Saturday, March 31, 2007

To bee or not to bee

One thing that we are determined to have on our "farm" this year is bees. My mother has bees and it is always great to go home and eat honey every day without worrying about what kind of preservatives and other strange things have been added to it (I don't trust Japanese honey very much).
I am so determined to have bees this year that I got my mother to bring me a bee suit for my husband for Christmas last year (he is a little too tall to be able to wear a Japanese one). It seems to have done the trick and he is now going to different places studying about bees and getting ready to bring our own bees home.

The biggest decision is what kind of bees to get. There are the standard ones of course, but then there are also a type of Japanese honey bee which produce very good (very expensive...) honey. The good thing about these kind of bees is that they have an amazing way of dealing with the killer hornets which appear in Japan. According to one homepage
Just one of these hornets can kill 40 European honeybees a minute; a handful of the creatures can slaughter 30,000 European honeybees within hours, leaving a trail of severed insect heads and limbs.
The Japanese honeybees deal with this by teaming up against the hornets, forming a tight ball of bees around them and increasing the temperature inside the ball to 42 degrees - effectively frying the hornet.
The downside of the Japanese honeybees is that they are more difficult to please and often leave the hive for better pastures and don't produce a very large quantity of honey. I think we are swaying towards normal honeybees at this stage - possibly moving up to Japanese ones as we get a little more experienced. I just want honey!
Once the honey is sorted out it will be on to the chickens......

Friday, March 30, 2007


Yesterday we had our first test of sleeping 5 in the cottage. There is plenty of room downstairs, but I had always thought that 5 adults would be a little too tight upstairs. So when this group booked last week I warned them that it would be a little squashed...... but they really wanted to come and were happy with that. In fact this morning they said it had been no problem at all and that we could fit even more if we wanted to. I guess that is one benefit of using futons rather than beds!
Now that we are starting to get used to having guests things seem to go very smoothly. The kids don't get so excited and therefore don't go crazy all the time and making meals is getting easier and easier. Last night we had lasagne, foccacio, salad and roast veges - with pavlova of course (I really have to buy a proper mixer so I don't have to stand there with the hand-held mixer for 15 minutes each time!). The 5 ladies who stayed last night are all doing similar things in a town close by and they seemed impressed with the way we do things - eg just using one big plate to eat off rather than the 25 million small plates that Japanese people use each time, having bread and fruit for breakfast etc. I think if people are to continue inviting people into their homes to stay they need to keep looking for ways to make it easy on themselves.
This morning we also did some baking together and yet again I wished I had a little corner with goods to sell.... the things that I know I could sell every time now include - 12 hole muffin tins, mini-muffin tins, egg beaters, graters (the square type), cooking spray, chelsea brown sugar etc. etc....... If any one has a contact in the kitchen-goods industry please let me know!

Monday, March 26, 2007

The big day

Another trip to Tokyo over..... yet again it reminded me that I love to live in the countryside! It also reinforced the fact that I couldn't stand being part of the TV world!
The whole day started out wonderfully - not! We were part of a 2 hour "children's special" which meant the filming took even longer than usual. We were the main feature of one section (probably about 20 or 30 minutes of the final program) and then there were other sections which featured other people or the "panel" of other foreign wives who had been on the show previously. One section of the program involved all the mothers bringing something sweet that they had made from their own country for the children to eat. I was asked to bring pavlova, so we carefully carried it all the way on the plane, in the taxi etc. and then to the studio. No problem there. The problems began when they asked me to make another pavlova at the studio on the morning of the filming..... apparently they needed one for eating and one for filming, but they forgot to mention that to me. The fact that I didn't have the recipe with me was a slight problem, but the fact that they had forgotten to buy sugar was a more major problem! After the sugar finally arrived the next problem was that the mixer wouldn't work.... suggestions were made that we could make it with a whisk..... get real! Eventually the mixer cooperated, but then there was the problem of having no oven tray to put it on..... 20 minutes later one was found that was the size of a small book - I have no idea how we managed to get it made, but we did and everyone was happy - a great start to the day!
In terms of the actual filming - we had to be there by 9:30am (to make the pavlova, go through a brief rehearsal, put on the stupid makeup etc.) and then filming finally began at about 3pm. Fortunately we had our own private room so the kids could run around without causing too much chaos! It was an interesting process with everything going on very smoothly, no stopping and starting, no cuts, no repeating things, just continual action until after 8pm..... Fun, fun, fun! The kids survived the experience well and were rewarded with a trip to the aquarium and a new book the next day.
I found the whole thing interesting, but it is definately not something I would want to go through again. Quite a few of the other mothers on the show are aiming to become regulars in other shows etc. so spent a lot of the on-air time trying to make themselves noticed etc. as well as pushing their kids to the front. Not my scene at all!
Anyway, we survived (despite the fact that I forgot my deoderant....) and I think the show will be on air here on April 3rd. They kindly introduced the cottage and the rates etc. so hopefully it will be some good advertising! Another 4 guests are booked in for this Thursday already....

Friday, March 23, 2007

Herb Cooking Classroom

Recently I have had more and more requests from people to run cooking classrooms for small groups. The most popular seem to be either "NZ baking" or "herb" cooking classes. I am definately not a master cook, but no one here seems to know how to use herbs and spices in cooking so it is easy to "wow" them!

Last week a group of 4 ladies came and made:
  • Herbed Quiche
  • Herb Mayonnaise (always the winner with every group)
  • Herbed Foccacio
  • Herbed Potato Salad
  • Carrot and Walnut muffins
We then ate lunch together, they purchased lots of jam and then went home. I really enjoy these groups as they are not there just for the cooking, but for a small break from their daily lives. Some are interested in trying to recreate the dishes we make (they usually end up digging half my herbs up out of the garden to take home with them....), but often they just enjoy making things together, talking and of course eating! The best thing is that I haven't had to advertise for these classes yet - they approach me and we work out a day that suits us all. Word of mouth is a great thing!
The only problem is that some of the ladies have been twice already and plan to come again in the near future. My repetoire may run out soon! Any great recipes welcome......

Monday, March 19, 2007

Radish graveyard

After all the craziness here lately I finally got into the garden for an hour this afternoon and managed to weed enough of the daikon (white radishes) to make them visible. Of course they have been neglected for so long that they had almost started to flower so I cut all the tops off, which in theory means they can stay in the ground for a long time without getting all woody (there are only so many radishes you can eat in one day!). Now it looks a bit like we have a radish graveyard in our back yard!
My daughter is now on holiday for about a month so she spent the afternoon in the garden with me, making chocolate and strawberry flavoured mudballs...... I got to taste each one and can vouch for their quality!

Today my friend Mickey had her baby. As both my children were born on their exact due date it is hard to imagine what it must have been like for her waiting for about 5 days after her due date. Congratulations Mickey!
She still hasn't decided on a name, so any suggestions will be welcome. My kids seem to think "Framey" is a perfect name, but I'm not so sure that Mickey is keen!

Guests worthy of a holiday!

Our latest guests deserved a holiday! They live in a house with 8 other people - 4 of whom are grandsons (ranging in age from 3 to 10) and 2 who are children who were abandoned by their parents and who they have taken in. Every day seems to comprise of trying to feed and bathe the tribe! They seemed to have a nice stay - and even made it half way up the mountain today.
The cameras were back for their stay (they decided to focus on the cottage rather than Emily's graduation - great for business!) and so as well as trying to feed and entertain the guests I also found myself cutting down bamboo, feeding the worms, chopping wood, and then making jam at about 10:30pm..... We were shown a preview of the drama they have re-made about when Tom told his family that he wanted to marry a "foreigner" (not a great reception!) and another of when he told them that he wanted to call our son "Andrew"...... causing Tom's father to go off and take his anger out on a piece of big bamboo - but missing and cutting his hand. True stories, but the reinactment is more than a little entertaining!
This weekend we are off to Tokyo for filming in the studio and then my TV career is over! I am not keen to do it all over again......

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The land of ceremonies....

My daughter graduated from kindergarten today. Coming from a country where everyone starts school on their birthday it is unheard of to have a graduation ceremony from kindergarten as everyone is finishing at different times. In fact I don't think we even have a graduation ceremony from primary school. However, here in Japan ceremonies are held for basically anything and everything and graduating kindergarten is seen as a big event.
After all the long speeches by all the very important people each child went up and received their graduation certificate (the girls showing everyone how much they had grown since they started kindergarten when they bent over to bow....) from the head of the kindergarten. This was followed by a video of all the different things that they had done over the last year followed by a message to each child from their teacher (spoken through her tears.....). There were songs sung by the younger children as well as the graduating children and lots and lots of howling from both graduating students as well as those who are still at kindergarten. In fact during the final speech from the parents representatives to the teachers it was impossible to hear what was being said above the crying!
I'm not sure how necessary it all is, but I guess it is nice that the children form such a bond with their teachers as well as the other children at the kindergarten that they feel so sad about leaving. Of course now we have the school entrance ceremonies to look forward to......

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Japanese sizes

When I go to New Zealand I don't feel particularly out of place because of my size. In fact as I see the size of the bottoms of the younger generation I even feel relatively slim sometimes! Here in Japan it is another story though. Even in New Zealand I am not a big clothes shopper, but here in Japan I avoid it as much as possible. However with the first of the big ceremonies coming up on Saturday I finally decided to go brave the shops. I managed to find clothes reasonably easily (of course they are all XL sizes with elastic waists!), but shoes was another story.....
I am only a size 8.5 in New Zealand, which is probably the most common size there is. In Japan that translates to about 25.5cm and unfortunately all the womens shoes here finish at 24cm.... After looking in 9 shops I finally found the first pair in my size. By that stage I was so sick of looking that I hardly even bothered to try them on, didn't look at the price and just said "I'll take them!".
The lesson to be learnt.... if you are a New Zealander with average sized feet bring plenty of shoes with you to Japan! Mind you you only have to wear them for a few minutes before taking them off to come inside again!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

I survived!

I don't know how, but somehow I made it through one of the hardest weeks of my life (well it felt like that anyway!). As well as smiling for the camera every day I also made a presentation about my trip to Australia and had three days at work where I left at 6:20am and didn't arrive home until about 7pm.
Apologies for not updating the blog more often, but I hope you will understand! I have just updated about 3 entries so please take a look....
This week is looking a little quieter - one day at work, kindergarten graduation (more TV cameras....) and then more guests on Sunday night (a mother of a family of 10 who just wants a break.... what am I complaining about!). Of course I need to plant the potatoes and the weeds are growing taller every day, but I'm thinking about spending all day tomorrow in the cottage by myself reading my book... dreams are free!

High School Graduation Trip

Japan is heading into the graduation season. My daughter has her big graduation ceremony next week (yes - she is just graduating from kindergarten.....) and most of the schools have had their graduation ceremonies already. After graduating from senior high school it is then traditional to go on a trip somewhere. This weekend we had the honor of being the destination for a local student's graduation trip. She was a student that I had done a couple of outdoor education programs with and she saw the cottage in the newspaper and was determined to come and visit. She came with her sister and my children had a great time playing with them. It was nice to see some Japanese students who could think for themselves and take the initiative to do things that they want to do (something sadly lacking in a lot of students here...).
A nice way to finish off a busy week!

New Zealand Feast

After being followed around for 4 days and doing all sorts of things that I wouldn't usually do at this time of the year including making pickles, carting bamboo, making pikelets in the hope that the kids would lick the bowl (of course they weren't interested....), buying school clothes for Emily etc. etc. my final task for the cameras was to make a big New Zealand feast for some guests (thanks Tom's parents, Keiko, Chris and Ken for being good sports!). A special presenter was flown down from Tokyo to hand over the big envelope containing the funds for the party (well actually it was empty... but that's show business!) and then everything I did was put on film, meaning things took about 3 times as long as usual. Then every dish was individually filmed before we could finally eat. Of course before we could actually eat the special presenter had to taste each dish separately and make a random comment followed by comments from all the other guests.... a long drawn out process!
Of - that's right... I also had to do a make-up corner in the middle of it all. Considering I wear so much make-up I couldn't believe that they were really going to go through with the corner... in the end I convinced them that hand care was much more important than face care when you work in the garden all day! Thankfully I still had some lavender hand cream and hand scrub!
Having spent all morning watching my children doing marching in the freezing cold I wasn't overly keen to make a huge feast but managed .....
  • Roast Lamb with garlic and rosemary
  • Herbed French Bread
  • Roast veges with rosemary and parmesan
  • Palms Fish
  • Salad with herb mayonnaise
  • Chinese cabbage and mandarin salad
  • Pavlova.... (I think there may have been some other things, but I've forgotten already!)
Not an experience I am keen to repeat in the near future.... especially as I had to leave for work at 6:20am the following morning!

Doll's Festival / Farewell Party

March the 3rd is known as "Hina Matsuri" or the Doll's festival in Japan. It is traditionally a day to pray for young girls growth and happiness. Traditional dolls are displayed from about a month prior to this day and are put away immediately following the festival to ensure that the girls will marry early.... we kept ours up a little longer to ensure Emily stays single a little longer!
We combined the day with a "farewell party" for my friend, Sunny, and although there were a few more children present than had been originally planned the weather was perfect and everyone seemed to have a great time just running around outside all day. Of course making it a "potluck" party took all the pressure off me making lots of things and resulted in a huge variety of delicious food too. The cameras were present of course, but didn't get in the way too much, although I was wired the whole day....

Friday, March 02, 2007

Day one....

I hope you have all got the chocolate in the mail... I'm thinking that I am going to need an awful lot of it to survive the next week! The director and cameraman arrived this afternoon so I have been followed around all day again. I had a microphone attached to me all day.... I'm hoping they weren't listening in when I went to the toilet! They will be here for about 5 days.... during which I have so many other things that I have to do that I am not sure how I will manage to survive. I can't wait until next Monday (the 12th) arrives - then at least I will have a day or two holiday.
Enough moaning! I forgot to take any photos today so you will have to wait until tomorrow - we are having a "dolls festival party" combined with a farewell party for my friend Sunny/Yoko. It will be good to have some other people around to share the spotlight for a bit....

By the way, my daughter's tooth finally fell out and was put under the pillow. I guess money was too big an incentive to give up!
Hopefully a more interesting report I need to get into bed and hopefully get a good night's sleep!