Thursday, February 27, 2014

Christmas Eve 2013

Going back in time again for another random catch up post..... this time we head back to Christmas Eve.  The major thing related to Christmas in Japan is Christmas sponge cake filled with gallons of cream and topped with strawberries.   It is traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve - which is one reason why half the population of Japan believes Christmas is December 24th...  I have to admit I actually quite like the cakes, but the price of them and the fact that you usually have to order them weeks in advance means we very rarely partake in this particular tradition.
This year we decided to turn a little Japanese and had a dessert party on Christmas Eve - mainly because I am always too full after a big Christmas dinner to fully appreciate dessert!  My daughter wanted a pavlova, so I made that and she decorated it.  I wanted a trifle so used a bit of cut off sponge and some poached feijoas to make a pretty delicious unique version.  The rest of the sponge was decorated in a more traditional way by my son and what Christmas spread would be complete without chocolate mousse?  To pretend we were being healthy we also had some dragonfruit.
The other thing my daughter wanted was some cake pops... I thought I had found some perfect pretzels to use for reindeer antlers, but after I opened the packet I realised they weren't exactly what I thought they were.  They tasted good, but the jury was out as to whether they looked more like a clown, a pig or what they were actually supposed to be - a reindeer!
As there were only 5 of us it meant that there was plenty left over for the next day and the next day and maybe even a little for the day after that!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Cosmos festival

Today's post is sponsored not by a family member, but by a great friend who used to live in Japan.  She sent me this photo from 12 years ago when all our children were tiny!  My kids loved looking at it and seeing how the cupboard in the background has now miraculously disappeared and a fireplace has appeared in its place.  They also couldn't believe that I was once young and relatively slim..... Of course they also loved looking at the tiny twins too!
These next photos date way back to October (I'm beginning to think that letting my blog go was a bit of a stupid thing to do....).  Dad came to visit again and we managed to find a few more places to go to that he hadn't been to before.  One of them was the Cosmos festival in Nakatsu. As with a lot of things I had seen the signs pointing in the direction of the Cosmos fields many times, but had never bothered to detour that way to go and see what it was all about.  This year we took the chance that it might be worth a look and were pleasantly surprised.  The photos don't do them justice - there were many, many, many fields filled with flowering cosmos.  From what I have heard it is the 7th year of the festival and the town has given the locals a lot of funding to plant the flowers rather than rice or other crops.  Local schools and other organisations help to plant them each year - and with a total of around 20 million plants spread over 21 hectares they probably need a bit of help!   There is no entrance fee, but there are a few stalls around that are selling local produce.  The day we went there weren't many people there, but in the weekends I think it gets pretty packed.  Definitely worth a wander if you are in the vicinity in October!
The video I found gives you a better idea of exactly how big the area is that they have planted.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Spring is just around the corner

Recently the daytime temperatures have been rising, the sun has been shining and the first of the spring flowers have started to bloom.  In the past I used to love this time of year.  The first cup of coffee while reading a magazine on the deck, throwing all the duvets outside to freshen up in the sun, starting to clear out the garden ready for spring planting and having the washing dry outside within half a day.  
Unfortunately with the onset of pollen allergies this time of year has turned into a horrible time where I try to stay inside as much as I can, go through boxes of tissues each day and feel like my throat and ears are going to drive me crazy with their itchiness.   I try to avoid taking medicine, but usually give in at some stage during the day.  I have even started taking notice of the predicted pollen count for the week.... the table below shows that Friday is going to be particularly bad - I can hardly wait!  I never thought I would ever say this, but I am so looking forward to the arrival of summer!

日付 2月27日
大分市 少ない

Monday, February 24, 2014

Advent Calendar

These posts really are going all over the place... but for my own sake it is a good record of things that have happened over the last few months so please bear with me and my random photos from the camera!

For Christmas 2012 I made my first niece a "Christmas Town" advent calendar  so I wanted to make my second niece an advent calendar too (all things must be fair and even!).  As always I started it a bit late, but thanks to the unfortunate fact that I ended up off work and on the sofa for a week due to having the mumps (not a nice experience!) I managed to get it done and sent away in time for the first day of December.  All of the felt ornaments come off and one was put into each pocket for each day, along with a small treat.... most of which I think made it to my niece!  Hopefully I will be organised enough each year to get the treats to fill the pockets and have them sent away before the start of December.  Gotta love the 100 yen shop for things like this!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Bee meets bee

Following on from the last bee post.... Here is a random photo of a bee eating a bee.  No idea what was going on, but it sat still for about an hour just slowly devouring it on the post of our deck.  I have heard that Japanese bees are smaller than western bees, but have the power to work together to kill larger bees who come to take over the hives - swarming together to make their invaders overheat and die.  Unfortunately it looks like this poor bee had lost all its friends.... definitely a case of safety in numbers, or not in this case!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The bees were back

Another post from quite some time ago!
In 2007 we started our journey into the frustrating world of bee keeping.  At that time we relied on people telling us when they found swarms of Japanese honey bees and we would go and collect them, bring them home and put them into our homemade boxes and hope they stayed.  We tried to think about the perfect place to put the hives so the bees would feel at home.  Unfortunately they would always stay for a bit, but not more than a year - eating all their honey before they took off for better pastures.
A few years ago my husband bought two new boxes which were designed to attract the bees to them, in theory meaning we wouldn't need to go and actually catch the bees and bring them back.  Yet again we sought out the perfect locations, bought special lilies to help attract the bees and waited and waited and waited a bit more.  Not much luck...  So the boxes were thrown into the garage a couple of years ago when life got out of control and we figured eventually we would get around to getting them out in the perfect location again.
Roll around to last year.... the bees came back... in the garage... where we dumped the boxes a couple of years ago. There were many debates about what to do - I was particularly keen to get them moved so that we could get in and out of the car without worrying about how many bees were going to join us for a drive.  It was particularly important to me that they were moved because we had my brother, sister-in-law and 1 year old niece staying..... I didn't really feel like having to take them to the emergency room if the bees decided to swarm while we were getting into the car.
My husband was just so happy that they were back that he was determined to let them be and refused to try and move them.  They got very active during the day, but as my husband was at work most days he never saw it.  They never stung us, but it did get a bit frustrating having to try and reassure any visitors who came to the house that they were our pets and therefore perfectly safe.
In the end they made quite a lot of honey, but just before we were about to harvest some of it they were invaded by bugs, ate most of their own honey and then ran away.  At least it solved the problem of having to move them.   Now if I could just get my husband to move the box out of the garage we may not have to go through the whole thing again this spring!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Soba Making

My family from New Zealand comes to visit us a lot - which is great, but means that we are always looking for new places to take them that will interest them as well as my kids.  When my mother came to visit in December we decided to try the "soba making experience" in the town next to ours.  The town is trying to promote themselves as a soba town so have started a place where you can go and they will help you to make soba noodles or actually learn to make them professionally over a number of sessions if you want to.
It was the second time my son had made soba and so we let him do the whole thing.  I found it fascinating.  I never realised there were so many complicated steps in getting the dough formed perfectly and then the dough rolled to exactly the right shape and size.  I would never be patient enough to do it each time and  I could never remember all the steps!  From memory it took about and hour and a half for the whole process.  The other thing that impressed me was that there was zero waste.  All bits that were stuck to hands were carefully scraped into the mixture, every speck of flour was carefully swept up from the table and reused. 
Masaki's favorite part of the whole process was using the huge knife to chop it all up.  He has now decided that after he becomes Olympic champion he is going to start a soba shop....
The soba was all taken home and it was quickly devoured by all!

Thursday, February 20, 2014


I am getting a bit behind on the posts now... photos of nieces and nephews seem to be flying into my in-box from all directions. Very grateful!
These photos go way back to August... it was the first "Obon" since my mother-in-law died, which is quite a big deal here.  Obon is the season where deceased come back to visit for a few days and check that everyone is doing okay and looking after things in the way they should be.  For about a week before hand there needs to be someone at the house all day every day to receive visitors who come to pay their respects, leave an envelope of money, drink a glass of cold tea and then go home with a little bag of goodies.  We had a total of 163 people come to pray... which means 163 cups of cold tea... and 163 envelopes of money to open, count and record who gave how much.
As well as the envelopes of money, the relatives and close friends give lanterns, baskets of packaged foods surrounded by plastic flowers and boxes and boxes of beer. 
I am in two minds about the whole process.  I like the fact that it is a time when people can remember the recently deceased.  I like the fact that the whole family gets together for a few days.  What I don't like is the commercialism and waste assosciated with the whole thing.  All of the food baskets cost a minimum of about 10,000 yen (often up to 20,000) and are on lovely wooden frames etc. which are all thrown away.  The value of the actual food is probably only 3-4,000 yen.   A lot of the food is also wasted because there is so much of it and it can't be opened until everyone has already gone home - ie. you can't use it when all the family is gathered and it would be most helpful!   The lanterns are also thrown away... each one again costs at least 10,000 yen....
My biggest gripe is about the big monstrosity in the corner of the first photo.  It is basically a lot of plastic flowers and some plastic doves with lots of silver glittery stuff (which is now keeping crows out of my garden!).  It cost 90,000 yen (on special) .... it was burnt when it was all finished.... my husband and his sister were expected to buy it... in fact it was ordered for them by my father-in-law and they were given the bill.  As far as I can tell it is not a necessary part of the whole event, but the companies have done such a good job of pushing them on people that they have come to believe they will bring bad luck on the family if they don't buy it.
Anyway, we managed to survive the whole thing and are still getting through cans of crab meat and bottles of beer.  Here's hoping we don't have another event like this in the near future.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Chicken delicacies

 It rained all last night so my big plan to get on with some weeding in the garden flew out the window.  Pulling weeds out of mud is never fun!  Instead I decided to make another garden in the tunnel house and fill it with some peas and lettuces and a couple of rows of spinach and radishes thrown in for good measure.  The other gardens are going so well I'm hoping this one will too.
When I make the new "gardens" I fill the boxes with lots and lots of delicious leaf mould that has been maturing over the past year or so.  It appears that the leaf mould is the perfect breeding ground for stag beetle larvae.  With every scoop of leaf mould there seem to be at least 3 or 4 larvae curled up ready for  metamorphosis in spring.  I have no idea if they would do anything bad to the seedlings, but just to be on the safe side I try to remove as many of them as I can - some of which are rather large!  
I try not to waste things so the larvae get taken to the chickens, who seem to be able to smell them coming and go into a real frenzy.  The largest ones are usually left till last, but within a matter of minutes they are all polished off.  I'm presuming the stag beetle isn't on the endangered population list.... otherwise my chickens may need to be arrested!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Muscles I never knew I had

 When my daughter started junior high school she joined the volleyball team.  She had never played before, but has become a very good server very quickly.  Another girl joined at the same time and unfortunately hasn't been blessed with learning the serving technique so quickly.  After thinking about it a bit more we realised that it was probably because Emily had done a lot of swimming before starting volleyball and therefore had already developed the muscles necessary for serving before she even started.  After a big day with the axe yesterday I am thinking that if I chopped wood every day I could become a professional volleyball server - even if I was only subbed on to serve.  My muscles are telling me that they have worked very hard!  
It is the time of year again where we get our wood pile ready for the following year (or actually 2 years later).  I managed to chop enough yesterday to fill one whole row of our wood shed and today put away another rows worth.  We now have just over 4 rows full.... 2 more to go.  Fortunately my father-in-law is enjoying using the chainsaw this year... long may it last!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The good and bad of snow days

Today's post is sponsored by an incredibly beautiful lettuce carrying niece - who could resist writing a blog post in return for such great photos!  I tried to upload the photo to show you but for some reason it wouldn't work.  Maybe next time!

I have to admit that I am not a parent who jumps for joy when the school calls and says that school is closed for the day because of snow.  I love my children, but I also love my quiet time at home.... alone....  Of course the children were more than happy that we were blanketed in snow and spent most of the day outside making snowmen and an igloo.  They informed me that it was a romantic igloo as it was Valentine's day.  The romance came in the form of 4 little snowmen inside the igloo - two on each side.  Not exactly my idea of romance, but I guess it is the thought that counts!
On a not so happy note my lemon tree and one of my feijoa trees didn't enjoy the snow so much.  The lemon tree was completely toppled over and I lost about half of the feijoa tree.  Fortunately it is the side of the tree that doesn't produce vast quantities of fruit and it looks like the remainder of the tree is fine.  A trip to the plant shop tomorrow should hopefully find a replacement lemon tree and it forces me to use
up the lemons that were on the tree a little more quickly than I otherwise would have.  I think another batch of lemon honey tomorrow will start the ball rolling. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

New Quiet Book

I finally finished my third quiet book not quite in time for Christmas..... This time I stole a lot more ideas and did a lot more fiddly sewing... the main site I used is  She has some fantastic ideas and lots of free templates.
Now I just need to wait for another niece or nephew to come along so I can try some more ideas!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Snow, snow and more snow!

Today's post is courtesy of a very cute shot of a cute little boy chewing on his mother's nose..... gotta love it!
Since lunch time yesterday we have had a pretty big dumping of snow (for these parts anyway).  We spent all last night groaning every time we heard big lumps of snow falling from the upper level roof onto the lower level roof and then onto the deck.  We're hoping it hasn't done any damage to the solar panels.  There have been phone calls going backward and forward, but as predicted school has been cancelled for both children so we are all at home camped in front of the fire with afghan cookies in the oven.  The best place to be on a snowy day!
These photos were kindly taken by my son... who was excited to find so many animal footprints in the snow.  I was just happy that I didn't have to venture outside to take them!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Proudly Sponsored by.....

Today's update is proudly sponsored by my very cute nephew.  He is only about 6 months old but he has decided that he should do some bartering with me and that he will send me a photo of himself in exchange for every blog entry I do.  As I have never seen him in person and have seen very few photos of him I've decided to take him up on the challenge and try to catch up on my very neglected blog in the process.   As a warning, they are going to be very random entries!
 We have a large tunnel house (about 24m long) that until this year has been very under utilised.  The main reason for this is that in the past when I have tried to plant things in there my father-in-law has always decided out of the blue that he needs to use it for seeding something or other and ends up pulling all my stuff out just as it is about to really start producing.
However it seems that he has now decided he has no need to do anything in the tunnel house so I think I have free reign over it.  Time will tell if this is correct or not!
The house isn't heated, but will still get up into the 40s on a sunny day in winter so I figured I could probably plant something and get it to grow if I kept my fingers crossed correctly.  I built a few beds and filled them with some horse poo and lots of rotted leaves and so far have managed to get some radishes, mesclun lettuce mixes and some spinach to seed.  I also threw a few bean seeds into the ground and a few are now poking their heads through.  Overnight temperatures are pretty low so chances are they won't do very well, but it is fun to try.  
I also found some very cheap passionfruit vines that I have managed to keep alive and will hopefully take off as spring approaches.
Passionfruit vines

While collecting the horse poo I found a pile of old glass doors at a friend's house which looked like they needed a new home.... they are proving to be great for raising the temperature a little more for starting off some seeds.  There are already a few tomato seedlings poking through as well as some random flowers and peas.  Hopefully they will get a bit of a start and can be planted into the new beds before the weather gets too hot for them.

Spinach, Mesclun, Radishes
I have always had an asparagus bed in the tunnel house but this year I finally got around to putting a box around it and filling it with... you guessed it - horse poo!   I'm hoping we are going to have the tastiest asparagus ever this year!
I'm guessing that I have now managed to get about a third or more of the tunnel house under control.  It is a great place to retreat to in this season, but by June and July visits become far too hot so I'm enjoying it while I can.
Next decision... more beds or not... sleepers are heavy to cart around alone!

Seedling "house"