latest covering of powder snow so don't wear sandals. You will regret it. Really.

*It's never too much of a hassle to go back and get your jacket/ gloves/ scarf/ boots/ change out of those wet socks from above. The discomfort will only increase as the day goes on. Really.

*Defrosting the windscreen. Do it. Properly. Really.

*Re above- elbow work and the windscreen scraper. It's freezing, yes. It's a sucky job, yes. But tipping a kettle-full of hot water over it? Not a good idea. Really.

*Remove snow from car roof before you open the door. All of it. Really.

*Don't turn the wipers on to clear the windscreen of snow while the door is still open. Really.

*Remember when it comes to winter roads white is fluffy good. Black is slippery bad. Really.

*You're never going to remember whether you turn into a slide or against it when it actually happens and panic takes over so just forget it and drive very slowly and cautiously so when you do slip (and you will) at least you won't go far. Really. (Hopefully?)

*The girls are not going to make it 10 metres from the front door to the car without falling over. It's a law of nature. Don't bother re-opening the house to drag them in, denude them and redress them- it's just going to happen again anyway! Brush them down quickly before the snow melts and get them in the car before the encore.

*The girls can not walk through snow without kicking it up, picking it up, shaking it down and throwing it around. Don't walk anywhere near them until about April.

Well, that is the worst of your snow err-derr moments from this year. Remember the best way to survive winter is just to deny it. Grab a book, stoke up the fire and just settle in until the snow melts!

Keep warm!



gozleme recipe

First a disclaimer: I've never been to Turkey. I don't think I even know anyone from Turkey. I *might* know someone whose been to Turkey. (That's you Aunty L?) This recipe is adapted from one I found at taste.com.au, an Australian production. The only gozleme I've eaten are these so I have no idea of the authenticity of this recipe and they may taste like pure rubbish compared to the real thing. But, if like me you wouldn't know the real thing from Turkish delight* then these are pretty yummy so read on.

*I have eaten real Turkish delight and I'm afraid I am uncultured enough to actually prefer the hyper sweet chocolate covered larily wrapped supermarket fake version. That's the kind of girl you're dealing with... anyway you have been warned so now to the recipe:

First you need to make cottage cheese. Get a litre of milk (at least 2% fat) and heat it to 90 degrees. I'm not fancy enough to have a cooking thermometer but when little bubbles appear under the skin around the sides of the pot it's 90 degrees-ish enough to work. Add 60 ml of vinegar (I use regular cheap vinegar) and stir. It will go all icky and separate- that's good. Cool a bit and then pour into a sieve lined with coffee filters. (I believe Martha would use a muslin but coffee filters work a treat) Set aside for about an hour (or while you make the dough.)

the rest of the recipe:


8g instant dried yeast

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon sugar

3 cups plain flour

1/3 cup olive oil

100g spinach

200g cottage cheese, crumbled

salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste

lemon wedges, to serve

1. Make cottage cheese

2. Combine 300ml warm water, yeast, salt and sugar in a bowl.

3. Stir with a fork.

4. Cover and stand in a warm, sunny place for 5 minutes until bubbly. (haha warm sunny place? Try behind the woodfire.)

5. Sift flour into a large bowl.

6. Add yeast mixture and 2 tablespoons out of your allotted oil.

7. Mix to form a soft dough. (Verrrrry soft.)

8. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 5 minutes until elastic. (the dough is so soft I usually knead in the bowl adding a little flour as I need/ knead it.)

9. Cut dough into four pieces.

10. Place on a greased baking tray. Cover with a clean tea towel. Stand in a warm, sunny place for 20 minutes or until dough doubles in size. (haha warm sunny place. haha! I decided against sending it to Guam and put the entire tray in the space under the fire- perfect!)

11. (Cut each piece of dough in half and)* Roll each piece dough into a 35cm x 45cm rectangle. *I of course didn't measure the dough. come on! But I was cooking on the frypan rather than a griddle so I need smaller pieces so I made eight instead of four. I like the size you get when you make 8.)

12. Place one-quarter (one eighth) of spinach over half of each rectangle.

13. Top with cottage cheese and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

14. Fold dough over to enclose filling. Press edges together to seal.

15. Preheat a frypan on medium-high heat.

16. Brush one side of each gozleme with 2 teaspoons oil. (Didn't measure. Just kept dipping pastry brush in cup of oil. Thank you Santa for my pastry brush. It really is a fantastic invention!)

17. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until base is golden.

18. Brush uncooked side with remaining oil.

19. Turn over and cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until golden and crisp.

20. Serve with lemon wedges.

They are really best eaten immediately. Cold they drop form a 9.5 to about a 7. The good news is you can revive them back to about a 9 in the toaster. Not that you'll have any left over anyway!



Martha Stewart kind of day

I promised myself I wouldn't turn this blog into a three month rant/ whinge/ moan/ groan on the weather so I am reaaaaaalllly trying but sometimes I do need to mention the climatic conditions when they are relevant to my day, right? Right? Ok. So it was cold today. Bitter cold and windy. And snowing all day long. Really. And did I mention cold? A midwinter day which means the maximum temperature never hit zero. Not that I would know what the weather was like as I didn't actually go outside at all. All day. Isn't that shocking?

But I wasn't idle. I had quite a productive inside day. It all started with this:

One of my neighbours gave me two big hunks of konnyaku. It's quite the gift. Not the least because the konnyaku-imo plant takes two years to mature and then it's a long and involved process turning it into the rather bland but healthy and versatile potato jelly delight that is konnyaku.

So, I turned all that into a huge pot of tonjiru pork and veg soup. We'd all gone to the supermarket to buy the pork- we really know how to have fun around here, huh? and of course that meant that we ended up buying heaps of stuff and so I kept on cooking and ended up with:

tonjiru soup
beef stew
slow braised belly pork (buta no kakuni)
chicken sausage
pork sausage
stewed apples
cottage cheese
spinach and cottage cheese gozleme

Not bad huh?

I have been wanting to make some more sausages for a while (I don't use casings so they are more like breakfast sausage/chorizo) and I hit the jackpot mixing fatty pork belly dice into the mince. Mmmmmm, yum. Even K was sold and he's not really a meat person.

And the gozleme?

It's my latest food crush. Really. I'm in looooove with this at the moment. It's griddle cooked bread with spinach and cheese in the middle. Mmmmmm what's not to love?? It's supposed to be feta (how yum would that be???) but being feta-less I make cottage cheese and use that. The cottage cheese of course lacks that feta punch so I make up for it with added salt pepper and nutmeg. I'm sure any Turkish person would consider it blasphemy but hey, it works for me so that's all that matters, right?

Meg and Amy think the bread is magic- the cheese is on the inside! and were eating them as fast as I could cook them.

Other than the gozleme I cooked everything on the woodfire which was great as it gave me a fabulous excuse to hog the hearth all day long- gotta stir the stew, right?

Now if only I could channel some of Martha's housekeeping skills....


bicultural but which ones?

Amy gets a lot more looks based attention from Japanese people than Meg does. She is fairer haired, longer haired, smaller faced and paler skinned- all plusses on the cuteness scale. If she develops that crazy knock kneed walk and starts covering her mouth when she smiles she'll really go off the radar!

I (of course!) think both my girls are beautiful. I think Meg looks very Japanese and Amy less so. Recently we've been quite sociable and met quite a few people for the first time. It's been really interesting seeing the reactions of other people to the girls.

Two Iraqi women we met at one of the Christmas parties took numerous pictures of Meg and kept stroking her hair and cheek and giving her cuddles (poor kid was equal parts chuffed and squirming with embarrassment) and raving how much she looked like a little Iraqi girl.

Then last weekend we went to a New Year Party and one of the women there was really taken with Meg. She didn't speak English and only had basic Japanese and I don't speak anything but English and Japanese so our conversation was very limited but apparently Meg looked just like her granddaughter. Her Peruvian granddaughter. I'm straight out white Canadian/ Australian and there's a rumour that one of K's great (great?) grandfathers was Russian and that explains their family's height and 'tall' noses but there is not even a whisper of Peruvian or Iraqi blood on either side of the tree so I was bemused that Meg is such a bicultural chameleon.

It's got to be a bonus to be able to remind people of their family wherever you go, huh? Much better to look like 'one of us' than 'one of them'!


I'm b-b-b-back

And it's collllld. How cold? This cold:

My olive oil froze.

So did my toothbrush.

And the kitchen cloth.

And the outlet hose on the dishwasher.

And the inlet hose on the dishwasher.

So there's been a lot of hair dryer use going on here recently!

The girls are loving it- all that snow to play in! I think I am missing the snow gene though. I just don't get why you'd want to purposely touch the stuff. I mean it's coooolllld!


Good enough for a Lord but not my daughter...

Feeling the non-child centric parent guilt we took off early in the morning for a drive up into the mountains to go to a famous hot spring. Not only is it famous and (supposedly) the onsen of travelling feudal lords and mystic monkeys but It has 16- yes count them 16 open air baths. So, eight of them were on the men's side but I still got to go in eight outside baths. Did I mention it was chucking it down with big fluffy, fat storybook snowflakes at the time. Seriously beautiful.

Did the girls appreciate it?


Not even an inkling. You see it was a sulf-natrium, calcium, magnesium hydrogen carbonate bath. For fellow non-scientists that means it stunk like rotten eggs. Not stunk really, more whiffed? Was odorous? Well, however you state it it had a certain fragrance.

And that fragrance completely blinded the girls to the beauty of the scenery and the luxury of all that bath hopping and the miracle that we arrived when it wasn't crowded and all that.

Nope. The only comments were:

"It stinks."
"It really stinks!"
"Did someone pass gas in this onsen?"
"... and this one?"
"All the baths stink. Mummy let's go! This place is yucky!"

So, Hirayu onsen. Beautiful, luxurious, good enough for feudal lords, but just doesn't pass muster with the pre-school crowd.


sankuro again

That time of year again and we had the annual neighbourhood bonfire and cook sweetened gummy balls of rice flour otherwise known as sankuro. It was freezing. No really:

So we rugged up in as many layers as possible and headed up the hill to the temple baseball ground.

It was freezing and then they started the bonfires...

(and the mums stood around and gossiped and tried to keep their kids out of the fires and the dumplings in the fire)

and it got really hot all of a sudden. Funny that. Oh and darumas explode when they are set on fire. And when they explode they roll down the bonfire and across the ground towards the crowd which is always fun.

and while we roasted our sweetened balls of rice flour it was freezing on our backs and roasting on our fronts. Very odd sensation that.

But everyone had fun and had their fill of dumplings.

And now sankuro is over for another year.

Happy sankuro!


pretty in pink!

These akakabu (red turnips? But they're pink??) are so pretty when you cut them.

Then you put them in vinegar and weigh them down:


nothing much happens. But you wait a week or two and.....

Ok. Bad picture as it was dark when I took it but they are just the prettiest pink colour. Just makes you happy when you eat them.

Like eating a little bit of a rainbow.

And sometimes you just need that in winter.


On NY decorations

At New Year it is traditional to put up a rice-straw rope across your front door. It's a shimenawa made from rice stalks twisted together. There are regional differences in how these are arranged but around here they are hung up five rice straw ropes with a shide or zig zag paper decoration between each one.

Christmas Day Meg went down to the community centre with a spray bottle of water and cotton gloves to learn how to twist shimenawa. Unfortunately it was trickier than she thought and even with help from one of the army of senior citizen volunteers she could only make three in the allotted time.

She came home all disappointed as the older kids had told her she didn't have enough. I suggested she showed us how to make them and I'd help her make two more but she was rather over the whole experience so we left it at three.

K thought we shouldn't put them up as we didn't have enough. I wanted to put them up anyway as I felt Meg had put a lot of effort into it and wanted to honour that.

But it was Christmas and I was busy and I am a bit slap dash anyway so I didn't even take any tape with me and just stuck them through the door grill:

And left it like that when we went to K's mum and dad's in Fukushima for New Year.

When we got back K said our shimenawa were the talk of the neighbourhood at the big New Year's Party. They all thought it was some Fukushima custom they didn't know about. Oops. And apologies to the Fukushima folks who have been slighted by my slap-dashery.

Lucky noone saw my kagami-mochi attempt hey?

The real deal? Something like this:

Mine? Well we didn't have any mandarins and I didn't want to pull any green leaves from the garden as there's precious little green out there this time of year so this is what we ended up with:

Half points for kind of trying?


eight years...

Happy Anniversary to us!

Eight years married today. It was kind of weird though as we were married in Australia and the day was so hot we got quite badly sunburnt and yet today it snowed all day and was bitterly cold so no obvious memory jolts!

We went out to dinner to celebrate.

I'm sure my parents are assuming 'we' means K and I. But nope. 'We' is all four of us. lack of babysitters and all that, but you know it was great. We spent the meal telling the girls about our wedding. They were so cute with their reactions- why were aunts and uncles and cousins invited but they weren't invited?? Daddy got married in English??? How?? Mummy wore a dress down to her toes? How did she find one so big?? And tell me again why Meg and Amy weren't even invited?

While we were waiting for our very yummy meal- 5 course Italian and even the kids' meal came in courses- swisho, huh? the girls drew pictures on serviettes of the wedding they just heard about based on what we were telling them. And this is what we got:

On the left is Amy's picture of me looking happy, K looking shocked that he has to get married in English and lots of hearts and bubbles with initials in it: K, H, L for love, and S for sunshine.
In the middle is Meg's picture of the day before the wedding. There's only a few hearts and I'm saying 'I'm looking forward to tomorrow!' and K is agreeing 'Mmm, me, too.'

Bottom right is Meg's picture of the wedding day. An explosion of hearts, flowers, sunshine, a long dress and K in a neck tie.

Thanks girls and here's to many more years to come!


not for lack of love and effort

Look at this sad picture:

That poor cyclamen. And the worst part of it? It's not even mine.

This winter we were plant sitting for two different people. Plant sitting three hardy little lovies for a month. They've done really well- new shoots, new flowers, allover good health and glowing. Really, they could be in an advertisement for plant health. The other 5 plants we're only looking after for about 10 days. They are bigger, you'd think they'd be more robust. They've come from an office environment where they had wildly swinging temperatures between morning and night.

We took this job very seriously. They've been given love, attention and sunshine 24/7, (well sunshine about 11 hours a day but still) only watered when their soil is dry, talked to and encouraged, during the 36 or so hours that the house was empty and K was in Fukushima with us they were housed in the bathroom (the room with the bath for North American readers ;P) with the toilet anti-freezer bar heater on timer, the bath anti-freeze water heating mechanism on so the bath was kept warm and therefore some level of humidity in the air and also the only double glazing in the house so maximum protection from the elements. What more could we do?

And still the poor cyclamen is looking sad. I am going to have to return it the day after tomorrow a shadow of its former self. Sorry R and K. Sorry little pink cyclamen. But I swear it's not for lack of love or effort.


home sweet home

We're back!

And we all survived.

Kudos to K for driving the whole way while the girls read books and drew pictures and I slept and talked and slept again. I don't usually sleep in the car but I had woken up to an earthquake at 4:10 am and couldn't get back to sleep again until almost 6:00 freaking myself out that all four of us were sleeping in a room with big windows at our feet and big heavy chests of drawers on two sides. One topped with glass cases of dolls.... As opposed to at home where I have nothing in our rooms higher than bed height...

Oh well, all's well that ends well, we're home, everyone's sleeping in their own beds, no more earthquakes and no glass doll cases to fall on our heads or chest of drawers to crush us.

home sweet home!

I'm such an optimist, hey?


staring at the strangers

MIL, Meg, Amy and I have been doing a lot of walking around here. No willing and able driver means each and every outing is on foot. I'm loving it and the girls less so. I explained that, like many women her age, their grandma never got her license and has walked or cycled or been driven everywhere her whole life. I was hoping they'd be pretty impressed with this (as I am) but I think they both felt she was rather odd....

Anyway, been doing a lot of walking in some pretty working class areas of an outer suburb of the city.

And as I guess you'd expect but still vainly hope against we've been garnering quite a bit of attention of the stop and stare type.

Rather obvious staring.

Amy noticed and asked why all the people keep staring at us.

Without missing a beat Meg replied:

"Probably because we're from Nagano. I don't think many people from Nagano come here."

I love that that's the way she processes it rather than (more accurately) blaming it on her (obviously) foreign mum but I do worry that she really is quite naive about the way the world- and in particular visually near homogenous Japan- works.

Still, Amy was happy with that answer so I guess I'll enjoy their innocence while it lasts and be happy that they aren't telling me to walk on the other side of the street, hey?


Akemashite Omedeto Gozaimasu!

Happy New Year!

Quite the traditional one around here. It went a little something like this:

7:00- woken by darling daughters. A little less darling as they were playing up and rolling around on the futons for a full hour after they were supposed to be asleep last night but anyway...

8:40- finally ate brekky. Finally because it took an hour and a half to prepare. And that was after K's mum spent the last three days preparing everything. Here's the end result-

From the bottom left: prawn, white fish cake, pink and white fishcake with rabbit ears, vinegared daikon wrapped dried persimmon, shiso wrapped dried persimmon, konbu (kelp) wrapped fish tied up with dried gourd, vinegared carrot, daikon and dried persimmon, mashed sweet potato with chestnuts in syrup, freeze dried tofu with crab meat, sweet black beans with red ginger, char sieu pork on steamed broccoli stalks, boiled egg cake made whites and yolks separately and then smooshed together to make a two layer burst of sunshine, candied dried fish with sesame seeds, marinaded lotus root, a carrot flower, a vinegarred daikon cut into a water lily and topped with chrysanthymum petals and a slice of datemaki- egg/ fish rolled cake.

Phewwwwwww- and hrmmm hrmmmm, I got a serious promotion this year. MIL made an example plate and then left me to make the other four plates while she did the rest of the preparation. I repeat: All by myself. Wooo hoo. I'm under no illusions that neither of my SIL's being here this year didn't have a lot to do with it but still, pretty chuffed.

What other preparation was MIL doing you ask? Surely that's a pretty adequate breakfast? Nope. Here's the entire meal:

A bowl of Ozoni soup (around here it's chicken, veg, soy sauce broth and baked mochi glutenous rice cakes) a bowl of the same baked mochi in sweet red bean sauce and a cup of sake. The girls got (non-alcoholic amazake). What a brekky, huh? Oh and only the datemaki, fish cake and sake were bought. Everything else was hand made and all the veggies were home grown as well. Wow. Just wow.

So after brekky (around 10:00 by the time we cleaned up all those little dishes) MIL, the girls and I walked to the local shrine. Local is such a relative word isn't it? It was some walk. The distance is not a problem for Meg who has that marathon walk to school each day but sleep deprived Amy was flagging and the route was down winding narrow roads with no footpaths. So much fun!

But we got their in one piece and gave our 5 yen to the shrine:

Walked home via a park with a slide for a play and a mandarin break and then made kites to fly. I'm not sure why but kite flying is a traditional New Year activity. While the ILs fussed over a fabulous looking kite that is usually decorating their entrance porch and is therefore not in working order I whipped up not one but two shopping bag and chopsticks kites like my brother and I used to make when we were kids. Just as I remembered from when I was a kid they don't fly too well and a lack of wind (as we were definitely experiencing) is a definite handicap but hey the making was fun as was the running up and down flying them:

I love this picture- poor Amy is flying higher than her kite!

After kite flying it was back inside to have lunch. Just a lite lunch after that brekky...

Meg had mochi with red bean paste, mochi with natto and mochi with soy sauce and seaweed. And a glass of tea to wash it all down with...

After lunch we made masks (another NY tradition I don't quite understand) and then we did NY calligraphy. This was the first time the girls have used real calligraphy brushes and ink. It was a pretty nervous time for MIL and I but it went well:

They both wrote their aims for the year. Meg wants to be able to play lots more songs on the pianica and Amy wants to master the kangoma which I think is a string wound aluminium top.

Phew, after that we just did yoga on MIL's Wii. Amy is by far the best yoga-er (yogee?) of all of us. I think a lower centre of balance must be a big help, hey?

Then it was dinner- chanko nabe (sumo food) with.... what do you reckon? Yup, baked mochi!

Bath, bedtime, some weird detective movie with a star it took me a good half hour to work out whether it was a he in very obvious makeup or a she with masculine features, and now blog and bed.

A pretty huge first day of the new year. I really hope the pace slows down from here on in!