June Was….

Apologies for two gallery posts in a row, but it’s that time! We’ve bid farewell to June and are gearing up for a frankly horrible July… so we’re lucky we have such wonderful things to remember!

June was lovely meals, trips to Kyoto and wanders at wonderful Fushimi Inari; this time with Gem’s older sister and family who came to visit early in the month (our last visitors in Japan!) Nagahama has resumed regular warm-weather routines and we received more visits from our friends, the rat snakes. Kin’s school also had a much more exciting visit from sumo champion Hakuhō Shō and several members of his stable. And, of course, June was Gem’s graduation ceremony to a slightly higher grade of tea ceremony practice.

June was warm, family-filled and very, very busy… but was still nothing compared to the madness that will be July. Wish us luck, everyone!

(Gem will add a more complete gallery to our Facebook and Flickr pages later in the week!)

Gem and Kin

 

 

Look Who Came to Visit!

Contemplative frog

It’s spring alright! The rice fields are green and full of joy (for frogs) and the nights are dark and full of lurve… also for frogs. As well as having bats to watch, every evening we can also listen to the chorus of croaking from all directions.

Of course, all of this activity means that other creatures are becoming active too, including this fellow:

Snake I, swimming

This is a Japanese rat snake (Elaphe climacophora) that I spotted while watering the beans. It seemed pretty determined to work its way up the canal, so we figured it was heading out to the big rice fields to find frogs like the one above. Being Australian, I immediately yelled for Kin to grab his camera and he raced up the canal in pursuit.

Lurksnake

Unfortunately, his model did NOT feel cooperative. Rat snakes are quite timid (and, apparently, very bitey) so it decided to try and pretend that it wasn’t there and wait for the camera to go away.

Kin was a little disappointed but, as it turns out, he didn’t need to be! When I went for a run along the same canal, I found another friend for him to photograph!

Snake II; full length

Another rat snake! They must be everywhere at the moment! This one seemed a little less timid than the first and allowed Kin and his camera to get quite close. It was proceeding in the same direction as the other fellow, so there must be something attractive (to snakes) in that part of town.

Snake II, head, higher angle

Hello, snake II!

It seems that Japanese people respond to rat snakes much the same way as Australians do to carpet pythons, so our friends should have a safe journey, wherever they’re going. It was lovely to see these beauties and we wish them well on their travels. It’s also fun giving our U.S. friends the screaming heebie-jeebies with these photos!

Is anyone interesting out and about in your area? Have they come to say hello?

We’ve just made a Flickr account, so I’m gradually uploading our photos there (including our Facebook albums). If you want to see more snake pictures or others (soon), please come and visit us!

Gem,

XX

Golden Week

By Gem

IMG_8883

It’s Sunday night of a lovely long weekend here in Nagahama, and we’ve been spending it doing things we like best!

Yesterday, we finished everything that needed finishing (housework, shopping and the final co-op missions of Halo 4) and we’re off to have adventures in the south on Monday and Tuesday, so we’ve spent this Sunday having a lovely, gentle time.

A sleep-in for Kin, while I made a morning visit to friends in Kinomoto, then home to a simple lunch, scavenged from the contents of the fridge (I told you it’s good to keep soup and salad dressing in there!)

Kin then headed out to do some pottery in Kurokabe, while I baked bread, puttered around in my pots and studied for an hour or two. When he got home, we enjoyed afternoon tea together; you may notice we’re eating some of the same banana bread at both lunch and afternoon tea. That banana bread is actually a bit of an accident…

IMG_8911

A few weeks ago, my sister inspired me to make a nice, big batch of dulce de leche and, when I noticed our bananas were beginning to look a little sad in their bowl, I thought that I was being provided with a wonderful opportunity to transform my ingredients into a delicious banoffee pie for us to enjoy over the weekend. A little chocolate, a little cream, a drizzle of toffee sauce…. Subarashii!

What actually happened was that I got home on Friday evening, opened the last container of dulce de leche, tasted it to be sure it was still okay and then grew canines, howled at the moon and devoured the lot with a soup spoon.

(I wasn’t really in a fit state to observe myself, you understand, but I’m pretty certain this version of events is pretty close to being true.)

At any rate, I was left with the situation of having a bunch of sick-looking bananas and no caramel, so banana bread was a fairly obvious choice; cold slices for snacks and hot chunks with custard for desserts. Combined with the bread Oinky and I baked, this treat has made our apartment smell absolutely lovely. Outside, the air still carries a fairly heavy chill, but inside, everything is warm and clean and wonderfully fragrant. Life is good.

IMG_8848

The indoor refugees don’t seem to be phased by the cold; they’re so happy to be outdoors, they’re shooting up like rockets. The cold, gusty wind is giving my poor snow peas some trouble though. Every time they try to get a grip on the balcony railing, they’re blown off! After this photo was taken, I tethered them with a bit of hundred yen crochet cotton (Kin says the balcony looks like a spider web now!) and that seems to be helping them hang on a bit better.

IMG_8656

And now, I’m preparing dinner and listening to Kin sigh while he sketches. I’m so proud of him at the moment, I could explode!

Kin has just completed the Betty Edwards drawing program for the second time, and the results have been phenomenal. You can see his previous “Before” and “After” self portraits here (seriously, go look at them, I want you to see how awesome this is).

Now have a look at this:

img351

That was his latest “After” portrait. Isn’t he amazing?

It’s lovely when we can combine peacefulness and productivity this way. We’re looking forward to exciting times over the next few days of Golden Week, but we’re both very glad we had a little stretch to work and recuperate first.

However you’re spending your week, we hope you enjoy it! Don’t forget to take some downtime.

(For a calorie count of my caramel orgy, or a look at more of Kin’s photos, please check out our Facebook page!)

Best wishes,

Gem

XX

April was…

Sweets

April sweets.

Stewart

And an April Fool (we won’t see Shallow again until August).

swallow

Very important preparations being made.

img349

By Kin as well! He’ll be studying again in August and is making sure that he’s ready.

 

Hikiyama matsuri

Onna gata kid

Hikiyama Matsuri (one of Nagahama’s most famous festivals).


gateway view

ducks

Time to resume our Lake Biwa adventures!

 

April was short days, long bike rides and genuine joy at being outdoors. It was time for both of us to shake off our winter blues and get back to work on our drawing, studying and just straight making; food, ceramics and music.

We’re looking forward to a period of rest and focus in May, before we really start to get ready for Australia!

Kin and Gem

XX

 

RIP, My Lovely Scarf

By Gem

IMG_3162

I didn’t write a post yesterday, because I had a HORRIBLE afternoon. I’m tired and lurgy, so I was in no mood to go to my Tea Ceremony lesson, but I decided to be stern with myself (it’s a few hours out of my afternoon, it’s not that demanding an activity, the serene atmosphere would make me feel better, etc). So, when work ended, I wrapped myself in my scarf and coat, trudged to the station and plonked onto the Kinomoto train, where I sat in an unhappy daze with my scarf beside me… until I stood up and left it on the train!

And it was THAT scarf! My soft blue, lamb’s wool scarf that Kin chose the yarn for. My second-ever knitting project! I only finished it a few weeks ago, on the way back from Tokyo and it’s already gone.

I actually DID remember my scarf before the train got away, so I raced back along the platform with a JR employee and scoured the carriages for it, but some rotten sod had whipped it in the time it took us to get back there! I hoped so much that they’d simply picked it up to hand in to lost property, but it was not to be.

Tea Ceremony was a sad experience that day. Not only had it cost me my lovely scarf, lugging my bag around had given me a headache and I was far too wooly-headed and unhappy to actually learn anything. By seven, I decided that the day was a write-off, so I bid my sensei farewell and left early to catch the seven thirty train.

IMG_3904

…and missed it. So I had an hour to sit scarfless in the cold, reflecting on how much nicer everything would be right then if I’d been less strong willed and had just gone home when I wanted to. Now I wasn’t going to be home until nine AND I still had to make dinner and wash my hair. As far as first-world problems go, I was suffering badly last night.

Kin, thankfully, knows how to put me back together, so I didn’t have time to take off my coat before he bundled me off for steak and cheap wine at the imitation Italian joint down the road (bless him). A decanter of dodgy white is generally all it takes to improve my outlook (not to mention my headache) so I felt much better about the world before very long at all.

So what was the take-away from my unhappy evening (since “wine makes everything better!” is probably not a good moral)?

While I was still shivering in the dark, I thought that the moral to this story was that if you really, really don’t want to do something, you’re a lot better off not doing it. Revived by steak and sauvignon blanc, I still broadly agreed with that point of view, but could remember what that tired, chilly Gem could not; that the whole reason I’d dragged myself out was because I’ve been not-doing far too much lately! So maybe the lesson is really that it’s important to determine and maintain acceptable levels of activity, so that you don’t have to force yourself to do things when it genuinely is a bad time for you.

I actually like the second moral, even if it’s not very catchy, but I thought of an even better one today. I was really very, very sad about my scarf; I treasure my clothes and homewares, because I don’t have a lot of money to spend on that sort of thing. When that’s the case, and something happens to one of your possessions, it’s something of a tragedy. This time is different. I loved my scarf; it was lovely, soft and expensive, but…

I can make another one.

IMG_9565

A good scarf is bloody hard to find. Actual wool scarves cost a fortune and even finding a decently pretty acrylic is a matter of waiting until a shop finally has what you want and snapping it up the second it goes on sale (if it does). And if you lose it or stain it, it’s gone. You can’t have that scarf again. You have to resume waiting for the next pretty thing to turn up and hope that you have the money for it.

But my scarf wasn’t irreplaceable. Hours went into making it, but I was learning the entire time and now I know I can make it again; much, MUCH faster. I no longer have to wait for someone to design and produce a scarf for me at a price I can afford. It might not seem like much, but it shows how important it can be to an individual to develop a bit of independence in the production process.

(I’m trying to avoid the “teach a man to fish” parable here, but it just keeps seeming more appropriate with every word.)

This has made me more determined than ever to beg Beans for sewing lessons, stock up on crochet hooks and practice my knitting. Back when everyone could make things, I suppose store-bought items were a luxurious option. Now, though, we’re uncomfortably reliant on them; and the quality is dropping. Otherwise, why can no woman in the world find a blouse that is the right size for her knockers AND her waist? Not to mention opaque enough not to show her bra?

I don’t think we should all stop buying things; humans have always produced and traded goods, even when we were just doing it within our own villages. Our village is a lot larger now, but I love our interconnected world and I have no wish at all to shut myself away from it. I just think that it’s important for individuals (and communities) to keep their options open. In this case, if we had a little more independence when it came to making our own basic clothing, the products on the market would probably reflect the change.

IMG_4577

Now think: If a certain amount of independence is important for luxuries like pretty clothing, how much more important must it be for things like housing and food? And how capable are you of separating yourself from the marketplace for both?

I’m not, very. When we’re in Australia, I produce a lot of the vegetables we eat, but when it comes to grains, meat and fruit, we’re totally reliant on outside providers. And I’m a fairly accomplished cook, so foodwise, we’re more independent than most.

I don’t actually mind buying most of my food; I’m pretty sure the dude who made the best flint tools traded for a lot of his as well. But I’m very glad that I don’t need to depend on anyone else to turn those raw materials into meals for me. And it worries me how much other people my age DO seem to need it.

But when it comes to housing, I am hopeless. Both of my parents are competent with their hands, but I’m utterly useless. Carpentry is something I’ve desperately wanted to learn for years, just not desperately enough to do more about than search for local courses a few times a year and give up when I don’t find any. I should have bought a book, gone to open days at Bunnings or hired a carpenter to teach me some of the basics. When I get home, I will do those things, or whatever else needs to be done, and when I hire a specialist, it will be for a specialist job.

I plan on being a lot more independent in future. I will still work within my profession and  make money. And with that money, I will still participate in the world’s trading. But I’ll have the ability to be a lot more particular about what I’m buying.

IMG_1689

THAT is what my carelessness on the train has taught me. I feel stronger when I think of what I’ve already learned and I feel very, very good about the new things that I will learn and the new independence that will grow from it.

(….but… Oh! My lovely scarf!)

Are you growing, making or otherwise trying to keep a bit of distance between yourself and the markets of the world? How are you working on it?

 

Gem

XX