16 August, 2019

What do you cook for dinner?

So I've resolved this school year to blog at least once a week. But every now and then in my job I run into a quiet patch and have more time to do things like write here. It's an interesting phenomenon as I deal with many deadlines every week. I'm in the interesting position that many of these deadlines are set by me, so I do my best to keep things relatively manageable.

It helps, just now, that I'm not trying to "get ahead" due to any upcoming holiday time. Preparing for and recovering from holidays can be significantly stressful! These last two months have been busy with preparing for holidays and dealing with different family needs while they're all home here. Until this week I've also been going slower in the mornings and getting up at least an hour later. All of which means that I've been cramming more into less time.

Menu list
One of my summer goals was small: for reference when menu writing, to make a list of all the meals that I regularly make for dinner here. I had a list I wrote in pen many years ago, before I had teenagers. But it's a bit outdated and, as it lives on the side of our fridge, it is fading. 

Earlier this week I wrote up the list. I was surprised to find that I could think of 47 meals that I make at least once every few months. If you consider that I only usually cook five times a week (the other nights are usually left-overs), that's quite a lot of variety. I eat the same breakfast six days a week and that's the way I like it, but I prefer to have a lot of variety at dinner!
A favourite meal: wraps. Usually chicken
with simple salad. People make their own
(which I suspect is part of the fun).

Perhaps you'll be interested in the list, so I've posted it below. I don't actually make much Japanese food, there are only four or five below, though there are others I occasionally cook. I find many Japanese meals are time-consuming to make from scratch (which is how I prefer to do most of my cooking). But perhaps some of you could give me some helpful hints? And of course, living in Japan, when we eat out we often have Japanese! Eating out in Japan is relatively cheap (especially if you don't take teenagers with you!). 

My criteria for cooking dinner is that it can't take much longer than an hour and that most people in the family like it. For keeping a lid on the budget, my weekly menu usually consists of only three big "meat" meals and, for the sake of variety, those are usually each different meats (i.e. not two chicken meals in the one week). Other meals often include smaller portions of protein like bacon or eggs or both.

There's probably a number of things on the list that you don't know, either. I'm happy to explain or even share recipes! The notes in brackets are recipe book nicknames.

12 August, 2019

August 2019 camping trip

Before our camping trip last week fades into a distant memory as we gear up for the start of the school year, let me take you for a quick tour of our two nights away. We have now camped over 30 times in Japan (maybe it's 33, I really think we're starting to get beyond the need to count!). This trip we made with a family that we've camped with four other times in the last 3 ½ years. We're finding that camping with another family helps to grease the oil in relationships, especially as our boys get older.

We left on Tuesday morning, stopping to buy lunch at a convenience store on our way to the expressway, as we often do on trips like this. The temperature outside felt like an oven, a humid oven and the car said that it was 37C, confirming what our bodies were saying: that we wanted to escape, even if for a couple of days.

There are only a handful of campsites that we've been to more than once, one of them was the one we went to four times during CAJ's Thanksgiving break. Another is west of here but still within the Tokyo prefectural borders, and the third is the campsite in Nikko that we went to this time with our friends. It is the third time we've been there.

It's a gorgeous campsite:

Another big attraction to this campsite is that it is in a park that boasts a large obstacle course as well as a park golf course. It also has lovely facilities, including hot water for washing up in the camp kitchen. We were pleased to find this time that our showers would no longer cost us 100 yen per five minutes, rather they were free!

Park golf course that's beautifully looked after!
Because it was late in the day and storms threatened,
we were pretty much the only ones using it.
We arrived at the campsite early afternoon and set up camp quickly. It's only the third time we've slept in this new tent and we're getting faster. Though it is quite a bit smaller than the 10-man tent we have done most of our camping in, so that's taking a lot more getting used to. Most of the men-folk (all?) are unhappy with how squished it is—I'm the only one who isn't up against the side of the tent, so I am not so bothered by it.

Love the moss we were camped next to!
We were pleased to see that there was only one other tent set up in the free-camping site (i.e. no electricity and you can't park right next to the tent). But then another group arrived that was quite unusual and generated a lot of conversation amongst us. Five young guys, all in white t-shirts and jeans. They first brought up a tent, a table, and a bench, which seemed an unusual combination. We eventually determined that they were probably Youtubers (or wannabes) as they did a lot of filming, but never did find out what their group name was.

From about 7pm the temperature cooled off beautifully and we had a very pleasant night, where I even had to put a light jacket on in the early hours of the morning.

When we go camping with our friends, to keep it simple, we divide up the meals between us. The first night our friends we on dinner, so we enjoyed being catered for! Pasta and meatballs followed by legit S'mores (in Japan Americans trying to make S'mores often have to substitute other crackers for Graham crackers and they assure it isn't quite the same).

On Wednesday, the goal was to get up early when it was still cool and get a lot done, but we never quite managed that. After about 7am it was too hot for me in the tent...but others stayed there longer. David cooked bacon and eggs along with muffins for breakfast, and it was close to 10 before we made it to the obstacle course.

I regret not getting better photos of the course, but it is actually hard to capture, as it winds between trees (thankfully, for the shade!). There were 23 "obstacles" to climb on or over or through, most involve ropes and logs. I made it through almost all of them. One particular memory was when others insisted on a race between me and my contemporary, the mum of the other family. We had to get into a small basket-type thing made out of rope and metal, pull ourselves over to another platform with a rope, and get out of the basket. Turns out the getting-out part was particularly hard. Competitive juices kicked in and I went as hard as I could at it. The fastest way I could get out of the basket was not very pretty, though, and I ended up on my back looking like a dead cockroach, not to mention the rope burn under my arm!

In the afternoon, after lunch I went and sat with my feet in this little creek. The water was brilliantly cool (came from the mountains) and the setting so peaceful and green. I wish, now, that I'd stayed longer!

Later, after it had cooled, we did a round of park golf and had a lot of fun.

That evening it was our turn to cook. We made Yakisoba, a very common Japanese stir fry noodle and pork dish.
Followed by a favourite: Chocolate and marshmallow banana boats in foil over the fire. Everyone made their own.
Some other photos:
View of the mountain from near the obstacle course. Near here you can also hire mountain bikes.
Camp washing-up zone. Gorgeous!

Dragonflies were common.

Fire! Always a highlight, though we were too
exhausted on the second night to enjoy it for long.
On Thursday we packed up to be out of there by 10am. We headed up the mountains west of the campsite to see this famous nearly 100m waterfall.
Driving back into Tokyo was a bit tedious Thursday afternoon, but I snapped a photo of one of the sections of the expressway that is covered with green on both sides. These green plants are vines that cover the walls that separate the expressway from the rest of Tokyo, and, presumably, shield the locals from some of the noise.

I was a bit sad to be back in Tokyo. It flagged the end of my holidays, and, possibly the end of camping until after winter early next year! Not to mention that Tokyo was just as hot as when we'd left it! 

But, it is good to be gradually getting back into a more usual rhythm. School starts properly on the 23rd, but we've got a range of school-related stuff already going on. Both boys are doing maths (long story) and David's in and out of school as well as helping the boys. I have to admit that I'm looking forward to having the house to myself again, from 8.30 to 4 (or later).

03 August, 2019

A summer holiday

We got back from our two-week summer holiday on Monday and I've been working hard all week to catch up on editing and writing work that was waiting for me. Therefore I haven't blogged about our holidays or anything else, for that matter, for some time (also worked hard before we left so that I could leave my computer and email packed away for the whole two weeks).

This holiday was sorely needed. It's the first time in two years that we've really stopped for two whole weeks. We did little travel and no socialising. We applied ourselves to relaxing as much as possible. Our days were filled with reading, playing games, jigsaw puzzles, Minecraft (two boys), sleeping, and movies. The latter we did every night (mostly at home, but did go once to the theatre). We also walked to a park down the road several times to play Park Golf...but more about that soon.

I've turned this into something of a "slide show" with a couple of dozen photos, text inserted in-between, so that you can see some of what we did and saw. 

The drive west/north-west out of Tokyo via motorways pretty quickly becomes dominated by mountains and green. It's always a welcome sight.

This is the holiday house that OMF owns and where we stayed. Our apartment was the top floor, which included a loft, so the top two layers of windows here. It was fantastic being able to feast our eyes on farms and the mountains beyond (when we could, they were covered in cloud a lot of the time). 

The grass is trimmed beautifully due to the hard work of David, who spent quite a number of hours with the brush cutter (the property extends down the hill on the other side of the house and the grass was over six-feet tall down there).

Our dining table looked out upon the fields and we watched as the farmer and his wife plowed, planted, and sprayed some of this land (the latter two tasks by hand).

The park 700m from our house is smallish, but a beauty. It has some playground equipment, this pyramid, and a 32-hole mallet/park golf course that we did twice over four days.

Not the greatest photo, but I stuck my finger in to show how small this frog was. We found several of these during our golfing.

One of the features of the park is this picturesque bridge. It doesn't lead you to much, just the rest of the golf course, but it's lovely to look at.

Some of the golf course. The big feature of park/mallet golf is that it is largely in a natural park environment with lots of natural obstacles. This is really a mallet golf course (though we really aren't sure of the differences between the two, except that park golf is mostly a Hokkaido sport). The clubs are different, but we used both (having our own park golf clubs that missionaries gave us a few years back).

One day we walked down to the park and it was a bit cool and rainy, I realised that not only did I have a teal shirt and jacket on, but my umbrella also was too, and this teal-coloured shed was too much to resist!

The road past the house is a bit of a sealed track and is bordered closely by bushland. Just gorgeous green-therapy for our Tokyo-singed eyes.

Not a great view for the camera through the fly screen, but we could watch the sun set every day from our living/dining area. Most days we only caught a short glimpse, because cloud was the predominant feature of the skies.

 It always amuses us, when we're in the Japanese countryside, so see how many of these utility trucks there are. It's the standard vehicle ("ubiquitous" is the word that comes to mind) for anyone on the land and also the managers of campgrounds. They are the equivalent of the Australian "ute" but much smaller and not so "cool".

We slept on the floor in a traditional tatami room. However, the futon were a bit old and my neck didn't appreciate it. I ended up piling up a lot of bedding in order to get a good night sleep and help the headaches stay away.

One of my favourite spots, with key pursuits in view: cross-stitch, a game, a jigsaw, book to read, ice coffee, and TV. And as with all the windows in this apartment: we could see green!

One afternoon we went to a nearby town to play ten-pin bowling, buy shoes at an outlet mall, check out the Lego shop (a family tradition in this area), and finished up with afternoon tea at a coffee shop. A lovely afternoon overall, even if I did terribly at bowling, others did really well. I'm surprised at how hard it is to get teenagers to enjoy a family outing. I didn't expect that when I had younger kids. They weren't even keen about going away on holidays, however, it wasn't as bad as they expected.
This shop was next to traffic lights that we stopped at a number of times. We never went in, but the name of the shop makes you want to! Maybe when we go back in December...

 More park photos: there were some gorgeous fungi around if you kept your eyes open, but they were generally small.

We walked past this pile of logs every time we walked to the park. I loved the pattern!

Side view of the neat stack.

This was the most fun puzzle we've done in a long time. 100 very quirky chickens and a worm to find. There are more in this series, though the company doesn't sell them anymore, I'd love to get my hands on one or more!

Another frog.

 One afternoon our youngest and I had a baking afternoon. He made cinnamon rolls and I made bread rolls for a BBQ dinner. The aromas in the house!

And finally, a screenshot to show you where we were. We were about 900m above sea level, just a bit cooler than on the plain, and only a couple of hours from home. We slept beautifully at night.

Maybe you're wondering why a mission would own a holiday house? To start with, Japanese people don't take long holidays. Two weeks is unheard of—I've been asked, "What would you do?" Therefore they don't have affordable self-catering accommodation for this sort of holiday. So, we missonaries find it difficult to take long, affordable holidays. Our mission organisation owning and maintaining holidays houses makes it affordable. We are ever so thankful.

12 July, 2019

Snippets from our camping trip last weekend

Last Friday we went camping for three nights with another family with three boys. Yes, that's right, six teenage boys for three nights (well actually our eldest is now 20, but...). By another almost accidental connection on Facebook, our pastor gave us access to a cabin he and his wife look after for a friend of theirs. You'll see later why that made a huge difference to our weekend.

From the start it was a bit complicated because our friends don't have a car or licences, so we borrowed another eight-seater van from other friends. Both "dads" had to work part of Friday at school, so the plan was for the mums and boys to leave early and set up what we could, with the dads following with the rest of the gear. Oh, and just to make things "worse" I decided that it would be fun to stop at Costco on the way (it was truly not out of our way to do this) and get a few supplies for our long weekend.

We had the usual sort of fun navigating with Google Maps, but got there in good time, though only beat the dads by an hour or so. In that hour, though, we managed to meet both the resident neighbours (there were several currently unoccupied houses nearby), clean up the cabin (including what seemed like hundreds of large, mostly dead ants), and get our two tents erected.

Here are some photos:

Such greeness can't be ignored by an Australian. We tried to explain to our
north American friends that the predominant green in our land is quite different
to what you find practically every time you leave any city at this time of year in Japan. 

Interesting fungi too. Yes, we planned a trip in the middle of a particularly wet rainy season.

Just down the hill was this little stream.

The view on our first day and second days. Actually in this case the cloud is hiding an ugly quarry that covers a lot of the side of this mountain across the valley. 

A bit to the right of the above photo, looking down towards the township of Chichibu (only about 50 km from our home in Tokyo).

Looking down at the tents from the cabin.

Looking back up at the cabin before the boys put the tents up.

Meeting the neighbours was an experience. Our pastor had told them we were coming, but I think there was a few more of us than they'd expected. I also don't think they had had much experience with campers...they wondered if we had any food with us! Town was about 10-15 minutes down a very windy road, so yes, we had lots of food with us. However, they brought this beautiful platter with freshly cooked potatoes over, along with a big cabbage. Later we returned the platter with some homemade baked goods that we'd brought with us and they followed up by giving us a loaf of bread. You can't out-give Japanese people!

First night sunset, and the only night we saw anything resembling a sunset!

The house in the picture is that of our generous and friendly neighbours.

 Wonderful hydrangreas in the "wild".

The stick insect the boys found and "played with" for a while. Nicknamed "Synestro" I think.

This camp turned out to be a level above our usual camping style. A coffee machine! I don't even have one of them in my house!

This cabin looks bigger than it actually is. There were two floors, upstairs was open and seven people slept there one night. Yes, one of the tents leaked and was evacuated at 3am Sunday morning. I was selfishly thankful that it wasn't our new tent! Downstairs contained a bathroom and toilet, small kitchen, and a room off the verandah that was our dining room and became the adult hang-out (or "reading room").

On Saturday there was rain forcast for later in the day, so we did some outside things while we could. I proposed a stroll, but that turned into a mountain climb! The photo below is of the easy bit on the road. We climbed the peak of the mountain we were camped on—only 200m higher than where we were situated—but a bit more than a stroll. We were definintely looking middle-aged when contrasted with these six young men!

Another view of the valley, looking back towards Tokyo. This land truly looks like God did origami with the ground!

After midnight on Sunday morning the rain really closed in, not super heavy, but constant. It rained for 24 hours, so on Sunday we were especially grateful for the cabin. 

We volunteered the boys to set up a roof over the balcony for the Sunday night dinner. Most of our meals we could cook inside, but what we'd planned for that night needed coals (in the absence of an oven inside). It worked really well and held up overnight until the next day when the rain stopped and we were able to get most of our gear dry before packing up to return home on Monday.

I didn't get any inside photos, but our friends brought a bunch of Lego sets that the boys spent quite a lot of time putting together upstairs. We also played board games, did puzzles, and read. 

Our families are similar in ages and our boys have been in a number of the same sports over the years, so we've gotten to know each other and spent many hours at events and travelling to and from events together. The mum of this family is the lady I travelled to Korea with in 2017 to watch our son's last high school competition. Our eldest boys both graduated together that year and have barely seen one another since then, so it was a great opportunity to catch up.

Overall it was a good weekend away. Quite different to a usual camping trip for the Marshalls, but overall very relaxing and a great getaway. 

We're now preparing for another getaway on Monday, this time for two weeks in a larger abode on our own. David and I have been looking forward to that for many months. The boys are not so convinced that it's a good thing. Hopefully they misgivings will be unfounded and we'll have a great time away recharging.