Thursday, May 31, 2012

A post a day

Unfortunately some mice got into some of the wheat I grew last year and because I wasn't particularly keen to try and separate out the little black droppings from the wheat before milling it I thought I'd use it to supplement the chickens' diet.  The only problem is that the chickens don't seem to want to eat it in its raw form.  So, I decided to try and seed it and give them some extra greenery.  The result... they love it and devoured four tray fulls in about an hour.  Hopefully it will come away again and they can have another feast in a few days. 

Today is May 31st.  Somehow I have managed to write at least one post a day for the entire month.  It wasn't an effort and I've enjoyed looking back at the last month.  I doubt it will continue for June, but once every couple of days may be realistic.  If you keep coming back I may even find something a bit more interesting than the garden and the chickens to write about!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Today's efforts

I only had an hour to spare again today so I attacked the front part of the vege garden.   By removing all the self sown chamomile I unveiled some self sown marigolds and butterfly plants which will hopefully take off and start to fill the gap before the weeds take over.
It is due to rain tomorrow (after a VERY dry spell) so all the onions were pulled out and put in the tunnel house to dry too. 
 Fingers crossed the rain does actually appear tomorrow and then disappears by Friday when I might have one and a half spare hours to spend in the garden!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


I'm getting much better at using whatever time I have in between classes to get into the garden and achieve "something".  I've started putting on blinders and focusing on one task at a time in an attempt to feel that even one hour is better than nothing.  Today I pulled out the last of the green peas and planted the popcorn I had grown in pots to replace the peas.  Of course once I had harvested the peas I also had to pod them....... I'm wishing I had thought to get the junior high school kids to do it for me - it would have been much faster with 5 pairs of hands helping!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Comment answers...

As usual I am pretty bad at answering comments on my blog - I absolutely love reading them (hint, hint) and answer them in my head, but often never get around to writing them. 
Here are a few answers to questions/comments that people have asked (in random order and so out of date that you probably don't even remember writing them!)
Katie - looking forward to another cuppa and cookies soon! 
Mike - hope the baby is sleeping like an angel....
Connie - there are actually laws about burning... it is just that no one in the countryside takes any notice of them!
Gina - I like your eggscellent sense of humor!
Roli - after reading your comment about bird mites I started getting itchy!  I think the birds may be about to vacate and I'll be in there to remove and block up the hole as soon as they do!
Heather - I'm really hoping the chickens will just start sleeping on the perches as they get bigger.  I'm guessing that if they haven't started doing it before they start laying some serious training may need to be done.  Tom just informed me that 5 were sleeping on the perches tonight so hopefully they will all start to copy soon - they are Japanese chickens after all!
George and Erika - the kids really wanted to name the chickens but unfortunately there are too many to keep track of (and it's harder to munch on the leg of a named chicken than a random one!).  The sick one has fully recovered though and therefore would definitely be named "kiseki" if it was going to have a name.
Audible - I've never seen wild blackberries here in Japan, but you can find the plants in some plant centers or if you find someone with canes then just cut off a bit and plant it in the ground... you should get blackberries the next year (or year after) - mine are slowly starting to fill out... yum!

I know there were more comments that I should respond to but bed is calling... 5 loads of washing, gardening all morning then work till 9pm have tired me out!  If you've never commented before it would be great to hear from you... or if you've commented before it would be great to hear from you again .... I may even answer you if you write a question... maybe!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sometimes it's the small things

The light is definitely appearing at the end of the tunnel - even if it is only for a short time!  Today we said our farewells  to the girls (after I eventually woke them... ) and I have a whole morning tomorrow with "nothing" to do.  Of course the garden needs some drastic attention so I'm planning to get out there early and get in a couple of hours of weeding before my motivation dies and I feel the need for a morning nap!
Back to the girls... I always find it interesting listening to what they have enjoyed most over the 3 days they are with us.  It is often not the big things that we have planned, but the small things that just kind of happen during the visit.  We used to take them for rides on the back of the kei-truck, but that was banned as it was too dangerous so this time they went riding in the wheelbarrow on the way to pick up some tools etc.  It turned out to be the highlight for a lot of them along with a play in the river/creek with my son during their break time.  This kind of impromptu thing often happens which is why I never bother having a rigid plan of what we will do during their time here.  No more groups for a while though so I can now just concentrate on getting the cottage ready for my mother's arrival in a couple of weeks - yippee!

Do you wake a sleeping baby?

I can remember being so keen to wake my daughter when we first got home from the hospital.  She was a real sleeper and it was kind of boring to just watch her sleep... Then my son came along who was a non-sleeper and therefore there was no way I would ever wake him if he was actually in a sleeping state.
It is now 8:27am.  The girls were supposed to be up and eating breakfast at 8am.  I know they were tired and am not worried that they are still sleeping..... I'm just wondering how late I should let them sleep.  If I wake them I will need to get on with the things we are going to do together this morning.  If I don't I can catch up on reading some blogs.... the dilemmas of country living!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Two birds with one stone

The thing I worry about the most when groups come to stay is whether they have enough food to eat or not.  Because of this we often end up with a fridge full of leftovers when they go home, which is nice sometimes, but less nice if they are staying two nights....I'm never sure what treasure I'm going to find knocked over in the back of the fridge after they've gone.  .  I've managed to make a few changes which means some of the food can be frozen or "recycled" during their stay (don't tell the recycling police....) and this morning I decided to mix the left over miso soup with the left over rice and use it to feed to the chickens - by hand!  It was the first time these chickens have really been brave enough to eat from our hands and they lapped it up - as did the students.  It filled in a full 30 minutes and I noticed that when I went in to check their water tonight they didn't run away, but actually came towards me (the chickens, not the students) - it won't be long till I'll be able to pick them up and cuddle them (again the chickens not the students).  
The tunnel exit is getting closer.... roll on Monday!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Thinking games

The girls have arrived and seem to be very nice - not too giggly, not too quiet - pretty easily entertained.  I may not be saying the same thing by Sunday afternoon, but for now they are a nice group to have.  Sometimes evenings are the hardest part of entertaining groups - there is nothing to actually "do" and if they are not very talkative it is sometimes a bit painful trying to keep conversations going.  So we usually bring out our "thinking games" box and in general they spend hours struggling over where to put the polar bear, how to get the train out and how to turn the mouse's bottom into a head.  Tonight I sent them back to the cottage at 10pm when it didn't look like they were ever going to give up.  Considering they had been up since 5am they were doing very well!
Our favorite games are: Say Cheese by Popular Playthings, Railroad Rush Hour by Think Fun, North Pole Camouflage by Smart Games and a funny mole puzzle thingy that Mum picked out of a box of junk at the auction house.  There is one other wooden puzzle that is another favourite, but they were so frustrated that they couldn't work it out that they took it to bed with them.  I'm guessing at about 3am there will be an excited girl come rushing over to inform us that she has finally worked it out!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fire bugs

During this season I am continuously complaining about the amount of smoke that is produced by the farmers who insist on burning off all the dead grass around their rice fields.  Every time I put the washing out the not-so-delicious scent of smoke seems to appear out of nowhere and forces me to put the washing back inside until it passes.  However today I wasn't complaining about the smoke... because it was giving the very quiet boys something to do for quite a long time.  My husband took the morning off work so he entertained them by letting them set fire to the bank after digging a bit of bamboo and cutting a bit more bamboo to use in the garden.  I dropped them back this afternoon and I think they enjoyed themselves... always a bit hard to tell with quiet groups!
Another group arrives tomorrow - 5 girls for two nights.  Here's hoping they have a bit more spunk than the last group... but perhaps not quite as much as the first group.... life is always a balancing act!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Tunnel ahead!

I've entered a long, dark tunnel... hopefully I will emerge out of it by Sunday evening! 
The next group of boys arrived today and although they are very nice, they are not all friends so it makes it a bit hard to get them to really enjoy themselves.  Apparently their year at school is not particularly great so the teachers made the groups, rather than the students choosing themselves. Not sure if it is the best option, but they are trying very hard all the same.  The school has also made it very clear that they all need to be up at 6:30am tomorrow... not sure if I agree with that either, but I guess I will be good and give them a wake up call.  I did tell them they could muck about in the cottage till 7:30 though... don't want to get too other enthusiastic about entertaining them!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Cabbage tree flower

In 2006 I brought back some cabbage tree seedlings from my father's garden (first photo) that have really taken off and this year two of them have produced flowers.  The latest one has a huge flower head that I'm hoping will drop some seeds and produce a few more seedlings - otherwise I might need to go and raid Dad's garden again in the near future!  I know that in New Zealand wood pigeons are attracted to the seeds, but I am yet to find a Japanese bird that has come for a feed.  As long as the crows don't take to them I will be happy!

In other news... I discovered an amazing fact tonight.  You can put your memory stick with all your data for English teaching for the last 3 years through a complete wash cycle, let it dry in the pocket of your trousers in the hot sun all day, pull it out, shake it off, pop it into the computer and.... it will still work!  I don't recommend it, but was quite a relief to see the folders all pop up on the screen.  Needless to say I made a backup of it tonight and I won't be trying it again in the near future!.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The value of saving

Do you remember the money box the children made when we first started selling eggs?  The idea behind it was to teach the children that if you save little bits of money at a time it can add up to big amounts.  We still have the money box and hopefully we will be able to start using it again when our new chickens start laying.  The children love counting the mounting money and we have managed to use it for some nice outings, holiday surprises etc.  
Recently I have also been discovering the joy of saving with my strawberries.  After the initial handful of strawberries I picked at the beginning of the season I continued to pick them every day and after we took what we wanted for breakfast I would put the rest into a bag in the freezer and to date I have over 1.5kg of strawberries.  The wild strawberry hunting season is also underway so I'm hoping I can find enough time to go and pick a few each day and end up with a big bag of them too.  
Now if I could only carry the concept over to my own finances.....  I was talking to a friend the other day about the fact that I am not really good at budgeting and keeping track of expenditure.  I work on a cash basis and when I have it I use it, when I don't have it I don't use it and when I have some extra I throw it into the bank.  It seems to work for now, but I'm guessing if I made more of an effort to keep track of it I might be able to accumulate a little more.  Perhaps I should try putting any extra money into a bag in the freezer.... it may miraculously expand over night!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Background music

I usually update in the evening, but my brother is bored and is demanding another entry so just to keep the family peace, I'll update a little earlier than usual.  You may remember that earlier in the year we re-papered our toilet with a bird pattern, which definitely brightens it up a bit.  To go with the bird theme we have now introduced appropriate background music to enjoy while you are sitting (or standing) enjoying the new wallpaper.  When we re-papered we removed the fan that we never used and forgot to block up the hole.  A couple of birds have found it is the perfect place for their nest and judging by the volume of chirping that was going on last time I was occupying the room they are either having a great time as a couple or they have produced a few offspring.  Either way we've decided to let them entertain us until they all decide to vacate their nest and then hopefully we will remember to fill up the hole before the next entertainers arrive.  Or perhaps the idea will catch on and everyone will start putting birds in their fans in preference to the lovely running water music they often use in Japanese toilets to disguise the noise of your tinkling in the porcelain!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The grass is always greener on the other side

Emily and Masaki have recently started athletics.  It is great because it is only once a week (and sometimes only twice a month) and they aim to teach them the basics while having FUN - a bit of an unusual concept in the sporting world here.  What's even better about it is that it is on GRASS.  Anyone who hasn't lived in Japan may wonder why that is unusual, but the standard surface for school grounds etc. here is hard dirt - not exactly the most conducive surface for injury prevention!  But of course because the grass is always greener on the other side... the grass they practice on is beside an artificial grass surface (top picture) that looks and feels so much nicer and softer than the real thing ..  But, of course that grass surface is only for looking at and they are not allowed to go on it.....gotta love Japan and their rules!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Sleeping arrangements

It only took 2 days of herding the chickens into their house for them to understand that they should just potter into bed when it starts to get dark.  You may remember that we extended the chicken house this year so they would have a bit more space to spread out.  We also made lots of extra perching space for them to use when they are sleeping.  As you can see from the picture it doesn't look like it was necessary - not yet anyway!  They have a choice of six nesting boxes and yet they always choose to sleep in only one - all together....  They rotate which one they use each night and I'm not sure which chicken gets to choose which box they will sleep in, but it appears that they all just go along with it without complaining too much.  I guess they really are Japanese chickens!   I'm glad that they are keeping each other warm, but I'm hoping they will start to spread out a bit more as they get bigger or we may end up with some more chicken sandwiches in the very near future!

Thursday, May 17, 2012


The boys headed off at lunch time today after working hard in the garden planting sweet potatoes and helping my mother-in-law to add a bit more smoke into the atmosphere.  "I feel the need to show off my pants" boy did a fine job of showing them off today, by removing his shirt to do his digging.  He even stayed that way when their teachers came to visit.  Gotta love the current fashions!  
When I dropped them off I got the profiles of the next group which arrives next Wednesday - another group of 4 boys who don't look quite as wild... whether that is good or bad I'm not sure!  The first self introduction sheet I looked at listed his hobbies as "hana o miru koto" which could translate into "I enjoy looking at flowers" or "I enjoy looking at noses"..... I'm kind of hoping it is the first translation!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Bad boys

It has been quite a long time since we've had a group of boys to stay and this time we were lucky enough to get the "bad boys" group.  The group has one boy who always has his trousers hanging down to show off his undies, one boy who only comes to school for the "fun" things, one boy who is craving a cigarette but can't have one as the teachers searched their bags before they came, and one boy who is great at judo and enjoys teaching everyone else how to kick each other very hard.  Two teachers stood beside them at the opening ceremony thingy and kept looking anxiously my way as they gave the four of them harsh warnings.  It made me happy to watch - as predicted this kind of group is a really good group to come to stay.  Away from the teachers they are polite, but still have a bit of personality to them.  They don't nod and bow continuously, but know how to have some fun.  They are only here for one night, but are saying they want to stay on a bit longer.  Sometimes the bad groups really are the best!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Japanese blogs

I am always interested in the huge number of people who are now blogging - and the huge number of reasons why people blog.  Recently I discovered a site which is starting to compile "Japan related blogs which are written in English".  The list is already pretty long, and is a good place to waste a few hours if you are interested in discovering other people that are living in Japan and dealing with everyday things here.  For anyone interested the address is:

In other news - the chickens have learnt very quickly that they sleep inside the chicken house and need no prompting from us in the evenings to hop into bed.  The sick chicken appears to have made a miraculous recovery and is friends with all the other chickens.  It finally rained today so the garden got a well needed soaking.  And from tomorrow we have the first of 3 groups of junior high school children coming to stay.  Only 4 boys this time and only for one night so I'm hoping I can keep them out of trouble for the 21 hours or so that they are here.  I might just keep the axes locked away.....

Monday, May 14, 2012

Can you see what I see?

I have to keep remembering to look in some parts of the garden that I don't often venture to... my fig tree is just taking off again and already has a few quite large ones on it.  Hopefully just as the strawberries finish the figs will take their place in my yogurt in the morning.  Yum, yum, yum!
The blackberries are also in full flower right now so hopefully they will take the place of the raspberries that I kind of forgot to weed and therefore seem to have lost in the jungle..... not quite as tasty, but any berry is better than no berry!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Bamboo fencing

One of the things I don't like about our area is that there are no other children living close by.  It would be great if the kids could just jump on their bikes and go to their friend's houses to play, but that would involve a 6km bike ride over a hill on a major road.  My son is pretty good at finding his own entertainment though - recently he has been digging for worms then going fishing off the bridge by our house.  He usually catches about 8 small fish before he calls it a day and throws them all back in.  Today he decided he wanted to do some fencing with a bamboo stick he had found so he went up to an area behind our house which the locals have cleared of bamboo and planted cherry blossom trees.  The bamboo is growing up again and needs to be knocked over before it takes over the whole hillside again so the new bamboo shoots became my son's fencing partner.  I think he was winning the battle until he saw a long black snake and decided to call it a day - I can't say I blame him!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Deer watching

When we were in Hiroshima we went to Miyajima, which is famous for not only the tori gate in the middle of the sea, but also for all the wild deer that are roaming around the place.  There are big signs everywhere telling you to keep your maps and train tickets out of their reach, but not everyone takes any notice of that and in the 20 minutes I sat "people watching" I saw three maps get chomped.  My favorite chomping was this man who stood with his video camera in one hand and his map in the other.  He got really excited when he started taking a video of the deer and it just kept coming closer and closer.  It took him quite a while to realise that it wasn't his lovely cologne that was attracting the deer to him, but rather the map in his other hand that the deer was busy snacking away on!  By the time he realised what was going on the map was well and truely wedged in the deers jaws and the man had to head back to the station to get another map....

Friday, May 11, 2012

Teacher's visit

Sometimes I make myself laugh.  Today was the day when both children's teachers would come and visit to talk about how they are doing and generally have a look at where we live.  They are on a tight schedule and I think each house is allotted about 15 minutes - then 5 minutes travelling time to get to the next house.  A lot of people go crazy cleaning the entire house and preparing lots of special cake etc., but in reality the teachers race in (usually without looking sideways), never touch any food or drink you have prepared (neither would I if I had to visit 6 or so houses in a row and didn't want to ask to use their toilet....), chat about random things for 15 minutes (usually totally unrelated to the children) and then race away to the next place.  
So, with this in mind I decided I was not going to clean the entire house - only the places they would actually come in to and I went as far as not cleaning the deck etc. on principle.  Instead I decided to clean the bathroom... with the  water blaster... why, I have no idea - perhaps I was thinking that they might ask to take a shower?  Who knows!!!  I wonder where their visit will inspire me to clean next year.
Having said they only stay for 15 minutes.... Emily's teacher stayed for one hour tonight and two years ago I hit the jackpot when the teacher stayed for 2 hours... and then quit school the following day!  I'm pretty sure it had nothing to do with her visit here, but it does make me a bit wary of making people feel too much at home!

In chicken news, the sick chicken spent the whole day with her pals and although she is still a bit wobbly seems to be doing okay.  They all managed to make it into their beds before I got there to put them away tonight - 10 white/pink ones in one box and 5 brown ones in the other.  I hope the discrimination police don't pop in for a visit!.  Heather - the brown ones are called "Boris Brown" - I think it may be a brand name?  The white ones are "Julia" and the pink ones are "Sonia".  I have a feeling there are many different names for basically the same chooks.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Herb Spiral Update

The sick chicken is looking a little better today and although she is still in her box by herself she has started eating, drinking and standing up a bit.  Hopefully she will pull through and join the rest of the flock in their play pen soon!

What is looking even better than the sick chicken is the herb spiral I started in March.  Unfortunately all the marigolds were killed off in late frosts, but I replaced them with calendula plants that I had grown in egg cartons and they seem to be doing very well and are likely to take over the whole spiral very soon!

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Precious cargo

Today brought back memories of bringing my daughter home in the car for the very first time.  I was scared every bump was going to jolt her and make her cry, that she would be so scared of the noise of the car that she would cry, and that the car seat wouldn't be fitted properly and she would slip out onto the floor and cry.  Of course none of the above happened and from memory she slept all the way home from the hospital.... 
Today I didn't bring home a baby, but I did bring home fifteen chickens who are 53 days old.  Like with Emily's first ride home, I drove very carefully and semi-slowly, taking care on the corners and the hills to get my special cargo home in 15 pieces.  Unfortunately one of the chickens hasn't feared so well and I'm guessing won't make it through the night.  Probably having 4 chickens stomping all over it for 20 minutes was a bit too much for it...   The remaining 14 chickens have had a nice day in their new home - taking dirt baths, checking out the scenery and eventually heading into the house for the night.  My son and I managed to round them into the house without actually touching them - not too bad for the first night!  Not that I don't want to touch them - I really do... just need to get them used to us a bit more first.    As soon as they realise I am the one that brings them their food I'm sure I will have them eating out of my hand and cuddling up to me at every opportunity they get!

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Asian Dust

Last year I wrote about how much I would love to put a chair in our driveway and watch the setting sun.... today was quite a different story!  Every year we get a few days where the sand is blown all the way from China, creating an absolutely disgusting smoggy kind of feeling everywhere.  We can't see any of the mountains around us and as the wind has finally stopped it could be like this for a few more days.  I guess we should just be grateful it isn't raining... that produces an amazing layer of filth on everything.  So much for fresh, clean country air!
You can read more about Asian Dust here: Wikipedia - Asian Dust