Sunday, September 30, 2012

Elementary school Sports Day

Sports Day is a big event in Japan.  Bigger than Christmas!  Every single organization will have a Sports Day, usually in the autumn.  Yesterday I was invited to the elementary school Sports Day and after doing crosswalk duty for an hour and a half (children came first and then parents) I sat at the honored guests' table and enjoyed a front row view.  Lots of pictures today.

Sports Day begins with opening ceremonies.  The red team and the white team pledge to be honorable in their play and attitude.

I was sitting near the white team and all grades bowed their allegiance.

And before the day begins everyone must loosen up and stretch those muscles.

It was a beautiful day!  (We're expecting a typhoon tomorrow.)

Of course there are races.  Yoi....Don!  "Ready...Go!"

And ball relay for the younger class.

There is a tug-a-war with bamboo poles.

And dances.

And an acrobatic show put on by the fifth and sixth graders.  Start with solo positions.

Strong stomach muscles!

Dirty feet come with the day.

Then there are pair exercises.

And more...

 Next the students combine into trios.

 I wonder how they choose who gets top position.

 And the pyramids get higher!

Oh dear... I hope those kids on the bottom row have strong backs!

 Okay... a short exercise to develop some teamwork...  Keep that wave moving!

And then the finale...  Two pyramids were made from the combined fifth and sixth graders.  It was interesting to see how the pyramid was made.  A group of 6 or 8 children ran to the center...  Another group of 12 or more children knelt around them and the standing group bent over them.  4 or 5 students climbed onto the top row's backs and formed a "table" and then the final child climbed on top of them and the table "lifted".

A couple of teachers standing around the perimeter to push someone if they start to lean, or maybe to catch someone if they start to fall, but no mishaps this day.  What an accomplishment!

I enjoyed drinking cold tea and watching the morning events.  (I didn't stay through afternoon.)  And in the guests' relay (a whole 20 steps) I won a package of kitchen sponges!

Saturday, September 29, 2012


How many of you keep fresh flowers on your table or in a corner of a room?  I would love to... but I don't.

Sometimes I've visited little cafes or restaurants with a sprig of a wild flower sitting in a glass vase or a few leaves occupying an earthen pot.  It seems so homey and back to nature to have a simple flower unobtrusively gracing a window sill.

Well, we have the wild flowers this season.  Choco and I went out yesterday with the camera and found lots of wildflowers.

These are a type of amaryllis called Higanbana, that are abundant around the perimeters of rice fields.  Someone must have planted some bulbs at one time and they've just multiplied here (they are only around some of the rice fields.)  I have learned that these do not make great cut flowers... they wilt too quickly.  So I go OUT to the flowers to enjoy them rather than try to bring them into my house.

Higanbana are interesting because they just suddenly pop up out of the earth one morning.  No leaves or anything, just a riot of vibrant red along the fields and between the bushes.

I made Choco pose in the middle of an Higanbana field.

In another direction there was a sprinkling of these yellow flowers in an empty field and Choco and I braved the undergrowth (snakes you know) to check them out.

"Now a couple of these cheery flowers might brighten up the house.  Let's take a few home and put them in a vase.  Maybe they won't wilt as fast as amaryllis."

I guess we'll never know.  Chip took great interest in the yellow flowers and within minutes she'd nipped through all the stems and strewn flowers on the window sill.  

 This is why I don't have flowers in my house...  I have cats instead.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Sewing for bazaars

Yesterday we had a Patchwork Thursday and my friends and I worked on little things for the upcoming hospital bazaar (where Mrs. Furui is a volunteer).  With not much time given to make things, we concentrated on sewing the little bears that I have shown before.  During the past two weeks Mrs. Furui and I made over 30 of them and yesterday my friends stuffed and sewed them together and then we hot bonded little badge clasps to the back.  It was an excellent carry along project (all hand sewing) and 32 mini-bears used up two bags of left-over batting pieces!!!  Yeah!

The whole den of bears ready for the bazaar.

Mrs. Ochiai was busy this past week making these adorable strap decorations.  Can you tell what these are?

They are little plastic Le Creuset bobbles that Mrs. Ochiai said her daughter collected every time they bought a Pepsi. Do you know what Le Creuset is?  It is a French made iron pot that is quite popular in Japan and very expensive.  I'd love to have a big heavy Le Creuset pot but I can't afford one.   (Don't ask my why Pepsi was offering plastic Le Creuset bobbles).  The original Pepsi bobbles were hanging from a rubber band so Mrs. Ochiai did some of her famous Chinese knotting and made these into very fancy strap decorations. 

And Mrs. Okutomi came this month (she lives quite far away... come to think of it, so does Mrs. Harada) and she finished the machine quilting for this year's kindergarten bazaar quilt.  Very colorful isn't it!  A lot of people helped to make all the trees and houses.  For sure none of us would ever want to make this quilt as a solo project.  Some of those trees were really detailed!!!

Mrs. Okutomi did a fantastic job of quilting this and thanks to her we are way ahead of our deadline.  (The kindergarten bazaar is at the end of next month).

Here are a few of us modeling in front of the quilt ala American teenage girl pose. This year while in the States I noticed how all the high school girls (my niece and her friends) posed for pictures.

"Okay everyone.  Hands on hip and suck in that tummy!  Turn your body to a slimming angle aligned with the camera.  Push out that bust.  SMILE!"

This is so out of character for my quilting friends.

I had to add this last picture to show how embarrassed and hilarious we found this (and I stopped sucking in my stomach.)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Wonderful Wednesdays

Do I even have any news today?  Not really.

I am enjoying my Wednesday afternoons recently.  The reason is because I went to one of my children's classes at the beginning of September and when the hour finished the mothers apologized saying they wanted to end the class from October.

"Why wait? Today can be the last class."

I have taught the three children (there used to be four) for five years.  Sort of a mismatch of mothers and come to think of it a mismatch of the four children too.  One extremely quick and eager, one socially challenged, one with a ferocious temper, another very involved with sports.  It was one of the few children's classes that I've had where I taught in the child's home (not have the children come to my house) and from the beginning I felt like a hired hand.  The mothers rarely came out of the other room, leaving me to straighten up the room a bit and assemble the boys who were outside playing soccer.  There was never a clock that worked in the room, the boys and I always had to push aside wastebaskets and ashtrays. At the end of the class one of the boys would hand me a can of coffee and that was that.

I enjoyed teaching the boys, especially the bright and eager one, but it has been harder and harder to get the challenged boy to participate; the angry boy had his good days and bad days.  I got the impression that the mothers had a misunderstanding when the fourth boy quit earlier in the year.

Tetsu has been telling me from a few years ago that I should just insist that the mothers bring the boys to my house (and if that was too much of an inconvenience then they really didn't put that much importance on their sons' English) but since my going to them had been the original arrangement, I was too wimpy to make a change.

I'm sorry that I will no longer be seeing the boys but not particularly unhappy that my weekly trip to the next town is finished.  And I am amazed at how free and cheerful I feel when Wednesdays come along and I realize that I don't have that one short hour any more.  One short hour to use as my own makes a surprising difference.  I can stop at the supermarket!  I can cook an extra dish for dinner!  I can take Choco for a walk on Wednesday!

(I didn't have enough Boggle blocks to spell out the word WONDERFUL.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

This week's embroidery

 Wednesday and I have a busy day again.  No sewing today.

This week I finished up another of the Promises and Borders blocks.  Getting towards the end here!  I have 9 blocks embroidered now (I think) and only one more to go.  I think I've run out of green variegated thread so I'll have to go hunting for the same color... Now where did I buy that skein?..

And Mrs. Nakazawa who is working on a Bible quilt came last week lamenting that her cataract surgery wasn't completely successful and she still has trouble seeing the embroidery lines.  She persevered with the lettering in this block but asked if I could retrace the pattern for her.  I can do better than that!  I can finish the embroidery for her.

Isn't this a cute pattern?  It is from Red Brolly (slight variation) and we added Mrs. Nakazawa's favorite Bible verse so that the block can be the center of the Bible sampler that Mrs. Nakazawa and Rumi-san are making.

I always say my eyes are finished with doing embroidery in this lifetime but I do love the finished blocks and the feeling of satisfaction when a pretty block is on the table!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Since buying my Olympus Pen Lite camera in March, I am a sometimes visitor to the Digital Photography School website.  I was hoping to learn a bit more about cameras and to become inspired by other photographers.  The website sends out weekend "homework" and though I've never posted there, I like to see what sort of images other people have captured.  Last weekend the theme was "Abandoned".

When we were looking for a house some 20 years ago, we found the one we own now at the edge of a neighborhood and backed up to a forest.  On the other side of the forest were the fields and at the edge of one field was a pig farm.  When we first moved to Nikko the air around us had a definite piggy aroma!  But the pig farm has been deserted for nearly 10 years now and the pig stalls and sheds are falling down as nature grows up.

IF I were posting on the photography website (and I'm not), this would be my entry...

An Abandoned Shed
Camera: Olympus E-PL2
Lens: 40mm focal length
Date:  9/24/12
ISO: 200
Shutter speed: 1/20
Aperture:  f/11

I peered into another shed and snapped this picture too.  Well, not completely abandoned.  There is a tiny frog taking a nap on the handle of an old tractor.

Thank you.  I just had to try posting my "homework" somewhere.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Challenge "game"

My Thursday patchwork group has done a couple of "games".  One year we did a mini-Round Robin (but it took over two years for all of us to get our quilts back).  And a couple of years ago we each chose a block and had our friends make a certain number each month.  I think only Mrs. Ochiai has finished that game.  (I still have to quilt my flimsy.)

As long as the 7 or 8 of us are going to get together monthly with the main purpose being making a bed size quilt for the kindergarten, I think a "game" where we work on similar things or cooperate to make something personal is a good way to promote friendship.  This summer while in the States and when looking at the pretty, whimsical fabric that is so hard to get in Japan, I decided to hand out a "challenge" to my friends.

I bought a few yards of Christmas fabric.  Not red and green.  Not religious.  Something fun and wintry.  I thought this was adorable and very outside my friends' normal fabric choice.  (That's what makes it a challenge!)  I passed out a half-yard to everyone last patchwork day and gave instructions that anything could be done with the fabric.  It could be cut up and pieced, or used in applique, it could be an accent fabric to something more striking, or it could be a whole cloth fabric with other blocks/pieces added.  Coasters could be made, or bags, Christmas decorations or wall quilts (or a lot of other fabric could be added to make a bed quilt!)  But whatever we made, it had to be a secret until December!

When it came right down to it, I looked at my half-yard and had no idea what to do.  Hmm.  Maybe I've given my friends a headache, not a challenge...  As the instigator of this challenge I really felt I needed to have made some progress by this coming Thursday (not something to show, just to be able to say "I've started!")  After checking Internet images of Christmas quilts, I've come up with an idea...  Not original but something I've admired and thought about making.

Last night I cut out circles...  Can you guess what I'm going to make?

I wonder if any of my friends have started thinking about this "game" or if I'm going to be a solo-player...

Sunday, September 23, 2012


Yesterday I exaggerated when I said I didn't have a room to lay out my quilt.  I have one bedroom that doesn't have MUCH furniture in it but there are two sets of futon laid out on the floor.  Hmmm.  If I want to baste that Starr Fire quilt I'm going to have to move the futon!

Julie from My Quilt Diary is the only one who will appreciate my solution to the basting problem.  Usually good Japanese housewives try to air their futon daily over the veranda rails or out in the yard.  It is difficult with the changeable weather and busy schedules but two or three hours out in the sun will drive dust mites away and turn the cotton under-futons into soft, fluffy, warm mats.  A glance around my neighborhood in the mornings and I can see futon hanging over the upstairs rails, trailing out of windows and the farmers will hang them over rods in their yards.

I am NOT a good Japanese housewife.  My futon get aired (gulp!.... dare I reveal this?) maybe once a month... (Oh my gosh.... It is a good thing Tetsu doesn't read English!)  I'm just not at home all day to watch the weather.  I'm just not conscientious enough to remember on sunny days that this would be a good chance to air futon.  I have enough trouble keeping my downstairs vacuumed and dishes washed to worry about lugging futon over the rails and dragging them back onto the bedroom floor before the sun disappears behind the trees.

But I looked at my quilt waiting to be basted and I looked at the futon on the floor and immediately concluded that this would be a great day to air futon!  I felt like Suzy Homemaker!  Ha!  I have a new criteria for being labeled a chronic quilter..

"You know you are a dedicated quilter when the only time your futon get aired is when you want to use the floor for basting."

So out went the futon over the rail.  Down went the backing (ironing the wrinkles directly on the carpet).  Down went my roll of batting.

"Thank you for your help Chip.  The batting will stay put without you."

 Chip is guarding the quilt AND the futon.

And finally I crawled around the floor for an hour and a half basting.  I am happy to report that I can now do this again whereas last year after knee surgery I thought I'd never have to do floor basting again.

By the way, I like to thread baste first and then add safety pins here and there.  Japanese basting thread IS THE BEST!  It is sold in a long loop that the sewer will cut through... thus making thread lengths that are all the same.  Pulling one thread (like when separating embroidery strands) there is actually very little tangling.

This looks like a mess but it isn't.  Each strand came free quite easily.  And Japanese basting thread also breaks at a sharp tug so scissors aren't really needed either.  When the quilting is finished, the threads can be pulled out without finger pain!

The futon were nice and fluffy from their morning airing session too!