Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween decorations

On the front door a small wreath with felt Halloween figures.

Here is my one quilt that I have up for Halloween. I know, pretty measly but I'm a walking scary decoration during this season anyway so everything else is limited to plastic and stuffed. This was a kit sent to me by my friend Noriko-san that she made herself. (Mine looks exactly like hers but she made hers an oblong shape). Unfortunately Noriko-san had mastered the art of paper piecing and had showed me the basics in a very short one hour lesson when she was visiting from her faraway hometown. After she went home I got out my sewing machine and proceeded to completely annihilate the paper foundation on one piece before giving up. Obviously I didn't have the slightest idea about the theory of paper piecing (folding the paper away etc. etc.) so I taped the perforated, ripped foundation paper together, made minuscule cardboard templates and long after that first Halloween finally made all the blocks by hand. Of course no one realizes the torture I went through to get this made and I love my little Halloween quilt but it came by hard work. Not long after I spent a year paper piecing by Internet lessons and I feel pretty confident now.

This is the craft project we are doing this week in my English class. It is a good thing I've only got three or four kids to a class! Here again I found the directions on the Internet and for fourth grade and above it is a good craft.

And this is my stuffed frog that only gets taken out during Halloween. It is too big to have sitting around on the sofa the rest of the year but Lemi loves it so much I may keep it out a while longer just for her. Funny cat. She usually hides away and people don't even realize we have her but since this frog has come out she sits between its arms on the armchair all day long. I know, Lemi and the frog and the armchair all blend together so it is kind of hard to see but everyone who comes in the house and sees them together wants a picture of them. My Halloween kitty and I didn't even know it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Good Witch

I've got tons of Halloween pictures that I thought I'd save until Halloween but there are too many for one post so I show some today.

First off, I found a pumpkin! Actually one of my students tracked it down for me at a florist's shop so I hightailed it over there and bought it and put it in front of Tetsu and said "Please carve it for me!" Here is my husband's pumpkin creation. I'm carrying it to the pre-school and kindergarten but otherwise it sits in front of the house making my corner of the neighborhood a little bit fun. (We're the only jack-o-'lantern for miles around!)

Yesterday I went to the pre-school as a Halloween "good witch" and gave out cookies and sang a couple of songs. The teachers really went all out and all the kids had costumes on! I'm sure they had a great time and since the principal took these pictures for me (and she knows I blog) I guess I can post these.

And this is my get up for Halloween. I must have made this dress at least 10-12 years ago and I wear it everyday the week of Halloween. The vest is interchangeable and I did make a Christmas vest but the cotton fabric is too flimsy for the Christmas season so I've never worn it but at Halloween. I appliqued the vest from some pattern but unfortunately I don't remember where. The other accessories have been added over the years. The black hat someone gave me. The earring are pompoms and pipe-cleaners hot bonded together. Every year we do crafts (or cookies) for Halloween in my English classes and one year we made the Styrofoam spider. I added it to the hat and all the kids just love to see it bobbing about from the rim. Another year we made the clothespin bat from felt and that got added to my get up. (I like the upside down effect) And yesterday we made the bead spider that's sitting on my shoulder. I'll try to get a better picture of that in tomorrow's class.

Yesterday, and every year, I had shopping to do in town after going to the pre-school and except for the hat I wore this outfit in the stores. I think that in America the cashiers or other shoppers might give a laugh and say something like "Where's your broom?" or even "Happy Halloween!" but though everyone in Japan knows that Halloween season is here (the stores are decorated!) no one says a word to me and I can feel everyone looking out the corners of their eyes as I walk by. Conversation stops and you just know that people are thinking "Look at that poor lady. She must have lost her marbles." No one cracks a smile... Lighten up people!!

Monday, October 29, 2007

School lunch monitors

Today I asked one of my students if I could take his picture and tell you about the custom of "Lunch Monitor" in Japan.

In most elementary schools in Japan, lunch is prepared in the school kitchens and all students are required to eat the school lunch. No bag lunches are allowed which is handy for the mothers and gives the kids a chance to acquire a taste for different dishes. A monthly menu is handed out just so mothers won't give their family the same evening meal I suppose. I always found the menus handy for planning my own meals though some of the combinations were a bit odd. Grilled fish and sweet buns for instance. Even though the schools have kitchens, they don't have a lunch room which means that each class eats lunch in their own classroom. According Yasuaki, there are 8 lunch monitors for each class (average 30 kids to a class) and each child takes a one week turn.

At lunch time, the monitors suit up in their white coats, hats and masks and head for the kitchens where pots are placed on carts along with dishes, bowls, trays, chopsticks and cartons of milk. The children roll the cart back to their classroom and then the rest of the class lines up in front of the cart. Each child gets a tray with the dishes etc.on it and then the lunch monitors divvy up the day's menu. This takes some skill. Yasuaki-kun said that you have to be careful that the people at the beginning of the line aren't given too much so that the people at the end of the line get gypped. Sometimes they have to recall some of the people who have been served too much which means no one is allowed to eat until all are equally served and seated. Then everyone says "Itadakimasu!" (roughly translated as "We gratefully partake") and finally everyone can eat.

When my kids were in school I remember that there was a rule that you could leave one thing on your plate (but only one) if you didn't like it. This was a real headache for Leiya who was a picky eater. Leave the vegetables, the fish or the salad today? Nowadays, Yasuaki-kun said that most teachers won't let you leave anything or at the very most you must divide the portion and not touch part of it so that you can give it to someone who likes it and you must eat your small portion. I asked some of the neighbor boys what their favorite school lunch was and unanimously the answer was "Curry Rice!" When I asked what they liked least there were a variety of answers, "Seaweed salad!" "Cheese!" "Sweet Bean Jelly!" You can see that school lunch is somewhat different from American school lunches!

After lunch is finished all the dishes and trays are returned to the cart and the monitors take it back to the kitchen. The kids all get out their toothbrushes then and give their teeth a quick brush before going about their academic day. On Fridays the lunch monitors take their white jackets and hats home in a little bag and the mothers wash them over the weekend and they are brought back and passed to the next monitor on Monday morning. A very efficient system don't you think?

At the pre-school where I teach lunches are also made for the children but each lunch is pre-served on dishes and brought to the classroom by cart. On the day I took this picture they were having a slice of salmon, broccoli and mayonnaise, carrot and burdock root, rice, miso soup and a canned pear slice. Yum!

Sunday, October 28, 2007


Yesterday was a full day but my friend, Marlene saved me!

Marlene called just as I was finishing posting yesterday and we decided to go to a concert together in town. (Talk about throwing plans to the wind easily!) I still wanted to go help at the church in the morning, and I still had all those cookies I was planning to bake so.... Marlene said "Come on over after the concert and we can bake cookies at my place and have coffee and chat at the same time!" You don't know how much of a time saver this was!

Marlene's been in Japan about the same length of time as I have but she has an AMERICAN KITCHEN! When she and her husband built their home they had all their appliances and woodwork etc. shipped from the States so Marlene actually has counter space, built-in cupboards and a oven!!! And the oven bakes at Fahrenheit not Celsius!!!! And the oven bakes two BIG cookie sheets full of LOTS of cookies at one time!!!!!!! Let me tell you, we made fast work of all my cookie dough (I had mixed the ingredients together in the morning) and finished what would have taken me at least two days work in just a couple of hours. Great time chatting and nibbling at the cookies that we "accidentally" broke.

Marlene is a such a good friend and we had a wonderful day chatting, enjoying a concert, baking and just playing around! Thanks Marlene!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

On your mark...

I am starting my whirlwind cookie baking now! And I have a schedule to fill today so.... sorry, I can't take time to blog until late this evening (if at all?) Wish me well that I don't burn any of these morsels!

And here is as far as I've gotten on the Tonya's class quilt. (Rats, I've got laundry in this picture too. Too bad, no time to retake it!) Sort of coming together right? I had wanted to do this today too (one more phrase with borders on it to go) but that's probably out too. Sigh... Life sure can get busy but one day when I'm sitting in a rocking chair bemoaning my quiet life I'll look back fondly on this time. Until then.. . On your mark....Get set.....Go!!!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Vegetables and other necessities

Autumn is the season of bounty and harvest and around here I am reaping the benefits of people's gardens, fields and trees. Look what I was given just these past couple of days.

Two days ago when walking Choco one of the farmers called me over and handed me this huge bundle of nira. I guess we would call them leeks in the States. I love leeks but this is surely too much for two people! That night I made some delicious egg flower soup with them and last night I fried up some leeks and tofu but I still have half a bag left! Hmm. Wonder what I can make tonight with them... Leek pancakes? Cream of leek soup?

Next to those are a vegetable called hayato uri. Who knows what these are called in English. (I checked. It's called a Chayote. Do you know what that is? I don't.) They are from the cucumber family but certainly don't taste like cucumbers. The neighbor who gave them to me said she makes pickles so last night I made some overnight pickles and then another type of pickle that I'll serve tonight with dinner. I tried the one batch this morning and they weren't what I'd called a delicacy. I hope tonight's are better. I have eaten delicious hayato uri pickles so I know I'm just not doing something right, it is not the vegetable's fault...

And finally, in the wire basket those are persimmons. Persimmons abound in northern Japan and there are many different kinds. These are quite sweet and juicy. Some persimmons have to be dried before they are edible and some are flat and eaten crisp. When my kitchen starts to get an overabundance of persimmons (like chestnuts, all farmers seem to have one or two persimmon trees and my students bring them to me) then I make persimmon cake which my Japanese friends seem to really like. Tetsu may get these eaten before I can turn them into a cake.

And the other day the pastor's wife gave us some spinach and a Japanese radish. The radish is a favorite vegetable in Japanese cooking and great for soups and stews or even grated and served with fish. Hopefully tonight I'll be able to cook it up in a pork stew. It certainly looks like I don't need to go to the vegetable section of the supermarket for a while doesn't it?

While I may not be buying fruit and vegetables, I certainly bought a lot today in the way of ingredients for Halloween cookies that I have on my to do list for this weekend. You may recall that my oven bakes 9 to 12 cookies at a time and since I've got 40 kids in the pre-school to give cookies to (for Halloween) on Monday and 120 kids at the kindergarten on Wednesday, you can see I've got my work cut out for me! Nothing fancy (I don't have the time or energy to make cute Halloween cookies this year!) but hopefully they will be tasty.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


No, I'm not visiting a hospital nor planning to rob a bank.

Last week I caught a cold (again!) but it didn't put too much of a dent in my activities. I have been plodding along now only harboring a cough but I have my trusty mask to protect the people around me. People wearing masks is a very common site on the Japanese streets, and in department stores especially at this time of year and during the flu season (and also during hay fever season). It is common courtesy to wear a mask when you catch a cold in Japan or when you are especially worried about catching someone else's germs. When I first came to Japan it made me think that all the doctors in the operating rooms had left their patient on the table and had gone off forgetting to take off their masks.

I sometimes wonder how effective these little $1 gauze masks are. They are made of at least 8 layers of gauze with another interchangeable gauze piece inside and they have soft elastic bands that slip over the ears. I thought germs and viruses were small enough to pass through cloth weave and fibers but I suppose masks can prevent flying germs from sneezing and coughs. If nothing else, you know the person who is wearing one is probably not feeling up to par (and can keep your distance?) and probably is a very conscientious person.

For me, speaking with someone who wears a mask is somewhat of a challenge. Not that I read lips or anything, but seeing someone's facial expressions is very helpful when understanding a topic if you don't quite understand all the vocabulary, (another reason why I don't especially like the telephone) but all that is hidden under those layers of gauze. Masks are also slightly annoying when trying to understand or correct a student's English pronunciation so in class I usually say "take off the mask and give us your germs!"

For children there are all sort of cute little logos on the masks and even some in pastel colors. Yesterday at the kindergarten I found a little girl wearing a Mimi mouse mask.

For all you people with colds "Odaijini!" "Take care of yourself!"

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Hiromi's artwork

Look at this lovely card that one of my former students sent me.

Hiromi-chan is in college now and lives in another prefecture so I don't get to see her on a weekly basis like I have for years but she keeps in touch and I see her mother often. (Last week Hiromi's mother and other friends took me out to lunch.) I think Hiromi must have heard about my 30 year Japanese anniversary through her mother and she made this very special card for me. Look at the detail that she has put into this! Everything is so intricate and cut out so perfectly. Maybe you can see the little girl lovingly holding a clock and then all the clock gears scattered around the card. So lovely! Hiromi-chan always uses very soft colors and draws in pencil so it is a little hard to catch on camera but I treasure her art work especially now when she is far away and so involved in studies and a new life.

Thank you so much Hiromi! Hope to see you again this New Year's!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Animal woes

I don't want anyone to misunderstand my love for my animals but honestly, sometimes I wonder WHY ARE WE KEEPING THESE CREATURES!

When I think of all the money we pour into our pets I can understand why some people think pet owners are nuts. There are the vet bills, the special food (for the cat's urinary problems) the treats and toys, the food, the blankets and leashes, the food, the dishes and collars, and the food! I sometimes think that though I don't spend much money on clothing, jewelry or make-up, my luxury items are my pets and I spend a wallop on them!!

Then there is the effort that it takes to have animals. The dog has to be walked at least once a day, hopefully twice (for Choco, hopefully three times!) I constantly check out the window to see if Choco is sleeping peacefully or else I'm shushing her up and telling her to sleep peacefully! The cats have to be given equal share of love and petting and they demand attention time when I'm cooking, teaching, and sewing! Do I even mention the amount of vacuuming I do, the cat balls on the stairs, the three cat boxes?

Then there is the damage control! Choco barks too much so we have to find a place where she won't disturb the neighbors. She digs so we buy gravel and part of Tetsu's morning routine is to refill the holes Choco has made the day before. She rips up blankets and pillows that we provide for her comfort so there is yard clean-up.

And the cats! You cannot believe how we have to do fix-up for the cats! They've scratched furniture so that everything has to be hidden under throw covers. They completely put holes in the walls. (I got to put in paneling to hide the damage!) They "ate" a hole in the linoleum when we locked them up in the bathroom one time (I had someone put in a new floor for me!) And to this day, the cats continue to attack the corners of all the rooms so Tetsu has put up interesting wooden slats that cover the scratched away areas. The slats are inter-changeable so when one piece of wood is destroyed we can just hammer up a new piece of wood. I'm not saying we've done this all last week. These are projects and problems that we've "solved" over the years. You can see that for our family at least, having animals leads to a lot of headaches.

This weekend I felt sorry for Choco because as it turns colder she is left in a yard that gets no sun.

"Tetsu, don't you think you could move her doghouse a little so that she can enjoy the sun for part of the day?" So he moved and I directed.

"No, put the house on the other side of the kennel. How about bricks in front of the dog house so that she has a terrace? Maybe you should cut back the tree so that she gets more light. Are you sure she isn't going to get wet if it rains?"

Tetsu was grumbling that I spend a lot more time thinking about the comfort of our animals than I do about his.

For all of that I wouldn't be without a dog or cat (or two or three or four or five) for all the money in the world. They bring a smile to my face on the gloomiest days and I really believe animals have calming powers! (Tell me that when I'm out chasing Choco or yelling at a cat to stay away from the dinner table!)

Monday, October 22, 2007


The weekend went by quickly with a lot of chatting with friends but very little sewing done. I had a lovely time at the kindergarten bazaar sitting in the "tearoom" and chatting with people whom I hadn't seen in a long time. Parents of kids that Takumi and Leiya went to kindergarten with, old neighbors (we used to live near the kindergarten), teachers who have retired and have children of their own. No, I did not win the raffle quilt (as expected?) but I'm sure the kindergarten mother who did can't believe her good fortune! It is so nice to know that our quilt group has made someone happy and at the same time made a little money for the kindergarten.

Yesterday, we did the second round of the Sunday School baby quilt with a different group of kids. The week before there were only babies, yesterday three older kids joined so in some ways the process went smoother. BUT, I had prepared a lot of blue fabrics because I'd been told that the expected baby was a boy. When I got to the church the pastor's wife told me the family had had a baby girl! That was a surprise! (And if it was a surprise to me, think what a surprise it was to the family who had been told their baby was a boy and they'd been referring to it with a boy's name the past couple months!) I guess that's a lesson to always expect surprises. So today, even though I'd already prepared blue borders for this quilt I rummaged through my stash and found some acceptable pink fabric. The fabric is actually different from last week's quilt, but it looks the same in the pictures. Here it is in the flimsy stage and again with last week's quilt that is waiting to be tied. Next Sunday after church we'll have all the church members tie both quilts and pray for both babies.

And another half finished project is the Wonky Word quilt. I added some houses and hearts to this phrase but I still am not sure how I'm going to get all four phrases together into one quilt. I really need to get all these quilts off the floor so that there is space to walk around in these rooms (I'm overflowing into the second room now!) How much more patience from Tetsu can I expect?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Citizenship etc.

Someone asked me awhile ago about what my citizen and alien status was in Japan so I thought I'd tell you a little about Japanese red-tape and the situation of foreigners in Japan.

Foreigners are foreigners. Whether they are born in another country and choose to live in Japan because of work or marriage, they keep the citizenship of their mother country. Foreigners born in Japan (such as missionary children or children who are born here while their parents are here because of residence) have the citizenship of their parents. They do not automatically get Japanese citizenship. Children who have Japanese and foreign parents have dual citizenship until they are 20. That is another long post... I have heard that it is possible to change your citizenship to Japanese citizenship but I've never met anyone who has done this though I know of one sumo wrestler who did. At any rate, I think he was a national hero.

I came to Japan on a teaching visa 30 years ago and that had to be renewed every 6 months. After Tetsu and I were married I was given a spouse visa that had to be renewed every two years I think. Finally after nearly 15 years of marriage I was given permanent residency (equivalent to a green card in the States?). I think it is easier to get permanent residence nowadays but for a long time I had the feeling that the government was hesitant to give it to me just because they wanted to make sure that this marriage was going to last. I guess when I had two kids in grade school they decided I was here to stay. I've heard that permanent residency can be revoked fairly easily, like if you forget to get a re-entry permit when leaving Japan, but I protect mine fiercely. It was a hassle to get the card to begin with so I'm not planning to have it taken away from me!

Of course in Japan there is citizenship registration, kokuseki. I have American citizenship, Tetsu has Japanese and the kids have dual citizenship. There is also something called family registration, koseki tohon, and I am registered as Tetsu's wife on his family registration. These are records that can be used to trace the family's roots back quite a ways. In the koseki tohon all births, marriages, divorces, deaths etc. are recorded. It seems very confusing to me so I may have some of these details wrong but the important thing is I am listed as Tetsu's wife on his family register.

Then we get to the resident registration records called jyumin hyo. This is something completely different and you must register with the city office to say that you live in a certain place. The glitch here is that foreigners are not allowed to go on the resident registration (the city office will make a "memo" if the foreigner is head of the household) so in essence Tetsu is unmarried and our two children have no mother. I find this slightly humorous though I know some foreigners think it an unforgivable slight by the Japanese government. It has never given us a lot of problems. True, when Takumi was a baby someone from a welfare office came to see how the "motherless" family was getting along but I didn't particularly take offense. I think another time Takumi needed his resident registration form for something and asked me to pick it up at the city office for him but they wouldn't give it to me. Who am I? No one sounding like me written on the form so they wouldn't hand it out to a "stranger".

The only other annoyance I can think of occurs a few times a year (and again just last night which is why I'm writing this post today). Last night someone called around 8:30 and when I answered they asked to speak to Tetsu (referring to him by a different pronunciation of his name so I had a hint of what organization was calling). When I corrected them they said they were from a "companion and marriage service".

"Mr. Watanabe is my husband so I don't think he needs a companion and marriage service."

Oh my! Did they apologize fast and hang up!

My friend, Marlene (also married to a Japanese) says that her husband gets calls like this fairly often too and we realized that someone has got access to the resident registration records and they are calling the poor men who have no wife and need someone to take care of them in their old age. A marriage service! Tetsu can get quite incensed when he gets a phone call like this. Last night's person was quite fortunate that I answered.

"Who was on the phone?" Tetsu asked when I came back.

"Someone wanting to know if you need a companion or want them to introduce you to a wife. You don't do you?" and I gave him a kiss.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Shiori speaking

Today I asked Shiori-chan, my high school English student if she would write about her experience hosting a foreign student in her home last month. I had a chance to meet the student too and Shiori-chan's mother took us out to dinner and then we played with the "purikura". Shiori-chan will explain...

Hi. This is Shiori. You might remember me because I once wrote about gold calligraphy on Tanya's blog. Recently an exchange student from Australia came to stay at my house. Her name was Chayelle and she was one grade below me in school. Even though she stayed only 10 days with us, we did all sorts of things together.

One of the first days she was here, I took her to my calligraphy class. We wrote the character tsuki (it means moon) and tora (it means tiger). Chayelle did very well and I was surprised. I tried to write the same characters but mine weren't so good. And I'm the Japanese! Maybe the reason is because I usually write smaller characters...

Another thing we did was to go shopping. Whenever we went to a store, Chayelle wanted to take pictures in a vending machine. It is a lot of fun and we could decorate our pictures ourselves with drawings and words. In Japanese, the vending machines are called purikura. We took many different kinds of pictures. Almost 70 sheets!

While Chayelle was staying with us I had a bit of culture shock. For one thing, my family usually eats a lot of vegetables and fish but Chayelle said that she hated fish! That was a problem! Besides that, we also often make salads, but Chayelle didn't eat any! What she did eat was a lot of meat, chocolate pretzels, little jellies, sweet rice balls and rice balls. We were worried about her diet but she was happy because she said she lost weight while she was in Japan.

Before I met Chayelle I thought all foreigners were very friendly and chatty, but Chayelle was rather shy and quite considerate of other people's feelings and the situations around her. The last two or three days that Chayelle was in Japan, we became very close and very silly together. Chayelle taught me tongue twisters in English and took many crazy photos of herself. I had a very good time with her and I think we became very good friends!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Finished quilts

Sewing on Thursday! Actually not much actual sewing but some good chatting time with sewing friends and I got to see what is being done by other people. Some gorgeous hand quilting by a couple ladies and some beautiful color schemes. Those pictures will come later.

I have two pictures of finished quilts, one by Mrs. Harada who has been working on this quilt for two years. This is for her husband and the quilting is very fine. She doesn't like quilting particularly but you certainly can't tell by looking at this beauty! She still has to get a label on this one and she is already working on another for one of her sons.

And maybe you all recognize this though the picture isn't that great. YEAH!!! The kindergarten bazaar quilt is finished!!! Tomorrow it will be given to the kindergarten mothers in charge of the raffle and by 2:00 will be in the hands of the fortunate winner! I will be buying raffle tickets too, so you never know... This quilt was "discovered" on Quilting Bebbs (Jan. 16) blog at the beginning of the year and I contacted Anne to ask if we could reproduce it for the bazaar. Thank you, Anne! It came out beautifully and I know everyone who sees it for the first time tomorrow will be thrilled with it!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Wild Mountain Vegetable

I thought I'd show you what we had for dinner last night. Looks like a normal meal doesn't it? A hamburger patty, salad, pumpkin soup and mixed rice with mukago. What is mukago? Even some of my Japanese friends ask me that!

In Japan, one of the favorite past times is to go looking for "wild mountain vegetables". What is a "wild mountain vegetable" you may ask. Well, they can be shoots and fronds of ferns, fresh leaves or sprouts from trees or grasses in the forest. There is also the whole range of mushrooms that can be found too. Of course, most gathering goes on in the spring, but in the autumn there are still edible plants hiding in the forest if you know what you are looking for. I don't know what I'm looking for so I don't make a habit of "wild mountain vegetable" gathering but many years ago someone showed me these little "berries" on the vines in the woods and ever since then I spend one short walk gathering them once a year and serve them at dinner. It is my token acknowledgement of the custom of gathering "wild mountain vegetables". It makes me feel sort of like Laura of Little House on the Prairie eating off the land!

I checked in the dictionary and found that the definition for mukago is "a bulbil". That doesn't tell you a lot does it? I checked "bulbil" and the definition is "a small bulb-like structure, especially in the axil of a leaf, which may fall to form a new plant." Except for the fact that I don't know what an axil is either I think you get the idea. In this case, the mukago is from the vine of a Chinese yam and they just hang there and are very easy to collect. I've seen people in the woods following the vine and then digging up the yam too, but I'm satisfied with the mukago.

Mukago have a potato-like flavor and texture and they are quite tasty. As you can see though, they aren't so appealing to look at. Tetsu sort of frowns at them and his comment is that it looks like I'm feeding him rabbit pellets. True, but I only make him eat them once a year to welcome in the autumn season.

Next time you're in the woods (in Japan at least) check the vines and see if there are any mukago and then go make a pot of rice!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Flower arranging

There are many schools and styles of flower arranging in Japan, some traditional, some modern, some based on the western style of flower arranging. There are also quite a few famous flower arrangers who have hundreds of followers and have written books on different shapes and combinations that you can make with flowers. The flower world has become quite charismatic.

When I first came to Japan, one of my Japanese friends suggested we take a flower arranging class together. I thought this was a great idea! Every week we would go to the class and the teacher would hand us a bundle of flowers and we would follow her arranging instructions using a low dish and a steel needled block to poke flower stems into. We also had special steel scissors. After a couple months though, I decided I wasn't really cut out for flower arranging. For one, the sweet elderly teacher would give me a flower and I'd poke it into my block and she would come along smilingly and remove it and place it another way saying that I had to put "the face" of the flower looking a certain way. I absolutely couldn't understand what the face of a flower was. I also asked lots of questions like how long the flower stems should be, what angle should the stems be from each other, how far apart should the flowers be spaced and furiously scribbled in a notebook with lines and arrows pointing here and there. The teacher smilingly suggested I forget numbers and concentrate on the "faces".

The idea was that after class, we would go home with the flowers hopefully arrange them again in our own low dish and steel block and have a breathtaking display to put in the Japanese alcove that all Japanese houses have for displaying flowers, scrolls and artistic pieces of pottery (the tokonoma). Unfortunately, my flower arrangement never looked anything like what the teacher had made at the flower arranging class and besides I lived in the back room of the center where I worked and didn't have a tokonoma or anything except a corner of a sink. My flower arranging days didn't last very long.

Even today, though I have a tokonoma, I use it for practical purposes like a place for a bookcase and file cabinet. No art displayed anywhere. And though I've tried my hand at brightening the room with flowers (just yesterday someone gave me a gorgeous bouquet!) the cats like to eat the Baby's Breath and other small blooms and leaves, so flowers get pretty ragged quickly in my house.

The other day I visited a friend who has recently started studying flower arranging and again I think how nice it is to have fresh flowers gracing one's home. Hmmm. No, Tanya, don't start another hobby! But this arrangement was calling to me. Look at that big yellow flower in the center. I asked the name and my friend said it was called a "Pincushion"! No wonder I like it!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Morning walk

Let's see... What do I have to say today?

On our morning walks, Tetsu and I meet quite a lot of people although we start out at a little before 6:00 am. Recently it is barely getting light when we start out and almost every morning Tetsu tries to convince me that we should wait until later (knowing full well we need to be back home by 7:00) or if it is drizzling he'll put up an argument for forgetting about it all together and going back to sleep. I'm one of those people who decide if I've made a committment to something I'm going to do it come hell or high water! You know who Choco sides with. So off on our walks we go no matter what the sky looks like.

Of course the farmers must be up since before dawn and during the summer we would be awakend by the sound of tractors, but even now they are out in the fields putting up hot houses or working in them, burning leaves etc. Most every morning we meet the same people on our walks. The elderly people out to get their exercise ambling along with canes and radios so that they can listen to the news as they walk. Couples (like us) out for a brisk stroll (all around our age... starting to worry about cholesterol probably.) High school kids who have to bike about 20 minutes to the station or jr. high kids in their gym clothes bicycling to school for early morning sport practice.

Here are some of the friendly people that we meet daily.

Leek farmers working in the hot house. Leeks (known in Japan as nira) are a local product in our area and these farmers have rows and rows of hot houses. Occasionally they'll just hand me a bunch that they've just cut from the ground and within 15 minutes I'll have fresh leeks in my miso soup.

A woodcutter who often stops to lean over and give Choco a pet on the head. On this day we asked him if he would cut down a stump on the side of the road that Tetsu ran the car into the other day (blew two tires!)

Two grandmas who wish us well every morning. And two of my neighbors and friends who have a few minutes of free time after making lunches and driving their kids to catch an early morning train.

"Ohayou gozaimasu!" "Good morning! And have a good day!"

Monday, October 15, 2007

You Make Me Smile Award

Not too much to report on today.

One of the Sunday School quilts is in flimsy form. It was a bit more of a circus than I expected but it got done. We'll do the same next week for the second quilt. It turned out we had only the youngest members of the class yesterday. Two babies who are only a little over a year themselves. One three year old and one 5 year old. This made for problems but on the other hand because the mothers were there too, we had a lot of help. The little ones had never held a crayon before so to get any drawing on the fabric was a challenge. All the kids never figured out what we were trying to do so they were drawing on the table, eating crayons etc. When it got to laying patches on the interfacing, just to have the child hand me the patch took a lot of "cheering".

"Ayumi-chan. Give me the doggie (drawing). No, here Ayumi-chan. Give to me. Not the crayon. The doggie. Ayumi-chan, don't suck the fabric. Bring it to me! Good girl!!!"

Thanks to the mothers who also helped draw pictures we did end up with some cute little blocks! Ironed them all down (sort of strange placements but that's where the kids put the blocks so I didn't change anything) and I took it all home and sewed it together with a border. This for the little girl baby. Next week's we'll work on the quilt for the boy baby.

Connie tagged me for the "You Make Me Smile Award" even though I was tagged last week too. I see, the award has morphed again, and I don't suppose I have to write things about myself with the first letters of my name. I'll just say thank you and give the names of blogs that make me smile too. As I said before, you all make me smile but I especially laugh out loud and smile when I see the pictures of your sweet pets. So... I name...

Maine-Coon-Luna -- Frieda, Luna, Luzie and Patch
From the Strawberry Patch -- Hannes and Turbo
Lazy Gal Quilting -- Lily, Habibi, Howler and Pokey
Quilting Rush -- Roogrr and Disco
Blogging, Near Philadelphia -- Bodacious, (Fig and Survivor)
Life's Free Treats --Honey and Leo
And Sew it is -- Amos
Making Scrap Quilts from Stash -- Chesty
Quiltville's Quips -- Sadie, Buddy, Oscar and Emmy Lou
The Dutchlady -- Toby and Paula
Tazzie Quilts -- Holly
Quilting with Ragdolls -- Pixel and Noodle
Kusanohana -- Kanna
Aby Quilts -- Frieda
Oops. I did forget RB and Rhapsody at The Calico Cat!

I know that's more than the alloted 5 or 7 or whatever, and I certainly hope I haven't forgotten any of my other animal pals. I guess I'm not going to relay the message but if any of you notice your furry friends' (no offense to Fig and Survivor, Toby and Paula) names please feel fee to consider yourself tagged.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Great Pumpkin, where are you?

Yesterday, my friend Marlene and her neighbor came up my way and we went out looking for the Great Pumpkin.

Marlene lives in the next town over and we have been friends for nearly 15 years. Her husband is also Japanese and we both came to Japan around the same time. Our kids have grown up together and when everyone lived at home we would often have Thanksgiving dinners together. Nowadays we only seem to have time for a quick lunch or coffee together.

Marlene also teaches English in her home and every year has a big Halloween party and her English kids look forward to Halloween decorations as mine do. So... What we need are Halloween jack-o'lanterns! Every year around this time we start looking for pumpkins but it is not as easy as you might think. So far this year, neither of us has found a pumpkin so Marlene thought we'd have more luck out in my farming area than in her more populated town so we went on our treasure hunt together. (Her neighbor, Mrs. Waki, went along to watch how nutsy foreigners can get.)

Some years I've found pumpkins in some one's field and gone up to the farmhouse and scared the poor farmer worse than any Halloween ghost might have.

"Excuse me. You seem to have pumpkins. Would you sell me one or two?"

The farmer was so surprised to have a foreigner come to his door that he just gave them to me. (Marlene has even better luck. She's blond!)

A couple of years ago Marlene found some big yellow pumpkins being used for autumn decorations at the grocery store that were not for sale but she convinced the manager that he wouldn't have any use for them after Halloween anyway and she needed them now.

This year however, we aren't doing so well. We checked out three places yesterday where we've found pumpkins before but this year there was neither hide-nor-hair of a Halloween pumpkin. It's not that Halloween hasn't become popular in Japan. Plastic decorations abound, (five years ago no one had even heard of Halloween in this part of Japan) and lots of Halloween candy for exorbitant prices. Of course Japanese eat pumpkins but they are small and dark green! The stores also sell decorative orange pumpkins about the size of a tea cup and they even provide "face" stickers so that you can have a jack-o'lantern on your coffee table or somewhere. But Japan has yet to adopt the custom of putting out smiling, candle lit jack-o'lanterns on your front porch.

We've still got two weeks to search so I haven't given up yet! Great Pumpkin, I'm waiting for you!