soooo cute!

We've got new babies.

Five of them.

We're all in love with them and can't stop watching them and saying 'ohhhhhhhhh....' and 'ahhhhhhhhh....' and 'they're soooooooooo cuuuuuuuute!'

Introducing the five littlest Fukases:

Their names are:

Shorey- Amy wanted to name one Shirley after a friend with blonde hair but I vetoed all names that belong to people we know after a horrible episode when a fox got into the hen house and Meg came screaming around the side of the house 'Mummy's dead! Mummy's dead!' So we have Shorey instead.
Miruko- Short for milk cocoa. Another Amy choice.
Satsuki- a Japanese word meaning May. Because they were born in May. Meg's choice.
Miho- named after Meg's BFF's cat. I can't decide whether naming a chick after a cat is a good idea or will lead to self loathing....

We ordered four chicks. When I went to pick them up we were given five. I pointed out the mistake and the woman in the office explained it was a freebee. A 'service' chick. Now I'm all for a giveaway but isn't it kind of irresponsible to giveaway live animals? What next- go in for an operation and get a bonus one for free?

So anyway, we are still trying to think of a name for our fifth surprise chick. In between ooohhhing and ahhhhhing at their cuteness!

And a bonus chick pic!



It's gotta be a tile roof if you're Japanese.

One of the things I love about kinder here is how many songs the kids learn. They are usually learning two songs at a time- a sing-along song and a calisthenics song and they change each month or so, so over three years that's a lot of songs!

Some of the songs are a bit silly (looking after a baby tanuki) some are about friendship or getting along, others about nature (tulips blooming, bamboo shooting etc). Then every now again there is a song that makes me scratch my head.

The one Amy is learning now is like that.

It's called 'It's gotta be a tile roof if you're Japanese' and is all about how great tile rooves are. How manly they make you etc etc. It comes complete with actions of being a builder pulling piles of tiles around and getting them up on the roof.

I found it on youtube and complete with a group of kindy kids doing the same dance as us.

Now just to think up a similarly patriotic song for Australia...

It's gotta be thongs and a singlet if you're an Aussie...


the rice chronicles part 9- paddying in the rain

It was back to reality with a bump coming home from convention.

I got a phonecall while I was still in the train.

In the train in the rain.

The torrential rain.

Rain so heavy my trains were all delayed and then running slower than usual.

I missed my connection and caught a 5,000 yen taxi home.


Why didn't K come and pick me up?

Why indeed!

Nah, he spent the day (in the rain) on a bus with all the neighbours (and the girls) going up a mountain to not pick mountain veggies (the torrential rain remember) so they sat around taking endless baths, eating endless soba and drinking endless cups of alcohol.

Got home and went straight out to the rice paddy. It had been raining all weekend and co-farmers were also away and worried that we were flooding the neighbouring fields again.

Because you see after a full on day in the rain on a tractor fabulous neighbour co-farmer (this is tricky as his initials are H and K. Both already taken here!) fixed the water seepage problem and we have had a whole week of trouble free paddy gazing. And gaze I do. Every time I drive up or down the mountain.

So anyway, jumped in the car with an umbrella and went out to see how we were faring. The outlet pipe on the paddy had been opened so that it wouldn't overflow from the top and the torrent of water coming in meant that the water going out was gushing and the paddy was still right up to the brim. Wow.

Walked to the far side of the paddy (well ran in the rain straining to hold my useless umbrella in the wind) and peered over the edge holding my breath.


Tomatoes were soaked and soggy but not from our water- just because everything was soaked and soggy!

Was swaggering back to the car looking rather smug when I saw the soba field next door to the tomatoes.

Well, what should have been a soba field and looked more like a soba bath.

Our paddy outlet pipe empties into a culvert that runs along the embankment between our paddy and the lowland tomato and soba fields. With all the rain and all the outlet pipe action from further up the hill the culvert was full to the brim. Then our water joined in and it was literally bouncing out and spewing into the soba field.


Only apparently this is a these things happen kind of problem and not a faulty farmer issue. And the soba won't even be planted for a few more months so it was dramatic but no disaster of agricultural or neighbourly relations import.

I got home absolutely drenched but still so chuffed about all that water in there that I didn't even mind paddying in the rain!



AFWJ convention


The annual AFWJ (Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese) convention is on this weekend.

What is it?

It's socialising.

It's learning.

It's partying.

It's networking.

It's dancing.

It's all of that and a sleepover in a swish hotel to boot.

I love it. I look forward to it each year and K knows he can't schedule a business trip or aikido camp or neighbourhood meeting or anything on the convention weekend!

This year it's in Odaiba in Tokyo. I'm going via Nagano to travel with a friend (squeeze even more fun out of the weekend!) so only have to take three trains to get there. Trains and stations and tickets and schedules worry me so fingers crossed!


spot the difference- we're getting there

I love the woodfire.

We use it a lot.

In fact I am sitting in front of it right now.

At the tail end of June that's really wussy I knowbut it is only 9 degrees here tonight...

So, yeah, love the woodfire.

Love that we get given lots of wood.

Don't love that said wood has a habit of accumulating in unwieldy piles.

Of course the solution to this problem is to cut, chop, sort and stack the wood.

Yeah, simple really.

There's just the small issue of our kids, our jobs, the garden and now the rice paddyand sorting wood just seems to get pushed down the to do list until the back yard looks like this:

But last Sunday K and I put in a big day and

wait for it....

Yup, still wood there. But less wood.

That's a start...



Otsukaresama means thanks for your hard work. You say it at the end of a job/ the end of a day at work.

Today I said it to my gardening pants.

Because the soil is clay here it stains. To avoid staining all my clothes I have gardening pants that I wear when outside and keep in a box by the front door to wear whenever I go out there. I don't wash them every wear but just when they get really grotty- if they're in the wash I can't wear them and would have to sully a second pair of pants.

K doesn't understand not washing your pants every time you wear them so a gentle reminder is necessary so he doesn't throw them in the wash!

I have been using the same pants as gardening pants for about three years now. Before that they were regular pants. I bought them in Osaka when I was an exchange student there so I guess I've had them for about 11 years.

I said otsukaresama to them today though. Job well done gardening pants. The splits in the knees I could deal with. The L shaped split in the thigh I sewed up. The split in the other thigh I could deal with but today they split from knee to ankle in a big upside down L shape that flaps when I walk. Time to say otsukaresama and retire my gardening pants.

Or so I thought until I went to help re-bolster the sides of the rice paddy walls. The water is now almost knee-deep. Under the water is a layer of thick mud so when you pull your feet up to walk you really squelch and splash dirty water around.

I need paddy pants.

Paddy shorts really...


Otsukaresama gardening pants, hello paddy shorts!


only in Japan

I have searched and searched and can't find a link for you anywhere but I swear, swear up and down and spit in my eye if I ever tell a lie, that I saw an infomercial on tv for a diet pill (nothing unusual there) that was miraculous (aren't they all?) would turn the fat you eat into gas (doesn't sound terribly sociable but, hey) and...

wait for it....

put your coffee down to protect your keyboard,



you can crumble up and share with your dog.

Your dog.

They seriously had a plump owner holding her equally plumpish dog and saying 'oomph, you're heavy. Shall we go on a diet?'

And footage of her crushing the pill into pooch's food then using a measuring tape and scales to check on pooch's diet progress...

I'm not sure what's more unbelievable to me- that you would use diet pills on your dog or that there's a diet pill that you can share with your dog....

I haven't had an only in Japan moment for a while but that sure was one!

I hope anyway...


itty bitty gi

K does aikido twice a week (work permitting) so there is usually a white gi hanging up to dry somewhere. (To the uninitiated- if your darling starts a martial art start saving for a new washing machine, those stiff white tops are brutal on the poor machine and trust me, not washing them is not an option...)

This weeks washing is a little different though:

Lots of gi. And itty bitty gi to boot. K took Meg and Amy to aikido with him on Saturday. I used to do karate and sometimes muck around with Meg showing her my (utterly unco-ordinated) roundhouse kicks. I have to do it now as she will cease to be impressed as soon as she sees the real thing! K does not muck around doing martial arts with them as he takes his martial arts very seriously (he has also done judo (high school) and kendo (elementary school) and does taichi, too.) When Meg said she wanted to do a martial art though K suggested aikido as it is not as violent as karate and Daddy knows what he's doing so can help her out.

Where Meg goes Amy has to go to so off all three of them went.

And came home fast asleep.

Meg had had a ball and spent Sunday raving about shita-harai and ue-harai and pretending you are holding a ball and using a stick and and and... she is sold and wants to join.

I asked Amy if she had fun and she sighed and said she thought she would stay home next week as she was a little tired by the end and she is only five still and anyway, poor mummy at home all alone must need someone to stay with her.

So I guess I'll pack up the ittiest bitty gi for the time being and the washing machine will breathe a small sigh of relief.


the rice chronicles part 8- where the water goes nobody knows

So, last time we visited the rice chronicles the waster was on full bore but the place wasn't flooding. The wise people here at novice rice grower central decided that was probably due to the soil being too fluffy. Too porous. The water was just going down, down, down. Solution? Compact the soil. Method? Well we could wait until the tractor operator had time to use the tractor on it. But where's the fun in that? K turned the water off and waited a couple of days for it to dry out then went down in the 7 seater old style people mover. It's a tank of a thing and a beast to park or manoeuvre through the narrow winding streets of Matsumoto but a star at compressing soil. And having grown up in the city K never went on gravel runs or bush bashing when he got his license so hooning around in a rice paddy was no chore!

Earth compressed? Check. Turn water back on again.

Water accumulating? Check!!!!


Hang on.... water is accumulating but it is taking a lot of water to get a very small covering at the far end of the paddy. The paddy seems to still be uneven but with compressed soil it should still be filling to the overflow outlet pipes. Hmmm.... Maybe it's really dry still?

Or not.

The guy who grows a commercial tomato crop on the field behind our paddy came to have a chat with K.

"Hehehe! You going to plough that rice paddy soon?"
"Hoping to do it tomorrow."
"Hehehe good!"
"Hehehe water is flooding my tomatoes!"
"Oh, sorry. Really? We had no idea. I'll go down and turn it off."
"Hehehe no problem. It's normal. You need to plough the field though. Hehehe."


Went down and had another look. Water was indeed pooling in the tomato field. Not being an engineer I couldn't work it out- there is a two plus metre drop down to the field below. And about a two metre wide strip of grass ad dirt between the paddy and said field. With a concrete water culvert in it. How was water getting down to the tomatoes when we couldn't even fill the paddy let alone overfill it????

Something to do with porous dirt again.

So today, in the rain, and going on until it was in the rain in the dark, the tractor operator was out there not ploughing but moving huge amounts of dirt around to try and level things out and compact the soil a bit more. Poor guy but he's the only one who can drive the tractor so there wasn't much we could do to help.

And we are still multiple steps away from even planting our rice babies.

This rice growing business is not for the faint hearted!


nice to see you!

My gardening ideal is a great big free-for-all where kids and veggies and flowers and animals roam as they wish throughout the yard in safety and pleasure. Therein lies the problem though- how to keep everyone happy and safe? We get weasels, and foxes, and monkeys, and the odd snake and wild boar. Every house in the neighbourhood seems to have their own collection of semi-stray cats. Semi-stray in that they are fed but in all other ways are left tofend for themselves. There's also a road out the front and frequently sprayed apple orchards out the back. So yeah, complete freedom is not really anoption. We started with a small converted shed as a chook cage. Then I decided they needed a larger run and added an extension. Then I decided even that was a little pitiful. So as of this weekend they are freeeeeeeee. Well almost. I'm pretty sure my neighbours would not be keen on poultry visitors. So we have a roll of bird net that I unroll over a large area of the back yard (somewhere with no seeds or baby seedlings!) and while we are at home they are free to scratch and dig and peck to their hearts content. The chooks love it, it makes me happy to see and Meg and Amy are in seventh heaven as they finally have pets to play with!

And as you can see the chooks are so tame they really do come over right where the girls are playing.

K is the least happy with this and it's just because the chooks like sitting on his boots as he cuts wood to be first in line for whatever grubs come out of the wood. Poor K is so worried he'll hurt them he spends a good amount of time trying to reason with them about the danger. He's having slightly more success than I am reasoning with Amy about using real glass in the house she's building....


the friendship garden

There's no such thing as a 'Brenda lantern' flower or veg. So what am I growing?

Well, Brenda had some amazing multicoloured pink and white flowers in her garden. And she saved some seed and gave them to me. Neither of us knew what they were called though so of course I didn't know how or when to sow them. To be on the safe side I waited till it was quite warm and then planted them in seed raising pots in the really good seed growing soil. With that much love and care they gotta do their thing, right??

The lantern part of the label is because in the other half of the seed raising tray I planted some seeds from orange paper lanterny looking flowers (I am not the go to person for plant names obviously!) one of my students gave to me. We also saved seeds from the snapdragons A sent us last year and while it is a very small crop this year we are excited that the second generation is on their way- Amy has her pincer fingers ready and waiting to make them snap!

The primroses that winged their way from Vicky in Hokkaido did splendidly this year- probably thought they were in Okinawa- even with our cold weather! and I have already split the biggest clumps and passed some on to neighbour A.

I love sharing seeds and seedlings with friends. Just like sharing baking only the results last much longer. And you get to remember your friends every time you walk past the garden. Thank you friends!


steamed broccoli

Who doesn't like steamed broccoli?

And zucchini?

What about Habanero chillies?

Who doesn't like it?


Yup, that's my broccoli crop. Steamed a bit too thoroughly a bit too early in the season. I feel slightly better about it now because a) I checked the seed packet and I am still just in the sowing season so I have replanted. And b)? well, this is kind of horrible and I really aren't taking comfort in someone else's misfortune but you see, the woman who makes tomato sauce with A and I every year runs a vegetable seedling company (she grows seedlings on consignment for customers. As in I'll have 2000 tomatoes and 1200 cucumbers please) and she lets A and I pick over the leggy, bolted and left over seedlings. It's a win win situation as she really loves her seedlings and hates throwing out the leftovers but can't possibly grow everything and we are cheapskates.

Well, we went down to check out what she had this year and there were no eggplants. None. This year's must have veg and she's sold out?


She sauna-ed them. Hundreds of them. She looked like she was going to cry. She not only can't fill her orders (too late to re-plant) but she has to buy seedlings for her garden. That must really hurt. We commiserated and cursed the sudden hot weather together. Only my small losses shrank into insignificance in the face of what she had lost. So, yeah, if even the professionals have these issues I feel less stupid about my oversight induced steam-slaughtering.

No less sad but less stupid.

That's a start, right?


while I was shopping...

There is a garden I made from scratch in the corner of our carpark. When we bought the house it was a rubble pile. I had the plumber bury the rubble when he put in our sewerage pipes (I know- bad Heather but it was his idea!) and I have been transplanting self sown plants and scattering gifted seeds and accidentally-fell-in-my-pocket-as-I-walked-past seeds and it has been through a lot (being buried under woodpiles for most of the cold season, trampled on by K's parents who seem completely blind to it's existence and have even parked there! etc etc). I was just thinking that today it was looking particularly pretty. Finally actually looking rather like a planned (and deserving of protection!) garden.

So I smiled at my garden as I left to go and do the weekly shop.

And came home about an hour later to-

JUMPED out of the car thinking 'surely not!!!' It is obviously a garden now!!!' and, peering over the pile of wood I saw:

ahhhhh sigh of relief! I know it doesn't look like much worth saving but the camera angle is necessarily rather odd as I was leaning over that mountain of wood after all!

And the wood? One of the neighbours cut down a tree and dropped the wood off for us. No warning but he came back in the afternoon to check that we wanted it- bit cart before the horse don't you think?? I thanked him profusely- it's bone dry and will burn beautifully and couldn't help myself- thanked him for not putting it on my garden.


The garden outside the gate.


I get the feeling it was luck that saved my poor garden!


note to self to be read May 2012

It's getting hotter now. As an Aussie the season changes here seem really violent. You put your thermals and woollen jumper on same as you have for the last six months and one day BAM- by 10am you're sweltering. Winter's over, Spring has arrived with a vengeance!

When it comes to clothing it's pretty easy to remedy.

But there's something else that suffers with the sudden change of season.

And that's my seed starting beds.

To get the most out of the summer season here we need to start our summer veggies in the plant equivalent of a humidicrib- either indoors in a sunny place, in a greenhouse (we now have materials for two versions but have come u with ANOTHER alternative design and STILL haven't built ours, don't ask.) or in a seed bed with a heavy plastic lid.

That's the version we went for. Nice sunny spot in the garden, aluminium bottom seed bed, pallets of peat moss, little stakes to keep the plastic elevated and we went to town- snap dragons, marigolds, habanero peppers, birds eye chillies, black zucchinis, nasturtiums, yellow cherry tomatoes, Chinese broccoli etc etc.

So, nice warm days and protected from the chilly nights and everything was looking amazing. We had so many zucchini come up I was offering them left right and centre, the Chinese broccoli was going to provide table and freezer for months the habaneros had me dreaming of Mexican food already..

And then today. Phew, it's a hot one. I stripped down to my t-shirt and was sweating as I worked.

went to water my seed babies and pulled the plastic up- wahhhhh!!! It was like a sauna in there. Oh noooooooooo- seed babies do NOT like saunas.

I still haven't counted the carnage properly but I think we lost about 90% of everything, 100% of the Chinese broccoli and the bloody marigolds that Meg and Amy planted by the hundred and I really don't like but tolerate for their bug repellant properties? All survived.

Bloody cockroaches if the plant world!


moving day

We're moving!

Well actually, no. I wasn't invited.

Neither was K.

But Meg and Amy are moving out.
As soon as they finish building their house...:

They have a wall, a cupboard, a floor, a number of cornerstones but the roof is turning out to be very tricky... Amy was most perturbed to realise you don't start building in the morning and move in before dinner...

Guess we won't be calling the removalists right yet...


a garden education

Usually while I garden the girls just play. Or help. Or try to help while playing and get under my feet...

But today I decided to try a scavenger hunt as Meg wanted to study something. The kid would go to school seven days a week if she could!

So I made up a scavenger hunt for the garden. It's too early in the season to have a lot to look at but we managed ok. I had made little labels for the seedlings in advance.

The girls at work.

And the work?

The top line says 'what does it taste like?' and they drew happy/ sad faces depending on what they thought of the flavour of the herbs.

Then they drew the seedlings and finally they each had a planter to fill up with soil and choose seeds to plant and then note what they planted. I gave lots of writing space for lots of different seeds but they both chose to plant only one thing- Amy, lettuce and Meg, peas.

It was quite fun and took quite a while to get through as they had to search and read the labels to find each plant as well.

I've already had requests for more 'studying'.


the rice chronicles part 7- one step forward two steps back

Yup, that is water receding. This whole flooding the rice paddy thing is turning out to be a lot more difficult than I imagined.

The water that runs into the rice paddy comes from a series of conduits that run all around the neighbourhood delivering water to each rice paddy via a series of weir gates that are raised and lowered to direct the flow of water. The amount water flowing is of course finite so the more water that is diverted from the main conduit the less that remains for those down stream. With everyone wanting to flood their rice paddies at the same time this is quite an involved process. Luckily for us, the style of farming we are doing- with ducks- means we are planting slightly later than most others and so can do the proper newcomer thing and wait till last to flood.

But still we should be a little wetter looking than in that picture!

There are four adults involved in the rice paddy project at the moment. When I check the paddy on my way home from work and the water is on at the bottom, then off then on at the top, then on at both ends I just assumed one of the others was adjusting the water.

I asked K if it was him.


Must be neighbour W and her husband then.

Then she called me and asked if it was us changing the water.


So who is it then???

We figured it must have been the rice paddy neighbour but weren't sure why. Were we breaking some water sharing rule? Doing something wrong? As the most in tune with Japanese social niceties we sent K to find out what was going on. Case in point while I was thinking of going down and ringing rice paddy neighbour's bell and asking straight out K took the scythe down and cut grass around the paddy at the time he knew the neighbour would swing by to check the water levels.

And the fluctuating water thing?
Rice paddy neighbour and his mother were very worried that our rice paddy wasn't flooding properly so every time no one else was using the water they diverted it all to our field. When even this didn't work neighbour's mother wanted her son to suggest to us that if we help out with planting and harvesting they would share their rice with us. Isn't that sweet??

But we're made of tougher stuff than that. We still have a couple of weeks until the paddy needs to be flooded and we will get in there and try and compact the earth a bit with a tractor and if worst comes to worst the front half is flooding well and we will just build another wall across there and halve the field- halve the work, too!

I really had no idea rice paddies were such complicated beasts!


who's the boss?

This book was always on my Nanny's bookshelf when we were kids.

Boss for a Week (Scholastic, Ages: 4-9)

When the school holidays rolled around my cousins and my brother and I would sleep at Nanny's house (a whole three doors up the road for us) and I remember reading this book over and over again. The topic- a little girl who becomes boss of her house for a week and makes up all sorts of rules that apply to everyone but her- is quite thrilling when you're a kid. Nanny sent the book to us here in Japan (perk of having the only great-grandkids!) and Meg and Amy think it is just wickedly fun and are just as thrilled by the naughtiness as I remember being. One of the rules the little girl makes is everyone must wear their boots in the house- which is even more thrilling in Japan where of course no shoes at all are worn in the house!

Being quite taken by the idea of being boss of the house Meg decided to try it out:

Unfortunately it didn't have the effect she wanted when it came to mummy making cake for brekky and Daddy carrying her everywhere and everyone cleaning her desk while she watched tv etc etc. Ten points for trying though, honey!


Amy's excursion in pictures

It was overcast, the ground was sodden, the air was heavy with equal measures of humidity and excitement as 72 5 year olds and their mummies, a daddy and two grandmas headed off for a 40 minute walk to the local park for fun and games and a picnic lunch.

It was a long walk!

And the big excitement of the day was that mid-picnic lunch Amy took a bite of a carrot stick and lost a tooth:


two months

It's been two months since the earthquake and the tsunami.

I haven't been blogging about it but it doesn't mean we're not still thinking about it.

Just yesterday the news said that some of the schools in the disaster areas were opening for the first time. Over a month later than the rest of the country. Some kids still can't go to the schools they used to and the entire school has been transferred to a new school. Many families have moved temporarily or permanently to different areas- no house or job anymore... and the kids will start a new chapter in their lives in a new environment.

K's parents house is back in living order, they have had the foundation fixed and thrown out mountains of broken things. MIL says the house feels bigger. I have been suggesting that less furniture would have that effect for years only I was thinking of decluttering under better circumstances!

The heart-wrenching stories are still coming out and a lot of people are going to need a lot of help for a long time to come. I found this personal blog from a nurse who was in Iwate with a medical team:
It's only 14 entries long but it's so human and touching as she describes what she is seeing and doing and feeling.

Personally I'm still shaken up by it all and cry when I see stories on the news- even the happy ones! It has been raining hard Since Monday night and it's the snow melt season as well. As I was driving to work yesterday I drove down by the river.


I immediately started crying.

It was just the siren going off to warn us that they are releasing water from the dam up stream and that the river level may rise suddenly. It happens every Spring. I know that. But somehow hearing the siren and thinking about all that water rushing down from the mountains made me remember all the footage of the tsunami- with the tsunami warning sirens going constantly in the background...

The radiation problem is still very real, too. K's parents are not growing anything in their vegetable garden this year. A couple of their neighbours have gone ahead with planting but most have opted not too. This is a huge blow to them as, as well as the obvious lack of vegetables, in all honesty, vegetable gardening in their tiny plot is my FILs only hobby. MIL is already worried about his health and being stuck inside all day won't help things either.

Of course all this complaining is underlaid with feelings of guilt for even having the luxury of wondering whether to plant vegetables when so many are still living in evacuation centres.

There was a line in the nurse's blog that really stuck with me. She was talking about living day to day and not having peace of mind to think of the future and she said all you can do is hope tomorrow is better than today. And I think that, even if it is incremental, if something positive is done towards reconstruction each day then all the tomorrows will be slightly better than today. And that might not sound like much but it's a lot.


there are no shortcuts

I was in the supermarket checkout line talking to Amy. Well actually having quite a weird conversation where I smile and talk in my nice voice while strictly forbidding her in quite strong words from climbing under the chain to the unmanned register next to us, hanging off the back of the shopping trolley or leaning around the register to see what's on the other side of the screen (impending the operator's ability to scan stuff in the process....) you know, just the usual....

So the register operator exclaims 'wow!'and asks Amy if she understands what mummy is saying. Poor Amy thinks the register operator has been understanding the whole conversation and looks a little shocked. She pouts and says yes. And miraculously stops doing everything I was asking her not to do. This gives the register operator a chance to ask how I taught her English.

Just talking to her, the same way she learnt Japanese.

Hmmm.... I was thinking of buying that CD...


You know the one Ishikawa Ryo uses? You only listen 5 minutes a day and you can speak English....

Ohhh...Speed learning?

Yes! What do you think?

This conversation always amuses me. I'm an English teacher. I teach right here in the village. That fact is quite well known. And yet I often seem to be asked my opinion on various English learning devices. Usually those promising maximum results for minimum effort.

If I have time I get on my soapbox and go on about a holistic approach to language learning, active learning versus passive, use it or lose it etc etc.

If I don't have time or think my kids will go nuts if I go through my "English learning takes effort" speech again I just smile and say:

"Oh, sorry, I have no idea- I haven't used it."

And as for Ishikawa Ryo? He's a pretty impressive golfer, a cute kid and has confidence in bags so I'm sure he'll go far. His English though?

There are no shortcuts!


the rice chronicles part 6- getting there....

The water is going in! It will look like a real rice paddy soon, huh?

And just because I think she's so darn cute:


mummy's little helper

Meg and Amy are both pretty good about helping in the garden. They are never made to garden but we won't leave them home alone while we go to the big garden or the rice paddy so there are times when they do have to come out to the garden. We always take skipping ropes or paper and markers or road chalk or bicycles or something with us so they can have fun while we work. For the most part Meg plays and is pretty uninterested in what we are doing (unless she can help daddy. Daddy's little helper is her favourite job). She is pretty upfront about her lack of interest. I was using the lawn prodder tool (to aerate the soil) and she asked to do it. I acquiesced and she replied "I won't do it all, sorry. I'll stop when I got bored, ok?" Of course honey but she did make me giggle! In contrast Amy is quite interested in the garden and what we're doing and what will happen next and then what and then what and why?

So, on Mother's Day while K and Meg changed the snow tires for regular tires on all three cars (Meg got to take off all the lugnuts after K loosened them) Amy hung out in the hammock chatting with me as I watered all the seeds. Then when I got out string and scissors her interest was piqued.

What are you doing?
Cutting string for the peas.
They need something to climb up.
Otherwise they will fall over.
How do they climb up?
They have curly little hands that wind around the string.
Show me!
I wanna do it, too!

We started tying the strings on and Amy realised that I was about twice as fast as she was. She was worried that she wouldn't get to tie many and asked (ok demanded) that I stop and let her do it by herself.

And so I did.

And so she did.

And the only time I interfered was when I intervened to suggest that the peas would find the string in their own time and didn't need her 'encouragement' to wind around the strings.

Thanks Amy!


the rice chronicles part 5- invasion of the plastic

Not the one at the back that's fully flooded. We're not there yet! The one at the front that has sprouted black plastic. It's called aze-sheet. Aze is the name of the ridges between the rice paddies.

The sheet is there to add to the waterproof-ness (waterproofability?) of the aze. Our aze are so thick/ wide that it really isn't an issue but as the field hasn't been used as a rice field for about 40 years we don't know if it is riddled with mole and mouse holes or whatever so it's like aze insurance.

Aze sheet close-up. Oh and if you look really closely you can see that the field to the South (the downhill side) is also using aze sheet. And that's another great reason to use it- the neighbours do. And they recommend we do, too. Strongly recommend it. And sometimes farming is more about people than plants... that's just the way it goes.


Meggy and Kensuke, sitting in a tree...

Meg has a crush. The little boy's name is Kensuke and we have heard all about him for the last week. Where he sits in class, his prowess at kick-base (some mutant ball game) how much lunch he eats etc etc. She has the wedding organised (rather like the Royal Wedding only not as long) the house chosen (a new house, painted a nice colour. Nothing like the house she is forced to endure living in at the moment), the children decided (only one as if you have two they just fight all the time...) etc etc. She will call him 'anata' which is a lovey-dovey way of saying 'you' and he will propose while they are eating the anpanman kids meal at the local family restaurant. Poor K is squirming and having palpitations about the whole thing but he needn't worry. She has no intention of getting married until she finishes school as it would be really tricky to have to make his lunchbox and clean the house and do her homework... And how does little Kensuke feel about having his future mapped out like this?

He doesn't know.

She hasn't told him yet.

Because he might like someone else and then she will just marry daddy after all.


we want carp, too!

May 5 is children's Day. Only it's really Boy's Day as March 3rd is Girl's Day. March 3rd we eat rolled sushi, sweetened puffed rice, put out the dolls in their case and celebrate the girls.

Children's Day is all about boys. And while the Girl's Day celebrations are quite quiet and the dolls displayed in the guest room/ parlour/ the genkan bench at a stretch the Boy's flying carp are far more ostentatious. In the cities and towns they fly from balconies and rooftops and the odd portable flagpole temporarily erected in the garden.

Here in third/ fourth/ fifth/ fifteenth generation farm country where sons- and especially eldest sons- are celebrated and lorded and a source of bragging rights and sighs of relief the carp fly high. Very high. Permanent flagpoles are cemented into the ground outside the houses reaching up to the sky. Or way above the roof of the two story house anyway. As well as the spinning whirly gig and the rainbow windsock and three/ four/ five carp flying from the flag pole there is a second flagpole with a flag that looks like a samurai standard. It has the family crest at the top and a number of other symbols or pictures pertinent to the family in question. The whole thing is visible from a long way away, very impressive and awe inspiring as I assume it is supposed to be.

This year it has been incredibly windy and the big farming families' carp have spent more time chilling in their apple crates than flying high but even so Meg and Amy have had a severe case of carp envy.

"Why don't we have carp?"
"We don't have any boys."
"Daddy's a boy!"
"Daddy's a man. Carp are for boys."
"We want carp, too!"

No amount of reasoning was going to work. And so, in a Golden Week where every single day was spent outside in either the garden or the rice field, when we decided to take a break on the afternoon of Children's Day and do something with the girls and we asked them what they wanted to do Amy said watch tv (poor kid, deprived of all that tv while playing outside) and Meg said all four of us make carp together. Having a horrible premonition that she was going to want a four metre flag pole and metres long nylon carp I calmly asked how you make carp.

"With construction paper and markers. And crayons. And tape. I think you need lots of tape."

Ahhhh! This we could do! (phew!!!)
I upped the excitement and suggested we use paints to boot.

And so:

It was beautiful out in the garden in the sun with the wind a merciful light breeze.
From the top the wind sock (Christmas wrapping) Amy's carp, Megs, K's and mine. Completely upside down and inside out of the order you are supposed to fly them but hey, we are a boy-less carp-needless family after all.

And Meg? Thrilled!

And Amy didn't even remember that she had wanted to watch tv...


not just rice- garden update

All the work in the rice paddy is great but man can not live on rice alone. Well actually K probably could but the rest of us would miss veggies I'm sure!

So in the downtime from the rice paddy we have been busy planting out veggies. It's been a cold Spring so far and the frost warnings haven't ket up yet so it's a cautious approach to the Spring planting this year. My neighbour the garden guru- the one who grows all her own seedlings from seeds in her green house and seed saves to boot- says the seedlings are 10 days behind this year. That 10 days is a boon for us as we are about a week behind normal with the extra work.

The last of the kale with the snow peas (planted in three stages) behind.

The herb garden. Garlic chives, chives, coriander, Italian parsley and the last of the coloured swiss chard which is re-sprouting from the base. Bonus! At the back under the white curtain are next years Japanese leeks (negi) in their incubator and behind that we are starting habanero, jalapeno, stick broccoli, sweet bite tomatoes, pest deterring marigolds, morning glory and some mixed flowers the girls are growing under a humidi-sheet called 'love sheet' which Meg can't say without giggling.

The return of the black plastic. Sigh. It really does make a difference.... from the left is the bed set aside for the green peppers and eggplant, the corn (planted in three stages), snap peas, green beans and soy beans, the bed set aside for the zuchinni, the chilli bed, the tomato bed (with its frame up but no plastic shelter yet) and at the far end on the embankment we have green and purple asparagus.

The other half of the garden (we have three sets of rows this year- the top is all leeks, the middle was the picture above and this is the bottom) from the bottom of the picture- basil seeds and a couple of seedlings because we can't wait! The two containers are jars we turned into mini hot houses as it's a little chilly for basil still. Then it's the wintered greens that are going to seed and are being re-sown as we pull them up. We reserve one bed a year for this as we want a constant supply of salad greens. We have five or 6 varieties of salad greens at the moment and more to come as it warms up. Then there's the okra bed, the fennel bed, the red and yellow pepper bed and one for cabbage (I think) before you get to the embankment with its row of German irises.

The blueberry bushes are in bud and the rhubarb and raspberries are shooting like mad. This is berry alley- a pie in the making without even moving!

We also planted five varieties of potatoes in the top field and will plant sweet potatoes and soy beans for drying to make miso and other beans for preserving as well up there. We'll grow pumpkins on the compost heap again as that worked last week and it lets them go wild without getting in the way of anything else. It looks like being a good year in the garden. Fingers crossed of course!

The best way to view the garden!




Momentous day around here. Five years, six months and one week of work, hard work, painful work, loving and loved work gone.

All gone.


She's thrilled! I always said it was her hair and she could choose how she has it but I turned hypocrite when she wanted it shaved with lightening bolts like the class bad boy she loves. Yeah, um... no.

But today we went to the hairdresser and the little fashionista was quite at home in the chair. Explaining her desires to the hairdresser (above the ear) listening to the advice (a little longer) and agreeing with conditions (make it curly please). I could hear her chatting away to the assistant washing her hair as well. Such a difference from Meg who didn't speak to anyone but through me the entire time.

She was thrilled with the entire process and loves the outcome and thinks hairdresser might be a good career move to boot. Me? I feel responsible for creating a monster. A narcissistic monster- she can't walk past a reflective surface at the moment... And I'm taking a little longer to get used to it- it's so short and she lost all her blonde baby hair.



the rice chronicles part 4- inch by inch

yesterday's pic:

And today:

There's no point of reference but the ditch and the water now go all the way around the paddy.

That's all.

Because that's a lot.