Monday, November 30, 2009

Tetsu's handiwork

Saturday Tetsu devoted his day to working around the house and we got quite a lot done. He will often say

"Okay. What do you want me to help you with today?"

and I'll think up a job for us to do that I normally wouldn't attempt by myself. This time it was

"How about waxing the floors?"

There are two ways to wax the floors. Push everything to the side and spray wax around and under as far as the arm can reach.

The other way is to take every last bit of furniture outside and then get down on your hands and knees with a rag and wax the empty rooms. If I'm doing this alone you know which way I chose. Hey, that way is fine with me anytime! But Tetsu likes to be thorough and since it was a nice day, EVERYTHING went outside (well, we left the piano but did move it a bit) and we waxed the proper way...double waxing with a 30 minute snack break sitting outside amidst the furniture.

As always when the rooms were empty we say to each other

"The place looks so big. How come we always feel like we live in a rabbit hutch?"

and tried to figure out what furniture we could do without or if there was any other layout that would give us more room, but no, we put everything back in the original places.

Shiny windows and floors always makes me feel happy. You will notice the strange corners on all our walls. Now why do you think we have those? Of course Tetsu's handiwork again hiding all the scratch marks that the cats do. I think the patchwork walls give the room more character and when the cats scratch them down Tetsu just replaces a board.

Here is the same room with the furniture and 5 cats back inside it. Maybe it is all the cats that make it seem small?

And speaking of Tetsu's handiwork, you saw a glimpse of his latest fence the other day when I was photographing Choco. Tetsu ran out of lumber for this project so there was a hole for a week before he finished the fence on Saturday. HOPEFULLY, the fence makes it more difficult for Choco to notice passersby and she won't bark as much as usual. We'll see how successful the fence is... (Tetsu didn't make it solid wood because he thought the typhoons would blow it down.) He looks pretty pleased with himself doesn't he?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Happy e-mail box

Two neat things happened came through my e-mail box this week.

There was an e-mail from Karen Eckmeier who wrote the Happy Villages book! She was so nice to write that she had done a Happy Villages workshop and one of the participants mentioned my blog and the Happy Villages that I have done with my Japanese kids. My link was even given and Karen visited and got to see some of the results of her book here in Japan. I wonder which of you nice bloggers introduced Karen to my blog.

I have used the Happy Villages technique quite a lot now and I love the collaging and then the simple quilting over tulle. I'm going to try to make Happy Villages a regular "English class" with my older kids because it is so creative. And I'm making plans to try another of Karen's books on accidental landscaping...

The other very nice e-mail that I got was from Jan. A few months ago Jan asked me for the little bear pattern that I have also made with my students and as much as possible I sent the information. I don't think I was able to send a PDF file but Jan figured it out anyway and made a couple bears. And this week she sent a picture and let me know that she taught a group of women to make the bears and they are going to use them in a fund raiser. And look at this adorable picture! All those bears together look like candy in a bowl!

This is what makes blogging so much fun, the reaching out and connecting with others and knowing that the minimal stitching one does in their own armchair goes out to influence others and maybe help. I know the quilts I have seen on Anne's blog, and Colleen's have influenced me to make similar works and those quilts have helped raise funds for the kindergarten where I teach.

My e-mail box has been smiling!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Filler finished

The batik Mexican Star quilt is finished and up on the wall!

I really quilted this thing densely which if nothing else was a learning experience for me. I've never done so much filler quilting. (It was the Leah Day website that captured my fancy).

I don't know if anyone else has made the same observation but it seemed that the more I quilted, the more relaxed I got, ABOUT EVERYTHING! At first I was fussing over the uneveness of the star points and then I was frustrated over the places where I was trying to do stitch in the ditch. But it seemed that the more I quilted, the more lines were added, the less I worried about sewing directly over previous lines or in seams and it didn't matter that the pebbles were lopsided. By the end it didn't matter that the border wasn't perfectly symetrical or if it sometimes got lost in the binding.

I don't think I had a "who cares, let's get this over with" attitude, just a more relaxed "imperfect makes it mine" attitude. Quilting actually got to be fun!!! Of course looking at this critically I'd do some minor marking on the border to make things a bit more even. And maybe I'd try a bit harder to keep the puckering down but I am pleased with my first "filler" filled quilt.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving memories

Happy Thanksgiving for all of you in America! I hope you are enjoying your feasts and family!

As for us in Japan, the day went by as normal. School, classes, dinner was fish and miso soup and rice. But remember, I had my Thanksgiving dinner last week so I'm not complaining!

Last night I showed pictures of the Thanksgiving we had at Marlene's house to my English kids and I told them a little history about why American's celebrate Thanksgiving. I figured they should see what some of the delicacies are so I flashed my Thanksgiving pictures onto the computer screen. I got the most oohs and ahhs over the sweet potato casserole with the marshmallows on top.

"Marshmallows on sweet potato? Strange!"

And then I showed them the picture of the turkey and one little boy froze and covered his head and wouldn't look at my pictures any more. Brought back memories.

Years ago, during the summers, our family was a host family for Japanese Jr. high school students. While the students were with us we tried to show them American holidays and put on a mock Christmas (used the pine tree in the yard... outdoor Christmas festivities) and Thanksgiving! Another two families got involved and we went all out to show the little Japanese girls what an American Thanksgiving was all about. The turkey was roasted, the stuffing made, cranberry jelly was found in July. Pumpkin pies, gravy, sweet potatoes and marshmallows. The whole shebang! Nothing was spared for our Japanese students. And with great aplomb we brought our little Japanese girl into the dining room, eyes closed, where the table was loaded down with food.

"Ta-da! Happy Thanksgiving!"

Whereupon the girl took one look at the table and burst into tears and went running to another room. It was the shock of seeing that big old roasted turkey just sitting there on the table! Of course trying to figure out what was wrong was a bit difficult (language barrier) and the girl was sobbing and fairly inconsolable. So our out-of-season Thanksgiving dinner flopped and the girl ate jello on the porch instead of turkey and all the other good stuff. I suppose the rest of us enjoyed it but I only remember the strange reaction of the girl seeing that turkey.

I guess the little boy had a similar reaction to seeing my turkey pictures last night. Japanese are not used to seeing whole roasted anything and consider it sort of barbarian.

Of course I have the same reaction when I see raw fish set out on the still gasping fish. It is all about culture and what is considered barbaric and what is considered a delicacy.

I'll have the turkey dinner thank you.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Pet population

Thursday and I have a semi-free day. Maybe I can go upstairs and sew.

The cats are trying to keep warm. Mi has basically joined the rest of the group and since she seems to have a very passive personality (except with garbage. She LOVES garbage) the other cats leave her alone and she doesn't bother any of them either. When I'm not around or at night she goes into the kitty cage but basically she sits in front of the heaters along with the other cats. I hope I won't be sorry later on for allowing this but shuffling cats was hard work.

Mi's favorite place is on Tetsu's stomach and she is still lavishing all her cuteness and charm onto him. I think cats know with whom and when they need to be "cute" and once they have burrowed into the owners hearts they take on the cool feline personality. Toi used to nuzzle up to us and say

"Aren't I cute? Don't you think I am just wonderful? You wouldn't think of putting me outside would you?"

but nowadays he just ignores us when we call. Typical cat. Mi has taken on the fluttering of eyelashes expression that brings "Ahhh isn't she the sweetest thing?!" remarks from Tetsu and me.

Here is Toi claiming my knitting. That is still in the half-finished stage.

And here is a rare picture of Patora reining over the rest of the household from the top of the refrigerator.

This is Cleo luxuriating in front of the heater.

And you saw Velvet the other day in his cat kotatsu. He's such a hermit.

And Chip and Toi like to explore Mi's cat enclosure (though Mi isn't as fond of it as we'd hoped.)

All the cats are happy today.

Choco feels out numbered.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Morning mists

Early morning mists.

Pictures from our morning walk with Choco.

Natural farm composting.

I love the way the clouds form almost at our fingertips.

Between the houses and the fields is a river. I think the water temperature must be warmer than the air temperature and a fog forms just above the surface.

The first snow of the winter on the mountains above Nikko.

God's beautiful world!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Velvet's tent

I am a quilter. I am a quilter. I am a quilter.

Sometimes I have to remind myself that the sewing room upstairs is not just a storage area. It is the place I sew. Sometimes. Recently it is cold and my sewing room has no heat so it is a struggle to go up there and sew. And then I remind myself that Velvet lives there and would like company and HEAT. I bought Vel a little seat warmer (made for pets! How cool is that!) and have set up his own warm tent.

In Japan, cats (and people) like to sit in the kotatsu, a low table with a heating element in it and heavy quilts over it all. It is a wonderful appliance (if you can get down on your knees) and it is amazing how warm the whole body stays if just your lower body is heated. Unfortunately the quilts all over the floor take up space so right now Tetsu and I aren't using kotatsu though we had two for the kids when they were into their heavy studying days and had to hibernate upstairs.

ANYWAYS... I have made Velvet a sort of cat kotatsu (they sell those too for about $80 apiece!) and put a fleece blanket under my ironing table, the seat warmer, and covered the whole thing with one of the kids old quilts. It makes for a good cat hiding place and hopefully Velvet stays warm when I'm not around.

BUT, I did do a bit of sewing on my Mexican Star Batik quilt (remember that? Yeah, quite awhile ago... It is still waiting to be quilted.) I decided to put in pebbles and have been working on different sizes. I can't really tell how this is working out but the pebbles give it all a lot of texture. Just a bit more to go!

Mrs. Nakazawa called me this morning with news of her kitty Mick. Mick lived a great life of 18 years and Mrs. Nakazawa has been completely devoted. I hope other kitties will get a chance to live with Mrs. Nakazawa in the future. I know Mick would approve. Thank you for thinking of them.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Early Thanksgiving

This weekend about 20 0f us got together at Marlene's house for Thanksgiving. Marlene and Kohei (who is now living in Hong Kong and couldn't join us) have had Thanksgiving in their home every year for the past 20 years and invite friends with American connections. Their house is the only place that has an oven large enough to roast a turkey so every year Marlene gets stuck with the turkey roasting job. From April Marlene will be joining her husband so a couple of the wives at the party were taking notes in case the turkey job falls to them next year. I don't how that's going to be possible unless one of us moves into Marlene's house. Japanese ovens only hold 12 cookies at a time...

Lots of good food brought in pot luck style. Sweet potatoes with marshmallows (Tetsu's favorite!) stuffing and mashed potatoes, numerous salads, green bean casserole (did you know Japanese wives have never seen a casserole) gingerbread, and pumpkin and rhubarb pies. All pretty normal stuff for Americans but my Japanese friends find it very interesting. One husband who had been back to the States recently was clever enough to remember to buy large Thanksgiving paper plates and decorations and someone else discovered that Costco has come to Japan and made the long trek to it to buy cranberry jelly and black olives. All so good and I was reminded again how thankful I am to have friends who are from similar backgrounds with all of us living in Japan.

I will miss Marlene when she goes to Hong Kong and not just because she can roast a turkey. She has been a special friend for the past 20 years and together we have raised our Japanese/American families, giving and receiving support and advice from each other. Marlene has been a huge influence in my life. Thank you Marlene and much love.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


I have been religiously going to the pool nightly and walking the 25 meter lap across the pool continuously for an hour. I've even added some swimming laps so you would think that I'm getting in shape, right? More on that later...

A lot of the time I chat as I walk around the pool. I've made a lot of friends, most of them older, and usually someone I know is already walking when I arrive and will call out to me in English. We have a sort of "Walk and Talk" English class and I answer English questions or teach vocabulary as we walk. If I'm not chatting, I'm people watching and I must say, in an hour's time a lot of interesting people come in and out of the pool.

One man hums as he walks and I wonder if he notices his "music" bouncing off the walls and echoing around us. One lady is painfully anorexic. A little girl takes great joy in winning races that she has with some of the older men. A couple ladies just like to bounce by the poolside.

Most everyone who comes to the pool has their own walking workout. One lady walks like a crab up and down the pool. One man huffs and puffs and practically leaves a wake behind him. Some people kick their legs wide and in a circle as they walk. Some one else will keep their arms above their head or behind their back. I tend to try to touch my elbow to my knee in hopes of decreasing the natural tire that I wear.

And the swimsuits! I haven't been "swimming" for nearly 40 years and and barely know the difference between a one piece suit, a two-piece suit, and a bikini. Well, you know what I'm looking for if I ever buy a new swimsuit (natural tire, right?) I think I'm rather on the conservative side but in my little neighborhood pool there are people that look like they are garbed for professional scuba diving! Long sleeves and long leggings. Webbed finger gloves. High necks with zippers. Is this normal swimwear? (And most of the people never swim... just walk.)

Tetsu has lost about eight pounds already and is looking pretty good. I get to the pool more often than he does but have not lost a dang pound. This is especially frustrating since it means that I am no where near my weight loss goal nor the reward that I'm dangling in front of myself of a new swimsuit. Rats. The suit I've been wearing everyday for the past three months is already losing some of it stretch. (It was already 6 years old when I pulled it out of storage in September.)

I'm afraid I can't see myself wearing any of the above but at the rate I'm going I'm not going to get my reward anyway... Tetsu is ready to take pity on me and buy me a new swimsuit, flab and all. We could call it an award for effort.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

An apple pie without the cheese is like a hug without the squeeze

November 17th was my father's birthday. My father passed away about 10 years ago and I don't really write much about him on my blog. My dad was a bit eccentric and somewhat anti-social. He was always right, the rest of the world was foolish, and he had no qualms about making demands of waitresses, clerks, and anyone (most people) he thought was under him. He considered himself extremely intelligent (and probably was) but he rubbed people the wrong way and he didn't care. I think my mother who had the opposite personality, had a difficult time making excuses for my father's behavior.

There were contradictions in my father's life too. Probably because he couldn't stand to be with "bumbling" strangers, he was a family man. He insisted that we children should see the world and so our family spent many summers traveling through Europe and Asia, Mexico and Alaska, Scandinavia and one year Spain. My father figured that when we were older we would have a chance to see America but that he was the only one who was going to be able to show us the world. As it turned out, I came to Japan and have never seen much of America...

One of my father's "hobbies" was magic and he was a member of the exclusive magicians' club, The Magic Castle, in Los Angeles. My memories of my father are of him with a pack of cards or coins practicing his slight-of-hand. We kids were always getting trapped into watching him perform which we didn't appreciate too much and if nothing else I learned to see through the puzzles and tricks that he presented to us.

My father stayed pretty much away from child raising, and some of his words of wisdom to me were rather questionable but one has stayed in my head.

"Smile! It is much more attractive than all the goop girls put on their faces."

So I smiled a lot but I tiptoed around my father all through my childhood. He took no interest in my schoolwork except to frown at my mediocre math grades. He claimed the rest of education was a waste of time and the only thing important was math. I have always been completely dyslexic about numbers and that was a great disappointment to him.

In fact, the only thing that I can remember doing right with my father is baking him apple pies. I hated baking apple pies and why the job was given to me I don't know. Every so often he'd announce that he wanted an apple pie and it was my job to produce one. What a lot of fuss and messing around with flour and shortening and rolling pins and pie tins. Some days my father wanted it served with vanilla ice cream but most often he wanted a serving of Cheddar cheese alongside. My pies usually passed inspection but I could never see what was so great about them.

This week I went to the neighboring apple orchard and bought a couple bushels of apples for baking and eating and giving away.

And yesterday in a belated celebration of my father's birthday I baked an apple pie. Unfortunately for him, frozen pie sheets are so convenient that I resorted to those and had a pie baked in no time at all. Tetsu loved it but I'm afraid I could only think that my father wouldn't have approved of the frozen pie crust.

I've still got loads of apples so I may do this again with a little more effort. At any rate I spent the day baking and thinking of my father and his quirks and eccentricities.

Made me smile!