But while it's old new I have had these pictures on my computer for so long (since September!) and so she can't grow up, read this blog and ask why her kinder events missed the boat when her sister's didn't I am going to post them anyway.
And for my mum and dad to see.
As the oldest kids in the kinder Amy's class had lots of extra roles at Sport's Day. Here she is chanting out the athlete's oath. Yes, we take Sport's Day pretty seriously here. The oath is cute though- we're all going to have fun and be careful and not get hurt.
They carried a festival float around. These are used at religious festivals but the kinder one is all fun and colourful without any religious symbols. An interesting balance!
Stilt walking. This year we went very 'everyone is the same' with the stilts. No decorations whatsoever and noone's stilts were raised no matter how well they could use them. This is a bit of a contrast from when Meg was at kinder.
They led the little kids in a dance. I love this picture. That little boy is clearly thinking 'What is that thing on your head?'. He doesn't know Amy and her unique sense of style obviously. This was a lace hair ornament she made. Of course.
Action shot from her dance.
The dance finale pose. Amy is a dancer who take after mummy.....
They did synchronised skipping with two kids leaving from different corners of the ground before crossing over and joining a line at the other side. Amy loves skipping and I hadn't realised how much of a challenge it is for some kids her age. But they all tried sooo hard and they were really so cute about it!
The kid in this next picture gets my award for awesomeness:
He'd only gone about a third of the course when that happened and he made it all the way to the end. What determination!
And that was our very last kinder Sports Day.
I'm a little sad actually. No more watching the 2 year olds bumble around and bump into each other? Ohhhhhh....
Then again, one less morning of sitting on the ground for hours on end while a PA system screeches feedback at us!
Living here in Azusagawa it is really easy to go about life without thinking about the earthquake, the tsunami and even to some extent the radiation threat. We grow our own veggies, the water we use comes from the mountain behind us, the local testing station puts our radiation readings at minimal, life just goes on as it always has.
But that's not true for everyone.
And that's something we can't forget.
Even K's parents who are lucky enough to be living in their own house which is structurally sound have to queue if they want to buy vegetables from outside the prefecture. That's if there are any available that day. We are still sending them rice and some winter veggies and, while they live with the uncertainty of not knowing what their environment is doing to them they are typically fatalistic and say they are too old to need to worry about it and similarly too old to want to start a new life somewhere else.
The Mayor of Matsumoto, Akira Sugenoya, is a leading researcher on Thyroid cancer and spent five years in Belarus treating children after the fallout from Chernobyl. He has been really busy doing talks and media work explaining the risks and the situation. He has been to Fukushima to do talks there, addressed parliament and done public addresses all around the prefecture including right here in Azusagawa. As well as being very knowledgable he has a very reassuring and calming way of talking that I really appreciate and makes me think I would have liked to have him as a doctor when he was still doing that!
If anything good has come out of this tragedy I really think it is the raising of consciousness of so many citizens. I have often felt that the average Japanese person is staggeringly politically apathetic. The frequent change of Prime Minister, inbrededness of the political parties and lack of much real difference between the two main parties don't help for sure but it always amazes me how many people don't vote and aren't interested in the issues.
Since 3/11 though there are a plethora of new grass roots organisations and movements that are making noise and drawing attention to their cause and demanding action from their government.
And even at very local, neighbourhood level, people are banding together to improve their lot rather than just wait for the government to help them.
Like the people in this video from Ishinomaki. It's sad to see how much there is that still needs to be done but encouraging to see people moving forward and thinking of a future while still surrounded by the evidence of so much loss and devastation.
I can eat quail eggs, beans and slippery noodles with chopsticks.
I have slept on a futon and I don't even blink at a Japanese squat toilet.
I eat seaweed, prawn heads, raw fish and fermented natto beans.
But until now I have never eaten these little dried fish.
I don't know why. I guess they just look like cat snacks or something. Or I couldn't imagine that the meat to bone ratio in them would be worth it. A mouth full of dried guts and dried bones and dried fish brains? Mmmmm, no thanks.
But one of my students made this for me and I put it on the table while I made dinner and Meg and Amy started in and just kept eating and eating.
They were raving about how yummy they were.
It got me a little worried that I was missing out on something and the pace they were going I was looking to miss out entirely.
So, without looking at it too hard or thinking too deeply about what I was eating I put one in my mouth.
Closed my eyes and chew, chew, chewed.
They are really good!!
In the spirit of full disclosure these had a yummy soy sauce and crystal sugar coating with those red Chinese fruits in there as well. They were really, really moreish.
This one was called 'The mysteries of my belly button' and was about babies and where they come from (starting 8 weeks after conception- we are still in Grade 2!) and how important mummy's are and how your mummy carried you around in her tummy for all that time as you got bigger and bigger and heavier and heavier. The teacher used classroom objects to represent the weight of the fetus at each stage and it was great watching the kids reactions. When he got to the end and it was 'And then you were as heavy as a pianica AND a tape dispenser and your mummy was walking around like this all day and all night' and one boy piped up 'she should have just used a school bag- I carry my pianica like that and it's not heavy at all!' ohhhh so sweet.
Then we sang sekai ni hitotsu dake no hana by SMAP. I love this song and it was great having the kids sing it. Ohhhhh.... I love observation day.
I love Meg's school.
I love Meg's class.
I love Meg's teacher.
I am gonna be bawling my eyes out come April when we have a new class and new teacher....
When I teach adult classes I sit with the whiteboard behind me and facing the students. When a new word comes up I lean back and write it on the board. At the end of class when I turn around and clean the board I am often interested and surprised at the variety of words that are up there and try to remember what the jumps were that got us from this word to that one.
I mean celibacy, water buffalo and karma in an hour? That's pretty random, huh?
Here's today's lesson map from a seniors' English class:
Don't you want to know what on earth we were talking about?
Don't you think it's a good life being a Fukase family chook? When we're working outside we let the chooks out and they free range it around and have a ball scratching and pecking and exploring and foraging and doing silly stuff like trying to eat the pattern off the tiles and skiddig around on the ice and stuff.
The sound in the back of the video is K chainsawing and the chook looks startled at the start of the video as my phone makes a loud sound when you start recording (so you can't take pervy videos without the subject knowing I guess?) and the poor chook got a fright.
And haven't the chooks got big, huh?
Amy still calls the brown ones 'the chicks' but it's been a long time since they looked like this, huh?
The most amazing part of this is that the bowling alley let us go bowling again.
Amy has some kind of bowling Murphy's Law thing going on.
Whenever we bowl we end up getting a lot of personal attention from the staff. So far she has got a ball stuck behind the pins, had the automatic pin placer machine not replace the pins, had a ball stop before it even got to the pins and had a ball get stuck at the very end of the gutter. I swear it's a miracle we're not black listed!
Meg is getting the rhythm of the bowling thing slowly:
While Amy is still working on testing out the durability of bowling balls. I think we should try basketball next time!
I love the way she uses gestures to 'direct' the ball the way she wants it to go and she jumps up and down happily even after hitting a whole 2 pins. And we're bowling with the bumpers up so there's no such thing as a gutter ball.
I will never be able to tell Meg not to complain about her walk to school as I had it so much harder when I was a kid.
Because I didn't.
I never walked near enough to 4km each way.
I never literally climbed a mountain on the way home.
I never had to watch out for a rogue monkey gang exerting their rights to the road I had to walk up.
I never had a bear bell (let alone two!) on my school bag.
I never slid on ice patches walking down the road and skidded around corners on black ice.
I certainly never needed a down jacket, knit cap, neck warmer, gloves, leg warmers and snow shoes- with spikes- to get to school.
And I didn't even realise that frost bite could occur anywhere but Mt Everest and Antarctica.
But you know, I don't think I ever had half as much fun as she does getting to school either. A 7 minute drive in mum's car with my brother and sister doesn't really compare to an hour walking and talking and collecting icicles or frogs or chestnuts depending on the season. Or taking a break at the park half way and having a drink at the fountain and getting wet and lying around drying out before continuing the journey. And checking out what's happening in everyone's gardens and discussing everything and anything with her walking buddies and having yelling competitions (sure the neighbours love that one) and getting daily updates on the kittens that were born under a barn half way to school and so much more.
She loves walking to school and is disappointed when it's raining or blizzarding and she goes in the car.
From April Amy will join the walking group and I have my fingers crossed she will enjoy it as much and manage to get to school and back as unscathed as her sister has so far.
And no, Amy wasn't under arrest. Just doing double peace signs under her PJ sleeves. And they're 8 and 6 and still LOVE their dolls. Long may it last as the non-doll conversation around here recently has been along these lines:
But when will I get big breasts?
How big will they get?
I want to be a boy so I can have a willy.
I'm having my babies at Marunouchi hospital because they're nice there.
I'm only having five babies because I think they will cost too much money.
I'm marrying my husband and we're going to sleep in my room so mummy can cook and clean for us.
I'm going to marry someone with a motorbike. They're cool.
I don't want to get married and have a husband- then you have to look after them. I just want a baby.
So yes, let's hope playing house and playing with dolls and playing dress-ups continues for a long, long time to come!
This year Meg went to kids' club at 8 and was gone pretty much all day. They collected 300 yen from each household, gathered up all the New Year decorations from the neighbourhood, built a pyre and had lunch and party games at the community centre. She came back for an hour before lunch but that was it.
K was working outside so Amy and I decided to make the traditional mayudama ourselves. Because we wanted something to do so we wouldn't feel left out rather than to save us the 398 yen of buying ready-made ones at the supermarket.
The ingredients were only rice flour and water- how hard could it be, huh?
First we mixed it all together till it got combined.
Then we added food colouring and kneaded that in. Amy chose the colours:
Then we had to steam it for 10 minutes sitting on greaseproof paper:
Then cut it in half and check the colour was transparent (not cloudy) all the way through.
Then we had to cool them in a bowl of chilled water.
Then we kneaded them until they were the same consistency as our ear lobes. This is a pretty common description in Japanese cooking and one that always makes me nervous- I don't really go around touching people's earlobes- what if mine are not the average texture? What if my cooking doesn't work out because I have defective ear lobes???? Anyway, we kneaded the dough until it felt ok to someone with questionable earlobes and no idea what the finished product should feel like.
Then it was time to roll the mayudama into balls.
And Meg came home just in time to make some before heading back to kids' club.
Predictably she didn't want to make standard boring old balls and instead made hamburgers and hot dogs and stars and peas in a pod and ice-creams and a dice.
K cut down a branch of bamboo for the girls and they used secaturs to cut off the leaves and then mold/ spear the mayudama on. It's actually supposed to be a branch of a different tree and you can even buy branches at the supermarket this time of the year but we have bamboo and anything green will work so we make do.
At 5:00 we geared up in our snow suits (after a mini-meltdown from Amy who only wanted to wear a padded vest but this time I was insisting on snow wear as sankuro is held at the top of the mountain and it's windy, dark and frigid and I was not going to be handing over my snow wear to keep her warm after 10 minutes!
When we got there the pyre was all ready and the grade 6 student (just one this year...) and her dad walked around with torches starting the fire. This fire play is a big deal for the men as well as the kids and my nose tells me there's a little kero in the mix to ensure a roaring fire. Not really necessary this year as clearing for the monkey fence meant we have masses of pine and cypress cuttings that went up with a whoooof!
It really is quite an impressive bonfire and I heard that our district has one of the biggest bonfires as we have a big open space to do it in. Many of the newer districts can't make big fires as they are surrounded by houses etc. Poor newer districts was the general consensus.
I looked around for the girls and Meg was off sliding down a steep incline from the temple cemetery to the baseball ground on her butt in the snow. It was nearly dark, freezing and they were all wearing two piece snow suits so over active butt-sledding results in snow down your pants but the squeals and laughs told me she wasn't that worried.
I couldn't find Amy though....
Not near the big fire.
Not with the butt-sledders.
Not with the other kinder kids.
Then I heard a plaintive 'Muuummmyyyyyyyyy!' from behind me.
Amy was hiding behind a truck in the very corner of the ground. She was worried the fire would get out of control and burn everyone, the cars and all our houses. I explained that it was ok and that the men with the long forked sticks were there to keep the fire in one place. She didn't look too convinced but then they were standing around drinking beer and laughing so I could kind of get why she wasn't too confident...
And after it burnt down Amy was relieved and Meg was tired and sweaty and hungry and we roasted our mayudama and some marshmallows. Some people roasted mochi and one family had three squid on a piece of wire and roasted them. We ate bowls of pork and veggie soup that the kids had all taken a bag of veggies to contribute to at kids' club and then headed home in the dark and the wind and the cold.
Fabulous friend and neighbour A brought dinner over today.
I'm sure it would have looked a whole lot better if we weren't in our PJs when she brought it over but hey, that's what you get for turning up at the kitchen door at 8am.
And so for dinner we had feijoa. Brazilian bean stew with sausage, bacon, onion, white beans, carrot, garlic, parsley and oh yeah, tripe.
There was rice in the rice cooker but I wanted to eat mine with something else. So I made polenta.
And so we had the most mixed up dinner you can think of- polenta, pickled greens, rice and feijoa.
And it made me think again that I love bringing my kids up here. Without the idea of 'kid's menus' that dictate that kids eat mini pizza, fish and chips or chicken nuggets with fries on the side of course.
Prawn brains, squid guts, strange and unusual mushrooms, fish with their heads on and guts in, slimy mountain potatoes, chewy kelp seaweed, liver and kidneys, greens of every shape and kind and now tripe have all made appearances on the girls dinner plates (and many of the above in their kinder/ school lunch as well.) As a result they are really adventurous eaters (just ask my family who shudder when they eat natto or kimchi for brekky) and give new foods a go when they met them. And they like most of them, too.
Well except for chicken nuggets.
After being served them on an airplane they turned up their noses and complained bitterly:
"You said it was chicken!"
Guess I'll ask for the tripe stew kid's meal next time, hey?
It peals, cores and slices all in one turn of the handle.
Can you think of a better present for someone living in apple country?
The girls love it.
They call the product of the amazing machine's process 'super apples' and we have a new favourite dessert around here. I was a bit disappointed at first as they always ate the peel until now but then I realised the poor hard-done-by-by-the-eat-everything-and-then-lick-the-plate Fukase girls now get a smidgen when we eat apples.
It makes apple crumble, apple pie and apple pudding a breeze! And stewed apples? Pah- no challenge these days!
And K? K just likes gadgets so he's sold from the time he saw the picture on the box.
Phew... it's been a foodie festive season this year. From impromptu turkeys and obaachan sending us the entire osechi New Year food and enough mochi to build a small mochi-igloo (it's whit, right?) and then the whole 'Fukase Family Feast' series of meals it has been quite the gourmet corner of Nagano here.
Today's meal is a little embarrassing though.
It started off innocently enough. Amy noticed the picture of chocolate fondue on the side of the fondue set box and was very interested and googly eyed that people would dip things in melted chocolate. Oooooooo- can we do that??
Why not, hey? So we went to the supermarket and bought sinful amounts of chocolate and cream and then some strawberries and marshmallows and castella pieces and we had bananas and kiwifruit and apple at home already and Amy made a beautiful display:
And then we melted the chocolate in the cream and Amy was horrified at how much there was- "too much chocolate mummy!!" even though it was a third of the original US recipe!
We set up the burners and the fondue pot:
(soft focus effect courtesy of freezing cold Nagano winter and camera lens)
And that's when it got downright shameful! I pulled out the healthy veggie soup and brown rice I was planning for a light, pre-fondue first course.
That's right, all three of them thought we would have just chocolate fondue for dinner.
I know K has various thoughts on the comparative lack of health benefits of Western food but really- did he honestly think chocolate fondue was a meal and not a dessert?
So, I had my veggie soup and rice and they started straight in on the chocolate fondue.
Hey, it's the holidays!
And so we ended Fukase Family Festive Feasts Week with a true gala performance- chocolate fondue for dinner.
And astonishingly both girls retired before the chocolate ran out. There really is such thing as too much chocolate, huh?
From pasta and Italy yesterday to dragging the fondue sets out of the cupboard I discovered them in and fondue today.
Yet again the preparation wore Amy out (she and Meg cut and arranged the veggies and bread while I poached the chicken and sauted the prawns.
We had one version with wine and one without. Not because I'm terribly concerned about the girls drinking wine in cooking but because they both put on a theatrical display of discomfort when they smelt the wine and I decided better to make a wine-less version from the start than have to make do after we all sat down!
And yet again Amy perked up when it got to the actual eating side of things.
The verdict? "Super cheesey!!" and "Cool forks!!"
One more holiday tea to go. Phew. I'm almost out of culinary inspiration!
My dad's pretty hardcore when it comes to working hard. I remember when we were kids and we'd go out to 'help' him clear a tree from somewhere and the working day would seem to last forever.
But even Dad didn't go to these lengths I think:
Keen to get wood cut in a bizarrely un-snowy New Year holiday where we miraculously didn't have other obligations K got stuck into chopping wood while I carted it around from the front carpark.
He started in the morning and stopped for lunch. Then kept going in the afternoon before taking a break to go shopping with the girls and I. Then while we made dinner he kept chopping until finally when I went to call him for tea I found him chainsawing by torchlight.
I reckon not even Dad got that hardcore.
Mind you the sun doesn't set at 5 in Australia either, huh?
We're all a little over eating rice cakes and traditional New Year's foods three meals a day.
What to have for tea.....
I have an under-utilised pasta maker....
Hey girls- lets make pasta for tea!!
So at about 5 o'clock Amy and I headed to the kitchen.
Meg wanted to finish her picture she was drawing first and K was outside in the gloaming chopping wood.
Amy was very impressed that I was pouring flour straight on the table and then cracking eggs into it.
Impressed and a little excited at how naughty it was- you forgot the BOWL mummy!!!
By the time we'd got a dough and were kneading half each for three minutes then swapping so that I could make sure Amy's half got a good go over too Meg had joined us.
While resting the dough we started the sauce with me finding a frozen block of tomatoes in the big freezer and the girls chopping onions and pumpkin, and I went on a high and low search for the pasta machine. Three cupboards and a couple of discoveries later (I found and discarded a sippy cup that hasn't been used for at least four years and realised we have not one but two fondue sets that have not only never been used but that I didn't even realise we had!) I found the pasta machine.
It won't attach to our table so we attach it to the benchseat and just work at thigh height.
It went pretty well.
As well as cooking with a 6 and 8 year old goes.
They took turns putting the dough through, cranking the handle and helping the dough out the other side of the machine.
What I forgot was how long it takes.
All that resting and rolling and folding and rolling and etc.
Amy reading her book while waiting for one of the resting periods to end.
When we had finally cut the first batch of fettucine I realised we had nowhere to hang it. There were pasta sheets drying in various stages of done-ness here there and everywhere and flour absolutely everywhere and we still hadn't finished the sauce and we had about four strands of undried and uncooked pasta each to show for ourselves.
Luckily K had given up on chainsawing in the dark and come in. Credit to him he didn't faint when he saw the state of the kitchen and washed up and rolled up his sleeves and helped out. We now had a sauce maker and pasta drier maker. Gaffer taped some bars to the table and ran them to the hutch and we were in business.
The poor kitchen
Set Amy up making pumpkin ravioli (she is very precise and patient and perfect for fiddly jobs) and Meg and I continued fettucine production. K made sauce from the tomatoes I froze in the summer and the onion the girls had cut up and forgot to add the garlic Amy brought in from the storage but hey.
fettucine and ravioli and the empty plate after we ate the first batch of ravioli in brown butter as a chef's snack to get us through the end of the process
We had a couple of disasters- Amy over egged the ravioli wrappers and some of them glued themselves to the table and Meg put unfloured dough through the pasta machine and gummed it up and I forgot to season the pumpkin but hey. Nothing we couldn't fix with a little intuition and a lot of time.
And so at almost eight o'clock, two hours past tea time, an hour past bedtime and almost three hours after we started we finally sat down to pasta:
Poor Amy was so exhausted she was just over everything
It looked pretty authentic...
And even Amy perked up!
Phew. It was really yum. Even if I do say so myself. And we all had fun. The girls were thrilled and it was a real family production.
But when we were talking about how (some) Italian people do that every day and I mentioned that pasta isn't even the main meal in Italy and that they would make 'Il secondo' as well as pasta and salad and of course dessert they just looked at me bug-eyed.
And we all took a moment of silence in respect of Italians who are seriously awesome to manage all that.
Because while we loved our yummy fresh pasta meal, our pasta machine has been lovingly wiped down and safely packed away again and I can assure you it won't be coming out again for the next little while at least!
We started it off with a walk to the local shrine to be blessed for the coming year.
We being the girls, me and neighbour W. K and neighbour W's husband were of course at the annual New Year's Day Official Drinking Party For Men that starts at 9:00am.
The girls led the way as we went to purify ourselves at the water basin at the entrance.
But it wasn't to be.
We remained impure.
But I think everyone else there must have, too.
Safety in numbers, hey?
Well indoctrinated in the Japanese education system Meg decreed that pretending to purify yourself is just as good. It's the process not the end product.
And so they did.
And we went and prayed and got the girls their New Year's Fortunes.
Amy got Luck and the all important education line said 'if you put in the effort you'll get results.' She was quite happy with this and brought it home.
Meg got Small Luck and the education line was 'there will be too many regrets.' She was horrified and tied her fortune to the wires outside the shrine to be burnt by the priests and have her bad fortune waft heavenwards and release her from its grip.
I forgot my wallet and had to use the 200 yen my neighbour returned to me on our walk to buy the girl's fortunes. I'm really not sure what kind of omen that is for my year ahead....
I think I have until the 7th to get my fortune so will just have to try again.