Tuesday, April 30, 2013


This morning I can hear the farmers out planting their fields.  Though our house is basically surrounded by forest, just on the other side are rice paddies and I can see the water glittering through the leaves.

Here is the closest rice paddy to us.  Can you see the steam wafting off the surface of the water?  I took this picture in the early morning and I think this happens when the warmer water from the well hits the water in the field when the night has been frosty...  I think...

The only fields that had steam rising from them were having water brought to the surface this morning.

Sometimes the rice fields reflect silver.

Sometimes they reflect gold.

Sometimes they reflect scenery.

Sometimes they reflect...  Hey!  That's Tetsu and Choco way over there!

 My favorite reflection.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Rearranging my kitchen

Yesterday Tetsu and I spent the whole long day rearranging my kitchen.  This is the kitchen that I dislike because it is small and dark and inconvenient.  If you are interested, here is a post I wrote about why I don't like my kitchen with pictures included of the old arrangement.  

Last weekend while in a recycle shop, Tetsu found a kitchen cupboard that he liked.  It is not that I haven't pointed out other kitchen cupboards before... but he found one he liked, and he was willing to figure out how to get it home and into my kitchen.  And he is willing to chop up our old cupboard today.  And bless his soul, he was willing to spend all day helping me clean the kitchen from top to bottom.

This is our new cupboard!  I was able to get rid of the long~ dark one and also the rice cooker bin that held both the rice cooker and the microwave.  The new one is taller making up for the length of the old one, and very bright and shiny!  It was heavy as all get out and though Tetsu had the recycle shop people load it on their U-haul truck, we had to get a farmer friend and his cousin to come and help us unload the cupboard and put it in the kitchen.

Oh my, the whole house was affected by the kitchen rearranging.  I had piles of dishes, cutlery, food stuffs, appliances all over the living room, dining room and out into the yard!  While Tetsu returned the U-haul, I washed and wiped and decided which shelf was going to house which set of dishes (throwing out some of the unused ones in the process.

When Tetsu got back, we proceeded to push the refrigerator into a new position and then cleaned walls and floors and the inside of the sink area.  My fingers are raw this morning!  This old little cupboard got a face lift with some new fabric behind the glass (The kitchen looks even MORE jumbled when you can see the insides of this cupboard.)

My choice of cupboard fabric.  I wanted something bright and cheery that makes me smile!

Okay... Well, this area didn't really get changed... but it did get cleaned.  I seriously had the thought that after Tetsu retires he ought to go into the house cleaning business.  I've never known someone who can scrub and clean and get down there in the crud and grime and CHEERFULLY whistle the whole day long.

The interesting three tone strip there next to the refrigerator is our attempt to hide the wall discoloration made by the refrigerator when it was against that wall.  Bible verse placemats!  Yeah!  That's what I need, Godly inspiration while I'm cooking!

Dum-di-dum~~.  Hey... I'm beginning to LIKE my kitchen!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Flooding fields

I have an abundance of scenery photos...  I wanted to show how the rice fields get flooded around here but before I get the photos uploaded, the farmers are now getting ready to plant the fields!

Near the fields there are little shacks that have pumps inside to bring underground water to fields.  Actually when we first moved into the neighborhood 20 years ago, the whole neighborhood still got its drinking water from a well that was pumped to the homes.  We have since gone on city water, but anyway, the underground water is very good.  The farmer will come early in the morning and turn on a pump and and gradually the field will flood over.  It takes about a day for this whole field to be completely flooded.

The tractors leave pretty patterns in the fields which are visible only between the start of the flooding and before the field fills.

Between the fields are little waterways that at other times of the year are waterless, but in the early spring will direct water from this field to that.  A board or something will be placed in the slot there to direct the water to another field when the first is flooded.

Choco enjoys taking a cool drink of water in the morning where the day before no water was at all.

Next come the tractors.  I don't know why all rice field tractors are orange but I have yet to see another colored tractor.  Though I really know nothing about the process I have heard that the step of plowing through the flooded field stirs up the mud which then settles into layers that keep the water from seeping down into the earth.

 Two farmers busy in their separate fields.

I love the way the flooded fields reflect the nearby scenery.

It is not all machinery though.  After this farmer plowed through his field with the tractor he got down into the muddy water himself with his rake and spent a long time leveling the soil to his liking.

So there we have a flooded field.  By this weekend there will be rice sprouts planted and we will no longer have the mirror effect.  So pretty!!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Quilting schedule

Yesterday's patchwork day consisted of 6 of us working very hard to put the different parts of the Cake Walk quilt together to make a flimsy.  (We didn't get it all put together....  I have a feeling Mrs. Furui worked to make corners for this after the rest of us went home.)

But the blocks are all made, I added the 2 inch square border and everyone else brought their applique border pieces.  This is looking pretty!  (I am so pleased that all the 9 patch centers and 2 inch squares came from my stash... not that you can tell by looking at the amount of my stash...)

Mrs. Ochiai manned the sewing machine.  She is very adept at using her "pick" go get those seams lined up just right.  And she wears her little ring pincushion that she made.

Mrs. Yamaguchi did all the ironing yesterday.  Don't you love how she sits on the floor on her knees!

I went back and forth from room to room handing Mrs. Ochiai things to sew or giving pieces to Mrs. Yamaguchi to iron.  I did let Mrs. Ochiai take a short rest and took over the sewing for a bit.
Once we get the Cake Walk quilt basted (next month's job) this will be sent to Mrs. Okutomi who will do the machine quilting for us again this year.  Because she hasn't been able to make the long drive to be with our group, she takes over on the quilting end.  What a relief!

Mrs. Furui and I made up a schedule of things we need to get done.

  • Cake Walk quilt ready for quilting by July
  • Autumn quilt up on the hospital wall by September
  • Summer quilt up on the hospital wall by June (gulp)
  • Heart pouches to make for a hospital bazaaï½’ by June (I'm going to Mrs. Furui's house today to work on that.)
  • Spring quilt for the hospital by... Spring.  We will start another McKenna quilt that Liz sent us for that project.
  • Two Ronald McDonald House quilts to donate by the end of the year 
And I have the Pine Burr quilt to work on... And Mrs. Furui has a Feathered Star quilt, a 9 patch quilt to quilt and the Thyme for Stu kit to work on

We need to get sewing!!

And here is Mrs. Furui's summer quilt for the hospital.  I will be working on the hand quilting during Golden Week which starts from tomorrow.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Sudden sewing

Although I have been plodding away on my Pine Burr blocks, I think I'll make one more before I show my progress.  (I've set myself a monthly quota.)  And I'm slowly making one triangle strip after another... 80 some more to go...

My Tuesday English class, which consists of two friends, did a bit of "fabric art".  These are the friends who were trying knitting too, with English instructions.  I know that these ladies would almost rather be making something than studying English, so Tuesday I suddenly brought out paper and fabric and iron and scissors and told them to draw a flower.  (I figured I needed to provide some structure.)

My friends were caught a bit off guard...  Why are we drawing flowers?

And then I had them trace their flowers onto transfer paper... and then I brought out my basket of scraps.

"Find some fabric, cut out your transferred patterns, cut them out and then iron them on."

I provided background fabric and batting and backing scraps.  Within an hour my two friends had put together a mini-flower quilt.  They were very interested in the transfer technique as they hadn't known there was such materials available.  And I made them free-motion quilt it themselves!  They did a great job what with never seeing a free-motion quilting foot before!

Mrs. Okusa put borders on her mini-quilt.  Mrs. Ide took her mini-quilt home to expand with her own ideas.

And this week...

Two pretty spring creations!  Mrs. Okusa has a pretty decoration for a small wall space,  Mrs. Ide turned her little piece into a springy tote bag!

I think the worked very well.  What wonders my friends could make if I just gave them a little more warning next time!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


It is Wednesday and I am out of here in a few minutes.

The farmers are starting to flood their rice fields and the scenery has changed from dry soil to being surrounded by "lakes"  So beautiful in the mornings.

These unobtrusive little sprigs are call tsukushi.  They herald in the coming of spring.  I noticed I was stepping on them when Tetsu and I had our picnic the other day.

I remember a whole lesson in my children's first grade text book devoted to how a tsukushi feels pushing up through the cold soil into the spring sunlight.  Japanese children are taught to appreciate nature very young.  (There was another lesson on a weed bulb digging itself out of a snowbound field.)

Tsukushi are also edible but they are not on my menu this year...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Blood pressure

I have a question.

How many of you have a blood pressure monitor in your home?  And how many of you take blood pressure readings yourself?

The reason I'm asking is because Tetsu's doctor recommended he buy a blood pressure monitor and check his blood pressure daily (or maybe it was twice a day.)

I think this is excessive... but I have little patience with medical issues...  I think Tetsu should watch his diet and take his blood pressure medication and seeing those little numbers is just obsessing.  But I'm in the minority here as I've asked Japanese friends too about their blood pressure monitoring and most of them have a machine in their home and occasionally use it or encourage their spouses to use it daily.

Tetsu's mother checks her blood pressure every time she stirs and that is definitely obsessive behavior!  I shudder to think of Tetsu overlapping his mother's preoccupation.

"Well, the doctor told me to."

I know that my mother at 92 has never owned a blood pressure monitor... even though she too has high blood pressure.

I will probably buy Tetsu a machine.... just because his doctor told him that it might be a good idea...  And because I love him and want to keep him healthy...

But I'd still be interested to know if this is a more regular activity than I thought it was...

Monday, April 22, 2013

Y-kun in 6th grade

Let's see... 

Y-kun is still coming weekly for English.  He still brings me vegetables each time he comes.  Sometimes I don't know what to do with them (like two or three stalks of bamboo shoots. They hardly fit in my pot!)  Y-kun and I still have a weekly routine of cooking up whatever vegetable he has brought me.  Both of us trying to figure out what we might add, whether something should be boiled or fried or mixed up with something else.  Y-kun says he doesn't cook at home but he sure looks like a pro to me.  I think he finds it humorous that his mature, female English teacher has no idea how to cook some things.  He takes his role as official "taster" very seriously.  Weekly he acts like he's king of my kitchen!

As we cook I ask Y-kun about his grandfather...  The grandfather is still in the hospital, probably a rehabilitation center.  He recognizes people but can't sit up alone and can't talk.  Y-kun doesn't have much to say on the subject unless to mention that the grandfather is battling pneumonia or has had convulsions.  I can't read how this affects him... Y-kun always seems cheerful.  I don't think I've ever seen him sad.

Y-kun is in sixth grade this year so I probably have only one more year with him.  Despite his "enthusiasm" for things (he sends the cats into typhoon formation) I still insist that he is a bright boy trying to overcome his disadvantages.  Though he probably doesn't get good grades in school he just seems clever to me...  able to work out problems, not just in English, but normal puzzles of life, like how to get a drawer unstuck, how to make Choco be quiet.  So many kids just sit and don't try to use their brains but Y-kun always is wildly figuring, planning, trying things out. I wonder what will happen to him when he hits his rebellious years...  I wonder if he'll just get pushed aside in the competitiveness of Japanese education. 

I wonder if he'll disappear from my life like most of my students.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Obento lunch boxes

Yesterday morning (after spotting the pheasants), Tetsu suggested we go off hiking.  (It was a nice idea but we ended up NOT going as we could still see snow on the mountaintop.)  BEFORE we gave up on the hiking idea I decided I'd MAKE a picnic lunch.  Ah... memories of my obento making days!!

When my children were in kindergarten, everyday I sent them off with a little obento (lunch) box.  Even now at the kindergarten, the children bring their own lunches packed in little aluminum boxes that can be heated as is in a steamer...  The kindergarten feels that the lunch "connection" between mother and child makes the daily separation easier.  Anyway.. I began my many years' long routine of making obentos.  I bought books showing how to make the cutest, the healthiest, the most beautiful obentos that a child would gobble up joyfully.

I'm pretty sure my children have good memories of their obento years.  I decorated their rice with cut out cheese flowers and seaweed animal faces.  I cut up wieners so that they looked like miniature octopi.  Obentos, mine and Japanese mothers, were a work of art!!!  It was easy to get carried away in the early years!

(By the way, I sent Takumi to kindergarten a couple of times with sandwiches, a whole apple, a bag of rice crackers and Oreo cookies and he came home upset because his friends teased him and said he'd just brought snacks that day for lunch.  I went back to making him a rice obento.)

My obento making mornings stopped when the kids were in elementary school.  Good!  I was tired of getting up early and making a full meal before 7:00.  The education policy was no longer keeping a connection between mother and child, it was now, "train these students to appreciate all types of foods, not just what mom caters to".  Students were required (and probably still are) to eat everything on their tray, though some teachers allowed them to leave ONE thing untouched.  Leiya had trouble with school lunches because there were many things she didn't like.

When Takumi went to high school, he was back to obento lunches again.  Grrr.

"He eats a lot more than he did in kindergarten!"

So I was back to making grilled fish, simmered meat and vegetables, wrapped rice balls and macaroni salad before 6:30 in the morning.  And while I was at it, I decided to make Tetsu a lunch too.  Might as make two if I'm going to all that work in the morning.  And I had my ulterior motives.

I made Tetsu pay me $3 a lunch!!!  Such a conniving woman this foreign wife is!!!

I figured Tetsu was paying twice as much for a bowl of noodles everyday at lunchtime.  If I was going to daily do something that I wasn't thrilled about, then I might not mind as much if I had a little play money coming in (and Tetsu'd be saving money too).  I gave thought to making Takumi pay me $3 also but Tetsu said that was taking it too far.  It was my duty as a mother to supply Takumi with a free lunch...  true...

Oh well, this started out as a tale of Tetsu and my outing yesterday... 

We finally took our lunch to a hot spa place and after enjoying an outdoor bath we sat at a picnic bench in a nearby park. That's why there are pictures of the interesting tree with a "hole" in the middle of it...  Two trees had grown together.  And the daffodils were surrounding the picnic bench.

My hastily put together obento was a slice of salty salmon, salad, chicken and bamboo shoots and a sweet omelet.

The omelet was made by rolling it with seaweed strips as I cooked it.

Tetsu laughed when he saw the aluminum lunch boxes the obentos were packed in.

"You must have pulled these out of the depths of the cupboard!   These aluminum boxes look like something from the war years.  How long has it been since you made obento?"

I didn't make him pay me $3. But I did let him buy me bottled tea.

Saturday, April 20, 2013


On our morning walk today I spent some time stalking a pair of pheasants.  We can hear pheasants squawking in the forest and occasionally one will dash along the rice fields.  The males are noisy and quite flashy but if I have seen a female I've probably mistaken it for a quail (we have those too.)

I took my camera a telephoto lens with me this morning and with Tetsu holding on to Choco went out to see what we could see.

"A pheasant!  Hang on to Choco.  I'm going to see if I can photograph it."

"Hold still pheasant.  Show me your handsome red head."

Ah.  There is a female camoflagued in the field.  She certainly isn't as pretty as her husband.

Yeah!  Look at the feather markings on his back.  Just beautiful.  I hope this pheasant couple will soon have little pheasants running around after them.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Mom thoughts

Let's see.... A little frustration today.  I spent some time talking on chat with Leiya yesterday.  She is supposedly graduating from college next month but she doesn't have much information at hand.

"Are you really graduating?"

"I think so...  I just have to pass my classes..."

Well, I should hope so!

And the reason I don't know much more (I don't know what her excuse is) is because I am not going to her college graduation...  Hmmm...  I'm not sure that was a good decision or not...  It is hard for me to get away at any time other than summer... May wasn't a great time especially because flights out of Japan are expensive during Golden Week.  But BOTH my children have graduation ceremonies in May...  Takumi from graduate school, Leiya from college.  I really had planned to go to Ohio to hers...

"Don't come, Mom.  It isn't that important to me.  I don't have a car to take you places or time to do things with you while I'm trying to move.  I need to go to job interviews.  I need money anyway if I'm going to try and buy a car or put down payments on a new apartment.  Let's spend the money that way."

My daughter, like me, is so practical. 

So I decided not to go to Ohio... and not to go to the States until July as usual.

With my children on the other side of the Pacific, they have gotten used to making their own decisions and I have gotten used to doling out very little advice...  I'm sure if we all lived closer I would be making a lot of Mom noises and Leiya would be irritated and annoyed.

Leiya is trying to buy a car.  I'm not really happy that my daughter will be out on the roads but she is 23.

"Find some guy who knows cars to go with you!"  (She interprets this as I don't trust her judgement about cars.  Maybe true.)

Leiya is looking for a new apartment.  She talks of house sharing with strangers.

"I don't want you sharing an apartment with boys you don't know.  Find an apartment that has only girls."

"Mom, it's not like I'd be sleeping in the same room with them.  We'd just be sharing the kitchen and living room."

Still....  I hold to not sharing an apartment with boys...  Whether Leiya will take my advice or not is another thing.

It is hard not to worry and not to conjure up worst-case scenarios.

Always a mother...