Monday, August 31, 2009

Plunge in!

The other day Holly blogged about joining a gym with her husband. Yesterday I took the plunge and joined the swimming pool center that Tetsu has been going to! Unthinkable!

Tetsu has been water walking for the past month. He loves it! That's all he talks about! He has become quite boring and every morning all I hear is how many laps he has walked (it is not really a "swimming" pool), what exercises he does, how his muscles are becoming more defined (he thinks), the different people and their routines that he copies, the belt notch difference, the GRAMS of weight he has lost. BORING!!!

But he is enjoying himself and the pool gives him something to look forward to.

But I have been finding myself getting sour.

"It is all fine and dandy for you to become slim and trim (maybe... I don't see it yet) while I sit here flabby. Yeah, and how was my day? I cleaned, I taught, I walked the dog, I sewed (well, that's an extremely high plus point)."

"You should come too, Tanya! It's fun!"

"Tetsu, I don't like water. I don't like swim suits. I don't like the swim caps that squeeze your head and pull up your eyebrows. I don't like driving at night. There's no way I can go every night. If I start swimming after English at night who is going to cook our dinner?"

I thought up all sorts of excuses but IF we really go to the pool (and Tetsu does) then for our money it is a good investment for health.

I hemmed and hawed a bit more, "...grumble, grumble. What are we going to do about dinner? Can I even get to the pool three times a week?"

But there is no getting around the fact that I have more rolls of flab than I used to.

Last night I signed up and became a yearly member. Tetsu and I walked around the pool for an hour. He kept coming up behind me (he is a faster walker) and throwing comments at me.

"Are you having fun?"

"If you move your arms like this you'll get more resistance."

"Do you want to go in the sauna with me?"

"Don't tire yourself out the first time."

Sigh... Wish me luck. Actually I'm looking forward to this evening. I don't know what I'm going to do about dinner...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Project 6

I played hookey yesterday. I went upstairs to the sewing room and played around the whole blessed day through, only taking time off to go grocery shopping. And what did I accomplish? Well, it's another "Work In Progress" but it was number 6 on my list that quickly got moved up to number 1.

This project has been mulling around in my brain for a week now. At the end of September my church is having its 6 year anniversary. I thought it would be nice to make a quilt of my church and I've decided I want to make a stained glass quilt.

"I want to make this... Can I make this? This is going to be a lot of wasted time and effort if I get stuck."

I called my friend Noriko to get some details of how to start this project. She specializes in stained glass quilts and has been written up in Japanese Quilt magazines! She's a pro!

"Noriko-san. I want to make a stained glass quilt of my church. Is this even possible? How long do you think this will take me? What's the process?"

Following Noriko-san's directions I've been doing the preliminary work.

First take a picture of the church. I took my camera with me on a walk to the church and snapped a lot of views.

Come home and download the picture into the computer and print it out full page.

Trace the outlines and scan.

With Excel (this was the tricky part. I'm not very computer literate) change the measurements of the picture and print out. I had 15 pages! I taped them all together and traced it all again on tracing paper.

That was last week's work. Yesterday I traced the pattern on backing and then spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I was going to put pieces together with continuous lines.

Next I traced the pieces onto applique paper and ironed them on to the backing. It got a little confusing and you should have seen the state of sewing room. Paper, pieces, fabric, garbage, scissors, tape etc. etc. I sort of felt like a pig wallowing (down on the floor for all of this since this is too big for the ironing board).

And in the late afternoon I started in putting black bias tape on the piece edges. More confusion and I didn't want to stop while I was on a roll. I must have spent 6 hours up in the sewing room yesterday! And then I ran out of bias tape... 10 meters. So that is where I stopped last night.

On the agenda today is tracking down some more bias tape which may be trickier than appears. Tetsu said he'll go on a bias tape treasure hunt with me today to see if we can locate some in the right width...

I still need to put a border on this and I'll be calling Noriko-san again. And the major problem is how to sew down the black bias... Noriko-san's sewing machine does a neat little straight stitch with a zig (no zag!) that holds pieces down nicely but mine, no-can-do. Maybe regular zig-zag? I'm not going to have time to hand applique over 10 meters (probably 20 by the time I'm finished!) in the next month.

Off to go treasure hunting!

Friday, August 28, 2009


Summer vacation is winding down here in Japan. Throughout August I wasn't quite sure who was coming for English and who wasn't so two of my classes turned into sewing and cooking.

This will be the last of the children's crafts posts for awhile.

On Tuesday afternoon I had two sisters (they made the little bears a couple of weeks ago) coming but even at Tuesday noon I hadn't decided what I was going to do with them that day. Not a very conscientious teacher am I. BUT at 1:30 my friend Mrs. Ide came for English and brought with her fabric and proceeded to teach me how to make SCRUNCHIES! Talk about God's blessings! She didn't know anything about my dilemma!

Scrunchies are probably the easiest thing we've made but just right for two young girls who have never used a sewing machine before.

Cut a piece of cloth 22" by 5" and fold it in half width wise.

With seam side down, bring the top layer of fabric to the center and SCRUNCH! (Another reason for the name?)

Bring the bottom layer of fabric up and around the scrunched area and with the right sides together sew the seam and as far as you can without catching the scrunched inner fabric.

Here's the fun part. PULL the center scrunched part out toward you as far as it will go and scrunch it to the center (near the left side fold) and continue sewing the edges together. Don't catch the scrunched part!

Keep repeating until you get back to the seam but leave an inch or so opening.

Turn the scrunchie right side out and thread a 10" piece of elastic through and tie.

Fold the opening edges inside and top stitch closed.

Ta-Da! A scrunchie!

When Mrs. Ide heard that I was going to make these right away with my girls she sent over more pre-cut fabric for scrunchies and some with lace already sewn on to make some ultra feminine ones. Ohh! The girls jumped at those!

I told them to each make a regular one with me instructing them and then when they had the hang of it to try their hand with the lace ones.

They really whizzed and they were both able to make two scrunchies in the hour time.

These girls are smilers and I could tell they were really happy with their scrunchies!

Anyone with daughters or nieces should give this a try. (And the girls said they were going to wear them sometimes as arm bracelets so I guess one doesn't even have to have long hair!)

Thursday, August 27, 2009


I'm not very good at using the computer other than what I know (blogging). I cannot figure out my cell phone at all! In Japan cell phones are a necessity and they are especially used for text messaging. More people send e-mails by cell phone than they do by computer I think.

Occasionally I will get an e-mail and at the end are the little "pictures" that one can make with keyboard symbols. The official word for these are emoticons. Did you know that emoticons are different depending on the culture?

It seems somone has researched emotions and facial expressions and has come up with a theory that Westerners express themselves and read other people's expressions by looking at facial features in equal balance but maybe focusing on a person's eyes and mouth. On the other hand East Asians express emotions with their eyes and the mouth isn't really an important part of the facial expression. Japanese will hide their mouths when they laugh or even when they cry and it does make it difficult for foreigners to catch what emotions are being conveyed. The researchers went on to explain that this tendency is even evident when looking at the differences in the emoticons that each culture uses.

Here are a couple emoticons that get used often in Japanese text messaging.

(^_^) means "happy".
(;_;) means "sad".
(>_<) means "frustrated."
(,_,) means "disappointed".
(^_^') means "nervous".

In each of these cases the symbol for the mouth never changes but the symbols for the eyes change to express an emotion.

The Western emoticons are
:-D for "happy".
:'-( means "sad".
: - O is supposed to mean "surprise".

The Western symbols used for the mouth change according to the emotion rather than the eyes.

And of course there is a whole other realm of emoticons that can be made in combination with the Japanese-Chinese characters that I don't even know I can write using my American computer...

ε=ε=ε=┌(;*´Д`)ノ Can you see this? This is supposed to mean running or hurrying.

(・∀・)つ⑩ This is supposed to mean carrying money. The little figure has a ten yen coin.

And this is my favorite. Can you guess what this means?
m(_ _)m

I'm afraid Westerners aren't going to get this one... This is a figure bowing deeply with his hands on the floor on either side of his head. This is used when someone is apologizing such as

"I'm so sorry I have to cancel out on lunch today. Please forgive me." m(_ _)m

Just another cultural difference that has popped up in this era of cyber messaging...

Bye! (^-^)/~~

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A late post

I raced off this morning without being able to spend any time on the computer so I am late today. Kindergarten and school has started so Wednesdays are going to be full days again. Summer vacation was nice!

On the handwork front I am quilting the 30 minutes a day that I committed to. Yeah!

No more work done on the Mexican Star quilt.

I spent some time doing some needlework while watching TV and the next step is to put a border on this and then quilt it. It is a small tapestry that I saw on Vero's blog and I commented on it. My sister-in-law used to have this same saying on a garden decoration in front of her house and I just loved it. Veronica so kindly sent me the pattern and so I've had fun stitching this up! When this gets done it is going in the entryway for sure! Thank you Vero!

And last week I quilted up another Happy Village for my friend, Kaoru-san. There was one day when some of the ladies in our class couldn't come and so Kaoru-san and Eiko-san made Happy Villages. Eiko-san took hers home to work on a few more days (and she brought it back to me yesterday so I will quilt it this week) but I quilted Kaoru-san's and put on a border. I couldn't show it on my blog until I had given it back to her which I did yesterday. Yeah Kaoru-san! (She is one of those people who don't own a sewing machine!)

Back to quilting!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Terri asked me to include a little bit about the eating habits in our house and my adventure in cooking. Well, as I've said before, I don't really like to cook. And I have a husband that doesn't get home until 10:00 or 11:00 so even when I do cook, we don't have quiet dinners together. I usually eat alone and squeeze it in between evening classes. Dinnertime is not my favorite time of day.

But occasionally I feel I have to justify all the dishes I have collected, or I think we really ought to eat healthier and then I spend some time in my kitchen. Of course the dang kitchen is so small with ZERO counter space that it makes it difficult to get enthusiastic about going in there but it has the basics... (except for counters).

So this was dinner the other night. It was sort of an experiment.

I reused the curry that we had eaten the night before and added more potatoes, carrots, eggplant and bouillon and made a simple curry soup. Tasted the same as the night before only thinner.

Then I experimented with some GOYA that one of my students had brought me a couple days before.

Goya is also called a bitter gourd and it is definitely bitter! I think this is a vegetable from Okinawa the southernmost string of islands in Japan which has a tropical climate. Until a few years ago I'd never seen goya but now it can be purchased in any supermarket. It seems to be easy to grow because farmers will often hand me a goya as I walk by their fields.

Unfortunately Tetsu does not like goya. If you cook it too much it becomes mushy. If you don't cook it enough it is so bitter you are tempted to spit it out! In Okinawa it is served with pork and tofu and eggs but we've already eaten that this week so I had to think of another recipe using goya.

First I thickly sliced the goya into rounds and dug out the pulp and seeds (the most bitter part). Then I boiled the goya in salt water. Next I mixed up ground meat, chopped onions, salt and pepper, an egg and leftover canned corn and "stuffed" the goya rounds. And floured the rounds and sauteed them in olive oil. They were lacking something so when they were finished cooking I splashed on the ever present soy sauce. Goya mini hamburgers. Not too bad.

Let's see, what else did we have. Cold tofu with soy sauce. A few sauteed mini-tomatoes just because they were wrinkling in the crisper. Some fresh edamame. And rice. I guess that was dinner.

I try to vary my menus so that some nights we are eating western style, maybe spaghetti or something, but either way dinner is never very exciting...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Betrayed! Velvet.

Velvet lives in my sewing room. He doesn't like the other cats and will tolerate Chip and Cleo but not Patora and Toi. Patora takes great offense at this and if they ever do meet head on then there is a cat fight and a lot of chasing and spitting and fur flying.

I have the room fixed up for Vel. He has a cat bed on the window sill. He has water and food dishes and a cat box. I spend enough time up in the room that he doesn't really feel lonely... Recently Cleo has found there are benefits to living in the sewing room and he has joined Vel during the day. But Cleo claimed the cat bed and Velvet went to sleep on one of my quilts.

On my shelves (made by Tetsu) I have a couple flimsys and my Feathered Star quilt that I have put aside for quilting until it gets cooler. Vel claimed my Feathered Star as his new bed so I covered it with a towel in hopes of keeping cat fur off of it.

When I'm not in the room I "lock" the door with cording and a nail because Patora knows how to open the door and torment poor Vel. But sometimes I forget to put on the "lock." There was a lot of scuffling and Patora chased Vel downstairs a couple of days ago...

This weekend I noticed the towel was off of my Feathered Star and when I went to put it back... SOME CAT HAS PEED ON MY QUILT!!!!! Probably Vel in a fit of hysteria at being unexpectedly cornered. Oh, glory!~ What am I going to do.

The quilt has only a two or three blocks that have already been quilted. I penciled in all the quilting designs, and I was planning to get back to this in the fall. Well, I was procrastinating, is what I was doing.

I tried quilting the anointed quilt as is but WHEW! there is no way I can stand to hold this thing on my lap for the next couple months when hand quilting. I'd have to hide away in the sewing room the whole time. I'd have to change clothes and take a shower every time I quilted!

ARGHH! This is why I should have finished this up right away! If I wash the quilt now, then my quilting lines might fade away (that's at least what I always hope for when I put them in) but if I leave it I can't stand the smell and it will probably stain. I opted for washing. Thank goodness I hadn't used batting that will shrink up.

My Feathered Star is washed and it looks like the quilting lines have stayed in. The stain is still there too... but the quilt no longer smells. I'm committing to bringing this back downstairs and quilting it 30 minutes a day even if I have to put the air conditioning on!

And I'm putting away all other quilts that Vel might want to sit on.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Last week when I was down and out one of the neighboring farmers had handed Tetsu a bag full of cucumbers and eggplant and okra and had been worried about my back. This morning I went over to say thank you and let him know I was back in commission. He was picking grapes! I didn't know he had a grape arbor (see how much I know about grapes). He is actually a leek farmer and has twenty or thirty leek hot houses and here and there he and is wife grow rice and lotus roots and various vegetables for his family. And grapes!

There are many different types of grapes in Japan. Some big almost black ones. Some smaller green ones. Just recently we are getting seedless grapes, but usually we have to spit out all the seeds. Grape skins too are rather tough and so for the larger ones we will peel them like a banana, and with most other types one just squeezes the grape pulp into your mouth and leave the skin in a little pile on the plate.

I remember when my mother visited Japan the first time she was served a bunch of grapes and was surprised to find skins so tough but trying to be a polite guest, she said nothing and swallowed them all down. She said she was very embarrassed to later see everyone else's little mountain of grape skins piled by their plates and hers was the only one obviously bare!

My farmer friend was very apologetic about the grapes.

"I'm so sorry about the number. Please think of this as two for you and two for your husband."

Four is considered bad luck in Japan and so one normally doesn't give things in groups of four. In Japanese, the word is "shi" which is the same pronunciation as the word "die" so people avoid using four as much as possible. Dishes will be sold 5 to a set and hospitals will skip room number four completely.

Two, four. Whatever, the freshly picked grapes for breakfast were delicious!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Quilting uncertainties

I don't know. Maybe I've overkilled. I sort of got carried away on my quilting and am stuck again.

You would think that quilting is an easy thing to decide upon though most of us would agree that it isn't so easy to do.

My first decision when confronted with the completed flimsy was "What design do I want to do?"

This quilt didn't seem to lend itself to an overall design so I got onto Google Images and spent HOURS (over a week) looking at Mexican Star quilts worldwide and then machine quilting in general. I Googled "Mexican Stars", "Stars", "Batik Stars", "Domestic Machine quilting", "Diane Guardinski", even "Mexican Tiles"! I also secretly lurked on many of your blogs and googled into your files or just scrolled endlessly through your pictures. Didn't touch that sewing machine for the week!

Finally decided on a quilting motif for the STAR part. Same process for deciding on the WHITE part. That's when I let out the first plea. This is ridiculous! If I were getting paid by the hour I'd be a millionaire and I haven't even put in a stitch! I sort of felt like someone who studies the Bible forever and is afraid to get into the world and put it into practice!


Nope, even with the quilt sandwich and a general idea of motif I now had to agonize over threads. Do I want to use "Shimmer" thread or plain white or brown or run out and try to locate invisible thread or what? Oh, do it with "Shimmer".

"STOP!" Shimmer is not so great!!! Take it all out (just a few inches) and choose another thread. Sigh.

Hey, this one looks good (gradation colors. I love those). It looks good on the colored parts of the quilt but on the white?... Oh well...

Now, how to move between stars and motifs and blocks? That took another block of time just tracing my finger over stars and motifs and blocks... This quilt is still not getting quilted~~

And finally plunge in. A little shaky there at first. By the time I finished with my gradation thread I was getting the flow of the quilting but that first hour's work looks pretty bad up close. Do I want to take it out? No way! I wouldn't even be able to follow the quilting lines to take it out!

Next to the white parts. My quilting isn't good enough to do this in dark thread and I decided white would show the mistakes less. Even so...

And then down to the corner white area. Now this was a challenge and actually a lot of fun! I am quite please with this job but I do seem to have over quilted. I don't want to put anything in the big white opposite area just because my "fan" shows up so nicely... But didn't you tell me that quilting density should be the same throughout the quilt? Can I leave this space?

And now the big question. With all the dense quilting, I'm going to have to do something in the border. Simple isn't going to work here, is it... Can I just get away with a few lines?

And here I sit writing a post and not getting anywhere near my quilt. I guess I'm still Bible studying.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Two cat cushions finished

My quiet girls finished their cat cushions. Who knows if they went home happy or not... The cat cushions took us two weeks to make (and neither girl could come last week so this project stretched over three weeks).

The first week I taught them how to sew the leaders/enders together and make rows and then sew the rows together. One girl understood about trying to match seams. The other girl never did. They each made a "large" pieced rectangle and then we sandwiched them and they quilted them. One girl couldn't remember to stay on the lines she had drawn and so her quilting lines were quite zigzagged. The other girl's was more uniform.

After they had got everything quilted I had them cut out the head and body of the cat and they took home embroidery thread and embroidered the faces.

During the next week I machine quilted (did an absolutely lousy job!) a grid on another piece of fabric for the back of the cushions and I also made the pieced tails (if I'd instructed them to make a bigger rectangle I could have avoided this step). I went ahead and made the tails for the cushions.

Finally yesterday the girls came and sewed the head parts and body parts and then stuffed the cushions and closed the openings. We managed to break one sewing machine needle and that sent the sewing machine into a lot of grinding, protesting noise but I think permanent damage was averted.

And finally with a bit of ribbon the cushions were done...

No smiles... until I made them.

Maybe I'll try cooking next week...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sights and SOUNDS of Japan

I've been upstairs sewing a bit with all the windows open wide and I can hear the sounds of cicada and birds and an occasional frog.

In the distance, gradually coming closer and closer is the sound of a bamboo salesman driving around in his pick-up truck.

"Bamboo~~ Bamboo poles for sale~~ Bamboo~~ Bamboo poles for sale~~"

He is quite melodic and sings the same thing over and over. Maybe he has a recording that he is playing but that doesn't seem quite so quaint. Occasionally he will go into a spiel about if you need a pole for hanging your laundry he has all sizes and some have been covered so that they are sturdier or waterproof or something.

Bamboo pole merchants come around quite a lot in my neighborhood. Or maybe it's the same merchant? Poles are much easier to use for hanging out clothes than laundry lines but a long pole is difficult to bring home from the store (actually I have a store bought one... I think it expanded). The bamboo pole man also sells sturdy cement blocks that hold the metal racks that the poles lay across. I'm sure buying from the merchant is much more convenient than trying to drag all that stuff home (but once in 20 years, right?) but I have a feeling his service is costly.

"Paper~~ Paper exchange~~ We take newspapers, magazine and cardboard~~ Paper~~ Paper exchange~~"

This is another melody that we often is heard wafting through the neighborhood. These merchants will also go around in a pick up truck and tell the world that they are exchanging toilet paper for old newspapers and cardboard. I have run out and stopped these trucks and asked them to take away a few stacks of newspapers and they are very happy to give me two or three rolls of toilet paper in return. (Picture from the Internet)

Other melodies and loud speakers announce trucks that will take away old bicycles or motorcycles or tires and we have used their services before also. A little expensive. They asked $8 to take a bicycle and $10 to take away a tire. Supposedly we could take our own garbage to the dump but one has to pay dumping fees anyway and Tetsu and I don't have a pick up truck so yearly we stop these drivers when we hear them coming in the distance.

We used to live in an area where in the evenings I would hear a thin tinny horn sound Pi~~~ Po~~~ and this would let me know that a tofu man was wandering around the neighborhood. He was an elderly man and he'd make his tofu and then strap a large container to the rear of his bicycle and with 30 or 40 blocks of cold tofu bobbing around in water, blow his little horn letting housewives know he was coming. Takumi must have been 4 or 5 years old and I would send him out with 100 yen (about a dollar) and a bowl and he would stop the tofu seller and buy a block to use for dinner. I miss the tofu man.

A not so great sound of Japan is the election truck that wanders around endlessly these days (election in another 10 days). I don't understand this custom at all. A white van with two or three young ladies wearing white gloves will blare the name of some candidate as the girls (and sometimes the candidate) wave at no one.

"Thank you~ XX thanks you for your support"

These sounds are loud and a great nuisance especially on weekend mornings when most people would prefer to sleep in. And when you get two or three candidate's cars passing on the nearby road, on my! What a racket. Tetsu grumbles,

"I'm not voting for ANYBODY that puts out that much air (sound) pollution!"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Quilting questions

Hmm. Have I been sewing? Not really. I put the border on one of my Mexican Star quilts but I'm still contemplating machine quilting designs. This striped fabric in my stash had the same basic colors and a Mexican tile atmosphere so I decided to use this fairly easily. Now to quilt. I have a question. When you do machine quilting (domestic machine) do you do everything completely freehand or do you sew over a pattern or what?

In the very beginning of my adventure into machine quilting, I tried drawing a simple pattern onto paper and then sewed right through the paper onto the fabric (later pulling the paper off). That met with minor success. Getting rid of paper residue was another tedious step, the paper shifted somewhat during the process, and I couldn't see where I quilted in tucks until after I removed the paper.

I've been doing complete freehand quilting with minor success also. I tend to get smaller and smaller with feathers and stippling and have trouble with bigger designs as well as getting regular spacing.

I have penciled in feathered circles on a quilt too and tried to quilt on those lines but that circle was a real bear! And of course I couldn't really control the needle well enough to trace the lines.

Now I'm looking at the Mexican Star and have a plan for inside part but not for this new border. I'm thinking I'd like to quilt something regular in the border but should I try using paper again? Tracing a pattern? Eyeballing it?

What are some of your tips for machine quilting a border pattern?