funeral postcard madness

Funeral today.

The local Buddhist priest's mum died. She was 89 years old and had a good innings so it was a solemn rather than distraught mood. The priest's family are in sub-group 1 of our neighbourhood association and we are in sub-group 2 so our participation was a lot less this time around.

K went to the viewing last night and the girls and I went to the final farewell see off as the bus left for the crematorium this morning and then after the girls went to holiday care I headed up the hill to hand in my envelope of 1000 yen at the funeral reception desk, sprinkle some incense, collect my funeral postcard and come home again.

The priest's family are the Nishis. My funeral postcard said Fujioka on it. Being nosy I pointed it out to neighbour A and asked if the priest was another adult adoption family. For many and various reasons (but often economically linked ones) Japanese adults can be 'adopted' by another family. They change their name, move family registers and gain inheritance rights. I know two families where the entire family has been adopted and the Tanakas became the Satos overnight.

But nope. The Nishis aren't adoptees.

..... "when you die do you use your maiden name on the funeral??"
"No. Why?"
"Well, this card says Fujioka. And the priests are the Nishis right?"
"Fujioka? Ehhh?"
Neighbour A accosted the sub-group 1 guy who was directing funeral traffic. This is usually a token job but today with the deceased being the priest's mum and twenty odd priests in attendance let alone guests there was quite the stream of traffic coming in and he was quite busy-
"Hey! Why does this card say Fujioka?"
"EH? What?!" Mr N works with heavy machinery and his regular speaking voice is pretty close to a shout.
"EH??? What the hell!?!"

Mr N went running up the hill back to the temple with our cards in his hand. This in itself was a sight. I realised while I was watching that I never see my neighbours run. Ever. We had a 2 metre long snake slithering across our porch and the neighbour wandered casually over to check it out. The phone rings inside and the neighbour will say 'ok, ok' and wander inside with no extra urgency in his step. So seeing Mr N running, and running in his flash funeral black and dress shoes, was quite the sight.

Neighbour A and I followed him back up at a more leisurely pace. His voice was carrying extremely well anyway...

"What's this???! What are you doing??!!"
Funerals here are jointly administered by the neighbourhood committee and the funeral hall. So reception is manned by people from both groups. The neighbourhood commitee folks were handing out postcards with Nishi written on them. The poor folks from the funeral hall who don't know the priest's mother from any other old woman in the village, and probably do a funeral a day at the moment, had mistakenly opened up a box of cards from a funeral to be held at the same temple tomorrow.

Just as Mr N was grabbing boxes of cards and yelling about idiots and checking basic information the family arrived back from the crematorium with Mrs Nishi's ashes. They were lining up to purify themselves before entering the temple, Neighbour A and I were standing to the other side of the door way trying to blend into the (ornate) woodwork and Mr N was flapping his arms around and barking commands inside. It's a credit to the Nishi's pervading calm that they didn't even blink at the rather unusual scene greeting their return.

As neighbour A and I headed down the mountain again with the correct postcard and Mr N still muttering and shaking his head we noticed a couple of neighbours slowly heading back to the temple holding their postcards. Seems it is common knowledge that you don't look at your funeral postcard until you get home. So our neighbours hadn't realised the mistake until then. It took two socially inept foreigners to break the rules and find the mistake.


what's in your kit?

Life is getting back to normal here. K's parents' neighbourhood committee has made plans for what to do if they're evacuated en masse and while it doesn't seem likely at the moment it got me thinking about evacuation and evacuation kits. I have always had a kit in the back of the car with a change of clothes each and 10,000 yen in it but the girls grow so fast I seem to be always getting behind. My kids would be the ones in the evacuation centre looking like the Incredible Hulk after he transformed... I never bothered with a box in the house as I figured we have plenty of everything we could need and I'd just grab it on the way out. I have always been more worried about a disaster happening while I was away from home than while I was there.

Well, then I watched a few too many of those earthquake videos on youtube- the ones where the people got out safely and managed to keep taking video so not even the really badly effected people:

and I realised I probably wouldn't want to be running around the house with an empty backpack thinking 'ummm, got plastic wrap... where are the paper plates???' while the house was rattling around me. Oh and my house is a lot older and less earthquake sound than the one in the video...

So today I used two huge plastic containers with sealable lids (they will double as water containers if need be) and made up our in house emergency kits with:
box 1- clothing and toiletries
*long sleeve shirt, short sleeve shirt, underpants, long pants and socks for each of us. Fleece jacket for each of the girls. The girls clothes are a size bigger than they are wearing now. It is slanted towards winter as I can always cut things down to summer size and being too cold is something I really fear.
*box of tissues (double as TP)
*package of wet wipes
*hotel toothbrush and toothpaste set x4. I know this is a bit ridiculous but I really feel better if I can brush my teeth... and anyway they hardly take up any room.
*box of tampons
*bag of large size rubbish bags- for rubbish, emergency sleeping bag for the girls? just because I think they would be handy...

box 2- kitchen and medical
*plastic wrap x4 K bought this after we watched something on TV where they were wrapping plastic wrap around their feet, around their tummies etc etc as insulation. Also wrapping it around plates and things to make them re-usable when you don't have water to wash with.
*water x4 I'm not sure about this one. It's so heavy, we have a creek in walking distance, are surrounded by wells and MIL tells me bottled water goes off anyway... but it just felt like something that should be in there...
*Meg's allergy meds. Clearly labelled in Japanese and English. I asked the doctor about the use by date on her meds and he said 'old is better than nothing'.
*Disposable bowls, cups and spoons. I was going to put all the non-breakable baby plates etc etc we have in and not buy any but K came home with this lot...
*powdered milk x2 bags. K laughed and said this is my cultural bias but I really think adding milk powder to water would make it more filling and nutritious and it has a very long shelf life (a lot of the emergency ration foods only have a few months and I'm not that organised...) and yeah, I grew up thinking milk was important...
*notebook and pencil and pencil sharpener. I dithered on pen/ pencil/ sharp pen here but I think pens gum up and stop working/ may leak... sharp pencils need leads and a pencil just seems really reliable... The notebook was for writing messages, taking down info as well as keeping the girls occupied.
*ball of string. Seemed something quite useful. Also the girls will spend hours playing cat's cradle so worth the space for that alone!
*scissors. Just seemed useful...
*ziplock bags. ditto.
*10,000 yen. Not a lot if we were evacuated for weeks but enough for a few days? Better than nothing, right? We would be in pretty good shape if we could walk to the nearest shop around here anyway. I was going to put in some change for the vending machine opposite our local evacuation centre but I remembered that we have the key for it so no money needed, right?

The car kits each have a change of clothes for each of the girls, a fleece blanket, a box of tissues, wet wipes, pencil and paper, Meg's meds and 10,000 yen. I don't want to keep food or water in there as the cars get really hot in summer and I think it would go gross. I am dithering about adding gum though.... you can chew it for a long time and it might take your mind off thirst/ hunger?

What's in your kit? What am I forgetting? What have I included that's ridiculous? I am not planning this in the most rational of mindsets and I'd love some hints!


heart on my sleeve

or chest rather.

Remember Duncan Hawthorne? Well the fabulous Cassie from It's a sunny day in Fuchu decided a fan page on facebook just wasn't enough to express our gratitude for his efforts in calmly informing us of the present situation up there in Fukushima so she went one step further and:

how cool are the shirts, huh? They make me smile every time I see them. Thank you Cassie!! And for all you English teachers I highly recommend wearing one to class. I used an entire half hour of a two hour senior English class explaining what the t-shirt meant, how you can order original t-shirts and why i was wearing it.

Thank you Cassie!


princesses in residence

We have had a ball this last week with some visitors from Tokyo escaping the stress of rolling blackouts and empty supermarket shelves for the 'rest' of a house full of kids and needing a car to do anything at all.

The girls are 7 1/2, 5 1/2 and just turned 3. My two are more confident in Japanese but can communicate in English when pressed. Miss N is the opposite. She is the cutest little thing ever and comes out with absolute crackers. She's an only child and it freaked her out when my two started bickering which was fabulous- not that it freaked her out of course but that Meg and Amy really toned down the mindless bickering because they didn't want N to cry. N really was a princess while she was here with M and A as her ladies in waiting. They were both so desperate to be the one who played with her and held her hand and got her slippers and drew pictures for her etc etc etc. And they spoke English the entire time. I realised talking to another kid in English is something they don't really have a lot of experience with and it was great to see them giving it a real go. Meg was so impressed that N 'speaks so much English and she's sooo little still!'

There was a lot of dancing going on. Here we have fairies dancing to Lady Gaga... as you do right?

Now everyone has gone home, PIL to Fukushima to see the plumber and touch base and decide whether to stay or come back here again and N and her mummy back to Tokyo to get back to real life and it seems very quiet here. Quiet and kind of lonely. We all miss our princess in residence!


seamstress in the making

My mother in law is an amazing sewer. Actually she's a pretty all round amazing woman but hand embroidery is definitely one of her strong points. When each of the girls started kinder she outfitted them with an entire kit-out of regulation bags with cute little scenes from their favourite story books embroidered on them. Really amazing stuff. Unfortunately she has a degenerative eye disease and can't see very well anymore. Not well enough to read without a magnifying glass. Definitely not well enough to be doing intricate embroidery for her next granddaughter to start kinder this April.

So, I thought I'd give it a go. Not because I am a fabulous needleworker by any stretch of the imagination. And not because I think my SIL can't do it. I'm sure MIL passed on plenty of tips to both her daughters. I just thought it would be nice for my niece to get a present of home made stuff like we got from MIL when our girls started. Only there was no way I could even consider sewing all the bags for her. And I have a feeling with less than a fortnight till kinder starts SIL will have that organised. I decided on towels as we can never have enough kinder towels (with their ribbon hooks) and it seemed my speed sewing-wise. So, I cut out my felt shapes (heart, star, tulip and butterfly- no points for originality, hey?) and started the sewing. Amy was watching me and wanted to sew, too. I had a feeling that an Amy sewn towel would a) not last a round with the washing machine and b) probably be more loved by mummy than her cousin. So Amy sewed herself a kinder towel. And she really enjoyed it!

We had some mad knots in the cotton and some running round the room yelling 'owowowowow!!' as she pricked her fingers and some inadvertent sewing the towel to itself but she persisted and ended up sewing three patches to her towel quite well. Proud as punch she was. And so was I!


It's not about you honey

Went to visit neighbour A and say congratulations to her daughter who graduated High School and this was the picture Meg thought up. Ummmm honey? It's R's day, not yours.

Take 2:

What is Meg staring at? Can't quite make it out? How about a close up:

Nope. Not fake. She has a safety pin skewered through her cheek. This is our babysitter. She really is a very sweet and quite responsible kid. Just questionable taste in accessorising. And more holes in her than a sieve at the moment.... Meg is very taken by it. She asked K when she can have piercings, too. K about fainted. Amy was concerned it must hurt and asked if it was for pinning on her name tag?

I've known R since she was in grade 6 with a cheeky grin, long black hair and a heavy fringe. I look at my kids and think time flies but I look at the changes in R and WOW! the years from 12-18 are pretty massive, huh?

She finished High School, bought a car and has got a full time job with all the benefits (quite the catch in this economy) at a local pachinko parlour so it will be interesting to see if the piercings last past April 1 and the start of her life as a working woman.


why we're not panicking as much as you are...

I have gave up on foreign news services about a week ago and have been listening to NHK world English on Ustream and the NHK tv news here. And of course regular updates from Duncan Hawthorne. If you're on facebook check out the Duncan Hawthorne Fan Club. It was started as a bit of a laugh among some foreign wives here to show him how much we appreciate the cool, calm and collected updates but he actually joined and updates us daily (sometimes more) on the nuclear issue. Definitely worth joining for a daily dose of reassurance! The news is disturbing but still below my hysteria breaking point.

I was therefore a bit puzzled why so many others were so much more freaked out about it. It's certainly not because I have nerves of steel and am known for my unflappableness- I am the kind of person who closes their eyes, screams and ducks when you throw a cricket ball in her general direction...

Then someone sent me this link:

and I think I get it a bit more now. Those reactor explosions the BBC are using? Scarey! And as for Skynews... I actually find that quite offensive.

In a Fukase update, we are all well, K has been here and there on (non-disaster related) business trips, Amy finished her second year of three years of kinder today and managed to reply with a stirring 'YES!' each time the teacher asked them something (a skill she has been known to dismiss as not worth the effort and which her teacher is a fanatic about) so I was a very proud mummy today. That sounds so odd. I'm so proud my five year old answer when spoken to! But it really has been some year with Amy vs the teacher so I felt it was a good omen for next year when.... we will have the same teacher again- oh yeah. Meg is still totally over the Spring Holidays but has at lest stopped moping around on the sofa sighing forlornly and is playing.

Playing with a 3 year old house guest who is just the cutest thing you've ever seen. Seriously. She comes out with absolute corkers so many times a day. Her favourite songs? Bad Romance and the alphabet song. She has come up with her mum for a few days R&R in the country and a respite from supermarket shortages and is keeping us all entertained. Meg and Amy are falling over each other trying to be closest to her/ the one who helps her most/ the one she wants to sit next to etc etc. Her first language is English and it's fantastic to see Meg especially really trying to communicate in English all day long. And communicate with a kid. I was trying to think and I don't think we've ever been in this situation before. It really does make you smile to see them playing endless rounds of delivery person make believe or twirling around being ballerinas or going for a walk with them holding hands and trotting along in their snowcoats over their white tutu-dresses.

And me? Well I am having a blast with my house guest. She is so easy to talk to, converses on a plethora of subjects I usually only get to ponder alone (whaling/ historical basis of world perceptions of Japan/ international media/ favourite comedians and best sandwich combinations to name a few) and is a natural house guest who even offers to mind all the kids. Ahhhh wonder how long I can keep her here....

K's parents are still in Nagoya, delayed because my nephew has a fever and my SIL needs to be at work but are planning to come back on Saturday. My (other) SIL may or may not arrive with her 3 year old. My fabulous friend in Nagano will visit on Saturday with her 2 yo and 6 week old. House guest's husband also arriving Saturday. New neighbour will step in as emergency accommodation after I go and pick her up from the night bus. K has a meeting tomorrow morning at 6am, Saturday at 1pm and again at 7pm and then Sunday at 6pm, I'm working Saturday afternoon and I'm driver extraudinaire Sunday to go up and see a cheese maker 2 hours up in the mountains so this weekend looks pretty boredom free so far... definitely no time to watch Sky news and reckon Meg might even have to give up lying on the sofa sighing...


Doing our bit

I think the desire to help out where you can is pretty universal. And when you turn on the tv/ radio/ open a newspaper and the disaster hits you in the face you really do feel incredibly guilty sitting in your warm house drinking fresh brewed coffee and contemplating Spring planting schedules. So lots of people are busy doing lots of different activities to help out. HOPE International is sending trucks of goods up north from Nagoya, as is an International school in Tokyo, there's "socks for Japan" sending socks (der!) groups looking out for the animals that have been abandoned (they can't go into the evacuation shelters)/ survived while their owners didn't, my friend Cassie knitting berets and auctioning them off at http://blackoutberet.wordpress.com/ etc etc.

I gave my money to the Red Cross fund, I gave my spare room to the ILs but it didn't seem like I was doing enough. I have no medical/ rescue skills and two kids to look after so I wouldn't be heading up to do hands on work. What could I do? Then I heard about this project:

Each of the evacuation centres (and there are hundreds of them) has lists of evacuees up. People in the disaster areas can walk around and check the lists looking for their friends and families. But those who can't physically get there were getting information in dribs and drabs as it came out. A group of people started taking mobile phone pictures of the message boards and posting them on the net. Some of the lists are printed, others handwritten in neat rows, some are pieces of paper with personal notes from families 'We're safe. We're here on the 2nd floor' etc etc. Some like this one are pretty much illegible:

But with technology on our side and a strong desire to help a community of people from other parts of Japan and even some Japanese living oversees began typing up all the lists so they are readable and then inputting al the information into Google People Finder Japan which was set up by Google in response to the earthquake as a place to post information on people you are looking for or people who have contacted you that they are safe.

Then, someone on Facebook pointed out that all the foreign names were being input in Japanese alphabet which would drastically reduce the chances of overseas families getting information. So a group of us went through all the lists again (thousands of pages) and romanised as many names as we could and added them to people finder as well as pointing out Chinese and Korean names so others who read those languages could post them up as well.

The lists are a real insight into what is going on up there. Many of the evacuation centres are schools and evacuees are assigned to rooms, the people in each room listed as such and a room leader decided on. Special needs such as baby formula, medicines and nappies are listed next to some names.

After the initial panic died down there was also a lot of movement between evacuation centres with updates such as 'moved to hospital via helicopter' 'moved to X gymnasium' 'left with family members A, B, C for relative's house in Y city'. It gives me hope that while conditions at the centres are obviously bad (food and fuel shortages and very low temperatures) people are taking steps to do what they can to make it the best it can be.

I've been doing it every spare minute since I found out about the project and I think my eyes are done in. I don't know how the full-time translators do it- my eyes are not meant for staring at incy wincey text for hours at a time! We caught up with the backlog of files last night and only one file has been posted this morning so the work has dried up for now and my eyes can have a rest.

But considering the conditions in so many other areas I really think a little optical discomfort is something I can live through huh? Especially if it means I can help some worried friend or relative get information on a loved one that little bit sooner, huh?


journalism wall of shame

For all my family and friends overseas and everyone else's as well. This is a great site looking at the different media reports that have come out.

Seeing this I have much more understanding of why fellow foreigners from some European countries are far more panicked about the whole situation than I am.

And a life goes on moment- MIL got a phonecall from a neighbour this morning. (Their city is within the 80km zone the US and Australian embassies are asking us to evacuate from) She was very worried and picked up with a 'What's wrong?!'

"If you are going to miss the neighbourhood committee AGM next weekend you need to bring me your absentee form by Wednesday."

It takes more than a nuclear scare, intermittent power and water, no gas, limited petrol and a supermarket without food to keep the neighbourhood committee from their bureaucratic workings!


It's been one week

I teach English at a language school.

I teach most students once a week on the same day at the same time.

It was really hard walking into my afternoon class today.

It was the class I was teaching when the earthquake hit.

The earthquake seemed big to us then. Mothers grabbed their babies and we all quickly moved to the door. Well, except for the woman who ran and turned the tv on.

We all had to go and be places by 3:00 so none of us stayed around to see the tv report of the tsunami and I went on with my afternoon blissfully ignorant of what was going on elsewhere. In fact I was at the supermarket brokering negotiations between Meg and Amy over what flavour yoghurt we were going to buy while my mum was watching the horror on tv in Australia and frantically calling me, not getting through and being very worried.

Fast forward a week and so much has happened and so much takk about how Japan will never be the same and yet here I was in the same class, looking at the same faces, drinking the same coffee (well not the very same of course....) it all seemed a little surreal.

And I think that has been my main feeling this week- it just seems like a nightmare. A nightmare I wake up from and go about my daily life teaching, shopping (no shortages in our supermarkets and petrol is back to almost normal) sending the girls to kinder and school and K to work, doing the chores and talking about Spring planting with my neighbours. I never forget what's happened but it is a memory of a nightmare all fuzzy now you've woken up. Then I turn on the tv and there's a new wave of despair. More shocking footage. More distressing updates on the nuclear plant, the lack of essential items at the evacuation centres, the personal stories of loss and despair... it hasn't gone away. It hasn't been 'fixed'. It's still going on and will be for months, years maybe.

Just when I get all despondent and think Japan will never recover my MIL (who was born and raised in Sendai) reminds me that Sendai was razed during the war. As was much of Japan. And with hardwork and resilience rose like a phoenix from the ashes.
This x That: Know This: 2011 Sendai Earthquake: Explosion at Fukushima Daichi’s No. 2 reactor damages suppression pool, several employees temporarily evacuated; Kyodo: Radiation tops legal limit following blast; nuclear energy scrutinized in wake of Japanese crisis; USGS upgrades earthquake magnitude to 9.0; Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara: Tsunami was divine punishment for selfish greed; The Big Picture: Japan - Vast Devastation; Above: Nagasaki bombing aftermath (bottom) vs. 2011 Sendai Earthquake (top). [via.] Saudi troops, UAE police enter Bahrain to protect government facilities. Glenn Beck’s The Blaze takes a closer look at James O’Keefe’s NPR sting video, finds key phrases edited out; NPR spokeswoman: Some of Schill’s statements still “egregious.” United Space Alliance employee dies after falling off Space Shuttle Endeavour launch pad. RIP: Joe Morello, Dave Brubeck drummer, dead at 82. Also: Blues musician Big Jack Johnson, at 70. Read This: iPad 2 sold out, 70% went to new purchasers. Zune PMP to be phased out at Microsoft. Etsy’s new People Search tool raises serious privacy concerns. The Other: NewsFeed: Dr. Snowboard: Priest Gets Advanced Degree in Snowboarding. Tea x Time List: 18 Old-Timey Photos You Won’t Believe Aren’t Photoshopped.

That's Sendai after the tsunami and Sendai after the war. They've done it before and they'll do it again. That's MIL's take on things.

I haven't been watching much news since my PIL arrived on Wednesday as they find it really distressing so I have been following the news on the early morning bulletins and online newspapers. I have to say I have been really disappointed with a lot of the coverage. I think it is irresponsible journalism to interview one person and report their opinion as fact but I am seeing it time and time again- the Japanese government is lying to us and not getting info out fast enough, Tokyo is a ghost town as everyone has evacuated, radiation has hit Tokyo as everyone is wearing masks etc etc. My pillar of strength and calm reporting in a way even I understand has been the wonderful I-could-kiss-this-man Duncan Hawthorne at Bruce Power in Canada. While CNN and the tabloids were screaming MELTDOWN! MELTDOWN! he was explaining why it seemed problem after problem was occuring using a triage patient as an example:

Obviously as head of a nuclear power plant he is not an objective observer but then he also knows a lot more about what we're looking at when we see pictures of the plant than the average Joe with a microphone, right?

The personal messages of get-out-now-we-love-you-you're-gonna-die support and this-is-Japan's come-uppance/ Japanese are all brainwashed by a lying government opinions and comments of people who know nothing about Japan and its geography are very hard to swallow, too. I understand that the very word 'nuclear' is scary. But there is no excuse for fanning the hysteria fire. Do you really think you're helping by quoting Revelations to people living only 100s of kilometres away from the plant from your sofa somewhere in the US?

On the hundreds of kilometres thing it was pointed out to me that my figure of 480 km from the nuclear plant was inaccurate. Wildly inaccurate. I had calculated using my favourite route finder site when of course airborne radiation isn't hampered by circuitous roads. Seems we're actually (only) 260km from the source. Oh well...

It has been weird feeling like I am living in two worlds this week. My local friends are life as normal while many of my foreign friends are ringing their hands and booking flights out. I think the choice to stay or leave is an incredibly personal one and each person weighs things up in their own head and heart before deciding so no judgement from me either way. It's up there along with breastfeed/ bottlefeed, co-sleep/ sleep alone, one parent one language/ minority language at home and big vs small government on my list of things I do not want to talk about with a group of people due to the divisive nature of the conversation though!

At this stage and with the information I have to date our family is not going anywhere. We feel safe, our life is going on as normal and this is our home. I hope I continue to feel that way for a long time to come.

Ganbarre Nippon!


If I didn't pick up when you called yesterday...

it's not because I am ignoring you!

Yesterday was some day. After staying up until 2am wired on coffee and chocolate watching earthquake news (a medium sized shaker at 11:30pm will do that to you) I didn't wake up when my alarm went off and woke up with six minutes to go before Meg had to be outside waiting for her friend to walk to school. Grabbed a complaining Meg out of bed and rushed her down the stairs. In eight minutes she ate a bowl of cereal, a slice of fruit bread and a banana, packed her bag, got dressed, had her hair done, peed, put her shoes, hat and jacket on and was outside. Phewwwww. We were two minutes late but hey, I was still pretty impressed. She was so keen to walk she went with the rush rush over the more leisurely going-in-the-car schedule.

Got Amy and Ken's morning routine underway and sent them off with bento and a kiss goodbye at 8am.

Washed the dishes, folded and put away laundry, hung up more laundry and was just sitting down with a coffee when K called to say his parents had decided to evacuate after all but were uncertain they had enough petrol.

Agghhhhh!! Last Sunday our house was sparkling, tidy, clean and completely ready for MIL. It has started to slide already and piles of paper are back to colonising blank surfaces.... Started rushing around tidying and sorting and doing things like checking we have enough pickles...

Had to stop my panic and go and teach a class of 2yos. I love the class and had a ball with the little bundles of energy. Unfortunately while I was teaching the primary school had tried to contact me. Having turned my phone off they couldn't get through and called Ken. He didn't answer as I'm not sure he realises that's the purpose of mobile phones yet so they tried our back up emergency contact- yup, MIL. Obviously didn't get through as the mobile network is still down up there and they re-tried K and I and finally got through to K. The message was 'Meg has been injured and needs to go to the hospital. Please come and get her.' K immediately took the rest of the day off work and raced to the school. While he was on his way my class finished and I called K to see what the messages were about- he'd called three times and like I said this is a guy who thinks his phone is a weight to stop your pocket floating away... When he relayed the message I freaked and raced for the school as well imagining the worst. So far this year a kid at her school has broken his arm, two have broken their collarbones and one needed surgery for internal injuries after a seesaw incident. Aghhhhh!!!! Arrived at the school to find the carpark was full. All three carparks were over full. That's right. Today is graduation day.... Just as I was wondering what to do Meg's teacher called to see where I was. I explained and he said 'just park on the road outside the school.' considering there are huge signs every two metres or so explicitly forbidding us from doing that my panic meter rose to another level. Parked and raced into the school to find-

Meg sitting on a chair swinging her legs. Limb count- ok. Consciousness- ok. Massive bandage stemming arterial bloodloss- none. In fact I couldn't spot any injury whatsoever. "Meg! What happened?? Are you ok????" Before she could answer K called to say he had wrangled an appointment out of the doctor but we had to be there in five minutes. Still staring at Meg looking for her injury she held up her hand.

Her little finger raised.

It had a square of sticky medicated plaster stuff on it.

It had got jammed in a door when someone opened the door as her hand was on the hinge.

For real??? That's it????

Seven kinds of horrible happening up north and the school calls in both parents for a jammed finger????

The school nurse came out and explained that it was probably all right but was more swollen than she felt was normal and so she wanted us to get an x-ray just to be safe.



I pointed out that most of Meg's fingers are swollen at the moment.

Ahhhh said the nurse.

Mmmmmm said I.

Frostbite said I.

Ahhhhhh..... probably not broken but please go anyway. You have organised an appointment...

Raced back to the car and to the doctor. K met us there having stopped to take a call from his sister and text his parents.

Spent an age in the waiting room surrounded by very old people with very old people ailments listening to K describe his plans to take as much fuel as he could with him and head up to meet his parents somewhere on the road between here and there. Was there petrol? Traffic jams? Road closures? Called the amazingly capable, generous and calm Lily from Cafe Yamashita who was already billeting evacuees in her apartment in Niigata and she gave us the low down and a big dose of much needed soothing encouragement. You're a wonderful woman Lily!

Meg got checked, x-rayed (tens of times more radiation than outside!) and given the all clear with some more magic patches for good measure.

K headed to the service station and Meg and I hit 7-11 to grab all the snacks we could to take up to PIL and their neighbours (a family of five) who were heading to Niigata with them and from there the ferry to Hokkaido. I kept imagining everyone stuck in huge traffic jams with all the kids hungry and tetchy and how stressful it would be and bought absolute mountains of junk food.

Met K at home where he was organising water in bottles and packing the car.

Said goodbye and realised I would have to pick Amy up early from kinder as I was working that night (once in a blue moon night class covering for a friend and waddaya know it fell on tonight) so called kinder to explain. And then explain that no, we weren't leaving the country and yes, Amy would be at kinder tomorrow.

Just as I was leaving got a text from MIL 'thank you! We will impose on you late tonight. Don't prepare anything. All we need is a hot bath and a hot cup of tea.' Aghhhh!! Tea!! We don't drink green tea much and we're out. Come to think of it PIL eat a lot of salted salmon and we don't have any of that either... or cabbage for the ubiquitous breakfast salad... or diet soft drinks for FIL... grabbed the shoppng bags, located my phone (outside on the chook food bin- as you do) and raced to kinder, grabbed Amy, raced to work, taught my afternoon class then the three of us hit the supermarket with the list I had dictated to Meg in the car on the drive in. She is a great list taker but a frustrating list reader as she reads one item at a time. I was this close to commandeering the list (private property can be taken for the common good in emergencies right?) but I wasn't up to a 7 year old meltdown in the supermarket when I had 28 minutes and counting to shop and get out of there before teaching my evening class. There is a whole green tea section- I never knew there were so many options, young leaves, stems, mild blend.... bought three types in the mid range price bracket and decided I would get points for effort even if they were all wrong.

Arrived at my evening class 1 minute late with two un-announced and past bedtime kids in tow and the amazing women all smiled and told me to calm down and everything would be fine. What a fabulous class! Half way through the class K called to say they would arrive in an hour and could I turn the bath on.

An hour?

Why that was my ETA, too... more than likely they would get there first and I had a horrible suspicion the shoes weren't lined up in the genkan....

Raced home from class in heavy snow to find MIL folding washing, FIL reading the paper and K racing around warming the house and filling the bath.

The girls were wired to see their grandparents and I was racing around making room for all the food MIL had brought with her- forget needing snacks in the car, MIL had brought the entire contents of her fridge with her- and she's a woman who likes a well stocked fridge. Over a kilo of soy sauce flavoured simmered beans and veggies alone....

At 10:00 I broke up the party and insisted Meg and Amy go to bed. Then it was time to serve tea, heat up pork soup (MIL evacuated with a pot of that as well...) get out towels and organise the spare bedroom.


We are so glad they are out, very happy they are here, relieved Meg's finger is a nothing injury and enjoying the unexpected visit but I'm exhausted already and it hasn't even been a whole day...

So yeah, if I didn't answer your call yesterday, forgive me!


conflicted times

It feels like Japan is in turmoil at the moment. The news from up north is heart breaking- four people sharing one rice ball for dinner (Meg and Amy take 3-4 in their bento for one kid's lunch), people who have evacuated to relative safety only to find emergency rations haven't got there at all... Tonight's news included a fax from someone who had walked out to get word that there were 100 people including a lot of preschoolers, primary school and junior high school students evacuated at a camp ground with no heating, no power, no phone or radio, not enough blankets and little food. Oh and it's raining/ snowing tonight with near zero temperatures. How can you watch that news (and there's hour after hour of stories just like that) and not get sick. Gaijinwife called it 'PTSD by association' and I really think she has a point. Of course we here safe in our warm houses with full bellies can't even imagine an inkling of what those in the quake zones are experiencing but that's not to say we aren't touched by it at all.

The news and information we are getting is at the same time overwhelming and insufficient. Overwhelming in that it's 24/7 and on every channel. It's highly technical, there are sirens and alerts and rolling tickers of up to the second breaking news super imposed on amazingly technical explanations by experts and mindbendingly vague and seemingly contradictory press conferences by politicians. It's also overwhelming in that I can watch the national broadcaster (NHK- the mouthpiece of the government) commercial news, CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera and NHK world service. All talking about the same stuff and all with different takes on it. NHK says stay calm we're fine, CNN screams MELTDOWN MELTDOWN, NHK world has more detail than I could possibly take in in a week- and that's after I google all the big words, Al Jazeera makes me feel like I'm at school...

The official alerts from the various embassies are also wildly different. Germany has chartered flights out for the staff of the big German companies here and is strongly urging their citizens to leave, Russia is telling their citizens this is similar to what happened in Chernobyl and to get out, France telephoned their citizens with information etc etc. Yokoto US base in Tokyo says no need to panic and is doing its own radiation monitoring and Australia? I got an email alert saying don't go within 20km of the reactor (derr! it's an exclusion zone!) and to avoid travel to Miyagi as we don't want to hamper rescue efforts. I am at a loss to understand why these briefings are so different. Is the source information so varied or just the interpretation of it?

Many of my foreign friends are evacuating. Some simply expediting prior travel arrangements and others leaving temporarily, indefinitely and even permanently. Some are from the prefectures most effected, others further away... Two families looked in to coming here to stay with us for a while (we are 480 km from the reactor and in a relatively seismically safe area) while another friend is making plans to flee from here...

My local Japanese friends all seem very nonchalant about it. Many aren't worried at all- we're so far away, we are country folk- we can source enough food from this area if need be, if it happens it happens... I got a call today wondering why I hadn't turned up at a lunch date. I had assumed it was cancelled because of the current situation. Why would you think that?? they asked. I was talking to one of my older neighbours about how all our houses are about the same age (30+ years) and made from wood. If there's a quake they will likely not be in great shape. What would we do? It would be a tight squeeze to get the entire community in the neighbourhood hall... She reminded me a neighbour's son has just built a beautiful and quite large steel rafter house (the strong kind) and we could all head over there. "Good idea. Did he say that would be ok?" "I haven't asked him. We'll just go." His wife will be thrilled when we all turn up shouldering bags of rice and dragging our pickling buckets I'm sure...

And my PIL, a mere 80km from the reactors and still without water or sewerage? They won't evacuate. They have a roof over their heads and it's their roof. They are going to avoid going outside. Food is scarce, petrol scarcer and the water truck a 30 minute walk away. MIL managed to make this a positive 'all the exercise hauling water and the rice, beans and dried daikon diet is the best lifestyle FIL has ever had!' He has diabetes and isn't known for his love of exercise or strict low sugar diet but still...

I don't know what to say because I don't know what to think. I feel like a hamster- I just want to curl up in a ball with my nose under my tail and wait till the threat goes away... But we have school tomorrow, and work as normal and I hear there's petrol at the next town over...



Woke up with a massive crick in my neck and feeling like I hadn't slept. Now I remember why I don't co-sleep, the girls are horrible bed hogs!

Checked my phone and there was a mail from K. The time stamp was 7:00am but a lot of mails are really delayed so no idea when he really sent it.

Turned on the tv and had a moment of relief that for the first time in two days it wasn't tsunami news we were watching.

Then I realised it was news about the nuclear power plant. Excitement short lived.

Spent the morning calling K and his mum every 10 minutes and sending off texts on the hour. No communication is the worst feeling and the aftershocks continued.

Couldn't show the girls the tv footage as they were really shaken up and convinced every woman of a certain age pictured was obaachan.

Being housebound and watching for updates constantly really wasn't doing anything to help anyone effected and was getting increasingly unhealthy for all of us so we decided to drive to Toyoshina (no bridges to cross unlike Matsumoto) and buy meat to make Daddy curry rice (his favourite dish) and buy McDonalds for lunch. I never take the girls to fast food places so they were very excited but I couldn't help feeling guilty. How could we go and eat a hamburger while so many people are still waiting for help? While ojiichan and obaachan have no power and no water? I could see us being the only people in the shop and all the supermarket shoppers staring in and tut-tutting at us.

I don't know if I was relieved or disappointed then to see that life was going on as usual. Maccas was crowded, the carpark was full of cars, people were laughing and talking and the only line of people I saw were waiting to buy 100 yen donuts at a sale...

We went to the supermarket and every cart in site was full of tissues and toilet paper, bottled water and instant ramen. We didn't buy any of that. Irresponsible or level headed? This time of year we keep the bath full of water at all times as it's needed for the anti-freeze mechanism. I'm not so confident in my bath cleaning prowess that I would choose to drink it but if I had to I could. We have plenty of rice, vegetables in the garden and the freezer, cans of corn, tuna, tomatoes, jars and bottles (that may break in an earthquake but they are packed in crates) of apple juice and tomato sauce and we have a creek running down the side of the road for non-drinking water. That and the fact that we are so far from the most effected areas and I just am not feeling the panic need to buy things.

Came home again and I started getting mail after mail. Not from K but Japanese chain mails asking the people of Kansai to conserve energy to 'send it to the people in the earthquake areas so they can charge their phones.' Ummmm. Japan has two seperate hertz regions and independent electric companies. There is no phone signal in many of the areas effected. Then I was asked to send water, blankets and clothes directly to the prefectural offices of the earthquake areas. There was even a phone number to call. Again nice sentiment but parcels are not getting through at the moment.

Finally at 6pm K called! Called, not texted. He was back in Niigata on his way home. PILs house was leaning and the doors don't close, the inside was pretty trashed, they had no water, gas or sewerage but the power and phone were back on. The house is liveable and they can collect water from a distribution point as well as the water K took with him. They don't want to leave and so he was coming back alone.

All his relatives living in Sendai (K grew up in Fukushima but his parents are both from Miyagi and many relatives still live in Sendai) had been accounted for.

He got home about 11:00 after a very long day. Exhausted, overwhelmed, grateful, relieved, worried and feeling guilty to be sitting in a warm room eating curry rice and drinking shochu.

He said Fukushima city is a mess and still a lot of uncertainty but people were getting organised. They are running out of petrol, the shops are empty, the tv antenna is out so even with power there is no news but they are listening to the radio and getting local information on where the water distribution points are. They are quite fatalistic about the nuclear power plants and informed him they will wear masks...

They have each other and K helped righting furniture and filling in the cracks in the ground around the house that were exposing the water pipes and general cleaning up of all the broken glass and crockery so the house is in a liveable condition.

And I knew my MIL was in good spirits when I opened the bag I had sent up filled with food and found 1/3 of a loaf of fruit bread and three grapefruit- every gift must be reciprocated and MIL is nothing if not a pillar of good etiquette!

For those who read Japanese (or not- just look at the pictures) my friend Nao's blog is linked on the right. みなみ風の武道日記 She lives in the south of Fukushima and has news on that area.

Sending warm wishes to all those still waiting.


What a day

First my deepest sympathies to all those really effected by the quake, the tsunamis and the aftershocks and all the related lifeline issues further north. We are fine. The house is fine and we have all our utilities.

Our 'what a day' day was mostly just mental exhaustion and worrying consisting of:

*Information overload. The tv has been broadcasting nothing but news since 3pm yesterday. That's one of the things I love about Japan. I can literally be still feeling the earthquake when I turn on the tv and there it is- the earthquake information on where, how deep and how strong it was and any tsunami warnings. They have information dissemination down to a fine art. But it has its downside. When there's no new news they repeat old news. As it really is live tv and tragedy live the announcers tend to get excited/ anxious when they announce. Totally understandable. Myself? I'm sure if it was my job the announcement would go 'There has been a oh my god, oh MY GOD, OHMYGODOHMYGODAGHHHH!!!!!" but yeah, it adds to the worry and freaking out you have anyway when the announcing is so emotional. Too much information and you get panicky. Turn the tv off and you have no information and you feel even more panicky! And you watch for literally hours getting more and more worried for the people in places far removed from you because you are so desperate for news of those closer to home.

*The personal touch. It is disgusting but I think human nature to be more worried about those you know than those you don't. I submit as evidence the standard 'No (insert name of media outlet's home country) citizens were injured in the typhoon/ train crash/ riots' last line of any article about a disaster. And so it was with us. K's parents are in one of the (lesser) effected areas of the earthquake. As it was a lesser effected area there was less news about their city. We couldn't get through on the phone. We got a total of two texts all last night and they were worrying- they had no power, gas, water, phone and their house was pretty smashed up. They were unhurt and their house was still standing so a lot better off than a whole lot of people but still we were very worried.

So, K headed up there at 7:00 this morning. He didn't know how far he would get as there was limited information available about the roads but his parents needed him if there was a chance he could get up there. He mailed at 9:00, 11:00 and 1:00 giving us updates on his progress- the highways were all closed but his hobby is driving and Fukushima is his backyard so he knows every back road and short cut there is and once he mailed to say he was in Fukushima we knew he'd get to ojiichan and obaachan somehow! But then we entered the very worrying email silence portion of the day. The mobile networks were out/ overworked and we couldn't call or mail. The aftershocks continued all afternoon and the tv kept telling us the epicentre was in Fukushima. Aghhhh!

But as of this evening they were back with power and had kero for heat and mobiles for communication so only worrying about water.

*Aftershocks- did I mention I'm a scaredy cat? Just once or twice right? I don't do motorbikes. I don't do roller coasters. I don't even like bridges! After shocks are therefore terrifying. It's the not knowing whether it's an aftershock or the real thing that freaks me out the most. And we had plenty of aftershocks here all day. Aggggh!!

*Contact- I feel really loved and supported. So many people have contacted me by phone, by email, by Facebook and even via worried parents to check how we are. Even people like my old kinder teacher and my dad's boss. I can't speak highly enough of AFWJ- those women rock! They had a check in list going in minutes and hunted down word of every last member throughout the area making sure everyone was ok. Seriously mum, you won't have to worry about a doberman discovering me weeks after the fact with these women on the job!

I would like to apologise to all who phoned me though. I was quite rude to a few people as I was so keen to keep my phone line open for news from Fukushima that I wasn't in the mood for chatting.

*Lack of contact- The earthquake that hit Nagano this morning was in Sakae village where the amazing Kevin of Bastish Life and his wife and young daughter live. The village has been cut off from the rest of us and is without power. Oh and they had a freaky number of metres of snow there anyway. The TV is not reporting any fatalities there and the entire village (all 850 of them) have been evacuated to the community centre but I would still really like to hear that they are ok! Knowing Kevin though I'm sure he has hunted down some game with a makeshift weapon and is treating the village to a pot-shot hot-pot and a home brew. He really is the most resourceful person I know!

*smiling on the outside- Meg is now old enough to understand a lot of what she sees on the tv. That means every time she hears 'Fukushima' she thinks 'obaachan!' and gets worried. So I spent the day worrying on the inside and reassuring on the outside. That is exhausting.

*passing the time- there really isn't a lot to do while you're waiting for the phone to ring. I didn't really want to leave the house so I decided to clean. Especially as there was a chance my ILs would be coming to visit. I never got the nesting instinct cleaning bug but boy do I have the stress-cleaning gene! We washed and hung and folded and sorted and cleared and trashed and polished and dusted and even cleaned the windows and behind the toilet and under the stove and all the skirting boards and you know, all those really vital places. The girls were less thrilled with the 'clean away the hours' idea until I told them they could vacuum (control freak me usually demands the right to that job) and now the house positively sparkles.

*what kids worry about- Both girls didn't want K to go this morning. We explained that he needed to go help Ojiichan and Obaachan. They were ok with this. We were watching tv and saw the truckloads of blankets and water that they have started collecting for distribution. Meg was most worried that daddy didn't take any blankets with him. I pointed out that Obaachan was still at home and has enough futons to put up a football team but she seems to think that helping earthquake victims means taking them blankets.

I was explaining to Amy that she needed to clear up the table as we would need it if Ojiichan and Obaachan were coming back here.

"Why are they coming?"
"Because their house might be a big mess."
"Like our house?"
"No! And anyway, we're cleaning up now. They have no power or water up there."
"No tv?"
"No tv."
"Can Ojiichan use our tv?"
"Yup. If he came here he could use our tv!"
"....Does our tv get baseball and marathon running??"

And that was my day. That horrible but somehow reassuring earthquake alert system is still going off far too regularly for my liking. Off to bath and try to sleep- all three in the bed for some what a great end to a what a day snuggles.

Here's to a quiet night.


we are ok

I know the earthquake in Japan is making news around the world and the overseas bulletins are sometimes worryingly vague on the geography thing. So to reassure you all, the earthquake was long but not strong here. Aftershocks are still going on but much smaller. (The last one didn't even wake the girls- bonus!) We live in the country- we have enough food to last us weeks- home grown and my FBC addiction, there is a creek at the top of the road with fresh water, if we run out of kero for the stoves we can burn wood for heat and all my neighbours have agricultural green houses we can use for shelter. If the worst happens and we evacuate I know what to expect and have already packed the coffee and a teaspoon so please don't worry!


Question for the (bilingual) girly girls

One of my students was asking me about the names of different lotions and potions in English. In particular how to say 化粧水 and 乳液 in English. Off the top of my head I suggested toner and face cream. Err err. (Japanese wrong answer buzzer sound) Nope. Seems some keshosui are tomers but others aren't? And face cream is different from nyuueki which comes up as 'milky lotion' in my dictionary. Now I'm not the most knowledgeable on make up by any means but I read magazines and look at the ads and I don't think I've ever seen a product called milky lotion. I thought the things you could put on your face were face pack, face scrub, face wash, toner, moisturiser and make up. Am I missing something?

And if you could tell me the English for those two products that would be a bonus! I'll take pernickety grammar questions over make-up ones any day!


March madness

It's the end of the school year here.

Amy is all off kilter as she will be moving into the top class at kinder come April and the teachers are using this as a threat/ incentive to whip the kids into shape. "Araaa! You're going to be top class kids in just a few weeks and you still can't line up properly/ sit quietly/ fold your futons quickly??"

On the fourth day in a row that she wanted to walk to kinder (about 40 minutes at 5 year old pace) the reason for her sudden fitness kick came out- she thought that if she practised walking to kinder come April she could skip the last year of kinder and go to school with the big kids- who walk every day. We had a long conversation about all the cool things the big kids do at kinder- use stilts, plant and tend to the veggie garden, give up their nap, clean the swimming pool (that's a plus in Amy's book) and be buddies with the new first year kids including getting them dressed and undressed at nap time. She was still only lukewarm on the idea so I went with mean mummy trick number seven and pointed out that the expectations on school kids are even harsher than those on kinder kids... Sold to the girl in the chin-strap hat!

Meg is all adrift and stressed by the frenetic pace of the end of the school year with a myriad of tests and the slow but sure denuding of the classroom as all the posters come down. A creature of habit she's not keen on all the interruptions to the schedule either- the farewell to the grade sixers meeting, the district kids' club meetings to choose the next leaders (no choice here as we don't have enough grade six kids to fill the quota let alone hold an election so they roped in a grade five giving us a brother sister combo this year. It will make communications easier, hey?) etc etc. Then she found out she has a two week Spring break before she goes into Grade 2. The tears! The distress! We have play dates lined up, we have craft projects planned, she has a Spring holiday homework book (of course!) and we will have two whole weeks of not having to get up at 6:00am- what's not to like?? Well, she likes school. She loves school. She's going to miss her teacher. She's going to miss her friends- all of them, and her desk, and the music room, and and and... Seriously. I loved school as well but I don't think I ever cried at the start of the holidays!

K is in the last dash of his neighbourhood association duties- hallelujah! Poor guy though he seems to be the treasurer (horrible wife I'm not exactly sure what his role is- still and he's almost done) and has been running around toting up numbers, updating the bankbooks, writing out tables and graphs and reports and- just wow. Minor freak out the other day when I got home to an absolutely stuffed electricity bill envelope. Whoa.... how much electricity did we use to get that???? Opened it up (holding my breath) to find individual bills for each of the street lights in the neighbourhood. Wow. Seriously just when I thought there were no more surprises... So another one of K's jobs was paying off 30 electricity bills at 7-11. Thirty of them! K is getting it on all sides as it's also the end of the financial year at work which includes using up all the materials he's ordered this year and trying to whittle his funds down to zero to justify asking for next year's budget. Poor guy.

And me? Well it's the biggest recruiting period of the year in the English conversation school world so we have trial lessons scattered all over the schedule, as well as all the regular classes and the kids who will move up a class- from pre-kinder to kinder, kinder to primary school or primary school to JHS and need to move to a new time slot. Aghhhh!! Honestly the admin side of the business doesn't concern me a lot (that's why I work for someone else rather than myself!) but I'm the face of things for the mums of kids in my classes so I'm doing my best to field questions and getting stressed about misinforming people and I should just get a t-shirt printed 'just a moment while I call the boss'...

So, yeah. March madness has hit us all, it's crazy and busy and stressful and add hayfever in there and we're all a little off our game at the moment. Roll on April and a return to just the usual run of the mill craziness, hey?


K thinks you will all agree...

Despite living in the kind of street where people don't tend to bother to lock their doors all that often we are quite security conscious. Me because I'm a scaredy-cat and K because he feels responsible for all of us. So we do lock our doors. Even when we're home most of the time- although that's more to keep the neighbours out!

K's number one security measure involves swords. Wooden ones, but swords. In the plural. Over the years I have got used to vacuuming behind something or looking under something and 'oh- another sword.'

So when I opened K's closet and found quite a large hunk of wood- maybe 30cm round? I thought it was a new security measure... possibly for throwing at the home invaders? Tripping them up as they look through our cupboards?

Then I found one under the bed. Right next to a wooden sword. K is quite impressive with a sword (practising I mean- I've never had the opportunity to see him using it on a robber thank goodness!) but I couldn't work out how he was going to use the sword while throwing a huge hunk of wood....?

Today I found a hunk of wood behind the towel basket under the sink in the bathroom. This was getting out of hand. How many robbers are we going to need to throw hunks of wood at??? Why have we suddenly stopped relying on the swords as our first port of security?

So I asked.

K was really confused.

The honking great chunks of wood were not designed to be used for security.


Now I was really confused.

What then?

They smell nice.

Yes, so....?

"Ask your mum. Ask anyone. Ask on your blog. If you had this kind of amazingly good smelling wood on hand you'd want to keep it around the house, too. People make and sell air freshener to imitate the smell of fresh cut wood and we have the real thing right here!

Indeed it does smell good. I can imagine if I was the pot pourri type a little satin bag of the sawdust from the hinoki tree would be something I would like.

But I'm pretty sure no one, not even my nature loving mum, would want great hunks of wood hanging out around the house just for their olfactory pleasure.




From Meg's diary

Meg has to write a diary each weekend about something she did that weekend. It's a free writing exercise.

It always interests me the one event out of a whole weekend that she will pick to write about. It's often not the thing I would choose as the highlight of the weekend. Sometimes it's downright the last thing I would choose as she complains 'Mummy said we had to clean our room today. I hate cleaning so much. Mummy always says clean up clean up. I think mums should do the cleaning.'

The teacher writes a comment on the diary every week as well. Sometimes if we do something a little unusual: 'On Saturday I helped mummy and daddy cut wood. I only used a little saw because the big saw is too noisy.' We will get a comment like "WOW!! You used a saw??!! Be careful!!"

But it's her diary and her self expression so I don't interfere.

I am more than a bit curious to hear what the teacher says about this weekend's diary though:

"On Sunday we went to a friend's house and ate wild boar. It was so stinky! But when you cook it it tastes yummy. I want to eat more different animals. I want to eat a giraffe next! I want to eat wild boar again, too!"


familiarity breeds reckless lopping

Bitterly cold but sunny day today so we spent the day outside pruning the fruit trees.

The first year we didn't dare prune. We were so happy our little fruit trees grew we just patted them a bit and smiled.

The second year we referred to a bunch of books, downloaded diagrams from the internet, bought a range of special pruning tools and still only managed to trim a couple of centimetres here and there.

Year three we were complacent/ busy/ lazy/ nervous and overwhelmed by it all and didn't prune at all.

Year four I invited my neighbour over for coffee and just *happened* to be out pruning when she arrived and she just *happened* to have to watch me botching it completely so she took over while I made coffee...

Year four was so successful the trees went wild and grew and grew. They also fruited like never before. Thinking that the coffee trick only works once and not wanting to undo the magic we left them alone year five.

Well year five was a disaster. The trees were big and spindly, they got some disease and leaf curl and all the fruit was useless. All the neighbours weighed in with an opinion. Just the one opinion- it's because you didn't prune.

So roll on this year, year six. I bought a new pruning tool, (I hate kitchen gadgets but garden ones I can't resist!) grabbed the ladder and just did it. Agggghhhh!!! Who knows how it will effect the fruiting and overall growth of the trees but it made it a LOT easier to spray fungicide on what was left after my butchering so fingers crossed that if any traumatised little fruit do survive they will at least be disease free!


Our Girls' Day

I worked Girls' day.

I got home with the girls at 5:45.

I had to have them fed, bathed in bed and preferably asleep before my JHS kids come to be tutored at 8:00.

K was working late so I was on my own.

But I wasn't going to let a little thing like that get in the way of a Girls' Day dinner.

I bought a sashimi variety platter, some boiled prawns, lots of nori, I have home-made pickled ginger here and I was going to make egg roll and turn it all into a beautiful chirashi-zushi scattered style sushi. This was to be served with hama-guri clear clam soup.

A pretty impressive girls day dinner me thought.

Unfortunately the girls were not so thrilled.

"We had clear soup for lunch at kinder."
"I don't want chirashi-zushi I want to make my own sushi."
"I only want to eat the prawns. Not the other fish."

Normally I would gently remind them that they should be grateful I feed them at all and that complainers can go get in the bath first- as in without taking the time to eat- but it was Girls' Day and I'm not going to bust a gut making fancy food in a hurry if no-one is thrilled so we revised the menu and everyone was happy:

(Amy wanted her hair tie in the picture....)

Egg, prawn and asparagus sushi rolls (a Fukase original I'm pretty sure...) strawberries, puffed rice, sakura-mochi sweets and it was all washed down with a bowl of tomato soup.

Not your average Girls' Dinner but these girls were thrilled to roll their own sushi and K and I got to eat wine steamed clams for our dinner later on.

A happy Girls' Day all around!


Why we don't sow Spring seeds when the calendar says it's Spring...

Yup. Snow.

That was supposed to be a pic of our fabulously tilled garden but obviously it's not. The three sad and long suffering kale plants really set the picture off don't you think?

The cucumber frame is so darn well put together and was so freaking fiddly and friendship-straining to put up that we have decided to just leave it up for another year. We'll dig in fertiliser and plant the cucumbers on the outside of the frame this year so it's technically not planting them in the same place (big gardening no-no).

And the snow? Well it's supposed to be -8 tonight and -10 tomorrow so yeah. Roll on Spring.


If you see me on the tv news tomorrow...

call me a lawyer as I will have snapped and beaten someone around the head with a bag of rotten sweet potatoes or smothered them with a kinder communication notebook. Tell the embassy I'm claiming extreme provocation by mulish pre-school teacher.

From the teacher "Amy ate her lunch very slowly again and still seems out of it (my translation) and compared to usual she is almost completely not meeting people's eyes when they speak. When we all sit on the floor to talk she doesn't look at the person talking either. If we're reading a book she's interested in she pays a little more attention. The head of the kinder is a little worried too."

My reply "We are on day three of the new medicine. I think we will know soon if it is more effective than the last one. I have attached an explanation and as you can see lethargy, lack of concentration, lack of appetite etc are all symptoms of hayfever. In Amy's case I don't know how much is hayfever and how much is her personality but I have asked her to do her best. I hope we find a good medicine match for Amy soon and have her back to her usual self. She slept well last night and ate a good breakfast this morning (albeit a little slower than normal.) Here's hoping this is the start of a good day!"

The information I attached was the Japanese Wikipedia entry on hayfever. I had used red pencil to circle all the symptoms she has- some loss of taste, blocked nose and sinus, heavy feeling head, lethargy and difficulty sleeping.

From the teacher "Thank you for the information. Looking at that information it seems Amy's allergies are quite serious. It made me hope she was all right. I think that compared to yesterday she was a little more active today but during morning announcements, when we organised the schedule for the monthly birthday celebration and at the home time meeting she was fiddling with her hands and looking all around her. She just doesn't seem to be able to pay attention..."

Seriously. There are 32 kids in this class and only two teachers. Is it just me or does it seem that Amy is taking up way more than her fair share of the teacher's attention????

I am trying really hard here. I know there are cultural differences in the schooling I am used to and what my kids will get. I know "the group" is all important but I just think my standards aren't as high as the teachers. When I teach classes that size I really don't care if a kid is looking around. If they're fiddling with their hands and not throwing/ mangling/ flicking my flashcards around I'm pretty happy to tell the truth!

Please, please, please, for all our sakes- the teacher, me and most of all poor Amy- let the hayfever season be a short one and if you could wrangle a change of class in April that would be fabulous!

And I'm going to get K to write the reply tonight. I just don't have it in me to continue this discussion any further.