mutteringhousewife

What does the last of the housewives do?

The Big Island

I’m not on it (the Big Island) any more, and I’m pretty glad about that. Apparently last night there was another 5.5 earthquake right under the village I was staying in, and I didn’t enjoy the one I had in the daytime, night time would have been worse.

But I feel as though I’d left out some details in my haste to get into area where nothing could fall on me. My main impression of the Big Island, apart from the Goddess Pele having a moment, is that it doesn’t really seem to be set up for tourists.

Now this is curious, the native villagers of Volcano, the closest village to the National Park, were bemoaning the lack of tourists in the area. Like they would normally have a lot. And yet, even with the tiny handful that they had, they weren’t sure what to do with them. The village is in a rainforest, and yet not only did my accommodation have no umbrellas to lend the passing guest, the local shop didn’t sell them either. I know this because when I finally located my accommodation, I couldn’t face getting back in the car again and driving on the right even more, so I decided to walk the kilometre or so to the local shops. Shortly after I started walking I noticed two things. One, it had started to rain. Two, there were no footpaths. Three, actually, the grass at the side of the road was very swampy and one could sink up to one’s ankles in it if one stepped off the road to let a truck go past.

Nor did the local shop, when I finally sloshed in, have umbrellas, rain ponchos, any rain attire at all, anything that resembled food, a working ATM, or any suggestions for something for visitors to do (the visitors centre was open, but unoccupied but for a note suggesting that the local shop might have some suggestions). It wasn’t for lack of will either. The tiny woman at the counter with giant eyes was very keen to suggest something, she was sure that some part of the park was open, she had heard it on the news, her husband knew what it was called and where it was, it had some hiking, there were park rangers, what could it be called? I was in sympathy with her, I’ve had a lot of trouble remembering Hawaiian names. It’s as if they’d been given a Scrabble rack of consonants and told they were the only ones they could use, but go nuts with the vowels. It turned out to be Kahuku, an hour down the road, and it did have some lovely walks, but nothing specifically volcanic.

That’s another thing, you have to have a car. There are no shuttles, buses, or any public transport to speak of, though I did see an entirely inexplicable train carriage in someone’s front yard on one of my many drives. There seems to be a lot of poverty on the island, most houses looked like something you’d see built by someone’s grandpa in far west NSW, and occasionally you’d see a plot of land with just a couple of tents and a caravan on it. I did go to Pahoa, where the roadblocks preventing stickybeakers getting drowned in the lava are, but I didn’t stay long because it was full of dirty hippies.

 

 

There were quite a lot of groups of them, and they were clearly local, as evidenced by the vegan icecream shop, the crystal shop, and the massive natural foods shop, where I bought some locally produced lip balm with bee venom in it. It works really well, giving ones lips an alarming tingling sensation, but I do wonder how you’d react if you were allergic. The Guide to Hawaii describes the town as “historic”, with quaint wooden shops, but to me it looked like a dump. I’d show you photos if I had better wifi. There was a wheelchair outside one shop with a case of bananas in it. Some of the hippies were sitting in the gutter smoking ganja. Then one of them got out a ukulele and started playing Star Man. David Bowie on the ukulele. One cannot put up with that kind of thing, so I didn’t stick around for the night time glow in the sky, but hightailed it out of there.

None of the tourist guides mentioned the Keck Observatory, which I drove past on my way to the airport. On my way, haha. There really is only one way, Highway 11 that goes around the island. I’d come in via the southern half, I left via the northern half for completeness. And there, in Waimea, right next to McDonalds was the visitors centre for one of the largest optical telescopes in the world. Naturally I spent a lovely half hour in there learning all about all of the engineering behind it, which countries used it on what kinds of projects, but I won’t bore you with it, pop in if you have a chance, it’s fascinating.

Having circumnavigated the island now, I can kind of understand why it is so underdeveloped. The entire island has lava scars over it. You really wouldn’t want to invest a whole lot of money in something that could be buried by molten rock in a couple of decades. I just made myself research the Keck Observatory, because that is obviously a massive investment, but the huge peak that is on is dormant, and lava from the active bit can’t flow uphill.

All I have left to say about the Big Island of Hawai’i is that I’ll have to go there again when Pele is feeling better. And that it is infested with mongooses.

 

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Volcano

I’m attending a conference in Waikiki, like a real adult with a job and one and a half research papers to present. I think I’m chairing a session too, don’t know how that happened, will have to clear that up when I get there. Because the dear children are much bigger now and only really need me to taxi them about (the Horror even cooks dinner every night, except for the nights when he just hovers about making snide comments about my cooking), I thought I’d take some extra days and take a dekko at the Volcano.

It turns out that possibly the worst time to visit is when the Volcano is doing its thing. As it currently is. Having said that, I am still having a volcano experience, just not the one I had planned.

I’m staying in a rickety shack with shared bathrooms called Volcano Hale, in Volcano Village, just up the road from Volcano National Park. The Volcano National Park is closed, there’s a fetching photo of a staff member at the museum near the entrance on their website. He’s wearing a gas mask because of the billowing toxic gases rising with the steam behind him. The highway running past the entrance has flashing signs up “Do Not Stop” every couple of hundred metres for twelve miles. There’s a hastily patched up earthquake damaged part of the road just before the village. There was a harried looking park ranger at the village markets this morning, but she wasn’t interested in moaning tourists. She was handing out ash masks and advising which roads would be closed next, and which village was about to be evacuated. There’s too much lava for the locals and it’s all a bit too serious to have to think about catering for out of towners with their eyes out on stalks.

Having said that, I have driven on the earthquake damaged highway, which is covered in volcanic ash. The haze in the air is vog, not fog. And there was a strong smell of sulphur, even with the windows up.IMG_3805

This morning I was woken at about 4am by an earthquake. Not a strong one, it just felt as though someone had kicked the bed very hard, and everything rattled briefly. There have been tiny wobbles all day. I have driven down the road at night to South Kapua Road and seen the lava fountain on the horizon. I did book a “boat experience” (apparently it’s way too rough to be called a cruise) to the lava, but that has been called off due to inclement weather. So you see what I mean.

The Big Island feels a lot like a small Queensland town, only populated by tiny Maori or Tongans, and on a volcano. I had a good look at a lava flow from the 1950s. It still looks like something out of Mordor.

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So I can only imagine what state Leilani Estates will be in when this eruption settles down. They’re not going back home.

I haven’t been idly fretting though. I went to the southernmost point of the USA. Apparently what you do when you get there, is you jump off. Despite all of the signs warning of your instant death if you do so.

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I feel that it is a very American thing to do. Like all of the chaps I’ve seen hooning about on motorbikes without helmets (though I did see one chap on a bicycle with a helmet). The man won’t tell us what to do!

There is also a black beach (a local corrected me, it’s a blackĀ sand beach). I’ve got dodgy internet at the moment, so you’ll just have to Google it. It’s just like a regular beach, except that the sand and rocks are black, and there’s a lifeguard shouting at people to keep away from the turtles.

I might wrap this one up now and move outside, that last tremor went on a bit too long and I’ve had bushfire emergency what to do training (panic and run away), and I’m wondering if earthquake training is similar. Ah, so that’s what a 5.8 magnitude earthquake feels like.

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I am going to have a last ditch effort to look for lava by driving to Pahua tonight for dinner. Apparently there’s quite a good view from there of the orange glow of people’s hopes and dreams being turned to stone. At least nobody is being decapitated by a flying boulder, it’s just not that kind of volcano.

 

Consider the Quince

This time of the year brings forth strange fruit, by which I mean stuff that you can buy at the greengrocer, but can’t immediately eat without putting a bit of elbow grease into it. I often wonder what proportion of it ends up in tastefully arranged fruit bowls in the kitchens of people who live on Instagram? I’m talking about rhubarb. I’m talking about cumquats (if you’re lucky, that might end up in a post next week). But today I’m talking about the noble quince.


It’s a big, knobbly, slightly furry fruit related to apples and pears. Completely inedible in its raw form. Apparently a lot of people make it into quince paste, which they then consume with slabs of Gorgonzola and lavosh and red wine with no regard at all for their waistlines, and why not. But that’s not what I do with it.

I like to poach it and bottle it. It’s very easy, like almost everything I make. It has the added bonus of making your house smell like you live in the Eastern Suburbs and have just put your house on the market so you can buy yourself a small island in the Caribbean and a helicopter. Here’s what you do.

Large saucepan. Four quinces, about a kilo. A cup and a half of white sugar (brown has too strong a taste). Four to five cups of water, plus the juice of a lemon. I also put in three or four small cinnamon sticks (you want it to be fragrant, but not overpowering), and a couple of expired vanilla beans from my homemade vanilla essence. Have I told you about that? Remind me to some time. Actually, it’s not even worth a blog post. Put six to eight vanilla pods in a cheap bottle of vodka and leave it for a year. There, you’re welcome.


You can roughly peel the quinces, or just scrub off the fuzz, I quite like a bit of peel in there. Chop them into whatever you consider to be bitesized. Put all ingredients into the saucepan and simmer for an improbably long amount of time. Hours. Until it’s time to pick up the kids from school. Most other fruit would fall apart, but not these babies. Go and check on it from time to time to be amazed at what’s happening to them. You don’t have to cover the saucepan for some reason either.


That’s after about an hour, hour and a half. They’re not done until they look like this:


They go that colour all by themselves, with nothing added. In that last half hour, I boil up to sterilise some random jars I have lying about, then ladle that good stuff in. I generally have a bit of syrup left over and I bottle that too, and that leads me to a story. My poor mother in law has never quite gotten over the fact that I don’t drink tea, her South African hospitality demands that she offers me a hot beverage upon entering her house, and me not wanting one has thrown her for twenty five years now. She saw me drinking something hot here at home and said “Aha! You do drink something! Please tell me what it is so I can get some and serve it to you”. I felt like quite the tosser telling it was homemade spiced quince syrup in hot water. But it is very good. Try it, it’s kind of reminiscent of mulled wine, probably because of the cinnamon, but leads to a lot less self loathing in the morning. I’d imagine that it would also be delicious with gin, but what wouldn’t be?

What do you do with it then? Whatever you would do with any preserved fruit. Bung it on your porridge. Arrange the jars tastefully on your windowsill next to the word Home, spelled in wooden cutout letters. Actually, if you do do that, you are no longer my friend and you should seriously consider your life choices. I just slap it in a dish and eat it as is for afternoon tea. It’s not as grainy as preserved pear, not as slick as peach, it has its own fragrance apart from the spices too. I love it, and should stock up before quince season is over and I have to go back to eating raw fruit again like some kind of peasant.

Bleeding Heart Lefty

Comrades. I have been confronted and am in sore need of counsel. I guess you’d describe me as a bleeding heart lefty. What that means to me is that I think you should be nice to everyone without requiring them to produce proof of their worth, and that it’s counter productive to spend your life imagining that someone is about to take your stuff. So far, it’s an attitude that has served me well, people generally enjoy being treated nicely first crack out of the box, and no one has tried to take my stuff. Until now.

Comrades, for various complex reasons, the Housing Commission has come to our leafy suburb. The house two doors up from us is occupied by a motley collection of young people with no car and no visible adult supervision. Shortly after they moved in, the local petty crime rate went through the roof. I think it was essentially zero in July, moving to 23 break and enters in August. I have personally witnessed one of the young people attempting to climb my back fence from the vacant land behind. He was most surprised to meet my frosty eye, but had had the foresight to kick a football into my yard as an alibi. He hadn’t been playing with the ball, and there wasn’t anyone else there with him. I later heard from other aggrieved neighbours similar stories, that kid must have had no ball skills. In some cases the ball had disappeared altogether. My next door neighbour has been broken into three times and has just spent a few thousand on an alarm system which she regularly sets off most afternoons as she enters the home. I’m sure she’ll get the hang of it eventually, it takes a bit of getting used to.

Here’s the thing though. We haven’t been broken into. I’m pretty sure they’ve been through our outside bathroom, the cupboards were all left open, but apparently they had no use for a decades old hairdryer, superannuated lipsticks, two dozen rolls of toilet paper or boot polish of any colour. And the crimes they’re committing are petty, they’re pinching stuff from cars that weren’t locked, mailboxes, getting through open windows. None of it is Mission Impossible stuff. Because my husband is the opposite of me and has always had a deep suspicion of his fellow man, we have an alarm, bars on the windows, everything is always locked, so we’re really not targets.

As my husband says, speaking from experience, it’s not as if we’re living with the daily expectation of being shot at. Or, as another neighbour darkly muttered, at least we haven’t just discovered that our nanny whom we’ve trusted with our children for years is actually an ice dealer in the process of nicking our identities. They’re not graffiting the place, or having loud parties. I do wonder how they can afford to smoke quite so much though.

So I’d quite like to follow my life long policy of being nice to them. Yes, there was a police chase through my backyard a few weeks ago, but I wasn’t home so it didn’t really affect me. These people are my neighbours. I am trying to meet their eye as I walk past their house and say hello, but I’m rarely successful. For one thing, there always seems to be different people living there. For another, they’ll often melt back into the house when pedestrians approach. I can kind of understand. For their part, they are behaving as they always have done, only presumably in areas less salubrious than our suburb where that kind of thing is more of a given. So the friendly approach is probably destined to be met with suspicion. Am I gathering evidence for the narks?

My question is, comrades, how do I treat them? I feel like taking them biscuits or giving them the Horror’s cast off clothing would be seen as patronising (though my broken into neighbour always seems to be pleased to get them). I’m going to persist with the greetings. Is there anything else I can do?

It does pull on my heartstrings that a couple of the young people seem to be the same age as my beautiful, cared for, hard working Moose. He gets driven to his expensive school with home made biscuits in his lunchbox, his teachers watch him carefully, give him advice and inspiration, he’s leapt on all of the opportunities the school has given him and has met the most wonderful people through them. When his friends come over they sit around playing the Wii and cranking rock music and cracking me up with their teenage conversation. The kids two doors up don’t seem to have a parent with them, they certainly don’t go to school, when they’re not knocking off people’s mail, they sit out the front in the sun with their hoodies up, smoking and not really saying anything to each other. What has happened to them? What help are they getting? What can we, as a community, do for them that their families haven’t been able to? We just don’t know. We’re a rich suburb, surely we can afford these kids some support. Wouldn’t it be cheaper in the long run to have them learn some skills so they can get a job and some coping mechanisms generally, rather than periodically locking them up for the rest of their lives? But I wouldn’t even know where to start with persuading kids that lifting iPhones for money for smokes is a poor choice, and who am I to do that anyway? And how do they even sell them, Muffet forgot her passcode once and we pretty much had to supply internal X-rays of every member of the family to Apple get it unlocked again.

So, if you work for the Housing Commission, get in touch. I can tutor, I can make them food, I can teach them to knit, I can take out their bins when they forget. But if you could persuade them to stop pinching stuff, that would also be very much appreciated. I’m in a much better position to be a good neighbour than they are, but that might be where we draw the line. It’s not going to stop me trying to say hello to them though.

Should I go to Costco?

Well, of course I should, and I did, but the real question is, should I go again? And in the interests of not being click baity, the answer is also yes, and this post is about telling you why. And possibly saving you a trip. 

I’ve been meaning to go since it opened in Auburn in that strange pulsating section of Parramatta Road just west of the markets where a rash of furniture super centres simultaneously sprang up about twenty years ago. I was taking the Horror to Bunkers (a bed emporium that I highly recommend) to pick up his new bed. He’d finally had enough of sleeping on a mattress on the floor, it was too easy for his mother to wake him up by jumping up and down on him. He was very specific about what he wanted, an elevated double bed that he could make a cave under, and also paint Cadbury purple, his favourite colour. We were ultimately successful in this particular quest.


It’s a bit hard to tell, but the carpet and trims are the same shade of purple, as is the fleece blanket on the bed. The whole setup makes my teeth hurt, but he likes it. Anyway, five minutes before Bunkers looms that giant warehouse. I explained to the Horror what it was. He said we had to go.

I was expecting an obese Aldi, a shop I’ve entered about five times now, only to emerge fifteen minutes later bemused and empty handed. I don’t get Aldi at all. I really only buy cat food, butter and toilet paper from supermarkets these days, so Aldi doesn’t have a lot to offer me. Anyway, I was very very wrong.

Costco has a lot of things, not just super sized supermarket fare, to which I’ll get in a moment. Mattresses, diamond rings, giant televisions, business luggage, faux antique furniture, about an acre of horrible plastic clothes, safes, pressure washers, compost bins, business luggage, drones, clothes steamers, a toilet seat with LED lights, presumably to improve your aim in the dark. Some good brands too, like Vitamix and KitchenAid. It has things that you never knew you needed.


I’m pretty sure I need this trolley. I’m not sure why, but I can see it in my future. They also have things that I definitely do not need, also in great quantities.


I can see the appeal of the human skeleton, but where does one start with the spider? No one needs a spider of that size, and I feel a rant about the internal structure of invertebrates coming on, so I’ll just leave that thought with you and move on.

I’m really here for the consumables. Toilet paper, to be specific. I’m not sure what my children do with it, make hats or corsages or something, but we go through it by the pallet load. And they have it here by the pallet load, you can buy a pack of 48, big rolls too, not those “we hope you haven’t noticed us reducing the size but not the price” rolls that Kleenex have been putting out lately. I could possibly get them for a similar price if I waited for the specials to come around at the local, but one has to concentrate. I also need much cat food. I’m currently in possession of two felines. Stormaggedon has been with us for nearly two years now, but we’ve also recently acquired Miffy from my sister whose strata committee rather turn up their noses at companion animals. Unfortunately the two do NOT get on, and spending the day trying to kill each other seems to give them a rare appetite. It’s marvellous to be able to buy a box of 36 sachets which at current rate of consumption lasts me about a week. Also a jumbo box of that nice cat litter that doesn’t stink out your upstairs bathroom, Miffy has decided that she’s never leaving the house again after encountering the local gangster cat.

I picked up a litre of beautiful dark maple syrup, a couple of kilo packs of Callebaut chocolate chips for the Moose’s favourite choc chip biscuits (I’m pretty sure I’ve given you the recipe at some point), the purple fleece blanket pictured above (I ended up going back and getting a green one for myself, it was very thick and fluffy and $20), a giant box of muesli bars (the kids say my home made ones are too crumbly, the fussy buggers), a tray of San Pellegrino Arianciata Rosso for a treat, five kilos of flour, a lifetime’s supply of toothbrushes, toothpaste and Metamucil. The giant pack of chicken salt was probably ill advised, and I’m still not sure whether a kilo of Jelly Bellies for twenty five bucks was great or terrible. Depends how many chocolate ones I get in a row, chocolate jelly beans should not be a thing. Speaking of things that should not be a thing,


They did have quite a few items that would encourage you to make bad choices, like the huge packs of chicken salt already mentioned, but also American sized packets of chips,


Yes, I’m judging. Though I really didn’t know what to make of some people’s choices,


Boxes and boxes of pink salt. Nothing else. Pink salt.

The fresh food was pretty good, they have CluckAR approved free range eggs, I got a kilo of lamb cutlets for $35 and we had them for dinner that night. They were great, not too much fat either. A kilo of haloumi is never going astray at our house. The fruit was a bit patchy, but the kilo packs of salad leaves look good. I probably wouldn’t regularly buy fresh food here unless I’m having a barbecue, everything is in catering sized packs. Even though I have three hungry teenagers, they’re very rarely all present for a meal at the same time. Also, my freezer isn’t very large and already has a lot of home made stock cluttering it up.

The prices range from could have got it for that on special at the local to are you sure that’s not a misprint. For me it was worth the sixty bucks annual fee. I do need to lie down for a bit once I get home, the lights are very bright and I’m sure I haven’t noticed half the stock that they have due to the sensory overload. But I’ve essentially stopped shopping at the local supermarkets, I’m only shopping for fresh food now (not at supermarkets, obviously, I’m not a sociopath. Hmm. Was that a bit strong?). I can see myself going back probably every three weeks or so, so if you want to check it out before joining, let me know and I can give you a very patchy and incomplete tour and talk you into buying something inappropriate. 

Oh, I’ll Go there.

Aren’t we all very judgey. And it’s all come to a head with Pokemon Go. You’ve all got an opinion on it, because everyone has an opinion on everything these days right off the bat, don’t bother thinking about the complexities of the issue or finding out anything further – I don’t like it, I’m afraid of it, I love it and you all suck for not loving it too. What’s wrong with you?

I have a theory. You’re hating things for one of two reasons. The first, you’re secretly worried you’ll like it. I realised that this was me on the Thermomix before I got one, I was trying to talk myself out of it by loudly snarking about it. I’m sure this applies to all of the Thermomix haters out there, and the joy that they’ve displayed when a few nongs have used theirs incorrectly and burnt themselves. “There!”, they say. “I was right to loudly deride people who bought them. They thought they’d be an amazingly useful thing to have in the kitchen, when it turns out that they’re really a spinning death machine. I was right all along not to really really want one. Idiots!”.  And when you think about it, this reason might also apply to some of the louder opponents of gay marriage. Just a theory. The second is that you’re afraid that this is it, this is the final thing that has signalled that the End of Days is upon us. This one applies to moral panic, and has been in evidence when Wimmin Got the Vote, TV will Ruin your Eyesight, Mobile Phones will give you Brain Cancer, Video Games will turn our Teens into Mass Murderers and Drug Addicts, and now it’s Pokemon Go. Moral panic is generally wielded by people who are vaguely uneasy about their lives and can’t be bothered sitting down and actually nutting out what is truly bothering them, so look for an external factor to blame. It’s easier if it’s new, though there’s some tried and true ones too: Young People These Days, Furriners, the Lizard People in Govmint. I can’t understand why people aren’t morally panicking about real issues like Rupert Murdoch.

Anyway, what people choose do do with their leisure time seems to attract an opinion from everyone, and I’ve noticed this because I have a lot of hobbies. And some seem to be socially smiled upon (knitting, baking, singing classical music) and some absolutely not (eating my body weight in sweets, Pokemon Go). Why is this? I’ve learned not to mention to people that I don’t watch TV, because that seems to be a really values laden thing to say. “Oh, I hardly watch it either, just the ABC, you know, and Downton Abbey, I don’t let the kids watch it”. I don’t care. I don’t watch it because I have a short attention span and I’m just generally not interested. Your kids don’t want to watch it because they have iView and YouTube. Why do you feel guilty about watching TV? Is it because when you were growing up it was the big moral panic of the day?

It’s been fascinating watching the moral panic about Pokemon Go. Paedophiles will use it to lure in children. They’ll end up having to turn away hordes of late teenagers too, and hasn’t anyone ever said this about playgrounds? Schools? People will crash into things. Yes, the occasional boofhead has, but your phone vibrates when there’s a Pokemon nearby, so you don’t have to watch it, and then you need to stop to catch it. Then you can tell everyone in the vicinity that there’s a Jigglypuff outside Old Man Jenkins’ house and watch the hordes descend. Jigglypuff is cute. You don’t compete for monsters, once you’ve found one, everyone can have a go at catching them in that spot too, which means that complete strangers are talking to each other. You can only play this game by walking around, as a result of this my kids have discovered that many of the local playgrounds have been upgraded since they were little and have had a ball trying out the new equipment.


The game will actually tell you how far you’ve walked. Thirty eight kilometres this week. How can that be a bad thing? Yes, it drains my phone battery, especially since my kids don’t have data on their phone so have to hotspot onto mine, it will last for about two hours. The data isn’t too bad, a two hour session with the three of us seems to be about 200 Meg. The Moose isn’t playing, because of his moral superiority he has a fifty dollar Nokia and is too proud to take out his iPad with us. Speaking of judgey.

So if you don’t want to play a game on your phone that makes you walk and talk to people in your community, then fine, don’t. But don’t look down your nose at people who do. And when you start looking down your nose at people for other things, food choices, parenting style, hobbies, take a good hard look at yourself. Is it really the hoof beats of the four horsemen of the apocalypse? Or are you just a tiny bit jealous?

Ah, Spotlight

I do quite like being employed. I like my students, I have a lot of control over what I teach and how it’s delivered, I rarely have to speak to any actual adults. But this semester was a little bit full on. 169 students, eight tutorials and two lectures a week, all for me. All because my boss has presumably watched too many Disney movies and is now following his dream instead of answering the phone in his office to deal with the slew of dying grandmothers that comes around every time an assignment is due. 169 students meant 169 assignments to mark, and after that was finished I had to lie down for a week, plus do thirty five loads of washing.

But now that I’ve recovered I have to scratch that craft itch and scratch it good. Have you heard of amigurumi? It’s little crocheted animals, most of which are ghastly, but I found a Star Wars book of it!


And, more recently, in the Morris and Sons sale, a book of non ghastly animals to make upon which I cannot wait to get started. But first I have to finish my Star Wars ones,


Chewie obviously needs another arm, and Yoda (or Yoda’s brother, the Horror insists, he tells me that is most certainly not Yoda) has to have some sleeves attached to his cardigan. I also done a business sock.


So, obviously, there’s more work to be done there unless my husband loses a leg today at the Army. He probably won’t.

And, noting my frantic activity, the Moose put in an order for four monk’s costumes for him and mates to wear to Supanova, a weekend for nerds that is looking increasingly complex as it also happens to be a weekend with five soccer games, Rockfest and an Eisteddfod and all three kids plus self want to go. I’m not sure that praying for rain is an actual plan. But anyway, I needed twelve metres of some kind of heavy material to robe up the boyz.

My nearest Spotlight is at Birkenhead Point. I don’t know if you’ve been there lately. If you haven’t, don’t. Really. Unless you want to give yourself a migraine, or conniptions. Imagine that the Zombie Apocalypse decided that it wanted to make itself some nice curtains and a matching pouffe, and you’ve got Spotlight Birkenhead Point. I actually saw two shop assistants pull all of the ribbon onto the floor, put two back, and then go on a break. They didn’t come back for the entire hour that I was there, floundering through the oceans of sateen and fleece and stretch sequinned dance fabric, bumbling past the undead as they muttered things like “I’m sure this isn’t 8 ply” and “would it kill them even more to put a price on this?”. I went out empty handed, never to return.

But those monks’ robes weren’t going to make themselves, so I decided it was worth my while to trek out to the Spotlight at Rockdale. Oh the joy of being able to see the floor. And the bolts of fabric all on shelves! All pointing the same way! They even seem to be sorted into fabric types. I found my target very easily, I think it’s a double knit jersey. Ah. $16.99 a metre. I do love my Moose, and I think his friends are delightful, but are they that delightful? I don’t even want to do the multiplication. But what’s this? Another bolt of the same fabric in the same colour in the managers special shelf! Marked down to six dollars a metre!!! I’m not sure that there’s twelve metres there, but I haul it up to the cutting desk, accidentally picking up sundry balls of acrylic and some more double pointed needles just in case I’m a lot quicker at making that owl in the book plus the four pairs of socks that I’ve promised people than I thought I’d be.

I’m third in line at the cutting desk. The older lady behind the desk does seem to be taking her time. She also seems to be a little slapdash, each metre that she cuts looks like it has a generous border to it. She is being very nice to the young lady buying the fabric, chatting to her little girl who is very close to losing it. As am I, I should have timed her. Twenty minutes, I’m pretty sure, is how long it took, with price checking, discussion of how lovely the fabric was, in how many pieces did she want it, how old the little girl was. By the time she was finished the line behind me had about seven silently fuming women in it. The man in front of me just wanted two metres of zipper (I didn’t know you could buy it buy the metre! There seemed to be a little zipper head about every fifty centimetres).

“Do you have a Spotlight card?”, she asked. Do I look like the kind of person who’d have a Spotlight card? Of course I do, and I already had it out. And my cloth bag. “Oh, aren’t you lovely,” she said. One does one’s best. “I don’t think there’s twelve metres here, but there’s another bolt…”, “would you mind grabbing it?”, “Not at all,” I said as I sped off and sped back again. “You are a love,”she said. “Long morning?” I asked, giving her something to chat about as she painstakingly measure out my metreage. “Oh!”, she began. I knew it. “I’m just here to do the balloons, and Irene’s just disappeared, and I don’t know where Sylvia has gone, she’s supposed to do the cutting, so they can’t blame me if I don’t get the measurements right, I’m just the balloon lady! I’ve got an order that I need to do, IRENE TO THE SERVICE COUNTER, and I’ll show them what happens when you get the balloon lady to do Irene’s job. This was on sale? Well, end of year special, everything is half price,” as she jabbed at the cash register causing me to regret I hadn’t also picked up several yards of velvet and an overlocker. “They only have themselves to blame, I’m just helping out, IRENE TO THE SERVICE COUNTER, what do they expect? I’m sorry if I’ve been a bit haphazard”. “Not at all, it’s been a real treat” I assured her.

So I can’t tell you what I got this for, not in writing anyway, because I don’t want to get her fired.


But what I’ve learned today is that if your business requires someone to cut material and charge for it appropriately, don’t ask a one eyed balloon lady to do it. I think there’s a lesson in that for all of us.

Kyoto – Manners and Food

 Japan is a bit of an overwhelming experience in many ways, and many of those ways are hard to pin down. So rather than just give the tourist wrap, I might try picking on a few things that are startlingly different from home sweet home. And the first of these is manners.

There is no graffiti in Kyoto. I haven’t seen any graffiti anywhere, even out of the window of the Shinkansen, the bullet train, in the seedier districts, even in public toilets. Not even a tiny marker pen mark on a hidden stone somewhere. There’s no litter either, even cigarette butts are hardly in evidence. What do the youf here do to rebel?

Everybody rides bikes in Kyoto, it really is a very bike friendly city, and the bike riding illustrates many of the things I’ve noticed. First, you park your bike outside your house. You don’t bother locking it, because people don’t pinch stuff, like graffiti it’s rude. I’ve seen people park their electric car neatly outside a 7-11 equivalent and leave the motor running and the keys in the ignition while they pick up some of the many mystifying products within. When riding a bike along a crowded footpath you do so considerately, weaving among the pedestrians and never once clicking your teeth or rolling your eyes when an elderly man sidesteps in front of you. You patiently wait for him to get back on track, then quietly pass him. When negotiating the excellent bus system, we managed to purchase day passes for a family of five with handfuls of change from a non English speaking bus driver on multiple occasions as people waited to exit behind us (that was the system) and there was never a sigh or a cross look from the driver or the waiting passengers. They don’t even mind when you pay with the equivalent of a hundred dollar bill for a packet of grape sweets.

They seem to employ a lot of public officials. There are the ones who are armed with light sabres whose job it is to enforce the traffic lights at busy intersections, as if anyone would be rude enough to disobey them. There are ones at train stations whose sole occupation appears to be to fill in a fancy uniform and say “arigatou gozaimusu” to as many people as possible. This is far and away the most common phrase in the Japanese language. It’s Thank You Very Much and is used in almost every sentence, along with Kudasai, which is Please. I did hear a mother reprimand her loud child with a sharp “Kudasai!”, so that’s gone into the lexicon and I have had occasion to use it on the Horror a few times, to polite crowd approval. There are signs everywhere exhorting good behaviour, like this one in one of the plentiful public toilets.

  
Google Translate tells me that all that text just says Don’t Graffiti, but fairly ornately and politely. 

Even the monkeys are polite. They stick to their mountain, they eat the approved food at the approved place, they certainly don’t solicit or harass the tourists, nor do they move down the mountain to go through rubbish bins.

  
How do you get a society to behave so nicely? Is it Zen Buddhism? Are delinquents quietly removed and shot? I can’t work it out.

On the other hand, manners don’t seem to extend to welcoming the foreign tourist to any great extent. I’m not a cultural imperialist, and I certainly don’t expect most people to have any English, but surely it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the main tourist booth at Kyoto Station to have the odd bit of English? Or the various information desks at the major tourist spots? It certainly helps that they use Arabic numerals, and most of the written train and bus information is also provided (properly) in English. All restaurant menus are either helpfully pictorial or have startlingly lifelike plastic replicas to choose from. But they just don’t seem to be interested in the speaking English themselves. I think most of their non public transport English translation is provided by an old version of Google Translate.  

 
I feel like going around with a marker pen and correcting it all, but who’s got the time. Anyway, give Google Translate, my new favourite app, another couple of years and it won’t be a problem any more.

So food. I’m rather enjoying going into shops and just wondering what the hell some of this stuff is. Our guide book says that the authors have lived in Japan for decades, yet when they pop into the Nishiki markets,

  
,they’re hard pressed to determine whether some things are food or a Christmas decoration. Some things are obvious, though.
   

 
They don’t mind a bit of seafood on a stick.

  
But the main issue for us Westerners is that it’s just not obvious what most of the food will taste like, because the Japanese seem to like all the flavours and don’t much care in what order they are. We bought what we thought were rice crackers in the rice cracker section of the supermarket and they turned out to be coated in brown sugar. We’d enjoyed some white buns filled with red bean paste at the markets, so Thermomix sister bought an assortment of these to have at home. Some of them turned out to be filled with meat, delicious once one got over the surprise. And some turned out to be not filled with anything at all, and also not cooked. They were possibly called motchi, were a New Year’s delicacy, were designed to be grilled, and nineteen people had choked to death on them this very New Year’s Eve. Not my favourite.

We popped into a local bar, called Snobby’s, not twenty metres from the house we were staying at in Kyoto to try some of the local sake. It was delicious, far better than the rubbish you get at Japanese restaurants at home, smooth and not too alcoholic. We were served with it, by the extremely hospitable non English speaking barkeep, an array of snacks. Rice crackers, good. Macadamia nuts in the shell, OK, plausible. Thermomix sister was offered what turned out to be some form of extremely chewy nougat, not so great with sake, though the sake did help in eventually dissolving it off her teeth. And I was offered a small roll of very effervescent sweets which were slightly reminiscent of trough lolly. Then there was a plate of tiny fish and another of what could have been pickled seaweed which was rather good. Not like the plate of God knows what we were served with a beer at our most recent train station whose name escapes me.

  
I was given the impression that it was a local delicacy, large packets of it were being sold at the counter. I did taste it. “What do you do with it?”, asked the husband on his return from his bus transfer recce. “Bury it in an unmarked grave”, was my advice. Took the rest of the beer and a roll of grape Mentos to get rid of the flavour.

My favourite new flavours are red bean – adzuki, and matcha, or green tea. I must find sources for these at home. I know you can get matcha Kit Kats at the Asian market at Birkenhead Point. Gourmet Kit Kats appear to be a thing here.

 
You could get a packet of mixed fruit Kit Kats in the deli at Daimaru for about twenty five bucks a pop. I’m sticking to the matcha. Just today I discovered matcha au lait. It looks like poison, bright green and frothy, I’ll have to get you a photo of it, and I’m going to have to have one every day.

The Horror has been a bit disappointed to find that the Japanese don’t actually live on cucumber sushi, but he has managed to get a reasonable amount of it into him, principally from train stations and airports where the food is astonishingly good. The snack food available here puts Western countries to shame, and explains why we’ve only actually seen one morbidly obese Japanese person here. Onigiri, a rice triangle wrapped in seaweed with a tiny splodge of flavour in the middle, is my favourite food on the move, and generally costs about $1.50. A bowl of noodles in broth is standard lunch. The chicken nuggets are amazing, even the ones in packets in the frozen section of the supermarket. Everything is in tiny servings in separate plates of bowls and beautifully presented. 

I’m still enjoying being bewildered by almost everything I see in a shop. Muffet went into a chemist to find some nail polish remover, and even though she can read some kanji, she retired defeated. Almost all of the packets and bottles were illustrated by a line drawing of a person with some part of them exploding. It wasn’t clear if the contents were to relieve the explosions in an internal or external fashion, and was an exploding neck indicative of muscle strain or tonsillitis? I’m sure it’s not polite to spend time in shops continually pointing and laughing, but I’m not from around here.

I shall leave you with three last foods to ponder. Noodles on a bun.

  
Sliced pig snout.

  
And a bottle of tiny fish.

  
I’ll tell you all about Kyoto next time, once I’ve gathered my thoughts.

Furano Wrap Up

We’ve had the full Japanese family skiing holiday experience. And it was different from the Australian experience in a number of key areas.

First, the resort. There was no drying area – you just brush the snow from your equipment and clothing as you come in and bung it in your ski locker – one per room. There was no roaring log fire, that was sad. There was really no common area, there were a couple of chairs and a dilapidated lounge near reception where the wifi was, and the kids spent a bit of time there. It wasn’t really clear where the normal families were hanging out.

  
There was a gift shop which was a constant source of amazement to me. I couldn’t get enough of it. Every time I went in there there was stuff that I hadn’t noticed before and couldn’t quite believe. There was a bit of a hint as to what some families were doing for lunch, a small selection of freeze dried just add boiling water to the bowl meals. There were the local Hokkaido specialties of lavender, rockmelon and potatoes in many forms. Lavender soap (which is currently perfuming my bag).But also lavender chocolate. Dried rockmelon, also rockmelon chocolate, rockmelon caramel, little charms on strings in the shape of a rockmelon with an inexplicable bear’s head sticking out of it. Huge gift boxes of potato chips, some of which were chocolate coated.

  
I accidentally bought some beef flavoured caramel.

They made a bit of an attempt to speak English, but everything was so well organised and clear that it really wasn’t necessary. And sometimes the attempts weren’t terribly helpful.

  

  
And, of course, the snow. It was dry and there was a lot of it. So very very much of it.

 
That was just one part of the first lift. The runs were so long you’d be thinking “are we there yet?”. The snow was so powdery that you’d see parents digging their kids out of the snow at the side of the run, only the tops of their helmets visible. I had a fall as I went around a chunk of mountain and found myself unexpectedly upside down, helmet in the snow.
We stopped every day for morning tea and thawing out at a little unmanned hut which would be undoubtedly vandalised out of existence in Australia.

  
It was warm, had toilets and the ubiquitous drink vending machines. Lunch was at the gondola station, we abandoned New Furano on the other side of the mountain as being a bit too adventurous and it was also only accessed by a lift that the Moose dubbed the Rigor Mortis. I’m sure that the shovel by the side of the lifty on the other side was for prising the frozen corpses out of the lift and hoiking them into the woods. It was very scenic though. Because we’re creatures of habit we always had the same thing for lunch, and we discovered how to say it in Japanese. Jun-ya Ra-men. Junior ramen. You poked your money into a machine and chose your meal from the buttons, no chance to ask for no pork or gluten free. Lucky that we love ramen. You’d get a numbered ticket that you give to the nice ladies at the other end of the room and in due course your number would be read out, they’d mark on the ticket if the number was to be read out in English.

  

It did snow on us every single day except for the first and the morning of the last day, but it wasn’t like the kind of snow you get at Charlotte’s Pass, ie a raging blizzard. It was fairy tale snow that gently drifted down to turn you into a snowman on the chairlift and never ever melted down your neck. It reduce the visibility a little and was a little surprising when a flake got sucked up your nose when you were zipping through the forest, but certainly not anything to be concerned about. -10 degrees was certainly a littler colder than we were used to, but we got the hang of under gloves and scarves and stopping regularly to check that we still had all of our toes.

And, of course, the black runs are different. Not that I’d know from personal experience, but apparently in Australia they are very steep and studded with ice and rocks. Here they are very steep and absolutely full of powder, making it very easy to  lose your skis and do an accidental full somersault if you’re sixteen, resulting in a rousing cheer from watching snowboarders, or lose your skis and pop a calf muscle if you’re somewhat older, resulting in a couple of days of rest, ice, and elevation. Yes, that is supposed to include compression, but the resort first aid kit consisted of some gauze, band aids, antiseptic, and a heart defibrillator and nothing in between.

I do wonder what the experience would have been like in Niseko, where they are a bit more accommodating to Australian tastes, but I would thoroughly recommend the Furano experience. The husband doesn’t though, even though he managed to find a compression thing at the airport at Sapporo, but I think he’s just taking it a little too personally. Maybe I could persuade him to stay at New Furano next time, where they have a chairlift with a hood that stays open until 7.30pm. Not that I want to accept that challenge…

White Christmas Eve

I’m very sorry, Australian ski fields, we had a lot of fun over the last thirty years, but now I realise that you suck and I never want to see you again. Nothing personal.

We’re staying at the Old Furano hotel, along with about five other families and a school group. The day started, as it often does on holidays, with a buffet breakfast. The husband is having a bit of difficulty with breakfast, he’s perfectly happy to fall in with local cultural norms at other meals, just not breakfast. Yesterday at the airport he was hunting for toast of any description. “Well, I found some”, he admitted mournfully. “But it had icecream on it”. This hotel caters for Western tastes by supplying toast, also other Western breakfast fare such as yoghurt, cereal, tinned fruit, scrambled eggs, broccoli, chips and honey and lemon jelly cubes. “If they serve chips at breakfast”, observed the Moose, “you don’t want to hurt their feelings by not eating them”.

Skied out to the first chairlift of the sparkling morning to find that we had the place to ourselves. There was a chairlift, followed by another chairlift which were the only two available at the resort, but what a revelation Japanese skiing was. Crisp, dry snow, very wide tracks, no ice, no rocks, massively long trails and ridiculously scenic. Also, no wind on the chairlifts.  This is the only photo you’ll get, this hotel will only supply wifi if you stand in a certain position in the lobby.

 

It was all green runs on this side of the mountain, perfect for getting our ski legs that haven’t been utilised for several years. Pretty soon though, the chairlift to the other side of the mountain, New Furano, beckoned and we discovered even more green and light blue runs, wide, sparsely populated and incredibly forgiving. The kids only stacked if they were trying something crazy, and I didn’t stack at all because the last time I did it resulted in crutches, much physio and surgery.
I know a whole lot of carry on about how awesome Japanese skiing is can get tedious, so I’ll tell you about lunch. We popped in to a place called Ramen Corner. It served ramen soup.  Six minor variations on pork with ramen.  There was a note clearly intended for fussy Westerners, stating that here were the seven most common food allergens and they could all be found in this soup, so if you were allergic then you could eat it and die, or push off somewhere else. Or words to that effect. It was delicious.

After lunch we delivered the younger two back to the hotel while we larger types continued with the skiing on the New Furano side. Due to a minor misinterpretation of the map, come on, it was mainly in Japanese, we got stuck on this side after the main gondola shut down at three o’clock.  Nothing for it but to continue skiing until the bus back to our side came along in another hour, which meant that we got to see the almost full moon rise (at four o’clock) over the distant mountains on Christmas Eve, which could be the most amazing view I’ve ever seen

I haven’t done as much exercise as I would have liked to this past few months, so the thighs were starting to send up protests shortly after lunch. This meant that they were in full revolt by the time we got back to the hotel, and you know that only such a circumstance would leave me to even consider the public bath. We do have a bath in our room. It is triangular in shape, approximately sixty centimetres wide at the back, coming to a point after maybe a metre in length. The Moose said he tried bathing in it and when he sat down all the water leapt out and he had to put his legs out the window.  So I read the instructions in our room on the bath. I knew already that you wear the supplied cotton dressing gown and plastic slippers down there, and you bring your towel.  The instructions were very clear that no swimming costumes would be accepted.  I crossed my fingers and traipsed down there with my creaking knees. There were some Japanese women in the anteroom who had clearly already bathed and were fully clothed and drying their hair at the rather fancily equipped dressing tables with full length mirrors and dryers and various unguents.  They gestured vigorously at me to for heavens sakes take your shoes off and put them over there. I complied immediately and ventured into the bathroom. Hurrah!! I had it to myself. There were little cubicles were you took a seated shower first, rather unnervingly fitted with another full length mirror. Once cleansed I entered the bath, which was hot and soothing, had jets for the back massage and was about five meters long, so I did a couple of laps, then stretched all of the bits of the aging body that had joined in the protest started by my quads. It was so nice in there that I might take my regular showers down there instead of in our bathroom in which you could barely bend over to pick up a cat, never mind swing one.  And there’s the added bonus of no elderly Turkish woman lurking about who could leap out and start washing your hair at any moment.

Ps, posting this the following morning and it’s Snowing On Christmas Morning! Squee!