July was….

IMG_1085Swallows nesting EVERYWHERE.

IMG_5316Yakiniku dinners with our lovely new pan.

2013-07-04 10.06.27Tanabata wishes!

IMG_1224Some changes from green rice fields.

IMG_5290Crops of summer vegies from our balcony garden (the zucchini and beans have been especially great).

412406_399036620156026_1586376513_oEarly morning trips to (or from!) Kyoto.

IMG_1303Lots of cycling in the hills on our old Mama-charis.

sushiCool sushi dinners (with cool dinner beers)

IMG_5266Lots and lots of wasps and hornets!  We both like them, but everyone else seems to have a problem.

IMG_1109Nagahama folk just chilling until the weather cools back down.

July was warm, wonderful and full of quiet adventures. We said goodbye to so many friends, but we don’t feel sad; we’re grateful we met them (and are already looking forward to times when their travels take them to Oz)!

To all the new JETS, welcome! Here’s to August and the great times we’re going to have!

Gem and Kin

XX

On Criticism

I wasn’t very awesome this morning.

Kin had a rotten day on Monday, and when Kin is miserable, he likes to spread it around with a big shovel. Now that he is feeling more cheerful, I decided to try and raise that issue with him. Unfortunately, while HE might have been calm about it, I obviously wasn’t! I wound up goading him into an argument, which I then kind of won, (which is NEVER a win), so he still has no idea what I was actually talking about, my problem still exists and both of us were upset, miserable and late for work. Not a good start to the day.

I hate arguing with Kin and I hate we’ve both essentially lost the day to something so unproductive. So after two cups of tea and half an hour of sniffling over my computer (God bless Japanese workplaces; you could probably commit suicide at your desk and no-one would react) I decided to stop being a whiny wanker and try to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

(That half hour of wallowing felt great, by the way. I’m glad I didn’t skip it.)

Harden up, princess

First, since I’m ahead with my work at the moment, I spent a bit of time reading some “stop-feeling-sorry-for-yourself”-style articles (Mark Manson is good for these). Trying to tackle an issue while you’re still feeling like a victim is a brilliant recipe for delusion and failure, so it’s good to do something that will get you thinking about your own responsibility for a situation first.

So, once I was in the right head space, I started to think about what was actually going on this morning. And when you look at it, I wasn’t REALLY trying to fix a problem; I didn’t try to offer any solutions, after all. I just wanted to criticize Kin because I wanted him to stop doing something I didn’t like. How do I avoid this argument in future? Stop criticizing him.

And that’s it.

I’m going to do it!

Before you freak out, I’m not one of those religious twerps advocating women’s obedience to their husbands; our relationship is still happily feminist (not to mention atheist), so sweet submission would probably frighten Kin badly, not to mention drive me into a straightjacket. I’m speaking from a position of pure self-determination here; criticism clearly doesn’t work, so I need to come up with something that will. However, I’ve made resolves to criticize less in the past and have wound up gritting my teeth for weeks on end, then having a roaring meltdown, which is not helpful. I guess I’ve gotten Kin so used to being criticized, he assumes that in its absence, everything must be okay. So, how can I make sure my needs are being met, without having to resort to criticism?

Well, I’ve come up with something. But it’s just so…. wet. I’m fairly open emotionally, but I’m still a pragmatic person. Sappy, sloppy, self-help book language alternately enrages me (it’s so often used for self-justification) or makes me wince (when it’s so sincere, yet so sugary your teeth ache just reading it).

But I did it anyway. I sat and wrote down exactly what I would need to be able to refrain from criticising. Funnily enough, a lot of it is stuff Kin has begged me to do in the past. Go figure.

Here it is:

  • I WILL talk more about how things affect me, even if that means having to do really awkward segues or make actual appointments with you.

             SO PLEASE be open and receptive when I need to talk. If I become critical or passive-aggressive, please point it out and encourage me to phrase things more productively.

  • I WILL make requests to have my needs met.

            SO PLEASE say “No” or request postponement when you cannot answer these requests. If I am confident you will do that, I will feel confident and safe in asking more often.

  • I WILL listen and act on your requests and complains without becoming defensive or emotional

             SO PLEASE think about your reasons for making them and, if I need to table the topic for a period, allow me to.

  •  I WILL remember that you love me and ascribe positive motivations to your actions. I will give you the benefit of the doubt.

             SO PLEASE do the same for me!

I’m actually going to nail that gunk to my wall to remind myself of what I need to do. Looking at it makes me cringe (and I’m CERTAIN it will make Kin cringe too), but difficult times call for drastic measures, and if that means both of us feeling uncomfortable for being wet, New-Age wankers, then so be it. The sacrifice has to be made.

Wish me luck.

Gem

XX

EDIT: I showed it to Kin. It made him cringe.

Menu Planning and Will Power: or, Being Awesome When You Don’t Feel Awesome

There are days when it’s hard to summon the energy to be awesome. Days you have to drag yourself through. Days you can only manage doing what absolutely has to be done.

If you aren’t careful, these days can turn into years. You can wish your entire life away, one weekday at a time without ever finding a chance to do anything you love. How can we live happily today, while still making sure that tomorrow will be awesome?

Firstly, to be honest, you probably need to step outside your life for a while and make some decisions about where you’re going with it. But that’s a subject for another day. If you’ve already done that and you’re still having days where you can’t just haul up your socks and genki your way through, you might need some help to stay motivated. How do you keep up your awesome when you frankly don’t feel very awesome at all?

The Power of Will

The internet has a lot to say about this. Apparently, it’s all about focus. It’s about how much you want IT (whatever IT is). It’s about being 100% committed to a goal and prepared to make any sacrifice.

It’s about bullshit, basically. Bullshit and having other people iron your shirts. This sales talk/gym bro/ business seminar attitude will not help us manage our responsibilities and nurture our relationships, because it’s all about ME and MY goals. How can I get that? What will this do for ME?

I guess that’s okay if you’re working toward a specific goal for a short period (although I still don’t like it) but it’s no way to live your life. We’re trying to be awesome and part of that is managing our lives like adults, which is a lot more complex than devoting ourselves 100% to one big, shiny outcome (while Mum picks up our socks and buys our protein shakes).

We have a myriad of big, medium and sometimes really tiny goals, scattered across all of the areas of our lives. We need to prepare for that meeting, make that sandwich, email that friend, run that 10km, mop that floor; and so on and so on for the rest of your life. The list is endless and if you try to manage everything on it through sheer force of will you are going to die. I’m not even kidding. A Busy person will try to push through and work themselves to collapse (not to mention a host of stress-related lifestyle diseases) while a Lazy person will burn out fast and never achieve anything again (while developing similar lifestyle diseases through inactivity).

Willpower is for Wimps

Ever heard of a child prodigy? Great! Now, ever heard of an adult prodigy? Exactly. People who think you can rely on force of will to achieve things are people who have someone else managing the hard stuff for them.

Will power is important, but it is also finite. You need to save it for times when you really, really need it. Times when you’re trying to convince yourself to go for a jog on a rainy morning, or trying to get a two-year old to eat three bites of their lunch. The rest of the time you can get by with something simpler, with a far lower energy cost.

You just have to plan. It’s that simple.

Let your energetic, clear-thinking self be the captain, let your less energetic, path-of-least-resistance self follow that lead. If you meet each day with a plan, that’s one less thing you’ll need to worry about.

Limited Choice (and Ultimate Power)

Our first world lives are wonderful. We have so many options available to us and an incredible amount of freedom to make choices. This is a wonderful time and place to be alive. But each decision you make requires that you exercise your will, expend mental energy and reduce your abilities in further decision making! Ever hear of  decision fatigue? Choice can be a killer.

The way to continue toward constant personal awesomeness without having a breakdown is to limit these options ahead of time. Plan what you’re going to do, then cut off (almost) all of your escape routes.

And the best place to start doing this is with food. We all eat it, we all buy it and we ALL spend our first years out of home arguing about whose turn it is to cook it and what we should make. Even people who cook for a hobby often hate the chore of making regular meals, because of the amount of variables involved in making a decision.

Nutrition. How many serves of veggies have you eaten today? Are you exercising a lot? Are you sick? Have your period? Now what about these variables for every single other person in the house?

Supply. What’s in the fridge? In the cupboards? Can you be bothered shopping? (side note; a herb and vegetable garden helps you both broaden AND narrow your options here. More nagging on this topic in the future). What needs to be used up? What sort of leftovers will you get from what you make?

Enjoyment. What, actually, would you like to eat? What do the other people who will be eating enjoy? What can you prepare that will make eating together a pleasant experience?

If, when I get home, the question is “What will I make for dinner?”, then I have a BIG problem. I’m exhausted, I’m hungry, I want to eat the first thing I find that doesn’t need any preparation and then I want to watch T.V. for three hours. After THAT I might have some energy to think through better options (although of course then, it’s much too late).

If, however, the question is “What AM I making for dinner?” then I check my menu plan (created on Saturday, when I’m rested and can see glorious freedom stretching out in front of me) and start opening cupboards, chopping vegetables and mixing sauces because a decision has already been made; I just have to carry that decision out. And the sooner I do that, the sooner I get to eat whatever wonderful thing my clever, motivated self decided would be best to bring my dopey, lethargic self back to full power.

It works, too. After a shower and a decent meal, Kin and I are both ready for anything the evening might bring. The other joyous side-effects of menu-planning include:

– Money saved and waste reduced; because you’re actually eating all of your leftovers!

– Increases in speed and skill at both cooking and cleaning up (which means that your menus will gradually become some pretty serious business)

– Increased ability to come up with something good when you do have to invent meals in a hurry.

– You and those you live with will eat healthy, balanced meals every day. Believe someone who has worked in restaurants owned by folk of a variety of ethnicities: Restaurant food is never, ever healthy. Not EVER. I don’t care what you’re eating, grilled fish, steamed veggies, whatever; we have done something to it that makes it unhealthy. It’s what we do. Restaurant cooking is about best flavour achieved in shortest period, which means that we blanch it, keep it in the fridge for a week, then cover it in oil. Home cooking has more options.

Good planning not only helps you organize yourself, it helps you pinpoint times when you might need another person’s help, so you can ask in advance. It lets you understand what resources you will need ahead of time, so you can prepare your work materials better. And finally, it allows you to relax and just enjoy your day, without having to try and be 100% on top of things at all times.

How do you plan? Are there any strategies you use to reduce your dependence on will power?

Gem

XX

EDIT: Wow, that was a long one! Well done getting through it!

Surprises (NOT Kyuushoku Style!)

What a busy day! But all in nice ways. It’s late now, and I’m sitting at my desk, sipping a cold glass of mugicha and savouring the warm glow of knowing that the English cupboard is clean…. while trying to ignore the cold chill of knowing that the English ROOM is not….

I need to find a happy distraction! Luckily this has been a week full of wonderful discoveries.

Discovery 1 – Terrifying Tea Ceremony Lady isn’t scary at all when she’s at home!
Chelsie's Tea ClassHer hair still doesn’t move very much, though!

The Anglo-Saxon in the photo is Kelpie, our friend. She is now a level-one qualified teaologist, and is now permitted to fly solo (with the lower-level ceremonies).
Tea Ceremony has not been the stiff, difficult experience I was afraid of; it’s all turned out to be wonderfully gossipy and warm! These ladies are, of course, extremely beautiful in their movements (not to mention extremely kind about my maladroit efforts to imitate them) but they’re also super-cheery and happy to chat while we practice.

Discovery 2 – This little nest of gargoyles directly above the door of one of my favourite glass shops!
Baby swallowsIt’s summer in Nagahama and the swallows are raising their clutches in traffic lights, street signs and every other cranny they can manage to stuff mud into! I love watching the babies squeak and wheeze whenever anything comes near them (then collapse with exhaustion at the effort of holding up those enormous heads), but I love watching their parents even more. Swallows really seem to ENJOY flying, don’t they? The way they twist and swoop between the buildings to feed their asthmatic progeny is one of the more beautiful parts of summer.

Discovery 3 – This guy:
2013-06-16 14.38.10Within the peaceful-seeming collection of pots in my balcony garden, lurks this merciless predator, existing only to slaughter and consume.

THANK HEAVENS!

Since the weather warmed up, my aphid problem has been getting ridiculous. I’ve been having to wash the lettuce four times before we can finally eat it, and the health of my plants has been badly affected. I prefer to be a lassaiz-faire gardener wherever possible, but I was actually getting to the point where I was about to mix up some soap spray and declare war on the little swine. Until my secret weapon appeared, in the form of that baby ladybeetle!

Like baby swallows, baby ladybeetles aren’t the most beautiful of young creatures, but no mother’s heart could have swelled with more joy than mine when I spotted that particular little one. Since then, more have started appearing and my aphid problem should be sorted in a matter of weeks.

Discovery 4 – I love Pilates!

I know, right? What’s next, Tai-Bo? Seriously, though, Pilates is the good stuff. I know I look fairly healthy (and, in general, am) but I have some long-term pain issues that sometimes put a fairly serious crimp in my efforts to be awesome. Basically, where your spine is supposed to curve in your upper back and neck, mine goes straight up and down; which makes my posture look SPECTACULAR at ceremonies, but which causes me a lot of everyday pain and is a big reason why I drink so much wine in the evenings.

In an effort to STOP drinking so much wine in the evenings, I’ve been working hard with a physio  for some months now, and at his urging, finally took a Pilates class.

HOLY CRAP.

Pilates is about gently stretching and exercising your limbs, while ripping the HELL out of your core. This might not seem applicable to my neck and shoulder issues, but basically everything you can do to strengthen your core will help with your overall posture. I need to keep working my neck and shoulders with the Physio, but I think it’s safe to leave my lower back and core in the hands of Pilates for now.

Discovery 5 – Tadpoles in the paddy fields.

IMG_1232Just in general, Kin and I both tend to be fairly strong tadpole enthusiasts. But before you dismiss our joys as irrelevant, be aware that there are good reasons for everyone to be happy to hear croaking coming from the rice fields at night.

Basically, pretty much EVERY environmental toxin kills frogs. Pesticides kill frogs. Herbicides kill frogs. Heavy metals kill or deform frogs. ARTIFICIAL FERTILISERS can kill frogs! Frogs are like a food canary, dropping off their perches wherever agriculture gets too poisonous.

I’m Australian. Anyone who has ever had to go through Australian Customs understands that we tend to be somewhat cautious about disease. And when I say “cautious”, really I mean “obsessively paranoid”. I’m not even kidding. If we could irradiate all guests and their luggage at an only barely sublethal level, we probably would, but we can’t because we’re also paranoid about radiation. We even tend to be fairly cautious about pesticide and heavy metal pollution, not because we pollute less than other people (we’re really not very virtuous), but because we have a lot of space and these things just don’t get a chance to build up as much as in other countries.  As a rural and an organic gardener, I’m probably even more paranoid that most.

But when you see FROGS sitting around in your food, you know it’s not as bad as all that. Sure, there’s probably a lot going on that I still don’t want to know about, but any lingering nasties are a lot less likely to be hanging around in water that has several generations of frogs sitting in it.

Discovery 6 – These lovelies in the hills around town!

IMG_1342Kin and I both adore berries and I always have an eye out for free food, so we were thrilled to spot these wild raspberries and alpine strawberries on one of our weekend bike rides. The flavour of the raspberries isn’t as sweet and full as that of our garden cultivars and there will never be any comparing these little wild strawberries to the real thing, but they were a light and refreshing reward for a very long, hot bike ride and a wonderful treat for a pair whose food budget won’t be able to stretch much further this week!

Discovery 7 – This beetle not only looks awesome, it SQUEAKS when you annoy it!

IMG_2443Seriously, it sounds like a furious rubber duck! Kin and I are going to hunt out as many of these guys as we can, and then we’re going to POKE every single one of them!

(Well, the kids are all going on holiday soon. We need SOMETHING to annoy!)

What surprises are in your world this week? How is winter treating the Australians out there?

Keep it happy,

Gem
XX

Tanabata Projects

Tanabata (Australians might know the Chinese version, Qixi) is one of the nicest festivals of the year. In Shiga, there are several days of celebration, culminating on July 7th. This is the day that the cowherd prince Hikoboshi (Altair) and the weaver princess Orihime (Vega), separated by Heaven for neglecting their duties, are able to cross the Amanogawa (the Milky Way) to meet and reaffirm their love for one another.

Unfortunately, if it rains on this day, the lovers are unable to meet. Since Tanabata falls smack in the middle of the summer rainy season, you can imagine this happens quite a lot!

This year, the Nagahama skies were clear, so I guess the celestial couple successfully got it on. This also meant that there were no impediments to the humans wanting to celebrate the festival! There are some truly spectacular Tanabata celebrations out there, but ours was pleasantly low key. One of the major Tanabata traditions is writing wishes on pieces of colourful paper and tying them to bamboo branches, which are hung outside houses, shops and, at my school, classrooms.

 

2013-07-04 10.06.27 2013-07-04 10.08.33

Traditionally, girls wished for skills in needlework, while boys wished for good handwriting. These days, the kids wish for all sorts of things, but the emphasis is still on skills and personal improvement. For example, they might wish for certain personal attributes, such as being hardworking or cheerful, increased skills in games or schooling, or for good relationships with their peers.

This little one has wished to be good friends with all of the people around her.

This little one has wished to be good friends with all of the people around her.

 

This first grader has broken with tradition; his wish is to collect an entire set of mushroom stickers!

This first grader has broken with tradition; his wish is to collect an entire set of mushroom stickers!

2013-07-04 10.10.51With all of this decorating and wishing going on, I shouldn’t really have been surprised to start finding things like THIS on my desk; strips of paper in various colours along with requests to know MY wishes for the year.

It was actually really hard to think of one thing to wish for in front of my kids! My eventual wish was very obvious, but completely sincere: I want to be much, much better at Japanese by the time I have to go home. Some of my kids were sweet enough to say the same thing about English!

2013-07-05 14.24.58

Still, while Japanese is a major learning area for me, it’s not the only thing I want to study this year!  So, what other skills should I ask the star lady for this Tanabata…?

Kin is starting glass blowing classes (In this heat! I’m worried he might actually die!) and will be coming with me to my cooking lessons when the new round starts. This week I begin tea ceremony classes with a truly terrifying lady whose hair never, ever moves (the Japanese ladies pay hundreds for classes with this woman, but she seems to want to encourage ladylike behavior in her butch Australian neighbour, so I escape for about twenty bucks a month).
Less excitingly, I will:

  • Learn to braid my hair. Probably not as well as this (done by the ladies down the road, including the terrifying one) but I can at least make a start.

77452_431260703600284_1198629207_o

  • Learn to swim (properly). I’m Australian, so of course I can sploosh around in the water safely and even surf a bit. But I never learned to be a strong swimmer, and I never learned an overarm style. The HoneyJew is a swimming instructor back in the states, so I’ve asked her to help me out.
  • Poach a blasted egg! I’m a fair cook, but poached eggs and scones are two areas that have thus far completely eluded me. Scones can wait till next winter, but by golly, poached eggs are happening this month!
  • Finally learn to bloody knit and finish this wretched scarf for Kin. For the last two years, I have picked the damn thing up, done a few rows, made a mistake, unpicked a few rows, done a few more and then put it down again. This time, it’s happening!

2013-07-08 20.34.38

  • Learn to draw! This is my current, sorrowful ability level: 2013-07-09 09.30.30

But Kin, Master Illustrator, is going to teach me! I’ll keep you updated with my progress (if any).
I love thinking about all the new things we’re going to learn! It’s so exciting! Does anyone else have any plans for Tanabata projects? What would you like to learn this year?

Gem

XX