Thursday, January 31, 2013

Dedication or stupidity

On Sunday I spent the day lying on the couch watching TV.  The perfect thing to do on a snowy Sunday when you aren't feeling 100%.  I'm not really sure why, but instead of following my lead my husband decided he had to go and chop down some trees and start cutting them up for firewood that we will use in 2 years time.... his current job means that he often has to work weekends so the time he can do it is limited, but still... I'm not sure if he is just devoted to keeping us all warm or just plain stupid! 
On that same cold, snowy Sunday the road works people decided that they had to continue work on asphalting the tiny k-truck road that about 1 truck drives along every week - if that.  I'm guessing they have a contract and they were falling behind, but again devotion or stupidity I'm not quite sure!  The road was finally finished today and my son is now eyeing it as a great waveboard track....he is not likely to have to look out for traffic!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Initial Concerns part 2

When I wrote my post about my concerns about club activities at junior high school I knew it would get a big reaction from the foreign community living here.  I knew it would get a few eyebrows raised from those in other countries and I knew that most of those commenting would probably support me in my concerns.  At the same time what I also knew, but deliberately chose to leave out until now is the reaction of my daughter to these club activities.  Without prompting her about why, I asked her a couple of questions regarding what she was looking forward to most about junior high school and any worries she had.  This was her response:

I’m looking forward to club activities the most when I start junior high school.  At the moment I want to go into volleyball or brass band.  There were no club activities at primary school, so I am looking forward to doing club activities at junior high school.  At club activities everybody works together.  If it was brass band and we could play the music right till the end there would be a sense of achievement.  If it was volleyball and we won then we would be happy.  I think that the things I can learn in club I will be able to use in my study, for example for Japanese writing about our experiences.  I think that I will be able to make lots of friends in the club.  I really want to make friends with children in the same grade.  I want to have some rivals so that I can get stronger. 
It doesn’t worry me about how long I have to practice.  If I could just do it then I would be happy.  I am worried that there will be too, too, too hard exercise! 
One of my good friends is also in an interesting situation.  She is German and lives in Hong Kong.  Her children are part of the French school system (confused yet).  She sent me an e-mail after reading my blog and said that her son had also read it and his initial reaction to Japanese club activities was  “But it´s great, so I could play soccer after school every day with my friends”.  Their school system requires much longer study hours and little time for sports.  

I am always being asked whether I intend to keep my children in the Japanese education system.  My answer is always the same - my children will always be given the opportunity to go to whatever school they see fit.  My job will be to show them their different options, but it will always be their choice.  There are many things that I disagree about the Japanese system, but there are other things that I don't think are perfect in the New Zealand system.  I think which system suits each child is very much a personality thing.  Of course if I could start my own school it would be perfect for every child, but... .  My initial hunch (which could be proved completely wrong... ) is that my daughter is very much suited to the Japanese system.  She loves school and can't wait to start Junior High School.  She is so excited to start club activities.  Because of this I try very hard to keep my opinions to myself when I am around her.  I know that she is partially happy with this system because it is the only real system she has known and perhaps if she spent more time in a New Zealand school should would think differently.  But, as my German friend said as long as the children are happy then there probably isn't too much to complain about.    I like her attitude, she says she now tries "to accept the “bad” things and be happy with the “good” things" and she has "learned to watch the kids more than comparing the systems".  

Just to clarify, I do not think that the club activities system here is the best system for me.  If I thought my daughter was uncomfortable with it then I would be one of the first on the picket line trying to get it changed.  But if the truth be told she is soooooooooo looking forward to it.  It is all she can talk about.  It may turn out to be a fantastic experience for her.  She is incredibly happy about it.  I'll support her to try and make it a great experience while doing my best to maintain as much communication with her as I can - even adding a bit of family time when I can.  Here's hoping the happiness is remaining 3 years down the track....  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Japanese medicine revisited

One of my most visited posts from search engines is from back in 2009 when I wrote a little bit about Japanese medicine.  It seems that many people search this topic and occasionally end up on my blog - probably a little disappointed with the shallow information they receive!  Anyway, I have been sick over the past 4 days and finally went to the doctor yesterday to confirm that the high fever was not the dreaded influenza which would put me into isolation for 5 days (although the thought of that wasn't actually so dreadful...).  Unfortunately it was not, but I was given the usual bucketful of medicine just to be on the safe side.  I am diligently chugging it back a few times each day, but still have a real problem with the powder ones..... 
For anyone new to Japanese medicine this powder form seems to be very common and for those who don't like swallowing pills I'm guessing it could make your life very simple, but.... it is bitter AND it sticks to strange parts of your mouth rather then sliding straight down your throat, meaning the bitterness stays and comes back to haunt you every 10 minutes or so!  Give me a pill any day!
I don't get sick very often and when I do I try to avoid going to the hospitals here, despite them actually being pretty good.  I know that others in Japan may not have such great experiences, but in our area they have excellent testing facilities, you don't usually need an appointment, they process you relatively quickly and in general their manner is very good.  A good percentage of the cost is also covered by insurance, so you don't walk out with huge bills.  But (you knew there was a but coming!) one thing I really don't enjoy is the lack of privacy during consultations.  First the nurse comes out to the waiting room and gets every detail of your complaint.  It doesn't matter how full the waiting room is she still asks as many questions as she can... some which are not exactly ones that you feel like revealing in front of everyone - my favourite yesterday was when I had my period last.  
The next privacy issue comes when you head in to see the doctor.  You are in a separated cubicle, but there is only a curtain for a door and the walls only go three quarters of the way up.  As one patient is called in the next two are called to sit outside the curtain and wait their turn.  You therefore get to hear every detail of the 2 people in front of you who go in for their consultations and of course the two people after you get to hear every detail of your consultation.  Not so bad if you  have just had a fever for 3 days, but I would probably think twice about going there if I had a slightly more worrying or embarrassing complaint!  At least I guess it is an encouragement for me to take my full course of medicine and not have to go back again in the near future!

Monday, January 28, 2013


Like most mothers I spent a lot of time putting photos of my children into albums for the first few years of their life.  Unfortunately with the invention of digital cameras I stopped printing them out for quite a while and now find myself with many years of no printed records of my children's development.  There are zillions of photos in various places on the computer, but now the job of sorting them all out just seems too overwhelming. 
The other day my father sent me a few photos of me from many years ago - photos that I don't think I have ever seen.  I had always thought that I had real memories of this time in my life, but I realised that most of my memories have been formed/reinforced by photos.  I always think that there is no way that my children could forget some of the special events in their lives, but these photos brought back the fact that they probably will and therefore the need for me to keep records for them.  Hopefully I will feel motivated enough to trawl through the folders and folders of photos and sort them out in the very near future - or at least before the computer crashes and we lose them all - like we did a few years ago!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Initial Concerns

I'm writing this in the hope that I can look back in 3 years time and laugh at all my petty concerns about my daughter starting junior high school.  On Friday all the 6th graders and their parents went to the school to have a quick look around and get general information about how the school runs, school uniforms, school buses and most concerning club activities.  
There are 8 different elementary schools who combine at the junior high school and it looks like there will be about 73 first grade students.  They split them into 3 classes for the first year and then 2 classes for the following 2 years.  The school is only about 4 years old so it is a really nice school to be in - lots of wood, very bright and pretty modern facilities.  No complaints so far.  The study seems to be fairly typical of anywhere - they need to be at school by 8:10am, have 6 50 minute classes each day (apart from on Wednesday where they only have 5) and after cleaning and a short class meeting they finish up at 3:55pm (2:55pm on Wednesday).  This all seems okay to me.  It is after this that I start to have problems.... 
From 4pm they start club activities.  There are 9 activities that the school offers - the girls can choose from judo, athletics, volleyball, table tennis, brass band, soccer, soft tennis and kendo.  The boys choose from judo, athletics, brass band, baseball, soccer and kendo.  The clubs are not compulsory, but apparently 98% of students participate.  As you may have noticed by the choices if you are not into sports or music there are no other options.  It was made very clear that the teachers were stretched to their limit by offering these 9 activities and therefore there is no chance at all of adding any extras.  
I have no problem with kids being involved in clubs.  I played sport at school and loved it.  What I do have a problem with is the fact that they make it pretty clear that when you enter a club you should not decide to change half way through and therefore if you make a bad decision in first grade you are stuck with doing the same sport for 3 years. I also have a problem with the length of the practices.  I know that because the school has a school bus system they are controlled by that in terms of what time they have to finish practice and therefore is better than many places.  But.... in the summer the club activities run until 6:30pm - the bus then leaves at 6:45pm.  This is every day of the week, apart from Wednesday when there are no club activities.  It means that my daughter will leave home at 7:20am and get home at 7:20pm.  That's a 12 hour day at school for a 12 year old.  Winter is one hour earlier, but still not exactly a short day!
What was also made very clear at the meeting was that if the children wanted to keep up with the study that was going on in class it was really important that they do revision each night on top of their homework..... so home at 7:20pm (having eaten nothing since lunch at 12:30pm (don't even get me started on that!), tea, shower, then homework..... I can see that we are going to have to change a few of our routines around here!  
There are also practices most Saturdays for a lot of the clubs and almost every day during the school holidays.  I find it interesting that there are many different seminars about how to communicate with your children at the moment.  What I would like to ask is when we are supposed to actually communicate with our children if the club activities take such a huge amount of their time!  And... just while I'm on a complaining run.... considering how long they practice they are not even very good at the sports! 
So, as I said, I'm hoping that I look back at this in 3 years time and laugh... but I'm guessing I won't!

Friday, January 25, 2013


Sometimes I can't get over how different my children are.  I think I have raised them in a very similar way, but their habits, hobbies, likes and dislikes are often very different.  My daughter could quite happily become a vegetarian and usually removes any large pieces of meat from her plate, whereas my son could live solely on meat and literally gnaws any spec of meat off any bone he can get his hands on.  My son likes to have everything in straight lines (don't know where he got that from....) whereas my daughter is happy to live in a pigsty.  
To my despair my daughter hates reading...... I used to read them a lot of picture books as children and I often take them to the bookshop and tell them I will buy them any book they want, but she refuses to even look.  To my delight, my son has recently really taken an interest in reading and spends any rainy lunchtimes inside reading at school.  Of course I would be happier if he was reading in English, but at this stage reading in Japanese is better than nothing.  His latest discovery is the Narnia series and every day he takes great pleasure in telling me what has happened in the part he has just read.  Today he finished The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and, as they finished school early, they got to watch the DVD this afternoon.  Note my daughter's position behind the couch... one thing they both have in common is that they are scaredy pants when it comes to movies! 
I know I can't force my daughter to read, but I really do hope that one day she discovers the pleasure of curling up with a hotwater bottle and a book - which is what I am off to do now!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

105 yen bargains

I have months where I swear I will never go into the 100 yen shop on principle.  I have watched as my children broke toys from there and just threw them in the rubbish without thinking twice, knowing that they could get another one for just 100yen.   They lost concept of what actually cost a lot of money and what was very cheap.  Nothing was really valued.  Unfortunately I started to have the same kind of I started to avoid the shops.
As I said, there are months where I won't go near there, but then... I always break under the pressure of needing some art supplies for teaching, or some cheap lunch box supplies and let's face it, there is actually some pretty good stuff in the 100 yen shops here if you can find it among the junk.  My latest breakdown yielded me a great buy - a "Carving knife for food decoration".  As many of you will know Japan is the capital of making food into different shapes for their lunch boxes and this knife is designed for cutting apples or eggs into checkerboard patterns or sausages into octopuses.... fortunately my kids are over this particular phase so my knife is being put to a different purpose.  As I hoped when I bought it, it turns out that it is perfect for slashing bread dough before putting it in the oven - and considering the price of the specialist tools for this job it really is a bargain!!  I tested it out on a loaf of spelt bread and ... I would have to say even I was impressed!  Tom asked where I had bought the bread and the kids both had seconds.  Perhaps I will have to go 100 yen shopping a little more regularly.....

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Changing with the times

Another catch up post from the end of 2012... I think I'm almost caught up!
Every year our family makes mochi (sticky rice cakes).  I write about it most years and most years I could probably just cut and paste the story that goes with the pictures as it is always the same.  The same arguments about what time to start, the same arguments about whether the rice is actually cooked enough, the same arguments about why no one is squatting at the tiny cloth covered table in the garage with the wind howling around them at exactly the moment the mochi is ready to be shaped.  For a more detailed look into this process you can check out my 2006 blog - Hannah and Amanda, it must be time you came back again!  Or for a small look into the more traditional method there is the 2009 blog  Of course if you wanted even more of the same there is always the 2007 making2008 making, or the  2010 making

But from last year things have been changing in our family - not something that happens often in a traditional countryside family in Japan!  In 2011 we were in New Zealand for Christmas and New Year and therefore unable to help with the annual mochi making.  My father-in-law was also in hospital so there was only my mother-in-law, sister-in-law and uncle to do the job.  An executive decision was made to buy a machine that basically does the entire process, apart from the shaping  - eliminating the need to light a fire and steam all the rice then transfer it to the pounding machine.  Unfortunately they didn't bother to read the instruction book though and, from what I heard, the first couple of batches turned into a runny glue like mixture. 
This year some things were learnt from last year's mistakes and the first batch went wonderfully.  Another 45 minutes later the second batch was ready.  Another 45 minutes later and it was discovered that the third batch had gone a little wrong and was only partially cooked.  Another 45 minutes and a bit more swearing and the next batch was finished.  No more mistakes were made, but each batch took at least 45 minutes to go through the steaming and pounding processes.  I popped home in between each batch to do a bit more cleaning (well that is what I told them... actually I was having quiet T.V. time by myself!).  The last batch was completed at about 2pm.  We started at 8am.  Conclusion: yes, it was easier than doing it the old way, but far more time consuming!

Our family hasn't quite cottoned on to the fact that people don't come home for the holiday season like they used to in the past and therefore there is no need to actually make a huge number of mochi.... there are still plenty in the freezer from last year... and probably the year before.... Every year I comment that perhaps next year we should cut back on the volume made... every year the volume is identical.  I guess some things will just never change!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Ekiden- relayed marathon

Yesterday my son was part of a relay team for this area.  Not your usual 100m X 4 sprint relay, but a relayed marathon.  Winter seems to be the season for these relayed marathons and according to wikipedia they began in Japan as a continuation of the way of relaying communication in stages via stagecoach.  The very first one was in 1918 and was run over 3 days, with a total distance of 508km.  It was run from Kyoto to Tokyo to commemorate the anniversary of the moving of the capital to Tokyo in 1868.
History lesson over!  Yesterday's race was a total of 18.8km, which was divided between 10 different runners.  Our area is the smallest area in our town and therefore getting 10 different runners for all the stages wasn't exactly easy!  As a result our team had 50 year olds running in the 30 year old category and a 68 year old man running in the 50 year old category.... along with elementary school, junior high school and 20 - 40 year olds. The races are run on the general roads and basically have no traffic control... which makes for an interesting time when they head onto the narrow country roads.  Every Tom, Dick and Harry are out trying to support their team, but because the distance is so long they tend to go around in their little white trucks and end up blocking the roads rather than actually supporting the runners.
My son managed to run his 1.7km in a good time and hand the sash onto the next runner.  I really like the idea of these relays - especially if it is a community based one, but I must admit I was a little anxious as to whether he could finish his section.  It must be really devastating if you don't manage to pass the sash on and therefore put your whole team out of the running.  A lot of the top class races have time limits in which you must pass the sash on to the next person - if you don't the next runner just has to start running and although the team is allowed to finish they are officially disqualified.    I can just imagine coming around the corner to hand it over and discovering there is no one there to receive it.
Fortunately all the teams in this race managed to finish and despite being a tiny area we (I say that like I was actually running!) managed to come 5th out of 9 teams.  Not too bad an effort!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Cold starts to the day

So far this year we seem to have had a pretty mild winter, especially compared to other parts of Japan.  Despite this my son is very happy that it is still really, really cold most mornings - cold enough to freeze various pools of water around the place.  Before going to bed he keeps a check on the outside temperature and it is the first thing he checks when he wakes up.  If he deems the temperature to have been low enough he goes around the neighbourhood and collects slabs of ice to bring home and smash against the deck.  The saying "small things amuse small minds" comes to mind!  
One morning he was running late for school though so I got to remove the round slab of ice from the chicken's water and also discovered some amazing mushroom-like beautiful icicles in the grass.  I proudly told my son about them in the afternoon and he snorted and said he smashes them every morning on his way to collecting the ice.... is there a word for someone who has no respect for anything made from ice?  I think I need to find him another hobby!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Gingerbread house

A few years ago I was asked to make a gingerbread house for the kids kindergarten and although it was satisfying, it was really fiddly and I got a bit frustrated with it half way through.  My gingerbread slabs weren't all exactly the same size so when I tried to put it together it was pretty lopsided and needed days to dry in order to be solid enough for it to be decorated and transported.
So, with that experience behind me I wasn't overly excited when my daughter saw a kitset for a gingerbread house in IKEA and looked at me with puppy-dog eyes as she asked if we could buy one and make it for Christmas.  Another reason is that usually "we" means "Mum" when it comes to these kind of things....   Anyway, I agreed and the three of us sat down just before Christmas to put it together and decorate it.  And guess what?  It was actually a pleasant experience!  Not only did the icing I made stick it together very fast (it was helpful that all the pieces were the correct sizes!), but both children sat together and designed it, then proceeded to do all the fiddly bits together - right until the whole thing was completed!  We even managed to make some snowmen out of candymelts that wouldn't melt properly.
My gingerbread house phobia is now over and I'm looking forward to finding another set in a shop again next year! 

Thursday, January 17, 2013


I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but our chickens aren't ones for privacy when they are laying.  They have a total of 6 nesting boxes to choose from, but most days I find about 80% of the eggs in one box.  It is not the same box every day... I'm guessing there is a leader who chooses the box for the day,  lays the first egg, then goes and tells everyone else which box they need to lay in if they want to be part of the in-crowd.  There are always a few rebels, and I think they are probably the ones who have to wait patiently behind while the boss eats the best leaves from the cabbages and weeds we feed them. 
Yesterday I went to check the eggs and found the above scene - 5 completely empty boxes and one box with 3 chickens and 9 eggs in it.  I have no idea how they manage to lay like this, but they do and somehow they never break any of the eggs in the process.  Perhaps I should observe them more closely and see if they get a few more chickens in there at one time so I can enter them into the Guinness book of records!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Cloth book number 2

I said in a previous post that we only sent two presents to New Zealand this year.  The second was a cloth book for my other niece.  Last year I attempted my first cloth book and I figured if I did basically the same thing again for my other niece then it wouldn't take so long and by the time my other sisters got around to having children I would be a pro!  The only problem is that I am not very good at doing the same thing twice, so I ended up using the same basic concept, but completely different designs for each page.  I started early this year though and really enjoyed fiddling away every now and then.  
Some features of this book are (just in case you haven't worked them out, Adele) .... finger puppets that can be removed and played with from the front page, a cob of corn that can be unzipped, Mario Bros. houses with friends inside, and a fashion conscious clown who can change his hat when he feels the need.
Now all I need is for someone to have a boy so I can try out some really boyish designs! 
A big thank you to Jacqui, who once again custom made a great bag to put it in.  She currently has a sale on for anyone who is interested in her great bags!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Piano concert 2013

It's that time of year again.... Emily had her piano concert on Sunday, so for anyone interested here is a video of her two songs. She also had to do all the announcements and introductions so by the time we got home after a celebratory dinner she was exhausted and slept till 10am today. Luckily it was a public holiday (again....). 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Comment question answers

As you have all been so good about commenting on my entries, I think it is only fair that I answer your questions too..... sorry, I am not good at answering in the comment section as I always forget to go back and check on the blogs I have commented on.....

Mum - Big K nudge - anytime after about June would be perfect!  Asparagus may or may not be able to be harvested in the first year.  I'm guessing I probably killed quite a lot of it by slicing it through with the spade....

Megan - I have no idea what the fancy electronic panel on the front of the new fridge does.  The delivery guy said that unless we live in Hokkaido or Okinawa we shouldn't touch it... so I haven't!

George and Erika - yes, the halloween picks are the Genki English pictures - I just laminated them, cut them out and stuck them on toothpicks - very easy!

Clare Maree - I just put all the little houses inside each other and then put them in a big box with some packaging.  I also included some hot-glue gun sticks to make repairs!  Pretty easy to put back together if they fall apart.

Heather - asparagus tips... don't let devil weeds become entwined in it!  Apart from that mulch, mulch and more mulch at the end of each season and it seems to do very well.  And no "fresh" manure - my in-laws lost a huge patch when they broke this rule as it burnt all the new shoots.

Katy - Emily and I ate the strawberry... it was enough for us both and probably would have made a decent pot of jam!

Dawn - surprisingly the strawberry had a lot of flavour.  I'm guessing it was two or three regular ones fused together....

I do realise that I am basically bribing you to comment on this blog in order to motivate me to keep writing, but I really have enjoyed the comments and communication that I have been receiving and I have been trying harder to write on other people's blogs in return..  Thank you! Here's hoping we can keep up both ends of the bargain!  Oh, and this entry is not part of the 3-comment rule.... look forward to some piano playing tomorrow!


When we got our first chickens we had an agreement with the neighbours that the kids would take them eggs each week and they would give them 200 yen in return.  We put the money into a piggy bank and the kids learnt that a small amount of money turned into a large amount of money if you slowly added to it each week. 
New chickens meant new lessons to be learnt and this time we have an agreement with the neighbour that each week they will barter something that they have in excess for the eggs.  Every Saturday morning the kids deliver the eggs and come home with something different.  Rice crackers, apples, chocolate, bean rice, cookies, mandarins, jelly, popcorn, yoghurt and oreos have all featured in the past.  I have a feeling that they are not always things they have an "excess" of, but the kids always look forward to finding out what their eggs will be swapped for each week.
Today Masaki came home with a couple of packets of banana oreo cookies and the largest strawberry I have every seen - and considering how big the standard strawberries here are, that is really saying something!  I'm pretty sure it is a mutant, rather than a new breed of strawberry, but considering they grow square melons here it wouldn't actually surprise me if they were trying to grow flat strawberries the size of your hand in order to make them easier to package!  And just for reference, the hand in the photo is my husband's.... he is 6 foot 3 (190cm) and has hands to match!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Christmas Treats

Every year there are a few of my English classes that I feel the need to give a small gift to at Christmas time.  This year Christmas signalled the end of some of my classses and so I put in a little more effort than usual and played around with some different packaging etc.  I ended up making 3 different kinds of cookies and chocolate cupcakes to put in each pack. 
I always find it interesting and sometimes a little disheartening when I go to a lot of effort to make these kinds of things for children here.  The first time I usually get a big smile, sometimes a thank you (although often this has to be forced out of them) and often a comment from them the following week as to how it tasted.  The second time the smiles and thank yous diminish and comparisons are made with friends, complaints about why they got a green smartie, not a pink one, and the following week nothing is mentioned.  This was the third year in a row that I made things for one particular class and as predicted the gratitude diminished yet again, despite the extra effort that I had made.  I'm not sure if this is a universal thing, but the lack of gratitude sometimes really irks me.  I don't expect them to fall over backwards and proclaim me to be the best person in the whole wide world, but a simple thank you without having to ask for it would be nice.  Of course all my students aren't the same.  Some are extremely grateful and I will sometimes get a phone call from a parent or two, but in general these are in the minority.  I would be interested to hear from anyone who is not living in Japan as to whether this is becoming a world-wide phenomenon, or whether it is just limited to my tiny town.....
Fortunately for my students the lack of gratitude doesn't stop me making things though - probably because I have to test the food before I hand it out.  Wouldn't want them getting sick or anything!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Entwined with the devil

A bit of the present mixed in with the past....
The other day I decided to finally get around to putting up the net for the sweetpeas that are slowly growing all over the ground.  Unfortunately on my way to the sweetpeas I saw a blank patch of garden which looked like the perfect size for a new asparagus bed.  This lead me to haul some very large pieces of wood to the area to build up the sides, dig it all out, throw in lots of compost, manure and fertiliser and then fill it all in again.  That took two days to get finished.  
Yesterday I started to dig up all the old asparagus from our outside plot.  Unfortunately all my wonderful leaf litter from the mountains brought a horrible weed thing with it that has completely entwined itself in the asparagus roots and started to take over the patch.  This meant that I had to soak all the crowns that were dug up to remove all the dirt and try to remove all the devil weed before I replanted them in the new patch.  Unfortunately it was minus 2 degrees this morning and the water never really warmed up all day, so by the time I had washed them and pulled them apart my fingers felt like they were about to fall off.  And my arms felt like they were going to fall off from all the digging.  
After another day of work I think I have replanted the majority of the asparagus in what will hopefully be a weed-free bed.... although I'm guessing I have missed a couple of bits of the devil and the whole process will have to be repeated in a few years time.  Here's hoping when spring comes it will have all been worth it.  And here's hoping that I finally get around to putting up the sweetpea net before they all rot away on the ground!  I think I'll just have to put blinkers on the next time I venture that way......

Friday, January 11, 2013

Snug as a frog in a door

I don't know if the saying "snug as a bug in a rug" is a universal saying or just one that was used where I grew up, but I think it should be changed a little to fit the Japanese countryside.  My new version is "snug as a frog in a door".  As I have mentioned before we have lots of little green frogs that join us during the summer months, serenading us with their rather loud croaking and finding original places to hide to escape the heat and scare us to death every time they fall out from their unique hiding places.  This particular frog decided it liked the tiny gap between the screen doors and every time we flung open the doors it would hold on for its life and then just start croaking again.  I presume it eventually moved off to find a quieter place to hibernate as winter approached as I haven't found a mummified one in the door...... like the ones I find when I'm doing the spring cleaning which have been sandwiched in the slat windows over the winter!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Advent Calendar

I know I said I wouldn't write any more posts until I got 3 comments on the previous post and that there is only one comment on the previous post, but.... someone told me they tried to post a comment but couldn't for some reason and another person did post, only the topic was about how wonderful my blog was and how I should check out their blog about hemorrhoids.... so I guess in a way that makes three comments so I'm going to go back on my January first post deal, just this once.....  and get back to my catchup.

This year we only sent two presents to New Zealand - one for each of my small nieces.  I wanted to make an advent calendar for my oldest niece, but for some stupid reason felt the need to do something a little different than your standard hang on the wall pocket one.  In the end I adapted a cardboard house pattern that I found on this site: Cart Before the Horse and made (with the help of my children) 24 different houses of different sizes out of 48 different kinds of fabric.  The kids then made a town map for them to sit on and we wrapped small presents and stuck one inside each house to be opened on each day in the lead up to Christmas.  
After we had completed it I realised it wasn't exactly the most practical advent calendar for a toddler, or the most practical present to try and send overseas,  but it was fun to make and I really enjoyed being able to do it with the kids.  
A word of advice though... if you want to do something like this start it in October... not a week or so before it needs to be in the post!

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Feijoa Harvest 2012

It is strange the way that some things we write on our blogs lead to connections with people we don't know in person.  Feijoas are one of those things for me and Jacqui.  I have never met Jacqui, but every year we have random conversations about trying to grow feijoas here and report on our annual successes.  This year my mother was here during the feijoa flowering season and I had the paint brushes ready to get her out there hand pollinating them to help pay her way.  Unfortunately the weather didn't cooperate and we had continual rain for basically the entire time of her visit.  I presumed this heavy rain would mean the feijoas wouldn't pollinate well, but we ended up with the best crop ever.  The basket above is the first day's harvest... yum!
For anyone on the other side of the world who is heading into feijoa season the two recipes I would HIGHLY recommend are: 

"The most orgasmic feijoa loaf ever": (the website I got it from seems to be expired..)
1 cup scooped out feijoas
1 cup boiling water
1 cup white sugar
50g butter
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg, beaten

Boil feijoas, butter, sugar and water for 5 minutes (I then mashed them).  Allow to cool.  Mix in the beaten egg.
Mix the rest of the ingredients in a bowl.  Fold feijoa mixture into dry ingredients.  Make sure not to over mix.  Pour into greased loaf pan.
Bake for 50 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius.
Yum, yum, yum!

Vanilla Feijoa Compote (I didn't bother with the orange rind) - great of cereal or as a base for fruit crumble.

I also managed to harvest my first lot of ginger - it is great to have in the freezer... here's hoping it lasts us for the whole year.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Lazy Holidays

Today is the last day of the winter school holidays here.  I would have to say they have been the most relaxing and laziest holidays since the kids started school.  I managed to go for an entire week without getting in my car and the furthest I ventured was the 50m up the road to my in-laws for the odd spot of mochi-making or meals together.  For one week I didn't go into one shop.  I didn't teach one lesson of English.  I didn't even go and get my car washed before the temple bell rang in the New Year (I'm sure it will bring me 7 years of bad luck!).  I didn't turn into a hermit though - we actually had a lot of visitors over the holidays, but they were nice, relaxing visitors who always seemed to bring more food with them which would mean a trip to the shops could be postponed for yet another day.  
The last day of the holidays here is being celebrated with cinnamon rolls.  Masaki commented yesterday that I hadn't made them for a long time and that he really wanted to eat some, so we made them together and I wish I could send you a vile with the smell of them in it, rather than just the pictures.  Yum, yum, yum!  

I tend to make a lot of baking and bread things - often because I just can't buy the things I crave here in Japan, but also because I am getting more and more amazed at the number of things which are put into food and the amazingly long shelf life that they have.  My husband is also on a "Japanese margarine is the devil" spree at the moment and refuses to eat anything that has come within a mile of any margarine.  This basically cuts out any baked items in Japan as they all use margarine in preference to butter, I'm guessing because of the huge price difference.  I personally think that anything in small doses is not going to contribute to a major health decline and that worrying too much over things is more likely to cause health problems, but at the same time I would never use margarine to make cakes etc. here.  Butter is just so much better!  (I haven't been sponsored by the dairy board to say that....).
Unfortunately life goes back to "normal" from tomorrow.  It will be nice to have the house back to myself for a while and perhaps I will be able to keep the living room tidier for more than 5 minutes, but I will miss not having to do anything in particular and not having to go anywhere.  Here's hoping the car starts!