Thursday, October 30, 2008

A good pair?

Some people might say that Tetsu and I make a good pair. We chat a lot while we walk in the mornings. We try do things together on the weekends. This may not seem so unusual to American friends, but many couples in Japan don't really get to spend too much time together once they are married. The husbands work until 9:00 or later. If children are in the family, the mother ends up doing a lot of club activities on the weekends. Baby sitting is frowned upon so husband and wife rarely if ever go out once children are born.

Last weekend I had a "discussion" with Tetsu about his recent lack of time with me. This has been an ongoing discussion for nearly 30 years. He comes home around 10:30. He often works on weekends. Let's just say I wasn't too happy with him. Since I had Sunday afternoon to myself I decided to do some household shopping. I wasn't in a very good mood but while I was out I wandered into the women's clothing section of a department store and found a shirt that was nice. Not great but nice.

"Hmph. I'm going to buy myself this shirt. It is nice. I know I don't need it but I want it."

It was only about $20 but still I spent some time debating if I should splurge on myself. In the end I went ahead and bought myself the unnecessary shirt and came home in a better mood.

I think it is interesting that I don't question or particularly mind opening up my wallet for some things while others will make me stand and debate the pros and cons for quite a long time. I agonize over things for myself and even for the house, but I can budget and willingly pay $100 for some minor vet bill. Another place I don't really mind spending money is at the fabric shop. I mean if the bill teeters towards $100 then I get a little concerned but that only happens once a year or so (I also make numerous trips in order to fool myself.)

I realized another place that I hardly bat an eye is at the yarn shop. Even though I was a bit put out at Tetsu this weekend, I also made a stop at the yarn shop (they were having a sale) and purchased enough yarn for the vest that I will make him for Christmas. That is 30 years of sweaters and vests that I've made him and if I computed it all, a lot of yen spent! Though I would never pay the same amount of money in a store for an item of clothing for him (or anyone!) I don't mind the paying a lot for yarn. It keeps me busy for a month or so, and it is proof to Tetsu that even though we may not always see eye to eye all the time, that a lot of love is knitted up into his yearly present. If I didn't make him a vest or a sweater he'd really think something was wrong!

Here is Tetsu looking spiffy for some important meeting he was headed out to. I usually only show pictures of him sprawled on the sofa or doing some sort of carpentry task. Here's hoping that we can do something fun together this weekend. (By the way, Tetsu cooked dinner for me on Tuesday night! And he came home early to do it! Great husband!)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


A morning walk after a rainy thundery night. This is about 6:00 in the morning. Choco thinks we need to start our walk earlier. Tetsu thinks we should start later (or not at all). I feel very blessed to be greeted with scenery like this just 5 minutes beyond my house and often think I couldn't have chosen a lovelier place to live.

The leaves are changing in my part of the world, the sun rises later and the mornings are getting colder. That's one reason Tetsu isn't so enthusiastic about getting out of the bed when the world is still a little grey. Each morning we look to the nearby mountains expecting to see snow but not quite yet. Winter is just around the corner!

"The grass withereth,
the flower fadeth;
but the word of our God shall stand for ever."
Isaiah 40:8

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Yesterday I made my appearance at the pre-school as a witch (a good witch). This is a small pre-school with only about 35 children from ages 3 to 5 and every year the teachers go all out and make costumes for the kids (I'm only there about an hour!) This year there were black cats, princes and princesses and maids. (maids?)

Calico Cat commented yesterday that Halloween in Japan probably was introduced when Tokyo Disneyland was built in 1983. Disneyland has Halloween parades during the month of October and the TV commercials set the Halloween atmosphere. Up until 15-20 years ago there weren't any Halloween goods sold in the stores but nowadays the shops are overflowing with Halloween stuff. For all that I rarely see Jack-o'lanterns and there isn't the custom of trick-or-treating. I was asked years ago to show the children at the kindergarten some American celebrations and this turned out to be a bigger hit than I expected. I made my dress and a Halloween vest, added a Wal Mart hat with a Styrofoam spider attached, made some pom-pom spider earrings and voila... a good witch. I once tried to make myself scarier (black cape, heavy make-up) and I got a lot of sobbing kids for my efforts so I keep this light.

As for trick-or-treating, the three teachers disappear to their rooms and after a quick run down on Halloween English..."Happy Halloween!" "Trick-or-treat!" "Thank you!" the kids go off in pairs and collect three pieces of candy (one from each teacher) and a cookie (from me.) I'll do this again on Wednesday at the kindergarten I also teach at but there are too many kids there to go to this extent. No costumes for the kids but candy and cookies from the teachers. No matter, everyone has a lot of fun.

I made a stop at the supermarket on the way home from the kindergarten and just as last year, not a person made a comment or asked me what I was doing. Tetsu's opinion is that everyone must think I've escaped from a mental institute...

Monday, October 27, 2008

"World's Best Cookies"

I'm up to my neck in Halloween things this week. I need to go and get into my costume in a few minutes. The weekend was spent baking 100 cookies to use last night at a church function and to take today to the pre-school. I need to bake another 150 this evening to take to the kindergarten the day after tomorrow and while I'm at it I'll probably serve them in my English classes this week. Nothing fancy. I'm not going to make cut out Halloween cookies when I've got that many cookies to make but these are good, wholesome cookies that everyone seems to like.

How I would like to sit down with a tall glass of milk and a couple cookies and just read blogs this morning, but no go! Too busy!

World's Best Cookies

1 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup oil
1 cup oatmeal
1 cup crushed corn flakes
1 cup coconut
1 cup chopped nuts
3 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
  1. Cream butter, sugar until creamy. Add egg, oil, oats, corn flakes, coconut and nuts.

  2. Sift flour, salt and soda together and stir into above mixture.

  3. Form into walnut-sized balls.

  4. Bake at 325 (180 degrees) for 12 minutes.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Halloween preparations

I'm getting ready for Halloween. This week, starting from tomorrow I'm dressing up as a witch and heading off to the pre-school (Monday) and the kindergarten (Wednesday) and all the other days greeting my English kids in my Halloween getup. I don't know how many years I've done this...

Then this morning Tetsu carved me a pumpkin so I feel like I'm ready. This is not a common custom in Japan and kids do not go trick-or-treating (although Halloween things abound nowadays in the Japanese stores).

One reason for the lack of Jack 'O Lanterns is that we can't get big orange pumpkins in Japan. Usually I have to be satisfied with a small green pumpkin but this year my friend Marlene supplied me with a very nice pumpkin that someone gave her. I asked Tetsu to go ahead and carve up the green one for me too. It was either that or pumpkin soup for dinner tonight...

Wish you'd come trick-or-treating at my house this year!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

English 101

I had a nice evening chatting with Martha. She found me on the computer and so we started in and kept it up for about half an hour. Martha is a teacher of English at a university and so I've been interested in her observations about college students and about their English assignments. Especially with Leiya now in American college and seeing her struggle with completing English assignments, I was very interested in what Martha had to say.

Leiya was never much of a "language" student when she was in Japanese school and when she went to America English class was beyond challenge, it was almost an impossibility! Actually I don't know how she got through it all but the English as a Second Language class helped and her host mother put in HOURS (and hours and hours....) of time helping Leiya with homework assignments. Tetsu and I were so pleased though that the high school didn't focus on what Leiya couldn't do but rather on what she COULD do and she was encouraged in art. This is her major now.

In college though, there are no more English as a Second Language classes for Leiya and so she is drowning in English assignments and for all her time and effort, so far the results haven't been too favorably accepted. I tell her...

"It's okay. So you don't get great grades in English. Just try and pass. No one is expecting you to become a journalist or a writer."

So she is doing the work and I am correcting major problems in her essays. Isn't the computer and Internet world wonderful! And no, I am not doing her homework for her. I'm not sure how long she'll need my help, but I started out helping Takumi too when he went to college and nowadays I don't get asked to look over things for him much anymore.

I think my kids asking for help in English when they've become college kids is rather funny. They shunned my help when they were in jr. high. I would say,

"You have a speech to write? Let me see what you've written so far and I'll correct it for you."

Even the neighborhood English students would ask me to look over their English speeches but my kids? No way! So though they could hold a fairly decent conversation in English with their cousins, when it came to class assignments they were writing things like...

"I always thinks about making American friends. I think I can make Japanese friends better then American friends. Becouse, in Japan, I can representation my self better. In America, I don't know how to representation. An answer is "I should talk to people positively". I know but, I cant. I have no confidence. My English is horrible, and I will be a quiet girl."

(This was an actual composition of Leiya's in jr. high, no correction.)

So what am I saying? I'm saying that Leiya's English, though FAR from perfect and still very stilted, has improved hugely and she just doesn't realize it. Often we can't see the differences from close up. We need to to step back, take a new perspective, find a new time frame.

"Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself."

Truman Capote

Hang in there Leiya! You are doing just fine!!!

Friday, October 24, 2008

A present from Spain and a little sewing

I received a present from Aldi in Spain yesterday. Aldi had contacted me asking if I wanted to exchange thimbles with her. Well, thimbles in Japan aren't very attractive but they might be interesting for a collection so I found a set of three and mailed them off to her. And look at the cute things she sent in return! A lovely little house block that might serve as a coaster but I think I'll hang it on the wall, some embroidery thread that I think I will use with the Prayer and Square quilts. A couple of felt flowers and a little card with 1 John 4:16 printed in Spanish on it.

Aldi and I have exchanged e-mails a couple of times since she first contacted me and we have even computer chatted! That was a first for me! I didn't know that we could do that with blog friends! (Duh, I know there is that button up there on the left of the g-mail web page that says "chats" but I've never been curious enough to check it out.) I was doing something on the computer one night and I hear this "boing". At first I thought it was the TV in the next room.

"Boing." "Boing."

"This sound is coming from my computer! Is it breaking down on me?!"

"Boing, boing."

I start fiddling around and closing computer windows and low and behold there is this little window with Aldi on it! Of course trying to answer her back I managed to close the window completely and when I got back to g-mail she was still patiently waiting for me. Wow! Another new world to explore! Thank you Aldi for your lovely gifts.

I've done some more floppy cat sewing and made a kitty out of my mother-in-law's left-over kimono material. (I'd made myself a vest earlier this year and still had fabric.)

And last night I even spent an hour teaching my two 5th grade girls how to make a little mascot teddy bear. They said they wanted to sew instead of study (the boy in the class couldn't make it). Well, actually they never said they wanted to sew. They nodded at "sewing"when I gave them the option of sewing, studying, playing a game, writing e-mails on the computer etc. Sigh.

These are the girls who don't show much expression about anything and last night was no better. But when I asked if I could take their picture with their finished mascots they clearly said "No." so I guess they do have opinions. One girl allowed that I could take a picture of the mascot but not of her. The other girl said "No." to any picture. Well, I wanted communication and I guess I got it!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dog and Pod

No great subject to post about today so I'll tell you about my day yesterday.

Choco escaped again. Sigh. I don't know what I'm going to do about this dog. I don't know if I should praise her or scold her. I don't know if I should be happy or upset. Choco was still in the yard at 6:30 when one class of kids went home. (She was barking up a storm.) At 7:10 one of the little girls from the earlier class came into the house to get her pencil case that she had forgot. When she opened the front door to leave (her mother was waiting in the car) a very muddy Choco bounded into the house. Of course they met head on and it took me a second for it to register that Choco was not in the back yard where she was supposed to be. Of course Choco lunged at the girl and went all ferocious. I grabbed Choco and the girl ran out of the house unhurt. The mother didn't even get out of the car. It was scariest to me though that if the girl had met Choco in the yard and I hadn't been right there that she really could have gotten hurt. But again, Choco was just coming home from a happy jaunt around the fields. She didn't expect to meet the girl head on either.

I'm happy that Choco comes back after she runs away. I'm happy that she didn't get hit by a car. I'm happy that she didn't really bite the girl. I'm upset that she attacked and that I can't trust her. I'm upset that she is so smart to slip out of the numerous collars I have on her...

Do you remember this picture? I took it in July during the rainy season. This is a picture of the beautiful lotus flowers in the lotus field not far from me.

And THIS is the lotus pod now that the leaves and flowers have all dried up and are brown and sagging. I half waded into the flooded field and could just reach this one pod. Tetsu was hanging onto me so that I didn't fall completely in. He couldn't understand the fascination to a dirty old pod but I find the ridges and craters very interesting...

"Don't tell me you're going to put that on your blog!"

The pod itself is quite hard already and the seeds are rattling around inside and occasionally falling out. I have seen interesting dried flower arrangements using these pods (and fabric!) but I'm not sure I can figure it out.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


On our way to the quilt exhibition on Sunday Tetsu and I stopped at a Taiyaki shop to buy some taiyaki for lunch. We know the owners (from a church we previously attended) but had never been to their shop since it is on the other side of town. Tai means sea bream (a type of fish for you land lovers) and yaki means grilled or fried. Takiyaki means little fish shaped pancakes filled with either sweet bean paste, custard cream or in this case pork, cabbage, ginger, mayonnaise and Worcestershire sauce.

The fish shaped pancake grill has batter poured onto it and then the two sides of the fish, with the filling inside, are fit together much like a waffle iron.

Tetsu and I went to a nearby park and ate our cabbage taiyaki for lunch and followed with sweet bean taiyaki and custard taiyaki for dessert. Yum!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Productivity and excellence

Sunday afternoon Tetsu took me a small local quilt show. Obviously even though the quilt group wasn't very large, the members' level of excellence was quite a few notches above mine! The tiny, tiny pieces. The even tinier hand quilting stitches. Just amazing. Made me want to rethink my own hand quilting techniques and strive for something better.

The theme seemed to be Sun Bonnet Sue and the little Amish dolls (and the stuffed pumpkins) that the group had made were all over the place and so artistically arranged. There were so many of them that that must have been a requirement for taking part in the exhibition. Make a doll. Another probable requirement was to make a very small applique block of Sun Bonnet Sue or a flower (or both?) because there was one wall just covered with a grid of all these little applique block frames. A lovely little assortment and very well planned.

There were some amazing quilts exhibited. Some were the often seen samplers or postage stamp quilts, many were made of traditional patterns. But I can assure you that not one of those quilts ever saw a sewing machine. As I've mentioned before, machine piecing and machine quilting are just not accepted in Japan as real patchwork. This red and white heart quilt had really postage stamp size pieces and every one was hand pieced and every one had been quilted with an criss-cross. And this was a huge quilt too! Even Tetsu commented that the person must not do much more than quilt all day and everyday.

Well, I didn't take pictures of everything, but here are a couple close-ups of some of the more oriental looking quilts. There was a simple quilt that had the added attraction of sashiko stitching in the open spaces.

This colorful applique quilt was labeled as "A trip to Kyoto" and there were detailed blocks of different Kyoto sites this block being the pretty kimonoed girls called maiko-san.

One very lovely quilt was made of antique kimono fabric. I liked the way the tiny quilting stitches in dark thread accented the beautiful hand painted panel.

My favorite was this lovely combination applique and piecing in the taupe colors. This to me is very typical of Japanese quilters. The subtle colors and blends, the detailed applique and tiny piecing. The fabric looked like it was actually for kimono. And then the infinitesimally tiny quilting stitches and quilting lines. Tetsu thought that this was a carpet it was so tightly quilted!
Can you see the quilting lines in this? Look at the interesting way the trapunto was added to give the quilt more interest. Just here and there at random intervals. Probably this is white yarn threaded through the quilting spaces, but it is very effective and a wonder to imagine all the work that went into this quilt.

I enjoyed this exhibition immensely but I did come away thinking that all the time and work that was put into these quilts probably didn't leave the quilters with time to do anything else. Tetsu and I pondered about the ladies who had made these pieces of art. Older women (my age and older). Probably no one in the throws of child raising would have the time for any of this. Well-to-do ladies whose husbands work late or have temporarily transferred to another city.

And I also thought that though the handwork was exquisite, it was a lot of time and effort to spend on each quilt when there are so many people and organizations and loved ones that need quilts and gifts of time. There is much to be said for the speed of machine piecing and machine quilting too. Even using the sewing machine I don't get all the quilts made for all the people I'd like to.

I wonder what a good balance is between productivity and excellence. Though come to think of it, machine work has its own standard of excellence. It was good to visit the exhibit and think about what is important to me when making quilts. If nothing else I'd better be careful that I don't end up with nil productivity and slap-dash "excellence".

Monday, October 20, 2008

Kitty power

Well, my cats are somewhat settled in their lives. Actually Chip and Toi find life very exciting and a lot of fun. Cleo and Patora are accepting and Velvet is too... of the newer kitties, but he is not happy at all with Cleo and Patora and I don't know why. I have made hiding places for any cat who would like to take advantage of them. I covered a table with a quilt and placed a soft cushion to make a cozy place. I bought a little cardboard cat box for the cats to play in (they seem to like to tear at the cardboard so this may not last very long.) So far the hiding places have been successful.

A few weeks ago I went to a mini-mini bazaar/exhibition in my neighborhood held by a day care house for the elderly. The older ladies get together and do patchwork and make dolls etc. (I forgot to take my camera, sorry). I fell in love with the little stuffed cats that were being displayed so I bought one even though the lady in charge knows that I do sewing myself. A couple days later she brought over the pattern so that I might make my own and so that is what I did this weekend.

The little brown stuffed kitty was the one I bought. It looks like it has been made of some Japanese cloth which gives it a rustic feel. I made my kitty out of some of the scraps I'd been given last week. I don't know how I could give you the pattern though I would if I could. This kitty is very easy to make. Guess what it is stuffed with. The little fragrance beads that you are sold for ash trays (in Japan). So now my stuffed kitty smells like lemons! If you just half fill the body of the animal then the beads shift around so that it hangs over things nicely.

Chip approves of the stuffed kitty!

Sunday, October 19, 2008


I had a fun day at the kindergarten bazaar yesterday. Met a lot of old friends... It is sort of like homecoming for some of us. We see each other only once a year at the bazaar! There was lots going on so I snapped a few busy pictures just so you get an idea of the atmosphere.

This was just before the kindergarten gate opened. You can see there was quite a line of people waiting to rush to the activities.

Some of the fathers got involved with making omochi all day. This is pounded sticky rice that is served with sweet bean paste or soy bean powder or seaweed. Actually omochi can now be made with an electric rice pounder but at festivals and public events these huge mortar and pestals are used and the pounder (with the hammer) and the rice turner (he has to stick his hands and flip the sticky rice every stroke so that it becomes evenly glutinous... Hopefully his head and hands don't get pounded too!) work together in rhythm.

Here is the omochi ready to be eaten.

This is a lousy picture but you get a glimpse of the kitchen and the mothers who are busy making curry rice and mixed rice to sell. No matter what event one goes to, when there is food being served all mothers will wear these kerchiefs (and sometimes masks). For that matter, at elementary school too, the children who are serving lunches that day will wear a kerchief or a little hat and masks too. This was a custom I just couldn't get used to. Whenever I participated in things at the kindergarten or the schools that had to do with food I inevitably forgot my kerchief. Even when I remembered I usually became distracted as it kept slipping off my head.

More fathers busy making fried noodles. I see they keep towels around their heads... Besides all this there were sausages being grilled, potatoes being baked. Some homemade bread and cookies were being sold and there was even a corner where Japanese green tea was being made and served by mothers in kimono.

Lots of games for the children to play. A ring toss booth, a felt making booth, an acrylic shrinking plate booth (the kids draw on acrylic and then it is put in a toaster for two minutes and the acrylic shrinks), a super ball catching game where the kids fish for super balls in a kiddy pool. Other things included a handcraft booth selling bead work and patchwork and hand made baskets. I picked up a few little things there.

And of course the raffle booth! The mothers at the kindergarten had made about 50 little things (coasters, draw string bags etc.) plus one large bed-size quilt and of course our patchwork group donated the quilt we made. At 12:30 the raffle numbers were drawn....

The second prize went to the Principal's husband! It happened to be his 60th birthday so that was nice. And the first prize..... Our pride and joy.... went to one of the kindergarten teachers!!! I assure you the raffle wasn't rigged! Actually when a quilt goes to someone closely associated with the kindergarten (as opposed to someone who has dropped in from the neighborhood) we all feel like we've won and there was much clapping and hurriedly e-mailed messages to let people know where the final quilts were destined. A great day!