Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Science Fair

I keep forgetting to write about this....
A few weeks ago I had to work all weekend so my husband took the children to a science fair that a group of teachers and high school students were running in our town. They spent a few hours there and the kids had a great time, coming home with bags and bags of experiments and free giveaways. It sounds like it was really well run with lots and lots to do. I wish our town did more things like this. The only complaint I have was regarding the "box" in which my son brought home one of the experiments in. It was a cigarette packet and it just happened to be from his own homeroom teacher..... who I know is a very heavy smoker. My husband said he did apologize when he handed the box over claiming that it was the only thing he could find to put the things in so they wouldn't get broken on the way home. The experiment does fit perfectly into the box, but.... a cigarette packet... to a 9 year old.... in 2011? I can remember my brother making a dog out of cigarette packets, but that was .... many years ago. I guess Japan still has quite a way to go when it comes to cigarettes and children!

2 more sleeps

My children are counting down to our departure for New Zealand by the number of sleeps.... 2 more including tonight. I am counting down by the number of classes I still have to teach - 5 down today, 2 left for tomorrow. In other words we are almost off! As usual I have been leaving a few things to the last minute and as usual Japan is living up to its wonderful service in an attempt to keep me happy enough that I will want to return after our great holiday in the land of the long white cloud. On Friday I decided that after 9 years of the same glasses I "needed" some new ones before we left. I wandered into the local shop and asked if it was possible to get some new glasses within 5 days (remembering that there was a weekend included in there). No problem. Sit down, get my eyes tested, get given a cup of tea, have my old glasses cleaned and the nose piece changed while I wasn't watching and was told that they would be ready on Sunday! The whole process took less than half an hour and that included a chat about the fact that in Japan you don't have to be a "real" optometrist to make glasses and another chat about how New Zealand won the world cup rugby. As well as taking very limited time it also only cost me about a third of what it would have in New Zealand. I will still have my eyes tested properly in New Zealand every now and then, but the technology they used here was definitely very good and I have no complaints. Thumbs up for Japanese service - again!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

They seemed to know....

Today we said goodbye to all our chickens. I literally shed a few tears doing it - and all I had to do was help get them into the crates. As soon as we walked into their yard they went crazy - even before we tried to catch them. They also only laid 5 eggs today - as opposed the 9 or 10 they usually lay. I guess they just sensed something was amiss.
We made the decision to let them go for two reasons - firstly because we are heading back to New Zealand later this week for over 3 weeks and getting my mother-in-law to look after them would be a bit too much for her, and secondly - because they were starting to lay less and less (still not bad, but they had seen better laying days!). After we get back we will clean out the chicken house, do a few repairs and then start the process over all again. I don't think I could live without my chickens anymore!
We thought about killing them all ourselves..... for a few minutes, but quickly changed our minds when we found a place in our town that would do it for free. And then we discovered that for a relatively low price they would also pluck them, gut them and cut them all up for us too... so now we have a freezer full of chicken! I thought the meat was going to be really tough, but the man who prepared them for us said that it looks pretty good - I guess we may have to test it out tomorrow.....

For anyone new to this blog our chicken adventure started after we went back to New Zealand 4 years ago and my son (and I) fell in love with all our relatives' chickens and pushed hard to get a chicken house built.
Our first 5 chickens were purchased from a local high school and had been raised by hand. The next 5 were from a big "chicken factory" and took a little longer to get used to people. The next 12 I picked up as tiny little chicks on the day they hatched. The children helped with delivering the eggs to the neighbours and cleaning them out, feeding them etc. and as a reward they continued collecting egg money and we have had a few nice holidays with the proceeds.
As the chickens grew we lost a few to sickness, a couple to predators and completely lost track of which were the old ladies and which were the teenagers. All in all we have been lucky and ended up with 15 chickens to say goodbye to today. It is definitely going to be strange tomorrow not hearing any clucking and not having to go and collect any eggs. Who am I going to tell all my problems to now? They were wonderful listeners!

Monday, November 28, 2011

End of an era

I am not one of those wonderful mothers who can keep track of every little milestone that my children passes, so I am grateful to my children for keeping track of their own milestones! Yesterday my daughter lost her last baby tooth... according to her anyway! I really had no idea how many teeth have fallen out - I just knew it had been a lot. Apparently it was her 22nd tooth to fall out and meant that it was the final visit from the tooth fairy last night...... My children really love the tooth fairy and ask so many questions every time they write her a letter that the tooth fairy really has a lot of trouble remembering what she has told them.
Some facts about the tooth fairy (for those who don't know) quoted from my daughter's final letter.....

"I have a special magic drink which gives me lots of power. When I need to get under your pillow I take a small drink and then I have the strength to lift up your pillow and put the letter underneath. Sometimes you move a little which makes me scared that you will roll over and squash me!"

"Fairy land is probably about the same size as Kyushu. There are many different areas that I haven’t been to yet, but hopefully if the Fairy Queen gives me some holidays soon I will be able to go and see many new places. I really want to go to a town called “Sweet Town” - they have buildings made out of lollies!"

"I can’t speak any Japanese. I think you are so lucky that you can speak both Japanese and English. I would like to learn how to speak French because I want to go to Paris and see all the wonderful buildings there."

Now I am wondering if I need to let her in on the extra special secret of the tooth fairy so she can pass the wonder on to her own children (if she chooses to have any).... I guess that can wait till my son loses all his teeth!

PS: I've just rediscovered the first ever posts about my daughter's teeth and the tooth fairy dilemma. 4 and a half years of fairy visits..... gotta loves blogs for record keeping!

Japanese vs Western way

First Tooth out

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Praising Children

I've spent the last couple of days getting a bit obsessed with a project for my 5 month old niece (I would love to show your more than a sneak peak, but it will have to wait till after Christmas!) and so when it was obvious I wasn't about to jump up and make dinner tonight (it was a public holiday) the kids kindly decided they would do it. I sat at the table listening to their conversation and holding onto my chair so I didn't race in to help them.... most of the comments revolved around the fact that the fried rice was turning rather black and whether it was better to scrape all the black stuff in (my son insisted it was delicious) or just let it keep baking onto the wok and try to deal with it later. The other part of the conversation was about the fact that there was lots of meat in the rice, but no vegetables - and then they remembered that onion was a vegetable so it made it a balanced meal. In the end I think the black stuff was mostly scrapped in with the rice and the flavour was very "unique". But of course the fact that neither my husband nor I had to step foot in the kitchen was too much of a reward for us that we both ate every last bite with a smile on our faces and plenty of praise for the children.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thankful again....

At the moment I am trying to clean out the freezer before we head to New Zealand next month. As always there seems to be a lot of food in it that I have forgotten about and that needs to be used. One of the biggest items at the very bottom was a huge chunk of wild boar meat that we were very kindly (??) given by one of the neighbours. I decided to mince it all up and make some of it into a meatloaf and put the rest back in the freezer in minced form for another rainy day.... well at least that was the plan until I semi-thawed it and started to cut the fat off. And cut the fat off. And cut the fat off! As you can see by the picture there was a lot more fat than meat..... which the mincer really doesn't enjoy so in the end I managed to get enough meat to make a meat loaf (the other end was a bit less fatty!) if I combined it with a bit of beef mince and that was it. I guess I shouldn't complain when free meat falls into your freezer, but .......

"Medea" - thanks for commenting on the tidying blog entry - the crazy lady way of folding clothes really does take up less space - up to half depending on what you are folding.... worth trying even if it is just for the t-shirts drawer!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Another rainy day

There is a really twitty lady who is on TV a lot lately who is famous for getting people to throw out all the things they don't need and really get their houses into a state of complete organisation. Some of her suggestions like blindfolding soft toys when you throw them out so they don't know what is happening to them or saying thank you to the clothes you are about to throw out so that they won't feel bad about leaving the house in a rubbish bag just make me laugh. Most of her other suggestions make me think she has far too much time on her hands and that her house must be so sterile and empty that you would be scared you might leave a stray hair on the floor and ruin the balance.
Her big thing is organising your clothes. She was on TV again last night showing her special way of folding clothes so they stand up in the drawers by themselves, take up a lot less space than if they are folded in the normal way and also allows you to see all your clothes when you open your drawers rather than only seeing the clothes on the top. It looked like a huge amount of time would be needed and that it would be a pain in the bum to do, but.... it was rainy today and I decided to give it a go - first all my clothes, then some of my husbands, then all my daughter's clothes and then all of my son's clothes. I haven't gone as far as putting them in colour order, (like she suggests.....) but I would have to say that it was extremely fast and really does make a huge difference. Perhaps this year I will actually wear more than the top clothes on each pile!
And then of course she has a big thing about throwing all the clothes out that you will never wear... sensible of course, but not always easy! I managed to really get rid of my old clothes and have big piles of the kids old clothes. My daughter has zillions of hand-me-down clothes that she has been given, but never really fitted (she is a bit bigger than your average 11 year old) so I have sorted them into big bags of different sizes. If anyone in Japan wants a potluck bag of girls clothes in size 130, 140, 150 or 160 drop me a line and tell me which size you want and I will send them on to you. There is a real mix of summer and winter stuff, but I don't have time to do anymore sorting so if you want them you will get the lot.... then you can deal with getting rid of those you don't want!
Now if I could just get my husband to be realistic about the fact that if he hasn't worn things for 15 years he is not likely to wear them ever again we might have a lot more room in our wardrobes!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Mixed up schedule

Most weeks I have a pretty set schedule - kindergarten classes, conversation school classes, primary school classes, piano and swimming for the kids etc. Monday and Thursday are my recovery days. The rest are pretty busy, but routine works well for me .
And then I have weeks like this week where extra "jobs" mean shuffling everything around and I tend to get a bit off balance and end up napping on the sofa in the few spare minutes I have between needing to be in one place or another. This week I had to do a speech for ALTs in Oita on Tuesday which meant all Tuesday morning's classes had to be shifted to Monday and next Monday I have to do a joint demonstration lesson at school so I spent my free Monday afternoon at school with the teacher preparing for it until 5pm. On Wednesday I went to 5 different places - the last one being a meeting at school till 8:30pm. Today I had to do a cooking classroom in a town about an hour away (I had one last week and another one next week too) so all my regular Friday morning classes had to be shuffled to Thursday... again my free day gone!
Now it is finally Friday evening..... cooking class finished (yummy pumpkin muffins and citrus slice), Friday afternoon class finished (as good as you can expect considering it is Friday afternoon), tea cooked and eaten (gotta love Japanese curry!), hot coffee in the pot ready to be drunk. The week is over...... I think I am starting to look forward to a holiday in New Zealand even more than the children!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Am I growing vegetables or caterpillar houses?

If you want to be a 100% organic farmer I think you have to have a smallish garden, have 24 hours a day to spend in the garden, or have plenty of nets! This year has been a really warm autumn so far so I decided to plant all my broccoli and cabbages under nets to try and prevent a few of the zillion caterpillars that appear at this time of year from completely eating everything. Unfortunately the nets didn't stretch over 3 of the cabbages and the result..... not much left for us to eat! I'm guessing the chickens will eventually get to nibble on these ones.
The ones under the nets are doing really well though and I'm guessing that if I want to keep growing cabbages I will need to purchase a few more nets next year! Unfortunately the spinach has also been completely eaten away, but as soon as the weather cools a bit I'll plant another batch and hope that the cold has scared all the caterpillars away....

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Latest visitor

I am determined to write a proper post about the great visit we had from our friends from Hong Kong, but I don't have time to do it justice right now so it will have to wait.
In the meantime here is a photo of our latest visitor. The chickens were going a bit silly this afternoon so I went out to find this very "cute" little fellow wandering around. It is a raccoon dog and a very tame one.... it wasn't at all worried that I was branding a bright yellow bucket and trying to scare it away. It spent most of the afternoon bathing in the sun right by the chicken house, but didn't really try to get in. I'm suspecting it is actually a little sick due to the fact that a lot of its fur is falling out so I'm not so worried about it getting in and sampling a few chickens as I am about it passing on some terrible disease..... it had wandered off by late afternoon and despite the fact that the kids want to keep it for a pet I'm hoping it won't be back tomorrow.... mind you it could solve our problems of how to "dispose" of our chickens before we head back to New Zealand!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

This time next month

This time next month we will be on a plane on our way back to New Zealand for the first time in 4 years and the first Kiwi Christmas for 15 years. This week has been ultra busy (and it is only Tuesday afternoon....) so I would have missed this milestone if it wasn't for my son... who is already driving me crazy with his countdown. I'm glad he is excited about the trip, but his "worries" are starting to become an obsession. He is convinced that we need to start packing this week and insists I sort out which suitcases we will use. He is trying to work out how much of his homework he can get done on the plane on the way there. He is requesting different snacks to put in his bag for on the plane. etc. etc. His biggest worry is what will happen with Santa this year... I think he has decided that if he writes two letters and leaves one in Japan and one in New Zealand then Santa will leave presents for him in both places.... fat chance of that! Both children have been talking constantly about what we did last time and want they want to do this time so here's hoping it all lives up to their expectations!
The countdown is on......

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Recycling and wheat 2011

This is really a post for me rather than for anyone else because this blog is kind of like a diary in terms of what I do in the garden as I have a terrible memory when it comes to when I do everything each year!
Over the last two days I finally got around to planting this year's wheat - three different plots as that was all the space I could find to plant it in. The smallest patch is probably as big as the first plot I ever planted and the biggest one about the same size as last year's. For the record I planted the rows at 30cm spacings (I always spend hours trying to work out the best spacing every year....). Here's hoping next year I have more time to harvest and process it than I did this year!
My son and I also decided we needed a scarecrow so we recycled my Halloween costume - I'm not sure how long it will survive, but it is fun for now!

Making compost

One of the benefits of living in a family that grows a lot of rice is that there is a lot of straw around to make into compost. One of the disadvantages of living in a family that grows rice is that there is a LOT of straw around to make into compost and it is hard to know when to stop....
Until last year we had been making the compost at the edge of one of the rice fields, but we always ended up having to shift it before it was fully decomposed so the rice field preparation could begin, so this year we built a new box for it in my garden and began the process all over again. After about 2 hours of raking, carting, adding some chicken poos and grass clippings, and stomping on the straw my body told me that it was time to quit for the day. It is always a little disappointing looking at the pile at the end of all the hard work as it looks tiny compared to the amount of straw and work that has gone into it. Of course after a few months it will look even smaller.....
Since we have started putting this kind of compost into the garden the number of worms has increased a lot, so I guess all the hard work is starting to pay off.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Better harvest than last year....

Some of you may remember this post from earlier in the year: Bring back the bees
Despite not being able to do much hand pollination, the feijoa trees have produced a little more fruit than last year, but still not fantastic. They also seem to be dropping their fruit a few days too earlier, so it is still a bit too hard and sour to really enjoy. A few days on the bench and it is better, but I'm guessing I should stew it up with some apples and a little sugar if I'm to really make the most of it.
My fig tree on the other hand has proved to be fantastic! Considering I only planted it last year it is covered in figs and although it is probably too late in the season for them all to ripen I am enjoying sneaking out, picking a ripe one and scoffing it down before anyone else notices. Definitely no cooking or sweetening necessary to enjoy these!

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Japanese hotpot

Saturday is my husband's turn to cook and usually this means we have a big pot of curry, or perhaps spaghetti. I'm not complaining about the lack of variety - a day off from cooking is a great thing! Recently he has also discovered the ease of making Japanese "hotpot" and I would have to say that I love it. For anyone new to "nabe" it basically means boiling up a flavoured stock, adding whatever veges, meat, tofu etc. you have on hand, eating it directly from the pot at the table and continually adding more stuff as it disappears into your stomachs. Finishing off by adding lots of rice and beaten egg is also an easy way to get very full fast! It is also great way to take the chill off a room without going as far as lighting the fire.
One of the benefits of my husband making this kind of dish is that his "normal" ingredients vary greatly to mine and therefore my children get to experience a lot more flavours than if I did all the cooking. Tonight's "surprise" was whole small globe fish (aka blowfish) which he bought already skinned and gutted and beheaded - and which were not the poisonous kind! I would have to say that I am not a fan of whole fish and so I stuck to the chicken balls, but the kids loved it and happily cleaned up my serving too. I wonder what new ingredient will greet us next Saturday....

Changing plans

When I went to bed on Friday night I had my Saturday planned. Gardening, gardening and more gardening. First I was going to put up the nets for the peas, then weed the area for the wheat, dig up that area, plant the wheat, then finally make a frame to start making some mulch with all the rice stalks that are lying around at the moment. Then came Saturday morning... rain, rain and more rain... bugger!
So somehow the plans changed into a "moving" day. The kids have been nagging at us to get the desktop computer running properly so they don't have to compete with us for the laptop. Tom finally got around to fixing it last week, but I wasn't so keen to have it in the bedroom where they could do all their internet surfing out of my view. Maybe I am paranoid, but there are so many things on the net I am not so keen for them to be looking at yet! Anyway, somehow we ended up completely rearranging big bookshelves, small bookshelves, tables, files etc. and managed to make a computer space in the living room. I figured it was a good opportunity to go through our zillions of books and get rid of some of them... only I discovered I am not good at getting rid of books and although I did make a few piles of books people have given me that realistically I am never going to read I only managed to remove 4 from the children's shelves.... a bit of rearranging meant that there was plenty of space for them though and my work space is also much more orderly. For how long it will stay that way I have no idea, but for now.... it is tidy!
Now it is Sunday and raining again.... which room can I attack now?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Halloween 2011

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Today was the annual Halloween party at the English school I teach at once a week. To be honest I am not a great big fan of Halloween - it isn't really something we do in New Zealand.... but it seems to be a good excuse for a party here in Japan. Unfortunately I forgot to take any photos of the actual party, but did remember to snap a few before my daughter and I headed off this morning.
We had great friends staying until Friday (hopefully update on that tomorrow...) so I didn't really get around to thinking about what to wear until last night. A friend lent me a costume, but in the end I decided to make something with what we had lying around the house... which in our case is bunches of straw from our wheat and old clothes that my husband refuses to throw out. So I ended up as a scarecrow and my daughter used my son's costume from last year and went as a magician. I think 90% of the students were witches so it was nice to have a slightly different costume! Fortunately it is all over for another year and the hay can go back into the fields!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Question for South Island Kiwis!

We are going back to New Zealand in December this year and are planning a short trip around the top of the south island. I am finally getting around to making some bookings and discovering (as I knew was going to happen) that traveling between December 27th and 31st limits the places that are available to stay at! At the moment our basic plan is to stay at Hanmer, Nelson, Blenheim and Kaikoura for one night each. Does anyone have any "must stay places" or "must do" things around this area? It is not really an area that I have spent a lot of time in, but is an area my husband wants to visit..... Any advice welcomed!

Making lists

This morning my only "work" away from home was to teach at school from 8:15 to 8:30am then my next "job" was to pick the children up from school at 3:40pm and take them to piano. So I had a lot more time at home than I usually do so decided I needed to make myself a list of all the things that I needed to get done rather than just wandering around wondering what to do and then actually getting nothing done at all. I am the Queen of lists....I can make huge lists and manage to get through most of the things on them - taking great pleasure in putting a line through each item as it is completed. The first thing on my list today.... "Make a list"! Nothing like writing things just so you can cross them out again.....
One of the other things on my big list today was to dig some of the sweet potatoes. I had two different patches of sweet potatoes this year and really had no idea if there would be much under the ground or not, but I was pleasantly surprised. All the odds are against me growing good sweet potatoes in my garden. All the books say that you should grow them in very sandy soil., but my garden is an ex-rice field which means it has a very hard clay base - limiting the amount of drainage. (If you want information about how hard it actually is to achieve this clay base check out the archives about Heather's Rice Chronicles at "Shinshu Life"). I threw the plants into the ground and forgot all about them... losing half of them in a drought. I let the weeds get a bit too big before finally removing them. I forgot to keep pulling the spreading vines off the ground so they wouldn't put down extra roots and take away all the nutrients needed to go into the big potatoes. I would have to say that a sandy soil would make harvesting them a little easier, but there are some whoppers in the lot I dug out today and my neglect of them hasn't seemed to have too bad an effect.
Now I've just got to try and pull the rest of them out of the ground.... after trying to get rid of all those lovely green leaves.... I think I'll leave it for another day when I have time to make another list....

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Drying the harvest

I have to admit that I am always keen to try to plant something new, but seeing the entire process through to proper harvest is not always my strong point...resulting in lots of lost produce. This year I have improved a little and spent most of today finishing drying some of the things that we have harvested recently (or in the case of the wheat... harvested months ago, but finally removing the wheat from the stalks!). Today the deck acted as a great drying place for wheat, peanuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and chillies (the third batch for the year). Some of the produce will be used to replant again next year, but hopefully the majority of it will actually make it as far as our stomachs this year! Who knows, next year I might get around to not just harvesting all the butternuts that have self-seeded, but eating them too....

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Doorstep gifts

When I first came to Japan my first stop when I arrived home from work each afternoon was my washing machine - which was just outside my front door. As well as being a brand new washing machine that was very capable of washing clothes, it also doubled as a mail box for any parcels that wouldn't slip into my tiny letter box. Care packages from New Zealand were always a huge highlight of my apartment life.
Now I tend to get a very different kind of care packages - usually vegetables from the in-laws or neighbours and very rarely with any kind of message attached to them to indicate who they are actually from - which makes it very difficult to do the very Japanese thing and return the favour with some eggs or excess veges that we have lying around here. Anyway, today we arrived home from piano to a little pile of shitake mushrooms. Actually there were only four of them, but they are HUGE! The last photo tries to show how big they are by comparing them to my son's hand - which is a pretty long hand.... He has just measured them and they are approximately 20cm in diameter! I'm presuming they are from the in-laws and I know I should be really grateful, but.... they are huge! I guess we will be having all kinds of mushroom things for the next few days. My son will not be happy!!!