Friday, July 31, 2009

Happy Village interview

My two girls came yesterday for a quick finish on their Happy Villages quilts. I finally did find some large pieces of felt so I opted for the easy solution to my binding problems. Thank you all for your suggestions on other ways to bind these quilts. I will try the knife edge and the fusible edge at some point.

The girls came and I showed them their quilts and they shyly smiled! I explained that the tasks for the day would be sewing the quilts on to the felt (first machine sewing), hiding the stitches with yarn and then making a label.

I take so much for granted when teaching these kids. For example, I explained they needed to pin the quilt to the felt and I'd show them how to work the sewing machine. They both stood there with a pin in their hands with a look on their faces...

"Pin? Where do we put this pin? Stab it from the back? Pin just the felt?"

I gave a lot of demonstrations and it would have been faster to do it myself but that wasn't the purpose of the task.

Machine sewing was fairly successful and then I gave the girls yarn and glue and made suggestions on how to hide the raw edge of the quilt. And finally they made a label and we glued it on to the back...

Over cake and cola I interviewed them.

"So, what do you think about sewing?"

(Please look at the floor, then the ceiling, then tip your head from side to side, then smile shyly, then make a silent plea for me to ask someone else, then finally whisper your answer.)

"Yes. I like it." "Just so-so."

"Okay. Do you like art in general?"

"Just so-so."

"What do you like doing the best?"

"Reading books." "Writing Chinese characters."

"How about this sewing project? What was the most difficult part of it?"

"Overlapping the pieces." "Putting on the roofs and windows."

"What was the most enjoyable part of doing this?"

"Putting on the yarn." (WHAT?) "Using the sewing machine." (WHAT? We used the sewing machine for two minutes!)

"If you did this again, what would you do differently?"

"Put in trees." "Use only solid fabrics."

"Do you think you could do this again by yourself?"

"Yes, I could." "No, I couldn't."

I suggested that the girls write me something about what they thought about their villages and sewing but neither wanted to do that. BUT, they did allow me to take their pictures! Wow! That's a breakthrough. On a previous project they had said no!

AND they said they want to do some more sewing next week! Next they want to try piecing! With all my headaches with these girls, why am I so happy that we will be doing more sewing together?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Top dog and cats

Now remember. I'm not complaining! Just making a comment on our family's priorities.

Tetsu has been thinking about joining a place that has a swimming pool so that he can get a little exercise in the evenings after work. Just the evenings mind you because the membership is only half the regular price. He's been thinking about this a month now... Still no decision.

Leiya has been consulting me about buying a guitar. (I fully support that proposal! I found that playing a guitar was a great stress reliever while I was in college too!) She's trying to find something with all the accessories for less than $200. That contemplation has gone on three months now.

This summer Takumi was saying that he couldn't decide whether to buy himself a digital camera or a rice cooker, both of which were over his budget right now. Grandma gave him a check for $150 to use towards a rice cooker. (I guess he looked skinny to her). He deliberated about that purchase for at least six months.

I have been wanting to buy a monthly water delivery system and have spent the year ruminating on pros and cons. Alas, I think that purchase is going to stay on hold another year...

Our family is pretty thrifty. I'm sure some people would use the term "stingy". It takes a lot of consideration before we are willing to open our wallets for anything.

BUT... I took Chip and Toi to the vet yesterday for annual shots. And I bought special cat food for Vel and Cleo and I had to get Choco some heartworm medicine and I found a couple of ticks on her too so I bought tick and flea medicine while I was there too.

On the way home I stopped at the store and picked up regular cat food and cat sand and some fish treats for the kitties too and dog treats for Choco. All in all, yesterday I handed over about $250 just for animal things with hardly a thought... Well, that's not true since I thought enough about it enough to write a post today...

The 6 animals are Top Dog in our house even if 5 of them are cats! The humans are low on the totem pole... Tetsu and I are eating tofu and femented soy beans tonight...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Patterns and flowers

I had a full day of teaching yesterday so I didn't get much else done.

I have been wanting to make a quilt for some very good friends of Leiya's and I sort of had in mind a Feathered Star wall hanging. And though I've been making my own Feathered Star bed quilt I can't really find a pattern for a wall hanging that I'm excited about. (How dumb is that! Just use the same pattern, Tanya!) I want this to be a special quilt and Leiya and I even bought some homey fabrics in a rust color scheme for it. I don't have any deadline so I could hand piece and hand quilt and spend a lot of time on this project... If I could get excited about a pattern...

Remember when I said I had ordered a pattern even after all my shopping in the States? Well, it came last week and I'm chomping at the bit to get started on it. But it strikes me as a batik sort of quilt rather than homey... Good for Leiya's friends or not? Hmmm. And it is supposed to be machine pieced and machine quilted so it will go fairly quickly (if I don't mess up). Is that okay for a special quilt? Or maybe I should just make it for myself (again!! I make too many quilts for myself!) and try it out and make it again for Leiya's friends if I like it...

This is the pattern. Isn't it a beauty?! It is called Mexican Stars and I find the curved lines very striking. So I sent away for it and it arrived with a second unexpected lovely pattern in the package! And a note from the designer!

"Hi, I know international postage is expensive so I have included the Azalea Gardens pattern free of charge. Thank you."

THANK YOU!!! Well, isn't that a lovely thing for this designer to do! Just made my day!

And another thing that made my day this week was a gift of silk flowers and earrings from some friends
"because your mother has been ill". I feel very loved!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cutlets and noodles

Joyce asked me about Japanese food and what we were eating at Tetsu's favorite restaurant. This is as good a time as any because yesterday Tetsu was told by a doctor to go on a diet! So we probably won't be visiting his favorite restaurant for awhile!

The restaurant that Tetsu likes specializes in port cutlets. That right away tells you that this is not diet food! I don't think pork cutlets are very Japanese but Japan has a way of taking a dish and making it very Japanese and very delicious.

Pork cutlets are pork cutlets right? Right. But this is served with a simple salad of finely shredded cabbage and two slices of tomatos. The dressing is a vinegar dressing made with yuzu which is a small hard citrus fruit popular in Japan. My cutlet had been stuffed with umeboshi (salty-sour plums) shisou (perilla) leaves. Both ingredients give a very fresh taste and aroma. I ate this with a sweet miso sauce.

In Tetsu's case, he had a cutlet that had been simmered in a sort of teriyaki sauce and then topped with an egg. We also had miso soup. Mine was made with two whole shrimp bobbing around in it (I thought of taking a picture of that but decided that might gross you out. Shrimp heads and all and their antenea surfaced from the soup like periscopes!) Shrimp heads give the most broth so this is very tasty! Tetsu had pork vegetable miso soup. We were also served small plates of salted pickes. Cucumber, eggplant, turnip and chinese cabbage. And of course there was the ever present rice.

Another meal that we had recently is Chinese noodles. This is a pretty typical meal fro Japanese. Sort of like the fast food of America. Anywhere you go, practically on any street, there is a noodle shop! There are Chinese noodles, ramen, and Japanese noodles, udon and soba. We tend to go to Chinese noodle shops about once a week. Usually bowls of noodles are eaten hot with pork and vegetables and fish cakes. A lot of slurping and in fact, slurping is part of the good manners! If you don't slurp your noodles your mother is going to scold you!

"What do you think you're doing biting those noodles in half! That's disgusting! You slurp those noodles like you're supppose to, all in one slurp! I don't hear you~! You're not slurping strongly enough!"

It's true!

This week Tetsu and I went to have Chinese noodles and he chose green onion topping. There is some pork down there somewhere but as you can see, a lot of green onions!

It was a hot day so I chose cold noodles made with a sesame seed based cold soup, slightly spicy, and very refreshing.

Slurp, slurp!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Much better!

Thank you for all the advice for edging! I have never tried a couple of the methods suggested (knife-edge and fusible edging). I will see if I can figure them out and then decide what to "teach" my girls. I love all the suggestions for using English in this project. We'll see how enthusiastic they get...

Yesterday it was hot again but not rainy so I spent the morning "playing" in the water. A couple of years ago Tetsu took out all the Japanese mats in our Japanese room and put in carpet squares. This has been a great solution to our occasional cat "urps" and hairballs. We only have to wash the individual squares now. I decided to take advantage of the sun and went out with the hose in the driveway and gave most of the squares a good wash with a scrub brush on my hands and knees. Kept me cool too!

Here are the squares drying on the fence...

And yes, you are seeing a very similar picture from two days ago. Thank you, my blog friends who suggested a do a little more quilting on this! Yes, I guess I was getting lazy and just wanted to finish this and couldn't get my head in gear for what to quilt in the border. BUT when I put my mind to it ideas started forming and back under the needle my quilt went!

I drew lines on in pencil on the border and then freehand quilted over all the lines in hopes of making a rattan pattern. It didn't really take that long but it sure was hot and sweltering up in the sewing room (but better than if I had been trying to hand quilt and holding this on my lap, right?) I don't know about you but I think this looks a hundred percent better!!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Teaching "collaging"

Yes, you are right. I really need to put some more quilting into the border of the Great Aussie Quilt. Rats. I wanted to do some other sewing today but maybe I should give the GAQ a bit more thought...

Because we have started summer vacation, I am on a very minimum teaching schedule. I sort of leave it up to the kids to decide if they want to do English or take the month and a half off. Most of the kids (and parents) opt for taking the summer off (so that means I haven't seen some kids since the beginning of June) but I had two girls that said they wanted to come.

These two don't actually SAY anything. They are two of the students from one class that I disbanded because I got so little reaction and participation out of any of them. The two girls (and a boy) came back in tears and said they really wanted to continue English (I couldn't believe my ears!) and they've been coming for another year now. Not much better in the participation department but I've decided not to force them and maybe I can influence them positively anyway. Talk about dead-pan. These two girls never smile, never take the initiative in ANYTHING! I don't even think they LIKE me!

But they said they wanted to come on Thursday so I told their parents that was fine but we wouldn't be working in the book (and leaving the boy behind... he can't come). Instead we would be sewing.

I racked my brain trying to think of a good sewing activity and in the end we never did sewing, we did "collaging"! I got out my bright fabric and my Happy Villages book and directed them on cutting fabric shapes, placing them on batting and then adding decorative roofs, doors, windows and stairways. Most of the work was done in silence and they declined any snacks I offered them but they actually worked away about three hours.

Friday morning I machine quilted the collages for the girls. I figured that since I was still very unsure of my freehand quilting skills, that I couldn't just put a couple of pre-teenage girls who have never used a sewing machine in front of a quilting foot and say "Go".

Actually the next step is to put binding on these. So far the girls haven't done any sewing on our sewing activity. But while they might be able to sew binding on with the sewing machine, how about hand stitching the mitered corners? And the hand sewing itself is a long boring job... And these girls aren't going to chat with me while they do it... The book calls for putting the collages on felt and hiding the raw edges with rick rack but I can't find felt this large.

What would you do? Piece together some squares of felt? Pink the edges and leave it? Teach the girls the fundamentals of sewing on binding (three more hours of silent handwork?) Do it for them and start another project? Maybe piecing?

I've got til Thursday to decide my next step...

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Great Aussie Quilt finished!

Yesterday was a marvelously rainy day! All day!!! Which meant I couldn't do laundry (it doesn't dry) and I couldn't take Choco for a walk (she doesn't like to get wet) and Tetsu didn't even need dinner so I didn't have to go out grocery shopping. I love rainy days like this especially since it is summer vacation and I didn't have any teaching scheduled either! I can sew!!!

I spent the morning working on a project for a couple of my students (more about that tomorrow) and then I finished machine quilting the Great Aussie quilt and putting on the binding. I had such fun with the quilting on this. Just a lot of playing around and it didn't really matter whether I followed lines or what.

The animals in this quilt are from the original pattern but I made up my own flower patterns and added a dragonfly. There were so many cute Australian animals to choose from but I really didn't know any of the animals except for the koala, the crocodile and the frog so I limited myself to those (and I also wanted to make a wall hanging not a bed quilt.)

I quilted around all the figures and shapes and then did some background quilting of flowers and leaves hoping for a tropical look. I used an odd variegated thread for this and the dark parts are a bit strange. Maybe I should stop using this thread that leaves such obvious dark squiggles here and there... I'm trying to pretend they are vines in a tropical forest... Inside the leaves and animals I used a lighter pink variegated thread and that was a lot of fun to do and very forgiving of mistakes.

Since the blocks were so densely quilted I left the lattice and borders plain which may or may not have been a good choice. Once I got to the border I found that it stretched a bit even using the walking foot and so I started in doing repair work. This happens so often to me even with careful measuring. I should just learn to take off a half inch when cutting out a border. I ended up taking out a few inches of border and adjusting the length hit and miss. The border print is busy enough that it doesn't really show and if it bothers me I suppose I can quilt it a bit more and hide the wrinkles. I'm leaving it for now...

Now I still need to get a sleeve onto this and get a label on the back.

Thank you Lorraine for the inspiration and the pattern!

Friday, July 24, 2009


We have a routine in our house every morning. At about 5:00 am the dumb cats think it is time to get up. Tetsu and I don't think so. But Choco agrees with the cats and she starts barking. The cats are overjoyed that they've got a very vocal supporter on their side.

For awhile Tetsu and I yell down the stairs to Choco to be quiet. (Yes, she is in the house because the neighbors do not appreciate her barking out in the yard at 5:00 am!) Sometime around 5:30 I give up and come downstairs with cats scampering around my ankles and leaping from dresser to dresser hoping I'll hurry up with food.

Toi gets put in the cat cage because he eats EVERYBODY'S food and is too fat as is. Patora and Chip get put in the Japanese room with the door closed behind them. This is to keep them from the expensive cat food that Vel and Cleo eat and to protect Vel from Patora (Pato HATES Vel.) Then I feed Vel and Cleo upstairs and finally Choco goes for a morning walk with Tetsu and me. Choco gets 40 minutes of exercise and then gets fed when we come back.

This morning after I put Vel back in his room I opened the Japanese room door to let Chip and Patora out and look what had been strewn in the doorway!!! Obviously these two don't like being locked up in the room and had to show their displeasure with vandalism. This is worth about 10 dollars and I don't know which cat has such disregard for money. I suppose I am at fault since I left the cash on the desk after one of my English kids paid me.

I am reminded of last year's episode in America with Leiya's $50. At least this incident wasn't as gross as that one!! What is it with animals and money?

Tetsu suggested that since I am the patchwork specialist in this family that I should tape the bill back together but I told him he could keep it if he could put it back together and get the bank to take it, so he took up the challenge.

Which cat do you think looks guilty? Patora or Chip?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tetsu's birthday

Well, Tetsu and I had a nice dinner out at his favorite restaurant. He loves this cutlet restaurant because of the good food and because of the very Japanese atmosphere. If any of you ever visit us in Japan then this is the place where Tetsu will want to take you.

"You aren't taking my birthday present into the restaurant are you? That's too embarrassing!"

"Too bad. That's what you do on birthdays."

So I gave Tetsu the bag that I had bought him first (that he knew about) and the Crocs and he seemed quite pleased with both. I also had the waitress take our picture together which REALLY embarrassed Tetsu!

"She's American! They do things like this. I don't want you to take our picture but I have to do it for my wife..."

Etc. etc. etc. My goodness, what a lot of protesting! For heaven's sake! Just smile!

And here is an unusal picture for Japan. Shoes on inside the house! This morning Tetsu tried on his Crocs and declared them comfortable. Since they've never touched the outdoor ground yet they were allowed to be worn for a few minutes in the living room to get a feel for them and then Tetsu left them on while reading the morning newspaper. AND he's got them on our coffee table!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Happy Birthday Tetsu!

Today is Tetsu's birthday, his 56th!
Happy Birthday Tetsu!
(he looks at my blog on his lunch break at work.) We are planning to go out to dinner this evening so he is going to try to get home early...

And for his birthday present I bought him a bag. I made him choose something that I had pre-shopped for. He's forever carrying his wallet under his arm and he used to use a shoulder bag so I found another one I hope he'll use. And, I also bought Tetsu... crocs. I don't think he knows what these are or at least what they are called. And I doubt that he'll try to read this far in my blog anyway. (He just looks at pictures). Tetsu does not like these shoes. He thinks they look childish. But I have heard that they are very comfortable and I found some in a safari style that don't fit my image of normal crocs so I've taken the chance and wrapped them up for him. Hmm. I'm not very good at buying presents so this may bomb out...

Let's see. Japan is anxiously awaiting a total solar eclipse that is supposed to be visible today at 11:00. Two more hours to go and it has been rainy and overcast this morning. The last total solar eclipse occurred in Japan 46 years ago and so people have been rushing to the southern islands (the location where the eclipse is supposed to be most easily viewed) for the last couple of days. For all their preparations and expectations I sure hope the clouds will part for a few minutes! (Internet picture)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Washing and quilting

Yesterday I wore myself out. It was a holiday in Japan but Tetsu wasn't around so I had the day to myself to do as I liked. And what did I do? I washed screens! NO! I don't particularly like washing screens but it was so dang hot that I thought it would be a good excuse to play in the water.

Of course, one thing led to the next and I started washing windows too. And then I decided that Choco might as well join me in the water play so I gave her a bath in our driveway (she did not think that was fun). And then I started moving around furniture and throwing things away. (Still under the influence of cleaning out my mom's house.)

Unfortunately no one notices when screens and windows get cleaned. Tetsu didn't notice. All that work. But I still have the theory that sparkling windows lift the spirit and so I am enjoying the clear view of the outside world.

And between washing times (I'd wash three screens and three windows and then take a rest) I did some machine quilting on the Great Australian quilt. The quilting for this is going easier than I expected. Maybe because the last machine quilting I did was on my niece's machine and it was jumpy and very light weight. My machine, for all it's flaws, seems to sew more smoothly. I did have problems with the bobbin tension, but not all the time. I'd sew along and everything would be dandy and then I'd change threads (different color for the background) and the tension would go haywire but of course I didn't notice until I was almost finished with a section. So I had to tear out and do again. It wasn't just the change of thread either because sometimes the thread would work fine and when I'd go back to the first thread the tension would go off again. I guess I need to check the back more often.

I had fun though playing around and "drawing" with the sewing machine. I'm not going to be able to do anymore today but I'm looking forward to working on this quilt!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Insect repellent

A few days ago Mrs. Goodneedle posted a lovely poem about gratitude and one of the verses was;

"When life gives me dark clouds and rain I appreciate the moisture that brings a soft curl to my hair."

Well, I've got the rain and the moisture and I guess I've got the soft curls too.

The rainy season is supposedly over. According to the Japanese weather bureau. Maybe someone should tell the weather. I missed most of the rainy season while I was in the States but this week we have had rain and thunder and HEAT and HUMIDITY. That's why the curls. But the heat and humidity also brings out the bugs which I find difficult to be grateful about but I do have some ways of battling the insects.

Traditionally Japanese ward off the ever present mosquitoes by burning incense coils. Since California never had mosquitoes I don't know how the rest of the world deals with mosquitoes but Japanese will often burn these coils in the garden or by the windows of their houses. Recently I've even seen farmers with incense burners hanging from their belts to protect them while they are in the fields. I have used incense coils especially for Choco out in the yard but occasionally will burn them at night in the house. One coil will burn for about 7 hours and make for a mosquito free evening. I'm not sure how great all that smoke is for the lungs but it does have a nostalgic aroma which is not unpleasant.

Another way that Japanese will protect themselves from mosquitoes is to hang nets from the ceiling and sleep under them at night. I think this method is going by the wayside though because the nets take up space and only seem to work with traditional type rooms. Tetsu remembers using mosquito nets when he was a boy.

A more modern way to keep the mosquitoes away is by this nifty little machine that plugs into the wall. The center heats up and a small mat about the size of an eraser is placed on the heating element. I think there must be pesticides or something that will dissipate into the air when the mat is heated and I often use my mosquito repellent gadget at night. No smoke or smell and I just replace the mat every night before going to bed.

And in the event that the mosquitoes get through all the smoke and pesticides, there is a wonderful product called Unako-wa which relieves itchiness. It must have menthol or something in it because one dab and the itchy area is cool and tingly and no longer itches. Tetsu goes through a bottle or two of this each mosquito season...

So, we are grateful to all the people who have invented ways to keep mosquitoes at bay.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Shopping (bleh)

Yesterday Tetsu and I went to a movie (Japanese) and then did a little shopping. I dislike shopping. I especially dislike shopping in Japan.

This is a little embarrassing to admit but in Japan I am made aware of my body and the "flaws" here and there. Maybe it is sort of an inferiority complex. Actually, the only time I ever really sweat is when I go into a Japanese dressing room. Sometimes I wonder whether the American department stores have rigged up trick mirrors so that women trying on clothes look slenderer. In Japan, all I see is flab and width. And wrinkles. It doesn't help that everything I try on has to be in extra large.

Japanese women (Asian women) are petit. Some lady can be carrying a two year old, pushing a stroller with a baby, with a grade school child trailing behind her and yet the mother looks like she just graduated from jr. high. No waist. No hips. No busom. Even my friends with grandchildren have zero flab.

Yesterday was a disaster of disasters because I was trying on "foundation garments". This is a great way to ruin my day. The sales lady "helping", kept up a running conversation with me through the curtains but I was muttering and laughing and sweating so much I finally just said, "You decide." It didn't help to have Tetsu wandering around the fringes of the lingerie section saying

"I am out of here! I can't stand around a ladies' section like this!"

Tetsu blushes even walking by the women's department.

Well, I bought what I needed but I'm not doing that again for a few months!

And as a bit of trivia. Did you know that you have to take off your shoes when using a fitting room in Japanese department stores? The clerk comes around and turns your shoes around for you so that they are easy to slip on when you finish trying things on. (Photo from the Internet)