Saturday, December 31, 2011

Busy in 2011

December 29th was my mother's 90th birthday. Although I didn't get to be in the States for it, both Leiya and Takumi were able to celebrate it with her. I haven't heard the details yet but I think the two of them bought an arrangement of flowers from our family. (There's not a lot that Mother needs or wants these days.)

Happy Birthday Mother!

So we are at the end of the year. Tetsu and I did end of the year cleaning for most of the day yesterday and finished writing New Year's cards. (We're way late on that job). Today I'm making cookies and lining up some hand sewing for the holidays.

At the beginning of the year I got into the habit of saving the spools from the thread that I was using. Some of these were half used anyway but saving them gives me an idea of how much sewing I got done this year. That's a pretty good record of the work going on in my sewing room. (And this doesn't include the pre-wound bobbins that Mary sent me in June!)

And the results of all that sewing was this:

All sizes of quilts. Two bags. And I've included the bazaar quilt and Mrs. Furui's birthday quilt that I worked on with friends. I guess I've kept busy this year. I hope my fingers will be as productive in 2012!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Taro-kun's walk

A couple of weeks ago my neighbor's dog passed away. Taro-kun was about 15 years old and for the past few months has been doddering along. Taro-kun and Choco were "sometime friends" and could sniff at each other without having a confrontation. When Taro-kun was younger, he would occasionally slip his collar and I would spot him in the rice field and bring him home. (And Mrs. Sumi has done the same for me when Choco escaped!)

Every morning, Mrs. Sumi would take Taro-kun for a walk (sometimes along with another of her many dogs) and Choco would make a lot of noise and let me know they were passing the house. I always had a supply of dog biscuits for Taro-kun and Mrs. Sumi and I would stand by the forest talking about our concerns for our animals.

In December Mrs. Sumi and I both knew that the next few weeks would be hard, but I was able to give Taro-kun a dog biscuit when Mrs. Sumi carried him home from a walk the day before he passed away. And I was able to offer my shoulder to a sobbing Mrs. Sumi early in the morning the next day before the rest of her family was awake.

Taro-kun stood guard at the corner of our neighborhood and I will miss seeing him sitting under his own personal cherry blossom tree...

Last May I happened to snap a picture of Mrs. Sumi and Taro-kun in front of my house coming home from a walk. This week I decided to try and portray their morning routine in fabric and this is what I came up with. I hope Mrs. Sumi will be comforted. She is a good friend and Taro-kun was a special friend to me too.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Japanese house

Thank you for commenting on yesterday's post. I see I needed to put a few more details into my explanation...

Traditional Japanese houses are wooden and have numerous uniform size tatami mat rooms set up against each other and separated by sliding "paper" doors. The rooms that have windows will also have paper shades as well as glass windows.  

My house is NOT traditional though like many houses built nowadays, there is (was) one Japanese tatami room where we sit on the floor. (The other rooms in my house are pretty western though we sleep on the floor in the bedrooms.) I remember hearing a story of a Japanese/American family (wife American) who when building a house decided not to include a tatami mat room. The builder was horrified!

"Where will your husband officially greet your future son-in-law if he doesn't have a formal Japanese room to sit in?"

Tatami mats are uniform in size and a Japanese room will be measured by how many mats can be laid out. A mat is about the size of a small narrow door. Our Japanese room has 6 mats. That is normal. Larger rooms will have 8 mats. Poor working college students will live in a 4 1/2 mat apartment (and that's all there is! 4 1/2 mats.)

(This is a apartment floor plan I took off the Internet. You can see the two 6 mat rooms, a 9 mat living room/dining room/kitchen with flooring, one closet in orange, and a bathroom.)

At the end of the year, another job for a traditional Japanese family might be to have their Japanese mats refurbished, but this is a job for a professional, not one that someone will do themselves. Mats are made of packed rough straw blocks and then thin woven reed/straw mats are sewn to the top. When a top mat wears out, it is flipped over to the back side and resewn to the rough blocks. And when the top reed/straw mat is beyond use, it can be replaced. Another nice thing about tatami mats is that when one gets worn looking (for example in front of the door), the whole block can be shifted to another spot and a less worn mat laid down in its place. Tetsu removed our mats entirely a few years ago after numerous cat accidents. (There are some pictures of our removed tatami mats on those links above.)

Paper doors between rooms and on the closets, are also lightweight and removable and it is supposedly fairly easy to replace paper that gets stained or worn. There are always lovely oriental looking designs on paper doors... Mt. Fuji, flying cranes etc. I've never changed the paper on my doors (though they need changing.)

And then there is the light, white paper on the windows that I changed yesterday. Tetsu came home early and when I told him I couldn't get the one wooden lattice off of its rails, he LIFTED the top railing (supporting the second floor!) and with a lot of grunting and pulling on both our parts, we were able to get the lattice out and later back in. Tetsu! My hero! Like SUPERMAN! Lifting a house!!!

When Tetsu and I were engaged to be married, my American family and friends asked what they could send as wedding gifts.

"What color are your walls going to be? Your carpet? Your curtains?"

"Ummm. No walls (just the sliding doors). No carpets. No curtains..."

"Tanya! What kind of house are you going to be living in?!"

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

End of the year chores

I'm already hard at work this morning and ready to take a breather. I've just spent two hours changing the paper on our windows in the Japanese room.

This is a typical end of the year project for Japanese families though I don't do this every year. The process itself isn't so difficult but taking off the old paper and washing the wooden lattice takes time... Washing away the dust and glue residue used to hold the old paper.

There are many ways to repaper windows these days and I chose the easiest... iron on! The window paper (plastic in my case... It is a little stronger against cat claws) has iron on bonding like interfacing. But the last time I did this I must have used double sided tape which made for a mess getting off (easy to put on). I will not use that stuff again! Or I could go the old fashioned way and use papering glue (the really old way was to dilute and mash cooked rice!). One year I tried Elmer's glue and it took days to get that paper off and I had to sandpaper down the wooden lattice!

I'm sure all this isn't very interesting but re-papering windows at the end of the year makes me feel very Japanese. I actually have two more windows to go but can't get the one wooden lattice out of its window rail by myself. Stuck solid. Hmmm... I wonder if our house has become tipsy since the earthquake.... The windows may have warped....

Anyway, the paper has little cherry blossoms on it and makes me wish spring were closer!

Monday, December 26, 2011

The family at Christmas

Merry Christmas! It is December 26 already here in Japan and our Christmas celebrations are over. Our little church had Christmas Eve services with about 25 people and afterwards we made and ate ice cream sundaes together.

Earlier this week a package arrived from Takumi! My, my, what a surprise! (Hmmm. Poor Takumi doesn't have any money... Tetsu and I felt a pull at our hearts knowing that he had been thinking of us.) After the Christmas Eve service we opened presents, Takumi's being the first to open. His'-and-Her's coffee cups. And STRANGE ones at that! We love them! The cups are crooked... they look like they are sinking into the table. Takumi knows how I love quirky things. Tetsu and I give a clink of thanks to Takumi when we drink coffee now!

From Tetsu I got socks and leg warmers and flowers! Some of you who have been following my blog may remember Tetsu's dilemma with buying me a birthday present a couple of years ago. He wanted to buy me flowers but couldn't work up the courage to go into a flower shop. This Christmas he bit the bullet, barged into a flower shop and bought me flowers! And a lot of flowers at that! Who says Japanese men aren't romantic? (Well, I have said that about my Japanese man... but the older Tetsu gets, the more romantic he gets too.) We had to go to the recycle shop yesterday to buy a vase that would hold Tetsu's flowers.

And finally, I gave Tetsu the vest I'd knitted him. It fits just fine and he looks very nice in it. I'm not the most romantic person myself but he knows that it was knitted with lots of love.

I THINK that Leiya is in California now... maybe staying with Takumi, maybe with my brother's family. I received an abbreviated e-mail from her saying "I'm buying Takumi groceries... from you... I hope that's okay."

Merry Christmas from the Watanabes!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The true meaning of Christmas

A few weeks ago, Pat sent me a lovely little Christmas story. I'm posting it here along with some of my minor Christmas decorations.

Just a week before Christmas I had a visitor. This is how it happened. I just finished the household chores for the night and was preparing to go to bed, when I heard a noise in the front of the house. I opened the door to the front room and to my surprise, Santa himself stepped out next to the fireplace.

"What are you doing?" I started to ask. The words choked up in my throat and I saw he had tears in his eyes. His usual jolly manner was gone. Gone was the eager, boisterous soul we all know. He then answered me with a simple statement . . .

"TEACH THE CHILDREN!" I was puzzled. What did he mean? He anticipated my question and with one quick movement brought forth a miniature toy bag from behind the tree. As I stood bewildered, Santa said, "Teach the children!

Teach them the old meaning of Christmas. The meaning that now-a-days Christmas has forgotten. "

Santa then reached in his bag and pulled out a FIR TREE and placed it before the mantle. "Teach the children that the pure green color of the stately fir tree remains green all year round, depicting the everlasting hope of mankind, all the needles point heavenward, making it a symbol of man's thoughts turning toward heaven."

He again reached into his bag and pulled out a brilliant STAR. "Teach the children that the star was the heavenly sign of promises long ago. God promised a Savior for the world, and the star was the sign of fulfillment of His promise."

He then reached into his bag and pulled out a CANDLE. "Teach the children that the candle symbolizes that Christ is the light of the world, and when we see this great light we are reminded of He who displaces the darkness."

Once again he reached into his bag and removed a WREATH and placed it on the tree. "Teach the children that the wreath symbolizes the real nature of love. Real love never ceases. Love is one continuous round of affection."

He then pulled from his bag an ORNAMENT of himself. "Teach the children that I, Santa Claus, symbolize the generosity and good will we feel during the month of December."

He then brought out a HOLLY LEAF. "Teach the children that the holly plant represents immortality. It represents the crown of thorns worn by our Savior. The red holly berries represent the blood shed by Him.

Next he pulled from his bag a GIFT and said, "Teach the children that God so loved the world that he gave his begotten son." Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift.

Santa then reached in his bag and pulled out a CANDY CANE and hung it on the tree. "Teach the children that the candy cane represents the shepherds' crook. The crook on the staff helps to bring back strayed sheep to the flock. The candy cane is the symbol that we are our brother's keeper."

He reached in again and pulled out an ANGEL. "Teach the children that it was the angels that heralded in the glorious news of the Savior's birth. The angels sang Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace and good will toward men."

Suddenly I heard a soft twinkling sound, and from his bag he pulled out a BELL,. "Teach the children that as the lost sheep are found by the sound of the bell, it should ring mankind to the fold. The bell symbolizes guidance and return.

Santa looked back and was pleased. He looked back at me and I saw that the twinkle was back in his eyes. He said, "Remember, teach the children the true meaning of Christmas and do not put me in the center, for I am but a humble servant of the One that is, and I bow down to worship him, our LORD, our GOD."

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The original

Twenty-some years ago, my friend Mrs. Kaneko moved into a newly built house. At the time, Mrs. Kankeo was helping lead a Bible study with some kindergarten mothers and when she built her house a group of us decided to make her a New Testament quilt. The original patterns were from Sandra Shigeno, but we arranged the blocks differently, added Mrs. Kaneko's favorite Bible verse etc. Mrs. Furui, Mrs. Okutomi and I took charge of the project and many of the ladies made blocks for the quilt. When the blocks were collected, we three "experienced" quilters put the quilt together. In those days we were exclusively hand piecers and hand quilters and the finished quilt was simply quilted around the blocks and left slightly puffy. Mrs. Kaneko, who knew nothing about patchwork or quilting was overjoyed with her quilt and has had it hung on her wall in her living room for the last 20 years. Every time I visited Mrs. Kaneko (and I visited a lot over 20 years) I would look at the quilt and think,

"We really should have quilted that. Someday, when I have some time I may just take the quilt home and quilt it."

And over the years the quilt has faded, collected dust and stains, and warped out of shape. And to be perfectly honest, it wasn't in such great shape to begin with.

(In 1992 I guess I took the picture because I'm not in here... Can you spot Mrs. Furui sitting on the floor at the left with a child in her lap? Mrs. Kaneko is next to her and to the right of Mrs. Kaneko is Mrs. Okutomi. And there is smiling Leiya on the far left! She was about three!)

Mrs. Kaneko is moving in March. She and her husband will be living in a completely different part of Japan. If there was ever a time to get her Bible quilt quilted, now is the time! I took it home with me the other day, washed it up and then took it to Mrs. Furui's house on Thursday to get her advice.

Mrs. Furui took one look at the quilt and gasped.

"Did we really make this? It is terrible! The seams don't match, the lattice is warped. The colors are pretty blah (even considering that it has faded quite a lot), the border is wrinkled! This is OUR work?!"

There wasn't much positive that any of us could say about this quilt.

"But Mrs. Kaneko has cherished this quilt for the past 20 years. She's given me permission to fix it up as I like... What do you think?"

Mrs. Furui and I have plotted out a plan for adding a little life to this quilt and fixing up some of the most obvious boo-boos. I want to use the original blocks (even though they don't seem to be uniform in size) but take out the faded and stained lattice and border. And Mrs. Furui will help me quilt in all the blocks... unlike the original quilt... I have until March to get this finished!

I've never remade a quilt before! Stay tuned!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Tisket a Tasket finished!

Yesterday I put the final stitches on A Tisket a Tasket quilt! I wanted to get it done so as to show my patchwork group today. Although I started this in January 2010, it doesn't really seem like it took so long. This was a Block of the Month that I found on the Bunny Hill website (it was free when I found it) and I dragged Mrs. Furui and Mrs. Harada into making one too. They have their blocks made but haven't put it all together.

(Hmm. While going to get the link for A Tisket a Tasket on the Bunny Hill website I find that there is ANOTHER applique pattern offered for free for the next few days. If you are interested you'll have to grab it up right away! I did!)

Though I'm not very good at applique and find it more tedious than piecing, A Tisket a Tasket was fun to work on. I did very minimal quilting and didn't add any pretty stitches but it is all done by hand.

This will go to a friend as a late Christmas present.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

How do you do?

Quicky post. (It's Wednesday.)

Tetsu and I went shopping on Saturday at the local department store. As I took a breather on a bench I noticed a slacks and trouser shop with interesting mannequins. They seemed very Japanese to me.

Now why would a store have mannequins in such an odd position? Of course to show how nice and neat their slacks look when you bow!

"How do you do? Very pleased to make your acquaintance."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas badges

We are heading into the last week of English classes and yesterday was Monday's last class. After spending months trying to think of a new Christmas craft I could do with buttons (someone gave me a large box!) I went back to an old favorite. Safety pin badges.

I must have done this with students at least 6 years ago because it was all new to the kids who come to me now. The children like making the badges and people always comment on them when I wear one at Christmas, so the parents are impressed too. Give it a try!

You need 11 or 12 safety pins of the same size. (Size 2 in Japan. 9 beads need to be able to fit on a pin.)

The preparation is putting 9 or 10 safety pins onto the base pin. The base pin has to be opened a bit and the other pins fed onto the BACK of the pin.... through that little loop. It is no harder than trying to get a key off of your key ring but you have to feed all the other pins on the same direction...

Once all the pins are set, the badge is ready for the children.

I drew up 5 or 6 Christmas patterns on a grid using colored pencils. Each grid is 9 beads square. (except for the JOY pin which needs 10 pins fed onto the base pin.)

After that I left it all to the children! Some chose to use the same colors I used, some were adventurous. You have to make sure they know which pin they are starting with and caution them about putting the beads in the wrong order (their picture will end up upside-down) but with an assortment of beads everyone has a great time!

Yesterday's class was mostly 2nd and 3rd graders and they had no trouble stringing the beads though there were a few poked fingers when closing the safety pins.

A last pin going through all the pins at the back will stabilize the whole badge.

This is a craft I will do again (in another 6 years when there is a new batch of children!)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas pageant

Yesterday was a busy Sunday; church and then the kindergarten Christmas program that lasted until evening.

The children's program was a success. Well, with more than a hundred cute children, no matter what they do the parents' eyes will be sparkling!

There were a few extra special moments. A few weeks ago when choosing parts for the Christmas pageant (a musical), one slightly autistic girl, M-chan, volunteered to be the innkeeper's wife. She was enthralled with the innkeeper's wife's costume of an apron and kerchief. And when deciding who would be the innkeeper, M-chan turned to another handicapped boy and said,

"You should be the innkeeper!"

K-chan cannot stand on his own nor does he understand much of what is going on around him but he does have a vocabulary consisting of a few words. "Bye-bye", "Ii yo (okay)". The teachers wondered how this pageant was going to go with two main characters who don't do much talking on their own.

Yesterday, when Joseph and Mary were traveling to Bethlehem, they visited the inn and the innkeeper's wife was prompted to say:

"There is no room in the inn."

Joseph: "Hmm. That is a problem. Is there anywhere else we can stay?"

Innkeeper's wife: "There is a stable."

Joseph: "Oh that would be great. May we stay there tonight?"

And the innkeeper, K-chan said:

"Ii yo." (Okay)

Oh, the exchanges of smiles amongst the teachers! The pulling out of tissues and handkerchiefs amongst the parents!

And the teacher who played the piano for the musical this year has had some health problems and wasn't able to practice as much as she'd liked to have. It was touch and go as to whether she was even going to be able to attend the program but she did a fantastic job and I noticed throughout her music score were little pictures that the children had drawn for her to give her extra support. When it was all over, at the curtain call, the teacher was sobbing and laughing at the same time and her tears drew more from the rest of us.

The children and the teacher should be proud of themselves!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Quilting? Not a lot

I've not had anything quilty to show lately have I? I'm slowly hand quilting A Tisket a Tasket. It doesn't look very exciting because all I'm doing is stitching in the ditch, but maybe the simpleness will bring out the applique even more.

Mrs. Furui sent me an e-mail with pictures thanking me for my help on the Christmas quilt that she and her volunteer group have been making for a local hospital. (I made two blocks.) Mrs. Furui did all the hand quilting.

And this week I received a cute little chicken pot holder (made with cat fabric) from Callie. Doesn't it sit nicely on my kettle?!