Sunday, May 31, 2009

New Header

Yes, you've come to the right place. After nearly a year I changed my blog header. There was a time when I was changing it every three months or so but after I got my laptop somehow I couldn't use the photo software anymore. I've been using Picasa for cropping pictures and making the occasional collage but I couldn't make my own sized collage (the size of the header). So that is why you've been stuck with cherry blossoms in December!

Mrs. Ochiai, the computer genius, offered to make me a new header if I would send her some pictures (she also made our Christmas card last year for us). I didn't give too much thought to my choices, just pulled a couple pieces of quilting pictures and she arranged them for me.

Well, it is nice for a change. If any of you can tell me how I can do this on my own, please let me know!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Mrs. Ochiai's visit

Yesterday Mrs. Ochiai came over to work on her Great Aussie Quilt.

Mrs. Ochiai does not like cats. She and Choco are very friendly but she freezes when a cat walks by. For some strange reason, the cats want to check out Mrs. Ochiai. I have other friends and students who LOVE cats and they BEG the cats to come sit on their laps but nary a look their way. So why, when Mrs. Ochiai would like my cats to take a long nap in another room, do they all come running, rub her ankles, climb up on her chair and sit nearby watching her like a hawk?! When Mrs. Ochiai comes over I feel like I have 10 cats, not just 5. They follow her from room to room and jump up to be near her. She can't bear to touch them so I am constantly grabbing cats and dropping them back to the floor.

We escaped to Vel's room which was better because then Mrs. Ochiai had only to contend with Vel but even normally wary Vel had to come and sit on Mrs. Ochiai's project. I got a great picture of the fear on Mrs. Ochiai's face when Vel came and sat in front of her but she didn't want that posted on my blog... Look at how her hands are frozen to her side as Vel comes over for a visit!

Well, Mrs. Ochiai got three of her Aussie quilt blocks fastened and I spent the time shooing cats away and working on the embroidery for the Round Robin. A very productive day!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Four-leaf clovers

I don't often write about my students thinking that it might be an invasion of privacy or could be counted as gossip, but I wanted to put down some thoughts about one of my students. I'll call him Y-kun. (Kun is an affectionate title for little boys.)

Y-kun has been coming for English for a little over a year. Another student's mother asked me if I was starting a first grade class because her neighbor wanted her son to join. I happened to have three other boys who wanted to start English so I told the mother to pass along the message. She hesitated a bit and then blurted out that he was quite a handful and much more "lively" than other children. That's okay. More often than not it is the bright and cheerful and slightly hyper children who do better in English. They are not afraid of making mistakes, they are willing to try anything.

When Y-kun came with his mother I got a glimpse of what "lively" meant. I had to hang on to him! Literally! If I didn't hold on to his wrist he was opening cupboards and playing with the telephone and jumping on the sofa and chasing cats! Hyper is putting it mildly. I also perceived that the mother was at a breaking point and consulting her would just result in verbal abuse (yes, I know that is a strong word) for Y-kun.

Y-kun lives in another area and goes to a different elementary school. Even so, most of the children in ALL my classes know him or know of him. I hear about the problems the swim school teacher is having with him. I hear about what went on when he was in kindergarten. Teachers, including me, are constantly scolding, threatening and sometimes yelling at him. Children do not like him. He is brash and annoys all the other children with either his boasting or his complaints. He can't follow rules or instructions. He cheats, he pushes, he grabs, his normal voice is a high scream. I have heard that he has been diagnosed with emotional problems (well good, I'm glad it's not just me that thinks something is off!) but he still struggles through life with little or no professional help. I have no training and as I said, if I ask the mother to remove him from my class, he will just be labled a troublemaker again.

I wonder how fair it is to the other three boys. We waste a lot of time trying to get Y-kun to play fair or take his turn or stop yelling. I know it is not the Japanese way, but I have said to the other boys that Y-kun is different and so they should make allowances for his mistakes and try to help him when he gets frustrated. (For awhile I had the other three boys complaining that I was playing favorites because I always let Y-kun go first or overlooked some of his cheating.) The three other boys try but sometimes things escalate to yelling matches...

So why am I writing this all down?

Y-kun has a generous heart. Sometimes the fights with the other boys start because he wants to lend them his eraser or his pencil or his book. And the other boys don't want it, or don't need it and Y-kun gets upset because he wants to give something to them. Almost every single week Y-kun brings me a present. A rock he found along the street. A moldy potato from his garden. A crumbled cookie that he's brought from home. He brings me bugs and flowers and things he's made with Scotch tape and weeds. Often his grandparents will send him to English with vegetables or flowers or rice that they've grown. He has learned from them to be generous and loving. A couple of weeks ago Y-kun brought me a wilted wildflower complete with dirt-covered roots (sprinkling dirt all over the floor and table and everyone's books when he pulled it out of his bag). I exclaimed that Tetsu just loved this flower and was thinking of going to buy some seeds.

"Plant it! I'll plant it for you!"

and I had to catch him before he headed out towards Choco's kennel area. He directed from the window and I planted the flower. Each week since then Y-kun checks to see if his flower is growing and assures me that I can harvest the seeds from it later and plant those all over my garden next year. He really is a clever little boy.

Yesterday's present was a stalk of seeds from a wildflower at his grandparent's farm.

"You can plant these and then next year you can eat the sprouts and be healthy!"

He also brought 5 wilted four-leaf clovers, one for each of the other boys and for Tetsu and me.

"Because four-leaf clovers make you happy."

Thursday, May 28, 2009


I've been doing quilting and appliquing as the mood takes me. Sometimes 30 minutes of applique on the Great Aussie quilt, then switch to 30 minutes or so of quilting on the Feathered Star quilt. Tetsu questions my concentration ability.

"Why don't you just do one thing until you finish?"

Because I'm not close to finishing either one and when they BOTH get finished it will seem like they magically got done. (Do you understand that logic? I don't know if I do either.)

Yesterday I went to the kindergarten and was presented with a large bag from Mrs. Furui. My turn for quilting on the bazaar quilt! Rats. I thought Mrs. Harada had taken it for a month but it turns out she was in the area so she finished her turn and passed it along... So now I have it for a week. No more quilting on my own quilt! And a further look in the bag revealed one of the Round Robins had found its way to my house too so I'm up for putting something on that quilt too.

I wrote down what sort of things I have lined up in the handwork department for today.

  1. Bazaar quilt -- stitch in the ditch quilting

  2. Aussie quilt -- more applique. This is just too much fun and besides Mrs. Ochiai is coming over tomorrow to start working on hers so I want to get as far along as possible.

  3. Round Robin -- I don't even know what I'm supposed to do with this! Is the next step applique or embroidery or what? I'll have to check that this morning. This is not coming out quite as I expected it. So far there is absolutely NO continuity in what the eight participants have put together. I'm sort of wondering about our group's designing skills...

  4. Neenie's Garden -- coloring. This is the Faux Applique and I've promised to color another block this week.

  5. Feathered Star quilt -- quilting, quilting, quilting.

  6. Pants -- This is just thrown in because someone loaned me their sewing pattern and I was planning to use some cheap fabric to see if I could really make clothes. I need to return the pattern before I lose it so I should try my hand at sewing up those.
At 30 minutes for each project, I'm going to stay busy until lunchtime just getting one round done. I'd better get sewing!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


When I announced to my American friends and family that I was getting married almost 30 years ago, they wanted to know what colors I was planning to decorate my house with so that they could send gifts.

"What colors are your kitchen, Tanya?"

"Ummm. Stainless steel? No counters or wall paper..."

"How about your living room? What color will the carpet be?"

"No carpet. Mat floors... No walls either so no wallpaper. We have paper walls..."

"Bedroom? What color will your bedding be?"

"No beds.... more mats..."

"Curtains? You must have curtains!"

"No curtains. Just paper window coverings..."

"Tanya, are you going to be homeless?! What kind of a house are you going to be living in with no counters, no walls, no floors and no windows!"

That was long ago and I do have floors and carpets now (Wooden floors. Carpets beige-pink...) The walls are no longer paper. (White wallpaper. Gray wallpapered ceiling). Even most of the windows have curtains! (Beige. Yellow in the sewing room). But there is still the Japanese room which isn't really a Japanese room since we took out the mats a couple of years ago. I have yet to change the paper window coverings.

I may have to do something about that....

The perils of having cats in a Japanese house.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Barbecue and bath

Sunday our church had a small barbecue lunch and service outside in the beautiful hills of Nikko. We grilled chicken skewers and made fried noodles as well as sausages and other meats. Also served was KIMCHEE the smelly, very spicy Korean pickles that are very popular in Japan. Everyone brought their own rice balls and tea. No such things as steak or hamburgers or hot dogs but still a lot of food and it was delicious.

After lunch a few of us enjoyed the hot springs that are almost private baths. No one but the church people know about this lovely area so we had the the baths all to ourselves.

Another exercise in NOT SEEING. I played around with one member's baby in the bath. The baby hadn't developed the not seeing skill yet and thought I was better endowed than her mother...

Monday, May 25, 2009


I have SHELVES!!! Tetsu spent two days asking for my opinions (and largely ignoring them) and this morning I have some wonderful shelves! He eyeballed a lot of the measurments so I don't want any of you to come into my sewing room with a level. And yes, in yesterday's picture you could see how Tetsu borrowed my sewing ruler to make cutting lines on his lumber...

It is an interesting design because Tetsu extended the shelf part out beyond the shelf walls to give me extra space. The shelves are also partly removable and shiftable so I can put more stuff on one side than the other if I want. But since the wall is no larger than the length of the shelves it will probably stay this way.

Most of the building went on upstairs in my sewing room because it ended up a lot bigger than originally planned. Bang, bang, bang. Hammer, hammer, hammer. Oops. Too long. Bang, bang, bang, saw, saw, saw. Hammer, hammer, hammer again. Velvet probably has a headache this morning.

I put quite a lot of my miscellaneous stuff on the sheves. I really need to get some matching baskets or something now. Most of that stuff are scraps and crumbs and strings. The actual stash part of my fabric collection sits in another drawer and I could probably get it all in here if I had some nice boxes or crates.

Chip and Cleo came visiting and declared the shelves a great cat jungle gym.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Tetsu's carpentry, part two

It is starting to rain but Tetsu is outside sanding wood. Yes, he is back to carpentry. This time he is making me shelves.

As mentioned before, Tetsu is a wonky carpenter. I try hard to keep my mouth shut but this morning our conversation went like this.

"Tanya, I went to a different hardware store yesterday and they had machines to cut wood for you. That's a real time saver."

"Tetsu, I think most people have their wood cut by power saws. You're the only one I know who cuts wood with a rusted hand saw."

"Hmmf. It isn't much different from you doing your quilting by hand or by machine. When you quilt by hand isn't the time you put in and each stitch an expression of love? Same with cutting wood with a rusty handsaw. Each miscut and uneven joint is just an expression of love."

More updates on Tetsu's progress tomorrow. He's informed me that we will need to move the furniture around in my sewing room again because he is not making this a measured size. The rest of the stuff in the room will have to fit AROUND the shelves.

He looks like he is having fun and I will get a place for books and boxes and fabric stash!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Swine Flu

I'm sitting outside after a morning patio breakfast, enjoying the fresh air.

Fresh air. How are you all handling the Swine Influenza scare we have been having?

Japan has been in the throes of trying to keep contagion away but I think it is a losing battle. As of last night's news, there were 303 reported cases of Swine flu in Japan. Daily the TV and newspapers tell us to stay at home, wash hands for more than 15 seconds at a time, avoid crowds, wear masks and NOT go to the doctor in case of a fever. More and more people are using a grocery delivery service rather than risk going shopping and in the infected areas schools and kindergartens are shutting down for the duration (which means mothers can't go to work!)

Even with all these precautions the virus got through the barriers and has spread into the central prefectures and this has affected tourism and life in general in that part of the country. Hotels and businesses report that some of the popular tourist sights look like ghost towns these days. Japanese jr. high and high school students go to Kyoto and Nara by the tens of thousands every year and school trips have been scheduled for years in advance so to cancel out now is a loss for everyone concerned. Nevertheless some schools are cancelling their trips and some are taking other health precautions.

Yesterday the news showed students on their school trip in Kyoto and they had been forbidden to get out of their taxi! The taxi driver just drove 4 students around in his taxi all day, showed them the sights from the car window, bought them hamburgers at Mac Donald's and did their souvenir shopping for them while the kids waited in the taxi! What kind of a school trip is that?! Seems to miss the point of learning about the culture of Japan! (Granted the four girls interviewed seemed to be having a great time in the taxi.) Picture from the Internet

Well, so far the virus hasn't come this far north but it is only a matter of time. I no longer know what it sensible and what is obsessive. Very often in Japan, the news reports an exaggerated view of things and I find out later that the rest of the world isn't going to the same extremes. For example years ago with the SARS outbreak, Japan went nuts and people weren't travelling, weren't going to stores etc. But my family in America reported that at least in California it was barely making the news.

With Swine flu I'm wondering if it is much the same. All the stores, even in my area, are completely sold out of masks. Even the hospitals report that they don't have enough masks for their doctors and nurses! Well, I've never been able to get used to wearing a mask anyway, and only when I am feverish and coughing will I resort to one just to sit in the doctor's waiting room. (I never know if I am protecting myself from other people's germs or if I'm protecting them from mine.) If I could FIND a mask should I wear it because the rest of Japan is wearing masks? Is a mask really a shield against all those tiny influenza viruses? Picture from the Internet

I pulled out a mask that my friend who had lived in Taiwan had given me. I think these types of masks are used by people who travel around on their motorcycles along the dusty streets of Taiwan. Hmm. Talk about extremes! I could hold up a bank wearing this! So I tried sewing a smaller version.

I hope I don't have to use these. I either feel like a bank robber or an escaped mad scientist. At least I don't have to wear lipstick.

And for all the levity, I am praying for those people where the situation may be serious.

How about you? Has Swine flu affected your life very much these past couple months?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Procession of 1000 Warriors

Back to Tanya's tour.

The whole purpose of going to Nikko on Monday was to see the "1000 Persons Procession" sometimes called "The Procession of a 1000 Warriors" which is held twice a year. In the 17th century the Shogun carried out processions, I guess to show his power and thus the Nikko population takes part in this parade of sorts with everyone dressed up in costume.

According to the pamphlet we were given there were really 1200 people participating and what I found most interesting was that only two women were allowed to join the procession! They were depicting two virgins and I don't know why there were only two (or why the Shogun needed two!) and they were so lost in the crowd I didn't get a picture of them.

Oh well. I made one man stop and let me take a picture of his sandals which I thought must be very uncomfortable. They seemed to be all one size and this man's feet were hanging out over the ends!

Horses are not a big part of Japanese culture but the shoguns (which I think can translate as General) had horses and so there were 5 or 6 in Monday's parade. The man riding on the horse in back happens to be Nikko's mayor.

Lots of interesting warrior costumes though not a lot of action. Just a procession with the citizens carrying swords or spears or shields.

A few men were carrying fake birds because I think falconry was a favorite sport of the samurai.

There were children participating in the procession but I'm not sure what they were trying to be.

Finally some of these huge altars were carried through the crowds and the spectators threw money into them as offerings. This is common at any temple or shrine and there is usually a box where someone can drop in a few coins before he prays. It is never very much money, what amounts to a dime or a dollar at the most. So as these altars were being carried, money rained down from both sides of the streets and the men carrying the altar were getting pelted!

Of course not everyone's aim is that good so a lot of the coins fell alongside the road. Following each altar, a group of little boys dressed in brown scampered around picking up the fallen coins and the spectators very cheerfully pointed out coins that got missed. The little boys are supposed to be Nikko monkeys and each boy had a monkey mask strapped to his back! That made me laugh and they really did look like monkeys scrabbling in the ground looking for shiny coins!

And the final participant in the procession was the head Shinto priest of the Toshogu Shrine. He rode a pure white horse and was the only one who got a sun umbrella!

Hope you enjoyed the morning in Nikko. Back to the sewing room!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Toshogu Shrine

How about doing some touristy things today?

When I was eleven, my family visited Japan for two weeks and the travel agency planned our trip in detail so that it included all the important Japanese things that should be seen if one is visiting Japan. I clearly remember coming to Nikko and visiting the Toshogu Shrine.

Well, 43 years have passed and I've been in Japan more than 30 years and have never made it back to the Shrine until this week. And I live only 30 minutes away!!! It is one of those places that is so close that you figure you can go there anytime so you don't bother to make a special trip.

Any of you who have been to Japan, I'm sure you've visited this shrine even if you don't remember its name. It is famous for... three monkeys, a howling dragon and a sleeping cat!

My friend invited me to join her on a visit to Nikko (she was taking a foreign student to show "real" Japan) especially because there was a famous "1000 Persons Procession" being enacted that day. I jumped at the chance and the three of us spent the morning in Nikko.

We had a little time before the procession started and so we decided to go into the shrine which has been designated as a National Treasure and World Heritage site. It is set at the foot of the shadowy Nikko mountains and is surrounded by towering ceder trees. A wonderfully peaceful place IF there weren't so many people but I guess I was one of them so I shouldn't complain.

In the grounds were beautifully hand carved buildings and pagodas. This one has the 12 Chinese zodiac figures carved along the lintels. Have you ever heard of the year of the dog, boar, sheep, rabbit, snake, dragon, cow, rat, chicken, tiger, monkey and horse?

Well, anyway. Farther into the grounds were some lovely lanterns that I think were sent to the lord of the realm as gifts from all the other samurai lords so long ago.

In the main courtyard was the carving of the very famous Hear-no-evil, Speak-no-evil, See-no-evil monkeys. Supposedly this is really a Chinese maxim that came to Japan in the 9th century but Nikko has lots of monkeys so everyone thinks of this as a phrase that came from Nikko.

Farther into the shrine was a place for taking group pictures and since every child in Japan (slightly exaggerated but not by much!) has to visit Nikko on a school trip, this is one of the first stops after the kids get off their bus. You can see one group of kids getting their picture taken while a second group "hides" behind them getting ready to jump on the platform. The kids are also instructed to turn over the rocks in the courtyard to keep them from getting mossy. Think of the number of kids that come through here every year and at any slight delay in the tour squat down to turn over rocks! Not a piece of moss to be seen on a single rock!

There were good luck charms being sold at every nook and at the top of every stairway! Charms for successful studies, charms for easy childbirth, charms for finding a wonderful marriage partner and charms for traffic safety. Some were just pretty little bells to warn away evil, some were cute little stuffed monkeys and cats and dragons.

Gosh, are you getting tired of this tour? Okay. Only two more pictures and I'll leave the procession for tomorrow.

I took this picture off the Internet because we weren't allowed to take photos inside the building. This is actually in the temple that sits on the shrine grounds. Don't you think that is interesting? The religions blend and mix and exist side by side in Japan. Anyway, this is called the Howling Dragon and he is painted on the ceiling of this temple. It was demonstrated for us how when two clappers are hit within the room that very little sound reverberates but if the clappers are hit directly under the dragon's head, the the sound rings and echos reverberate around the room. Very interesting!

And finally, what I was most interested to see was the carving of Sleeping Cat probably because I distinctly remember him from my childhood! See, even back then I had a thing for cats. He is situated above a door and though I took lots of pictures of him and blocked the doorway, I never did get a focused picture and had to ask my friend to send me one of hers. On the back of the carving (on the other side of the door) are two sparrows playing and this is to show that peace and happiness exists whenever a sleeping cat is nearby!

I'd agree to that!