Monday, December 31, 2007


Good morning!
We are already on December 31st here in Japan and the day has started off with a bang. The computer won't work! The heater won't work! Tetsu is overnight at the convalescent home so he gave me a hug, said he was sorry to leave me in these straits and didn't have much advice. So here I am, bundled up well thinking maybe I should go up to the sewing room and heat it with the little electric heater and sew for two days forgetting about the rest of the house and about blogging.

I don't know what we'll do about the computer. It crashed this morning and I no longer can get into Internet by normal routes. This means I have temporarily lost all blogging links unless I search for them through Google. I cannot find Bloglines! I also finally got into my own "create a post" by going through Tonya's blog and into her class blog and into my own profile etc. I hate to be so computer illiterate in some ways and so dependent on it in other ways. I feel I should have a balanced degree of computer knowledge but not so. I have sent an SOS e-mail to my son (in California!) and maybe he can give me advice or get into my computer some way.

I fixed Tetsu's mother's hanten. Tetsu took me directly from her apartment (where we determined it was really too short) to the fabric store and I bought more fabric and sewed it and tacked it on so that it doesn't look half bad! I think I got points in her book not only because I can make a hanten but also that I could fix it in a day's time. Tetsu took the longer version back to her yesterday and she says it fits perfectly now. Yeah!

And do you know what this is? This is called omochi the official food of the New Year. Omochi is made of sticky rice (a different type from what we eat normally) and it is pounded until it turns into paste. This is then shaped into balls or into a slab and in the case of the slab, it hardens and is later cut into squares. Our omochi came from three different sources. My pear farmer friends give us a huge slab at the end of every year and I've already cut it in half and taken one piece to Tetsu's mother. The other omochi pieces were given to me by English children whose parents are farmers. I see that the green one has soybeans in it and it has been colored green probably by seaweed.

Omochi itself is tasteless but on New Year's day it can be put into Japanese vegetable soup or mixed with different things for entirely different tastes. Too many to go into here! Tetsu likes it mixed with sweet soybean powder or sweet beanpaste. Sometimes we have it with seaweed, soy sauce and butter. Anyway, you can't have New Years without omochi.

Since my grandparents on my mother's side were from Japan, omochi wasn't unkown in my American home and occasionally we'd find it in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo. My mother liked it but my Caucasian father thought it absolutely terrible! He used to tease my mother and say things like "Do you know why Japanese only eat omochi on New Year's day? Because it stays in the pit of your stomach for a whole year!" It is true that it is a very heavy food and we really don't need to eat much else except for omochi on New Year's Day.
Okay, I need to do some shopping since tomorrow all the stores will be closed. Then I'm spending the day sewing! Hope I can get back into the blog tomorrow.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

New Year's Cards

Tetsu had a rare Saturday off yesterday so we spent the morning writing New Year's cards. My Japanese friends reading this are going to say, "Hey, those needed to be off 5 days ago if you expect them to arrive for New Year's!" but better written late then not at all.

New Year's cards in Japan are uniform size post cards. I mean, that is what New Year's cards are! You don't choose patterns and sizes like you do Christmas cards in the rest of the world. In Japan, around the middle of November the post offices will start selling New Year's cards. Basically you can buy blank post cards at the post office that already have printed stamps on them and write your own message. These cards also have a row of numbers at the bottom and sometime in January there will be a nationwide raffle and everyone checks the New Year's post cards that they have received to see if they have won anything. I think the grand prizes are tickets for traveling somewhere and maybe electrical appliances but in all the years I've lived here I've only won two or three stamps and once a letter set! Even so, it is fun to check the post cards every January to see if you have any of the winning numbers.

2008 will be the Year of the Mouse (Chinese Horoscope calendar) so all the New Year's greetings revolve around mouse characters. One can buy ink stamps, stickers, software etc. for making your own designs on the blank post cards or of course you can buy ready printed cards featuring mice of all different patterns. Some people do silk screening, some do wood block printing, some paint pictures by hand. Japan becomes very creative when it comes to New Year's post cards!

Some differences between Christmas cards and New Year's cards besides the size are the fact that not too much in the way of information is related on the New Year's cards. You can't really fit a year's worth of family activities onto a post card so unlike the American custom of sending a Christmas letter letting friends know what the family has accomplished over the year, the Japanese New Year's card basically says, "We're thinking of you and wish you the best in the New Year." period.

Another interesting thing about Japanese New Year's cards is that no matter when they are sent out in the month of December, all cards arrive at their respective addresses on January 1st! Yes, all New Year's cards are held at the post office until New Year's Day and then loads and loads of students are hired part time by the post office to deliver a packet of New Year's cards to each house's post box! Can you imagine the mad house the post office must be in right now, trying to sort all the New Year's cards into piles house by house for the whole month of December!

Something I've never really understood about the custom of sending New Year's cards in Japan is that if a family member has passed away in the previous year, the family always sends out a similar post card (black and white) in early December asking friends to not send New Year's greetings. This is a custom that has to do with mourning and not expressing joy or celebration in the New Year. It seems to American me that if you've lost someone you love, then this is especially the time when you need people writing to you and saying that they are thinking of you in your sorrow but that's the way it is in Japan.

Tetsu has beautiful handwriting and every year he seems to enjoy addressing our New Year's cards by brush. It takes him quite awhile to write each address and then our return address so he rarely has time to write a message (which to me is the whole point of sending the cards). When he is finished though I always think he has made them look like a work of art by themselves. Anyway, our New Year's cards have been plopped in the mailbox and hopefully they'll arrive at friends' homes sometime during the first three or four days of the New Year.

And yes, I'll be posting a New Year's greeting to my blogging friends too, but you'll have to wait til New Year's Day like the rest of Japan!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Deliberating borders

Some things work out, some things don't. I got the hanten made for Tetsu's mother, but it was NOT successful. Too small! I had figured that since she is a much smaller lady than me that I needed to cut the length down but I must have figured because this looks like it's for a child! I wonder if there is a little girl around I can give this to... Ah~~ Well I tried. Since Tetsu's mother is quite stooped over (very typical of elderly Japanese) I had thought that the length of a hanten would be inconvenient and would get in her way when she was doing things. She leans over so much when she stands. Of course, forgot that when one stoops forward that means the back is lengthened so now I've got what amounts to a crop top hanten. Well I'll show it to her and then maybe find someone else who might use it. It's the thought that counts right?

The rest of yesterday I auditioned fabric for the When-Oh-When quilt since I really wanted to get a border on it. Nothing struck my fancy. And all that fabric too! Is it true for anyone else that you buy fabric and when you go to use it it just does not work? I had bought fabric in the summer that I hoped to use for this quilt's border. Remember I was aiming for a somber look so all the fabric was dull grey and I was so sure of the fabric I bought enough for backing too. So why has the quilt changed from what I thought I was making? Now with the top mostly done, the grey doesn't go at all! Ok. I had ordered three yards each of some other fabric to someday use for borders too,so I pulled those out. Nope. Too bright, too orange, too yellow etc. etc. Makes me want to fold the top up and forget about it but I really need to get this to quilting stage.

Okay. How about a pieced border? Triangles? 9 patch? Braids? Something from Bonnie's website that uses leaders/enders? Yep that sounded good since I'd already used some of those L/E in the quilt itself. Next, did I want a white checkerboard effect? A print checkerboard effect? A scrappy effect? (Does the above make sense to anyone except myself?) I chose the scrappy effect after making samples of each and I will continue along these lines until I've got enough border to go around. Anyway, yesterday was filled with a lot of thought process and not that much sewing...

Friday, December 28, 2007

New Year's preparations

Well, the year is winding up. I think in Japan, we are officially "end of year" meaning the New Year foods are being sold in the supermarkets and outdoor markets, the decorations that are put up on the doors and cars and being sold by the roadsides and people are in the throws of end of the year cleaning. Being a slight rebel I never see why I have to do what everyone else is doing and I don't like end of the year cleaning. Why start washing windows and floors and changing paper shades and airing futon when it is freezing cold out and threatening to snow!? No thank you, I'll do my spring cleaning in spring. (Well, maybe...) My husband has already announced that he'll help me clean tomorrow so I guess I can't just ignore the custom but I'm not planning to work myself to exhaustion!

And in preparation for the New Year I noticed someone had dressed these little stone statues in bright new red outfits. These are called ojizousan and you can find them all over Japan. I have heard that they are erected for the spirits of unborn children but I'm not sure about that. These are just on the edge of the fields near the farmers' houses and throughout the year someone brings flowers (though for all the years I've lived here I've never once seen anyone actually praying here!) Once a year I guess the same someone makes these little outfits and dresses the ojizousan and towards the end of the year the outfits fade to light pink, I was expecting that they'd have new clothes sometime in the next week and sure enough, here they are brightly decked out!

Yesterday afternoon I went to a cooking class that I attend once a month. As you know, I am a lousy cook and vowed that once the kids were out of the house I'd be adventurous and learn to do more some Japanese cooking. A homestyle Japanese restaurant offered to teach small groups of 4 or 5 people a couple dishes each month so I spend a couple hours cooking with friends and then we bring what we've made home to feed our families that night. I don't know if my cooking abilities are improving but at least once a month Tetsu gets some true Japanese cooking.

And one of my friends at the class gave each of us some chopstick holders that she had made for New Year's. It looks like she has folded a small origami paper into the shape of a crane, the symbol of long life, and the chopsticks slip in to make the New Year's table festive. She also gave me matching toothpick holders! Aren't people clever!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

365 Continued

Yesterday I had a very nice, quiet day of sewing. I set up a heater in the sewing room and spend almost all day up there with a few hours for cleaning, walking Choco and blogging.

Yeah! I am caught up on the 365 quilt! Whew! That was a close one! It was like, if I didn't do it right now, then it would be forgotten forever. I spent some of the time trying to remember (checking my schedule book and blog) and then writing the entries and finally sewing them into weekly sections. I decided to use my Christmas fabric for the month of December and I had a wonderful selection to choose from, given to me from Nancy at Blogging, Near Philadelphia. She had offered some Laurel Burch Christmas fabrics and she pulled my name on her give away last May. I was so thrilled to have these bright CAT prints and still haven't thought up something wonderful enough to use them for but as an accent to the 365 I was pleased to work with them yesterday. So I had Nancy on my mind all day and especially her sweet furry family member who has been sick. My sewing room is my praying room too so I spent the morning praying for Bo as the Laurel Burch fabrics passed through my fingers.

And here is Tetsu posing again for me (twice in two days!) so that I can show you that his vest worked out fine and is neither too big nor too little.

Choco got a bath yesterday and I let her run loose in the house while I was sewing but upon returning to the kitchen I found my yogurt jar (I make yogurt every other morning) was only half filled. I distinctly remember filling that container with milk earlier and setting it on the counter so that the yogurt could culture. Choco has a bad habit of checking out the counters just by standing on her hind legs so I guess she is the criminal. Amazing that she didn't knock the whole thing over, just lapped up half the jar! The rest got dumped in her bowl and she had a snack of homegrown yogurt. I love her but I was not eating that after she's stuck her tongue in it!

And the cats are trying to stay warm by congregating on the heater every morning. Not enough room for four cats so Lemi chooses someone's lap instead but these three look like sparrows crowded together on a telephone line! Nothing like keeping your bum warm for comfort!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

"Fill our hearts with Christmas light"

Although yesterday was Christmas day, Tetsu went off to work and I cleaned house and then ran errands. I figured I wasn't going to see anybody at the drugstore and the grocery store, and the couple presents I meant to drop off were to be to good friends who wouldn't care what I looked like so off I went with little make-up, wearing one of Tetsu's old sweaters and a Japanese smock apron. I should know better! Right off I ran into a gaggle of my kindergarten students and their mothers who were making a stop after a party. The kids were very happy to see me though the mothers comment was that I looked just like any other Japanese housewife in the throws of last minute cleaning. Ran into another mother in the supermarket and she too smiled at my Japanese dress.

At Mrs. Furui's house I ended up treating myself to a couple of hours of her company and another patchwork friend came by with cake so that was my Christmas present to myself. Good patchwork talk with wonderful patchwork friends. Of course we spent the time contemplating about next year's kindergarten bazaar quilt and I came home with homework to do before our next gathering!

In the evening Tetsu and I had a very nice quiet Christmas celebration. I cooked a simple dinner (as always) and at the last minute decided to decorate my stew with carrot stars! I also insisted we eat by candle light with the TV off! (Have a mentioned my husband is a TV junkie.)

No major surprises for Christmas presents. Tetsu knew about the vest I'd been making him and dutifully wore it to work today. The hanten was a surprise I guess and he seemed quite pleased. I had thought it might be too big but actually it looks a little small on him. I forget that he is a fairly large Japanese man though compared to American men Tetsu sizes up smaller I suppose. When we were dating he was considered very tall and I could see him sticking out above the crowds but recently young people even in Japan are growing taller. As the years go by, the pounds and inches increase (on both of us!) and nowadays Tetsu is LARGE not only by height!

For me, Tetsu got me a nice down jacket because the one I've been wearing for years is hopelessly soiled. I will save the old one for my walks with Choco since she still jumps on me and I wrestle with her leash and sometimes end up chasing her through the forest. The new jacket will be used when I'm going off teaching or visiting etc.

Tetsu and I reminisced about how our Christmases have changed over the years, some years madly rushing the kids to Christmas programs and parties. We've never had a lot of family near us though and so our celebrations tend to be downplayed a bit. I suppose though that just reflecting on this year's blessings, being thankful for health, being committed to doing our best in whatever God has put before us and looking forward to the opportunities and challenges that God will allow in the future is our small gift of love and trust to God.

"Light the Christmas Candle now,
Think of donkey, sheep and cow
Birthday candles for the King,
Let the alleluias ring!

Candle, candle burning bright,
Shining in the cold winter's night
Candle, candle burning bright,
Fill our hearts with Christmas light."

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Eve

Christmas Day, but here in Japan it goes on as if it were any other ordinary day. The neighborhood kids have gone off to school (today is their last day) and Tetsu is off at work.

I suppose Christmas Eve is more of a celebration in Japan than Christmas actually is, and Eve is a time for romantic dinners with the boyfriend/girlfriend of the year. Expensive trinkets are bought for the current partner and hotels and fancy restaurants plan a romantic evening for their customers, but the family aspect is sorely lacking. It is a matter of course that the older children in the family will go out on dates or at the very least spend the night with friends partying (Disneyland is especially popular)

Within the home, the Christmas menu is usually roast chicken legs (already cooked because most Japanese women don't use an oven) and with all the chicken legs at the supermarket yesterday I wondered what happened to the other parts of the chicken! I think fathers are given the job of stopping by a bakery or a supermarket after work and picking up a Christmas cake so that the family can celebrate the evening together. Again, because very little baking is done in the households, Christmas cakes make a huge profit in Japan and everyone is always very surprised when I tell them that this isn't a custom in America. How can you have Christmas without a Christmas cake?! As for presents, children are usually given one from Santa that is placed beside their pillows during the night. No Christmas trees that fill the room, no stockings, no milk and cookies for Santa etc.

For all that said above, you'd think that my family would make a big celebration of Christmas but actually we have always had a very "see what the day brings" attitude. I do more decorating than other neighbors but you'd be surprised to see how small our little two foot Christmas tree is that sits on the corner table. Nearly all the decorations are handmade by myself or the kids and as the years have gone by it is getting overloaded. I've contemplated getting a bigger tree but as it is just Tetsu and me now, this one will probably suffice. As for a dinner, maybe I'm a bit of a Scrooge but just because everyone else in the country is having roast chicken is no reason that I have to have it too! I usually just ask my family what they have a hungering for, sushi, curry rice, spagetti or whatever. I also was anti-Christmas cake (though I often baked cookies) and so our family never adopted that custom (some years my neighbor brought over half of her cake so that my poor children would have a proper Christmas!)

In general though, our family has always been involved with the church Christmas Eve program, sometimes just enjoying it, sometimes helping with the preparations. My children might tell you that when they got older they didn't appreciate having to go out with their parents to an evening candle service but I think they must have some good memories. I'd hurry the kids along to church and Tetsu would meet us there making an unusually early departure from work. After an Eve service and fellowship with friends we'd head home to a quick dinner and we'd make the decision as to whether we should open presents at 9:00 or just wait until the next evening. When the kids were little my mother would go all out and send lots of presents for them and it was almost embarrassing to have people see all the presents around and under the table.

"What! All these presents for just your two kids?!"
"Well, some are for Tetsu, and I suppose some are for me too."
"You and your husband give each other Christmas presents? What a lovely-dovey couple!"

Last night's Christmas Eve service at church was very nice and we had an attendance of about 60 people. That's an unusually large group! Non-Christians still find it very difficult to enter a church no matter how welcoming we try to make it. We had a puppet show and a candle service and everyone enjoyed homemade cookies afterwards. By the time we got home Tetsu and I decided to leave present opening until tonight so my vest and hanten for him are still hidden away.

"Light the Advent Candle Four,
Think of joy forever more
Christ child in a stable born,
Gift of love that Christmas morn."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Happy Birthday to Tetsu's mom!

Why is it just a couple of days of being out of commission makes me feel like Rip Van Winkle? Worse than that, why is it the whole month seems to have gone by when I didn't notice. Yesterday I was thinking that it had been a couple of days since I'd written an entry for the 365 Challenge quilt, and I was out for a couple days, and it's been a couple of days since I bounced back so maybe I'd better get caught up three or four days. MORE LIKE TWO WEEKS!! What happened?! Now my fuzzy head is trying to remember what I did in the early part of December! If I don't get caught up today you know what happens to the 365 Quilt! It becomes a 6 month quilt! Suddenly this has become a major priority!

In the meantime, today is Tetsu's mother's birthday (84?) but she isn't feeling well and didn't want to go out. Tetsu went off with the tea I'd bought her and also some special soy sauce she'd requested before AND a bag I worked on all day yesterday for her. I finished it up around 9:00 last night. I had machine pieced the front pocket (made up of leaders/enders) before I got laid up last Wednesday so it wasn't that big a project. The debate in my mind was whether I was going to go upstairs to the cold sewing room and quickly machine quilt this or stay in the warmth of the living room and do it by hand. Hand won out though I mostly freehand quilted the back.

I had wanted to make her a hanten too and had already bought the fabric for that but I guess that's going to be a New Year's vacation project.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


I should have started drinking green tea earlier.

So much for Christmas preparations. Wednesday night I came down with something and I managed to lose two days. Had to cancel everything. Classes, meetings, parties, Christmas programs, lessons, last minute Christmas present making etc. The first day Tetsu took me to the doctor and I spent the rest of the day sleeping. Yesterday I was up to watching TV but talk about boredom. You can't believe the stupid daytime TV. Even so, not energetic enough to even find an old DVD to watch let alone do any handwork. The Christmas cards sat on the table unaddressed but I didn't even want to do that.

As for today. We've got Christmas potluck tomorrow after church so hopefully by late afternoon I'll be moving around a bit more. I've asked Tetsu to do the shopping for that!

Do you see that little paper bag. That is the cold/flu medicine I was given by the doctor. In Japan they still haven't gotten into the system of giving out medication in childproof packaging. Just hand the pills and powders in paper bags. This used to upset me when the kids were little but I rarely think about it anymore. It does seem that in such a technically advanced country as Japan, that they would develop some safety gadgets but I suppose it is not a matter of they can't just that they don't see a need.

Everyone stay warm (and Meggie stay cool). Christmas is around the corner!

Here are a couple of the candle decorations my last class on Wednesday made!

"Light the Advent Candle Three
Think of heavenly harmony
Angels blessing, Peace on Earth
At the blessed Savior's birth!"

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Do you know what this is? For those of you in the colder parts of the world this may be an easy question but for a California girl like me, I was so surprised to see these nearly 30 years ago when I came to Japan and in the winter I always keep one in my pocket. This is a kairo, in the dictionary translated as "a portable body warmer". My kairo is stainless steel and it opens so that benzine can be poured inside and then lit with a lighter. After it is closed, it is slipped into a bag (so the user won't get burned) and I carry it around in my pocket or slip it under a belt. (That's not such a great idea because then it slips down my leg and into my long underwear). Depending on the amount of benzine I put in, it will stay warm all day and will provide a pinpoint of warmth.

And do you know what this is? I have heard that these are only found in Japan. These are also kairo but these are disposable kairo. I was watching a TV program the other day where foreign residents in Japan were asked what was their favorite gift was to take home to their countries and these nifty little things ranked within the top 5. I've never taken them back to Southern California because I only go back in the summer anyway and even S. Cal. winters don't get cold enough to need handwarmers.

I'm afraid I can't tell you the scientific reaction that causes disposable kairo to heat up, but anyway, once taken out of their plastic wrap and lightly rubbed between the hands these little packs that look like paper start to get warm. Disposable kairo too will produce heat all day long and when they finally cool down are just thrown away. I have no idea whether they are environmentally sound but they are small, inexpensive and come in all different sizes. Some have sticky tape on them so that they can be slapped to your undershirt (solving the problem of kairo in the long underwear), some are shoe sole shape and they fit into shoes and keep your toes toasty warm. Some are very small (for children) and they can be slipped into a special little stuffed animal so that the child can play with them all day. These are extremely popular items during this season and I see kids playing with them on their way to school, and some of my women friends swear by them when they have a shoulder or backache. As I say, I'm not sure they are that great for the environment so I stick with my benzine kairo but with their popularity I think disposable kairo are here to stay!

Unfortunately for warm-blooded me, the cold season is deepening and I've started wearing a muffler and legwarmers to bed at night. (Pity my poor husband!) However I've got two cats on each side of me so I'll save my kairo for daytime use.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas pageant

The Christmas program went off very well at the kindergarten on Saturday and there were no mishaps. After the candle service and the songs, the oldest class performed a pageant and that was wonderful. A few years ago, the kindergarten asked a local composer to write a musical for the children to perform and ever since then, every Christmas the children put on a delightful and very simple Christmas pageant. Around the time when the music was introduced to the pageant, some of the mothers of the kids in the graduating class decided to give a gift to the kindergarten of handmade costumes. They collected money amongst themselves and then a group of mothers spent most of the year designing and sewing up enough costumes for at least 35 children. Angels in satin robes with gold bands around their heads and little wings on their shoulders. Wisemen with different headgear and paper mache gifts. Donkeys and cows and sheep with floppy ears and furry hides. Absolutely a wonderful creative endeavor and I wish I had been part of it! Every year and every year the costumes are brought out and I always think what a lasting and valuable gift that was to the kindergarten.

And here is a gift given to me by the nursery school that I help out. Aren't these beautiful Cyclamen! Every year there seem to be more and more kinds being developed! I love the colors and the ruffles on these!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Traffic Safety Complaints

I've got a pet peeve to complain about today. If you don't want to hear me rant and rave you can skip today's post.

Look was someone brought to my door yesterday. These are two bottles of osake about half a gallon each. Aren't they wrapped up nicely? They've got the red and white paper which is used especially for gifts and celebrations in the new year. On the front of each bottle is a decorative paper which has the name of the sender, in this case the osake is a New Year's gift from the Traffic Safety Organization. This is what is getting my dander up!

I've written about the Traffic Safety committee a couple of times and I don't know if you got any undertones that I'm not really whole hearted about my own participation. Some of the things that the Traffic Safety Organization does seems nonsensical to me but I always keep in mind that as a foreigner I have different standards and values so if everyone else is satisfied and I'm the only one questioning, then the problem must be with me. I keep my mouth shut and do what I'm told. There are groups where I'll feel that my opinions will be more readily accepted but the Traffic Safety Organization isn't one of them. The neighborhood is required to send two people to be part of the district committee and as an active member of the neighborhood I decided that I would do my part by taking the position. (There are at least 20 other postions to be filled in our small neighborhood and there aren't that many that I can really help. I'm not going to give speeches to groups or write newsletters in Japanese.) I already was doing crosswalk duty so Traffic Safety seemed a logical group to join (although they have nothing to do with crosswalk duty).

Actually, all I have to do twice a year is join the district group and a bunch of policemen and spend an hour handing out pamphlets on a street corner. I don't think anyone reads the pamphlets and they aren't related to traffic anyway. But that's what Traffic Safety officers do so I did. I was a bit surprised when I my hour was up to be given a plastic bag full of cookies and candy and crackers to thank me for my participation.

"Wait a minute. This is a duty and besides who is paying for all the cookies and candy and crackers?"

"Oh, don't worry. That comes from the money people pay when they get their driver's license."

(It's a little more complicated than that but you get the idea.) It seems a strange way to spend money because there are hundreds and hundreds of us officers and I'm sure the people who pay for a driver's license thought their money was going into improving road conditions or something, not to provide snacks for the organizations' members. I tried refusing the bag of goodies but was told that I'd just mess up their records if I didn't take it.

A couple of months later when I went to a general Traffic Safety meeting I was disturbed to see the figures of how the organization's money is spent and that a major portion is spent for parties and an annual trip to somewhere so that the members can stay in a fancy hotel, eat an elaborate feast and drink till they're stone drunk. I questioned this practice to one of the members but again was told it was only a once a year thing, nothing illegal is going on, why should I have a problem with it? Of course I don't go on the trip (one reason is because there are only two women in our committee of about 50 people.)

I came back to my neighborhood government body and wrote them a letter (in JAPANESE!) expressing my doubts about this organization and asking to be removed from participation in the next year.

"We understand your hesitation about participation, yet you agreed to take the office for two years. Can't you just change your thinking and continue (you only have to do something twice a year!) for the good of the neighborhood? We are pleading with you!"

So I've kept my mouth shut and closed my eyes. There have been a couple more incidents that get me riled like being handed a very nice flourescent banner with a pole for putting along the road that says "If your going to drive, don't drink. If you're going to drink, don't drive" and being told to put it up inside the community house.

"Do not put this up outside because it might blow away and cause someone a problem."

"What! That's ridiculous! The Traffic Safety organization has spent a lot of money to make up these banners in an effort to get drivers to think twice about drunk-driving and you don't want it out on the road? You want to hide it on a back wall of the community house?"

Yesterday, when someone rang my doorbell and handed me these two bottles of osake I about dropped my teeth! Why oh why is the Japan National Traffic Safety Organization spending money to give its members large bottles of osake?! Hey, isn't drunk driving a major problem and hasn't the Traffic Safety organization been discussing the lack of awareness to the problem?! I mean, I'm not happy about the way the organization spends its money in general but at least if they feel they have to give their members a New Year's present, does it have to be a huge bottle of osake?

I will donate the osake to the neighborhood end of the year drinking party. I'm sure some people will be thrilled. I may have to write another letter and try to resign from the Traffic Safety committee again! Sigh...and my Japanese is so limited! Too bad no one on the neighborhood governement can understand enough English to be directed to this post.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


When I lived in a dormitory in Oregon I had a Japanese roommate for my last year of college and she had this great hanten that her mother had made for her. Oh, I thought it was absolutely wonderful and when she wasn't in the room I'd borrow it and wear it while I studied. She finally got tired of me using her hanten and asked her mother to make one for me. I loved it and practically lived in it during the fall and winter months. I especially liked the velvet collar sewn around the neckline. So warm and cuddly! A few months later when I went off to Japan myself to work as a missionary associate I took the hanten with me and was practically inseparable from it those first freezing months of living in Northern Japan. My roommates' mother's hanten served me well for a couple more years but the Japan winters were still a hardship for me and one day when I was wearing the hanten and sitting too close to the kerosene stove I burned a large hole in it. Goodbye to my wonderful hanten!

With those memories I decided that what every girl needs is a hanten when she is away from home and earlier this month I made one for a special daughter (mine, who I'm betting won't read all the way through this post) and sent it off. I decided I'd make another one for Tetsu and to write down the basics in case I ever want to make one again. So here is a step-by-step pictorial.

Pretty simple pattern. 6 pieces in all.

Cut out all the pieces and zig-zagged around all the edges.
Lay out body pieces and mark shoulder. Mark sewing line on either side of center.

Sew center back. Cut shoulders to 3" from selvage. Hem all edges (turn under at right angle at neck).
Hem sleeve pieces to desired length..
Sew sleeves to body.
Sew side seems to sleeves and tack down seams.

Sew underarm seams on a curve to wrists. Cut away fabric.

Hem all of the hanten bottom.
Sew collar pieces together and then sew to right side of the hanten body, inserting ties. (I didn't even have enough fabric for those so I used some leftover cording from something else.)
Tack collar to underside.

Position velvet and sew around collar.

"Dekita~~!" ("It's done!")

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Christmas shopping?

Ok. I have just done my Christmas shopping via Amazon. I know, it is the easy way to go but at this late date I have no other choice. It's not that I wasn't thinking of things earlier but.... I'm a procrastinator. Also I don't like using credit cards but again, no other choice.

Anyway, the California family is taken care of. Takumi got gypped out because I couldn't think of a single thing and when I asked him his only suggestion was an old game we had lying around the house. That's right! He wanted the old game! Talk about an economical child! So I packed it up in a shoe box and sent it off this week. I thought about sending him money but what with the tips he gets from working he probably makes more than I do!

And Leiya and her host brothers got small things from us last week because one of their friends was visiting our city and he took back a box from us.

I don't know what I'll do for Tetsu's mother. I picked up some tea that is pricey and that she always appreciates but that doesn't seem like enough. She's expressed an interest in a patchwork bag but should I work on that when I have more time to put my heart into it or should I do a quicky job now?

Tetsu's present is knitted and put away and though I shouldn't, I've started something new. Here is a quick picture of the fabric and I hope to get more of the sewing process posted at a later date. The fabric is store bought quilted fabric but it is rather nice. It has a Japanese patchwork feel to it without all the piecing. What do you think I'm making?

And just because she is cute, here is a picture of Choco enjoying a nap time curled up by Tetsu's legs. (Both of them on the floor!) I guess Tetsu doesn't think that dog needs to be cleaner to be sleeping on that quilt! (I guess I don't either since I'm the one who took the picture!)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Green tea

Recently every morning when the neighborhood kids are going to school I've noticed a couple of the boys carrying filled plastic bottles so last night I asked the English kids the reason why. It turns out that all the kids carry bottles or thermoses to school every morning filled with tea!

"What?! Is this something new? I don't think my kids ever took tea to school unless it was a field trip day."

It turns out that the elementary school has instructed the kids and parents on the health benefits from tea and for this winter season the children are required to bring a bottle of tea every day to keep in their cubbyholes at school. Fine. If they don't want to drink water they can drink tea, right? But wait! This tea isn't for drinking! This tea is for gargling! It seems that someone in Japan did a study and discovered that gargling with green tea kills germs so after every recess the kids go get their bottles of tea, take a few swigs and gargle.

I asked about the effects of gargling and some of the boys didn't think it was all that effective though they admitted they hadn't caught colds yet this year. One boy said since his mother makes him hot tea just as he leaves for school he likes to carry the steaming plastic bottle because it warms his hands along the route to the school. Another boy made the comment that he'd heard that some of the schools in the tea producing part of Japan have hot running tea coming out of the faucets!

When my kids entered 1st grade in Japan, there were all sorts of guidelines that were "strongly recommended" such as "always carry a handkerchief and a travel package of tissue paper" and "make sure to wash your hands and gargle whenever coming indoors". I'm afraid though my kids might have been game to adopt these customs, I could never stay on top of things and send them off to school with their handkerchiefs and tissues. As for the washing hands, well of course if they'd been playing in the dirt and it was time for dinner they were directed to the sink, but gargling? That's another one that never placed high on the priority list. Maybe my brother and I were unusually healthy or maybe my mother didn't train us right but anyway I'd never heard of this custom and unless I'm stricken with a major sore throat, it never crosses my mind to gargle (let alone with green tea!) Not so of some of my Japanese friends. If they come back from a shopping trip or even a walk around the block the first thing they do (in their own home) is head for the sink and in a few seconds I hear the ritual of gargling. They swear it keeps them healthy but my own theory is that my body is so contaiminated with germs because I don't gargle that I've built up a natural immunity.

HOWEVER... we are heading into the flu season. Think I should brew up a pot of green tea?

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Yesterday I spent a couple hours participating in the dress rehearsal for the kindergarten Christmas program which will be held this Saturday. Every year it is about the same probably because it is so well received and heart-warming. First there is a Christmas service with a mother's choir performing and a few words from the pastor, then there is a program with each of the classes performing songs and finally there is a Christmas pageant performed by the oldest kindergarten class.

I was able to take pictures of the service part of the program but I was up on stage with the kids for their songs so I don't have pictures of that. I had to leave before the pageant began but that is a wonderful sight. I wonder if I'll be able to take pictures on Saturday.

In Japan kindergartens accept children from age three and at Mifumi Kindergarten there is a three year old class, a four year old class, a five year old class and a six year old class. All together a little over 100 children and the number of teachers is amazing! Mifumi accepts two handicapped children in each class and for each of those children one teacher is assigned to be with the child at all time. Some years there are physically handicapped children, most often there are Down Syndrome or Autistic children. I can say for sure that these "challenged" children's presence really are huge factors in developing the other children's caring hearts and spirit of helping. It is wonderful to see such little children helping another one who doesn't quite understand or who can't do something for himself. Every year the mothers can get very emotional watching the littlest, weakest up on stage surrounded by other children guiding and prompting.

Here is a picture of the Christmas service part of the program. The oldest class files in first and they are all dressed in robes that are used every year for Christmas and then again for graduation in March. Once lined up the teacher lights the first child's candle from her own and in turn, each child passes the flame along to another child until all are lit. I'm sure the kids have been instructed very carefully about how to hold the candle and to keep their eyes on the flame.

"Please don't close your eyes for this prayer!"

Since most of these children have attended the kindergarten for three years they all know that it is a great responsibility granted to them as the oldest class to be given real, flickering candles and all the children are very serious. After the candles are lit, the younger classes file in and they have little white satin collars around their necks tied with a ribbon (helped make those this spring). They are given little "flashlights" with candle flame light bulbs to carry and they look enviously at the oldest class with the real flames and talk amongst themselves about how they can hardly wait to hold a real candle.

"Light the Advent Candle Two,
Think of humble shepherds who

Filled with wonder at the sight

Of the Child on Christmas night."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Two blocks made

I spent an hour or so sewing yesterday and let me tell you that sewing room is cold! I'm not going to be able to sew with gloves on but that is what I need. I kept sticking my hands under my armpits to warm up my fingers. Isn't that ridiculous! Just bring a heater in while you're there Tanya. But that would have meant going outside with a kerosene tank, standing around while the pump filled the tank from the bins, lugging it back upstairs, going back to wash the kerosene off that always gets on my hands and then waiting for the room to heat up. Oh foo. Just be cold and truly, once I got started I forgot about the chill and became absorbed in my work. I'll get a heater ready for the next time I'm sewing.

And this is what I got done! You have seen these animals all separate but I finally got them put together into a cat block and a dog block. Now at least the blocks don't blow around the floor or get played with by the cats. I was getting worried that I'd lose a block in all the stuff that I have spread around the room so I'm glad they are basically in one piece. I'll have to arrange the Wonky quilt on the floor again and see if I can be inspired to put these animal blocks and the word blocks together in some order. I think I want to tie it together with some move hearts but I really don't have a great plan yet.

I'm off to the kindergarten and then out to lunch with some friends!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


I'm always surprised that even though I don't have children in the house now, how busy my life can be! I don't work a 9:00 to 5:00 job and I'm not running kids around to lessons etc. but still I seem to be on the go all day and have very little to show for it.

Yesterday I was at the pre-school in the morning and then the kindergarten in the afternoon. Both places are having their Christmas program this Saturday and all the teachers are putting on the last touches for skits and songs. In the pre-school they're performing The Enormous Turnip in English and at the kindergarten each class is going to sing one song in English. Let's just say the teachers have a challenging job! I only come in once a week (and twice this week) and go through the songs, give some advice and leave the hard work of organizing the kids to the daily teachers.

So, the only thing worthy of a picture is this pile of quilts that Tetsu brought home for me. These are some of my quilts that he had taken to decorate the convalescent home with and they've been up on the walls for a couple weeks. I didn't really miss any except for a Wonky block for Tonya's class. On Saturday I wanted to work on that quilt awhile and I couldn't find the block! I know it's been a long time since my mind was on the Wonky quilt but surely not enough to completely lose the block! I checked shelves and drawers and closets and in the end decided that Tetsu had it. Sure enough, he'd taken it to show people and tacked it up on a wall. It is back home now with all the other quilts and this quilt is going to take priority next time I spend time in the sewing room.

Tetsu looked at this pile of quilts this morning and asked what I wanted done with them if I was ever taken off to heaven suddenly. (I hope he doesn't know something I don't know..) I said, let Leiya and Takumi have their pick and then donate them to the kindergarten bazaar. Where are your quilts headed someday?

And have you ever read the Quilter's Last Will and Testment on Bonnie's website? That really gave me a laugh and I've made copies for my quilting friends!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Quilting fix from America!

Tetsu and I had a wonderful visit yesterday with a friend from Ohio. Actually he is a colleague of Leiya's host father and he comes to Japan occasionally on business trips and acts as a carrier between our two families delivering news and Christmas presents! Yesterday Dennis went to church with us and then we went out to my favorite Indian restaurant for lunch. Afterwards we went to a huge dollar store and spent quite a bit of time browsing around. Japanese dollar stores are the best! Just huge and really filled with nice stuff! Definitely a grade up from California dollar stores. (Of course in Japan they are called 100 Yen shops and that equals about $1.12 nowadays).

Dennis really played Santa Claus and I haven't even had a chance to look at all the goodies he lugged to Japan for us. Leiya's host mother Bessie, went all out and I can see lots of candy, lots of Christian children's tracts, lots of books in and amongst all the packing. I'll go through it today and deliver some things to the kindergarten and to other friends that she's asked me to pass things along to.

One bag though, I had to check out right away. Maybe I was supposed to save it for a Christmas present but too late now, I got into the bag and have been enjoying a patchwork magazine fix! I love American quilting magazines and allow myself one or two every summer when I go home. Though neither Leiya nor Bessie do much sewing, they went to a fabric store and picked out some reading for me! Quilting books and magazines! I am in heaven!

And may I share something with you? In the Quiltmaker Jan/Feb. edition there is a tiny mention of my blog. Bonnie Hunter's Blue Ridge Beauty quilt is featured in this issue as is a very nice article written by her about her Leader Ender system so I feel I'm hanging on the fringes of a celebrity! A couple of weeks ago Quilt Crazy at Oregon Quilts let me know that there was a small blurb about my blog and talk about being surprised! My first reaction was that I don't even get much quilting time in and sometimes really wonder if this can be called a quilting blog! Anyway I am humbled and pleased and feel like I'd better rethink my quilting output!

And even with that said, I don't have anything quilty to show you, but I did finish the vest I was working on for Tetsu. I continued around the chest with more cross stitches and while it is pleasing to me, I'm not sure what Tetsu's reaction will be. Ah well. If Tetsu doesn't make good use of it, either his mother will want it or I'll get to use it myself.