Sunday, September 30, 2012


Sorry Mike and Bec... blogging is just not going to happen tonight.... hopefully tomorrow.....

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Higanbana - red spider lily

I always know that autumn is really here when I see the rice fields become slowly surrounded by these incredibly bright red flowers.  I say slowly, but actually they seem to appear over night.  Apparently they were introduced because moles don't like them.  Moles make tunnels in the banks of rice fields.  This leads to all the water in the rice fields draining out. so anything that will help to keep the moles away has to be a good thing.  Unfortunately they are extremely hardy though and manage to spread themselves everywhere - and are quite hard to get rid of once you have them.  I'm guessing that in a few more years the desire to deter moles may have been overtaken by the desire to get rid of a few of these pretty flowers.  Until then... I'm going to enjoy them!  There is some more information about these flowers here if you are interested.
In other news - our sports day tomorrow has been postponed till next week due to the typhoon that was going to hit here, but now looks like it will head off to the east and we may miss it completely.  Gotta love making decisions concerning the weather early!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Airing futons

We have guests coming to stay at the start of next week and although I tend to put off the cleaning and organising until the very last minute I have learned that airing the futons is a job that should be done in advance if possible - especially if the weather is about to turn bad.  If you have futons you will know that they are not exactly the lightest things in the world so bringing them all down from upstairs in the cottage is often quite a task.  Fortunately the top windows in the bedrooms are the exact same width as a standard futon and therefore perfect for hanging them out of.  Unfortunately that only covers two of the futons, but better than nothing I guess..
At the moment we are watching the weather news constantly.  Sports day on Sunday looks like it may be interrupted by a typhoon.!  At least I will have fluffy futons if we are stuck inside all day!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Row by Row

I have one of those stupid work schedules which means I often go to two or three places each day to teach and then have an hour or two in between each place.  Sometimes I can't get motivated to get changed and really work hard in the garden when I know I only have about an hour of free time, so I have started doing a few jobs around the place that I can do without needing to get changed.  The latest one is to harvest the peanuts.  I can usually manage to get a row or two out in between classes and don't end up so covered in mud that I have to have a shower before heading out again.  This year's peanuts are not perfect, but I'm hoping I'll end up with enough to make a few batches of peanut butter.
Another job I decided I could do in patches in between classes was to water blast the deck again. Unfortunately I discovered pretty quickly that it isn't a job that should be done in your work clothes!  Nothing like a full layer of dirt splattered all over you.... I'm thinking that when the peanuts are finished I may just revert back to reading a book and drinking coffee to fill in the time!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Companion Pile

To the untrained eye this probably looks like a big pile of weeds.  Originally that's what it was - my dumping place for weeds from the garden.  They slowly composted down and now it has turned into the most productive part of the garden!  The whole "garden" is a tribute to companion planting, only nothing has actually been planted... it has all just sprung up from the big pile of weeds.  If you look closely you can see not only millions of mini tomatoes, but bitter gourds, pumpkin plants and even some morning glory flowers.  It may not be the most beautiful garden in the world, but until the first frost hits it will be staying exactly as it is - minus a few kgs of vegetables!!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dancing practice

The children's sports day is on Sunday (I can hardly wait....) and today was the dress rehearsal for the traditional dance that the senior school does.  I have had to help Emily into her kimono-thingy for the last 3 years so I have almost got that mastered, but today was the first time to try and get Masaki into his complicated straw skirt thing with a huge banner stuffed down his back.  Any parents who were free were asked to come and help get the children into the outfits - starting at 1:35pm.  I arrived at 1:30pm to find that Masaki was fully outfitted already .... apparently the teachers decided to start putting them into the costumes from before 1pm.  So, now I am expected to have him all fitted out on the actual sports day within about 10 minutes - only I have no idea at all how to do it.  There were a number of mothers who actually took the afternoon off work so they could learn how to do it, but found themselves in the same situation as me.  Basically it turned out to be a waste of our time - although we did get a sneak preview and a photo opportunity.
Of course me being me, I had a little chat with the principal and ended up getting a phone call from Masaki's teacher tonight apologising for the fact that we didn't get a chance to put them into the costumes.  Mind you it all looks so complicated that at least I can now plead innocent and get someone else to do it for me!
By the way... the other children playing the flute with Emily - most of them are her classmates...yes, she is tall!

Monday, September 24, 2012


The number of blog entries in the near future will be determined by how many photos of one of my nieces I receive.  I've made a deal -  a blog entry for each photo I receive -  a pretty good deal I think - especially if the photos are as cute as the one I got today!!  It may motivate me to catch up on a few entries that I have meant to post and never got around to.....
One of the questions I am often asked is what I really like about Japan and my usual answer is "the service".  You pull into a petrol station (aka gasoline stand) and there are usually a couple of people who rush out to help you, wash your windows while the fuel is going in, give you a cloth to wipe the inside of your car, remove all your rubbish, pump up your tyres, stop the traffic so you can get back onto the road safely etc. etc. 
Shops are also wonderful for service (of course there will be exceptions, but...).  They seem to go out of their way to ensure that you get what you need and of course it is always beautifully wrapped (even if they take half an hour to make sure it is that way...).  And one of my favorites... plastic bags over paper bags to ensure that your purchases get home safely on a rainy day.  Not exactly environmentally friendly, but very thoughtful.  Mind you I got this particularly bag when I was shopping with my mother and as she noted, it did seem to depend on the price of your purchase as to how much service you received - hers had no plastic in sight!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

More boxes

I've finally had a chance to get into the garden over the last couple of days and my body is not thanking me for it!  I finally got around to making a few more boxes to try and keep things under control a bit more.  Flat land is great in that you can decide what size garden you want for each thing and change the different plots sizes very easily, but... it is a bit hard to keep under control and too easy to plant far more plants than you actually need.  Anyway, I spent the last couple of days hauling railway sleepers (with the aid of a wheelbarrow) and making 5 new boxes.  4 have already been filled, but I ran out of steam by the last one and only got as far as making the walls.  Hopefully tomorrow I will get some more energy and fill it with some compost, chicken poos and a bit more top soil and it will become my "salad" garden... hopefully!  If anyone if living overseas and wants to order seeds from a great company I highly recommend Kings Seeds in New Zealand.  Of course they will post to a NZ address, but they will also post overseas and you receive a 15% discount as you don't need to pay the GST.  Very fast service.
While I've been building my boxes I've been really happy that the butterfly flowers that I planted a few years ago have self seeded and have made a bit of a hedge in front of my boxes.  (The photo isn't great as the light was fading when I finally got around to taking the picture.)  I love that my neighbours love to chat, but when you have limited time available to spend in the garden it is sometimes a little bit hard to put on a smiley face when they wander past and make themselves at home and settle in for a long chat.  From experience they also like to give their opinion pretty loudly if I am trying something a bit different.  The butterfly flowers mean that I can crouch down as they pass by and am usually not noticed.  Hopefully tomorrow I will get around to  planting a big row of sweetpeas in this area to continue my screening strategy!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Different levels of acceptance

I'm blaming my latest absence from the keyboard on my beautiful second niece.... well at least she was beautiful when she was born... I haven't received many photos lately and unfortunately she lives a little too far away to actually pop in to give her a cuddle, but... I'm still blaming her for my absence! 

I had a conversation the other day with a lady which highlighted how different people's levels of acceptance are.  She is the mother of 3 or 4 children and her husband is a police officer.  Her eldest daughter is the same school year as my daughter and will start junior high school in April.  Her youngest son will also start primary school in April.  There seem to be so many things that need to be done to start school here and each school has very different requirements for what is needed.  For a blast from the past you can see what Emily needed here.  
Anyway, back to my story.... I asked the lady if there was any possibility that her husband would be transferred in April (very common for anyone in any kind of public servant kind of work here) and she said that it was very likely.  I asked her when she would find out.  The answer... about 2 weeks before the transfer would occur - which would be about the time the kids were all due to start their new schools..  I questioned whether it was possible to ask them to let them know a little earlier - the fact that school uniforms will need to be purchased in advance would be sufficient reason in my mind.  But, apparently this is not possible, so they just need to go with the flow and deal with it when it happens.  I'm pretty good at going with the flow most of the time - I am famous for my smiling and bowing even at the worst of times, but for me this kind of uncertainty would be just a little over the top.  I really don't understand the transfer system here and why the notification of transfers has to be so last minute.  Even a months notice would be better than two weeks.... Unfortunately no one else seems to think that it is strange and therefore the system is not likely to change in the foreseeable future.  I guess I should just be grateful that my husband is only transferred around divisions and not around towns!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Rhubarb & Beetroot link

Sorry - I forgot to put the link for the place that sells beetroot and rhubarb (and other things...) in my last post.  For those living in Japan who want a taste of "home" the link is: Kobayashi
Unfortunately they only have a Japanese website, but there are pictures!

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Rearranging... again!

Do you ever have days where you have a clear idea about what you want to achieve, but in an attempt to achieve it you have to do a zillion other things first?  A couple of weeks ago I had a day (and late night... ) like that. 
 It all started when a friend posted that she had ordered some rhubarb (something I tried to grow here for many years, but eventually gave up on), so I decided I really better have some too and discovered that not only did they sell rhubarb, but they also sold beetroot - another thing I haven't been overly successful in growing in our climate.  So I ordered far more than I should have in a weak moment of longing for New Zealand staples.  Which meant I had to do something with them... Rhubarb was frozen as well as being made into rhubarb and yoghurt pudding, rhubarb and ginger jam, rhubarb and strawberry jam and rhubarb and orange jam.  Beetroot was pickled and made into relish.  Success!  I managed to empty the whole box of produce without leaving it too long so it rotted all over the kitchen floor.  In fact I managed to do it all in one day.  Which led to the next problem......
We live in a Japanese house and although our kitchen is not too small by Japanese standards it lacks anything even vaguely resembling a pantry, which meant there was no room to put away all these wonderful goodies.  So, I had to convert my wrapping paper cupboard into a preserves cupboard, which meant spending a whole night sorting all the wrapping paper out into piles of things I would never use and things I might use and putting them all in a big storage box.  I was in one of those "organising moods" (you have seen them on occasion Mum...) and so I went as far as wrapping all the old ribbon around strips of cardboard so that it wasn't just thrown into the big jar in a huge tangle.  Very neat and orderly!  
The result... I now have a temporary preserves cupboard that will even fit some of our flour.  It definitely motivates me to make more things - the latest is some delicious blueberry vinegar.  But if I am not careful I will need to build another shelf in there... which may lead to more changes being needed.... and more rearranging needing to be done.   Perhaps I'd better hold off on the preserving until some of the stuff we have is used! 

Friday, September 07, 2012

Finally... flour!

You may remember a number of posts over the last few years regarding wheat.  The latest one was about the harvesting of this year's wheat (you can check it out here if you are interested).  It has been three years now since our first wheat was harvested and each year I have written about the harvest etc.  But, has anyone noticed that I have never mentioned the way the wheat has been used after it has been harvested?  There is a simple explanation for that - we have never got it past the harvested stage before!  The first year I started out with two very small packets of wheat.  All the wheat that was produced was then kept for replanting the following year, when I managed to grow quite a lot more, but ended up leaving it outside too long after it had been removed from the husks and the mice had a nice feast.  Fortunately that was after I had already planted this year's crop.  
This year a friend "donated" their wheat husker thingy machine which meant separating the wheat from the stalks was a breeze!  We managed to get about 19kg of wheat and actually got around to drying it and finding a place which would mill it for us (not so easy these days as most of the mills around here are run by elderly people who have all recently given up).  In the end I brought home a big bag of about 11kg of flour, which obviously won't last for very long, but it is still pretty exciting to finally be able to make things and say that "this was made with our own flour!"  Hopefully I will be able to plant even more this year and slowly increase to at least 20kg of flour each year... hopefully!
I always thought that the difference between regular flour and bread flour was to do with the milling process, but apparently not!  From what I can tell it is to do with the variety of wheat planted.  The only wheat that we can grow in this area is not suitable for bread making - or so they told me... of course I've never been one to listen very much to what people say, so after proving that our flour would work with cupcakes and chocolate slice I tried to make our regular bread with it and.... it worked!  I did add a couple of tablespoons of gluten to the mix, which probably made all the difference, but still - it worked!  I have a feeling that planting this year's seeds won't be such a chore this year - I will just keep dipping into my homemade baking for energy!

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Camping 2012 (better late than never!)

Just in case you think we didn't actually make it camping... here is a short slide show of a few of the things we did - which were very few really.  That to me is the perfect camp.  Lots of time to do very little at all.  I managed to organise the food in such a way that we didn't have to go shopping for three days and still were able to have cold milk and yoghurt with our homemade bread on the final morning.  Pretty amazing considering there was no electricity and therefore no fridge!  I worked out the most important thing is to just make sure you separate the food into chilly-bins for each day and DON'T open them until you absolutely have to.  Block ice stays solid for a very long time that way!  
Favourite activities this year were damper on bamboo sticks, books in the hammock, fishing, and games of Scotland Yard.  Roll on next summer!

Monday, September 03, 2012


Since 7:40am the house has been silent... it may even get tidy before lunch time and stay that way until at least the evening.... school holidays are over.  I love teachers!
It should mean that my blog gets a bit more attention, but for now - a cup of coffee and a book - my reward for surviving (and almost enjoying) the 40+ days of "holidays".

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Almost away....

There are piles appearing on the floor, lists are being made, menus planned, slabs of ice being made, and if all goes well we should be off for our summer camping expedition tomorrow afternoon.  We even managed to put the tent up on the back lawn a couple of days ago to give it a good airing before we have to sleep in it.  I'm sure if we went more often it wouldn't be quite so stressful getting out the door, but there always seem to be so many things that no one thinks of till the last minute.  The biggest problem we have is that we are planning to go back to a great spot that we found a couple of years ago that is so nice and quiet and isolated that there are NO shops anywhere nearby.  Which means menu planning becomes quite ice doesn't stay solid forever!  Fortunately Japan has pretty good curry-in-a-bag which works well on the last night.  There is a roast chicken cooling on the bench to take for tomorrow night (which will then be thrown into bread rolls the next day for lunch) and I think we are heading towards spaghetti, salad and soup for the second night.  Unless of course anyone out there has a great, easy suggestion for a delicious camping meal.
So, there won't be any posts for the next few days.  Hopefully we will be back Monday night with both children.... they have been fighting a bit too much lately and I'm a bit worried that we might opt to leave one (or two) of them behind!  Hope all of you here in Japan are getting to have a slight break in the holidays...

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Frog obsession?

I'm starting to think that I should perhaps rename this blog "frog fanatic".  I am honestly not obsessed with frogs, but living in the middle of rice fields means that you literally do find them all over the place.  Usually they are the cute little green frogs, but tonight I spotted this beautiful (?), BIG bull frog on the grass just outside the front door.  It was just sitting there in the dark taking a break and didn't seem at all put out that it was having its photo taken - perhaps the flash blinded it into a frozen state.  My son decided it was practicing to be a model.... I'm just hoping it wasn't trying to devise a scheme to get inside and take a ride in the washing machine - I'm not sure I would be so calm if this one hopped out at the end of the cycle!

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Rice planting excitement


These photos are from quite a long time ago and are courtesy of Mum's camera...
This year rice planting was basically the same as every other year..  (Un)fortunately I had to go and get Mum from Fukuoka on the first day so I missed out on helping in the heavy rain.... so disappointing!  To be completely honest I used to think rice planting was something quite special - the interesting machines, the feel of mud under your feet, the occasional snake slipping in and out of the fields to keep you company and the satisfaction of knowing that you have been part of the whole process - even if the parts you have planted aren't exactly straight!  However, as each year passes it is not quite as interesting... much more of a chore than an adventure.  That being said, there is always one part of rice planting that is interesting for me every year.  That is watching 3 men trying to stop the rice planter from tipping over sideways as they try to get it up the steep ramp between two of our rice fields.  It takes one person to drive it, one to stand on the front trying to add extra weight so it won't tip and another to give directions and pretend to push, while yelling abuse at either the driver or the balancer, who happens to be pushing his weight in the wrong direction.  Of course you also need a funny-hat lady at the back to laugh and squeal a little as the planter slowly tips to a 45 degree angle.  And then of course applaud when they make it safely to the top field!  Perhaps next year they will make it to a 60 degree angle to make the day even more exciting.....

Monday, August 06, 2012

Back in business

I know you are all just hanging out to hear how the chickens are going.... for your information they are going very well - even the poor chicken who I thought would never make it is strutting around thinking she is pretty special.  They have all moved naturally from sleeping in the nesting boxes when they were smaller to perching on their roosts each night (sorry Heather, I really do think you were taken in!) and seem to be surviving this hot, humid summer..  
I think chickens are really similar to humans in many ways -  mainly when it comes to puberty.  I love listening to boys as their voices change, and chickens are even better as you know when they go from the cheep cheepy cheeps to the deeper, louder cluck cluck cluckety cluck that you have got eggs on the way.  Today we got the biggest haul of eggs yet - 12 in total.  The fridge is starting to fill up so I guess we may need to start selling them again soon.  I love having fresh eggs every day!

Sunday, August 05, 2012


Near the end of the school term the children seem to bring home information on a daily basis about different camps, day trips, study opportunities etc. which are offered by various groups in the community .  In the past I have tried to encourage them to join some of them, but they have never really shown much interest.  This year has been a bit different though as my son has decided he wants to learn how to make new friends (a bit hard to do with only 12 in his class...), so has applied to be part of a couple of different activities.  The first was a 2-night camp, which was run by the local "junior chamber international" group.  The main activity was a hike up the tallest mountain in Oita prefecture, Mt. Kuju.  I think it was about a 5 hour trek there and back and although they saw an amazing rainbow on the way, the view from the top was a little less exciting!  Mind you he spent most of his time telling us how windy it was and how he thought he was going to be blown off the edge, so at least it made a big impression on him.  
The organisers of the camp had funding to include 11 students from Fukushima, one of the areas affected by the tsunami, and my son said one of the best things for him was meeting these students and making friends with them.  There is still so much devastation in the area and it is so easy for us to start forgetting about it, so I think it was a good reminder for all of us that there is still so much that we can do.  For my son it was helping to give 11 students a bit of a break and have a fun 3 days.  I wonder what the rest of us could do.....

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Washing machine

For the last couple of months we have been having washing machine problems.  If you held your mouth the correct way then you could occasionally get it to do a full cycle without having to open and close the lid a hundred times or turn it off and restart it.  Usually you just had to hope that it had completed enough of the cycle and that the clothes were vaguely clean.  We presumed it was going to be a costly exercise to get it fixed as it seemed like the computer wasn't functioning properly, but we were pleasantly surprised when the repairman finally came to fix it today and discovered that somehow a 500 yen coin had made its way into the outlet hose and was causing all the problems.  He has no idea how it could have got there, but judging by the colouring I think it has been there for some time... which blows my theory that the frog took it in with him thinking he had to pay for his wish-washy ride!
Although we still had to pay the call-out fee, after we deducted the 500 yen we found it turned out to be a pretty cheap exercise.

Friday, August 03, 2012

School "holidays"

I think I have mentioned before that I try not to write too many negative things on this blog, but.... sometimes I just have to marvel at the insanity of some of the ways things work here.  Today's topic is school "holidays".  The summer holidays here started on July 20th and the children will go back to school on September 3rd.  Wow - that's over 40 days holiday - yippee!  Time to play, time to relax and of course time to help around the house!  Only here in Japan it is not so yippee...  For the first week of the holidays my children had to go to school each morning for a couple of hours of classes designed to improve the level of academic achievement in maths.  This was compulsory for all 4th to 6th graders at our school - regardless of what level they were already achieving at.  I asked my children if they learnt anything new.... the answer, not one thing!  But, they did complete over 20 pages of handouts each day.  Unfortunately I seem to be in the minority in believing that holidays should be for having a holiday as most of the other parents seemed to be really happy that the school would be "babysitting" their children for the first week of the holidays.  
The kids don't have to go to school again during the holidays until the 6th of August - the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.  I think this day is an important part of their education and have no problem with them going to school this day.  Unfortunately the teachers use this day as a way to collect in half of the zillion pages of homework that need to be completed during the holidays and hand out yet more homework to be done before the end of the holidays.  Both my children are expected to do at least 2 hours of homework every day.  I think because the summer holidays fall in the middle of the academic year, rather than the end, means there is more pressure to keep the kids studying... I personally would prefer that they learnt how to clean the windows or wax the floors, but as I said I am in the minority here!

On a completely different note... I found this photo the other day which proves that, despite my daughter's insistence, I am still taller than my children... but I fear that very soon I will be the shortest - perhaps I'll have to start wearing high heels!

Thursday, August 02, 2012

New camera

My birthday is not until October, but since I had been discussing the fact that I needed a new camera, my husband kindly bought me a new one as an advanced birthday present.  My only requirements were that it had a good macro function as well as a good zoom.  I didn't care what it looked like as long as it was easy to use.  He ended up getting me an Olympus SZ-14.  It wasn't overly expensive (I know because he had it sent "pay on delivery" and I was the only one here to pay when it arrived......) and so far seems to be doing the job well.  I haven't had any time to play with it yet, but a few frogs kindly made an appearance and the macro seems to be fine.  
I find frogs all over the place, but the frog in the last picture was probably in the strangest place so far.  It jumped out of the washing machine.... after it had just finished a full cycle!  It wasn't hopping all over the place, but it was moving and didn't seem too disturbed - just squeaky clean!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

All in double digits

Okay, okay, okay... enough complaining!  I'll challenge myself to a blog a day for at least the next week to try and catch up on all the happenings here and give my brother some reading before he heads off to the real world called work!
First up - it was my son's 10th birthday yesterday, so my children have both now hit double digits.  It is school holidays here right now so you would think it would make it easy to have a proper celebration on his actual birthday, but..... unfortunately most of my work schedule doesn't change in the holidays, so we split his birthday in half - sushi for lunch followed by bowling yesterday.  Cake and singing tonight.  In Japan "coming of age" is considered to be 20 years old, so I guess we are half way there!  Happy Birthday Masaki!