chook commandos

We have seven chooks now and they get along pretty well. The big two have grudgingly accepted that they are to share their living space with the five young upstarts. For their part the five young chooks have realised that the only thing they have to lose getting in there and fighting for the kitchen scraps is a couple of tail feathers. Not perfect but worth it for some rotten tomatoes or left over spaghetti.

Whenever I'm home I let them out of the cage to free range a bit and scratch up some bugs and eat some weeds and all that good stuff. And hopefully not eat all the cabbage and broccoli.

When the big chooks have a go at the little chooks they scatter in all directions though so, worrying that they would disappear, I erected a deterrent fence that works for the little five. It's no real fence, just a metre high bit of plastic netting, they can definitely fly higher than that should they wish. But they're happy with their bigger run and not very adventurous and still a little skittish (as I'm sure I'd be too if doing something adventurous caused tail feather loss!) so they stay in there and enjoy the peace.

The peace that is a result of the two big chooks and their sense of adventure, above average intelligence and commando chook skills. Seriously. Yes, I'm bragging about my chooks now and that's a little odd but check this out. I have been trying to work out how to get the video for a while now because they race down and do this literally as soon as I open the door to their cage so I don't have time to get down their first to set up for the shoot. Today I outsmarted them though- left some cabbage leaves in the path to freedom and bought myself two minutes setup time.

And so, now that I have rambled on for this long about commando chooks for the intro to a seven second video, I present, for your viewing pleasure and the proof that a week hanging out with the chooks while not working was way too long for my sanity:

Come on, that's pretty cool, huh?


It's the law

Good morning.

This is Azusagawa Branch Office Public Address System.

There have been complaints of burning off of agricultural materials causing nuisance.

Please note that burning off is prohibited by law.

When burning off please do so as little as possible and be aware of wind direction and neighbouring residences.

Thank you.


I hear that every morning at 6:00.

And every morning at 6:01 I shake my head and smile.

This sure is a crazy country some days.


The littlest diva

I know Amy is my kid.

I have very vivid memories to that end.

But personality wise?

I wonder.

I really wonder.

She is all about the fashion. The styling. The co-ordinating and the hair styles.

Me? I'm a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl. Black pants and drressy t-shirts for work.

I like novelty socks. That's the extent of my fashionising.

K? Hahaha! He's a jeans and t-shirt guy from way back.

Literally. He wears his High School festival t-shirt still.

So dealing with Amy's hairstyle hystrionics on a daily basis is really hard to understand for both of us.

It starts out calm enough:

How do you want your hair today- ponytail or plait?
Hmmmm... plaits. Two please.
Ok, hold still.
Mmmmm... I think one plait here (wave of hand in dramatic fashion towards the side of her head) and one here (matching wave to top of head) and then the rest swept up kind of but down a bit, too.
Amy- it's a kinder day. You need your hair tied back properly. I'll do two plaits but just normal ones.
No! Two plaits only is ok but only the ones from here (left ear) to here (right ear).
Ok. Heidi style. We have to hurry though as that takes time.
(Hair finished Amy looks in the mirror)
Noooooo!!!! Not like that!!! It looks terrible!! I hate it!! Agghhhhhh I can't go to kinder like this!
Amy, we talked about your hair, I did what you asked and now it's time to go. Get your shoes.
Aghhhhhhhhhhh you made me look not cute!!!!!
And invariably she goes to kinder most put out and comes home having re-done her hair at naptime. Quite productive use of a naptime I'm pretty sure 6 year olds could well do without but still...

So, I decided I'd had enough and discussed with Amy what we could do to avoid hairstyle hysteria.

We tried my idea of doing her hair in front of the mirror to no avail.

Her ideas? She has two.

One is to take her hairbrush and hair ties and ribbons and scrunchies and clips over the road to the neighbour Y who is a hairdresser each morning. Nice try kid but Y has three kids to chase around and get ready for school before she goes off to her fulltime job for the day.

So, idea two? Get my sister's bridesmaid E to do her hair like she did at the wedding.

The bridesmaids- all gorgeous and all really, really sweet to Meg and Amy while they hung out in the 'big girls' room' getting ready with the bride.

Not a great picture of it but just to show Amy's wedding day hair. It was curled and sprayed and held on with a hairband. E really did treat her like a princess and made her look like one to boot. Nothing too technical but unfortunately not very suitable for a day of running and jumping and playing at kinder. And I think not even Princess Aiko flies in a hairdresser to get ready for school...

And my effort that definitely didn't please madam?

Little ponytail on her fringe? check.
Sparkly butterfly clip? check.
plait on the side at the back and then curled into a bun? check.
Hot pink scrunchy to match her other hairtie? check.

But the bun wasn't perfectly round!!!!
And the little ponytail at the front was sticky-uppy! The horror!

I'm going to have to drag out my old school photos for one of those 'you don't now how good you got it kid' talks. I mean my mum gave me one plait or one ponytail each morning. And tied it off with one forest green ribbon to match my school uniform. The end.

And I never went to school with this look on my face, either:


If I didn't work...

I got my first part-time job in a bakery when I was 14. I loved it.

And I loved getting money as my pocket money definitely didn't keep pace with the CPI.

I was trying to remember but I think I have worked ever since then. In high school I worked in the bakery in the day, at an Italian restaurant in the evening and babysitting in all my free time- phew!

I worked until I was 8 months pregnant with Meg- then we moved prefecture.

I only worked one morning a week until Amy was two but you know- looking after a two year old and a baby was pretty full time work as far as I'm concerned!

This last week I had a taste of not working.

The English school I work at had a week's break. Well, there were two national holidays so it was really only three days off but still...

Three days home with no kids and no husband (everyone else was life as normal). I was all excited.

And you know it wasn't quite what I expected.

And so.... in answer to all my wondering of what life would be like if I didn't work:

I would be the size of a house- there is just so much more time for drinking coffee when you are at home. And coffee goes so well with bikkies, or cake, or toast and jam...

The house would be a lot less cluttered- it is so much easier to sort out and throw out stuff without three hoarders at my elbow saying 'nooooo! don't throw out that 5 year old half missing broken toy- we neeeed it!'

The house wouldn't be that much cleaner- I always tell myself that the reason I don't vacuum every day is because I'm too busy. It's a lie.

The garden would look fabulous!-usually I just pull out some weeds on my way to somewhere else and try to avoid looking at the rest of it too hard. With all that free time I pulled up every weed everywhere. I also tidied and raked and burnt off and even planted the Autumn veggies on schedule. Seriously, the garden would rock if I didn't work.

I would be a hermit- hmmm the downside of lots of time in the garden is a lot, lot less time talking to people. Even if most of my students are pre-schoolers they're still (mostly) verbal. The same can't be said for onions and cabbages. I think I need human interaction to keep sane!

My English would rock- I'd be dropping words like Qat and Qi and Vint and Iritis and Heid in conversation. I discovered online scrabble and I'm hooked!

I'd be looking for a job- for all the fun I had in the garden I really missed working during my week off and am glad to be back again!


car adornments

I have become quite desensitized to car embellishments since living here.

My neighbour's sweet young daughter in law drives their 2 yo granddaughter around in a car with a marijuana leaf air freshener swinging from her rear vision mirror.

Amy's kinder teacher's car looks like kittychan threw up in there. The entire interior is pink, lacy, frilly and emblazoned with pictures of the mouthless cat.

Neighbour A's 18 year old daughter's car on the other hand looks like she could rent it out as a mobile satanic altar. If it's not black it's dark purple. If it doesn't have a skull on it it has two. Or a cross. Or both and a dagger.

And that's just the cars I see regularly. Really, it seems anything goes here. I have seen curtains on the front passenger windows of a car, I've seen kids hanging out the windows, dogs being 'walked' behind k- trucks etc etc. I thought I'd seen it all.

Until this morning when I was stopped at a red light here in the village. Waiting to cross an intersection I was trying to make out what the car opposite had on their dash. It looked like not one but two boxes of tissues in furry tissue box covers.

Quite possible, really.

Until one of the tissue box covers moved.

And not in a bobble-head dash ornament kind of way.

It scratched itself.

That's when the light changed and as I passed the car I realised what I was looking at.


The guy had two cats basking in the sunshine on his dashboard as he drove around town at 8:30 in the morning.

As you do.

Or rather as you hopefully don't!


Amy's Birthday

Happy Birthday Amy!

Six today.

Well "Thikth" poor thing as six really is pretty rough to try and say with no front teeth!

While Meg wanted to go bowling for her birthday Amy wanted a party.

Yeah! Thought me. I love birthday parties. My sister is five years younger than me and I remember 'producing' her birthday parties too. The un-partying Japan is a bit of a disappointment for my creative desires.

So yeah! A party! Pirate theme? Fairy theme? Animal theme? What do you want? Guest list? Party games? Tell me what you want!

Well, seems "party" is a pretty all encompassing word. Amy wanted no theme, no games, one friend, free play and lots of balloons.

That's not a party- that's a play date....

Oh well, it's her day not mine (you're all invited to my pirate themed, dress up, scavenger hunting, pinata bashing, pass the parcelling, no holdsbarred birthday party next July!) so we invited S-kun and his sister as his sister is Meg's friend and by inviting her we doubled our guest list!

Before everyone arrived we opened presents with Grandpa chiming in on skype:

This is a shocking picture and K is so talented at taking them that I honestly wonder how it could possibly be accidental sometimes but he's too nice a guy for it not to be but anyway, I like it as Amy is jumping up and down in her new shoes from Obaachan and singing 'fast shoes! fast shoes! I got fast shoes, too!'

The guests arrived at 10 and I forgot to take pictures. Oops. The kids made their own place mats (stickers and glitter and pictures on paper that I laminated and walah! place mats.) and then played outside in the sandpit and cubby while I set up the lunch of egg salad sandwiches, a DIY hotdog bar, guacamole and veggie sticks, fairy bread and cake. It was such a very bready meal I was worried the Japanese kids would be a bit put off but woah baby, no problems! We went through 3 packs of hotdog rolls and even the fairy bread and guacamole was lapped up.

The request for the cake was 'chocolate and very pink and lots and lots ofhearts'. This is what I came up with:

Shocking photo. Guess it's not just K, huh?

Amy was thrilled and a little speechless:

And after I reassured the guests and their mum that food dye is not poisonous and that while colourful the cake was indeed edible it was a great time.

I'm hoping so much fun was has we can go for at least six kids, a pirate theme, a scavenger hunt and why not even tractor rides next time!



This one's for mum and dad. It's sideways because that's the extent of my computer skills.

This is the rain the day after the typhoon. The day that's supposed to be nice and clear and sunny.

Coming from a country of water restrictions, no watering days, failed crops, green droughts, droughts etc it still surprises me, even after 12 years, the sheer volume of rain we get here.

On day two of the typhoon I left a bucket outside when I fed the chooks in the morning. When I went out to lock them in for the night around 9 hours later the bucket was full. In one day!

My grandma has buckets dotted all over hr property in which she collects any precipitation there is, drop by precious drop, and eke it out watering her plants.

If only I could share the bounty, huh?

Maybe even give away the bit that washed away the seeds I just planted...


Age old problem

Public holiday today. Autumnal Equinox Day. K is still on a business trip so we decided to have a girls' day out and go shopping. Woo hoo. Honestly I'd much rather be mucking around in the garden than hanging out at the local shopping centre but the girls love putting their dresses on and packing their bags (hankie, snacks, wet towel in a ziploc, pencil, paper, toy- I swear if we were ever stranded anywhere I would be relying on them to get me through!) and going shopping.

So off we headed to the local-ish Jusco. Got Meg's incredibly pedantic maths book (13 grid squares across, horizontal, dotted lines) picked up some stuff for Amy's birthday and some multi-coloured indelible markers that were on the chuckout table just because I love the idea of labeling all the girls stuff in purple or blue or orange just because I can!

I went to the register and was kind of zoning out listening to the usual prattle (the register operators her don't actually chat to you but they tell you what you're buying and how much it is as they ring it up) when I was jolted back to the moment when the woman asked 'do you have one of these cards?'

It was a picture of two loyalty cards- one for pregnant women and one for grandparents. Sheesh. I was kind of dumbstruck, sure I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt but surely I didn't look either pregnant or grandmotherly????

Fast forward to night time and wewere at a local festival. Not ours this time as ours is a Spring fertility festival. My friend S invited the girls and I to her neighbourhood's Autumn Harvest festival. It was really beuatiful. Quiet and peaceful and the roads were lined with these beautiful hand painted lanterns:

There were all sorts of designs but of course I had to take a picture of this one!

Anyway, S and her husband were introducing me to their friends and neighbours and one of the men asked where I lived.


Ahhhh!!! Mizutani's wife!


Yeah, yeah! Mizutani Techan's wife!


Mizutani's wife? She's my friend and co-farmer A. She's a kickass woman and I'd be happy to think I'm like her in many ways. Like her. But to have someone think I am her? Well, she's 100% ethnically Japanese for one thing.

Oh and she turned 60 this year.



After a day like today I am heading back to the shopping centre tomorrow.

In a dress.

And make-up.

And buying some Oil of Ulay.

Family size.


the no notice bento

Hmmm well, it's kind of healthy....

steamed pumpkin, mysterious processed squid things, cheese, omelette slices, grapes, frozen jellies, apple cubes and cucumber sticks with mayonnaise. At the back are two seaweed wrapped rice balls with pickled plums. She wanted to use K's bento box and as he's away I said why not. But it's huge! And if you don't fill the bento pretty well everything rattles around in there and turns into a right mess before lunch.

The mystery squid things are definitely not something I usually feed the girls in such quantities as I'm pretty iffy on processed meat but it was protein in a pinch and beggars can't be choosers, huh?

The verdict?

"Everyone said my bento was HUGE! It was bigger than the TEACHERS! It was yummy! But I got so full I had to leave a cucumber stick. Sorry mummy."

No apologies necessary and I'm impressed that's all she left!


Typhoon Day

Woke up at 5:55 and it was bucketing down. By the time I painfully typed out the text to Meg's little co-walker's mum that I would drive them to school it had stopped. By the time I had read her no, no, no I'll do it mail it was pouring again.

By the time I got Meg into her wet weather gear and boots with all her gear (school bag, umbrella, water bottle) under that and opened the front door it had stopped raining and she kept little H's mum waiting as she determinedly shucked her jacket off and strode purposefully out the door calling back at me "You lied! It's NOT raining!!"

Oh well...

The morning was spent listening to the half hourly reminders to conserve water and clearing the yard. In the rain. All the news reports were saying the typhoon was heading straight for us so I checked some typhoon sites on the net and it said you should secure or pack up anything that might get caught up in the storm and cause damage.

Geee.... things like the bicycles, scooters, lawn chairs, plant pots, bbqs, watering cans, stilts, washing poles and the like? Sheesh.... So I put on my Drizabone coat and knee high gumboots and set to cleaning everything up.

Then I remembered that the chook cage roofing wasn't all nailed down. Some of the tin was just set up there with rocks on top. Just as I was toing and froing on what to do about that one the outside PA kicked in:

"This is Azusagawa Branch Office. Typhoon 15 is approaching. Please secure all agricultural materials including greenhouses. Please remember you will be responsible for any damage caused by your property."

Guess I'm going to nail that tin down then... Every typhoon there are two things you can almost guarantee you will hear on the news: someone climbed on their roof to dislodge debris/ unblock gutters/ secure something and fell and died and someone went down to check their rice paddy and drowned/ was washed away in the culvert. So, climbing up on the rickety and recycled chook house which is at the far end of our property a very big holler from any neighbours was just about the stupidest thing I could think of to do. But then if a piece of tin flew somewhere and damaged someone's house or injured someone?? I came to a compromise and just nailed the edges I could do from the ground. It's the thought that counts, right?

I was just doing the final check of the property and looking forward to a coffee when my phone rang. It was the school. Agghhhhhhhh!!! What's happened to Meg???

Ran inside to answer (not sure how waterproof the phone is) and it was Meg's class teacher.

Thanking me for the nice note I wrote about Sport's Day.

Huh??? Shouldn't he be in class????

By the way- the kids are getting out at 12:30 today because of the typhoon. You wrote that Meg is walking today. Will you be able to collect her at 12:30 instead or do you want her to go to after school care?

After explaining that I had arranged with Meg to meet her at the school carpark and take her home anyway he thanked me again for my comments on Sport's Day, told me where to buy the new maths workbook Meg needs and hung up. All in all a rather bizarre call!

Changed clothes and went down to get Meg.

I found out from Meg how the operation went. The principal decided school would finish at 12:30 and ordered school buses to arrive then. A letter was drafted to be taken home explaining the decision. The students were set to silent reading and the teachers called to the staff room where every household was contacted regarding what to do with their kids. The after school centre was opened two hours early for kids going there. Kids not registered at the centre and/ or whose parents couldn't be contacted had supervised free play in the gym (active kids?) and the library (quieter ones?) Teachers then passed on information about younger brothers/ sisters to their respective class teachers and all non bus/ gym/ library/ after school care students and teachers congregated in the school courtyard waiting for their parents.

Up till here it was a really smooth operation and I was pretty impressed.

But then?

Well remember it was bucketing down?

And windy to boot?

And there are 860 odd kids at Meg's school?

This is what the school looked like 5 minutes before pickup time:

All those cars are parked. Their owners are the parents with the umbrellas on the left. Just next to the yellow sign? One of the school busses. It was honking up a storm as the road was impassable. All the roads around the school looked like that.

I met H's mum and the fireman who lives in our neighbourhood down there (coincidentally he's the one with the flattened rice next to our rice). I had passed the fireman standing in the rain with his hazard lights on talking to another neighbour half way down our hill. It was in a little dip and I immediately thought 'Oh no! Flooding!' Seems H's mum thought the same thing. Mr N laughed and said no. He'd been helping out the neighbour who had got a nail in her tire. Poor woman. Crap weather to be changing a tire in!

Anyway grabbed Meg and headed home again. She was miffed as she only had two days of school this week anyway and now she was down to 1 1/2. Driving home with the wipers on full and still not really seeing very well I decided I wanted to see the rice paddy (giving me a two out of two for stupid typhoon behaviour) but you know, the culverts here are so narrow I really think even a skinny old farmer guy would have trouble getting washed away- let alone me! Met co-farmer K there dripping wet and clearing the culverts. Poor guy. I offered to help but he was finished. He had opened the water gates up completely to fill the paddy. This increases the percentage of the rice that's under water so it is more stable and less likely to fall over. I agreed to come back in an hour and turn the water off again.

Got home and started typhoon proofing the house on the inside now. I closed all the window screens so that if the windows did break hopefully the glass would be caught by the screens before they inevitably popped out of their grooves. Filled the bath, filled some bottles of water, lit the fire, made sure all our torches were all working (we have torches everywhere thanks to K's fatalistic attitude towards disasters) filled the coffee pot and charged my phone and computer. If I have to sit through a typhoon without power I am going to want coffee and online scrabble, right?

Back out to the rice paddy with Meg grumbling in the back seat that we've already been out to the rice paddy and she wants to do origami. It was only a 5 minute trip and you now she survived quite well.

Got back and it had stopped raining again. Bizarre.

They repeated the call to secure your agricultural materials. This reassured me as the next level of warning is to stop all agricultural activities and get inside to safety so if we weren't getting that notice then we were still OK.

Went out to get Amy and the kinder was a pool:

Grabbed Amy and raced home. The news was saying the trains were all stopped and the highway was on speed restrictions in some areas and closed in others. I was quite relieved as I thought K would cancel his business trip to Osaka.


He came home, changed, grabbed four cans of coffee and a road atlas, took the packed dinner the girls and I made with a big sloppy grin on his face (first time the girls have made daddy's lunch box) and went out into the dark and the rain and the typhoon. Silly idiot.

The phone tree went around saying that they couldn't guarantee there would be water for school lunch the next day so please get your kid to bring a packed lunch and a drink bottle of water.

Sheesh! A make a lunch box directive at 7pm???? This isn't Australia. We're not talking about a vegemite and cheese sandwich and an apple. Nooooo, we need cute and fiddly and I really didn't want to go to the supermarket at this time of night. In a typhoon. When it would probably be crowded with all the other parents from the school anyway. Oh well. Meg will have to make do with what we have here. Apples and grapes and rice. It's almost healthy.

I stayed up until I got the message that K had arrived safely and was going out drinking with guys stuck in the office there. Glad you're ok, honey.

And that was pretty much it for typhoon day here. Bit of a non-event compared to so many other areas but it was still really scary for wimpy little me!

Here's hoping that is the last one for the season and heck, the last disaster for Japan for a good long while thanks!


It's raining, it's pouring

It's raining, it's pouring it's typhoon #16.

We don't get many typhoons here. We're a fair way inland and North of the main typhoon target areas.

But today we're getting torrential rain.

It's BUCKETING down.

The rivers are up.

The gutters are overflowing.

There is a heavy rain warning and flooding advisory (lesser than a warning but be cautious). And the bizarre thing about all this water?

We may run out of water.



Our water purification centre uses river water.

On normal river flow it copes just fine.

When the river is all churned up with mud and running fast it can't cope and the filters get blocked up.

Then they turn the water off to the houses and just let the river water flow on by. Untreated and unused.

So all day today while I am jumpy and nervous and awaiting a landslide (not because a warning or even an advisory came out for our area but just because I like to worry myself into knots about things I can't control) the in house PA has been going off. I jump up and run into the corridor (all the better to hear of my impending peril) and it is a half hourly notice from the water board

"This is Matsumoto Water Board. The heavy rain is churning the river and the water purification centre is straining. Please conserve water. Thank you for your co-operation."

They are quite serious about it as they are using the inside PA, the outside PA and noise trucks.

I know it's important.

I know no-one wants to go without water.

But please, when people are jumpy and nervous they don't need the emergency PA system working quite so actively on a non-emergency matter!

Amy very solemnly offered to forego her bath to conserve water.

I equally seriously assured her that bathing children who have just eaten natto is considered an essential use of resources.

Here's to a sunny tomorrow!


respect for the aged day

Today is respect for the aged day in Japan.

It was a lot more relaxed than last year when K was very busy doing the respecting thing.

This year the old people in our neighbourhoodgot their sake, lunch, karaoke and dumpling present from someone else.

But before they took over the neighbourhood community centre we had an evacuation drill.

Yes, another one.

But you know, better safe than sorry and all that and after the events this year (Tohoku earthquake, north Nagano earthquake, Wakayama landslide, typhoons etc) it's always good to be prepared so we turned up at our arranged meeting place (at an intersection near a stand of bamboo- safe in any conditions and away from concrete fences).

Meg and Amy were wearing their superhero belts and carrying newspaper swords. Our concession to safety was to wear hats for sun protection.

One neighbour went back to her house twice- once for a hat and once for her phone.

Another neighbour arrived by car. Well it turned out she had been out and was just getting home.

One family arrived in sandals.

And then there was the neighbour who turned up in his safety helmet, with his emergency bag on his back, long sleeves, long pants and work boots and holding a radio. That was on and tuned to the national broadcaster.

Made the rest of us look woefully like tourists!

After everyone arrived and was accounted for we headed to the community centre for a talk about fire extinguishers.

Super heroes taking a break sitting on the festival flag pole

Learning how to use a fire extinguisher. The basics were:
Yell fire!! Apparently a lot of people want to put it out without alerting their family- thinking they'll get yelled at.
Don't carry the extinguisher by the handle as you can accidentally trigger it and you only get 10 seconds. (I had no idea on that one!)
Point at the base of the fire.
Be aware that there will be a big cloud of smoke and smoke extinguisher powder and you may cough and become oriented so ensure the route out to safety is clear before you start extinguishing.

All in all pretty interesting but I hope I never need to use my new info!


the rice chronicles part 15- staying upright

We're getting there!

this is a blurry, out of focus picture taken with my phone but I love this one super clump of rice. Why is it so much bigger then the others? Healthy seeds? Extra duck fertiliser? Who knows. I like to think it wanted to see what lay beyond the field and put in that extra spurt just to check it out!

I love the contrast with the neighbour's soba.

And now to today's theme. Keeping your rice upright. We have had so much rain this year. SO much rain late in the season. It's real extremes. I was watering everything in sight a few days ago as even hardy plants like zinnias were wilting and then the next thing you know the rice is falling over because it's so wet. I am not sure why rice falls over other than I think if it gets really big and then they reduce the water in the paddy which they do towards the end of the season and then it rains heaps and/or gets windy it seems a sure thing that rice paddies will start looking a lot less upright.

It often starts quite small:

And then kind of like dominoes it just keeps going and going:

That's the same field at the back. It's the neighbours field. And that's ours in the front. Still upright. The neighbours have been rice farmers for generations. As have many of the people whose rice fell over this year (and I'd say probably 3/4 of the rice around here is at least partly down by now) and we are beginners so I'm not sure what's to thank for our luck. Our rice was planted about two weeks later than most so maybe it's just not our time yet and we'll have pancake rice soon, too...

Hope not!


Sport's Day in pictures

It started with a whole school warm up to STEPS 5678. I love this song and didn't even mind Meg's constant practice around the house.

The it was the running races and Meg came first in her group. She was thrilled and so was Obaachan when Meg told her it was all due to the shoes she sent Meg for her birthday. Regardless of the validity of the statement t was happiness all round.

One of the things I love about Sport's day is how organised it is. It's always on time, always runs smoothly and it's majority run by the kids themselves. Here the grade 5/6 girls are waiting at the finish line to grab the kids who ran. The girl wearing the 1 bb grabs the kid who came first, 2 the second, 3 the third etc etc. There are three teams of these girls and they cycle through. The boys do the same for the boys' races.

Amy's turn. What? Amy's not in school yet! That's right but she will be next year and this is a special event for next year's Grade 1's. It's their first intro to the big school. And it must feel really big- huge with 860 students, 140 odd kinder kids and all those mums and dads and grandparents to boot. Not that she looks phased, hey?

And they're off!

Then they do a lap of the oval with more grade 5 and 6 kids holding their placards. Amy is in West Kinder Lily group which is the sky blue placard being held by the boy who takes his job seriously! There is also West kinder sunflower, East kinder lily and sunflower and 'kinder/ daycare'. That's for all the kids who go to kinder outside the village. The ones who get the cute smocks and the straw hats... sigh... so cute!

After all that excitement Amy needed a break and had her bento. Our school sport's day finishes at 12:30 so pretty much noone takes a packed lunch. The kids go back to their classes and eat their lunch and debrief before going home at 1:30 but families tend to just leave at 12:30. The school bus runs as normal and otherwise kids walk or are picked up. But I think even a morning only sport's day is a big wait for Amy and I was making Meg a bento anyway so I made her one too and she was pretty happy.

The big ball event. These huge balls travel the length of the school and back again. Yup a whole school event. And it's taken very seriously!

Waiting for the ball to come back.

Tug of war. I love how you can se how much fun they're having.

Tug of war with the white team cheer squad in action in the background. Those boys must have no voice whatsoever by the end of the day. They scream and yell and whistle and cheer and sing and clap and drum constantly!

That's the white team side of the tug of war. It's combined grades 1 and 2 so it's a pretty big event!

Meg's class danced to 'Youngman'. Which is the Japanese version of YMCA. I said 'aaah! You're dressed like the construction worker guy!' She replied. 'No. We're wearing bibs and we have pompoms!'

The finale.

Meg wasn't in this one but I had to take a picture as I just equal parts amazed and horrified at the Grade 5/6 7 tier human pyramid.... Meg wants to be on the top... I told her she may have to prepare herself that she might be closer to the bottom tier... (a lot closer I reckon!)

The results are in- go white team!!

All over and walking back to the car we parked at my work.

All over till next year.

When we will have two kids to watch.



no excuses

Mummy it's almost Sport's Day.

I know.

Sport's Day is the most important day at kinder I think. That and swimming observation day.


Are you going to come to Sport's Day?

Of course! And Daddy and Meg.

Not of course. You didn't come to swimming observation day and that's really important! Everyone else's mummy came to swimming observation day!!

Amy. I didn't go to swimming observation day because you didn't go to swimming observation day- we were in Australia.

..... oh. ... You still should have come!


swimming observation day in pictures

Meg's swimming observation day.

First sit on the side of the pool and splash yourself.

Then slide into the pool and pretend you're not cold.
Then it's all in for splash the teacher. This gets the kids all wet and they don't even remember how cold the water is.

Lining up to practice their swimming form. (That's Meggie at the end.)

And they're off!

Kicking practice

Kickboard practice

Putting it all together for a trip up the pool (Meg is the one under water.) Meg's teacher has to wear his glasses even in the pool. I can' imagine he can see anything at all!

And they're out and remembering how cold they are.

I was talking to my friend H from Saitama and her daughter has levelled swimming practice with goals for the season and everything. Wow. This is the end of Grade 2 and we are still just doing standing and diving etc.

Kids in Nagano don't do a lot of swimming, the rivers are snow melt and freezing year round, there's no beach etc. But even so it disappoints me a little that there's not more actual swimming going on in swimming class!


Summer holiday homework

Kids here choose a project to complete over the summer holiday. As Nagano has the suckiest summer holiday in the world (well Japan anyway- try 20 whole days) the summer projects aren't as involved and impressive as the ones I saw as a teacher in Fukushima.

This year Meg had a choice of making something with clay, painting something from nature, decorating a paper plate and turning it into a picture frame or making a parfait. She was all set to make her paper plate picture frame. She had her picture, her plate, her shells and paints and glue and glitter.

then she met a couple of friends.

And they had made parfaits.

And so Meg needed to make a parfait, too.

At 6pm the day before she went back to school.

And it had to be 'a proper parfait.'

This is a reference to my penchant for substitution.




We don't have frosted cornflakes, marshmallows, ice-cream or wafers and I'm not dragging everyone to the shops now.

With the explanation that you can make a parfait with what we have in the house or go back to the paper plate picture frame idea (for which I had been given adequate notice and had therefore provided a paper plate and all the trimmings) she decided she would make a parfait from what we had.

And so I present:
yoghurt, cereal, coconut, banana, plum, sultanas, nashi and a frozen jelly on top.

Even Meg was pretty pleased with it:
The mask? Just because.


oh okra

Oh okra.

You fabulously yummy versatile vegetable.

Gumbo, ohitashi (chilled veg with ponzu sauce) soup, stirfry, salad, fried, crumbed just any way you can think. Okra rocks.

Oh okra.

You fabulously prolific and hardy plant. Throw some seeds in the ground, kick some dirt on top and forget about it. Wait a couple of months and harvest.

And harvest and harvest and harvest.

And do it quickly before they get too big and hard and woody.

Which seems to happen overnight.

Perfect yummy okra is about 10cm long.

If you don't pick it when it looks like that you will turn around and bam! Thirty plus cm okra awaits you. Taunting you.

So, today I grabbed the scissors and decided to attack the okra. I don't want the plants putting effort into growing gigantuan okra that we won't eat. I want them to use that energy to grow even more little tender yummy okra!

I wasn't really dressed for gardening as I'd been out for the morning but it's not like picking okra is a terribly dirty job so I didn't bother changing out of my t-shirt and shorts.

The okra plants are way up over my head and planted in two rows that have grown in together so I was wending and winding my way in among them and holding my hands up head height cutting them off.

To cut them I grabbed the okra pod with my left hand, bent it down on itself and then hacked at the stem with the scissors before throwing it on the ground and moving on.

I cut down about thirty odd and was really getting on a roll when my hand started to itch. And my arm. And my back. I tried to ignore it thinking it was probably just little cuts as the okra is quite prickly but I made the mistake of giving my hand a casual scratch.


Meg has allergies. I must have said 'try not to itch' more than a thousand times over the years. Well, I was now standing in the garden, scissors discarded at my feet, scratching like crazy, jumping up and down and yelling 'Owwww! It hurts!! It itches!!!!'

I ran inside and immediately rubbed everywhere I could reach with the girls' muhi anti-itch lotion.

It did nothing.

So I re-applied with K's hardcore but smelly kinkan anti-itch lotion.

It did nothing.

My hands were swollen and red and SO ITCHY!

As the girls watched on worriedly and Meg patted my back and said gently 'try not to itch, mummy.' I grabbed the ice packs from the freezer and tried those.

It did nothing.

I remembered that my dad brought me over some heavy duty anti-histamine tablets for my hayfever and K got me one.

It did nothing.

I read the box and it said 'Adults take one tablet as needed.'

I took another tablet and when K asked what I was doing I explained 'as needed' as I jumped up and down and paced around the kitchen and rubbed my hands with a towel and the ice pack.

K had to go out and, after I promised not to take anymore anti-histamine, he left me with instructions to call him if I needed to go to the hospital.

I didn't think it would get to that but boy it hurt!

The girls ate their dinner and put their plates in the sink and even went and got in the shower and washed each other's hair, double checking the conditioner was all out, without me saying anything at all. If I wasn't so itchy I would have been really pleased!

I googled 'okra itch' and waddaya know, it's some irritant in the okra prickles that does it. And it's worse in the long prickles at the base of the okra. The bit I was manhandling to remove the overgrown pods.


The solution?


I must have read 10 different sites but there was nothing. No miracle cure.

I was feeling a little better by now though. A little woozy and flushed too. But I figured that was probably my double dosing on anti-histamines. I haven't even taken a pain killer in years so it must have been a shock to my system!

I was looking for some other lotion though as the muhi/ kinkan combo wasn't working. Tried an ancient bottle of peach leaf lotion. Nope. was considering pawpaw ointment but was reluctant as it is so greasy when I remembered ti-tree ointment.


I slathered it on and the relief was instant!

And short lived.

But I got the girls to bed (and thanked them for being so helpful and reassured Amy I wasn't going to die- she's a little morbid sometimes...) and with 10 minutely applications of ti-tree oil gradually the itch resided.

It took a good three hours though.

It hasn't dinted my love for eating okra. But it has certainly made me less gungho and cavaleer about picking it!

Oh okra!

Why are you so unfriendly?


two different approaches to bowling

Meg wanted to go bowling for her birthday.

I like bowling with the girls as you get gutter guards- no gutter balls! I'm sure you could ask for them if you weren't bowling with children but don't you think it would be a whole lot more embarrassing?

So anyway, bowling we went. And the girls have such different bowling styles it made me grin. Amy's is a really complicated choreography of jumping and leaning and clapping and high fives all round:

(and doesn't she just put the fashion back in bowling?)

For Meg bowling is a much simpler process:
She's saying 'Did I hit it?'. That's right, rather than watch the lane herself Meg preferred to get a match report from mummy.

And just for the record, I remain the Fukase family undefeated bowling champion.

Just for the record, you know.


miscommunication 2

Meg had something special for dessert in her school lunch.

She told me it was fruit ponch.

I said she probably meant fruit punch.

Nope, definitely fruit ponch.

Honey, I think it's from English and it's fruit punch.

Nope. She wasn't having a bar of it so we went to the arbiter of all language disputes in the house- K.

K- it's fruit punch isn't it?


No Daddy, we definitely had fruit pOnch.

Oh. Of course! Meg wouldn't have pUnch. She'd have fruit pOnch.

What? You just said it was pUnch.

No, it's only pUnch if it's alcoholic. If it's just juice it's pOnch.


It's English. You know that, right?

Yeah mummy.

No. It's not English. It's fruit punch or alcoholic punch. It's never pOnch.

The both looked at me pityingly and K suggested:

Maybe it's your accent, I bet if you ask a North American they'd tell you it's punch and ponch.

That's right, now I'm getting English tips from an engineer who used English class to catch up on sleep and an eight year old who swears up and down that you spell sheep cep.



miscommunication 1

Amy's last year of kinder and they have a whole slew of graduation oriented activities. The latest one is a survey that will be collated and the answers used in the city-wide kinder alumni book.

We flew through the first few questions:

Favourite kinder lunch menu?
Seaweed salad, clear soup and fish with eggs in them (as you do)

Favourite kinder snack?
Fruit salad served in a hollowed out watermelon (we live next door to watermelon village)

Favourite food mummy makes for you?
Ummmmm, I don't really make that honey, I just add the milk. How about something we have for tea?
Ummmmm.... hamburgers!

Favourite breakfast food?
cereal! (Should have seen that one coming)

Food you don't like?
Ummm...... nothing.
What about ummm... nothing?

Ok, I'll write nothing.

So I wrote 'nashi' which is Japanese for nothing.

Only it's a homonym for nashi pear.

And Amy can read hiragana now.



Why did you write nashi? I love nashi! that's why you never buy me nashi, because you think I hate them. I love nashi. Don't write nashi!

I impressed myself by writing down the two kanji for the different nashi off the top of my head and explaining that they sounded the same but meant different things. As I was sitting there patting myself on the back I realised the problem with my fabulous feat:

"I can't read that! I haven't learned kanji yet! And I love nashi!"

Ok ok ok, I'll write "nai desu." There isn't anything.

Ok. Because I love nashi.

It was at this point that K, who had only been in the adjoining room but it was morning and he has his cone of silence on in the mornings, walked in and checked over the form.

Mmmm.... hmmm...... ahh...

You should have written 'nashi' instead of "nai desu."

Amy and I answered in unison:



Autumn has come to the garden

Fabulous friend S came over to help in the garden when i said I had too much to do out there to meet her to go walking. What a woman!

With two of us working we ploughed through the weeds and ripped up all the corn and other finished crops, found a row of broccoli and chilli seedlings that are the unluckiest plants in the garden this year. They were grown from forgotten seeds leftover from last year, then they were the forgotten leftover seedlings from that lot that got planted late because yup, I forgot them. Then I forgot that I had planted them at all and they disappeared under metre high weeds. But the plucky little things persevered and I have solemnly promised to look after them for the rest of their very short and shortened lives...

After pulling up summer K and I put in more chicken manure and then ploughed everything in and made new garden rows.

Then it was just left to choose the Autumn leaf veggies and plant them. And here we have chingensai (bok choy), karashina (mustard greens), mizuna, wasabina (wasabi greens), green spinach, red spinach, swiss chard and cos lettuce. It's probably too late in the season for the cos lettuce but I love the stuff and wanted to give it a go. I mean micro-salads are all the rage, right?

It is always sad for me to pull up the summer veggies but I do love the leafy greens you can grow in the cooler months (they bolt to seed in summer) so I am trying to focus on that rather than the long wait until the next cob of corn...


BBQ. Chicken.

The free ranging the chooks thing is going quite well. Anytime I'm out weeding or doing something in the garden I let them out and they follow me around, sitting on my feet as I dig wanting front row seats to the juicy worms and earwigs, slaters and miscellaneous bugs that are turned up. Sometimes I have to physically move them out of the way as they stand scratching and pecking directly in the past of the hoe.

So I know that they are pretty fearless things (either that or just really greedy!) but I was sure that there was some hardwired evolutionary thing in all animals that made them naturally and completely afraid of fire.

Apparently not.

Seems our chooks have a penchant for cooked bugs. can't blame them. If I was going to eat a worm I'd prefer it BBQed too but seriously. And this isn't even the closest they got- they were right up there pecking bugs off the stumps as the smoke drew the bugs out. I kept trying to explain to them the concept of BBQ chicken and how I preferred them for their eggs than their legs but they are fearless. Or greedy. Or crazy.