I don't think I have ever stressed this much over a house guest.
Well two of them.
Gyahhh! I was blogging from my phone and the post deleted itself.
We are hamster-sitting grade 4's pet hamsters.
There are 20 people on hamster sitting rotation.
Somehow between Monday when Meg was 20th (Our name is at the end of the Japanese alphabet) and Friday it became Meg's turn.
I have a feeling that the girl who looked after it on Monday and ended up having to move the fridge to capture Houdini the hamster and then told her classmates might have something to do with our hastened turn.
Seems the responsibility is too much for some families.
And I get that.
No I really get that.
After picking Meg and the hamster and it's travel case and belongings up at school at 4pm I ended up staying awake until almost 2am.
Well here are yesterday's google searches:
hamster rocking back and forward
hamster in labour signs?
hamster ate toilet sand
hamster chewing metal
hamster ingested paint from cage
how long should hamster use hamster wheel without taking a break?
So, yeah, I worked myself up a bit over the whole hamster thing.
But they survived the night, they are sleeping cutely cuddled up together and I am going to try and avoid amazon shopping to bling out their cage and all....
maybe just a chewing stick....
and a wooden hidey-hole would be much better than the plastic one they keep flipping.....
and I found organic cotton wadding to use for making a nest.......
I feel a bit bad for the human guests who come here and are told to make themselves at home and then pretty much left to their own devices....
You just need to ask for the hamster treatment next time!
I wasn't planning to make pickled greens this year.
I'm just a bit pickled out.
And sick of trying to stop Amy from eating her bodyweight in salt.
And sick of throwing out the leftovers come March.
But Monday morning I got a phonecall from the woman who gives us pickling greens each year.
'Come out. Plenty of greens. Best get them before the Autumn leaves are blown into them.'
'Wow, thank you for thinking of me but I think I will not pickle any this year. Thank you so much for-'
'What a waste! Really good greens this year. Come out and get them!'
And so off I went to pick greens.
I needed the big car for storage purposes but the field is on a really narrow road with no verges and big drop offs to the fields. Oh what fun it is to drive a 7 seater around here!
I carefully eased myself into a park as far as possible from a corner without hitting the next corner remembering the driving school rule about 3m from an intersection.
There was a knock on the window.
I was far too far form the field.
At least a 5m walk.
That's 5 metres.
So I did a terribly ungraceful 37 point turn and re-parked on a slightly wider verge right on the corner of the hill and just hoped that my driving instructor wouldn't be driving past and started picking greens all the while keeping an eye on the road incase a truck or some other vehicle was unable to get past my car...
And that's how I looked up and saw this:
Not sure if you can see but there is noone in either cab of those trucks that are completely blocking the road between them.
The engines aren't even on.
The lady whose truck is facing us had been driving down the road when she noticed the lady who belongs to the other truck in her field there.
So of course she just cut the engine and got out and went over for a chat.
Quite a lengthy chat as it turned out.
And I was worrying about being badly parked on a verge on a corner, huh?
Seriously bigger than my head (and ask my brother or sister- I have a big head)
This is no lightweight airy, loosely woven, hole-y cabbage.
This is a cabbage that has presence.
I AM CABBAGE.
So what? 150 yen at the supermarket you can have one anytime you want. What's the big deal??
The big deal is that caterpillars love cabbage.
No really, LOVE them.
Stalker style, all consuming (haha) infatuated, unhealthy style love.
There's even a cabbage moth caterpillar.
There's not one cabbage moth caterpillar.
There's never just one.
There's tens, dozens, hundreds, gazillions of them!!
Every morning I go out and de-caterpillar the brassicas (aren't I fancy with my latin name for the cabbage family?) and feed the little blighters to the chooks.
And every year I overlook a couple of caterpillars.
One hid under a leaf here, one ninja-ed itself over there, One dropped to the ground and hid till I passed over there and BAM!
Hole-y cabbage batman!
I'm guessing caterpillars are not claustrophobic as they have absolutely no problem living in the centre of a cabbage with the leaves fully closed over their munching hungry little heads and living on in gluttonous heaven until harvest time.
But this year!
Berr Berr ba Berr! (that was a trumpet herald in case you missed it)
Its shiny greenness, its un-holey countenance, that saucy little leaf curl on top.
And cutting into THE CABBAGE:
Look how compact it is. How beautifully dense the foliage is.
Behold. Admire. Respect.
It was almost a pity to eat it!
Sometimes I wonder at this gardening lark. How invested I was and how proud I am of a single vegetable that you could buy just about anywhere for pocket change without thinking about it at all and certainly without getting this excited about something so boring!
We grew Halloween pumpkins for the first time this year.
It was all a bit of a kerfaffle really as the man who lent us the field was one of Ken's bosses and when he said we could use it for the year I - silly me- assumed that meant we would be the ones looking after it.
I was kind of right.
But the gentleman in question- who had thought he wanted to retire from the gardening thing- turned out to not like having so much free time afterall and kept 'helping' us.
When he 'helped' with the weeding and the slashing and there was some collateral damage to some leeks and cucumbers I thought hmmmm, oh well, I guess he has higher weeding standards than I do (not hard!) but when I turned up to find every pumpkin in the whole field missing and most of the vines ripped up I was a little less than pleased.
Got K to enquire (to stop me from inquiring!) and turned out the farmer/ boss had decided it was time to harvest.
All's well that ends well and we got our pumpkins back but I think that this is one free field that is a little too much work than it's worth.
Pity though as it's great soil and a really nice field. Sigh.
Anyway, even after their premature end we had enough pumpkins for me to take one to each of the schools for display, to give to friends to carve up and then for our own Halloween party as well!
I forgot to get a picture of them all together but here's the ones that were here at the end:
Meg and Amy carved the two orange ones, then Amy found an unripe green pumpkin and carved that while Meg carved an apple.
And the scary zombie two-tone one?
Kevin from Bastish net brought his daughter down from wayyyy up north for Halloween.
And he found this reject pumpkin and made this scary zombie pumpkin.
The end of the rice growing year is a really social time.
All the farmers who have had ducks working in their rice field during the year get together and we 'finish' them. The first year I was REALLY nervous about this- I imagined a gruesome bloodbath of panicked and traumatised ducks squealing in pain.
Thank GOODNESS the reality is nothing like that and three years in I am quite the amateur butcher.
Who woulda thought???
Seriously, I don't think I ever even gutted a fish in Australia!
The last two years I was put to work on the plucking tables. A pretty mind-numbing job- not much thinking involved really: see feather, pluck. Repeat. But lots of opportunity to chat as you work.
This year I was promoted.
I moved into the butchering building:
This is the first room in the butchering building- ducks are placed in the cones head down and their necks are cut in just the right place so that the artery is severed and they die in seconds. They are left there to drain.
Then they go to the guy on the left who swishes them around in the cauldron of boiling water. This is a highly technical job as leave them in too long and the subcutaneous fat starts to melt but too short a time and the feathers won't come out easily. The guy in the white apron is at the next station- the plucker. This is the coolest machine- it's like a washing machine with hundreds of rubber nodules on the inside. The ducks are swished around in there and water/ centrifugal force plucks them for you- SOOO much easier than doing it from scratch by hand!
This room is the 'dirty' room. From here (around the corner out of sight) are sinks and stainless steet tables where the boss (a qualified butcher) breaks the carcus down into a head (thrown out) two breasts, two legs (minus feet), two sasami strips, two wings and a ribcage.
I was working the next table taking the carcus, removing the big glob of fat at the tail, the backfat releasing and removing the neck skin and fat, finding and separating out the esophagus and trachea then using my knife like a mallet to remove the neck. The fat and neck are kept for making soup and the duck moves to the next station where the heart and liver are removed for eating (shudder but K loves them) and then passed to the NEXT station where the gizzard is removed and kept (shudder) and the remaining parts (bones and lungs and spleen and stuff)are thrown out.
By separating the butchering into so many stations each piece of meat is kept clean and hygenic. There is even a closed clean room for bagging and chilling the finished product.
After a full day of working on the ducks I went home and.....
Rendered all those necks and bottom fat globules (wow that sounds enticing doesn't it???) into duck fat and made confit.
But the before shot is pretty gruesome!
And what were the girls doing while K and I were busy butchering?
Well, Amy tried her hand at plucking for a while and then deemed it boring and left and joined Meg in running wild all over the farm and pretending to drive the tractor and playing quoits with frisbees in the post-harvest rice paddies ect etc.
They were having so much fun none of the kids even came in for afternoon tea the second day!
I was feeling really pleased with myself when I had all my plum jam jarred by 9:00am.
Pat on the back, cup of coffee, sit down to have a little rest kind of pleased with myself.
Then, my friend and neighbour A came over and said there were tomatoes ripe for the picking (haha!) but they had to be picked today as the tractor would be ploughing everything to smithereens that very afternoon.
So, we drained our coffees and headed down the road.
We got an almost full container of beautiful red, firm, fragrant and sun-warmed tomatoes each.
Brought them home (lugged, hauled, carted more like):
and decided there was no time like the present and got to making tomato sauce:
after washing them the first stop was topping and de-seeding
then weighing in units of 1kg as that's all my poor scale goes to. (I was watching World's strictest parents on youtube as I worked. I am NOT the meanest mummy in the world by FAR!)
Then I boiled it down, blitzed it all with the stick blender- AMAZING invention- and flavoured each batch slightly differently:
smoked paprika, roasted garlic and roasted chilli peppers.
Then all that was left was to eat it! I love sauce making day- dinner was fresh made sauce with prawns and basil and parmesan cheese.
It was a big day though. I closed the lid on the last jar at 10:00pm and I still had to clean down the kitchen.
Phew! Garden to larder in 12 hours sounds good but it sure wore me out!
Last year I found a frog who'd had his leg shut in the sliding door over night.
I tried to save him, put him in a box with some grass and water but his leg had all dried out and he couldn't move.
I decided euthanasia was kinder than a slow and painful death.
But I couldn't bring myself to actually kill it.
So I decided putting it in the chook cage would be the kindest thing to do as it would be eaten in a nanosecond.
Only it didn't quite work out that way.
I'll spare you the gory details but there was a fight over froggie and it was pretty nasty.... more than one chook ended up benefitting from froggie's demise.
So, fast forward a year or so and I was going in to the chook cage to clean out their water bucket when I saw....
a rather LARGE frog in there.
I have no idea how it climbed into the cage and got in the bucket without being detected by the chooks but it did.
And by some very watchful and well timed diving it had avoided consumption.
Must have been some pretty close shaves, huh?
Anyway, here was my chance to finally rid myself of froggie torture guilt and restore some karma.
I would rescue the frog and let it frollick again in the wide wide world.
I tried catching it but it was a little slippery and very good at evasive manuoveres (hence it's current predicament, huh?) so I decided to pick up the whole bucket and just tip it out with the water in the gap between the roof and side fences of the chook cage.
I was slowly and carefully tipping while thinking of baby and bathwater sayings and feeling the glow of my new improved froggie karma when there was a flash of green....
The darn frog had not trusted my motives and thought I was the dangerous one and made a great leap for freedom- into the chook cage.
Growing up my dad had a chainsawing, woodcutting, hauling, chopping and wood selling business.
I got used to random piles of firewood around the place.
I even (with much grumbling) helped stack wood the odd time.
But I think even dad never had this much firewood around the place.
And I bet he never thought I'd be the chief firewood stacker anywhere!
in front of the thick concrete walled shed
Behind said shed. In a lost space between our shed and the neighbours. I have a feeling this wood is destined to be forgotten or at least taken over by vines....
Along the side of the hanare/ old house thing. Please note the pallets at the front with MORE wood on them. Stacking branches the size of my thumb is such a tedious task.... :(
And that 44 gallon drum burning off doovalacky? That makes me feel so Australian! Do other countries use them? I dunno, it looks pretty trashy I'm sure but it's such a nostalgic thing to have around and sure makes burning off a breeze in the breeze! (groan....)
On the side of the shed, between the two doors, the front shed is used for potato storage and straw and the back shed is our machinery shed. K repurposed bamboo we had to cut down or risk losing internet cables (NOOOOO!) and a door from the old bathroom- it still says 'toilet' on it. :) The long poles at the back are the legs for the drying racks we use at rice harvest.
front left of the old house. The big rounds of wood are there as supports for the woodpile. The logs on top of them are green and from a tree we cut down last week.... precarious to say the least!
Right hand side of the old house. This was a four deep firewood pile on the verandah of the old house with racks for my gardening tools until we ran out of room for wood and added a further woodpile on the concrete foundation of the house and now my gardening tools are orphans. :(
The garden side of the old house. I transplanted three rhubarb plants to eek out this woodpile.
We are FULL!
No more firewood please!!
We are still using the last of the wood my parents stacked inside the potato shed three years ago!
But people still leave it in the carpark for us....
And the neighbour up the hill form us has requested K cut down some pines on the border of our properties....
This will greatly increase the light in our kitchen and help the garden....
But they want them gone as they can no longer see the Matsumoto fireworks from their living room....
That's gonna be a LOT more wood.....
Lucky it's fire season (not really but I'm soft and we do have all that firewood...)
Isn't that beautiful? Blue skies, green mountains, yellowing rice.
We have a date for rice harvest- the weekend of October 19-20th.
The rice looks good, the weather has been kind this year, the ducks did their thing....
There's still a lot of work to do before harvest- take down the strings across the top, remove the fencing and wash and pack it all up for next year, move the duck house back up to the neighbour's yard etc etc but things are getting exciting!
I arranged to meet my friend S at the JA garden shop.
She left before me.
I stopped for petrol.
I arrived and her car wasn’t there.
I called: ‘Hey, where are you?’
‘I’m looking for a carpark.’
I looked around me. It’s a huge place and there were maybe
10 cars in the carpark…
‘Are you at the JA garden centre on the corner?’
‘Yes, the one with the farmers market.’
Aghhhhhh, we were at an intersection housing the JA garden
centre on one corner, the JA grain silo on another, the JA supermarket on the
third and rounded off with the JA farmers market on the fourth. I can see how
that mistake could be made.
‘Don’t worry, I know where you are. Stay there and I’ll walk
down and get you.’
I was waiting at the lights when I noticed a duck standing
in the middle of the insurance office (JA of course) carpark.
Hmmmm, a whole two years into rice farming with ducks I am
now (of course) a self-proclaimed veritable expert on the ways of all things
duck so I naturally sucked some air in across my teeth, screwed up my forehead
and decided that was a very unnatural place for a duck to be, considering this
is a busy intersection on a main road and there are ample quiet and relaxing rice
paddies and farms just one block either side of this street.
Curiosity trumped the promise I made to my friend and the
worries I had about being caught trespassing and I wandered into the JA
insurance carpark to see if the duck was injured.
It was mad though.
It rushed me.
And then returned to stand in the middle of the carpark
Hmmmm. I retreated to the sidewalk to consider my next step
when my friend S happened upon me- I guess when ‘I’ll come get you’ morphs into
‘I’ll stand on the sidewalk of the building next door and stare into the empty
carpark’ you decide to see what’s going on hey?
I explained to S what I was doing and she said that sounded
like a mothering instinct.
(Out duck knowledged by a non duck farmer??!! Ouch!)
But there were no ducklings anywhere in sight….
We approached together (safety in numbers) and found the
ducklings. At least a dozen of them. They had somehow gotten themselves into a stormwater
A stormwater drain with a grate on top.
A grate that was bolted on.
The duck was quite disturbed and the ducklings were peeping
and obviously stressed. I knew that each city has a wildlife control division
(they come to hunt rogue bears in our neighbourhood) but we were in the
neighbouring city and I had no idea where city hall was. We decided to start at
the insurance office and see if they knew the wildlife control phone number or
even if they had a wrench to remove the grate and help free the ducklings.
We walked into the cavernously empty office of the insurance
agent with all the stealth of ninjas I guess as noone noticed us and we had to
call out to get someone’s attention. The poor woman who eventually looked up did
a double take and then quickly tried to hide her horror.I’m guessing two white women who have
been mistaken for mother and daughter before are not the usual farm insurance
We eventually got her to come over and talk to us and I
explained there was a duck standing in the carpark looking over her ducklings
that were stuck in the stormwater drain.
A duck. In the carpark. Ducklings. In the stormwater drain.
Ehh? Two men came over to check things out which of course
required a repeating of the problem which brought on another round of ‘Ehhhhh?’
Then the woman nodded slowly and said that she’d noticed a duck standing in the
carpark for a while now. (She was obviously way less curious than I am!)
One of the men said we needed to go to the city hall
sub-branch ‘just back there’ and they would go out and check things out while
we were going.
As we headed ‘just back there’ wondering why ity was
necessary for us to walk over rather than the JA guy just call, we watched an
older guy standing over a defensive mother duck and talking as you do to the
hard of hearing ‘OKAASAN, YOU NEED TO GO OVER THAT WAY!’ Rolling our eyes we
started looking for the city hall sub-branch.The first building was all windows and was very obviously a
community centre being used for ballroom dancing practice so not that
The next building had no sign post whatsoever but looked
decidedly administrative and had a manhole cover on display in the glassed in genkan
leading me to guess this was city hall as who else would be that proud of a
We walked in and surprised a few more beuracrats- too easy,
no need to even speak! And the relief when I spoke to them in Japanese was
After a few more repititions of the story and a lot more
Ehhhhing? Someone was assigned to our case and back we went around the ballroom
dancers with a cool-bized up middle aged man in tow.
We got back to the insurance office carpark to find all 5
staff out there with cardboard boxes, a rice seedling growing pallet, the hand
pump from a kerosene container and a golf club.
They were all walking up and down the stormwater grate banging
at it with the golfclub and blowing air (kerosene gas?) on the ducklings to
make them move to the end of the drain where there was an opening. It was all
making a huge noise as everything was echoing in the chamber of the stormwater
grate causing the ducklings to get disoriented and the mother duck to get even
It looked like a success though- all the ducklings swarmed
to entrance to the drain, everyone stood back and-
watched as the ducklings raced right passed the entrance and
down the other side of the drain.
Yup, this was not only a traffic intersection but a water
one as well.
At some point the mother duck got in the drain as well.
Then someone brought over a produce basket and scooped a huge
group of ducklings up and covered the basket with a piece of cardboard. The
noise of the frightened ducklings was enough to lure the mother duck out.Ahhhhh… success, all’s well that ends
Five heads cram their way into the entrance of the drain.
One mobile phone makes a dash for freedom from a shirt
pocket and lands with a plop in the water to be fished out with the golf club a
little worse for wear (does this count as a job related expense?)
One lone and very lonely duckling was spotted half way down
A dozen more ducklings were trying to escape from the
A frazzled mother duck was torn between rushing to the side
of the two groups of kids and making dashes at the people looming around.
Drivers in cars stopped at the lights on all sides of the
intersection were watching this pantomime with undisguised interest and
How did it all end?
Sorry to disappoint you but I can only guess as I had been
hanging out at the over JA-ed intersection for nearly an hour now and I had to
get back to work.My friend S did
eventually find the JA garden shop (on her own) and after browsing a while
returned to her car past the JA insurance office and reported no sign of
people, duck or ducklings so we can only hope all went well and duck,
ducklings, JA employees and city hall representative all got home safely with a
rather unusual tale to tell over dinner.