Friday, August 31, 2007

September goals

We're at the end of August. I didn't get too much sewing in this month. Hopefully next month will be more productive but with classes starting and a new class to prepare for I may get bogged down. (This includes blog posting and visiting. I've got be out of the house by 8:30 some days so that is going to cut into my time in front of the computer.)

Let's see. Goals for September.

  1. Stay on top of the 365 Challenge
  2. Keep up with assignments on Tonya's online class
  3. Do my turn on the quilting for the Bazaar quilt
  4. Decide on a layout for the Feathered Stars and start corner blocks
  5. Start a quilt with the fabrics I bought in the States
The last goal is something I've been planning to do but I have no idea where to start yet. I want to do something with stars in somber colors and I bought some fabric already but didn't do any calculations on how much I actually need. This is going to be a gift quilt so I don't even know if I want to make it bed sized or wall sized or what. Hopefully I can make those decisions in the next couple of days. Does that sound like too much? Three of those goals are sort of reachable just by my own discretion. I'll give it a go.

And just this morning a friend, Mrs. Ochiai, sent me a picture of this beautiful quilt top that she made so I'll show it here. She's been working on this for a few years and had it in her closet but she is finally at the quilting stage! I hope that once she gets her quilting lines drawn that a bunch of us will help her get it basted so that she can start quilting. I wonder how long that is going to take! Isn't that a beauty! And look at the applique! She said she had 119 leaves in that border!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Beetles. Not roaches!

Yesterday was a day of errands. Kindergarten in the morning. I took Lemi to the vet just to find out if her bathroom problem is medically related. It is not. She is in great health. Good news. I'll just have to figure out some way to discourage her from using the new carpet as a toilet! (Bought another cat box!)

No. These are not cockroaches! I don't want to freak any of you out, but did you know that in Japan some kids keep bugs for pets! I suppose if the house is too small for a cat and there's no yard for a dog, then there is not much smaller you can get than a bug! I know traditionally crickets were kept (and are still sold in pet stores these days) because they make a ringing sound in the summer that is "cooling" to the ear. They are not set free in the house of course, instead kept in small plastic bug boxes (used to be small bamboo cages).

The most popular bugs for kids are two different types of beetles, a Kabuto mushi and a Kuwagata mushi. Do not ask me what they are called in English. I've even seen kids put little leashes on them and pin them to the shirt so that they can't fly away! The pet stores sell special beetle soil and beetle houses and beetle food. Anyway, they are very popular with young Japanese boys and the really industrious boys in our neighborhood will go into the forest with nets and try to find their own beetles. (Most parents buy them at the pet store for their kids though.) I think the pet stores in the big cities can sell them at quite exorbitant prices though around here they sell for a few dollars apiece. Kids who really get into it will keep beetles year round and watch the whole hibernation and hatching process. Hmm. Grubs in a box. No thank you.

Even though I say that, before Takumi entered kindergarten and we still lived in an apartment we did try our hand at keeping a pet beetle. As I recall, I got grossed out and we let it go in a nearby park after a few weeks.

These are pictures taken at the kindergarten and the kids were proudly showing off their beetles to the camera. Can you hear me pleading "Do not get any closer to me! For heaven's sake! Don't step on them!"

Uh oh. I hope I haven't lost any blog readers because of this post.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

My last star

Ok, this has been finished for a few days but I got sidetracked (a common problem). This last star turned out greener than I expected though since I was using a leaf print I don't know why I am surprised. Even so, I think I'm finished making stars. I have 12 stars altogether. I started sometime last year (but before I started blogging so I have no record of a beginning) and made one a month though I took a sabbatical from it for a couple of months around Christmas.

Next step. What to do with them? Bzyqltr gave me some ideas to pursue and I've been trying to design the layout of the stars. I'm not very good with this part. As I've mentioned before, I hate numbers. I am at a complete loss in even the simplest math and so trying to figure out how much fabric is needed for 12 blocks with 20 corner blocks and 31 between sashings and......Oh forget it! How big is this quilt going to be? How many pieces do I need to cut? How much fabric do I still need to buy? How do I cut it so that I get the most out of the fabric? Sometimes I think I'm not suited to be a quilter (what a waste of 22 years!) I've scribbled all over a couple sheets of paper and made some calculations and put it aside for awhile and now looking at the paper have absolutely no idea what it means. Well, the cats as usual like my block. That's Lemi christening it and Cleo asking for a turn at sitting on it.

A great leap of faith I took yesterday was to join Tonya's online quilting class! I'm such an ol' stick in the mud it is hard to try new things but I really wanted to study under Tonya and I'm thankful for this computer age when we have the ability to at our fingertips even though she lives in France and I'm in Japan. We're supposed to keep things a little mysterious on our blogs so I may not have much to say about this upcoming experience but I will drop hints about what we are doing.

Monday, August 27, 2007


Oh how fun. What is this button? I just noticed that next to the Add Image button.

Hey, I did it!

No, those aren't witches or some strange cult figures walking around. Those are kids in their padded kendo outfits with helmets and metal armor around their chests and somewhere in that group is Leiya. Actually this is a video I once took when Leiya was in jr. high during her kendo practice. I just wanted to see if you can really put a video on a blog. (It's the only video I have). Unfortunately I don't seem to have any sound for this but I remember being so shocked that my little girl was attacking someone and yelling bloody murder on top of that! Ooooh! Scary girl!

Kendo is Japanese sword fighting and is a common sport like judo and karate in Japan. The "sword" is made of four pieces of bamboo that fit together and there are arm guards as well as the helmets and body armor. Tetsu was so-so about Leiya doing kendo. He really wanted her to follow his first love and do judo but the kendo team was better at this school so this is the sport she chose. I think the purpose of kendo was to "bang" your opponent as hard as possible, preferably over his head.

Those three years of jr. high school kendo were very interesting to me and I think they taught Leiya a lot about teamwork, perseverance and bearing up under pressure. She was really very good and I have fond memories of this time. Here she is in a real competition. By the way, that suit of kendo wear cost us about $1000! Supposedly you don't really grow out it so if the student makes this their life sport you were getting a good deal. Three years? Well, I don't regret her buying it. It is still in the closet somewhere. That little dinging hanging down with Japanese characters is our last name.

Getting together

Yesterday turned out differently than we'd planned. (How often do I say this?)

All day Saturday Tetsu and I had worked on the "Nightingale room" and thus we'd unplugged the computer and the telephone. Around 6:00 I plugged everything back in and checked e-mail. Leiya had written to say that her host father "would be" in our city on a business trip. She sent the hotel address and telephone number but didn't say when he'd be here. I wrote back immediately to ask when. Yesterday morning at 6:30 after our morning walk I checked the e-mail again. Mail from both Leiya and Scott! He is here! Scott was trying to get in touch with us but the telephone wasn't working (Because we'd disconnected it all day!) So even though it was before 7:00 am. I called the hotel and made contact with him. Since he is in Japan on business he didn't really have much time for visiting, but he did have yesterday free so of course we were bound and determined to see him!

Problem. The house was in shambles from the day before. (We had been too tired to clean before going to bed.) One or both of us had to leave the house in about an hour in order to pick Scott up and go with him to church. Leiya needed some stuff from the computer put on a disc. So...I took off for the hotel about an hour away and Tetsu cleaned house and played with the computer! (Which, by the way we couldn't figure out so Leiya didn't get her stuff)

What a wonderful reunion with Scott! I talk to him occasionally when I call Leiya in Ohio but hadn't seen him in nearly 2 years. He had two business associates with him and the four of us went to church at the church where our family had first met Scott's family 6 or 7 years ago. It was good to see old friends (even for me) and everyone welcomed Scott like a long lost family member (which of course he is, in the family of God!) I got back into my mode of translating which means scribbling the sermon into English as fast as I can. My head doesn't work as fast as it used to and my handwriting hasn't gotten any better. I don't know if any of the three Americans could make heads or tails of what the pastor was saying even after reading my translation!

After church we headed back to Nikko where Tetsu was waiting, the house clean! My husband is so good about cleaning. I was amazed at how good he could get the place looking in just a few hours! He even put down left over carpet tiles in the kitchen! A quick look around and then we headed out to lunch.

A quick aside. Tetsu and I both drive moderate-sized cars. Not vans or SUVs but certainly not little compact cars either. At least for Japan they are medium size. But all three of the American guys were big and squeezing them into my car was painful to see. Knees up around their ears. Neck twisted to one side or the other because they couldn't sit up straight! Poor guys! We went in two cars to lunch but even so, I felt sorry for them as they folded and unfolded themselves when getting in and out of the cars.

Anyway, we had a wonderful time with Scott and his friends and covered many topics of conversation. Not too much said about Leiya except that she is studying very hard and doing well in school (Scott's observation) and our repeated thank yous for giving her the opportunity to study in the States. It was a great day!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Nightingale room

We survived! Look, look, look at my wonderful new carpet in the Japanese room! (Maybe I should call it something else since it no longer has Japanese tatami mats.) Tetsu spent all day from 9:00 to 5:30 working away and it is finished!!! I absolutely love it!!!

The whole project was not without aggravations. First Tetsu took out all the furniture. That left the living room also a mess for the day. Then he took up the tatami. Did you know that tatami mats are really very thick boards of matting. They are heavy and unwieldy. Easy part done.

Next Tetsu went off to buy lumber with very rough measurements. I don't know why, but we do not have a tape measure and he didn't seem to think it necessary to buy one and instead was using my quilter's ruler to do his measurements. Even those, he was content with the "roughly 54 centimeters" type of thinking and he came back with a lot of wood that he then had to cut by hand. I offered the suggestion of borrowing a neighbor's electric saw but Tetsu preferred to huff and puff and do all the cutting with this little hand saw that was so old I thought he'd make more progress with my kitchen knife. "Do not give unnecessary advice." I kept telling myself.

Choco tried to be helpful (stealing the rag) but all in all was quite happy that she had Dad out in her yard cutting lumber all day. The cats were very good and even with the windows and doors open, didn't venture downstairs at all. Too much confusion.

Next came the laying of lumber and nailing down the frame and then the base. There is a little patching under there but I didn't take pictures of the mistakes. Someday someone tearing down this house is going to say "What was this builder thinking?!" It serves our purposes and only Tetsu and I know the flaws.

Finally the laying of carpet tiles. That was the fun and easy part. Tetsu wasn't sure about the color I chose, "Orange? You want an orange floor?" Well, I wanted a cheery floor. I teach in this room and I figure the kids should be in a happy atmosphere while they're here. True, it doesn't really go with much but it is cheerful and sort of vitamin color! I love it!!

The new floor isn't perfect but I think it is wonderful! It creaks when you walk on it! Hmmm... Not much we can do about that now. That's ok! There is a famous castle in Kyoto, called Nijo Castle where all 33 rooms in it have purposely creaking floors so that no one could creep up on the Shogun there. The floors are called "nightingale floors" because they make bird like creaking sounds. I could call my former Japanese room, the "nightingale room". Sort of has a nice ring to it and so does the floor!

What do you think? Isn't my husband wonderful (and tired looking!)

Friday, August 24, 2007

Keeping up with the Joneses? (or my brother?)

Hopefully this is going to be the last picture you see of these Japanese tatami mats. Tomorrow, Tetsu and I are going to try to put down carpet tiles.

I came back from the States two weeks ago and walked into the Japanese room to be met with a smell. The smell has been around for awhile but believe me, a month of heat, dampness, unrestrained cat habitation and closed windows had made it extreme. (Sorry for any of you squeamish people.) I have mentioned before that though Japanese tatami mat rooms are beautiful and convenient, they are a bit of a mistake if the owner has cats, and we have four. Sooo.... A couple of days after coming back to Japan I put my foot down and made some declarations!

"Tetsu, there is no way I can use that Japanese room any longer. The smell is too bad. We have lived in this house nearly 15 years and have never changed those mats. I am not out of line to insist that we make some changes!"

Tetsu sighs. "You've been to America. You've seen your brother's nice house and the changes he's made there. Now you want to start fixing up ours."

"Unfair!! It is not just my brother's house. People in America are constantly renovating and re-painting or re-carpeting or doing something for the up-keep of their homes! Our house just sort of sags into disrepair! There are only three weeks left til summer vacation is over. I'm going to hire someone to come and take out the tatami mats and put down flooring." (Then at least I can wipe up after the cats.)

"We can't afford that. I'll do it."

"Ha! You always say that but you don't have time (or know-how.)"

"No, this time I really will. It will save a lot of money."

Last Saturday we went to a interior and housing superstore and checked out options. How does one put in flooring? How about linoleum? How about carpeting? How about carpet tiles? Yeah! They lay down easily. They can be removed one at a time to be cleaned. They can be replaced in spots. We decided that is the way to go.

Today, my job is to get everything out of the bookcase and off the computer desk and tomorrow we will move any other furniture out of the room entirely. Tetsu is planning go go to the hardware store and buy enough lumber to put a heavy foundation for the floor in and Sunday he hopes we'll be able to lay down the carpet tiles. (which we've already bought! We're committed to this project!) I can foresee irritation and arguments tomorrow but I will try to be a sweet, helpful wife and keep him plied with ice cold drinks and praise. I may not get around to blogging tomorrow but keep me in your thoughts (27 years of marriage is at stake!) Maybe Monday I can show you a carpeted Japanese room!

This is what greeted me when I took a look at the bookcase this morning. Scared me out of my wits! I didn't know she could get in there!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Creative at last

I AM SEWING AGAIN! Yeah me! I feel like I've found myself!

Though I miss having Leiya in her room, I cleaned it all up and got it back to my sewing room arrangement. I contemplated rearranging the furniture but it was too hot and I didn't have enough muscle power and it would take me another two days so I just pushed some things back against the wall and arranged it like before. I've shown those pictures so I didn't photograph it. My sewing machine is up and waiting patiently for me to come and make daily use of it again!

Once the cleaning was done I sat down (in the air-conditioned livingroom) and did some piecing. I was a little distressed that I hadn't finished the Feathered Star blocks (I thought I'd done all twelve) but happy to find that I'd cut out most of the pieces for the last block. I had hoped to finish it all yesterday but I've still got a little way to go. You'll probably see the finished product tomorrow. This was a year long project and I did it all hand piecing (why!?). I'm stopping at twelve blocks and now I have to figure out how I want to put them together. This may mean a lot of computer time looking through blogs and websites. Anyone have any ideas?

In case anyone was wondering, my mom is doing ok with her week "alone". My brother and family has been gone since Sunday and I'd been worried about her eating habits and medication. I've called to remind her at least once everyday and Marcy's mom comes in once in the evening to bring food and remind Mom to take her medicine. This morning she said that the neighbors had invited her to dinner the night before (they'd been alerted to the situation) so it seems God has her in good hands.

As for Tetsu's mother, she's still in the hospital but more to protect her from the terrible heat wave that Japan is having. She probably could have been released after a couple of days, but going back to an unconditioned apartment would just send her back to the hospital so she is comfortable where she is. By the way, she is annoyed that she has to pay $30 a night to stay at the hospital and thinks it a waste of money. $30 is nothing!

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Summer eating habits are getting back at me now. Do I really want to commit myself by telling you I've gone on a diet? Yes, because that is the only way I'll stick to it. I know it isn't interesting but as I've said before, putting it in writing makes me stick with something so these are my resolutions:
  • I'm dieting until I lose 3 kilos. For pounds people that is a little more than 6 lbs. I could lose more but I need to be realistic. You notice I'm not saying by when... I may live the rest of my life on this diet!
  • I'm keeping a food journal. At least writing it down makes me aware.
  • I'm upping my pedometer number to 14000 a day. This seems horrendous to me but what must be done must be done. I was getting to 13000 fairly easily these past few years but these last 1000 steps are a real headache and I find myself marching in front of the TV a lot in the evening. Sigh.
  • I'm trying a 20 stretch and exercise website that is nice now but may not fit in with my schedule when I start teaching again.

Ok. I won't go into the gory details.

I haven't shown any pet pictures for awhile but it is so hot all they do is sleep all day. They won't even open their eyes for the camera! The only time I could get a cat picture is when I was feeding them all. The two on the white linoleum, Patora and Lemi are the females and they eat regular food. The two that you can barely see on the flooring, Cleo and Velvet are the males and they both need special Urinary Tract something-or-other food. They seem to know the difference in their food so they stay on their respective sides though Patora, the fattest, will eat any and all left-over food.

And here is Choco looking hopeful for a treat. Sometimes I wonder about this dog. Absolutely wild when we let her in the house. Chasing cats, standing on the table, knocking over the trash cans, sticking her head in the sink etc. I try dog psychology and give her a lot of love, but though she gets more excitable when you pay attention to her, she absolutely never will look me in the eyes. You can't even pet her without her doing flip-flops in ecstasy. She seems happy but she responds only to reprimands and scoldings, not to praise. Hyper is putting it mildly. Still, we love her and make sure she gets a lot of exercise. I would love to have her inside all the time but she is uncontrollable right now. (I keep hoping she'll relax with age or as she gets used to us etc. but we've had her for two years and she isn't relaxing yet!)

Ok, off to do my 20 minutes exercise.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Green Japan

Not too much to talk about today. The hot weather is making me very lazy and I dread going up to the sewing room which is very hot and not cleaned up yet. I make quick trips up there to plug in the sewing machine and sew a seam or two on the 365 Challenge but I have yet to do anything creative. What happened to my patchwork blog!

It also rained and thundered big-time yesterday so I ended up unplugging the computer, the TV, and the air conditioner. Brought Choco in and then spent the afternoon reading. and cleaning (still!) I hope to see some friends today though. Need to be a little social.

Japan's humidity and heat are hard on the body but it does make for beautiful scenery and a lot of green so here are a couple of pictures of the lovely countryside that I live in. I always feel like I'm walking on a green ocean! These are the rice fields that are beginning to get heavy with rice.

And these other green pictures are of a nearby lotus "field" or bog that I pass on my daily walk. The flowers are about the size of a small pineapple and the leaves are about two feet in diameter. Lotus roots are quite crunchy and delicious and at this time of year we get to enjoy the lovely flowers and delicate green.

Monday, August 20, 2007


Ok. Here is a bit of trivia that Quilting Rush Aug. 10, brought up and I thought I'd mention it on my blog. Quilting Rush has been having Japanese foreign students come to stay in her home each year for the past 8 years and she wanted to know why the kids always flash the peace sign when they have their pictures taken.

I don't know, but it has been a pet peeve with me since my kids were little. All Japanese children, teenagers, adults, even the grandmas and grandpas flash their fingers and smile when they are asked to look at the camera lens. You ask them why and they don't know, it is just the pose you are supposed to make for pictures. I think it looks ridiculous and my mom would get angry with my kids whenever they would start flashing the peace sign for their pictures. Are all these kids sending out a message of peace to the world? I don't think so. There are a couple of other poses too but the peace sign is the favorite.

I checked Wikipedia yesterday to see if there was any reason for this custom and I found out that there was! It seems that Janet Lynn, the skater came to Japan in 1972 and became an instant celebrity with the media. A few years later she became a peace activist and the Japanese media who was still following her, saw her use the peace sign and broadcast it to the nation. It became popular around that time and has remained so though not many people remember Janet Lynn these days.

I have another theory though. Japanese are basically very shy people and it used to be that picture taking was only done formally and in those pictures you were never supposed to smile. Wedding pictures, passport pictures, school pictures, driver's license pictures etc. are even now taken with a serious look on the person's face. I smiled for my driver's license picture once, and had to take it again! This is truer of the older generation who don't really know what facial expression to take when a camera is pointed at them. I think the "pose" gives them something to focus on besides their expression and thus it became popular.

Whatever the reasons, I have finally trained my kids not to use fingers when I'M taking the picture but I notice Leiya still does it when she is just with her friends in a picture taking session.

How's that for trivia? This is a picture of some of the kids I taught a few years ago, and I thought I'd better to keep them anonymous for my blog. That's Leiya goofing off when she was in jr. high. Fingers anyone?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Hot baths

Yesterday evening Tetsu and I decided to go a spa that's in our town. It isn't really a hot spring because I don't think it is natural but it is a very nice place to take a hot bath and we spent an hour there.

Tetsu loves hot baths and spas. Most Japanese do and throughout Japan there are whole cities that boast of being built over hot springs that have curative powers (good for rhumatism and arthritis etc.) If you are going to stay at a hotel anyway, you might as well stay at a hot spring and enjoy an elaborate Japanese dinner, wear cotton kimono and take numerous hot baths during your stay.

Not only can you stay the night at these hot baths/hotels, you can also stop in for a few hours and just enjoy the baths and this is what Tetsu and I did yesterday. Since this was a city owned establishment, it was quite inexpensive, just a few dollars, and we brought all our own supplies with us. Soap, shampoo, towels etc. There were actually two main baths (per gender) and I chose to relax in the outdoor bath.

I'm not quite as fond of hot baths as Tetsu is. For one, I like a morning shower and sitting in hot water doesn't thrill me. For another, the water is usually so hot that I have to let myself in gradually and I can't stay in long before getting light-headed. For another, since I go with Tetsu, he's on the men's side so it's not like we're out on a date enjoying each other's company. And I'm not so great with small talk with any other ladies that might be soaking beside me. Over the years I think I've gotten over my qualms of walking around naked in front of strangers, hey, we all have our flab and sag, though going to the baths with friends, people I normally hide my flab from, makes me want to jump in that hot water before they see too much!

Yesterday, Tetsu and I parted at the entrance (the blue curtain says "Men" and the red one says "Ladies") and I undressed and put my stuff in the lockers provided. A quick look outside and I realized that I had the whole bath to myself, so my friends, this was a photography chance that one not often gets! I grabbed my camera (I'm taking this thing with me everywhere!) and went back out and took a couple pictures before anyone else joined me! I'm sure people's attitude toward public nudity would change if I pulled out a camera on them!

So here is a picture of the outdoor bath that I enjoyed yesterday. The setting is separate from the main building and is all enclosed by fence and trees so that no one can peer in. There is constant hot water running in and draining out and the pool was artistically arranged with rocks and seats. Not unlike a California swimming pool but only thigh deep and very hot. Off to the side is an area for washing with hand held showers and basins and sitting stools. Soap, washcloths etc. never get near the pool itself which is kept clean.

After about 10 minutes of enjoying the bath by myself a couple ladies did join me and as I was leaving a whole troupe of ladies came in chattering away ready to enjoy a social visit in the bathtub. A very relaxing way to enjoy the evening.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Stash additions

Yesterday I spent the day slowly working my way through the cleaning that needs to be done before I go back to a regular routine. Most of the day I devoted to washing curtains and hanging them up wet so they could dry. (Made the house cool but probably didn't help the mold problem!) I'm still working on the walls and dishes.

I also unpacked all the craft stuff that I got while I was in the States. Do you think I've got a year's supply of work cut out for me? The amazing thing is that even after I buy all this stuff at great prices in the States, I still find more fabric that I absolutely have to have at exorbitant prices in Japan throughout the rest of the year. Well, for starters this year I have:

8 batik fabrics,
7 bright fabrics
14 assorted calicoes
3 Christmas fabrics
2 backing fabrics
2 packages of pom-poms (for children's crafts)
2 packages of pipe cleaners (same as above)
1 box of felt craft (same as above)
1 large rotary cutter
3 rulers
1 cutting mat
various fleece scraps
1 pin-cushion and caddy
4 spools of thread

This is not to mention the fantastic fabrics that both Connie and Thelma sent me, (And Nancy sent me some too before I left for the States!) I am sitting high and anxious to get started on making something fantastic!

This is my progress on the 365 Challenge quilt. I finally got caught up on the journaling I kept in the States. Colorful isn't it?! I ran across On the Hill blog (June 1, 2007) with her lovely weekly borders on her quilt and decided that I wanted more color in mine so I've adapted her idea. Her picture looks so gentile and feminine. Mine, well... cheerful? Crazy? So far I'm pleased. I dislike my handwriting but that can't be helped. I'm afraid to sew these rows together yet because they seem to be different lengths (I think I know why) and I'd like to get a couple more rows done so that I know what the standard row size is going to be. So far so good!

Friday, August 17, 2007


Since returning to Japan I haven't been able to receive e-mails so yesterday I took the bull by the horns and called our computer server (I guess that's what you call them) to get help. As I've mentioned before, Tetsu and I are computer illiterate but Tetsu more so than I am. Thus the dilemma. Do I call the people and try to explain things to them in my limited Japanese, or does Tetsu call them and try to explain what is wrong even though he hasn't touched the computer in weeks and has no idea of what a tool bar is from a desktop. I called. I let the man know ahead of time that he was in for a long haul with me. I explained my problems and gave my questions and he was very clever about comprehending my non-technical terminology for my situation. He gave me advice. We determined that a lot of the problem could be alleviated if I'd get a new e-mail address so we started that process made more difficult since I was using English software rather than Japanese so I couldn't follow him step by step. After a long hour I had a new e-mail address for home and for this blog (in case anyone doesn't recognize any incoming mails from me, yoo-hoo, I've got a new one!) I hope I can get back to e-mailing and blogging as I did before I went to the States.

I don't know if this is interesting to anybody but I'm posting a picture of a Japanese altar set up for the Obon season. Back in December my friend (Mrs. Yano)'s mother passed away and this is the first Obon for her so the ceremonies are quite elaborate. Obon is a holiday celebrated from August 13 to 15 to honor the departed spirits of the family ancestors. During Obon, most families will have a reunion and make visiting the grave site a central point of the time together. The first Obon is the most important and so a special altar is arranged and family and friends bring gifts and money and burn incense to welcome the spirit back. I think the paper lantern in front of the house lets people know that this is the first Obon for the family.

I stumbled on this quite unexpectedly since I'd forgotten it was Obon and I had just gone over to tell Mrs. Yano that I was back from the States. She was just heading out to go buy a disposable camera so that she could take pictures and I offered to run back and get my digital, thus the pictures. You can see the picture in the middle (which conveniently reflected glare for my blog picture) of Obaachan (Grandma) in the middle. On either side of the picture are mounds of pounded rice cakes and under the gold flowers even farther out are baskets of canned fruits. In front of the picture is a table with the Buddhist spiritual name (spirits are renamed) and in front of that is the little area for burning incense. All the stuff in front (next to the cushion where you kneel to offer incense) are gifts. I think I even see a case of beer there!

Ok. That is what Obon is though my knowledge of the Buddhist customs is sorely lacking!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Initiation into sewing again

Yesterday I got a few of the things accomplished that I had on my list but definitely not all of them. Continuing today.

One of the things that waylaid me (happily) was a visit to Quilt Pixie (Aug. 13) where she threw out the challenge to make an object of art from one of your old rags. That got me to thinking about how Japanese make rags, so before starting my cleaning etc. I decided to make a rag to show you (and use!) Not art but it is a rag.

A rag is a rag right? Actually I love these and have made loads over the years. An old t-shirt or holey socks just won't do it for me. These all turn out uniform in size so they store nicely and they are just right for squeezing out water, not to mention that they hang over the side of a bucket well and dry fairly quickly. (Whoever heard of being a connoisseur of rags!) In Japan, businesses will give out cheap towels about the size of a hand towel but longer, with the business logo printed on them. Going into establishments (restaurants, post office, mom and pop stores) at the beginning of the New Year, and you will be handed a nice little packaged folded towel. (There are other things you may receive too, such as tea cups, figurines etc.) Actually the towels are not great quality but they are extremely handy. Almost everyone drapes one around their neck when they are doing yard work, or the men will tie them around their heads to keep the sweat out of their eyes etc. Traditionally, housewives will sew them up into rags.

All through the years when my kids were going to school they were requested to bring in rags a couple times a year. This is a post in itself, but briefly, Japanese children are required to do cleaning chores as part of their education experience. They wash toilets and wipe down floors and even wax the classrooms so there is a great need for rags. I'm sure that each year, my children brought in 3 to 5 rags to be used at school. Multiply that number by how many kids are in the school and think of the number of rags that get used in a year! And no, they are not considered disposable rags (as in one-time use).

As I recall (it's been a few years now) I would sew up the cheap towels by sewing machine though perhaps most women do the sewing by hand. There are loosely set rules for making rags. Fold the towel in half with the long edges meeting in the middle. Fold the sides again and then sew all along the outer edges and in a criss-cross in the middle. All Japanese women know how to make these but I had to have someone explain it to me the first couple of times.

Yesterday's rag I made by hand using left over 6 ply embroidery floss. Just a simple running stitch to hold everything together and Voila! A rag. This is a pretty rudimentary sashiko stitch and I suppose that since sashiko was once used for function (mending) before it became decorative this is one way that it got started.

Ok. Now to get a bucket and use my rag today!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Things to do

Yesterday did not go the way I thought but isn't that true of most days...

All my luggage arrived including the suitcase I'd sent up from the Tokyo airport by truck and the box I had to send airmail from the States. I had hoped to get some of that unpacked but fell asleep as soon as I wrote my blog entry yesterday. At 5:00 I was awakened by a telephone call from Tetsu asking me to pull myself together and hurry over to his mother's. She'd taken ill and the neighbors were debating whether to call an ambulance or not and had called him. I hurriedly drove over to her apartment (about 30 minutes away) being careful to keep my wits about me and not start driving on the wrong side of the road (Japan and America drive on different sides of the street. It takes me a day or two to reorient myself). Actually, Tetsu asked to leave the office and he met me at his mother's but no one was there so we headed to the hospital. Yep. She was just being admitted (Japan's heatwave and her high blood pressure contributing to her symptoms) and we spent about three hours at the hospital with her. This is actually good news in a strange way. She and Tetsu had had a falling out and hadn't seen each other for the past two months. I think because of yesterday's emergency they can get back to the loving relationship they had before. Thank you, Lord! We finally got home around 10:30 last night.

I really need to get my act together today. I've got a list of things I need to do before I crash again from jet lag

1) Buy groceries--The month of non-cooking was wonderful but not for my waistline. I am thankful again that the Japanese diet is wonderfully healthy. We're going to be eating brown rice and soybeans for awhile! (There will be more of course but I haven't thought that out yet.)

2) Buy cat food and dog food--The dog food is easy, just go to the local pet supply. Cat food I'll have to go into the next town and get it at the vet's. Two cats are on special food for their urinary tract problems.

3) Get unpacked--I have two big suitcases, the craft box, a backpack and junked stuffed in my purse that I need to put away.

4) Clean the house--This is a biggie and just thinking about it makes me want to go back to bed. Tetsu did a great job but the cats have sprayed and there is a smell... I'm going to have to get down on my hands and knees with rags and cleanser. Then try to figure out where to use the Feliway spray I bought (for cat problems). There is the dust to contend with which layers everything but worse than the cats and the dust, there is the mold!!!! Yes, the walls, the dishes, the refrigerator, the shoes, the furniture, everything is covered in mold. Japan is a very damp country in the summer and with the house closed up during the day while Tetsu was at work, the mold just grew. I spend a week every year conquering the mold that greets me when I come back from the States. Yuck!

5) Exercise--Even though I walked everyday that I was in California I still feel like I've come back to Japan just a big blob. I need to go step on the scale today but that is a scary thought. Like New Year's Day, I want to make resolutions to get a daily exercise routine going on top of the walking but the heat and the mugginess saps at my energy.

6) Get my pictures into the computer and get them sorted so that I can make prints--I usually do this online so I've got to decide what to delete and what is worth printing out, what pictures I should make copies of etc.

7) Sewing--Can you believe that I went a whole month without once doing anything creative? (Actually Idid tie that fleece blanket for my mother-in-law. I also sewed a rip in my niece's jeans while I was in California.) I have to sort out what projects I'm actually in the middle of... I've got a Feathered Star quilt that I need to get back to. The bazaar quilt is at somebody's house and I've got to take another turn at the quilting. I've got that 365 Challenge quilt that I did one week of before I left for the States. I took all the fabric to work on and... gave up after the first two days. I did keep a running journal so I hope today I can transcribe some of those entries onto fabric and get back to this project.

I guess I'd better stop blogging and get to it. 15 minutes a project for the rest of the day!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Flying home

I'm home!

The flight wasn't bad but getting out of LAX was a nightmare. Remember the picture I painted of myself stumbling through the airport dropping things and wresting with my suitcases? I sure hit the nail on the head! That was me yesterday again.

We woke up to the news that LAX had been in shambles the day before from some computer breakdown in customs. Something about 17000 travelers being delayed on Saturday just in LAX. From what the news was reporting, I was very glad that I hadn't chosen that day to leave the States. And since the reporters were saying that the Los Angeles airport was back to normal I had great hope for a easy departure. Hah!

One look at the lines at the United terminal told us that this was not going to be easy! Found Grandma a place to sit and left her with my brother and nephew while Marcy, my niece, Leiya and I lined up and made our way slowly to the check-in counters. Half way along the line some airline worker came over and pulled us out (who knows why) and pointed, and said we could take the elevators and check in faster somewhere else. At least that's what Marcy and I heard, but when we piled into the elevator the man didn't join us and we didn't know whether we were supposed to go up or down. A few stops and we realized we had no idea what we were doing so we went back to where we started. We wasted a lot of time (dragging all our suitcases) but finally found the man who was by now, angry at us.

"I told you to wait in front of the elevators and I would take you where you needed to go. You didn't follow directions!" I felt like a child being scolded for bad behavior. He grudgingly took us to a different line and with no explanation left. This line seemed to be for people who had made on-line arrangements (which we hadn't) and there weren't many people to help. This new e-ticket system leaves me in the dark but I have to keep up with technology so I bravely started punching in numbers and information while Leiya did the same at her computer. Leiya got through but I didn't. The computer didn't like my ticket.

In the meantime some man next to me had lassoed some airline worker to help him but his baggage was overweight so he was arguing with her and they were having some heated words. She finally gave in but quite rudely brushed him off with a wave of her hand. Annoyed was putting it mildly. I didn't want her to get away since I needed help with my ticket so I started waving at her and calling for help.

"Excuse me! Excuse me! Could you help me please! I'm having some problems!"

"Can you see me dropping this suitcase on my foot? I will get to you when I get there!" she didn't actually say it but you could tell that she wanted to add "you blankety-blank blank."

The poor lady was really trying to hold her irritation in as she finally helped me and I felt for her. Especially when my baggage was overweight too. I guess I'm intimitated easily but I didn't argue with her. My papers said I had a 66 lb. weight allowance (I'd double checked). The new law or something says only a 50lb. weight allowance. I was 4 lbs overweight. I could pay $50 or rearrange the weight. I chose rearrange, so there I was with hundreds of people very upset with me while I opened suitcases and pulled things out. I was grabbing underwear and stuffing it them in my handbag, (Leiya was so embarrassed) re-packing packages and small boxes into a paper bag I'd brought. Leiya was having her own problems with a carry-on that they wouldn't allow, so there we were bags open, things spillling out around us, airline people re-weighing the bags, the scale closing down as we used it (they had to close down that computer), other computers going down so that the poor lady "helping" me just let me pass through while she called somebody to come help her reboot two computers. If I hadn't been so frazzled I would have been terribly embarrassed or maybe a bit disgruntled at the attitudes of the airline workers. On the other hand, I really could see that they were having a bad day, and since the day before had been worse, I tried to keep my own temper.

When I got back to my family there was Takumi who had come to the airport to see us off but I could barely give everyone a peck on the cheek before Leiya and left for the boarding areas. I walked Leiya to her boarding area and we had a very tearful goodbye, then wiping my tears I walked back to my boarding area. Suddenly I hear a "flap-flap-flap" and it is Leiya's sandals as she ran over to me. She wanted a last hug so came running through the airport to my boarding area and this time I sent her away with a swat and a laugh saying she'd better not miss her flight! So we did part with smiles rather than tears!

Back home, the cats have welcomed me warmly, Choco, the dog doesn't seem to realize I've been gone or have come back, she's just hyper as usual. The house is clean (Tetsu's a great housekeeper) but there is a mold problem.

I found over 500 e-mails waiting for me when I opened up the computer and I apologize to people who wrote and I never answered. Tetsu never once looked at e-mails so I never knew what was was coming in. Beth had hoped we could get together, Roberta had wanted to correspond, Thelma had written to thank me for some stuff I'd sent her, Elaine had offered advice about my mom and Margaret invited me to join a quilt swap. Thank you so much for writing and please understand that I wasn't ignoring you, I just didn't get the e-mails and will get to answering when I get my head back together.

Signing off (going back to bed) from Japan!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Summer's end

Well, my vacation has drawn to an end and tomorrow I'll be winging my way back to Japan. It has been a good summer. Lots of shopping, reading, eating (too much eating!) and talking.

A bit of melancholy as I leave; things that were left undone. Mostly this relates to my mom. I should have cleaned for her more but she would have been insulted so I've left it and Marcy will have to deal with her someday. (Bathroom cleaning especially, yuck.) I wasn't trying to get out of the dirty work, honest! I can see dangers for Mom everywhere and I suppose I could have insisted that my brother do something about it (his screen door is a tripping hazard, more lighting is needed for Mom to navigate between the two houses). But the family has gotten on without my advice all these years and you can always find things that might go wrong. It is enough that Mom is surrounded by love.

I talked with Marcy about getting Meals on Wheels for Mom while the family goes on vacation for 8 days at the end of this month (I can envision all sorts of dangers for Mom during that week.) We could have even coordinated things so that I would be here during that time but we didn't. Unfortunately Meals on Wheels has a lot of red tape and bottom line, if the person isn't living alone and doesn't have a limited income, then no go. Marcy's mother will have to come in daily after work to check on Mom. Do you think I should call daily from Japan?

Things accomplished? Mom has an unlisted number now. There have been no unwanted calls and no collectors.

Leiya finished reading her book, George Orwell's 1984 (I read it again too) so we have had intellectual discussions about it and maybe she can write a fairly intelligent composition about it when she starts pre-college English in September.

I took Leiya to see two colleges while we were here but somewhere in our tours I think we decided that she would have to make her own decisions with the help of her school counselors.

I've given advice to Leiya on school, on relationships, on finances, on decision making. Who knows if my advice is right or if she'll take it.

Takumi has matured and I am satisfied that he is happy and has own plans for his future.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
The courage to change the things I can;
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will direct your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

It's been a GREAT summer!!