Friday, February 29, 2008

Show and Tell

Yesterday I had an absolutely wonderful day with quilting friends. I think there were 7 of us in all. We are mainly working on getting a bazaar quilt ready for this fall and though Colleen had shared her lovely quilt pattern with me the idea kind of got away from us and the quilt is nothing at all like I had imagined. Well, lots of different sized blocks in piecing, applique etc. but besides that it doesn't much resemble Colleen's group's quilt. Actually, it doesn't resemble much of anything. Not anything that we've ever made before! I sort of wonder how this is going to turn out! We've got four or five more blocks to do and then we'll se how we can start getting it all together. If nothing else it will be interesting! Right now it looks like a mess...

BUT... We all got out our latest projects and had show and tell so that was great fun. I love looking at everybody's new things and I really appreciate all the compliments my friends give me too! So here are a couple lovely things.

Mrs. Ochiai finished up her Carolina Lily quilt this January and it is a beauty. I think I've shown this quilt before in the making but she has it on her daughter's bed now and brought it specially to show me before her daughter spills anything on it. This quilt has been in the making for many years. (I think most of us can say the same thing for at least one of our projects) but Mrs. Ochiai is thrilled to have it finished and is ready to start on something new. She was looking longingly at the Happy Village quilt I'd brought so that may be her next project.

And Mrs. Furui pulled this out of her closet to surprise us all. I don't know when she made this. It is the first time any of us had seen this at all and already at the flimsy stage! Mrs. Furui belongs to a crafters club and they send little (very little) squares of all their fabrics to her every couple months. I suggested that since she's got bags and bags of these little squares that she ought to start using the Leaders/Enders system and she decided to make this up quickly. She's planning to do some intricate hand quilting so we probably won't see this quilt in completed form in the next year or so...

And when Mrs. Furui wasn't making her lovely quilt she was making this very cute little needle case for me!!! I begged her to make me a hedge-hog needle case and I love the little footprints that come from the back of the case to the front! Now I have no excuse not to bring my own needles when I visit my quilting friends!

Anyway, a lovely day and I'm inspired all over again!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Happy Village finished!

Yeah! I finished my Happy Village (well, no label yet.) It was a very quick, fun project and I'd like to do it again. I think it is considered a collage, not a quilt.

I'm happy with the colors. I think I could have put more thought into the placement. The quilting is not so great but it was a practice session in machine quilting anyway so I got practice. If I did this again I might want to put a border on it. I'd also like to do this again with some sky place and not so much busyness. (Some great examples in the book. Trees etc.!)

Does anyone know of a great site that has a pictorial and detailed tutorial of putting mitered binding on a quilt by machine? I have done hundreds of quilts, most of them with mitered binding and I realized that the part of the quilt that I am always least happiest with is the very warped corners. You'd think I'd have improved over the years but I've never been pleased with the way my corners turn out. I'll try taking a picture tomorrow and see if I can show you my very poor handwork. I've followed book directions all these years, but I just can not get a sharp corner. I must take one stitch too many or too few or something. I think if I could just master this technique I would be much happier with my finished products! Help please! (And pictures if at all possible!)

As for my machine quilting... Well, not great but then I had a helper who oversaw all my work. It is very difficult machine quilting with extra weight sitting on the quilt!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


More rambling.

Sunday night I went to a monthly praise and worship service at my small church. On a regular Sunday morning, there are between 25 and 30 people attending. On Sunday night? There were 5 of us. The pastor and his wife, myself and a neighbor lady and her daughter. Usually there are the two other elders in the church who attend but they had to work that night and couldn't come.

Well, 5 out of 25. That's a fifth of the congregation. God doesn't measure the worth of our church by numbers. I enjoy the time (and I think God does too) whether there are lots of people or not. But...

What is the purpose of the praise and worship evening? Praising and worshiping. Bringing people together for fellowship. Hearing a more informal message.

As one of the elders in the church, I would like more people to attend this small block of time. I like hearing the occasional testimonies (though recently the messages have mostly been mine.) I would like to chat with people in a more open atmosphere. I bring cookies. We make coffee in hopes of having a sharing hour. But there isn't a great rush of people coming on Sunday night.

How much of what we do in life is barking up the wrong tree. When does one say "OK. This isn't working. Let's try another way."?

If nothing else, while living in Japan I've learned that one has to have patience. Wives patiently wait for the husbands to come home after midnight every night. Students patiently bear with uninteresting classes. On a larger scale, laws take years and years to change, trials go into decades. Becoming accepted in a community may take generations. A favorite phrase in Japan is "Let's wait and see."

I'm not a big fan of this phrase. I've seen children with illnesses or psychological problems yet the parents and teachers and professionals say "Let's wait and see." No treatment is given. I've observed criminal behavior in the neighborhood yet after all the discussion and gossip, the decision rather than to confront is "Let's wait and see."

So what am I saying? I think I'm actually a lot more patient and accepting than many foreigners in Japan who want to scream. "This is ridiculous. Do something!" Tetsu has described it to me that America has a 200 year history. Americans are go-getters and are used to change and progress. Japan is a country with a 2000 year history. Traditions are important, customs are followed and part of being wise to let things mellow out on their own.

It is very easy to throw in the towel. It is much more difficult to start something new, especially in Japan where change isn't considered a good thing. Commitment, diligence, forbearance are much more valued qualities and whether or not all this effort produces results is not really that important.

I guess I'm the only one that ponders what could be done differently for our little praise and worship service. Others are all happy that the opportunity to attend is presented to them whether they take advantage or not.

God says that where two or three are gathered He is with us so maybe I should concentrate on praise.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Potato soup and memories

Last night's potato soup was unspectacular but very delicious. No recipe per se, just throw some vegetables together and simmer for an hour.


Potato soup is a comfort food for me though I'm not sure why. My mother never cooked it but I have very good memories associated with it.

When I was about 11 or 12 my mother went back to work full time as an elementary school teacher. This meant my brother and I were destined to become latchkey kids or..... Mom had to find someone to come in the afternoons to take care of us. I think the first year some lady was hired and she came until school let out in June. When September rolled around we went back to the lady's house and found that she had moved! Now in the little house was a stooped over elderly little lady named Mrs. Cummins. My mother explained that we were looking for the previous owner because she was our "baby sitter" but Mrs. Cummins didn't know where they lady had moved. Mother asked if Mrs. Cummins might be interested in the job and though I don't remember all the details, for years after Mrs. Cummins came to our house every day.

Of course for a 12 year old and a 9 year old, we weren't happy that we had a baby sitter, so Mrs. Cummins became our "housekeeper" though our family wasn't really affluent enough to have a housekeeper. In reality Mrs. Cummins became our "grandmother" though we always called her Mrs. Cummins. I had no grandparents living in California, we were without aunts and uncles and cousins and Mrs. Cummins served the purpose of looking after us and loving us. Every weekday she would come to our house in the early afternoon and maybe run the vacuum cleaner or do some ironing but she was basically around so that when we kids came home that someone would be in the house to welcome us and keep track of us. She often made hot buttered noodles for us (always too much black pepper!) or potato soup. That's where I'm leading up to today. Mrs. Cummins was a much better cook that my mother has ever been and through the years she fed us many wonderful afternoon snacks but potato soup stands out the clearest in my memory.

Our family moved to a different house, but Mrs. Cummins "moved" with us. She was an animal lover and even spent a month every summer living in our house and taking care of our 4 dogs and numerous cats while we went on vacation. She was a vital part of my childhood and I think my mother considered her a mother figure.

Mrs. Cummins working years with us ended when she slipped at our house one day and broke her hip. My father was the first to find her and call an ambulance and by the time Mrs. Cummins had recovered, she decided she was too old to be driving and puttering around our rather large house and besides my brother and I were no longer children. Probably I was already in high school when Mrs. Cummins stopped coming daily.

No matter. My mother considered Mrs. Cummins part of our family and since my grandparents were no longer living we visited Mrs. Cummins weekly and she often made us potato soup when she expected us. I think Mrs. Cummins passed on not long after I came to Japan but she was the "grandmother" that I still think of with a smile and with love.

Thank you Mrs. Cummins! I enjoyed yesterday's soup and memories of you stirring it up in our kitchen!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Along the way

Not too much going on around here. I've cooked up some applesauce and some potato soup and that seems like good winter fare for this evening's meal.

I've been running errands here and there so I thought I'd show you some of things I run across out on the streets. The first picture was taken in town when I was was out with Marlene.

"Quick! Roll down your window! I want to take a picture of that pizza shop."

"Why do you want a picture of a pizza shop?"

"Look what the sign says. Hand-Maid Pizza! I'm sure someone is trying to sell hand-MADE pizza!"

I think Marlene's been in Japan too long. She doesn't notice these things anymore.

The other pictures I took at stoplights. These pieces of artwork are large ply boards that have been painted by classes at the neighborhood jr. high. Often schools will display artwork on the fences and there are about 20 ply board posters up along the road. They look like they must have been painted by each class in the school and they seem to stay up three years and then a set will be taken down and a new set displayed. Probably the new 1st year class or something. Sometimes there is a theme like friendship or effort. I couldn't figure out what the theme is this year. (Of course as I drive by I only get a glimpse of the artwork but occasionally I am stopped at the light long enough to admire them.)

Another stoplight scene that I stumbled upon was this group of girls out in front of one of the Utsunomiya girls' high schools. Can you tell what they are doing? (Stoplight photography doesn't come out the clearest.) These girls are at the front gate to their school and they are all wearing aprons and are sweeping the sidewalk. Probably it was cleaning time that afternoon and all the students were separated into different groups for cleaning different parts of the school. This must have been the front gate group. Cleaning the school is a common practice in all grade levels and the students will wear aprons and and sometimes kerchiefs while they clean.

And this is just a picture of the Nikko Cedar Avenue near my house. It is actually the longest cedar avenue in the world and has been recorded in Guinness's Book of World Records. The cedar avenue has been a bane and a blessing to the Nikko population. A blessing because it is very beautiful and people come from all over Japan to see the huge trees lining the road. A bane, because so many people in Japan are allergic to cedar pollen and during the hay fever season (starting now!) many, many people are miserable in my area. I have friends that refuse to visit me during this season just because their allergies are so bad and I live so close to the cedar trees! So far, Tetsu and I are hay fever free.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Quilting Time

Today Tetsu commented that I've been working on the When-oh-When an awful long time! It has been in the chair in the living room since the beginning of January and of course in various pieces around the house before it became a flimsy. Let's see. I first posted about it on September 9th and Nadine christened it that day when I was wondering when I'd ever get it done. The quilting has slowed down a bit (see yesterday's post!) but after Tetsu's comment today I've spent a few hours quilting again.

How am I doing? First of all, I'm doing a great job of bending needles. Usually I don't have this problem and I don't know why I am this time. I almost always use Milward needles and I opened a new pack when I started to quilt the pieced border this week and already I've bent three needles beyond use. The light brown thread I bought too is fraying terribly after a few stitches, and I don't usually have this problem either. My friends tease me about the long strands of thread I use when I quilt (because I don't like threading needles?) but with this new thread I start sewing with barely a foot long piece and the outside coating of thread frays and bunches up at the eye of the needle when I pull it through the cloth. Let's say, quilting isn't going so smoothly but I am determined to overcome these obstacles! Shorter lengths of thread and more frequent changes of needles!

I also decided it was too much work to draw straight lines all over the pieced border so I am eye-balling it! Not a fantastic job but since the quilting doesn't show up that much anyway (then why I am doing all this work?) probably no one will notice the wiggly lines.

I'm glad for the When-oh-When which keeps me warm while I quilt it! The days are cold and icy and I swear we must need new insulation because the house is cold!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Sidetracked again

Oh goodness! Don't even think of scolding me for going off again on another tangent. My tail is between my legs and I know I'm side-tracked. It's a condition I'm trying to remedy (but not very hard.)

I told myself that I have lots of projects going.

"Tanya, you are happy with what you are making. You have some deadlines. You don't have a lot of extra time. I know you love a challenge but you really need to focus on what you are doing and get a few of the Works In Progress finished. Look how many things are on your To Do list! Seven Quilts! Finish ONE thing and then think about starting another."

I didn't listen to myself.

The book Roberta sent me has been burning a hole in my sewing table. Just a peek at my stash. Heaven forbid that I go out and buy fabric for another project! Surely there won't be the perfect assortment of fabrics for another project in my stash!

There was.

Last spring Thelma sent me some of her hand dyed fabrics and they have been sitting in the drawer looking lonely. If I'm going to make a Happy Village, I need solids rather than prints and low and behold Thelma's dyed fabrics look like they'd make a WONDERFUL village.

I cut out squares. I cut them apart into pieces. I laid them on some batting. Not looking like much. I started adding triangles and circles and rectangles. I covered it all with tulle netting (I admit. I did go buy half a yard!) and now I'm machine quilting with some varigated thread that has also been sitting in the drawer looking lonely!

Forgive me When-oh-When!
Forgive me Wonky Word Quilt!
I promise to get back to you Bazaar blocks!
I really will start a Wonky House block next week!
Soon you'll be a set of four, Friendship blocks!
365 Challenge, be patient. You're in my heart!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Inokura Elementary School

Today I'm going to share an "imposed" composition by three of my sixth grade English students. They actually weren't too thrilled about the idea of writing anything at all, but I thought it would be interesting for them to see their composition in English on my blog so please bear with us. First of all, they had no idea how to write a composition to begin with. I think this is a skill that is sorely lacking among Japanese students and even my own son, who is in college in the States, claims that he was never taught to write compositions, at least not like American children are taught. I would have liked to have each child write a little bit about the school and then I'd translate it into English for him, but in the end they didn't know where to start and I just interviewed them (in Japanese), recorded their responses (in Japanese) and then translated. It wasn't much of an English class but anyway...

"Our school is called Inokura Elementary School. It is a two story building and is painted white. When you go onto the schoolground you can see a great big tree and on the playground there are jungle gyms, soccer goals and a baseball diamond. When we enter the school we walk up the steps to the entrance and the first things that we see are the school shoe cubbies, the faucets and sinks and the boys' and girls' bathrooms. At the shoe cubbies, everyone takes off their shoes and puts them in their own cubby and then puts on rubber room shoes. Whenever we go outside, we put our room shoes back in the cubby and put our own shoes back on.
(Pictures of the entryway cubbies and room shoes left in front of the gymnasium.)

In the left wing of the first floor of the school is the teachers' room where all the teachers have their desks. In the right wing is the first graders' classroom. Our sixth grade class is upstairs at the top of the stairway. First and second grade classrooms are downstairs but third grade through sixth grade are upstairs. Except for fifth grade, there is only one class in each of the grades. Inokura School is considered a small school. Our sixth grade class has 37 students and we have been together in the same class since first grade. This year we have a man teacher.
(Picture of the hallway in front of the first grade classroom.)

Every morning, the sixth graders clean the stairways and the front entryway and put up the flag. During the week we study language, math, science, social studies, music, morals, art and P.E. and on Thursdays we have English. Once a week we do calligraphy. After school we have clubs and student body meetings. Our favorite class is P.E. Right now we are doing jump rope and vaulting. We have a jump rope competition coming up soon.
(Picture of an ikebana arrangement near the shoe cubbies.)

The best thing about our school is that the playground is very big and we can play a lot. Inokura school doesn't have that many students (193) but we are all good friends and very, very cheerful. We think we are very lucky to live in the natural surroundings of Nikko."
(Ryutaro, Atsuki and Akane.)

Hmmm. What do you think? I could have started teaching them about an introduction, a body of a composition and a conclusion but I'm their English teacher, not their language teacher. I'll print out this blog post for each of them and hopefully one of them will one day be inspired to put more of their thoughts down in writing.
(And by the way, though somewhat on the quiet side, all three of them are very good students. They often come to my house early and end up helping me cook dinner or do some small chore for me. Sometimes I think they learn more English that way than when we open up our books and notebooks and "study".

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Some of the comments on my slipper post a couple days back were about what handicapped people, or people wearing special shoes do in a society where shoes and slippers are removed at every other door. Can't say that I'd ever thought about that problem but I thought I'd post about what I've observed.

First of all, yes, all houses have a large step up at the entryway that makes a good place to remove shoes and leave them before stepping into the house. In my own home I might just sit down on this big step to tie my shoes, but when out visiting I politely balance on one foot or the other while trying to put my shoes on. (No buckles on shoes in Japan though sports shoes have to be tied.) A very bad habit that parents try to break children of (and which I am very guilty) is the smashing of the shoe heels just because it is too much trouble to get the foot completely inside the shoe!

Families with older people living with them will often have a bench or chair just inside the door so that someone can easily sit down to slip shoes on or off. Entryways are often so small though that this convenience isn't common. Tetsu's mother is considered handicapped since she was injured during the war and she walks with a prounounced limp and with a cane but still she wrestles with her shoes whenever she goes out. She considers herself very ungainly since she has to stoop over every time she puts on her shoes and so she dislikes going to places where shoes have to be removed. I remember one Japanese restaurant we took her to where shoes were supposed to be taken off but the waitress, realizing my mother-in-law's difficulty waved her in, shoes and all (but we weren't walking on tatami mats. I don't think that would have been allowed!)

Tetsu works at a convalescent home and so there are a lot of people going in and out that are in wheelchairs or have trouble with taking shoes on and off but according to him, the custom is the custom, and everyone takes their shoes off. If someone should ask to go inside wearing shoes because of a physical disability, then probably any institution or home would make an exception (so see, anyone wanting to visit Japan who needs special shoes need not be overly concerned!) but the person would be offered a rag so that the soles could be wiped before entering.

Going barefoot outside in summer is not an activity that Japanese children have experienced. One just does not bring outside dirt into a home no matter what. Even dogs who live in the house and go for a daily walk are used to the custom of stopping at the front door after the walk and having their feet wiped before they enter the living area.

Yesterday Choco spent the morning outside and when I went to bring her in in the evening I was met with a muddy dog! The snow is melting around her doghouse and she was wading around in the mud! Unfortunately Choco does not like to get her feet wiped and ususally I'm not too fastidious but yesterday I picked her up (heavy dog!) and deposited her in the tubroom to give her feet a rinse before she was allowed back in the living room. Maybe I should have given her a complete bath!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sewing and stuff

My days are not too exciting lately. Teaching, cleaning, quilting while watching TV. I spent some time making blocks for the bazaar quilt which is turning into a sort of orphan block quilt. The tree block was already cut out. The fan blocks were already made and I just put them together into one 12 inch block for use. The friendship blocks will be used elsewhere.

I also spent Saturday catching up on the 365 Challenge quilt. I've gone past the half-way point now but still every few days I realize I haven't made any entries and frantically look at my calendar and schedule book and blog to see if I've done anything noteworthy. Last week's entries were hard because I had to record Lemi's passing but that is part of God's circle of love so it is recorded for posterity.

And speaking of Lemi, look what Shiori-chan, my high school English student brought over last night. A bouquet of flowers in remembrance of Lemi's life! Shiori-chan and her mother are great cat lovers and they have been worried about Lemi for the last few weeks. So thoughtful of them! I was laughing and crying at the same time!

Monday, February 18, 2008


A young friend Cassy, who is planning to visit Japan this year, asked me about customs in Japan that she should know about so that she doesn't commit some big faux pas. I passed along a couple pieces of advice like facing the right way when you use a Japanese toilet (well, hopefully no one is going to watch you whichever way you face) and keeping the Japanese bath water pristine clean but I thought up another one so decided to post on it here.

Everyone knows that Japanese take their shoes off when they enter a home. Being shoeless keeps the house cleaner (remember people sit on the floors and eat on low tables) and probably keeps the tatami mats from wearing out too quickly. The entrance to a house has a high step right inside the front door and people will remove their shoes, step into the room, politely turn their shoes around so that the toes are pointing outwards (easier to slip into when leaving) and don slippers that are provided by the host. I have yet to see a home that doesn't provide slippers for their guests (except my own because I often forget to put out the slippers. My guests have to grab some from the shoe shelf themselves.)

In my California home I never saw slippers except for some old lady fluffy slippers that was only good for the trip from Grandma's bed to the bathroom down the hall. I don't think anyone I know in California would be caught dead walking around the house wearing slippers! Of course everyone is wearing shoes, but even so I don't think anyone would consider wearing slippers when guests were present or even having a pair of guest slippers available! Not so in Japan! Guest slippers can get to be quite pricey and are part of the room decoration. If you happen to ignore the slippers provided when you visit someone in Japan the hostess will come running after you and practically slip them on your feet for you.

Not only are there room slippers, there are also bathroom slippers. Cassy, this is where I'm warning you! When you go to the bathroom, you take off the slippers you are wearing, leave them in front of the bathroom door (lets everyone know the bathroom is occupied) and put on the pair of bathroom slippers that sit waiting. When you leave the bathroom, you take off the bathroom slippers and put your own waiting slippers back on. Hopefully, if you've really got your manners polished, you turn the bathroom slippers around (toes pointing in) so that the next person can easily use them. Almost 100% of the time I mess up around this point. I always just go barreling out of the bathroom wearing the bathroom slippers and step right back into the conversation with the hostess. She usually freezes at some point and goes running back to get the room slippers I left at her bathroom door and then returns the bathroom slippers to their spot, all the time apologizing for being such a bumbling hostess that she should have such unidentifiable slippers (as if I don't know that I'm the big oaf who has forgotten the custom!)

This bathroom slipper custom is also seen widely at schools and various institutions. Usually the bathroom slippers are rubber things that your toes can hardly fit into and they sometimes even have the men/women logo on them so that there will be no mistake about taking off with them. They are extremely ugly things so I think someone has solved the problem of stolen slippers at the rest stops along the highway and in the hospitals.

And for the people who have the philosophy of "be prepared for everything" little fold away slippers that will slip into your handbag are sold and are very handy for mothers who have to attend PTA meetings at school. I always forgot mine at home and some teacher would run after me with school slippers.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

In the mailbox

Look what arrived in my mailbox yesterday! Talk about being excited! Roberta from Italy (she spends some time in the States) asked me for my address so that she could send me "a little something". This is not a little something!

In the box were some absolutely stunning batik fabrics in my absolutely favorite colorscheme! How did she know? I think Roberta visits my blog occasionally (though she rarely makes comments) and so she must have realized how much I like batiks and autumn colors. So thoughtful of her!

And there was also a wonderful quilting arts magazine that is going to make for great winter reading this week! All the ideas for embellishing quilts and making works of art!

Best of all was a truly inspiring book called Happy Villages and I stood in the kitchen and read it from cover to cover and could barely keep myself from going upstairs and hauling out fabrics so that I can make my own Happy Village! What a fun book! Now I want to start another project! How can I keep up with all the things I need to make, want to make, call to me and beg to be started?! I'm sure all you quilters are in the same dilemma but sometimes I just want to go off to a mountain cabin for 6 months with my fabric and sewing machine and wallow in creating!

Thank you Roberta for your lovely, lovely gift and for making my brain buzz with ideas!

Saturday, February 16, 2008


I like Japanese food and am proud to say that I can eat almost anything that is served to me. (Now Japanese friends, don't take that as a challenge to see what is the grossest thing we can get Tanya to eat!) I consider it a feather in my cap that I can even eat (and enjoy!) Shimotsukare which is a specialty of Tochigi prefecture where I live.

Let me tell you! There are not too many people outside of Tochigi that will eat this (Tetsu absolutely shudders at the thought!) and I don't think there are all that many Tochigi citizens that think too highly of it either! I was listening to a radio program that was interviewing Tochigi citizens to see what they thought of Shimotsukare and most of the people said they wouldn't touch the stuff with a ten foot pole!

So what is Shimotsukare? It is a winter dish made only in Tochigi out of grated Japanese radish, grated carrots, smashed soybeans, minced deep fried tofu skins, left-over pulp from rice osake and a very large salmon head. Bones, brains, eyes and all! All the ingredients are boiled down and smashed together so you don't really know that you are eating any of these odd things and it is served cold. Although not many people like it, everyone agrees that it is very healthy for you but who wants to be healthy when they are gagging? Another reason why people shy away from Shimotsukare is that it looks like, how shall I put this delicately, "spit-up". One look and more gag.

I really do like Shimotsukare and when my friend Mrs. Yano brought over a huge tupperware, I accepted just half since I knew Tetsu wouldn't even want it in the refridgerator. I ate it all before he came home that night. BUT, I don't like it enough to want to learn how to make Shimotsukare. I think watching a fish head disintegrate into it might make me side with the anti-Shimotsukare people. My policy is "eat and enjoy and don't think about it."

Here is a small picture of Mrs. Yano's Shimotsukare. I considered taking pictures of all the split fish heads that are sold in the supermarket at this time of year for Shimotsukare but that would really get all of my blog friends gagging so I decided to spare you.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Thank you ceremony

Wednesday morning I was invited to attend a "Thank you ceremony" at the local elementary school. This is the second year that the school has held the ceremony and though I at first declined to attend, the principal requested my presence so that the children would be taught the spirit of gratefulness, so I did make an appearance.

For the past 6 years I have done crosswalk duty at the main street in front of our neighborhood. I first started when Leiya was in 6th grade and was one of the leaders for taking a group of neighborhood students to school. I may have mentioned this before, but in most parts of Japan, elementary school students are required to walk together single file in groups to the school with the 6th grade students leading the younger ones like ducks. They come home from school in the same way and parents are discouraged from taking their children to or picking the children up from school.

When I first started accompanying the children to the crosswalk, I was amazed at the number of cars that wouldn't stop to let the children cross so I picked up the little yellow flag that is at the corner and stopped the cars myself. 6 years later I'm still stopping cars between 7:30 and 8:00 every morning at the crosswalk.

For this small service, the school principal invited me to the thank you ceremony on Wednesday. Four or five mothers who go to the school once a week to read storybooks to the children before school begins were also recognized and two other volunteers were invited because they faithfully walk to the school each afternoon and accompany the children back to the neighborhood, a 15 minute walk one way!

(One of the volunteers, in the yellow vest, walking the kids home from school. Hmmm. They are supposed to be walking single file.)

The ceremony itself was a bit of an overstaged production in my book. All the volunteers gathered in the principal's office and were served tea and then we were escorted to the gymnasium where the whole student body was gathered and speeches were given, songs were sung, the volunteers were given flowers and thank you letters. Actually since the school pulls from different parts of the district I only knew the 15 or 20 kids from my neighborhood and honestly speaking, a simple thank you from one or two of them as they crossed the street in the morning may have held more meaning for me than all the hullabaloo.

When you were a child, did you feel great waves of gratefulness when your mom made you write a thank you letter to Aunt Betty for something? I don't think I did though I wrote the letter. I have a feeling the school kids on Wednesday were feeling the same way. But the principal and teachers want to teach they children to be thankful so this is a place to start I suppose.

Lovely flowers and the letters were simple but sweet so I made sure to say thank you to all the kids who crossed the street yesterday!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


I knew that I was going to have to record this sooner or later.

Lemi passed on yesterday afternoon after being sick for about a week. It was a hard week for all of us, Lemi in the makeshift cat hospital box, Choco basically ignored since I was constantly looking over Lemi. Tetsu and me staying up nights to keep her warm or just keep her company. I guess the other cats weren't disturbed too much and they don't seem to notice Lemi's passing.

After all my talk about putting an animal to sleep, I couldn't do it in the end. Lemi wasn't in pain but got into the calling and wandering mode so that it was hard to watch her. Tetsu and I took turns holding her or petting her and in the end I was chatting with my neighbor and holding Lemi when she died. A very nice way to go I think. Mrs. Yano, my neighbor always takes care of our cats if both Tetsu and I are away (once every couple of years Tetsu comes to the States with me) so she knows Lemi well. The last week Mrs. Yano has been coming over every few hours to check on Lemi and on me and bring me good things to eat. You'd think I was the one who was sick! Lemi also got a visit from Mrs. Yano's husband and even from a couple at church who are cat lovers. I'd say Lemi was a well-loved cat!

Small things are painful. Calling the cats for food and only three of them appearing. Seeing the still full box of cat food for older cats (Lemi's brand), changing my blog profile to have it say "I ... currently live with my husband, 3 cats and a dog" instead of 4 cats.

Only my quilting and piecing output profited from Lemi's confinement since most of the week I have been sitting by her box (no cooking, no cleaning!) and quilting the When-oh-When and doing some piecework. Now you know the reason my quilting went along so quickly. That is all that I've been doing! Thank you Lemi.

Looking back over this blog, there are lots of pictures of Lemi adorning my quilts, overseeing the basting, christening the blocks. Such a good kitty and great taste in quilts!

Monday, February 11, 2008


The day before yesterday I received a very nice g-mail from someone I'd never heard from before. It was titled "Small World?"

Look what this very nice person wrote to me.

"I have been avidly reading your blog for some time now, and I must say I thoroughly enjoy your everyday happenings, and your explanations of your customs.

And now reading in our local paper... I came across the name of Leiya Watanabe. When I first read it I wondered, could it possibly be your daughter?? She is pictured with some of her winning artwork, and she is going to school at our ... High School. We live in ... Ohio. (the same town) She looks like such a nice little girl, and is quite the artist. Well, if this is your daughter, I must say this is a small world, and I am truly amazed.
And again I so enjoy reading your daily entries in your blog."

I'm the one who is amazed and it was so nice of this nice lady to write and let me know she had read about Leiya. By the way, I hadn't heard this news yet about Leiya getting her name in the newspaper. She hadn't gotten around to telling me that she had some art exhibited at an art show. When I related this story to my mother-in-law, she was ecstatic!

"There's never been anyone in our family who has gotten their name in the newspaper! She is becoming famous!" (remember, my mother-in-law does not understand the concept of computers, Internet, g-mail and blogging.)

How global we are becoming! Leiya in her small town in Ohio, me out in the countryside of Japan yet tied together even by blog readers and friends! This connection thoroughly brought a smile to my day!

Saturday, February 09, 2008


I have just finished putting in the last stitches around the wide white border of the When-oh-When quilt. This is still nowhere finished but getting all the way around with the major quilting makes me feel that things are moving along smoothly. I'm not sure what I'm going to do about quilting the pieced part of the border. I haven't traced any lines in as I had thought just straight quilting might do, but now I'm not so sure. That seems sort of plain. Since I don't work with stencils I don't really have a system for putting in quilting lines after a quilt has been sandwiched so I may have to go with the lines in the end. I will spend some time today "talking" to the quilt about the next step.

Another reason I'm pleased about getting finished with this wide border is that I used up ALL OF THE THREAD ON THE ORIGINAL SPOOL! and look what I have remaining on the needle. That is cutting it close! Such a minor thing but it makes me smile.

"Oh, look. All that worrying about matching thread, whether anyone was going to notice a difference in a slight color variation, chiding myself about perfectionism etc. and it worked out just fine with no planning from me!"

Sort of a statement of life in general that I often forget.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Quiet Days

I'm quietly staying at home and quietly doing activities like hand piecing and quilting. The When-oh-When quilt is slowly getting quilted though I have yet to decide what to quilt on the unmarked places. I've still got about a quarter of the wide border yet to quilt (there is still a narrow white border to do) but I'M RUNNING OUT OF THREAD!

I knew that I might come to the end of the spool when I started because there was only half a spool to begin with, so the other day I stopped at one of the fabric stores to buy a new spool. I was clever enough to remember to bring the old spool along so that I could be sure of the lot numbers and this is what matched up, but look! Do those look like the same color to you? I don't think so... It was sort of a wild goose chase to begin with because I have no idea when I bought the first spool, it could have been over 10 years ago; or even where, it might have been the States, it might have been Japan. So I am satisfied that it is even this close in color and it probably won't make a difference when it gets quilted (haven't started with the new spool yet.)

As much as I enjoy machine piecing and quilting, it is nice to have simple hand work that sits by a chair and can be picked up and put down at any time. Quilting is good for the soul.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

A package from Germany!

I received the nicest package from my blogger friend, "Luna" in Germany this week. Luna had posted some pictures of some wonderful paper decorations that are often made in her country and when I commented on them she offered to send me the pattern.

Luna (and her Mom) also sent me a magazine about paper crafts, some German tea and a postcard of her home town! It was such fun to look through the magazine (of course in German!) and I am planning to take it with me to Mrs. Furui's, my patchwork friend because Mrs. Furui spent four years in Germany and reads German. What do you bet that I get some of my patchwork friends inspired to make some of these lovely paper decorations!

So today I have two woven paper birds that I made last night before going to bed. These are supposed to be hung in a window but it was too dark to take a window picture last night. I'm going to try to make a few more as I can see these being marvelous Easter decorations!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Wonky flimsy

Well! It's been a long time since I posted about anything quilty but I am happy to report that I spent time in the sewing room and accomplished something. Ta-Da! I have my wonky quilt from the Lazy Gal class in one piece!

I did some quick housecleaning yesterday and then went up to sew. On Saturday I had cleaned the sewing room and even rearranged furniture so there was no excuse not to go up there and work. My sewing room is definitely not ideal as I realize everytime I sit down to sew. The sewing machine table is too small, the ironing area is behind some boxes, the cutting table is set so things fall off behind. Even rearranging I ran into problems, but I guess a sewing room is a room of an on again-off again love affair. Stuff in drawers and boxes and baskets that need to be peered through to remember what was put there to begin with.

I kept coming across the hearts that I had been making for Tonya's class here and there in various piles and even other rooms and I thought,

"Gee. It's almost Valentine's Day. A simple Valentine's quilt shouldn't be hard to make with all these hearts already here."

WHAT WAS I THINKING!!! I have to use these hearts in my Wonky quilt and as it is, since the class theme is already about what we love, it is as close to a Valentine Quilt as I need to get this year! Soooo.... Get up there and work on the quilt Tanya! At least get a few more hearts under your belt!

Once the quilt was spread out on the floor and I could see where I needed more hearts my head started spinning and pretty soon I had a house and heart "smoke". I backed myself into a corner at one point since I couldn't figure out how to put my pieces together without sewing around a corner (Basic rule. Start with the smaller pieces first. Do not attempt to put small pieces in after the bigger pieces are made.) I ended up tearing out seams and redoing things, positioning and repositioning and by the time the afternoon rolled around I wasn't about to leave this quilt until it was all in one piece. I finished around 4:00 yesterday.

Hmmm. Why is the top of the quilt 8 centimeters narrower than the bottom of the quilt? With the add and cut away system (very little measuring) it just kept getting bigger. I have sheared off some of the sides at the lower end but it still isn't an exact fit. Now to get some borders on it.

I'll start auditioning fabric sometime this week so you'll see the quilt in this stage a few more times. Does it want solid borders? Pieced borders? More words? And what color(s)? It seems to me that a border is a very important part of a quilt but the end is so near that I tend to throw together simple borders just to be able to have reached a workable goal.

Tetsu found the Wonky quilt on the floor when he was looking for a clean shirt and came downstairs asking,

"Is that a quilt for us? That's my kind of quilt! Lots of color and a mixed-up pattern!" (I wonder if he realizes that mixed-up pattern is actually a bunch of words!) "I claim this one when you get it done!"

That's one of the nicest compliments as I've had in a long time!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Out with the Ogre!

Yesterday was Setstubun in Japan. Setsubun literally means the dividing of the seasons so according to the Japanese calendar today is the first day of spring! Hah! Not by the look of all the snow we have this morning!

Since the new year (by the luna calendar) begins with spring, traditionally the Japanese clean the house of evil spirits on Setsubun and welcome in good fortune for the coming year. A fun custom that most Japanese follow is to throw toasted soybeans at the chosen "ogre" and chase him out of the house. Dad usually get elected for this job and he dons an ogre mask while the rest of the family throw soybeans (traditionally carried in a small wooden box) and yell,

"Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!" "Out with the ogre! In with luck!"

Last week at the pre-school all the children were busily making their ogre masks to take home and have their fathers wear yesterday. Great ogres! Even some with hands you'll notice!

After the beans are thrown you are supposed to brush them off (at least the ones that didn't end up in the mud and snow) and eat the same amount of beans as your age. Soy beans don't have a whole lot of taste but I guess the children are willing to eat 5 or 6 to bring good fortune into the house. My age? I'd need a bowl to hold all my beans so I quietly let the custom pass yesterday. I did buy some sweet bean cakes (that's stretching the meaning a bit far) and Tetsu and I enjoyed those with some hot tea.